At the Ashram we hold that Swadeshi is a universal law. A man's first duty is to his neighbour. This does not imply hatred for the foreigner or partiality for the fellow- countryman. Our capacity for service has obvious limits. We can serve even our neighbour with some difficulty. If everyone of us duly performed his duty to his neighbour, no one in the world who needed assistance would be left unattended. Therefore one who serves his neighbour serves all the world. As a matter of fact there is in Swadeshi no room for distinction between one's own and other people. To serve one's neighbour is to serve the world. Indeed it is the only way open to us of serving the world. One to whom the whole world is as his family should have the power of serving the universe without moving from his place. He can exercise this power only through service rendered to his neighbour. Tolstoy goes further and says that at present we are riding on other people's backs; it is enough only if we get down. This is another way of putting the same thing. No one can serve others without serving himself. And whoever tries to achieve his private ends without serving others harms himself as well as the world at large. The reason is obvious. All living beings are members one of another so that a person's every act has a beneficial or harmful influence on the whole world. We cannot see this, near-sighted as we are. The influence of a single act of an individual on the world may be negligible. But that influence is there all the same, and an awareness of this truth should make us realize our responsibility.
Swadeshi therefore does not involve any disservice to the foreigner. Still Swadeshi does not reach everywhere, for that is impossible in the very nature of things. In trying to serve the world, one does not serve the world and fails to serve even the neighbour. In serving the neighbour one in effect serves the world. Only he who has performed his duty to his neighbour has the right to say, "All are akin to me.' But if a person says, 'AH are akin to me,' and neglecting his neighbour gives himself up to self-indulgence, he lives to himself alone.
We find some good men who leave their own place and move all over the world serving non-neighbours. They do nothing wrong, and their activity is not an exception to the law of Swadeshi. Only their capacity for service is greater. To one man, only he who lives next door to him is his neighbour. For a second man his neighbourhood is co-extensive with his village and for a third with ten surrounding villages. Thus every one serves according to his capacity. A common man cannot do uncommon work. Definitions are framed with an eye to him alone, and imply everything which is not contrary to their spirit. When he observes the law of Swadeshi, the ordinary man does not think that he is doing service to any others. He deals with the neighbouring producer, as it is convenient for him. But an occasion may arise when this is inconvenient. One who knows that Swadeshi is the law of life will observe it even on such occasions. Many of us at present are not satisfied with the quality of goods made in India, and are tempted to buy foreign goods. It is therefore necessary to point out that Swadeshi does not simply minister to our convenience but is a rule of life. Swadeshi has nothing to do with hatred of the foreigner. It can never be one's duty to wish or to do ill to others.
Khadi has been conceived as the image of Swadeshi, because India has committed a heinous sin by giving it up and thus failing in the discharge of her natural duty.
The importance of khadi and the spinning-wheel first dawned on me in 1908, when I had no idea of what the wheel was like and did not even know the difference between the wheel and the loom. I had only a vague idea of the condition of India's villages, but still I clearly saw that the chief cause of their pauperization was the destruction of the spinning-wheel, and resolved that I would try to revive it when I returned to India.
I returned in 1915 with my mind full of these ideas. Swadeshi was one of the observances ever since the Ashram was started. But none of us knew how to spin. We therefore rested content with setting up a hand loom. Some of us still retained a liking for fine cloth. No Swadeshi yarn of the requisite fineness for women's sadis was available in the market. For a very short time therefore they were woven with foreign yarn. But we were soon able to obtain fine yarn from Indian mills.
It was no easy job even to set up the handloom at the Ashram. None of us had the least idea of weaving. We obtained a loom and a weaver through friends. Maganlal Gandhi undertook to learn weaving.
I conducted experiments at the Ashram and at the same time carried on Swadeshi propaganda in the country. But it was like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark so long as we could not spin yarn. At last however I discovered the spinning-wheel, found out spinners and introduced the wheel in the Ashram. The whole story has been unfolded in the Autobiography.1
But that did not mean that our difficulties were at an end. On the other hand they increased, as such of them as were hidden till now became manifest.
Touring in the country I saw that people would not take to the spinning-wheel as soon as they were told about it. I knew that not much money could be made by spinning, but I had no idea of how little it was. Then again the yarn that was spun would not at once be uniform as well as fine. Many could spin only coarse and weak yarn. Not all kinds of cotton were suitable for spinning. The cotton must be carded and made into slivers, and in carding much depended upon the condition of the cotton. Any and every spinning-wheel would not do. To revive the spinning-wheel thus meant the launching of a big scheme. Money alone could not do the trick. As for manpower too hundreds of workers would be needed, and these men should be ready to learn a new art, to be satisfied with a small salary and to live out their lives in villages. But even that was not enough. The rural atmosphere was surcharged with idleness and lack of faith and hope. The wheel could make no headway if this did not improve. Thus a successful revival of the wheel could be brought about only with an army of single-minded men and women equipped with infinite patience and strong faith.
At first I was alone in having this faith. Faith indeed was the only capital that I had, but I saw that if there is faith, everything else is added unto it. Faith enlightens the intellect and induces habits of industry. It was clear that all experiments should be conducted at and through the Ashram which indeed existed for that very purpose. I realized that spinning should be the principal physical activity of the Ashram. Thus only could it be reduced to a science. Therefore spinning was at last recognised as a mahayajna (primary sacrifice), and everyone who joined the Ashram had to learn spinning and to spin regularly everyday.
But yajna implies skill in action (कर्मसु कौशलम्।). To spin some yarn somehow cannot be called a yajna. At first the rule was that the members should spin for at least half an hour everyday. But it was soon found that if the spinning- wheel went out of order, one could not spin even a couple of yards in half an hour. Therefore the rule was modified and members were asked to spin at least 160 rounds, one round being equal to 4 feet. Again yarn was no good if it was not uniform as well as strong. Tests of strength and uniformity were therefore devised, and we have now made such progress that spinning yarn coarser than 20s does not count as yajna.
But granted that good yarn is spun, who would make use of it? I was sure from the first that the person who did spinning as a sacrament must not use his own yarn, but I was unable to carry conviction to others. Where was the harm if the spinner paid the wages and purchased his yarn for himself ? I deceived myself and agreed that one who paid the wages and brought his own yarn should be considered a spinning-sacrificer. This error has not still been fully rectified. Errors not dealt with with a strong hand at their first appearance tend to become permanent, and are difficult to eradicate like chronic diseases.
As a consequence of this yajna spinning has made great strides in India, but it has still to take root in each of our villages. The reason is obvious. My faith was not coupled with knowledge. Some knowledge was acquired after mistakes had been committed. Co-workers have joined me, but are too few for the great task in hand. There are hundreds of workers, but perhaps they have not in them the requisite faith and knowledge. The root being thus weak, one may not expect to enjoy the ripest fruit.
But for this I cannot find fault with anybody. The work is new and wide as the ocean and it bristles with difficulties. Therefore though the result of our activity is not gratifying, it is still sufficient for sustaining our faith. We have every right to hope for complete success. Faithful workers, men as well as women, have joined in adequate numbers and have accumulated a fund of valuable experience, so that this movement is certainly destined not to perish.
Khadi has given rise to quite a number of other activities at the Ashram as well as elsewhere in the country which cannot here be dealt with at any length. Suffice it to say that cotton crops are raised, spinning-wheels are made, cloth is dyed, and simple hand-operated machines are manufactured for all the processes from ginning to weaving. These machines are being improved from time to time. The progress made in producing a more efficient type of spinning-wheel is a piece of poetry to my mind.