Democracy of Producers

Synopsis: Real democratic freedom is impossible without economic equality.


Democracy is about freedom. Rosa Luxemburg famously opined that real freedom is the freedom to disagree. In a functional sense, democracy means discussion, debate and dissent.

But in India, these are fast disappearing and there is a deliberative deficit.

How democracy accumulates undesirable tendencies?

Shrinking Public space: There are only some spaces provided by political parties wherein discussions are directed and controlled.

Inequality: Structurally, democracy must mean equality, but equality is possible only in a non-hierarchical situation.

No real decentralisation: Under democratic decentralisation, what really happened was the devolution of certain centrally determined functions, responsibilities and resources to lower tiers of administration, without changing the power structures.

Hence, power, whether at the national, regional, local, corporate or family level, always tends towards centralisation.

Power itself is the problem: Power is always used by the powerful against the powerless. Thus, the state is an instrument of oppression. The more unequal a society, the more authoritarian the state.

Growth of authoritarian State: In India, because economic inequalities is increasing, the state is becoming more and more authoritarian. India is becoming a democracy without freedom.

Democracy prefers stability and continuity: questioning inequities invites draconian laws. For instance, statement in Madras High Court by famous lawyer and human rights activist Kannabiran: “Crime is defined by law, but the criminal is determined by the state.”

Another example, migrant workers were treated badly in the lockdown and the incident in 2018 in which a starving Adivasi in Attappadi, Kerala, was beaten to death for stealing some food.

What is the way forward?

First, in an egalitarian system, state power has no place. Marx had said that in a classless society, state would wither away.

Second, real democracy is economic democracy, as Ambedkar stressed. Hence, we need to ensure economic security to all, not through an income transfer programme (universal basic income), but through the provision of universal property rights.

Third, the poor should be treated not as welfare borrower, but as consumers, active producers, and potential entrepreneurs.

Fourth, MGNREGA allocation must be utilised not for creating wage-employment but for building the asset base of the poor, developing entrepreneurship among them, building idea/incubation centres and helping undertake production/ business units, individually or on a group basis.

Source: This post is based on the article “Democracy of Producers” published in Indian Express on 16th September 2021.

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