Published below is an article written by Minoo Masani in 1952, which appeared in the December 2002 edition of Freedom First Magazine. This piece was written during the years of the cold war wherein Mr Masani makes a coherent, impassioned and prudent plea to safeguard universal human values.
You can read the unabridged version of the article here.
In the Presidential Address delivered a few days back at the Annual Meeting of the British Association by Professor AV Hill, he took a step further with the familiar proposition that Science has put in Man’s hands more power than he has the wisdom to use. Dealing in particular with the problem of food and population, which is most acute in countries like India, Professor Hill asked whether Human Rights extended to unlimited reproduction with a consequent obligation falling on those more prudent. This is a question to which I, for one, would hesitate to venture an answer more specific than that given by Mahatma Gandhi in a wider context, namely, that each right carries with it a corresponding obligation. Certainly, all in India who ponder that country’s massive problems realize that the most serious attention needs to be devoted to rectification through an all-sided approach to the prevailing unbalance between production and population. An international Conference on Planned Population, which is due to meet in Bombay later this year and in which Dr Margaret Sanger and other pioneers in the field will participate, is only one of the many signs that we in India are not altogether unaware of the pressing problem by drawing pointed attention to which Professor Hill performed a public service.
As Professor Hill himself went on to state, the problem he raised is not confined to India nor to food. The wider question of what is the purpose of human life on earth is involved. The scientist is only the expert witness; the entire community is the judge, and to help in expressing that moral judgement is, according to Professor Hill, the “compelling duty of a good citizen.”
One thing is clear, as indeed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations recognizes, and this is that Human Rights must be universally recognized and applied. If any attempt were to be made to restrict them to any narrower circle, they would cease to be human and, in some measure, become exploitative. Obviously, as this may sound, there is reason to believe that the universality of Human Values needs to be constantly re-asserted.
In the New Fabian Essays, alongside much that is reasonable and humane, Mr RHS Crossman propounds a thesis that calls for analysis. Having made it clear that he regards totalitarian Communism as a reactionary force that the peoples of the Atlantic community must resist, Mr Crossman proceeds to the assumption that, to quote his own words, “the coolie in Malaya, or for that matter the tribesman in Nigeria does not want either liberty, equality and fraternity or the dictatorship of the proletariat. He is below the level of such political aspirations,” says Mr Crossman.
He then asks his readers to join him in accepting “both intellectually and emotionally the fact that Communism outside Europe is still a liberating force. We are then brought to a remarkable conclusion: “The American isolationist,” writes Mr Crossman, “who reacts so violently against the gigantic bill of rearmament and foreign aid, is nearer the tradition of Americanism than the New Deal prophets of America’s worldwide responsibilities.” Americans should, therefore, be encouraged, says Mr Crossman, “to take the risk in Asia and Africa of leaving unfilled the “political vacuum” left by the dismantling of the old European empires… We are opposed,” writes Mr Crossman, “to Russian expansion but also to American victory.”
Whatever the motivation of this line of thought may be, its implications are unfortunately hard to mistake. First, Human Values are different for the peoples of Western Europe and North America on the one hand and for the peoples of the underdeveloped countries of Asia and Africa on the other. Secondly, the claims of bread and freedom are antithetical and should in the case of underdeveloped countries be resolved in favour of bread. Thirdly, the West should write off these countries and their peoples and do nothing to protect them from being overtaken by Communist expansion and aggression.
Here then from a leading spokesman of “left” wing Socialism in the West comes a strange echo of Rudyard Kipling’s “East is East and West is West”; “East of Suez, there ain’t no Ten Commandments”; and “what is reaction and tyranny for the European and American is liberation and progress for the “lesser breeds without the law”.
Is there perchance any truth in this assertion that the masses of illiterate and underprivileged people in Asia and Africa are just empty stomachs and hungry for food? The facts testify precisely to the contrary. While it may be true that some left-wing intellectuals in India, as elsewhere, are obsessed with the desirability of the Soviet Model Five-Year Plans and of what Lewis Mumford has called “giantism”, the common people in India are much more attached to such things as their traditional way of life, their religions and their places of worship, their families and their homes, their cattle and their farms. While the Communist Party of India has attracted a section of the English-speaking intelligentsia and is today more entrenched among its ranks that it is among classes less privileged, the Indian masses on the other hand have, by their unique response over three decades to Mahatma Gandhi shown that the man who evokes a response in their hearts is the one who talks to them of non-material values like God, Love, Truth, Human Brotherhood and the Equality of the untouchable Harijan and the proud Brahmin.
Gandhi represents the complete antithesis of the Communist and has been recognized as such in the Moscow press and radio for over three decades. The Communist swears by dialectical materialism – matter is the essence, the mind a by-product; Gandhi preaches the supremacy of spirit, of mind over matter. To the Communists, the end justifies the means; to Gandhi, the means are everything – means and ends are like the seed and the tree, and so Gandhi pronounced Soviet Communism to be “repugnant to India”. Stalin preaches the need to hate the class and national enemy; Gandhi the need to love all. Communism seeks to centralize and collectivize everything; Gandhi preaches the need to decentralize and distribute political and economic power. The Communist glorifies the State; Gandhi, conscious of the distinction drawn by Reinhold Niebuhr between Moral Man and immoral Society, stresses the individual as an end in himself. ldentifying himself with the lowliest on the scale of Caste – the Harijan or untouchable Gandhi recalls the words of Him who said, “As long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.”
Those who today work for the lowliest of our people cannot escape the spirit of Gandhi. Only last month Jayaprakash Narayan wrote, “For many years I have worshipped at the shrine of the goddess Dialectical Materialism, which seemed to me intellectually more satisfying than any other philosophy. But while the main quest of philosophy remains unsatisfied, it has become patent to me that materialism of any sort robs man of the means to be truly human…lt is clearer today than ever that social reconstruction is impossible without human reconstruction…Only when materialism is transcended does individual man come into his own and become an end in himself,” concludes Jayaprakash. It is obvious then that for India the only genuine, the only Indian social revolution is the one that Gandhi commenced.
I have felt it essential to stress the universality of human values so rudely questioned by Mr Crossman because it is only too likely that his assumptions are not confined to the Bevanites in Britain and that many men and women of goodwill might indeed share them in the United States. Let us put bread into the hungry mouths of the Asian masses, let us fill their empty stomachs, and we shall save Asia from Communism.
Now, this line of thought is, in my view, fundamentally fallacious. Man does not live by bread alone – not even the brown, yellow, or black man. Empty minds and souls provide as good a breeding ground for Communism as empty stomachs. Czechoslovakia did not go under the “lron Curtain” because its people were starving in the months preceding the coup d’etat of February 1948. The model housing of Socialist Vienna provided no deterrent to Dolfuss and then to Hitler. How mistaken have been proved those prophets who foretold that once Iran lost the revenues that came to her from oil and felt the pinch, she would be brought to her senses. It would seem then that the lesson that Peter Drucker taught in his book “The End of Economic Man” is all too easily forgotten.
What decides whether a people will adhere to Democracy or succumb to Communism is primarily whether or not they believe in another ideology superior to Communism, whether or not they have the will to resist and whether or not they possess the leadership that will guide them to do so.
Asia is today asserting not only its right to economic prosperity and progress but even more to equality of status in the world family, to self-respect and dignity, to racial equality and the end of discrimination.
Surveys of opinion among industrial workers made in America in recent years have shown that in listing the priorities among incentives, the American worker is inclined to place wages somewhere near the bottom of the list. It is the non-material incentives that take priority. This is true of our workers in India.
If I have stressed non-material values and incentives as against material ones, it is not that I am insensible to the value that material things and their possession have in providing a fuller life and greater dignity to the human being. Nor is this to be construed as a plea that the United States should go slow on economic aid to underdeveloped countries. On the contrary, I have been one of those in India who were for the acceptance of United States economic aid even before it became generally acceptable. Nor am I suggesting that America should stop rearming for the collective security of the free world against totalitarian aggression. On the contrary, I know that, to the extent that America rearms and reasserts the strength of the free world, she defends us who are militarily weaker, whether we know it or not. However, I urge the need to follow up on economic and military cooperation on the ideological plane.
Mr Arthur Goodfriend in his significant book “The Only War We Seek,” makes a similar plea. Writes Mr Goodfriend, “They (the Chinese Communists) reached the people by means of education and political indoctrination. We tried too often to win them with charity…We can, as we did in China, keep mum about the shameful record of Russian Communism. Or we can attack the soft underbelly of Communism by reciting its record on the values most precious to Asians and others – religion, the family, national independence and the ownership of the land…Unless we are prepared to face the problem, the United States and the free world may be betrayed into a grievous error. The governments of underdeveloped peoples may rally to our side – but behind this facade the people may remain aloof and even antagonistic”. Thus Mr Goodfriend.
There is no country in the world today so well placed to lead the social revolution in Asia as the United States of America, Professor M. A. Lineberger on the basis of his own personal experience in the Far East, presents us with a paradox. “The Americans believe in spiritual things,” writes Professor Lineberger, “but they try to buy them by material means – by dollars, by gifts, by aid. The Communists believe in material things, but they offer people something to join, something to do, something to fight. We Americans offer property; the Communists offer a reason to being alive…People who join the Communist side feel that they are needed, that the Communists want them. You could not join the American side, if you were an Asian. There isn’t anything to join”. How very true.
Neither militarily, ideologically, nor morally can one part of humanity afford to write off any other. If it was true in the time of Abraham Lincoln that no nation could be half slave and half free, it is equally true today in this shrinking world that we cannot have a world that is half slave and half free. More than ever is it true today that as the English poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own, were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”.
Previous musing: Democracy means Bread and Freedom