Gandhi's Philosophy On
Leveling Up, Down
Economic equality is the master key to nonviolent independence. Working for
economic equality means abolishing the eternal conflict between capital and
labour. It means the leveling down of the few rich in whose hands is
concentrated the bulk of the nation’s wealth on the one hand, and the leveling
up of the semi-starved naked millions on the other.
A nonviolent system of
government is clearly an impossibility, so long as the wide gulf between the
rich and the hungry millions persists. The contrast between the palaces of
New Delhi and the miserable hovels of the poor, labouring class nearby
cannot last one day in a free India in which the poor will enjoy the same
power as the richest in the land.
A violent and bloody revolution is a certainty one day unless there is a
voluntary abdication of riches and the power that riches give and sharing
them for the common good.
- Constructive Programme, page
I adhere to my doctrine of
trusteeship in spite of the ridicule that has been poured upon it. It is
true that it is difficult to reach. So is non-violence. But we made up our
minds in 1920 to negotiate that steep ascent. We have found it worth the
- Constructive Programme, page
By the non-violent method, we
seek not to destroy the capitalist, we seek to destroy capitalism. We invite
the capitalist to regard himself as a trustee for those on whom he depends
for the making, the retention and the increase of his capital. Nor need the
worker wait for his conversion. If capital is power, so is work. Either is
dependent on the other. Immediately the worker realizes his strength, he is
din a position to become a co-sharer with the capitalist instead of
remaining his slave.
If he aims at becoming the
sole owner, he will most likely be killing the goose that lays the golden
Not need I be afraid of some
one else taking my place when I have non-co-operated. For I expect to
influence my co-workers so as not to help the wrong-doing of my employer.
This kind of education of the mass of workers is no doubt a slow process,
but as it is also the surest, it is necessarily the quickest. It can be
easily demonstrated in the end of the worker and as no human being is so bad
as to be beyond redemption, no human being is so perfect as to warrant his
destroying him whom he wrongly considers to be wholly evil.
- Young India,26-3-1931
I am inviting those people
who consider themselves as owners today to act as trustees, i.e., owners,
not in their own right, but owners in the right of those whom they have
- Young India,26-11-1931
It has become the fashion
these days to say that society cannot be organized or run on non-violent
lines. I join issue on that point. In a family, when the father slaps his
delinquent child, the latter does not think of retaliating. He obeys his
father not because of the deterrent effect of the slap but because of the
offended love which he senses behind it. That, in my opinion, is an epitome
of the way in which society is or should be governed. What is true of the
family must be true of society which is but a larger family.
– Harijan, 3-4-1938
Supposing I have come by a
fair amount of wealth—either by way of legacy, or by means of trade and
industry—I must know that all that wealth does not belong to me; what
belongs to me is the right to an honourable livelihood, no better than that
enjoyed by millions of others. The rest of my wealth belongs to the
community and must be used for the welfare of the community.
I enunciated this theory when
the socialist theory was placed before the country in respect to the
possessions held by zamindars and ruling chiefs. They would do away with
these privileged classes. I want them to outgrow their greed and sense of
possession, and to come down in spite of their wealth to the level of those
who earn their bread by labour. The labourer has to realize that the wealthy
man is less owner of his wealth than the labourer is owner of his own, viz.,
the power to work.
The question how many can be
real trustees according to this definition is beside the point. If the
theory is true, it is immaterial whether many live up to it or only one man
lives up to it. The question is of conviction. If you accept the principle
of ahimsa, you have to strive to live up to it, no matter whether you
succeed or fail. There is nothing in this theory which can be said to be
beyond the grasp of intellect, though you may say it is difficult of
- Harijan, 3-6-1939.
I am not ashamed to own that
many capitalists are friendly towards me and do not fear me. They know that
I desire to end capitalism, almost, if not quite, as much as the most
advanced Socialist or even Communist. But our methods differ, our languages
My theory of ‘trusteeship’ is no make-shift, certainly no camouflage. I am
confident that it will survive all other theories. It has the sanction of
philosophy and religion behind it. That possessors of wealth have not acted
up to the theory does not prove its falsity; it proves the weakness of the
wealthy. No other theory is compatible with non-violence. In the non-violent
method wrong-doer compasses his own end, if he does not undo the wrong. For,
either through non-violent non-co-operation he is made to see the error, or
he finds himself completely isolated.
- Harijan, 16-12-1939
Acquisition of Health
Those who own money now, are asked to behave like trustees holding their
riches on behalf of the poor. You may say that trusteeship is a legal
fiction. But if people meditate over it constantly and try to act up to it,
then life on earth would be governed
far more by love than it is at present. Absolute trusteeship is an
abstraction like Euclid’s definition of a point, and is equally
unattainable. But if we strive for it, we shall be able to go further in
realizing state of equality on earth than by any other method.
– The Modern Review,October,1935
It is my conviction that it is possible to acquire riches without
consciously doing wrong. For example I may light on a gold mine in my one
acre of land. But I accept the proposition that it is better not to desire
wealth than to acquire it, and become its trustee. I gave up my own long
ago, which should be proof enough of what I would like others to do. But
what am I to advise those who are already wealthy or who would not shed the
desire for wealth? I can only say to them that they should use their wealth
It is true that generally the rich spend more on themselves than they need.
But this can be avoided. Jamnalalji spent far less on himself than men of
his own economic status and even than many middle-class men. I have come
across innumerable rich persons who are stingy on themselves. For some it is
a part of their nature to spend next to nothing on themselves, and they do
not think that they acquire merit in so doing.
The same applies to the sons of the wealthy. Personally, I do not believe in
inherited riches. The well-to-do should educate and bring up their children
so that they may learn how to be independent. The tragedy is that they do
not do so. Their children do get some education, they even recite verses in
praise of poverty, but they have no compunction about helping themselves to
parental wealth. That being so, I exercise my common sense and advise what
Those of us, however, who consider it a duty to adopt poverty and believe in
and desire economic equality may not be jealous of the rich, but should
exhibit real happiness in our poverty which others may emulate. The sad fact
is that those who are thus happy are few and far between.
- Harijan, 8-3-1942.
A trustee has no heir but the public. In a State built on the basis of
non-violence, the commission of trustees will be regulated. Princes and
zamindars will be on a par with the other men of wealth.
As for the present owners of wealth, they will have to make their choice
between class war and voluntarily converting themselves into trustees of
their wealth. They will be allowed to retain the stewardship of their
possessions and to use their talent, to increase the wealth, not for their
own sakes, but for the sake of the nation and, therefore, without
The State will regulate the rate of commission, which they will get
commensurate with the service rendered, and its value to society. Their
children will inherit the stewardship only if they prove their fitness for
Supposing India becomes a free country tomorrow, all the capitalists will
have an opportunity of becoming statutory trustees. But such a statute will
not be imposed from above. It will have to come from below.
When the people understand the implications of trusteeship and the
atmosphere is ripe for it, the people themselves, beginning with gram
panchayats, will begin to introduce such statutes. Such a thing coming from
below is easy to swallow. Coming from above it is liable to prove a dead
– Harijan, 31-3-1946
I am quite prepared to say
for the sake of argument that the Zamindars are guilty of many crimes and of
omissions and commissions. But that is no reason for the peasant and the
labourer who are the salt of the earth to copy crime. If salt loses its
savour, wherewith can it be salted?…
To the landlords I say that,
if what is said against you is true, I will warn you that your days are
numbered. You can no longer continue as lords and masters. You have a bright
future if you become trustees of the poor Kisans. I have in mind not
trustees in name but in reality. Such trustees will take nothing for
themselves that their labour and care do not entitle them to. They then will
find that no law will be able to reach them. The Kisans will be their
- Harijan, 4-5-1947
If the Zamindars really
become the trustees of their Zamindari for the sake of the ryots, there
never could be an unholy league [between the two]. There is the difficult
Zamindari question awaiting solution…. What one would love to see is proper,
impartial and satisfactory understanding between the Zamindars, big and
small, the ryots and the Governments, so that when the law is passed, it may
not be a dead letter nor need force be used against the Zamindars or the
ryots. Would that all changes, some of which must be radical, take place
throughout India without bloodshed and without force!
Practical Trusteeship Formula
Trusteeship provides a means
of transforming the present capitalist order of society into an egalitarian
one. It gives no quarter to capitalism, but gives the present owning class a
chance of reforming itself. It is based on the faith that human nature is
never beyond redemption.
It does not recognize any
right of private ownership of property except so far as it may be permitted
by society for its own welfare.
It does not exclude
legislative regulation of the ownership and use of wealth.
Thus under State-regulated
trusteeship, an individual will not be free to hold or use his wealth for
selfish satisfaction or in disregard of the interests of society.
Just as it is proposed to fix
a decent minimum living wage, even so a limit should be fixed for the
maximum income that would be allowed to any person in society. The
difference between such minimum and maximum incomes should be reasonable and
equitable and variable from time to time so much so that the tendency would
be towards obliteration of the difference.
Under the Gandhian economic
order the character of production will be determined by social necessity and
not by personal whim or greed.
- Harijan, 25-10-1952