The Relevance of Mahatma Gandhi and His Ideas

“Non-violence is the first article of my faith. It is the last article of my faith…”

– Mahatma Gandhi, at a trial court on March 18, 1922 after he was arrested following the calling off of the Non-Cooperation Movement.

The apostle of truth and non-violence, one of the greatest upholders of peace and harmony humanity has witnessed, and the leader of India’s freedom movement, Mahatma Gandhi and his ideas continue to inspire generations. From Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States to Nelson Mandela in South Africa and many other leaders and people around the world who have stood and fought against oppression and injustices of various kinds have been inspired by the ideas, principles and the life of the Mahatma.

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In this essay, some of the most important ideas of the man who changed the world by being simple and humble yet strong and determined are looked into.

View on Modern Civilization

Mahatma Gandhi considered that modern civilization is grounded in a fatally flawed theory of mankind which takes note neither of morality nor of religion. Modern Western Civilization was completely body-centered and materialistic. It attributed to mankind selfishness and infinite multiplicity of wants. It led to a life devoid of meaning and purpose because it had no guiding moral principles.

People in the West and around the world today have slowly realized the callousness of this modernity. Today we see people embracing minimalist and simple lifestyle and slowly turning away from extreme materialism.

In his Hind Swaraj, Mahatma Gandhi also argued that despite all its egalitarian pretensions, modern western civilization is discriminatory, exploitative and violent. All this was manifested in the practice of imperialism that the Western world once aggressively followed.

Today, imperialism is a rejected idea and the very practice of it in any form is condemned by the world community.

The people’s slow appreciation of a life which is not entirely materialistic and rejection of exploitative practices such as imperialism are testaments to the relevance of the ideas of Gandhiji.

The Principle and Idea of Satyagraha

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‘Satyagraha’ literally means ‘holding onto truth’. According to Mahatma Gandhi, Satyagraha is ‘love-force’, ‘soul-force’, or ‘truth-force’- the force which is born of truth and love or non-violence.

Satyagraha is different from both passive resistance and violence. The core principle of Satyagraha is to oppose the tyranny but not the tyrant. A satyagrahi should be ready to give up his life rather than take the opponent’s life.

Satyagraha leads to the conversion of enemies into friends, and peaceful resolution of conflict which is mutually accepted. The purpose of Satyagraha is to substitute force-obedience by willing-obedience and involuntary cooperation by voluntary cooperation.

The Gandhian method of peaceful resolution of conflict is the basis of conflict resolution that has been guiding the United Nations and many other parties in conflict in the contemporary era. The world community endorses the idea of peaceful resolution of conflict in regional, national and international disputes. In this context, Mahatma Gandhi and his ideas are becoming increasingly relevant.

The Idea of Swaraj and Swadeshi

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‘Swaraj’ means ‘self-rule’ and ‘self-restraint’. For Gandhiji, Swaraj is a constitutional, democratic political order as well as the economic independence and self-sufficiency.

Mahatma Gandhi believed that ‘Swadeshi’, meaning economic independence and/or self-sufficiency, is necessary for putting Satyagraha into practice and winning Swaraj meaningfully. He was of the view that freedom was bound to remain a mere philosophical abstraction unless the vast masses had some gainful employment. Therefore, he actively supported village construction, employment of the masses, etc.

Realizing the importance and relevance of Gandhian philosophy of village development and meaningful employment of the masses, the Government of India has been actively pursuing various programs to develop villages and provide employment. Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), the largest employment guarantee scheme in the world at present, is one fine example.

Sarvodaya- Welfare of All

Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘Swaraj’ also means ‘Sarvodaya’ which means ‘freedom for all’ and/or ‘welfare of all’. Sarvodaya philosophy envisioned what Gandhiji called ‘Ramrajya’, which is Gandhiji’s version of ‘Kingdom of God on Earth’.

Though considered idealistic and a utopia, Mahatma Gandhi championed ideas of equality, freedom and justice in his philosophy of Sarvodaya. He wanted a society free from inequalities, exploitation, discrimination and injustices. Is not this what many people especially the youth fighting for? Today, we condemn injustices, we fight against exploitation, and we dream for an equal and just society. The Anti-Slavery March in London against a CNN released undercover footage of what appeared to be a slave auction in Libya (2017), fight for practical ending of caste discrimination in our country, call for gender equality, demand for fundamental right to work- all of these reflect the willingness and urge to ensure a just and equitable society.

