The following is the transcript of snippets of P. Sainath’s insights on democracy. I think there is much to think of here. Many thanks Atul Hirde for making this video and sharing.
I believe that a democratic political culture is essential for any kind of governance, any kind of social contract, for any kind of society to be together, live together, work together, but the thing is, when you say “Do you agree that democracy is the best form?” You have one concept in your mind, which is not going to be easy for you to articulate. I may have another concept of it in my mind. Which may be completely different.
What is democracy?
Now, when we are talking about Western democracy, let it also be clear that there are many kinds of… there’s more than one Western concept of democracy, okay?
One can look at Thomas Paine. He had radical ideas of democracy, but the main people who led the US independence and benefited from it, unlike Thomas Paine, were people like Jefferson, Washington… all of them were slave owners.
We speak of the ideals of Jeffersonian democracy. Thomas Jefferson not only wrote beautiful and exquisite poems, he was also pretty harsh on his slaves and he was willing to sell months old children of slaves. He did not release his slaves in his will – as Washington did for some of them – and Mr. Jefferson also had profoundly racist prejudices.
Democracies that you have in the west in the United Kingdom or the US are based on the enslavements of people, whether in Africa or Iraq or all around the world. In that sense there is continuity and consistency in the approach.
All the founding fathers of the United States, many of the … you have people from the 17th, 18th century, you have people harking back to Rome, harking back to Greece, writing epics on these nations and the early republics and the democracies… these were democracies based on slave ownership.
When European nations went out and enslaved the world, it was very good to remember Rome and Greece. And it is very good in Greece to remember Plato and Aristotle, because these were guys who justified slavery. They saw the slave as property. Adam Smith writes of the slave as if he is a piece of machinery whereas in ancient Greece. Whether it is ancient greece or more modern England. Adam Smith writes of the slave as a piece of machinery – whose parts wear out. And you have to reinvest.
There’s a lot of consistency in this view of human beings.
When you are an imperialist power in the 18th, 19th centuries, conquering people around the world, it is pretty good to restore those elements of the Roman, Greco-Roman, other cultures which support your position, because those were slave owning republics and slave owning democracies and slave owning empires and most of those who founded the United States drew their inspiration from that kind of democracy.
It’s on view in Iraq, where everyone of you has sent the token number of troops as well, okay? We’re seeing that kind of democracy. A democracy again based on enslavement of people.
You were asking me a question, “Why did Gandhi call Western Democracy a diluted form of fascism?”
Do you know something about Gandhi? All but five months of his life, he lived under British Imperialism. He watched the nation that called itself the mother of all Parliaments and he watched them enslave a hundred nations. All of them completely oppressed and held under the British rule. While the British power practiced democracy at home. To some extent. Even that democracy at home was substantially improved by the radical work and writings and ideas of people like Thomas Paine and others.
Please notice, Gandhi did not say democracy is diluted fascism. He said Western democracy is diluted fascism.
Let me give you an idea. I find it apalling, this Greco-Roman stuff, which is…. I have it coming out of my ears, and then we have a French academic passing through Bombay, who sings the praise of Greco-Roman republics and I think where are… you know… here is a guy coming from France – a nation that has produced far more noble ideas on democracy and egalitarianism than Greece and Rome ever did. Here is the nation that gave the world the slogan, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” – a slogan that Indian freedom fighters took to their graves with them.
Switzerland, oh great. Switzerland. Taught to me in school as the epitome of democracy at every level… when did they give women the right to vote? Some 30 years after India did, because women in India had the right to vote the minute this country was born. I still say it doesn’t make India a good democracy in that sense. It makes India a good electoral democracy.
Unlike people of America, people of this country vote, they use their vote, and they use it to change governments and to produce change.
The man who was the main architect of the Constitution of India, Babasaheb Ambedkar, when the constitution was released, when the constitution was launched, in 1950, Ambedkar said, we have built a thriving political democracy, but we have not accompanied it with economic democracy. The tensions of inequality, the tensions of this contradiction will blow us up one day.
Now if you want to believe that the United States and UK and its allies in Europe went into Iraq to promote democracy, if you believe that, then you can believe in the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, and the rest of it.
Now if Iraq’s national product had been onions, there would have been no war. There are two kinds of things why people went into Iraq. One is of course is the natural resources and the other geo-political stuff. Noam Chomsky put it very well when they have said International relations are also organized pretty much on the lines of the Mafia. If the small shopkeeper refuses to pay, you don’t really need his money, but you gotta beat the shit out of him, because otherwise other shopkeepers will get ideas.
I think a lot of people make the distinction between democratic behavior and democratic governance, and the imposition of a particular breed of a violent democracy, on these nations by the United States and its western allies, I think people are intelligent enough to make this difference.
Many Western minds are not intelligent enough it seems to understand that people make that distinction. They might want democracy. They may not want your democracy.
The Australian political scientist, Alex Carry. I think he summarized when talking about the 20th century. He summarized – he said, “There were three great developments in the 20th Century. The rise and growth of democracy, the rise and growth of corporate power and The rise and growth of corporate media – to try and strangle the rise and growth of democracy.