By Dada Maheshvarananda
Sarkar respected Karl Marx, saying he was “a good person, a thoughtful person, and a prophet for the poor.” Marx wrote a brilliant, methodical analysis of capitalism in the 1800s, Das Kapital, Volumes 1-3, approximately 3,000 pages in length, in which he demonstrated that capitalism is exploitive in nature and suffers from internal contradictions or weaknesses that contribute to its decay. Marx’s compassion for the oppressed and his compelling call to end exploitation is extraordinary.
While Marx was a champion of the poor and a genius in his critique of capitalist excesses, he was much less clear about what should replace it. He called for “an association of free men, working with the means of production held in common, and expending their many different forms of labor power in full self-awareness as one single social labor force.”
That vague statement and a handful of others is the extent of Marx’s economic alternative.
“The distribution of surplus wealth among the meritorious in PROUT remedies the problem of equal distribution in communism.”
While it is important to acknowledge that many of the social and economic improvements in contemporary society were championed by Marxists and socialists, critics have pointed out that his economic analysis is internally inconsistent. For example, Marx’s “labor theory of value” stated that the value of an object equals the cost of labor to produce or extract it. But in the 21st century, we are painfully aware that all resources are limited, and some are non-renewable. Scarcity increases value. Each resource has an intrinsic value and should be maximally utilized and rationally distributed.
The Marxist axiom, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” sounded good in theory, Sarkar wrote, but was an inadequate incentive to motivate most people. And, he argued, to distribute surplus wealth equally would not be reasonable. “Diversity, not identity, is the law of nature… Those who want to make everything equal are sure to fail because they are going against the innate characteristic of [nature].” Leaders who tried to materialize Marx’s ideas in different countries, Sarkar said, invariably encountered many practical difficulties because incentives are an important factor in economics.
Materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter, and all phenomena, including consciousness, are the result of material interactions. Marx spoke of the “materialist conception of history”, and later Friedrich Engels and others coined the term “dialectical materialism” to describe the Marxist perspective. The problem is that when the possibility of spiritual experience is denied, people’s mental longings turn towards material objects of gratification. When one constantly focuses on material reality, the mind becomes materialistic and the baser instincts are aroused.
Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin repeated throughout his life that “the concrete analysis of the concrete situation” was the very soul of Marxism.
Sarkar, on the other hand, rejected this narrow, materialistic outlook, and propounded a much more expansive idea–“as you think, so you become.” At the same time, Sarkar promoted social equality and called PROUT “progressive socialism.” This model certainly advocates public or common ownership and cooperative management of the means of production and allocation of resources, which is a common definition of socialism. Yet it differs markedly from Marxism in many ways.
Marx and Engels published The Communist Manifesto in 1848, analyzing the need for a revolutionary Communist Party to lead the working class in revolt against capitalist exploitation. It reviewed the history of class struggle and the problems of capitalism, but made few predictions or prescriptions about how Communist Parties should rule.
In fact, communist governments have frequently engendered mass alienation among their workers. Fifty years after leading the communist revolution in Cuba, when asked if their economic system was still worth exporting to other countries, Fidel Castro replied: “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.” His brother, President Raul Castro, has indicated that the state has had too big a role in the economy, and that gradual but widespread reform is needed.
With the centralization of both political and economic power in the hands of the state, many communist leaders fell victim to a myopic belief in their own infallibility. This arrogance, combined with a materialist philosophy and belief that the ends justified the means, has resulted in Communist Party tyranny.
Communist regimes throughout the world have subjugated their own people under a yoke of oppression. Political repression, imprisonment, forced labor camps, executions, and famines caused by the forced collectivization of land and centralized economic policies were the worst crimes. The estimated combined death toll in Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao’s China and Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge range from 21 million to 70 million.
Party dictators have ordered their military to imprison or kill people if they tried to protest or escape. These autocratic governments censored artistic expression, banned private enterprise, stifled personal initiative, and prohibited religious and spiritual freedom. These same dictatorships have now been overthrown by popular revolts in Eastern Europe and Russia.
However, a few states controlled by communist parties continue: China, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, and North Korea. China does not publish death penalty statistics, but Amnesty International reports that as many as 8,000 executions took place in 2006. Arrests, torture and imprisonment of spiritual and religious groups, dissenters and human rights activists continue. More than 3,000 Falun Gong meditation practitioners have died in custody as a result of torture, more than 70 percent of them women. In Tibet, scores of Buddhist nuns and monks remain in prison.
Today, communist revolutionaries are conducting armed insurgencies in India (Naxalites), Colombia (FARC), the Philippines (the New People’s Army), Peru (the Shining Path) and Bangladesh. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) fought for ten years before declar- ing a ceasefire and running for election. Nearly all of these follow the Maoist strategy of waging a protracted people’s war, operate in remote wilderness areas, and instill fear.
PROUT rejects indiscriminate violence and terrorism. The Proutist approach is to change consciousness through mass education, inspiration and a cultural renaissance, not through fear. Political revolution can never create a just society unless the tendency to exploit others is overcome in the minds of the leaders and people.
Sarkar wrote, “The concepts of dialectical materialism, the materialist conception of history, the withering away of the state, proletariat dictatorship, classless society, etc., are defective ideas which can never be implemented. That is why the post-revolutionary stage in every communist country has suffered from turmoil and oppression.”
Atiriktam: Rational Incentives
PROUT advocates: “The surplus wealth should be distributed among meritorious people according to the degree of their merit.”
This surplus is known in Proutist economics by the Sanskrit word atiriktam, and remedies the problem of equal distribution in communism. It is used as an incentive to motivate people to render greater service to society. Atiriktam can, for instance, be given either as increased salary or as other benefits. Its purpose is to encourage people to develop their skills and increase their capacity to assist society. Atiriktam can take the form of task-related privileges. For example, a talented researcher may be given access to expensive laboratory facilities, while an effective and selfless social worker may be offered more support staff.
In an article published shortly before his death in 1990, entitled “Minimum Requirements and Maximum Amenities,” Sarkar expanded on the relationship between minimum salary and atiriktam. He stressed that while providing the minimum necessities, people should not be left with a bare-bones existence. Higher salaries should be provided to the meritorious, yet continuous and collective effort will be needed to raise the economic standard of the common people to an appropriate level for that time and place.
1 Devashish, Anandamurti: The Jamalpur Years (San Germán, Puerto Rico: InnerWorld Publications, 2010), p. 295.
2 Karl Marx, Capital Volume 1, Chapter 1, Section 4, “The Fetishism of the Commodity and its Secret.”
3 Sarkar, Proutist Economics, p. 4.
4 F. Burlatsky, “Concrete Analysis is a Major Requirement of Leninism”, The Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press, No. 30, Vol. 15, August 21, 1963, pp. 7-8.
5 P.R. Sarkar, “Dialectical Materialism and Democracy,” PROUT in a Nutshell Part 6 (Calcutta: Ananda Marga Publications).
6 Yanqi Tong, “Mass alienation under state socialism and after”, Communist and Post-Communist Studies, Volume 28, Issue 2, June 1995, pp. 215-237.
7 Jeffrey Goldberg, “Fidel: ‘Cuban Model Doesn’t Even Work For Us Anymore’”, The Atlantic, September 8 2010.
8 Benjamin A. Valentino, “Communist Mass Killings: The Soviet Union, China, and Cambodia” in Final solutions: mass killing and genocide in the twentieth century (Cornell, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), pp. 91–151.
9 Amnesty International Report 2007. “Countdown to Olympics Fails to Stop Killing in China”, American Chronicle, August 12, 2007.
10 P.R. Sarkar, “Nuclear Revolution”, PROUT in a Nutshell Part 21 (Calcutta: Ananda Marga Publications).
11 Sarkar, Proutist Economics, p. 5.
12 Ibid, p. 58.
Excerpted from After Capitalism: Economic Democracy in Action by Dada Maheshvarananda (Puerto Rico: Innerworld Publications, 2012): www.aftercapitalism.org