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Economy of Permanence: The enduring legacy of J.C. Kumarappa


J.C. Kumarappa was a stalwart of India’s freedom movement, Gandhian economic philosopher, pioneer in the development of village and cottage industries and advocate of a decentralised, localised economy of permanence and freedom. Yet, he remains practically unknown to the present generation of Indians. A tribute to Kumarappa by Pranjali Bandhu, editor of his collected writings.

Pranjali Bandhu, Frontier Weekly

A stalwart of India’s freedom movement, Gandhian economic philosopher, pioneer in the development of village and cottage industries and advocate of a decentralised, localised economy of permanence and freedom, it is unfortunate that J C Kumarappa (1892-1960) remains practically unknown to the present generation of Indians. The reasons for this are many, but it is not the purpose of this short piece to go into them.

According to Kumarappa, the entire edifice of colonialism and imperialism was based on violence, where empires thrived at the cost of their colonies and subject countries. At the same time because violence is the foundation stone of empire it is glorified by those in power. Soldiers and their commanding officers are raised to the status of heroes in the eyes of the masses and enjoy high social standing and religious recognition.

The colonial mode of production entailed a world-wide division of labour with control exerted by the metropolises so that they derived maximum benefit. This domination and political control could only be maintained by means of armed forces, and a police force in the dominated countries, that is, in the final instance through using coercion. The method of production is centralised and this deprives other peoples of freedom and converts them into slaves to produce the raw materials needed by the mother country and to consume the goods it manufactures.

“With the ‘Industrial Revolution’ in Europe, centralized methods of production came into vogue. This meant that the plant and machinery were situated in one convenient place while the world was scoured for raw materials which were brought over thousands of miles of ocean routes to the central plant. After manufacture the finished goods had to be taken to the four corners of the earth for sale. This method logically led to the situation where the owners of the plant and machinery had, of necessity, to keep close control over the sources of raw materials and to regulate their markets, while policing the ocean routes to keep them clear and open for the traffic of their merchandise. All this demanded the Army, Navy and the Air Force to control the lives of other peoples and nations and guide them into such channels as would ensure the satisfaction of the needs of the machine owners and their world-wide ramifications.” (Swords or Ploughshares, 385)

Science is harnessed to the forces of destruction to sustain this devilish mode of production that devours the souls of men, women and children. The values that accompany this large-scale production of standardised goods are material ones making the multiplicity of wants rather than the simplicity of needs, a sign of culture and civilization. Happiness is to be gained by having rather than being altruistic and generous. And the means for gaining possessions can be the most evil and forceful ones.

War is the collective manifestation of friction between single individuals. When one person seeks to enforce his will on another an eruption takes place. In the aggregate this leads to group conflicts and wars. If we desire peace and goodwill among individuals, in society at large and among nations then the solution lies in self control and self discipline and aligning our wills with the needs of society as a whole. If we attack only the manifestations of friction on the social and political levels without understanding the need for change in the individual and the life s/he leads we will be guilty of treating the symptoms and not the causes underlying the disease. (The C.O.’s, Pacifists and Non-violence, 393)

For nations to wage war against other nations hatred and suspicion have to be cultivated in the people of one nation against another. From this point of view the endeavours made by the then League of Nations or Conscientious Objectors to limit the possibility of war through international legislation could be successful because their attempts did not reach down to the economic structure of colonialism/imperialism and the level of the daily life of every individual in the recognition that “each individual is a potential contributory cause of global wars.” (Pacifism and Bellicosity, 389)

The way out is by educating the citizens in the direction of self-sufficiency and self-reliance rather than becoming active agents in their own slavery, which happens when they sell their raw materials and exchange them for finished goods from abroad, says Kumarappa. We also should not take part in international trade based on or enforced by violence. We cannot be self-indulgent and be a pacifist at the same time.

The solution to global wars lies in each nation and region producing its own primary needs-food, clothing and shelter to the extent possible. Foreign trade should be carried out only in luxury goods and avoided in the case of essential items. There should be no over exploitation of non-renewable mineral reserves for the sake of luxury consumption. Such an economic structure will not necessitate violence among nations. Pacifists in the West need to examine their own lives and standard of living and see whether they are willing to simplify their lifestyles because there is no other way for peace between peoples and nations. Among the youth moral considerations need to be raised and money values lowered if there is to be a peaceful world. The armed forces-a gang of murderers and brigands-cannot be extolled as career opportunities. (Pacifism and Bellicosity, 390)

Peaceful co-existence among humans and between nations is possible only on the basis of an economy of permanence. In an economy of permanence the relationship and interaction between humans and Nature is of paramount importance. Animate life is able to maintain its continuity, thus permanence, because of the cooperation of the various elements of Nature, both animate and inanimate. It is in the interest of humans-as part of Nature and dependent on it-to submit to the ways of Nature for the sake of survival and self-preservation. Not to do so would invite her wrath and consequent self-destruction. In Nature nothing exists solely for itself; it is each unit working for itself and in the process helping other units to get along. Cooperation is the essence for harmony, where there is no scope for violence.

While on the whole the various constituents of Nature work in cooperation there are instances of parasitic and predatory existence. Different kinds of economies are found in Nature and Kumarappa makes a distinction between those of Enterprise, Gregation and Service, which are evaluated as being progressively higher stages of being, in addition to the Parasitic and Predatory ones that are at the bottom of the value scale. The level of the Economy of Service is one of disinterested service without looking for personal reward and projects its activities into the coming generations. Such is a non-violent economy of permanence.

Extrapolating these concepts to the life of human groups and nations Kumarappa comes upon the following stages of development. He characterizes the first as the primitive or animal stage, the second as the modern or human stage, and the final as the advanced or spiritual stage. The Parasitic and Predatory types of economies (examples of which he gives as the slave societies of ancient Greece and Rome as well as modern day capitalism and imperialism) belong to the first primitive stage of civilization. The Enterprise and Gregation types of economies are assigned to the second stage. As examples of these he cites the Indian and Chinese agricultural civilizations, Islamic culture and the Nazi and Fascist societies. Both these stages are transient and violent. In the advanced or spiritual stage the sense of duty not only to the group but to all creatures pervades the atmosphere. Most religions advocate love and service as ideals. A society based on these ideals is yet to be attained. Only such a non-violent society would be a permanent one of peace. (See Economy of Permanence, 81)

In order to advance to the spiritual stage our value system has to undergo thoroughgoing transformation from the valorisation of monetary and materialistic values to moral and altruistic, dharma based ones. It is by giving free play to self-centred greed and jealousy that global wars are unleashed. It is only by seeing the permanent objective order of things as they are that we can reach the spiritual stage and permanence.

If one compares Kumarappa’s thoughts about an economy of permanence with the Marxian ideas of communism and the paths leading to these respective goals, we can see that Marx’s theory is based on thoroughgoing materialism whereas Kumarappa’s ideas are based on a kind of dualism, whereby mind, spirit, matter are aspects of the same reality. If, in the case of Marx, an equalitarian society is to be attained by changing the material conditions of production, the base, for the new man and communist society, then Kumarappa seems to give clear primacy to mind or spirit. It is only by spiritualising ourselves that one can come together in a mode of production that is permanent and non-violent.

In Marx’s descriptions of society and its development one finds on the whole a linear mode of thinking—civilization has developed from primitive to advanced capitalism/imperialism—and at each stage of development it is the revolutionization of the forces of production and class struggle that have led to new and different social formations, with ever greater political freedom and democracy. In Kumarappa’s understanding of social change and formations his basic criteria are attitudes of humans towards each other and Nature, where love and not just conflict plays a crucial role. In the Marxian understanding, contradiction and the resulting conflict and violence are intrinsic to Nature and life. For Gandhians, it is love and cooperation that are the dominating motive forces for change.

There are some differences in their understanding of the nature of work too. For Marx, who was analysing the nature of work/labour under capitalistic conditions, the prime concern was to point out its alienated and exploited character. Because the means of production were owned by capitalists surplus labour extracted was appropriated by the owners as profit after paying a wage to the worker. Liberation from this state of affairs could be attained by workers’ control over the means of production in factories by eliminating capitalists. Large-scale mechanised production per se was not questioned by him. The expectation was that the cornucopia of goods produced with the help of high technology would now be equitably distributed without profit-mongering among the working masses of all countries and regions, and they would enjoy a higher standard of living with greater leisure time for personality development. The communist ideal of “to each according to his needs” could also be met only by large-scale mass production of goods with minimum application of human labour.

In this understanding of work and leisure, since work under conditions of high mechanisation, despite worker democracy, still entailed man being an appendage to the machine, rather than machinery being an extension of his hand and brain enabling personal creativity and consequent fulfilment, a strict dichotomy remains between work arid leisure. Deskilling would still be a prevalent trend and there would be a dichotomy between manual, skilled and intellectual or knowledge workers. It is during their leisure, non work time that humans would be able to satisfy their creative human potential and needs. Leisure time activity, involving ‘work’ of another kind, would have no intrinsic connection of the fulfilment of basic material needs. Under socialism/communism, as production becomes ever more mechanized and industrialized with consequent reduction of time required for it and the satisfaction of basic needs, greater leisure time ensues.

In this approach one basic problem remains unresolved, perceived perhaps by anarchists such as Gandhi. If man does not control his appetite for an increasing number of material goods, which become necessities for him, the time taken to produce them, whatever the mechanical efficiency, is not going to decrease much. Increasing the speed of machines to increase production levels is also highly debilitating to the human nervous system as it overstrains natural slower rhythms. The other problem is the unsustainable devouring of earth’s resources in the process and the resulting current search for extraterrestrial resources to satisfy growing and insatiable needs.

The only possible solution to such a ‘mechanical’ resolution of the problems of alienation and exploitation is the change of heart and mind of individuals with the understanding that a scaling down by and large of needs as well as methods of production is required for sustainable living. A change of heart towards fellow humans is required. Selfish, competitive individualism of the kind encouraged by capitalism has no place in a socialised, communitarian, cooperative society. This was pointed out by Gandhi and Kumarappa.

Here is a close look at Kumarappa’s explication of the relationship between work and leisure. Since the ancient times of slavery there has come up a tendency on the part of a section of people to disdain and avoid manual labour and the drudgery part of any work. But, “wholesome work provides our body with energy, health and rest,” says Kumarappa. “….it provides bodily exercise while affording at the same time, opportunities for mental development and satisfaction.” Separating out the drudgery part to be performed by others lower down on the social scale like women, Dalits, oppressed nationalities, slaves, while keeping the pleasant part for oneself, is to be abhorred. Equally, reducing drudgery through mechanisation does not help to keep those who operate the machines away from drudgery. (Economy of Permanence, 99) For work to be wholesome for all and for it to develop all human faculties unfair division of labour of the kind mentioned above is to be avoided in a liberated society.

“Properly understood, work of the right sort contains leisure as a period of rest within itself. Leisure is an integral part of work just as rest is an essential component of a musical note. The two cannot be taken apart… Any work to fulfil the proper functions as ordained by nature, and not mutilated by man, must contain these complementary parts in itself.” Work to be wholesome must have the personality of the worker stamped upon the product of work, that which is the best part of him. (Economy of Permanence, 101) Artisanal activity and natural farming fulfil these criteria of involving wholesome work.

What one needs, therefore, is not the reduction of ‘work’ and increase of ‘leisure’ but a combination of the two in a wholesome complementary beneficial way. This obviously requires doing away with exploiters of all kinds.

Among Marxists it was in Mao Tse-tung’s writings-China being largely a peasant society-that the contradiction between town and countryside was greatly emphasized. Under capitalism and imperialism towns ruthlessly plunder villages and therefore the antagonistic contradiction between the two needs to be eliminated for a society to call itself socialist. The experiment with communes in China also had the aim of combining administration with production and including both agriculture and industry in a non-exploitative way.

During 1951-53 Kumarappa visited the Soviet Union, some East European countries and China. He published his impressions, in which he praised the welfare measures undertaken by the Soviet Russian government to reduce inequalities among the people and the land reform carried out in China (A Peep Behind the Iron Curtain, 183-90). But he did not uphold either the Russian or Chinese model for emulation saying that India should find her own path to equity and freedom. In Russia, production was regimented, centralized and standardized. It was a state capitalist regime far away from true communism where the state is supposed to wither away. China too was nowhere near being communistic due to its acceptance of private property in agriculture and industry. These societies despite all their good points were ultimately based on force and violence internally and externally. “It is only under a decentralized economy that we can develop a universal brotherhood working on non-violence. World peace can never be ushered in by armaments.” (Russia and China, 190)

Though Chinese communists wished to do away with the exploitation of the rural areas by urban areas, their theoretical premises were inadequate for this purpose based as they were on the Marxian theory of the need to unleash productive forces and promote increasing industrialisation. For this, greater mechanisation of agriculture, use of chemical fertilisers and herbicides, and extension of agriculture to grasslands and forests were considered essential, and these policies were carried out over a period of time. Industry was considered to be the leading factor in building the national economy.

In contrast to this approach, Gandhi’s Utopia that was also upheld by Kumarappa, was a village based one, politically and economically. The industry envisaged was a small-scale one of village, cottage and home industry as an adjunct to agriculture and providing employment in a way that large-scale highly mechanised industry could never do in a labour surplus country like India. (Development of Cottage Industries, 254) Kumarappa precisely indicated where he thought that large-scale industry had a place, and this was in the case of key industries, public utilities and national monopolies under state ownership and control. If such an economic course were to be followed, then production would follow demand and consumption and not be forced upon the consumer through clever advertising. Distribution too would then be part and parcel of the process of production and consumption and would not call for further coercion on the part of the state to ensure distributive justice. (Planning for India, 121)

Village democracy could be ensured by constituting village panchayats on the basis of universal adult suffrage. Each village would constitute one vote for electing the district administration, which in its turn would elect the provincial administrations, and these in turn would elect the president as head of the central executive. (Dharampal, 64-5) Such a democracy would be bottom up and partyless. By developing in this way villages themselves could have all the infrastructure and amenities that at present are concentrated in towns and cities. At the same time the link with Nature, with organic agriculture, would not be lost and they would not be major sources of greenhouse gases, other pollutants and devastating environmental damage, which the Chinese Maoist model too did inflict, not to speak of the Soviet one.

To conclude this brief comparison between Marxian, Gandhian, and some aspects of Maoist thought, as exemplified in Kumarappa’s writings, the first is based on occidental history and economy, whereas the second bases itself on oriental philosophy, though both seek to establish an equalitarian, just, non-exploitative social order. Maoism did try to base itself on eastern civilizational realities but could not break completely from the industrial paradigm devised in the West.

References
[All references to articles by Kumarappa are from the volume: Back to Basics : A  J C Kumarappa Reader]
1.    Bandhu, Pranjali (ed.) 2011: Back to Basics: A J C Kumarappa Reader, (Introduction by T G Jacob). Ootacamund: Odyssey.
2.   Dharampal. 2007. Panchayati Raj and India’s Polity. Vol IV of Collected Writings. Goa : Other India Press and SIDH. (c 1962)
3.   Gandhi, M K, 1909. Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1996.
4.   Lindley, Mark. 2007. J C Kumarappa: Mahatma Gandhi’s Economist, Mumbai: Popular Prakashan. (Foreword by Amlari Datta)
5.   Mashruwala, K G, 1950. Gandhi and Marx, Harijan Feb. 12–April 30. (Printed as a booklet by Navajivan Publishing House in 1951)
6.   Mao Tse-tung. 1971. Selected Readings from the Works of Mao Tse-tung. Peking: Foreign Languages Press.
7. Lotta, Raymond (Introduction and Afterword). 1994. Maoist Economics and the Revolutionary Road to Communism. The Shanghai Textbook. New York: Banner Press.

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2 Responses “Economy of Permanence: The enduring legacy of J.C. Kumarappa”

  1. Shreekumar
    28th June 2018 at 5:08 am

    Excellent summing up of Kumarappa’s legacy. It’s a pity that so few
    people know about Kumarappa today though what he said can be
    appreciated more today than in his time.

    The edifice of today’s neo-liberalism has thrived at the cost of the
    poor of the world and is destroying itself now. Science is being
    harnessed even now primarily for exploitation, devouring the souls of
    people.

    Peaceful co-existence among humans and between nations is possible only on the basis of a sustainable economy in which human beings are seen to be part of Nature. The solution to today’s
    problems cannot be found in more technology but in a change of values. People need to be educated in the direction of self-sufficiency and self-reliance rather than be trained for becoming active agents in their own slavery. Our attitude to work must change. Wholesome work provides our body with energy, health and rest. For work to be wholesome for all and for it to develop all human faculties, there should be fairness in the division of labour.

    It reads like a manifesto for our times.

  2. Anonymous
    28th June 2018 at 12:21 pm

    Inspiring and encouraging article. Thanks!

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