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SIGNIFICANCE OF THE UNITY BETWEEN
COMMUNISTS AND AMBEDKARITES
A FEW days back, in a seminar organized by a section of radical students of Kolkata, one of our friends of dalit movement from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) argued that the unity between the lefts and the Ambedkarites is impossible. He put his logic bluntly: “The savarna left and the savarna right are united against the dalits. Therefore, a unity between the savarna lefts and the Ambedkarites is not possible.”
Now let us have a discussion on the subject without any kind of biasness for understanding the reality in one hand and in the course to facilitate the development of a real mass struggle against the communal fascist forces in India. In the above-mentioned seminar, organized by Hallabol, a magazine published by some radical students, there was no scope to put forward any kind of counter-argument or different observations. We just learnt, some JNU students were coming to address the seminar, who have been constantly expressing a different voice within JNU movement against the communal caste-Hindu ideology and administration. Interestingly the subject of the seminar was — “Is the Elite Left Trying to Appropriate Dalit, Adivasi and Minority Voices?” From the subject chosen by the organizers it was clear to us that somewhere it was accepted by the organizers themselves that the communist movement in India is essentially a movement by the savarna forces, which practically came in line with the statements and arguments of most of the speakers.
In this essay, it is not intended to address the particular problems of the student movement in JNU or the debates among various student organizations of dalit, conventional left or radical left, rather the point of focus is the misconception on the relation between the dalit movement and the communist movement in India. Let us start the discussion with a brief evaluation of the limitations which the communist movement has displayed in this regard.
THE LIMITATION OF COMMUNIST MOVEMENT
IT was a common phenomenon in all ages that when a revolutionary doctrine was placed before the society, even the most advanced sections of the population faced difficulties to grasp the doctrine properly. It happens because of the domination of the conservative mode of thinking in the heads of even the advanced elements in a particular society. Therefore, an attempt to understand the revolutionary doctrine within the framework of dominating mode of thinking is developed, which consequently develops a reductionist, mechanical or distorted theo-retical premise. This happened to Marxism also. This problem is not restricted in India only; rather it is a global problem. We find the same problem to be occurred in Russia also, and it was Lenin’s one of the important contributions, that he made Marxism free from the fetter of Plekhanovite Marxism.
The Indian Communist Movement (ICM) has been suffering from this disease since very beginning of its inception. The division of the party twice, in 1964 and in 1969, could not eradicate this fundamental and extremely important problem as it was not at all in the agenda. The party was divided due to the political differences without much exploration of the philosophical backgrounds. The ICM was initiated under very close supervision of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). However, the RPD-Bradley model was not enough to help the communist movement to find its root on the Indian soil which has the history of class-caste-cultural-philosophical conflicts of more than three thousand years.
A long debate is not required to prove this fact, only it will be enough to note that the party never took any comprehensive attempt to study the Indian history and take positions on different issues related to the concrete reality of Indian situation. Some leading comrades tried to do this as his or her individual capacity and will. However, the party as a leading organization of Indian revolution never realized this as a pertinent task to understand the Indian revolution. Therefore, the task of laid down the strategies and tactics of the revolution always has been based on arbitrary speculation. In this process the importance of caste struggle and religious conflict in India were undermined, and the ‘class struggle’ became the only area to work. This is one of the most important limitations of ICM till today.Now let me try to elaborate this point succinctly.
THE HISTORICAL BLUNDER
THANKS to the Russian Narodniks, the question of peculiarities of Russian condition was raised to Marx and Engels in the second half of nineteenth century. Marx-Engels laid down the general outline of historical development of human societies. However, it was the task of the communists of a particular country to study the particular developments of the country and to formulate the strategy and tactics of the revolution based on both the general guideline and the peculiarities of the particular situation. After the publication of Capital, Vol I, the Russian Narodniks took great initiative to translate it in Russian and simultaneously they raised the question of Russian peculiarities to Marx and Engels.
It should be noted that instead of rejecting any type of so-called Russian Path, Marx-Engels gave great importance to the question. However, by this time a big controversy started to take place in Russia on the course of societal development in Russia under the general guideline put forward by Marx-Engels. The economic doctrine of the Narodniks heavily based on anti-capitalist and pro-Obshchina formulation. Obshchina was a particular type of communal system based on common ownership of land in Russia. Therefore, they put forward the question to Marx-Engels that whether it was possible for Russia to go for a communist society bypassing the capitalist stage.
On the other hand the pro-capitalist and populist intellectuals like Nikolai Mikhailovsky tried to use Marx’s writings in favor of his position. Marx and Engels gave great importance to the question and went for a profound research. However, at the beginning itself, Marx made it clear that his theory was not at all a “philosophico-historical” one. In a letter to OTECHESTVENNYE ZAPISKIin 1877 Marx rejected the standpoint of Mikhailovosky who in an effort to defend Marx by ascribing to him a unilinear theory of human history. Marx clearly said that what he said about the societal development in general and primitive accumulation in particular that was based on actual development took place in Western Europe. Then he wrote in his protest letter,
“Now what application to Russia can my critic make of this historical sketch? Only this: If Russia is tending to become a capitalist nation after the example of the Western European countries, and during the last years she has been taking a lot of trouble in this direction – she will not succeed without having first transformed a good part of her peasants into proletarians; and after that, once taken to the bosom of the capitalist regime, she will experience its pitiless laws like other profane peoples. That is all. But that is not enough for my critic. He feels himself obliged to metamorphose my historical sketch of the genesis of capitalism in Western Europe into an historico-philosophic theory of the marchegenerale [general path] imposed by fate upon every people, whatever the historic circumstances in which it finds itself, in order that it may ultimately arrive at the form of economy which will ensure, together with the greatest expansion of the productive powers of social labour, the most complete development of man. But I beg his pardon. (He is both honouring and shaming me too much.)”
This portion of the letter clearly reflects Marx’s understanding on societal develop-ment which was absolutely multilinear in nature. However, this multinear nature cannot exclude the general sketch. As a dialectician Marx knew very well the relation between general and particular and he expounded so magnificently that matter always was the unity and struggle of the opposites. However, Plekhanov emerged as a theoretician of mechanical Marxism which was based on materialism, not dialectics. It was the limitation of Plekhanov which led him to reject any other path of societal development and finally led him to the Menshevik camp. It was Lenin who, in spite of heavy Plekhanovite influences upon him in the initial years of his revolutionary career, had drawn a clear distinction in Marxist praxis in Russia and came to the conclusion that the impending bourgeois revolution in Russia would be led by the working class, not by the bourgeoisie. This conclusion changed the course of working class movement in underdeveloped countries and made the emergence of a revolutionary Russia possible.
However, the fate of the Indian Communist Movement (ICM) was not as good as Russia, or even China. Here the communist party was formed under the heavy influence of CPGB and never could come out from the mechanical Marxism propagated by them. The colonial mindset also played a huge role behind this failure. The party never tried to understand the peculiarities of the Indian situation and Indian history. The leaders always tried to copy the activities of the communists of other countries, especially the examples of the communists who became victorious in their concerned countries. Therefore, a one sided emphasis was put on class struggle. While the party successfully and magnificently took attempt organizing the industrial working class in leading industrial centers like Calcutta, Bombay, Kanpur etc, it never understood the importance of caste struggle in vast semi-urban and rural areas where class struggle actually mingled with the caste struggle from the time immemorial in India. However, since the political situation under the colonial rule was extremely hot and a persistent revolutionary situation existed, in spite of this lacuna the peasant movements developed in some areas under the leadership of the communist party. This success ultimately proved fatal for the party as the party understood that putting a sincere effort to understand other questions might not be so useful or necessary. This phenomenon repeated again and again in the history of communist movement in India. Now, when the revolutionary wave has gone down the curve and the communist movement has faced a serious setback the above mentioned lacuna has raised its head.
