This is a rather interesting article summarising the socio-political 
views of Ghandi. There certainly are many parallels between Swadeshi 
and Distributism:
  Gandhi's Swadeshi - The Economics of Permanence 
Satish Kumar

Of the editor:
The teachings of Mahatma Gandhi were powerful enough to play a major 
role in the nonviolent revolution that overthrew British colonialism 
in India. They are clearly still of utmost relevance today. Central 
to Gandhi's philosophy was the principle of 'swadeshi', which, in 
effect, means local self-sufficiency. Satish Kumar elaborates on this 
important concept. Kumar is a Gandhian scholar and also a thinker and 
activist in the tradition of E.F. Schumacher. Born in Bikaner, in 
Rajastan, India, Kumar was a Jain monk early in life, then joined the 
Gandhian movement and later, quite literally, walked around the 
world. He finally settled in England, where he is now the editor 
of 'Resurgence' magazine and runs the Schumacher Society, the 
Schumacher Lecture Series, and Schumacher College. He is also the 
head of Green Books, an ecologically oriented publishing company.

Mahatma Gandhi was a champion of 'swadeshi', or home economy. People 
outside India know of Gandhi's campaigns to end British colonialism, 
but this was only a small part of his struggle. The greater part of 
Gandhi's work was to renew India's vitality and regenerate its 
culture. Gandhi was not interested simply in exchanging rule by white 
sahibs for rule by brown sahibs; he wanted the government to 
surrender much of its power to local villages.

For Gandhi, the spirit and the soul of India rested in the village 
communities. He said, "The true India is to be found not in its few 
cities, but in its seven hundred thousand villages. If the villages 
perish, India will perish too." Swadeshi is a program for long-term 

Principals of Swadeshi

Gandhi's vision of a free India was not a nation-state but a 
confederation of self-governing, self-reliant, self-employed people 
living in village communities, deriving their right livelihood from 
the products of their homesteads. Maximum economic and political 
power - including the power to decide what could be imported into or 
exported from the village - would remain in the hands of the village 

In India, people have lived for thousands of years in a relative 
harmony with their surroundings: living in their homesteads, weaving 
homespun clothes, eating homegrown food, using homemade goods; caring 
for their animals, forests, and lands; celebrating the fertility of 
the soil with feasts; performing the stories of great epics, and 
building temples. Every region of India has developed its own 
distinctive culture, to which travelling storytellers, 
wandering 'saddhus', and constantly flowing streams of pilgrims have 
traditionally made their contribution.

According to the principle of swadeshi, whatever is made or produced 
in the village must be used first and foremost by the members of the 
village. Trading among villages and between villages and towns should 
be minimal, like icing on the cake. Goods and services that cannot be 
generated within the community can be bought from elsewhere.

Swadeshi avoids economic dependence on external market forces that 
could make the village community vulnerable. It also avoids 
unnecessary, unhealthy, wasteful, and therefore environmentally 
destructive transportation. The village must build a strong economic 
base to satisfy most of its needs, and all members of the village 
community should give priority to local goods and services.

Every village community of free India should have its own carpenters, 
shoemakers, potters, builders, mechanics, farmers, engineers, 
weavers, teachers, bankers, merchants, traders, musicians, artists, 
and priests. In other words, each village should be a microcosm of 
India - a web of loosely inter-connected communities. Gandhi 
considered these villages so important that he thought they should be 
given the status of "village republics".

The village community should embody the spirit of the home - an 
extension of the family rather than a collection of competing 
individuals. Gandhi's dream was not of personal self-sufficiency, not 
even family self-sufficiency, but the self-sufficiency of the village 

The British believed in centralized, industrialized, and mechanized 
modes of production. Gandhi turned this principle on its head and 
envisioned a decentralized, homegrown, hand-crafted mode of 
production. In his words, "Not mass production, but production by the 

By adopting the principle of production by the masses, village 
communities would be able to restore dignity to the work done by 
human hands. There is an intrinsic value in anything we do with our 
hands, and in handing over work to machines we lose not only the 
material benefits but also the spiritual benefits, for work by hand 
brings with it a mediative mind and self-fulfilment. Gandhi 
wrote, "Its a tragedy of the first magnitude that millions of people 
have ceased to use their hands as hands. Nature has bestowed upon us 
this great gift which is our hands. If the craze for machinery 
methods continues, it is highly likely that a time will come when we 
shall be so incapacitated and weak that we shall begin to curse 
ourselves for having forgotten the use of the living machines given 
to us by God. Millions cannot keep fit by games and athletics and why 
should they exchange the useful productive hardy occupations for the 
useless, unproductive and expensive sports and games."
 Mass production is only concerned with the product, whereas 
production by the masses is concerned with the product, the 
producers, and the process.

The driving force behind mass production is a cult of the individual. 
What motive can there be for the expansion of the economy on a global 
scale, other than the desire for personal and corporate profit?

In contrast, a locally based economy enhances community spirit, 
community relationships, and community well-being. Such an economy 
encourages mutual aid. Members of the village take care of 
themselves, their families, their neighbours, their animals, lands, 
forestry, and all the natural resources for the benefit of present 
and future generations.

Mass production leads people to leave their villages, their land, 
their crafts, and their homesteads and go to work in the factories. 
Instead of dignified human beings and members of a self-respecting 
village community, people become cogs in the machine, standing at the 
conveyor belt, living in shanty towns, and depending of the mercy of 
the bosses. Then fewer and fewer people are needed to work, because 
the industrialists want greater productivity. The masters of the 
money economy want more and more efficient machines working faster 
and faster, and the result would be that men and women would be 
thrown on the scrap heap of unemployment. Such a society generates 
rootless and jobless millions living as dependants of the state or 
begging in the streets. In swadeshi, the machine would be 
subordinated to the worker; it would not be allowed to become the 
master, dictating the pace of human activity. Similarly, market 
forces would serve the community rather than forcing people to
 fit the market.

Gandhi knew that with the globalization of the economy, every nation 
would wish to export more and import less to keep the balance of 
payments in its favour. There would be perpetual economic crisis, 
perpetual unemployment, and perpetually discontented, disgruntled 
human beings.

In communities practising swadeshi, economics would have a place but 
would not dominate society. Beyond a certain limit, economic growth 
becomes detrimental to human well-being. The modern worldview is that 
the more material goods you have, the better your life will be. But 
Gandhi said, "A certain degree of physical comfort is necessary but 
above a certain level it becomes a hindrance instead of a help; 
therefore the ideal of creating an unlimited number of wants and 
satisfying them, seems to be a delusion and a trap. The satisfaction 
of one's physical needs must come at a certain point to a dead stop 
before it degenerates into physical decadence. Europeans will have to 
remodel their outlook if they are not to perish under the weight of 
the comforts to which they are becoming slaves."

In order to protect their economic interests, countries go to war - 
military war as well as economic war. Gandhi said, "People have to 
live in villages communities and simple homes rather than desire to 
live in palaces." Millions of people will never be able to live at 
peace with each other if they are constantly fighting for a higher 
living standard.

We cannot have real peace in the world if we look at each other's 
countries as sources for raw materials or as markets for finished 
industrial goods. The seeds of war are sown with economic greed. If 
we analyze the causes of war throughout history, we find that the 
pursuit of economic expansion consistently leads to military 
adventures. "There is enough for everybody's need, but not enough for 
anybody's greed," said Gandhi. Swadeshi is thus a prerequisite for 

The economists and industrialists of our time fail to see when enough 
is enough. Even when countries reach a very high material standard of 
living, they are still caught up with the idea of economic growth. 
Those who do not know when enough is enough will never have enough, 
but those who know when enough is enough already have enough.

Swadeshi is the way to comprehensive peace: peace with oneself, peace 
between peoples, and peace with nature. The global economy drives 
people toward high performance, high achievement, and high ambition 
for materialistic success. This results in stress, loss of meaning, 
loss of inner peace, loss of space for personal and family 
relationships, and loss of spiritual life. Gandhi realized that in 
the past, life in India was not only prosperous but also conducive to 
philosophical and spiritual development. Swadeshi for Gandhi was the 
spiritual imperative.

The rise of English colonialism

Historically, the Indian local economy was dependent upon the most 
productive and sustainable agriculture and horticulture and on 
pottery, furniture making, metal work, jewelry, leather work, and 
many other economic activities. But its basis had traditionally been 
in textiles. Each village had its spinners, carders, dyers, and 
weavers who were the heart of the village economy. However, when 
India was flooded with machine-made, inexpensive, mass-produced 
textiles from Lancashire, the local textile artists were rapidly put 
out of business, and the village economy suffered terribly. Gandhi 
thought it essential that the industry be restored, and started a 
campaign to stem the influx of British cloth. Due to his efforts, 
hundreds of thousands of untouchables and caste Hindus joined 
together to discard the mill-made clothes imported from England or 
from city factories and learned to spin their own yarn and weave 
their own cloth. The spinning wheel became the symbol of economic
 freedom, political independence, and cohesive and classless 
communities. The weaving and wearing of homespun cloth became marks 
of distinction for all social groups.

Also responsible for the destruction of India's home economy in the 
eighteenth century was the introduction of British education under 
colonial rule. Lord Macaulay, introducing the Indian Education Act in 
the British Parliament, said, "A single shelf of a good European 
library was worth the whole native literature of India ... Neither as 
a language of the law, nor as a language of religion has the Sanskrit 
any particular claim to our engagement ... We must do our best to 
form a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour but English in 
taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect."

