Marx And Ambedkar: Bridging The Rift

Book Review: India & Communism by B R Ambedkar, Introduction by Anand Teltumbde, Left Word, New Delhi, 2017, p. 156

History repeats itself twice, not infrequently as tragedy for the masses of the people. All across the word, there is the emergence and  rise to power of neofascism under various garbs and  leaderships–from Hungary’s Viktor Orban to Greece’s Nikos Michaloliakos and  from Frances’ Marie Le Pen to US’s Donald Trump –all bred by capitalist neoliberalism, one way or other. With its capturing of the Lok Sabha in 2014 – preceded and followed by the successes in forming governments in various States – the RSS, through its proxy, the BJP, has laid a strong foundation for the Indian variant of the neo-fascist State and social order, though this truth is sought to be couched in such terms as ‘far right’, right wing’, ‘authoritarian’, ‘populist nationalism’ and so on by the liberal intelligenstia. Like  most neofascisms of our contemporary world,  and in fact, even like the classical fascisms of Germany and Italy, the Indian counterpart has  come to power through  the ‘legal’ route, the parliamentary road, so that its apologists can talk of the popular mandate and legitimacy of rule, as if deliberate attempts to polarize the society on communal lines such as demolition of Babri Masjid, anti-Muslim carnages in Mumbai and Gujarat, anti-Christian violence in Odisha,  atrocities on Dalits who refused to be subdued, slow but steady infiltration  of the Sangh Parivarists into  the spheres of culture, governance, police and military and even the judiciary had never taken place.

india-and-communalismConsider how the  subjects in the States’ list are being gradually usurped by the Centre, and Directive Principles of the Indian Constitution and statutory laws and acts  manipulated to suit the communal fascist agenda: cow protection, beef ban, cattle sale ban, which, in the context of burgeoning rate of unemployment has already rendered thousands of people jobless and threatens to extinguish the very source of livelihood for millions of others, particularly in rural India, deploying saffronised Trojan horses in every gubernatorial palace. One is reminded of the deposition Hitler made in 1930 during the Leipzig Reichsweht trial: “The Constitution only maps out the area of battle, not the goal. We enter the legal agencies and that way will make our party the determining factor. However, once we possess the constitutional power, we will mold the state into the shape we hold to be suitable” (quoted by Johan Bellamy Foster in ‘This Is Not Populism, Monthly Review, New York, June 2007)[1]

Just as Hitler, though lacking a parliamentary majority in 1932, could however seize power through his appointment as Chancellor, the Indian neo-fascists, with the imminent victory of their Presidential candidate, can shortly tame defiant State Governments, declare internal emergency, hand over power to the executive, enhance employment opportunities for cow vigilantes and cultural police, and bring the judiciary under increasing pressure to be accountable to the ‘National Community’. We are already familiar with the idea of ‘respecting national sentiments’ as it has emerged in certain pronouncements of the Apex Court. One is reminded of Walter Benjamin’s famous statement: “What they’re planning is nothing small, make no mistake about it. They’re planning for thirty thousand years ahead. Colossal things. Colossal crimes” (Understanding Brecht, Verso Books, 1998, p. 120).

The  RSS led neofascism would continue with  much more vigor the classical fascist policy of separation of capitalism from the state, curb the rights of the workers, carry out denationalization of industry in sectors such as steel, mining, shipbuilding , banking, telecommunication,  fossil fuel, solar energy, public transport and so on, pursue tax policies immensely beneficial to the  oligarchies, and shift the burden of tax payment to non-business tax payers, wage earners and consumer groups in general – this has already been the trend, as indicated by  the  ‘positive results’ of the 2016 demonetization drive; and this has happened, despite their miserable failure to prevent the downward slide of the economy, evident in the most  frequently quoted yardstick, the GDP. So Indian neo-fascism is least likely to expand the welfare state (as was done, within limits, by the German Nazis and the Italian Fascists), even one that favours the ‘Hindu Nation’ at the expense of religious and other minorities.

The other agenda of Indian neofascism – reinscribing the Brahminical caste order into the neo-liberal regime – is being carried out in full measure, through  a web of subtle and crude methods – from saffronising cultural, educational, scientific institutions to depriving the lower castes, particularly the Dalits, of whatever little space and scope they had earlier enjoyed therein, from co-opting and buying of certain  careerist leaders of Dalit political parties and outfits to unleashing brutal violence on Dalit students and youth who dare to assert their self-worth and dignity,  from distorting  the thoughts and teachings of Ambedkar to blatantly violating  the Fundamental Rights and secular aspects of  the Constitution.

In such a context, Anand Teltumbde has made a crucial intervention through a long introduction to Babasaheb Ambedkar’s incomplete book “India and Communism” (Leftword, New Delhi, May 2017). As per the chapter scheme for the book, only two parts of one chapter from the second section were found in Ambedkar papers. They were published in Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches (BAWS), Vol. 3, by the Government of Maharashtra. What is noteworthy in Teltumbde’s Introduction is his engagement with the causes of the unfortunate divergence between the two streams of proletariats, the Dalit movement and the Communist movement in the country.

Describing the current times as depressing beyond narration and pointing out what he feels to be the need of the hour, Anand Teltumbde with his characteristic boldness writes:

“.. communists ought to realise that much of it has been due to their own mishandling of Marxism. It is they who are responsible for their own marginalisation. Standing at this point, firstly, it must be realised by both Dalits as well as Communists that no ism, howsoever it might have worked in the past, is going to be applicable to the volatile contemporary and future world. The world is changing with increasingly accelerated pace. Its essence may not be grasped by the frameworks that worked for its previous versions. These isms could only be beacons but the specific path shall have to be carved out by the people themselves in the concrete situation they find them in. With this realization the identarian obsession of should melt away. Second, they both must know they are natural allies; there is no revolution in India without the Dalits shouldering it and there is no annihilation of castes without the vast sections of the toiling masses owning it up. Third, the communists must realize that the onus is theirs to join hands with the Dalit masses and it must be genuine, beyond electoral logic. The Dalits should realise that politics based only on caste identities will only splinter them further to the glee of the ruling classes. Only their class unity sans caste is the path of their emancipation. Fourth, the communists should realise that revolutions are not a point concept but a line concept; the numerous tactical reforms that drive the revolutionary strategy, are themselves part of the revolution. The familiar models of revolutions were fundamentally misconceived and future revolutions are certainly not going to conform to them. The technological dimension would be overwhelming the future which on the one hand threatens human existence but on the other, drives towards socialism; the revolution is to decide which way it takes. And fifth and last, both must realize that there is no future for them without revolution”.(pp. 77-78.)

This is not a facile conclusion, motivated by an ideological imperative, but one born out of deep concern over what he calls the ‘Unholy Rift’ between the two emancipatory projects, one represented by Marx and other by Babasaheb Ambedkar, rift that he earnestly strives to bridge.

Using Ambedkar’s unfinished text India and Communism as a launching pad to address the strained relationship between Communist praxis in India and the autonomous Dalit Movement led by Ambedkar, Teltumbde argues that “Ambedkar’s relationship with Marxism has been enigmatic. Ambedkar was never a Marxist. But he did repeatedly define himself as a socialist. Like any thinking person of his time who had been disturbed by the misery of people, Ambedkar was not unimpressed by the élan of the Marxist tradition”. But, unfortunately, the Communist leadership chose to deliberately antagonize and isolate Ambedkar and his movement.

In a charitable moment Teltumbde couches his critique of the praxis of the Communists in gentler terms: “To some extent it is attributable to their doctrinaire attitude towards Marxism, their conscious ignorance of the problem as they feared that it would divide the ranks of the working classes but worst, it was also due to their inability to efface their caste consciousness of being upper-caste”.(p.44.)

But he cannot but list out instances where some Indian Communist leaders, for instance, S.A.Dange and Joglekar displayed their blatant Brahminical outlook, and where the entire leadership of the Communist Party of India denigrated the autonomous movement of the ‘depressed classes’ and launched  vituperative attacks against the very persona of Ambedkar despite instances of his coming closer to the Communist programme, which, he did, with his launching of the Independent Labour Party that addressed the grievances of both the Dalit and the non-Dalit underclass, and by joining hands with the Communists to oppose the amendment to the Industrial Disputes Bill brought in by the government of the erstwhile Bombay Presidency and through the anti-Khot struggles that the party undertook. Subsequently too the Marathwada Unit of the Scheduled Caste federation in 1953 pursued the question of land, keeping to the advice he tendered them during his last days. Teltumbde notes that the Communists, by continuing to be indifferent to certain radical trends that emerged after the demise of Ambedkar – the  nation-wide satyagraha led by Dadasaheb Gaikwad, one of Ambedkar’s close associates and the President of the Republican Party of India for land rights and minimum wages, a struggle that elicited a massive support from both Dalit as well as non Dalits comprising landless poor peasants and agricultural workers for the allocation of fallow and vacant lands to the landless  and for minimum wages for securing their livelihood and to the  significance of the urban based Dalit Panther movement inspired by the Marxist oriented Black Militants of the USA.

