Why Social Democracy in
There is, among the political actors in Nepal, i.e. leaders
of political parties, leaders of the multitude of 'sister
organization' of political parties and many other active
political-party sympathizers, a huge and dangerous problem
of comprehending history and historical process. Indeed,
this problem has shaped and colored, to various degrees,
the political thinking of most politically-inclined citizens
and voters. It is the very narrow present, the immediate,
the most concrete, and the most local that occupy their
attention. As such, they often miss the opportunity to seize
the specificity of a historical moment or an entire flow
of historical sequences. Or else, and obversely, they also
often miss seizing the specificity of a historical moment
because they are given to sweepingly large-scale and long-term
ideological and political-economic generalizations. An emphasis
on the long term and the large scale, of course, is good
by itself. But over-generalized historical and spatial interpretation--and
political programming-misses the specificity of the present
historical moment. In either case, there is a huge chance
that the actors miss acting upon a specific and historically
structured world, regional and 'local' state system. Both
over-concretization and over-generalization whether in terms
of history or space or peoples or whatever, leads to an
ahistorical conception of the present which, in turn, contributes
to unwarranted world view and political programming.
This, of course, is not merely a problem that uniquely
afflicts political leaders and activists in Nepal. This
problem has had many global, regional and local editions.
As we can see, the fundamentalist-Islamization in Pakistan,
which began right after 1947 and which, in fact, was 'seeded'
in the 1930s, is a glaring regional instance. On the other
hand, there have been spectacularly successful instances
of seizing history in all its specificity and linking it
continuously-up to a long stretch, which is probably all
that can be done within the limits of historical-structural
dialectics--to the flow of history. The spectacular and
continuing success of China--and India to a large extent--attests
to the extreme astuteness with which local, regional and
global history was seized there. The republican turn in
Nepal four years ago was also, locally, an instance how
history was seized both by the political parties and the
youth who were facing a rapidly changing landscape, i.e.
a crisis, of production and generation of livelihood. As
hinted, this is not merely or primarily a matter of a particular
psychology that afflicts political leaders. It is, as any
other social process, historically and socially constructed-although
its most visible manifestation may be more easily fathomable,
for some, in terms of individual action.
Let me begin by dividing political party and political
leaders along the conventional right, center-left and communist
divide. The communist parties across the world often cannot
comprehend the historical process because they cultivate
a false 'history' based on the fake death of capitalism.
This was, of course, very largely based on late-Lenin's
false diagnosis of an imperialism which, according to him,
had already reached its peak by 1914. Capitalism, as such,
had nowhere to go but down. This false historical diagnosis
provided the basis for the 'Soviet workers' state' and for
a pre-mature socialist program. No matter the fact that
many, even at that time, saw the 'Soviet state' not as one
of owned and operated by workers but of the power-hungry
and autocratic communist party, the war-weary military,
the petty-bourgeois and loyalist bureaucracy and the landless
peasants who had been promised farm prior to the Stalinist
collective. During the post-WW II and post-Mao period and,
in particular, after the demise of the Soviet Union in 1990,
an increasingly defensive but vocal communist parties kept
alive the appearance of the 'imminent demise of capitalism
and thus the political and moral duty of the communist party
to immediately throw capitalism to the dustbin of history'
alive. Relevant instances of such rhetoric includes till
the British labor party's rhetoric of nationalization of
private enterprise before Tony Blair, i.e. till just two
decades ago. Even centrist parties have, at times, threatened
of 'nationalization' in India. In Nepal, one can bring to
notice rhetoric such as the undefined, expedient, archaic-sounding
agragami (i.e. 'forward moving'). There is a far more popularly
known and accepted-indeed venerated in some circles in the
manner of a sacred--terminology of pragatisheel (i.e. progressive).
This of course, is also more politically transparent and
universally comprehensible. But this is precisely why this
would not do: The term is tainted because it is known to
refer to a relatively known class of political, economic
and cultural changes. Thus, communist leaders and sympathizers
in Nepal are agragami but not pragatisheel. Then there are
other rhetorical devices, e.g. 'krantikari bhumi sudhar'
(which convolutes both the notions of revolution and reform),
janabadi sikshya (which apparently negates 'bourgeois education
system'). Despite the rhetoric of ekkaisaun shatabdiko janabad,
the UCPNM incessantly threatens to go back to the Stalinist
era, e.g. vide the definition of janata (i.e. 'people')
in UCPNM Chairman Prachanda's presentation in the recent
In the world-historical context that Nepal is currently
located, the programs of 'socialism,' 'new democracy,' 'worker-led-capitalism'
(which apparently implies state capitalism), etc. are similar
rhetoric and political programs which lead to a dangerous
incomprehension of history. It is noteworthy, on the other
hand, that everything about capitalism is progressive (or
janabadi-if this is a proper translation) in comparison
to the pre-capitalist forms-except for private property
and, of course, its large-scale and deep consequences. The
preceding rhetoric and political programs, on the other
hand, and foundationally, are expressions of denial that
capitalism is revolutionary in itself in particular historical
circumstances, i.e. in pre-capitalist political economies.
These rhetoric and political programs, on the other hand,
deny the basic logic of historical and dialectical reasoning:
That capitalism needs maturing before contradictions within
it can mature and begins the process of bursting at the
seams. Capitalism, as a specific historical construction,
will wane and give rise to a new political economic system.
But it needs to rise first before it enters a process of
Most (capitalist) bourgeois-democratic political parties
hide behind another from of ahistoric comprehension and
acting. Such parties acknowledge and fully appreciate the
nature of the past and the transitions that have taken place
since. Such parties and leaders, in association with the
underclass, led to the global demise of hereditary rule
and heralded the era of bourgeois democracy. But they also
tend to think that there will be large-scale, foundational
or structural changes any more. For them the present is
the future; the future has already arrived. Bourgeois democracy
is not only the final peak but also the endless plateau
of history. Thus, bourgeois democracy, as reckoned by one
author-and celebrated by a great many bourgeois-democratic
parties and leaders--is the end of history. Tomorrow will
be one more today and so on and on. The economy might change
and grow. There might be political changes to be sure but
these will remain under the ambit of bourgeois democracy.
The future, in any case, will remain structurally constant.
Both of the readings are, of course, ahistorical. The end
of the world-capitalist system-proclaimed nearly one full
century ago--is as false as the final victory of world-capitalist
bourgeois democracy. Political programs based on such readings
are almost certain to lead to unwarrantedly subjective,
romantic and false. Such programs are also likely to inflict
unwarranted contradiction into the body politic, obstruct
transition of the mode of production and distribution and
inflict unwarranted hardship and pain on citizens, workers,
consumers, students, family persons and so on.
Both the communist and the classical capitalist bourgeois-democratic
roads are, therefore, closed for the present. There must
be some other tried and tested model that we can rely on.
No model, of course, is perfect. But the weight of history
and political and economic structure would necessarily privilege
one model over all others. I argue there that the privileged
model is social democracy.
If the historical and dialectical reasoning made in the
preceding section is valid, we are forced to recognize one
more fact: Social democracy, subject to historical-dialectical
laws as it is, is not a universal and cross-historical panacea.
As everything else, social democracy is a specific historical
construction and is, therefore, 'appropriate' for certain
specific historical political economies and not for others.
It is most appropriate within a political-economic form
which is capitalist and democratic. It rounds out the very
rough and painful edges of runaway classical capitalist
bourgeois capitalism by means of democratic political, economic,
legal, military and popular control. In doing so it makes
tames capitalist development and growth and, in so doing,
makes capitalism more resilient and durable. Capitalism
and democracy, in specific historical political economies,
can become sharply antithetical. One tames and supports
the other. Social democracy, in such settings, can provide,
for a long but not interminable term, a mechanism of resolving
contradictions within capitalist democracy. In the longer
run, as is the case with all other political-economic systems,
contradictions within a social democratic set up become
irresolvable. But social democracy itself can evolve over
a period of time such that resolutions can be sought in
a progressive manner with a social democratic set up. However,
within the bourgeois democratic setup, the social-democratic
strand may well enjoy a longevity that other strands may
not. Eventually, however, social democracy will certainly
devour itself and make way from some other political-economic
system. It is more possible-among many other possibilities-that
a self-devoured social democratic system will be some form
of socialism. Bit this is by no means certain. The preparation
and execution of political activism may well play a key
role in deciding the 'final' outcome.
What is the essence of social democracy?
- A social democratic set up is one in which capital,
labor and the state become partners in an evolving and
contradiction-prone compact. The state is vested, unlike
in the strictest Marxist sense, with an autonomy which
it utilizes to mediate between labor and capital-two forces
which are antithetical but also one, within a capitalist
system, which cannot realize one's potential without the
other. The two are congenitally in conflict. But their
conflict can be managed to more or less extent during
a specific historical period. The state acquires autonomy,
first, by virtue of the fact that its executive body,
the government is periodically elected both by capitalist
but also by labor in order to oversee their interests.
The state can waver and fluctuate in particular instances
vis-à-vis labor and capital with respect to particular
disputes but it participates in and legitimizes a process
of collective bargaining by means of broader bourgeois
democratic and social democratic principles, rules that
are established during the practice of such a regime and
various other national, regional and global exigencies.
But it cannot waver and take a consistent and sustained
stand in favor of one and against the other. Second, the
state also acquires autonomy because it acquires a strong
financial base which it utilizes to enhance the capability
and welfare of its citizens. And, third, the state also
acquires autonomy because it implements legislations promptly
and without partiality.
- Universal ownership of and access to a minimal set of
private and public political, economic and cultural resources
is a prerequisite to effective citizenship within a social
democratic system. Social democracy implies not only,
among others, the right to expression and vote but also
the right to vote independently based on self decision
without fear or favor. Ownership and access to resources,
access to a minimal level of living and opportunities
to enhance capability for self and one's dependents, thus,
is fundamental free and fearless exercise of democracy.
It is also the highway to the expansion and deepening
of democracy within capitalism. This is what leads to
loyalty, trust and solidarity within the citizenry and
in relation to the state.
- Social democracy goes beyond the minimum wage, etc provisions.
It visualizes citizens not only as workers but as human
beings who require means to support themselves over their
lifetime (as well as those of their dependents). A social
democratic set up, thus, provisions for lifetime capability
enhancement and welfare. Thus, citizens in a social democratic
set up have claims to support whenever such support is
warranted. On the other hand, this support is financially
based on taxes-usually fairly progressive taxes--on income
earned by the workers themselves and their employers.
In addition, there are a host of corporate and other taxes.
The taxes, in effect, are utilized both to reproduce labor
power and to create a market for goods and services that
the capitalist entrepreneurs produce. The state, thus,
is an independent channel of income support to the citizens.
This is what encourages workers and other citizens to
see that the state is, in part, their ally.
- Within a capitalist system, social democracy valorizes
labor better than any other political form. This in turn
implies a minimum level of wages, fair job and job performance
practices-with tactically flexible definitions of what
constitutes fairness and adequate performance, and collective
- Social democracy, however, is not only about the 'social'
i.e. economic, financial, etc. redistribution. It is also
about democracy, about rule by all citizens and voters
and their representatives. Strengthening democracy, fundamental
rights, oversight capability of legitimate popular bodies,
thus, is fundamental to social democracy. Economic and
financial enabling of all citizens, of course, helps much
in expanding and strengthening democracy.
- Social democracy, because it insists on universalized
economic, political and cultural enabled democracy, removes
barriers to effective citizenship and selfhood and self
respect faced by various subordinated and marginalized
groups, e.g. women, Dalits, marginalized ethnic and regional
groups and so forth and expands and deepens democracy.
Social democracy can play an extremely powerful role in
removing and weakening ascribed and 'inherited' inequality.
It can be effective instrument to promote equity.
- Social democracy goes beyond all inherited privileges
except for private property and investments (which can
be reasonably taxed, however). It negates subordination
and discrimination on the bases of caste, ethnicity, gender,
faith, location of residence, 'indigeneity' and 'newcomer-ness,'
various 'orientations' and so forth. It defines citizenship
inclusively and promotes equity and equality among all
citizens. No citizen is legally privileged over another.
Customary privileges, except those related to private
property, are systematically and consciously weakened
down and eroded.
- Social justice: The above 3 points are about what social
justice is about within a capitalist system.
- Social justice is not only about social justice, however.
It is also about successively enabling capitalism and
promoting economic growth as well as public revenues and
utilizing the revenue to promote both capitalism and democracy.
Social democracy, as noted, tames runaway capitalism but
also gives it durability and resilience. Lack of democracy
and production of low-capability youth and workers produces
uncompetitive and low-quality capitalism. Social democracy,
in contrast, by redistributing resources and investing
in education, health, etc. produces high-capability citizens
- Social democracy also ensures a relatively peaceful
political, economic and cultural climate which is both
an objective of human society and life as well as an instrument
to promote economy, employment and income, give citizens
the dignity that they deserve and to reduce violence.
It is likely to ensure a more stable future in which individuals
and groups can plan ahead without being forced to consistently
react to powerful forces. It allows, therefore, a measure
of self control and self initiative.
Why should Nepali political parties and leaders push for
it at this juncture? Why the present and specific historical
and structural juncture is an opportune period to begin
instituting social democracy?
- For one, it is, at least for the present, the only possible
common political ground both in relation to political
parties as well as the electoral distribution across the
right-left-communist divide. The rightist political forces
are at the weakest ever, even though there are rightist
elements in all political parties. Monarchist, religious
fundamentalist, militarist, etc. tendencies are the weakest
ever. The center-left and communist alliance, in turn,
is potentially the strongest ever. And this is a period
in which a new constitution is being drafted. This is
the time when key elements of the social democratic elements
will have to be enshrined in the constitution.
- As long as we are talking about political parties, it
should be noted that the UML has definitely transitioned
from its Leninist days of the 1970 and the 1980s. In 1990
it transitioned from the radical left to one which championed
'multiparty people's democracy'. Man Mohan Adhikari noted
in the early 1990s that the UML was not a communist but
a social-democratic polity party. He was derided for that
by some within his own party. But that was an astute and
daring characterization. The risk now, on the other hand,
is that many UML stalwarts may veer to the right of social
democracy. Nonetheless, nominally a communist party, it
may, as a non-official party line, well be expected it
to broadly pursue a social democratic line. The Nepali
Congress Party has a long history of nominal democratic
socialism, a notion which was more familiar prior to the
1980s and one which has a stronger kinship ties to non-Marxist
socialism. The party leadership apparently spans from
the mild right to the center and left. At times it has
espoused a stronger version of land reform than other
left and communist parties. Its political center may fall
somewhere along the center, making it well amenable to
a softer version of social democracy and a relatively
hard line version of bourgeois democracy. The left-of-center
electoral pull in the country would not allow it to decisively
move to the right of the center. The UCPNM, to the extent
that it adopts a strategy or even a tactic of working
with a democratic and capitalist system may, like the
UML in the past, well see that its future-or at ;east
medium-run future-lies in social democracy. If this does
come true, this would constitute a potent victory for
social democracy. Bit then the UCPNM is in the midst of
a large-scale ideological and political transition itself
and it is therefore uncertain the course it will take.
It may emphasize the social but push democracy to the
backburner. It may, for example, also very well opt for
mildly redistributive state capitalism, which is where
its inclinations have been for a long time. This course
would, of course, be bad news for democracy inasmuch as
it would lead towards one-party state. Finally, ethnicist,
regionalist, faith-based fundamentalist forces, and forces
which encourage militarist tendencies may well block the
path to a social democratic set up.
- The present is a highly politicized moment in history
and moving toward social democracy requires a politicized
citizenry. A politicized but democratic and 'capitalist
citizenry' is a 'natural' ally of social democracy.
- The present is the historical moment when a republic
has been born. But it is not only the birth of a republic
that is the signature of the present. The present is also
characterized by large-scale social transition and a rejection
of some of the crucial ways of making a living, believing
and relating. These include changes in the mode of generation
of livelihood. Just witness the significance of the slide
of the rural, the agricultural, the subsistent, and the
in the GNP, the family budget and the life-preparation
and inclination of the youth. Witness the huge number
of the youth involved in labor migration from the interiors
to the district headquarters the Tarai and other cities
and towns, to cities and towns in India and to southeast
and west Asia and beyond. The global recession may mean
that the rate of labor emigration may not increase. It
is unlikely, however, that the size of the outward bound
labor migration will substantially decrease. The high
rate of growth in India, in particular, implies that capitalist
enterprises as well as the upper and middle classes in
India will increase the demand of labor, including of
those from Nepal. Growth in China may have a similar consequence
across the northern border. More organized expansion of
labor migration in Chinese manufacturing and service establishments,
of course, will have to wait major diplomatic initiatives.
Similar initiatives may open up several other Asian and
other countries as well. It is not only the number involved
that is of significance from the point of view of social
democracy. The uprooting from land and the rural implies
an immense impetus for the rise of the public and of the
democratic. It also implies both the opportunity and the
obligation to draw resources from the enlarged pool of
income earners and to address the needs of the inept and
the subordinated, dispossessed and marginalized.
- To supplement the above, the rapidly rising differentiation
and diversification of the economy and the increasing
disassociation of the youth from older forms of social
relationship-including family relationships, implies the
need to bind them into newer forms of economic, political
and cultural relationship. It is best that these new relationships
be founded on social democracy.
- Several agreements entered into by the currently dominant
political parties, e.g. the 12-point agreement; possess
a social-democratic content.
- The interim constitution, which is an agreement among
political parties on how to run the new state, has pronounced
social democratic features.
- The debates in the constitutional assembly and the reports
of the various committees also can provide a platform
for social democracy. The existing bones of contention
in the constituent assembly, except for those related
to land reform, are not frontally related to the substance
of political economy but to other political, administrative,
and 'cultural' issues.
- The large size and the globally historically unprecedented
economic growth in India and China, Nepal's immediate
neighbors demand that Nepal match or at least come close
to their growth rates. The growth in India and China may
well help Nepal's growth as well-to the extent that appropriate
policies are adopted. This growth, in turn, will quicken
the adoption of the social democratic agenda in Nepal.
To conclude, there is a widespread recognition in Nepal
now that the classical capitalist road will turn to a dead
end without the ownership of the political system by the
relatively dispossessed and the less capable. Keeping ownership
of the state, in turn, requires that the workers are entitled
to part of the profit earned by the capitalists in the form
of support and subsides funded by public revenues generated
through progressive taxes. Bourgeois democratic parties,
which often ally themselves more to capitalism than democracy,
cannot afford to do so. They have to cease seeing nothing
but democracy in capitalism even as the communist parties
must see than capitalism and democracy can go at least some
way, may be even a long way, forward.
It is necessary to arrive at a historically and structurally
appropriate delimitation of dimensions of social democracy.
It is an appropriate historical moment to adopt an evolutionary,
gradual initiative on social democracy. Now that, in Nepal,
politics is far ahead of economics, e.g. democracy way ahead
of employment creation, the latter deserves relatively more
emphasis in the short run. Nepal cannot rival relatively
full-blown social democracies for several decades. Nepali
political leaders, instead, and like political leaders immediately
after World War II, have to begin building social democracy
Note: Paper Presented at a seminar organized
by FES-CNS on "Inner-Party Democracy and Social Democracy,"
August 7-8, 2010