Lohia: General aims, Immediacy and Heretical Gandhism
Long-time Gandhi Acolyte Finds Gandhian Socialism the Only ’True’ Socialism.
Rigorous critic and independent thinker, Rammanohar Lohia (1910-1967) came into the world at Akbarpur (U.P.), the son of a small businessman. He studied at the Universities of Bombay, Benares and Calcutta before receiving his Ph.D. in Economics at the University of Berlin in 1932 with a thesis on civil disobedience (satyagraha) in India over the salt tax.
At the age of 10, Lohia had joined Gandhi’s Non-cooperation Movement, and in 1934 he became one of the chief founders of the Congress Socialist Party. At the outset of World War II, Lohia’s anti-British agitations landed him in jail for more than a year. He was released and he escaped capture during the early months of the anti-British Quit India movement launched by the Congress in 1942. After directing underground activities including radio transmissions for nearly two years, he Was arrested in 1944 and he then endured a second imprisonment and torture at the hands of the British. He gained release in 1946.
Lohia was elected Chairman of the Congress Socialist Party, but in 1948 the Socialists voted to leave the Congress and form an independent Party. In 1949, he became the first president of the Hind Kisan Panchayat (Indian Peasant Council), founded to work for prompt alleviation of India’s agrarian poverty. In 1952, after Socialists were routed by the Congress in India’s first general election, the Praja Socialist Party (P.S.P.) came together, merging the Socialist Party with the Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party. Lohia became General Secretary of the new party and Chief Minister of the first state government it was able to form, in Travancore (Kerala). He resigned from the latter post in 1954, protesting against that government’s use of lethal force against demonstrators. That same year, he was arrested for his role in P.S.P.-supported peasant satyagraha over government irrigation policy. He was ultimately acquitted of charges.
In 1955, after disputes with other P.S.P. leaders over political strategy, Lohia founded a separate Socialist Party aiming opposition at Nehru’s Congress. He was arrested several times thereafter for civil disobedience. He was elected to the Lok Sabha, the powerful lower house” of India’s parliament, in 1963, and he served briefly, then spent the last years of his life helping organize anti-Congress movements and governments throughout India. As Gandhi’s younger disciple, Lohia deliberately crafts his socialist thought around Gandhian themes. If J.P. Narayan (see Chapter 10) arrives at his thorough Gandhian socialism by a roundabout route, Lohia begins with Gandhian socialism and maintains it throughout. Lohia focuses his thought on articulating “socialism” as an ideology distinct from both capitalism and state-centered communism. His writings have baffled many with their slippery organization and peculiar, not to say eccentric, terminology. Main themes can easily be discerned, however, within the problematic explored here: that of juxtaposing socialist material concerns with religious or spiritual ones. In a variety of ways, using idiosyncratic phraseology, Lohia tries to frame conceptions of socialism and of spirituality dovetailing with each other.
ECONOMIC AIMS, GENERAL AIMS
One of Lohia’s frequent themes is the relationship between what he calls “economic aims” and “general aims” in a social system. The term “economic aims” generally denotes material prosperity and may also refer to the economic objectives of a particular system. The particular economic aims of capitalism, for example, are “mass production and low costs and profits to owners,” along with “self-interest” operating under “competition,” while the economic aims of communism entail “social ownership over means of production.” The term “general aims” implies such universal goods as “democracy, truthfulness, good conduct, peace of the heart, and a general state of culture.”‘ Basically, “economic aims” refers to material concerns, while “general aims” refers to spiritual or cultural ones. Lohia equates “economic aims” with “body” and “general aims” with “soul.”
The relationship of economic and general aims must be properly understood, Lohia maintains. Two opposite fallacies are possible. The first bears some affinity to what I call “materialist socialism,” which imagines that establishing right economic organization will by itself secure a high quality of cultural life. Lohia attributes this error not only to communism—corresponding to what I call “materialist socialism”— but also to capitalism. Both suppose that “the general aims of society… flow out of certain economic aims.” He dubs this fallacy the “automotive” fallacy because it posits automatic connection between achievement of certain economic arrangements and realization of “general aims.”
A second fallacy, in Lohia’s words is suppose “that any set of general aims can be superimposed by effort on any set of economic aims…” This fallacy, which could be called the “grafting” fallacy, comes in two varieties.
One variety resembles what I call “pure religious ideology,” which imagines that spiritual transformation can occur in society regardless of economic constraint. An example of this is Gandhi’s doctrine of capitalist trustee ship which tries to graft, general aims of “democracy and good conduct and moral and ethical values” onto the economic structure of capitalism. A second variety occurs not when economic constraints are ignored, but when economic transformation and general or spiritual transformation are viewed as separate tasks requiring separate methods, with results that may then be grafted into a harmonious whole. As an example of this, Lohia cites Burmese socialism, which is similar to Ambedkar’s thought in simultaneously positing a socialist economic agenda and a Buddhist spiritual/moral agenda. Lohia criticizes Burmese socialism along the lines I take above in criticizing Ambedkar. The socialist and Buddhist components are added together but do not entail or reinforce each other.
As opposed to the two fallacies- automotive and grafting- Lohia argues that economic and general aims are best pursued in deliberate synchrony with each other. “An integrated relationship between the two sets of aims has to be set up by the intelligence of man,” he writes. Synthesizing the two sets of aims within an “integrated harmony” provides socialism with its proper “doctrinal foundation.” The two sets of aims must be “interwoven so the economic structure admits of realizing general aims and the general aims are…so construed that they can sustain the economic structure.”
Of the two, the automotive fallacy is more prevalent. In pursuit of particular economic aims, a system may fail to achieve and may even subvert all general aims. Against communism, which sees an ideal society emerging automatically from “social ownership over means of production,” Lohia insists that general aims “do not inevitably flow out of economic aims…” “Without integrated harmony,” he writes, “it is generally the economic aims which command the right of way, no matter what calamity they might thereby bring.” To prevent the havoc caused by single-minded focus on economic aims, he proposes that economic aims be shaped “in the image” of various “faiths” such as the “great religions” and the “creed of organized non-violence.”
Disproportionate stress on “economic aims” to the neglect of “general aims” pervades the ideological vice Lohia labels “environmentalism.”
Environmentalism is the erroneous conceit that it is possible to create an ideal social system in which personal virtue becomes either automatic or unnecessary. Communism and capitalism are chief examples of this conceit. They both imagine social systems “where all will be automatically good. It will not be necessary for one to be good.”
It is, of course, puzzling for Lohia to lump capitalism together with communism and also to speak of a system where people are automatically good that is also one where it is unnecessary to be good. Lohia’s inartfully expressed thought can be clarified through images from two divergent schools of thought. First, there is the Marxist notion that with communist production, humans will for the first time find it fully possible and natural to be “good,” to treat each other benevolently in all spheres of life. This makes goodness, in Lohia’s terminology, “automatic.” Second, there is Adam Smith’s notion of a capitalist market economy in which, by the magic of the “Invisible Hand,” the self-serving pursuit of interest on all sides yields maximum common good. According to some formulations, though not perhaps Smith’s, this makes goodness, defined as virtuous self-restraint, not “necessary.” The ironic upshot, as Lohia notices, is that both communist and capitalist ideologies deny the relevance of virtue, conceived as personal self-restraint.
Lohia wants to replace this environmentalism with an approach to human change emphasizing not only social reorganization but also cultivation of personal virtue. Latent in all people, he argues, are the virtues of the “Saint,” among which is capacity for “denial of the flesh.” “Let us not be frightened of sainthood,” writes Lohia, suggesting that practice of saintly virtues is worthwhile in two senses. First, virtue intrinsically fosters personal growth and self-realization. Second, it nourishes progressive social action. Practitioners of virtue treat themselves as both “end” and “means.” They “enact virtues which do not change, ” while becoming “an instrument of better future…
RELIGION, GANDHI AND IMMEDIACY
Lohia’s religious concerns, reflected by interest in saintly virtue, comes to him mainly through Gandhi. Lohia both admires and criticizes Gandhi’s view of human change. While Gandhi merits applause for avoiding environmentalism, he errs by exaggerating too far in the opposite direction, tending to “over-emphasize the individual and underemphasize the environment,” that is focusing excessively on personal virtue and slighting the need for transformed institutions. Despite his reservations, Lohia finds Gandhi without peer as agent of progressive human change. Gandhi “was the first in world history to be a revolutionary of political and social structures together with being a revolutionary of the inner world and ways of conduct.” Hence, Lohia attributes to Gandhi a breakthrough in the problematic central in modern Indian thought: dialogue between socialist and religious ideas. Though these two spheres of thought, as he puts it, have previously appeared as “antipoles,” it is both worthwhile and possible to weave them into a harmonious program of “change in the environment and change in the individual, revolution and religion, social reconstruction and moral uplift…”
Though styling himself a non-believer, Lohia takes great interest in religion and often appropriates religious language and metaphors to explain his ideas. Socialists, he argues, “cannot stay unconcerned about religion,” despite traditional socialist disdain. Socialism’s attitude toward religion should be “exploratory,” not “contentious,” and should not postulate an undue “antinomy” between religious and non-religious concerns. Socialism cannot, of course, tolerate religious tenets “hostile to the abolition of the enslavement of man by man or to the release of his energies in free association.” Socialists can, however, embrace aspects of “religion at its best,” such as “an ethical and social training in good conduct” and a “discipline of compassion and contemplation.”
