Thursday, January 7, 2016

Comrade, why can’t you say we had Ambedkar…?

T Venkateshwarlu

In four day (27-30 December 2015) Communist Party of India (Marxist) – CPIM plenum in Kolkata recognized ‘Social oppression’ is the key area to organize the people and identified two main problems of people that ‘Economic exploitation’ and ‘Social oppression’. It is a good change to recognize that social oppression is a key problem of people. For decades communist parties and revolutionary groups are reluctant to recognize the problem of social oppression adequately and initiate proactive struggles against caste oppression. These parties simply postponed caste problem by saying that, largely caste problem belongs to super structure and caste evolved from and determined by the base which is part of mode of production. According to them if base can be changed, the caste problem will be eradicated. This is a mechanical understanding about caste problem. This understanding is not sufficient to explain caste problem. Any how the leaders of these parties are gradually forced to recognize the caste as a reality and gradually they are changing their understanding on caste problem. Yet these leaders are unable to come out completely from their dogmatic and mechanical understanding on caste problem. The recent statement given by CPIM General Secretary in its plenum on caste problem once again proved that their mechanical understanding on caste question still persists. 

In that statement, Yechury said that ‘Caste discrimination in the final analysis can be overcome only when economic empowerment is guaranteed. You had Jyothiba Phule, Dr. Ambedkar and Periyar – people who could commend influence among crores of Dalits. Why is the status of Dalits and Tribals the same despite this?’ One-side the plenum rightly recognized caste is key issue of people and designed possible programs to combat caste and other-side plenum tried to reduce the caste problem to economic aspect. 

If CPIM Secretary had sincerity in understanding caste problem, he would have recognized the role of social revolutionaries in society and their contribution in both theoretical and practical fronts. He would have said that, ‘in social domain we have Phule, Ambedkar and Periyar and in system domain we have Marx and Marxist thinkers. But we did not achieve desirable change in social domain because of over emphasis on economic aspect and reducing the social aspects to class. The habit of disowning social revolutionaries has not helped the communists in any manner. If CPIM Secretary is humble, he could have easily recognized the role of influence of social revolutionaries in social changes particularly in reducing caste based inequalities and oppressive caste practices instead of proclaiming ‘ Give them land ownership, as we did in West Bengal’. This statement displays the arrogance and also proves the reluctance in understanding and giving due respect to the role of social revolutionaries and their achievements in the social domain. 

Social revolutionaries waged continuous struggles against caste oppression. They tried to analyze and understand the caste inequalities and caste based oppressive practices. They courageously exposed the lies and injustices of Hindu religion and Hindu Gods. They explained the real nature and vested interests of Brahmanical ideology behind caste system. We should remember that, at that time, caste system was very strong and majority of the people were under the strong influence of the religion. Ambedkar burnt Manusmruti considered as sacred book of Hindus which justifies and openly champions’ caste based inequalities. He waged continuous struggles against caste based practices. Majority upper caste and backward class people opposed Ambedkar including so called ‘Mahatma Gandhi’. Even communist party did not support Ambedkar. Almost he remained alone with sole exception of Periyar but he never stopped his struggles against caste problem. 

Communist party did neither own nor understand Ambedkar’s struggles against caste system. Ambedkar tried to explain that, how caste problem can harm the class struggle. He said that caste system is not only division of labour but also and mainly division of labourers. It stood as barrier in working class unity. Communist leaders misunderstood Ambedkar for decades. Some-times the party leaders completely stood against Ambedkar and also blamed him as agent of British government. Now they declared that ‘Caste oppression’ and ‘Economic exploitation’ are key issues of the Indian society. Actually this stand was taken by Mahatma Jyothiba Phule in 1870s itself and waged two pronged struggle against caste oppression and economical exploitation. Communist party was not even born at that time. If communist leaders were ready to learn from the social revolutionaries the revolutionary movement would have been in much better shape today. 

Our communist parties and revolutionary groups hesitate to accept the complexity of caste problem and their insufficient understanding of caste. ‘In the final analysis caste problem can be solved by economic empowerment’ and base and super structure analysis does not suffice to understand complexity of and continued existence of caste reality for thousands of years witnessing different modes of production in the long history. Caste did not disappear when systems changed. It could sustain and reproduce itself with every new change in mode of production. Even in today’s modern and capitalist system, caste exists with its great force albeit with some changes. Economic empowerment did not ‘liberate’ the people from inhuman caste oppressions. This is the tragic reality. 

The main problem with the communists is that we are not ready to recognize our theoretical failure in understanding caste system and we are not ready to put aside old thoughts and framework to revisit the caste and other social problems from a fresh Marxist perspective. It is fundamental and the only method to gain a new understanding. Unless we ready free ourselves from dogmatism and populism, we can go nowhere. We never sincere try to understand the valuable thoughts of social revolutionaries’ brushing them aside as reformists. Many Marxists thinkers, though not recognized by official communist parties, made valuable analyses regarding the complex relationship between system and society. Unless the communists are not willing to engage with and learn from these thinkers our Marxism remains bogged down in the mire of dogmatism. Nobody has comprehensive Marxist understanding about caste. If any party or group declared that they have complete understanding of caste. That is not simply true. As communists, we have to say without any hesitations that we do not have complete theory on caste and dare to accept new ideas from social revolutionaries and other Marxists thinkers. We have to make this journey without pre-assumptions and prejudices with true scientific spirit like Marx. 


T Venkateshwarlu is associated with New Socialist Initiative (NSI), Telangana


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