January 24, 2008

More politics: the Dalai Lama as Marxist Monk

The Dalai Lama said, "I am a Marxist monk," and spawned a discussion on socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Maoism, and Stalinism on E-Sangha (login required). The quote from the Buddhist Channel:

At a gathering at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A), [the DL] said: “I am a Marxist monk, a Buddhist Marxist. I belong to the Marxist camp, because unlike capitalism, Marxism is more ethical. Marxism, as an ideology, takes care of the welfare of its employees and believes in distribution of wealth among the people of the state.”

Communist China, the DL says, has a high degree of exploitation among its workers.

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Vasudeva Acharya's picture

Felix,
You bring about an important aspect of the influenc of anarchism of lev tolstoy on Gandhi. This was especially strong during his late South Africa years and the early satyagragha years in India. In one of his early speeches at the Banaras Hindu University, Gandhi showed the evidence of his anarchist tendencies by attacking the Maharajas head on. However during his later political years he was drawn to the cesspool of the murky Indian politics where he had to balance between caste and communal elements of the Indian political diaspora. His earlier free thinking and progressive ideals had to take a back seat and he remained content in being politically correct in those turbulent times. The anarchism of Gandhi's early years and his idealism was in a state of perpetual conflict and we can see this in Gandhi's life story in a dramitic way.

felix's picture

The Dalai Lama has elsewhere stated that socialism did not die with the fall of the Soviet Bloc, but what had fallen was "an authoritarian centralist form of socialism". I don't know if the Dalai Lama is himself aqainted with the anarchist (or libertarian socialist) tradition. It has always distanced itself from Marxism and Soviet "Communism", and insisted on decentralization and the breaking down of hierarchies. Gandhi's politics (the most progressive part) was deeply influenced by anarchism, via Leo Tolstoy, whom Gandhi greatly admired. Tolstoy was very clear on his anarchist convictions, and formulated a Christian Anarchism. Incidentally, he took the title of "War and Peace" from a book by the famous French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, whom he met in Paris.

I have lived in Scandinavia most of my life and can attest that the "European" or "Scandinavian" model is *not* a middle path between socialism and capitalism. Instead, it is a modification of capitalism whereby exploitation is moved to geographically distant regions (the "Third World") and made more invisible. Anarchism is in fact a middle way between liberalism and socialism: it insists on personal freedom, but also on the abolition of property; it wants democracy, but not majority tyranny; autonomy, but also mutual aid. For Buddhists who are interested in socialism, I recommend rediscovering the anarchist tradition. Also, strongly anarchist elements can be observed in Buddhist organizations like the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement on Sri Lanka. I've written about them here: http://www.thebuddhadharma.com/issues/2005/spring/sarvodaya.html

James's picture

Fascinating statements by the DL and comments on the eSangha board. I guess for me, like in all things, my politics is situated on the middle path. I like some capitalism but a lot of socialism as well.

I prefer the European, Democratic-Socialism model that is very successful in western Europe and especially in the Scandinavian countries.

Europe has seen the horrors of both pure socialism and pure capitalism and have found a very workable and successful happy medium.