Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar’s Social Cycles, World Unity and Peace

Renaissance 2000 Honoring Sarkar’s 75th Anniversary

By Johan Galtung, dr hc mult, Professor of Peace Studies;
Universitaet Witten/Herdecke, European Peace University,
Universitetet i Tromsoe; Director, TRANSCEND: A Peace Network

We are honoring a great thinker and a great practitioner. I have chosen to honor him as a great macro-historian, focusing on his theory of social cycles and their implications for world unity and peace. In my view he certainly ranks up there with other macro-historians like Smith and Marx, Toynbee and Sorokin. But, given the ethnocentrism of the USA and Europe Sarkar will not easily make it into textbooks and courses civilization. For one thing, the West quotes itself on matters concerning the West; and Sarkar gets straight to the core of our history with a scheme so simple, unashamedly universal and so evidently inspired more by Indian society and history than by our own. He turns the world upside down: India is supposed to be captured, dissected and understood in our paradigms, he understands us in his. In Sarkar the West is no longer intellectually in command.

Sarkar’s theory of social cycles

Second, Sarkar draws very concrete implications from his macro-history and the philosophical underpinnings: PROUT, the ” progressive utilization theory”. This is the theory of an economic (and political) self-reliant system, spiritually rather than materialistically inspired, cooperative, based on local economies, cooperating like in Gandhi’s “oceanic circles”. In this system money is no longer in command, nor are economists. The goal is not “economic growth” and accumulation of wealth, but true human growth with basic needs satisfied, and unlimited spiritual growth topping that. That alone disqualifies Sarkar a utopian, a person to be marginalized. There is more to come.

The following is a simplified version highlighting the essential features for reflections on the implications for world unity and peace. I shall make use of the presentation given in Acharya Shambushivananda Avadutha’s excellent book PROUT: Neo- Humanistic Economics, and add some interpretations of my own. The point of departure is the Hindu caste system with brahmins, kshatriyahs, vaishyahs and shudras; in the PROUT tradition spelt somewhat differently. However, I shall use neither the traditional nor that special spelling, preferring Intellectuals (including priests, artists), Warriors, Merchants, People, lamenting that the Excluded, the pariah do not figure clearly in the cycle theory. Each one carries what Sarkar calls a “mental color”, very similar to the mentalite of the French Annales school. A basic axiom is that, at any time, “In the flow of the social cycle one mental color is always dominant”.

Before that point is explored further let us pause for a second and ask: is this not a very Hindu perspective? Caste, yes, but not this division into three types of elites and then the people. Elites have a power problem: how do we steer people? There are generally three answers: by normative, contractual and coercive power; by cultural, economic and military power; by values, carrots and sticks, to use three parallel formulations. Obviously these are the intellectual, economic and military elites respectively, or I, M and W; with three very different ways of steering. And whom are they steering? The people, of course. Hence, what Sarkar is exploring is not Indian history but the general dynamism of what we might call I,W,M,P systems, assuming that at any given time only one of them can dominate. So let us assume that one of them rules the ground alone. How do we predict who is next in line? Yin/yang thinking gives us an answer: the carrier of the mental color most suppressed by the dominant group.

Another approach would be by asking: when X is dominant, which group, Y, suffers most? As we are dealing with three elite and one non-elite group one conclusion is as follows: all elites suffer when the people are in power for the simple reason that they are denied elite status. But when one elite is in power People do not necessarily suffering most. Sarkar does not romanticize People; they are somewhat coarse and crude, materially oriented. Hence, they would generally suffer more when exploited materially by the Merchants than when repressed militarily by the Warriors or brainwashed by the Intellectuals. However, should People manage to get the upper hand through a revolution, then all three elites would suffer so much that they would run to the Warriors, the violence specialists, and demand “do something about it”.

