Archive for the ‘Radical Humanist Politics’ Category
Humanist Politics – 2
IV. Elections and Rationalists
1. (a) “Only when the monster called the masses is decomposed into 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.” (1)
1. (b) “If you deal with men, ultimately you can 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 into 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.”(2)
2. (a) “To ensure that elections reflect an intelligent public opinion, there has to be an intelligent public opinion first. Then only elections can become an instrument of democracy not sprung on unprepared electorates in a concerted effort to sweep them off their feet. Such an alternative approach to election begins with people in their localities meeting in local or regional conferences for serious discussions, not for public harangues, but for educative and enlightening propagation of these ideas. Through such informal regular meetings an intelligent public opinion is created. Having come to understand political questions and economic problems for themselves, the people will see that they need not vote for this or that party, leaving all judgment to them and relying on their promises, but that they can judge independently and elect candidates of their own choice from among themselves. These will be independent candidates; that is to say, they will not depend for their election on any political party, and therefore they can depend on their own conscience and be responsible to the people directly. That will do away with the evils of party politics and the scramble for power and its demagogy and corruption.” (3)
2. (b) “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 People’s 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)
3. (a) “For this work, we need not wait for an election. We select one constituency. 20 or 25 people there will come to feel the necessity of devising new forms of political practice, because they are dissatisfied with the present state of affairs. They resolve to make an experiment. They begin by creating the precondition for Democracy by spreading education among the people. At a later stage, it should be possible to call a number of local conferences in a constituency and elect delegates from them to a conference of the entire constituency. And at the election time, when all parties come and offer their candidates, the people’s committee may decide to vote for none of those party candidates, but elect one from among themselves as their candidate, and the people will vote for him. The person who will be thus elected and go to the Parliament, will not be responsible to any existing political party machinery. He will be and remain responsible to his local Democracy, of which he himself is a part; he will be directly responsible to the people who sent him to the Parliament; he will not have to act on the behests and discipline of any extraneous authority, and he will have to report to and inform his fellow- citizens in his constituency about all his actions and the problems of the wider community, and take his mandate from them alone in all matters and act accordingly to his best ability and conscience.” (5)
3. (b) “This process may take a long time. That is the common objection against it. But once we make the choice and begin moving in the new direction, it is not really such a long way as it appears to be. The precondition is to discard the traditional notion of human nature, and to know that it is neither evil nor divine, but that man is essentially rational; that, given the opportunity, every human being is capable of thinking for himself, judging right and wrong, making judgments and acting accordingly. Unless by his own nature, as a biological being, man was capable of thinking rationally and behaving morally, it would be a vain dream to visualize a free, just and harmonious social order. For the time being, it is true that the common people are illiterate; they may not be able to govern country. But at the same time, is it not a fact, that left to themselves, even the most ignorant peasants can manage their affairs better than our present government? The distrust for the ability of the common people to think for themselves and take care of themselves is only a pretext for seizing power in their name and abusing that power to suppress their liberty.” (6)
4. (a) “In the next elections we may not yet get rid of the bad effects of party politics. But we may already help in the appearance of a considerable number of independent candidates who in the assemblies will not be subjected to the whip of the parties, whether in power or in opposition, but who can raise the voice of the people inside the parliaments.”(7)
4. (b) “ Thus, while the big parties may fight for power among themselves, there will be a few people to express the will of the people without reservations and extraneous contingent considerations of fear or favor. Their voice, in its turn, will quicken the consciousness of the people outside who follow the proceedings in the assemblies. And what is more, after the elections, independent candidates, who depend directly on the people of their locality for their election, cannot forget their constituencies but must keep constantly in touch with them for their mandate and support. Also those Humanists who have stimulated this political awakening in the constituency will not leave the voters to relapse in to apathy after elections, but constantly remind them of their rights and responsibilities. They worked in their constituency not to be elected and then go away to the centres of power, but they remain there with the sole function of educating the people and helping them establish a democratic local republic. In these local republics, it is possible to have direct democracy, and their functions can be expanded as the citizens grow increasingly discriminating and conscious. In them, power and sovereignty will remain in the hands of the people themselves, and in this way the precondition for a government of the people and by the people will be created. Because ultimately the nature of the basic units will determine the structure of the whole State built upon them. A democratic State in a large country is possible only on the basis of such small organized local democracies which can remove the sense of helplessness of the individual citizens, and through which alone individual voters can exercise control over the State by means of an intelligent active public opinion. To promote this is the most effective practice of New Humanism in the political field.” (8)
5. (a) “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.” (9)
5. (b) “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. Demagogy will be placed under a heavy discount. Mechanical counting of heads will cease to be the criterion of democracy. Democratic practice will not be reduced to periodical elections.” (10)
5. (c) “It will be some time before reoriented democracy can be the master of the situation. In the transition period, the Constitution should provide for creative genius, intellectual detachment and moral integrity occupying a high place in the state, so as to advise, guide and influence the operation of executive power. In the transition period, democracy must be elective as well as selective. 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.” (11)
6. (a) “At election times, all parties go to the people and make promises; they all know that not half of their promises can be fulfilled; but they rely on the fact that the voters cannot understand, and therefore, can be duped. Can that state of affairs not be changed? It can be. To change this state of affairs is the first necessity, the biggest task for anybody who wishes to participate in politics – not for selfish ends. One need not go to the people only to catch their votes. To help them cast their votes intelligently would be an immensely more important work. The electorate should be asked to examine the programmes of all the parties, to see if the promises can be fulfilled or, if fulfilled will really improve matters. But this new political practice presupposes a radical change in the idea of human nature. It is an appeal to reason, which presupposes the belief that man is a rational being. Political practice is guided by the notion that the ordinary man cannot think for himself; therefore he must be persuaded to follow parties and politicians. Since this unnatural relation between the people, the parties and politicians constitutes the foundation of what is called party politics, the latter prevents the people even to think for themselves. Politics is not only a scramble for power, but competition in all manner of questionable practices. (12)
6. (b) “The position may appear to be a vicious circle. But there is a way out, which party politicians would not take, because that would mean the end of their days. Appeal to reason is the way out. And modern science indicates the way. Science teaches that human nature is not to believe, but to enquire, that human nature is rational. It is true that the rational nature of man has been buried very deep. But being the essence of human nature, it can be recovered. Let some people have the conviction and the courage to act accordingly. Let them raise political practice on the level of reason and intelligence. I have no doubt the appeal to reason will find a response. The new politics will bear fruit sooner than one dares imagine; only, the measure of success will not be power, but gradual disappearance of that evil. Even a few people can lay down a solid foundation of democracy and freedom, if they forgo the quest for power, do not participate in the scramble; do not ask for the vote of the people to rule in their name; but, on the contrary, remind the voters of their human dignity, capacity to think and to act creatively.” (13)
6. (c) “Thus the electorate will gradually become critical and discriminating; the time will come when the voters of a locality will tell the candidates of all parties to leave them alone; amongst themselves they will find men in whom they can have confidence and who will remain responsible to them between two elections. Once that happens, the end of the party system will begin, and with the parties, the main cause for concentration of power will disappear. In the process, we shall already have laid down the foundation of a decentralized State of local republics, which will combine all functions of the State as they affect the local life. National culture, national economy and national political institutions will be cast on the pattern of the functions of these local republics; power will remain with them, to be wielded directly by the individual members of small communities. Being thus reared upon a broad foundation of direct democracies, the State will be really democratic. Usurpation of power will be out of the question. Thus, a pluralistic modern society can be built up at the same time while doing away with centralization of power, political and economic.” (14)
(1) P 59 : Politics Power and Parties, M.N. Roy; 1981, Ajanta Publications(India), Jawahar Nagar, Delhi – 110007.
(2) P 175 : ibid.
(3) P 175: ibid.
(4) Pp 59, 60: ibid.
(5) P 60: ibid.
(6) P 185, ibid.
(7) Pp 175,176: ibid.
(8) P 176, ibid.
(9) P 167, New Orientation, M.N. Roy; 1982, Ajanta Publications(India), Jawahar Nagar, Delhi – 110007.
(11) Pp 167, 168: ibid.
(12) Pp 185, Politics Power and Parties, M.N. Roy; 1981, Ajanta Publications(India), Jawahar Nagar, Delhi – 110007.
(13) P 186, ibid.
(14) P 187, ibid.
Humanist Politics – I
III. What we mean by Humanist Politics?
1.“ Humanist politics may appear to be something novel, because while politics has been qualified by a variety of adjectives, these have never included the term “humanist”. The world has heard of anarchist, democratic, conservative, revolutionary and liberal politics; there has been nationalist, imperialist and socialist or communist politics, and it might be asked what is the need of introducing yet another brand of politics in this medley of political notions which has already created more than enough confusion. The need arises from the fact that none of them seem capable to solve the present crisis and to enable men to be freer and happier. The necessity of humanist politics was born of the conviction that the crisis of the modern world can be solved only by emphasizing the human element in public affairs, or rather by giving the human individual a more prominent place in political theory and practice. All sorts of forces, elements and factors are considered as ends and means in politics, but it is often forgotten that there is no purpose in all this unless it creates the welfare and happiness of men, and that it is men alone who can bring it about, not impersonal forces and factors.” (1)
2.“ Humanism as a social philosophy is concerned with human behavior, with human relations. But a social philosophy, in order to be convincing, must be integrated in to a complete system of thought, including a cosmology and other branches of knowledge. This has its relevance to humanist politics, and before making humanist politics plausible, the philosophical background of Humanism had to be outlined to show how it leads upto this new form of humanist politics.” (2)
3.“ The traditional Humanism could not explain how and why man can be depended upon for behaving rationally and morally, that is, a responsible citizen of a given society. Consequently, it came to be believed, even by the best of Democrats, that though sovereignty indeed belongs to the people, the people, composed as they are of men and women not sufficiently educated, enlightened and qualified for administering public affairs, must delegate their power to elected representatives, and hence democratic government came to be known as representative government. “ (3)
4.“ It is not difficult to see the difference between a democratic government and a representative government. Democracy has been defined as government of the people, by the people, for the people. Of that generally accepted definition, however, two-third has been silently eliminated and in reality, democracy has come to be nothing more than at best government for the people. A government of the people and by the people has never yet existed anywhere in the world. The people do not govern; they simply delegate their sovereign right to their representatives, and the representatives govern; that is to say, the representatives meet in parliament, the parliament forms a government, and both parliaments and governments tend to become increasingly remote and independent of the theoretically sovereign people.” (4)
5.“ Education for democracy is hardly found anywhere. A certain degeneration of education in this sense is inevitable under the formal parliamentary democratic system. That is in the nature of formal parliamentary system of party politics. As soon as a party comes to power, it naturally wants to remain and consolidates itself in power. There is plausible reason for this: A party comes to power and forces a government with a programme. Four or five years are not enough to implement that programme. Therefore, the party must ensure another term in office. In order to guarantee re-election in the next elections, automatically a party in power takes to the practice of indoctrination and varying degrees of intellectual regimentation of the people. Education under the formal parliamentary system is influenced by parties in power and this is a kind of intellectual regimentation, which may be almost imperceptible.“ (5)
6.“ The essence of parliamentary democracy is believed to be the existence of opposition parties…………………………………….. In order to come to power, the opposition party must be able to sway the majority of voters away from the party at present in power……………………….. …………….Therefore, an opposition party, which wants to succeed in the given atmosphere, has to appeal to the same backwardness, the same ignorance, the same prejudices and blind religious faith of the people as does the party in power. Thus, even the opposition party will be no guarantee for democracy, indeed it is more likely to reinforce and galvanize the very conditions which a truly democratic practice should tend to remove.” (6)
7.“ Humanists do not confine their concern with the life of society to the small sector of human existence which is conventionally called politics. But by their new approach, they indicate a way out of the present crisis of politics and its problem.” (7)
8. “Until now political thinking has placed all emphasis on the interests of the State. For the interest of the State everything is justified. The constitution of a democratic State includes an imposing catalogue of civil rights, but they all include also one clause which entitles the executive to suspend the entire Constitution – if necessary, in the interest of the State. That is to say, for the interest of the State, the freedom of the constituent units of the State can be completely abolished.” (8)
9. “No freedom, no welfare, no progress or prosperity can be actually experienced except by individuals. The concept of national prosperity and greatness, of social progress, – which ignores that all these blessings of a nation or society can be measured only by the progress, prosperity, welfare and freedom of its individual constituents, – is a fraud and a delusion.
We are dealing with relations in which emphasis has always been laid on one of the related things only: man has always been relegated to the subsidiary position. In the relation between the State and the individual, between man and society, everything else was always more important than man. So also, when we think in terms of freedom and organization, we remember that we must be free to organize and that organizations must be free to do this or that, but we are apt to forget that organization has no sense and purpose except to increase our freedom.” (9)
10. “Education for democracy does not consist in teaching just reading and writing, but in making the people conscious of their humanness, to make them conscious of their right to exist as human beings, in decency and dignity. Education means to help them to think, to apply their reason. That is to say, the new humanist political practice must begin as a cultural movement. It must get out of the struggle for power of the political parties. Even a humanist political party, to have to come to power would have to join the scramble, would have to play the game according to its rules; otherwise it would stand no chance at all. And if it refuses to play the game, it is not a political party in the proper definition of the term.” (10)
11. “ Needless to say, a democracy cannot be educated from today to tomorrow. But a beginning can be made here and now. For example, if in the next elections there would be only two hundred people throughout the country ready to practise humanist politics, they could begin work in a dozen constituencies and there begin the task of awakening the urge for freedom in the individuals and raise the intellectual and cultural level of the people. These are after all not just high- sounding phrase; they express themselves concretely in a change of outlook and of their backward habits.” (11)
12. “ The scramble for power creates a vicious circle. Maintaining that State power is now indispensable for social change, humanist politics attacks the problem from the root, which is man. It states that man is the basic unit of society. Therefore, a free society can have no meaning except in the form of freedom of the individual human beings. In order to achieve greater freedom, the conscious urge for freedom, the desire for a democratic society, for a democratic way of life, must be awakened in a growing number of individuals. Because any democratic change in society can be brought about only by the basic individual constituents of society and unless these have the conscious desire to bring about that change, it cannot be brought about.” (12)
13. “ It might be argued by enthusiasts of social change that that will take a very long time. That is not necessarily so. But assuming that it will take a very long time, is there any alternative? And it would have to be such an alternative as would bring about the kind of social change that we want to bring about, namely greater freedom for the individual constituents of society. Of course, those who still have faith in the dictatorial alternatives will not see the force of this argument. But those who have lost the faith that freedom can be attained by means of an even temporary denial of freedom, those who are alarmed by the signs of growing regimentation and eclipse of the individual everywhere, they have no other alternative. Humanist politics is the only way before them.” (13)
