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P.R. Sarkar’s Vision Of The Future


[Contribution to the Reimagining Society Project hosted by ZCommunications.]

Hailed a a complete Renaissance Man, Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar is well known as a social philosopher, political revolutionary, poet, and linguist. [1] He is also significant for  his creation of the Progressive Utilization Theory (PROUT), and his role as spiritual teacher of the social service, spiritual movement Ananda Marga.[2]
 
This essay focuses on Sarkar’s contribution to utopian and futures thinking.  His work here divides into four areas:  First, trajectories of the future based on theory of the social cycle (world government, a spiritual-led polity, and the end of capitalism and communism).  Second,  an alternative way of seeing humans that leads him to predict new developments in the potential for spiritual development. Third, specific technological forecasts (longevity, and mind and space travel).  And fourth, warnings of a water shortage and a global depression.  Sarkar’s interest in the future, however, is not really in prediction, but rather in inspiration – in the creation of a new vision for humanity.   
 
Sarkar’s focus is a general critique of the present, with developing an alternative vision of the future, a eutopia (good place), and social movements to create this alternative future.   His works are thus intended to persuade, to transform oppressive social and political structures – to help us envision the world anew.
 
The root of his mission is the spiritual. Writes Sarkar: “Spirituality is not a utopian ideal but a practical philosophy which can be practiced and realized in day to day life. Spirituality stands for evolution and elevation and not for superstition and pessimism. Spiritual philosophy does not recognize any distinction and differentiaion between one human being and another, and stands for universal fraternity”[3]
 
However, while the spiritual leads us to the synthetic, history and future are not. They are dialectical, created through clash and cohesion with the physical world and in mental realms.  Progress is only possible in the spiritual realm.  As well, individual rights are only possible in the context of collective responsibilities.  And democracy can only exist when education and ethics are universal.  Accordingly, his vision of the future is fundamentally different from the predominant Western epistemological (linear, secular, empirical, individualistic, and liberal-democratic) tradition.
 
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.
 
 
 
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 thinkers 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, indeed, he argues that his PROUT vision will alleviate poverty and create unparalled but balanced prosperity. Yet 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 is to provide physical security such that women and men can pursue intellectual and spiritual development.
 
For Sarkar, individual good and collective good are symbiotic: neither one is more important; both find their apex through their interrelationship.  It is the unabatedaccumulation and misuse of wealth that is the central problem. The primary economic entity within the ideal PROUT society would be employee-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 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 (but divisive for those not included) such as nationalism, provincialism, and religion are transplanted by universalism.  In this global society, there will be a world government with centralized powers, for without it capitalistic exploitation will continue. There must be a strong polity, structurally made up of separate executive, judicial, and legislative bodies, within the larger context of a spiritual society.
 
Sarkar does not believe nor wish one world culture to 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 proleterianizeeverything has been eradicated. 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 in the context of global social, environmental, spiritual and rights movements – the Glocal (global-local) emergent vision.
 
However, for Sarkar, individual spiritual development must precede any systemic, societal change.  In addition, cultural revolution must precede economic change as capitalism works by creating a structure of cultural and economic dependency between centers and peripheries, between empires and colonies. Communism, also based on the materialistic industrial model characterized by centralization of wealth in the state and homogenization of culture, created similar oppressive structures. 
 
PROUT. The principles of Sarkar’s good society are developed in his comprehensive theory: the Progressive Utilization Theory, or PROUT. [4]  PROUT attempts to balance the need for societies to create both 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 socialist utopias, 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. And unlike Green perspectives focused solely on equilibrium, PROUT is focused on prama, or dynamic balance, or progressive sustainability.
 
Sarkar along with others, has initiated PROUT movements throughout the world.  Although the self-reliant, cultural people’s movements are still small, he believes eventually they will reach a critical size and then pose a significant challenge to the present world system. 
 
These movements are active throughout the world, organizing women, students, workers, farmers, professionals as well as other groups and classes against the injustices and inequities of the present system.  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 the Philippines, for example, one social movement,Kasama participated in the ouster of Marcos and in the removal of foreign military bases from the Philippines. In India, Amra Bengali has contested various local elections and has established cooperatives throughout the region. 
 
Thus through the creation and legitimation of globally-oriented, yet regionally and locally -based spiritual, cultural and economic movements – and, through 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. [5]
 
 
METHODOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE: Sarkar’s vision of the future is partly based on intuition and partly based on his analysis of history.  He argues that most of us use very little of our mind, geniuses perhaps 10%, while others not even 1%.[6]  We remain bounded in the body and the conscious mind.  However, Sarkar believes that through meditation, through the exploration of the deeper layers of the mind, we can develop our creativity, our intuition, and realize perennial truths and thus balance our multi-dimensional selves.
 
Equally important is Sarkar’s theory of the social cycle – his macrohistory. There are four eras based on four ways of knowing the world. The worker’s era, the martial warrior era, the intellectual era and then the capitalist era. There is then a major transformation and the cycles begins again.  He believes major revolutions will occur throughout the world.  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.
 
