The Caste question and its resolution: A Marxist perspective
— Research Team, Arvind Marxist Studies Institute
Keynote paper presented in the Fourth Arvind Memorial Seminar on the topic ‘Caste Question and Marxism’(12-16 March 2013, Chandigarh)
No revolutionary project of making the Indian society exploitation-free can be made by excluding the caste question. There are enough grounds to reject outrightly the belief that first the caste-system should be eradicated at the socio-political plane through certain conscious attempts and only then the revolutionary mobilisation of various groups of people would be possible. Its opposite viewpoint is equally wrong that the revolutionary mobilisation of various groups and the process of revolution would by itself eliminate the caste-system and therefore this question by itself does not form an important issue. It is our clear conviction that the process of the preparation of the proletarian revolution cannot move forward without clearly targeting the numerous forms of caste-based oppressions and the institutions which play the role of its carrier and agent; without this the revolutionisation and mobilisation of the various classes of the toiling masses suffering from social segregation is simply not possible. At the same time, the vanguard of revolution will have to present a historical, scientific and rational project for the elimination of caste which despite being long-term (which quite obviously it will be) must have some concrete immediate tasks as well. This much is certain, though, that even after the establishment of proletarian state, a perpetual process of revolution would have to be carried out at the ideological and cultural plane along with the socialist transformation of the production-relations and the prolonged process of the gradual advancement of the socialist social-political-educational-cultural edifice, for the ultimate elimination of the caste-system.In this paper, we will discuss this proposition of ours in detail and we will also refute the prevalent propositions which are wrong, incomplete, vague and confusing in our view.
There are many questions that will confront us if we proceed towards the concrete implementation. Even though there exists a clash in the interests of the capitalists, big and medium traders, kulaks, farmers, people in the upper-middle class strata and other parasite communities—who constitute the ruling class— and its supporting classes, they stand united when it comes to the political policy decisions and actions against the toiling masses. On the other hand, besides other problems, a vital problem in the path of the unity of the proletariat and semi-proletariat of the the villages and cities, the lower-middle class and the lower middle peasants—who constitute the main strength of the revolution—is that they are divided along caste-lines and there exists numerous walls of social segregation at multiple layers. The moot question is whether the causes of the caste-based prejudices and the contradictions which are almost all-pervasive in the Indian society in one form or the other are only superstructural (the old values or in the words of some, the influence of the Brahamanic culture) or there are some economic factors as well which tend to give support and strength to the super-structural factors. Quite often it so happens that behind an incident of caste-clash and caste-based oppression, the main reason happens to be the clash of the economic interests of the classes in varying intensity. But the polarisation which takes place in the society in such cases is on the basis of caste only! The bourgeois parliamentary politics of vote-bank in India makes the caste polarisation as one of its tools. But is this the main cause behind the sharp caste-contradictions? If caste happens to be just a burden of the past, feudal remnant or the influence of the ”Brahminic” culture, then some radical social movements could overthrow it in due course. But it does not seem to be likely. The caste-system is not that static as it appears to be. It has a particular kind of internal dynamism due to which it has managed to register its effective presence even today after originating in the ancient India and crossing historical epoch of the medieval and colonial era. It was capable of adapting itself to every socio-economic formation and the ruling classes of the different historical era have managed to adapt it for serving their interests.
The confusion regarding the inter-relationship of the caste and class prevails partly due to bookish scholars’ own misgivings; partly it is due to the influence of the accepted leaders of the oppressed castes who were filled with ignorant prejudices against Marxism; some confusion exists due to the American sociological ideas and the bourgeois ideologies of post-modernism like the ‘politics of identity’; some of it is due to the theories concocted by the petty bourgeois intellectuals, inspired as they are by their class interests; while other confusions arise out of the mechanical materialist analyses and misdeeds of the dilettante and revisionist Marxists and still others persist because in the past the communist movement, like on the other fundamental questions of Indian revolution, did not present a concrete programme after thorough analysis on the caste question as well. However, there are several concrete objective bases of these confusions. The main objective basis, for instance, is that while the majority of the Dalit castes is proletariat or semi-proletariat (mostly rural but increasingly urban also), the majority of the proletariat and semi-proletariat does not come from the Dalit castes. Most of the kulaks in the villages today belong to the middle castes and they are far ahead of the feudal lords and land owners belonging to the upper castes when it comes to oppressing the Dalits, however the majority of these very middle castes is either poor or lower-middle peasant and they have even joined the ranks of the working class. People from all castes are there among the capitalists (Dalits are very rare), but even today the upper castes dominate the bureaucracy and intellectual professions, particularly on the higher positions. Owing to reservation Dalits and some middle castes have also managed to reach in this sphere, but their percentage is very less as compared to their population and this percentage has steadily declined from lower to higher posts. A practical question, thus, arises as to how should a common front against the caste-system be forged? Is it possible without spreading the democratic consciousness among the poor masses of the upper and other castes through revolutionary propaganda and without mobilizing them on the common economic and political issues? And till this process is not moved forward, whether the revolutionary mobilisation and forging a strategic united front would be at all possible? Can the caste-based mobilisation of Dalits only, take them to their real emancipation and elimination of caste?
Yet another point is that the constitutional and legal provisions for some concessions, reliefs and security to the Dalit castes is one thing, but the complete end to the Dalit oppression, their social segregation and their humiliating and inferior social condition and elimination of the caste system is quite another. Does the path of the concessions like reservation ultimately go to the emancipation of Dalits and the elimination of caste? Do we see any such possibility within the purview of the Indian constitution (the experience of 62 years is before us) or within the ambit of the extremely limited, skewed and distorted Indian capitalist democracy which was born from the womb of colonialism and brought up in the era of imperialism? How much the Dalits have benefitted from reservation in the last six decades and with this pace how long will it take for them to overcome their woeful condition? Reservation, when it was given, was quite pertinent as a bourgeois democratic right, but hasn’t it now become more of a means to create bourgeois democratic illusion than a bourgeois democratic right? Isn’t this also an issue that the Dalit intellectuals who have been uplifted and who have become part of the urban middle class through reservation do not share any interest with the Dalit proletariat of the villages and cities and they are the ones who get the benefits of the concessions provided by the government. That is the reason why despite lashing out at the caste-system, quite often they are not prepared to think on any project of elimination of caste and Dalit-emancipation which goes beyond reservation and the ambit of Indian constitution, they are not prepared to contemplate on the Dalit movements of the past and their theoretical basis and on the role of their theoreticians and even in the present time they give thesis of producing capitalists from within the Dalits, at times they propound the idea of the united front of the “Bahujan Samaj” or increasing the count of Dalit leaders in every party and at other times at the more theoretical level they end up celebrating the caste identities. The result of upsurge of the identities is visible in the form of increasing discord and segregation within the Dalits who are already divided in different castes and sub-castes. Intense struggles are witnessed among them on the issue of distribution of reservation and reservation within reservation. This is a bitter truth which cannot be overlooked if we are to reach to correct conclusion.
We will have to analyse and sum up the ideology, historical outlook, economic and political thoughts of Dr. Ambedkar with scientific objectivity and by freeing ourselves from all prejudices. Idol worship or making the leaders as incarnation is Brahmanic and capitalist tendency of hero-worship which needs to be shunned. It is also a moot question as to what were the reasons behind the degeneration and disintegration of the politics of the smaller and bigger pioneer parties of the Dalit politics such as Republican Party, Dalit Panthers, BSP, Puthiya Tamizhgam which have been emerging from time to time in the post-Ambedkar era of Dalit politics only to form alliance later with this or that main bourgeois Party (upper caste and middle caste dominated parties from their analytical perspective). Why is it that the motley of the radical Dalit intellectuals did not even make an attempt to build an anti-caste social movement with broad social base? We have to find out what is the project of the Dalit-emancipation and the annihilation of caste-system of the radical Dalit politics and the new and old Dalit theoretical trends and what are their forms of implementation?
Today, most of the revolutionary communists also admit, in a gesture of guilt-consciousness and self-condemnation, that the communist movement completely ignored the caste question in the past and that it adopted a class-reductionist and mechanical economist approach. This is often said in very general terms or instead of concretely analysing the concrete facts of history, only some reference is given eclectically of a few incidents. In what form did this weakness manifest itself in the overall line and practice of the communist movement in the past and whether it was an independent weakness or was it a part of the the general lacuna in developing a strategy and general tactics of revolution after concretely analyzing the socio-economic and political conditions of India? Yet, whether there was any contribution of the communist movement in the movement for the emancipation of Dalits? Yet another fashionable statement these days is that the communists adopted wrong attitude towards the Dalit leaders and movement. This conclusion calls for a detailed consideration, only then the concrete mistakes and weaknesses could be understood. It needs to be looked as to what were the differences between the standpoints of the communist leadership and the Dalit leadership during the freedom movement on the burning questions of those days and which standpoint was correct. What also needs to be looked at is what was the attitude of the leadership of the Dalit movement towards the communist movement and the communist ideology.
Several trends are in vogue within the communist movement these days. There are some who, while cursing the class-reductionist perspective of the past and the terrible mistake of placing caste into superstructure (nobody knows who did it and when!), go to the extent of claiming that the widely accepted Marxist concept of “Base-Superstructure metaphor” itself is mechanistic, there are those who blame its mechanical understanding; some others term the mode of production itself as the base instead of total sum of all production-relations; some claim that production-relations are derived from the caste-system, while others talk of the reflection of the production-relation into the caste-system; some of them term the caste-system itself as the production-relations in the past whereas others while talking about the phenomenal plane and structural plane give a thesis that in today’s complex capitalist society, the class struggle would take place in the form of social movements (like the movements of caste, gender, environment etc.) only. In other words there is a deep ideological confusion. There is no way out other than clearing the air of confusion. Yet another trend in vogue seeks to harmonise Marxism and Ambedkarism, this trend has multiple forms though. In such a pursuit what is discussed is Ambedkar’s contribution in the interest of Dalits, but no detailed discussion takes place on Ambedkar’s philosophical moorings, his concrete project for the Dalit emancipation, his economic thoughts, his political stand on various issues, his role as the maker of constitution and as Law minister and his thoughts on Marxism. Some quotations are chosen dexterously to prove the possibility of his proximity with the communist stream. In fact all such varied endeavours are aimed at winning the hearts of the Dalit population, to take them along by implying—look, we have adopted your hero, now will you please come along with us! No part of the population would come with them in the the struggle for the emancipation of masses with such emotional tactical manoeuvres. They would come along only when one could convince them in theory and in practice that the correct and rational path of their emancipation lies with him only. Such a process would admittedly be difficult and a bit lengthy. We do not have any reservation about harmonizing with Ambedkarism, nor do we reject his role outrightly. But we will have to see as to what are the elements in Ambedkar’s thoughts which can be borrowed by Marxism to overcome its lacuna. Those equipped with scientific vision do not play the politics of emotions, science calls for concrete facts and objectivity. Based on the macro and micro analysis of the total sum of the production-relations, it is our clear belief that India is a backward capitalist country and here the immediate and long-term tasks need to be set while presenting a project for the elimination of the caste-system right from the period of the preparation for the socialist revolution which would end all the remnants of imperialism-feudalism and all pre-capitalist vestiges. Caste is not just a feudal remnant. Capitalism has articulated itself with its structure, it has adopted it in a changed form to further its own interest. This is a capitalist caste-system. It is organically woven with the economic base (total sum of the production-relations) and its effective presence in the ideological-political-social superstructure remains intact.
It is the limitation of this essay that we can present our stand only briefly. Still, it would perhaps be sufficient for starting a prolonged and meaningful debate afresh. We will mainly present our stand positively in this essay. Owing to the lack of space its nature would not be polemical, yet at relevant places, criticism of wrong stands and commonly perceived notions would be presented. Our aim behind this is to start a healthy debate. This debate might be prolonged, but ultimately we must reach at some definite conclusions.
A historical materialist perspective on the origin and evolution of caste
It is not our objective here to present the entire history of the caste-system. The history will be discussed briefly in order to understand the relation of caste with the production-relations, the relation between the caste and the class and how and where does the caste-system fit in the Marxist metaphor of base and superstructure.
Firstly, nothing can be said with certainty about the concrete reasons as to why the caste-system originated and evolved in its specific form in India only because the researches as of now do not provide any clear indication. The social division of labour of the initial or primitive type got fossilised in the form of the caste-system in India through the social customs based on religious rituals which emerged from the same objective social bases. Similarly, in Egypt also a system based on endogamy and dynastic occupation resembling the caste system got ossified in the form of guild-system, but since the the codified foundation of social ethics based on religion behind it was not that systematic and since it did not have the flexibility of adapting itself as per the changes occurring in the socio-economic structure, it could not last very long. In our pursuit to find out the reason as to why the caste system originated and evolved in India only, we could ponder over the factors such as weather, climate, relatively more conducive environment for life and agricultural productivity, the slow motion of history and the labour process originating from it, relatively more dexterous division of labour between mental labour and manual labour within the ambit of division of labour right from the beginning (and further sub-divisions within the confines of manual labour) and dexterity and foresightedness in building up a social code of conduct by the parasitic intellectuals (Brahmin priests) who had excessive free time. But this would be the sphere of guess and speculation and not of history. What can be surely discussed based on the historical researches is as to how the caste-system was originated and how and why it remained intact by adapting itself to the changing epochs of history. And we will do this in brief because at least this much is necessary for a debate on the current situation and on any project of the elimination of caste.
Secondly, often this charge is levelled on the Marxists in a very casual manner that they mechanically apply the stages of the historical social development as identified by Marx-Engels (Slavery-Feudalism-Capitalism) and their ‘Asiatic Mode of Production’ and ‘motionlessness of self-reliant village communities’. This is sheer ignorance. The notion of Asiatic mode of production and the existence of slavery in India as in Greece and Rome was refuted more than half a century ago (first by Kosambi) and now if we leave aside the differences in the details, almost all the Marxist historians have a consensus on this issue. More or less the same is the case with the notion of stagnation of the village communities. However, it is an established fact even today that in the beginning of the thirteenth century some changes took place in the structure of the already existing Indian feudalism which resembles with ‘oriental despotism’ of Marx. It is also noteworthy that some significant changes took place in the thinking of Marx himself in the decade of 1870s about the homogeneity and stagnation of village community vis-a-vis his thinking in the decade of 1850s. On this topic, the essays of many scholars including Irfan Habib and Suniti Kumar Ghosh have been been published way back in the decade of 1980 itself. There is yet another relevant point which needs to be discussed here. Often it is said that since the study model of Marxism was Europe, it proved to be incapable in studying the Indian society and its specificities like the caste system. This is a superficial viewpoint. Marxism was born mainly out of studying the dynamics of the European society (which happened to be the classical model of the capitalist development) and its main source consisted of the German philosophy, British political economy and French socialism. But the vision of Marx-Engels encompassed the general orientation of the development of the entire world. Dialectical and Historical Materialism which was derived from the generalisation of the historical development is a worldview and a methodology which shows the way to study life and nature and to actively intervene in them. It is because of this reason that it has been used to study the varied aspects of the socio-economic structure and developing the strategies of class struggle in many countries including of Asia, Africa, Latin America apart from Russia and China. India is no exception to it. In this context, it is noteworthy that Marx and Engels made six or seven comments and gave some explanations on the caste-system from the German Ideology (1845–46) to Capital Vol-I which provide important insight in understanding the caste-system (for the comments and explanations, Conception of Caste in Marx, a research paper by B.R. Bapuji and Rangnaykamma’s article Marx on Caste can be referred).
Based on the evidence available so far, a more acceptable proposition is that the urban civilisation of Indus/Saraswat was not destroyed by the Aryan invasion, but there were some other reasons for it (which could be anything ranging from changing the course of rivers, internal stagnation or internal class- struggle). The process of the entry of nomadic pastoral Aryan tribes from the north-west into India began some centuries after the fall of the Harappan civilisation. For the nomadic tribes, purity of blood bore no meaning and the Aryans did not form a race based on heredity, though they were definitely aware about their separate identity on ethnic basis. Even though the urban civilisation of the the Indus valley got disintegrated by the time Aryans arrived in the subcontinent, but its pre-Aryan population was probably scattered in the forests and small settlements along with the priests and ordinary population. There are ample evidences of their struggle with the Aryans and their defeat and their conversion into slaves (dasas) within the Rigveda itself. Not only this, the mythological and linguistic evidences also indicate towards the clash of Aryans with other progressing non-Aryan tribes and towards latter’s defeat and their amalgamation in the Aryan social system. The excavation of the Mohanjo-daro and Harappa and the export of slaves from Meluha (Indus valley) to Mesopotamia during 2300-2000 BC have proved that a class society existed in the cities of Indus valley in which the institution of slavery did exist. The slaves were controlled through coercion and religion based social customs, hence the priests of the scattered population of this civilisation were more advanced than the tribal priests of the nomadic pastoral Aryans insofar as the totems and taboos and the religious rites are concerned. Consequently, the process of intermingling of the pre-Aryan and other non-Aryan priests with the priestly class of the Aryan tribe which was set to make a transition from animal husbandry to agriculture and towards forming settlements seems to be an undisputable fact and the origin of the Brahmin varna can be seen in this process. Further, historical evidences are available to establish that many foreign and particularly Sythian priestly classes also got amalgamated at later point of time into the Brahmin varna (Kadhda and Mag Brahmins). By the time we reach the eastern Uttar Pradesh, which also happens to be the centre of the discourse of Upnishads, we get the evidence of thoroughly intermingled population of the Brahmins in Vrihadaranyak Upnishad and through Patanjali.
The earliest Vedic evidences mention two varnas viz. Arya and Daas or Dasyu. They did not conduct marriages among each other. Daasas were the common people of the pre-Aryan and non-Aryan society whose condition was not like that of chattel slavery of Rome in which the slaves were the personal property of the owners, rather it was Helot like servitude because the wealth of Aryans used to be the collective property of the tribe and the phenomenon of the private property was yet to surface. Even the land which they had begun to till and sow was still a common property of the tribe. With the transition from animal husbandry to agriculture, gradual development of the production of surplus and the proto-type of the division of labour took place and the the process of socio-economic differentiation and formation of classes ensued and moved forward. In Daan-stutis we get the evidence of giving away of slaves as a gift to some special groups of the tribal chiefs. With the servile labour and enriched techniques of food production, the Aryan tribes moved ahead in the Doab area in the east and began establishing new permanent settlements. During this period the production-relations within the tribal organisation were in the form of four varnas—Brahmin (priestly class), Rajanya or Kshatriya (warriors and rulers), Vish (common people, mainly peasants) and Shudra (Helot type servants of non-Aryan origin). The earliest mention of the the chaturvanya (4 varnas) system is found in the Purusasukta of Rigveda, although it appears to be a later addition. In all probability, the chaturvarna system emerged in the later vedic period—in the period of Yajurveda, Atharvaveda and the early Brahmanic texts. One of the material bases of the division between Brahmins and Kshatriya existed since the period of animal husbandry itself. Normally two elite classes have been seen to be emerging in the pastoral tribes – the first which used to shoulder the responsibility of raiding the cattle and protecting ones’ own cattle and the other which used to be experts in the rituals like animal sacrifice and gifting precious articles of the society for divine blessing for the prosperity of the animal wealth. Even in the stage of agriculture, religious rituals played a significant role, the number of deities had increased and rituals and rites of worship had got complicated. At the same time, the importance of religious code of conduct for coordinating the social system was enhanced. Apart from priestly work and being the custodians of varna system, the importance of calendar for regulating the agricultural activities and the monopoly of Brahmins over this skill also contributed in strengthening the position of Brahmins.
It is to be noted that the process of intermingling in the four varna system was not confined to the level of Brahmins only. Even Rajanyas or Kshatriyas were as much influenced by this because due to invasions and revolts it was difficult to maintain the dynastic monopoly over the armed force. Many a times even the chiefs of the vanquished tribes were included in the Rajanya varna. Later on many Shudra kings who established their rule on a new territory (or through revolt) were deemed to be Kshatriyas. Evidences are also found of the acceptance of the foreign rulers as Kshatriyas in due course. We also find the instances of the Shudras getting free and becoming independent peasant by paying some definite gift. Now we will talk about Shudras and Vaishyas. The people belonging to the Vaishya varna were earlier performing agricultural activities and the Shudras used to work in the farms as Helot type servants. With the expansion of agricultural land and the progress of the production, process the division of labour became more complex and the importance of exchange got enhanced. A section of Vaishyas moved to trading. This process kept on unfolding. The second urban revolution which took place on the eve of the emergence of Buddhism absorbed the major part of the Vaishyas owing to the expansion of trade and diversification of the trade sector and several new trading castes got included into it. The agricultural work now mostly became the task of the Shudra varna and gradually their condition improved slightly.
Now let’s see the process of the origin of the Antyaj castes which were outside the four varna system and were at the bottom of the hierarchy and who, after getting settled in the society, got the status of untouchables doing manual works and who were involved in other ‘lower’ level work. Many food-gatherers who got defeated by Aryans got transformed into the lowest castes. Their position was was so low that they were outside the four varna system. In Manusmriti several such castes have been kept in the category of Sankar (hybrid) such as the Saindhravs who trap the animals, Kaivarts the boatmen, Nishads who catch fish, Meds, Andhras, Chunchus and Madgus who hunt the games, Kshatris, Pukkasas and Ugras who hunt the animals living in holes, Pandus and Sopaks who make sticks and Karavars and Ghigvans who do leather work. Manu has termed them the fifteen inferior varnas outside the four varna system. Buddhist texts describe Chandaals and Nisaads as hunters. These were mainly untouchable castes which were the victim of apartheid right from the beginning. Even in Jatak Kathas we find mention of separate villages for craftsmen (metal and wood workers) and Wood workers, chariot makers and doctors too are kept in the Sankar castes in the Manusmriti. It is very much possible that during the second urban revolution, under the pressure of division of labour, a section of the tribes which was being absorbed into the wider society got separated and formed separate castes of the craftsmen and they were kept in the category of Antyaj or Sankar.
From the available evidences it appears that in the beginning the rules of endogamy did not prevail within the four varnas in general and within the top three varnas in particular. It was only later that they were consolidated into the rules of endogamy. It is very much possible that when the tribes were getting absorbed in the wider society they brought the traditions related to endogamy along with them. The emergence of castes as separate sub-groups within the varnas was the outcome of various historical processes. The main material basis for this was the division of labour gradually getting more complex along with the productive forces whose systematisation required certain social code of conduct in the guise of religion, hierarchy and class-divisions apart from the political system. The co-option of other tribal communities within the varna-system was possible only on the condition that the boundaries of those communities are delimited by preserving their value system. Manusmriti emphasises that Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas are dvij (double born) and Shudras are single born. The fifteen inferior varnas are discussed outside this. Thus, a clear dividing line was drawn between the upper three varnas and Shudras and between Savarnas (including Shudras) and Avarnas. Untouchability was the logical culmination of a social hierarchy which was determined by the Brahmins from the perspective of ‘pure’ and ‘polluted’ works. The ‘lower’ castes were condemned to work the polluted and slave like work on hereditary basis. But most importantly the untouchable castes were available before the farmers or superior land-owners to toil hard on low cost and there was no scope of their getting the right of ownership or the approval of becoming the regular peasants. The principal source of the deep sense of hostility towards such castes in the rest of the society was this clash between the interests and the notions of ‘purity’ and ‘pollution’ were merely a means to rationalise this fact.
The number of slaves was very less during the Vedic era. In the initial phase of the agrarian economy most of the slaves were engaged in the domestic works rather than in the productive works. According to the Pali scriptures of the period 400–100 BC and Kautilya’s Arthshastra the slaves and wage labourers were used on a huge scale in the agricultural works in the north-west India in the post-vedic and Mauryan era. In the Mauryan era, even the farmers used to hire slaves and wage labourers on the Rashtrabhumi (farmers’ land) and as regards the Sita land (state farms), the entire work was done by them.
While it is true that the Brahmins played the most important role in universalizing the caste-system and in fossilizing the social division of labour by making the caste-system a part of religion and by converting the social behaviour and segregation of the castes into religious rules and laws, the supportive role played by Buddhism and Jainism in this respect cannot be ignored. The theory of the trans-migration of soul was the basic pillar of the Buddhist philosophy. It used to provide indirect justification to the caste-system and used to convince people that their miseries are the outcome of their deeds in the last birth and they can hope to liberate themselves in the next birth only by doing their karma. This theory is an integral part of the ideology of the caste-system in Manusmriti. After the establishment of agriculture in place of pastoral life and after the realisation of the harmful effects of large scale animal slaughter by Brahmins, a material ground was paved for the theory of non-violence being propounded by Buddhism and its popularity among the cattle-owning Vaishyas was but natural. However, it also provided rationale for pushing the food gathering masses into a condition of servitude and destitution. The Buddhist literature, much like the Brahmin literature, mentions the castes which kill the animals as inferior. Owing to this very principle of non-violence, even the Vaishyas who were engaged in agriculture began to be treated as Shudras. Much like Manusmriti which condemned the animal killing and Baudhayan who asked the Vedic readers to keep away from agriculture, Buddha also ordered the monks to stay away from agriculture because it entailed loss of life. Even Jainism preached non-violence and it had the similar impact on the immediate social life. In fact Jainism went further to develop a stringent caste-system akin to Brahmanism. According to Aadipuran of Jinsen and Aadishwarcharit of Hemchandra, Aadinath Rishabh gave birth to Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudras from his arms, thighs and legs respectively and as per the Niti-Vachans of Jainism, his son and successor Bharat created Brahmins to accomplish the religious tasks. Much like Brahmin law makers, Jainism too talks about the hereditary determination of the caste-based professions, shows similar religious prejudices towards Shudras and craftsmen and declared Chandals as ‘polluted’.
The caste system with its several castes and well established rules and regulations had emerged from the Chaturvanya (four varnas) system in the pre-feudal society of India itself during the period between the emergence of Buddhism (circa 500 BC) and the age of Gupta empire (4th–5th century AD) owing to the increasingly complex division of labour and a prolonged process of the absorption of the non-aryan tribes into the Aryan society. Some of these castes were falling within the hierarchy of the four varnas, but this was no longer the same four varna system as earlier and some non-varna castes ( the discrimination and untouchability prevailed even among them ) were kept out of this. A clear dividing line was drawn between ‘pure’ and ‘polluted’. The rules of intra-caste marriage had become rigid. It needs to be mentioned here that the process which led to the organisation of the caste-system along with the progress of the division of labour also resulted into the subjugation of women in the society and establishment of the intra-caste and intra-gotra system of marriage which played an important role on the economic plane in accumulating the expertise over generations, but on the other hand the possibilities of horizontal movement got hampered as well. Small state and then empires evolved from within the tribal system. While the form of private property was clearer in the cities, an element of private property existed even in the village communities in the form of the division of work, products and facilities based upon caste privileges and professions. Thus the historical process of evolution of endogamy and the families based upon the subservience of women, private property and emergence of state took place here. Considering the three aspects—relatively more stringent division of labour, determination of the forms of ownership and the laws of distribution—the caste system itself constitued a production-relation.There existed a superstructural edifice of religion based political-social institutions and conducts of religious ideologies and institutions which emerged from such production-relations and which influenced it. The classes were composed of the communities of various castes. It was like this: ruling class (mainly Kshatriyas), the theoreticians who were the policy makers of the state (Brahmins), traders (Vaishyas), the peasant castes (Shudras) and the slaves (surely not like their Homeric contemporaries) and bonded labourers in form of Avarnas/ Antyaj/untouchable castes who constituted the population of subservient workers, who had the right to livelihood only by toiling and did not enjoy any other economic and social rights. Thus caste and class used to overlap each other, the difference was that the castes were such classes which were immobile and rigid due to heredity and endogamy. The machinery of caste-system was such that the maximum surplus could be extracted from the producers by using the minimum force, but peasants and more than them the untouchable labouring castes had to face brutal violence and humiliation in their day-to-day life. The hegemony of religious superstructure was to lessen the possibility of revolts (yet we do get a few evidences of some revolts).
Caste-system in the different phases of feudalism
Despite the slow growth of the forces of production, a phase did occur when under their pressure, the production-relations of pre-feudal India began cracking and subsequently they started breaking and it resulted into the emergence of feudalism in India. It is not possible here to discuss the differences of opinion that exist among the historians about the process of origin and evolution of feudalism in the early medieval era, nor is it much relevant in our discourse about the caste question. In course of time, it became increasingly difficult for the state of the empires to maintain its hold over the agricultural production in the ever expanding territory and hence there was a push for decentralisation and the temples and Buddhist monasteries were given land grants on large scale. The monasteries and temples used to get their work done from the hired labourers of lower castes, servants and poor peasant castes or they used to give the land to the village community on lease. There was some land under state ownership and collective ownership as well. The emperors and big kings used to collect tax from the rulers under them and these rulers in turn used to rule the village communities falling under their territory. It is very well possible that in due course of time a land owning class would have emerged from within the villages which used to possess armed power and used to act as an intermediary rent-seeker between the state and peasantry. Whatever be the situation, these changes did not have any significant impact on the internal structure of the village community and particularly on the peasant castes and the craftsmen of the ‘lowest’ category and the untouchable castes.
If we look at the south Indian society (which had come under the influence of Brahmanism as early as Satvahana’s era), even there, the peasant population of the village communities was getting suppressed under the backbreaking rent of the powerful feudal lords. They had been deprived of even the rights which they used to enjoy earlier under the village communities and the heads of the communities had slowly acquired the status of the feudal landlord. The caste structure was slightly different here. There was no caste akin to the Kshatriyas here. The peasant castes (Shudras) existed below the Brahmins and the hellish condition of the lower castes was similar to that in the north. The feudal lords emerged here from within the peasant castes. The coastal cities played an important role in the economy of the south. Here the state ownership over land continued to exist under the huge empires of the Pallavas, the Chalukyas and the Cholas and the feudal lords were absentee landlords in most of the cases.
The feudal agrarian relations developed in the eastern India (the region between Bangal and Tripura which had come under the influence of Brahmanism ) as well. Here too, the Kshatriya and Vaishya castes did not exist and the clashes and compromises for power took place between the Brahmins and the Shudras. Here most of the Shudras were kings and they even made a failed attempt to become Kshatriya. This process of sanskritisation led to the improvement in the condition of some castes over the others. Insofar as the “lower” castes are concerned, their condition was no different from that in the rest of India.
After the sixth century AD a process of degeneration of trade and the urban crafts ensued at varying pace in the feudal India and the process of de-urbanisation or ruralisation gained pace due to several reasons which need not be discussed here as it would not be relevant (although the situation was slightly different in the south owing to the continuance of trade from the coastal cities). Many skilled workers returned to the villages in search of livelihood and some got engaged in handicrafts. There was increasing differentiation and sub-differentiation of the castes and this new population found its way in the ‘lower’ Shudras and castes lower than it. In the eleventh century, Al-Baruni described eight castes including weavers and cobblers as part of the socially ostracised ‘antyaj’ castes. The urban guilds of skilled workers faded away. There was no longer a situation like in the past when owing to the hereditary character of the caste-system the forces of production used to get impetus. The village communities got isolated and became self reliant by this time. The exchange got confined to the boundaries of villages to a large extent and no longer was there any need for the village communities to give surplus produce in return of their imports. Only few articles like salt and metals had to be imported from outside. These changes increased the capacity of the village communities to give more surplus to the ruling class. As the caste-system got frozen more and more, its character for the servants of the entire village community—the lower castes—and for the artisans who too belonged to these castes and who used to get compensated for their labour in the form of goods or in the the form of land grants, became even more oppressive. Max Weber termed it as the “divine labour”. It was in this period that the customs of Jajmani and Balutdari also grew which have been described as the principal form of the medieval feudal exploitation in the writings of several writers belonging to the ML stream. There were twelve traditional “Balut” including carpenter, ironsmith, barber, cobbler etc. who used to work for the entire village community and in turn used to get compensated in terms of land grants or part of crops. The process of inclusion of several tribes into the lower ladders of the caste-system in the form of untouchable or ‘ati-shudras’ continued from middle India to Gujarat and Maharashtra. Even the food gathering, animal rearing tribes which remained separate from this system were considered by the Brahmins as inferior and untouchable and they were called as ‘mlechch’. Only a small portion of this population came under the influence of Christianity during the British era. Even today the tribal community’s independent existence remains intact and the Hindutva fascists are putting a lot of effort to Hinduise them and they have even managed to achieve limited success as well. The usage of the term Hindu religion also became prevalent in the medieval era only.
From the beginning of the thirteenth century, some important changes began taking place in the structure of the Indian feudalism. One of the reasons for this was the coming of Islam. But, apart from reshuffling in the status of some castes in the the hierarchy of the caste-system and the coming into being of some new castes and sub-castes, it did not bring about any fundamental change. Despite the fact that Islam prohibits polytheism and idol-worship and it disapproves any differences apart from the difference between the free man and slave and between men and women, the caste-system proved to be particularly helpful for the Islamic rulers in revenue collection and in ensuring that the wages as input cost remain low. Hence, apart from wars and repression of revolts, they did not make any effort towards religious conversion, remained apathetic towards the repression inherent in the caste-system, gave important positions in the administration to the ‘upper’ caste Hindus and maintained friendly relations with the Hindu kings who accepted their supremacy. Along with the new rulers came the new and widespread technology of handicrafts, the population of the handicraftsmen got expanded to a large extent and the third “urban revolution” of the Indian history began. In the beginning, even the slave trade took place on large scale for the new trades and construction works. In the 13th and 14th centuries, the slave trade was an important component of the urban labour. After the acceptance of Islam, these slaves could be involved in any kind of work after learning a skill. In due course, being free from slavery, these people became urban craftsmen and chiefs of several working community. Even some free people accepted Islam and those ‘low’ caste Hindus also converted their religion who were fed up with their inferior condition and who wanted to adopt a profession which they could not do earlier. Thus the muslim population increased enormously. However, the converted population brought the influence of the caste-system along with them. The practice of endogamy was prevalent among the weavers, butchers, barbers etc. On the lines of the ‘low’ Hindu castes, ‘kamin’ communities developed among the muslims as well. Yet a section of the muslim population remained outside the caste structure and even amongst those who were influenced by it, it was possible to change the profession or violate the law of endogamy. When this population spread to the villages and cities throughout the country in due course, the upper caste Hindu society used to consider the muslim craftsmen and labourers of the ‘Kamin’ community on the same footing as the untouchables and their economic condition also became similar to the latter. Later, in the British rule the landownership and top posts were confined to the Sheikhs-Saiyyads-pathans. The condition of the larger muslim population deteriorated and the condition of the ‘kamin’ muslims remains more or less equivalent to the Dalits even today in the independent India as well.
Let us return to the time span which we were discussing earlier. There was no change in the strength of the Hindu caste-system due to the presence of relatively caste-less muslim population. The only difference was that due to expansion of the trades, some castes got fragmented into new sub-castes and became stable after adopting endogamy. The process of ‘sanskritisation’ also unfolded owing to the upgradation of some castes. For instance, in the 8th century AD, the Jats were an animal rearing tribe like Chandals, by the 11th century AD, they got upgraded to the position of Shudra and by the turn of 17th century AD, they had become respected peasants of the Vaishya category who used to till their land. After the Jat revolts of the seventeenth century, some Jats started putting efforts for achieving the status of landlords and Kshatriyas. One of the impacts of the people’s monotheistic movement (the Nirgun Bhakti movement which will be discussed further in the context of the movements of the ‘lower’ castes) was that some of the castes, when they returned after breaching the boundary of the caste system, they returned as higher caste. All in all, the structure of the caste system remained more or less intact throughout the medieval era despite the existence of some elements of motion and competition. It continued to determine the form of the labour process.
But, at this point we would also like to focus the attention towards some changes occurring in the later medieval era which could open the door for the capitalist development in case the colonisation had not taken place and which could even push the caste-system towards its disintegration. This issue has either been ignored or half-baked and unbalanced explanations have been given. There is a consensus among the leading Marxist historians today on the proposition that despite being relatively isolated units, the class-division and class-gradation in the masses of the Indian villages was much more than what Marx had thought and the internal motion of the clashes born out of class-differentiation did exist. It is true that owing to the amalgamation of the rent and revenue, the state itself was the land-owner. But the surplus production of the villages was not entirely handed over to the state (or its collectors) but there existed a well formed class which used to take its share and which was called as Zamindar in the Mughal era. Even the elite collectors who used to collect the revenue began cultivating their land on rent as the owner and Miraasdars. The main reason for such individual subordination was the caste-system itself which had organised a huge section of rural labourers. The peasants used to consider the Zamindar as the owner of the farm and the latter could even dispossess them of the farms. The elements of the private property did exist clearly in the rights of Zamindars, Mirasdars and the land owners. This approximately resembled like the feudal land-ownership which had emerged in Europe after the disappearance of the ‘Fief’ and ‘Manor’ systems. It was but natural that the Mughal empire fell due to agrarian crisis. Often the Zamindars led the peasant revolts against the centralised authoritarian regime of the empire with the help of big farmers and Mirasdars of the same caste and after its fall they strengthened and widened their right over the farmers. Even Marx’s conception about the Asiatic mode of production and stagnant village community kept on changing. He did admit later that it is hardly possible that the village community existed as a stagnant and motionless system at any point of time. He also mentioned that the transformation of the collective agrarian system into individual agrarian system had gained pace even in the pre-capitalist India.
In the pre-capitalist India, there was adequate development of the rent payment in the monetary form, the saleability of the right of land-lordism and the urban centres involved in commerce, banking, insurance ( widespread use of money-laundering, hundis and exchange letters) and in the production of consumer goods for the remote markets. Yet there was a hurdle in the path of the capitalist development because it was the surplus production of the village community which was mainly transforming into most of the consumer goods and the continued dependency of the cities and commerce on the mode of exploitation of agriculture by the state. Also, rapid and widespread commercial activities by itself cannot be considered as the capitalist mode of production. The mercantile capital generated in India used to control the artisans through Dadni system. That is to say that the traders themselves used to provide the loan and raw material needed for the requisite production to the artisans. Owing to such control and very less wages, the chances of adopting the new technology and tools to extract more work in less time were rare. Irfan Habib considers this to be the biggest stumbling block in the road of capitalist development in the medieval India. But it is surprising that he did not pay attention to the fact that there did exist a mechanism of production apart from Dadni system where there was prevalence of the division of labour (which remains the precondition for the emergence of capitalism) in the workshops of independent master artisans. From the time of Akbar to the eighteenth century, plenty of evidences of the independent workshops of rich master weavers, printers and carpenters in Bengal, Bihar, Awadh, Surat and Kashmir have been found where hundreds of apprentice and wage labourers used to work. According to Satish Chandra, the coastal regions of Gujarat, Choromandal and Malabar had entered into the early phase of capitalist development in the pre-colonial India. After the British control over the coastal regions, these enterprises were destroyed due to rupturing the fabric of the external and internal trade. Historian Pavlov has rightly expressed his surprise over the fact that Irfan Habib has not paid attention towards the possibilities of the capitalist development inherent in the village artisanship which was fulfilling the needs of the people. The proposition that in case the colonialism had not ocurred, capitalist development would not have ensued in India is the one which negates the internal dynamics of society. Capitalism is the first universal and all-encompassing tendency which has the capacity to anyhow break or subordinate every kind of pre-capitalist structure. Whatever be the path and howsoever slow be the speed, once the tendency of the commodity production and that of labour power itself getting converted into a commodity sets in and the pace of the monetary relations and development of markets picks up, this tendency embraces the entire society to its fold by breaking all constraints of natural economy. Had India not got colonised, the journey from artisanship to manufacturing which was beginning in India would have progressed, the ever growing forces of production would have torn apart the pre-capitalist production-relations, the capital would have entered in every joint of the society, the clashes between the forces of production and production-relations and between base and superstructure would have precipitated in the form of class struggle, ultimately a new base would have been established and the new superstructure would have dominated the old decaying socio-cultural superstructure. The caste-system too would have naturally decayed and disintegrated in this process. The colonialism destroyed this process and the caste system remained intact into the semi-feudal and semi-colonial base and superstructure with some changes.
The essence of people’s monotheistic movement: An Re-assessment
There is a need here to re-assess the people’s monotheistic movement (Nirgun Bhakti Andolan). The leaders of this movement did not come from the privileged intellectual community within the caste system dependent upon the ruling class. They belonged to ‘low’ castes such as Chhipi, Julaha, Chamar, Dhunia, Nai etc. or to some ‘low’ caste of the small peasants. From the class perspective, their social base was amongst the landless agricultural labourers, artisans and small traders. Irfan Habib complains that none of the followers of the diverse religious sects of this movement ever considered themselves as peasants and they did not raise the socio-economic demands of any section of the peasantry. The peasantry belonging to one caste could not associate themselves with the peasantry of other castes and this hampered the development of class-consciousness in the peasantry. In this context, firstly we should note that this movement was not merely that of peasantry, it had multiple sub-streams. Various artisans and workers belonging to the lowest of the castes had joined it.
Their common issue was to attack the religious rites and rituals which used to provide base to the caste-system and which were determining the production-relations and which were the barbaric form of social oppression as well. Even in the European religious reformation movement, there was a liberal stream of Luther, the radical stream of Munzer raised the demands of peasants as well and the Calvin stream used to represent the demands of the most radical emerging bourgeois class. After manifesting the bourgeois worldview in the beginning, Luther criticised the initial bourgeois humanism and the principle of free trade and took the side of the rulers in the great peasant wars of 1525. Religious peasant leader Munzer was the representative of the plebian peasant side and his political programme was very close to utopian communism. It is true that the Maratha state established as a result of the revolt of Marathas against the centralised power was in no way a ‘peasant state’. It gave rise to the reign of Maratha landlords, the Meeras Pattedaris got expanded and the conditions of Kunbis and the lower caste remained almost unchanged. In terms of egalitarianism and democracy, the character of the Sikh religion which gave voice to the revolt of the Jat peasants was most radical even though the Sikh state which came into being as its consequence was in no way a ‘peasant state’ and later on the Sikh religion too could not remain untouched from the caste based discrimination. But we will have to remember that even the European religious reform movement was later on being used by the princes of several princely state and by the feudal aristocrats of England, Scandinavia and France (against the authoritarian regime of king). Similar to the manner in which the ‘counter-reformation’ stopped the spread of the protestant religion by the mid sixteenth to seventeenth century in Europe, in India we find the Sagun Bhakti stream of Tulsidas providing logic in favour of a reformed caste-system, the greatness of Brahmins and the idol worship. It is not our aim here to search a replica of the people’s monotheistic movement in the European religious reform movement. There were differences between them in accordance with the differences in the socio-economic structures. We only wish to clarify that there was an independent economic dynamics of the class-struggle in the pre-capitalist India in which the potential for a capitalist development did exist (in the event of India not being colonised) which could destroy the caste-system because there was an approximate overlapping between the caste-groupings and class-hierarchy in India at that time. It is quite possible that in case the India was not colonised, a socio-cultural movement carrying the values of humanism would have arisen from within the stagnation of the eighteenth century. Alternatively there was a possibility that the values of humanism, nationalism and revolutionary democracy would have developed along with the gradual progress of bourgeois development like what happened in Russia. In any case, the decay and disintegration of the caste-system would have been inevitable. It is not just a question of the re-assessment of the people’s monotheistic movement, it is only in this light that it can be properly understood as to how the colonialism killed the independent internal motion of the Indian society and gave a new strength to the the caste-system for it to become long-lasting.
The caste-system in the colonial era.
European companies, when they arrived in India, used to sell the goods produced in India to the European markets. Soon the East India Company pushed behind other European companies in the wars and trade rivalry and it even started to control the territories of different parts of the country by taking advantage of the splits, clashes and weaknesses of the Indian feudal lords. After the battles of Plassey and Buxar, it became the biggest political power of the country. The primitive capital accumulation began to carried out in huge proportions for the British industrial revolution by plundering the immeasurable wealth of the kings and emperors, traders and money lenders. The despotic attitude with the artisans and craftsmen reached the level of plunder. Then arrived the phase in which the industrial revolution had moved a step ahead. The large-scale factory production could now defeat the Indian handicrafts in the competition. As the import of the British goods gained pace, the Indian handicrafts were destroyed. The cities like Dhaka and Surat were deserted. The process of ruralisation began on large scale and the pressure of population on agriculture increased. The agriculture was getting destroyed much earlier because the feudal lords were compensating for all the plunder of the company by extracting abnormally high rent. Even the company started extracting unfettered land revenue from the region under its rule. Soon they realised that the extraction of the land-revenue was an immeasurable source of plunder in this huge agrarian society, hence it was important to systematise it. This task was accomplished through the systems of Zamindari, Ryotwari and Mahalwari. These systems established a new semi-feudal class-structure by destroying the entire structure of the village communities, even though this change hardly made any impact on the basic structure of the caste-system. The Zamindari system made the land as the private property of the Zamindars. These new feudal lords were the ‘upper’ caste people who had to deposit 9/10th of the rent extracted from the tenant cultivators. The Zamindars used to side-step all the rules and regulation while squeezing the tenants. The tenant cultivators mostly belonged to the middle castes. At the bottom were the people belonging to the Dalit castes who used to do begari on the self-cultivated land of the Zamindars, they used to serve them and they even used to work on the lands of the big tenants. Thus the caste-based social structure remained unchanged. Even though the colonial semi-feudal system destroyed the economic fabric of the village community, the caste-system remained prevalent, it just got articulated with the new system. The Zamindars often used to sell their right to extract land-rent to the Pattedars who in turn used to sell it to the sub-pattedars. These Pattedars used to put more and more pressure on the cultivators for enhancing their share and they used to force the Dalit to do begari by committing more and more atrocities. Even the Pattedari used to be hereditary. At times when the Zamindars could not pay the land revenue either due to the pauperisation of the peasants or because of their own luxuries, their Zamindaries used to be auctioned and which used to be purchased by the employees of the Company, the employees of the courts and the big money-lenders and thus they used to join the ranks of the new feudal lords. In Bengal and Bihar, majority of such landed property rapidly went to such urban rich who had surplus capital and who used to immediately invest it on land. Needless to say that the peasants who were getting destroyed, used to often rebel and such rebellions were brutally crushed.
Under the Ryotwari system, the British rulers provided recognised as landlord not only the Zamindars but the Mirasdars (those members of the village community who were entitled to the inherited property) and all those categories of peasants which were paying land-revenue directly to the state. At times the entire village used to come under a Mirasdar and its position used to become equivalent to that of a feudal lord. In many cases, the peasants who came from outside, the slaves and the untouchable artisans became tenants or sharecroppers without having any right and the rent on whose tenancy could be increased any time and who could be dispossessed any time. The English officers, by treating the land as the property of the state, started treating the Ryots as their permanent tenants with whom the rent could be arbitrarily extracted and on whom the revenue could be imposed whimsically. Under the Raiyyatwari system the grazing land and the spare land which were earlier owned by the village community were seized by the state. The landless Dalits had to face its worst impact because they could no longer graze the cattle and nor could they get wood for cooking fire. Consequently, their dependence on the land-lords increased further.
Under the Maujawar or Malguzari system the entire village community was considered as a financial unit or landlord. But the tax was imposed on the individual farms and even if a single tenant defaulted in the payment of revenue, the land of the entire village used to be auctioned which were normally being purchased by officers of the courts and goods department and thus they used to acquire the status of Zamindars.
After the capture of Sindh in 1843 the Ryotwari system was imposed in the upper Sindh while in the lower Sindh, the Zamindars were accorded the status of the legitimate land-lords. After the victory of Punjab in 1845–48, the British did not bring about any change in the structure of the village community, even though the rich tenants were given the so called ownership of the community land (i.e. the permanent right to cultivate on their land provided they give the rent). Due to payment of rent in cash becoming mandatory throughout the Punjab the peasants were compelled to sell their produce in the market which led to the fall in the prices of food crops and thus the condition of peasantry started deteriorating and the influence of money-lenders kept on increasing. The Sikh feudal lords whose ownership rights had been strengthened turned into reliable social prop of the British colonialists.
In the eighth decade of the nineteenth century the ownership rights of the different sections of feudal land-lords were made completely privatised through new measurement and rent settlement. The methodologies of the land-revenue were streamlined. Most of the villages affected by the revolt of 1857 were returned to the Tallukdars. At the same time, those belonging to the upper echelons of the village community were accorded the status of sub-owners and brokers between the Malguzars and land-owners. In the areas of Ryotwari Bandobast, the small scale peasant ownership was also systematised apart from the feudal land-ownership. In Punjab, the attention was paid to the interests of the upper echelons of the village community. The land ownership of the Jagirdars and Inaamdars were also curtailed and the the Tallukdars were made the pensioners dependent on the state. In Sindh, although the owner Jagirdars were given property rights over the big lands but they were removed from the task of collecting rent. There was a curtailment in the numbers of the inams and Jagirs and in the landed property of the Inamdars and Jagirdars. In the central province, apart from the old feudal aristocrat, the right of land-ownership was also given to the Malguzars responsible for giving the land-revenue directly to the state. Through all these steps, on the one hand the British colonialism expanded and consolidated its social props by developing a new line of feudal lords besides the old ones and by giving rise to a loyal population and on the other hand it ensured the colonial feudal monopoly on land. Its main beneficiaries were the ‘upper’ caste feudal lords only. In some areas, the middle caste peasants benefitted to an extent and the tendency of ‘Sanskritisation’ developed among them. For most of the middle caste peasants and poor tenants and the landless labourers belonging to the Dalit castes and the remaining craftsmen, the inhuman exploitation and oppression continued unabated. Thus the new changes left the caste-system almost untouched.
The biggest social curse of the colonisation on Indian society was that while it maintained the the old evil of the caste-system through re-culturification, it destroyed the socio-economic structure of India and imposed the colonial socio-economic structure. The embryo of natural development which was developing inside the womb of the old society got destroyed. The possibilities of the natural path of the development of ‘agriculture-handicrafts-manufacturing-machinofacturing’ vanished. The caste-system was apt for the colonial semi-feudal mode of exploitation and it was an effective weapon for dividing the people at socio-political level and to blunt their class-consciousness (the other effective weapon was to promote communalism). Even in the era of national movement, the indigenous capitalist class was always fearful of the increase in the initiative of the toiling masses and it was conscious of its class interest right from the beginning. Hence, despite using the people’s power in the movements, it could not take the radical stand on the question of the elimination of the caste. On the contrary it was its usual tendency to exploit the distance and tensions between the castes and then to adopt the policy of intermixing, reform and ‘Harijan upliftment’. Besides the Feudal lords, even the rich tenants of the middle castes (who used to get their farms cultivated by the Dalits) used to keep a distance from the Dalits and even the middle castes and poor tenants used to keep a distance from them. The untouchability and the notions of pure work and polluted work were present as it is. Ample documentary evidences exist to prove that it was a well-thought policy of the British law-makers not to interfere with the Hindu religion and the caste-system as it was the most important ploy to make the old ruling classes as associates and to escape the social upheaval. Secondly, the arbitrary extraction of the land-revenue was an important means of the colonial plunder which was possible only by maintaining the semi-feudal oppression of of the land settlement and it was the main basis of the caste-based oppression.
1857: Some important questions related to its evaluation
It is pertinent here to talk something about 1857. This great revolt had occurred at such a juncture of history when the classes arising out of the colonial socio-economic structure were yet to take a definite form and shape and the class structure of the pre-colonial India had not yet been destroyed completely. There were some seeds of the consciousness of national liberation in this struggle, but it was mainly a resistance struggle of the old India. At some places, significant role was being played by the regional heroes belonging to the peasantry, Dalits and the tribals, but the main leading force was the feudal lords only. The main forces of the struggle were the rebel soldiers (who were the sons of peasants), peasantry and uprooted craftsmen. The colonialism was their common enemy. In absence of a definite plan this battle could not be won on the old ground and it died its natural death on its own ground through natural process of negation of the negation. This was such a loss which is to be compensated till this day. If Jotiba Phule, while looking at the recent past of the feudal oppression of the old India, could not view 1857 from a balanced historical perspective, the reason was very natural. He was of the opinion that the victory of the rebels would bring back the old Peshwa rule and the brutal oppression of the Dalits. But even today, most of the Dalit intellectuals and some Marxist intellectuals consider the revolt of 1857 as having regressive nature on account of its feudal leadership. It is an extremely metaphysical perspective towards history. Even if the colonialists were defeated in this great battle, it was not possible that India would have receded into the darkness of it medieval past. After the defeat of the British rule, the possibility of the restoration of a strong centralised feudal rule was very rare.
The class structure of the colonial era, various political streams and the caste question
All the voices being raised against the evils of Hinduism and all the movements being waged by taking inspiration from the ideals of democracy in the European society by the first generation of the educated middle class which was born out of the British colonial socio-economic structure were confined to the urban middle class and their outlook towards the urban poor did not go beyond mercy and compassion. In fact, the majority of these reformers were the landlord themselves and leave aside the improving the lot of the Dalits, they like other landlords were their oppressors. But Jotiba Phule was class apart. Not only was his stance radical against the caste-system at the level of propaganda, he also strived to build institutions for the education of the untouchables and women. He consistently opposed the atrocities and exploitation of the peasants and untouchable landless labourers at the hands of Deshmukhs. However, even this radical social reformist could not see the colonial rule as the builder and protector of the semi-feudal land system, rather he viewed it as a benefactor of the Shudras and untouchables. The Satyashodhal Samaj being established by Phule later on fell into the leadership of Shahuji Maharaj, a feudal lord whose main aim was to get recognised as Kshatriya. But a small section of this organisation was involved for some days in organizing the peasants and workers. In 1890, Lokhande, a follower of Phule, built a workers’ organisation named ‘Bombay Mill Hands Association’, although it was an informal (without any rule) organisation made for the improvement in the condition of the workers. Lokhande was also a member of of the ‘Factory Labour Commission’ formed by the government.
The urban Dalit population was impressed with the day to day behaviour of the Christian British masters as they did not practice untouchability, even though they used to get the job of watchman, gardener, cook and servant. Their kids were not discriminated in the Missionary schools. They also used to go to the government schools, but they had to face insult there. After getting education from these schools, a population of educated Dalits also came into being (particularly in Maharashtra) which used to get the jobs upto the clerical level. Yet, they mostly used to get the lower level jobs in the cities. Sanitary work was assigned to them only. Even in factories, they used to get the lowest level of jobs and they had to face discrimination at the hands of the non-Dalit castes. In the entire country, there was only one Mahar regiment which was of Dalits, in all other regiments, the Dalits used to mostly get the the non-soldier works like cleaning etc. Even these extremely limited changes were confined to hardly two percent of the Dalit population. The majority of the Dalit population which was living in the villages still suffered from the exploitation and oppression under the feudal system as before. Leaving aside some rich tenants, the situation of caste-based discrimination and oppression apart from the feudal exploitation remained prevalent even for middle-caste tenants and landless people, although their condition was different from that of Dalits and even they used to keep a distance from Dalits and nurse the feeling of hatred towards them (leaving aside some extremely backward castes). The Dalit political leadership which was articulating the interest of the small Dalit middle class which arose in the colonial India, put forward its claim for the entire Dalit population and gained their support by making the caste-based oppression as an issue. But it neither gave any economic and political programme against the root of the caste-system viz. the land-system nor did it target colonialism which was the protector of the land-system. We will discuss about Ambedkar and Periyar in this context at the appropriate place.
It was the bourgeois rationality which formed the philosophical basis of the uniform nationwide system of law and order, education and administration being established by the British colonialists. But it was hampered, controlled and distorted in innumerable ways owing to the narrow colonial interests. The basis of the administration and law was no longer the caste-system and the divine sanction, but the caste-system was left untouched in the social life (we have already discussed as to how it was given a new economic base through land-system) because the social unrest in its wake could have threatened the very survival of colonial rule. The colonialists chose to develop their social props from within the ex-rulers themselves. The successor of the old land-owners, the new urban middle class, was adjusted in the bureaucracy. They even dominated the independent intellectual professions. In due course, if the nationalist feelings and ideas grew from within a section of this middle class itself, it was due to the contradictions inherent in the objective motion of the social development which remains independent of the will of the ruling class. Although even these nationalist ideas were either the feeble reformist ideas or they entailed the elements of revivalism and traditionalism. Instead of the militant democratic ideas, their ideas were either reformist or extremely conservative. A revolutionary nationalist stream also developed from the middle class when the social-development progressed further and a section of them even joined the working class by adopting the scientific socialism. But, even these streams carried so many birth-marks of the colonial social structure that their theoretical basis was too weak.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, the British capital investment began in Railways and textile and Jute mills. Its main aim was to use the Indian raw material to manufacture goods at low cost in India itself and thereby maintain their lead in the competition of the world market. The second important sector was the construction of irrigation canals in those areas where the crops were grown for export ( e.g. cotton and wheat farming in Sindh and Punjab). The mining industry became the third sector for investment and the plantation of tea, coffee and rubber became the fourth sector. The next phase was that of the steel factories, other infrastructural industries and the factories producing consumer goods. Unlike in Europe, the labour-supply needs of these factories were not met with the population uprooted due to the capitalist development in the villages. The British industries continued to get the cheap labour power which was much cheaper than that in Europe from the destroyed artisans of handicrafts, the Dalit population suffering from the feudal oppression, the bankrupt small peasants and the victims of hunger and famine caused by the continuation of the colonial plunder. It did not have any impact on the caste-based social system of the villages. Along with these industries, the indigenous middlemen, traders, moneylenders and commission agents also accumulated a lot of money. Often they were Marwadi, Parsi, Gujrati and Jain traders. Afterwards, these comprador capitalists started investing in the ancillary enterprises of the British industries. Gradually, their character started changing. Taking advantage of the involvement of the colonialists in the world capitalist competition and crises, the first world war, the economic crisis and then in the second world war, the Indian industrial capitalist class expanded its industries and its aspiration for the competition in the market got a fillip. Like every capitalist class, the nationalism of the Indian capitalist class also got originated in the market. This capitalist class did not evolve through the phases of agriculture-handicrafts-manufacturing but it started as a comprador and trader from within the colonial socio-economic structure and later on developed as industrial capitalist class. The logic of Renaissance and Enlightenment and militant democracy did not belong to its heritage. Its path was not that of bourgeois democratic revolution, not even that of a militant national liberation struggle. It chose the path gaining political independence by adopting the strategy of pressure-compromise-pressure in accordance with its increasing power and by taking advantage of the inter-imperialist rivalry and the crisis of colonialists. In the process it suppressed the people’s initiative and betrayed the people by pushing the mass struggle towards compromises at every step. It was not a coincidence that the leadership of its principal party the Congress consisted of the representatives of the upper caste landlords and rich tenants apart from the urban middle class. It was not a coincidence that the social ideas of its leading theoretician Gandhi were extremely orthodox, he used to call himself as a Sanatan Hindu and a strong supporter of the reformed varnashram system, his programme towards Dalit did not go beyond the welfare of the untouchables, his secularism did not go beyond the Hindu-Muslim brotherhood. His humanism was sugar-coated with religion and immersed in the filth of revivalism. In this sense he was much behind his teachers—Ruskin, Thoreau and Tolstoy—their “Sanatan Hindu” follower. Gram Swarajaya, opposition to machine culture, upliftment of the untouchables, the Gandhian utopia of trusteeship were all geared towards involving the poor into the national movement and to apply balm on the wounds of the untouchables, it was aimed at weakening the pressure of the class struggle and thereby placing the masses behind the bourgeois leadership. When implemented, it could only take the form of capitalism and the same happened later in the leadership of Nehru. The Congress, on the one hand, used to assure the peasants of carrying out land-reforms and on the other hand, it used to guarantee the land-owners of safeguarding their interests. Its attitude towards the working class struggle was always that of opposition, pressure for the sake of compromise and that of betrayal. Such a political party of such bourgeois class could never adopt a radical economic program (anti semi-feudal land system) which could attack the roots of the caste system, nor could it build a militant democratic social movement against it.
The communist stream during the national movement
The other main stream of the national movement was that of the Communist Party. Hence it is pertinent to know its standpoint and conduct on the caste question. In order to clearly understand this, it is important to know as to what were its weaknesses due to which the Communist Party of India could not become the leading stream of the national movement and could not accomplish the task of the people’s democratic revolution. The ideological basis of the communist movement was weak in India right since the beginning (we have discussed above the objective reasons inherent in the historical development) and this weakness continued to prevail. The declaration of the founding of the Party was made in 1920 in Tashkent and an All-India communist conference having very loose structure also took place in 1925. But even after this, the communist groups active in various parts of the country could not be organised under a centralised leadership. The dull leadership at the time, instead of determining an anti-imperial and anti-feudal programme and path of revolution in India by examining the concrete condition, mostly used to take decisions and actions on the basis of India-related articles published in ‘Imprecore’—the main organ of the Communist International and in the letters of the Soviet Party and the articles written by Rajnipam Dutt of the British Party. In 1933 a provisional central committee was founded for the first time for preparing a structure of a Leninist Party on the suggestion of the Communist International and the parties of China, Britain and Germany. It can be said that the initial process of the Party formation itself got completed in 1933. Even after this, the first congress of the Party was held in 1943, i.e. after ten years. The irony was that even at that time the Party did not have a programme of revolution nor did it have any agrarian programme. In 1951 a policy statement and a document for programme was released by the Communist leadership for the first time after a dialogue with Stalin and the representatives of the Soviet Party in Moscow which was passed in the All India Party Conference in 1951 and the third Party Congress in 1953. Despite being mainly and essentially correct about the path and general orientation of the revolution, the evaluation of this programme about the character of the Indian capitalist class and the State and the transformation of the agrarian relations and general orientation of the social development were not in tune with the reality as was clearly proved later. Anyhow, this programme was only for keeping in the cold storage now because after the defeat of the Telengana struggle the Party had now taken full steps towards revisionism and had by now become an open parliamentary Party. In 1956 it also got the international certificate from the Khruschevite revisionism.
