Print

This essay, written in 1986, draws a distinction between political democracy and economic democracy. The author argues that to bring about economic and social justice the economy should be decentralized and that structural changes have to be made which will put economic decision making in the hands of local people.


by P.R. Sarkar

June 1986, Calcutta

Nearly all the countries of the world today have come under some sort of democratic structure. Liberal democracy has been established in such countries as the USA, Great Britain, France and Canada, while in the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam and Eastern Europe socialist democracy is the dominant system. The plight of the people in liberal democratic (so-called democratic) countries is not as miserable as it is in communist countries, because in communist countries the political and economic system is imposed on society by party officials, causing untold human suffering and severe psycho-economic exploitation. Both liberal democracy and socialist democracy may be considered forms of political democracy because these systems are based on economic and political centralization.


Political Democracy

In all countries where democracy is in vogue today, people have been deceived into believing that there is no better system than political democracy. Political democracy has no doubt granted voting rights, but it has snatched away the right of economic equality. Consequently, there is gross economic disparity between the rich and the poor, immense inequality in people's purchasing capacity, unemployment, chronic food shortages, poverty and insecurity in society.

The type of democracy prevalent in India is also political democracy, and it has proved to be a unique system of exploitation. The Indian constitution was created by three groups of exploiters: the British imperialists, the Indian imperialists and the ruling parties representing the Indian capitalists. All the provisions of the Indian constitution were framed keeping an eye on furthering the interests of these opportunists. Just to hoodwink the masses, the people were granted the right of universal suffrage. Millions of Indians are poor, superstitious and illiterate, yet the exploiters, through such practices as making false promises, intimidation, gross abuse of administrative power and vote rigging, repeatedly win over the electorate. This is the farce of democracy. Once they form the government, they get ample opportunity to indulge in rampant corruption and political tyranny for five years. In the subsequent elections – whether on the provincial or state level – the same absurdity is repeated.

This type of political opportunism has been going on in India since independence. For the last thirty-five years, the political parties have maintained that in order to attain economic parity with the industrially developed countries of Europe, India must follow the democratic system. To support this argument, they cite the examples of America and Great Britain or China and the Soviet Union. The political leaders urge the electorate to vote in their favour at election time so that the country's starving masses can reap the benefits of a developed economy. But once the elections are over, the exploitation of the common people continues unabated in the garb of political democracy, and other areas of social life are completely neglected. Today millions of Indian citizens are being deprived of the minimum requirements of life and are struggling to procure adequate food, clothing, housing, education and medical treatment, while a handful of people are rolling in enormous wealth and luxury.

One of the most obvious defects of democracy is that voting is based upon universal suffrage. That is, the right to cast a vote depends on age. Once people reach a certain age, it is assumed that they have the requisite capacity to weigh the pros and cons of the issues in an election and select the best candidate. But there are many people above the voting age who have little or no interest in elections and are not conversant with social or economic issues. In many cases, they vote for the party rather than the candidate, and are swayed by election propaganda or the false promises of politicians. Those who have not reached the voting age are often more capable of selecting the best candidate than those who are entitled to vote. So age should not be the yardstick for voting rights.

Whether or not a candidate gets elected usually depends upon party affiliation, political patronage and election expenditure. In some cases it also depends on antisocial practices. Throughout the world, money plays a dominant role in the electoral process, and in nearly all cases, only those who are rich and powerful can hope to secure elected office. In those countries where voting is not compulsory, often only a small percentage of the population participates in the electoral process.

The prerequisites for the success of democracy are morality, education and socio-economico-political consciousness. Leaders especially must be people of high moral character, otherwise the welfare of society will be jeopardized. But today in most democracies, people of dubious character and those with vested interests are elected to power. Even bandits and murderers stand for election and form the government.

In almost all the countries of the world, the masses lack political consciousness. Cunning, erudite politicians take advantage of this shortcoming to confuse people and attain power. They resort to immoral practices such as bribery, vote rigging, booth capturing and buying of votes, and stand unopposed for elections. Consequently, the standard of morality in society is declining, and honest, competent people are relegated to the background. Moral leaders have less chance to win elections because election results are rigged through financial inducements, intimidation and brute force. In the present democratic system, all sorts of immoral and corrupt practices are given the opportunity to pervert society. The very nature of the present system is that it favours the capitalists and exposes the administration to immoral and corrupt forces.

The farce of democracy has been likened to a puppet show where a handful of power hungry politicians pull the strings from behind the scene. In liberal democracies, capitalists manipulate the mass media such as the radio, television and newspapers, while in socialist democracies the bureaucrats lead the country to the brink of destruction. In both forms of democracy, there is little scope for honest, competent leaders to emerge in society, and virtually no possibility for the economic liberation of the people.

Political democracy has become a great hoax for the people of the world. It promises the advent of an era of peace, prosperity and equality, but in reality it creates criminals, encourages exploitation and throws common people into an abyss of sorrow and suffering.

The days of political democracy are numbered. PROUT demands economic democracy, not political democracy. To make democracy successful, economic power must be vested in the hands of the common people and the minimum requirements of life must be guaranteed to all. This is the only way to ensure the economic liberation of the people. PROUT's slogan is: “To end exploitation we demand economic democracy, not political democracy.”

Economic Decentralization

In economic democracy, economic and political power are bifurcated. That is, PROUT advocates political centralization and economic decentralization. Political power is vested with the moralists, but economic power is vested with the local people. The principal goal of the administration is to remove all the impediments and obstacles which prevent the economic needs of the people being met. The universal aim of economic democracy is to guarantee the minimum requirements of life to all members of society.

Nature has been kind enough to provide abundant natural resources to every region of this earth, but she has not given guidelines on how to distribute these resources among the members of society. This duty has been left to the discretion and intelligence of human beings. Those who are guided by dishonesty, selfishness and mean-mindedness misappropriate these resources and utilize them for their individual or group interests rather than for the welfare of the whole society. Mundane resources are limited but human longings are limitless. Hence, for all the members of society to live in peace and prosperity, human beings have to adopt a system which ensures the maximum utilization and rational distribution of all resources. To achieve this, human beings will have to establish themselves in morality and then create a congenial environment for morality to flourish.

Economic decentralization means production for consumption, not production for profit. Economic decentralization is not possible under capitalism, because capitalist production always tries to maximize profit. Capitalists invariably produce at the lowest costs and sell at the highest profits. They prefer centralized production, which leads to regional economic disparity and imbalances in the distribution of the population. In the decentralized economy of PROUT on the other hand, production is for consumption, and the minimum requirements of life will be guaranteed to all. All regions will get ample scope to develop their economic potentiality, so the problems of a floating population or overcrowding in urban centres will not be allowed to arise.

Unless a country attains optimum development in industry and other sectors of the economy, it is impossible for it to be highly developed. If more than thirty to forty-five percent of a country's population is engaged in agriculture, there will be excessive pressure on the land. Such a country cannot become highly developed, nor can there be balanced, decentralized development in all sectors of the economy. India is a classic example of this. About seventy-five percent of India's population is dependent on agriculture for its livelihood.

In some democratic countries such as Canada and Australia a large percentage of the population is engaged in agriculture, and although these countries are regarded as agriculturally developed, they depend on industrially developed countries because they themselves are industrially undeveloped. For instance, Canada has traditionally been dependent on the USA, and Australia on Britain.

As far as India is concerned, as long as around seventy-five percent of the population is engaged in agriculture, the unbearable economic plight of the people will continue. Any country confronted with such circumstances will find it very difficult to meet its domestic and international responsibilities. The purchasing capacity of the people will keep decreasing, while economic disparity will go on increasing. The social, economic and political environment of the whole country will degenerate. India is a clear example of all these evils.

So, economic decentralization does not mean that the majority of the population will be dependent on agriculture for their livelihood or that the other sectors of the economy will remain undeveloped. Rather, each sector of the economy must strive for maximum development, and all sectors must strive for maximum decentralization.

In all the democratic counties of the world, economic power is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals and groups. In liberal democracies economic power is controlled by a handful of capitalists, while in socialist countries economic power is concentrated in a small group of party leaders. In each case a handful of people – the number can be easily counted on one's fingertips – manipulates the economic welfare of the entire society. When economic power is vested in the hands of the people, the supremacy of this group of leaders will be terminated, and political parties will be destroyed forever.

People will have to opt for either political democracy or economic democracy. That is, they will have to choose a socio-economic system based on either a centralized economy or a decentralized economy. Which one will they select? Political democracy cannot fulfil the hopes and aspiration of people or provide the basis for constructing a strong and healthy human society. The only way to achieve this is to establish economic democracy.

Requirements for Economic Democracy

The first requirement for economic democracy is that the minimum requirements of a particular age – including food, clothing, housing, education and medical treatment – must be guaranteed to all. Not only is this an individual right, it is also a collective necessity, because the easy availability of the minimum requirements will increase the all-round welfare of society.

The second requirement for economic democracy is that increasing purchasing capacity must be guaranteed to each and every individual. In economic democracy local people will hold economic power. Consequently, local raw materials will be used to promote the economic prosperity of the local people. That is to say, the raw materials of one socio-economic unit should not be exported to another unit. Instead, industrial centres should be built up wherever raw materials are available. This will create industries based on locally available raw materials and ensure full employment for all local people.

The third requirement for economic democracy is that the power to make all economic decisions must be placed in the hands of the local people. Economic liberation is the birthright of every individual. To achieve it, economic power must be vested in the local people. In economic democracy the local people will have the power to make all economic decisions, to produce commodities on the basis of collective necessity, and to distribute all agricultural and industrial commodities.

The fourth requirement for economic democracy is that outsiders must be strictly prevented from interfering in the local economy. The outflow of local capital must be stopped by strictly preventing outsiders or a floating population from participating in any type of economic activity in the local area.

For the success of economic democracy, PROUT must be implemented and the economic welfare of all people must be enhanced step by step. This in turn will lead to greater opportunities for the spiritual emancipation of human beings.

Finally, it should be remembered that economic democracy is essential not only for the economic liberation of human beings, but for the universal well-being of all – including plants and animals. Economic democracy will devise ways and means to effect the smooth progress of society by recognizing the unique value of both humans and non-humans alike.

June 1986, Calcutta
Published in:
Prout in a Nutshell Part 21 [a compilation]
Copyright Ananda Marga Pracarka Samgha (Central)