A Rational Critique of Marxism and Communism - XIII
(Selected Passages from the book:
“Politics Power and Parties” by M. N. Roy-3)
1. “Democracy started from the two admirable principles of individual freedom and of popular sovereignty. But having started from those unexceptionable principles, in practice democracy immediately deviated from those principles. We do not have to examine only the record of parliamentary democracy in the 19th century. We may go all the way back to the man who has been recognized in history as the prophet of modern democracy, to discover that democracy, however well conceived, was born with a crippling defect, because of which it never got a fair chance. That prophet was the French philosopher Rousseau, who is credited with having developed the ideal of democracy. Like all the leaders of the French Revolution, Rousseau also drew his inspiration from the experience of ancient Greece.
The idea of democracy, including its name, was derived from there. The ideal of democracy, as the early leaders of the French Revolution conceived it, was the direct democracy of ancient Greece. There, democracy had been practiced in small City Republics, inhabited perhaps by no more than ten to twenty- thousand people. Since it could not be practiced in 18th century Europe, where States consisted of entire countries inhabited by millions of people, Rousseau immediately came up against this fact, which was irreconcilable with the practice of direct democracy as it had been practiced in Greece; and yet, if democracy was ever to be practiced, it must indeed be direct democracy, to the largest possible extent.
Hence it was necessary to find new ways and means to practice democracy. Rousseau was a man of great imagination. He was rather a dreamer and a poet than a political thinker. Giving reign to his imagination, he arrived at the conception of a General Will, and devised a system by which the General Will of a people could be ascertained. Any institution which could claim to embody the General Will, should be considered as a democratic institution.
Starting from the conception of individual freedom, Rousseau admitted that every member of a community had individual interests, and when in operation, the individual interests of all the members of the community cancelled each other. But apart from their individual interests, according to Rousseau’s theory of the origin of society in a social contract, the members of a community alienated their individual interests and pledged themselves to work for the common interest. Once individual interests have cancelled each other, there remains a residue of general interest based on the surrender of individual rights, and out of that surrender emerged the concept of the General Will.
This concept was fraught with dangerous consequences. When democracy was to be introduced in the post-revolutionary period, that is, after the defeat of Napoleon, this metaphysical concept of a General Will, interpreted in political terms, took the form of the delegation of power from the people to some other agencies. But already during the French Revolution, the dangerous significance of this doctrine of the General Will made itself felt, and it was on the claim that he represented the General Will of the French people that Robespierre tried to establish a dictatorship through the terroristic regime which practically destroyed the positive outcome of the French Revolution” (Pages:50, 51)
2. “On the one hand, we have the mass of people, and on the other, we have parties. The individual man and his judgment, his discretion and will are nowhere in the picture. Appeals are not made to individual voters and their power of reasoning, but to the sentiment of masses. The purpose of election propaganda is to create a state of mass hysteria, to create either hatred for one or bias in favour of some other party. Consequently, when the time comes for the sovereign people to make the crucial decision of selecting persons who can be entrusted with their fate for a period of four or five years, the electorate is in a state where no discriminating judgment is at all possible, whipped up into a state of frenzy and driven like cattle to the polling stations to cast their votes. With music, brass-bands, flags and shouting, the judgment of the people is dulled and benumbed; they are placed under some spell, and in that condition they are asked to decide their fate. This is naturally more so in backward countries, but on principle it is the same everywhere.
On the other hand, when votes are canvassed for a party, once the popular vote brings a man to the parliament, his responsibility is not to the people who vote for him, but to the party machinery which has ensured his election by supplying the money and the brass-band.”(Page:53)
3. “The first criticism of this formal democracy was offered by Socialists. From the time of Karl Marx, they pointed out these defects and deficiencies of parliamentary democracy, and came to the conclusion that parliamentary democracy degenerated in this way not because of its internal contradictions or the discrepancy between theory and practice, but because it is only an instrument for one particular class to establish its dictatorship. The corollary suggests itself logically: Since formal democracy is the dictatorship of one class, therefore the other classes or the class which are suppressed and exploited are entitled to overthrow the dictatorship of the oppressing and exploiting class and establish its own dictatorship. In course of time, this alternative came to be advocated by the “revolutionary” communist school of Marxists; the “reformist” Socialists, however, did not accept it and maintained that dictatorship was not inherent in Karl Marx’s teachings.
By advocating dictatorship as an alternative to a defective form of democracy, Marxist critics did not maintain that democracy was not desirable, but only that its bourgeois parliamentary form was defective. But that was not a sufficiently strong argument for maintaining that an out and out dictatorship is better than a veiled dictatorship or a defective democracy.”(Pages:53,54)
4. “In the period between the two wars from 1920 to 1939, Democracy, attacked from two sides by advocates of dictatorship, lost ground step by step, and, except in a few countries, was replaced by some form or other of dictatorship practically all over Europe.
But even then the advocates of democracy who, in the critical days, wanted to have a democratic front against Fascism on the one side and Communism on the other, did not see the inherent defects of democracy and did not feel the necessity of broadening their concept of democracy, so that it could stand the challenge and survive the crisis of the contemporary world. If we now think of a politics for the future, it implies that we are, on the one hand, rejecting the various forms of dictatorship and, on the other, realize that Democracy as practiced so far is not adequate. It cannot sand the crisis. Therefore, democratic principles must be reorientated. Democratic ideas must be enriched by experience, and a more effective form of democratic practice must be conceived.”(Page:55)
5. “The practice of delegation of power is a negation of Democracy, because it can never establish government of the people and by the people. It can, under the best of circumstances, only establish government for the people, which, again in the best of cases, may be a benevolent dictatorship, but not Democracy. It goes without saying that in a large country, with millions of inhabitants and where all power is concentrated in a centralized government, rule of the people and by the people is not possible. Therefore, we must think of a decentralized structure which will make a more direct form of Democracy a practical proposition.”(Pages:55,56)
6. “We start from the proposition that institutions, political or economic, are created by men. They are created by man to serve his purpose, which is the purpose of having a full life, a good life, and of developing all aspects of his life and all his potentialities. Every institution is as good as the men who work it. But in the modern world the relation between individuals and institutions has been reverse. Supreme importance is attached to institutions, and man is subordinated to them. Social progress is not visualized as the resultant of the development of individuals or groups of individuals, but as structural changes imposed from above, from time to time. This reversal of relations between man and man-made institutions evidently is a denial of the fundamental concept of Democracy, because it completely eliminated man and his sovereignty from the picture of things. Therefore, if a better form of political theory and practice is to be evolved, we shall have to see if this abnormal relation can be reversed again, if man can be placed in his proper position of primacy and supremacy.”(Pages:56,57)
7. “The general belief is that the common man cannot think for himself and is incapable to judge what is good or bad, for him and in general, and therefore, the common man must be led. For this reason we need either leaders or parties to lead the people and rule the countries. They might go to the extent of guaranteeing to the people the widest suffrage, but that is all they can do because, according to that philosophy, the people are not, and will never be, capable of ruling themselves.”(Pages:57,58)
8. “It is an unfortunate fact that owing to long disuse, because traditions and social institutions never appealed to them, a large number of men have been made to forget that they are born as thinking being and endowed with the power of judgment, that they can discriminate between what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad, without having to rely on any external authority for that knowledge. If the modern world is to come out of this perilous crisis, if the sovereign people is to emerge from this state of degradation, there is no other way than to make a growing number of men conscious of their essential human attributes. To awaken their self-respect and self-reliance, their pride to be men.”(Page:58)
9. “Even when democracies were composed only of a few thousand people, voters could be misled, unless they were educated. This ancient wisdom is even more true in our time. Those who are trying to give Democracy a chance to be practiced must realize that without education democracy is not possible.
But experience has proved that education measured in terms of literacy alone does not create guarantees for democratic government. What is needed is a different kind of education, an education which will not be imparted with the purpose of maintaining any given status quo, but with the sole purpose of making the individuals of a community conscious of their potentialities, help them to think rationally and judge for themselves, and promote their critical faculties by applying it to all problems confronting them.”(Pages:58, 59)
10. “Only when the monster called the masses is decomposed into its component men and women, will an atmosphere be created in which democratic practice becomes possible, in which there can be established governments of the people and by the people. In such an atmosphere, it will become possible to practice direct Democracy in smaller social groups, because to make individuals self-reliant, they must be freed from the feeling of being helopless cogs in the wheels of the gigantic machines of modern States, which allow them no other function than to cast a vote once in several years, and give them no idea of how governments function, so that they cannot even effectively help their government, if they wanted to.”(Page:59)
11. “Today, the State has become an abstraction. In the written Constitutions, the State is divided in three branches, the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. If that is all that the State is, then the States must exist only in the capitals and nowhere else. The State, supposed to be the political organization of society as a whole, has come to be completely divorced from the life of society, if you think of society in terms of the human beings constituting society. The individual has nothing to do with the State, that is, the political administration of his society. It exists only in some central place, faraway, beyond the reach and influence of the members of society, and from there makes decisions and imposes its decisions and the people has no say in them.”(Page:61)
12. “The first need is to break in our minds with the prejudice that power is the object of all politics, that anybody who wants to participate in politics and achieve anything at all, must have for his first and foremost object to come to power, on the assumption that otherwise nothing can be done, and this is the whole of politics. Party politics in our time is based on that assumption. Power must be captured in some way or other, be it by constitutional or by violent means. All schools of politics, revolutionary and otherwise, have that in common between them; they all must fight to come to power first before they can do anything in pursuance of their programmes. A party is organized with the object of capturing power. It is done with the ostensibly plausible argument that some people know just how society should be organized, and therefore the voters must vote for them so that they come to power and impose the blessings they have in mind from above on the people, who would otherwise never even think of those blessings, much less achieve them on their own.
That is why we say that party politics implies the denial of democracy; it implies that people cannot do anything by themselves; it is a denial of the potential intelligence and creativity of all men, of the sovereignty of the people. Democracy is an empty concept if sovereignty does not mean the ability of the people to do things themselves. If there must always be some-body to do things for them, it means the denial of the sovereignty of the people, the denial of the creativity and the dignity of man.”(Pages:62, 63)
13. “Against the prejudice that there can be no politics without parties and that parties can do nothing without power, there are two propositions. Firstly, power is not the primary object of politics; it is a means and there are other means; and secondly, party politics leads to concentration of power and hence carries in it the germs of the destruction of democracy. Political ends can be achieved without capturing power. Politics can be practiced without a party organization. The object of such a political practice will be to give the sovereign people the opportunity of exercising its sovereignty, to persuade the people not to surrender it by voting for anybody else expecting him to do the things they want to be done, but to vote for themselves, and do things themselves. To do those things being the function of government, by doing them themselves, they will increasingly assume the functions of government, and thereby create a government of the people and by the people.” (Page:63)
(to be continued)
Politics Power And Parties
Ajanta Publications India, Jawahar Nagar,