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. Maheshvarananda, Introduction.
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.)
All references are to chapters or sections in Maheshvarananda, 2012, and footnotes are omitted. This is my core interpretation of Maheshvarananda’s explanation of Prout, with additional commentary by me. Best to go to the sources, but this will give you the gist as I see it.
Both capitalism and centralized state economies face the same danger of economic depression. Neither path should be chosen, although (my interpretation of Prout) some necessary or valuable components of each can be economically-democratized and preserved on a limited basis. “The way to avoid economic depressions”:
is by creating a local cooperative-based economy. Designed to meet the needs and aspirations of the population, a cooperative economy may sometimes experience periods of little or no economic growth, because pause is a natural phenomenon. But when production exceeds demand, for example, instead of laying off workers, cooperatives would reduce the working hours for everyone. Ch. 1.
Global capitalism has four fatal flaws: “great concentration of wealth”; “the vast majority of investments are now made in speculation instead of production”; “debt, encouraging consumers and businesses to buy on credit”; and “its tendency to exploit and ignore the natural environment.” Id.
One can take a materialist view of the alternative, but to the Proutist purist, if you will, materialism is itself a core problem that must be countered in the economic system, and ideally in the hearts and mind of humanity. A great deal of emphasis in Prout seems to be placed on changing all of us for the better, and not just the system:
The spiritual concept of cosmic inheritance also suggests that the life and well-being of humans must be society’s first priority, always taking precedence over other financial considerations. Hence a Proutist economy begins by providing the minimum necessities of life to all people in every region, and then gradually elevates their quality of life in a sustainable way. Id.
I would classify Prout as more of a necessarily vastly ambitious given the scope of the needs, yet intentionally pragmatic, “ethical” socialism, than a “utopian” socialism, and it certainly is not “real” or “scientific” socialism. Ethical socialism is something that is an important part of my own journey, but it needs to be something many if not most people would agree with if they stopped to think about it, or it will just be a mind-exercise for a few. Prout seems to for the most part find the sweet spot to appeal to the greatest cross-spectrum of deeply socially-minded humanity. I will not go through the “spiritual” path that Prout emphasizes except to say that it seems to be focused on meditation (something that I can appreciate as a contemplative Christian, but would not want forced upon anyone, not that Prout would do so), healthy eating, and healthy physical exercise, and what are deemed to be non-hocus pocus shared universal values and human needs, in a “neohumanism” that values not only the human species but other species and the earth as such; redefines social progress to accord with Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs; and expresses the interconnectedness of all living things and the need to restore “pramá” on an individual and collective level in a way that is, to me, not unlike Marx’s emphasis on the need to overcome the capitalism-created “Rift in the Universal Metabolism of Nature,” (as interpreted by John Bellamy Foster and others) and to be liberated and actively liberating “species-beings” as opposed to capitalist playthings/manipulated consumers.
Dr. Leonardo Boff says of Prout:
It will be especially useful in the ecclesiastical base communities of the Catholic Church and other grassroots groups of reflection and action that try to improve the purchasing power of people. It functions as a critique of the dominant capitalist economic system and neoliberal approach that excludes and causes massive injustice. It also critiques the system of real socialism because of its centralization and the rigid conformity that it demands. But principally Prout serves as an alternative for a truly human economy which, when it functions, will produce life and happiness for the people. Ch. 2.
Prout places a great deal of emphasis on meeting everyone’s “minimum necessities of life” as the starting point for an ethical society, something with which I fully concur, as seen in the second part of my personal motto as a “garden variety democratic socialist.” Prout “recognizes five fundamental necessities of life”:
food (including pure drinking water), clothing, housing (including adequate sanitation and energy), medical care, and education. Supplemental requirements are local transportation and water for irrigation. According to the principle of Neohumanism, this birthright transcends citizenship — meaning that every human being, whether native or visitor to a country, must be guaranteed these necessities.
Providing the basic necessities should be the primary function and duty of any economy. Human beings require these in order to realize their individual potentialities, to develop culturally, to achieve inner fulfillment. Without necessities, the “pursuit of happiness” remains beyond the reach of the world’s poor.
Most governments provide a safety net to help guarantee that the poor and most vulnerable do not fall below a minimally accepted level of poverty and destitution. Unfortunately most government safety nets provide a very low bar that prevents only the worst suffering. Increasing numbers of citizens face great hardship without access to housing, health care, and food. Ch. 3.
Rather than emphasizing “welfarism,” Prout emphasizes full employment of those who are able to work:
The right to meaningful employment with fair wages is also a fundamental human right. The minimum requirements should not be handed out by a government agency, as in the current welfare systems of liberal democratic countries. Rather, people should pay for them with the income they earn from honest work. It is the responsibility of all levels of government to pursue policies which achieve and maintain full employment, with jobs that utilize each worker’s skills and capabilities. A just minimum wage, often called a “living wage,” must be set high enough so that people can purchase the necessities. Increasing employment will reduce the numbers requiring the safety net. Welfare systems create disincentives for their recipients to work. … Prout, on the other hand, by guaranteeing a livable minimum wage, would limit welfare as a special contingency for those who are physically or mentally unable to work. Id.
Sarkar seems to have been largely affirming of Marx, and in particular agreeing that capitalism must go, but he was much more focused on fleshing out the details of the future path for what comes after capitalism. Interestingly though, while a spiritualist, Sarkar was not by any definition a “non-materialist” in an absolute sense. In fact, he also emphasized through “Atiriktam” that “rational” material incentives are important (something which Cuba has gradually learned over the course of post-revolutionary decades and is still trying to sort out, hopefully, IMHO, through good reform to constitutional democratic socialism rather than adoption of capitalism via the China path!):
Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin repeated throughout his life that “the concrete analysis of the concrete situation” was the very soul of Marxism. Sarkar, on the other hand, rejected this narrow, materialistic outlook, and propounded a much more expansive idea–“ as you think, so you become.”
At the same time, Sarkar promoted social equality and called Prout “progressive socialism.” This model certainly advocates public or common ownership and cooperative management of the means of production and allocation of resources, which is a common definition of socialism. Yet it differs markedly from Marxism in many ways. …
[C]ommunist governments have frequently engendered mass alienation among their workers. …
With the centralization of both political and economic power in the hands of the state, many communist leaders fell victim to a myopic belief in their own infallibility. This arrogance, combined with a materialist philosophy and belief that the ends justified the means, has resulted in Communist Party tyranny. Id.
As a George Orwell-inspired anti-totalitarian democratic socialist, I do not feel that any of the finger-pointing is at me. However, in all fairness, I suspect many humane Marxist-Leninists would disagree with some of his simplistic characterization and that none would agree that Stalin’s alienating inhumane system was what Lenin intended. Clearly Prout lies more or less to the anarchist side of things (a fact emphasized by Noam Chomsky’s writing of a preface to the earlier version of the book and his giving of an interview in the final chapter of this version) rather than on the side of vanguard communism. But it also seems willing to recognize, at least when it comes to meeting the minimum necessities of life, that centralized planning sometimes might have to be used to a degree–while keeping the emphasis on local self-sufficiency as much as possible and using vibrant participatory democracy, constitutional guarantees of the minimum necessities of life with the right to sue for failures in that regard, right of recall, and other means to assure that the planners do not get out of control.
Deep and meaningful post-revolutionary empowerment of the people is critical under Prout:
Prout rejects indiscriminate violence and terrorism. The Proutist approach is to change consciousness through mass education, inspiration and a cultural renaissance, not through fear. Political revolution can never create a just society unless the tendency to exploit others is overcome in the minds of the leaders and people. Id.
The emphasis on culture and education seems to be straight out of Gramsci. (See one of the most useful diaries I have ever read, Beginning Gramsci, written for Anti-Capitalist Meetup by northsylvania.)
Now seems a good time to list the five fundamental principles of Prout, which are described in some detail in the book:
1. “No individual should be allowed to accumulate any physical wealth without the clear permission or approval of the collective body.” 2. “There should be maximum utilization and rational distribution of all mundane, supramundane, and spiritual potentialities of the universe.” 3. “There should be maximum utilization of the physical, metaphysical and spiritual potentialities of the unit and collective bodies of human society.” 4. “There should be a proper adjustment amongst these physical, metaphysical, mundane, supramundane and spiritual utilizations.” 5. “The methods of utilization should vary in accordance with the changes in time, space, and person, and the utilization should be of a progressive nature.” Id.
To me, Chapter 4 on “Economic Democracy” is wonderful and worth the price of the book on its own. In typical well-organized and accessible Proutist fashion, it conveniently provides “four requirements of economic democracy.” The first requirement “is that the minimum requirements of life and the basic amenities must be guaranteed to everyone, in order to free all from the desperation of poverty and want. This was explained at length in Chapter 3.” Ch. 4.
The second requirement “is that the people should enjoy a gradually increasing purchasing capacity and quality of life. People need to feel that the quality of their lives is improving. Measuring purchasing capacity, the ability of people to pay for basic goods and services, is the most direct and accurate way to assess their standard of living and the true state of the economy. This is very different from prevailing consumerism, which manipulates people through advertising, creating artificial needs, to buy on credit and to ignore the environmental impact of their purchases. …” Id.
The third requirement “is that local people deserve the right to make the economic decisions which directly affect their lives. It is a basic right of workers to own and manage their enterprises, not being subject to manipulation or exploitation. Whether as small-scale private enterprises or cooperatives or even public-managed utilities, local people and communities need to determine their future. Local economies with sustainable agriculture that grows healthy food, renewable “green” industries, credit unions that offer loans to local people are all elements of a vibrant community. Such a decentralized economy will be discussed in a later section.” Id.
The fourth requirement “is that we must prevent the outside control of local economies and the drainage of capital. …” Id.
The heart and soul of Prout economics seems to me to be its recognition of the need for a well-“socialized” three-tiered economic system:
There are three general ways of owning and managing a business: state-owned, privately-owned or cooperatively-owned. Ownership is important, because whoever owns the enterprise makes the decisions and gets the lion’s share of what is produced. Both communism and capitalism tend to be dogmatic about ownership, the first insisting that, as much as possible, everything should be state-controlled, the second that everything should be privatized. Prout, however, recognizes that, depending on circumstances, all three forms of ownership and management have value and are appropriate in different situations. This system is called a three-tiered structure[.] Id.
Definitions and rationales are provided. As to “small-scale private enterprises”:
To encourage creativity and personal initiative, individuals, families and small partnerships should be allowed to open privately owned businesses. They can produce non-essential or luxury goods and services, as well as food to a small extent. Sarkar specified that “enterprises that are either too small, or simultaneously small and complex, to be a co-op, should be private enterprises.” Id.
Priority is given to the middle, cooperative tier:
Cooperatives: The cooperative structure is central to the function and organization of a Prout economy. It is a basic right of workers in an economic democracy to own and manage their enterprises through collective management. Industry, trade, agriculture and banking should all be organized through producer and consumer cooperatives. These will produce the minimum necessities and most other products and services, forming the largest sector of a Prout economy. Smaller satellite cooperatives can serve larger cooperatives. Id.
Thus, the “top” tier is not really the top tier, which while necessary, must be carefully watched to assure it does not become abused by self-serving political officials:
Large-scale key industries: “Enterprises that are either too large, or simultaneously large and complex, to be a co-op, should be large-scale enterprises.” Transportation, energy, telecommunications, defense, mining, petroleum, petrochemicals and steel are all essential parts of an economy. They require large capital investments that lead to natural monopolies and are therefore difficult to decentralize. A Prout economy will manage such industries as publicly owned utilities operated in the public interest.
Key industries will be overseen by the nearest appropriate level of government, what Sarkar called “the immediate government.” For example, national airlines would operate under federal legislation, electricity boards under state legislation, and water and sewage management would operate under local government control. Yet to avoid politicians having direct business control, Prout prescribes that key industries be managed by autonomous bodies set up by the government. Id.
There is much more to Prout economic democracy than space and fair use in this diary will permit. Please read the book. Some of it I do not uncritically accept, such as its rather harsh treatment of income taxation and preference for other taxes that, certainly under political capitalism, could be misused to benefit the wealthy, although that certainly is not the intent under Prout. To Prout’s credit, it never seems to place dogma over dynamic process and flexible grappling for the best solutions, although given the movement’s clear respect for its founder, there could be a tendency to “scriptural-ize” his writings.
Those wanting support and detailed understanding of the potential for cooperatives, both transitionally and post-capitalist, should read Chapter 5 carefully. Those, like me, who are into agriculture, should read Chapter 6 carefully. It is wonderful from my “workers’ garden” vantage point, while recognizing the need to pragmatically promote high productivity in an environmentally-productive and sustainable manner.
I do not want to forget to make one subtle scientific cautionary note of Prout as depicted in this book for to me taking too firm a stand in favor of alternative medicine. Although I believe that alternative medicine can be beneficial in many instances, I personally, during health crunch time, put my faith more in modern medicine. In the discussion of Africa, there is much lauding of the value of promoting alternative medicine. I do not want to see modern medicine economically unavailable to anyone, including persons in the countryside affected by malaria or HIV-AIDS, not that that seems to be Prout’s intent.
We all should read Chapter 7 for its “New Perspective on Class, Class Struggle and Revolution.” I think its distinctions from Marx are definitely interesting, but I will not go into them here in any detail. I will only say that, in contrast to the “two class” struggle emphasized by Marx, Prout focuses on four classes, workers, warriors, intellectuals, and merchants, which are constantly involved in a “social cycle,” and suggests that they each are important historically, and can have their proper roles; that the workers tend to get the raw end of the bargain, and we must prevent that from happening; and that the best way to achieve societal harmony are for us each to develop all four roles within ourselves.
Chapter 8 on Spiritual Revolutionaries is interesting too. Chapter 9 on ethics and justice is quite nice, and Chapter 10 on culture is highly empowering and respectful for all, while recognizing the need for cross-cultural respect and commonalities.
Chapter 11 on governance is important and somewhat tied to the cultural points. In addition to stressing the need to move beyond nationalism to world government, it places a lot of emphasis on the opposite end of governance. It recognizes the value of historical forms of localized self-rule, such as respected “tribal elders” and town halls. It shows a strong preference for participatory democracy with a role for drastically reformed representative democracy that takes the money out of politics:
Prout’s form of governance incorporates all of these different approaches. Sarkar accepts that democracy, as it has gradually developed, is the best system of governance available today; however, he warns us that it has serious defects. There is a great need for good leaders and wise elders, persons of the highest moral character and universal outlook who choose the best path for society. Combining the personal with the social, he calls on all of us to strive to develop such qualities in ourselves while also cultivating them in others. At the same time, he prescribes specific reforms to improve democracy by taking money out of politics, and creating safeguards to check leaders who fail to demonstrate the virtues expected of them, or who become corrupted by power. Direct participation is fundamental to economic democracy, where all workers are empowered to own and manage their enterprises, not being subject to manipulation or exploitation. Finally, Prout also balances individual needs with collective responsibility. Ch. 11.
Prout holds as key reform of the organic laws to recognize a universal bill of rights and constitutional proposals for the economy. These are quite valuable ideas and would go a long way to setting the framework for not only improved national governments but also a progressively implemented world government based on shared ideals.
Although I like a lot of what Prout has to say on governance, on some points I disagree. I do not think it is realistic to outlaw political parties. George Washington did not like them either, but they eventually arise. They must be carefully controlled, yes, but we cannot expect that they will be eliminated altogether.
More importantly, Prout’s attempt to place limits on who can be a candidate and who can vote are to me really bad ideas. Hence, I wish Prout would not support the following:
Every effort should be made to ensure that those who run for public office are ethical leaders. Candidates ought to pass an exam verifying their education and their socio-political and economic consciousness. They should also be active in social service, and possess proven expertise and administrative skills. Finally, they should demonstrate in their daily lives and work the highest ethical standards. Id.
I think that is a very bad idea. Leave it to the voters to decide who they want to be their leaders.
Similarly, I strongly disagree with limitations on who gets to vote, whether based on party preference or any “test”:
In this process of popular education, an examination of voters could be set up to encourage everyone to achieve a minimum understanding of the issues, just as all motorists are required to pass a driver’s examination to get a license. …
[M]ost countries prohibit those under 18 and those serving time in prison for criminal offenses from voting. Prout would lower the age restriction, but add the voter examination.
It is true that voter examinations have been misused in the past; for example, in the southern part of the United States they were used to discourage black people from voting. Minorities and women in most countries have struggled for decades to achieve universal suffrage. Yet despite these historical injustices, the system of voter exams has many advantages, as long as voter education is aimed at every person. Educated voters are less likely to be fooled by the false claims of politicians. Id.
Really bad ideas Proutists. Have I been clear enough on that?
Nonetheless, on balance Prout gets much more right on governance than wrong:
An electoral commission can be responsible for creating guidelines for election manifestos. All candidates would be required to publish and sign their manifestos in the form of a statutory declaration. Any elected officials who then contravened their written promises without due cause, would be charged with breach of contract and made to answer for their actions in a court of law. If found guilty, they would be removed from office.
Government funding of elections would ensure fairness for all candidates. Equal quantities of election literature would be printed for each candidate by the government. The media, managed by cooperatives of journalists, should be required to give equal media coverage to each candidate to present his or her platform and to debate the issues. No candidate would be allowed to spend any personal money or to accept donations from any source. In this way, voters would be able to compare objectively the stand of each candidate. …
[W]ith Prout’s ceiling on the accumulation of wealth and the restriction on private contributions to electoral campaigns, money will no longer be a factor in the outcome of elections, nor will it unduly influence the conduct of elected representatives. Id.
