Introductory Note: As background for this diary, it might be helpful to read Geminijen’s excellent and balanced diary from a few weeks ago, Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Fagor Goes Bankrupt – Trouble in Camelot, which discusses one of the world’s most important cooperative movements, founded by a do-gooder Catholic priest. The subject of the instant diary also involves cooperatives, but as will be apparent, much more.
I am biased but to me, “Prout,” which stands for “Progressive Utilization Theory,” is a lovely theory of progressive socialism we all should study, learn from, and consider adopting as part of our praxis and our goals for humanity. Unfortunately, as a new student of Prout, I cannot nearly do it justice in this diary or anywhere else at this time. In addition, I am not in a position to report on the practical experiences of putting Prout into practice. As someone who grew up in irrational Christian fundamentalism (and still lives in the repressive Deep South, where I can see such “faith” put into practice on a daily basis in anti-“other” bigotry and legislation), I no longer like to make my decisions based on “enthusiasm” for what people, spiritual or otherwise, say as opposed to what they do. And I am HIGHLY skeptical about any religion’s ability to confront the harsh world of capitalism in an effective and objective manner (although, from what I understand, Prout’s associated spiritual movement claims not to be a religion).
But I do not want to let my skepticism itself turn into blinders or cynicism for what may have value in the critical work for justice down here on terra firma. All human endeavors are to some degree a mixed bag. I am, after all, a socialist, after a century of ultimate public humiliation of the cause I still dare to hold dear. Course correction is nothing to be embarrassed about but rather something to be celebrated. The work to save humanity is entitled to a mulligan every single day until we get it right.
The first part of my personal credo is to “accept life’s complexity.” To me that includes the challenge to evaluate honestly both the positives and the negatives of all things relating to “spirituality.” Prout is not only a system with many complex moving parts but also a holistic system whose whole is intended to vastly exceed the sum of its parts. I can only give my gut impressions of whether it could even theoretically help to accomplish the enormous task of like “saving the world” or something else “major” for humanity, but I am not qualified to explain much less critique all of its parts.
Fortunately, I have a lovely book to help me explain its details, Dada Maheshvarananda’s 2012 updated version of a book first published in 2003, and currently titled After Capitalism: Economic Democracy in Action (Innerworld Publications).
And, I have you, my comrades, to help me critique the parts and the whole within the context of various movements and sub-movements on the left, both historical and potential.
Dr. Marcos Arruda says of the book in the Foreword, “The nine years that have passed since Dada Maheshvarananda first published this precious book have proven its validity and relevance.” I could not agree more. One of the things I have greatly benefited from in the last couple of years are book recommendations from kindred spirits on the left with whom I have gratefully come into contact via the information superhighways and byways. I am still no socialist scholar (and do not make it a priority to become one), and often the people giving me book suggestions are, but if I had to make one book recommendation at this point in my fledgling socialization process, this would be it. Not because the book is perfect or because I agree with everything in it or in Prout more generally, but because Prout as explained in this book comes closest to announcing to the world the direction I think we should be heading than anything else I have yet read.
Plenty of us realize capitalism is a disaster. Marx got that quite right, and Prout, whose founder actually was a big fan of Marx, seconds the notion. Prout also does a really good job of telling us where we should be going to fix things. And this book is a compelling, reasonably detailed, and accessible explanation of Prout.
I only learned about Prout when I read Hans Despain’s helpful article It’s the System Stupid: Structural Crises and the Need for Alternatives to Capitalism in the November 2013 Monthly Review. Here Despain first succinctly surveys the playing field:
The conventional wisdom is “There Is No Alternative,” or TINA. For this reason most Americans simply acquiesce to capitalistic social relations and, like Sisyphus, are resigned to performing eternal tasks while enduring the “endless” quadruple crises generated by a pathological system.
The most extraordinary aspect concerning the absence of an alternative is that it is fallacious. The capitalistic system itself must be transformed. To put it into a slogan: Capitalism Is No Alternative, or CINA.
Despain describes Maheshvarananda’s book as outlining “the failures and pathologies of ‘multinational corporate’ capitalism. He argues that Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar’s PROgressive Utilization Theory, or PROUT economics, already exists as a well-developed alternative to both capitalism and state socialism. PROUT has important similarities with both Marxism and Participatory Economics, but its real philosophical basis is in Tantra Yoga, with influences from Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism (especially Zen). …”
Then Despain contrasts it to three other recent books outlining somewhat comparable approaches on the left:
Maheshvarananda, much like Wolff, Schweickart, and Alperovitz, believes that the activity needed for the democratization of the workplace and economy is already underway. Maheshvarananda offers many existing examples of Proutian enterprises. Most of these are the same discussed by Schweickart and Alperovitz, including the Mondragon cooperative in Spain and Evergreen in Cleveland. However, Maheshvarananda also offers extensive details of cooperatives in Venezuela, where he has founded a PROUT research institute.