Then, the inter-elite explorations. When the Warriors are in power Merchants may be operating but the Intellectuals less so. They live by the word, not by the sword (and a few words like Stop! Fire!). But Intellectuals in power have a major problem: who pays for their livelihood? In the past the princes, the courts; more recently the state. So they tend to be friendly to the state, including designing economic roles to the great chagrin of the Merchants who live neither by the sword, nor by the word, but by the gold. So: after Warriors the Intellectuals, after Intellectuals the Merchants, after the Merchants the People, W-I-M-P, and then after People the Warriors again.

The process is known as History. History is then viewed as a spiral with History telling the incumbent “time is up” and the next in line “it is your turn”. When any group comes back into power society is not entirely the same, hence a spiral, not a circle. Each group leaves a mark. Sarkar assumes, however, that even given a certain automaticity in this process there is at the center of the spiral some kind of spiritual super-elite, the sadvipras, seeing to it that each elite is used by this process for its positive contributions of courage and valiance (W), creativity (I) and wealth-creation (M), and yields the ground to its successors when the negative aspects become dominant, like repression (W), ritualism (I) and exploitation (M). And for all elite groups: arrogance. Given these four groups, there are, of course, 24 possible representations of the drama of history if we accept the “one mentality at the time” idea.

Sarkar chooses one: W-I-M-P. That is a dramatic reduction, so he adds that [1] cycles may be read backwards, [2] they may be accelerated and decelerated. It is only a rule-of-thumb, but a useful one, as we shall soon see. But first a note on the cyclicity. Of course this is a reflection of the samsara, transmigration, reincarnation cycles for individuals. Non-Western views tend to be cyclical; only the West builds its projet on linearity and the promise of an, even imminent, end-state. This is also what makes the West so dangerous because some people get the idea that the end-state is around the corner, and the utopian tradition is born. The result is Stalin and Hitler and their fight over that end-state in this century. That fight was won by somebody else also claiming “the end of history”, wit globalized markets and free and fair elections.

It will soon prove equally delusionary. 3. Sarkar’s theory and post World War II History. First a comment on asynchronic and synchronic cycles. Sarkar’s theory is about societies, complete social formations. The cycles are not necessarily synchronized like summer-time/winter-time in the Atlantic space. Each society follows its own cycle, logic, dialectic. Of two neighboring countries one may be in the Warrior phase and attack its neighbor in the merchant phase to get goodies, like Vikings did to Russians thousand years ago. Ultimately the Vikings became Intellectuals on Iceland and Merchants, Hansa, elsewhere. Or, they may happen, just happen, to coincide.

For some time. Which does not mean peace: two Warrior states may transform any quarrel into a casus belli to get a war to show their prowess. However, recent world history has produced phenomena with great synchronizing potential, in addition to communication. One of them is colonialism, dominant during the better part of this century. The colonies were denied the warrior phase and the colonial powers exported, and prolonged, theirs to/in the colonies. The colonies were supposed to accept both being suppressed, brainwashed and exploited, by colonial powers and their cooperating elites. In fact, the people reacted, with a vengeance, and in most colonies (as Sarkar would predict) the military took over, also to tame their own populist forces.

Then, another great synchronizer: the Second World War, followed by he Cold War. Warriors became the dominant mentalite all over even if others held the reins of formal power. To win the war, and to deter the war (with military means) became the dominant logic in most societies for half as century (1939-89). The warriors were listened to, and enjoyed discourse dominance. But not forever. The polarization, typical Warrior logic, of the Second World War abated. The Cold War polarization outlasted any war danger; but then it was about serious matters such as property and religion, not just about extermination (the two wars period, hot and cold, shared that concern).

The Intellectuals came into power in the West probably already in the 1960s; hence the student revolt against them, at the end of the sixties, at that time more serious than the peace movement. In the East Poland and Hungary came first, then the Soviet Union (Gorbachev/Gorbacheva), with DDR, Czechoslovakia and Rumania keeping the Warriors/Party in command till the end. And that became their end; had they synchronized they might not have harvested that much popular wrath. Of course the people, particularly when armed with a human rights agenda, can revolt against Warrior/repression, not only Merchant/exploitation. The Merchants suffered, in the West as also in the East. To them “freedom” was the freedom, as the Americans, with their permanent over/under-layer of Merchant mentality, say: “to use private property to make more private property”.

They demand their slice of the cycle, the Westerners among them, with usual lack of realism, forever. There are only two economic systems they proclaimed, capitalism and socialism and socialism collapsed, hence capitalism will prevail forever, q.e.d. Sarkar’s theory would predict otherwise: a popular revolt when the exploitation has come sufficiently far. Moreover, given the global synchronization of the phases, the revolt, violent or not, might also be fairly global. Qui vivra verra, but Sarkar’s theory evidently has some explanatory power. In a sense not so strange: Hindu understanding of the world is so much older. Let us then change focus and try out the theory on the United Sates of America, bringing in geographical regions in addition to historical stages.

The USA can conveniently be divided into four regions: the Yankee Northeast, a Mid-West stretching all the way to the Pacific, a Southeast=Confederacy, and a Southwest from Texas to the Pacific, from Mexico to Utah (by and large the territory taken from Mexico in 1846-48). In terms of mentalities the Northeast has from the very beginning been the intellectual/ideological/brahminic center, with Boston yielding the merchant center to New York (keeping Harvard and MIT). The warrior center was Washington, Virginia and the Southeast in general; after the Civil War the center for the conquest of the Caribbean, the Second Empire (the First Empire came with the conquest of the Native American nations).

The West, conquered in the nineteenth century, was a vast depository of People, essentially a Hinterland of the East Coast. The Northwest remained that way with no clear W-I-M profile. But the Southwest tried all three: as Warriors (center for the conquest of the Pacific, the Third Empire; US Marines, the war industry, war think tanks); as Intellectuals (the UC system, media, Hollywood); as Merchants (Silicon Valley). With considerable success, except for the victims. If we now introduce the Sarkar cycle for the Post World War II period we see the point of gravity of the USA moving with the switch in mentality: from kshatriyah Washington to the brahmin Northwest, and from there to the vaishya (merchant regions); but then to sun-belt Southwest rather than snow/rust-belt Northeast, with the last president from the Northeast murdered in the Southwest, followed by a flow of presidents from there.

But History is like the man in the post office, through with one customer he shouts next. According to Sarkar next in line is People, and with this image of the USA next in focus is the Northeast, the Ecotopia of a famous book with that title. The image today is less positive, as if they are preparing themselves for their role in the Sarkar cycle as a counterpoint to all three elites. The UNA-bomber, and above all the militias stand out. The latter are more American than apple-pie, they are the original intent. In the Europe whence the conquerors (in the USA called “settlers”) came, the aristocrats in general and the monarch in particular had the monopoly on arms as the last argument, ultima ratio regis. Real freedom was the freedom of the aristocrats to carry arms, and the freedom of the merchants to make use of private property to create more private property. For the latter some initial capital is often needed, or at last comes handy; for the former arms to carry arms will do.

The longer the current trend of taking from the workers and giving to the share-holders lasts the more will the American economic dream be lost and the American weapons dream gain in salience. And that is what the militia movement is about. Of course they are not only in the Northwest/Mid-West; the phenomena producing that movement are all over. Their original intent stance does not work on the East Coast, imbued with W-I-M logic. But back-country, far West, up-state it may work extremely well; in fact more so than the sporadic violence of black groups against the white or the yellow (Koreans, LA-1993). Sarkar’s message is very clear: elites cannot it on top of people without the people sooner or later reacting, and they see elections in a democracy mainly as elite rotation.

