Caste And Communists

Dalits Need Marxism, Not Dalit Marxism

Aloke Mukherjee

The age-old caste-jati system in India poses a serious ideological problem before the Marxists. In truth they have so far failed to satisfy the oppressed castes with a comprehensive programme of action to address the question of caste annihilation. And their failure has led to the emergence of an erroneous political line propagating DALIT MARXISM. They declare that Dalit Marxism is “full Dalit and full of Marxism”. What they want to convey is difficult to comprehend.

Marxism is a thought process, the world outlook of the proletariat to anlayse concretely the concrete reality with the purpose of changing it for the betterment of oppressed classes. It cannot be qualified as Dalit Marxism or Russian Marxism or Chinese Marxism or Indian Marxism—it is Marxism pure and simple. Neither can it be quantified by ‘half’ or ‘full’.

Marxists in India have developed a habit to interpret Marxism in a mechanical manner, quote it out of context or according to suitability. About such a Marxist Marx himself said, “He has to transform my sketch of origins of capitalism in Western Europe into a historical-philosophical theory of universal movement necessarily imposed upon all peoples, no matter what historical circumstances in which they are placed, and which will lead, in the last resort, to an economic system in which the greatly increased productivity of social labour will make possible the harmonious development of man. But I must protest. He does me too much honour, and at the same time discredits me.” [Quoted in Karl Marx: Selected Writings in Sociology and Social Philosophy,ed by T B Bottomore and Maxmilien Rubel, P 37, Penguin Books 1965]. For one thing most Marxists of India cleverly overlooked Marx’s observation in his letter to P Visit Annekov on December 28, 1846—“TO M PROUDHON DIVISON OF LABOUR IS A PERFECTLY SIMPLE THING. BUT WAS CASTE REGIME ALSO A PARTICULAR DIVISION OF LABOUR?” [Marx-Engels Selected Works, P661-662]. If caste regime is a particular division of labour based on caste why do Marxists of Dalit and other variety in India put struggle against division of labour based on caste and struggle against division of labour based on class exploitation as opposed to each other? Does it not weaken both and help perpetuation of division of labour?

In the Vedic texts reference of varna system is rare. Purushasukta in the Rik Veda is believed to be a later extrapolation. But then there were struggles between Aryan and non-Aryan tribes for expansion. Vanquished were taken as dasas. As surplus production and surplus producing activities were very limited, these dasas were acting more like servants than slaves. But the expansion of areas changed the scenario completely. Old tribal equality had to give in to “base greed, brutal sensuality, sordid avarice, selfish plunder of common possession.” Buddhism in reality was a protest against it. For one thing by the time of Buddha division of labour started to appear. Vaishya traders were in abundance. So were the dasas. Social discipline also started appearing.

By the 3rd century BC Boudhayana and Koutilya codified the duties of the four Varnas basing on division of labour. One quote from the Arthashastra by Koutilya is self-explanatory:
“The duty of the Brahman is study, teaching, performance of sacrifice, officiating others’ sacrificial performance and the giving and receiving of gifts.
“That of a Kshatriya is study, performance of sacrifice, giving gifts, military occupation and protection of life.
“That of a Vaishya is study, performance of sacrifice, giving gifts, agriculture, cattle breeding and trade.
“That of a Sudra is the serving of twice born (dwajati), agriculture, cattle breeding and trade (varta), professions of artisans and court-bards (karukushillavakarma).
“The duty of a householder is earning livelihood by his own profession, marriage among his equals of different ancestral Rishi, intercourse with the wedded wife after her monthly ablution, gifts to gods, ancestors, guests and servants, and eating the remainder”.
[P 10-11, translated by R Shamasastry]

Were these law codes appeared from the sky into the brains of these law givers? Marx has given a generalised view about law codes all over the world. In his Poverty of Philosophy, he wrote:
“Under the patriarchal system, under the caste system and under the feudal guild system, there was a division of labour in society as a whole according to fixed rules.

Were these rules established by a legislator? No. They were born, originally, from the conditions of material production and only much later were they established as laws. It is thus that these various forms of division of labour became, so many bases of social organisation”.

Comparing this with what Ambedkar said in his “CASTES IN INDIA :THEIR MECHANISM, GENESIS AND DEVELOPMENT” is self-revealing:
“Manu, the law giver in India, if he did exist, was certainly an audacious person. If the story that he gave the law of caste be credited, then Manu must have been a daredevil fellow and the humanity quite different from what we are acquainted with. It is unimaginable that the law of caste was given…. One thing I want to impress upon you is that Manu did not give law of caste and he could not do so. Caste existed long before Manu. He was an upholder of it and therefore philosophised about it, but certainly he did not and could not ordain the present order of Hindu society. His work ended with the codification of existing caste rules and preaching of caste Dharma… .Similar in argument is the theory that Brahmins created the Caste… .They may have helped the process by their glib philosophy, but they certainly could not have pushed their scheme beyond their own confines…. Preaching did not make the caste system neither will it unmake it”.

One can hope not against hope that present Dalit leaders who are advocating Dalit Marxism, would try to understand Ambedkar instead of acting as foot- soldiers of different parliamentary political parties. The question of Caste and Class in the Indian context deserves special attention.

Lenin has most precisely defined class as follows:
“Classes are groups of people differing from each other by the place they occupy in historically determined system of social production, by their relation (in most cases fixed and formulated in law) to the means of production, by the dimensions of social wealth they dispose and the mode of acquiring it.

“Classes are groups of people one of which can appropriate the labour of another owing to the different places they occupy in a definite system of social economy”.
[Great Beginning, Selected Works, Vol-3, P-172]

Here is the Marxist definition of caste in India. According to it by jati-caste system the society is divided into a large number of “mutually exclusive social-economic groups of people organised in a hierarchal order with immutable hereditary occupations, endogamy and commensality”. [K Damodaran in New Age, May 1960. P-16].

This is one form of appropriation of labour through a “definite system of social economy”. Ambedkar also had the same view : “….at the outset the Hindu society, in common with other societies was composed of classes and earliest known are—(1) the Brahmins or the priestly class; (2) the Kshatriya or the military class; (3) the Vaishya or the merchant class; and (4) the Sudra or the artisan or menial class. If anything this was essentially a class system, in which individuals, when qualified could change their class, and therefore classes did change their personnel. In the history of Hindus the priestly class in reality, socially detached itself from the rest of the population and through a closed door policy became a caste by itself. The other classes being subject to the law of social division of labour underwent differentiation, some into large, others into very minute groups. The Vaishya and Sudra classes were original inchoate plasm, which formed the sources of numerous castes of today. [ibid]

Despite differences in outlook, at least on one basic point Marxists and Dalit ideologues like Ambedkar agreed that the root cause of both caste division and class division lies in social division of labour. Ambedkar was strongly opposed to class conflict and violent revolution. But finally he had to admit that “it may be an exaggeration to assert the theory of class conflict, but existence of definite classes in a society is a fact.” [ibid] Here lies the contradiction in the thinking of Ambedkar and the basis of his differences with the Marxists.

Without using the word revolution in his ‘Memorandum to the Constituent Assembly’, Ambedkar said, “State ownership in agriculture with a collectivised method of cultivation and modified form of state socialism in the field of industry… Consolidation of holdings and tenancy legislation are worse than useless. They cannot bring about prosperity in agriculture. Neither consolidation nor tenancy legislation can be of any help to 60 million untouchables who are just landless labourers”. Ambedkar’s ideas of land reforms have remained largely unnoticed. Protagonists of Dalit Marxism declare that “Dalit activism’s basic target of struggle is neither capitalism nor Indian state but Hinduism and non-Dalit society. In fact we find the first two less antagonistic to our lives, goals and politics than the latter….” {Towards a Dalit Marxist Manifesto, Chittibabu Pandavala}. In plain language they do neither understand the real interests of the Dalits, neither do they have any understanding of Marxism.

But the problem with Ambedkar was he wanted to achieve all those through constitutional democracy, which is just as futile as an attempt to push a square peg in a round hole. As a result he failed even after presiding over drafting of the constitution and took recluse in Buddhism. And Marxists in the main resorted to mechanical interpretation of Marx and concluded: “Yet this social order (caste system) continued in fact till the nineteenth century when it was undermined by the British rulers”. [K Damodaran, ibid]

Such conclusion means Casteism no more forms a structure of social division of labour and what remains are only vestiges and old cultural values. So there was no need of separate struggle against casteism. They propagated the idea that with the development of class struggle it will vanish automatically. In the 1930 Programme of Action of CPI one finds: “Due to the British rule in our country there still exist lakhs of slaves, crorers of socially outcast working pariahs who are deprived of all rights. The British rule, Zemindari system, reactionary caste system, religious dogmatism and age-old traditions of slavery and serfdom has throttled Indian people, are impediments in the path of liberation… Only ruthless abolition of caste system in its reformed Gandhian variety, only agrarian revolution and violent overthrow of British rule can open the path of social, economic and legal liberation of all these untouchable toiling masses. So the Communist Party of India is calling upon all the pariahs and slaves to join hands with all the workers in a united revolutionary front against the British rule and Zemindary system. The Communist Party of India is calling upon them not to give in to the tricks of the British and reactionary agents, who try to split and set one against the other toilers of the country”.

The CPI then clearly observed that the British rulers carried on a policy of retention of casteism and also the Gandhian policy of misleading the oppressed castes. But it is difficult to comprehend what restrained the Party to mobilise all the oppressed castes to unite as Dalits (or any other name suitable at that time). The Party also made the unity one way traffic and workers were not asked to join hands with pariahs. The slogan should have been ‘unite the Dalits and unite with the Dalits’. No, the party failed to translate this slogan into reality.

There is a tendency among progressives to think that struggle for abolition of caste ( caste struggle) and abolition of class ( class struggle) are, if not opposed to, parallel to each other. This has caused immense harm to both class struggle and caste struggle. And now there is a well-orchestrated propaganda among Dalits and various Marxist circles that these struggles cannot meet. What is urgently needed is to create an atmosphere in which both class struggle and caste struggle converge to create a new force to reckon with.

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Vol. 54, No. 14-17, Oct 3 - 30, 2021