Chapter XXX Part I
The Principle of Free Confederation
In early 1918, Sri Aurobindo, musing on the principle of free confederation was studying the Russian idea of a confederation of free self-determining nationalities in the aftermath of the Russian revolution. Following the revolution in 1917, four socialistic republics were substituted as a sort of confederation for the Russian Empire: the Russian Soviet Federated Soviet Republic, the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. (These four constituent republics established the USSR in 1922 to which other republics were added).
However Sri Aurobindo, even in that nascent hour, struck a cautionary note. He pointed out two unique features:
(a) The Russian experience, like that of the preceding French revolution, sought to immediately transform the whole basis of government and society to a new radicalization without passing through intermediate stages.
(b) The idea of a federal structure that was to replace the Empire was carried out rather arbitrarily and in haste ‘under the pressure of a disastrous war’ and thus lacked a thorough homework. (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.533)
The end result ‘led inevitably to an unexampled anarchy and, incidentally, to the forceful domination of an extreme party which represented the ideas of the Revolution in their most uncompromising and violent form’. (Ibid) It was indeed a faux pas to skip intermediate and preparatory stages to regional unity. In the grand melee, the free choice of national identities had to succumb to a governance by force.
Sri Aurobindo compared the Bolshevik despotism with Jacobin despotism of the French Reign of Terror. ‘The latter lasted long enough to secure its work, which was to effect violently and irrevocably the transition from the post-feudal system of society to the first middle-class basis of democratic development. The Labourite despotism in Russia, the rule of the Soviets, fixing its hold and lasting long enough, could effect the transition of society to a second and more advanced basis of the same or even to a still further development’. (Ibid) The comparison was relevant. The Jacobins who ostensibly were supposed to protect the French Revolution’s gains against possible aristocratic reactions, actually in association with Robespierre instituted the Reign of Terror in 1793-94, during which tens of thousands were put to trial and many executed for political reasons. Likewise, the USSR witnessed the phenomenon of purging in the late 1930s that led to the imprisonment and execution of millions of people considered dangerous to the State.
Sri Aurobindo had great praise for the anti-imperialistic standpoint of the Russian revolution and yet could predict the Russian scenario that would later unravel with accuracy because he noted that instead of securing a confederation on the basis of free nationality, the Bolsheviks had resorted to ‘the principle of government by force’. (Ibid) He visioned that such a raw approach ushered a contradictory element that would not only be not beneficial for the Russian experiment but would weaken the greater cause of world-union. This is exactly what happened later.
The principle of “Free Confederation” was a psychological postulate and had an overture of collective morality. It was a Utopian idea and a futuristic dream. In contrast, the Bolshevik attempt of combining and governing other nations by force was a contemporary idea that arose from the past and was ‘radically inconsistent with the founding of the new world arrangement on the basis of free choice and free status’. (Ibid, pg.534) Sri Aurobindo opined that the Russian attempt was bound to be ‘curbed and imperfect’, an observation that came true when the USSR was formally dissolved in December, 1991, decades after Sri Aurobindo’s musings that appeared in February, 1918.
Date of Update: 20-Apr-19
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu