Sarkar, Toynbee and Marx

Dr. Ravi Batra
In attempting to unravel the mysteries of history in imputing order to the seemingly disorderly currents in the human past, in reaching out to the future, Sarkar has joined the august company of Toynbee, Marx, Hegel, Spengler, Wells, among many others; and in erudition and breadth of vision, he is not excelled by any. Quite a few scholars have endeavoured to detect in the chaos of history a certain rhythm, and imperceptible harmony that complies with certain natural laws, but their peers, suspicious of anything conferring rigor on past trends, have criticized and scoffed at them. Sarkar’s contribution, however, belongs to a different genus. It is immune at least to those strictures to which other theories of historical determinism have been subjected.

It is important to see where the law of social cycle stands in relation to well-known explanations of history. For the sake of comparison with Sarkar’s thought, I briefly appraise the views of Marx and Toynbee – two intellectual giants who, in terms of learning and catholicity of thinking, stand in a luminous class of their own. Both men attempted to solve the riddle of history – Marx through deductive reasoning, Toynbee through “scientific” empiricism. Their contributions, it turns out, are two separate pieces that fit, somewhat loosely, into Sarkar’s conception of history.

Sarkarian and Marxian Thought – A Comparison

Despite some contradictions of its own, there is much imperishable truth and resilience in the Marxian prognosis of social change. Marx’s philosophy has been subjected by critics to careful and minute dissection, but its beauty lies in the fact that, after all its weak links are severed, its fundamental point is undeniable, namely that capitalism suffers from severe contradictions, that the profit-seeking, wealth-accumulating propensities of the wealthy must shoulder blame for the recurrence of business cycles, which, quite often in the last two centuries, have shaken the very foundations of Western civilization. Even today the threat of recessions looms like a Sword of Damocles over the shaky capitalistic economies.

In comparing Marx’s system with Sarkar’s one is immediately struck by their divergence as well as their similarity. However, the similarities are not many and can be disposed of quickly.

Both Marx and Sarkar use a historical method of analysis, both believe in the inevitability of historical patterns of societal evolution, though not in the repetition of events themselves, and both agree that capitalism will be brought to an end by some sort of revolution, although to Sarkar this revolution may be bloody or peaceful, whereas to Marx it will be bloody and violent, Marx calls it the revolution of the proletariat, whereas to Sarkar it is the social revolution of the labourers; but the labourers and the proletariat have much in common. They are both victims of the capitalist’s unbridled rapacity, of his penchant for more and more wealth, although Sarkar’s labourers are vulnerable to exploitation in every facet of civilisation. One might say that, as far as the description of capitalism is concerned, Sarkar draws on Marx in some respects. In a rare reference to Marx, Sarkar looks at him in an unconventional light:

“Centering round a remark about religion by the great Karl Marx, a class of exploiters goes hysteric and raises quite a storm. It should be borne in mind that Karl Marx was never antagonistic to spiritualism, moralism and good conduct. Whatever he said was against the then religion, for he had visualized, understood and felt that the then religion had paralyzed man mentally, made him impotent and dispirited by instigating him to submit to the vicious circle.” [7, p.122]

Sarkar himself, while driving a wedge between spirituality and blind faith in religious dogmas, believes that emissaries of religion have in the past exploited humanity in every civilisation, and continue to do so even today.

With this, the similarities between Marxian and Sarkarian thought end. Sarkar’s theory is immensely more general and realistic than Marxism. The latter is simply a special case of the former, one link in Sarkar’s chain of social cycle.

In the first place, the Marxian message is intensely materialistic, relegating humans to the inertness of matter, whereas Sarkar’s message is intensely spiritual, relying totally on the human spirit and mental characteristics. In this respect the latter is closer to Hegel and, as we shall see subsequently, to Toynbee than to Marx. The material aspect, however, is not ignored by Sarkar. It reflects itself in the laborer and the acquisitive mind, and to some degree in all human beings. But here also one discerns the human element in his philosophy. Even in the acquisitive age, economic forces, to Sarkar, shape social destiny through the medium of acquisitive human intellect, as opposed to the Marxian contention that material forces determine human consciousness and institutions at all times.

There is an element of tautology in the Marxian assertion that human beings have to survive before historical change can occur, because if survival were the only relevant factor then society would never have changed. If survival is all that counts, then why have so many men and women in the past died for a cause, for an ideal? Why would people of gallantry prefer death in war to a comfortable life at home? Why did some spend all their life in the search for truth and enlightenment, enduring at times unbelievable sufferings?

Another difference between the two systems lies in their perception of the laboring class. To Sarkar no society can even survive without the sweat and toil of laborers, but they seldom, if ever, come to power, a view that contradicts the Marxian prophecy that under socialism the proletariat will rule. Even in Russia and China, where Marxism had been adopted as the way of life, not the worker, but an elitist group with warrior attitudes towards military and social discipline reigned supreme. It is perhaps unfair to admonish Marx for this, because we are the beneficiary of hindsight and he was not. By contrast, Sarkar’s laborer revolution is not led by the proletariat, but by a coalition of intellectuals, military officers anti skilled workers, i.e., by the cooperative efforts of disgruntled warriors and intellectuals diminished, by the acquisitor’s (or capitalistic) rapacity, to the laborer standard of living.

Sarkar’s main concern with the human element is what imparts universality of his thesis. Thus while social evolution according to Marx is governed chiefly by economic conditions, to Sarkar this dynamics is propelled by forces varying with time and space: sometimes physical prowess and high-spiritedness, sometimes intellect applied to dogmas, and sometimes intellect applied to the accumulation of wealth determine the movement of society.

Quite clearly, the Marxian view of history is myopic in comparison with the Sarkarian vision. In terms of Sarkar’s terminology, the Marxian analysis implies that the acquisitors, and hence the economic factor, have always ruled society whereas Sarkar maintains that their turn to rule comes only after warriors and intellectuals have had their turns. Marx calls upon one single element to illuminate the entire past as well as future, whereas Sarkar does this by relying on four fundamental elements rooted in human mind. Sarkarism, therefore, derives from human evolution, Marxism form material existence.

Another fundamental difference between the two viewpoints is that according to Marx, Communism is the pinnacle of society after which there is no social evolution, but in the Sarkarian view every phase of society is a passing phenomenon. Sarkar is very explicit and emphatic on this point. To him social evolution signifies a relative movement of society, one among so many other relative movements which are all interconnected. Therefore if social evolution stops, then all relative movements, interwoven as they are, must cease, and this in effect is the death of the universe. In other words, societal evolution will endure as long as the universe does: there is no final synthesis; there cannot be one.

Furthermore, Sarkar’s theory tosses Communism out of the realm of possibility. To him, since there are four basic types of mental attitude in human beings, there are four types of era through which every civilization has to pass. Thus one mental tendency will always be preponderant in society; not that one class will always exploit the others, only that its mores, preferences and idiosyncrasies will fashion the behavior of the other three. Hence the classless society that Marx envisioned simply cannot exist. It is a utopia, and not a desirable one either, for its attainment amounts to society’s dissolution.

It is not my intention to be over-critical and chastise Marx as others have done for minor points such as the failure of some of his prophecies. That his foresight could not completely pierce through the obscurity of the future does not diminish his analysis one bit. Some of his predictions have in fact been affirmed. What matters is the acumen with which he knitted together the discordant pieces from history, sociology and economics into a cohesion that distinguishes him as one of the most gifted writers of all time. My contention that the law of social cycle is more general is not meant to disparage Marxian contributions to humanity, but merely to underline the merits of Sarkar’s thought.

Comparison between Toynbee and Sarkar

Toynbee and Sarkar seem to have an affinity in many of their views, but differences of a real and subtle character also exist. To both the historical process is rooted in the human spirit: material forces do count, but only in being the adversary over which human fortitude must prevail if a primitive society is ever to evolve into a civilization. However, in this respect Sarkar goes further by pinpointing the type of mentality which can overcome the challenges posed by the environment. To him only the warrior mind, with the active assistance of the laborers, can initially vanquish the mighty and hostile forces of nature. Perhaps the difference is only semantic. Sarkar is nevertheless more specific on this point.