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TABLE
ON the other hand the dalit movement in India has its own history also. The stalwart leader of the dalits Baba Saheb Ambedkar founded his party in 1936 which was called Independent Labour Party. However, most of the dalit struggles in this time formed spontaneously. The ILP called itself a “working class party”. However, the relation between the Communist Party and ILP was not very smooth. Although in some struggles they joined hands, the CPI and its leaders saw Ambedkar and his party as a disruptive force hindering the unity of the working class. On the other hand Ambedkar started to base himself more and more erroneous and problematic theorizations. In his work Who were the Shudras?, Ambedkar rejected the theory of Aryan invasion. Instead, he put forward the theory that the Aryans were inhabitants of India itself. More problematic was his assertion that the caste annihilation movement was more important than the freedom struggle against the colonial rule.
While the Hindu leadership of the freedom movement was in a contradictory position with Ambedkar in case of social reforms and the CPI never paid appropriate attention to the importance of caste struggles, Ambedkar started to go further to a position to belittle the importance of freedom movement. He criticized the politically minded Hindus in the preface of the Book — Who were the Shudras? — by saying, “As to the politically-minded Hindu, he need not be taken seriously. His line of approach is generally governed by a short-term view more than by long-range considerations. He is willing to follow the line of least resistance and postpone a matter, however urgent, if it is likely to make him unpopular. It is therefore quite natural if the politically minded Hindu regards this book as nuisance.”
This is a curiously important fact in the history of socio-political struggles in India in nineteenth century that those who tried to fight the Hindu fundamentalism invariably did not hesitate to take the help of British colonialists. It was a fact in the renaissance movement in Bengal at that time and in dalit movement in the southern parts of the country, as well. On the other hand the anti-colonialists revolutionaries, mostly coming from so called upper castes Hindu families, tried to find ideological inspiration from Hindu religious ideology. It was true for famous Lal-Bal-Pal trio, who resolutely fought for full freedom of the country from the stranglehold of the colonialists, inside the Congress which was reluctant for a long time to raise the slogan of complete freedom. It was also true for many more Indian revolutionaries.
However, the situation started to change in twentieth century. Even the most firm defenders of British rule among the Indian intellectuals were becoming disillusioned. Therefore, an amalgamation of anti-Hindu fundamentalism and anti-colonialism started to take place, which actually made the emergence of Indian Communist Movement possible. The emergence of a true anti-feudal anti-colonial struggle was taking place. Although ICM had a lot of limitations which we have already noted, but after all this was the only movement which had this capacity to develop a truly democratic movement in India. This is absolutely true in today’s perspective also.
However, the most problematic part of Ambedkar was that while in twentieth century almost all the struggling intelligentsia started to take more and more anti-colonialist position and started to consider the anti-British political struggle as the primary struggle in the country at that time, Ambedkar dragged the nineteenth century notion to twentieth century as well, as he continued to consider the anti-Brahmanical struggle as the primary struggle. In this way his position became equal with that of his most resolute opponent. The ideologues of Hindu revivalism had the same opinion. They considered the struggle to revive the Advaita Vedanta as a tool to promote Hindu fundamentalism as the main concern and shun the freedom struggle. It was true from Vivekananda to Hedgewar.
The ideological problems in both the camps, the Communists and the Ambedkarites, finally led to a catastrophe which hindered the democratic revolution in India to reach its goal.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
THIS is undoubtedly true that the Communists have the larger responsibility to bridge the gap. It is not due to the fact that they committed any larger mistake. Both the camps have committed unpardonable mistakes. But the communists have larger responsibility only for the simple reason that they are the leader of Indian revolution as they call themselves the vanguard force of Indian people. The uniliniar mechanical ee understanding of Marxism should be rejected. The history of India and its peculiarities should be studied thoroughly and must be built proper connection with today’s strategy and tactics. In this way the connection between class struggle and other struggles can be built. More correctly we can say that if other struggles cannot be properly taken care and linked with the political struggle, the true class struggle is impossible to develop. At the same time it is also very important to criticize the erroneous tendencies inside the Ambedkarite movements. The unity between the communists and the Ambedkarites is not only important to resist the communal fascism in India, but to complete the democratic revolution as a whole.
Courtesy: RED STAR , September, 2016