Mahatma Gandhi Community Forum

The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from violence to which it owes its very existence."

"The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from violence to which it owes its very existence."
-Mahatma Gandhi

As the term “Anarchy” originally means to create a world where there is no separation between the rulers and the ruled--a place where everyone rules themselves. It’s vision of society is nonviolent, self-managed and non-hierarchical. Anarchists seek to dissolve power instead of seize it. Therefore, they seek a social revolution instead of a political one. The social revolution throws into question all aspects of social life including family organization, schooling, religion, crime and punishment, technology, political organization, patriarchy, environmental concerns as well as others. So the Anarchists are identified "as enemies of the State," because they do oppose the existence of a hierarchical, top-down State.

 Gandhiji opposed the State. He said "The State represents violence in a concentrated and organized form. The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from violence to which it owes its very existence." Gandhi recognized that the State claims to serve the nation, but he realized that this was a fallacy.

. Commenting on the parliamentary system, Gandhi says, "If India copies England, it is my firm conviction that she will be ruined. Parliaments are merely emblems of slavery.He used to thought that by centralizing power, western democracies feed into violence. Thus, he thought decentralization was the key to world peace.

In Gandhi's view all the political power that was concentrated in the State apparatus could be dissolved down to every last individual. He stated "Power resides in the people, they can use it at any time." Reiterating the idea of Anarchy, Gandhi said, "In such a state, everyone is his own rulers. He rules himself in such a manner that he is never a hindrance to his neighbor.” He believed that by reforming enough individuals and communities, society at large will change. Gandhi's concept of swaraj elucidates the connection between the individual and society. Swaraj means"self-rule" or "autonomy". For Gandhiji, every individual had to take steps towards self-rule in their lives; then India would naturally move towards self-rule as a nation. Gandhi insisted, "Everyone will have to take swaraj for himself." He continued, "If we become free, India becomes free and in this thought you have a definition of swaraj. It is swaraj when we learn to rule ourselves." The principle of swaraj ultimately leads to a grassroots, bottom-up, "oceanic circle" of self-ruling communities. In 1946, Gandhi explained this vision:

In apparent contradiction to these ideals, Gandhi battled for national liberation and he expressed a lot of patriotism towards Indian civilization. He redefined the terms 'nationalism' and 'patriotism' to fit his vision. Nationalism, for instance, meant many different things. Gandhi said, "Every Indian whether he owns up to it or not, has national aspirations--but there are as many opinions as there are Indian Nationalists as to the exact meaning of that aspiration."Gandhi's nationalism stood to disband the Congress Party upon independence, "Its task is done. The next task is to move into villages and revitalize life there to build a new socio-economic structure from the bottom upwards." He also understood patriotism differently than his contemporaries, "by patriotism, I mean the welfare of the whole people."

But Congress did not disband after independence in 1947. Gandhi recognized that there would be a national government, and his anarchic, oceanic circle would not yet be possible. Nevertheless, he used the terms of nationalism to move towards the ideal of Anarchy. He advocated for a minimal level of State organization to fund some education programs and to promote his economic concept of trusteeship. Hence, Gandhi was a compromising Anarchist.

To Gandhi, ideas were worth having. He defended his vision of Anarchy in India on this point, "It may be taunted with the retort that this is all Utopian and, therefore, not worth a single thought... Let India live for the true picture, though never realizable in its completeness. We must have a proper picture of what we want, before we can have something approaching it."

By trying to understand Gandhi's worldview, certain questions arise out with contemporary relevance.


1. What practical steps can we make towards swaraj amidst the current global scenario?

2. If Gandhi is right that all power resides in individuals, and that power is derived from an "indomitable will" than how do we reclaim the latent power within us, both individually and collectively?

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Dear Ashokji,

Very well put ideas in your post.

As many perceive that allowing of privatization and autonomous state of individuals and organizations contributes to Gandhi's Swaraj; it is not actually so. Gandhi's Swaraj is Swadeshi based which needs both the indigenous body and brain working together to attain or uphold Swaraj.In the globalizing context of today, his Swaraj is yet to be materialized. Our thinking and ideas have far fetched from western thoughts which in fact, suppresses our indigenous thoughts. It is leading us to a non-Swaraj state of mind and also our society becomes non-Swaraj. We could neither call it a slavery or  oppression or any other terms that describe the inferior quality of life.

Everyone shall have to develop a conviction of the genuineness of their own being and their actions, in order to take an initiative for Swaraj. We should shed our falsehood and superficial lenience towards our genuineness and the spirit of character we stand or work for.

Its an interesting dialogue happing, thanks a lot to Ashok for posting this wonderful article.

In my opinion, both M.K. Gandhi and Carl Marx were not in favor of a strong and centralised state. In Gandhi's Gram Swarajya (Village Republic), the role of state is negligible and Marx says 'State will wither away' after revolution.

I believe, there is a continuous struggle between the state and the society (collective of 'individuals'). Society is an organic entity and dynamic in nature (humane) , while the state is an artificial (created/crafted/grafted) structure and static in nature (mechanic). Society grows in terms of ideas, values, as well as in terms of intellectual growth. So, it does changes and keeps on developing. But, the state doesn't want to change (that is why Gandhi described the British Parliament as prostitute and sterile in Hind Swaraj).

Here, the issue of 'control' is crucial. The state wants to control the society and doesn't allow any change. It tries to control minds of individuals through education system, media, etc. At the same time, the society wants to control, reform and/or change the state according to its aspirations.

Hence, the state sometimes get reformed by the society and sometimes the aspirations of society get repressed and subjugated by the state.

I see this dialectic relationship keeps on going. At present time as well we can see such conflicts happening in many states. What important for us (as Gandhian activists) is to stand with the society (and guide it towards a positive direction), and not with the state, since the society is dynamic in nature while the state is static.

The question of what is anarchy and what not, doesn't bother me a lot. Because if the society is sentient, it'll take care of the state and in the self-disciplined society, the role of state will be minimal.



This discussion is very important for we Gandhian activists, scholars. In this context, we should be able to differentiate society, democracy, state and the spiritual self.

One has to be spiritual to reclaim the latent power within oneself. 


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