Chapter XXXIII Part II
Internationalism and Human Unity
How would the world move towards internationalism? Writing in May, 1918 in the aftermath of World War I, Sri Aurobindo muses several possibilities:
(a) The old means of reunification by a single great Power as was the character of the ancient Roman Empire did not seem to be feasible in the modern context. Yet if war and diplomacy continued to be decisive factors in international politics in the future as in the past, the resurgence of a great imperial Power could not be ruled out. This was because if the urge in Nature towards World Union persisted, it would find means to express itself and seize to an odd option if other options were denied. (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.558)
(b) There would also arise the possibility of the whole earth or at least the three continents of the eastern hemisphere to be dominated by three or four imperialist regimes though they would face resistance from the principle of self-determination which would have to be accommodated. (Ibid, pg.558-559)
(c) The revived force of nationalism would seek international unity through a world body like the League of Nations. However, even in May, 1918, Sri Aurobindo was quite skeptical of such a move and had commented: “Practically, however, the League of Nations under present conditions or any likely to be immediately realized would still mean the control of the earth by a few great Powers --a control that would be checked only by the necessity of conciliating the sympathy and support of the more numerous smaller or less powerful nations. On the force and influence these few would rest practically, if not admittedly, the decision of all important debatable questions. And without it there could be no chance of enforcing the decisions of the majority against any recalcitrant great Power or combination of Powers. The growth of democratic institutions would perhaps help to minimize the chances of conflict and of the abuse of power, -- though that is not at all certain; but it would not alter this real character of the combination”. (Ibid, pg.559)The League of Nations was established on 10 January 1920 and subsequently failed on predictable lines as noted by Sri Aurobindo, because even though it was a good idea, it could not be executed properly.
(d) Sri Aurobindo also considered the important option forwarded by the socialist political theory that favoured a polity that would unite working class people of all countries across national boundaries, a move that itself would foster internationalism. Sri Aurobindo appreciated the possibility of “the emergence of a powerful political party in all the advanced countries of the world pledged to internationalism, conscious of its necessity as a first condition for their other aims and more and more determined to give it precedence and to unite internationally to bring it about”. (Ibid) He continued “That combination of the intellectuals with Labour which created the Socialist parties in Germany, Russia and Austria, formed anew recently the Labour party in England and has had its counterparts in most other European countries, seems to be travelling in that direction. This world-wide movement which made internationalism and Labour rule its two main principles, had already created the Russian revolution and seemed ready to bring about another great socialistic revolution in central Europe. It was conceivable that this party might everywhere draw together. By a chain of revolutions such as took place in the nineteenth century and of less violent but still rapid evolutions brought about by the pressure of their example, or even by simply growing into the majority in each country, the party might control Europe. It might create counterparts of itself in all the American republics and in Asiatic countries. It might by using the machinery of the League of Nations or, where necessary, by physical force or economic or other pressure persuade or compel all the nations into some more stringent system of international unification. A World-State or else a closed confederation of democratic peoples might be created with a common governing body for the decision of principles and for all generally important affairs or at least for all properly international affairs and problems; a common law of the nations might grow up and international courts to administer it and some kind of system of international police control to maintain and enforce it. In this way, by the general victory of an idea, Socialist or other, seeking to organize humanity according to its own model or by any other yet unforeseen way, a sufficient formal unity might come into existence.” (Ibid, pg.559-560)
It is true that Lenin and the Bolsheviks hoped that the Russian Revolution of 1917 would lead to an international socialist revolution. Unfortunately, the internationalism of the Lenin era lost much of its importance under Stalin at the hands of national egoism and big power hegemony. Nevertheless, a hundred years after Sri Aurobindo penned these lines, in the background of a fading US-led order and a growing mistrust of China over its statistical records and a dubious role in the initiation of the Covid-19 pandemic coupled with key Western countries succumbing to the pandemic despite standard health care systems, a pragmatic version of liberal internationalism is expected to gain importance.
As Sri Aurobindo envisaged in 1918, Article 14 of the Covenant of the League of Nations facilitated the setting up of the Permanent Court of international Justice that functioned between 1922 and 1940. It was later formally dissolved in 1946 and replaced by the International Court of justice as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.
Date of Update: 16-May-20
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu