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Indian Political Science Association

Indian Anarchists Author(s): Nitis Das Gupta Source: The Indian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 59, No. 1/4 (1998), pp. 106-114 Published by: Indian Political Science Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41855762 . Accessed: 09/02/2014 16:06
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.ti Indian Anarchists *NitisDas Gupta Etymologicallythe term 'anarchism' comes fromthe Greek word 'arkhos' which means a ruler; and literallyinterpreted the term means withoutan 'arkhos' or a ruler.Two interpretations are possible here. Since thereis no ruler,anarchismmay be regardedas a negative condition of unruliness. But a positive meaning is also possible: following Woodcock we could say that in the anarchist society individualswill get themselvesharmoniously into the social integrated setting in such a way that 'rule becomes unnecessary* for the preservationof order.1Under such positive conditions all forms of and authority become redundant. Anarchismis thus to be government from distinguished anarchy. Indian Anarchists In the last one hundred years a cohesive school of thought, initially defined by Vivekananda, had developed in India. 'A conceptualconsensus' binds the membersof this school so faras their of the socio-political realities are concerned. The interpretations resemblancebetween these Indian thinkers and the Westernanarchists has promptedmany to call the former as Indian anarchists.According to Dalton , theseIndian thinkers may appear 'quite dissimilarin terms of theirstyles of thought, but they exhibita clear consensus in their ideas about politics and power, human natureand the good society,the relationshipof the individual to the state, the values of freedom and equality, emphasis on consensus rather than conflict, co-operation ratherthan competitionand about 'a methodof change thatrelies on moral example and suasion ratherthanviolentrevolutionor legislative reform*. Prominent with Vivekananda as among the Indian anarchists, their pioneer, are Aurobindo Ghose, Rabindranath Tagore, M. K. Gandhi,Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash Narayan. Dalton is of the opinion that India's ideological traditionas represented by these Indian anarchistthinkers 'emerged in response to the crisis of values introducedby Britishimperialismin the nineteenth century'.The Britishconquest of India was not only political; it was is Head,Department Dr. Das Gupta ofPolitical Science,Gurudas College, Calcutta.

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also theeconomic conquest of feudalIndia intoa capitalistone. But the of the British impact on India not only led to the transformation of the Indian but also to its social economic anatomy society A morallybankrupt people reelingunderthe pressureof physiognomy. obscurantism and casteism had to face the religious orthodoxy, the of mightysocio-political ideas of American and French challenges on the one hand and the like revolutions, liberty, equality and fraternity scientificand secular spirit of enquiry bom out of the European Renaissance on theotherhand. The Indian anarchists faced this mighty challenge of the of the Indian and ideas by proclaimingthe superiority Westernthought material the former Western to the emphasizing powerpower spiritual of a the latter on the external form and the internal phenomenon. aspect and the bedrockof India's national life, The backbone, the foundation, Vivekananda declared is its 'spiritual genius' which is far superiorto of politics and commercialism. theWesternglorification of Hinduism According to Vivekananda, the spiritualtradition calls for resistance to the legalised oppression of State. Thus taking Vivekananda opposed the British recourseto Hindu spiritualtradition. ruled India. As Vivekananda that state says, "The veryword imperialist 'it is freedomalone and since the divine outlaw" means 'Sannyasin' want but law we that thatis desirable ...it is not abilityto break law. 3 We wantto be outlaws." these anarchistthinkers Further, opposed the challenge of the British imperialism by drawing their inspiration from the Hindu of political thought,which was pluralistin orientation.The tradition and did not conferon the rulerthe arbitrary Hindu political thinkers differentiated a of an was The ruler highly integral part despoticpower. social order.The Indian King was no Sultan withthe and uncentralized his personal caprice. It has been mentioned sole obligationof satisfying by F. W. Thomas in the Cambridge History of India that "it is as guardian of the social (including domestic and religious) order and defence against anarchical oppression that the king is entitledto his revenue; failing to perform this duty, he takes upon himself a share of the nationalsin".4 corresponding R. C. Majumdar In thisconnectionan eminentIndian historian that the scope of He remarked observation. has made an interesting activitiesof the state in ancient India was all-embracing.Dr. R. c. in its scope of Majumdar wrote "Although the state was totalitarian