A difference of deeper significance lies in the fact that Sarkar’s prognosis does not rule out the salutary effects of favorable soil and climatic conditions that may lend a helping hand in the development of civilizations. For his total disregard of these factors, Toynbee has been severely taken to task by his critics. But in Sarkar’s system, the growth of civilizations depends not so much on the severity of the environment and the mettlesome response that it invokes, but on the rise of the high-spirited warrior mind.

Even if no challenge appears, a civilization may emerge if the primitive society is led by a warrior mind, for this type of mind does not rest until total mastery over matter is achieved; and I do not have to labor the point that human mastery over nature even today is far from complete. Thus regardless of whether the environment is friendly or hostile the vivacity of the warrior mind creates challenges of its own and endeavors to meet them fearlessly and with dignity. This would explain the genesis of some civilizations which in their infancy encountered comparatively few misfortunes.

The difference here is more real than apparent. While Toynbee’s accent is on both the harshness of material surroundings and the human spirit, Sarkar emphasizes only the human element and ultimately the natural human evolution. The challenge, in the Sarkarian view, has its place, but it may spring from the hostile environment or be self-created by the warrior mind.

In Toynbee’s view there is little affinity between civilizations, which are dynamic societies, and primitive communities, which he regards as entities flowing at a rate of evolution so low that to all intents and purposes they can be considered as static societies. The crucial distinction, therefore, lies in the rate of growth in a society’s evolution.

Sarkar would perhaps be uncomfortable with Toynbee’s definition of a primitive society, for to him nothing is static in this universe, “thronged as it is with a plethora of relativities”. He, therefore, defines a primitive society also in terms of mental characteristics. i.e. in terms of the early laborer community. Again this difference is perhaps semantic. However, Toynbee’s taste for total differentiation between primitive and civilized societies finds full expression in his somewhat arbitrary distinction between civilizations between parent and “affiliated” societies. True, his Universal States and Universal Churches are reminiscent of some of Sarkar’s warrior and intellectual eras; but to Sarkar they both belong to the same society, as two arms of the same social cycle, whereas for Toynbee the Universal Church provides the line of demarcation between the old and the new civilization.

Sarkar regards civilizations as entities that have evolved from primitive societies just as civilized humanity evolved from the primitive human being. To him the intimate anthropological kinship between the primitive and the civilized also extends to civilization, a view that sharply contrasts with Toynbee’s.

Furthermore, Toynbee does not adequately explain why the Universal Church emerges toward the end of the parent civilization. Why religion, why not any mundane philosophy? Why not any other military power? To Sarkar the transition from the warrior to the intellectual era, or from Toynbee’s Universal State to the Universal Church, is just an integral part of the evolutionary social cycle, something ingrained in the process of human evolution. For the subtler intellect of the intellectuals evolved on our planet much later than the high-spiritedness of the warriors. But upon its arrival, it had little difficulty in winning over the warrior mind.

It is hard to concur with Toynbee and pretend that civilisations have emerged abruptly out of primitive societies, especially when many historians believe that perhaps agriculture, more than anything else, procreated and nurtured all civilizations. In this view, the prerequisite for the dynamic movement of every society is the availability of an economic surplus, something that frees some people from toiling just for subsistence. Consequently a part of society’s energies can be devoted to subtle and creative avocations architecture, music, art, literature. If the presence of economic surplus is the precondition for social progress, then civilizations must have sprouted from the primitive. Neolithic culture of which the most distinctive features are agriculture and the domestication of animals.

Sarkar believes in the unity and continuity of civilizations, whereas Toynbee, as stated before, first divides them into parents and their affiliates, and then distinguishes them by the presence of Universal States and Universal Churches. These two institutions are implicit in Sarkar’s warrior and intellectual eras. For example, the period of the Universal State into which the Roman Empire had been organized at the dawn of the first century is identical to Sarkar’s warrior’s era of Western civilization. Similarly, the primacy of the Catholic Church following the collapse of the Roman State coincides with Sarkar’s intellectual era of the same civilization, but to Toynbee, of course, it is now a new society.

Moreover, Sarkar, unlike Toynbee, does not stop with these two institutions but goes on to introduce his acquisitive era that follows upon the decline of the intellectuals, who were ruling through the Church. All these eras are identified with the mentality of the dominant social class, whereas in Toynbee’s system particular periods of history are associated with the institutions that for a long time endured in various civilizations. Therefore if these institutions vanish from the face of the earth or lose their vitality, which they all do at one time or another, then according to Toynbee a civilisation is either dissolved or affiliated to its offspring. But since Sarkar speaks in terms of the lasting features of the human mind, his theory is flexible, is capable of assimilating novel organisations, mores and customs. That is why his eras may appear time and again during the course of history, of the past and of the future, even though human institutions, rules and laws, because of natural evolutions, must go through numerous alterations..

Toynbee’s admission of only two long lasting and world-wide organizations the Universal States and Churches in a way compels him to be unusually gloomy about the prospects of Western civilization which he thinks has been declining ever since the sixteenth century when the Universal Church in Europe was weakened by the rise of autocratic monarchs and by the Wars of Religion. He is particularly emphatic about the paralytic consequences of the religious wars of Germany, France and Spain, especially the loss of faith. There is plenty of arbitrariness here, a point noted by other historians, especially by Geyl, but it need not be our concern. For some reasons, real or imagined, Toynbee views the declining influence of religion as disastrous for Western society, whose breakdown to him actually began, believe it or not, four centuries ago. And he insists that once the breakdown begins, it is irretrievable; euthanasia cannot then be averted, however solid the subsequent achievements of some of its individual members. Thus in his view, the West is now lingering through the period of disintegration, with no known timetable.

To my mind it is the paucity of “universal” institutions in his system that makes Toynbee so pessimistic about the prospects of the Western world: once the Universal Church collapses, what is left? Dissolution of course, or merger into a new civilization! However, Sarkar’s framework is more sanguine, his hypothesis is resilient enough to accommodate all changes. It suggests that the West is now in the decadent phase of the acquisitive era, which, since no age can endure for ever, should eventually be replaced by a new warrior era. Thus one arm of the organic social cycle will be replaced by another, but Western civilisation will survive, and perhaps emerge with greater effulgence. Of course, the new warrior era will not be dominated by monarchs and tyrannical dictators. This is simply unthinkable. Rather a group that displays martial qualities will be supreme. He does not say all this in so many words, but it is implicit in his discourse.

All the critics who have taken Toynbee to task for numerous errors of omission and commission are single-minded in acclaiming his work for its singular contribution not, ironically, to history but to literature even to fiction. Some have characterized Toynbee’s system as a figment of his bountiful imagination, while others have called it an outright fraud. His critics stand in awe before his monumental and voluminous work, but they do not concede its veracity. Volumes have been written as critiques to Toynbee’s thought and it is not my intention to add much to them (see Stromberg for a summation.) Nor am I among his critics, who certainly have some valid points of their own. I think Toynbee went a bit too far. If only he had scaled down his claims, if only he had not attempted to expound almost every historical episode in terms of a perceptible cause, his following today would be much larger than it is. In any case, there is much in Toynbee’s message that will endure for ever.

It is upon these enduring pillars that Sarkar constructs his thesis. Toynbee’s work is a start, and Sarkar adds the finishing touch, plus much more. But in so doing he avoids many of Toynbee’s errors. Thus Sarkar simply outlines a broad pattern of historical evolution, but is not so specific about a society’s laws of growth and decay, because he realizes that such laws cannot be explained in terms of a single cause. In his own way he recognizes Toynbee s Universal States and Churches, but, in concurrence with the latter’s critics, he does not believe that the Universal Church provides a dividing line between the old and the new civilization. Thus a civilization may endure forever, although its distinctive institutions may come and go. It is in this way that Sarkar builds where Toynbee, and also Marx, have left off.

Ravi Batra is Professor of Economics at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas. He is the auuthor of The Great Depression, The Myth of Free Trade and numerous other books. His most recent book is Greenspan’s Fraud, published by Random House Publishers.

Copyright The author 2011

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