Radical Humanist Democracy – I
If we are to consider the powers and ideas that are at work in countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc. it is easy to understand that they are not stable democracies. The present global scenario gives us some idea regarding the new wave of Islamo-fascism taking root in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey etc. They are astonishingly successful either in capturing power or remaining as the dominant threat to individual liberty when viewed from the democratic point of view. From the Humanist, Rationalist, Skeptical and Atheistic perspectives, genuine democrats are always marginalized individuals or communities in these countries. The situation poses the grave problem of the role of humanists before, during and after elections as also the ‘how’ of their work as agencies for change. It must be possible for secular democrats to create telling impact upon the political losers as well as winners , even while their work is perhaps limited to the cultural field . Radical Humanists have long back considered this aspect. The inquiries have led to the concept of ‘Partyless Democracy’ (ie., political activity without parties )in which activists will go on working to create and spread democratic values among the voters, continually pressurizing the political groups and parties . Initially starting as study groups and discussion groups, the initiatives can take the form of ‘Citizens for Democracy’ , ‘Peoples’ Committees’ etc.. These are not intended as bodies striving to capture power. Though hoping for Radical changes, these groups won’t form political parties. The terms ‘Winners’ and ‘Losers’ become unnecessary. The fact is that the work of education for enlightenment is not a temporary make shift arrangement, but a continued effort for creative development. This idea is sure to be dismissed at the first instance itself by totalitarian forces. For them such endeavors are scoffers, construed as counter revolutionary. However, historical experiences have taught the human race very many things. The Radical Democratic idea put forward by M N Roy deserves to be put to test in the unstable democracies. This necessitates a clear understanding of how our notions of democracy and governance sprouted and developed and whether they actually are concepts that satisfy the requirements connoted by their definitions. The entire practice in the western world remains open before us which can be critically assessed. Perhaps it is better not to re-phrase the original ideas of Roy and his comrades in my own words. Hence, I am giving below the relevant sections in Roy’s own words which I believe will contribute to the clarification of related concepts.
I. Education for an Ideal State
1. “One of the oldest sages, Plato, attempted to visualize the possibility of an ideal State. He was the first to formulate a democratic theory based on the experience of the practice of direct Democracy in the Greek City States. On the basis of that experience of the politics in the market place of Periclean Athens, he came to the conclusion that Democracy presupposes education. 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 practised must realize that without education democracy is not possible.” (1)
2. “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. No government promotes that kind of education. The purpose of government education is to create mental conformism. You have to sing patriotic songs, salute national flags and read patriotic history as compiled and edited by governments, so that all people be merged in to a homogenous collectivity and forget that they are individuals endowed with certain sovereign faculties and entitled to be free. Hence there is danger in the demand that governments provide all education, especially in backward and largely illiterate countries. Because, Democracy will not be possible until people are taught to remember precisely their critical faculties which governments naturally fear, and apply them for the administration of their community. And this is not taught under government- sponsored systems of national education.” (2)
3. “Other ways and means must be found to create that atmosphere of intellectual awakening which is the precondition for democratic practice. Such an intellectual resurgence of the people will take place together with the resurrection of the individual from the grave of the mass. Only when the monster called the mass is decomposed in to 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 helpless 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.” (3)
4. But once the precondition is created, that every citizen and voter will have a minimum degree of intelligent understanding and the ability to think and judge for himself, then this helplessness and hopelessness of the individuals will disappear; they can create local democracies of their own. The voters need no longer remain scattered like isolated atoms. They can organize themselves on a local scale into peoples’ committees, and function as local republics, in which direct democracy is possible. Then at the time of elections, these people will no longer have to vote for anybody coming from outside; they will not only discuss in their committees the merits of candidates presented to them for taking or leaving, but nominate their own candidates from among themselves. To create this condition is the most important political activity.” (4)
1. P.58, ‘ Politics Power And Parties’, M N Roy,AjantaPublications, Jawahar Nagar, Delhi,110007
2. Pp. 58- 59, ibid
3. P. 59, , ibid
4. Pp. 59- 60, ibid
Radical Humanist Democracy – II
II. The concept of an Ideal State
1. “Political thought, ever since the days of Plato has theorized about the Ideal State, – a political organization of society in which the relations between man and man would be governed by justice.
Throughout the Antiquity and the Middle ages, political thought was dominated by abstract notion which served either the harmless purpose of building utopias or the sinister design of hiding the concrete realities of life. Plato was not quite the utopian that he has been made out by many uncritical historians of political philosophy. Nevertheless, his doctrine of the ideal state rested on a postulate which still holds good. For him, justice was not a vague conception. His definition of the notion of justice, which confounded thought throughout ages, was bitterly criticized by his opponents, particularly the sophists. But Plato did give a definition of the notion of justice, which set a concrete ideal for politics. Justice is good life; to establish good life, therefore, is the purpose of politics. In other words, an ideal state is that which established good life.
This clear purpose of politics could be confused so long as life was divided in to two compartments – spiritual and temporal. What appeared to be bad for the temporal life, for life on this earth, was not the criterion of good life. There was a life after – the spiritual life. The goodness of that life could not be measured by the standards of the life on this earth. Bad life on this earth could after all be the condition for a good life after. In other words, the hope of a good life after, justified a miserable life on this earth.
Political thought was developed in this direction by astute theologians in Europe as well as in India. Thomas Acquinas was a landmark in the history of political thought. He was a European by accident of birth. The political philosophy of the ancients, which started not from Plato’s idealism, but from the dictum of the Sophist Protagoras, that man is the measure of everything, was completely overwhelmed by theological sophistries which subordinated human relations to the metaphysical laws of a teleological moral order of the Universe.”(1)
2. “The store of cultural values, piled up since the dawn of civilization, is far from being exhausted. That precious heritage of the past provides a solid foundation for the magnificent structure of the future dreamt alike by romanticists or revolutionaries, idealists or utopians. If the germs of Socialism or Communism grew in the womb of the capitalist society, then the inspiration for a truly liberating philosophy for the future should also be found in the moral and spiritual values of the so-called bourgeois culture. No Marxist could disagree, without belying the master. To be true to their liberal tradition, the democratic Socialists should also find the ways and means to enable individual citizens to stand out in sovereign dignity, which is not attainable within the limits of formal parliamentarism based on atomized electorates.” (2)
3. “Politics cannot be divorced from ethics without jeopardizing the cherished ideal of freedom. It is a fallacy to hold that the end justifies the means. The truth is that immoral means necessarily corrupt the end. This is an empirical truth.” (3)
4. “Democratic practice which is no more than mere counting of heads is, in the last analysis, also a homage to the collective ego. It allows scope neither for the individual, nor for intelligence. Under the formal democratic system, unscrupulous demagogues can always come to the top. Intelligence, Integrity, wisdom, moral excellence, as a rule, count for nothing. Yet, unless the purifying influence of these human values is brought to bear upon the political organization of society, the democratic view of life cannot be realized.
The contemporary world is not poor in men and women incorporating those values of the humanist tradition. But disdaining demagogy, they can never come to the helm of public affairs. On the other hand, a dictatorial regime, even if established as the means to a laudable end, discourages the rise of that type. Thus, between formal democracy and dictatorship, humanity is deprived of the benefit of having its affairs conducted by spiritually free individuals, and is consequently debarred from advancing towards the goal of freedom.” (4)
5. “Moral sanction, after all, is the greatest sanction. It has been shown above that the real guarantee of parliamentary democracy is not law, but the moral conscience of the majority in power. In the last analysis, dictatorship also rests on a moral sanction; it claims to be the means to an end. But group morality is a doubtful guarantee against the temptation of power. Values operate through the behavior of individuals. Therefore, government composed of spiritually free individuals, accountable to their respective conscience, is the only possible guarantee for securing the greatest good to the greatest number.”(5)
6. “Even if elections are by universal suffrage, and the executive is also elected, democracy will still remain a formality. Delegation of power, even for a limited period, stultifies democracy. Government for the people can never be fully a Government of the people and by the people, and the people can have a hand in the Government of the country only when the pyramidal structure of the State will be raised on a foundation of organized local democracy. The primary function of the latter will be to make individual citizens fully conscious of their sovereign right and enable them to exercise the right intelligently. The broad basis of the democratic State, coinciding with the entire society, will be composed of a network of political schools, so to say. The right of recall and referendum will enable organized local democracy to wield a direct and effective control of the entire state machinery. They alone will have the right to nominate candidates for election. Democracy will be placed above parties representing collective egos. Individual men will have the chance of being recognized. Party loyalty and party patronage or other forms of nepotism will no longer eclipse intellectual independence, moral integrity and detached wisdom.
Such an atmosphere will foster intellectual independence dedicated to the cause of making human values triumph. That moral excellence alone can hold a community together without sacrificing the individual on the altar of the collective ego, be it the nation or the class. People possessed of that great virtue will command the respect of an intelligent public, and be recognized as the leaders of society automatically, so to say.” (6)
7. “Until the intellectual and moral level of the entire community is raised considerably, election alone cannot possibly bring its best elements to the forefront, and unless the available intellectual detachment and moral integrity are brought to bear on the situation, democratic regimes cannot serve the purpose of promoting freedom.”(7)
8. “Public life in the political field is dominated by political parties. Their main object is to capture power, because it is believed that nothing can be done except by governments in power. If the best of programmes is ever to be realized, the first need is power. Once it is taken for granted that capture of power, by whatever means, is the precondition of any good to be achieved, and without power nothing can be done, the logical conclusion is that anything and everything done for capturing political power is justifiable. Once popular mentality is dominated by the principle that anything done for a good end is right, morality disappears, and that is the main evil in the public life of all countries in the world today. All thinking people complain about this, and are looking for ways and means to introduce decency and morality in public life. Morality has disappeared because it is forgotten or ignored that only individuals can be moral. Morality is an attribute of men and men have been lost in the masses. If you deal with men , ultimately you an appeal to their reason and deal with their conscience. But in the mass, men’s reason and conscience are also submerged and suspended. Masses respond more easily to emotional appeals, because men merge in to masses on their lowest common denominator. The level of the politicians then adjusts itself to this mentality. Elections do not ensure democracy but put a premium on demagogy.” (8)
9. “Although the problem of reconciling the apparent contradiction of man and State has occupied political thought ever since antiquity, the eclipse of the individual at the cost of growing emphasis on the State, first under theocracy, later in monarchies, yet later in parliamentary democracies, not to mention the modern dictatorships, is one of the outstanding features of history. The 19th century held out hope for the triumph of the individual. But the two concepts with which it was heralded were defective. They were, parliamentarism in the political field, and laisser faire in economics. Parliamentary democracy formally recongnised the sovereignty of the individual, but in practice deprived all but a privileged few of effective use of that sovereignty. The sovereign individual became a legal fiction. For all practical purposes, most individuals were deprived of all power and even of their dignity
In the economic field, the doctrine of laisser faire gave unbridled liberty to a small minority to exploit the vast majority of the people everywhere. Free enterprise meant freedom of a few to exploit many. That being the practical manifestation of 19th century Radicalism – the political expression of which was Liberalism – it was bound to be discredited and lead to a new period of crisis.” (9)
10. “In the critical moment when this perspective became obvious, Socialism appeared on the scene and seemed to hold out the only hope for the majority of human beings. But Socialism frankly places the collectivity above the individual. Now, if society originated in the need of man to progress according to his inborn urge for freedom, with the help of the collective efforts of others like him; if society was created as an instrument to promote the progress of man as an individual, then Socialism or any collectivism should be regarded as an antithesis of the entire history of social evolution.” (10)
11. “So long as Socialism continued in the tradition of 19th century Liberalism, it attracted a large number of adherents from among the best of men everywhere. But it could not succeed anywhere. Ultimately, Socialism had to advance the concept of dictatorship as antithesis to parliamentary democracy, if it was to have any chance of succeeding. Parliamentary democracy had failed to achieve its ideals. The experience of parliamentary democracy had in fact raised the question whether democracy was possible at all.
As people were losing hope in one form of political organization, it was necessary to advance an alternative. The alternative advanced to the disappointing form of parliamentary democracy was dictatorship. Only after a certain section of socialists came forward with that novel proposition, could Socialism gather strength. With that strength did it finally capture power in one country, and to many open-minded people, it appeared that the world had at last emerged from the crisis precipitated by the failure and decline of 19th century Liberalism, and entered a new chapter of human progress.” (11)
12. “These collectivist ideas have had yet another consequence. They have resulted in a certain mental attitude, a habit of thinking, which completely disregards considerations of ethics, of morality in social behavior. They have led to confusion about the relation of means and end. On the one hand, an end is made of the means. On the other, any means is believed to be good enough to achieve a desired end. For the last hundred years, a growing section of mankind had come to believe that Socialism, or Communism as it came to be called subsequently, is necessary for establishing freedom and progress, and ultimately it came to be believed that Socialism or Communism as such is the goal. But why should Socialism or Communism be our goal? Presumably because we believe that under Socialism or Communism we shall have greater freedom and happiness. Thus it is obvious that Socialism or Communism is only an instrument, a means to an end, and not an end in itself.” (12)
13. “The political and social practice of Liberalism having negativated the moral excellence of its philosophy, parliamentary democracy was bound to be discredited. If that was not the case, the stormy rise of Fascism could not be rationally explained. Fascism grew out of the crisis of parliamentary democracy, within the limits of which the social and economic problems confronting Europe in the inter-war period could not be solved. In order to survive Fascism, democracy must outgrow the limitations of formal parliamentarism based on an atomized and therefore helpless electorate. An organized democracy, in a position to wield a standing control of the state should be the political foundation of the new social order. By reorienting itself in this direction, democratic Socialism will open up before the modern progressive humanity a new vista of political and economic reconstruction, which will neither postulate an indefinite period of blood and tears, nor be clouded by doubts about the alternative courses of peaceful development.”(13)
1. (Articles written by M.N. Roy for the weekly journal, Independent India.),1945. Acknowledgement: Essence of Royism, compiled by G.D. Parikh, Nav Jagrity Samaj Publication, 1987. ( Chapter:1. Problem of Freedom, Pp – 32,33.)
2. Pages – 163, 164: New Orientation, M.N.Roy, Ajanta Publications (India), Jawahar Nagar, Delhi – 110 007
3. Page – 164: ibid
4. Pp – 165, 166: ibid
5. Page – 166: ibid
6. Page – 167:ibid
7. Page – 168: ibid
8. Pp – 174, 175: Politics power and Parties, M.N. Roy, Ajanta Publications(India), 1981.
9. Pages 19, 20: ibid
10. Page – 20: ibid
11. Page – 21:ibid
12. Pp – 22, 23:ibid
13. Pp – 162,163: New Orientation, M.N.Roy, ibid
( to be continued )