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method in carryingout its activities,it did not adopt the totalitarian and executivepower was leftto local function. A greatdeal of initiative assemblies as well as religious and social corporations,and on the of powers and whole therewas a fargreaterdegree of decentralization Indian famous Another at than we see the present day".5 authority historian Beni Prasad made a similarcommentthatthe state in ancient India was saturatedthroughand throughwith 'the principlesof what and feudalismand therewere forconveniencemay be called federalism a number of corporationsand associations, religious, economic and social, 'which enjoyed fairdegree of autonomy'.6 Each grouphad its own dharma (duty) which was not determined by the ruler and with of theking The authority could not generallyinterfere. which the latter was regulated by his own specificdharma. In this way Vivekananda and his fellow travellers' hostility towardsexcessive politics and power stemmedfromtheHindu political philosophy. They detected the dichotomy between the political civilizationof theWest and the spiritualand moral civilizationof India - the former dependingon the state and the latteron the society for activities of thepeople. the guiding Tagore emulated Vivekananda's formulationwhen he said, from the relief of the "England relies on the state for everything, the of destituteto the religious education public; where our country depends on the people's sense of duty".7 Five years later, in Hind Swaraj (1909). Gandhi accepted the basic distinctionmade between society and state, and India and the West. Declaring all western political power as 'brute force', Gandhi eulogized the ancient Indian to the sword of ethics', Society where 'Kings and swords were inferior existence in small villages and people enjoyed an organic social In anotherplace of the abuses of political institutions.8 independently "The State representsviolence in a concentrated Gandhi commented, The individualhas a soul, but as the stateis a soulless machine,it form. can never be weaned from violence to which it owes its very existence". Aurobindo, following these thinkers' anti-statetrend of as a means to explainedclearlyhis concept of decentralization thought, the excessive power of the state He thus advocated thathuman thwart communitiesshould be formedon 'one essential principleof naturein unity'.9 diversity Vinoba Bhave and JayaprakashNarayan as members of the Indian anarchistschool shared with theirpredecessors,Vivekannada, and suspicion for Tagore, Gandhi and Aurobindo a feeling of distrust

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theState authority. If the latter developed a feelingof contemptforthe 'British the former entertained the same feeling for the mighty Raj', mammothstate structure of independent India. Vinoba opined thathis cherished ideal of sarvodaya "does not mean good governmentor majority rule, it means freedom from government, it means decentralization of power".10 What people really need, Vinoba and thatthey believed, is to become aware of theirown innerstrength, can only do so if theysolve some of theirproblems for themselves. Jayaprkash accepted the basic distinction made by the Indian Anarchists between society and state and he relied not on the political but on the power of the people ('lok-sakti') for ushering in process, overall changes in thesociety.For theproperexerciseof 'lok-sakti', he his level and he framed wantedthatpower should restat the grass-roots with this whole scheme of decentralizedcommunity object in primary named A Plea for Reconstruction view in his two treatises of theIndian the and Swaraj for People. Polity Preservation by Reconstruction reactedto the crises of values introduced The Indian anarchists not British ideological opposition-which only through by imperialism we have been discussing hitherto-but also through change and In otherwords,these Indian thinkers soughtto preservethe adjustment. Indian ideological tradition by allowing necessaiy changes in its ideas and attitudes following the interactionwith the Western thought. summed up the basic motives of these Aurobindo very appropriately thinkers as "preservation i.e., the development of by reconstruction", the truths of life which the old expressed, of "formsnot contradictory but rather expressive of those truths restated, cured of defect, completed".11 Dalton gave some glaring examples of 'preservation by reconstruction'and two12 of them may be cited here. (1) The among threebasic concepts of man, Upanishads make correspondences the is seen as identicalwiththe : and freedom Absolute, Brahman, God, comes mukti, humansoul, the Atman.the Self, and withSelf-realisation all from Vivekananda release bondage. adopted the Spiritualfreedom, freedom meant ,forhim , essential elementsof this position. Spiritual realisation of theultimateexpansion of the human self which brought and with all the mankind. with But one's absolute, identity Vivekananda attempted to incorporatethe modern Western view of political and social freedom into the traditionalIndian theory of Spiritualfreedom. He assertedthat man must have freedomin lower

