Gandhi accepted socialism as a part of his programme to do away with social and economic inequalities. Gandhian socialism, however, is in a class by itself. It did not arise as a result of his studies of the writings of Karl Marx and others, nor was it derived from the horrors of capitalism, nor was it an outcome of his reactions against the prevailing faulty socio-economic setup, as was the case with Saint Simon, Owen, Fourier, etc. Socialism to Gandhi was a religion wherein “the Prince and the peasants, the wealthy and the poor, the employer and the employee, are all on the same level”. In terms of religion, there is no duality in socialism.
In order to understand Gandhi’s Sarvodaya or as, some people have inadequately described it, “Gandhian Socialism”, it is necessary to state certain basic convictions that he held on the property and economic equality. Speaking in London on September 22, 1931, Gandhi said, “possession seems to me to be a crime. I can only possess certain things when I know that others, who also want to possess similar things, are able to do so”. Gandhi equated private property in excess of the basic needs of human existence with exploitation, and it was this distrust of private property that made him proclaim several times that he was a socialist and a communist, though he was also quick to repudiate the other aspects of these creeds. Gandhi also proclaimed his profound belief in the rightness of economic equality. He made a sharp distinction between contribution and retention, and said, “economic equality of my conception does not mean that everyone would literally have the same amount. It simply means that everybody should have enough for his or her needs”. The real meaning of economic equality is “to each according to his need”.
He shared with the Marxists their belief in the inevitability of the end of capitalism and agreed that socialism was the coming social order, but he did not accept their thesis that class war and violence were the only possible mid-wives of fundamental social change. Nor did he believe that such a change could be permanent if brought about by violence. For bringing about an enduring change, Gandhi believed that use had to be made of education, persuasion, love and non-violence. Declaring that “socialism is as pure as crystal”, and, therefore, needed crystal-like means to achieve it, he asserted that truth and Ahimsa must be incarnated in socialism and proclaimed his faith thus “This I do say fearlessly and firmly, that every worthy object can be achieved by the use of Satyagraha. It is the highest and infallible means, the greatest force. Socialism will not be reached by any other means”.
For Gandhi socialism was not limited by class constraints. He believed in a classless society but did not think that this involved the destruction of the individuals who constituted the propertied classes. He was not prepared to identify capitalism with capitalists nor agrarian exploitation with landlords. He was a believer in the essential unity of man. For him, “all human activities, whether political or economic, social or religious, had to be guided by the ultimate vision of God, and this could be secured only by the service of all”. “I am a part and parcel of the whole”, he declared “and I cannot find him apart from the rest of humanity”.
Gandhi believed that it was possible through non-violence to transform the existing relationship between the classes and the masses into something healthier and purer and he could not subscribe to any social order, however good it was in other respect, that did not conform to his fundamental conviction in Truth and Non-Violence. In the Gandhian dictionary, it is impossible to distinguish between means and ends, and therefore, Gandhi’s conception of socialism was basically different from that associated with communism or scientific socialism or the Russian or the Chinese experiment. The Gandhian alternative is Sarvodaya, a classless society based on the destruction of the class but not on the destruction of the individual who constitutes the classes.
Gandhi also claimed for his socialism of Sarvodaya and Trusteeship the ability to survive on a self-sustaining and permanent basis which, he held, was not possible in the case of the socialism or communism of the Marxist conception. This was not only because the latter used violence as its means and according to Gandhi, nothing secured by violence could survive on a permanent basis, but also because socialism through violence only destroyed possession but did not destroy possessiveness.