Chapter XXV PART III
War and the need of Economic Unity
COMMERCIALISM – RISE AND FALL
Writing a month before the culmination of Russian revolution in 1917, Sri Aurobindo previsions that the age of commercialism would be strengthened by two paradoxically different movements inherent in the development of an industrialised society:
(a) ‘the service of bourgeois capitalism’ , and
(b) ‘the office of a half-involuntary channel for the incoming of economic Socialism’. (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 487)
It is interesting that these two issues were at their height of consideration just before the October Revolution and Sri Aurobindo catches the fervour of that time while in seclusion. It was a time when the workers representing the proletariat were entirely socialized in the European market while the ruling bourgeoisie went on accumulating wealth. Marx had envisaged that the conflict between Capital and labour would lead to a classless society, an egalitarian society of equality and social coherence. The Marxian concept of classless society had a decisive influence in the 1917 revolution.
The point to note that while a classless society was being dreamt by Marxists where the State was expected to wither away , Sri Aurobindo was indicating that the ‘incoming economic socialism’ and its adversary, ‘bourgeois capitalism’ would actually usher and strengthen the age of commercialism as they were in the end, serving the same saga of industrialization. Subsequent events in world-history proved his apprehension was correct. A large middle class emerged between the bourgeois and the proletariat whose expectations for better living were cunningly manipulated by market forces that did not spare nations who swore by Marxism. In the psychological perspective, human beings are intrinsically more competitive than any other creature in the planet and some sort of hierarchy would always appear. At best a fundamental equality could be gained but an absolute equality would be a chimera.
The age of commercialism coloured everything including culture and religion. Even science is being sponsored not so much for fundamental research but more for industrial and utilitarian research. Modern Gurus of India and elsewhere have become successful business entrepreneurs or even management leaders. Sri Aurobindo describes how the thought-power or almost the soul-power of the modern society is held captive by the media which is ‘primarily an instrument of commercialism and governed by the political and commercial spirit and not like literature a direct instrument of culture’ (Ibid). Free thought itself is free to the extent it is allowed by the market forces to be free.
Fall of Commercialism
Sri Aurobindo also cautions that the way out is difficult. The spirit of commercialism has affected profoundly the character of international relations and ‘there is no apparent probability of a turn in a new direction in the immediate future’. He stressed, ‘Certain prophetic voices announce indeed the speedy passing of the age of commercialism. But it is not easy to see how this is to come about; certainly, it will not be by a reversion to the predominantly political spirit of the past or the temper and forms of the old aristocratic social type. The sigh of the extreme conservative mind for the golden age of the past, which was not so golden as it appears to an imaginative eye in the distance, is a vain breath blown to the winds by the rush of the car of the Time-Spirit in the extreme velocity of its progress’ (Ibid, pg 487-488).
However, there is still space for optimism. Sri Aurobindo makes a very important statement which has to be understood in the context of the unrolling of historical events:
‘The end of commercialism can only come about either by some unexpected development of commercialism itself or through a reawakening of spirituality in the race and its coming to its own by the subordination of the political and economic motives of life to the spiritual motive’ (Ibid, pg 488).
He also indicated that there were signs pointing to that direction. The foremost of such signs were:
(a) a revival of the religious spirit and lost traditions ,and
(b) The broadening of the secular concept to endorse an idealism where spirituality would not be left out of purview (Ibid).
In short, as early as 1917, he was pre-visioning the coming of postmodernism! Postmodernism valued all inclusive faiths, denounced the exclusivity of Jesus Christ and steered a sizable global youth mind-set towards New Age Religion. Many years later, in 2001, the destruction of the twin towers, the iconic symbol of America’s commercialism served a warning that spiritual values were more important than the display of economic prowess.
Date of Update: 27-Mar-17
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu