Sohail Inayatullah writes about the work of poet and visionary Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar. This is the first of a two part article, originally posted at KurzweilAI.net.
Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar is well known as a social philosopher, political revolutionary, poet, and linguist. He has also been described as the complete renaissance man.1 These descriptions come as a result of his numerous books and articles in the fields of natural sciences, world history, art, health, and political-economy, his creation of the Progressive Utilization Theory (PROUT) and his role as spiritual teacher of the social service, spiritual movement Ananda Marga.2
While these accomplishments are in themselves important, in this article we discuss his contribution to futures studies and his vision of the future. We can divide his futures oriented work into four areas: the first are forecasts based on theory of the social cycle (world government, a spiritual-led polity, and the end of capitalism and communism), the second are forecasts that predict new developments in the potential for spiritual development (the theory of microvita, the shift of the earth’s poles and the ice age), the third are specific technological forecasts (longevity, mind and space travel); and the fourth are warnings (water shortage, a global depression). The overall context to his interest in the future, however, is not prediction, but inspiration–the creation of a new vision for humanity.
Like Sarkar, many futurists3 believe that we may be undergoing technological, political, and economic revolutions far more significant than the industrial revolution and possibly more dramatic than any other transitional period in human history. In addition, some futurists argue that we are on the threshold of global governance, interplanetary travel, artificial intelligence, and at the end of the world run by the nation-states of Atlantic-Western civilization. However, although, this transition promises a bright future, the present is one of unprecedented suffering; for we are on the brink of nuclear disaster and in the midst of widespread state terrorism: we face regional famines, desertification, water crisis, and unprecedented environmental pollution.
The Study of the Future
Futurists not only place the present in a larger perspective, they also attempt to design novel solutions, alternatives to the present. They ask: What are our possible, probable and preferred short and long range futures? While most futurists use quantitative data to make their predictions: others deduce probable events and trends from social change theories such as dialectics, and a few intuit their forecasts. In addition, some futurists are concerned with utopia, a perfect place; others about eutopia, a good place; while many about dystopia, a place of horror.
Professional futurists are concerned with the prevalence of suffering in human society, the failure of imagination of governments and businesses, and the inability of individuals to think intelligently about the future. Futurists hope to extend our understanding, our willingness to consider the legitimacy of what is possible, what can be real and what might occur. The field thus hopes to broaden the scope of what constitutes reality.
Notwithstanding the above general goals and concerns of many futurists, by and large futures studies, as developed in the West, has been concerned with forecasting the preturbations of capitalism and its ideological underpinnings: materialism, individuality and technology. It has also had a narrow empirical methodological orientation primarily concerned with refining forecasting techniques. However, the study of the future can never be fundamentally quantitative, exact, as the future does not yet exist. It must largely be interpretative. It must be visionary. It must, in the words of Elise Boulding paraphrasing Fred Polak from his seminal work Image of the Future, include the “eschatological or transcendent, … that element which enables the visionary to breach the bonds of the cultural present and mentally encompass the possibility of a totally other type of society, not dependent on what human beings are capable of realizing.”4
While Sarkar may not see himself as a futurist, an analysis of his works clearly show that they are futuristic in orientation as he is concerned with critiquing the present, with developing an alternative vision of the future, a eutopia, as well as with predicting new technologies and ways of life. Of course, the purpose of Sarkar’s analysis is not simply theory building. He is a social revolutionary. His works are also intended to persuade, to envision the world anew–to transform oppressive social and political structures.
However, he constitutes the future in a manner alien to most empiricist oriented futures studies: substantively and methodologically. For Sarkar, history and future are dialectical; progress is only possible in the spiritual realm; individual rights are only possible in the context of collective responsibilities; and democracy can only exist when education and ethics are universal. His vision of the future is fundamentally different from the predominant Western epistemological (linear, secular, empirical, individualistic, and liberal-democratic) tradition.
To understand Sarkar as a futurist, we must first understand his sense of mythos: of who we are, where we are going. We must understand his sense of the ultimate meaning of the present. We gain insight from his language.5Human civilization now faces the final moment of a critical juncture. The dawn of a glorious new era is one side and the worn-out skeleton of the past on the other. Humanity has to adopt either one or the other.
Thus, for Sarkar, humankind is at a mythic transition; a transition that calls upon humanity to awake, to act.6Just as the advent of the crimson dawn is inevitable at the end of cimmerian darkness of the interlunar night, exactly in the same way I know that a gloriously brilliant chapter will also come after the endless reproach and humiliation of the neglected humanity of today. Those who love humanity, those who desire the welfare of all living being should be vigorously active from this very moment after shaking off all lethargy and sloth so that the most auspicious hour arrives at the earliest.
However, although, Sarkar writes that humanity’s future is inevitably bright, revolution of any sort–spiritual, economic, cultural, political–is an arduous task. Revolutionaries who desire to transform the numerous pathologies of the present must prepare their minds and bodies, they must be ready to suffer hardships. They must also undergo spiritual transformation: they must suffuse their minds with love, with selflessness. Thus when Sarkar writes that “the future of humanity isnot dark…human beings will seek and one day realize the inextinguishable flame that remains ever-burning behind the veil of darkness,”7 he is at one time affirming his faith in the power of men and women to radically transform the suffering on this planet, yet reminds us that the “path is hard,” that it is “strewn with obstacles.”
In addition, his use of mythic language transforms events from the purely immediate and rational–that is, from problems that can be analyzed and solved by short term technological solutions–to the holistic, to the mystic; that is, to problems that can be solved through changes in how we see ourselves and how we see the world.
The Good Society
The future then for Sarkar is part of the larger human story, part of humanity’s evolutionary development. Evolution for Sarkar is the constant effort of the mind to bridge the gap between the finite and the infinite; it is in the deepest sense of the word, the eventual mystical union between the soul and Supreme Consciousness. This is fundamentally different from many futurists who see progress primarily as increased economic productivity, a better standard of living; that is, more goods and services and the satisfaction of material needs for a large part of the global population.
Certainly, economic growth is important from Sarkar’s perspective. However his vision of the good society is premised on individuals being guaranteed the basic requirements of life: food, clothes, shelter, education, and health. The ultimate purpose of economic growth, however, is to provide physical security such that women and men can pursue intellectual and spiritual development.
The principles of Sarkar’s good society are developed in his comprehensive theory: the Progressive Utilization Theory or PROUT.8 It is a global, a global vision of the future which intends to challenge both corporate and state capitalism, as well as various forms of communism.
PROUT attempts to balance the need for societies to create wealth and grow as well the requirements for distribution. To achieve this, an integral part of the PROUTist vision is to create income floors and ceilings progressively indexed to aggregate economic growth. Thus wealth will not be hoarded and thereby underutilized or misutilized as in the case of global stock markets. However, unlike Marxism which argues for equality, PROUT accepts individual differences and the desire of individuals to own limited property and goods as well as the key role of incentives in spurring technological innovation and economic growth. For Sarkar, individual good and collective good are symbiotic: neither one is more important; both find their apex through their interrelationship. It is the unabated accumulation and misuse of wealth that is the central problem. The primary economic entity within the ideal PROUT society would be worker-owned and managed cooperatives. These would include producer, banking, legal, health and other types of cooperatives. However, because of economies of scale there would remain local small businesses as well as large regional socialized industries run by quasi-governmental appointed boards. There would thus be three sectors: a government sector, a private sector and a people’s sector.
In Sarkar’s eutopia, good society, he sees a more united globally-oriented human society. He hopes that temporary unifying sentiments such as nationalism, provincialism, and religion transplanted by universalism. In this global society, although he believes there will be a world government with centralized powers, he does not believe one world culture will develop. In fact the key long term trend will be the decentralization of culture and thus the flourishing of local cultures–languages and economies–a possibility only once global capitalism and its necessity to homogenize, commodify, and proleterianize everything has been eradicated. It is noteworthy that unlike most futurists who argue for a decentralized economy and polity, Sarkar believes that without a centralized polity, capitalistic exploitation will continue. For Sarkar, there must be a strong polity structurally constitutive of separate executive, judicial and legislative powers within the larger context of a spiritual society.
The primary social strategy for “transforming” the capitalist system is the development of regional self-reliant cultural movements based on local languages, local economies and local geography. For Sarkar, individual spiritual development must precede any systemic, societal change. In addition, cultural revolution must precede economic change, for capitalism works by creating a structure of cultural and economic dependency between centers and peripheries, between empires and colonies. Communism, which is also based on the materialistic industrial model characterized by centralization of wealth and homogenization of culture, creates similar oppressive structures.
Among the movements that are presently active are Kasama 9 in the Philippines and Amra Bengali in India.10 Both are active in organizing women, students, workers, farmers, professionals as well as other groups and classes against the injustices and inequities of the present system. Their demands, for example, include 100% employment for local people; laws against the export of local raw materials; laws against the import of manufactured goods which can be produced locally; primacy of local languages in offices and schools; land reforms; rights for animals as well as concern for the long term care of the environment; and support for local music, writing, art and dance. In addition, Kasama participated in the ouster of Marcos and in the removal of foreign bases from the Philippines. Amra Bengali has contested various local elections and has established cooperatives throughout the region. It is now considered the third political force after the Central government and the Communist party in Bengal.
Thus through the creation and legitimation of globally-oriented yet regionally-based spiritual, cultural and economic movements and the ensuing dialectical conflict that these anti-systemic movements will engender as they reconceptualize polities and economies, Sarkar sees the eventual demise of capitalism and communism, with communism is already in its final days (a perfectly accurate forecast as it has turned out). This demise, of course, as Sarkar’s methodology will illustrate, is also a part of the natural dialectical transformation of the present world system.
His vision of the future is partly based on intuition and partly based on his analysis of history. Sarkar argues that most of us use very little of our mind, geniuses perhaps 1%, while others not even .0001%.11 We remain bounded in the body and the conscious, analytic mind. However Sarkar believes that through meditation, through the exploration of the deeper layers of the mind, we can develop our creativity and realize perennial truths. For the seer, past, present and future become known in these deeper layers. Reality is directly perceived. In addition, in the higher states of consciousness, time and space are no longer constraining dimensions, they reveal themselves to the knower of the Self.
Although Sarkar enters this discussion as a mystic–much in the tradition of Tagore or Aurobindo, as a guru–many academics in the futures field are echoing his perspective. David Loye’s The Sphinx and the Rainbow, William Irwin Thompson’s Evil and World Order and The Pacific Shift as well as the perspective developed by Marilyn Ferguson in Brain–Mind Bulletin all argue for the integration of the rational and the intuitive, as well as the use of the intuitive–the deeper layers of the mind–in truly understanding the mythic nature of the present and the coming of the sacred, the communal, and the transcendent.
However, equally important in Sarkar’s contribution to the futures field is his theory of the social cycle. Whereas Marx argued that society moved through ages of precommunism, to feudalism, to capitalism, to socialism and eventually to a classless communism, and whereas many academic futurists argue that we have moved from an agricultural to an industrial era and that we now stand on the threshold of a historical shift to a post-industrial Information society centered around the Pacific Rim,12 Sarkar sees society as moving cyclically through four ages. The motivity of this movement is not the forces of production impacting the relations of production as in Marxism, or new technologies impacting society as in the writing of futurists such as Toffler, but dialectics.13 Instead of social change caused by the actions of the Great leader, for Sarkar it is physical struggle (the battle with the environment), mental struggle (the battle between new and old ideologies) and the spiritual attraction of the Great (that force which leads women and men toward the Infinite).
However, Sarkar believes that not only is societal movement dialectical, it is also pulsative; like breathing it starts, rests, and starts. Similarly, societies have periods of rapid progress, of movement. Following their peak, a phase of exploitation sets in and then societies decline. In addition, there are periods where there is sudden and dramatic change, what Sarkar calls “galloping time.”
The Social Cycle
What then are the different ages? Very briefly and certainly simplifying Sarkar’s complex yet elegant analysis, humans originally were in the Worker era (precommunism for Marx and the age of chaos for Thompson). Here, humans were controlled by their environment. The next phase was the Martial era. In this age, the age of heros as William Irwin Thompson has written14 (feudalism for Marx) various clans fought for power. Empires were built by the strongest and the most courageous. During the exploitive phase of this era, empires grew through military colonization and through exploiting laborers and appropriating the wealth of others. The next historical phase was the intellectual era. It was brought about by those who controlled the environment not through physical strength but through strategy, through political strength, through ideology. This was the age of priests, of patriarchy and of civil society. Power was wrested away from kings by their ministers through the power of the written word. Political writers, for example, during the Renaissance movement in Europe, redefined the power of the King and developed arguments for individual rights and government by social contract. The intellectual era, as evidenced by the relationship between the Protestant ethic in Europe and the rise of capitalism, was also the base for the era of the capitalists. Most Western nations are currently in the capitalist era, while the former communist countries have already passed out of the second martial era and now have entered into a new intellectual era. Third world countries, who still are in terms of their “internal cycle” in the Martial era (due to underdevelopment from colonialism), it is capitalism that is the dominant ideology.
In addition, each era flourishes in its thesis phase: human rights, political participation, economic productivity and scientific development increase. During the decline phase, the creative abilities and work opportunities of the classes not in power are stifled. Peripheries are exploited and the ruling class controls the other classes either through military force, cultural-intellectual force, economic force or a combination thereof, depending on the era. During the era of the accumulators of capital, all these forces are used in a particularly brutal manner. 15
Revolution and Evolution
What then after a complete round of the cycle? According to Sarkar, the cycle continues although in a dialectical spiral, wherein each phase evolves from the previous phase and is at a qualitatively “higher” level. However at transitional points, there are variations. A counter-revolution can emerge, as in the case of Iran where the clergy now run the polity, although it is not clear what the collective psychology is. Collective psychology or the larger social paradign, episteme, instead of control of polity or the relations of production, is considered the true “empirical” indicator of a people’s place-time in the social cycle, according to Sarkar.
Another alternative to counter-revolution is counter-evolution, a slower move to a previous phase in the cycle. Both of these counter phases are short-lived, however, as they are movements against the “natural flow of the cycle.” The third and fourth alternatives are evolution and revolution, that is, slow or rapid movement into the next phase. The Soviet and Chinese revolutions are examples of workers’ revolutions followed by new Martial eras (socialism in Marx’s language or totalitarianism in the language of liberals and conservatives). Democratic socialism, then, is an effort to move to a Martial era through a gradual evolutionary process.
Sarkar, thus, believes major revolutions will occur throughout the world shortly. This is largely because in late capitalistic society exploitation, especially of women, is particularly brutal. In order to accumulate more and more in their houses they torture others to starvation; and to impress the glamour of their garments, they force others to put on rags. …[t]hey suck the very living plasm of others to enrich their living capabilities.”16 In addition, intellectuals and martial-minded individuals cannot express their tendencies and potentials. Some become servants of the ruling class–the “boot lickers of capitalists”17–while others remain unemployed.
It is these disgruntled intellectuals and martial-minded individuals who will bring on the next cycle.18 The level of violence during transitions between eras is determined by the aggregate ratio of intellectuals to the martial-minded and the timing of the revolution is a correlate of the increasing population of these two classes. The question for Sarkar is can humans fundamentally alter the cycle? His conclusion is that although the social cycle follows a natural law and thus will continue, humans can reduce the exploitive phase of the cycle by bringing on the next era. The next turn of the cycle then becomes a spiral, with each new phase bringing on progressively higher levels of human development. Thus, the new Martial era, although structurally similar to the historic one, will be qualitatively at a higher level. In addition, the in-between anarchic workers’ stage will be shortlived as power will quickly centralize among the intellectual or martial-minded leaders of the workers’ movement.
To reduce the exploitive phase of each era, he argues for the development of de-classed individuals who in a “well thought, preplanned basis “19 predict the movements of the cycle and then through their revolutionary efforts–if necessary–bring on the next era. However, unlike present power elites such as corporate executives or state bureaucrats who are part of the dominant class and ideology that “run the planet,” these individuals must be de-classed and have value structures based on love and neo-humanism.20
Thus, while Marxists see the next phase as that of world socialism and while spiritual visionaries believe the next phase will be the Age of Aquarius, and futurists, in general, believe we are entering the age of technology and science, Sarkar believes it will be a global martial era, although some regions will have moved to a new intellectual era. Describing this era, this new future, is difficult; however, we can postulate that government will be centralized, while the world-economy will be highly decentralized and cooperative/socialist in nature. Although, the world government structure initially will be strengthened by law-framing international agencies, eventually a world polity will develop with executive, legislative and judicial functions. There will also exist constitutional rights for workers, guaranteed basic necessities for all, as well as rights such as world citizenship. Sarkar’s has also called for a neo-magna carta in which rights for plants and animals are to be guaranteed, spiritual freedom upheld, and linguistic choice honored.
Economic growth will come from ending the global exploitation of workers and others peripheral to the world capitalist system. Through maximum-minimum wealth laws, the world surplus will be redistributed. Through worker involvement in business and through the end of stock markets, labor and capital will become more productive. Intellectual and spiritual resources presently being wasted will become valuable inputs into economic development. In addition, PROUT writer Michael Towsey believes that there exists a gender dialectic as well such that the breakdown of the patriarchal nature of capitalist society will lead to the incorporation of the mythic “feminine” in the emerging Martial era. Neither gender will then be commodified.21
To be continued …
1. P. R. Sarkar, born in 1921, resided in Calcutta until his death in October 1990. He developed the Progressive Utilization Theory in 1959. He also started the Renaissance Universal Movement–an association of spiritual/socialist oriented intellectuals–that year. He has written in diverse fields such as health, ethics, devotional literature, fiction, history, political-economy, biology, linguistics, and philosophy. PROUT’s opposition to the Indira Ghandi’s government lead to Sarkar’s being jailed in 1971. He was released in 1978 when the Janata government created the conditions for an impartial Judiciary. See Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar, Poet, Author, Philosopher. Vermont, USA, Ananda Marga Publications, 1986.
2. Ananda Marga is a social service, spiritual movement with centers throughout the world. It teaches meditation and other spiritual practices. The organization is involved in community health and educational development projects. Although, its cultural roots are Indian, it is universal in its approach.
3. Throughout this essay, I use the terms futures studies and futurists in a general sense. Although there are numerous difference between futurists, there is an emerging futures field, which in general accepts the liberal-democratic secular-capitalist tradition, although many do believe this system will undergo massive shocks in the near and long range future, primarily due to technological changes. This “Continued Growth” view is best characterized by the Washington D.C. based World Futures Society and developed in its journal The Futurist. Herman Khan is perhaps the most famous writer in this genre of futures studies. In contrast is the Hawaii and Europe based World Future Studies Federation which is critical of the present global system: its structure and its ideological underpinnings. Johan Galtung’s writings best characterize this perspective.
4. Elise Boulding, “The Imaging Capacity of the West,” in Magoroh Maruyama and James Dator, eds., Human Futuristics. Hawaii, University of Hawaii, SSRI, 1971, 30.
5. P.R. Sarkar, The Supreme Expression. Vol. II. Netherlands, Nirvikalpa Press, 1978, 161.
6. ibid., 164.
7. P.R. Sarkar, Light Comes. Calcutta, India, Ananda Marga Publications, 1986, 21.
8. Books about PROUT by Sarkar’s students include the following: Ravi Batra, The Downfall of Capitalism and Communism. London, Macmillan Press, 1978; Ravi Batra, Regular Cycles of Money, Inflation, Regulation, and Depression. Texas, Venus Books, 1985; and Gary Coyle, Progressive Socialism. Sidney, Proutist Universal Publication, 1984. Also see, Acarya Krtashivananda Avadhuta, PROUT Manifesto. Copenhagen, Denmark, PROUT Publications, 1981; and Acarya Tadbhavananda Avadhuta, Samaj. Calcutta, India: Proutist Universal Publications, 1985.
9. Kasama USA, Kasama: Six Demands to Strengthen Democracy in the Philippines. Washington D.C., Kasama USA Support Comittee, 1986.
10. See Acarya Tadbhavananda Avadhuta and Jayanta Kumar, The New Wave. Calcutta, India, Proutist Universal Publications, 1985, 135.
For example, Amra Bengali’s demands include:
- (1) The abolition of non-Bengali domination of industries;
- (2) Preferential employment of local population;
- (3) Use of Bengali in official work;
- (4) Termination of Hindi linguistic domination;
- (5) Eradication of materialistic pseudo-culture;
- (6) Halting the drainage of Bengal’s economic wealth to other parts of India.
11. P.R. Sarkar, The Supreme Expression, 80.
12. See Sohail Inayatullah, “The Concept of the Pacific Shift, ” Futures (December, 1985); Johan Galtung, “World Conflict Formation Processes in the 1980’s.” United Nations University Paper, 1981. See also for books on the Post-Industrial Era, Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave; Daniel Bell, The Post-Industrial Society; and Ed. Cornish, The Study of the Future.
13. P.R. Sarkar, The Human Society. Calcutta, India, Ananda Marga Publications, 1984) and Abhimata. Ananda Nagar, India, Ananda Marga Publications, 1973.
14. See William Irwin Thompson, Darkness and Scattered Light, Passages About Earth, and Evil and World Order.
15. See also Immanuel Wallerstein, The Politics of the World Economy. London, Cambridge University Press, 1985.
16. P.R. Sarkar, Problem of the Day. Ananda Nagar, India, Ananda Marga Publications, 1959, 3.
17. P.R. Sarkar, The Human Society, 97.
18. Tim Anderson, The Liberation of Class: P.R. Sarkar’s Theory of Class and History. Calcutta, India, Proutist Universal Publication, 1985, 14-15. These ages are also related to different distinct mentalities. “Firstly, the worker …seeks employment through simple physical or mental skills; secondly, is the martial type, where greater physical capacities are developed along with the thought of domination, courage, honor, prestige and discipline; thirdly, the intellectual where greater psychic abilities are developed and utilized in the process of gaining objects of existence and enjoyment; and, fourthly, the commercialist or capitalist where mental abilities specifically aimed at the acquisition and manipulation of physical wealth are developed.”
The worker is dominated by the environment; the martial type attempts to dominate the environment and the other classes through physical strength; the intellectual attempts to control the environment and the other classes through the mind/ideology and the capitalist attempts to control the environment and the other classes through the ownership of the means of production.
Very importantly, Anderson warns us not to confuse these categories with the old Indian caste system. These “are purely psychological types interacting with the existing social condition to create the particular objective class relationships of the era.”
19. P.R. Sarkar, Idea and Ideology. Ananda Nagar, India, Ananda Marga Publications, 1967, 85.
20 P. R. Sarkar, The Liberation of Intellect–Neo Humanism. Calcutta, India, Ananda Marga Publications, 1982.
21. Michael Towsey, Eternal Dance of Macrocosm. Copenhagen, Denmark, Proutist Publications, 1986.
Read other articles by Sohail Inayatullah at metafuture.orgReposted from KurzweilAI.net.