From Sohail Inayatullah's Situating Sarkar: Tantra, Macrohistory and Alternative Futures (Gurukul Publications 1999).
Finding Sarkar’s works exemplary because of his ability to resolve classical economic, epistemological and social contradictions, in this essay, we locate the works of P.R. Sarkar within a range of discursive schemes, and, at the same time, I attempt to reveal the problems that are inherent in these schemes themselves. We ask how do Sarkar’s theory of economics, epistemology and social change measure against other approaches. Of course, this is done in an ideal theoretical setting since PROUT has yet to be fully implemented anywhere.
Dividing economic theory into two dimensions, growth and distribution, we argue that Sarkar’s PROUT is strong on both growth and distribution dimensions eclectically drawing on market and regulatory mechanisms. Further dividing political-economy into four dimensions: survival, well being, identity and freedom, we argue that market models are strong on freedom (individual economic rights) but weak on survival (especially at the periphery); while Local “small is beautiful” models are strong on survival (basic needs) and identity (purpose and solidarity), medium at well-being (life enhancement) but weak on the freedom dimension (capital and individual mobility is limited). Sarkar’s PROUT, however, is strong on three levels: survival, well being, identity and medium on freedom needs (since the accumulation of wealth is limited). Communism, in contrast, is strong on survival (since basic needs are guaranteed), medium at well-being (there is some surplus but mostly for party members) and weak at freedom and identity.
Table: Political Economy
Sarkar also takes an eclectic model of epistemology allowing for a range of ways of knowing the world instead of a univocal view of how the real can be known, only by logic for example. He takes a layered “deep and shallow” view of the nature of reality instead of a merely true/false dichotomy. Finally, and this is the centerpiece of the argument, Sarkar’s social theory combines linear and cyclical views of change thus avoiding cultural exploitation and fatalism and his theory has a role for the individual (free will), structure (history and class) as well as the transcendental (that which inspires and unites). Most theories are either linear or cyclical either privileging individual agency over historical structure or vice versa. The transcendental is either forgotten or considered as a prime variable associated with a particular state or civilization instead of seen as universally available and accessible.
Table: Economy and Identity
Growth and Distribution
Further focusing on political-economy, we will analyze PROUT by using peace researcher Johan Galtung’s comparison of Occidental and Oriental cosmology across four categories: growth (wealth accumulation), distribution (wealth distribution), personal violence (harm to individuals) and structural violence (institutional violence or violence that occurs because of economic and political structures). Our question here is where does PROUT fit into this scheme, how does it rank in these categories (low or high, weak or strong)? In general, PROUT is high on the growth dimension. PROUT is essentially a spiritual ideology but measures the vitality of a society by its standard of living. It is also high on growth because Sarkar emphasizes the maximum use of physical, mental and spiritual potentialities. PROUT is also high on the distribution dimension as Sarkar posits that society is like a family moving together toward a common goal and thus wealth should be “rationally” distributed. In addition, PROUT is strong on distribution because it posits ceilings to the accumulation of wealth, thus reducing the concentration of wealth and allowing redistribution.
Along the dimension of personal violence, PROUT is medium since Sarkar contextualizes violence asserting that the universe is violent in itself. And even though ahimsa is a central tenet in his ethics, avoiding social and political struggle is not. Indeed, while he does not support violent revolutions his theory does predict them. On the structural violence dimension, however, PROUT is low since his theory attempts to remove the differences between gender, class, nation and culture. Through self-reliance and spiritual socialism, PROUT intends to eliminate the basis for structural violence. Moreover since Sarkar’s unit of analysis or transformation is the entire universe (including plants and animals), his inclusiveness pre-empts structural violence.
Using Galtung’s theory of alterative economics, this argument can be developed further. Galtung examines five different economic structures: the blue economy focused on growth and capital accumulation, the red economy focused on a national plan, the golden economy focused on cooperation between market and plan, government and state, and labor and capital, the rose economy based on softening the inequities of the market through government intervention and the green economy concerned with economic sustainability. Again our question is one of location, of comparative measurement. To do this we use three ratios: culture/nature (c/n), quality/price (q/p) and real economy/finance economy (r/f).
Sarkar’s PROUT has elements of each on these economies. Like the blue economy, PROUT still has markets even though they are need based not profit based. Intellectual and spiritual ideals are market oriented in terms of the freedom of to chose ideas and spiritual paths. Like the blue dimension, PROUT is high technology and innovation led. Sarkar sees technological advancement as inevitable, he only seeks to place it in a non-exploitive element where new technologies do not take away the rights and wages of labor rather they enhance the general welfare. Sarkar also does not make a sharp distinction between the technological and the spiritual, indeed, he asserts that genetic engineering could even lead to a more spiritual world.
PROUT is similar to the red economy in two ways: first, in the sense that both are critical of capitalism and believe in a long term struggle against this system, and second in terms of macro-, meso- and micro-planning. However, while Sarkar believes that there needs to be an economic plan it should be decentralized and not run by the Party or the State, rather plans should empower local people in solving their own problems. They should provide general policy not micro-management. The market is a dynamic and often humane system that planners must guide not distort.
Sarkar’s PROUT is generally similar to the rose economy in that it is a social democratic movement but with spiritual overtones. A critical difference however is that he would prefer revolution rather then the slow pace of democratic socialism.
Moreover, instead of heavy income taxation, Sarkar prefers a sales tax. The other similar notion with the rose economy is the idea that one needs all types of wealth to grow: physical and intellectual labor as well as capital.
PROUT is similar to the golden economy in that both emphasize collective unity among members and believe that economic vitality is central to producing a good society. However, whereas in East Asia, the self is identified with race, nation and corporation, Sarkar would locate the self in the Cosmic self breaking the nation down into bioregional economic associations. Other identifications would be temporary, even fleeting. But like the Japanese, Sarkar encourages savings, discipline, and long range planning and like the larger East Asian system, PROUT has both vertical dimensions (his pyramidical organizational structure) and horizontal dimensions (respect for all types of labor and group unity through identification in universal consciousness). In both cases the metaphor is of the group. For Sarkar, we are a society, a family, travelling together on a journey. Each must take care of the other.
The deepest similarities are between PROUT and the Green economy. Both cultural economic systems favor strong decentralization, strong economic democracy, and an environmental ethic. Sarkar, however, would be more growth-oriented and high technology-oriented than the Green perspective, especially in its self-reliant form in India (which has only strengthened the State and the dominant Brahmin caste). But like the Greens and the Gandhians he would decentralize industry and attempt to avoid what Mark Satin in New Age Politics has called the “Big City Outlook.” For Sarkar the key in creating a good society is prama or balance between the individual and the collective, growth and distribution, and between ideational and sensate.
Key Rations for Growth
We can further locate PROUT by using some key ratios that measure economic development. The first is culture/nature or to what extent one improves upon nature.
Manufacturing is high on c/n while trading raw materials would be low on c/n. The former leads to development and the latter to underdevelopment. The second is quality/price, where the goal is to maximize quality and minimize price so as to attract the most consumers. The third ratio is real economy/finance economy. A healthy economy would keep these two in balance making sure that the real economy (the development and trade of raw materials, goods and services) dominates the finance economy (banking and speculation).
Like the Japanese economy, PROUT is medium on the culture/nature ratio because Sarkar would assert that nature is invented and that humans should gradually take over, even improve, the activities of Prakrti. However, at the same time, he would, as much as possible, preserve nature in that nature is valued for its existence not for its particular utility value. PROUT theory recommends that economic regions do not trade their valuable raw materials instead they should be used as inputs for manufacturing. Finished goods can certainly be traded, however.
Being high on the quality/price ratio is important in PROUT theory but less so given the focus on needs and self-reliant economic units. However, as self-reliant units develop, they would open up and q/p would become increasingly critical. Finally Sarkar is strong on the real economy/finance economy ratio. Stock markets would be localized or greatly limited thus eliminating speculation (and growth for the center) and, of course, there would be limits to capital accumulation. In as much as economic growth is increasingly difficult when the real economy becomes de-linked from either the finance speculative economy or the underground (drug, black market or corrupt) economy, Sarkar would attempt to limit corruption (in the bureaucracy and the financial markets) through moral measures and by creating a climate of fairness, where corruption was not needed. For Sarkar, the State must have more watchdog type associations with power decentralized.