Other Lohia themes also track our problematic. One of these Lohia calls the “dichotomy between multiplication of things and reduction of wants.” The “multiplication of things” in Lohia’s mind is a “materialist” approach to life, while “reduction of wants” is a “spiritual” approach. These represent two opposed responses to material scarcity. “Multiplication of things” means attempt to satiate material wants through ever increased production. Like thinkers explored above, Lohia doubts that human contentment can ever arrive this way. “Reduction of wants” means a spiritual approach, linked by Lohia to “Gandhian doctrine,” seeking to constrain material desire through heroic self-discipline. Lohia finds this latter approach, taken by itself, one-sided and unrealistic.
Like Mehta, Lohia finds a balance between the two opposed responses most appealing and he equates this balance specifically with Indian socialism. He describes the Indian socialist approach as one of “comparative multiplication of produce and comparative disciplining of wants” within a framework of social ownership and comparative equality of incomes. Hence he concludes that Indian socialism entails simultaneous focus on counterbalancing elements: the economics of production and the spiritualities of restraint. Like Mehta, he stresses that this requires at least relative equality in wealth.
The stress on equality is itself an area where Lohia explores relationships between material and spiritual concerns. Western culture, he somewhat cryptically thinks, tends to emphasize material equality, broadly including “social, political and economic.” Indian culture, by contrast, cultivates “Spiritual equality,” but has ignored social and economic equality. What does Lohia mean by “spiritual equality” and how has India cultivated it? He seems to mean India’s contemplative spiritual techniques which bring “the joy of being one with the universe, of being equal with everything in it.”
Lohia argues that this sense of spiritual equality, though divorced in Indian life from material equality, in general bears affinity with it. Experience of spiritual equality propels people to at least imagine material equality with others. On the flip side, experience of material equality with others helps provoke the insight of spiritual equality. Though Indian culture proves that insight into “spiritual equality” can arise even alongside great material disparity, such insight thrives best with material equality. Excessive material disparity blunts sentiments of spiritual equality.
With these ideas in mind, Lohia explains that Indian socialism seeks a “doctrine” of “thought and action” cultivating material and spiritual equality simultaneously. In the familiar manner of an entire tradition, he portrays Indian socialism as a synthesis of Western socialism and Indian spiritualism.
In a discussion of property abolition, Lohia comments further on this convergence. Socialism seeks to abolish “property as institution,” while Indian religion, at least in its “Upanishadic” strain of “non-attachment,” seeks to abolish “property as emotion.” Put another way, Marxism abolishes property “objectively,” while religious thought like the Upanishads abolishes it “subjectively.” Neither abolition suffices by itself. Lohia writes: “Let no one…make the mistake that destruction of property as emotion reduces one whit the need to abolish it as institution.” Likewise, “abolition of property as institution does not reduce one whit the need to destroy it as emotion.” Institutional and emotional propertylessness must reinforce each other.
Emotional propertylessness and “reduction of wants” both suggest a socialist solidarity-in-austerity ethic much like Mehta’s. Even under socialist economic arrangements, the “emotional lure” of material greed may fuel desire for “unequal comfort or show.” An ethic of austerity must prevail so as to secure socialist economic arrangements against corruption or subversion by recalcitrant material greed.
Lohia pushes the association of socialism with Indian religion still further when he suggests “socialist ashrams” where activists could retreat “in times of spiritual need” for “creative work and creative rest.” It is “Indian tradition” to build ashrams “for the training of the spirit and the spread of a doctrine.” The practice of ashram living could provide the socialist movement with an “uplifting quality of the spirit.”
It is perhaps from Gandhi’s experiments in community living that Lohia picks up the idea for socialist ashrams. In any case, he highly affirms the debt his own socialist thought owes to Gandhi. He applauds Gandhi’s evolution toward socialism. Gandhi’s methods and insights can be joined creatively with socialism but not with either capitalism or communism, which are “closed” to Gandhian influence. Socialist strategy should entail “rational application of Mahatma Gandhi’s teaching.”
Gandhi’s contributions emerge in what Lohia calls the “principle of immediacy.” Immediacy-directness or tangibility-carries two main and somewhat disparate Gandhian meanings. The first concerns mean and ends in social struggle. The second concerns decentralized economic and political organization.
In a Gandhian view of interpenetration between means and ends, Lohia writes: Means are ends in the short run and ends are means in the long run. Whatever method one employs in order to achieve one’s desired aim tends to become the end in the long run and whatever aim one desires to achieve…the means are piecemeal achievements of that end.
“Immediacy” in this kind of means-ends sense requires that “each act of struggle should contain its own justification.” Lohia ties this idea to “general aims.” General aims should stand not only as “remote” ends, but also as proximate “immediate” ones. Each act of struggle must “pass the tests of general aims of society.” By passing the test of general aims, satyagraha especially exemplifies “immediacy.” We will have more to say in a moment about Lohia’s doctrine of satyagraha.
Lohia also thinks in Gandhian vein about decentralized economics and politics. This second meaning of “immediacy”-directness and decentralization in “ownership and political control,” implies active and direct participation in managing terms of collective life. It requires decentralized technology, the “smallunit tool,” and abolition of private productive property, except that which employs no non-owning wage labor. Socialized property should be held at various levels, including province, village and cooperative, not just that of the central state. In articulating “immediacy” in “ownership and political control,” Lohia focuses especially on fostering vital communal democracy in India’s villages. This requires equitable redistribution of land holdings.
SATYAGRAHA AND MILITANT GANDHISM
Lohia’s extensive commentary on satyagraha composes an integrated theory of social action and human virtue while criticizing certain strands in Gandhian thought.
Satyagraha is, first, a method of social change, an alternative to non- violent but often feeble parliamentary methods on the one hand and to violent revolution on the other. Like most Gandhi-influenced thinkers, Lohia rejects Ambedkar’s argument that constitutionally or legally valid action represents the exclusive legitimate avenue for suing change in a democracy. Satyagraha, he argues, is more effective than either violence or parliamentary constitutionalism, avoiding the mayhem of one and the inertia of the other.
Satyagraha is, second, a requisite atmosphere of any society that embodies and seeks justice. It should prevail not as extraordinary last resort but as habitual response by vigilant citizens to tyrannies of all kinds. A nation’s freedom and commitment to justice can be measured by the number of its potential satyagrahis, practitioners of satyagraha.
Satyagraha is, third, a method of cultivating virtue, “an essay in the reformation of human nature.” There is, to be sure, confusion over the “change of heart” that satyagraha seeks. The most important change comes in the hearts of satyagrahis, who learn sensitivity to injustice, courage in resisting it, and enhanced “determination” and “capacity for action.” As Lohia sees it, changing the heart of the adversary is a decidedly secondary and seldom achieved objective. He repudiates…
Gandhi’s notion of capitalist trusteeship along with attempts to achieve non-violent redistribution by petitioning landlords to give land away. (This failed Gandhian movement, led by Vinoba Bhave and known as bhoodan, will receive attention in Chapter 10.)
Satyagraha is, fourth, a doctrine of class struggle. Even if wealthy people may sometimes be “declassed” by satyagraha or other factors and converted to actions or positions at odds with their own material interests, satyagraha should operate primarily as an effort by the downtrodden to increase their own power and to diminish that of elites. The point is to transform systems, not adversaries. Lohia’s views on this resemble Aurobindo’s more than Gandhi’s, except perhaps for Gandhi’s late career. The purpose of satyagraha, is always pragmatic: “reduction of the power of evil and increase in the power of good.”
Lohia’s commentaries on satyagraha are part and parcel with claims to the Gandhian legacy. Lohia scorns forms of so-called “Gandhism” that downplay active struggle for justice: the true Gandhian legacy. Focus on converting adversaries yields a Gandhism overly “moderate” and “cozy” toward the status quo. Lohia mocks this “priestly” Gandhism along with “governmental” Gandhism: ineffectual propaganda programs. True Gandhism, “heretical Gandhism,” organized non-violent action against injustice, finds its home in Indian Socialism
GANDHIAN SOCIALISM AND WORLD ORDER
To Lohia, “socialism” is an ideology distinct from both capitalism and communism and it represents the best promise of human progress today. Socialism is a Third World ideology, independent from both Western and Soviet systems, responding to specific predicaments of weak and exploited lands. Lohia coins what he calls the “theory of equal irrelevance” to criticize capitalism and communism, viewing both together as a “single complex of civilization.” Both systems share a bias toward capital-intensive production and aspirations for ever-higher living standards. Lohia deploys Marxist terminology to explain that though communism has different “relations of production”-patterns of ownership- from capitalism, the two share the same “forces of production”-rationalized capital-intensive organization. Socialism, he argues, seeks to transcend capitalism not only as to relations of production but also as to forces of production. Socialism requires forces of production differing from capital-intensive capitalist and communist structures. It stresses “small unit” organization.
“Small-unit organization” would correspond with living standards settled at a lower level than those pursued in both capitalism and communism. Socialism differs specifically from communism by adhering to “general aims” of society-non-violence-in pursuing its transformative agenda. Factors distinguishing “socialism” from capitalism and communism-decentralized production, modest living standards, and non-violent transformation-are all Gandhian. Socialism is Gandhian socialism.
India and the Third World, Lohia thinks, must reject both capitalism and communism. One reason for this is that both systems fail to harmonize economic aims with general aims. Both sacrifice general aims to economic aims. A second reason is that economic aims shared by both systems-capital-intensive production-simply cannot be achieved in the Third World. Third World socialism must think about problems very different from those imagined in traditional socialist theory. Such theory often imagines socialism simply commandeering capital-intensive production already developed by capitalism. But in the Third World, capital-intensive production does not exist and cannot foreseeably exist on a widespread scale. Prohibitively massive amounts of new capital would be needed to raise Third World capitalization to heights achieved under capitalism and communism. Third World socialism must therefore adhere to lower-capital production.
Third World plight, according to Lohia, stems directly from the rise of capitalism in the West. Capitalism and imperialism have been intertwined from the start. Capital accumulation in the West has been a process of extracting value from both home and colonial labour. Colonial surplus value has been extracted in two ways: through direct employment of colonial wage labour by Western capital and through trade advantages asymmetrically favouring the West. The latter point requires brief elaboration.
According to Lohia, it takes less labour for an advanced country than for a colonial one to produce the goods exchanged in trade. Advanced high-capital countries expend less labour power in producing a trade item than low-capital colonized ones do in producing its exchange equivalent. In trade with colonial countries, advanced countries trade lesser labour expenditures for greater and thereby appropriate the labour of poor countries. Foreign trade therefore represents a transfer of congealed labour power or surplus-value from current or former colony to advanced country, yielding capital accumulation there. High capital levels in advanced countries, giving power to extract labour value from poor ones, itself stems from past colonial exploitation. Lohia explains that, “in the current produce of labour in West-European factories, appears the saved labour of many generations of colonials.”
Though possibly circular (assuming capitalization disparities in explaining how they arise) this picture accounts for Lohia’s skepticism that Third World lands can achieve Western affluence levels. Such affluence embodies wealth extraction from the Third World. With no equivalent field for exploitation, the Third World cannot hope to match it. To equalize world wealth distribution requires equalizing capitalization worldwide. Lohia doubts this can be done on the basis of capital-intensive production. Evenly-distributed low-capitalization must become the worldwide socialist pattern. Of course, this lower capitalization will spell lower living standards than those currently enjoyed in wealthy lands, but Third World living standards will rise.
His views on capitalist accumulation convince Lohia that a Gandhian pattern of production must prevail not only in India but throughout the world. Like other thinkers in the modern Indian tradition, he sees a bridge linking India’s spiritual genius to the world’s progressive future. Gandhian socialism is that bridge