It was because of this ideological weakness that the Party repeatedly missed the favourable opportunity during the national movement and failed to grab the leadership of the mainstream of the national movement from Gandhi-Nehru’s Congress. In the decade of 1920 when Gandhi was yet to regain his lost reputation and the compromising character of the Assemblist Swaraj Party was exposed, when it was the period of forming the Workers and Peasants Party and the rapid expansion of its influence, the Party was not so organised and equipped with clear understanding to take the advantage of the situation. The inability of the Party to organise a nationwide exposure and mass mobilisation against the Gandhi-Irwin pact and the subsequent Government of India Act of 1935 was also due to its organisational weaknesses. Subsequently, during the P.C. Joshi’s period of right-wing deviation the Party missed several opportunities to take the initiative in its hand. In absence of a dialectical policy towards the united front, it was natural to have a compromising attitude towards the bourgeois national leadership. When the provincial governments of Congress and League were causing widespread disillusionment among masses, the Party could have moved to organise a mass movement and take the initiative in its hand. But it was not to be. The most unfortunate was the transition period between 1946 to 1950 when on the one hand the Indian bourgeois parties, the Congress and the League, were engaged in the negotiations for the transfer of power, the constituent assembly representing merely 11 percent elites was preparing the constitution and on the other hand it was also the period of nationwide workers’ strike, naval revolt, the indications of the brewing of revolts even in the Army and Air Force and most importantly it was the period of the great peasant struggles of Telengana, Tebhaga and Punapra-Vayalar. Small and big peasant revolts were taking place even in other parts of India. Had there been an organised Leninist Party in the true sense, the country’s history would have been different. But it was the same period when Ranadive was on the one hand implementing the “left” adventurist line and on the other hand he was building castle in the air by borrowing the idea from the Yugoslavian revisionist Cardelz to merge the stages of democratic revolution and socialist revolution. The Dange faction in Bombay was already immersed in the mire of economism. The Andhra Party committee was relatively on the right track and was stressing on the nationwide spread of people’s war on the pattern of China. But the central leadership rejected the ‘Andhra Thesis’. In all these struggles of peasants and workers the communist cadres were in the leading front with their unmatched chivalry and sacrifice but there was a lack of central leadership which could make these struggles nationwide by joining the dots. Ultimately all the isolated struggles were either scattered or were suppressed. Nehru sent the army to brutally suppress the Telengana peasant struggle.
Many Dalit intellectuals have been levelling the charge on the communist movement of ignoring the caste question (and at times of having caste-based prejudices as well) and these days such line of thinking has become prevalent amongst some Marxist nouveau-riche intellectuals as well. Even some communist revolutionaries, while saying this, are presenting different shades of the harmonisation between Marxism and Ambedkarism without going in detailed analysis as if to obtain absolution of past sins, as if they would win the hearts of the Dalit population just by doing this. This is either defeatism or cheap populism. It is not that the Communist Party did proper theoretical work and systematically decided the policy and strategy on the other aspects of the Indian society and other problems of the revolution and it only ignored the caste question. How can one expect a Party to have a complete position document and clear direction only on caste question when it did not even have a programme for Indian revolution and an agrarian programme till 1951? So the weakness of the communist movement were just a part of its larger weakness related to the programme of Indian revolution. Yet it needs to be mentioned that in its document on the ‘United Front for action’ in 1930, the Party has discussed the caste-system and untouchability in detail, it linked the anti caste-system struggle with the struggle against feudalism and the British rule and it appealed the toiling “untouchable” masses to stay away from the conspiracy of dividing them on caste lines and to fight against feudalism and colonialism along with the workers throughout the country. At the same time it has declared to fight against the caste-system and all sorts of caste-based inequality. Again this question has been raised in the paper on the political thesis in the second congress of the Party in 1948 and five paragraphs have been devoted to the problem of untouchability. In this document it has been said to the untouchables that along with carrying out uncompromising struggle against the “upper” caste bourgeois class they must also carry out struggle against those opportunist and separatist leaders who separate the untouchables from these struggles by taking the side of the exploiting classes. Clearly, apart from other Dalit leaders of Congress and Periyar it is mainly Ambedkar who is being alluded to here. Subhash Gatade (see his article ‘Caste Away Caste: Breaking New Grounds’) and many others are quite hurt that the Communist Party while talking about fighting untouchability declared Ambedkar as separatist, opportunist and British supporter without even giving a concrete programme for elimination of caste and it created caste-based prejudices. The fact that the Communist Party did not present a concrete programme for the elimination of caste is a separate issue. Even Ambedkar did not provide any such programme which will be discussed later. But how could one turn a blind eye to the reality at that time. While opposing the ‘upper’ caste leadership of the Congress, Dr. Ambedkar did not organise the Dalits on their demands against the “upper” caste Zamindars, nor did he do this against the British, their patron. He kept a distance from anti-colonial struggle, continued to oppose the gaining of independence and while sitting in the Constituent Assembly representing 11 percent of the elites with the support of League and then of the Congress, he was making the Constitution and was expressing lavish obligation towards the Congress (see, his speech in the Constituent Assembly) at a time when Nehru Government was brutally repressing peasants and landless labourers in Telengana. We will evaluate his role in totality separately, but in 1948 how else could one describe him if not opportunist and separatist? What was required to take along the Dalits was not to embrace Ambedkar by whitewashing the reality but to derive the concrete tasks of the prolonged struggle for the elimination of untouchability and the caste-system within the task of the democratic revolution. The Communist Party failed to do this and this was its lacuna. Also, It is important to mentioned here that even AITUC had made untouchability and caste-based discrimination as an issue in its fourth–fifth–sixth conferences and even later it was included in the ‘charter of the workers’. The central council of the Kisan Sabha also included the anti-untouchability demand in its charter of 1945. These facts should not be ignored outrightly, but it in no way means that there was no lacuna or weakness. The Communist Party failed to present an outline of the concrete strategy on the caste question in the stage of the democratic revolution while undertaking the Marxist analysis of the social bases of the origin of the caste system and its presence till the colonial era and the inter-relationship between the caste and the class; it did not give perpetual, widespread and systematic programme against the caste-based social divisions and the culture of discrimination, nor did it tell as to what would be the process or general orientation of the complete abolition of the caste after the establishment of the proletarian state! This weakness was not a separate and isolated one; rather it was due to the ideological weakness due to which the Party did not have any programme of revolution till four years after 1947.
But we will do justice with history only if we do not ignore the other side of the picture. Despite the weakness of ideology and line, communists fought valiantly against the oppression and discrimination of the Dalits and other oppressed castes in the twentieth century in all the areas where they had influence. No one else did it better than them. The upper-caste land-owners in-fact contemptuously use to term them as “the party of Chamars and Dusadhs ( the Dalit castes)”. The main base of the communists was actually among the landless labourers of villages most of whom were Dalits. In the Kisan Sabhas, the tenant farmers used to go along with the communists as they were the ones who used to raise their demands militantly (although among the landlord farmers, the Congress had more influence). But even the tenants used to consider them as more friendly towards the Dalits. The communist organisers carried out the movements against the discrimination or oppression against the Dalits at hundreds of the places in the country. The tradition of the professi onal revolutionaries was in existence till 1952–52 in its true sense and such activists, even those belonging to an upper caste, used to live in the Dalit settlements only. This tradition was continued for some time even during the era of revisionism. It needs to be remembered that during their work in the Andhra Mahasabha while preparing the prelude for the Telengana peasant struggle, apart from other social evils the communists also raised the issues of caste-based discrimination, untouchability, the religious superstitions and the slavery of women and strengthened the class solidarity through the powerful social movements. Hence instead of making sweeping allegation on the communist movement, what is required is to go to root of the issue. The root cause of the ideological weakness of the communist movement and it needs to be seen as that only.
The stream of Ambedkar and Periyar
Now we move to the role of Ambedkar and Periyar during the national movement. Ambedkar had an exaggerated view of the possibilities of liberation of Dalits from their bondage to the caste-based profession owing to the opportunities got by a minuscule population of the Dalits due to the British education system and the development of industries and he had a hope that the condition of the dalits would change and the Brahmanic hold of the upper-caste would break if the British rule continued. He failed to understand this fact that all such steps could only produce a tiny section of the middle class among the Dalits and the naked caste-based oppression of the urban Dalits would be lessened to some extent. The majority of the Dalit population was the victim of the exploitation and oppression by the upper-caste landlords who were the products of the semi-feudal agrarian system being implemented by the British themselves. The emacipation of the wider Dalit community was impossible without the revolutionary attack on the roots of this agrarian system and Ambedkar never had any such programme. As regards colonialism, while he used to express extreme obligation towards it at times, at other times he used to express his anguish over the fact that the British did not do enough to improve the condition of the Dalits and while discussing famine, poverty and the plunder of the country he at times used to condemn the British policies for being an impediment in the development of industry and trade. However, even when he used to be bitter towards the British imperialism, his stand was that we could not fight two enemies together, so our immediate priority is to fight against Brahmanism. As regards the Congress leadership, he never discussed its bourgeois class-character; his objection was to the dominance of the upper-caste and particularly the Brahmins in it. Instead of identifying the roots of the caste-system inherent in the entire socio-economic structure, his prime understanding was that the participation of the Dalits in the state power could bring about change in their condition. As per his understanding, the end of colonialism would lead to the rule of Brahmanism and hence he always stayed away from the national movement. If the Congress leadership was Brahmanic and the colonial rule was not in the interest of the Dalits, they could be organised against colonialism and feudalism on a radical programme as a separate stream; but instead of doing this, Ambedkar chose the alternative of mainly staying with the British through dialogue and negotiation by staying away from the national movement. Insofar as the social movement is concerned, all the projects of Ambedkar remained confined to minor anti-Brahmanic movements to seeking the solution of the caste-system in religious conversion.
At a time when people throughout the country were boycotting the Simon Commission, Ambedkar was filing petition before it. He was a nominated member of the Bombay assembly from 1926 to 1934. In the round-table conference he said that the Dalits had welcomed British as people who liberated them from the age-old atrocities of the orthodox Hindus and by fighting against the Hindus-Muslims-Sikhs they gave this empire to them (although it is factually wrong that the Dalits constituted the majority in the British army, they were very few in number), hence Dalits and Britishers are tied in an extraordinary bond and the Britishers were the protectors of the Dalits. (Ambedkar, collected works works, volume 5, page 16). Later on, even when he was criticizing the British colonialism, he was opposing the participation of the Dalits in the freedom struggle with the argument that this struggle was being waged for the establishment of the upper-caste Hindus.
Often some Dalit and neo-Marxist scholars give the proposition that the famous strike of the Bombay textiles mill in 1929 was broken because the union under the leadership of the Communists ignored the demands of the Dalit workers and hence they separated themselves from the strike. The facts need to re-checked. The strike was held because due to the introduction of new machines, three looms were being run by a single worker and the workers were being laid-off. The Dalit workers were with the strike. It is true that there was discrimination with the Dalit workers in the mill and they were not allowed to do certain kinds of works on the ground of untouchability. It is a separate issue that the Communist Party should have carried out a sustained work of education and propaganda on such issues as well and should also have presented the demands before the management. But at a time when all the workers went on strike on an imminent crisis, Ambedkar insisted on adding the special demands of the Dalit workers and the Dalit workers went back to work due to which the strike was broken. Actually, as per his autobiographer Dhananjay Keer, Ambedkar used to consider the strikes as being inspired more by political motive than economic and this would have worsened the economic condition of the Dalits. He was a nominated member of the Bombay assembly from 1926 to 1934. Ambedkar was not a part of the nationwide protest against the infamous Government of India Act of 1935 also. He founded an Independent Labour Party for participating in the election held as per this act whose influence was confined to the Bombay province only. He sat in the opposition in the assembly. It was the only period when Ambedkar, who used to nurse extreme hatred towards the communists took part in the workers’ and peasants’ movement with them. He did not put any condition on the the issue the Dalit workers and this strike was won due to widespread solidarity of workers. On this occasion he gave statements in favour of the democratic rights of strike and he even went on to say that if the Congress really carries out anti-imperialist struggle, he would join it. But his radical gesture was short-lived. During the Second World War, as soon as it became apparent that the crisis-ridden British could leave India and go back and when ‘Wavell Plan’ was brought, Ambedkar dissolved the Independent Labour Party and built ‘Scheduled Caste Federation’ and prepared a proposal named ‘State and Minority’ which was later presented before the Constituent Assembly. In this duration, he acted as administrator of the Governor General in the labour department from 1942 to 1946. The talks of carrying out struggle against with the imperialism were left way behind. The new stand of Ambedkar was that the British should not leave Indian before doing proper arrangement for safeguarding the Dalits. This was the time when he became a staunch supporter of the division of India (later on his stand was changed and he toed the lines of the Congress), which not only pleased the British rulers and the Muslim League but Savarkar as well.
Ambedkar, an admirer of European-American democracy, did not bother to recall universal adult franchise when the election of the constituent assembly was held under the Government of India Act of 1935 by an electorate of only 11 percent of the population and he became a member of the constituent assembly after being elected from Bengal with the support from the League. After the formation of Pakistan when the constituent assembly was divided, the Congress hurriedly got a seat vacated for Ambedkar and got him elected from Mumbai. The Congress made him the president of the drafting committee. Two bureaucrats prepared a draft on the basis of the Government of India Act 1935 and Ambedkar prepared the final draft by decorating the same. Reading the speeches of Ambedkar is an interesting experience in itself. He is seen overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and unity with the Congress, he lavishly expresses gratitude even to the conservative members (which included even the representatives of the feudal elites) of the assembly. It is noteworthy that while Ambedkar was busy preparing the draft of the constitution, a nation-wide mass-uprising was taking place throughout the country, workers’ movements were unfolding, the peasant struggles of Telengana-Tebhaga-Punapra-Vayalar were going on and it was the same duration in which the army, sent by Nehru, was carrying out brutal and bloody repression of the Telengana struggle. The raiyats and landless people against whom the goonda gangs of landlords, Razakars of Nizam and the Indian army carried out wild atrocities in Telengana mostly belonged to the Shudra and Dalit castes. But Ambedkar was not seeing anything, nor was he listening, nor saying anything; he was writing the constitution and was gracing the post of law minister in Nehru government. Most of the proposals presented by him before the constituent assembly were rejected by it and yet Ambedkar did not show any displeasure about it. It is the same constitution which guarantees to safeguard private property (how could property-less Dalits have benefitted from it?). It is the same constitution which also contains the provision to impose emergency by doing away with even the remaining space of democracy. The drama of electing the people’s representatives through money-power which has today taken the most disgusting shape is also provided by the same constitution. The constitution also contains the provision of ending untouchability (and in 1955 a law was also made to this effect), but it was merely on paper. The reduction in untouchability which has taken place so far is not due to constitutional or legal provision, but it is due to the autocentric motion of the capitalist development. Ambedkar was in total agreement with the provision of giving compensation to the rulers of princely states for taking over their property and that of privy-purse. For all the hypocritical claims of democracy in the constitution, the common people have to face the law and order machinery in their day-to-day life and the Indian bourgeoisie has kept the colonial structure of the law enforcement machinery (IPC, CrPC, Jail Manual, Police Manual, property related laws etc.) intact ( later on the newer draconian laws kept on adding one after another).
The system of taxation, right from the beginning, was such that the capitalists could derive benefits from it as per their convenience and most of the burden of governance falls upon the people by way of indirect taxation. Being a law minister himself, Ambedkar did not have any objection to any such issues. The reason for Ambedar’s falling out with the Congress was not theoretical, what actually happened was that he wanted labour ministry instead of law ministry and Nehru did not fulfil his wish even after waiting for long. Subsequently, Ambedkar tendered his resignation in 1955. Now, going totally against his speeches in the constituent assembly, he started discussing about his compulsions during the making of the constitution and the constitution suddenly looked so worthless to him that he announced, ‘I shall be the first person to burn this constitution.’ In the last days of his life he announced the formation of Republican Party (which came into existence after his death). Even this new party did not have any radical socio-economic programme. Its programme was merely to show the day-dreams of changing the condition of the Dalits by enhancing their stake in the ruling establishment through election. It is not surprising that it was on the basis of this very logic of participating in the ruling establishment, the numerous factions of the Republican Party and the myriad Ambedkarite parties which arose later did not exhibit any hesitation in aligning with any of the parties from time to time be it Congress, ‘Hindutvavadi’ fascist BJP, Shiv Sena, SP—a party of the middle-caste kulaks and farmers which happens to be the oppressor of the Dalits and the parties of kulaks and regional land-owners such as DMK and AIADMK. In fact, these parties represent the interests of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois class which has emerged out of the Dalits who manage to get the Dalit votes in the name of caste and Ambedkar but who have nothing to do with the interests of the majority toiling Dalit masses. The conduct of these parties is not a deviation from the path of Ambedkar, rather its logical culmination and extension.
Ambedkar’s economic policies, with the rubric of state socialism (see, his proposals before the constituent assembly), was not even Fabian Socialist. It contained some utopian proposals and the rest of which was in no way different from the so-called socialism of Nehru which was a mixed form of state capitalism and private capitalism—the mixed economy capitalism. Ambedkar’s proposal was that all the major industries and insurance would be owned by state and the basic industries would be owned by the state corporations. The whole of agriculture would be nationalised. But he did not forget to add that while taking over the factories and land of the capitalists and land-owners, due compensation would be paid. The small enterprises would be privately owned. The state farms would be given to the the families of villages on lease without any discrimination. Firstly, in this system interest, rent and private ownership was to remain unchanged, only the biggest individual owner was to be the state. Even an average student could tell that this would be nothing but state monopoly capitalism. Instead of ending the system of exploitation, it would have exacerbated it, would have created a powerful group of bureaucrat capitalists, would have given the opportunity even to the small enterprises to grow bigger and would have paved the social base for an autocratic totalitarian state. The Dalits would have continued to be wage-slaves in the proposed state enterprises and farms. Insofar as making agriculture as the state enterprise, even the capitalist class wishes for the same, but its state cannot do it because the closest allies of the capitalist class and the small partner of the state—the kulaks-farmers-landlords—would never want that to happen. The “state socialism” of Ambedkar, who was previously influenced by rabid anti-communist American thinker John Dewey ( he had been his student as well), transformed in 1952 (in the election manifesto of the Schedule Caste Federation) and came even closer to the Deweyian pragmatism. Now he was of the view that the rapid industrial development was necessary, the state control should be applied wherever it is better and the private ownership should be promoted wherever it is effective. The utopian idea of the nationalisation of agriculture was abandoned and now Ambedkar took exactly similar stand as Nehru on the economic policies. Even if Ambedkar had not said, the capitalist class was eager to carry out rapid industrial development at any cost. The caste-system was weakened to the extent as was possible as a consequence of the autocentric motion of capital. But what is important is that capitalism articulated the caste-system as per its interests and embraced it by refining it, the oppression, alienation and humiliation of the majority Dalit masses continued unabated not only in villages but in the cities as well and a small bourgeois and middle-class Dalit population was co-opted in the system as a part of the ruling class and its social prop. We will discuss it further.
Ambedkar had unwavering faith in the western Bourgeois democratic system, his thinking could never cross its horizon. Even in that his ideals did not include Diderot, Voltair or Thomas Paine, nor Fabian socialist George Bernard Shaw. The list of his sources of inspiration spanned from Edmund Burke to the Pragmatist American thinker John Dewey. His understanding of a class-neutral democracy was in no way different from the logic of bourgeois political science. He failed miserably to understand that every democracy has a class-character. It is either bourgeois democracy or socialist democracy. Bourgeois democracy is a dictatorship of the bourgeois class over the majority masses and the proletarian democracy happens to be a dictatorship of the working class (with the support of other toiling classes) over the minority exploiters. He gets startled by the proletarian dictatorship as if it is a negation of democracy or an authoritarian rule of the Party. Reading his writings on Marxism, one gets convinced that apart from the superficial criticisms of the bourgeois sociologists and the quotations given in them he had not studied a even a single work of Marxist classics. The dictatorship of proletariat is not what he describes. He was not clear even on the difference between socialism and communism. Because of his lack of understanding of the class-character of the state he could not understand the fact that if the agriculture and industries are nationalised while the class-character of the state continues to be bourgeois then it would not be socialism but state monopoly capitalism; nor could he understand the fact that only by forcible overthrow of the state of one class that the other class can establish its rule. None of the ruling classes in history have transferred power peacefully. Violence in a revolutionary class war is a necessity, not a wish of anybody. When communists talk of violence, they do not mean individual violence but class violence, it is to forcibly smash a state which is established by force, operated by force and maintained by force (even if this process does not entail bloodshed, it would amount to violence in the philosophical sense). Similarly Ambedkar, despite being an economist, did not have any idea about the Marxist interpretation of the processes of commodity-production, surplus-appropriation or capital accumulation. He was not even aware of the dialectics between the economic base ( total sum of the production-relations) and super-structure, qualitative leap during the constant struggle between the forces of production and production-relations and the definition of social revolution as the establishment of new production-relations as a consequence of the rupturing the production-relations by the forces of production. Like a casual scribbler he levels a charge of economic determinism on Marxism—which incidentally evolved during the struggle against economic determinism, a product of mechanical materialism—and says that Marxists consider human being as merely economic animal. What Marxism says is only this: the productive activities are fundamental activities of human beings for which they bind themselves in production-relations. It is the total sum of these production-relations which forms the base of society on which the huge edifice of super-structure of political-ideological-cultural-social institutions gets erected. Once built, the super-structure has its independent motion, on its turn it also influences the base and its clash with the new base and the new super-structure goes on. Throughout the period of socialist transition various forms of capitalist base remain and constant struggle with the old superstructure also goes on along with the long process of continuous transformation. Because of not being aware of this proposition, Ambedkar, in an article written in Janta in 1938, made a childish comment that if the edifice of cultural and religious factors rests on the economic base, first the edifice needed to be broken in order to destroy the base. Even this criticism is made without having an understanding. Even communism talks of smashing the central political super-structural institution—the state—first in order to destroy the economic base and constant struggle needs to be waged against all religious-legal policies, values-beliefs and the institutions along with the struggle and politico-economic propaganda till the time people’s consciousness is raised and organised to the stage of smashing the state. Marxism only says that any superstructural system can be smashed completely and finally only when its economic base is broken down. Marxism only says that ultimately the decisive factor is the base. We will return to this discussion later. Ambedkar considers religion to be necessary in any civil society by dismissing the conception of human being as merely an “economic animal”. This “civil society” of Ambedkar is behind not only with the conception of the civil society by Hegel but also that of Locke and Roussaeu which was an idealised form of the state of rationality and used to outrightly reject the presence of religion in the socio-political space. In fact, Ambedkar was not even aware of the thinking o the militant materialist bourgeois thinkers before Marx about formation of religion in definite circumstances and about the history of religion. He used to consider religion as something above humans, eternal guiding principle and was ignorant of its social origin. On this matter he was as conservative as Gandhi. He was only looking for a better religion than Hinduism and finally he zeroed down to a 2000 year old primitive Buddhist religion. He did not go towards the anti-Brahmanic ancient materialistic philosophies like Ajivaks, Lokayat or Sankhya because they were not organised religion. It was Ambedkar’s spiritual bankruptcy that he used to consider religion as the only spiritual wealth. Far from treating man as only “economic animal”, Marxism considers a man who is devoid of spiritual wealth as not fulfilling the criteria of being human and its aim is that the social structure needs to be destroyed in which the majority toiling population is deprived of the spiritual wealth owing to being fully engrossed in toil just for the sake of survival and on the other hand even the parasite classes who are devoid of the natural human characteristic of labour have only a degenerated culture of lust and luxury on the name of spiritual wealth. Marxism considers culture, art-literature, music, philosophy as spiritual wealth, the human essence. Had he read the works of Marx-Engels such as ‘Economic and Philosophical manuscript of 1844’, ‘Holy family’, ‘German Ideology’, ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’ (‘Grundrisse’ was not published in his lifetime), had he been familiar with the references occurring here and there in ‘Das Capital’, had he been aware of even one hundredth part of the works on the theory of linguistics, literature, art, music etc. till 1950 by dozens of people ranging from Lenin, Stalin, Mao to Gorky, Lunacharsky, Brecht, Lukacs, Vorovosky, Voronski etc. and the experiments in the field of socialist art-literature-music-cinema, his views about the spiritual wealth of Marxism would not have been so shallow.
What after all was Ambedkar’s project of Dalit emancipation? Rapid industrialisation. That even capitalism would want, but it could not do so by breaching the frontier of the theatre of history and the strength of capital. Whatever it could do, it has done in last 60 years. What is the outcome? Ten percent of the Dalits have been elevated to middle-class (even they have to face social-segregation and alienation), some became the social props of the system and 90 percent of the Dalit population is condemned to do wage-slavery and face caste-based discrimination, segregation, humiliation and oppression, the only difference is that the situation has improved a bit. We are faced with a refined caste-system with the capitalist character. Whatever be the improvement, it is not only due to industrialisation, but reservation also has a role in it. It was indeed a contribution of Ambedkar. When the demand of reservation was first made and when it was implemented, it was a bourgeois democratic demand looking at the conditions of Dalits (and even the backward castes). Today reservation has become a labyrinth. Most of the clashes for the distribution of reservation are taking place between the Dalits and backwards, between the various castes and sub-castes among the Dalits and among the castes considered to be backward. That too in the era of neo-liberalism when the government jobs are continuously getting curtailed. In the sixty years, reservation has made ten percent of the Dalits as middle-class and two percent among them as upper middle-class and bourgeois class. Now the reach of reservation is confined to them only and this is the section which even though causes much furore against Dalit oppression but it has gone away from the rest ninety percent of the Dalit population after being co-opted by the system or by becoming the social prop of the system. Every capitalist system carries out this process of co-option and expansion of its social-props. Often reservation is opposed from the upper-caste mindset, but when reservation in itself dominates the agenda of Dalit emancipation and begins to divide them on the name of false hope, one would have to admit that it has become a tool of maintaining bourgeois democratic illusions rather than a bourgeois democratic demand. Reservation today is a non-issue, it needs to be replaced with ‘education to all, employment to all’ on the agenda of the Dalit emancipation. Till now we were talking about the reservation in the jobs. Insofar as the reservation in the government machinery (in the election seats) , it is a reactionary anti-Dalit demand. When a few Dalits enter the parliament and government, what happens is that they become the cogs of the bourgeois state, they could not carry out even the radical reforms for the Dalits by breaching the overall framework.
Insofar as the project of the elimination of the caste-system is concerned, Ambedkar never had a thorough idea about it. His famous essay of 1936 ‘Annihilation of Caste’ is a maze of contradictory things whose ultimate conclusion is that the annihilation of caste is impossible. He says that in every country the intellectual class remains the most dominant class and among Hindus it constitutes only Brahmins who would not be ready for its elimination at any cost. Even the secular Brahmins, owing to their familial links would not stand against the priestly Brahmins. Even the other castes of the Hindu society would not be ready for ending the caste-system. Then he proposes the inter-caste marriage as its cure, but since it is contrary to the religious principles and beliefs, it would not be possible without freeing people’s mind from the yoke of religion and holy books. Towards this task, Ambedkar does not suggest any cultural movement, instead he says that elimination of caste system is almost impossible and it would take ages for it. The only way out of this is to wait for ages. Till then we need to put pressure within the existing system itself for some reliefs and concessions and wait for the lessening of the influence of the caste-system along with the capitalist development (industrialisation).
He also considered religious-conversion as one of the solutions and in his last days he became a Buddhist. Although very few Dalits followed him but there was no improvement in the social status of even those who followed him, they ended up forming a category of the ‘Neo-Buddhist’ within the Dalit caste. Ambedkar did not take anything from the materialistic outlook of the Buddhist religion as regards the relation between man and nature, but like a devotee he discussed in detail its metaphysical idealistic narratives as regards individual and social code of conduct. It is in no way clear as to what would be the difference in the social status of the Dalits if they conduct themselves according to the Ashtang Marg of Buddha. He was not aware of this fact of history that even Buddhist and Jain religion had a role to play in the degraded social status of the untouchables and they too used to give recognition to the secondary social status of peasants, slaves and women. Later on even the rulers who embraced these religions were no less oppressors. We are not sure whether Ambedkar’s attention was drawn to the fact that the fascist (and today’s imperialist) Japan, China before revolution and other Buddhist countries did not remain behind any other capitalist country in the capitalist plunder, injustice and misconduct. It was a strange contradiction of Ambedkar that while on the one hand he was a staunch supporter of the democratic system and constitutionalism of the western countries, a follower of Edmund Burke and John Dewey, on the other hand he ultimately saw the solution of the most important social problem in the 2000 year old religion of the era of ancient republics. It is not possible here to discuss the entire historical-outlook of Ambedkar, but what could be certainly said that he was miles behind not only the historians of the age of revivalism—Thiery, Minye, Guizot and Thiers but also Diderot, Voltaire and Rousseau who were born 150 years before his time. In other words his historical outlook was nothing more than a vulgar idealism and speculation. Instead of investigating the material basis of the production-relations he believes the endogamy (intra-caste marriage) to be the root of the caste-system which was started by the Brahmins (which means they existed before the caste-system). Similarly, he explains the reason for the emergence of the caste-system to be the degeneration of the Aryan civilisation. He does not proceed to explain the reason for the fall of Buddhist religion and simply concludes that after the victory of the Buddhist religion the rule of Brahmanism and caste-system were firmly established. We have discussed above the history on this question from the Marxist perspective. Here we only wish to clarify that in the fields of history, philosophy, politics and economics, Ambedkar’s thought process was unoriginal, non-serious, full of contradictions and mostly incorrect. He was mainly and essentially a bourgeois reformist (to say this is not to insult him but to determine the category of his thoughts), a committed constitutionalist, he believed the great men and intellectuals and not the masses to be motive force in the making of history and he was not interested in exploring the definite science of the development of history because he did not believe that there are definite objective laws of social change. He indeed had a positive role in creating awareness among the Dalit population, in exposing the Congress leadership to an extent and in gaining a bourgeois democratic right like reservation in his time. But ignoring his negative roles would not help to serve the cause of the Dalit castes. Today it is the cause of ruling classes which is being served by making Ambedkar something beyond questions, by branding anyone to be anti-Dalit if he indulges in a rational debate on him and by making the “constitution-maker” Ambedkar to be a messiah. It is increasingly getting difficult to take any conversation on a revolutionary project of the caste-annihilation to the Dalit population, the Dalit population keeps on moving in the maze of reforms and the labyrinth of the bourgeois parliamentary politics and a tiny population of the Dalit intellectuals who are being co-opted by the state are playing an important role in this. The Marxist intellectuals and groups who, instead of going in the depth and details of the analysis of thoughts, are presenting varied schemes of the abstract mixture of Ambedkarism and Marxism by eclectically selecting some quotations from here and there or by undertaking confession in the Christian manner by cursing the communist movement itself, are the utopian people who dream of alluring everyone by blowing magic pipe. Then there are some cunning intellectuals who are serving a new recipe of identity politics. We will discuss about them further.
After ending the discussion on Ambedkar here let us move to the politics of Periyar who happened to be his contemporary. The entire political life of Periyar was extremely inconsistent. He started with the politics of the Congress Party in 1919 and he separated from it as a protest against the dominance of upper-caste mentality in the Congress leadership and it not waging a social movement against the social evils. He founded ‘Atma Samman League’ in 1926 and waged social movements against Brahmanism and socials evils. He was a staunch atheist. He visited Soviet Union in 1936 and after returning he even carried out the propaganda of socialism with Singravelu Shettiar. But after a few days he became an opponent of the national movement and started to believe the presence of the British imperialism to be favourable to the Shudras and Dalit castes and in 1934 he joined the British supporter Justice Party. Afterwards he founded ‘Dravid Kazhagam’. Going against he fact of history, Periyar believed that Brahmins are the successors of the external aggressor Aryans while non-Brahmins belong to Dravidian origin. On 15th August 1947 he observed a day of condolence by commemorating the day of the establishment of the Brahmin rule and in 1957 he even burnt down constitution for being silent on the annihilation of caste. Periyar was a supporter of rationalism and he even used to to talk about egalitarian society, but in practice his politics was confined to anti-north, anti-Hindi, anti-Brahmin and anti-religion. He used to raise the demand of separate Tamilnadu having more autonomy within the Indian union even before independence. However, the rational and atheistic thoughts of Periyar could not be effective at all in finding solution to the problem of caste-discrimination and in towards the emancipation of Dalits because his understanding of social contradictions was faulty and he did not have any concrete socio-economic programme. It was the reason why his political conduct was also full of contradictions. He extended his support to the Congress chief minister Kamraj who belonged to Nadar caste. When Anna Durai government of Dravid Munetra Kazhagam, which emerged out of the Dravid Kazhagam itself, came to power, he supported it. The first phase of the Periyar’s political career was the time when Brahmins’ social hegemony prevailed in the Tamil areas, but the economic prosperity was coming even to the non-Brahmin castes. It was from these castes that the rich owner farmers-Kulaks and regional capitalists evolved after independence; the parties such as DMK and AIADMK used to represent these classes only and the politics of anti-north was helpful in putting pressure on the capitalists in power at the centre. The so-called Shudra castes among whom these parties had base were in no way behind the Brahmins in the oppression of Dalits. Subsequently several parties evolved out of these parties which had bases in different castes. These parties did not have any problem in indulging in manipulation and forging coalition among themselves and with the parties such as Congress and BJP. After getting disillusioned from them several smaller parties of Dalits emerged but they only played the role of being a tail to either the DMK alliance or AAIDMK alliance.
Capitalist development in the post-colonial India and the Caste-System
Indian capitalist class, born as it was from a colonial socio-economic structure and brought up as it was in the imperialist world, could not hamper the interest of imperialism beyond a point ( even the most radical of the capitalist classes of the newly independent countries could not make a radical rupture with imperialism) nor could it carry out the bourgeois land reforms in a radical manner. From the British, it had inherited the administrative machinery and legal system of a unified country. It had also prepared a feeble constitution. Initially, the British imperial capital had more influence on it, but slowly it expanded its economic alternatives by taking advantage of the inter-imperialist rivalry and attempted to gain capital and technology on better conditions. Subsequently, it developed its own technology by Indianizing the same technology. Due to the lack of capital with the capitalist class here and in order to lessen the pressure of foreign capital, it utilised people’s hard earned money to erect the edifice of basic and infrastructureal industries so that the development in private sector is expedited. This was the path of ‘import substitution industrialisation’. The banks were nationalised to facilitating more and more capital to the capitalists. The path of raising huge sum of capital from the share market was paved along with the growth of the well off middle-class strata. When the strength of the capital of the capitalist class in India was enormously increased, the process of selling the state enterprises at paltry sums ensued. This era of privatisation-liberalisation of Indian capitalism was indicative of its necessity, compulsion as well as its increasing confidence. In this era of neo-liberalism, even the crisis-ridden international capital had put pressure to end the protectionist policies. Indian capitalism on the one hand gave the open opportunity to the imperialists to take its share in the vast and continuously expanding Indian market and on the other hand it also gradually began to invest more and more outside the country in the globalised world market. The condition of the Indian capitalist class in the global capitalist system is that of a Junior Partner of the imperialists. It manages to get a small portion of the surplus extracted at the global level, but at the country level it remains the big stakeholder even today. It is standing in the ranks of such post-colonial countries that possess relatively more developed productive forces.
The character of the Indian capitalist class evolved in the historical conditions in such a manner that it could not make a decisive blow on the interests of the small and big land-owners by carrying out radical land reforms. Hence it implemented an Indian edition which was a mix of Germany’s Junker-type transformation and Russia’s Stolypin-type land-reforms. It gave opportunity to the old exploiters to change the modus-operandi of exploitation. The estates of the old kings and princes were taken over but their immeasurable wealth, forts-banglows and landed-property were left out. Besides, they were given privy-purses for two decades. It was on account of this wealth that the kings joined the ranks with the big capitalists as sleeping-partner either as the owner of the hotel or as big share-holder in the industries, or they became the capitalist landlords. The abolition of Zamindari was carried out at slow pace and the feudal landlords were given opportunity to transform their character from being rent dependent to bourgeois landlord who produces for the market, could save most of their land from ceiling or join the ranks of urban upper middle-class. A large section of even the earstwhile rich and medium tenants also became capitalist farmer-kulak after becoming land owner. Most of them belong to the middle castes such as Reddy, Kamma, Thever, Maratha, Jaat, Kurmi, Kushwaha, Sainthwar etc. As their economic condition improved, their Sanskritisation process moved forward. In the bourgeois parties, the blocks of kulaks-farmers were formed and their parties came into existence at regional level. The caste played the most important role in preparing the mass base of such parties. In terms of oppressing the Dalits, the farmers of these middle castes (so called shudra castes) were much ahead of the bourgeois landlords belonging to upper-caste who were successors of the old feudal landlords.
The so called green and white revolutions on the one hand prepared the fertile ground for the entry of capital into villages and agri-business and on other hand provided ample opportunity to the capitalist landlord-kulaks of surplus appropriation as per the strength of capital. The agro-based and allied sector developed throughout the country. Even the urban rich invested the accumulated capital into agriculture. The tendency of capital-intensive modern agriculture moved forwards. The differentiation of the peasant population was intensified. The remaining traces of natural economy and local markets were finished and even the remotest corners of the country got attached with the national and international market. Even the old system of land-tenure which was prevalent in some places, did not become an obstacle in the path of capitalist development (as clarified even by Marx and Engels). If we see the character of rent, it has become totally capitalistic. The capitalism in agriculture has either broken various pre-capitalist structures or it has co-opted them. The sphere of the existence of the pre-capitalist remnants has been shrinking. This tendency has given way to labour migration from villages on a large-scale. For the industrial capitalists it become easier to buy labour-power at lower price. The hell-like labour colonies of the industrial metropolitan cities were flooded with adhoc, casual, daily-wage, contract and piece-rate workers and huge population of semi-proletariat.
Thus a mediocre, distorted-skewed capitalism was developed in India through an excessively painful path which either broke the various pre-capitalist formations in a gradual manner or subordinated and co-opted them. Such a capitalism was totally incapable of creating healthy democratic values and beliefs. Its democracy was itself extremely limited and distorted-skewed. This was the reason why it did not touch the pre-capitalist values and institutions. The Khap Panchayats and the Caste Panchayats continued to exist and the shackle of orthodoxy continued to prevail in society. If they are weakened to some extent, it was not due to the conscious attempt by the state or the provisions of the constitutions but the independent objective motion of the capitalist development had a role in it. The interference of religion has not ended, it was merely loosened a bit. On the other hand some newer modern sects have arisen which are not only an effective medium of propagating superstitions and status-quoism but a medium of capital accumulation and investment as well. In the capitalist system the objective basis of religion is the invisible power of commodity production and even today religion is an extremely effective superstructural instrument aiding the political hegemony of the ruling class. But the question of the caste-system is not only linked to the superstructural plane. It is deeply entangled and articulated with the capitalist production-relations. The issue is not confined to being a feudal remnant or continued effectiveness of the feudal superstructure. A new economic base of caste-based values-beliefs and segregations-prejudices has been prepared.
This is because the capitalist production and distribution system has established its hegemony without breaking the casteist equation of the different sections of population. For instance, today the old upper caste people almost dominate the bureaucracy and the independent intellectual professions and caste becomes a bond for their unity for protecting their shared interest. As a reaction the officers-clerks and independent intellectuals belonging to the Dalit and backward castes organise themselves by making caste-based blocks. In the villages, the upper-caste capitalist land-owners and the middle caste Kulaks- farmers carry out caste-based mobilisation for suppressing the Dalit labourers and poor peasants. The biggest advantage they get from this caste-based mobilisation is that even the poor belonging to upper castes actively or passively tend to take side of the exploiters belonging to their caste. The Dalits too tend to stand behind the leader of a party inheriting Ambedkar’s legacy for defensive unity on the question of their identity and self-respect.
The situation of the cities is slightly different. But the caste-based segregation exists there as well and also its material basis. The proportion of Dalits in the organised working class population having better living condition is quite less. Among the unorganised workers they have significant presence and even there they have a monopoly over all the works considered to be unhygienic. Besides, they have to do most of the burdensome and low-paying jobs. Even in the government jobs, the sanitary workers are Dalits. The reservation has benefitted ten percent of the Dalit population but as one goes upwards in the job hierarchy their perecentage gets reduced to one to two percent. Administration, army, police, judiciary and independent intellectual profession — everywhere the condition remains the same. If there is any community which stands at equivalent position, it is the muslim community whose majority is poor and most of them are involved in independent handicrafts.
Among the factory-workers, those belonging to upper and middle castes who have not yet been uprooted completely are in huge numbers. Whatever little farms they are left with, they somehow manage the loss-making agriculture through their wages. The shade of peasantry is clearly seen in the proletariat character of such workers and it also blunts its class-consciousness and maintains the casteist prejudices. Most of the Dalit workers are either completely uprooted from the villages or even if they are attached their family’s condition in the village is that of rural proletariat or semi-proletariat. But the caste-based segregation and humiliation creates the consciousness of uniting on caste-basis even among them. Even in the cities, the residential apartheid of the Dalit castes is clearly visible although not to the extent as that in the villages. It is seen not only in the working class but in the middle class as well. In the residential co-operative societies it is almost impossible for Dalits and Muslim to become their members. Even in getting house on rent the biggest obstacle is that of caste (or religion) even in the metro cities.
The bourgeois parliamentary politics in India does not work on the a socio-economic programme but with the help of the open game of capital and some cheap populist promises or the wave of prevailing mood, but caste-based polarisation remains its most important pillar today. The bourgeois parties, through policies, do not serve any caste, but to the whole ruling class. They consist of small and big capitalists, blocks of kulaks and landlords, the kulaks and regional capitalists have their own regional parties as well, their class-interest also clash with each other, but they have consensus on general bourgeois economic policies and the parliamentary system. But every big bourgeois party has leaders from various castes in order to take advantage of caste equations and candidates in the constituencies are chosen by looking at proportion of their caste in the population. Insofar as the parties representing the interests of the regional capitalists are concerned, their main vote bank rests with the middle castes. All the parliamentary parties which claim to represent the Dalits are extremely opportunistic parties at the policy level, the well-to-do Dalit middle class gets its place in their leadership, the Dalit bureaucrats and intellectuals give support to this or that party among them and they make the Dalit population which has been oppressed for millennia as their vote-bank on caste basis. These parties raise new hopes by adopting radical posture and are ready to make an alliance with the Congress, BJP or any party an an opportune moment. In the bourgeois politics of coalitions they play the role of weighing-stone of weighing machine to be put on this side or the other side. The logic of overcoming the social status of oppression and humiliation on the basis of share in power has reached to this level in the last sixty years; let the ideological vendors of identity politics celebrate as much as they want in the auditorium, the ordinary toiling Dalit masses are not going to achieve anything. It has not achieved so far, nor will it achieve anything in future.
The inter-relationship of caste and class and ‘base-superstructure’ Metaphor: Marxist formulation
Before discussing the thinking and role of the communist movement on the caste question in independent India and a critique of some “Dalit/Ambedkarite-Marxists” and some Dalit ideological streams, it would be better that we positively put forward our stand on the interrelationship between caste and class in framework of the base-superstructure analogy.
It is the basic understanding of Marxist political economy that there are three aspects of production-relations: (i) form of ownership, (ii) people’s role in production and their interrelationship (division of labour), and (iii) the form of distribution of product. From all the three perspective caste-system has been a form of production-relations since the period of ancient India till the later medieval era (before the colonial era). In other words, despite relative internal motion and the ‘Sanskirisation’ of some castes, the caste system in-fact constituted the production-relations. The situation changed slightly after the coming of muslims, a model of caste-system was developed even among them. To an extent the same happened even with the Sikh religion. So, till the medieval era the caste-system formed the economic base of society and the political-religious-social superstructure used to be in relative conformity with it, that is to say that the values of caste-discrimination used to play decisive role in the social life. It can be said that the spectrum of caste-groups was more or less completely overlapping with the spectrum of class. Owing to inheritance and endogamy, the conditions of caste-groups were that of dynamic or static classes. Such a condition used to arise from conservative and rigid division of labour and in this sense it was different from any other society in the world. The condition of Muslims and Sikhs was slightly different, but among the followers of Hinduism the caste-groups themselves formed class in which the Dalit castes were landless labourers, middle castes were peasants, the ‘vanik’ castes were traders and the upper-castes were divided between land-owning classes and intellectual class.
For the first time there was some turbulence in the colonial socio-economic structure, particularly after the development of industries, administrative machinery and the numerous urban professions. The spectrum of the caste-groups and that of the class-groups instead of almost completely overlapping with each other got displaced to some extent. Most of the people belonging to upper-caste were land-owners even now and the petty-bourgeois class including the intellectual community developed from among them only. But different strata of the petty-bourgeois class developed even from within the Dalits and middle castes, although their proportion was very less. Most of the middle castes were Raiyat-tenants and the Dalit castes were farm labourers or belonged to the working class which used to do ‘lowly’ and ‘unhygienic’ works. On the other hand there was entry of upper caste and the middle caste tenants who were gradually being uprooted in the industries and their numbers began to grow. Even at that time, the caste basis of division of labour and production relations was stronger in the villages. Thus, the situation of overlapping between caste and class began to be disrupted. That is to say that the caste-system was still a part of the economic base (total sum of the production-relations) but it alone did not remain part of economic base. Insofar as superstructure is concerned, mainly and essentially it remained feudal with its main base as semi-feudal land-relations. The feeble capitalist ideas and institutions which got developed, did not have the strength to affect the caste-system. Even the educated people belonging to petty-bourgeois class who were modern in some sectors of social base not only used to follow religious rites faithfully but used to believe in the tradition of endogamy and caste-based discrimination. We have discussed above that it was a conscious policy of the colonial rulers not to touch the Hindu religion and caste-system.
The all-round capitalist development in the post-colonial India brought about significant changes in the situation. Along with the broad expansion of industries a vast service sector also got developed and the capitalist transformation of the land-relations continuously speeded up the differentiation, proletarisation and migration of rural population. The situation of inter-penetration and interweaving of caste and class remained prevalent. It is the upper castes which dominate the bureaucracy and the independent intellectual professions even now, but the Dalits and middle castes have interfered in these spheres. The landlords, kulaks and farmers mainly consist of upper caste and middle caste people but there are lower-medium and small peasants and workers belonging to the middle castes. A large population of the middle castes consists of small farmers only. Ninety percent of Dalit population consists of the proletariat and semi-proletariat, but the majority of the proletarian and semi-proletarian population are not Dalits. The so called ‘impure’ works are still performed by Dalits only. The handicrafts sector has shrunk a lot, but even now the “Kamin” muslim castes and the Dalit and extremely backward artisan castes work in this sector and there is negligible presence of other castes in it. How to formulate such a situation? Even now a portion of the ‘total sum of production relations’ (economic base) is the caste-based division of labour and the caste-based ownership. In other words, the caste-system is still a part of the base, albeit smaller. It is true that even now the caste-system has presence, in fact strong presence at the superstructural plane. Even now, owing to the barbaric slavery of women and the religious values and beliefs which are nurtured by the capitalist mode of production, the inter-caste marriages are rare and the main trend is intra-caste marriage only. Marriage in different castes having the same economic status is difficult. The tyrannical regime of ‘Khap-Panchayats’ and ‘caste-Panchayats’ and ‘Honor Killing’ are the realities which render even the civil rights provided in the bourgeois constitution as worthless. Hence, the caste-system, even though it forms a small part of the economic base, is intact in rigid and strong form as a form of social structure on the superstructural plane. It is preserved not only by its old inertia but the capitalist system has given it a new vigour. Although untouchability and forms of day-to-day repression are left in lesser extent, the social segregation and humiliation of Dalits continues unabated and the brutal incidents of atrocities over them keep on happening. In the villages, often the upper-caste landowners and more than them the Kulaks belonging to middle castes commit atrocities on the Dalit labourers and then they strengthen their position by doing caste-based mobilisation. The workers belonging to other castes do not take the side of the Dalit workers. Thus the clash of economic interests is coloured with casteism. The essence remains that of class-struggle and it gets expressed in a distorted manner as caste-struggle. The upper-caste and middle-caste land-owners being the junior partner of the ruling establishment, any legal action against them is taken either for the namesake or out of compulsion of the bourgeois politics. As far as the tyrannical Khap Panchayats are concerned, they do not have independent political power (as some neo-Marxists such as the theoreticians of the New Socialist Initiative think), they are the strong social-props of the bourgeois nation-state and are umblically attached to the bourgeois politics. As we have discussed above, the entire game of vote-bank in the bourgeois parliamentary politics is played on the caste-based and communal polarisation, then on its turn this game enhances the mutual hostility and segregation of the castes and strengthens the social structure of the caste whose victims are obviously mostly the Dalit castes. While the caste-system distorts and disfigures the class-struggle in the rural areas and breaks the unity of the broad toiling masses, it becomes an obstacle in the class-unity of the toiling masses in the urban areas. Although, unlike the rural areas it is not the main obstacles in the urban areas. In none of the spontaneous or organised struggles of the unorganised workers waged in the recent times, the caste-based discrimination was found to be a problem for unity. Nevertheless, it has to be admitted that the walls of caste-based discrimination and segregation exist even among the urban proletariat which is exploited by the trade union leaders of the bourgeois parties. Secondly, the Dalit workers involved in the ‘impure’ works stand isolated, both in the struggles and in the social life.
Wrapping up all the details it can be formulated that caste-system even today forms part of the economic base and its presence is fiercely effective at the level of social-cultural-ideological superstructure. It is not a pre-capitalist superstructure, nor its remnant. It is a capitalist superstructure. It is a capitalist caste-system. The caste-system has been co-opted through articulation. Using the Hegelian terminology it can be said that the caste-system has been sublated, that is from a lower level phenomenon it is become a higher (complex) level phenomenon in which the substance of past development is present. Even now small sections of the spectrums of caste-groups and the classes overlap each other.
On some incorrect and some incomplete and half-baked formulations
An accurate formulation of the interrelationship between the caste and class in the context of production-relations and social superstructure is not found in the official documents and write-ups of the communist movement from beginning till the era of revisionism; what is found is only some general description and discussion of tasks. In his article Caste, Class and Property-Relations written sometime in the decade of 1970s, B.T. Randive escapes from theoretically formulating what is mentioned in the title itself. The historians such as Kosambi, R.S. Sharma and Irfan Habib have given clear and more or less accurate formulations with regard to the caste and production-relations in ancient and medieval India, but after the development of capitalism in the post-colonial India, the attempt to understand this began after quite a while.
From the last century till today, various communist-revolutionary groups have written extensively on this question and even the neo-Marxist and post-modernist Marxist “thinkers” have been involved in a lot of discourse. There is an abundance of mechanical and anti-marxist stand in the formulation of the communist-revolutionary groups and there are lot of things which create illusions. On the other hand, the mix and match done by the neo-Marxist clique is nothing but a somersault to craft a “new Marxism”. Here it is possible only to discuss some representative trends and we will stick to that only.
First of all, let us consider a formulation by the late general secretary of CPI(ML)(Liberation) Vinod Mishra which twists the very basic Marxist understanding of base and superstructure itself. In the April 1994 edition of ‘Liberation’ while writing a critique of Thomas Mathew’s book Caste and Class Dynamic—Radical Ambedkarite Praxis he puts forward many correct criticisms about the concept of ‘Dalit democratic revolution’ and about Ambedkar, but at the same time he also gives some surprising propositions. In this article he writes: “So, class is the basic category. In certain historical situations it may express itself in the form of castes, in other situations the two may be interwoven, overlapping and at the same time criss-crossing each other, and in yet another situation castes are disintegrated to crystallise as classes. This is how the antithesis between two proceeds, until the caste as the regulator of mode of distribution stands annihilated.”
Here we get to know that caste is not in the division of labour or property-relations but a regulator of the mode of distribution. Now the question arises as to where should we put this “regulator”, in the economic base as a part of the mode of production or outside it. He answers this when he writes another comment in the January 1995 edition of ‘Liberation’ on the response given by Mathew on this critique. In this comment he writes, “For me, the caste system itself was the product of a certain mode of production and the corresponding level of production relations. Class relations here assume the form of castes, which, in their turn, are given a divine sanction by priests. Their ‘permanence’, however, is determined primarily not by any divine sanction but by the static social organisation of the village community which again is the product of a definite level of productive forces. The caste and class here appear in an apparent harmony. This harmony of class and caste, this correspondence of base and superstructure is apparent because the two are distinctly separate categories rooted respectively in the base and the superstructure, in the mode of production and regulation of distribution.”
Till now we knew from the famous quotation of the preface of Marx’s work A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy that Marx used to consider the total sum of the production-relations as economic base and not the mode of production. Mode of Production refers to the unity of the forces of production and production-relations which shows the achieved level of production of the means of production and consumer goods in particular time duration. It is the dialectics between the production-relations and the forces of production which is the fundamental contradiction of class society. While there are many Marxists who create confusion by referring the mode of production as the economic base, Vinod Mishra gives an “original” proposition by referring to mode of production as base and regulation of distribution as superstructure. As per the basics of Marxist political economy the form of ownership, role of people in production and their interrelationship and the form of distribution of the product, all three are the three aspects of production-relations. Vinod Mishra has invented a new Marxist Political Economy by putting the distribution (that is its form) in the arena of superstructure, while Marxism till now has been putting the political-legal-social-cultural institutions and the definite forms of social consciousness (ideology, values etc.) in the arena of superstructure. Even Marx had said the same. The series of Vinod Mishra’s mistakes goes like this: the mode of production (production-relations + forces of production) is base (wrong); the regulation of distribution is superstructure (wrong); caste is related to merely regulation of distribution and not with the mode of production (this also is wrong). Now he conveniently reaches to the conclusion that the dialectics between class and caste is the one between base and superstructure. Further he writes, “As the level of productive forces develops and the mode of production undergoes a slow change, the harmony is broken; class and caste, base and superstructure come into conflict, each trying to define the other.”
Here it seems to be suggested that class stands in base (and caste in superstructure). Yet another confusion! There are many who commit this mistake of describing the class as only an economic category or referring it as base itself. Class is a basic social category. The production-relations are the cause of its rise and its determination. In Lenin’s words, “Classes are large groups of people
differing from each other by the place they occupy in the historically determined system of social production, by their relation (in most cases fixed and formulated in law) to the means of production, by their role in the social organisation of labour, and, consequently, by the dimensions of the share of social wealth of which 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.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.29, page 421). As Marx wrote in the famous preface of the above-mentioned book, “In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will.” After these relations are established, men get divided into classes. In itself classes are not production-relations so that we could call it as base.
One of the streams of neo-Marxists reject the analogy of base-superstructure itself as mechanical and describe it as inadequate to understand the questions such as caste and gender.
In this context, an article by the two representatives of this stream—Subhash Gatade and Umashankar (published in ‘Sandhan-1’, paper read in the Seminar of the ‘Saajha Sanskritik Abhiyan’)—titled ‘The question of Dalit Emancipation’ is cited. When they come to the question of class and caste, initially one gets the feeling that the thinker-duo have reservations against the mechanical understanding of the economic base and superstructure and the economic understanding of the class-struggle. But later on it gets clear that they are in fact inspired by the purpose of rejecting them altogether. They tell us that everything has a phenomenal level and an essential structural level. We cannot directly reach to the structural level through sense-perception. For this one has to go through the process of abstraction. Further, they inform us that mode of production is an essential social structure and owing to its relation on structural level class is a structural concept, not merely an economic concept. The greater the complexity of a social system, deeper is its structural level and by the time it reaches on the phenomenal level its impact gives rise to as much complex and diverse properties. The ultimate conclusion is that in the complex formation of today’s capitalist mode of production the class struggle at the structural level would not manifest itself directly or separately. It will often come as entwined and diversified form of social struggles only.” In other words, the class struggle will now take place in the form of social movements focussed on caste, gender and environment etc. It is to reach to this conclusion that we are first taught the ABC of Marxist epistemology. Every Marxist knows that everything has a phenomenal level, a level of appearance and through sense-perception we reach to the level of perception. The second level is the structural level, the level of essence to which we reach through the process of abstraction, it is the stage of conception or that of conceptual knowledge. Till here it is fine. It is after this that the bungle lies. Everything in nature and in society has a structural plane and a phenomenal plane. It is not as if class struggle is a structural concept whose phenomenal level is the social movements. Class has a phenomenal level (level of perception) and a structural level (level of conception). Mode of production has a phenomenal level and a structural level. Caste has a phenomenal level and a structural level. When a common man says that we are workers and are fighting for our right, or when he says that capitalism is plunderer, or when he says we belong to this caste, or we do not believe in caste, he is at the phenomenal level, at the level of perception. When a person reaches to the level of definition and role of the working class by carrying out social analysis, when he tells about the qualities and contradictions of a particular mode of production through intense study and analysis, when he speaks after understanding the historical socio-economic basis of caste, he is speaking at the structural level or at conceptual level. It is here that a muddle has been created. If the class struggle will now manifest itself only in form of social movements, it needs to be asked whether the myriad spontaneous and organised workers’ movements which are taking place with their economic-political class demands or the owner farmers are waging movements with their class demands of costs and minimum support price, not the movements of classes?
It is in relation to this very logic that the thinker-duo passionately say, “some people think that the economic base is a kind of foundation on which the superstructural edifice is built . All this is verbal jugglery based on wrong understanding. If we dig the society, it is not as if the mode of production will begin to be seen or the concrete base cannot be made visible by penetrating the superstructure.” If the first sentence in this is a verbal jugglery then this has been played by everybody from Marx to Mao. It is the truth. Whatever Marx wanted to convey through this metaphor is clear in the preface of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Every metaphor, comparison or resemblance is incomplete and lame. Even Lenin said the same. To take an analogy literally is to extend a logic to the level of nonsense. If we take it literally a counter-argument can be made that with which spade will we dig the society? With which arrow will we penetrate the superstructure? A Marxist does not study a mode of production by penetrating the superstructure but through the mechanism of reaching from the phenomenal level to the structural level by studying and analyzing the economic facts. The study of the mode of production means the study of development of production-relations (form of ownership+division of labour+forms of distribution) and the forces of production and the study of the development of internal contradictions going on in between the two. Similarly, he/she studies the superstructure and certify their conclusions related to the base. Further they try to understand the contradiction between the base and superstructure. Here there is another bungle. The mode of production bas been referred to as base and not the total sum of the production-relations. To replace the mode of production with production-relations is to conceal the contradiction between the total sum of production-relations and the forces of production which is manifested in form of social class struggle. The same mistake was committed by Vinod Mishra as well. Anyways, the main purpose of the thinker-duo is to describe the so-called social movements themselves as the only form of class struggle.
The thinker-duo in-fact create an imaginary character of a narrow-minded communist, put some stupid things in his mouth and then while refuting them they say some right things and then take them to their desired conclusion through their “new” epistemology. Their own conclusion is clear that the class struggle will now be manifested at the phenomenal level in the form of social movements only. They level a charge on communists that while they consider the strikes and land-struggle as class struggle, when it comes to the struggles as as the anti Dalit oppression struggle or the struggle for woman emancipation they consider them to be isolated from the class struggle, still they take part in these social movements because the revolutionaries have to take part in the social movements. Even a communist having an average level of understanding does not think like this. It is a general understanding of Marxism that every social movement has a class substance. It is an indirect or distorted form of class struggle which arises out of the social contradictions of the society in question. The communist leadership through participating in the struggle tries to bring the above contradiction in the role of the subordinate aid to the main contradiction because ultimately that contradiction can be resolved alongwith the resolution of the main contradiction. The bourgeoisie and the proletariat strive to establish their hegemony over every social movement. Let us take examples: The movement of nations and nationalities is the movement of the people of a nation or nationality under the leadership of national bourgeoisie or petty-bourgeoisie against the ruling big bourgeoisie of a multi-nation country. Communists support it because it is against the bourgeois state. At the same, along with supporting the right of self-determination they also tell through continuous propaganda that the solution to the root problem lies in socialism, a step ahead of national independence. There is a clear-cut class character of student movement, from the viewpoint of substance it is a united front of middle class and other classes of people. Bourgeois politics tries to establish its hegemony through bourgeois student organisations and the proletarian politics tries to align the struggle of common students with the proletarian struggle by establishing its hegemony over it. Women’s movement too is a movement of the women of all the classes. Various forms of the bourgeois women’s movement fight for some concessions-reforms within the system while a women’s movement guided by the proletarian politics even while participating in these struggles takes it in the direction of struggle for socialism, it constantly tells that ultimately the slavery of women belonging to all classes can only end during the period of socialist transition. It gives greater stress on organizing the women belonging to working class and lower-middle class because the women belonging to the upper class owing to their class interest do not accept the slogan of socialism and the radical path of struggle and they are immersed in the legal reforms and celebration of the identity itself. Even the mutual clashes among the castes are essentially the distorted and skewed forms of class struggle only. If bourgeois or petty-bourgeois leadership is dominant in the Dalit organisations, even while they have different remedies they essentially confine the wider Dalit population to some reforms within the system only. The task of proletarian politics is to struggle within the sphere of the democratic rights against the oppression of the toiling majority Dalit population and at the same time align it to the common demands of the wider toiling population belonging to other castes, to present a comprehensive programme of caste-annihilation and to carry out continuous propaganda and organise movement for breaking the segregation and prejudices at the superstructural plane. The thesis of the thinker-duo can be seen in a more refined form and with more open intentions in the draft manifesto of the ‘New Socialist Initiative’ (January, 2011). The one visible change in the manifesto is that the stand that the class struggles will now be manifested in the social movements only, has been given up. The manifesto recognises even the movements of workers and that of toiling masses as forms of class struggle, but at the same time it cleverly reaches to the stage of writing a new edition of identity politics with the ladder of Marxist logic. The manifesto tells us that a person does not have a single identity but multiple identities. “As a social unit every individual stands on many axes” and “takes multiple identities along.” So among the many axes, class is one. Further, “gender, caste, race, ethnicity, nationality and religious identity are examples of the social relations which cut through the axis of class relations in different ways and thereby create the social reality.” So these lines have their independent existence and cut through the axis of class relation. Earlier, it has been mentioned that they themselves are axes. This alternative language of discourse which stands apart from the Marxist analysis is quite confusing. But its intention is obvious and that is to make all the contradictions as equivalent and to disintegrate the social struggles into the struggles of identities instead of organizing the class struggle of masses around the main social contradiction. Marxism tells us that amongst these myriad so-called identities many are burden of past which have been kept intact consciously in order to stop class-polarisation. Some remnants are at the superstructural plane and some have their roots in the base of new production-relations as well. Some are imagined identities which are either the remnants of past or constructed. Some are the contradictions which have been intact during the entire duration of class society, e.g. the question of gender. Earlier, the subservience of women had feudal character, now it is capitalistic. Some contradictions essentially come under the multi-level and multi-form contradictions of the capitalist society. Capitalism has adopted several pre-capitalist structures by reinvigorating them, it apparantly gives the impression of an ostensible continuity of some contradictions from the past, but their class structural essence has changed. Since productive activity is the basic human activity, therefore, the production relations alone could be the base of society and the classes formed out of them could alone be the basic categories and in the root of other social categories lie this class essence in one way or the other. Hence, it is obvious that amongst all identities of human beings, class identity alone is the overriding identity. It is only on this basis that a broad mass mobilisation can be carried out. To strengthen the class identity is not to leave other identities but it is to align the masses struggling on the judicious questions of nationality, gender, caste etc. with the main struggle. Class identity alone is the universal identity which overlaps all other identities. Capitalism uses the struggles of all identities as safety valve, smoke-screen and an instrument of diminishing the class polarisation by articulating it as per its convenience. The vanguard of proletariat understands their class essence and subordinates them to the wider revolutionary struggle, it makes them as its constituting element. Today there is a whole stream of neo-Marxist thinking which is using the phraseology of post-modernist discourse (it also includes identity politics) in order to escape from or go away from the basic propositions on the questions of class analysis, class struggle, party, state and revolution. Subhash Gatade-brand thinkers of this stream celebrate the new rise of self-identity in the several small organisations and movements of Dalits, but they do not see as to how these myriad organisations become the abhorrent opportunist players of the parliamentary politics in a short course of time. They do not see that one of the culminations of the rising of the identities is coming to fore in the form of mutual clashes between the Dalit castes-subcastes (e.g. Mala-Madiga struggle in Andhra Pradesh) and segregation. They do not tell us as how any project of Dalit emancipation and caste-annihilation will be developed through these risings of Dalit identity. They remain devoted towards Ambedkar for bringing out realisation of Dalit identity and for bringing awareness against the social oppression of Dalits and they are never tired of blaming and accusing the communists for ignoring the caste-question and keeping a distance from Ambedkar, but they have never analyzed the political outlook, political role, his project of Dalit emancipation and his outlook of economics and history. They do not tell us how factual and logical were Ambedkar’s thoughts on Marxism, the “pig’s philosophy”, on the dictatorship of proletariat, on religion and on the superiority of Buddhist religion over Marxism. Such people believe that it is important to worship Ambedkar for taking the Dalits along and condemning the communists has become a sort of ritual to them. An oppressed community does not come along if one carry the constructed idol of their old hero, one has to give it a concrete programme and a clear project of emancipation. It might take long time in this task if the subjective forces of revolution are weak due to other objective and subjective reasons. But there is no other alternative. This thinking is thoroughly incorrect that the main reason for the failure of the communist movement has been its lack of understanding and avoidance of the caste-system. The main reason for the failure of the communist movement is its inability to intensively study-analyze the base and superstructure of Indian society owing to its ideological weakness and its inability to develop a thorough programme—strategy and general tactics. Its inability in not determining the concrete task by correctly analyzing the caste question is a part of this main weakness or a by-product.
