I HAVE before drawn attention to the significant fact that while many experts and empirics are continually advising India to exchange her old lamps for new ones, and persuading Indian youths to go to Europe to learn methods of art and industry, the attention of industrial reformers in Europe is becoming more and more concentrated on the very methods and principles in art and in industry which India is being urged to discard. There has been recently a considerable discussion in the London Press on a declaration of the new Lord Mayor, that he intended to work for the revival of the apprenticeship system. Lord Avebury has a scheme for adapting this system to modern industrial conditions, and conferences on the subject will be shortly initiated at an opening meeting to be held at the Mansion House. The result of these deliberations should be of the greatest value to all who are interested in industrial reform in India, and possibly the fact that London English technical experts and city merchants are taking an interest in such matters may have some influence on the official policy in India.
The apprenticeship system is the foundation of the whole indigenous industrial system in India, as it was formerly in Europe, though, up to the present, all official schemes have entirely ignored it and tried to supersede it by factories and by technical schools on the European model.
Mr. A. J. Penty, a well-known architect and advocate of the restoration of the Guild System (which is the European counterpart of the Indian caste industrial system), in an interview on the subject, with regard to technical schools, said:
They are no substitute at all for apprenticeship. Boys all learning together in a class do not pass on in a rational way from stage to stage: they learn en masse and so there is no real individual growth. Of course schools can help in a theoretical way, but there is no substitute for the sound practical training given by apprenticeship.
Small workshops (such as the Indian caste system creates) and not more factories, were, he said, needed in the European industrial system. All the best work that comes to England from Paris is done in small workshops. “Paris,” says one economist, “is a beehive of small workshops,” and Mr. Penty was convinced that any movement for the revival of the apprenticeship system that does not emphasise the importance of reviving crafts not merely as a commercial, but as artistic concerns is doomed to failure. But in the present state of unemployment when the skilled trades are so terribly over-crowded, it is useless to increase the number of skilled workmen without increasing the demand for their work. It was the demand for artistic things which created the necessity for the small workshops and brought back the handicraftsmen. Mr. Penty had no doubt that the unemployment problem was connected with the absence of artistic demand. Many of the ancient Greek temples were relief works, built to afford a temporary solution for the unemployment problem; and that was one of the grounds on which Pericles justified their erection.
The conditions in India are precisely similar; only there is no lack of skilled handicraftsmen. They exist in large numbers already. Industrial empirics in India pretend to solve the unemployment problem by methods which have produced unemployment in Europe. Unemployment is created in India, as in Europe, by the want of artistic demand. In India, as in Europe, the lack of artistic demand is very largely the result of a bad educational system. There would be a great opening for Pericles’ expedient in India if the Public Works Department were conducted on sound artistic principles.
Industry, as Mr. Penty observed, needs some motive force other than pure commercial gain, and not until it can get it will it be able to grapple successfully with its attendant evils; and this impulse is the artistic impulse. In a recent report the United States Consul in Paris says:
France is industrially prosperous because she commands the rarest and surest of assets the aesthetic taste which creates models and standards for other peoples, and the consummate handicraft which multiplies, in the product, ten, twenty, or a hundred times the value of the material of which it is composed. It is this which enables French ateliers and workshops to turn out the choice products which defy the tariff walls of other nations and makes Paris a Mecca, not only for a vast multitude of cultivated amateurs, but also for merchants from foreign countries who deal in the choicest and most valuable forms of merchandise.
With these progressive views of European industrial experts may be contrasted those of Mr. A. C. Chatterjee, B.A., I.C.S., in industrial matters a disciple of Mr. Chatterton, who in a paper on ‘ The Needs and Methods of Industrial development in India/ read before the East India Association, hardly alluded to the Indian apprenticeship and guild systems of handicraft except in terms of depreciation, and argued that the factory system which produces unemployment in Europe was desirable in India, because the use of complex machinery “enhances by a considerable degree the demand for judgment, intelligence and general faculties of a high order”.
It is necessary to explain that the question which he considered of the greatest importance was “whether the wealth of India is increasing as fast as the wealth of other countries of the world”. Mr. Chatterjee is raising a question which Europe began to consider for herself somecenturiess ago, but after some bitter experience we are now discovering that there are other more important things to think of. We are beginning to find that the old lamps which we exchanged so hastily were more valuable than we thought them. Let us hope that India will not be so foolish as to part with hers.
I must here bring to a conclusion my suggestions on this all important subject. India now stands at the parting of the ways: it is for her leaders to say which they will choose. The one is to surrender all her past traditions, all her intellectual freedom, and in the blind lust for the commercial wealth and political power, which seems to dull imaginations and perverted intellects the highest object of human endeavour, to follow the ignoble crowd which has gone before down the same path, every man fighting for himself, struggling to catch up the vanguard, and hoping, sooner or later, amidst unspeakable filth, squalor and misery, to join in the reckless scramble for gold, such as is witnessed to-day in the great commercial cities of Europe and the so-called ‘ free ‘ America. This path ends in the quagmire in which many great empires, and many great democracies which never learnt the true secret of self-government, have been swallowed up.
The other path is to keep steadfastly in the direction which India’s own spiritual teachers have always pointed out, cherishing the great artistic traditions committed to your charge as a most sacred trust; and, if you must look to the West for more light and leading, to use the insight of spiritual intuition to discriminate between falsehood and truth, to know wisdom from ignorance.
India is not poor as your politicians would make you believe. India has riches which would make her first among all nations, only in their blindness her leaders do not see them or know how to use them. What the better sense of Europe is struggling to regain, India has in abundance; what India really has lost is not political power nor material prosperity, but the spiritual vision which will enable her to realise her own wealth. When that is regained the lessons which she once taught Europe will come back to her mind and she will lead the world in art, science and industry as she has done before. When the mind of India is free, everything else will be achieved. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all things shall be added unto you.”
I say again, if you look to Europe or America for teachers, take heed that you choose wisely. None but the ignorant or charlatans will recommend you the paths of western commercialism as leading to true national prosperity. Lord Morley said in the House of Lords, on a recent memorable occasion: “There is a great feeling prevailing in this country quite beyond the lines of party of pity, of sympathy and horror at the miseries which our industrial system entails.” This is a true expression of the better feeling of Europe, which is above the selfish and narrow interests of individuals or of nations. Dr. Coomaraswamy, than whom no one knows better what is true progress in the West, in his last publication, The Message of the East, says:
The western nations, after a period of unparalleled success in the investigation of the concrete world, the ‘conquest of nature, ‘ and the adaptation of mechanical contrivances to the material ends of life, are approaching in every department a certain critical period. The far-reaching developments of commercialism are undermining their own stability. One-tenth of the British population dies in the gaol, the workhouse or the lunatic asylum. The increasing contrast between extremes of wealth and poverty, the unemployed and many other urgent problems point the same moral. Extreme developments of vulgarity and selfishness imply the necessary reaction. In science, the limit of possible investigation by physical means is in sight. The main body of scientific men cannot much longer avoid the necessity for the investigation of super-physical phenomena by new methods. The problems of the new psychology have made an obsolete science of the old. In all the arts, the extreme development of the critical, scientific and observing faculties has almost extinguished creative power. Science has corrupted art, until the aims of both are confused
There is already abundant evidence of that permeation of western thought by Indian Philosophy which Schopenhauer so clearly foresaw. The East has indeed revealed a new world to the West, which will be the inspiration of a ( Renaissance/ more profound and far-reaching than that which resulted from the re-discovery of the classic world of the West. It is the irony of fate that while the outward and visible Anglicisation of the East is only too apparent, this inward and subtle Indianisation of the West has, as it were, stolen a march in the night, and already there are groups of western thinkers whose purposes and principles are more truly Indian than are those of the average English-educated Indian of to-day. The West can no longer afford to ignore the wisdom of the East in any single department of culture.
This Indianisation of western thought is the most interesting phenomenon in the modern world. The difference between it and the Anglicisation of the East is that it is clearly leading to a true renaissance, whereas most Indians of the present generation who have assimilated the learning of modern Europe, for material advantages, have thrown away, intellectually and spiritually, more than they have gained.
Nevertheless I am optimistic enough to believe that this process of Anglicisation, in spite of its present disadvantages, will eventually lead to a similar intellectual and spiritual renaissance in the East. For though the crowd seems at present to be pressing down the other path as the foolish always follow fools there is yet a small band of pioneers with steadfast purpose and clearer insight, seeking the way of true progress and freedom the way along which the best and wisest men of East and West have always joined and always will join together in comradeship for the common good of humanity.