Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters

Chapter XXIV Part V

The Need of Military Unification

Democracy and War

A lot of expectation was put on democratic institutions after the World War I so that nations could carve their own destinies and would be governed through the cherished and eulogized ideal of liberty. ‘There was a strong suggestion at that time that a more truly democratic and therefore a more peaceful spirit and more thoroughly democratic institutions would reign after the restoration of peace by the triumph of liberal nations’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 480). However the entire world was not ready at that time for being governed by free consent, the colonial nations were still in chains in many parts of the world and liberty was yet a chimera. Still it was expected that at least the European nations who had championed the cause of liberty (though some of them were very particular to deny the same liberty to the nations they had colonized) would themselves attempt to work out the principle of liberty to ensure peace and healthy competition among nations. It was widely expected among the intelligentsia that the consolidating the principle of liberty would be the first step to prevent another Great War. Sri Aurobindo writes in 1917, ‘Certainly, democracy of a certain kind, democracy reposing for its natural constitution on individual liberty would be likely to be indisposed to war except in moments of great and universal excitement.’ (ibid). Yet Sri Aurobindo was not optimistic that the enshrinement of democracy in Europe would prevent wars and he categorically stated ‘The democratization of the European peoples affords no such guarantee’ (Ibid).

On one hand, war is a deterrent for any type of liberty and free consent. ‘War demands a violent concentration of all the forces, a spirit of submission, a suspension of free-will, free action and of the right of criticism which is alien to the true democratic instinct’ (Ibid). On the other hand, a mechanism had to be found whereby under the facade of liberty, a relative suppression of freedom could be effectuated for the sake of equality. Sri Aurobindo contemplated in the aftermath of World War I, ‘But the democracies of the future are likely to be strongly concentrated governments in which the principle of liberty is subordinated to the efficient life of the community by some form of State socialism. A democratic State of that kind might well have a greater power for war, might be able to put forward a more violently concentrated military organization in event of hostilities that even the bourgeois democracies and it is not at all certain that it would be less tempted to use its means and power’(Ibid). In other words, if a democracy with socialistic overtures gathers sufficient power to suppress liberty for the sake of war, it can be more aggressive than a bourgeois democracy which weighs commercial options before embarking on a war.

What would be the possibility of the waging of war in socialism where equality takes precedence over liberty? It can be theoretically assumed that as the capitalists who initiate wars would be absent, a socialistic State would be a deterrent to war. However the psychological concentration of vital power in socialism used to suppress liberty for the sake of equality can become a Frankenstein. Such a vital power can become gigantic and demand complete obeisance from other nations, not excluding other weaker socialist nations. Sri Aurobindo writes in 1917, ‘Socialism has been international and pacific in its tendencies because the necessity of preparation for war is favourable to the rule of the upper classes and because war itself is used in the interests of the governments and the capitalists; the ideas and classes it represents are at present depressed and do not grow by the uses or share visibly in the profits of war. What will happen when they have hold of the government and its temptations and opportunities has to be seen but can easily be forecast. The possession of power is the great test of all idealisms and as yet there have been none religious or secular which have withstood it or escaped diminution and corruption’(Ibid).

Barely a couple of months after this write-up appeared in the August issue of Arya in 1917, Lenin consolidated power and formed the first communist government in Russia. Within a few years, the authoritarianism implicit in the Soviet style socialism would raise eyebrows and by 1920, G.D.H. Cole would envision a socialist alternative in the form of guild socialism* (a political movement advocating worker’s control of industry through trade-related guilds in implied contractual relationships with the public.)

*Sri Aurobindo had written about ‘guild socialism’ earlier, in July, 1917 while speculating the course of events that would occur due to the unrest in Russia in the interval between the February and October revolutions: ‘Equal opportunity would be indispensable but (the) governing elite would still form a class by itself in the constitution of the society. 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 in the society’(Ibid, pg 472)

Date of Update: 24-Oct-16

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu