Today, democracy has been like a rubber cap to fit all kinds of heads – autocratic domestic rulers, foreign aggressors, and perpetrators of genocides – alike. Democracy has been reduced to an exportable commodity by imperialist powers. Democracy in monopoly capitalist economies has been reduced to mere formal democracy, with people only participating in election rituals every few years. In face of economic and social inequality in new forms, the slogan of political equality and liberty became an empty phrase. Political democracy in the underdeveloped countries is found all the more pathetic. Soviet style socialist democracy slowly turned into mechanistic democracy that reduced vast masses of people into silent spectators benefiting only few elites. The biggest challenge of our time is, therefore, to make democracy really democratic and turn it into ‘nectar for progress’ for the vast majority of oppressed and deprived humanity. And, the masses of the people are the ultimate creators of the history.
Honorable Chairperson of the session, distinguished participants, and ladies and gentlemen,
1. First of all, I would like to thank the organizers of the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, 2006, for inviting me to share this forum with distinguished international leaders and eminent personalities from various fields. I take it as a rare honor extended to a revolutionary movement and its leadership that has been fighting against monarchical feudal autocracy and for establishing a democratic republic in Nepal.
2. The subject we are discussing right now has been very titillatingly titled as: ‘Democracy: The Forbidden Fruit or Nectar for Progress?’ But before discerning whether ‘democracy’ is ‘forbidden fruit’ or ‘nectar for progress’, we may have to find out whether there can be a single, universally acceptable definition of ‘democracy’. As everybody knows, ‘democracy’ has been like a rubber cap to fit all kinds of heads- from the most autocratic domestic rulers to the naked foreign aggressors and perpetrators of worst genocides. Also ‘democracy’ has been reduced to an exportable commodity to be exchanged with precious petroleum products and other profitable resources. Moreover, ‘democracy’ has been made a convenient tool by the imperialist powers to wage cold, (and ‘hot’ as well) war against socialism and communism.
However, talking in the more serious vein, the question of democracy and dictatorship is one of the most important ideological and political issues of our time. The political battle in the 21st century is going to be fought over the question of democracy. Whosoever is able to develop and practice the correct notion and form of democracy suited to the new era is going to rule the world.
So, what is democracy? Can there be an eternal form of democracy applicable to all time and places? Democracy literally means ‘rule of the people’ (from Greek, ‘demos’=people. And ‘kratos’=rule). That is, democracy is a form of state or instrument of class rule where people are the source of all powers and exercise control over the state. But ‘people’ is an historical concept, and in class divided societies ‘people’, too, are divided into classes. Hence, democracy also undergoes changes with historical development of society and assumes a distinct class character according to the dominant class of people it represents.
Thus, unlike the assumption of Samuel P. Huntington, we have seen basically ‘two waves’ and two types of democracy in history. The first wave was that of bourgeois or capitalist democracy, after the fall of feudal absolutism, mainly in Europe and America, since 18th and 19th centuries. The second wave was that of proletarian or socialist democracy. After the rise of monopoly capitalism in the 20th century, the bourgeois or parliamentary democracy has been reduced to mere formal or electoral democracy and is in deep crisis. This is part of the serious ideological crisis mankind is facing today.
It is, therefore, imperative that the ills afflicting both the bourgeois and proletarian democracies be correctly diagnosed and new theoretical and practical advances be made for the development of democracy in the 21st century.
3. ‘Equality, liberty and fraternity’ as codified in the French Revolution, are the cornerstones of capitalist democracy. The notion of equality and liberty played historically progressive role to shatter feudal inequality and bondage in all spheres of life. To that extent, bourgeois democracy in its initial stage of competitive capitalism played a progressive role and still has some validity, particularly in societies in a stage of transition from feudalism to capitalism.
But with the rise of monopoly capitalism and concomitant rise of economic and social inequality in new forms, the slogan of political equality and liberty became an empty phrase. As Marx, said: “Rights can never be higher that the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.” Thus the political democracy raised over monopoly capitalist economic base got reduced to mere formal democracy, with majority of the people only participating in election rituals every few years. This is the common scenario of farcical state of democracy in most of the developed capitalist countries today.
The state of political democracy in the underdeveloped countries is found all the more pathetic. With heavy remnants of pre-capitalist feudal socio-economic structures and accompanying national, regional, gender, and caste inequalities, the exercise of political equality and liberty there becomes just meaningless and ridiculous. One can observe this farce of electoral democracy better in South Asia than anywhere else.
I hope these critical remarks won’t be mistaken as an apology for any kind of autocracy still prevailing in many countries. Autocracy can in no way be substitute for formal democracy. Rather our stress is to transform formal democracy into real democracy by doing away with a plethora of inherent inequalities at the socio-economic base and by changing the total social relations of production in a progressive manner. In other words, only by ensuring equality and liberty in the socio-economic base can political equality and liberty be exercised in the real sense.
4. Socialist democracy in the form of “Workers’ and Peasants’ Soviets” was introduced after the great October Revolution in Russia. The Soviet model was later sought to be extended to other socialist countries. The distinguished features of socialist democracy were creation of appropriate socialist economic base for corresponding democratic superstructure, exercise of direct democracy by the masses, conversion of representative institutions from ‘talking shops’ into ‘working bodies’, etc. This was in practice the transformation of formal democracy into real democracy for the overwhelming majority of the working and oppressed masses.
However, in course of time the socialist democracy lost its steam and slowly turned into formal and mechanistic democracy. The initiative and activism of the masses of the people in state affairs ultimately died down. Only a handful of leaders were active in running the state and the vast majority of people were reduced into silent spectators. The situation aggravated more during the Stalin period. Though Mao made some bold experiments to revive and develop socialist democracy, his efforts did not result in any qualitative advance.
Why did socialist democracy ultimately fail? Why did it have to bear the stigma of ‘totalitarianism’ from its adversaries? If the revolutionary communists of the 21st century have ‘to win the battle for democracy’’, as Marx and Engels had declared in the famous Communist Manifesto, we must dare to question the past practice in socialist democracy and take some bold initiatives.
Our Party has adopted a resolution on ‘development of democracy in the 21st century’ and put forward some new theses. Among others, the most important thesis has been to accept and organize multi-party competition within stipulated constitutional framework even in future socialist state. This idea of multi-party competition within socialist state framework is a big step forward in revitalization and development of socialist democracy. Only through this way the inherent monopolistic and bureaucratic tendencies of communist parties in power can be checked and socialist democracy institutionalized. Moreover, a suitable mechanism must be found and practiced to ensure constant control, supervision and intervention of the masses of the people in state affairs. Only then can it be a true democracy in the sense of ‘rule of the people’.
5. Distinguished Participants and Friends,
In Nepal, we are right now engaged in development of suitable forms of democracy in both historical stages of societal development, i.e. the capitalist and socialist stages.
First, we are trying to abolish monarchical feudal autocracy, ruling for the last two and a half centuries, and usher in a democratic republic. The recent political agreement between the Seven-Party Alliance Government and the CPN (Maoist) is aimed at conducting a free and fair election to the Constituent Assembly under an interim government to institutionalize the democratic republic. This way we want to create a new peaceful and democratic political mainstream and end the 11-year long violent upheavals in the country.
Second, we are engaged in a vigorous ideological and political debate, both inside and outside the Party, about developing socialist democracy with multi-party competition, among other things, as its essential features. For, we have deep conviction that revolution cannot be repeated but can only be developed or improved upon. Unless the past mistakes of the 20th century are rectified, the socialist project cannot be revived in the 21st century. And without a revival of the socialist movement in a developed and higher form at the global level, humanity cannot be saved from the rapacious plunder and aggression of world imperialism. ‘Socialism or barbarism’, as Rosa Luxemburg rightly said, is the only destiny of humanity in the 21st (and if survived more, in later as well) century.
6. Finally, coming to the question posed, whether democracy is a ‘forbidden fruit’ or ‘nectar for progress’, so far it has been a ‘forbidden fruit’ for the overwhelming majority of the people reeling under class, national, regional, gender, caste and communal oppressions. And it has been ‘nectar for progress’ for a handful of moneybags and people in power.
The biggest challenge of our time is, therefore, to make democracy really democratic and turn it into ‘nectar for progress’ for the vast majority of oppressed and deprived humanity.
Whether somebody will become a ‘superpower’ or not in the future will be determined by his/her ability to develop and practice real democracy and harness the boundless potential and creative energy of the masses of the people. Let us all remember, the masses of the people are the ultimate creators of history.
|November 18, 2006||Prachanda|
|New Delhi||Chairman,CPN (Maoist)|
Speecch Delivered At:
LEADERSHIP SUMMIT 2006
New Delhi, India
Organized by: Hindustan Times