Weekly, January 2001
What Kind of Party?
by Hardial Bains
The entire world is being compelled to accept the thesis that "retrogression is essential because there is no alternative." In the sphere of the economy, it is said there is no alternative to unemployment and insecurity. In the political sphere, it is said there is no alternative to the rule of a minority political elite over the majority electorate. In the social and cultural sphere, it is said there is no alternative to spiritual devastation and all-round degradation. In the relations between people and nations, it is said there is no alternative to racism, sexism, fascism and war. In the attitude towards the natural environment, it is said there is no alternative to its unplanned use and destruction.
The bottom line is that we are led to believe "there is no alternative". This pretext is used to justify what cannot be justified. The use of force against Iraq is one such example. The frequent threat that force will be used to settle conflicts between peoples and nations is another. Is there an alternative? Yes, it can be said in a forceful manner that human civilization has advanced by seeking alternatives.
What kind of attitude is it that justifies retrogression and making everything worse? How can explanations be justified which block the society from going forward, under the pretext that there is no alternative?
CPC(M-L) was established in 1970 along the lines advocated by V.I. Lenin, as "a Party of the new type." A lot of objections have been raised to this kind of a Party but there have also been a lot of fine minds all over the world who have militated in the ranks of such parties. Is there an alternative to such a Party, besides rejecting the other kinds of parties as is being done on a broad scale at this time?
Who Should Take Power?
It is necessary to carry out public discussion on what kind of Party is needed at this time. This discussion will necessarily include the important issue of who is to come to power. As the society develops, it makes certain things superfluous. In the sphere of politics, can it be said that the old type of political parties, in the sense of the kinds of parties which we are familiar with, have become superfluous? Such parties exist for purposes of capturing political power. Should the aim of capturing political power remain the main reason for organizing a political party? Elections Canada does not recognize a political party unless it fields at least fifty candidates. It claims that this is required as proof that the Party is serious in its attempt to get into power. Should such criteria be required for a party to be officially recognized? It is also generally known that the electorate is upset with the political process and the politicians. What does the electorate want? One thing is quite clear. The electorate wants to govern after the next election. In other words, the electorate wants to ensure that all electors have the right to elect and be elected and that they can exercise control over the decisions the governing bodies take.
Representative Democracy Is Not Enough
The political system dating back to the 1860 s and as it has evolved since, provides the political parties with the decisive role in the process of government. According to the current system, political parties are supposed to present their political programmes, and the electors are to choose one of the parties which they feel would best represent them during an assigned period of time. In Canada, this period is set at a maximum of five years. If the electorate is not satisfied with the governing political party, it is given the option of choosing another during the subsequent election. However, the electorate is not satisfied with this system. It is giving a message loud and clear that the electors want to represent themselves. They no longer trust those who are said to be elected representatives. Even though it is said the electorate can vote for the candidate of their choice, these candidates are selected by the parties.
Why are the electors rejecting this representative democracy which has evolved over a period of more than twelve decades? The reason is quite obvious. Representative democracy was established to ensure a rule of law as decided by those who belonged to one peer group, men of property. They gave each other equal rights to elect and be elected as representatives who would govern for a determined period of time. Such a democracy worked so long as the vast majority of the people were not included in the franchise. They were considered to be a mere productive force and kept in ignorance. However, the society has developed and universal suffrage has been won. Nonetheless, it is still owners of property who decide who should represent the society. Class privileges influence the outcome of elections while the society which elected representatives are said to represent no longer belongs only to men and women of property. The general interest of the society goes far beyond the general interest of the propertied classes. Such an objective development has its reflection in the consciousness of the electorate. The electorate is now demanding that changes be made to the political process.
Is Class Democracy the Answer?
The Great October Revolution which took place in Russia in 1917 brought forth a new kind of democracy. That democracy objectively declared itself in favour of the working class and other working people. It also gave a new definition to the political process. The new process facilitated the election of workers and others who would represent their own class interests. A single party emerged as the sole political form of consciousness and organization of the working class. All other organizations of the working class and working people were made subordinate to this ruling party. This political process elected a government which was subordinate to the legislative body. The legislative body emerged supreme. It determined the constitutional and all other affairs of the society. Elections took place at regular intervals and the electorate both selected and elected its candidates. This system existed for more than 70 years in the Soviet Union alone. However, it was finally destroyed as a result of the massive discontent of the people with the system.
Why did the working class and working people in the Soviet Union and other countries reject this system? The main feature of this system is that the electorate was to lay down the law. Mechanisms were established which facilitated this. However, these mechanisms were not further developed so as to ensure that the party, the sole political force, would fully transfer political power to the electorate. As a result, when Nikita Khrushchev came to power, he and his cronies were able to transform the party itself into a mechanism for controlling the state. They reduced the political process to mere eyewash. It became a pretext to claim that political power was still in the hands of the working class and working people. Property and privilege began to dominate and the electorate completely lost faith in such a democracy.
Is Class Democracy an Alternative at This Time?
The answer to this question is no. The electorate in Canada was brought up to distrust such a democracy and there is no need to do so now. It would be a retrogressive step to bring such a democracy into being in any part of the world today. The electorate is demanding to rule and govern directly, without the mediation of any political parties. However, the electorate needs a political party to achieve this. What kind of party would that be? Would it be a party of a "new type", of the kind Lenin envisaged and established, which brought class democracy? Or would it be the kind of party the critics of Lenin wanted? It seems that the kind of Party which is needed has to satisfy the requirements of the society at this time for renewal. Such a party cannot be strengthened on the basis of presuppositions from the past. All presuppositions have to be new, based on the requirements of the society at this stage for renewal.
Political parties have existed for over two hundred years in various parts of the world. In England, the Conservative and Liberal parties have their origins in the eighteenth century. In Canada political parties were first formed in the nineteenth century. This century saw the formation of the New Democratic Party, in the 1960 s. Its predecessor, the CCF, was founded in the early 1930 s. The Communist Party has a history of over seventy years. This record provides Canadians with a lot to sum up as regards their experience with political parties.
During this entire period, political power has been in the hands of the political parties. In drawing the balance sheet of this experience, it is necessary to keep in mind the conditions at the time political parties arose and what their mission was. The question must also be posed: How did the conditions change over the period of time and what are they today?
An analysis of the all-round development gives an indication of what kind of political power the people require and in whose hands that political power should be placed. When the franchise was limited to the propertied classes and political parties were formed to represent their interests, the state was divided between the executive power and a bureaucratic apparatus on one hand, and the legislative power on the other. The legislative power was made subordinate to the executive power and the bureaucratic apparatus.
Today, at a time the franchise is universal, this state of affairs remains the same. The electorate is demanding that it be changed. It wants the political power to rest in its hands. The electors want to exercise control over their representatives and the legislative power which is established to be supreme. In other words, they want the executive power and bureaucratic apparatus and the political parties to submit to the legislative power.
What kind of political party would be an instrument of such a power?
In whose interest will it be to fight for such a power? Such a party would have to be organized so as to facilitate the rise of the legislative power to the supreme position. Such a party would not only have to convince the entire electorate to defend such a legislative power, but also convince the electorate not to elect those political parties which do not agree with this. While defending the conception that the electors have the right to organize political parties of their choice, it is also necessary to ensure that those parties which defend the right of the electors to govern become popular with the electorate. Political parties which adhere to such a conception are the most important instruments for change. Far from curtailing their role, it must be enhanced. The role of political parties must be brought on a par with the requirements of the society.
First Requirement of Such a Party
The first requirement of such a political party is to ensure that the electorate is made conscious of the form of democracy which serves it. Such a party would be comprised of the advanced elements of the working class and it would organize all those who consider it necessary to renew the society by handing political power over to the electorate. It would serve the interests of the working class to have the political power pass over to the electorate. This is because the advanced workers enjoy no class privileges and the working class is an exploited class. They would be the most enthusiastic supporters of such a political party which accomplished this task.
Such a party would forego the right given it under the present laws to select its own candidates. As an integral part of its fundamental character it would organize so that the electorate selects its own candidates for election. By the same token, it would forego its legal right to come to power. It would carry out activities on a uninterrupted basis so that the right to elect and be elected is guaranteed. This can only be accomplished if the electorate select and elect the candidates of their choice, with Constituency Committees established to play a role to facilitate this. A democracy must be established to defend and further develop this process. This would ensure that such a party does not degenerate into an old type of party. Finally, as part of its first requirement, such a party should always put the general interests of the society and the individual interests of its members in first place. It should ensure that such interests are defended by all means possible, banning violations of principles or anything which lowers the dignity of human beings.
Second Requirement for Such a Party
Such a party would have to be conscious that the present period is one of retreat of revolution, in which renewal is the order of the day. This requires the working out of new definitions. Theory must be brought to the level of the demands of the society. Such a party would have to make a clear statement about what it wants to achieve during this period and its overall aim. It would have to set its entire work in the framework of the present requirements of the society for renewal. Such a party would have to show the working class and other working people that there is an alternative. All its theoretical work would have to be devoted to the achievement of this task. Such a party would have to ensure that examples are taken from life, whether economic or political or from any other sphere. In other words, it would have to concretely deal with those things which lie within the experience of the electorate. Through the application of theory, it must clearly show that there is an alternative. This would have to be on-going work, dealing with the problems posed by theory and by practice right in the being of the working class and in the mainstream of the society.
Third Requirement for Such a Party
Such a party would have to begin this work by keeping in mind that the electorate wants forms and methods which are effective. The forms have to be developed according to the needs of the electorate, in such a manner that it is able to receive the message. For its part, the content has to be worked out according to the requirements of the society at this stage, as shown by the application of this body of knowledge to society. Great care has to be taken on both questions, without making any concessions to seek temporary advantage.
Working out forms and methods requires that such a party must lay down clearly the law that all members have the same rights and duties. It must also demand that all parties must have the same rights and duties. Society can provide all political parties the same rights if the political parties fulfil their duty to the society.
At the present time, class privileges are being used by various political parties so as to ensure that public opinion and the electorate are manipulated in their favour. These parties devise public relations methods to convince the electorate to vote for them during the election. The changes required in the political process have to ensure that such marketing methods are rejected. Such a party would have to ensure that the consciousness of the working people is raised through its work. The working people must be able to detect such manipulations and oppose them. The level of consciousness of the electorate is already being tempered as it demands that all decision-making power must be placed in its hands and that this must be the basis of the law in the society.
Fourth Requirement for Such a Party
The most important feature of a political party is its political programme. A party which is to put the electorate at the centre of development must ensure that its political programme is always worked out and adopted on the basis of on-going discussion amongst the electors. Such a party must plant its politics in the aim of defending the general interests of the society and the individual interests of the members of society.
For such a political party to fulfil the requirement of a political programme it must take into consideration the objective and subjective developments nationally and internationally. Such a Party must have a political program which is concrete. It must be devoid of all sorts of generalities. It must not only be suitable to the present conditions but, more importantly, its realization must ensure the success of its strategic aim. The objective developments of the system nationally and internationally, that is, of the state monopoly capitalist system, have proven that it is not capable of overcoming its ills. Economic crisis remains its fellow-traveller and other forms of crises, political, spiritual and cultural, follow suit. At the same time, the subjective side, the consciousness amongst the people about the inability of the ruling circles to deal with the problems, is increasing. People have begun to seek alternatives. It can be said that within these conditions of retreat of revolution, there is a need for a Party capable of presenting an alternative. Such an alternative must transform the present situation from one of passivity and paralysis in the face of the situation, to one of resolution of the problems in favour of the working class and people. In other words, the resolution of the problems must favour the general interests of the society and the individual interests of its members.
The first requirement for such a Party to elaborate its political program is to provide a theoretical elaboration of the conception that there is an alternative. There is an alternative to the ills of the system as they are manifested in the society. For instance, there is an alternative to on-going unemployment crisis. What is that alternative? How can it be brought about? Unemployment is justified these days either by stressing that there is no alternative or that there are some individuals or companies which are just not smart enough to survive the stiff competition of a free market. There is no need to argue this assumption but there is another point which has to be emphasized - that of the rights of every individual who is a member of the society. Does every individual who is either born to the society or accepted into the society as its member have a legitimate claim upon that society which the society has an obligation to fulfil? Is there an alternative to recognizing this right? What would that alternative be? Can it b to live without adequate food, shelter, clothing, education, culture and security? What would it be? In other words, while a political party can attempt to justify its policies on the basis that there is no alternative, the same political party cannot deny the claims of the individual members of society upon it. By virtue of the fact that the members of society are dependent on the society for their living, that society is duty bound to fulfil the needs of its members.
There is another question which such a political party must raise, to ensure that the issue becomes crystal clear. It would ask: Is unemployment in the general interests of the society? Is unemployment in the individual interests of the members of the society? In other words, before such a party raises the question that all members of the society also have a duty to the society, it has to be made clear whether an individual who remains unemployed is doing his or her duty to the society? When it is repeated over and over that there is no alternative to unemployment, it is necessary to ask how the unemployed are supposed to contribute to the society? Are they helping society by receiving Unemployment Insurance or welfare payments? How? This question and its corollary, have to be answered. For instance, it has been proven that the present system cannot overcome its economic or political ills. Will it not be in the general interests of the society and in the individual interests of its members to have a party which pays attention to finding ways to eliminate the ills, rather than worrying about how to preserve the system? The tendency whereby the rich are becoming richer and the poor are becoming poorer has to be ended. When setting policy, a party must pay first-rate attention to ensuring that the society fulfils the demand of its members for conditions to exist whereby their well-being can be looked after and so that all changes which are required to look after the general interests of the society are brought about.
Besides the general interests of the society and the individual interests of its members, there are also the interests of the collectives. Whose interests should be put at the centre? Can it be said that the interests of every individual should override everything else? The argument that the interests of an individual to become rich should be paramount is indefensible. Such an individual interest necessarily goes against the general interests of the society because a society cannot guarantee such a condition for all its members. At the same time, to say that the individual interests must be subordinate to the general interests of the society would be to create conditions similar to those already experienced, by those who lived in societies where the demand to put the general interests of the society in the paramount position negated the individual interests of its members. Can it be said that the collective interests must override the general interests of the society or the individual interests of its members, or both? Serious thought has to be given to answer such questions. A party has to examine this problem from the angle of the needs of the present and the historical experience of the past.
During this historical period when the supremacy of the divine right was smashed, men of property put themselves at the centre stage of history. They came to power and moulded the society in their image - to serve their needs and their individual interests. Instead of taking the society further, they usurped the power and subordinated the general interests of the society and the individual interests of its members to their own interests. This began to act as a block to the further development of the society. Today, the interests of these men are entirely superfluous to the society. Far from the society needing these men of privilege and power to advance, they are a block to its advance.
Today, any man or collective of men and women who usurps power and privilege for its own ends achieves the same result. The transformations in the sphere of the economy, the revolutionization of the productive forces have put the collective at the centre-stage of society in such a manner that it must represent the general interests of the society and the specific interests of all its members. Such an objective development is demanding that the political process must change, so as to accommodate the revolutionization and encourage its further development.
What kind of a collective is it which has occupied the centre-stage at this time? What do these collectives say about the general interests of the society and the individual interests of its members? Today, two kinds of collectives exist and are entering into a sharp clash. There are the collectives of big business, government and labour and the political parties in their service. Along with the media they comprise an elite which has usurped power and privilege. Collectively they maintain the status quo, while separately they negotiate advantages for their specific interests amongst themselves. Other collectives have come into being of women, workers, unemployed workers, injured workers, people with special needs, professionals and people from all walks of life representing many varied interests in the economic, political, social and cultural fields. The interests of these collectives can only be realized by putting forward a programme within what serves the general interests of the society and the specific interests of its members. The interests which all these collectives stand for can be served within this framework and they will also act to advance the society.
A political party today should recognize and appreciate that it is the collective which is crucial both in the production process as well as in politics. Such a party should demand that all collectives must work for the general interests of the society and the individual interests of its members. In other words, a collective which has an aim of its own, independent of the general interests of the society, and independent of the individual interests of its members, will act as a block to social progress.
Can it thus be said that the society and the individual must work for the collective? No, it cannot be said. When the men of property put themselves at the centre-stage of history, they forfeited the right to work for their own interests. However, having come to the centre-stage, they interpreted this to be a birthright to rule as they saw fit. This became an obstruction to the progress of the society. This makes them superfluous. No longer could divine right dictate the direction of the society which had already progressed beyond such confines. Collectives have come to the centre-stage. In order to affirm their demands, the defence of the general interests of the society and the individual interest of its members must be put at the centre. Putting the interests of the collective over and above the general interests of the society and the individual interests of its members could, on the other hand, hurt the interests of the collective. If a party is to be true to the aim of progress of the society, it must work out its political programme in such a manner that it favours the general interest of the society and the individual interests of its members.
Change in the Political Process
The first point in the political programme of such a party will be the demand to change the political process. This demand is concrete as it is the demand of the electorate. The present political process favours individuals coming to power. These individuals who have come to power have the backing of the most powerful economic interests. Once in power they do what is demanded by the vested interests they represent. If the political process were to both favour the election of individuals as well as the empowerment of the electorate so that it could affect political changes, instead of being reduced to a mere voter, society would progress. The electorate would be able to assert that the general interests of the society and the individual interests of its members must be served. To bring about changes in the political process would be the first step towards making changes in other spheres. Such a political party would have to work out a program to bring those people into power who would change the political process. The first point on the political program would include the tactics to come into power so as to change the political process.
- February 1993
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