In this context, Teltumbde revisits Marx’s 1853 Essay ‘The Future Results of British Rule in India’ and argues that despite his exaggeration of the impact of British rule in undermining the economic and technological basis of the caste-based village communities[2]:

“Marx clearly and causally connected the archaic social formation of castes in India with the relations of production. It followed logically that the abolition of the caste hierarchy and the oppression and exploitation of the ‘lower’ castes could not be separated from the Marxian form of class struggle. There is no evidence that Ambedkar had ever read these essays by Marx because he does not refer to these foundational ideas about caste when he discusses the work of Marx. But the essence of this diagnosis and the prescription that followed from it – that the struggle against caste is integral with the class struggle – is never rejected by Ambedkar. Actually, he did not differentiate them and termed his struggle against caste as the class struggle itself. His only argument was that the conception of classes by the early communists, only seen for its ‘economic’ basis excluding social and religious oppression, was wrong. Ambedkar’s articulation, however, has not been dialectical when he insists upon the priority of social and religious over economic and political…”.(pp. 19-20.)

On the other hand, notes Teltumbde, “The early Indian Marxists were wrong in undermining the importance of ‘superstructural’ struggles. They raised the ‘base and superstructure’ metaphor to a grand principle of their theory”.(p.21.)

He returns at this juncture to point out that Marx and Engels had a rich and complex understanding of base and superstructure. He also draws on Lenin to show how the Indian left failed to localise and contexualise its understanding of their immediate social and economic worlds and argues that despite the Weberian overtones that attend Ambedkar’s use of ‘class’, he came much closer to Lenin than the Indian Communists. The reductionist understanding of ‘base-superstructure’ metaphor of Marx (Teltumbde calls this ‘metaphorical madness’) supplemented by the caste prejudices of the upper Caste Communist leaders, made them bitterly critical of Ambedkar testifying before the Simon Commission and also led them to oppose the demand for Separate Electorates for Dalits that he had won for them:

“Eighteen communists in their joint statement before the additional sessions judge, Meerut, condemned both the movement of the depressed classes and the government’s reception of it. They expressed themselves stating, ‘The government is far more interested in the mainly artificial and ultimately reactionary ‘depressed classes’ movement and in giving them a separate electorate. Thus, they held similar positions as Gandhi’s on the question of separate electorates, notwithstanding their repudiation of castes as against Gandhi’s approval of them as part of Varnashram Dharma…For Ambedkar, this nuanced favour of the communists was more irritating than Gandhi’s orthodox opposition simply because it came from those who claimed to work for the downtrodden… Even the twenty-first session of the All-India Trade Union Congress held in Madras, on 21 and 22 January 1945, attended by 855 delegates, which was reported by B.T. Randive in the People’s War had not even a single word referring to caste and the problems of the working class”.(pp.43-44)

The Indian Communists, Teltumbde points out, continued to neglect the Dalit/caste question for a long time, despite the exhortations of the Comintern and the Communist Party of China, but once they took it up, it was done condescendingly and with an aim to isolate Ambedkar from his own Scheduled Caste Federation calling him (even as late as 1952) a splitter of working class movement and one who objectively served the interests of the British imperialism.

This attitude of the Communists, Teltumbde contends, is partly derived from their one-sided emphasis on external, colonial imperialism represented by the British ignoring the existence of the internal imperialism of the Brahminical Caste Order: “They would easily ally with the bourgeois nationalists (although Marxism professed internationalism) but oppose the organic proletariat’s battle against the basic evil that thwarted this country from becoming a nation”.(p.60.)

Ambedkar reacted to the Communists with equal vehemence and force. That Ambedkar’s earliest confrontation with the communists occurred in the wake of the 1928 Textile Mill workers’ strike is too well known to be elaborated here.

Lesser known are his remarks on the Russian Revolution and the praxis of the Indian Communists. As Teltumbde summarises:

“He wrote that the communists did not pay attention to truth-untruth, just-unjust and did not even mind unleashing atrocities in pursuing their aim of establishing a state like Soviet Russia. He said that these methods were not acceptable to him because not only did they come in the way of progress of the country but they would also push it backward…Ambedkar’s comment about constructing the superstructure before the foundation could not be called amiss. However, his use of a moral scale for judging the Marxist methods smacks of his liberal obsession and lack of appreciation for the alternate epistemology of Marxism. This early theme of ignoring the preparation of people for revolution, a la eradicating caste to germinate class-consciousness and the moral infirmities of communist methods, would manifest itself variously in his arguments until his death. And the theme was mostly related to the practice of the early communists and not the theory of communism, i.e., Marxism”.(p.15.)

Even in 1937 (an election year) when he was supposed to have been closer to the Communists, he declared Communists were his sworn enemies. His persistent anti-Communist statements, exacerbated by S.A. Dange’s alleged role in his defeat in the first Parliamentary elections, continued well into the early 1950s. Teltumbde however is not quite convincing when he seeks to explain the content of Ambedkar’s 1954 speech in which he compared Russia and China with forest fires threatening to engulf neighbouring countries: “However, was this sentiment because of Ambedkar’s opposition to Nehru, who created a false impression of friendliness towards both countries, or was it attributable to his anathema for Marxism and abhorrence of the practice of communism? This remains an open question”. (p.29.) All these could have been averted, however, Teltumbde argues, if the early communists had been sensitive enough to the emancipaory potential of Ambedkar’s thought and mission, especially after he made in 1938 a public statement, in the presence of the communist leaders that ‘in regard to the toilers’ class struggle, I feel the Communist Philosophy to be closer to us’. Teltumbde feels that “With hindsight though, one may observe that the strategies observed by both Ambedkar and the early communists had left little space for dialogue, there is no evidence to suggest that the communists really made an effort to create such a space” (p.54.)

If they had engaged Ambedkar in constructive and comradely dialogue, he might have reconsidered his theory of two –stage, sequential revolution.  Ambedkar, on his part, “in his anxiety to disprove the communist thesis, fell into their trap conceding that castes indeed were religious products and hence part of the superstructure”(p.72.)

Commenting on historical developments in more recent times, Teltumbde acknowledges that significant changes have taken place over time in the thinking and praxis of the Indian Communists vis-à-vis the Dalit (caste) question and the contribution of Ambekdar and approvingly quotes B.T.Ranadive and E.M.S. Nambootharipad: “Today, there is no communist outfit that is not acknowledging the importance of battling castes and Ambedkar’s contribution to it. A few, however, have not overcome their ideological hangover of the ‘base and superstructure’ and the fixated notion of imperialism, that pose hurdle in understanding Ambedkar. They need to rethink and get back to the basics of Marxism, not as a sect but as science”. (p.76.)

Turning his critical gaze on the Ambedkarites, Teltumbde writes of Ambedkar’s unfinished work India and Communism:

“To those who think Babasaheb Ambedkar (1891-1956) was against Communism or Marxism, this book should serve as another reminder that they are grossly prejudiced. He had an abiding interest in the communist movement and philosophy (Marxism), as one focused on the emancipation of the downtrodden. This is evident right from the beginning of his public life to almost his last days when he delivered a speech comparing Karl Marx with Buddha, the progenitor of the religion he had converted to barely less than two months ago. However, it is also true that he had serious reservations about accepting certain theoretical postulations of Marxism, which perhaps prevented him from taking a deeper interest in Marxism. Therefore, he remained searching for a better method (a body of thought) that would overcome the purported limitations of Marxism and still reach the end result the latter promised. Certainly, he saw that method in Buddhism”.(p.9.)

Despite the ‘hot and cold’ relationships (in fact, more hot than cold) with the Indian Communists and the hostile remarks against Russia and China, Teltumbde argues that Ambedkar had an ambivalent but abiding interest in Marxism and empathy with Soviet Russia. He also had s soft corner for Stalin, the son of a cobbler, and mourned his death.Though not a Marxist, he was committed to the socialist project – a socialism informed by Fabianism and the pragmatism of the American philosopher John Dewey.

It is clear that Ambedkar’s socialism informs his State and Minorities, submitted to the Constituent Assembly on behalf of the Scheduled Caste Federation. It would be apt to recall his remark, in this context, that if the Constitution failed to deliver economic and social justice, he would be the first person to burn it. Also, despite his quarrels with the Indian Communists, he was familiar with Afro-American Marxist intellectuals such us Herbert Apthekar and W.E.B. Dubois and was keen to learn from the anti-racist struggles of the Blacks. Further, his disavowal of communist violence did not prevent him from keenly following the developments in Soviet Russia. Thus, debating the matter of paying just compensation to zamindars whose lands were sought to be taken over by the government of independent India for public purpose, he noted: “In Russia they paid no compensation, it is true. But it must not be forgotten that the Russian Government undertakes to give employment to people, to feed them, to clothe them, to house them, to scrub them and to provide for all the human needs”. (BAWS, Volume 15, 1997, p. 952)

It would be useful to also recall Ambedkar’s remarks in the course of the debate on the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution: “Even the Communists say that theirs is socialism and I want to know why they call if they are only Socialists. It would lose all the terrors which the word ‘Communism’ has for many people and they might easily have won a victory in Andhra if they had made a change in name” (BAWS 15, p.952.) That is, communist practice (in this instance, he is referring indirectly to the Telengana struggle) if disassociated with violence or authoritarianism with which it had come to be aligned might actually be acceptable to a large section of the populace.

Clearly he was looking to bring into his understanding of Indian realities what he found valuable in the Marxist tradition. Thus, in his essay ‘Untouchables or the Children of India’s Ghettos’, while arguing his case for reservation of seats for Dalits in public service he writes: “That a civil service in tune with the new order was essential for the success of the new order was recognised by Karl Marx in 1871 in the formation of the Paris Commune and adopted by Lenin in the constitution of Soviet Communists” (BAWS, Volume 5, 1989, p. 104). In effect, to transform the nature of government, reservation was not only just, but entirely necessary to sustain gains made in equality and justice.

He had likewise pointed to the experiences of the Paris Commune and also the soviets in his famous What Gandhi and Congress Have Done to the Untouchables. Thus, in the chapter titled, ‘A Plea to the Foreigners’ he pointed out:

“In selecting the instrumentalities of the State considerations of class bias in the instrumentalities cannot be overlooked. It is in fact fundamental to good government. It is unfortunate that the importance of this fact is not generally recognized even by those who regard themselves as the champions of democracy. Karl Marx was the first to recognize it and take account of it in the administration of the Paris Commune. It is unnecessary to say that it is to-day the basis of Government in Soviet Russia. The demand for reservations put forth by the servile classes in India is essentially based upon the same considerations pointed out by Dicey, advocated by Marx and adopted by Russia. Only those who belong to the servile class can be trusted to protect the interest of that class. This consideration is so important that the principle of efficiency cannot be allowed to altogether override it. If the governing class in India stands on the principle of efficiency and efficiency alone it is because it is actuated by the selfish motive of monopolizing the instrumentalities of Government.” (BAWS, Vol 9, 1991, pp. 480-81).

One of the vexed questions that Teltumbde addresses in this book has to do with the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat’ and ‘violence’, a matter that continued to trouble Ambedkar till his very last days. Teltumbde makes it clear that the ‘dictatorship’ as meant by Marx was the total rule of the proletariat as against the bourgeois pretenses of democracy. While Marx and Engels talked of the possibility of peaceful road to socialism under certain conditions and disapproved of the ‘revolutionary terror’, they did not view ‘violence’ and ‘non-violence’ as absolute categories:

“..Violence cannot be seen in absolutist terms simply because it is integral to life. The Buddha’s perspective may rather be useful to differentiate between purposeful violence and natural violence; as he advised, the former should be certainly avoided. Human history, however, is replete with purposeful violence, human lust for accumulation being its motive force. In class terms, the dominant classes always use violence to suppress the dominated masses. In capitalism, capitalists are bound to use violence to keep the working classes under control. If the latter gain consciousness and use violence to resist it, how could it be amoral? …Ambedkar’s liberal and moral framework may detest violence but Marx’s historical and specie’s framework would deny morality itself its autonomy, and rather defend the defensive violence of the proletariat against the violence of the ruling classes unleashed through their state. On its own, Marxism is against violence”.(pp.65-66.)

Interestingly, Ambedkar himself, had at least once spoken in a similar vein. Criticising Gandhi’s ideology of non-violence and passive resistance, in the context of Nazi Germany’s invasion of other countries, Ambedkar wrote:

“That is the thinking of Gandhi, and it is precisely this ideology that has to be examined here. That if everyone were to purify their minds and imbibe the principles of non-violence, it would solve everything. This thinking appears to have mainly two flaws. The first is that in the event of war, the main question thrown up before us would be whether to participate in the war or not. Instead, the real question is how to save our people from the war. If we harp the tune of forsaking one’s own self-interest for the sake of others, it might, admittedly, create a non-antagonistic frame of mind, but it would not ensure that this would really serve the interests of the others. Once wars ensue, it is the lives of people that are attacked. Lives are endangered. The threat of destruction looms large. All this cannot be averted by simply saying that we do not want destruction, and by doing nothing about it. Moreover, establishing just the principles of justice the world over would not do. There would be no solution unless those principles would be put into practice, unless one actually entered the arena of war and resisted one instance after another of assault upon justice. Being inclined towards justice by itself does not prove to be of use to anyone else, other than one’s own self, for when one may begin to act in accordance with justice, it would turn out that practice does not produce the desired result unless it is backed by an element of force” (Janata, August 10, 1940; translated from the Marathi by Prashant Rai, in; accessed on June 8, 2017).

On the other hand, Ambedkar’s insistence on the ethical dimension of any emancipatory project must be borne in mind by the Left which has to ponder deeply why he preferred Buddha rather than Marx.

In this book[3], Teltumbde also traces the history of post-Ambedkar Dalit Movements to argue that the reactionary and opportunist trend within it has won the day:

“Vested interests amongst the Dalits, however, pitched Ambedkar firmly as the enemy of the Communists. By doing this, they threw him into the camp of the reactionaries and the exploiters. They stretched this antipathy between Ambedkar to   extent that they would discard anything even remotely associated with Marxism. The fundamental category of class, through which Ambedkar viewed human society, albeit not with the same conception as Marx and Engels did has therefore been a complete taboo. Of late, they even refuse to accept the term dalit, a quasi-class term Ambedkar used for all the Untouchable Castes. While some of them argue that after they embraced Buddhism, they are no more dalits or that the term dalit is too humiliating to reflect their progressed selves, some would disingenuously suggest that Ambedkar never used the term dalit[4]. Paradoxically, they do not object to the usage of castes which Ambedkar wanted to annihilate.This obsession of the educated middle class of Dalits against Marxism has reached farcical levels. Ambedkar had hoped that they would provide role models for the community and represent their interests in political society. But they utterly failed to meet his expectations. They are solely responsible for the paradoxical degeneration of the Dalit movement today when Ambedkar’s declared enemy – Brahmanism and Capitalism – are seen as the friends of Dalits, while the Marxists – identified with the world’s toiling masses – become their sworn foes”.(pp.10-11.)

While Teltumbde has for long been critical of Ambedkarite positions, it is equally, if not more important, to also point out that while today all Left formations are engaged with caste questions, at one place nominally, at another substantially, much more needs to be done by them. In this context the Left has to address some important issues that have emerged from their own practice. We could list these as follows: (1) Much of the rank and file of all Left formations have been the very poor, amongst whom are/were a considerable number of Dalits. Dalits have been the mainstay of the Marxist-Leninist groups in Bihar, and to an extent in Andhra; (2) Yet in terms of articulate presence and leadership, they don’t appear to have been visible. Neither have their views on caste been made central to the particular party’s approach to class-caste in any given instance. Or at least in public statements that are available.[5] (3) The top-down democratic-centralist culture of all left parties has also meant that the party bureaucracy exercises control over activists, people in movement. So, even if on the ground the left has been sensitive to caste concerns, as they undoubtedly have, then that is not reflected in party pronouncements, except that they are present as vague generalities. So, again, the point of view of those who struggle on the ground is not visible in a way that would help hone our understanding of the caste-class question; (4) Much intellectual time has been spent on debating matters such as mode of production, whether India is semi-colonial, semi-feudal or not and so on, and very little time has been spent on consolidating detailed work done on land and caste in different parts of India; and also on the manner caste shapes economic life. Even now such work has very few takers.

On the other hand the Dalit politics, as it is obtained now, has no answer either to the class alliance between their own elites and their caste oppressors nor to the caste solidarity between the haves and have-nots amongst dominant castes. It can move forward only if it is willing to articulate the material aspirations of all the dispossessed masses cutting across caste and religious barriers. To rephrase Marx and Engels, the Dalits, as ‘organic proletariat’ of this country, cannot liberate themselves, unless they liberate the rest of the oppressed masses of the Indian people. On the other hand, the very survival of the Left hinges upon the support of the Dalits, the vast majority of them are working masses.

If Anand Teltumbde has come down heavily upon the past and persistent mistakes in the two emancipator projects, distinctive from each other, but nevertheless potentially interrelated, it is not for opening the old wounds, but to heal them. His central thesis for convergence of these movements, which he has been evangelizing through his voluminous writings for the past three decades, comes out succinctly in this text. One hopes they his advice and work towards it.


S V Rajdurai is a noted writer, civil rights activist and Periyar, Ambedkar, Marx scholar.

[1] We are grateful to John Bellamy Foster for providing insights into the working of Fascisms and Neofascisms.

[2]That Marx, through his critical reading of certain Western  scholars  and Indologists was  able to connect the caste-system  with  Brahminism and understand the role of the Code of Manu  in Indian society has been elaborated by the  American Marxist  scholar Kevin B. Anderson. It is worth quoting the entire passages: “ A second element of the discussion of gender concerned Sati and women’s inheritance rights in India.  Again, Marx attacked the way in which Maine still positing the patriarchal family as the original form,  sometimes explained marital property held by the wife as an innovation. Marx views this instead as a vestige of an earlier matrilineal social order marked by “ descent within the clan along the female line….He holds the Brahmins and their treatises on Law responsible for the shift”.

“ Concerning Sati and female inheritance, Marx brings into his notes material from Thomas Strange’sElements of Hindu Law (1835) which he finds more illuminating than Maine: “ The beastliness of the Brahmin reaches its height in the Suttee (sic) or widow burning. Strange considers this practice to be a “malus uses”, not  “law”,  since in the Manu and other high authorities there is no mention of it… The matter is clear: the Suttee is simply a religious murder , in part to bring the inheritance into the hands of the  (spiritual) Brahmins for the religious ceremonies of the deceased husband and in part through Brahmin legislation to transfer the inheritance of the widow to the closest in the gens,  the nearer family of the husband….Although suttee an innovation introduced by the Brahmins, in the Brahmin mind this innovation was conceived as a survival from the older barbarians (who have buried a man with his possessions!)! Let it rest.””

“At another level, Marx seems to have concluded that the evolution of Hindu law from the early Code of Manu onwards also facilitated the breakdown of communal property as such. Thus, he emphasizes, came through bequests and gifts to religious bodies, as seen in the passage below, where the parts inserted by  Marx into his quotes from Kovalevsky are again italicized: “ The priestly pack thus plays a central in the process of individualization of family property…The chief sign of undivided property, the legislation, which is developed under Brahmin influence, must attack this bastion more and more…{[Alienation by gifts  everywhere the priestly hobbyhorse!]}….” (Kevin B. Anderson, Marx at the Margins : On Nationalism, Ethnicity, And Non-Western Societies, The University of Chicago Press, 2010, pp 206 and  210)

[3]The excellence of this books is slightly marred by a few factual errors in Anand Teltumbde’s  Introduction, which, we hope would be rectified in future editions.

[4]Teltumbde writes: “Such ignorance is spread on social media by a section of the middle class Dalits among the gullible youngsters who tend to take it as truth. As a matter of fact, the term Dalit represents the proud legacy of struggles waged by JotibaPhule and continued by BabasahebAmbedkar. While Ambedkar used ‘Depressed Classes’, ‘Untouchable Classes’ in his English writings, he mostly used ‘Dalit’ in his Marathi speeches. See, BabasahebAmbedkar: Writings and Speeches, Vol. 21 that contains his Marathi speeches”.

[5] Teltumbde writes: “The more annoying was the fact that many individual comrades, even in the leadership positions, openly lent expression to their caste pride and prejudice. It may be understandable if such expression emanated from the subconscious, as such deep-down ethos may not be erased suddenly. But if it came consciously and callously, it was certain problematic. Leave aside the past, it is a commonplace experience of the Dalit comrades, who join the communists, incurring the displeasure of their community, being reminded of their caste by their upper caste comrades.They are invariably adjectivized as Dalits” (pp.44-45.).

Support Countercurrents

Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B.
Become a Patron at Patreon

Join Our Newsletter


Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Get CounterCurrents updates on our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Related Posts

Ambedkar Being Appropriated

In India, the abduction scenes that lure historical figures from the present and make them part of established interests are gaining strength day by day. This process strips individuals of…

Join Our Newsletter

Annual Subscription

Join Countercurrents Annual Fund Raising Campaign and help us

Latest News