It is these disgruntled intellectuals and martial-minded individuals who will bring on the next cycle.[7]  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 that Sarkar raises is can we 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 short-lived 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 "[8] forecast the movements of the cycle and then through their social, spiritual, service and, if necessary, revolutionary efforts bring on the next era.  He calls these individuals: sadvipras. 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.[9] They will participate in creating a new 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 (true deep ecology) 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, labor and capital will become more productive. Intellectual and spiritual resources presently being wasted will become valuable inputs into economic development moving us from an industrial to a knowledge to a wisdom economy. 
 
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 global planetary and Martial era. Neither gender will then be commodified.[10]
 
 
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY:  This new era, however, for Sarkar is not one that pits spirituality against science. Sarkar believes that technological development controlled by non-capitalists, by humanists, will lead to increased economic growth, intellectual development and social equality.    Sarkar, in fact, sees the development of technology that will have "mind" in it,  that is, technology that will have some level of self-awareness.  Most likely this will result from developments in artificial intelligence as well as through the agency of microvita, what Sarkar posits is the basis of life. The crudest microvita are similar to viruses; the most subtle have intelligence. They are the stuff of life, functioning as mind and matter, as bottles of energy.
 
Sarkar also forecasts that once full employment is reached, and once the untapped potential of humans, individually and collectively, is increasingly realized, instead of massive unemployment because of productivity gains from robotics and informatics, we will simply reduce our work week, such that "one day, we may only work five minutes a week.  Being not always engrossed in the anxiety about grains and clothes, there will be no misuse of mental and spiritual wealth.  [We] will be able to devote more time to sports, literary discourses and spiritual pursuits."[11] Struggle then will largely be in intellectual and spiritual realms; in the constant effort to reduce the gap between the finite and the infinite, between the present and the ideal future.
 
Sarkar sees the problem of food solved primarily through the cooperative economic structure. Each region will utilize its own raw materials and develop industries appropriate to the local environment.  By encouraging self-sufficiency and self-reliance, some of the advantages of global trade will be lost in the short run–the North in particular will face a reduction in its standard of living.   However, as regions develop and as economic gains are redistributed, then trade between different regions will flourish.  Trade then will be between equals, not centers and peripheries, not the powerful and the emaciated – true globalization can then begin.
 
Sarkar also forecasts that in the long run food tablets will be invented to deal with any temporary food shortages that may arise. In addition, he wrote in 1959 that "medical science will increase longevity"[12] to perhaps to 150 years, and "in certain fields (we) will even be able to infuse life in the dead.”[13] Sarkar also predicts that by "changing individual glands, a dishonest person may become … an honest one."[14] However, glandular changes will not be able to transform root behavior structures; only spiritual practices, according to Sarkar, can fundamentally transform the structure of the human mind.  However, unlike some futurists, who predict that because of revolutions in the life sciences we are on the threshold of immortality and that we may soon uncover "an aging gene,"[15] Sarkar believes that death cannot be escaped as brain decay cannot be postponed.
 
Sarkar, nearly 40 years prior to the mapping of the human genome, forecasted that children will be born in "human reproduction laboratories,"[16] and parents will choose the characteristics of their children. In the long-term future we will become primarily intellectual/psychic beings, and even lose our reproductive faculties.  According to Sarkar, we will gradually take on the functions now done by Cosmic Mind (loosely "Nature"). This image should be contrasted with that of other spiritual visionaries and futurists who believe that technological development should be severely limited and that we should not tamper with "Nature."[17]
 
Thus, we will ultimately become an increasingly technologically developed society with spirituality as the base and the goal of life.  We will look back at the days of the nation-state and the great capitalist and totalitarian communist empires and wonder why it was ever doubted that they could not be transformed.  And eventually, we will become primarily psychic beings travelling to other planets through space technology (the exploration of space will be in the forefront given the upcoming Martial Era)[18], and even through our minds, that is, we will be able to leave our bodies in one place and travel with our minds.  The stars will eventually become our home.  We will have granted legal rights to all living beings.
 
The problem of power and exploitation will not go away, of course.  Most likely it will be fought at the mental realm, between ideologies and perhaps even at the level of psychic warfare.  However, neither linear notions of progress (often at the expense of the weak) nor of the cycle (with no possibility of movement forward) will dominate, rather the spiral will be defining – progress with humility.
 
 
CONCLUSION:  Sarkar’s vision is not a utopia, it does not predict the end of exploitation and struggle; rather it is a eutopia, a good place, where not only will there be good actions, but negative actions as well, thus requiring structures and safeguards to the amassing of power and wealth.  Moreover, it is not technological revolutions that will lead to the death of death, but spiritual practices.  And these spiritual practices must be based on rigor, discipline, and selfless service to the Other, not solely on good feelings and the search for spiritual pleasure. 
 
