As we move into the days commemorating the horrific bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we join with activists and scholars around the world who say “no” to nuclear proliferation. What kind of wealth system, what kind of thinking about human life and our shared ecology would pose a fundamental challenge to the nuclear mindset?
We invited Dr. Michael Allen to Nonviolence Radio to offer a short but meaningful “teach-in” about the foundations of Western economic thought in Thomas Hobbes and its revolutionary contrast in the economics of Mahatma Gandhi.
Stephanie: Well, we want to welcome everybody to another episode of Nonviolence Radio. I’m your host, Stephanie Van Hook. And I’m here in the studio with my co-host and news anchor, Michael Nagler. And we are from the Metta Center for Nonviolence in Petaluma, California.
So, Michael, today we have a guest with us, Dr. Michael Allen. He’s a professor in the Department of Philosophy in East Tennessee State University. And we brought him to join us today because we want to talk to him about a philosophical approach to the life and the economics – the economic program that is in Mahatma Gandhi’s campaign for revolution. And how it’s an entire paradigm shift and systems change. And there are just very few people out there – as Mike Allen said in an email to us, “It’s very under researched,” this topic of Gandhian economics.
And I wanted to bring him on especially because as we’re approaching the Hiroshima Day and Nagasaki Day where the proliferation of nuclear weapons in our world, we have to ask ourselves why and what we can do about it. And so, thinking outside of the box, instead of just interviewing more activists that are doing incredible work around this day from protest to divestment work, education work. We want to think about solutions. And part of the solution, it seems, is this discussion around what are the economics of violence? And what are alternatives to those economics? Hence, Gandhian economics.
So, I’m going to bring up Michael Allen. Mike Allen, welcome to the show.
Mike: Hi, Stephanie.
Stephanie: How are you doing today, Mike?
Mike: I’m doing fine, thank you.
Stephanie: Yeah, thanks so much for joining us all the way from Tennessee.
And Michael Nagler, you are the one who introduced me to this concept of Gandhian economics. So, I was hoping, perhaps, you can get us started in our conversation with Professor Allen about what draws you to this? You know, what do you think are some of the foundations of Gandhian economics?
Michael: Yes, Stephanie. Love to. I myself was introduced to Gandhi as economist, though I had, you know, picked up a thing here or there – by a little film, a documentary film. The University of Southern Indiana had the only source of, and still is [the only source]. It was called, “Gandhi’s India.” I’m going to ask you if you are familiar with that, Michael. And one of the sections of that film was interviewing E.F. Schumacher, who talked about his great surprise and delight in discovering that Gandhi was an economist. But of course, he wasn’t an economist of the conventional sort, where you start from the – if I can paraphrase them a little – you start from the behaviour of money and work your way down to human motivations. Gandhi, of course, started from the other direction. Michael, would you agree with that?
Mike: Yeah, absolutely, I would. Yeah, I haven’t seen that film. So, yeah, let me pick up on exactly that point. Maybe I can begin by just trying to explain how it is that I ended up coming to Gandhi as an academic political philosopher. I used to be an activist way back in the 1980s. I brought a campaign for nuclear disarmament. But since then, my interests have become increasingly academic and theoretical.
And so, I ended up coming back to Gandhi because of, I guess you could say, certain teachings perplexities. One of my major responsibilities at East Tennessee State is teaching the curriculum in contemporary – well modern, rather than contemporary political philosophy. So, that meant I had to spend a lot of time talking about key thinkers in the Western modern – early modern Western tradition, such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.
And that connected me to telling a story about the origins of economics, how it is that we allocate resources amongst people. That I was finding a lot of my students were absolutely horrified by. It kind of generated a mixed reaction from students. On the one hand, they were horrified and started thinking, “Well, if this is what political economy is all about, I don’t even want to have to think about it.” And others kind of bought into the Hobbesian perspective. Regarding it as rather horrifying, deeply pessimistic, but at the same time, fundamentally realistic about the conditions of nature, of human nature, and their tendencies to generate violence.
So, if I could, just to try to contextualize this. I’d like to just quickly develop a contrast between Hobbes’ ideas about the origins of political economy and the origins of violence directly emerging from nature and then try to contrast that with Gandhi so that we can maybe see that there’s a really striking strong contrast, a shift in paradigms if you will.
So, here’s the story I typically have to tell my students – that horrifies them.
So, Hobbes’ story is that we have to think about the origins of both political economy and violence in what he calls, “The state of nature.” So, the state of nature is a natural condition that is absent in very highly developed political and economic institutions. So, the basic premise of Hobbes’ argument – which I’m going to argue in a moment, is contradicted by Gandhi – but the basic premise is that nature is a condition of material scarcity. It’s a condition of material scarcity that cannot possibly be solved. Even if we learn how to satisfy our needs, in one fashion we very quickly develop new needs. And there’s never really a possibility, of nature and the resources of nature, achieving sufficiency for human needs. So, we are locked into this condition within nature of material scarcity.
So, as Hobbes sees it, nature actually is the source of human violence. So, because we cannot guarantee the satisfaction of our material needs, because nature is just endemically scarce in resources, we are subsequently locked into a kind of violent competition for survival. Now, in that condition, there is no rational way that you can think about the relationship between the allocation of resources and morality or our duties towards others.
In the state of nature, the only way that you can survive is by acting amorally or none-morally to promote your interest and self preservation. So, nature, grounded in scarcity is – I guess, well, you could say it is the source of violence. The source of violence is not our moral failures. We cannot be moral in the state of nature, okay?
So, Hobbes then continues with his story. Well, nobody wants to stay in the state of nature which is this diabolical war of all against all.So, the most rational thing that we can do is to get out of the state of nature by establishing an absolutist state. A state that exercises terrifying coercive powers over us. It’s only if we are more afraid of the state than we are of each other, is there any possibility of creating some semblance of a civil peace.
So, what do you get out of that? Again, the thing I would emphasize is that – okay, it is nature that is the source of violence. There is no moral solution to that problem. The solution to the problem of violence, the creation of a civil peace, is not our duties towards one another, but our overwhelming fear of an absolute state. This is the story, at any rate, I typically have to tell my students.
Stephanie: That is a horrifying story. And just before you go onto the next part, can I ask you a question about that that would help our listeners to understand and myself, a bit of a background of Hobbes? What context was he coming from philosophically and what were some of the conditions around him that helped him to form those ideas?
Mike: Okay. Philosophically, Hobbes was a materialist. The conditions he was responding to was actually the wars of religion during the 17th century. So, Hobbes had lived through a period of extreme civil violence and civil war in which the authority of the state had completely broken down. So, as Hobbes saw it, political violence which is associated with religion, that’s kind of getting off the economic thing, I know. The political violence – as it’s associated with religion – reduces us to this violent state of nature.
And so, the only way to establish a nonviolent or a peaceful civil order is through absolute terrifying state power. That alone is going to override our amoral instincts towards self-preservation through the destruction of others. Does that answer your question?
Michael: It seems to me that there’s an underlying assumption which is the black and white differentiation between Hobbes and Gandhi. And that comes down to the question that you touched upon which is human nature. If you believe that we are material in our being, then we’re going to be pressed by material scarcity.
Mike: Yes. I think that’s true. I think I can add a few more things to it as well though. If I could flip over into my contrast with Gandhi.
Stephanie: Yes, please.
Michael: By all means.
Mike: Yeah. Yeah. So, anyhow. I guess what I was trying to get at, my teaching perplexity in this was the reactions I typically have from the students was, as Stephanie just said, “Oh my God, this is bleak. This is pessimistic. If this is how we have to think about economics, I don’t want to think about it at all.” Or you get the other reaction from students was, “Yeah, this really sucks. It’s not so nice. But you know what? Hobbes is right. This is what it’s really like. And you’re a damn fool if you think that political economy is going to work in any other way.”
So, confronted with those reactions from my students which, I guess, I found equally unsatisfactory, what I wanted to do philosophically was to try to find an alternative approach that directly challenged Hobbes’ premises. And that was how I ended up coming back to Gandhi.
So, if you try to work the contrast, I think it’s really kind of interesting. Nature, for Hobbes, is characterized by a problem of scarcity that cannot be solved, okay? Gandhi, although most people don’t start thinking about Gandhi the economist in this way. Gandhi actually said a number of things about nature. And he comes up with what he calls, “The Great Law of Nature.” The Great Law of Nature establishes a premise that if – the opposite of Hobbes.
So, for Hobbes, nature is characterized by scarcity. What Gandhi says, “Well, no. Sorry mate. It’s not like that.” Nature isn’t exactly characterized by abundance. But nature is actually characterized by sufficiency. The great law of nature is that nature can provide for everybody’s survival and preservation needs, okay? The opposite premise from Hobbes. Hobbes denies that that can happen. It’s not sufficient. It’s scarce.
Now, if you shove in that very different premise, political economy starts to look quite different, okay? It isn’t nature itself that is the source of human violence. It’s us, okay? So, if nature provides – or nature can provide for all of our survival needs, then if people’s needs are not being met, why is that happening? It’s because we are taking more from nature than we need for the purposes of our own survival. If we are doing that, we are then setting up this violent competition, the war of all against all, that Hobbes is worried about.
So, the thing that I find philosophically interesting here within Gandhi, is that he is actually beginning here with a materialist premise about nature. But it’s a different premise that requires us to immediately begin thinking about how we allocate resources, not through competition over private accumulation, but rather, how we think about it morally in terms of our duties to others.
So, Gandhi gives us a premise in which political economy is fundamentally tied into concepts of moral duty. Hobbes starts out by completely detaching material survival from duty.
That, I found philosophically quite fascinating. It’s not directly an appeal into religion or a rejection of materialism. It actually begins from a materialist premise. But rather a different premise. And then encourages us to start thinking about wealth, it’s acquisition, it’s allocation to others, not in terms of competition, but in terms of moral duty.
Stephanie: For those of you just tuning in, we’re talking with Professor Michael Allen from East Tennessee State University. He’s in the Department of Philosophy and he is a political philosopher. We’re talking about Gandhian economics.
And so, Mike, you also write quite a bit about the Purusharthas. And I wonder if you can talk about those and some of the other sources of the Gandhian approach to economics as not just the Great Law of Nature.
Mike: Right. Yeah, the approach that I’m trying to work out at the moment is through the Great Law of Nature. The other major philosophical, sort of, of Gandhian economics which I think actually aligns with the Great Law of Nature, is the ancient Vedic doctrine of the Purusharthas or the various goals in life. This is a way into the economics that’s been developed by a guy called Anthony Parel.
What Parel does is to try to make the claim that, you can’t really understand Gandhi’s approach to economics unless you look at it in terms of an attempt to provide a synthetic integration or unity of a variety of life’s goals. Now, the Purusharthas are going to include Artha, or wealth, material acquisition.
But that cannot be evaluated or even understood without thinking about that in relation to moral duty or Dharma, the experience of physical offense or pleasures, Kama. Or spiritual liberation from enslavement to the material, Moksha.
So, the point that Parel makes there is that if you think about economics, material wealth, Artha, within the framework of the Purusharthas, you have to reject the kind of view of political economy that you get from Hobbes. Which is what? An exclusive focus on material acquisition through competition, okay?
Now, that gives you a completely inadequate conception of what wealth is. Wealth is fundamentally integrated with duty. Duties of care and compassion towards others. It’s also fundamentally integrated into a religious or spiritual perspective that allows you to renounce the desires for material acquisition, such that you can then honor something like the Great Law of Nature.
So, I guess what I would emphasize there is what you get from an approach to Gandhi through the Great Law of Nature is the fundamental integration of wealth and morality. That view of economics is, I think, strongly reinforced then through Parel’s appeal to the Purusharthas, in which it is explicitly, doctrinally laid out. That wealth is not just material acquisition. Wealth is also the development of our duties, our moral capacities. It’s the development of our spiritual capacities.
You end up then with a very expansive conception of wealth that quite detaches from the modern origins of political economy and somebody like Hobbes.
Stephanie: Well, say something too about him reading Ruskin on the train and then going into starting ashrams. Yeah, what happened? What did he learn from Ruskin? And who was he?
Mike: Yeah. Ruskin is a Christian economist who was a critic, I guess, of 19th century capitalism and the view of political economies that ultimately, I think, derives from our friend, Tommy Hobbes.
Ruskin is mostly known for developing within the framework of a Christian, as opposed to a Vedic world view. Basically, the expansive conception of wealth that I’ve just tried to describe, okay?
So, if we’re talking about wealth, is it material acquisition? Is it profit maximization? No. Wealth is people. It’s community. It’s community life. You have to fundamentally rethink what wealth is. It’s more than simple material acquisition through competition for survival.
That puts Ruskin, as I suppose a kind of Christian socialist, in opposition to orthodox capitalist economics. And it puts Gandhi in kind of a similar position. However, Gandhi’s relationship to capitalism and capitalists gets really kind of complex.
Michael: Or one way I think of recasting what you’ve just been saying is that the – it’s – the whole question of Arthas as for purposes, relies on a question of what is human fulfillment.
Michael: Which is exactly where our Western culture has become so woefully inadequate. Would you agree?
Mike: Yes. So, in Western culture, Artha, or wealth, is simply material acquisition in a competition for survival.
Mike: What it is you think wealth is is quite different.
So, this at any rate is what interested me in trying to come to Gandhi as a political philosopher. It fundamentally challenges the Hobbesian view of political economy which very, very largely still dominates the way we think about economics in the West.
I would like to say something about Gandhi’s complicated relationship to capitalism.
Gandhi gives us a very different entry into political economy, other than something like Hobbes. Gandhi then ends up in a very complicated relationship with capitalism. So, capitalism, you could say, is consonant with that Hobbesian worldview. Wealth is material acquisition in a potentially violent competition for survival, okay? He’s in competition with that and that is, essentially, a capitalist conception of wealth.
So, wealth is about profit maximization. This is a nonmoral goal. We can think about the maximization of wealth through capital. Detaching that just about completely from religious or moral concerns, okay? Capitalism is just an amoral doctrine.
Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that capitalism is a total washout in terms of the law of nature and allocating resources to meet everybody’s needs. So, I mean an obvious way to think about this would be if you use the example – way of use from Adam Smith, “Wealth of Nations.”
So, the baker feeds everybody. Is the baker acting upon some moral motivation to promote the general welfare? No. He wants to make money, okay? So, he’s baking the bread not out of some sense of community feeling or compassion, but out of his drive to improve his situation materially. That could be okay. Because if the baker wants to drive up his profits, he’s got to make a better product. He’s got to make a cheaper product that people can afford to buy. And that’s how he’s making his profit.
So, it could be that a capitalist system is a reasonably efficient way of satisfying people’s daily survival needs. But what you have to understand about capitalism as an amoral system is it doesn’t really care about that. It’s focused on the maximization of personal profits.
So, capitalism, as a system, is a terrible fit, if you will, with the Purusharthas, or the idea that wealth is the integration of material acquisition with moral development with spiritual development. So, Gandhi has a really deep aversion, philosophically to capitalism, the nonmoral system of profit maximization, okay?
However, he then ends up drawing a distinction between capitalism and capitalists. So, what he wants to say here is, “Look, capitalism is kind of a moral and a spiritual washout. But that doesn’t mean that you could not have a capitalist, who functions within the capitalist system to generate massive wealth. But who also, as an individual, undergoes a process of moral or spiritual awakening or enlightenment.
Now, in that point, Gandhi tries to make, I think, rather a painful appeal to the idea of trusteeship. So, to give a stupid example I know. Like Bill Gates made massive personal fortune. But he then uses his massive personal fortune for the purposes of extensive public philanthropy, okay? So, the wealth owned by Bill Gates is, in one sense, his possession. But he doesn’t regard it in that way. If you’re thinking about it within this Gandhian framework, instead, he sees himself as a trustee of wealth that he’s duty-bound to allocate and distribute in the public interest, for the public welfare.
So, that’s Gandhi’s tortuous relationship to capitalism. Capitalism is not an economic system that he can endorse. It turns us into, “Soulless money-making machines,” as I believe he says at one point. However, we can distinguish between capitalism as a system and the individual capitalist. And we can then look at enlightened – I’m hesitating to use this phrase – but what now would probably be called, “Woke capitalism.” The woke capitalist is engaged in the extensive public philanthropy regarding his private wealth as a public trust. So, he attempts to make a movement towards – or some concession towards capitalism in that way.
Now, personally, I find that really torturous and not terribly plausible. I think the more interesting question there is why in the hell did he even go in that direction? Why would that be a good way to go?
I think that the answer to that is that he’s reacting to the dominant version of socialism of his time which is not Ruskin, it’s Marx. And the idea that the way that you attack capitalism as a vicious, brutal, and exploitative system is through violent revolutionary means. You take control of the state, establish a dictatorship of the proletariat, and forcibly take from the capitalist, their private wealth. And then you undergo a process of publicly managing that in the interest of the rest of the people.
So, socialism, particularly by the time you get to the Russian revolution, the emergence of the Soviet Union, it turns into something that is deeply violent. And one of Gandhi’s principles, what Douglas Allen calls, “Means-ends convertibility.” That you have to use good nonviolent means to good nonviolent ends. You cannot produce a nonviolent outcome in the distribution of resources by violent revolutionary means.
So, Gandhi responding to socialism, as he was seeing it in his own time, kind of got pushed into this position of trying to figure out some kind of compromise with capitalism which he sees as a pretty brutal and dehumanizing system. And the move he made at that time was the capitalist can become enlightened, ‘woke,’ regard private wealth as public trust. I mean I see that as a difficult idea. I don’t know how you’re regarding it, but that’s why Gandhi ended up with that rather torturous distinction between capitalism and the capitalist.
Stephanie: Mike, in a way, I haven’t taken the next step to really apply that concept of trusteeship so widely and broadly as you have. I’ve always used it as a way of just kind of personal understanding of trying to break down that sense of a personal violence when I feel like I possess something or someone, that I am the possessor of something. So, I use it almost as a spiritual tool of trusteeship saying, “If I have this resource, it’s for me to share it.” And I start very, very small. And the more that I advance in society, the stronger that value becomes. So, it’s linked to a very deeply personal process.
Mike: Right. I understand that. I get that. And I see no reason why you cannot interpret it in that fashion as well. My interest in coming to that concept, I guess, is a little bit different.
Stephanie: Oh, I’d like it. I like what you’re doing, yeah.
Mike: That’s what I’m saying. He ends up deploying that concept, basically as a defense of what he views as a morally indefensible system. By the 20s, he’s really seeing socialism as systemically violent. Now, I don’t think it has to be viewed in that way. And I don’t think that Gandhi actually wants to view it that way. You can find all kinds of stuff in Gandhi about – in which he really praises socialism and its beautiful ideal of equality. But his concern is that you cannot use violence as a means to achieving that beautiful ideal. Hence, the compromise with capitalism.
Stephanie: Well, let’s take a step back too when we talk about what context Hobbes was coming from, what capitalism did to India. I mean what’s the history there? A lot of people don’t know that.
Mike: Yeah, yeah. So, yeah. I mean you really get to see Gandhi generally, saying, “Hind Swaraj.” So, yeah, the West – the early modern West created a form of political economy utterly detached from moral duty to community, to humanity at large.
So, that emphasis on amoral accumulation almost certainly feeds into the subsequent colonialist programs coming out of Europe. Particularly, from Britain. I mean Hobbes was English. So, the Hobbesian political economy also did come to underwrite much of British colonial expansion – the occupation of India. And a general mindset that could regard the self-interested exploitation, amoral self-interested exploitation of Indian resources and the Indian people as ultimately not really a problem.
Why? Because when we seek private profit, well, as Adam Smith would put it, ultimately, everybody is going to benefit through the operations of an invisible hand. You simply don’t have to think about material acquisition and exploitation in moral terms. So, Hobbesian political economy, I think, really sets up that colonial legacy of the British in India that Gandhi was opposed to.
Stephanie: Yes. This is really interesting, Mike. Michael Nagler has a question for you.
Michael: Yeah. Again, to just try to paraphrase, perhaps lamely, what you were saying. What I’m hearing is that it is inherently impossible for a capital acquisition to satisfy the human Arthas. And therefore, to achieve sufficiency. So, once you’re committed to that, you’re also – whether you realize it or not, committed to exploitation. That the system is not self-sufficient.
Mike: Yes. Yes. I think that’s exactly right. And that is a direct development out of the Hobbesian conception of nature and the state of nature. Yeah. Yeah. I think that that’s exactly right. So, there really isn’t a reform of the capitalist system. The most you can possibly accomplish is some version of ‘woke’ capitalist/capitalism in which those generating extraordinary private profits see that as some kind of public trust.
That, however, to my mind, really contradicts the aspect of socialism that Gandhi said he really liked – the beautiful ideal of equality. So, if you think of the accommodation with capitalism in terms of the trusteeship of the ‘woke’ capitalist, you haven’t really got a beautiful ideal of equality at all.
Basically, what you’ve got, somebody who is unaccountable through the political system, through the democratic political system, because it’s private capital, it’s largely unaccountable to anybody, making his or her own private judgments about how to promote the general welfare. So, okay, not hard to imagine how that might get wrong. Even if the ‘woke’ capitalist is very, very well-intentioned, they might simply make terrible judgments that fail to assess what people’s actual material, community, or even spiritual interests are.
So, if you go in that direction, enlightened capitalist of trustee, it looks like you’re having to abandon the ideal of non hierarchy or equality. Gandhi doesn’t really ever seem to me to work his way out of that. I guess what I was trying to suggest in that paper of mine I think you read, Stephanie, “The Techno-Satyagraha,” paper is that Gandhians – or contemporary Gandhians, at least, do have other kinds of cards up their sleeves.
You don’t have to think about socialism in terms of violent Marxist revolution. You could think of it in terms of, I don’t know, Bernie Sanders democratic socialism. Gandhian – you should “Feel the Bern,” okay? We can look then at ways of trying to think through democratic participation in decisions about economic production and the allocation of goods and resources.
There’s a pretty extensive literature that has grown up since Gandhi himself got assassinated. It’s fairly recent literature. It’s mostly from the 1980s and ‘90s. Something called, “Participatory economics or Parecon.”
So, the idea in this case is that you look at political economy, the allocation of wealth, goods, resources, through soliciting multiple forms of democratic inputs, okay? So, you look at the democratic inputs of worker councils, neighborhood councils, local regional committees. You try to think about political economy in terms of who is going to be affected by economic planning and allocations? And trying to give all those who are affected some kind of voice in contributing to planning and allocations.
So, if you think about it in that fashion, you’ve got something that kind of looks like it’s capturing the very broad conception of wealth that Gandhi wants to appeal to, that he liked in Ruskin, for instance. Wealth is not just about personal accumulation. Wealth is about who is affected by the allocation? Who’s lives are improved or not improved by the allocations? Did everybody affected by an allocation actually have a voice in the decisions that produce that kind of allocation.
So, if you don’t like the ‘woke’ move, I guess, the other move that Gandhians can make is to appeal to much more recent developments within socialism that emphasize widespread multi-leveled participation in the economic decision-making. If you want to generate wealth that is not just about Artha, but about our duties to one another, the development of our moral, spiritual capacity, even our recreational capacity, whatever it happens to be.
The way to do that is to start thinking about political economy, the allocation and redistribution of resources through broadly participatory democratic themes. That’s the other move you’ve got.
Now, that can lead into all kinds of complications at the level at how do you actually organize and coordinate multiple kinds of democratic inputs into economic planning and decision-making?
It’s a way of thinking about political economy that perhaps should be examined by Gandhians. Maybe should be examined a bit more extensively by nonviolent activists, if they’re willing to actually read boring academics such as myself.
Stephanie: Well, Michael Allen, thank you so much for joining us. I think that you are showing us the importance of having philosophers as part of nonviolent movements. This has been an incredible discussion. This feels a bit like a teach-in on Gandhian economics. So, thank you so much for your time and joining us today.
Mike: You’re welcome. Thank you very much.
Stephanie: This was a lot of fun.
So, you are at Nonviolence Radio. I’m your host, Stephanie Van Hook. And I’m here in the studio with my co-host and news anchor, Michael Nagler. And we’ve just been talking with Dr. Michael Allen who is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at East Tennessee State University on Gandhian Economics and the True Nature of Wealth. It was a fascinating conversation.
Stephanie: Let’s turn now to some nonviolence in the news before we wrap up the show today. Michael Nagler.
Michael: Yes. Thank you very much, Stephanie. My head is spinning, I would say, from the wonderful presentation of my colleague, Michael Allen. And it’s funny, one of the main items that I wanted to share with you all in terms of nonviolence in the news today is an example of ‘woke’ capitalism. And they may not have thought of themselves that way, but I’m referring to Ben and Jerry’s. I mean it’s a long stretch from microchips to ice cream, but we have an excellent example recently in that firm.
Now, Ben and Jerry themselves, they’re not really in charge of the firm anymore, but their values are continued in the present leadership. And what they just did was refuse to sell ice cream in the Palestinian – in the parts of Palestine that have been occupied by Israel. So, it’s a refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of occupation. And we may think that, “Well, ice cream is not an essential good, even in the Middle East.” But most of the struggles around resources in world capitalism have, in fact, not revolved around essentials, like wheat. But around condiments like salt and sugar.
Now, salt, of course, has also – or had before the invention of refrigeration, a critical practical need as the preservation of food, preserving it from deterioration. But, you know, sugar is even more critical in the struggles for resource acquisition. And it’s not an essential.
Well, Ben and Jerry’s started 43 years ago in a dilapidated garage in Burlington, Vermont. And they’ve written a very carefully worded statement in which they carefully distinguish between anti-Judaism, anti-Semitism, and on the other hand, anti-Zionism.
It’s a critical distinction that because, of course, the Israeli government will attempt to label any attempt at boycotting in the benefit of Palestine as being anti-Israel which shades off very easily into anti-Semitism, which of course, we all know what a horror and outrage that is.
But here’s a quote from their article that was in the Times and Common Dreams I’m quoting, “Note how the Israeli response to the continued success of the Palestinian boycott movement remains confined in terms of their options and language. On the legal front, most attempts at indicting BDS activists,” that’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanction.
“Most attempts at criticizing BDS activists have repeatedly failed in the law. And there are some court rulings in Washington that demonstrate this. But what the Israeli’s have done is really going too far,” as Ben and Jerry continue. “On the other hand, the act of accusing an ice cream company of terrorism deserves some serious examination.”
And I think, of course, it will not stand up to even a moment of serious examination, but it just shows you how terrorism has become a convenient label and a very dangerous one that can be used by individuals, by political regimes to criticize. And not just criticize, but condemn almost anyone, almost anything.