Survival, Basic Needs, Identity and Freedom
We can now further map PROUT’s economic system and then compare it to how other economic systems meet our four earlier indicators: survival, well being, identity and freedom. As argued above, PROUT does a better job of maximizing these four areas. For example, market systems are high on freedom but medium on survival and basic needs and low on identity. This medium ranking for survival and basic needs drops to low when we move our analysis to the third world. The key to understanding capitalism is that the center-periphery (between rich and poor, first and third worlds, urban-rural, men-women) relationship is disavowed with lack of growth at the periphery justified by a range of variables. They are: (1) They are not part of the predestined elect (Calvinism); (2) They are part of the evolutionary misfits and are hurting the genetic pool (Spencer); (3) They are lazy or have no entrepreneurial spirit (Colonialism); (4) Their institutions are corrupt and inefficient institutions thereby causing underdevelopment (Developmentalism); (5) They are feudal (Marxism); and, (6) They have not adequately embraced free market capitalism or adopted proper fiscal and monetary policies (Development economics a la IMF/World Bank).
Underdevelopment as a direct cause of development (the stealing of gold, the destruction of manufacturing abilities, the selling of raw material) is rarely considered. The global system is not seen as a structured world economic system with a global division of labor with few places at the top and many at the bottom, rather the world economy is considered open to all with those at the bottom only having themselves to blame.
In contrast, Gandhian-like localized systems are strong on survival and identity, medium on well being but weak on freedom. These systems emphasize community, dignity and relationships with the land, with tradition. Appropriate technology is preferred (unfortunately the means to make this technology were often imported thus the many problems with appropriate technology).
However, the links between small and large scale are not necessarily made–the question of economies of scale and complexity still confound “small is beautiful” type economic systems. Sarkar attempts to provide these links through a three-tiered economic system: cooperative to provide basic needs, small scale individual enterprises to provide entrepreneurial dynamism and key industries run by local or regional government.
As important as an economic model is an accompanying political model. For Sarkar this means rethinking sovereignty, locating it primarily in Consciousness and secondly in a world polity not in the nation-state. Sarkar’s ideal political system would not reduce mobility, indeed he encourages individual mobility (travel) and the mobility of money, not letting it sit inefficiently. While basic needs are the starting point of the PROUTist economy, as important as physical needs are freedom and spiritual identity needs–with family and the Other–these cannot be sacrificed. What is needed is not the elimination of one to gain the other but, balance. The Communist systems eliminated freedom needs so as to gain basic needs. The new man communism hoped to create was utterly divorced from history and tradition: family and spirit were denied in the quest for the new individual living for the collective, for the Party, for the State. The communist project was also made more difficult by the global capitalist system, that is, the open world system and its expansionary tendencies. When it came down to it, many were ready to sacrifice survival and well being for identity and cultural needs (which communism also suppressed, subjugating them to State definitions of culture). Thus the many attempted escapes even at the risk of imprisonment, torture and death, from every communist nation to capitalist nations.
But in Sarkar’s model, the present gap between center and periphery disappears in five crucial areas: culture, economy, polity, environment and military. What results is a balanced economy, polity and culture.
But with inequity reduced and exploitation eliminated, does PROUT have the capacity to provide a growth-oriented economic system? If we analyze cosmologies or worldviews along cultures of growth, we discover that there are five key variables that explain growth: hard work, savings, greed, inconsiderateness to others, and strong ideology. PROUT is strong on the first, medium on the second, weak on the third and fourth, and strong on the fifth. Hard work or struggle is essential in PROUT theory as it is effort that leads to individual growth. Savings are accumulated since individual gratification is postponed. Moreover, PROUT is long-term oriented in its economic policies, more concerned with saving the earth for our grandchildren then spending for the present. However, savings are less important in a PROUT based economy since PROUT is needs-based not profit- based. PROUT is obviously weak on greed; since for Sarkar the motivation for work should be service to humanity, not the enlargement of the individual ego. PROUT is weak on inconsiderateness to others (that is, in the creation of a periphery) since PROUT is essentially a spiritual ideology committed to neo-humanistic ethics. PROUT itself is a strong ideology providing an overall framework of economic, social and spiritual meaning.
What of distribution? We posit that there are four variables that explain the culture of distribution: equity, growth, view of others, view of nature. A system strong on distribution would have to be strong on equity (everyone gets their share) strong on growth (so that there is something to distribute) strong on “view of others” (others should be seen as fellow travellers not as inferior so that there is no exploitation) and strong on “view of nature” (nature and humans should be considered symbiotic so that development is sustainable, thus allowing for long term balanced distribution). Sarkar theory is strong on the first, medium on the second, strong on the third, and strong on the fourth (although less so than the deep ecologists, for Sarkar still postulates a hierarchy of Being). We would then expect a PROUTist world to be strong at distribution and medium at growth. It should be able to compete economically with the West and East-Asia but in fact be far superior because of its ability to provide equitable distribution and care for the planet itself. In the long run, Sarkar has argued PROUT would be high on (accelerated) growth as well once the entire world system becomes PROUTist in its orientation.
Sarkar’s PROUT then is an eclectic theory of economics drawing from many traditions by including various principles such as limits to the accumulation of wealth, incentive structures, decentralized planning, economic democracy, individual, cooperative and state economic structures, and a multifarious understanding–physical, mental and spiritual–of our potentials. PROUT resolves the contradictions that have made communism nearly extinct, capitalism horribly exploitive and Localism limited in scope.
Ontology and Epistemology: The Diversity Issue
To further contextualize PROUT, along with the economic issues we need to analyze two philosophical issues: ontological and epistemological diversity. How does PROUT deal with the problem of philosophical diversity as compared to other systems? In general historically there have been four accepted ways of knowing. The first two claimed by the West as its exclusive property and the second two ascribed to the East by the West (following Edward Said’s Orientalism). These ways of knowing are: Sense-Inference (Science), Reason-Logic (Philosophy), Authority (Religion), Intuition (Mysticism).
Sarkar surprisingly uses all four epistemological perspectives but adds a fifth that of devotion/love which is not merely an emotion but a way of constituting the real. Love cannot describe what is real but insofar as language is opaque (participating in what it refers to) it creates an alternative reality inaccessible by other conventional ways of knowing. Moreover, Sarkar redefines science expanding it beyond its present boundaries by including spiritual theories of the real. These, while not easily discernible to the materialistic scientist, are realizable by the spiritual-oriented scientist. But Sarkar does not negate reason and sense-inference, he merely places it in a larger context of intuition and layers of reality.
Following classical Indian thought, Sarkar approaches the problem of philosophical diversity by arguing that truth (here moving from epistemology–how we know what we know–to ontology, the nature of being) having many levels, as with Spengler, deep and shallow. But this position, similar to Spengler’s, is not dualistic or Vedantic; rather consciousness is unitary and the material world is merely changing, not less real or imaginary. Indeed, one of the criteria of a good society is well being and economic vitality, not solely a society where the transcendental is worshipped. Thus, Sarkar is eclectic, appropriating many traditions. This is also the strength of the Japanese appropriating, for example, Shinto, Buddhist, Confucian and Western traditions.
In contrast to Sarkar’s approach, the Western view has been that truth is singular and exclusive, there is only one right way to do it. It has been expansionist, linear in logic, with strong divisions between the center and periphery (human/nature, Occident/Orient, male/female, young/old). There is democracy but only within sovereign nations not at the planetary level. There is cultural diversity but only in the context of the universal attribution of Western civilization, so much so, that civilization now means, ipso facto, Western civilization. Historically the real has been seen either as ideational (the Medieval position) or material (the modern position). The classical Indian has been equally uni-dimensional arguing that only God is Real (thus denying the material dimensions). Less radical positions have merely stated that the material world is not imaginary merely misperception. The worldview denies social reality and is thus ultimately exploitive since it places the burden of transformation in the hands of only the individual, forgetting how class, gender and history structure our world. Power is made invisible in this view of the real.
While Spengler argued that knowledge is deep and shallow not true and false, Comte argued that knowledge has evolved from theological knowledge (primitive) to metaphysical knowledge (philosophy and speculation) finally culminating in positive science (objective material knowledge). While Comte’s theory acknowledges that there is more than one knowledge frame, prior states are distinctly inferior to the present.
Sorokin takes a more gracious view and examines five responses to the question of what is real. They are: (1) Only matter is real; (2) Only mind is real; (3) Both are real; (4) It does not matter; and, (5) Reality is unknowable. From the first answer we get sensate civilization, from the second we get ideational civilization, from the third we get a balanced civilization. From the fourth, no social structure is possible, since no culture can grow based on scepticism. No dominant reality can be communicated. And the fifth again gives us no guidance since reality is unknowable.
