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Rethinking Gandhi

It is no secret that the political left has been at sea since (at least) the onset of the Reagan Restoration. It also ought to be no secret that India’s relatively peaceful and rather complete (though now backsliding) 1947 separation from its Imperial overlords was one of the greatest accomplishments of left-wing action in recent centuries. Despite these facts, the humble, thoroughly anti-Stalinist leader of the Quit India Movement remains rather curiously under-analyzed by those who might wish to extend (if not universalize) the lessons of his life.

Niranjan Ramakrishnan, a Gandhi scholar and independent social critic, observes in his thoroughly Gandhian little book, Reading Gandhi in the 21st Century, that while Einstein’s vital-but-arcane theory of relativity went unacknowledged and unproven for four years after its first appearance, “Gandhi declared modern civilization unsustainable back in 1909.” That conclusion, of course, remains the ultimate anathema within the dominant institutions and implanted mindsets of 2014, whatever its realism and unacknowledged popular acceptance might be at this point.

Ramakrishnan wants us to appreciate the point. “Mahatma Gandhi,” he argues in the book’s core thesis, “was a futurist in readgandhithe best sense of the word.”

Ramakrishnan, who convincingly points out that Gandhi was always open to rethinking his own positions, wants us to check out Hind Swaraj – which roughly translates to The Indian Way of Freedom, “the remarkable book he started writing in 1909 and finished in 1910.” While the leading lights of Western social science were studiously ignoring the nadir of the Jim Crow era and trying to finish proving the biological superiority of the powers that be, Mr. M.K. Gandhi was worrying in print about the sustainability of unrestrained industrialism and the capitalism that unleashed it.

And yet, Gandhi remains all but unstudied, despite all his insights, and despite all the unresolved and deeply fruitful quandaries his writings and life pose.  This book offers a rich compendium and overview of such missed opportunites.

Ramakrishnan is convincing, helpful, suggestive, and inspiring on this point. He is also a clever and profound social observer in his own right.

Any good lefty worth her or his salt knows Herman and Chomsky’s “propaganda model” explanation of why the capitalist media are so atrocious at delivering needed information yet so disturbingly effective at making people think everything is fine. Though I’ve thought, taught, and even struggled on this core topic, I’ve never before had a clear mental formulation of this vital point, made by Ramakrishnan, about a major effect of the mainstream media system and the propaganda surrounding and infusing it:

Over the years, Americans have come to believe that , since they are a special people, information will somehow make its way to them with no seeking on their part.

Everybody hears about impending actual hurricanes, so surely, there are no social or ecological hurricanes coming toward our shores. Why would our apparently reliable institutions fail us?

Both Gandhi and Ramakrishnan are necessary antidotes to this sponsored, still-dominant delusion.

Michael Dawson lives in Portland, Oregon, where he teaches sociology and writes blogs about corporate capitalism, commercialism, and cars-first transportation. He can be reached at: mdawson@pdx.edu