In addition to mending the social pathologies of capitalism, he explains how Proutianism promotes leisure, spirituality, and a new humanistic ethic. He also insists that a transformation away from capitalism is urgently needed for environmental production and a new Agrarian Revolution to save the planet and human life. In this sense, Maheshvarananda is far more ambitious than Wolff, Schweickart, and Alperovitz, and is sure to be far more controversial for left-wing theorists and activists. …
Wolff, Schweickart, and Alperovitz … have given less thought toward the longer term goals. Maheshvarananda has in mind a very long-term alternative to capitalism. It requires not only transformation in the workplace, but transformations in the political dimension. On the one hand, it could be argued his vision is far more remote, while on the other hand, once the transformation within the workplace begins, the ripple effect could be massive and sudden. For this reason Maheshvarananda’s perspective can be understood in highly practical terms and can be seen as complementary to the works of the other three. …
From whence cometh Prout? A brilliant loving species-being who seemed particularly determined, while walking a blissful personal path, to eschew any selfish material benefits for himself from his insights, and whose most determined followers are described as monks and nuns, but seem remarkably well-connected to a place I and all on the left take quite seriously, namely the suffering-filled, harsh, and chaotic reality where the billions of marginalized poor and desperate live around our class-embattled world:
Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar was born in 1922[ 6] in Jamalpur, Bihar, India into a respected family that had its roots in regional leadership and ancient spiritual traditions. To support the family after his father’s death, Sarkar chose to discontinue his higher education in Calcutta, and in 1941 returned to Jamalpur to work as an accountant in the railways. About that time he began to teach the ancient science of Tantra meditation, insisting that every practitioner follow a strict code of moral conduct. In 1955, at the request of his followers, he founded the socio-spiritual organization Ananda Marga (” The Path of Bliss”). In 1959 he introduced the Progressive Utilization Theory (Prout), a blueprint for how to reorganize society and the economy for the welfare of everyone.
The Ananda Marga and Prout movements spread quickly in India during the 1960s. Many of Sarkar’s followers – who held key positions in the Indian civil service – actively challenged the systemic corruption of the government as well as the Hindu caste system. Opposition therefore arose from nationalistic Hindu groups, eventually leading the government to declare Ananda Marga to be a politically subversive revolutionary organization, banning any civil servant from being a member. Perhaps surprisingly, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) – which for decades controlled the state government of West Bengal – also opposed Ananda Marga and Prout because Sarkar’s unique blend of spiritual and social ideals was attracting members away from the Party.
Many, to my current view highly unfair, attacks on the group both in India and worldwide have been documented, which I will not go into here in any detail, including the framing for a 1978 bombing of a Hilton in Sydney, Australia that actually seems to have been the murderous plot of the self-justifying state security apparatus. The recent decades have been gradually more serene for the serene folk who make up the movement, but not because they avoid desperate situations. Rather, in a way that seems highly compatible with Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium (which I discussed in detail here from a combined socialized praxis and Jesuit history and scholarship perspective) the movement seems to want to make both tangible and intangible headway in, and to replace as soon as possible, a sick capitalist world. The emphasis of Prout on cooperatives is shared with the Catholic Church, on paper at least, going back to the late 19th century. But, unlike the Church at most times, Prout seems to be fixated on making cooperatives a “reality” on the nasty ground around the world rather than a pious talking point for criticizing those nasty commies without actually proposing and fighting for a suitable alternative. Further, Prout has an openness to spirituality that many Liberation Theology and leftist Dorothy Day-style Catholics have found to be perfectly compatible with their faith in action. Given that I am a leftist pro-choice “Anglo-Catholic,” I just want all us supposedly “spiritual” folk, what with the whole idea of communion and such, to get along while waging a kind but effective revolution, which means to keep our eye on the prize of rejecting capitalism and putting in a system that meets shared “Proutist” goals.
Please go below the fold for my generally favorable summary of the good monk’s omnibus Prout in a nutshell, as well as a few concerns that I have about Prout. Or, if you have no interest in spirituality and other “soft” topics which much of the world may now or in the future appreciate as complementary to economic justice, here’s Despain’s nice but barebones “materialist” list:
PROUT’s economic principles are that: (1) all citizens deserve the minimum requirements of life of food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and education; (2) employment is guaranteed; (3) the progressive use of science and technology and a federal institution geared toward research and development should be promoted; (4) the federal political system must include decentralized planning at the level of the local economy, with balanced development of what is needed by local citizens; (5) a three-tier economic system that supports privately owned small businesses, cooperatively owned medium and large businesses, and government-run large industries must be created; (6) “decentralized self-sufficient” local economies should be maximized; and, (7) crucial to PROUT, are the cooperatively owned businesses.
I like this list, as it initially sparked my interest in Prout. However, for brevity’s sake he also necessarily left off many materialist Proutist notions, including that little subject of “world government,” (a critical aspect of Prout’s long-range ideas for governance, Ch. 11) a dream many of us, Proutists or not, hold dear.
In the march of the centuries, perhaps there will be one single nation covering the universe: the federal nation
(For more amateur photography by yours truly from a recent field trip to the U.N. Headquarters in New York City, and heartfelt support for one single nation covering the universe without squandering centuries we do not have and billions more lives on capitalist despair, please see this tongue-twisting hopeful post, Niebuhrian Coercion and a Non-Utopian Version of a Vision That Hopefully Will Never Die: Bolivarian-Burnsian International Justice and Solidarity.)