 
 
Thus, while for Sarkar love is important – in fact, it is the ground of any lasting social change–but so is the struggle involved in challenging the assumptions and ideas that govern present-day institutions.  There exist real global problems that neither cyber nor spiritual utopianism can resolve.  Centuries of the misappropriation of wealth and power exercised by nation-states will not be transformed by creative visualization only.  
 
Sarkar’s new era, what he calls, sadvipra samaj, then, is about spiritual progress, but also about hard thinking, and hard work.  Antonio Gramsci said it well.  In his Prison Notebooks, he wrote:  "It is necessary to create sober, patient women and men who do not lose hope before the worst horrors and who are not excited by rubbish." [19]
 
Thus, although Sarkar is idealistic, he does emphasize the precarious struggle ahead for humanity.  He warns us of the possibility of a world destroyed by pollution and ravaged by human greed (the desire for endless accumulation) and negative tendancies actions (largely based on mis-identification with tribe, race, religion or nation).  Yet his vision remains optimistic. But we should not be surprised as Sarkar has written: "I am an incorrigible optimist, for optimism is the essence of life."[20]  Sarkar’s vision is a global vision, and although he develops a partially deterministic theory of history, it is women and men who still must courageously act, who must bring about preferred visions, who must with their intellect develop new scientific possibilities and societal futures, and thus develop the new Human in the new World. 
 
 
Dr. Sohail Inayatullah. Professor, Center for Future Studies, Tamkang University, Taiwan and Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia. Inayatullah is associate editor of New Renaissance and Co-Editor of the Journal of Futures Studies. He is author/editor of a dozen books on futures studies, macrohistory and the politics of knowledge. Web: www.metafuture.org.
 
 



[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 (www.ru.org) 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. See Sohail Inayatullah, Undestanding Sarkar: The Indian Episteme, Macrohistory and Transformative Knowledge. Leiden, Netherlands, Brill, 2002. Also see: Sohail Inayatullah, Situating Sarkar: Tantra, Macrohistory and Alternative Futures. Maleny, Australia, Gurkul Press, 1999. And: Sohail Inayatullah and Jennifer Fitzgerald, eds. Transcending Boundaries. P.R. Sarkar’s Theories of Individual and Social Transformation. Maleny, Australia,Gurukul Press, 1999.
 
[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. www.anandamarga.org
 
[3]           www.anandamarga.org
 
[4]           www.prout.org. Easily available – outside of India – books on PROUT include: Ravi Batra, The Downfull of Capitalism and Communism. London, Macmillan Press, 1978. Also, see, Ravi Batra, The Myth of Free Trade: The Pooring of America. Touchstone Books, 1996.
 
[5]           Communism is already in its final days (a perfectly accurate forecast as it has turned out.  This demise, as Sarkar’s methodology illustrates, is part of the natural transformation of the present world system).
 
[6]           P.R. Sarkar, The Supreme Expression, Vol. 11, Nirvikalpa Press, 1978, 80.
 
[7]         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 utilised 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." They are ways of knowing as well as social ages – organic and structural.
 
[8]         P.R. Sarkar, Idea and Ideology. Ananda Nagar, India, Ananda Marga Publications, 1967, 85.
 
[9]           P. R. Sarkar, The Liberation of Intellect–Neo Humanism. Calcutta, India, Ananda Marga Publications, 1982.
 
[10]          Michael Towsey, Eternal Dance of Macrocosm. Copenhagen, Denmark, Proutist Publications, 1986.This is further explored in Ananda Gaori in Sohail Inayatullah and Jennifer Fitzgerald, eds. Transcending Boundaries.
 
[11]          P.R. Sarkar, Problem of the Day, Ananda Nagar, India, Ananda Marga Publications, 1959, 13.
 
[12]          Ibid, 40.
 
[13]          Ibid.
 
[14]          P.R. Sarkar, Abhimata (The Opinion). Ananda Nagar, India, Ananda Marga Publications, 1973, 130-131.
 
[15]          For an excellent overview (and symposium debate) on the futures of the life sciences, see, Graham TT Molitor, “Genetic Engineering and Life Sciences: Controlling Evolution,” Journal of Futures Studies. Vol. 6. No. 3, February 2002, 95-116. Pages 117-145 include responses by Richard Hindmarsh, Rosaleen Love, Astrid Gesche, Walter Truett Anderson and Gregory Peterson. For more on the futures of evolution, see www.futurefoundation.org
 
[16]          Sarkar, Problem of the Day, 40.
 
[17]          See, for example, the works of Jeremy Rifkin. For example, Rifkin, The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World. New York, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1998.
 
[18]          In the USA, for example, indicators of the emerging Martial era (centralized world polity and decentralized economies) include the changing structure of the corporation towards increased employee rights and ownership, space exploration, and the war against terror – the key structural change is that most problems are global in scope with only Glo-cal solutions possible. 
 
[19]        Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks quoted in Noel Kent, Islands Under the Influence. New York, Monthly Review Press, 1983, 186.
 
[20]          P.R. Sarkar, Light Comes. Calcutta, India, Ananda Marga Publications, 241.

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