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Capitalist or Communist?

By Rajesh C. Oza Email By Rajesh C. Oza
August 2013
Capitalist or Communist?

with PostModern Gandhiji (PMG)

An advice column offering the Mahatma’s perspective on modern dilemmas


Dear PMG,

I recently saw a bumper sticker on a car that had a rather simple and clever use of the following four letters: “B-A-M-A.” Since there was an image of a hammer-and-sickle in front of these letters, I assumed that the driver of the car was not a University of Alabama fan proclaiming his allegiance to the Crimson Tide. Instead, I assumed that he was conveying his belief that President Obama is a communist.

Being neither a Democrat nor a Republican, I found this a bit odd given that the stock market has been in the stratosphere, and both my liberal and conservative friends in real estate are beginning to “flip” homes once again. It does seem to me that capitalism in these United States is quite healthy under the current administration; indeed, some on the left end of the political spectrum go so far as to say that the President has bent over backwards to bail out the captains of Wall Street while not doing enough for the little guy getting foreclosed out of his modest home. Of course, there are many people in blue and red states who are concerned that universal health care is a form of socialized medicine, so perhaps that’s what the hammer-and-sickle represent.

All this confusion about President Obama’s commitment to capitalism got me wondering if Mahatma Gandhi was a capitalist or a communist—or a socialist.

Dear Friend,

“Our socialism or communism should … be based on nonviolence and on harmonious co-operation of labour and capital, landlord and tenant..” (M. K. Gandhi)

The little bumper sticker mentioned above encouraged me to read the cover article of the March/April, 2013 Foreign Affairs magazine; the title of the article is “Capitalism and Inequality.” Perhaps Gandhiji would have appreciated the subtitle even more: “What the Right and the Left Get Wrong.” The article’s author, Jerry Z. Muller, closes his piece with a similarly balanced thought: “A useful starting point might be the rejection of both the politics of privilege and the politics of resentment and the adoption of a clear-eyed view of what capitalism actually involves, as opposed to the idealization of its worshipers and the demonization of its critics.”

At some point in life, one recognizes that the world does indeed revolve around each individual’s self-interest. While that might seem cynical to some and at odds with Gandhiji’s rejection of selfishness, it need not be so if one evolves self-interest into enlightened self-interest, i.e., “harmonious co-operation.”

So where does that leave Gandhiji and capitalism versus communism/socialism? I don’t believe that his politics were easily compartmentalized into any “ism.” He embraced and rejected aspects of both American capitalism and European communism and socialism. Perhaps it was only spiritual and dharmic humanism that really moved his soul. Gandhiji was a humanist, moralist, pacifist, and, as seen in this column, a forward-thinking ethicist.

[Dr. Rajesh C. Oza serves as a consultant to organizations and individuals requiring change leadership. We invite questions for consideration in the PMG column at raj.oza@sbcglobal.net.]


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