This aim was pursued with the entire might of the British Raj. 
Traditional schools were replaced by colonial schools and 
universities. Wealthy Indians were sent to public schools such as 
Eton and Harrow and universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. 
Educated Indians increasingly learned English poetry, English law, 
and English customs to the neglect of their own culture. Reading 
Shakespeare and the 'London Times' became much more fashionable than 
reading Indian classics such as the 'Ramayana', the 'Mahabarata', 
the 'Vedas', and the 'Upanishads'. Educated Indians saw their own 
culture as backward, uncivilized, and old-fashioned. They wanted to 
become rulers of India, but they wanted to rule like the British.

If there was any one person who represented this type of Western-
educated Indian it was Jawaharlal Nehru, who became the first prime 
minister after independence. Nehru sought to promote the 
industrialization of India not via the capitalist route but by 
centralized planning. His inspiration came from the intellectuals of 
the London School of Economics and the Fabian Society - the labour 
Party's think tank.

Gandhi, on the other hand, believed that India's essential 
contribution to the world was simply het India-ness. He felt that 
Indians should recognize their own genius and not try to copy Western 
culture, which was simply a tool of colonization. Economics and 
politics should not simply be concerned with material things but 
should be the means to the fulfilment of cultural, spiritual, and 
religious ends. In fact, economics should not be separated from the 
deep spiritual foundations of life. This can be best achieved, 
according to Gandhi, when every individual is an integral part of the 
community; when the production of goods is on a small scale; when the 
economy is local; and when homemade handicrafts are given preference. 
These conditions are conducive to a holistic, spiritual, ecological, 
and communitarian pattern of society.

In Gandhi's view, spiritual values should not be separated from 
politics, economics, agriculture, education, and all the other 
activities of daily life. In this integral design, there is no 
conflict between spiritual and material. It is no good for some 
people to close themselves in a monastic order practising religion 
and for other people to say that a spiritual life is only for saints 
and celibates. Such a separation of religion from society will breed 
corruption, greed, competition, power mania, and the exploitation of 
the weak and poor. Politics and economics without idealism will be a 
kind of prostitution, like sex without love.

Someone asked Gandhi, "What do you think of Western civilization?" He 
simply replied, "It would be a good idea." For Gandhi a machine 
civilization was no civilization. A society in which workers had to 
labour at a conveyor belt, in which animals were treated cruelly in 
factory farms, and in which economic activity necessarily lead to 
ecological devastation could not be conceived of as a civilization. 
Its citizens could only end up as neurotics, the natural world would 
inevitably be transformed into a desert, and its cities into concrete 
jungles. In other words, global industrial society, as opposed to 
society made up of largely autonomous communities committed to the 
principle of swadeshi, is unsustainable. Swadeshi for Gandhi was a 
sacred principle - as sacred for him as the principle of truth and 
nonviolence. Every morning and evening, Gandhi repeated his 
commitment to swadeshi in his prayers.

Unfortunately, within six months of independence, Gandhi was 
assassinated, and Nehru gained a free hand in shaping the economy of 
India. Nehru found Gandhian thinking too idealistic, too 
philosophical, too slow, and too spiritual. He gathered around him 
Western-educated bureaucrats, and the enterprise to which they were 
jointly committed made them the unwitting agents of economic 
colonization. They pressed ahead with the construction of large dams 
and big factories, which for them were the temples and cathedrals of 
the new India. The spirit of dedication, idealism, and self-sacrifice 
that had been paramount under the leadership of Gandhi was quickly 
replaced by a lust for power, privilege, comfort, and money. Nehru 
and his colleagues followed the opposite path to that of swadeshi, 
and since that time, the history of India has been the history of 
corruption and political intrigue at the highest level. The political 
colonization of India might have ended officially with
 independence in 1947, but her economic colonization continued 
unabated and at an even greater pace. She has been turned into a 
playground for global economic forces.

Colonialism without the colonialists

Now, India continues to be ruled in the English way, but without 
English rulers. This is the tragedy of India, and there is no end in 
sight. The industrialists, the intellectuals, and the entrepreneurs 
in collusion with the government still see the salvation of India in 
her subordination to the policies of the World Bank and GATT. They 
see India as part of the global economy working hand in glove with 
the multinational corporations.

However, discontent among the Indian people is growing rapidly. The 
failures of the Congress Party under Nehru, his daughter, Indira 
Gandhi, and her son, Rajiv Gandhi, are fully evident to all. As 
Mahatma Gandhi predicted, the body politic is seething with 
corruption. The poor are poorer than ever, and the growing middle 
classes are turning away from the Congress Party. The farmers are 
agitating against the patenting of their seeds by multinational 
companies. The global economy of GATT is built on sand. Even though 
it may appear that its grip is firm, it has no grassroots support, 
and as its true implications become apparent, the people of India, 
among whom the teachings of Gandhi are still very much alive, will 
react against it and will return to swadeshi for the reenchantment of 
their local culture, their community, and their lives. In fact, the 
lessons of swadeshi may bring hope for an economics of permanence 
even among Westerns, once the fraudulent promise of economic
 growth and industrialism is exposed.


This is a chapter of: The Case Against the Global Economy - and for a 
turn toward the local; edited by Jerry Mander and Edward Goldsmith.

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