Chapter 12, “A Call to Action: Strategies for Implementing Prout,” also is important. Proutists are not wimps, pacifists, or naïvetés. They do not simply “pray for the rich” to give up their wealth. They support mutual aid, cooperatives, local food self-sufficiency, and self-improvement as being important even in the transition time. But they do not underestimate the importance of the need for worldwide “revolution,” preferably peaceful and political, but unlikely to be exclusively so. They would view sane progressive socialist oases within capitalism such as cooperatives not as a substitute for an ongoing worldwide worker struggle by and for every human, every species, and the earth itself. They view this as a labor of love and not of anger or other negative emotions. They support universal ethics and constitutional worldwide governance as the ultimate end points and recognize the commensurate need for worldwide revolution, yet, in contrast to Marx, hold out hope that it will come about without bloodshed in many situations. I found Prout on the issue of revolution to be quite consistent with what I call Nieburhian coercion. I love how Chapter 12 ends with poignant words of Prout’s originator:
Now humanity bleeds. The future is dark. So we have come here to do something. I have come here to do something, and you have also come here to do something. My coming is significant, and your coming is not less significant. We have come with a mission; and our lives, singularly and collectively, are a mission. Not missions– ours is a collective mission. Here we all are one. We have come to do something. And that is the causal factor.
And what will be the effect? The effect will be that the world will realize that humanity is one and indivisible, and no power in heaven or on earth can destroy this glorious humanity. We have come here to save humanity, and we will save humanity. Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar
The Chomsky interview in the last chapter is great, discussing the Occupy Movement and other important developments since the prior version and putting matters into a cogent and humane historical-political perspective. The appendices are also great for those wanting to go deeper and lead study groups on Prout.
I want to end with a quote from the Dominican friar Frei Betto’s Afterword on “The Possibility of Creating Another World is in our Hands.” I found it to be profound, moving, and uniting in a way the left desperately needs if the “Pope Francis” moment is to be meaningful:
I believe that the language of the future will be that of a holistic spirituality, a political spirituality that does not separate the body from the spirit. To experience this, meditation is fundamental. It is a source of life, of revitalization. When I meditate in silence, I feel myself vulnerable to and sensitive to the will of God. Every day I meditate, in the morning and the evening, from forty minutes to one hour. I feel it is little, because when I was in prison I did up to four hours of meditation a day.
It does not matter what we call the paradigm of the future society as long as it allows what is contained in the Christian tradition: God is Father of all and we are all companions. Etymologically, “companions” means “those who distribute or share bread.” The theme of the World Social Forum, “Another world is possible”, refers to our shared dream for a new world that could be described as post-capitalist, global, Neohumanist, etc. What must be emphasized is that humanity will only have a future if we share the goods of the Earth and the fruits of human work.
The constitutional proposals of Prout contain the ethical summary of everything that humanity needs to accomplish this program of universal fraternity, founded in the sharing of the resources of the planet and the wealth of countries. And the great importance of Prout is that its vision of a new world is not just concerned with political, social and economic relationships, but also with education, gender relationships and spirituality.
Let us now take up the content of this work with daring and faith. Because the future, the matter of our dreams, will only become reality if today, in the present, we plant its seeds.
The “God is Father” part is sectarian, but that is his authentic word choice within his religious tradition. I think his heart is in the right place and that his ability to coalesce his Christianity within a universalist context is a sign of Prout’s health and ability to escape beyond dogma. We must allow the circle of leftist alliance to expand as long as the result is embracing of shared ideals. And as an organic aggie leftist, I am all about planting seeds.
Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 3:13 AM PT: [An update a few weeks after publication: This review of Prout was not able to be comprehensive. There are important points, pro and con, I am sure I missed. One in particular I recall on the con side is a predilection for a monetary system based on tangible assets such as gold. I think the point intended to be made is that society should not be based on potentially inflationary currency but rather on hard work and mass cooperation. As with any ideas, each Prout idea would need to be carefully scrutinized prior to implementation. Any “gold standard” approach to money does not strike me as attractive but as rather something the right wing has pushed for its own selfish anti-humanitarian reasons. This review of Prout, while generally affirming, was not intended as an endorsement. My hope is that deep democracy based upon a good social compact can sort things out, choosing some ideas and rejecting others from an array of detailed choices in the best of all of the people.]