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Gandhi descendant at UM: 'Utopian socialism' may force oppressors to reform

2013-03-04T21:15:00Z 2013-03-04T21:15:10Z Gandhi descendant at UM: 'Utopian socialism' may force oppressors to reform missoulian.com

Socialism regularly takes a beating in modern American politics, but the great-granddaughter of Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi argues it’s needed to keep far worse politics at bay.

University of Chicago professor Leela Gandhi sees a difference between socialist governments like the ones in Cold War Europe and “socialist utopianism” that individuals look to for ethical guidance. Gandhi was the University of Montana’s President’s Lecture Series speaker on Monday.

“Utopian socialism was anarchist,” Gandhi told an afternoon audience at the Gallagher Business Building. “It anticipated the dangers of state socialism. It was more lifestyle-based and opposed to party politics.”

The idea got its start in the late 19th century, and for a while was considered by “Principles of Communism” author Frederick Engels as one of the most dangerous challenges to communist theory, Gandhi said.

But it also was the passion of what Gandhi called vegetarians, homosexuals, dress-reformists, spiritualists and other “lifestyle-based radicals.”

“It was the idea that wearing a certain kind of sandals, or saving a bunny from vivisection, somehow helps Irish independence,” Gandhi said.

She acknowledged that while that seems unproductive at best and crazy at worst, it also might be the only way to make oppressors reform their oppressive ways. Because it also underpinned the tactics of Mohandas Gandhi’s nonviolent protests against British imperialism, Martin Luther King’s civil rights demonstrations and, more recently, the Occupy Wall Street courtyard campouts.

Leela Gandhi said the thing those efforts had in common was the courage to be imperfect in the face of totalitarian control. And by doing so, make the totalitarians give up some of their own power.

“Those people had no desire to capture power,” she said. “They believed their performance of self-work will achieve an end. This ethic is not interested in safety.”

And it works, in part, because it’s equally as hard to maintain perfect control as it is to risk imperfect ruin.

“You need a lot of training to be despotic,” Gandhi said. “It takes a lot of work not to see the other.”

Ironically, Gandhi’s great-grandfather displayed a contradictory example when he encouraged Indians to become soldiers in World War I, just as American pacifists were starting to tout him as a paragon of nonviolence.

“He said he could not teach Indians nonviolence until they had learned courage,” Leela Gandhi said. “He was a war veteran.”

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

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(11) Comments

  1. AgTip
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    AgTip - March 06, 2013 1:47 pm
    Given some time every form of government that includes power and money at the top will attract "successful psychopaths" into those positions, be it the church or the US Congress, be it the Vatican or the United Nations. Big organizations only seem to work when they are young and just beginning to feel the lift in their wings. Our present government has been in place long enough that it reeks with cognitive dissonance, corruption and greed for more power and money. Something needs to be done or we will end up "in Europe again". We were nearly there with "King George the Bush". We need leaders with a high level of integrity to balance our ethical books.

    What Leela is suggesting is to shrug off waiting for those people of integrity and take some action ourselves. This demands a hell of a lot of courage. The Occupy people have set an example, taking direct nonviolent action in the face of the growing authoritarianism in our government. It is, Leela says, a lifestyle choice. We DO, however, want something for ourselves; let's start with "a voice in government".

    Despite the yattle and prance of the babbling ranters above so far from what is germane, Leela hits the point exactly when she says we need "the courage to be imperfect in the face of totalitarian control."
  2. sofaking tired of the GOP
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    sofaking tired of the GOP - March 06, 2013 1:53 am
    So Stan I take it as a "no I can't name a socialist program Obama has started in the last 4 years" but thanks for playing!
  3. sofaking tired of the GOP
    Report Abuse
    sofaking tired of the GOP - March 06, 2013 1:52 am
    So I hear "No I can't name a socialist program Obama has instated" but thanks for playing! Hellgate I love your holier than though comments. I'm not worthy of an intelligent conversation yet you can't name one program;) And big government makes you a socialist? Well then GW was our nations biggest socialist ever since he oversaw the largest growth of the federal government right according to your amazing logic?
    And how does Lisa Jackson using a phony email account equal socialism exactly? This should be good...
  4. oswarped
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    oswarped - March 05, 2013 8:15 pm
    Just think mommy and daddy pay to have there babies young heads full of mush filled with this junk! Keep sending the kiddies to college to be indoctrinated.
  5. hellgatenights
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    hellgatenights - March 05, 2013 2:30 pm
    Once again.......you prove your knowledge and intellect are not worthy of a discussion on tennis balls, let alone politics.

    Obama is Captain "Redistribution".......his entire cabinet and inner circle are ALL avowed socialists (Including the ones that were pushed out the door like Anita Dunn and Van Jones).

    BIG government? It's never big enough for those that centralize power in committee's and non-elected agencies.

    More Proof? Everywhere you look! How about that EPA chief, Lisa Jackson, And the EPA chief over our area.......GONE for using phony email accounts (To avoid FOIA requests).

    Please.......be silent.
  6. NewMontanaMan
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    NewMontanaMan - March 05, 2013 12:55 pm
    I always get a laugh out of these supposed perfect foreigners who come here, get jobs in our system, and then tell us how to live. I think she should go back to India and work to clean up her own country that is mired in squalor, poverty and mismanagement. And by the way, the Muslims will eventually destroy them anyway, as they are already the most feared part of India. And please remind her that India is still using the infrastructure the British built there after centuries. I doubt they would have ever built the schools, hospitals and railroads on their own. Thanks for the advice but why are you living here? I guess we know the answer to that.
  7. james
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    james - March 05, 2013 10:28 am
    this is brain-washing. what utter non-sense. what ever happened to' we the people"? this is more infiltration from another country we don't need. just like feminism; what a farce. we don't need any more "isms". where is the truth that sets us free? will we succumb to more governmental control? freedom is something that doesn"t spring from an "ism". tell that to our founding fathers??? government is best that governs least. let's get on with the truth, Christ did not die for an "ism".
  8. Stan Reck
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    Stan Reck - March 05, 2013 9:16 am
    Liberals are so laughable. The above two jokers are obviously well versed in the "Jedi Mind Meld" process.
  9. BobbyLee
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    BobbyLee - March 05, 2013 8:31 am
    Since most Missoulians get their version of history sitting in a seat at the Carmike 10 while chomping on popcorn, they seem to revere Gandhi as being close to a saint. I grew up among many Sikhs and Indian Hindus and Muslims and many of them, very clearly, did not. This is a letter I remember from a gentleman who was directly involved with the result of Partition in 1947, written 50 years later:

    Massacres at the partition of India

    Sir: There have been several estimates mentioned recently of the number of deaths caused by the partition of India 50 years ago - figures of 250,000 to half a million have been put forward.

    As a former officer of the Indian Police who was in the very thick of the disturbances in Lahore and Amritsar before the partition, and as Assistant Inspector General in charge of the Indian Punjab railway police, I was interested to hear on the Channel 4 programme "Stones of the Raj" the higher estimate of one million cited.

    The pendulum of death and destruction swung, over a period of many months both before and after 15 August 1947, across the whole of northern India from Calcutta to Kabul, and back again. During those months death was everywhere: in the towns and cities, in the thousands of villages, on the trains, on the roads. One of my duties in the railway police was to meet refugee trains, usually at Amritsar, coming in from newly created Pakistan.

    The carnage on these trains was beyond belief - to men, women and down to the smallest infants. The trains were packed with thousands upon thousands of dead bodies, and many more were strewn along the track sides. The same thing was happening in the opposite direction, where trains taking refugees out of India were, with the connivance of the railway staff, being deliberately derailed so that the passengers could easily be massacred. There was a madness in the air that was almost tangible.

    In addition, nature took a hand that dreadful summer. During the monsoon there were flash floods in some places which swept away untold thousands of refugees along with their bullock carts and all their possessions.

    An old Indian Civil Service friend (who stayed on in Pakistan) and I were recently discussing the question of the number of deaths, and he agreed with me that it must have been anything between one and two million, probably closer to two than to one.

    It will be many years yet, on both sides of the border, before the bitterness of partition is forgotten.

    F B Manley

    Richmond, Surrey

    http://cl.ly/1W471Z3P1m0O

    If people are truly interested in this period, a book well-worth the read is "Gandhi & Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age" by Arthur Herman. If nothing else, it might instill the opinion that even revered, worldly, wise, intelligent statesman are willing to ignore base reality in favor of the dogmatic belief in an agenda they themselves created. One got blamed for fighting for independence and initiating Partition, while the other was blamed for scuttling and running. It's an argument that goes on to this day, and it's become a global problem that we deal with daily.
  10. wes d
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    wes d - March 05, 2013 7:49 am
    Nice! I saw this article and thought, "oh man, let the right wingers begin their fit!!"
  11. sofaking tired of the GOP
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    sofaking tired of the GOP - March 04, 2013 10:18 pm
    Sorry Walter I have to preempt your rant here. Obama is not a socialist. Using the Republican idea for health care is not socialism. Letting temporary tax cuts expire that created no trickle down a destroyed our balanced budget isn't socialism either. What are socialism programs are our military, police, and fire departments though, should we get rid of those?
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