Pluralism & multi-party democracy

There is a lot of discussion these days about pluralism and multi-party democracy. Top Maoist leaders are not even willing to hear the world pluralism as a political ideology. However, they have expressed their willingness to accept multi-party system. They argue that communism in Russia failed because it did not allow competition in politics. In their view, lack of political competition was the main fault of Stalinism which they think was 70 percent right and 30 percent wrong. How they came up with this figure, of course, still remains a mystery that is presumably understood only by the true believers!


The logic of rejecting pluralism while accepting multi-party system may seem contradictory and Maoist ideologues have not yet come up with any argument to explain this riddle. However, it may be interesting at this point to recall the story of hedgehog and the fox that was first written in 1953 by Isaiah Berlin who was probably one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century. The hedgehog is a creature with two very important characteristic: It has a special self-contained mechanism to defend itself and is basically focused on a specific objective and strategy. On the other hand, the fox is a creature with a flexible mindset willing to link seemingly disconnected events so as to survive and move toward its objective which at times may seem confusing and irrelevant. Berlin wrote this as a light-hearted analogy to explain some of the fundamental differences between an authoritarian and a pluralistic philosophy. However, the analogy has proved as a powerful metaphor to explain the underlying differences between two different ideologies and mindsets about the reality of human existence. In this typology, Marx would be viewed as a hedgehog while a great writer like Shakespeare would qualify for a fox. In the same vein, in the magnificent Hindu epic Mahabharata, Duryodhana who has a powerful and commanding personality with a mindset obsessed with destroying the Pandavas would qualify for a hedgehog while Krishna, referred as the divine character, emerges as a persona of multi-dimensional complexity, simultaneously ambiguous, courageous, cunning, compassionate, intelligent and wise, while moving slowly, often in a seemingly unrelated and contradictory manner, toward a vision that is based on toleration, moderation and justice. Perhaps, it is for this reason that the great sage and thinker Osho Rajneesh has called Krishna the “complete being.”

Pluralism is a philosophical perspective that does not view the world in a linear and deterministic fashion. It does not share the Marxist focus on economic determinism based only on the dialectical logic and class struggle leading ultimately to a utopia that in the end borders on religious mysticism. Of course, excessive focus on economic factors alone has been refuted both by Marx and Engels in their later writings and should not be taken as the sole content of materialistic interpretation. The fundamental projection of class struggle in the sphere of power, however, invariably leads toward a regime that finds it difficult to accept the possibility of diversity in ideas and organizations other than the communist party which is claimed to represent the interest of the people. The inhumanism inherent in this thinking was chillingly used to justify the existence of dungeons and confinement centers in Soviet Russia where thousands of people perished for the crime of questioning some of the policies of the state. The logic is alarmingly simple. It starts with the “self-evident” major premise that the communist party represents the interests of the people. Based on this proposition, it is then easy to infer that anyone who disagrees with the party is against the people. Once we have come this far, it can now be logically concluded that anyone who opposes the interest of the party is against the people and needs to be dealt by the state. Ironically, the humanism that forms the basis of Marxist promise of liberation becomes the foundation for the elimination of human freedom to think and act independently of the dictates of those in power. It is a form of hedgehog model which is at once defensive as well as violent.

Maoist rebellion had provided new energy to the Nepali people to work for a socio-economic formation that is inclusive and fair. However, this cannot be used as a justification for imposing a political system that rejects the fundamental premises of pluralism in favor of a one-party rule. THE GREY AREA

For the Nepali Maoists, t he worldview of pluralism represents a threat to the hedgehog strategy of power which they have followed with single-minded determination in all the years of violence and conflict for almost a decade. This has been amply reflected in their actions while they were in power and their recent proposals in the constituent assembly. For example, the Rookmangad Katawal episode has to do with more than the firing of a general of the army. The then PM was determined to complete the integration process of the two armies within a short period even if it meant firing the chief of the army who was then scheduled to retire in the next two months. The idea seems to have been to remove the chief since he was opposed to the Maoist model of integration that was in line with the vision of the then PM as outlined in his famous taped speech in Saktikhor where it was stated with conviction that when the Maoist soldiers become a part of the national army the whole of the security structure would finally be under the command of the communist party. Once the army was under the control of the party, it would virtually complete the process of capturing the state, an objective that was constantly repeated by the Maoist high command in their speeches all across the country. The same rhetoric continues to this day.

The question of consistency between theory and praxis leading ultimately to socialism and finally a communist model of social-economic configuration has been a powerful vision for change. Yet the fact remains that the realization of the vision in a social and economic formation characterized by social and cultural diversity has proved to be a Herculean task since it provides opportunity for numerous interpretation of Marxist dialectics in analyzing the objective conditions for change. This explains why there are numerous communist parties in our own country even though all of them claim their inspiration from one single intellectual source. For the Nepali communists who claim to be the adherents of Mao, the ideological underpinnings of China in the Mao and the Deng era provides them the opportunity to explain their position as to what they mean by Maoism. If they are unable to accept this question, one would then have to conclude that their brand of Maoism is nothing more than a veil to hide their ambition of “capturing the state” — a term that they are often fond of — and imposing a one-party authoritarianism in the name of a multi-party system.

We should, of course, note here that a polity based on pluralism is also not an automatic guarantee against a form of plutocracy where democratic infrastructure is successfully used to perpetuate the rule of the few at the cost of the many. Nevertheless, in this age of rapid advances in education, communication and globalization, the cost of maintaining an elite rule becomes increasingly costly and difficult since the possibility of protest and pressure that is hopefully embedded in a pluralistic political system can be expected to function over time.

The Maoist rebellion and its various socio-economic agendas have certainly provided new energy and strength to the Nepali people to work for a socio-economic formation that is inclusive and fair. However, this cannot be used as a justification for imposing a political system that rejects the fundamental premises of pluralism in favor of a one-party rule in the guise of a multi-party system. History has shown us that the management of politics has always remained a difficult task for one-party authoritarian system even when it pledges its alliance to Marxism. This is the lesson of the 20th century. It would be wise on the part of the Maoists to take cognizance of this reality and cooperate in drafting a constitution where the values of political pluralism are institutionalized while focusing fully on questions of economic and social justice. It is to this task that the creative intellect of the Maoist party needs to concentrate. Perhaps, none of us fit the pure hedgehog or the fox classification. The grey area in between is where we should concentrate.

Published in Republica Daily in the  04.04.2010


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