5 September 2006

Aurovile and Communism

Anyone have thoughts about communism? Are you left wing or right wing? And for what reasons?

This is a project I wrote while in college. It's a bit streched out, but bear with it.




AUROVILLE AND COMMUNISM


Introduction

An experiment is underway 10 km north of Pondicherry in the state of Tamil Nadu on the Coromandel Coast of India. On February 28th 1968, the Mother, a spiritual leader and disciple of Sri Aurobindo, founded ‘The City of the Future’ in a grand inauguration ceremony attended by representatives of 124 countries from across the world. Soil from 23 Indian states and all 124 countries represented was placed in a marble urn, and the Mother read out Auroville’s charter. In the Mother’s words, Auroville was to be “a universal township where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities.” According to the Mother, “the purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity.”

It is my contention that, knowingly or unknowingly, what the Mother established closely fits the communist model envisaged by the Marxist tradition. During the course of this project, I shall look briefly at the essential features of communism and observe how Auroville fits into - or was intended to fit into - the broad framework of communism, following which I shall undertake an analysis of the overall impact of Auroville. I shall then speculate as to the future prospects of communism in general and Auroville in particular.

Essential Features of Communism

The idea of communism is based on Marx’s theory of Historical Materialism. It is supposed to be the last step in the evolution of social formations and the ideal that all societies should strive to achieve. Without going into an analysis of the evolution of communism, one may summarize its essential characteristics as follows.

· Communism entails a classless society where there is only one economic class – that of the proletariat. In the theory of Historical Materialism, one of the basic factors that lead to change is the existence of various socio-economic classes with one being exploited by the other. For instance, in capitalism, the capitalists exploit the workers and in feudalism, the lords exploit the serfs. It is this antagonism between classes that leads to friction and a ‘class struggle’, where the powerful and exploitative class is overthrown and the social formation changes. In communism, a class struggle cannot arise because no one is capable exploiting anyone else based on their economic standing. The economic standing of everyone is the same due to the next feature.

· In a communist set up, all assets are owned collectively by the society or ‘commune’, including the means of production. The basis for exploitation in capitalism, for instance, was that the capitalists owned capital, which wielded power over the workers due to its scarcity. Communism entails no private ownership of means of production, and this reduces all members of society to a common standing. All capital goods and even businesses are collectively owned. Labour is also viewed in a sense as belonging to the society, and as such all work is done keeping the goals of the society and not of the individual in mind. In addition to means of production, other assets such as houses are also collectively owned.

· Each member works according to his capacity. There is no external compulsion faced to work harder, the motivation is assumed to be internal. This presupposes that work per se is not viewed anymore as a means to earn a livelihood but as an end in itself. In other words, people work for the pleasure they get from working, and nothing else. Work in itself provides utility and not disutility.

· Each member receives according to his needs. This presupposes that each member has realized the true extent of his needs, and does not want to appropriate anything in excess of this need.

· For the system to survive, the total output produced must be at least as great as the sum total of the needs in society. This needs the attainment of a high level of productivity so that the limited man-hours applied can yield enough to satisfy the needs of all members of society.

· There needs to be perfect information, in that each member of society needs to be acutely aware as to how much of his labour he needs to allocate to the production of each good so as to prevent shortages in specific goods. For instance, say very few people in society are willing to take up farming as a career (as there is no compulsion). This will lead to a shortage of food and the needs of the society in this regard will not be met. To prevent such a situation, a system needs to be in place whereby each individual in the society comprehends exactly the demand for food in the society, the amount of food being produced currently and the extra man-hours required to produce the shortfall before members are in a position to reallocate their labour towards farming and away from what they are currently producing. In case a shortage does develop, the members of the society will have to voluntarily curtail consumption instead of each member trying to appropriate a share that would satisfy him. However, it must be emphasized that this does not amount to a negation of the contention that near-perfect knowledge needs to exist, as a society characterized by perennial shortages and surpluses would not inspire much faith in the system among its members. Communism is supposed to do away with fluctuations, not reinforce them.

· A change in the superstructure is necessary, so that individuals behave in such a way so as to maximize not their individual objective functions, but the objective function of the society as a whole.

· As may be fairly evident, communism requires that each member of society is highly educated so as to understand the society in entirety and his place in society. Capitalism could function if individuals tried only to make themselves as well off as possible, but communism needs an individual to understand the functioning of all facets of society so as to realize how to behave in order to benefit society as a whole.

· There is no role for money in a communist society as the needs system is structured in such a way that satiation is possible (a far cry from neo-classical economists who have all but assumed away satiation), and the total produce of the society is at least as great as the sum of these needs. Thus there is no shortage in the economy, or even if there is, self rationing takes place. Everyone simply appropriates according to his needs. Goods are not exchanged as per the law of value, and as such production under communist is of ‘goods’ (which are produced for consumption) rather than of ‘commodities’ (which are produced for exchange).

· As each member of society has a broad overview of the functioning of society and dutifully fulfils his part, there is no role for a formal government to coordinate activities or even provide public services (as the society as a whole realizes the need for such goods and arranges for their provision). The elimination of the state is also necessary in that the existence of a state in itself leads to the creation of a separate class in society that has the power to exploit the general masses. A truly classless society is only possible in the absence of a state, and as such even socialism is not completely classless with ‘all being equal but some being more equal than others’ due to the presence of a state.

· This last feature is not an essential requirement, but more of an empirical observation. Wherever communism has sought to have been established, there has usually been an inspirational leader who herds the masses and convinces them about the need for change and the viability and appeal of communism. In the Soviet Union, this figurehead was Lenin, and in China it was Mao. Both these leaders followed the teachings of one great thinker – Marx.

The Communist Character of Auroville

Having laid down the essential characteristics of communism, let us now see how well Auroville fits into this model. It is insightful to briefly look at the Auroville charter:

1. Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville, one must be the willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.
2. Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.
3. Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realisations.
4. Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity.


As is evident, the Mother, through this charter, sought to establish Auroville as the ideal society. Let us now look at how in its functioning and basic ideology, Auroville appears to fit into the Communist model outlined earlier.

· Classless society: We find evidence of an aspiration towards a classless society in the words of the Mother when she described Auroville as a place where people would live “in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities.” Auroville was envisaged as a place where no one would exploit others as no one would have the means to do so. There are significant inequalities, in the sense that some Aurovillians are rich and others are poor, but these arise primarily due to the accumulated wealth of individuals before becoming part of Auroville.

· Collective ownership of assets: The charter clearly states that Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. All assets are owned by Auroville. The land, dwellings and even businesses are collective property. In the case of dwellings, on entering Auroville new residents are required to build their own dwelling, which becomes the property of Auroville, but over which the individual is given the right of occupancy. Once the dwelling is vacated by a resident, it may be allocated to someone else. There are no rents in Auroville, and as such housing is free, provided one has obtained the right to occupancy of a dwelling.

· Work according to one’s capacity: Work would not be there as the means of gaining one's livelihood, it would be the means whereby to express oneself, develop one's capacities and possibilities, while doing at the same time service to the whole group, which on its side would provide for each one's subsistence and for the field of his work. In effect, this means that work is undertaken for its own sake. Everyone in Auroville is expected to indulge in some form of productive work for the benefit of the society. However, there is no compulsion. All social services like teaching are voluntary.

· Receiving according to one’s needs: Work is not paid for in terms of wages in Auroville. Each member is entitled to a monthly ‘maintenance’, which is usually enough to take care of the basic needs of an individual. Many forego this sum as they use their own resources which they acquired before joining Auroville or are supported by their families. If a person is unable to support himself, the society takes care of all his needs. The Auroville website proudly proclaims that the needs of the body will be provided for equally in the case of each and everyone.

· Education: The charter proclaims Auroville as the place of an unending education (and) of constant progress. This parallels the need for high quality education as felt by the great thinkers in the Marxist tradition. Schooling in Auroville takes place in schools where all regular subjects are taught with an emphasis on liberal arts and sports where education is given, according to the website, not with a view to passing examinations and getting certificates and posts, but for enriching the existing faculties and bringing forth new ones. One could raise an objection that as no educational facilities exist in Auroville beyond the school level, it will not be adequately able to educate each new generation adequately. This, however, can be easily combated. The necessary education is not taught only in formal institutions, but can also be imparted at home. Further, graduates from Auroville’s school usually seek higher education outside of Auroville, but it is an empirical fact that most come back to Auroville to lead their lives. The lack of university education will only be felt when Aurovillians no longer have access to such education outside Auroville.

· Change in the superstructure: Both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother emphasized that the entire exercise of Auroville was geared towards the pursuit of ‘Human Unity’ through the attainment of the ‘Divine Consciousness’. Emphasis is laid on the ideal that in the general organisation intellectual, moral and spiritual superiority will find expression not in the enhancement of the pleasures and powers of life but in the increase of duties and responsibilities. A glimpse of the desired move from pursuing individual utility maximization to pursuing collective utility maximization, and of corresponding changes in non-production relations, is seen in the following excerpt from the website: It would be a place where the relations among human beings, usually based almost exclusively upon competition and strife, would be replaced by relations of emulation for doing better, for collaboration, relations of real brotherhood.

· Role of Money: The initial vision and the ultimate ideal towards which Auroville strives is that of a system without money.

· Government: Sri Aurobindo advocated the attainment of ‘Divine Anarchy’, but also emphasized that anarchy is only divine once the ‘Divine Consciousness’ has been attained. Auroville strives toward this ideal, but recognizes that anarchy without the ‘Divine Consciousness’ is brutal and disruptive. Therefore, some form of organization exists in Auroville until that time when the ‘Divine Consciousness’ will allow ‘Divine Anarchy’. There is no government in the formal or conventional sense. For dealings with the Government of India, a legal body has been established. Otherwise, there are committees which organize various aspects of life in Auroville, such as education, forestry, entry into Auroville, etc. The difference from a conventional government is that any Aurovillian can join any committee he wishes to and can leave at any time. While part of such bodies, Aurovillians do not enjoy special perks or privileges, and as such being part of organizational bodies does not give any extra power to a person in Auroville.

· Inspirational leader: The guiding force behind the conceptualization and actualization of Auroville was Mirra Alfassa (1878-1973), commonly known as the Mother. She was born in Paris and after a childhood filled with several inner experiences and visions she travelled to Pondicherry in 1914 to meet Sri Aurobindo. After the First World War, she settled in Pondicherry alongside Sri Aurobindo, who recognized her as the embodiment of the ‘Supreme Mother’. She was instrumental in marshalling the group of Sri Aurobindo’s followers and setting up both the Aurobindo ashram and Auroville. This parallels the model in most attempts at communist countries – a great motivator and doer implementing the ideas of a great thinker.

It may be noted that the purpose of Auroville is to enable the attainment of the ‘Divine Consciousness’. This attainment is supposed to be facilitated by living in a community with the characteristics described above. This finds parallel in Marx’s theory of Historical Materialism where first the production relations are changed and these help in the change of the superstructure.

What Auroville should not be confused with is some sort of religious cult following the teachings of Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo advocated a deeply spiritual life in pursuit of the ‘Divine Consciousness’. He did not seek to establish himself as a religious leader and did not put in place any rituals by which to attain ‘Divine Consciousness’. What Sri Aurobindo and, later, the Mother were advocating, in my view, was simply that we need to give up the mindset that caused humans to behave in a selfish and materialistic (read capitalist) fashion and move instead to a mindset which emphasized ‘Human Unity’, the divinity of work and the relations of true brotherhood (read communist). In fact, there is no religion in Auroville (although there are no restrictions on the practice of any religion) as religions do divide the people of the world, whereas Auroville is only interested in unity.

Having thus established that Auroville is essentially communist in its ideology and basic functioning, it is also important to note the following areas where Auroville falls short of the ideals set before it. These will be important ingredients in the later analysis of whether Auroville was ‘worth it’.

· Receiving according to one’s needs: Even though the system of ‘maintenance’ is in place, at present individuals are allowed to set up and run small-scale commercial enterprises. Despite the fact that the enterprises are technically the property of Auroville, the individuals who run them are allowed to appropriate the earnings.

· Increase in levels of productivity: Productivity levels in Auroville are not significantly higher than in the surrounding areas. One possible reason is the lack of a high rate of technological progress due to the lack of emphasis on the sciences in education. This has led to a situation where the total output of Auroville falls short of the sum of its needs.

· Money: The ideal of a moneyless community is yet to be achieved in Auroville. Many services are provided free, but for dealing with the outside world, currency is essential. Even within the community, a level of productivity sufficiently high to allow output to exceed total needs has not been attained, and thus scarcity exists for many commodities, necessitating the use of money and exchange according to the law of value as a rationing device. However, there is a distinct attempt to reduce the use of paper currency as certain goods services can be consumed only after an account has been opened and the currency equivalent of the goods or services consumed is debited from the account by the shopkeeper. An experiment is also underway using a new medium of exchange called the Aurose, with one Aurose in value being equal to one Rupee.

· Perfect information: Even though its relatively small size makes the sharing of information easier, perfect knowledge as to who is producing what in the community is still lacking in Aurovile. As a result, there is a perennial shortage of food due to too few people wanting to take up farming as a career. This shortage must be ‘imported’, as it were, from the surrounding areas. There is also an excess of people wishing to devote their lives to the arts.

· Not self-sustaining: Any self-sustaining community must have the characteristic that the revenue generated by it should be approximately equal to its expenditures. If revenues are less than expenditure, the gap cannot be too large as the gap must usually be filled by borrowing, which would mean an increase in the debt burden. In the case of Auroville, the revenues generated are adequate to finance only about a quarter of the expenditure. The shortfall is made up partly by Government of India grants, but mainly by donations from rich Aurovillians, Aurovile centres in India and abroad, NGOs and private individuals. In addition, workers are hired from the surrounding villages for certain work such as construction. Essentially, Auroville is living off other people’s money.

· Organization: As we have seen, there is still need for coordinating and decision making bodies in Auroville.

Aurovillians acknowledge the aforementioned shortcomings. They argue that self-sustenance will be achieved when the size of Auroville nears the envisioned 50000. At present there are only about 1800 residents, whose contributions are inadequate due to the existence of fixed costs. They also emphasize that Auroville is actively trying to do away with the shortcomings, and with time the attainment of the ‘Divine Consciousness’ would greatly aid in the elimination of money and establishment of a ‘Divine Anarchy’ through elimination of the present vestiges of a government. Further, once scientific advancements allow the increase of productivity to sufficiently high levels and the ‘Divine Consciousness’ leads to the control of wants, then the true ideal of working according to one’s capacity and taking according to one’s need will be realized.

Auroville: Net Gain or Net Loss

The question must be asked as to whether the experiment of Auroville thus far has been a success or not. There are three perspectives from which to look at this question – that of the Aurovillians themselves, the surroundings including the local populace and the Government of India and the world as a whole.

For Aurovillians, the broad consensus is that the experience has been worth it. As we have seen, the majority of the expenditure of Auroville is funded by donations and grants. This means that for Aurovillians, the amount of work they would need to do in order to gain a given standard of living has been drastically reduced. Even though work is supposed to be divine in Auroville, empirical evidence tells us that the amount of work performed by an individual drastically falls after coming to Auroville. Maybe work gives positive utility in itself up to a point, after which it gives negative utility. Outside Auroville these people would work more than they do in Auroville as outside the benefits from work include both its own utility as well as the utility from monetary rewards, whereas inside, the benefit from work is restricted only to its own utility. In addition, there is the benefit from leading a spiritual life free of worries and anxiety which reflects positively on utility.

For the surroundings, the answer is not as straightforward. There have been many benefits but there have also been some losses.

Let us look at the benefits first.

· Environmental regeneration: When Aurovile acquired its present land, it was a barren stretch of unfertile red soil. The area had once been a forest, but the forest had been cleared and the lumber used to build new cities like Pondicherry. The area has now been transformed back into a green belt thanks to Auroville’s extensive Afforestation Campaign. Auroville’s Forest Group and Greenworkers have also introduced new techniques like ‘bunding’ to arrest soil erosion and augment the water table. The good work has attracted grants from the Environmental Department of the Government of India to carry out further afforestation and scientific monitoring to arrive at a model which can be replicated across parts of India with similar geographical conditions. Lately, experts from Auroville have started travelling outside Auroville to help initiate and sustain afforestation schemes in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

· Employment generation, job security and a higher level of income: Auroville employs around 5000 people from the surrounding villages. Due to the availability of jobs, the population of the surroundings has increased from around 25000 at the time of Auroville’s inception to about 40000 presently. Job security has also increased as the workers are not usually employed in an ad-hoc fashion. Also, due to Auroville’s policy of ‘dignified salaries’, the average salary paid to a worker for performing a task in Auroville is higher that what he would get outside Auroville.

· Improved living conditions: As a result of Auroville’s presence, not only have the income levels of the surrounding villages gone up, but they have also benefited from the new technologies introduced by Auroville. For instance, the construction materials frequently used in the villages today are far more durable (reinforced cement/concrete, ferrocement channels, tiles, etc) than the traditional ones. Style and design often reflect the models of housing found in Auroville.

· Education and vocational training: Many educational programmes have been implemented in the area, either through formal education or through programmes of adult education in areas such as social awareness, health, agriculture, recovery of traditional medicines, local infrastructural development, savings opportunities and reforestation. Literacy levels have improved as a result and many local people can now compete in the qualified labour market within or outside Auroville, or become managers of their own enterprise, providing the local population with yet more opportunities for employment.

· Women’s clubs: Assisted by Aurovile, women in the surrounding villages are increasingly becoming part of a savings scheme. Women are encouraged to pool in their savings to form a fund from which loans may be given in times of need. At present, some of these clubs own up to Rs. 4 lakh. This has reduced the dependence on local moneylenders and has raised the self esteem and social standing of women in the area.

· Research: Auroville has been an active centre for research and has developed and pursued technologies in the fields of organic foods, renewable energy, natural dyeing and high class appropriate building technologies. To take examples, production of a non-polluting solar bike has started and buildings are constructed from indigenously made non-polluting Compressed Earth Blocks instead of the usual bricks whose manufacturing process pollutes the environment.

Let us now look to the negative impact of Aurovile.

· Opportunity cost of grants and donations: A part of Auroville’s finances comes from grants and donations originating from Indian soil. Part of the government grants are project specific. One has to ask the question as to whether the remaining funds are used in such a way that benefits the surroundings of Auroville and India as a whole. As we have seen, part of these remaining funds are spent in generating employment, conducting research, environmental regeneration and the like, but there is definitely a part that finances the consumption requirements of Aurovillians. This portion could be better utilized for the development of the local economy. However, there is a question mark on whether these donations would be forthcoming at all in the absence of Auroville. Thus, the magnitude of negative impact due to this factor must be reduced to take this uncertainty into account.

· Social problems in villages: Two issues need to be highlighted. Firstly, the increased incomes of the local populace have resulted in an increasing consumption of alcohol among adult and young males. Secondly, the trend increasingly is towards young boys not contributing towards the family income to their utmost capacity and threatening to run away to Auroville if pressurized to contribute more.

In comparing the costs and benefits, the element of subjectivity will always arise in selecting the criteria according to which performance is to be evaluated. Therefore, I can only give my subjective opinion in this regard. In my view, from the point of view of India as a whole, Aurovile has led to many positive effects, and since these effects are the results of activities financed largely by foreign donations and grants, India has essentially gained a lot without spending too much. The negative impact of a portion of the funds originating in India being used to finance the consumption wants of Aurovillians instead of developmental activities is more than offset by the positive impact of developmental expenditure incurred out of funds not originating in India. The issues of alcoholism and other social problems are, however, a cause for concern and corrective measures such as spreading proper values through education as well as a system of economic disincentives must be worked out. On the whole, however, I believe that Auroville has benefited India.

Coming to the impact of Auroville on the world as a whole, the analysis may proceed as follows. Let us take the pool of funds from which Auroville finances its expenditure. This pool may be divided into three broad categories based on source of origin – funds originating as a result of the work of the people of Auroville, project specific grants and general grants and donations. Note we do not distinguish between Indian and foreign grants and donations as the unit of analysis is the world as a whole. This pool may be used to finance consumption and developmental expenditure. Funds originating as a result of the work of the people of Auroville are not sufficient to finance even consumption. Therefore, all the developmental expenditure and a sizeable part of consumption must be financed by grants and donations. Project specific grants, by nature can only finance developmental expenditure, and so the additional consumption expenditure must be met out of general grants and donations. The argument is that this part of general grants could, in the absence of Auroville, be mobilized to finance developmental expenditure instead of consumption, as in the absence of Auroville the people who would otherwise be its residents would work harder due to the monetary rewards attached to work and would finance all their consumption themselves without relying on aid from others. Thus, it appears that there is a net loss. However, how forthcoming these fund would be in the absence of Auroville and how easily they could be mobilized if they are forthcoming is a matter open to question, and therefore, at best, one must consider the net effect ambiguous.

One may also note that the criteria used above to judge performance is, again, subjective. On reflection, it appears I have adopted an essentially capitalist way of looking at the matter and still not been able to conclusively prove that this experiment at communism has had a net negative effect on society. And the apparent reason is the developmental work carried out by Auroville due to its communist-like pursuit of Human Unity and the ‘Divine Consciousness’. But for this, the analysis would most certainly have turned up a negative result. One could also argue from a communist perspective and say that it has made people aware of a new kind of social formation and therefore helped the advance towards the ideal that all should look to achieve. However, there are elements of subjectivity in this analysis itself, and in my view the earlier analysis is completely objective, though the selection of the analytical procedure is certainly subjective.

The future of Auroville in particular and communism in general

The basic problem faced by Auroville and any other attempts at setting up a communist society has been that three of the essential features of communism have not been achieved. Firstly, there has not been a change in the superstructure to the extent that work is looked upon as an end in itself rather than a means to an end. Work has not come to be associated with positive utility by itself in any of these societies by the populace at large. This has led to a reduction in the number of man-hours supplied voluntarily. In addition, needs are still viewed as being unlimited as the concept of satiation is not widely accepted. Secondly, even a reduced number of man-hours could be compensated for had productivity risen to such an extent that the output could exceed the sum of the society’s needs. However, this is dependent largely upon technology, and technology has not progressed to such an extent for productivity to rise to the required levels. Lastly, though information has become more freely available in the recent past, the freedom of information is still not adequate to enable a person to know how to allocate his labour to prevent shortages and surpluses in the economy.

Thus, any attempt at realizing communism in the present context will be characterized by the following conditions: not enough work will be put in; the output of the society will be less than the sum of its needs; and there will be shortages in some goods and excesses in others. Auroville is able to circumnavigate these problems due to the availability of grants and donations. These allow it to hire extra labour to make up the shortfall in man-hours supplied, purchase goods to fill the gap between output and needs, and compensate for internal shortages by ‘importing’ the shortfall. The future existence of Auroville, thus, depends on the continuation of grants and donations. In short, as long as people around the world believe in the cause and concept of Auroville, it will continue to survive in a form which can only be regarded as very close to the communist ideal.

For communism in general, such grants and donations are not available. This has led, in many past attempts at communism, to the state assuming power to solve the aforementioned problems. To combat against the tendencies of a reduction in work effort and a shortfall of output with respect to the sum of the society’s needs, the state sets targets for both man-hours and output. To combat against shortfalls in some commodities and surpluses in others, the state also decides the composition of output. Thus, attempts at establishing communism have ended up being socialist in their functioning rather than communist.

So what is the way to achieve the ultimate ideal of communism? In my view, the only way is the long term elimination of these problems. The superstructure must be allowed to change through the natural process of logic. Attempts may be made to make the populace understand the concept of communism rather than to enforce it upon them. Technological advance must be relied upon to increase productivity levels to a sufficiently high level. Once this is achieved, people will move naturally towards supplying fewer man-hours. As the number of man-hours supplied reduces, the level of disutility caused due to work will also reduce, and work as a concept will come to be associated with less displeasure, and, possibly even greater pleasure. As regards a system of perfect knowledge, this will again depend on technology.

As is evident, a lot depends on the pace of technological progress, and there is no real way of circumnavigating the path of technological progress. It will take its own time, and until at least the second and third problems are not eliminated, any attempt at communism will not succeed in entirety on a large scale. The superstructure may change once the system is in place, in keeping with Historical Materialism. One could argue that the third problem of shortages and surpluses in different goods could be solved through trade – the surpluses could be exported and the shortages imported. However, the ultimate ideal is the establishment of communism all over the world, and in the hypothetical scenario of an entirely communist world without perfect knowledge, there would be no safeguards against shortages and surpluses at the world level.

If any attempts at communism are made before these problems are solved, the resultant structure would be essentially socialist. I differ with Historical Materialism in that I believe that socialism is not an improvement over capitalism. Socialism, in my view, is merely an attempt at achieving communism, which is an improvement over capitalism, without the necessary means to do so. Socialism can only lead back to capitalism, and the reason for this is that individual freedom is compromised under socialism. The lure of capitalism, and the reason why capitalism is an improvement over feudalism, is that it gives freedom to all individuals. This freedom to choose the level of one’s work and one’s occupation is engrained in the superstructure of capitalism. Socialism takes away this freedom, and this evokes displeasure from the masses. This displeasure grows until the time that public outcry and inefficiency makes the switch back to capitalism necessary. Evidence of this can be seen in the erstwhile USSR and China.

One must not lose sight of the fact that change is a natural process, and a slow one at that. The transition from feudalism to communism took two centuries, and as such expecting to establish communism in a few years is nothing short of foolhardy. My belief is that one should work towards assisting the natural transition of the capitalist economic base into a communist one, not completely dismantle the capitalist base and replace it with a communist one. The guiding force should be that changes in economic relations should lead to a change in laws, not the other way around. In short, the way to communism is through capitalism, not around it.

Conclusion

During the course of this project, I tried to establish the basic characteristics of communism as elimination of economic classes, collective ownership of assets, work according to capacity, receipt according to one’s needs, a high level of education, a high level of productivity, perfect knowledge, elimination of money and elimination of the state. I observed that Auroville fits largely into the communist model, though some deviations are evident. I tried to argue that from the point of view of Aurovillians and India as a whole, the experiment has lead to a net gain. However, for the world as a whole, the effect is ambiguous. I then postulated that the future of Aurovill depended on the continuation of grants and aid in order to facilitate circumnavigation of certain inherent problems of establishing a society based on communism in the present context. With regard to the future of communism in general, I proposed that there definitely is a future, but that future must not be imposed and definitely not through socialism. The way forward is through natural, and not forced, tendencies to change.

References

This project is an original piece of work. I have used Marx’s theory of Historical Materialism and its analysis of the evolution of social formations, but I have not referred to any text while doing so. All the information about Auroville is based on a personal visit and the Auroville website, www.auroville.org.

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  3. Nice work! liked your take on the future of communism...

    but personally i think experiments such as Auroville should not be compared with communism..many of the reasons are in your post itself.

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