On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since that time, December 10 is marked each year, by the working and oppressed people all over the world, as the occasion to assert their claim to the rights that belong to them as human beings and to pledge to continue the struggle for the realisation of these rights.
The state of the dictatorship of the proletariat that was established in the Soviet Union represented the finest example of the realisation of the modern conception of rights for the majority of the working people. At a time when in most capitalist states political rights were confined to men of property, the working people of the Soviet Union, organised in the soviets of the workers, peasants and soldiers, realised the right to vote, to elect and be elected. The state of the Soviet Union created the conditions in which the rights of the working men and women, nations and nationalities and other collectives to live free from exploitation, oppression and discrimination were guaranteed and defended. The exploiters were denied their 'right' to exploit others and enrich themselves through accumulation of private profit.
The realisation of these rights by the working masses and the peoples of the formerly oppressed nations of the Soviet Union had a profound impact on the consciousness of the working people all over the world and gave an impetus to the struggle for rights in all the colonial and capitalist countries. Across the world, people fought for national liberation, for freedom from want and exploitation, for rights of women, to end gender, caste and class discrimination. The 1936 Constitution of the Soviet Union, adopted after far reaching discussions held widely among the people, established the political mechanisms to enable all adult citizens to play a central role in running the affairs of society, exercising their duties as conscious members of a society that was being constructed to guarantee their rights as humans.
The victory over fascism, the rising tide of anti colonial liberation struggles, the breaking away of a number of countries from the imperialist camp and the establishment of people's republics brought to the fore the struggle for the most modern definition of rights, consistent with the highest level of development that had been achieved in the socialist Soviet Union.
The forward march of proletarian democracy and the anti imperialist camp led by the Soviet Union put pressure on the imperialist states to sign the UN Declaration on Human Rights in1948. This represented an advance in the recognition and definition of rights, even though the US and other imperialist states tried their utmost to limit the scope of human rights in the UN Declaration.
During the period of the Cold War, following the degeneration of the Soviet Union into a social imperialist power, both superpowers, the US and the Soviet Union imposed extremely self-serving definitions of rights, to back up their respective strategies for world domination. They presented ideological justifications for violating the rights of entire nations and peoples. They sometimes contended to check each other's hegemonic drive, and at other times they colluded, always at the expense of the rights and freedoms of the people.
Following the final disintegration of the Soviet Union, the imperialist bourgeoisie launched an all-out offensive to negate all the rights that had won international recognition after the victory over fascism in the 20th century. The sovereign rights of entire nations are being trampled in the mud by presenting them as a 'threat to world peace'. Civil liberties are being severely attacked in the name of 'fighting terrorism'. In many capitalist countries, including India, the justification of increasing global competitiveness of national capital is being used to attack the rights of workers to form unions, to go on strike, to an 8-hour working day, to proper working conditions, to food, education, health care and housing, etc. It is being argued by the bourgeois economists that it is not possible for the state to guarantee food, education, health care, employment and other essential needs for all members of society as a matter of right. This is being done to hide the fact that it is the capitalist orientation of the economy, the domination and dictate of the capitalist monopolies and their drive for maximum profits that stands in the way of the realisation of these rights.
Today, the struggle for rights appears as a clash between the modern definition of rights, consistent with the dictatorship of the proletariat and proletarian democracy on the one hand, and the self-serving, outdated definitions of rights by the ruling capitalist-imperialist bourgeoisie. The proletariat upholds these rights as belonging to every person by virtue of being a member of human society, rights which cannot be violated under any pretext. The bourgeoisie tries to deny that these are rights and that their fulfillment is the duty of the state and the responsibility of society. They try to convert these into favours and privileges that can be given to some and not to others, that can be given at one time and taken away at another time.
It is extremely clear today that the ruling capitalist class is opposed to any guarantee of rights, any extension of rights for its citizens. In fact, the bourgeoisie has stepped up the offensive on rights by denying even those rights that were won through the struggles of people over the years. All the propaganda about 'bhagidaari', 'good governance', 'greater transparency and accountability', 'political reforms', 'right to food', 'right to education' etc. are confined to only such changes that do not threaten but actually serve to prettify the existing capitalist system and dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The working class, on the other hand, is extremely interested in breaking the limits imposed by bourgeois democracy, in enshrining and guaranteeing rights in their fullest sense to all citizens. It is towards this that the working people are in struggle for full political rights, so that the working people can actually become their own masters, their own rulers and decision makers. The proletariat can liberate itself only by liberating all of society from class exploitation. In essence therefore, today the struggle for the realisation of rights is the struggle to overthrow the rule of the bourgeoisie and its capitalist system of exploitation, and establish in its place, the dictatorship of the proletariat and proletarian democracy.