Produced below is an essay by A. B. Shah, published in a 1976 edition of Freedom Frist. In the essay, the author uncovers the difference between the democratic socialist movements of Western Europe and North America versus that of India. In doing so, he discusses the need for a liberal social and cultural context for the growth of democratic socialism.
Like democracy, socialism too is a product of Western thought. Even in the West, it only took root in societies which had undergone the liberating experience of a social and cultural renaissance. In Eastern Europe, including Russia, Marxian socialism predictably degenerated into statism providing a modern garb for an indigenous authoritarian tradition. In Western Europe (and North America), on the other hand, where democracy was the culmination of a process of social and cultural liberalisation, socialism sought to complement the gains of political democracy by extending them to the economic field.
With the exception of Manabendranath Roy, leaders of the socialist movement in India did not recognize the need for a liberal social and cultural context for the growth of a democratic socialist movement. While social equality and cultural freedom could be taken for granted by the spokesmen of democratic socialism in the West, such an assumption would not be valid for countries of the Third World. But this is precisely what happened in India, with the result that the movement for democratic socialism remained weak and lop-sided. Since it did not pay sufficient attention to the problem of social inequalities inherent in the caste system, it could not attract any mass following worth the name.
Another weakness of the democratic socialist movement in India lies in its failure to see the relationship between political democracy and the economic structure. If economic power were to be concentrated in the hands of the state-which in a parliamentary system means, in effect, the Prime Minister or a few mandarins at the top- political democracy cannot survive for long. Thus by neglecting the political implications of economic policies, the democratic socialist movement in India is likely not only to lose its fight for economic equality but also contribute to the liquidation of political democracy, in the absence of which even social equality will be impossible in India.
If democratic socialism is to be relevant to a society like India’s, it will have to reorientate itself so as to take account of the specific features of the Indian situation. In other words, it will have to formulate satisfactory answers to questions like the following:
- If ‘socialism is about equality’, what should equality mean in terms of a permissible range of income distribution (a) in the long run, (b) in the short run (say, by the year 1,990 A.D.), starting from the distribution obtaining at present?
- Gross inequalities of income are found to lead to two undesirable consequences: (a) extreme poverty of a large proportion in present-day India, about 50 per cent-of the population, and (b) concentration of economic power in the hands of a small minority, which thereby exercises undue influence on the decision-making process and tends to perpetuate its privileged position. In the Indian context, which should receive priority-the abolition of poverty or the reduction of economic inequalities-during the next 15 years? Or is it possible to devise a strategy which would simultaneously accomplish both these tasks without seriously impairing the prospects of economic growth?
- To what extent is the drive for economic equality necessary for, and to what extent is it compatible with, the survival of free institutions?
- To what extent would (a) nationalisation, (b) co-operativization, and (c ) mixed economy be conducive to the realisation of the goal of democratic socialism-namely, equality without the loss of liberty-in the light of experience in India and abroad? Is it possible to suggest a fourth pattern of economic organization?
- What kind of social structure and cultural tradition does democratic socialism presuppose, and imply, as its concomitant?
- The caste structure of Hindu society (with untouchability as its integral part) and the authoritarian nature of the dominant Hindu, Islamic and Christian traditions in India are clearly incompatible with the values of democratic socialism: they sanction inequalities based on caste, creed and sex and inhibit the critical spirit. What kind of programmes should be undertaken by (a) government (b) institutions like schools, colleges and mass media, and (c) voluntary organizations to promote the necessary transformation of Indian society and culture?
- The complexities of a modern society make it necessary that those who are responsible for its efficient functioning have a high-order intellectual equipment. If such societies are also to run on democratic socialist lines, their elite should have the right kind of value-orientation and, at the and at the same time, every citizen should have free access to the best education that society can provide. This poses the problem of reconciling the democratisation of education with the provision of quality education for the would-be elite. In the democratic West, this is accomplished through a variety of educational institutions ranging from Ivy League to run-of-the-mill colleges and universities. There is a similar differentiation in the Soviet Union too.
To what extent is such differentiation compatible with the values of democratic socialism, and what implications would it have for the educational system in India?
- How is equal access to education to be ensured to groups which have been debarred from it for centuries by social discrimination as well as poverty? What kind of remedial measures should be adopted to enable traditionally backward groups to make up the culture lag in a reasonably short time?
- As recent studies in the USA have shown, equality of educational opportunity may not ensure equality of incomes though it may lead to increasing social equality. What would be the implications of this finding for educational planning and economic policy?
- In order to promote a growing awareness and assimilation of the values of democratic socialism-viz., liberty and equality-the content of education will have to be radically changed. For instance, what should be the quantum of information and the orientation of text books from the stand-point of value- and attitude-formation? What skills should be sought to be developed among the students as a result of formal education at the school and college levels? How should science be taught not only as a theoretical construct for understanding the world of man and nature, but also as a cultural discipline which implies a certain approach to the inherited culture-literature, religion, social thought and institutions-of the people? How should the student be enabled to develop a sense of in real-life situations in rural as well as urban areas?
- What would be the structural and functional changes in the educational system if it is to be compatible with the values of democratic socialism?
- Students belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have been receiving certain concessions in education for more than two decades past. However, neither the spread of education among these groups nor the kind of elite that has emerged from them as a result of these concessions has proved adequate from the point of view of promoting their rapid advancement and participation in the national life. Should the concessions be continued as before, should they be changed in quantum and nature, or should they be altogether abolished?
- What should be the role of the state in the field of education? The question assumes special importance in view of the recent trend of growing state control over universities even in their day-to-day functioning such as examinations and promotions.
- It is possible that the state will not be willing to relax its grip on education even though such relaxation would be indispensable for making education capable of promoting the values of democratic socialism. What can the academic community- university authorities, school and college managements, teachers’ and students’ associations-do to persuade or compel the state to change its attitude?
It was with a view to initiating an enquiry on these lines that the Samaj Prabodhan Sanstha convened, with the assistance of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, two seminars at Pune early this year.
Last week’s musing: THE SWATANTRA MANIFESTO