Radical Democracy: why is it still relevant today?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Terms and concepts in News; New Humanism;

Mains level: Types of Democracies; Radical Democracy;

Why in the News?

The ongoing socio-political and economic crises highlight the need for societal reorganization.

  • Manabendra Nath Roy and colleagues proposed a theory reconciling Freedom with justice, countering the failures of Liberal democracy and modern dictatorship.
  • They highlighted crises on the following grounds:
    • 19th Century Liberal Democracy and Capitalist Exploitation.
    • Degeneration of Communism and Rise of Fascism.
    • World Wars and Global Conflict.

What is Radical Democracy?

  • Radical democracy is a form of democracy that advocates for an extensive expansion of equality and liberty. It views democracy as an ongoing, inclusive, and reflexive process.
  • Radical democracy differs from traditional democracy’s approach to equality, liberty, and the democratic process.
  • Traditional democracy typically focuses on established structures and procedures, aiming for consensus and stability.

The key principles of radical democracy in India (by M. N. Roy):

  • Decentralized Democracy: Radical democracy advocates for a highly decentralized democracy based on a network of people’s committees, enabling citizens to exercise democratic control over the state.
  • Economic Reorganization: It emphasizes the progressive satisfaction of material needs as a prerequisite for individuals to unfold their intellectual potential, with economic liberation being essential for advancing toward freedom.
  • Collective Efforts for Freedom: It envisions a world of freedom achieved through the collective efforts of intellectually free individuals who act as guides and friends of the people, promoting rational and ethical political practices.
  • Social Renaissance: Radical democracies stressed the importance of educating people on freedom and rational cooperative living to achieve social revolution, requiring an increasing number of individuals committed to freedom, reason, and social harmony.
  • Party-less Democracy Critique: Roy’s advocacy for party-less democracy is critiqued for potentially contradicting the fundamental democratic freedom of association, as political parties play a crucial role in democratic processes.

Significance of Radical Approach towards Elections:

  • Empowerment of Citizens: Radical democracy emphasizes empowering citizens beyond mere voting, focusing on raising individuals’ dignity and enabling active participation in decision-making processes.
  • Critique of Traditional Democracy: Challenges the limitations of traditional liberal democracy, highlighting how parliamentary systems can lead to demagoguery and a loss of civil liberties, especially for economically disadvantaged individuals.
  • Decentralization and Local Participation: Advocates for decentralization of legislative power to local councils, promoting direct participation and accountability at the grassroots level, ensuring a more inclusive and responsive democratic process.
  • Protection Against Authoritarianism: Seeks to safeguard against authoritarianism and dictatorship by dispersing power and preventing monopolization by political parties or their leaders, fostering a more pluralistic and accountable political landscape.
  • Enhanced Democratic Culture: Promotes a vibrant democratic culture that goes beyond institutional arrangements, emphasizing citizen empowerment through critical thinking, and participatory politics, and cultivating a public ethos that values democratic principles and practices.

How does a Radical Democracy provide a Humanist Economy?

  • Roy criticizes Capitalist and Nationalized economies for their centralization and failure to prioritize human needs.
    • He advocates for the modernization of agriculture through better irrigation, fertility improvement, and infrastructure development, emphasizing the cooperative organization of rural economies.
    • Economic policies should focus on social security, unemployment insurance, old age pensions, and improving health, housing, and education.
  • Roy argues for a balanced approach to industrialization that addresses immediate needs and promotes social and economic justice, warning against rapid industrialization that benefits only a small fraction of the population.

Significance of Radical Democracy:

  • Achieve true freedom and social justice: Radical democracy, according to Roy, is essential for achieving true freedom and social justice. Democracy should be viewed as a product of civilization, possible only in advanced societies where individual freedom is recognized as interconnected with the freedom of others.
  • Prevent totalitarianism:  Roy emphasizes that economic deprivation and social oppression pave the way for totalitarianism. To prevent this, democracy must be grounded in individual creativity, rationality, and collective efforts to transform society.
  • Humanism and moral radicalism: He advocates for a philosophy rooted in humanism and moral radicalism, asserting that humans are the creators of their world and emphasizing the need for a rational and scientific approach to societal development.

Conclusion: Radical democracy, rooted in humanism and moral radicalism, is crucial for true freedom and social justice, requiring a rational, creative, and collective effort to transform society and prevent totalitarianism.

Manabendra Nath Roy, better known as M. N. Roy, was a prominent 20th-century Indian revolutionary, philosopher, radical activist, and political theorist. He played a significant role in the Indian independence movement and was the founder of the Mexican Communist Party and the Communist Party of India. Roy’s political career was marked by his involvement in various revolutionary activities, his advocacy for radical humanism, and his contributions to Marxist philosophy.



Mains PYQ:

Q Starting from inventing the ‘basic structure’ doctrine, the judiciary has played a highly proactive role in ensuring that India develops into a thriving democracy. In light of the statement, evaluate the role played by judicial activism in achieving the ideals of democracy. (UPSC IAS/2014)

Prelims PYQs

Who among the following were the founders of the “Hind Mazdoor Sabha” established in 1948?

a)     Krishna Pillai, E.M.S. Namboodiripad and K.C . George

b)     Jayaprakash Narayan, Deen Day al Upadhyay and M.N. Roy

c)       C .P. Ramaswamy Iyer, K. Kamaraj and Veeresalingam Pantulu

d)     Ashok Mehta, T.S. Ramanujam and G.G. Mehta


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