Adherence to Just Ends and Means

Noble end demands noble means. The end of an action would be good only if and to the extent the means are good. Mahatma Gandhi strongly believed that ‘end’ is as much important as the ‘means’. Such a noble and truthful dictum remains eternally relevant.


Though Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas and principles are appraised and accepted by many, they are not free from criticisms.

Some scholars argue that since Gandhiji largely concentrated on the darker side of modern civilization, he overlooked some of its great achievements and strengths. Since he saw it from the ‘outside’, he oversimplified it and did not fully understand its complex structure.

Mahatma Gandhi’s stress on khadi and simplicity at the cost of huge industries and ostentatious life is considered an anachronism. Critics argue that huge industries are needed for economic self sufficiency.

Besides, critics say that Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of Satyagraha and Ahimsa (non-violence) are very limited. India fought war against Pakistan and China; moreover, non-violence can hardly solve the problems created by nuclear weapons.

Further, some critics argue that in today’s politics, ‘end’ justifies ‘means’; none of the politicians seem to adhere to the Gandhian dictum of ‘just means and just ends’.

Though some of these criticisms hold ground, it does not mean that having some of these limitations make Gandhian principles and ideas out of place.

While Mahatma Gandhi criticized modern western civilization, he also appreciated many of its aspects such as rationality and scientific spirit.

Mahatma Gandhi was not also totally against big industries. He simply wanted that the common masses were not exploited by interested capitalists who were greedy and profit-mongering- a concern shared by many in the world today.

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The great scientist Albert Einstein was right when he said of Gandhi:

“Generations to come, it may be, none will scarcely believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”

The message of the Mahatma, the enlightened soul, might mean differently to different people. Yet, the core of Gandhian philosophy such as notions of forgiveness, cooperation, reconciliation, and non-violence for a lasting peace and harmony are universally accepted and eternally relevant. It is for us to re-examine and look into his philosophy, life and ideas, and see how it can help us improve our world.


Anyone who wishes to make an attempt to understand Gandhi and his philosophy should make it mandatory to read the following books:

Other noteworthy books on Mahatma Gandhi you can explore:

The Marxist View of Politics: A Critical Look

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” Thus begins The Communist Manifesto. Indeed, politics as a mode of class struggle is the hallmark of Marxism.

The Communist Manifesto

Marxism is one of the most important ideologies of the modern age. It influenced the entire world politics, and threatened the capitalist philosophies and countries around the world. The socialist doctrine known as Marxism is based on the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Lenin, Mao Tse-tung and Marshal Tito also made significant contributions to the growth and spread of this political ideology. Rosa Luxemburg, Antonio Gramsci and Leon Trotsky are other prominent thinkers of Marxism.

The Basic Tenets of Marxism

The Marxist view on politics can best be understood through the fundamental principles of the ideology based on the writings of Marx, Engels, and other later Marxist thinkers. These are the following:


Dialectical Materialism

According to Marx and Engels, the world is by its very nature material and it develops as the result of a conflict between two opposing material factors. In other words, history is conceived as a dialectical process where contradiction is the essence of it.

When two opposing material forces come into conflict with each other, a new situation is born. This new situation, according to this principle, is called development. We can understand this process in the form of Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis. The capitalist class is the Thesis, and the working class is the Antithesis. The interests of the capitalists and workers are all the time opposite to each other; it is irreconcilable and thus a continuous struggle between the two. The struggle will come to an end only when the workers have won and a new social system is born. This new development is Synthesis. Such a social system is characterized by a ‘classless’ and ‘stateless’ society.

Historical Materialism or Economic Interpretation of History

Marxists believe that in every country, politics, religion, art and culture are greatly influenced by the economic conditions. To Marxists, all the social and political changes, the revolutions and the wars are due to economic and material factors. Therefore, economic system is the root of all events in history. Marxism looks upon economic conditions as the basis of life, our thinking, our behavior as well as the political and ideological systems.

Marx has divided the history of mankind into six periods or ages:

  • the age of primitive communism;
  • the age of slavery: masters and slaves;
  • the age of feudalism: lords and serfs;
  • the age of capitalism: bourgeoisie and proletariat;
  • Dictatorship of the Proletariat; and
  • Communism, when all class struggle ends.

