Constructive Program

Constructive Program is action taken within the community to build structures, systems, processes or resources that are positive alternatives to oppression. It often works along side Obstructive Program, which usually involves direct confrontation to or noncooperation with oppression. Constructive Program is doing what one can to imaginatively and positively create justice within one’s own community.

Confrontations—whether violent or nonviolent—can capture attention, intrigue the media, and catalyze fledgling movements. However, even poignant instances of nonviolent resistance do not by themselves build or sustain movements. Indeed, since principled nonviolence is at its core a positive rather than negative principle, many people are drawn to Constructive Program’s emphasis on “cooperating with good” instead of Obstructive Program’s emphasis on “non-cooperation with evil.” Moreover, there is again a special power and directness in improving oneself rather than (or alongside) trying to change the other (see swadeshi).

Gandhi defined Constructive Program quite early in his career and coined the term to denote the myriad of activities that he felt were prerequisite to carrying out the more overt and confrontational modes of nonviolent action. For example, he established four ashrams in the course of his long career where satyagrahis [nonviolent actors] could live a nonviolent, creative life that was largely self-sufficient (and sustainable). As Constructive Program took on more and more importance over the course of the freedom struggle, the spinning wheel became its symbol. By using the spinning wheel to create home-spun cloth, each Indian could participate in the struggle to build a sustainable economy separate from the British textile industry. Spinning enabled every Indian to participate in the ‘bread labour’ of fulfilling a basic need, gave employment to millions of idled workers, and finally freeing India from England’s economic domination. The spinning wheel became the ‘sun’ in the ‘solar system’ of many other projects. (See Constructive Programme, Its Meaning and Place, [Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1941]).

The charkha, or (spinning) wheel, was the physical embodiment and symbol of Gandhi’s constructive program. It represents localism (swadeshi), self-sufficiency (but at the same time interdependence, as the wheel only had meaning in the center of a vast network of cotton growers, carders, weavers, distributors, and users), the dignity of labor, equality and unity (as all volunteers were pretty much required to spin each day), and finally independence, as British control of India was rooted in control of her indigenous industries. For this reason, Nehru called the homespun cloth (khadi) “the livery of our freedom.”

It seems that healthy and local food is Gandhi’s spinning wheel of the 21st Century.