Gandhi’s Deputy Vinoba Bhave Continues His Revolution

Here’s an interesting melding of satyagraha with the libertarian non-aggression principle and anarchist revolutionary thinking from Gandhi’s deputy Vinoba Bhave:

SATISH KUMAR: For the you have been on the march. What are you aiming at?

VINOBA BHAVE: At revolution. In other words, I am aiming at the liberation of people from all kinds of suppression and exploitation. We need to be liberated from the institutions which exercise authority in the name of service. Institutionalized religion, for example, is an oppressive obstacle to the free experience of spirituality. Similarly, institutionalized politics in the form of state, parliament, and parties have killed the sense of participation.

SK: You want to liberate people from the government, but some good governments do a lot of good work.

VB: Good work which is done by government services is very far from good in its effects upon the minds of the people. When elections take place the ruling party will ask for your votes because of all the good work they have done. If it is true that they have done good work, the people will be oppressed by the sheer weight of their charity and that is exactly what saddens me.

SK: Why don’t you protest strongly when the government does something wrong?

VB: It is true that I do not make such protest, but I do raise my voice when the government does something good. There is no need for me to protest against the government’s faults, it is against its good deeds that my protests are needed. I have to tell the people what sheep they are. Is it a matter of rejoicing if you all turn into sheep and tell me how well the shepherds look after you? What am I to say? It seems to me that it would be better if the shepherds neglected their duty. The sheep would then, at least, realize that they are sheep. They might then come to their senses and remember that they are, after all, not sheep but men, men capable of managing their own affairs. This is why my voice is raised in opposition to good government. Bad government has been condemned long ago by many people. We know very well that bad governments should not be allowed but what seems to me to be wrong is that we should allow ourselves to be governed at all, even by a good government. To me the politics of government is not people’s politics. We must find the courage to believe that we are capable of managing our own affairs and that no outside authority can stop us.

SK: It seems that you want no government at all, Vinoba.

VB: I want self-government.

SK: What is the characteristic of selfgovernment?

VB: The first characteristic is not to allow any outside power in the world to exercise control over one’s self and the second characteristic is not to exercise power over any other. These two things together make self-government and people’s politics. No submission and no exploitation. This can be brought into being only by a revolution in the people’s conscience and mind. My program of giving and sharing is designed to bring it about. I am continually urging that believers in nonviolence should use their strength to establish a government by the people and put an end to government by politicians. There is a false notion in the world that governments are our saviors and that without them we should be lost. People imagine that they cannot do without a government. I can understand that people cannot do without agriculture or industry, that they cannot get on without love and culture, music and literature, but governments do not come into this category. I would suggest that all our administrators and politicians should be given leave for two years, just to see what happens in their absence. Would any of the ordinary work of the world come to an end? Would the dairyman no longer make butter or the market gardener not sell vegetables? Would people stop getting married and having babies? If the government were to take leave for two years it would destroy the popular illusion that a government is indispensable.

SK: But some kind of government will always exist. Can you give some constructive suggestion to make governments better?

VB: It is difficult to make governments better, but if there is any ideal form of government then I would say that the best kind of government is the one where it is possible to doubt whether any government exists at all. We ourselves should be seeing to the affairs of our own village, or community, or town, or locality, instead of doing just the opposite and handing over all power to the center. The less activity, the better the government. An ideal government would have no armies, no police force, and no penalties. The people would manage their own affairs, listening rationally to advice and allowing themselves to be guided by moral considerations.

SK: The need for government varies when we have conflicting situations and a clash of interests between the classes.

VB: It is impossible for the real interests of any one person to clash with those of others. There is no opposition between the real interests of any one community, class, or country and those of any other community, class or country. The very idea of conflicting interests is a mistaken one. One man’s interests are another’s, and there can be no clash. If I am intelligent and in good health, this is in your interest. If I get water when I am thirsty it benefits not only me but you also. If we imagine that our interests conflict, it is because we have a false notion of what constitutes our interests.

SK: You command a significant influence on the government. Why do you not insist that the government passes a law to socialize the land? Why do you have to wander so from village to village?

VB: The spreading of revolutionary ideas is no part of the government’s duty. In fact, revolutions cannot be organized and brought about by the established institutions of politics. The government can only act on an idea when it has been generally accepted, and then it is compelled to act on it. We say that in India we have democracy, then the government is the servant and the people are the masters. When you want to get an idea accepted, do you explain it to the servant or to the master? If you put it before the master and he approves, he will instruct his clerk to prepare the deed of gift. That is why I am putting my ideas before you — it is you, the people, who are the masters.

SK: If the revolutionaries are in power they can bring revolution in the society.

VB: As I explained, the authority of the government is incapable of bringing about any revolutionary change among the people. The day revolution gets the backing of the government it declines, becomes bureaucratic, institutionalized, and conformist. A very good example is the Russian revolution. You can see how revolutionaries become power mongers and office-seekers. Similarly, the decline of the Buddhist faith in India dates from the day when it received the backing of the governmental power. When the Christian faith was backed by the imperial power of Constantine, it became Christian in name only. The power of religion practiced by the first disciples of Christ was seen no more and hypocrisy entered the life of the church. In our own country history shows that when the movements of revolution and religious reforms won royal favor they were joined by thousands who were not really revolutionaries at all but merely loyal devotees of the ruling king. Therefore, do not allow yourself to imagine that revolutionary thinking can be propagated by governmental power. On the contrary, if there should be any genuine encounter between them, revolution would destroy the power of the state. The two can no more exist together than darkness and the sun. The exercise of power over others is not in accordance with revolutionary principles. It is clear from a study of history that real social progress has been due to the influence of independent revolutionaries. No king exercised the influence which Buddha exerted and still exerts on the life of India. The Lord Buddha renounced his kingdom, turned his back on it, and after his enlightenment the first person he initiated was the king, his own father. Later came the emperor Ashoka and a political revolution took place in India.

SK: Until we achieve this utopia what should we do?

VB: We should do everything at our command so that the need for a government should progressively diminish. In the final analysis the government would give up all executive power and act in a purely advisory capacity. As the morals of the people improve, the area of the authoritarian government will be reduced and government orders will be fewer and fewer. In the end it will issue no orders at all. The ultimate goal of my movement is freedom from government. I use the words “freedom from government” and not absence of government. Absence of government can be seen in a number of societies where no order is maintained and where anti-social elements do as they please. A society free from government does not mean a society without order. It means orderly society but one in which administrative authority rests at the grass roots level and every member of the community has active participation and involvement. For this reason the purpose of my march is to rouse the people to an awareness of their own strength, to get them to stand on their own feet. I want to see all the village lands in the hands of the village and not under private ownership. And to that end I am trying to get the common people to realize their power and organize it independently.

SK: How will you go about bringing this people’s power?

VB: The establishment of such a participatory, nonbureaucratic, self-directing society calls for a network of self-sufficient units. Production, distribution, defense, education, everything should be localized. The center should have the least possible authority. We shall thus achieve decentralization through regional selfsufficiency. I do not expect that every village should immediately produce all its own needs. The unit for self-sufficiency may be a group of communities. In short, all our planning will be directed towards a progressive abolition of government control by means of regional selfreliance. Our goal should be that every individual becomes as self-reliant as possible.

SK: Is that what you call freedom?

VB: Yes. Because no real freedom exists today and we shall not get it so long as we carry on with our representative democracy. We shall not get it until we decide to make our own plans with the use of our own brains and carry them out in our own strength. As long as a few individuals are given all the power and the rest of the people hope that the government will protect them, this is not real freedom. The present kind of democracy is a guided democracy, whereas in a free society we will have a direct democracy. We shall not hand over all the public services to the few representatives. In America all the power is in the hands of the President. If he should make an error of judgment he might set the whole world on fire. It is a terrible thing that such power should be entrusted to any representative. That is why throughout the world today there is no real freedom but only an illusion of freedom. To obtain this real freedom, we must form village councils, community councils, peasants’ councils, workers’ councils, on a small scale, and these councils should run their own affairs, settle their own quarrels, decide how their children should be educated, undertake their own defense, and manage their own markets. This way there will be a general renewal of self-confidence and common people everywhere will get experience of public affairs.

SK: The proposal you are making will turn the whole system upside down and social life will be upset. Does this fit in with your philosophy of non violence?

VB: To many people nonviolence has come to mean that society should be disturbed as little as possible. Our present set-up should continue to function without hindrance. Some people understand by nonviolence merely that the changes necessary will be carried out extremely gradually. Let there be no painful sudden change and so nonviolence is rendered innocuous. But this way revolutions are never carried out. Things remain pretty much as they are and people get satisfaction by adopting an ideal, paying it lip service, and talking about it. This concept of nonviolence is very dangerous for revolution and very convenient to the cause of lethargic society. So I beg you not to adopt any “go slow” methods of nonviolence. In nonviolence you must go full steam ahead, if you want the good to come speedily you must go about it with vigor. A merely soft, spineless ineffective kind of nonviolence will actually encourage the growth of the status quo and all the forces of a violent system which we deplore. A non-revolutionary nonviolence is a conservative force and, therefore, it is not nonviolence. Nonviolence is an active and effective weapon to fight against injustice and at the same time to build an alternative society.