The term socialism gained unprecedented currency in the Nineteenth Century, amidst the escalating industrialization in Europe. It also affected the prevalent European tradition of thinking. However, the premise of socialism is not merely the outcome of the European tradition of thinking or a product of the process of European industrialization. Rather, the concept claims an antiquity in Indian social philosophy. Therein it was rooted in ideas like Sabe Bhoomi Gopal Ki [all land belongs to Gopal, i.e., God], Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam [the whole world is but one family] and Sarvodaya [progress of all].
In the modern context, under the enormous impact of industrialization in Europe a new dimension was accorded to individualism. Subsequently the labour and intellectual classes came to the forefront to counter it. They stepped forward to struggle against it and this was the time when the word and ideas pertaining to modern socialism emerged and developed vigorously. Henry de Saint-Simon, a French thinker and social reformer [1760-1825], coined the word ‘Socialisme’; socialism is derived from this very word. An analysis of Henry de Saint-Simon’s intent behind the word Socialisme reveals socialism as a system in which:
1. There is large-scale social co-operation, or national-level teamwork, particularly for the development of technology;
2. Poverty in labour classes is eradicated;
3. The state is ruled by those who accord a right direction to the labour; and
4. The society is guided by the science.
These four points makes apparent that the modern European ‘socialism’ concept is an outcome of the process, which essentially include unprecedented development in the field of science, therefore, industrialization and its one-sided benefit, consequently evoked reactions amongst working classes and their struggle for the change.
Besides Saint-Simon, contemporary thinkers like utopian socialist Robert Owen [1771-1858]1, German social scientist and industrialist Friedrich Engels [1820-1895], and German philosopher and the father of scientific socialism, Karl Marx [1818-1883], too agreed more or less, in one way or the other, with the above four points. I have used the term more or less here because the economic structure of Marxist-Leninist Soviet Union was centralized. Moreover, in Soviet Union there was the State control over the resources and the one party rule. The same thing could be noticed in case of some other countries also, but I do not think if we need to discuss more about it here.
As mentioned already, the ancient Indian philosophical tradition was imbued with the concept of socialism. Moreover, its spirit and practice was more or less different from that of the West. In this regard, the first and the most important thing relates to the means to achieve socialism. Contrary to the Western concept recognizing violence as the means to usher in the change, the Indian concept advocated non-violence. Even after accepting right consciousness, full preparation at the mental level and large-scale public co-operation as essential conditions, Indian tradition lays stress on harmony, concord and non-violence based co-operation for the change. Despite being impressed by the series of events in Europe of the Eighteenth-Nineteenth Centuries, Indian tradition remained indigenous and never lost its fundamental character. Jawaharlal Nehru and Rammanohar Lohia, in particular, may be cited as befitting examples in this regard. Mahatma Gandhi may also be regarded as a leading socialist of Indian tradition. He was, as we know, a supporter of decentralization of power in all walks of life. He talked about equal right of the capitalist and labour over capital and production. Further, he was impressed by Ruskin’s ideas of the Christian Socialism and hailed his work ‘Unto This Last’ as an ideal.
Well! Jawaharlal Nehru was impressed by socialism; it is an established fact. However, socialism was not only an idea for him, but essentially a matter of practice. Indian philosophical tradition and practice served as the undoubted basis of his socialism. It is well proved from his views expressed from time-to-time and also from the measures taken by him during his long tenure of seventeen years as the Prime Minister of the country. He was also influenced by the Western socialism; he loved Marxism, but his ideas related to mixed economy, democratic socialism and his active participation in the non-alignment movement presents a clear picture before us. Besides, Nehru’s agreement with Gandhian social and constructive programmes; his stress on bringing about change through non-violence based democratic process; and his efforts towards this end well affirms his commitment for the establishment of a socialist society of Indian tradition.
In principle Nehru was committed to socio-economic equality, the foremost and fundamental feature of socialism. But for this he favoured consent and not a revolution. His dream for the establishment of social democracy was to be realized through equal participation of people in governance. For this, he desired to remove all obstacles of the way to reach the goal. In this regard his following statement is worth quoting here:
“I am perfectly prepared to accept political democracy, only in the hope that this will lead to social democracy…Political democracy is only the way to the goal and is not the final objective.” The final objective is undoubtedly “social democracy.”
Further, Jawaharlal Nehru was also committed in both principle and practice, to bring about a fundamental change in the system under prevailing situation of the country and on the basis of available resources so that the mass poverty could be eliminated. Everybody could get an opportunity to rise even at an individual level. Works, particularly, related to land-reforms and schemes started in cooperative sector during his term as the Prime Minister of India, may be referred in this regard. These acts were in fact important to bring a good harmony between the fundamentals of the concept of socialism and prevailing circumstances of a country of diversities like India to fulfill the needs towards establishing a socialist society.
In this regard those who have any doubt must notice the provisions, particularly, made in the form of allocation of funds for the co-operative sector and programmes related to the development of agriculture and small scale industries in rural areas in the Five Year Plans.2 They should also observe Nehru’s statement in which he had called upon the masses, especially poor, down-trodden and unprivileged of the country to step forward continuously, to strengthen the cause of socialism in India. He had said, “Leaders and individuals may come and go; they may get tired and slacken off; they may compromise and betray; but the exploited and suffering masses must carry on the struggle, for their drill sergeant is hunger.”
Urging his party men, Nehru had said, “We have to plan at both ends. We have to stop the cumulative forces that make the rich richer and we have to start the cumulative forces which enable the poor to get over the barrier of poverty.”
In India approximately forty percent of the total population is still under the poverty line. Participation of the masses in the governing of the system, control over resources and role in policy making is not satisfactory. In certain fields the situation is rather grim. Moreover, suicides of farmers are shameful and a matter of acute concern. This undoubtedly raises a question mark on our economic policies; in such a situation Jawaharlal Nehru’s warning refreshes our memory. He had said, “If the social and economic burdens of the masses continue and are actually added to, the fight must not only continue but grow more intense.”
Nehru passed away forty-seven years ago. But his legacy of socialist ideas still survives. After sixty-four years of country’s independence and sixty-one years of its becoming a republic, despite progress in various walks of life, we find people in large numbers facing numerous problems in socio-economic spheres, and find them suffering even for arranging for their two ends’ meal. It is really unfortunate. In this state of affairs the views of Jawaharlal Nehru seem very significant. Along with this, they seem to be calling for refinement as per the demand of time and space.
Hence, undoubtedly, Nehru’s ideas urge our democracy to be real and people-friendly. Democracy of his dreams, which is in fact a supplementary to socialism, draws our attention towards one of his noteworthy statements in which he had said, “Socialism is the inevitable outcome of democracy. Political democracy has no meaning if it does not embrace economic democracy. And economic democracy is nothing but socialism. Monopoly is the enemy of socialism.”
Let us ponder over it! Let us do something in this direction!!!
*Based on a keynote address at a national seminar organized by DAV Women PG College [of Kurukshetra University], Yamunanagar, Haryana, in March, 2011.
1. Who besides being a renowned Welsh social reformer was one of the founders of socialism and the cooperative movement.
2. Particularly, in the First and the Second Five Years Plans.
3. As per the information 13, 42, 875 peasants have committed suicides in the country between 1991 and 2008.