In this installment from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of my anthology of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I discuss the Gandhi inspired Indian Sarvodaya movement and its relationship with the anarchist pacifist currents that emerged after the Second World War.
In post-independence India, the Gandhian Sarvodaya movement provided an example of a non-violent movement for social change which aspired to a stateless society. Vinoba Bhave (1895-1982), one of the movement’s spiritual leaders, noted that “sarvodaya does not mean good government or majority rule, it means freedom from government,” with decisions being made at the village level by consensus, for self-government “means ruling you own self,” without “any outside power.”
What seemed wrong to Bhave was not that the Indian people were governed by this or that government, but that “we should allow ourselves to be governed at all, even by a good government” (Volume Two, Selection 32). He looked forward to the creation of a stateless society through the decentralization of political power, production, distribution, defence and education to village communities.
Bhave’s associate, Jayaprakash Narayan (1902-1979), drew the connections between their approach, which emphasized that a “harmonious blending of nature and culture is possible only in comparatively smaller communities,” and Aldous Huxley’s anarchist tinged vision of a future in which each person “has a fair measure of personal independence and personal responsibility within and toward a self-governing group,” in which “work possesses a certain aesthetic value and human significance,” and each person “is related to his natural environment in some organic, rooted and symbiotic way” (Volume Two, Selection 32).
The Sarvodaya movement’s tactics of Gandhian non-violence influenced the growing anarchist and peace movements in Europe and North America (Volume Two, Selection 34), while the Sarvodayans shared the antipathy of many anarchists toward the centralization, bureaucratic organization, technological domination, alienation and estrangement from nature found in modern industrial societies.
Paul Goodman summed up the malaise affecting people in advanced industrial societies during the 1950s in his essay, “A Public Dream of Universal Disaster” (Volume Two, Selection 37), in which he noted that despite technological advances and economic growth, “everywhere people are disappointed. Even so far, then, there is evident reason to smash things, to destroy not this or that part of the system (e.g., the upper class), but the whole system en bloc; for it offers no promise, but only more of the same.”
With people paralyzed by the threat of nuclear annihilation, seeking release from their pent up hostility, frustration, disappointment and anger through acquiescence to “mass suicide, an outcome that solves most problems without personal guilt,” only “adventurous revolutionary social and psychological action” can have any prospect of success (Volume Two, Selection 38).
As Goodman’s contemporary, Julian Beck, put it, we need to “storm the barricades,” whether military, political, social or psychological, for “we want to get rid of all barricades, even our own and any that we might ever setup” (Volume Two, Selection 24). What is necessary, according to Dwight Macdonald, is “to encourage attitudes of disrespect, skepticism [and] ridicule towards the State and all authority” (Volume Two, Selection 13).
This challenge to conventional mores, fear and apathy came to fruition in the 1960s as anarchists staged various actions and “happenings,” often in conjunction with other counter-cultural and dissident political groups, from the Yippies showering the floor of the New York Stock Exchange with dollar bills, causing chaos among the stock traders, to the Provos leaving white bicycles around Amsterdam to combat “automobilism” and to challenge public acceptance of private property (Volume Two, Selection 50).
Macdonald thought that the “totalization of State power today means that only something on a different plane can cope with it, something which fights the State from a vantage point which the State’s weapons can reach only with difficulty,” such as “non-violence, which… confuses [the state’s] human agents, all the more so because it appeals to traitorous elements in their own hearts” (Volume Two, Selection 13). As Richard Gregg described it, non-violent resistance is a kind of “moral ju-jitsu” which causes “the attacker to lose his moral balance” by taking away “the moral support which the usual violent resistance… would render him” (Volume Two, Selection 34).