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IndianAnarchists realms,i.e., social and economic freedomsetc., to achieve the spiritual freedom of the highest. It is to be noted here that Vivekananda preservedthe Upanishads' viewpointthatthe spiritual freedomis the thewhole idea. highest, by reconstructing (2) Spiritualequality,in thesense thatall men are thought parts of thedivine Absolute,was explicitthroughout thetraditional writings; perhapsit occurredmost notablyin Advaita Vedantaand the Bhagabat Gita. It was upon this spiritualbasis that modern thinkerstried to an idea of social and political equality.Gandhicommented, construct "I believe in the rock-bottom doctrineof advaita and my interpretation of advaita excludes totally any idea of superiority at any stage whatsoever.I believe implicity thatall men are bom equal." Resemblance with Western Anarchism Ostergaard has shown that strongparallels exist between the ideas of Indian and Westernanarchists.13 Both the groups look to the modernstate with its claim to a monopoly of the legal instruments of coercion as a great impediment to a free,co-operativesocial order in which men really practise self-government. Thoreau proclaimed, ".... That Governmentis best which governs not at all."14 In the same manner Aurobindo expressed his hostilityto State or Government. Aurobindoremarkedthatthe centralproblem lies in the veryprinciple of thestate,which in its fascist, socialist,or democraticforms promotes not merely'tyranny of the majority'but worse, 'tyranny of the whole, of the self-hypnotised mass over its constituent groups and units',15 orchestrated a usually by small elite of demagogic politicians. Secondly, in their conception of the abrogation of private - which is the foremost property conceptionof a freesociety- thereis also close agreement between the Indian and Western anarchists. as in the family, so in society,property is to be Accordingto the latter, held in common, each contributing to his according capacity and to his needs. in receiving according Similarly, Jayaprakash's reconstituted would have possession of polity,each primary community the natural resources including land that fall within its boundaries. Other resources, that are unevenlydistributed such as forests,mines etc. would have to be sharedby all by commonagreement.16 conditionof a freesociety,stressed Thirdly,anotherimportant Social by both Westernand Indian anarchists alike, is decentralisation. and exploitationare to be power must be widely dispersed if tyranny

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avoided. For the 19thcenturyanarchists-communists, this condition could be achieved if the local communes were regardedas the basic unitof social organisation. Enjoyingcompleteautonomywithregardto its internalaffairs,it would be linked on a federalbasis with other communes at the regional, national and supranationallevel for the administration of business involving relationswith other communes. Gandhi's and Jayaprakash's communitarian democracyis composed of will a innumerable not be pyramid,theybelieved, with villages. Life the apex sustained by the bottom,but it will be an "Oceanic circle whose centre will be the individual always ready to perish for the readyto perishforthecircle of villages, tillat last the village, the latter whole becomes one lifecomposed of individuals".17 Differences from Western Anarchism The similarities between Indian and Westernanarchists'social and political thinking are to be viewed as skin-deep,inamuch as thy different entertained fundamentally opinionson severalvital issues. is theirrespectiveattitude the most obvious difference Firstly, to religion. Most Western anarchists have followed Bakunin in coupling God and the state, and rejectingboth for the same reason: of the individual.On the otherhand, an theirdenial of the sovereignty thecore of constitute unshakeablefaithin God and theprimacyof spirit it is thephilosophyof theIndian anarchists. However, necessaryto add in character. thattheir are catholic undoubtedly religiousopinions provides a Secondly,theethicalabsolutismof Indiananarchists starkcontrast to the ethical relativismusually pursuedby the Western anarchists.Gandhi, followingthe doctrineof means and ends, always advocated a strictadherenceto certainhuman values and standardsof like Kroptokin, conduct. On the otherhand, most Westernanarchists, foundations fortheir have attempted to provide rationaland naturalistic ethicalcodes. non-violencepresenteditself Thirdly,to the Indian anarchists, as 'a categorical imperative',not as a rule to be adopted on rational utilitarian grounds.On the otherhand, most of the Westernanarchists believed in violence. Even those Western anarchistswho have been non-violenceas 'a categoricalimperative' pacifists,instead of treating as their Indian counterpart did, have usually tried to justify nonviolence on pragmatic grounds. Fourthly,the Western anarchists have hardly been able to