In this view the real is a component of material and spiritual dimensions, economic and cultural factors. History follows a pendulum like pattern. The first civilization develops to its peak, exaggerates and then, because it denies the reality of the other types, declines. The next civilization then begins.
For Sarkar, reality at the philosophical level has many dimensions. The universe is real but it is changing, consisting of many layers, from materialistic to spiritual. We see the world that we are able to see. At the social level it consists of four collective psychologies or ways of constituting the real–worker, warrior, intellectual and merchant. The worker view is materialistic, the warrior is materialistic concerned with conquering the material world, the intellectual view is ideational and the merchant view is materialistic. Since the worker world is never dominant, we can see how Sarkar is similar to Sorokin, for from the warrior-materialistic view comes the intellectual-ideational view, followed again by the merchant-materialistic view.
The worker view challenges the inequities of the merchant worldview leading again to the intellectual ideational world. The historical cycle continues until ethical leadership can create conditions for both an ideational and material approach to reality.
Continuing this discussion of models of social theory, we will now comment on general models of social theory. We will specifically analyze linear, cyclical, and transcendental theories of social history and time, asking: where do we locate Sarkar in the world of macrotheories of change?
Sarkar has a multiple theory of time (linear, cyclical, and transcendental) that includes superagency (the role of the divine, at least at symbolic levels), the role of structure (collective psychology) and the role of the individual (human agency).
Linear theories generally privilege a certain class over others. For Spencer, it was the fittest who would survive, for Comte it was the moderns who would vanquish the backward. The present is seen as objective and the past as ideological. We submit our present to ourselves as if it was outside a metaphysic. Those outside of the advanced modern world are treated as the raw materials for the modern, either as labor or as the primitive, the exotic representing what the modern has denied to itself. Linear theories are important in that they have an idea of progress and a vision to move forward to. They often have a vision of a possible future, realizable in this world. Linear theories are isomorphic to theories of efficiency and quantitative time. Time is not relative but objective. There is no going back, only the future exists.
Cyclical theories such as those of Spengler and Khaldun explain decline well. They place history in a rise and fall model, in the life cycle model men and women, and help us better understand change. They also remind us that the powerful will fall and the meek will rise, that life is temporary and fleeting. Cyclical theories often use metaphors from biology and are often thinly disguised critiques of the present. For Toynbee and others the present was the degeneration of humankind–the empire had overextended, the money spirit (a la Spengler) dominated humans. Cyclical theories are then more radical than linear theories. However, in these theories there is no exit since humanity is forever doomed to repeat the past because of reasons internal to the model–dialectics, hubris, or overexpansion, for example. Cyclical theorists while speaking to traditional cultures do not offer a vision of expansion, of conquest and of struggle. They lead to acceptance since nothing can be changed anyway. This is the vision of Kali Yuga, there is nothing do to but meditate, so accept the world and wait.
Transcendental theories attempt to take us to a new discourse, to grander visions of the cosmos, to what is really important; neither the nature of man (linear) nor the nature of Nature (cyclical) but the nature of God (transcendental). Time in this view is often divorced from efficiency and from nature, rather the self is placed in a timeless position. Theories, however, that are solely transcendental do not explain exploitation and structure. Thus, the role of power is missing. Moreover, the causes of change are rarely developed. Rather the will of the transcendental is considered the first and last cause. Often they collapse into a simplistic cyclical theory wherein humans wait for God, a God that came to humanity long ago. Prayer instead of social struggle are outcomes of this position.
Sarkar is unique in that his theory has linear, cyclical and transcendental dimensions. In the linear dimension of Sarkar’s theory, historical change results from humanity’s struggle against the environment, struggle between ideas, and because of the Attraction of the Great. He also has a cyclical dimension, that is, his stage theory. What emerges from his stage theory is an understanding of power (worker, military, normative, and remunerative power) and exploitation (economic, cultural and spiritual). Thus, he is not passive, for while accepting that history does have a structure he gives a way out of this history. Through spiritual, social and economic struggle, through the creation of a new type of leadership, through human agency, a new future is possible. Central to social transformation is individual transformation, that is, entrance into timeless time through meditation and spiritual effort.