Among the communist groups in India, many have tried to give an interpretation of the caste-question but they are often superficial, incomplete or wrong. Somebody says that the production-relations in the past were based on caste-system (then the caste-system was based on what?). Somebody says that the caste-system was based on the division of labour (was it based on or the caste was itself a rigid structure of the division of labour, or whether it was only division of labour or the caste used to determine the form of ownership and the modus-operandi of distribution as well?). Somebody says that the caste was linked with the production-relations (was it only linked or was it part of it and to which category it belonged—base or superstructure or both?). Also, there are those who consider caste as a superstructure only in all the era whose base was production-relations (and it is even now). Even while giving the history of the origin and development of the caste-system several wrong propositions (not accepted by the established Marxist historians) have been given, but it is not possible to discuss them here. In the colonial era, despite the presence of feudalism, the entry of industrial capital both maintained and attacked on its root, the overlapping between the spectrum of the caste-groups and that of class-groups was breached to some extent and in the post-colonial period it was shrunk to a great extent. There is a lack of clarity on this process in the writings of the communist revolutionary groups.
Some M-L groups owing to their inability to correctly formulate the caste-question believe it to be a pre-capitalist superstructure (social formation) based upon the semi-feudal land-relations while others view its presence even in the fabric of base of land-relations. The problem is that all such groups ignore the statistics about the nature of land-rent, the dominant tendency of the farmers to produce for markets after getting the ownership, presence of a national market linked to the international market, polarisation of the peasant population, the tendency of differentiation and proletarisation, increasing encroachment of capital in agriculture and the expansion of industrial-finance capital and simply count the land-tenancy system, usury and the feudal remnants and give up the basic parameters of Marxist political economy and for the last 42 years they are adamant on accomplishing revolution in India on the model of New Democratic Revolution of China and even after a time span of 50 years they are still sticking to the 1963 document on the general orientation of the world proletarian revolution. The prometheus of Indian revolution is still tied to the rock of new democratic revolution with the chains of dogma. Among such groups some believe that the Dalit question/caste question in essence is a land question. So a radical democratic land programme can solve this. Now what needs to be understood is that even if the stage of revolution is that of democratic revolution, (as clarified by Lenin) it cannot be the aim of communists to make the landless rural workers as the small scale commodity producers by distributing land at the family level as a general land policy. The programme of democratic revolution first of all gives the ownership rights to the peasants, ends the strata of rent dependent landlords, motivates the peasants for co-operative and then collective farming, makes the state farms (which set an example) on the excess land the big estates, it makes a collective farm for the landless rural workers on the self-cultivated land of feudal landlords which have been taken over (in some special circumstances if the land is to be distributed in more backwards countries, co-operative are organised) and the sale-purchase of labour power is prohibited in agriculture. Even those middle owner farmers who are not ready to leave private farming immediately cannot hire labourers for cultivating their farms. Let us see the situation in India. The farmers have turned into owners and the big farmers have made a large section of small farmers as proletariat. The feudal rent and the rent dependent landlord have become thing of the past. The practical reality of today is that even if through a miraculous way all the landless people are handed over all the uncultivated land and the land obtained after strictly implementing ceiling (which the bourgeois land owner class, a junior partner of the state, will never allow to happen), every landless family would get 1.5 to 2 bigha land and very soon the magnet of capital will take it to the big land owners.
(if all the land is equally distributed among all the families then every family would get 3.68 hactare of land, but how will this castle in the air be built and if it has to be done by the proletariat state, why would it do it the first place?) Secondly, in today’s agriculture more than area it is the invested capital which matters. After becoming small owning peasant, the condition of landless workers would be worse than that of the factory workers, due to lack of capital. This we can see even today. Therefore, even today when the immediate demands are raised for distributing the land to the rural labourers on lease, they are as much reactionary as are the demands related to the costs and support price raised by the owner farmers. The communist revolutionary groups which think in the framework of democratic revolution see the caste-system either in form of land question or of feudal superstructure. They fail to see the changed capitalist form of the caste-system.
There is yet another very strange stream which earlier used to believe in the stage of socialist revolution but has now gone back on it. It believes that the big feudalism of the kings and princes has got over (its remnants are left now) but small feudalism survives today in every village in the form of landowners and sharecroppers (this stream does not tell us that how is it that we can consider these landowners and sharecroppers as feudal?). The problem of caste is related to this small feudalism inextricably. The bigger plot of land lies with the ‘upper’ caste landowners (this is wrong, the bigger plot of land and capital intensive agriculture rests with middle castes today). The small feudalism, the existence of temples-mosques-waqfs-churches-gurudwaras, remnants of the big feudalism and caste-problem, all these combine together to make feudalism as the main contradiction. So the political economy went for a toss, the contradiction is determined by simple arithematic aggregation only. This stream suggests the solution to the caste-problem that the socialist state would nationalise the whole land (for this even the lower middle class peasant population would not come along) and would distribute the land to people at the lowest pedestal and go towards the upper echelons of poor population (why will it not distribute equally?), then it would complete democratic revolution by completing the journey from co-operative farming to commune (so the state will be socialist but it will do democratic revolution!), in the same process there would be perpetual struggle at the superstructural plane and thus the caste-system would be destroyed from its roots. What to comment on such superficial, utopian, farcical Marxist dreams? But when a movement disintegrates, one has to be ready to read and listen to the extremely foolish original propositions.
There is yet another group which believes in the stage of socialist revolution in India. Even though, to a large extent it correctly discusses the cracks in the old caste-system along with the capitalist development and the increasing caste-division in the castes and it underlines the effective presence of caste-system even today, yet it does not clarify as to whether there is any dynamics of renewal and reinvigoration behind this effective presence or is it merely because capitalism has developed in our country through a slow, distorted, non-revolutionary path. If the caste-system has not been renewed as a bourgeois system, it would follow logically that if capitalism stays for quite a long period, caste-system would gradually vanish. Secondly, this group does not concretely situate the caste-system in the base and superstructure. The truth is that one of the independent motions of capital is loosening the caste-system while its opposing motion is renewing, refining and adapting it at both base and superstructural levels and thereby it is articulating it within the capitalist socio-economic structure. We have clarified our stand on this question above. This stream broadly takes correct stand by criticizing Ambedkar, Periyar, the phenomenon of Dalit upsurge, the tendency of harmonisation of Ambedkarism with Marxism, and the neo-Marxist identity politics, but while suggesting the path of elimination of caste it gives more stress on opposing the making of caste-based organisations, exposing the Dalit leaders of bourgeois parties, exposing the NGO-brand identity politics and the neo-Marxist outlooks. Positively it finds it proper to oppose the caste-based oppression and atrocities as a part of the struggle for socialism and the formation of special forum (not on the basis of caste) for cultural propaganda against the caste-system and stresses on encouraging the inter-caste marriage. So the main stress is that if there is proper class mobilisation, the problem of caste will not remain a major hurdle. This organizaiton is silent on the question as to whether the slogans of propaganda and agitation in the process of the preparation of socialist revolution will directly target the caste? How will we tell the Dalit masses about the material basis and conscious activities of cast elimination in a socialist system in order to isolate the opportunist Dalit leadership and are there any immediate demands (within the sphere of democratic demands) which could be helpful in reducing the miseries of Dalits and which would strengthen the class unity of all the workers belonging to all castes?
Nowadays one can see a very strong urge among many, in fact most, of the M-L organisations for harmonizing Marxism and Ambedkarism or at least borrowing something from Ambedkar in varying degrees. This was done a long ago by Sharad Patil’s Satyshodhak Communist Party by adopting the ideology of Phule-Periyar-Ambedkar-Marx. Firstly, this party perhaps was not clear about the meaning of ideology itself. There is a difference among the philosophies of Phule, Periyar and Ambedkar themselves and on the philosophical essence there is no match with Marxism. Let us take the question of Ambedkar only. We have already discussed in detail his world-outlook, historical-outlook, politics, economics, solution for Dalit emancipation. None of the communist revolutionary groups clarifies as to what is to be taken from Ambedkar? One common thread is that often all these groups support reservation which was a contribution of Ambedkar. They do not pay attention to the fact that today more than being a bourgeois democratic right it has become an instrument of creating an illusion for bourgeois democracy. Secondly, some groups say the Ambedkarite thinking of carrying out movements on social (caste-based) issues should be merged with the stream of communists. Firstly, be it the question of caste, of gender or of environment, the theoretical framework of Marxism consider all these social movements as integral part of class struggle and stresses on carrying it forward. It is a different thing that the Indian communists in the past did not give enough emphasis (not that they did not do anything) on this. But on the theoretical plane Marxism’s own understanding is quite rich. Secondly, Ambedkar carried out very few social movements, more than this he talked of legal remedies withing the constitutional framework by bargaining with the colonial power by organizing the Dalits. Besides this he stressed on industrialisation (that capitalist class is doing any way) and suggested the path religious conversion (which proved to be a flop).
Most such M-L groups, Gail Omvedt, Anand Teltumbde, Subhash Gatade etc. are overawed by the innovative theoretical contribution of Ambedkar that caste-system is not just a division of labour but it is the division of labourers as well and this is the speciality of India. Ignorance compels us to get surprised by treating even the common things as somethingoriginal. The logical culmination of the division of labour anywhere in the world comes to the fore as the hierarchical division of labourers only. Let us first take normal examples. Those doing mental labour stand above those doing manual labour, skilled labourers stand above the unskilled labourers, permanent workers stand above the casual workers, those doing light work stand above those doing heavy work. In England, British workers used to stand above the Irish workers. In America the white workers stand above the black workers, Mulatto and Chicano workers and the immigrant workers. It is bound to happen in a capitalist society. In India the only thing which gets added to the division of labourers is that ‘impure’ work, heavy work and low paying lowly works are mostly done by the Dalit castes and even at the workplace they have to face greater social segregation as compared to any black or Mexican worker. Hence it is not not an innovative discovery of Ambedkar, rather it is a general characteristic of capitalist division of labour.
Gail Ombvedt of Shramik Mukti Dal has her original logic. She considers Indian communists as incorrigible mechanical materialists. She says that they consider caste as being absorbed in caste and while giving pure interpretation of exploitation they do not see it in the context of caste. While giving a new interpretation to the famous preface of Marx’s book A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy she says that the forming of relations of social production which Marx talks about are non-class production-relations as well besides class production-relations (that is the caste production-relations). Marx’s dictum that ‘the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle’ does not apply on India.
This formulation is faulty all through. Firstly, in the ancient and medieval India the division of labour was on the caste basis only, in other words it was the division of labour which gave rise to caste and caste was equivalent to class. This situation was changed in the colonial era. In the capitalist era it was changed even more rapidly. The class structure which arose by the capitalist division of labour had strong elements of old caste structure, but both were no longer synonymous to each other. Caste has not been absorbed in class but there is a caste-division among the classes and there is a class division among the castes, but the majority among the Dalit castes are at the lowest pedestal in both the divisons. Even though the people belonging to other castes stand beside them as workers, but they are segregated from them and even with regard to the nature of work they have to do the ‘inferior’ work. Insofar as exploitation is concerned, exploitation is an act of extracting surplus in the process of social production, it happens at the class plane only. Here it is not a question of less or more. It might be possible that a worker producing more on an advance machine gets more salary, but surplus might be extracted to greater extent. “Exploitation” is a well defined economic category, it should not be mixed with any form of oppression or repression. A Dalit labourer gets oppressed in the factory, but his exploitation takes place as a class only.
Shramik Mukti Dal has another formulation that today a hierarchy of bourgeois caste-system has developed in which Dalits and tribals are engaged in unskilled, burdensome and ‘impure’ works, middle castes are engaged in ‘blue collar’ industrial jobs and unprofitable burdensome agricultural works and the ‘upper’ caste people are engaged in white collar upper jobs and managerial professions. Reservation and capitalist development has not brought about any significant impact over this caste-based division of labour. In this structure the surplus gets extracted from the bottom and reaches to the top with the bourgeois class. In this entire scheme the objective reality is not accurately reflected. If we leave aside the ‘impure’ works, then among the unorganised sector workers who do unskilled and burdensome works the population of non-Dalits and non-tribals is much more than the Dalit and tribal population. Secondly, the population engaged in agriculture has not been seen as differentiated. The section belonging to middle caste and upper caste kulaks-landowners-farmers is barbaric exploiter, it gets the work done by hiring the labour power, if at all it is facing any crisis it is that of the capitalist agriculture. Then there is a population of small and medium farmers which is moving towards destruction and which consists of middle castes, some upper castes, and a few Dalit castes and tribals. It is true that in the higher jobs even now the upper castes are dominant. Insofar as extraction of surplus is concerned, as we have already told, it is not determined by the difficulty of social life but from the productivity of the particular sector.
The party’s programme based on this scheme is thoroughly social democratic in nature. It has no trace of the programme of revolution and socialism. This party talks about ending the material basis of the bourgeois caste-system by adding the redistribution of land and water to the landless labourers in the land programme of the redistribution of land-ownership and means of production and moving towards co-operative socialist farming. It demands for providing seeds, agricultural instruments at cheaper cost to particularly the lower caste people, giving special training to the the artisan castes for improving their traditional skills, giving loans and stimulus package to them for developing them in the co-operative agro-industry sector and giving training of organic farming to the Dalits and tribals. Besides, it demands to continue the reservation and to promote the inter-caste marriages. It can be part of any revisionist party, “social movement”, NGO or bourgeois party. Gail Omvedt’s entire new dialectical historical materialism for Indian condition gets exposed in its bourgeois reformist form when it reaches the stage of implementation.
Another main proponent of harmonisation between Marxism and Ambedkarism, Anand Teltumbde, while on the one hand believes that all the projects of Amedkar for caste-annihilation ended in failure, yet it is not sure why he considers Ambedkar’s book ‘Annihilation of Caste’ (which we have discussed above) to be as important in India as is ‘The Communist Manifesto’. Teltumbde believes reservation to be a whirlwind in this age of increasingly reduced job opportunities and considers it to be worthless. He is also a staunch opponent of the identity politics. But instead of understanding caste in the framework of base and superstructure, he considers this framework itself to be a hurdle in understanding the relationships between caste and class and believes the inability of the Indian communists to align the caste with the class struggle to be their unpardonable mistake. We have given above our stand on the question of base-superstructure. We do not get any direction of annihilation of caste even from Teltumbde, nor do we get to know as to what will Marxism get from Ambedkar after aligning the caste with the class struggle.
Insofar as the so called Dalit theoreticians are concerned, their arguments are so crude and weak that it is not at all possible to have debate and discussion on them. In all it is only those doing identity politics who remain engaged in the NGO-funded fragmented social movements of various identities including caste and in the research in research institutions and they celebrate the resurgence of Dalit identity. A brief discussion of this breed has been done above. Their ideological source can be found in the post-modernist ideological streams.
Yet another thinker is Kancha Illaiya who without going into the analysis of policies count three categories of caste—Brahmanic communist nationalism, Hindu nationalism (Tilak, Gokhale, Golwarkar, SP Mukherji etc all together) and Dalit bahujan nationalism (Phule, Periyar and Amedkar etc.). One of the forms of implementation of this thesis of Dalit bahujan nationalism was the politics of Kanshiram and Mayawati. The alliance with the party of shudra caste (SP) was corroborating this thesis. But this alliance had to break. Then Mayawati started taking about Sarvajan in order to take Brahmins along. Now Kancha Illaiya’s thesis has changed and according to the new thesis the Dalits should expand their hold in all the parties so that their claim to power is strengthened.
Chandrabhan Prasad is yet another theoretician who describes promoting Dalit capitalism as the path of Dalit emancipation, he still believes colonialism to be the emancipator of Dalits and installs the idol of Angrezi devi. He does not tell us whether the few Dalit capitalists who will emerge will squeeze the Dalit workers in their factories or not and whether they will distribute the plundered profit among the Dalits and improve their condition? He and some other Dalit thinkers propose to promote the Dalits in the private firms through the steps such as Kennedy’s ‘Affirmative Action’. Firstly, it is like building castle in the air. Secondly, these people do not know that despite the elapse of one century from Lincoln’s abolition of slavery to Kennedy’s ‘Affirmative Action’ and even after several anti-racist movement , despite having a black president, black military chief, black secretary of state and several black players and artists, even now the majority black workers do the most burdensome and low-paid jobs, they live in hellish ghettos, their percentage among the unemployed is highest in proportion of their population, 70 percent people int he American prisons are blacks and other immigrants and several other fine manifestations of racial discrimination are still present.
Most of other Dalit thinkers do blind worship of Ambedkar and avoid any radical activity outside the sphere of parliament and reform. They do not have any project for Dalit-emancipation. If you talk of logic and science with them and in case you are not Dalit (even if you have abandoned your caste) they will put the stamp of caste-chauvinist on you.
In reality these vocal people of the Dalit intellectual community mostly represent the class interests of petty-bourgeois class. They are not bothered about the condition of the majority Dalit population and any struggle for their emancipation. They have gone far beyond them. There is a tendency in them of becoming a leader of the majority of Dalit population on account of their social status and caste base. Yet, even while they live in a well-to-do environment they have to face subtle humiliation, avoidance and segregation from the upper caste colleagues and because of this a passion gets generated among them which is reflected in their personality and their writings. Their real role today is that of social prop of the capitalist system. This dictum of Marx is to a large extent applicable to them, “The more a ruling class is able to assimilate the foremost minds of a ruled class, the more stable and dangerous becomes its rule.” (Capital, vol. 3, page 601)
Communist movement in independent India: A Retrospection
We have discussed above till the going astray of the Communist Party if India towards revisionism after the defeat of Telengana struggle. Later on, another revisionist party CPM got separated from it in 1964 after split. Then in the decade of 1980s the CPI (ML)(Liberation) also joined this fold.
