Socialism, Democracy and the Problem of Common Meanings
Contemporary arguments for socialist democracy pay scarce attention to the socialist content of democracy and occassionally when they do, only a romanticised view of solidarity is employed. They appear, to flounder as a result on grounds of redundancy, for failing to add anything to the content of existing liberal democratic theories or on grounds of irrelevance, for being insensitive to modem conditions of large, differentiated societies. The substantive content which distinguishes them from liberal democratic theories has a palpable Utopian ring to it. In brief, theories of social democracy are ridden with internal difficulties. It is a contention of this paper that at least part of their problem stems from having paid insufficient attention to the notion of common meanings. Theorists do not care to explicate this concept and when they do, fail either to sufficiently distinguish it from the notion of individually held meanings or to adequately defend their own conceptionof the social. I shall try therefore to explicate the notion of common meaning. This is an analytical exercise but one which hopes to resolve some substantive issues. I argue that a defensible view of common meanings must meet at least two requirements. First, it should eschew both dubious social ontologies and the more plausible individualist metaphysics. Second, it must be congruent with the complexity of modem conditions. A conception of common meanings which meets these requirements has a useful role to play, I believe in theories of socialist democracy.
At least three possible routes exist to show the relevance of common meanings to issues central to democracy and socialism, three possible ways to explore the relationship between common meanings and socialist democracy. Each of these has an identifiable location, emerging or gaining significance within a particular field of political theory. The first is associated with some vital issues in socialist theory. Within socialist theory, arguments for democracy are often constructed in response to problems generated by bureaucracy, technocracy and centralisation. A socialist democracy, it is claimed,
Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal ^Tchru University, New Delhi.
Social Scientist, Vol. 20, Nos. 3-4, March-April 1992.