So, incidentally, these court rulings in Washington are interesting because they contrast with some other rulings that are coming down in local jurisdictions where, in fact, demonstrators – protesters. Especially those who take the final step moving into obstructive action – that’s where protests becomes practical and where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. They are often characterized as terrorists.
Passing of two heroes of the civil rights movement
Well, I often start our presentation with a nod of appreciation for people who have recently passed – recently left the scene. Two heroes of the civil rights movement, one very famous, one not, have passed away quite recently. The famous one, of course, is Bob Moses. All of us who lived through that movement were perfectly familiar with his name and his actions.
Bob was born in Harlem in 1935. Eventually, as a young adult, became the field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee – SNCC. And so, he ended up organizing voter registration in the South which was absolutely critical. And the reaction to it was, in some cases, lethally violent. And Bob Moses was the co-founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party with Fannie Lou Hamer.
Later in his life, I’m happy to say, in 1982, in fact, Moses received a MacArthur Genius Award. And he used it to develop something called, “The Algebra Project,” which prepares minority students for college level math. And I think, you know, whatever you may think about the importance of math, it certainly is critically important for people’s self-esteem. I mean I almost never got over the fact that I couldn’t handle math to save myself.
And there’s a two-hour very detailed, very precise interview with him that you will find in various places including Daily Kos.
Now, the other civil rights activist who has passed on is Gloria Richardson. She was 99. And was not as well known, but her fame is from an iconic photograph that shows her with a look of righteous indignation, beautiful woman in a beautiful white dress, pushing aside the bayonet of a National Guardsman who’s back is to us. And that image actually appears in our film, “The Third Harmony,” which is, of course, what attracted my personal attention.
And while I’m at it, while I’m mentioning the film, I’m happy to say that we just received the Impact Documentary Award.
So, moving on – two writers who I greatly appreciate and benefited from are the brothers Mark and Paul Engler. And in the July 27 issue of Waging Nonviolence online, they discuss a book by Wilson Gilmore. She wrote this book in 2007. And it was called, “The Golden Gulag.”
And she calls on activists, abolitionists to seek out changes that unravel rather than widen the net of social control through criminalization. It’s a lot like what we were just saying the Israeli’s are trying to do to boycott movements in Palestine. So, this article of the Englers is called, “How Social Movements are Employing the Concept of Non-reformist Reform to Program Far Reaching Change.”
The issue that this brings up is this question of what is meant by, “Non-reformist reform?” Well, there are some reforms that actually take aim at something critical to the system. And there’s some reforms which are just ice cream – sorry, I shouldn’t use that expression. Just very superficial, they are band aids. And you can adopt these forms without changing your system at all. And unfortunately, sometimes the people whose perceived well being is in the maintaining of exploitive systems. They know this full well, and they can appear to be allowing reforms because these reforms can be accommodated by them without changing the system.
So, it is always seemed to me that the ideal strategy the ideal target of resistance would be a reform that seems, on the surface, to be relatively superficial, but actually gets to the root of an exploitive system. And I believe that the Salt Satyagraha, the Salt Campaign in India that Gandhi carried on successfully in 1930 was a good example of that.
I just wanted to say one other thing. I want to hold up into the light something that Campaign Nonviolence has brought up, and that is that Twin Cities Nonviolent has come up with a program for schools that do not need policing. They call them, “Cop free schools.” So, nonviolent security and cop free schools are not a utopian dream, they say.
Nonviolent – show us how to use nonviolent security to create safer, more hospitable schools. Amen to that. Thank you very much, Stephanie.
Stephanie: Thank you so much, Michael Nagler, for that Nonviolence Report. We do that every other week here on Nonviolence Radio. We want to thank our mother station, KWMR, to our guest Dr. Michael Allen from East Tennessee State University on Gandhian Economics, to Matt Watrous who transcribes and edits the show, to Bryan Farrell who puts it up on Waging Nonviolence for us, where you can find it after the show, to the Pacific Network who helps us to syndicate and get the show out there, to all of our listeners, until the next time, please take care of one another.