When Karl Marx Fails: Discourse on Class and Caste Politics in India

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There is a long standing debate as to whether Marxism played any role in the Dalit’s struggle for social emancipation and justice. The debate is characterized by two currents of thoughts one favours, advocates and project the communist system as an ideal landscape for the social emancipation and freedom of Dalits and another takes a view of communism as an ideology that has no natural space for notion like ‘caste discrimination’ hence not useful model to battle the casteism which has become a character of Indian society.  The major reason behind the second current of thought could be the discourse of left politics that gave overarching importance to Marxist ideology that subscribes to the class, class consciousness, class discrimination and class struggle. This has been true of the Marxist Left which includes the original and later CPI, the CPM and even most of the Maoist formations. The socialist parties, specially under Ram Manohar Lohia and to a lesser extent Acharya Narendra Dev evidently acknowledged the issue of caste since the fifties though from the backward caste, and not a Dalit perspective and therefore, their discourse somewhat failed to recognize the identity dynamics of Dalits and reduced their politics to the level of branding Dalits simply as ‘Backward’ communities.

The classical Class based approach of the Marxist Left did not take cognizance of caste reality of India, moreover, there is some scope to assert that the Marxists even saw ‘caste’ as an impediment for growth of class consciousness. Its mass fronts consisted of the trade unions, the peasant associations, landless agricultural workers. Outside these class based fronts were those for women, students and the cultural wing (the famous Indian People’s Theatre Association) however, there is no caste based political or non-political communist/socialist organization that could provide platform to the AATI-SUDRA communities which were thrown out of the Karl Marx’s idea of class system in India. Considering the distribution of share in the power within the communist parties, it is very surprising to discover that most of the top leaders of communist parties are drawn from higher caste communities. Does it mean that the dalit and tribal communist political activists are lacking leadership qualities to lead the so called people’s movement at the national or state level?

The Dalit movement has grown strong over the period of time however, after the untimely demise of Dr. B.R.Ambedkar; in next two decades the movement became directionless. Republican Party of India, Dalit Panther could not cope up with the ever growing disturbances in the society. During that period atrocities against Dalits and tribals were at peak. Reservation policy became a mockery. Economic and also the political conditions of the nation were then going through serious turmoil. The overall condition was suitable for the growth of socialist and communist ideologies. It was the time when Naxalbari movement was started in West Bengal that gradually spread in the other parts of country and now maybe heading towards failure. The vacuum that was created after the death of Dr. Ambedkar, was hijacked by the left ideology. It was an attempt to give an alternative ideological as well as political platform to the Dalits and to some extent left parties got succeed in bringing Dalits and Tribals in their political fold.

In early 80’s with the rise of Kanshiram Dalit movement saw its second national leader after Dr. B.R.Ambedkar. When DS4 (Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti)- the first pan India organization for oppressed castes was set up on 6th December, 1981 under the leadership of Kanshiram; it was taken by left political world as a threat-reactionary and dangerous, since the new model then has a potential to challenge and break the unity of the class based fronts that formed along the casteist lines. The political issue of caste was largely ignored by the left politics until the Mandal Commission Report that brought OBC communities under the purview of Reservation Policy. With the implementation of Mandal Commission Report, a new era in the Indian politics began. On the other hand on 14th April, 1984 Bahujan Samaj Party was established by Kanshiram which rose to became the first and till now the only national political party of SC,ST,OBC,MINORITIES communities that successfully reached the ‘power’ on the hostile political landscape of Casteist India. This is how Dalit Politics transformed into Bahujan Politics which posed greater challenged not only to the Bramhinicle ideology and the politics of caste, but also to the communist politics.

Dalits and Tribal communities have never got their true share in the top power sectors in the left parties like CPI and CPM. It has been seen that the top leadership in the parties mostly derived from the Brahmin communities as well as from local dominating communities belonging to the upper strata of society with only few exceptions which shows how imbalance the internal structure of these parties is that did not attempt to nourish the Dalit or Tribal leadership in the top fold of their organizational structure.

Whenever the question of underground communist movement comes up for the debate, it is pertinent to explore the dynamics of Armed movement of Naxalbari that came to be widely known as Naxalite and/or Maoist Movement. Without getting much into the details about the failure, success and political value addition of the movement, one undercurrent that can clearly be identified is regarding the impact created by the movement. The oppressed communities, which participated in the Ambedkarite movement reached to the once ‘forbidden and unreachable’ palace of political power whereas those who took arms are still struggling with their own existence. Taking the political life into consideration that the left wing parties have spent on the larger political landscape of India it may be said that the communism clearly failed to recognize the Dalit identity and made a blunder to include Dalits-who are thrown out of the Caste system, into the Class-System.

If at all, left political wind is currently blowing to the direction of the Blue Flag of Ambedkarism is only because of the battle lines drawn after the Mandal Commission by the caste based parties especially like Bahujan Samaj Party which has successfully created its strong political base; as a result of which the party has now become a number three political party in India in national politics after BJP and Congress. The rising Bahujan political aspirations and the growth of Bahujan pressure groups as well as exponential growth dynamics of BSP caused serious impact on the following and supporters of political parties like Congress and Left.

It is also important to understand that the growth of Dalit Movement, its transformation into Bahujan Movement and deterioration of left movement in Dalit political spectrum as well in the national politics is not a coincidence. Left political ideology which advocated the Marxist principles failed to recognize the absolute dalit identity, not only that but the most radical voices in the movement refused to recognize the caste factor under the influence of global appeal of Marxism which pushed the caste-issue under the carpet. The political pandits of the left ideology have also seen ‘caste’ as an obstacle in the development of the class consciousness.

To conclude, it is undeniable fact that the communists are losing their ground because of the class model of social change that they advocate has no application in the context of caste India. The socialist and communist thinkers, ideologists have never taken the cognizance of the unique case of “systematic oppression” of people in the name of “Caste Identity”. When the official political slogans like “Chiner Chairman, Amader Chairman” (Communist China’s Chairman is our Chairman) were made popular in 1970s by Naxal Movement; how Dalits and Tribals were expected to trust the ideology that has no space for their unique socio-cultural condition? If communists wish to accommodate Dalits and Tribals, they should firstly give them their due share in the top hierarchy of power in their parties. The new inclusive narrative for communists in India needs to be developed that re-write their ideology in the context of caste ridden Indian society. The Marxist ideology has a scope to embrace the ‘suffering’ of the world however; the caste dynamics in India are so strong that they killed Marx too, just like Buddha, Mahaveera, Christ, Asoka and Ambedkar.

Aniruddha Vithal Babar, B.com, D.H.R.L., LLM (International Law and Human Rights), M.A. (Political Science with special in International Relations and Conflict Studies), Former Advocate; Bombay High Court and independent researcher with interdisciplinary temperament. He has respectable hold on political and Socio-legal philosophy and thought with research interests include International law, Tribal Jurisprudence (with special emphasis on the development of  Naga Jurisprudence), Applied Politics, Idea of justice, Peace & Conflict Studies, Northeast Studies, Subaltern Studies and Human Rights. Presently he is pursuing his PhD in the interdisciplinary fields of Law, Governance and Conflict Management at SSLG, JAIPUR NATIONAL UNIVERSITY. He may be contacted at aniruddha.v.babar@gmail.com)


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