Due to their presence in the parliamentary politics and owing to being dominant in the trade union politics, since last sixty year it is the face and conduct of these parties which has been there before the people in the name of communists. In the organs and documents of these parties the discussions on the caste question have been taking place, but in practice they have not done anything except for releasing some statements against few incidents of the Dalit oppression and some ritualistic protest demonstration. When a party makes the parliamentary politics and the trade union activities as its only task, it loses the courage to to militantly carry out propaganda and agitation even on social issues.
They fear in building a social movement by firmly raising the caste question or even carrying out communist propaganda that the non-dalit castes might be displeased with them whose demands they raise in the villages with prominence. At the same time in order to appease the agricultural labourers (mostly Dalits) they also continue to verbally raise their demands and the issues of caste oppression, although their mass base amongst them has slipped away and the parties such as BSP has taken over it.
Their main base in the cities is amongst the white collar (Bank, insurance etc.) workers and organised blue collar workers on whose economic demands their ritualistic activities carry on. Amongst these workers there are very few belonging to Dalit castes. Despite the grievances, the poor masses still go along with them either in the hope of some economic concessions or security or it is because they have been finding the red flag as theirs for generations. The most abominable thing about the caste question is the lifestyle of the leaders and activists of these parties. Mostly all of them do intra-caste marriage with religious rites and rituals (by giving the logic of being isolated from society), perform religious rites of life-death, even do nepotism behind the scene and while finalizing the candidates for election they also consider the caste-equation of the areas. Their leaders are the people belonging to elite strata of society who do tricks to settle their sons and daughters in the best possible manner. All the principles and customs of the party life which were alive till 1950 have been gradually washed away. These revisionists are the second line of defence of this system itself. Their lifestyle corresponds to their politics, but since it is the face of these people which is there before the common people in the form of communist, it is correct that the reputation of communism has fallen among the Dalit castes, the base among them has been destroyed and a fertile ground has been prepared for adopting the anti-communist propaganda carried out by the new breed of the Dalit leaders and thinkers.
The communist revolutionary movement which arose from the Naxalbari peasant uprising of 1967 heralded new hopes. This wave was expanded to every part of the country. It had tremendous impact on the rural poor (in which Dalits were in majority). The exploiters were publically sentenced. The land of the landowners were taken away. However by the time of formation of CPI(ML) in 1970 the “left-wing” adventurism had come to dominate the movement. It throttled the situation akin to a mass uprising of the rural poor. The movement got scattered and kept on disintegrating. Its root cause was the ideological weakness and the wrong understanding of the nature of Indian society and the programme (stage) of revolution. Instead of looking and understanding the new realities the attempts to fit them in the framework of the democratic revolution were continued and the main trend remained that of split and disintegration. The stagnation of a long time also encouraged deviations. The trends and tendencies of right-wing also arose in response to the ultra-left. Even the few organisations which adopted revolutionary mass line by opposing the “left-wing” adventurism right since 1970 suffered from stagnation and fragmentation owing to wrong understanding of the nature of Indian society and programme. A stream of the M-L camp opened the new avenue by developing the correct understanding of the capitalist development of Indian society and the stage of socialist revolution, but even this stream suffered from fragmentation due to its incomplete understanding, petty-bourgeois departures and lack of Leninist organisational principles and modus-operandi and the struggle to overcome these shortcomings goes on till this day. Even today some communist revolutionary groups are applying mass line with right-wing trend, a powerful stream is that of “left-wing” adventurism and some are taking on the challenge of building a party on the line of socialist revolution and to move forward the social experiments.
Despite this difficult and awful condition, when the question of the impact of the communist revolutionary movement on Indian society in the context of caste question will arise, its positive aspects must be highlighted. In Andhra, Bihar, Bengal, Chattisgarh and in some other states (we will discuss about Punjab separately), the organisations which applied mass line and those which applied “left-wing” line, both had their base in the rural areas amongst the landless poor and even within them mainly amongst Dalits. The land of land lords were captured and distributed among the poor, it might be wrong from the perspective of line, but it had a positive impact in bringing about a new consciousness among the Dalits and in forging their unity with other poor. Not only were the oppressor landlords punished, the organised barbaric genocides by their goonda armies were avenged.
Despite having a line of “left-wing” terrorism, a stream of communist revolutionaries for the first time taught the tribals of the forested regions of Chattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Andhra and one region of Bengal to stage an organised resistance. All this resulted into a situation that despite the stagnation and disintegration of the movement wherever the movement had influence or where it has an influence even now, the condition of Dalits is better than other parts of the country. There the reign of terror and dominance of the upper caste and middle caste on Dalits has been reduced to a significant extent. Dalits move with greater self-respect in these areas. Despite its myriad theoretical weaknesses, overall the role played by the communist movement (do not include the revisionist parties in this) in lessening the social oppression of Dalits is not matched by any Dalit movement or the reform movement.The elite Dalit intellectuals who are tired of cursing all the communists are far removed from the Dakkhin tolas (Dalit settlements) and the shanty towns where despite having been scattered and disintegrated communist revolutionary activists are working whatever be their numbers. Punjab’s situation has been somewhat different. In the era of semi-feudal land relations here the communists had their main base among the Jat farmers and less in the rural landless people and workers. The land relations got changed and a large section of the Jat farmers turned rich and became upper-middle farmers. The communist revolutionaries had got this mass base as a legacy, even the activists mainly used to come from such families only. The new base among the workers and rural landless people was made only to a limited extent.
Dalit population mostly (not wholly) kept a distance from this stream. Now those believing in democratic revolution taking away of land and redistribution was not possible any way. The mass base and the composition of cadre-leader could create problem in this. Consequently, instead of mustering courage to develop mass base among the Dalit workers of villages and cities and the lakhs of immigrant workers, a large section of the communist revolutionaries here took the banner of anti-proletariat demands of agricultural cost-minimum support price setting aside the Marxist political economy and they essentially remained militant peasant organisations. Their work among the workers of cities and villages always remained shrunk. Consequently, the Dalit population which is mostly worker and lower middle class remained away from it. But if we talk in the context of whole India the main base of the communist revolutionary movement was among the poor and within it among the Dalits, it fought militant battles on the question of Dalit oppression and wherever it had influence the social condition of the Dalits could be see even today. We are saying this just to respond to the the accusations of the arm-chair intellectuals and anti-communism slandering by the leaders of bourgeois Dalit politics.
The problem has not been on this plane. The main problem has been to solve the puzzle as to how should we understand the caste question from the perspective of Marxist class-analyis, what are forms of social movement on caste question besides organizing the class-based economic and political struggles, how much importance they should be given, what will be our slogans of propaganda and agitation, how to build the workers’ unity by breaking the caste-based segregation, how should we inform people about today’s task on this question, what is our project for elimination of caste and how should we convince the Dalits, tribals, poor muslim community (“kamin” castes) through propaganda, agitation and through examples that socialism will end the caste- system from each thread of the social fabric after going through a process and through these many changes. Therefore, the process of today’s immediate activities should directed be towards that goal.
In this context we have presented a general and brief critique of the stand point of the different communist revolutionary groups. Therefore, we have now reached a situation wherein we present before you our understanding about the project of elimination of caste and the immediate tasks thereof.
We believe Indian society to be mainly and essentially a backwards capitalist country. This capitalism is different from the Europe of 19th-20th century and Russia of 1917. Hence, due to this reason and due to changes which have occurred in the structure and modus-operandi of global capitalism, in the light of sum-up of the proletarian revolutions of the last century, the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist revolution in this post-colonial society will be different from the October revolution in terms of form and path. At the same time, even the process of socialist transition, based on the sum-up fo the past experiences, will be slightly different. It is because of this reason that we are terming it as New Socialist Revolution. Here we will discuss only those aspects of the programme of the revolution which are linked with the question of elimination of caste. For convenience, we will first discuss as to which path the socialism take and move forwards for the elimination of caste. After this, we will discuss the immediate tasks of the party of proletarian class in this context.
The socialist project of elimination of caste
The proletarian state will nationalise (without paying any compensation) all kinds of bourgeois government farms, huge agricultural land of old jagirs, the landed properties of the urban industrialists-traders-bureaucrats, farms of big farmers and plantation-farms, people will work in them like state industries and the responsibility of management will be borne by the committees elected by all those who work, in the leadership of the party. The landed property of kulaks-landlords-farmers will be taken over without paying any compensation and they will be converted into collective farms. In the state and collective farms, all the landless people will work and take part in the task of collective management with equal status. The small owner farmers who would not be ready to combine their farms into the collective farms will be motivated and encouraged for co-operativisation. At some places those who would not be ready even for co-operative farming will not be allowed to hire labour power for their private farming. The sell-purchase of labur-power will be prohibited. Those carrying out private farming will not be eligible for the concessions and facilities received by collective farms like seeds, water, electricity, fertiliser etc. Gradually, owing to the assurance for economic security, the prosperity of the workers of state and collective farms and increasing faith towards socialism, even those involved in private and co-operative farming would be inspired for collectivisation. The last stage of this process would be nationalisation of the entire agriculture. Thus by ending the private ownership of land and millennia-old landlessness of Dalits, socialism will destroy an important rural prop of the caste-system.
Immediately after destroying the bourgeois state the proletarian state will seize all the small and big, national and foreign industries and will nationalise them whose management will be carried out by the elected committees of workers and technicians in the leadership of the party. In the factories with the help of multi-skill training the division of labour would be flexible and mobile in which everyone will have to do all type of work (except for the works requiring technical expertise) and thus the difference between “higher” and “lower” work and between “clean” and “unclean” work would be gradually erased. Mechanisation and the planned government arrangement for the drainage-sewarage treatment plants will transform the categories of “impure” works. Then the increasing socialist consciousness will also end this culture of discrimination among people which would lessen the need for force while dividing the work in the flexible division of labour. If force is still needed on some people, it is justified.
The share market will immediately be closed. Owing to the nationalisation of the trading sector the people’s control will be established on exchange. It will lead to the end of hoarding-profiteering-brokering and also the breakdown of the rigid system of family profession will have an impact on the caste-system. Private usury will be banned and punishable with stringent sentence. In case of any tragedy the needy will get aid from the management committe of state, collective enterprises.
The educational institutions are important centres of caste-based discrimination apart from economic discrimination. One of the tasks to be carried out immediately by the socialist state is that all private educational institutions will be nationalised, coaching institutes prohibited and free and uniform education is declared as one of the most important responsibilities of socialist state. In the scientific education system, students are assigned the different branches of education based on aptitude and natural skills, many skills are engendered among them, the flexible division of labour enables them to do multiple works by changing profession and due to the gradual uniformity of salary, uniformity of life-style and the reducing the difference between the mental labour and manual labour, the custom of linking profession with the social prestige is ended. The socialist education apart from giving the highest importance to the culture of labour lays great stress on the cultural upgradation of all the youth. When along with reducing the inequality at the economic level the differences at the educational and cultural level be erased, it would become even more easier to demolish the wall of caste-discrimination.
Then comes the issue of health-care. Private practice, private hospitals, private medical colleges would be strictly banned. The entire health-care service will be under the state control. Socialism does not believe in the imperialist patent acts. It will produce all the medicines within the country. The health-care will be free for all the citizens. Anyone can read the brilliant work done in this field in the Soviet Union, socialist China and even in Cuba to easily know about the socialist health policy. There will be improvement in the social status of dalits by free medical education and free and uniform health-care system as well.
The socialist housing policy will play an important role in ending the caste-discrimination. The socialist state will take the whole work of housing construction in its hand. The builder-contractors will become normal working citizens. The first task of the proletarian state will be to provide comfortable housing facility to all the homeless people and those living in the slums. It will be done by seizing old palaces, spare houses of those house-owner which have multiple houses, converting the five star hotels, marriage halls and other places of opulence into residential complexes and by taking over a part of the big houses. At the same time residential colonies will be made on large-scale.
Initially, till the time one generation of scientists, engineers, experts having received socialist education gets ready, these professionals will have to be given some concessions not only in salary but in the housing as well in order to smoothly carry out the production system. It will not be required in later phase. After the passing of initial phase the socialist state brings all the houses under the state ownership and guarantees every citizen to provide housing with all convenience. Along with the development of the forces of production, large scale construction work will have to be carried out continuously for making the houses uniformly convenient, for redesigning the old settlements and for settling new colonies by mobilizing the labour-power. The villages which are settled in haphazard manner will be converted into modern colonies equipped with all basic facilities and the spare land will be taken out for other works. With the distribution of state-owned uniformly convenient housing (based on nuclear family) the problem of apartheid of dalits (and other workers), which is an important cause of social segregation, will be solved.
Due to the nationalisation of agriculture and industry, the uniformly convenient housing (and communication-transport-entertainment facility) in the villages and cities, the differences between industry and agriculture and between cities and villages will begin to vanish. In the same process, the gap between mental labour and manual labour will also get reduced. These three inter-personal disparities act as the material basis for bourgeois privileges in a socialist society. Along with the fading away of these even the bourgeois privileges will vanish and consequently the bourgeois caste-system will also head towards extinction.
In the bourgeois society even religion has become a pillar of bourgeois caste-system adapting itself to the bourgeois society. In the socialist society while the communist party will continuously carry out anti-religion and pro-scientific rationalist propaganda, the socialist state as a matter of civil right will respect the right of every citizen to have their own faith and to worship. But there will be total prohibition of the interference of religion into the socio-political life. There will be complete ban on performing religious rituals in the opening ceremonies, prayers in schools, doing keertans on loundspeakers, hampering the public life by marriage and religious processions, religious schools, wasting social wealth by conducting samagam etc. on the rented public places. Considering the religious feelings of people, the old established religious places will be kept intact but the state will take over their management from the trusts and abbots, all the land and money of abbeys-temples-waqfs-gurudwaras-churches etc will be seized by the state (A part of socialist primitive accumulation of capital will be collected from this immeasurable wealth, from acquisition of native and foreign companies and banks, the gold and black money seized from the houses of rich found after search). Forming religious organisations or doing any kind of socio-political mobilisation on the basis of religion will be a punishable offence. A person will have freedom to marry by observing religious rituals but the state will recognise the marriages only after registration. A marriage will not be recognised without the consent of women. The legal process of divorce will also be simple. Dowry will be an offence with stringent punishment. Thus, due to reduction in the interference of religion in the social life the process of elimination of caste will be expedited.
The subservience of women happens to be the basis of the bourgeois structure of family and intra-caste marriage. Besides the mandatory nature of universal and uniform free education and the guarantee of employment to everyone, the women will be freed from the hideous slavery of domestic work by constructing crèche, kindergardens and collective messes on large scale. As a result their participation in the social life will enhance. Their dependence on father (and husband) will be over and they could take the decisions of their life without any pressure. This will lead to a situation in which the trend of love-marriages and inter-caste marriages will become predominant and the wall of caste will begin to collapse.
The socialist state will declare all caste panchayats, Khap Panchayats, caste meetings and caste-organisations as illegal and any such attempt will be an offence with stringent punishment.
Besides the education system, the socialist state will use all the cultural mediums and the media to emphatically carry out anti-caste system propaganda along with the socialist values so that the new citizens of the new society does not have any place in their mind for these hideous customs.
Thus socialism will eliminate the caste-system from the base and superstructure by bringing about continuous change in the production relations along with the development of the productive forces and at the same time by carrying out with full force perpetual cultural revolution in the sphere of superstructure as well. The journey from the socialist transition to communism will be quite long, but the elimination of caste-system will be a matter of few decades only.
Our immediate tasks
Till now we have discussed as to how the caste will be eliminated in the socialist era but it does not mean that we need to first fight for socialism and then the caste-system will automatically vanish. If the caste question will not be there on our agenda right in the process of struggle for socialism and if we will not have any immediate tasks, the leading class of the revolution itself will continue to be victim of caste-based discrimination and the propaganda carried out by the bourgeois casteist electoral and reformist leaders and proponents. The huge population of the Dalit masses will continue to be in their slumber and will continue to follow aimlessly this or that casteist leader. The same condition will be that of the ally classes of the proletariat. Therefore even if the ultimate elimination of the caste-system take place in the era of socialism, we will have to make conscious attempt to reduce its influence even during the preparation of class struggle and its development (then the upsurge of class struggle will have its own objective pressure as well and the class mobilisation will help to push the caste mobilisation behind).
The first task is to carry out continuous, intensive and widespread propaganda in various ways about the solution of caste-system through socialism and about the socialist programme of the elimination of caste. Owing to the weaknesses of the communist movement and due to the misdeeds of the revisionists (and to some extent due to our own lack of clarity) the toiling masses, particularly the Dalit masses do not know at all as to what is the path which the communists suggest for the elimination of caste. For this task the party of the proletariat will require hundreds or rather thousands of sharp and effective communist propagandists, it will require pamphlets-booklets-cultural programmes, small education groups. But, as of now even the stage of building an all-India party itself looks distant. It will have to be brought closer through perpetual attempts. But even if the communists are organised even in a group or an organisation they must take up this task now itself.
There are some tasks which could be taken up even today. There are some demands which could be raised even today at the level of propaganda, agitation and movement.
The revolutionary unions under the influence of a revolutionary organisations, student-youth organisations, woman organisations, rural labour organisations and all mass-organisations should include the caste question in their programme, but not merely as a ritual, rather they must continuously carry out propaganda on this question, they must organise Jaat-Paant todak Bhoj-Bhat ( food festival for breaking the caste), the demands of dalit workers should be given prominence in the charter of the workers’ movement and there must be enthusiastic participation in the Dalit workers’ movement (such as sanitary workers’ movement) and diligent attempt must be made to bring other workers in their support. While organizing the rural labourers every attempt must be made to break their mutual caste-based segregation. The cultural organisations must give special importance to the opposition to caste in their propaganda activities. The democratic rights movement need to come out of the ritualistic intellectual sphere of investigative team, signature campaign, protest letter and organise itself at wider social base which is capable of interfering through movement also apart from legal battle in the incidents of caste-oppression and Khap Panchayats etc.
The demand of universal, uniform and free education and employment for all is a long term demand, but the students and youth belonging to all the castes must be organised at once around this slogan and special emphasis needs to be made to take along the Dalit youth. In the educational institutions, caste-based discrimination needs to be made an issue. On the issue of reservation we will have to put forwards our stand amongst the students and youth with the statistics of jobs and facts and figures of the results of last sixty years. We will have to tell them that we do not support the demand of taking away this democratic right which has been achieved in the past, we also oppose the scam going on in its implementation, but this demand today creates illusion towards bourgeois democracy, it has no special meaning today for the broad poor Dalit masses; on the contrary it is dividing and causing fight not only among the common masses but even the Dalit castes as well.
We must carry out continuous propaganda by logically and patiently responding to all the arguments made by the bourgeois Dalit politics of all hues and the bourgeois Dalit thinkers.
We should demand the ban on the publication of caste-based matrimonial in the newspapers. We must extend open support to inter-caste marriages and love-marriages; we must raise the legal demand of giving half of the family’s property to women.
We must organise movements for legal bans on caste-organisations, caste meetings, khap and caste panchayats and their effective implementation.
We should demand a ban on public samagams (religious gatherings), imposing special tax on abbeys and temples for organizing traditional fares, festivals and to ban the religious ceremonies in the government offices and school functions.
While we find it improper to form separate organisations of Dalit castes, but if the communist revolutionaries have enough strength they must form caste-elimination forums in which apart from Dalits the citizens belonging to other castes having democratic consciousness must be included. This forum will continuously hold anti-caste propaganda meetings, publish books and booklets, organise events and inter-caste marriage and actively oppose the incidents of Dalit atrocities.
In the end there is another important point. There are many communists who while giving the logic of being isolated from society take part in the religious ceremonies in their private-family lives (marriage, birth,death, yagyopaveet, upnayan etc.). These ceremonies are confined within the sphere of caste and are different for different castes. It is on the ground of above logic only that many communists wear religious symbols and relate themselves with the past religious heroes in their speeches. This is a social cowardice and unprincipled populism as well. On the contrary, it gives the impression among the people that communists are hypocrites. We can tell from our long experience that by humbly keeping away from religious ceremonies, doing marriage without any rituals and the communist conduct of leaving behind will of not performing any rituals even on death there is no isolation from society, rather the reputation of communists is enhanced by this. We do not impose our ideology on anybody, but we can certainly apply it on ourselves. Even bourgeois democracy says so and also the constitution of this country. We are saying all this because the question of religious conduct is linked with the question of caste. If the conduct of the communists even in their personal life will be non-religious, the Dalits will have faith that this person does not believe in caste from heart.
The question of caste is millennia old. There is no quick panacea for this. It demands a long and tedious process. This question is linked with the destruction of capitalism. In today’s time making a step in the direction of any project of the elimination of caste would be a courageous act. But every difficult task does require courage. Today the elimination of caste can appear as a dream, but if a dream has a scientific basis, it could be turned into reality. Such a dream should be sought by every true revolutionary.