Radical Socialist has issued an election stand that is online and will also be available in slightly condensed form in Bangla as a printed booklet. I propose to write briefly about many of our demands, and put them up as blogs and Facebook posts. .
As we say, these are demands we will raise before, during and after the elections.
The first of these calls for proportional representation. Such a demand faces two criticisms. One from the liberal and right, another from the left.
The liberal and right opposition says that proportional representation weakens the government. To this our response is, bourgeois democracy claims it stands for accountability of government and MPs to the people. In that case, the First Past The Post System [FPTP] we have is bad. It ensures that big parties get disproportionate seats. It also ensures skewed representation.
First Past The Post: A Route to Marginalising Smaller Parties
In the 1962 Parliament, the undivided CPI had just under 10 % votes, but 29 out of 494 seats. It should have had 49 if seats were proportionally given. In the 2014 Parliament, the BSP had just over 4% votes but not a single seat. Yes. 0 seats. If there had been proportional representation the BSP would have got about 21-22 seats.
On the other hand, the UPA-II in 2009 got above 37% votes and 262 seats out of 543. That is 48% of the seats. The NDA in 2014 did even better. It got just over 38% votes but a clear majority with 336 seats.
For the rich therefore, there is a clear focus. Build up two principal parties. Or, if they have been built, take them under your wings as far as possible. So the RSS has its own agenda, but it is only due to big bourgeois support that the BJP got such massive funding and electoral advantage in 2014.
So are we saying that proportional representation is good? Yes. Are we saying that it will move India to socialism? No. Then why are we bothered?
What Can PR Achieve?
Proportional representation is a means to polarizing political views around alternative programmes and class approaches, of clarifying the fundamental contradictions within capitalism and exposing the class nature of this society, but not in any way a magic tool that will deliver class power to workers.
As India votes in 2019, we have a grim economic situation. This is the result of policies pursued by BJP and Congress. The Global Wealth Report 2018 of Credit Suisse, an investment bank, says India now has 343,000 persons owning over one million US dollars, or about 7 crores of Indian rupees as wealth.
According to the World Inequality Database, the income of the top 1% of Indian population was Rs 33. lakh per adult or Rs 275,000 per month, while the income of the bottom 50% of the population was Rs. 45,000 per year per adult, that is Rs. 3750 per month. The Congress and the BJP when in power have both contributed to this.
The logic of the system encourages parties to frame their policies and messages in order to appeal to this critical minority of voters – whilst the concerns of ‘core’ supporters (particularly where they are concentrated in safe heartland areas) do not carry equivalent weight.
Voters increasingly complain that all the parties are the same and bemoan the lack of choice at elections. In 2029, due to the naked fascistic campaign of the BJP, some may decide otherwise. But event here, the votes are skewed. Anyone on Facebook can see the more sophisticated TMC supporters campaigning, asking people not to waste their votes by voting left, but to vote the TMC to stop the BJP. As we know, the TMC has twice allied with the BJP. Mamata Banerjee was a minister in the NDA government. And she gave Narendra Modi a clean chit after Gujarat 2002. But there will indeed be some voters (I have talked with some myself) who traditionally vote for the left, but feel that this time the best thing to do is vote TMC.
FPTP means that the thresholds needed to get a candidate are very high, and requires support to be strongly localised. It is entirely possible for a party to receive over a million votes in a General Election without getting a single MP elected if that support is spread fairly evenly. The desire not to cast a ‘wasted’ vote is understandable, and frequently leads people to cast their vote ‘tactically’ to keep their least preferred party out.
For there to be truly democratic elections,the class power of the capitalists has to be broken. New institutions of popular representation, including forms of direct democracy need to be built to replace the corrupt institutions that assist in maintaining the entrenched capitalist system. But that does not mean abstract goals to be ushered in one morning. It means putting up demands and fighting for them here and now as well. It means moving through campaign, and arguing for the kind of structure we feel would be relevant under working class rule. A society in transition from the current capitalist society to a classless association of producers would start from the current situation. There would be caste oppression and hierarchy. There would be communalism and minority self-defence. There would be gender differences. And even workers and poor peasants would hardly be free of these problems. So there would be different forces among the oppressed and exploited. And no one force can claim to be THE leading force, supposedly because its leaders have patted themselves on the back and said that they have the proper understanding of the correct theory. Therefore, there would exist numerous parties even among the masses in alliance for a better world. How would we collaborate? The experience of the twentieth century shows that one-party dictatorships are recipes for disaster. So we advocate a proportional representation for the future.
And if so, why should our stance be different for the present? In bourgeois parliaments, PR, by allowing toiling masses to vote for preferred parties, even if small, would make them feel their vote is not a wasted vote. This would strengthen forces fighting for radical change and social justice.
In the FPTP system, a party and policies that do not clearly have majority support in the country, can get a majority in parliament. It was possible for the Congress under Narasimha Rao as well as the BJP under Modi to go in for large scale privatization, even though neither enjoyed such a mandate form the people. Will the Proportional Representation stop it? No. But it will compel governments to negotiate with a range of parties and voices.
Responding to an Argument Against PR
Opponents of the PR from a liberal and right position argue that PR leads to hijacking of Parliament by small parties. What they mean is, small parties should be irrelevant in the country. So in the elections of 2014, voters cast 52,240,648 votes to parties who did not get a single seat. So the votes of 8.97% voters counted for zero. This excluding those who voted for various independent candidates and those who pressed the NOTA button. If the 8.97 % votes are translated into seats what do we get? 48.7. Even chopping out the fraction that is 48 seats.
So we call for proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote. What does it mean? It means that if Radical Socialist puts up candidates and there are some 1,50,000 people willing to vote Radical Socialist, they put 1 against the Radical Socialist symbol. But according to preference they can vote CPI(ML), RSP, or BSP, or whoever else, as the number 2. This means that if Radical Socialist crosses the threshold set by the PR (say 1% votes in parliamentary elections) the top names from the RS list of candidates are sent into parliament. If RS fails to get that threshold vote, those ballots are not torn up. Instead, they are assigned to the second preference party. As a result, it could be that RSP gets past 2% and gets 10 MPs, or CPI(ML) gets five MPs.
So proportional representation reduces voter apathy by making voters feel as if their vote actually counts towards something, particularly if they are voting for a party which is unpopular in their area.
We are not supposing that proportional representation will get rid of bourgeois control over the state, that it is only the FORM of election that holds the workers and poor peasants back. Marxism has however a much more complex history than a simple counter-position of denouncing elections and contesting elections in the hope of winning a majority of seats.
In his March 1850 "Address to the Communist League," Marx recommended that in the future course of the revolution, the workers' party "'march with' the petty-bourgeois democrats against the faction which it aims at overthrowing," but that it oppose "them in everything whereby they seek to consolidate their position in their own interests." The strategies Marx advocated did not talk only about elections. But what he said about elections bears looking at.
Even when there is no prospect whatsoever of their being elected, the workers must put up their own candidates in order to preserve their independence, to count their forces, and to bring before the public their revolutionary attitude and party standpoint. In this connection they must not allow themselves to be seduced by such arguments of the democrats as, for example, that by so doing they are splitting the democratic party and making it possible for the reactionaries to win. The ultimate intention of all such phrases is to dupe the proletariat. The advance which the proletarian party is bound to make by such independent action is indefinitely more important than the disadvantage that might be incurred by the presence of a few reactionaries in the representative body.
Revolutionaries, like Rosa Luxemburg, knew this would not mean triumph of the proletariat even if they won. The ruling class would rally around its most trusted state institutions--the police, the army, the state bureaucracy and corrupted party politicians--against parliament if necessary:
In this society, the representative institutions, democratic in form, are in content the instruments of the interests of the ruling class. This manifests itself in a tangible fashion in the fact that as soon as democracy shows the tendency to negate its class character and become transformed into an instrument of the real interests of the population, the democratic forms are sacrificed by the bourgeoisie and by its state representatives.
Proportional representation will help the struggles of the working people. This demand will also show what the left wants when there is a working class seizure of power.
This of course leads to a series of other questions which I have not even raised, let alone answered here. I hope to do so in further blogs.