Finally Sarkar has superagency, in terms of the classical Indian theory of the Godhead, entering the human sphere when humanity is in desperation. For Sarkar the metaphorical dimensions of this theory are as important as its empirical basis, for this gives people hope even as they attempt to change and transform the world around them. Sarkar then is unique in that he gives us a spiral–past and future at the same time–theory of change. Marx tried to do this but the spiral was only for the advanced capitalist nations not for the poor exploited nations. Moreover, for Marx and liberal modernists the goal was the perfect society, a society without contradictions. In this search for perfection, traditional society, the periphery, the third world could be brutalized for this perfect State. Sarkar, in contrast, wishes for a eutopia, a good place. For him, history does not end, the stages will continue, the cycle is eternal. His goal is to reduce exploitation and create a society that is conducive for spiritual pursuits. Perfection is possible for individuals (through individual enlightenment) but not for society as a whole, thus there is no necessity for an ever enlarging State to create this perfect world.
The Problem of Language and Location
Recent developments in social and economic theory have placed language as gateway to understanding politics, that is our description of the real in itself constitutes the real. Earlier, socialists developed a sociology of knowledge, showing that knowledge has a class basis. Non-Western cultures have shown that English privileges a particular view of the world, that is, language has a national and cultural bias as well. More recently, Feminists have shown that language and knowledge has a gender basis as well. Language then is no longer thought to merely describe the world in a neutral manner rather it constitutes the world. Language is opaque. Indeed the study of politics is about the study of language, of how the real is constituted in discourse.
Sarkar, aware of how language constituted the real, would consciously switched what language he spoke depending on the type of presentation he gave–spiritual, social, inspirational, academic, or organizational. He has also argued that language gives us an idea of the complexity and focus of a particular culture, that certain words could never be adequately translated since they represented a different vision of reality–sanskrit words referring to the complexity of spiritual reality, for example. Certain words thus could not be translated since there are no appropriate frames of reference for them to be understood in. These linguistic moves were not incidental but part of his effort to speak to many constructions of reality.
But what of language and the spiritual itself? Is the real outside of language, of discourse, or is the real merely discursive, situationally relative? For Sarkar, the mystical dimension is beyond language: “It cannot be expressed in language,” he has uttered. Sarkar’s response to the spiritual experience then is that the “guru becomes dumb and the disciple becomes deaf.” That is, both know that any utterances will place that which is beyond discourse–the experience of ineffable–in discourse, thus placing it in the context of culture, history and politics.
And yet we must speak so as to communicate. While Habermas would have us search for the ideal communicative situation–towards mutual understanding, since communication between equals leads to freedom and dignity–the poststructural perspective argues that knowledge claims are not true or false or even as deep and shallow but as political assets. A theory is important if it gives us new relationships, if it changes how we see and constitute the world, if it gives new technologies to previously disabled cultures and peoples. While communism is dead, Marx was important because he linked politics with economics, attempted to place the objective within a theory of politics and power. While Freud overly privileged the body, he was important because he showed how civilization created the modern self as well as illuminated the contradictions between our basic nature and our civilizational nature. He expanded our models of the self. Wallerstein is also important in that he reminds us that even though we cannot know what is true, since ideology has a subjective basis, it is ideology that gives us the strength to march onwards.
The present is difficult and the future is far away. It is a vision of truth that gives us the strength to delay gratification in hope of a better world for all. It is this vision that help us survive the periods of oppression, of disapproval from state structures, and from the dominance of the present. So while many may hope for a world without social movements, without ideology, of an objective modern world with only a linear theory of development, it is the possibility that we can create another society, a good society, that gives us impetus. This is where we would locate Sarkar. Attempts to merely find empirical referents to his theory (to prove his theory by correspondence to the natural world), while important, misunderstand the nature of his discourse. They remain oblivious to the politics of knowledge. Sarkar’s task is not theory building (as in conventional philosophy or social science) or even economic development (even though he has developed a model of an alternative political-economy) but a new discourse, a new way of constituting the social, the political, the personal, and the spiritual. A new ground plan. A new frame. A new world.
This is why attempts to locate Sarkar–to situate Sarkar in a variety of economic, epistemological and social schemes–fail, for even as we attempt to fix Sarkar, his own life strategies were to slip outside of conventional (and unconventional) mapping strategies by creating new maps of what can be!
Copyright The author 2012