1. P. 114: Politics Power and Parties, M.N. Roy; 1981, Ajanta Publications(India), Jawahar Nagar, Delhi – 110007.
2. P. 115: ibid.
3. P. 116: Ibid.
4. P. 116: Ibid.
5. P. 118: ibid
6. Pp. 124 -125: ibid.
7. P.119: ibid.
8. P.120: ibid.
9. P.121: ibid.
10. P.125: ibid.
11. P.122: ibid.
12. P.122: ibid.
13. P.122: ibid.
(to be continued)
Radical Humanists are revolutionaries. This fact is realized and recognized early by the opponents of love of freedom than those who actually are in need of the message of liberation. While the Pakistani army occupied Bangladesh and carried out a systematic annihilation of intellectuals as part of the genocide, they did not forget to locate Radical Humanist activists in Bangladesh. The following part is taken from a volume published as commemoration of M.N.Roy’s birth centenary. In the article, ‘M.N.Roy’s Influence on Bengali Muslims’, Dr. Tajul Hossain, ‘ surgeon and physician who held high responsible positions in the Bangladesh republic’ recounts the efforts of early Radical Humanists in spreading the philosophy of Radical Humanism. We are also told about the martyrdom of two valiant Radicals: Habibur Rahman and Jyotirmoy Guha Thakurata. We express our indebtedness to Indian Renaissance Institute for the commemoration volume. The relevant part is presented without any changes under quotation marks:
“Roy visited Dacca early in 1948 accompanied by Professor Sibnarayan Ray. Maulana Akram Khan was invited to preside over a meeting of Roy but he declined. Muslim students in Salimullah hall were much interested in listening to Roy on Islam and they invited him. Some personal friends of Roy in the cadre of the former ICS gave him a reception in the Dacca Club. Radicals who migrated from Calcutta formed a new base in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and gradually developed social roots there. Many enthusiastic University and College teachers showed a growing interest in the philosophy of New Humanism and joined many group discussions.
Following the summer camp of May, 1948, K.K. Sinha, Jyotirindra Mohan Sarker and I went to Dacca to arrange a study camp there, with the help of Jyotirmoy Guha Thakurata, Habibur Rahman and others. About 20 participants discussed New Humanism for 5 days. One public meeting was arranged with a good audience which was addressed by Sinha and me.
A programme was drawn for Jyotirmoy and Habibur Rahman to visit some of the district towns like Rajshahi, Mymensingh, Comillah, Sylhet and Chittagong. Individual radicals like Nuruzzaman in Rajashahi, Roonu Choudhury in Mymensingh, Shyamadhan Sengupta in Sylhet, and Anil Roy in Chittagong arranged meetings in Public Halls and Bar Libraries where the principles of New Humanism were explained. Some individuals established discussion centres in different places. Habibur Rahman made the former RDP office at Dacca his residence and he conducted there regular evening and weekly discussion meetings for over 10 years before he was transferred to Rajshahi University. Here, he was killed on March 27, 1971 by the Pakistani Army. He made an enormous contribution to the spread of radical humanism amongst his colleagues and students, in Dacca and Rajshahi.
Salahuddin initiated the establishment of a Friends’ Centre at Dacca with the cooperation of some Quaker social workers from Britain. At a later date, Jyotirmoy became its very vital participant and remained so for more than 10 years besides carrying on his activities in the University and the Humanist forum. He was also killed on March 27, 1971 in his University residence by the Pakistani Army. But he left behind an abiding influence on the Dacca elite circle by virtue of his personality which combined truthfulness, goodness and deep interest in art and literature.”
For A Revolution From Below – An M.N.Roy Commemorative Volume,
Published on behalf of the
Indian Renaissance Institute
By Minerva Associates (Publications)Pvt. Ltd.,
Calcutta, 700 029.
First Published: March 1989.