The Caste Factor

Left in Political Wilderness

Arup Baisya

The left forces in Indian political landscape have been marginalised and the left discourse which misses the imagination of the struggling classes is in a state of Brownian motion. The genesis of this confused state of left politics is two-pronged, one is obtained from the left legacy and the other is the bewilderment caused due to spatio-temporal changes during neo-liberalism. Both of these characteristics are intertwined in the staticity of mindset that constructs a formulaic version of Marxism.

While delineating the specificity of Indian society, the caste is categorised either as something sui generis or anathema to class struggle. The class-caste dualism which is in-built within such thought process obscures the changing dynamics of space-time both due to change in capitalist globalisation and the caste-class struggle. Anand Teltumbe rightly asserted in his book 'Republic of caste', "while caste movements, largely co-opted by the ruling class, do not admit to the need of introspection, the class (left) movements find itself isolated and threatened with decimation." (Republic of Caste: Anand Teltumbde : 2018 : 91-92)

The motion of capital as a whole is represented in the process of determination of socially necessary labour time in various space-time continuums. Relation between time and space delineate the social relations syntagmatic to both production and labour process. For this reason, the category of time is at the heart of (Marx's) critique of political economy. But the different approaches to time coexist within Marx's reasoning. "The mechanical time of production, the chemical time of circulation and the organic time of reproduction are thus coiled and slotted inside one another, like circles within circles, determining the enigmatic patterns of historical time, which is the time of politics." (Marx, Capital And The Madness of Economic Reason : David Harvey : 2019 : 142).

As the capitalist social relation is emerged from within the pre-capitalist or feudal relation of production, the flow of time in feudal relation can be categorised in a particular manner. It is not a complete black-hole, but the flow of time in feudal relation of production is confined by spatial dimension and in that sense, the forms of spatio-temporality is not dynamic as capitalism. It represents a certain form of concrete labour with a use value which is in constant pressure for transformation to capitalist exchange value and to abstract labour with the annihilation of its space with time. In that sense, the labour process in a pre-capitalist social relation of production is a closed system as the value flows from one form of use value to another. The commodity production fetishises the human relation with exchange value and it sets in the dynamics of flow of value beyond the confinement of space and as such, globalisation is inherent in capitalism. Furthermore, the flow of value annihilates the space of pre-capitalist relation to establish its hegemony over the space with time.

When B R Ambedkar says, "a caste is an enclosed class", caste can be interpreted as feudal class. The class is identified not as an isolated category but as a group of people engaged in a social relation both in the production and labour process. Feudal class is determined both as juridical and social category and as such it appears to be static. The Indian caste, in that sense, is a form of class. But Indian left identified the caste system as a super-structural problem and they thought the class mobilisation could by itself adequately address the caste cleavages. On the other hand, the leaders of the caste-based mobilisation considered it as an unchanging category for spatial mobilisation to challenge the system and for political power. Caste system has been the source of both identities and hostilities, both horizontal alliances and vertical exploitation and oppression. The caste hierarchy on the basis of social status is the source of oppression and the assertion of caste identity can also become basis for struggle against that very oppression. Rajni Kothari defined it as "both traditionaliser and moderniser and as purveyor of collective identity and annihilator of the same hierarchical order from which the collective identity is drawn. The point is that caste does resurface as a result of the democratic process but in its resurfacing it gets transformed". (Rajni Kothari : Rise of the Dalits and the Renewed Debate on Caste : EPW, Vol. 29. No. 26)

This political dimension of assertion and transformation has not been viewed from the time dimension of labour. The change of democratic character of the state has been considered in a spatial fix of alignment and realignment of caste identities. The political formations on the basis of such caste assertion and horizontal alignment thereon could successfully thwart the aggressive social and ideological Hindutwa assertion in 1993. The politics of religious polarisation received a setback due to the political challenge raised from the caste mobilisation and movements. The failure of the left movement to challenge the Hindutwa politics created a delusion in political understanding that the caste assertion and identity assertion within the framework of diversity alone can adequately challenge the Hindutwa politics. Ashis Nandy, in his analysis of the interaction of Hinduism and Hindutva, wrote perceptively in 1990 that, 'Hinduism and Hindutva now stand face to face, not yet ready to confront each other, but aware that the confrontation will have to come someday'. (RSS, A view to the Inside : Penguin, Viking 2018 : 247). But at this moment after the resounding victory of political Hindutva, it seems, Hinduism gave way to Hindutva and conceded defeat without any confrontation or fight.

The Indian left from their set-back suddenly realised that it was a tactical mistake not to participate in the caste struggle. But they stopped short of visualising the caste-class question within the movement of the space-time of Indian social spectrum; rather the formulaic version of Marxism relegated their newly found realisation into a class-caste binary and a tactical question. The consequence of such mechanical interpretation of the here and now finally decimated the left in front of the meteoric rise of the fascist Hindutwa movement with a new vigour. But this time, the particularism of caste and identity movement which carried the success story of 1993 with it has also turned out to be ineffective and redundant in front of the jingoist nationalism. What has changed drastically to Indian society that enables the Sangh Parivar to transcend the caste-community barrier to uphold the pan-Indian muscular ultra-nationalist project? One easy answer to the success story of popular acceptance of RSS project is that the RSS has established a pattern of accommodating regional religious and cultural traditions by claiming them as elements of larger Bharatiya culture. But this interpretation is loaded with too much of subjectivity.

The fundamental reason of rise of fascist movement lies with the change of social forces of production with concomitant change of relations of production from above. It is a sort of passive revolution of bourgeois order where the democracy is denied in the bourgeois sense of the term.

In India, the rapid disintegration of the old caste-community based society due to the coercive pressure of imperialist capital from above and the pressure from the human-labour uprooted from their village community life generated the passion within the society to redefine the age-old ideological framework befitting the constitutional form of secularism, the secularism which upholds diversity in a nostalgic sense but accommodates itself in an imperialist centre-periphery relation of subjugation propped up with internal hierarchical order. The tension thus generated in the conflict between the old and new values can only be democratically remoulded by radically redefining this relation of subjugation.

Why both the caste movement and the left movement failed to radically redefine this relation of subjugation? The relation of labour with capital is determined by the way capital extracts surplus value from the labour. Capital can expropriate absolute surplus value by extending the working hours and relative surplus value by increasing the productivity of labour through change of technology. But another labour practice by which capital can extract super-profit is the arm's length production for labour arbitrage. The whole production process rests on subcontracting out the actual production to the low-wage areas like China's Shenzhen, Bangladesh's Textile factories or rural India where micro-finance has spread its net. This super-profit is invested in speculative finance to earn money. It's a money market where super-rich earn more money by investing money. Money begets money, but does not create any value. After a prolong period of dirigisme in post-independent India, the neo-liberal development model which facilitated penetration of imperialist finance capital into the rural India since nineteen eighties has changed the caste-contour. Depending on fertility and location of the land, the development of capitalist mode of production appeared in agriculture for differential rent, the external factor of rent also effects the space of uncultivated land. There exists intense difference of opinion within the left circle on Indian agricultural mode of production. However, the capitalist accumulation through dispossession which has become a dominant feature of neo-liberalism has dispossessed the millions from their land, from their old property relation and also from their status as secured organised work-force. The middle class leadership who played a progressive role in mobilising the caste groups and identities for political rights and thus challenged the Hindutwa politics of centralisation of power in 1993, find it more beneficial to be co-opted in the reactionary politics of ultra-nationalism than to address the growing pressure of the new needs and desire of the proletarianised and pauperised masses within the caste group. The new dialectics of use value—exchange value and concrete labour—abstract labour have influenced the changing space-time in such a way that the forces of homogenisation prevailed over the forces of particularism in the caste-class dynamics of Indian society. Both the caste leadership and the left leadership once again failed to grasp the emerging struggle of the oppressed and to redefine the concept of nationalism and secularism from a working class perspective.

The economism within the Indian mainstream left hinders them from assessing the situation from the dynamic movement of the space-time. The authors of "The Indian Economy in Transition" rightly commented, "Marxian theory is class/economy focused, but not class/economy specific. What, when, where and how people produce, distribute and consume are not simply economic matters. They are additionally constituted by processes related to power (authority-heirarchy), culture (meaning) and nature. No explanation or interpretation of the economy in this frame can materialise without referring to the effects of non-economic processes. In short, along with being a critique of class determinism, Marxism theory is a critique of economism as well." (Chakraborty Anjan et el : 13). Moreover, the concept of the left movement as a mass-movement to influence the policy of the state in favour of the toiling masses has been abandoned by completely reversing the concept to bring parliamentary maneuvering and institutional intervention as the determinant factor. This paved the way for the Hindutva forces to reconstruct the concept of nationalism and secularism in a most reactionary fashion to lead the forces of homogenisation against an imagined enemy. The objective strength of this new nationalism lies with the support of new class which owes its increasing wealth from privatisation and disinvestment, income from the rent and plunder of natural resources and commissions from the opening up of the Indian market to foreign oligarchs. A small section of this class has already emerged as national oligarchs intricately connected to global giants as compradors.

The most reactionary reconstruction of national pride can somewhat be combated by reducing the migration from villages to towns and cities by revamping the agriculture through small family farms (Maoist agricultural reconstruction in China) which is, unlike industry, more efficient than big farms, and the food sovereignty, increasing demand for the consumer goods that need to be produced domestically. The electoral upsurge of BJP will accelerate the dismantling of the federal structure of the state by transcending the regional aspirations which needs to be combated with an alternative project for democratic reconstruction. A radical anti-imperialist and democratic programme for mass-movement with workers-peasants alliance at its core can rejuvenate the left politics in India, provided they rise up to the occasion to unite shedding all forms of left sectarianism to combat the emergent question of fascist onslaught.

References :
1)     Teltumbe Anand (2018) : Republic of Caste, Navayana
(2)   David Harvey (2019) : Marx, Capital And The Madness of Economic Reason, Profile Books.
(3)   Kothari Rajni (1994) : Rise of the Dalits and the Renewed Debate on Caste, EPW, Vol. 29. No. 26 (P.1589-94)
(4)   Chakraborty Anjan, Dhar Anup, Dasgupta Byasdeb (2018) : RSS, A view to the Inside, Penguin, Viking
(5)   Smith John (2016) : Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century, Dey Publishers and Distributors.
(6) Patnaik Utsa (2007) : The Agrarian Question in Marx and his Successors (Volume I) : LeftWord Books.

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Vol. 52, No. 23, Dec 8 - 14, 2019