The new ideal society, Communism, according to Marx, will be a classless and stateless society. It will be marked by social harmony and stability.

Doctrine of Class Struggle

In each age, in every society, there have existed two classes- one possessing the means of production and the other which is exploited by the former class. Marxism pictures human history to be an endless struggle between the two antagonistic classes- the ‘Haves’ and the ‘Have-nots.’

To bring an end to this struggle, the Have-nots or the proletariat in the capitalist society must win over the bourgeoisie. And, the only means to do so is through revolution.

Politics as an Instrument of Class Exploitation

Marxists argue that politics is nothing but an act of domination of one class over the other. The class who controls the means of production also dominates the society, culture, religion, state and politics, and influences ideology, morality, family and everyday life. Therefore, politics is the medium in which power allows those who possess it to ensure their hold on the society and to profit by it.

Accordingly, Marxism aims at abolishing the classes from society, which will lead to the “withering away of the state” and politics in due course.

Classless and Stateless Society

A classless and stateless society is the ultimate goal of Marxism. To overthrow the capitalist state, Marx recommended revolution. Immediately after the revolution, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat will be established.

However, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat will only be a transitional state of affairs. It is a state in between ‘capitalism’ and ‘complete communism’. Real communism signifies a stage when there will be no class and no state. In a classless society, though administration will remain, politics and state will wither away. The state arose as an instrument of class oppression; when classes disappear, the state will disappear. The classless and stateless society is Marx’s ideal state, the New Ideal Society.

Critical Evaluation

Karl Marx is the first socialist writer whose work can be termed scientific. Marx, along with Engels, tried to bring a world communist revolution. And, indeed, they succeeded in doing doing so, though it was not a complete one.

Karl Marx. Image: source

Marx and Engels clearly stated that the interests of the capitalists and those of workers were opposed to each other. They said that politics is the study of class relations and class struggles in the society. In that, they were not wrong.

Marx and Engels gave the working classes the assurance of being on a winning side. The concluding part of the Communist Manifesto declared:

The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.

In fact, success of communism in the erstwhile Soviet Union, China, Cuba and many other parts of the world proved Marx right!

Marx, Engels and Lenin raised the workers from the morass of fatalism and taught them that they have to unite for the purpose of securing their emancipation.

Nevertheless, Marxist view of politics is subject to certain criticisms on many grounds. First, Marx argued that the state is an instrument of class exploitation. However, critics point out that, in modern times, the state cannot be regarded as the product of class antagonism. Rather, it is a social welfare state. It represents all classes in society and tries to promote their interests. The state is not used for coercion.

Second, Marx’s economic interpretation of history is also criticized on many grounds. It is true that in many instances those who command property also capture political power. But this may not be true all the time. On the other hand, history is not determined by economic conditions alone. Political, social, cultural and geographical factors also form important parts in determining historical phenomena.

Third, Marx believed that in the capitalist society, the poor become poorer. But this is not correct all the time. Today, the economic conditions of the working class have considerably improved.

Fourth, Marx glorifies class warfare. He wants to abolish capitalism and establish a classless and stateless society through violent and revolutionary methods. However, critics have argued that it is possible to set up a socialist state through peaceful and constitutional means (Democratic Socialism).

Fifth, The Marxist theory of withering away of the state is also untenable. In Russia, there is no sign of the disappearance of the state, nor in China. Instead, the Soviet State became omnipotent and all-powerful. To assume a society without a class and a state, as a matter of fact, is a mere flight of imagination.

Finally, there have always been a question of freedom and democracy in the communist countries. In the former Soviet Union, people had no political or spiritual freedoms. Even today, political and civil rights are allegedly denied to people in China.


With the disintegration of erstwhile Soviet Union, the relevance of Marxism has been questioned by many scholars. However, the disintegration of the Soviet Union does not mean the end of Marxism or its influence on politics and economy. Many political systems and ideologies continue to be influenced by Marxism. No discourse on political economy is complete without reference to Marxism.

With global reports indicating the growing gap between top executives and lower employees, we cannot satisfactorily argue that the economic conditions of lower working class have actually improved under capitalist economy. Moreover, the increasing conflict between large industries and their factory workers does not indicate that class antagonism has actually faded.

What has to be noted is that Marxism continues to be extremely relevant. So is its views on politics and economy.

NOTE: This was my assignment during undergraduate studies in Ramjas College, University of Delhi, New Delhi.