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Counter Democracy & Passive Revolution

Dr Partha Chatterjee, an eminent Indian Political Scientist, has penned a book, ‘I Am the People: Reflections on Popular Sovereignty Today’, in which he has discussed the evolution of Popular Sovereignty or People’s Sovereignty in the last 200 years. The author has also discussed various events of the East, the West, the Colonial Powers and their Colonies in order to explain the past, present and future of the People’s Sovereignty. Although the in-depth analysis of such a vast concept satisfies the readers, it also raises some important questions.

Dr Chatterjee has concentrated mainly on Nation, Nationalism and Nation-State while narrating the evolution of People’s Sovereignty. It is commonly believed that the Nation has given birth to the People… and, the Political Feeling of the People has created Nationalism. However, the author has claimed that this relationship is not such a simple one! According to Dr Chatterjee, the feeling of Nationality, the Power of the People and their Sense of Self-identity are closely related to Capital in contemporary world, and these concepts are changing, constantly. He has said that the global structure of Nation is shaping the Self-identity of the People. It is characterised by racial inequality, constant humiliation and subjugation of some nations, immoral nature of power and constant pressure of Mass Politics, which centralise the Political Power, and ultimately allow some individuals to enjoy that power! On the one hand, there are the bureaucratic form of Capitalism, the predominance of process, and institutional priority; and on the other hand, there are the political feeling and self-identity of the people… now, a question may arise as to what the consequences of the People’s Sovereignty in the tug of war between the two are?

Dr Chatterjee has given an answer to this… however, that is not easy for everyone to understand. There has never been anything, called People’s Sovereignty. Perhaps, this concept is the fantasy of modern Capitalism that has helped the system in different times. Here, the question remains how it could excite the people as this fantasy faded… People still respond to the call of Nationalism, but they don’t consider Sovereignty as a Right!

If the Future fails to show a new path, then the people lose interest in Fantasy. Hence, the concept of People’s Sovereignty is facing a formidable obstacle today. The imaginary Power of the People faces a harsh reality: the People! In the contemporary world, Democracy faces Populism or Populist Politics, which would lead People to a different direction. The logic behind Sovereignty and the path of Populism are different, although they have a relation.

Mao Zedong, once, mentioned that “the Country wants Freedom, the Nation wants Liberation and the People Want Revolution”! However, the scenario has changed. Still, one can find that even Mao had declared that he would never accept the myth of Sovereignty. He wanted to determine the relationship shared between Freedom and Social Change, People and Class, Race and Liberation, and Revolution and Power in a different way. In the era of Liberal Capitalism and Globalisation (of the Economy), the interrelationships between the Country, the Nation, the People and their Political Consciousness are constantly getting redefined. The volume of production, too, is increasing in cases of unorganised or small and medium sector. However, the workers are being employed on a temporary basis. It is hence, the concept of Nationality, here, tends to be meaningless, and the People lose faith in Representative Democracy. It, at times, seems that the People emerge as arch-enemies of Democracy!

Dr Chatterjee has related the discussion about People’s Sovereignty to the present form of Populist Politics. He has also discussed about its sources, as well as its Past. In his publication, readers can find the details of each and every source and its relation with Democracy and Capitalism… but, not in the light of the history of Race, Nationalism, Public Consciousness and Political Practice! The author has refused to admit the fact that the People, especially the oppressed, considered Politics in a different way, and not through the lens of Race and Nationalism

Still, Dr Chattejee deserves credit for analysing the various sources of Populist Politics. One can find different types of Populist Politics – like Peasant-centric, Religion-centric and Nationalist – in the history of modern State. Incidentally, most of them opposed the structure of Representative Democracy! Even in Russia under the Tsarist rule, the rulers thought that Liberal Reforms would not work, and they should go back to the People. As the structure of Representative Democracy deteriorates, the Populist Politics has started dominating the Democratic System. Instead of sending their representatives to the Parliament, the People want to become a part of the system. This trend can be called ‘Counter Democracy’.

The Counter Democracy is related to Sovereignty, but not very closely… The fantasy or myth of People’s Sovereignty had become a reality even in the 20th Century, and the Global Geopolitics tried to maintain a safe distance with it. So, it is not possible to understand the limitations of Populist Politics through any particular Ideology, or by analysing any particular political argument. Instead, one will have to study the history of various political strategies and their applications to realise the essence of Populist Politics. The Capitalist System has always tried to generate a Populist Feeling among the people in oder to trigger a Chaos in the society, and to dominate the Politics. However, Dr Chatterjee has said (p. 97) that the Passive Revolution, a by-product of Populist Politics, poses a serious threat to the Capitalist System. In fact, the Populist Politics is dangerous for the overall Democratic Aspects of the Capital. Hence, everybody, from the Liberals to the Leftists, launch attacks on Populism.

Right-wing Populist Politics often turns into Authoritarian or Dictatorial Rule, while Left-wing Populism gradually becomes Social after gaining Power! The Left-wing Populism, certainly, has some limitations, but also has many possibilities. A Populist Awakening creates the possibility of that big political change, which helps us understand the Politics of a particular moment. Those special moments create the Politics of Historical Explosion. It cannot be understood only by studying Passive Revolution or Peaceful Revolution! For that, one needs to study that History through the mirror of Class Conflict and Social Conflict. The Capitalist Theory of Passive Revolution, ultimately, denies the own character and history of Class Struggle. In fact, the Theory of Passive Revolution is just a fantasy or myth, just like People’s Sovereignty!

Dr Chatterjee’s publication prompts the readers to think about Politics, deeply. This must-read book has not only resolved some problems, but has also given rise to some basic questions…

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