Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters


War and the need of Economic Unity

Capital and Labour

Though he envisaged a resurgence of spirituality in future, Sri Aurobindo was practical enough to acknowledge that the propelling impulsion of the post world War I scenario was ‘towards the industrialising of the human race and the perfection of the life of society as an economic and productive organism’(The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 488). He was also emphatic that that spirit was growing and was not going to be exhausted very soon as it had become imbibed with modern Socialism.

A month before the October revolution of 1917, Sri Aurobindo writes, ’Socialism proceeds on the Marxian principle that its own reign has to be preceded by an age of bourgeois capitalism of which it is to be the inheritor and to seize upon its work and organisation in order to turn it to its own uses and modify it by its own principles and methods’ (Ibid). This insight shows that it would be difficult to segregate Capital from Labour in the long run. [Capitalism would not be able to disregard free thinking and Labour would have pains to sustain without Capital in future where industries, fostered with new ideas, would change character.]

Though the professed aim of Socialism was to replace ‘Capital’ by ‘Labour’ as the master, Sri Aurobindo doubted if this could be feasible at all. Both Labour and Capital revolved around ‘economism’. A change from one to the other would merely be a change of denouement. It would not serve a greater vision of a change from economism to some higher motive of human life. A substitution of Capital by Labour would only mean ‘that all activities will be valued by the labour contributed and work produced rather than by the wealth contribution and production’ (Ibid).

In a footnote added three decades later, Sri Aurobindo noted: ‘The connection between Socialism and the democratic or equalitarian idea or the revolt of the proletariate is however an accident of its history, not its essence. In Italian Fascism there arose a Socialism undemocratic and non-equalitarian in its form, idea and temper. Fascism has gone, but there is no inevitable connection between Socialism and the domination of Labour ’(Ibid).

In his 1917 write-up, Sri Aurobindo had commented that the change from Capital to Labour would pose either a greater aid or a greater difficulty to international unity. Indeed the change became a difficulty when Fascism substituted Marxist internationalism by the particularity of nationalism and racialism giving rise to a socialism with a capitalist veneer (Richman,Sheldon : But the pressure for human unity was strong and the economic unity through commercialism was an avenue to be pursued. Subsequent events showed that modern Capitalist States embraced certain principles of Socialism. On one hand, modern States that thrive on free market also have State-sponsored public welfare schemes. On the other hand, the global trend has forced Communist China to embrace the free market of commodities but it has yet to inculcate a free platform that fosters exchange of ideas. As economy becomes increasingly enriched by knowledge, we would get ready for what Sri Aurobindo envisaged – ‘ a change from economism to the domination of some other and higher motive of human life’ (Ibid, pg 488-489). Only then a true international unity could manifest.

Researchers on China have also noted that paradoxically, China’s transition to Capitalism has opened pathways to its own cultural roots ( This would be an early though premature indicator of what Sri Aurobindo had written in September,1917 that from within the annals of commercialism itself would rise a revival of past values and a reawakening of spirituality(The Idea of Human Unity, pg 488).


Date of Update: 18-Apr-17

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu