B R Ambedkar: India and Communism

B R Ambedkar: India and Communism, introduction Anand Teltumbde, Left Word Delhi, 2017 ed., pages 156, price 225/ Rupees

ambedkarDr. B R Ambedkar was in constant dialogue with Communist thought, at least at ideological level, throughout his writings. Some vested sections among both sides-Ambedkarits and Marxists have tried to put both sides more in conflict than in agreement on many social issues. There are few scholars and activists, especially after the rise of Communal Hindutva and it getting state power in 2014, to focus this dialogue on more common grounds among the two thoughts. Many student organisations in JNU or in Hyderabad University or IIT’s in Chennai and Kharagpur, have focussed on common grounds between Marxist revolutionary Bhagat Singh and Dalit liberation thinker Dr. Ambedkar, along with Periyar and Mahatma Phule.

Anand Teltumbde, scholar in his own right, though closely related to Ambedkar family as well, has edited few incomplete writings of Dr. Ambedkar under the title-‘India and Communism’ with his lucid introduction on the subject. It is mentioned in Publisher’s Note Dr. Ambedkar has left a note in his papers that he wished to write a book entitled-India and Communism, he even drafted table of contents for the book, which were as-

Part-1. The Pre-requisites of Communism

Chapter-1-The Birthplace of Communism

Chapter-2-Communism and Democracy

Chapter-3-Communism and Social Order

Part-II—India and the Pre-requisites of Communism

Chapter-4-The Hindu Social Order

Chapter-5-The Basis of Hindu Social Order

Chapter-6—The Impediments to Communism arising from the Social Order

Part-III—What Then Shall We Do?

Chapter-1- Marx and the European Social Order

Chapter-2- Manu and the Hindu Social Order

Dr. Ambedkar could complete only few parts of this planned book-Chapter 4&5 with sixty three typed pages. In the same fold of papers there was an outline for another book-Can I be a Hindu? And Symbols of Hinduism as part of it.

These papers are likely typed in early 1950.

Anad Teltumbde has reproduced these incomplete writings of Dr. Ambedkar with his 70 pages introduction-‘Bridging the Unholy Rift’. The Text of Dr. Ambedkar’s own papers is of 75 pages, with 50 pages of two chapters from book and 25 pages of additional section-Symbols of Hinduism.

Thus the unknown papers of Dr. Ambedkar with Anand Teltumbde’s introduction bring fresh and more rational understanding of Dr. Ambedkar thought.

In opening page of the book, there is a quotation from Dr. Ambedkar’s1936 major writing-‘Annihilation of the Caste’-

‘If the Socialists wish to make Socialism a definite reality, then they must recognise that the problem of social reform is fundamental and that for them there is no escape from it’

Reading this statement 81 years after it was first penned, makes one realise that how much complex Indian society is and how the need for social reform has become more acute that even in 1936 and the intervening period has shown that how socialists or communists have failed in this task and now they stand almost marginalised in society, which they were leading one time.

Anand Teltumbde also begins his introduction with a quote from radical black American thinker Malcolm X-‘The only way we’ll get freedom for ourselves is to identify ourselves with every oppressed people in the world’ (Page 9). The very first formulation of Anand Teltumbde is that those who project Ambedkar as anti-communist or anti-Marxism are grossly prejudiced, though he agrees that Ambedkar had serious reservation in accepting certain theoretical postulations of Marxism.

Anand Teltumbde very harshly underlines the fact that-The entire post-Ambedkar Dalit movement reflects the singular obsession to treat Marxists as the enemy. This has allowed the Dalit ‘leaders’ to remain ensconced in the ruling circles, enjoying perks and privileges, while still calling themselves ‘Ambedkarites’ (Page 11). He has even named certain groups from Republican Party of India (RPI). In later period, Anand notes in sadness that even Dalit Panthers, the radicals on the pattern of Black Panthers of US, split on same pattern of RPI. He further notes that how notable Dalit leaders like-Ram Vilas Paswan, Udit Raj and Ramdas Athavale have walked over to the most reactionary Brahamnical party-Bhartiya Janta Party(BJP), but would not touch Communists even with a bargepole! These opportunist leaders are ready to go with utterly anti-Ambedkar thought of BJP, but attack Dr. Ambedkar’s own grandson Prakash Ambedkar, who favours common front with Socialists and Communists as ‘anti-Ambedkar’ and even ‘a Maoist sympathiser’!

Anand Teltumbde describes Dr. Ambedkar’s relationship with Marxism as ‘enigmatic’, he was never a Marxist, but described himself as ‘Socialist’!

Anand Teltumbde is not sure whether Dr. Ambedkar read Karl Marx’s 25th June 1853 essay-The British rule in India, first published in New York Daily, in which Marx characterizes the Indian Castes as ‘the most decisive impediment to India’s progress and power’. But Ambedkar never rejected the notion that ‘struggle against caste is integral with class struggle’ (Page 19). Ambedkar was unhappy at the Communists conception of class as only ‘economic’ excluding socio-religious aspects of it. Anand Teltumabde also underlines that though Ambedkar did not accept Marxian concept of class, he himself was treated caste as class-‘A Caste is an Enclosed Class’, as per Anand, Ambedkar conception of class was more like Max Weber than like of Marx. Ambedkar formed his first political party as Independent Labour Party (ILP) in August 1936, which is described by Christopher Jeffrelot as ‘first leftist party in India’, as Communist party was either underground or working under umbrella of Congress party. ILP along with CSP (Congress Socialist Party) organised huge march of 20000 peasants in 1938 and showed the way to merge ‘caste and class’ in practice. In 1938 itself ILP and AITUC (CPI affiliated-All India Trade Union Congress) joined in calling massive strike of one lakh workers against Trade Disputes act of 1929, against which Bhagat Singh and BK Dutt had thrown bombs in Central assembly in April 1929. According to Anand, Ambedkar was in his radical best form in 1930’s. Ambedkar ended this phase by dissolving ILP in 1942 and forming All India Scheduled caste Federation (AISCF).

Anand Teltumbde has observed in his introduction to the book that Ambedkar was not hostile towards communism until the 1930’s. Only his experience with Bombay communists made him bitter about everything communist. Ambedkar had a soft corner for Soviet Union leader Stalin, being the son of a shoemaker. He observed even fast on the day Stalin died.

According to Anand Teltumbde much of the differences between Dr. Ambedkar and Communist leaders of his time had been due to Communist perception of ‘Base and Superstructure’, in which economic plight of Dalits as class was linked to their liberation from economic yoke of exploitation and their ‘caste discrimination’ being part of ‘super structural’ nature, would end with the change in base of society. Communist party in its opportunism was treating many comrades from Dalit background as ‘showpiece’ of their concern for Dalits, such was the case of Jiban Dhupi of Anushilan revolutionary group background, who was released from jail after eleven years in 1946, was flaunted as ‘Scheduled Caste Fighter against Social injustice’ in CPI central organ. . In contrast, K N Jogelkar, a senior CPI leader was not debarred from remaining member of ‘Brahmin Sabha’ for many years.

Though Ambedkar remained targeted by CPI for many years, at personal level, Ambedkar kept his friendship warm with R B More, who had joined CPI.

According to Anand, on the issue of nationalism and anti-imperialist struggles, Ambedkar and CPI had different perception, while CPI thought Congress party to be anti-imperialist and nationalist and felt friendlier towards it and was critical of Ambedkar. For Ambedkar, interests of Dalits were primary, who got some relief from British regime in terms of getting education and some job opportunities. Ambedkar wanted to protect the interests of Dalits in post British India and did not trust Gandhi or Congress party for that.

Although today in changed circumstances due to RSS inspired BJP coming to power, Indian constitution drafted by Dr. Ambedkar is being seen as a defence mechanism against RSS designs of turning India into Hindu Rashtra, Anad Teltumbade quotes Dr. Ambedkar himself to show that how much Dr. Ambedkar was himself frustrated from this constitution. Anand quotes Ambedkar-‘I was a hack, what I was asked to do, I did much against my will…But I am quite prepared to say that I shall be the first person to burn it out. I don’t want it. It does not suit anybody’. (Page 68-quoted from Rajya Sabha, 2nd September 1953). It is very interesting to see that the constitution which is being idealised today, was a class constitution to protect the interests of ruling rich oligarchies and not to protect, working class or Dalits, Ambedkar was quite clear about it, but our today’s leftists and Ambedkarites are both eulogising a constitution, which was rejected by Ambedkar himself, despite being its author!

Coming over to present incomplete project of Dr. Ambedkar, Anand Teltumbde opines that though Ambedkar thought communism was an emancipatory philosophy and has huge attraction for toiling masses, yet it did not have much to offer to Dalits in getting rid of oppressive social structure . In Anand Teltumbde’s opinion the early doctrinaire approach of CPI alienated Ambedkar like thinkers from Marxism. He quotes Marx about such doctrinaire approach saying that ‘if that was Marxism, he was not Marxist himself!’

Under the present circumstances Anand Teltumbade opines that just caste identity politics will not lead Dalit liberation to anywhere, rather it would only splinter them further. He favours class and caste integration to enhance the path of revolution and hopes that publication of Ambedkar’s incomplete writings ‘inspire the Dalits and communists to complete the belated task to shape India’s and world’s future’. (Page 78)

One can look at Ambedkar’s two chapters and other writing to see whether Anand’s hope for Dalit-left unity is possible?

In his chapter-The Hindu Social Order: Its Essential Principles, Ambedkar begins by focusing on two fundamentals for free social order-1. Individual is an end in himself and 2. Social order must be founded on principles of liberty, equality and fraternity-three principles of French revolution.

Dr. Ambedkar discusses in detail the meaning and implications of these principles and tests the Hindu Social Order, whether it follows these foundational principles of ‘free social order’ or not; and he finds Hindu Social Order miserably failing to follow these essential principles. In the discussion Dr. Ambedkar underlines the most divisive and discriminatory aspects of Hindu social order. He gives an example from Brahmin caste alone from Punjab of those days, where out of one crore and a half population of main Brahmin caste, had 1886 sub-castes of Brahmins alone!

Dr. Ambedkar makes it clear that first and fundamental principle of Hindu social order is ‘graded inequality’, he gives illustrations from ‘Manu Smriti’ to prove his point, which underlines seven kinds of slaves and The Hindu law recognises slavery as a ‘legal institution’! (Page 98) Dr. Ambedkar has given ample examples from Hindu codified laws about the cruelty in different laws like that on adultery etc. Dr. Ambedkar underlines ‘fixity of occupations for each class and continuance thereof by heredity’ as the second principle of Hindu social order. Third principle of Hindu social order is explained as ‘fixation of people within their respective classes. Dr. Ambedkar notes further that Hindu social order has ‘ban on free interchange and intercourse between different classes of Hindu society. There is a bar against inter-dining and inter-marriage.’(Page 108).

In another chapter-The Hindu Social Order: Its Unique Features. Dr. Ambedkar notes three special features of Hindu social order, the most striking being-‘the worship of the superman’! In Ambedkar’s own words-‘The Hindu social order is nothing but Nietzsche’s Gospel put in action’!(Page 111) Ambedkar considers that The Brahmin is the Superman of Hindu social order, who is entitled to certain privileges as he could not be hanged, even though he might be guilty of murder as per Manu Smriti. Dr. Ambedkar further explains Hindu social order by saying that-‘the rise of common man is antagonistic to the supremacy of the Superman…..Common man is in a state of perpetual degradation…’ (Page 119)

Dr. Ambedkar is very firm in his opinion that-‘The Hindus are the only people in the world whose social order-the relation of man to man is consecrated by religion and made sacred, eternal and inviolate.’ He concludes this chapter with these words-‘No one can deny that the Hindu social order has become the habit of the Hindus and as such is in full force’. (Page 130)

In another chapter-Symbols of Hinduism-Ambedkar goes back to 305 B.C., focusing on Greek king Seleukos ambassador Megasthenes view-the social organisation of the Hindus was of a very strange sort’. Megasthenes observed Indian population to be divided into seven parts. From 305 B.C., Ambedkar moves to 1030 A.D. by referring to Alberuni’s travel accounts of India, who observed four major castes or varnas of Hindus, Brahmins being the highest in ladder. Ambedkar further refers to Portuguese official Duarte Barbosa being in India during 1500-1571, who gives detailed analyses of Indian castes. Ambedkar notes the Denzil Ibbetson writing about castes in Punjab during British colonial time. Editor Anand Teltambde consider him as ‘the most important intellectual bureaucrats of the Census of India’ (Page 147). In fact Denzil Ibbetson book ‘Punjab Castes’ is still published by Government of Punjab with his full name and title as Sir Denzil Charles Jelf Ibbetson K.C.S.I. as master source for data of castes in Punjab.

Dr. Ambedkar sees caste and class interlinked in Indian social set up. Dr. Ambedkar challenges the notion of caste being outcome of ‘Varna’, rather he says that ‘Caste is perversion of Verna’. Dr. Ambedkar touches the question of ‘Swarna’ Hindus, means being part of four Varna system, which include-Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras and ‘Avarna’ Hindus, means who are out of Varna system, called ‘Antyaj’ also, meaning worse than even Shudras! Dr. Ambedkar’s manuscript breaks with these words-‘The Avarna Hindus comprise three…..

No one can doubt the scholarship of Dr. Ambedkar in study of Indian society in general and Hindu society in particular with emphasis on Caste structure of Hinduism, which is most oppressive for Dalits. Reformers like Mahatma Gandhi and others tried to reform Hindu social order by offering to appropriate Dalits inside Hindu order by offering them some dignity, but not equality, whereas Dr. Ambedkar finds no scope for equality for Dalits inside Hindu social order, so he opts out of Hindu social order itself by accepting Buddhist faith and calling upon fellow Dalits to do the same. While he was left with little time after adopting Buddhism, his followers did not carry forward his scheme of taking Dalits out of Hindu social order and creating a new liberty, equality and fraternity based social order, not even Mayawati led Bahujun Samaj Party did it, neither earlier various Republican Party factions did it and now finding all of them at the mercy of RSS-Hindutva based party BJP.

Anand Teltumbde by his enlightened introduction to these papers of Dr. Ambedkar has tried to open a window again for leftists and Ambedkarites to enter into debate and find common ground for changing the sliding down of Indian society into the clutches of RSS-Hindutva Hindu Social Order, resisted so passionately by Dr. Ambedkar. Modi is the Superman of Hindu Social Order as explained by Dr. Ambedkar, with whom Dalits can have no truck. Under present circumstances, leftists forces are probably closest allies of Ambedkar’s imagined social order based on liberty, equality and fraternity, but would the both sides accept this challenge? Rosa Luxemburg the best leftist/Communist theoretician of Germany had given a resounding call for defeat of fascism by explaining the situation as ‘Socialism or Barbarism’! India is in perhaps same conditions today where it has to choose-‘Socialism or Barbarism’! Socialism could be of Ambedkar variety or Bhagat Singh/Che Guevara variety or any other variety as being tried in different Latin American countries at the moment, but Barbarism of Hindutva social order is not an option!

Hope that Anand Teltumbde, Prakash Ambedkar like Ambedkarite thinkers and various leftist groups and parties find a common ground, as students are trying in many places like ‘Bhagat Singh-Ambedkar-Periyar-Phule’ groups as in IIT Chennai to lead the country out of morass of Hindutva fascist forces, which are quite strong at the moment, being in power at state level as well as in society with vigilante groups like-‘Gau Rakshaks’ and many more like Sriram Sena, or Hindu Jagran Vedike, which are killing rationalists like Dabholkar-Pansare-Kalburgi-Gauri or Akhlaques-Junaids etc. by falsification of history and whipping up blind religious passions like Hitler and Mussolini whipped up in Germany and Italy of 1930’s and whose price was paid by the whole world, not just these two countries. Same are the conditions today of the world with Trump and Modi in power in two powerful countries with huge populations!

Hope Indian and US people will learn some lessons from history and will not allow it to be repeated again, which will be much more destructive than the World War-II, caused by Hitler and Mussolini. Dr. Ambedkar’s unfinished book can be guide to learn these lessons.

Chaman Lal is retired Professor from JNU, New Delhi and author of ‘Understanding Bhagat Singh’ and few books on Dalit Literature


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