Communism can’t work the way Karl Max outlined in his famous Manifesto. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains why Krishna, not the state, must be the center of a truly perfect and classless society.
Three years ago His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada held a series of conversations with his personal secretary, Syamasundara dasa. The subject was Western philosophy, and their talks ranged over the vast array of thought which 2000 years has produced. Srila Prabhupada pointed out the points of value—and the inevitable defects—in the philosophies of Plato, Schopenhauer, Hegel, Kant, Darwin and many others. Part of the forthcoming book, the following excerpt on Karl Marx explains how spiritual communism is the true perfection of society.
Syamasundara: Karl Marx contended that philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point is to change it. His philosophy is often called “dialectical materialism” because it comes from the dialectic of George Hegel—thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. When applied to society, his philosophy is known as communism. His idea is that for many generations, the bourgeoisie (the property owners), have competed with the proletariat (the working class), and this conflict will terminate in the communist society. In other words, the workers will overthrow the capitalistic class and establish a so-called dictatorship of the proletariat, which will finally become a classless society.
Prabhupada: But how is a classless society possible? Men naturally fall into different classes. Your nature is different from mine, so how can we artificially be brought to the same level? .
Syamasundara: His idea is that human nature, or ideas, are molded by the means of production. Therefore everyone can be trained to participate in the classless society.
“The Communists have not created a classless society. We have seen in Moscow how a poor woman will wash the streets while her boss sits comfortably in his car. So where is the classless society?”
Prabhupada: Then training is required?
Prabhupada: And what will be the center of training for this classless society? What will be the motto?
Syamasundara: The motto is “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” The idea is that everyone would contribute something, and everyone would get what he needed.
Prabhupada: But everyone’s contribution is different. A scientific man contributes something, and a philosopher contributes something else. The cow contributes milk, and the dog contributes service as a watchdog. Even the trees, the birds, the beasts—everyone—is contributing something. So, by nature a reciprocal arrangement is already there among social classes. How can there be a classless society?
Syamasundara: Well, Marx’s idea is that the means of production will be owned in common. No one would have an advantage over anyone else, and thus one person could not exploit another. Marx is thinking in terms of profit.
Prabhupada: First we must know what profit actually is. For example, the American hippies already had “profit.” They were from the best homes, their fathers were rich—they had everything. Yet they were not satisfied; they rejected it. No, this idea of a classless society based on profit-sharing is imperfect. Besides, the Communists have not created a classless society. We have seen in Moscow how a poor woman will wash the streets while her boss sits comfortably in his car. So where is the classless society? As long as society is maintained, there must be some higher and lower classification. But if the central point of society is one, then whether one works in a lower or a higher position, he doesn’t care. For example, our body has different parts—the head, the legs, the hands—but everything works for the stomach.
Syamasundara: Actually, the Russians supposedly have the same idea: they claim the common worker is just as glorious as the top scientist or manager.
Prabhupada: But in Moscow we have seen that not everyone is satisfied. One boy who came to us was very unhappy because in Russia young boys are not allowed to go out at night.
Syamasundara: The Russian authorities would say that he has an improper understanding of Marxist philosophy.
Prabhupada: That “improper understanding” is inevitable. They will never be able to create a classless society because, as I have already explained, everyone’s mentality is different.
Syamasundara: Marx says that if everyone is engaged according to his abilities in a certain type of production, and everyone works for the central interest, then everyone’s ideas will become uniform.
Prabhupada: Therefore we must find out the real central interest. In our International Society for Krishna Consciousness, everyone has a central interest in Krishna. Therefore one person is speaking, another person is typing, another is going to the press or washing the dishes, and no one is grudging, because they are all convinced they are serving Krishna.
Syamasundara: Marx’s idea is that the center is the state.
Prabhupada: But the state cannot be perfect. If the Russian state is perfect, then why was Khrushchev driven from power? He was elected premier. Why was he driven from power?
Syamasundara: Because he was not fulfilling the aims of the people.
“Why should a sweeper be satisfied seeing someone else in the administrative post? He will think, ‘He is forcing me to work as a sweeper in the street while he sits comfortably in a chair.”‘
Prabhupada: Well, then, what is the guarantee the next premier will do that? There is no guarantee. The same thing will happen again and again. Because the center, Khrushchev, was imperfect, people begrudged their labor. The same thing is going on in non-Communist countries as well. The government is changed, the prime minister is deposed, the president is impeached. So what is the real difference between Russian Communism and other political systems? What is happening in other countries is also happening in Russia, only they call it by a different name. When we talked with Professor Kotofsky of Moscow University, we told him he had to surrender: either he must surrender to Krishna, or to Lenin, but he must surrender. He was taken aback at this.
Syamasundara: From studying history, Marx concluded that the characteristics of culture, the social structure, and even the thoughts of the people are determined by the means of economic production.
Prabhupada: How does he account for all the social disruption in countries like America, which is so advanced in economic production?
Syamasundara: He says that capitalism is a decadent form of economic production because it relies on the exploitation of one class by another.
Prabhupada: But there is exploitation in the Communist countries also. Khrushchev was driven out of power because he was exploiting his position. He was giving big government posts to his son and son-in-law.
Syamasundara: He was deviating from the doctrine.
Prabhupada: But since any leader can deviate, how will perfection come? First the person in the center must be perfect, then his dictations will be correct. Otherwise, if the leaders are all imperfect men, what is the use of changing this or that? The corruption will continue.
Syamasundara: Presumably the perfect leader would be the one who practiced Marx’s philosophy without deviation.
Prabhupada: But Marx’s philosophy is also imperfect! His proposal for a classless society is unworkable. There must be one class of men to administer the government and one class of men to sweep the streets. How can there be a classless society? Why should a sweeper be satisfied seeing someone else in the administrative post? He will think, “He is forcing me to work as a sweeper in the street while he sits comfortably in a chair.” In our International Society, I am also holding the superior post: I am sitting in a chair, and you are offering me garlands and the best food. Why? Because you see a perfect man whom you can follow. That mentality must be there. Everyone in the society must be able to say, “Yes, here is a perfect man. Let him sit in a chair, and let us all bow down and work like menials.” Where is that perfect man in the Communist countries?
Syamasundara: The Russians claim that Lenin is a perfect man.
Prabhupada: Lenin? But no one is following Lenin. Lenin’s only perfection was that he overthrew the Czar’s government. What other perfection has he shown? The people are not happy simply reading Lenin’s books. I studied the people in Moscow. They are unhappy. The government cannot force them to be happy artificially. Unless there is a perfect, ideal man in the center, there cannot possibly be a classless society.
Syamasundara: Perhaps they see the workers and the managers in the same way that we do—in the absolute sense. Since everyone is serving the state, the sweeper is as good as the administrator.
Prabhupada: But unless the state gives perfect satisfaction to the people, there will always be distinctions between higher and lower classes. In the Russian state, that sense of perfection in the center is lacking.
Syamasundara: Their goal is the production of material goods for the enhancement of human well-being.
“The only way to have a truly classless society is to find that method by which both the managers and the workers will feel equal happiness.”
Prabhupada: That is useless! Economic production in America has no comparison in the world, yet still people are dissatisfied. The young men are confused. It is nonsensical to think that simply by increasing production everyone will become satisfied. No one will be satisfied. Man is not meant simply for eating. He has mental necessities, intellectual necessities, spiritual necessities. In India many people sit alone silently in the jungle and practice yoga. They do not require anything. How will increased production satisfy them? If someone were to say to them, “If you give up this yoga practice, I will give you two hundred bags of rice,” they would laugh at the proposal. It is animalistic to think that simply by increasing production everyone will become satisfied. Real happiness does not depend on either production or starvation, but upon peace of mind. For example, if a child is crying, but the mother does not know why, the child will not stop simply by giving him some milk. Sometimes this actually happens: the mother cannot understand why her child is crying, and though she is giving him her breast, he continues to cry. Similarly, dissatisfaction in human society is not caused solely by low economic production. That is nonsense. There are many causes of dissatisfaction. The practical example is America, where there is sufficient production of everything, yet the young men are becoming hippies. They are dissatisfied, confused. No, simply by increasing economic production people will not become satisfied. Marx’s knowledge is insufficient. Perhaps because he came from a country where people were starving, he had that idea.
Syamasundara: Yes, now we’ve seen that production of material goods alone will not make people happy.
Prabhupada: Because they do not know that real happiness comes from spiritual understanding. That understanding is given in the Bhagavad-gita:
God is the supreme enjoyer, and He is the proprietor of everything. We are not actually enjoyers; we are all workers. These two things must be there: an enjoyer and a worker. For example, in our body the stomach is the enjoyer, and all other parts of the body are workers. So this system is natural: there must always be someone who is the enjoyer, and someone who is the worker. It is present in the capitalist system also. In Russia there is always conflict between the managers and the workers. The workers say, “If this is a classless society, why is that man sitting comfortably and ordering us to work?” The Russians have not been able to avoid this dilemma, and it cannot be avoided. There must be one class of men who are the directors or enjoyers, and another class of men who are the workers. Therefore the only way to have a truly classless society is to find that method by which both the managers and the workers will feel equal happiness. For example, if the stomach is hungry and the eyes see some food, immediately the brain will say, “O legs, please go there!” and “Hand, pick it up,” and “Now, please put it into the mouth.” Immediately the food goes into the stomach, and as soon as the stomach is satisfied, the eyes are satisfied, the legs are satisfied, and the hand is satisfied.
Syamasundara: But Marx would use this as a perfect example of communism.
Prabhupada: But he has neglected to find out the real stomach
Syamasundara: His is the material stomach.
Prabhupada: But the material stomach is always hungry again; it can never be satisfied. In the Krishna consciousness movement we have the substance for feeding our brains, our minds, and our souls. Yasya prasadad bhagavat-prasadah. If the spiritual master is satisfied, then Krishna is satisfied, and if Krishna is satisfied, then everyone is satisfied. Therefore you are all trying to satisfy your spiritual master. Similarly, if the Communist countries can come up with a dictator, who, if satisfied, automatically gives satisfaction to all the people, then we will accept such a classless society. But this is impossible. A classless society is only possible when Krishna is in the center. For the satisfaction of Krishna, the intellectual can work in his own way, the administrator can work in his way, the merchant can work in his way, and the laborer can work in his way. This is truly a classless society.
Syamasundara: How is this different from the Communist country, where all sorts of men contribute for the same central purpose, which is the state?
Prabhupada: The difference is that if the state is not perfect, no one will willingly contribute to it. They may be forced to contribute, but they will not voluntarily contribute unless there is a perfect state in the center. For example, the hands, legs and brain are working in perfect harmony for the satisfaction of the stomach. Why? Because they know without a doubt that by satisfying the stomach they will all share the energy and also be satisfied. Therefore, unless the people have this kind of perfect faith in the leader of the country, there is no possibility of a classless society.
“In any society there must be a leader, there must be directors, and there must be workers, but everyone should be so satisfied that they forget the difference.”
Syamasundara: The Communists theorize that if the worker contributes to the central fund, he will get satisfaction in return.
Prabhupada: Yes, but if he sees imperfection in the center, he will not work enthusiastically because he will have no faith that he will get full satisfaction. That perfection of the state will never be there, and therefore the workers will always remain dissatisfied.
Syamasundara: The propangandists play upon this dissatisfaction and tell the people that foreigners are causing it.
Prabhupada: But if the people were truly satisfied, they could not be influenced by outsiders. If you are satisfied that your spiritual master is perfect—that he is guiding you nicely—will you be influenced by outsiders?
Prabhupada: Because the Communist state will never be perfect, there is no possibility of a classless society.
Syamasundara: Marx examines history and sees that in Greek times, in Roman times, and in the middle ages slaves were always required for production.
Prabhupada: The Russians are also creating slaves—the working class. Joseph Stalin stayed in power simply by killing all his enemies. He killed so many men that he is recorded in history as the greatest criminal. He was certainly imperfect, yet he held the position of dictator, and the people were forced to obey him.
Syamasundara: His followers have denounced him.
Prabhupada: That’s all well and good, but his followers should also be denounced. The point is that in any society, there must be a leader, there must be directors, and there must be workers, but everyone should be so satisfied that they forget the difference.
Syamasundara: No envy.
Prabhupada: Ah, no envy. But that perfection is not possible in the material world. Therefore Marx’s theories are useless.
Syamasundara: But on the other hand, the capitalists also make slaves of their workers.
Prabhupada: Wherever there is materialistic activity, there must be imperfection. But if they make Krishna the center, then all problems will be resolved.
Syamasundara: Are you saying that any system of organizing the means of production is bound to be full of exploitation?
Prabhupada: Yes, certainly, certainly! The materialistic mentality means exploitation.
Syamasundara: Then what is the solution?
Prabhupada: Krishna consciousness!
Syamasundara: How is that?
Prabhupada: Just make Krishna the center and work for Him. Then everyone will be satisfied. As it is stated in the Fourth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam:
If you simply pour water on the root of a tree, all the branches, twigs, leaves, and flowers will be nourished. Similarly, everyone can be satisfied simply by acyutejya. Acutya means Krishna, and ijya means worship. So this is the formula for a classless society: make Krishna (God) the center and do everything for Him. There are no classes in our International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Now you are writing philosophy, but if I want you to wash dishes, you will do so immediately because you know that whatever you do, you are working for Krishna and for your spiritual master. In the material world different kinds of work have different values, but in Krishna consciousness everything is done on the absolute platform. Whether you wash dishes or write books or worship the Deity, the value is the same because you are serving Krishna. That is a classless society. Actually, the perfect classless society is Vrndavana. In Vrndavana, some are cowherd boys, some are cows, some are trees, some are fathers, some are mothers, but the center is Krishna, and everyone is satisfied simply by loving Him. When all people become Krishna conscious and they understand how to love Him, then there will be a classless society. Otherwise it is not possible.