The world is now becoming a complete social formation, under the slogan of globalization. In that case the post World War II Sarkar cycle for a relatively synchronized world might also have geographical addresses. The world Northwest, the Atlantic region, sees itself as the Warrior-Intellectual-Merchant center in a position to control, to imprint and to the rest. And they certainly did; the pattern was know as colonialism. The world Northeast tried to make a W-I-M counterpoint, the socialist countries of yester-year. Evidently, they took on more than they could carry and collapsed under the burden. The world Southwest were and are condemned to be People, with no W-I-M profile; so they revolt in the way of the underdog, sometimes nonviolently, often violently at unexpected points in space and time, in other words with terrorism.

The world Southeast chose another strategy against the world Northwest: develop M. They did, indeed; and what Japan and then South Korea and Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore and then Malaysia managed is nothing relative to what will come when the whole mahayana-buddhist/confucian region comes together as an economic actor. Of course, their power increases as the world Sarkar cycle proceeds from W and I into M where it is today. If the region manages to read the popular revolts and not only to suppress them (Kuala Lumpur 1967, Kwangju 1980, Tiananmen 1989) then they will of course also move full scale into W and I, with considerable counter-power to the Northwest and increasing intellectual power as an alternative source of light.

But watch out: as the Sarkar cycle turns to W and I the Northwest will also be activated, and the region is formidable. 4. Are there exits from the Sarkar cycle? Of course there are. Sarkar has one formula: combine the courage of the warriors, the creativity of the intellectuals, the industriousness of the merchants, the down-to-earth common sense of the people in one person. The sadvipras, similar to the boddhisatvas in some branches of buddhism, serve this function. I have a basic problem with this formula, perhaps two. From early neolithic times we have had the W-I-M division of labor simply because of the size of the social formations and the need for all three types of steering. Certainly, those three elites could be improved; they could, for instance, learn that people are human being and not objects. But I doubt that the division of labor can be abolished except at a cost that is too high for most people: a return to much smaller, less complex social formations, not necessarily hunter-gatherer nomads, but, say, monasteries, communes, sanghas. Excellent for some, but insufficient as a general formula. The second objection is different. Yes, we need people with that quadruple combination, picking the best from W-I-M-P.

But not everybody will manage that; many might even prefer their own simpler ways. That means that the formula becomes a recipe for a new elite, the integrated super-elite, pitted against not only People, but also against the old compartmentalized elites in a three tier system. Plato’s Republic, the Philosopher-King? Do we want that? Or, would it be better to work for democracies that give power not only the W-I-M elite rotation carousel, but to regular people as well? In other words, a polity that gives power to all components of the Sarkar cycle, but at the same time so as to mitigate the single-mindedness of each phase? 5. The Sarkar Cycle, World Unity and Peace At this point comes a more fundamental critique of Sarkar’s macro-history. He focuses on the actors, the W-I-M-P, but not on the deep structure and the deep culture in which they are embedded. W, I, M and P may enter and exit from the limelight but their subsystems, strongly institutionalized and internalized in contemporary modern society, will remain.

The Cheshire cat is known to leave behind a smile. The four groups leave behind their systems when they exit from the stage and everybody else will have to play according to those rules even if the masters of ceremony are not front stage: for the Warriors: the deep structure of the state system for the Intellectuals: the deep culture of the cosmology system for the Merchants: the deep structure of the market system for the People: the deep culture of the nation system We have about as much, or as little. world unity and peace as these systems offer us, meaning not very much. Hence, if world unity and world peace is what we would like to have all four systems will have to be modified, and very much so. In my Peace By Peaceful Means the state system is explored in Part I, the market system in Part III and the cosmology system, including some national cultures, in Part IV. My time is up so I refer you to that. Suffice it only to say that the state system must be liberated from its pathology, narcissism/paranoia inherited from the warrior caste of the European feudal systems, the aristocrats; that some of the cosmologies, including many nationalisms are plainly pathological and we do not know much about possible therapies; and that much richer, more eclectic market formulas can be found than capitalism and socialism.

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