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or a plan of action forsocial prepare a positive alternative programme endeavouredand in But Vinoba and Gandhi, organisation. Jayaprakash a large measure .succeeded in doing so. In historical retrospect, anarchismin the West appeared essentiallyas a movementof protest The anarchistsattacked,"oftenin the most brutal and direct manner, the values and institutions of the establishedsocial and moral order".18 scheme The Indian anarchists, like Gandhi and J.P., gave an alternative of social and political organisationbased on the ideas of voluntary service, cooperation and decentralisation. Further, the Western anarchistsfailed to develop, Bondurantpointed out, and non-violent technique like the Satyagraha as defined and practised by Gandhi. "The Gandhian Satyagrahineed not wait until Bondurantcommented, before he acts upon his principle of voluntary the state is abolished 9 association and oppositionto authority". It is quite natural that the two anarchist groups should as theirrespectivethoughts differ on some basic matters fundamentally different historicalsituations.The Western emerged in two altogether anarchist theory was the product of the impact of machines and industryon a peasant and artisan society in the nineteenthcentury Europe. Thereforethe values the Western anarchistsendeavoured to demolish were those of the increasinglypowerful, centralised and industrialisedstate. On the other hand, the Indian anarchist theory emerged in response to the crisis of values introducedby a foreign centuryIndia. The Indian anarchistsdrew imperialism in nineteenth the tradition of political thoughtto resist from Hindu theirinspiration the onslaughtof thesocio-politicalideas of theimperialist country. which Indian anarchistslike Vivekananda, The stronghostility towards the state could be and Gandhi manifested Aurobindo,Tagore attributedto their historicalcircumstances-their thoughtobviously grew up in oppositionto the Britishraj and the exploitativenatureof indicatesthatthiswas thatimperialpower. Their'East vs. West' theory the case. However, as we move now to the Indian anarchists of independent India and watch how they continue their ideological we feel that the presence of the British is not a necessary tradition, condition for the survival of Indian anarchism. Indeed, the Indian in independent not only survives,it flourishes anarchisttradition India, of such stalwart thinkeis as the Jayaprakash Nayaran support enjoying in and Vinoba Bhave. The enduring spiritand contentof this tradition the post-independence according to period in India may be attributed, to the strength of its developmentduringthe nationalist Dalton, "first,

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period, second, to the continuing presence of a centralised state and third, to the highqualityand independent authority, spiritof those theorists who have perpetuated it".20 Rcferenccs 1. G. Woodcock, Anarchism(Aylesbury, England: Waston and Viney Ltd., 1975), p. 8. 2. Dennnis Dalton, "The Ideology of Sarvodaya: Concepts of Politics and Power in Indian Political Thought",in Thomas Pantham and KennethL. Deutsch, eds, Political ThoughtinJUodernIndia (New Delhi; Sage Publications,1986), p. 275. Swami Vivekananda, Complete Works,Vol. 5 (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1960), p. 289. F. W. Thomas, Articlein The CambridgeHistory of India, vol. /. ed. E. J.Rapson (Delhi: S. Chand and Co., 1955), p. 443. R. C. Majumdar, Ancient India 1960), pp. 143-144. (Delhi: Motilal Banarassidas,

3. 4. 5. 6.

The State in Ancient India (Allahabad: The Indian Press Ltd., 1074), p. 386.

7. RabindranathTagore, 'Society and State', in Towards Universal Man (London: Asia PublishingHouse, 1961). p. 52. 8. M. K. Gandhi, Collected Works , vol. 10 (Delhi: Publications of India, 1963), pp. 37-38. Division, Government in The Human Cycle, The Ideal 9. Aurobindo,Ideal of Human Unity, (Pondicherry: of Human Unity(and) warjmd Self-Determination Sri AurobindoAshram,1962), p. 560. 10. Vinoba Bhave,Harijan, 15. 12. 51. Sri Aurobindo 11. Aurobindo,TheRenaissance in India (Pondicherry: 6. Ashram,1951), p. 12. Dennis Dalton, Indian Idea ofFreedom (Gurgaon: The Academic Press, 1982), pp. 11-12 and 17-18. Indian Anarchism:The Sarvodaya 13. Geoffrey Ostergaard, movement'in David E. Apterand JamesJoll,eds, Anarchism Today, (London: MacMillan, 1971) pp. 150-159.

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14. HenryDavid Thoreau, 'Civil Disobedience', in Waidenand Civil disobedience(New York: Nortonand Norton,1966) p. 224. 15. Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, p. 678. 16. A Plea for Reconstruction of theIndian Polity(Varanasi: Akhil BharatSarva Seva Sangh, 1959), p. 57. 17. Harijan,28. 7. 45. 18. JamesJoll,The Anarchists(London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1969), p. 12. 19. JoanV. Bondurant, Conquest of Violence The Gandhian Oxford Press, 1959), University (Bombay: Philosophyof Conflict. p. 183. 20. Dalton, n. 2, p. 286.

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