Chapter XXIII Part VI
Forms of Government
Sri Aurobindo’s musings on the ‘Forms of Governments’ came out in the Arya during the historical ‘July Days’ of 1917. The year 1917 itself was a momentous year in the history of civilization for two great events; the entry of the United States into World War I and the Russian Revolution that changed the course of history. The February (March in new style) revolution at Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg) saw the end of the 300 years old monarchy in Russia and the setting up of the Provisional Government. Lenin who had left the country in 1900 returned in April to present his April Theses with the agenda that the Provisional Government needed to be usurped as the workers alone should be in power. Lenin geared up the Bolsheviks for massive protests in July, 1917 (eulogized as the July Days) exploding the Russian sky with the famous slogan; All Power to the Soviets. The protests misfired and Lenin went underground and prepared his famous treatise titled State and Revolution in Finland during August and September. He returned in October (November in new style) 1917 to bring the Bolshevik Party to power and establish the Soviet Communist Government. Henceforth the Bolsheviks came to be known as Communists. For the first time a regime would be formed without capitalists, feudal landlords and money-lenders. Lenin was determined to uphold Marx’s doctrine of class hatred and systematic atheism to establish the dictatorship of the proleteriate. It is against this background that Sri Aurobindo went on unperturbed unfolding his vision of world unity.
In lines which echo Lenin’s sentiments during the same period, Sri Aurobindo expressed that modern democracy did not guarantee real liberty for at the ground level, the sole democratic elements were ‘public opinion, periodical elections and the power of the people to refuse re-election to those who have displeased it’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 471). He added ‘The government is really in the hands of the bourgeoisie, the professional and business men, the landholders, -- where such a class still exists, -- strengthened by a number of new arrivals from the working-class who very soon assimilate themselves to the political temperament and ideas of the governing classes’ (Ibid). Three decades later Sri Aurobindo admitted that the situation had changed as ‘Trade Unions and similar institutions have attained an equal power with the other classes’ (Ibid,footnote). It is true that following the events in 1917, trade unions became popular all over the world and the class consciousness of the oppressed proletariate began to be elevated. However despite its pioneering success in Russia, the presence of poverty in other parts of Europe did not necessarily correlate with world-wide class hatred. Moreover despite social factors, there was no psychological barrier as to why the working class would not move towards the bourgeoisie. Bernard Shaw quipped: ‘The working man respects the bourgeoisie and wants to be a bourgeois: Marx never got hold of him for a moment’.
The July Days in 1917 demonstrated a greater consolidation of Bolsheviks but bore no success and Lenin had to come back in October to complete the unfinished agenda that led to the establishment of the Communist regime. It is interesting how Sri Aurobindo speculated how things would unfurl as his July, 1917 write-up described two possible ways in which the Russian unrest would lead to ‘a new form of modified oligarchy with a democratic bias’ (Ibid, pg 472) as every new step towards State Socialism needed to match with the increasing complexity of State machinery with specialized knowledge, competence and faculties:
(a) Either ‘some modern form of the old Chinese principle of government, a democratic organization of life below, above the rule of a sort of intellectual bureaucracy , an official aristocracy of special knowledge and capacity recruited from the general body without distinction of classes. Equal opportunity would be indispensable but this governing elite would still form a class by itself in the constitution of the society’ (Ibid).
(b) Or , ‘On the other hand , if the industrialism of the modern nation changes, as some think it will, and develops into a sort of guild socialism, a guild aristocracy of Labour might well become the governing body of the society’(Ibid).
Within three months of this write-up, the foundation of a sort of guild socialism was actually laid in Russia with a purported cosmopolitan outlook. Sri Aurobindo was particularly interested as he was speculating whether the Soviet model would give some indications for movement towards a World-State through evolution of a similarly innovative governing body. After all, Sri Aurobindo was especially concerned that the ‘probable consummation’ of the movement towards human unity must not be a bourgeois World-State (Ibid, pg 471).
Lenin ruled Russia for six critical years and due to his laborious ascetism, he and his ministers drew small salaries and earned loyalty of the people. However he was pragmatic to acknowledge that the rule of the proleteriate had its limitations too. He permitted private trading in 1921 when he realised that unchecked communism could be disastrous. He did not approve Trotsky’s and ‘Zinoveiff’s proposal for revolutionary propaganda in foreign countries and favoured a consolidation of the system initially in Russia without any inhibition of receiving aid from capitalist countries to elevate the status of the proletariate. Accordingly he made commercial agreements with capitalist countries, with England in 1921 and with Germany in 1922. Sri Aurobindo added a footnote in 1949-50 to his1917 write-up on guild socialism: ‘Something of the kind was attempted in Soviet Russia for a time. The existing conditions were not favorable and a definite form of government not revolutionary and provisional is not anywhere in sight. In Fascist Italy a cooperative State was announced but this too took no effectual or perfect shape’. The USSR collapsed in 1991, Italy became a republic in 1946.
It would be pertinent to recall that Sri Aurobindo was watching the developments in Russia in 1917 with great interest as he was particularly interested to extract clues that would be useful in the formation of a World-State at some later stage. Though it is to be researched to understand the contribution of that revolution that would be useful for a futuristic World-State, what did happen was a conglomeration of adjacent countries that made up the USSR in 1922, an achievement of no mean value though the USSR had to be dissolved in 1991. Perhaps half-way experiments of this kind are needed before the Utopian dream of World-Union actually materializes.
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu