DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISM AND INDIA
Former Chief Justice of India
Democratic Socialism is a compound word. It is made up of two expressions, democracy and socialism. If socialism therein is understood as statism, the expression is a contradiction in terms. It should, therefore, be interpreted in such a way that the two concepts could be harmonised. The concept of democratic socialism is a compromise formula.
Democracy by definition is a form of Government where people exercise their power to take political decisions through their representatives selected by the process of free elections. The essence of democracy is that it is a representative and responsible Government.
The word democracy has acquired so much prestige in political science that many governments which differ from democracy as chalk from cheese, call themselves democracies with or without prefixes. Presidential democracy, Parliamentary democracy, Constitutional democracy, People’s democracy, Social democracy, Economic democracy, Participating democracy, Basic democracy and Guided democracy are some of such variations. The fundamentals of the Parliamentary democracy are as follows:
(1) There is a head of a State and he is only a titular head and acts exclusively on the advice of the Ministers. (2) There is a Cabinet comprising of a Prime Minister (who is the Leader of the Majority or Coalition Party) and the Ministers nominated by him. The Cabinet has a common policy and enjoys the confidence of the majority of the Legislature. (3) The Government can only remain in office as long as the Legislature supports its policies. (4) Though the Prime Minister has the dominant voice, the responsibility of the Cabinet is collective. The Cabinet stands or falls together, though sometimes a Minister drops out or resigns without bringing about a Cabinet crisis.
The following are the four pillars of the system:
(1) The principle of majority rule, (2) The willingness of the minority for the time being to accept the decision of the majority. (3) The existence of great political parties divided by broad issues of policy rather than by sectional interests. (4) The existence of a mobile body of political opinion.
The following are the values of democracy:
(1) The legal rights of the individuals; (2) Equality before law; (3) The control of Government by people; and (4) The Rule of law.
India is a Constitutional democracy. It is governed by a written Constitution. Constitutional democracy is an evolved device to control the tremendous power the executive, over the years, has gathered in its hands. Under the Indian Constitution, the said power is subject to three limitations: (1) The sovereign power is divided between the Centre and the States. (2) It is subject to fundamental rights. (3) Its acts are subject to judicial review.
Briefly stated, the Indian Constitutional democracy, though it is a Government by the people and for the people, it is a limited Government, where the people’s rights are preserved subject to laws of social control.
Socialism has become so popular that every party calls itself a socialist party and denies its appellation to another. “Socialism” has been compared to “a hat which has lost its shape because everybody wears it”. It parades in the following garbs among others: (1) Authoritarian Socialism, (2) State Socialism or Collectivism, (3) Co-operative Socialism, (4) Competitive Socialism, (5) Selective Socialism, (6) Mixed Socialism, (7) Market Socialism, (8) Humanist Socialism, (9) Socialist Democracy, (10) Gandhian Socialism, (11) Guild Socialism, (12) Syndicalism, (13) Anarchism, (14) Fabian Socialism, (15) Indian Socialism, (16) Socialistic Pattern of Society, and (17) National Socialism.
Under the canopy of “Socialism” different concepts with or without qualifications ranging between authoritarianism or statism and social control of economic power, are sheltered. The subtle distinctions between different types of socialism is not germane to the present subject. It is enough if some of them are noticed which bring out the essential features of socialism.
Marx was a great revolutionary and a social scientist. He was the exponent of authoritarian socialism and materialistic conception of history. He postulated a State where man would be freed from social and spiritual constraints and would be raised to the height of his personality. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels gave the modern socialist movement its Magna Charta in the Communist manifesto of 1847 and its Bible in Daskapital (1867-95). The fundamentals of his materialistic philosophy are the following:
(a) The conflicts in the world were due to the contradictions between the productive forces and the social relations or property relations.
(b) Society changed from time to time through revolution when the said conflict reached a breaking point and when the social conditions became ripe for revolution.
(c) The ancient society was based on the relationship of slave and master, the medieval society on feudalism, i.e., Lord and serfs, the existing society on capital and labour and that each society went through a revolution to pass over to the next. He expressed the view that in the same way, by the next revolution, capital and labour would be destroyed, that the people and the State would become one and that what was produced, by the combined labour, would be distributed after the necessary deductions were made between all the people on the principle “from each according to his capacity and to each according to the need.”
(d) The conflict between the labour and capital was explained on the doctrines of “surplus value” and “alienation.”
(e) “Alienation” is a condition in which man’s own powers appear as self-subsistent forces or entities controlling his actions. It is the projection of the social forces of man on to an arbitrary external power. Marx pleads for the recognition by man of his natural qualities and rehabilitation of himself as a social being.
(f) Surplus value is the value of the labour, which should go to the labourers but which the employer usurps. A commodity is simply crystallized labour. The excess of market value of that commodity over the cost (labour and other costs) is surplus value. The same idea was expressed by another author in popular terms thus: “A wage worker sells his labour power to a capitalist in two bits: One part of his working day, he spends to earn wages; the other part he spends working for nothing but creating surplus value for the capitalist.”
(g) The revolution comes out of “the womb of the capitalism”. It is possible only in a highly industrialised society. By the continuous process of exploitation the workers become impoverished. The goods will be in a glut without a market. The proletariat will constitute the overwhelming majority of the society. The social conditions by the operation of economic laws, will then be ripe for revolution.
(h) After the revolution there would be dictatorship of the proletariat, an instrument which would usher in a stateless and classless society.
(i) Marx has not described the mechanics of the dictatorship. Somewhere in his writings he described the proletariat as men in misery. How could miserable people become dictators? Only power addicts exploit misery or create misery and exploit the same to become dictators. It is more likely that Marx did not mean by the expression “Dictatorship”, an autocratic rule but visualised an institution which approximates to democracy, as on his theory the toilers or the workers at the time of revolution will be comprised of the overwhelming majority of the population.
Lenin was also a great man and he gave a twist to Marxism leading to results which Marx never intended. Though Lenin theoretically accepted the principles of Marxism and indeed propounded them with clarity in his earlier treatises, in their application to his country’s problems, he departed from its fundamentals. While Marx premised that a revolution presupposed the existence of a highly industrialised society, Lenin introduced it in a predominantly agricultural society. While Marx said that a revolution would be possible only when the proletariat constituted an overwhelming majority of a society, Lenin captured power when the Bolshevists were in minority. Indeed when the last of the Czarists was dethroned in February 1917, Lenin was not in Russia at all but in Switzerland from where he was smuggled into Russia by the German Kaiser. The great October Revolution had nothing whatsoever to do with destruction of Czarists Monarchy. What had actually been destroyed was only truly representative proletariat democratic Government that Russia ever had. In the only election that was held in Russia, just before Lenin’s Bolshevists party seized power, the socialist parties emerged victorious and the Communists were defeated. The seizure of power was a coup d’etat by a minority.
Instead of the despotism of the proletariat, he introduced the despotism of the party.
He organised a disciplined party and a bureaucracy.
He provided the party with the operation cost, according to which the end justifies the means, the sole end being the interests of the party.
After the Civil War, he founded the Union of Soviet Social Republic.
He set up a repressive Police system and gave it an unlimited unquestioned power over the people’s lives.
He believed in international Communism.
Stalin perfected the totalitarian machine installed by Lenin. He controlled the lives of the people through the sophisticated instruments of terror. His achievements in the cause of Communism may be summarisedthus: (1) He consolidated his power by purges. He eliminated not only his enemies but millions of his own party men. (2) He gave up the slogan of international Communism and replaced it by that of socialism in one country. (3) He initiated five-year plans, the first plan was put in operation in 1958. (4) He built up the system of State Capitalism.
Mao led the revolution in China through the peasants and not urban proletariat. Indeed the revolution was spread over 20 years during which period he reared armies and built up administrative machinery. He was making experiments in collectivism through coercion and regimentation. In his hands communism has become the gospel of the regimentation of thought and action through force and conditioning of mind. It seeks to exploit foreign countries through “guerilla tactics”. It has become a menace to the neighbouring countries.
The result is that there is an unbridgeable gap between theory and practice. The aim of communism is Stateless Society. But in fact, it has become a closed society under the grip of a dictator or a group of dictators. While in theory it visualises the situation when the people enjoy the basic rights in the governance of the State itself, in practice the freedoms of people are mercilessly suppressed. It seeks to usher in the utopia by pursuing the totalitarian path and by suppressing freedoms which is a negation of democracy. Whatever discussion is allowed and whatever processes of election to particular institutions are adopted, every thing is done to order and under the canopy of the policy laid down by the man or men at the top. A scrutiny of the process of election to the Soviet of Union and the Soviet of Communities demonstrates that the democratic forms are adopted, but the spirit is ignored. The voters are asked to approve the names selected by the man in power and the high percentage of votes polled reflects the conditioned mind of the servile electorate. What authority thinks is good for the people, should be accepted as good. The claim of communism to the lable of democracy is based on a fallacy. It equates the people’s rule for the people, with the rule of the despot which is presumed to be good for the people.
It is, therefore, clear that communism, as evolved in Russia, is nothing more than State Capitalism and the entire life of the people is controlled through bureaucracy and force. The elections that are staged in Russia are not democratic elections at all, for the two houses of the Supreme Soviet are filled by party nominees selected by the top men without any contest. Indeed the Supreme Soviet only records the policies settled and dictated by the party machine. It follows that if Socialism means Communism, it cannot co-exist with democracy. They are contradictory in terms. One stands for free elections and the other for autocratic rule, one believes in a free and equal society and the other asserts that an equal society can be ushered in only through the suppression of freedoms. One believes in State ownership of the instruments of production and distribution and the other in the individual right to property, subject to the laws of social control. Both cannot co-exist.
But the doctrinaire socialism asserts that socialism could be brought about through real genuine democratic processes. In essence it is communal ownership of land and capital by a democratic State. It aims at collective organisation of the society. It may be described as State Socialism. State Socialism believes in Parliamentary democracy and nationalisation of the means of production and distribution.
The only difference between Capitalism and State Socialism is that under the latter the means of production are owned and managed by the State instead of the private entrepreneurs. It has all the evils of capitalism without its good points. In it there is greater scope for the exploitation of the weaker sections of the community, and the voters. As the entire economic power is drawn into the hands of the political bosses and the committed bureaucracy controlled by them it will finally end in one-party system. It will help to manipulate the electorate through power, purse, patronage and propaganda. A point of time will come when autocratic power will be exercised through democratic processes; the forms will be maintained and the spirit will lose their freedoms. Indeed the workers will be in a worse position than under a private employer in an advanced country. As the State becomes the sole employer, and the sole capitalist, the workers will be at its mercy and the Trade Unions will become its agents utilised only to compel the obedience of the workers on its terms. To use the terminology of Marx, the State takes the surplus value created by the working class and peasants. Though theoretically State Socialism and democracy can co-exist, in practice and in the process democracy, as understood in political science, will cease to exist. Some of the modern eminent thinkers like Milovan Dijilas, Louis Fisher, the authors of “Twentieth Century Socialism”, Bertrand Russell, Lord Atlee. R. H. S. Crossman, William H. Hobson, Anatole Stab, Andrew Sakharov expressed themselves practically against Authoritative State Socialism. It is manifest that ‘State or Authoritative Socialism’ and democracy cannot go together.
But a pragmatic concept of ‘Democratic Socialism’ also has been evolved in political science, which properly implemented harmonizes the doctrine of socialism and democracy, without depriving either of its fundamental principles. The Socialist democracy in Western Europe particularly in Scandinavian countries on the basis of experience gained, have given up nationalisation and State ownership of the means of production (Land and Capital) and accepted mixed or dual economy as a means to achieve the new social order. They coined new slogans to define their aims: Sweden’s objective is “a house for the people”, Danes’ “The greatest possible happiness for the greatest number of people”, Norwegians’ “Security regardless of individual success’. The principle of allocation between the public and private sector, differs from State to State. Briefly stated they are:
- The infrastructure in the public sector and all other services in private sector. 2. Community services, i.e., services such as education, health, medical, urban transport, public utility, cultural programmes, etc., in the public sector and production of material goods in private sector. 3. Services and goods, which cannot be done or produced by the private sector, because of lack of finance or know-how, in the public sector and the rest in the private sector. 4. Private enterprise to do the job of producing material goods subject to social control by the State, i.e., the State regulates the activities of the private sector to the extent necessary to subservesocial purposes. “Free enterprise as possible and control as necessary.” 5. Technostructure in charge of production subject to State regulation of demand.
This division is based purely on economic considerations having regard to the circumstances obtaining in a country. But in the backward countries the division is made on ideological and political considerations in order to draw the entire economic power in the hands of the men in authority and perpetuate their rule, with the result, in the name of democratic socialism, the economy is reduced to chaotic conditions making the slogan of equal society a mirage.
While State socialism stands for the State ownership of all means of production and distribution, democratic socialism believes in individual liberty subject to the laws of social control which may in exceptional cases take the form of nationalisation. While the former leads to autocracy, this doctrine strengthens democracy. It seeks to establish an egalitarian society through democratic processes without unduly restricting the freedoms of the people.
It follows from the aforesaid discussion that the doctrine of socialism can be approached from two perspectives: (1) the end of the objective; and (2) the means or the machinery to achieve the end.
Socialism is a social and political movement striving to bring about a new and better system of human relations. It is the system of ideas, concerning desirable social changes. It seeks to bring about an equal and free society. That was the aim of Marx, Engels and Lenin. That was also the objective of every democratic party in the 20th century. But if socialism is defined from the perspective of the means to achieve the desired end, there is conflict between democracy and communism. Socialism of the Communist countries lay emphasis on the State control of the means of production and distribution; whereas democracies rely upon mixed economy and the rule of law reach the desired social ends. In the authoritarian socialism of Communist countries, statism is the integral part of socialism, in democratic socialism, freedoms and the rule of law are part of it. The divergence between the two therefore mainly rests on the means. That is the justification for the hope of the optimists, that both systems may converge in future.
Does Indian Constitution provide for socialism? The Indian Constitution in sonorous terms resolved to constitute India into a sovereign democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. The preamble is not a platitude; it is sought to be implemented through the provision of the constitution; indeed the preamble is a condensed version of the philosophy.
The ingredients of the Indian Constitution may be briefly stated thus: In the political field it provides for a federation and Parliamentary democracy subject to specified limitations; in the economic field for individual rights subject to the laws of social control; in the social field, for social justice, i.e., right of the backward and underprivileged people to the State’s protection against the ruthless competition of life; in the legal field for rule of law, in which the social and economic justice is inextricably integrated and in the religious field the right to the freedom of conscience. The combined effect of these ingredients may for convenience of reference be described as a Welfare State. A Welfare State is a State where there is prosperity, gainful employment, equality, freedom and social justice. The Constitution directs the ushering in of such a State through democracy and rule of law. Both the means and the end are important. Indeed the means and the end are part of the Welfare State.
This high ideal of a new social order is projected in paras 3 and 4 of the Indian Constitution. They represent the core of the Indian constitutional philosophy. Part III enshrines the Fundamental Rights and Part IV declares the Directive Principles. Both are fundamental for the governance of the country.
There may be a conflict between the fundamental rights and the laws of social control and statutory rights. The Constitution created an independent judiciary to solve these conflicts. The judiciary has to decide both on the scope of the fundamental rights, the permissible limits of the laws of social Control and to decide also on the validity of laws creating statutory rights on the basis of tests of legitimate encroachment on the said rights. Out of this conflict evolves the new social order by the process of judicial adjustment and through the rule of law. If the statutory rights have become crystallized and the State would carry enforcement, they could be raised to the pedestal of fundamental rights by suitable amendments to the Constitution. The new list of fundamental rights would in their turn become subject to justiciable laws of social control. By these continuous interaction of the fundamental rights and the laws of social control through the medium of judicial process the Constitution envisaged an organic growth of socio-economic justice in a free society.
This constitutional design has been disfigured by the constitutional amendments introducing a totalitarian slant in the economic field removing the judicial checks. The recent 24th and 25th amendments enable the State to introduce State Capitalism, euphemistically called State Socialism.
The Indian Constitution therefore rejected capitalism of the 19th century variety, communism, statism and all varieties of totalitarianism but under the wide canopy of constitutional philosophy, liberalism and democratic socialism, as I described earlier, are permitted. Under it, means and end are equally important and the new social order is directed to be brought about through democracy and rule of law.
In the premises the protagonists of democratic socialism could have worked out their ideology within the four corners of the Constitution and they need not have joined the chorus of totalitarianism and disfigured the Constitution. If the parties whose ideology is democratic socialism failed to achieve results all these years, the fault is not with the Constitution but with the persons who worked it.