Today Indian economy is confronting the worst contraction on record. Officially also, it is acknowledged as historic down-turn in 70 years. It is a fact that COVID-19 came when imperialism has been still reeling under the impact and repercussions of the 2008 global crisis. Now the pandemic has driven the world economy to a state of crumbling, the dimensions of which are surpassing that of the Great Depression of 1929-33.For instance, based on October 2020 database, IMF estimates a 4.4% contraction in world output in 2020. Except China which is expected to mark a growth rate of 1.9%, all leading countries will contract or represent minus growth- US(-4.3%), Japan(-5.3%), Euro Area(-8.3%) and UK(-9.8%). On the other hand, while the average growth rate of the so called “developing countries” is predicted to contract by -3%, that of India will be a staggering -10.3%.
According to Swiss bank UBS, by the dawn of 2020 itself, half of world’s net wealth belonged to the top 1% of the superrich; and top 10% of the population held 85% of total global wealth. Conversely, 90% of the people have only 15% of world’s wealth (and top 30% holding 97% of the total wealth). During the pandemic, world’s billionaires whose number rose from 2158 in 2017 to 2189 by mid-2020 increased their wealth by 27.5% during April-July 2020, to a record high of $10.2 trillion.
Its global consequences as manifested in surging poverty and unemployment are horrific. While IMF predicts a fall of an additional 90 million people in to extreme deprivation in 2020, ILO calculates an unemployment/underemployment of up to 2 billion people (58% of the world’s total labour force of 3.46 billion in 2019) in 2020 itself. According to the World Food Program, on an average, around 9 million people are dying annually from famine and hunger-related causes. Now, on account of the pandemic, this figure may skyrocket as there will now be 1.5 to 2.0 billion famine-vulnerable people, many of whom may die.
Indian Economy Facing The Worst-Ever Contraction
However, the present collapse of the Indian economy, as noted in the beginning, is quite unparalleled and the worst on record. Both International agencies and official Indian sources have acknowledged this. In continuation of a 24% contraction or negative growth for the first quarter of 2020, the IMF, in its latest World Economic Outlook, predicts a 10.3% contraction for the entire financial year ending March 2021, revising its earlier prediction of a 4.5% decline. This additional 5.8 percentage-point downgrade of Indian GDP is the worst in the world. Strikingly, IMF’s outlook for India is worse than RBI’s prediction of a 9.5% decline in GDP in the current fiscal year. A comparison of the sector-wise official statistics pertaining to the first quarter of the previous year (2019-20) with that of the current year, gives a more concrete picture. For instance, except agriculture, forestry and fishing (that shows a growth of 3.4% in the first quarter of 2020-21 compared to 3.0% growth in 2019-20), all other sectors are steadily contracting. Thus, 2020-21 quarter one contraction for mining and quarrying was -23.3% (4.7% in 2019-20), for manufacturing, it was -39.3% (3% in 2019-20), electricity, gas, water supply and other utility services -7% (8.8% in 2019-20), -50.3% (5.2% in 2019-20), trade, hotels, transport, communication, broadcasting services -47% (3.5% in 2019-20), financial, real estate and professional services -5.3% (6.0% in 2019-20), and public administration, defence and other services -10.3% (7.7% in 2019-20).
As such, according to independent analysts, the crisis is more deep-rooted and worse outcomes are in store. For instance, India’s former Chief Economic Advisor and World Bank Chief Economist Kaushik Basu have predicted the economy to shrink by around 12% in the current year. According to Arun Kumar, another well-known economist, India’s GDP decline in the current year will be around 50% and not 24% as officially claimed. This is because of the devastation of India’s unorganised/informal sector that provides 94% of total employment and yields 45% of total output produced in the country. Contradicting CMIE data, Arun Kumar also puts the actual unemployment figure at 20 crore. According to him, unless appropriately managed through policy interventions, the official optimistic projections for 2021 will remain as wishful thinking.
The massive decline of around 24% in India’s GDP, as officially estimated, in 2020 April-June quarter makes the size of GDP almost the same in size as that in the same quarter in 2015. Hence it can be said that the GDP level has leaped back by 5-6 years, more or less equal to the same level when Modi came to power. As a result, the past half-a-decade under Modinomics may be characterised as lost years for India. A comparison between Bangladesh, India’s neighbour would be more illuminating in this regard. According to IMF data, on an average, India’s per capita GDP has been 24 percent higher than that of Bangladesh during the last 5 years. But by mid-2020, India’s per capita GDP in nominal US dollar terms was $1876.53 (Rs. 1.25 lakh approximately) compared to $1887.97 for Bangladesh.
Consequently, in the 2020 Global Hunger Index prepared jointly by World Hunger Aid and Concern Worldwide, India’s rank slipped to 94 (among 107 countries) from 55 (among 76) in 2014. Most of the South Asian countries — Sri Lanka (64), Nepal (73), Bangladesh (75), Myanmar (78) and Pakistan (88) — are better off than India in this regard. As its manifestation, with 17.5% of world population, India is home to 22% of world’s most poor and hungry people. As a direct outcome of this destitution, with 37.4% of the underweight children, India has the distinction of having number one position in the world in this regard too. In the same vein, in the case of other indices such as Inequality Index (where India’s position is 129 among 157 countries), Happiness Index (144 among 156), Environment Performance Index (167 among 180), and so on, India’s deterioration continues unabated. With 18 million slaves (out of 46 million worldwide) almost entirely from the lowest rung of the caste system, India under Modi regime occupies number one position in Global Slavery Index too.
At the same time, amidst a 24% GDP contraction during the first quarter of 2020-21, as estimated by Forbes, within one year Ambani has his wealth increased by 73% from$3730 crore to $8870 crore, that of Adani by 61% reaching $2520 crore, and in that order for many billionaires such that the total wealth of the first 10 Indian billionaires rose to $51750 crore (approximately Rs. 38 lakh crore) during the same period. In general, as Oxfam has estimated, today around three-fourth of the additional income or wealth generated in India is gobbled up by the upper 1% of the super-rich (close to 60 percent of the country’s total wealth is in the hands of upper 10 percent of the population). If we exclude the 75% of the income appropriated by the upper 1%, then the per capita income of the 99% will be a paltry portion of the officially estimated Rs. 1.25 lakh. And if we exclude the organised sector and take the unorganised and informal sectors where 95% of the Indian workforce are depending for their sustenance (for which no detailed official data is there), then the situation will be too gruesome. It may be more horrific than what Arjun Sengupta, the then Planning Commission member had estimated a decade back—that 83% of Indians subsist on just Rs. 20 a day!
Analysis Of The Situation
The cause for this situation is now generally attributed to India’s lockdown which is acknowledged as the most coercive, the most stringent and most prolonged in the world, on account of its deadly restrictions on social and economic life. For instance, a study on the government responses to COVID-19 by the Oxford University, after comparing the pandemic-induced lockdowns that put the economy in a frozen state on account of disruptions in both movement of the people and supply chains in various countries, has attributed the highest “Stringency Index” of 100 to Modi government followed by Italy (with a Stringency Index of 95.2), Spain (90.5), Germany (81), US (66.76) and Japan (45). Revealingly, while all other countries resorted to lockdowns when the number of infections reached around 100000, the strictest lockdown in India was superimposed when the total infections were just around 5000 in the third week of March 2020. While putting the entire economy in a frozen state leading to a devastation especially of the informal sectors that provide sustenance for vast majority of the toiling masses, in the absence of any worthwhile intervention for containing the pandemic, the lockdown that lasted for almost 2 months utterly failed to get the pandemic under control, with the number of corona-virus cases crossing 7.6 million (by the beginning of the 3rd week of October, while these lines are written), second only to the US.
COVID-19, The Immediate Cause Only
The government and corporate media in India now firmly claim that the economic collapse with all its manifestations is caused by the corona virus pandemic. This is also endorsed by IMF when its chief economist Gita Gopinath referred to the “great lockdown” of India. But this forms only a partial explanation and not in accord with concrete facts. On the other hand, a closer analysis reveals that the elements of the present crisis and the consequent irreversible economic downturn got a new turn since the advent of Modi in 2014. In fact, COVID-19 is only the spark and not the root cause triggering the present crisis.
That is, while the post-meltdown crisis has been a continuing process at the global level, India’s economic collapse under Modi regime, though connected with many external factors, is to be understood as different in many respects. For, as highlighted by several international and Indian studies including that done by the Economic Research Department of SBI , the Indian economy was ‘relatively immune’ from the global meltdown of 2008 and the country’s GDP had been growing at 7-8 % on an average up to 2014-15. This also prompted neoliberal centres to characterise India as “the best-performing economy” in the world during the years immediately following 2008 meltdown.
Thus, in retrospect, it can be seen that the ongoing economic collapse of India has been inseparably linked up with the complete transformation of the Indian state as a “facilitator” of corporatisation and the consequent far-right shift in economic policies under Modi regime. For instance, without any qualm, immediately after coming to power, the first step that Modi did was the abolition of the more than six-and-a-half decade-old Planning Commission, the last remnant of state-led development, and its replacement by a corporate-bureaucratic think-tank called NITI Aayog and entrusting the task of policymaking with it without even consulting the parliament. To transform the State as corporate-investor-friendly, and to rapidly improve India’s indices pertaining to “ease of doing business” and “global competitiveness” as laid down by Bretton Woods twin (and, of course, fully in tandem with the far-right economic philosophy of RSS that guides the Modi regime), what followed was a pan-Indian extension of the ultra-rightist Gujarat model that uninterruptedly flourished under Modi’s chief ministership. Mimicking China’s export-led growth, the flagship “Make in India” initiative was announced in September 2014 with the declared aim of transforming India into world’s manufacturing hub, creation of an additional 100 million jobs in the manufacturing sector and raising the proportion of manufacturing from 16 percent to 25 percent of GDP by 2022. However, what happened is the opposite and today this proportion has further fallen down to around 13 percent. The foreign capital that rushed in taking advantage of liberal tax, labour and environmental regulations under the cover of “Make in India” mainly went into money-spinning speculative activities, as capital that flowed in was least interested in employment-oriented production. Consequently, “Make in India” transformed India into a dustbin corporate-speculative capital on the one hand, and a dumping ground for capital and consumer goods from imperialist sources ranging from US to China.
Modi’s 2016 Demonetisation superimposed on the people in the guise of a surgical strike against black money was an ingenious move to whiten the black money with the most corrupt corporate black money holders on the one hand, and suck out whatever left in the arteries of common people by denying them cash which is the life-blood of the informal sectors and essential for people’s daily transactions, leading to a further concentration of wealth with the corporate-financial elite closely connected with the ruling regime. In the process, the whole economy remained in a paralysed state. This was followed by GST that deprived the states of their Federal right of resource mobilisation and shifted the tax burden on the shoulders of common people and on the unorganised sectors.
Though Modi came to power in 2014 claiming to generate an additional 2 crore jobs every year, according to independent estimates, by the beginning of 2020, i.e., on the eve of the pandemic, the country had lost around 14 crore jobs since 2014. And India today experiences the worst unemployment in recorded history. Almost 50 percent of the people is still clinging to agriculture for their sustenance though the contribution of agriculture to GDP is only around 15 percent as of now. Modi’s input-output pricing policies pertaining to agriculture and its forcible integration with world market coupled corporatisation policies have pauperised the peasantry. Over the years, corporatisation of agriculture had displaced large sections from agriculture altogether.
Though concentration of income and wealth under Modi is of unprecedented proportions, only 1.5 crore Indians are effective direct tax payers (including corporate and personal income taxes) and in spite of extreme concentration of wealth and inequality, Indian corporate tax rate at 15 percent is the lowest in the world. The direct tax-GDP ratio in India is stagnating at around 5.5 percent which also is the lowest in the world. If the upper 10 percent of the wealthy sections are brought under the tax net, together with 30 percent corporate tax prevailing when Modi came to power (during the 1970s, the highest rate was up to 90 percent), the direct tax-GDP ratio could have easily been raised to 20 percent.
To compensate for this biggest loss in direct tax revenue arising from tax rate reduction, along with the increase in indirect tax burden on the people through GST, Modi has been resorting to the biggest-ever loot of the broad masses by sky-rocketing prices of petroleum products (mainly through raising taxes and cesses on petrol, diesel, cooking gas, etc.), and by this alone during 2014-20 the regime has amassed an additional amount worth Rs. 17.5 lakh crore compared to the UPA regime. Ironically, the average world crude oil price (India imports around 80 percent of its crude oil requirements) during the entire Modi regime has been around one-third of what it was during the previous UPA rule, and following declining global demand in the context of COVID-19, global price is now hovering around one-fourth of what it had been a decade ago. Meanwhile, declining government revenue from direct and indirect taxes(the latter mainly on account of loss in people’s purchasing power) coupled with corruption (though Modi came to power on an anti-corruption plank and with the promise of bringing back Indian black money from foreign tax havens and putting Rs. 15 lakh in to the account of each Indian citizen, under him India became a “flourishing example of crony capitalism” and the most corrupt country in Asia) and loss to exchequer in manifold ways, etc., are resulting in an unprecedented growth in India’s debt-GDP ratio to around 85 percent during the Modi period. To cap it all, an unprecedented loot of public wealth through disinvestment of PSUs and plunder of public sector banks through the creation of NPAs by corporates are flourishing without any let up.
The anti-people nature of this government is self-evident in its reluctance to distribute at least a portion of the huge stock of food grains among the starving millions including the migrant workers who were condemned to bear the brunt of the coercive lockdown. In spite of Modi regime’s anti-farmer policies including the latest pro-corporate central agricultural legislations, India is ranked second in food and agricultural production. As such, the total food grains stock (rice plus wheat) with FCI has topped 100 million tons by mid-2020. On account of grave storage challenges, millions of tons of this grain stock are prone to decay, and the government could have effectively and quickly liquidate the heavy burden of storage by immediately distributing this among the needy, vulnerable and destitute sections through a free-grain scheme. But true to its fascist character, except certain window-dressing (eg, the announcement to distribute 5 kg wheat/rice for 3 months among the poor as part of Aatmanirbhar), the government least interested to distribute the food grains among the tens of millions of poor including the migrant workers.
To be precise, prior to COVID-19, the neoliberal-corporatisation policies pursued by Modi government have been driving the country to an economic contraction of unprecedented proportions. Now the pandemic is again used as an opportunity by the corporate-saffron fascist regime for stimulating the corporates by its far-right agenda more aggressively. For instance, the recently announced so called “Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan” is another cover for an unprecedented “stimulus package” for those whom Modi regime characterises as “wealth creators” (a synonym for most corrupt corporate looters). Aatmanirbhar Bharat is a vulgar imitation of the earlier prognosis of “Make in India” (of late, “Make in India” is replaced by the new catchword “Assemble in India for the World” in accordance with the “Global Value Chains” hypothesis recently put forward by World Bank)and what envisaged now is the outright sell-out of remaining key and strategic sectors including mining, transport, defence, banks and insurance, space exploration, power distribution, health research, and entire frontier technologies to foreign and Indian corporates. No doubt, such “supply-side” interventions belong to the same genre of pro-corporate stimulus packages pursued elsewhere by neoliberal centres. Revealingly, out of the Rs. 21 lakh crore Aatmanirbhar package, what addressed to the vast majority of toiling and oppressed masses is only around Rs.2 lakh core or just one percent of the country’s GDP, the remaining straightway going to corporate coffers.
On Understanding the Present Economic Collapse
Obviously, for fascists, crises are new opportunities, and the corporate-saffron fascist Modi regime is no exception to this rule. Using COVID-19 as a cover, Modi.2 is now engaged in an aggressive wealth transfer to corporate looters on the one hand, and imposition of heavy burdens on the backs of common people on the other. Of course, as can be seen, there has been a constant economic downturn under Modi-1 and Modi-2, and the GDP contraction cannot be only due to the pandemic or the severest lockdown. Ironically, as we pointed out earlier, corporate wealth accumulation is flourishing without any let up even as the economy and all its components are going down—private consumption expenditure contracted-26.7%, exports-20%, construction-50%, investment and services (including trade, hotels, communication, transport and broadcast)-47% respectively and so on in the context of the pandemic. In the ultimate analysis, all these variables could be seen directly and indirectly linked up with gross value addition, production, employment and earnings ofthe people. Therefore, it is important to understand this irreversible declining trend under Modi regime with respect to the logic of corporatisation (“wealth creation” as the govt. officially puts it) vigorously pursued by it.
From its very inception, Modi government’s concentrated effort has been to create an ‘investor-friendly” atmosphere for the corporate speculators. In the guise of unleashing the “animal spirit” of the most corrupt corporate giants, unprecedented tax give-aways and exemptions along with steep reduction in corporate tax rates have become regular feature of all budgets and extra-budgetary measures since 2014. Now at 15 percent, Indian corporate tax rate is the lowest in the world. Corporate companies are exempted from paying Dividend Distribution Tax (DDT), audit exemption for adapting to cashless transactions up to Rs. 5 crore, amendment in Indian Company’s Act for abolishing penal steps against those violating it including non-adherence to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and so on. Even profit-making PSUs are disinvested at throwaway prices to be gobbled up big corporate companies. Leading corporates were allowed to build-up huge non-performing assets (NPAs) with public sector banks that pushed the banking system to crisis. Elimination of all restrictions to the free entry and exit of foreign corporate capital and similar other steps were also initiated in a systematic manner.
But this unparalleled wealth transfer to corporates in the guise of boosting production and employment has, instead of positively contributing anything to employment-oriented production, rather led to horrific proportion of wealth accumulation by both foreign and domestic corporate giants who diverted a major component of this wealth to terribly destructive speculation and money-spinning activities. Even banks, financial institutions and mutual funds have become reluctant to deploy the immense funds at their disposal for productive investment. Still under the so called ‘expert’ advice from neoliberal centres, red carpet has been continuously laid down for attracting foreign capital. And the economic situation which was bad in the pre-Covid situation has become worse, or as is conceived by many, the economy which was already in the ICU is now put on the ventilator. Thus, Modi government’s wholehearted embrace of the logic of corporate capital-i.e., if left free capital today invariably goes to the most profitable avenues- has pushed Indian economy in to a vicious corporatisation-stagnation trap. Its ultimate outcome is the explosive growth of the most corrupt and parasitic corporate class sucking out wealth from the real economy through manifold ways while remaining at the sphere of speculation.
Lenin in his theory of imperialism had already explained much on the character of fictitious or speculative capital –an aspect briefly noted by Marx too in Capital. Today under neoliberal imperialism, speculative capital that develops exclusively in the financial sphere by sucking out value from the real economy without any real link with material production has become the dominant form of capital. And this is the essence of economic contraction and crisis today. India today is in the firm grip of a vicious circle—i.e., lack of investment in employment-oriented productive investment leads to lack of jobs resulting in lack of income and purchasing power for the masses, which in turn leads to lack of demand for goods and services and market contraction that lead to lower or lack of profit from the productive sphere which again pulls back investment in spite of repeated corporate “stimulus packages” by the government. As this vicious circle of contraction/stagnation strengthens, Modi government which rolls itself back from all investments, in tune with neoliberal diktats, is coercively superimposing heavier and heavier burdens on the shoulders of the people. All avenues at the disposal of corporate-saffron fascism are deployed not only against workers and all oppressed including dalits, adivasis, minorities, women and even children, but also on political opponents and dissenters. Obviously, there is no shortcut, and the only option is a political alternative capable of resisting and defeating this horrific situation.
On Immediate Options and Political Alternative
Obviously, from the perspective of Marxist political economy, the alternative to this corporate-fascist offensive is to break the logic of neo-liberalism itself, which calls for an appropriate broad-based, nationwide people’s movement led by revolutionary forces capable of imparting death blows to corporate capital. The immediate requirements or slogans for initiating such a process are there in the Draft of the Common Minimum program for building the Anti-Fascist Front already proposed by CPI (ML) Red Star (see, “ Appeal to All Revolutionary Left Organisations”, Red Star, August 2020). The specific economic demands (items 3-8) mentioned in it, for instance, if urgently implemented, will ensure more purchasing power in people’s hands and will provide a boost to productive economic activities. Though reactionary sections of corporate capital may still keep aloof from investment, it will definitely prompt sustainable agriculture, encourage medium and small industries to actively come forward to boost production and employment, which can break the vicious circle of economic stagnation.
Together with this “demand push” (as against “supply side”) initiatives, demands for reintroducing progressive corporate taxation, wealth and inheritance tax, abolition of regressive indirect taxation including the neoliberal GST that puts disproportionate burden on the people, introduction of redistributive wage and universal social and security and gender-specific policies, ensuring quality public services including water, health and education, total elimination of burden of unpaid work especially by women, guaranteeing elder care as well as child care, ensuring minimum wage sufficient enough for adequate standard of living, regulating ratios between lowest and highest wages and earnings, price support programs for peasants, reasonable restrictions on financial dealings and ban on speculation, capital flight, illicit financial flows, etc., anti-monopoly and anti-corruption policies, strengthening public sector and reversal of disinvestment and denationalisation policies and so on can appropriately be incorporated in to the minimum program. This shall form the stepping stone towards a sustainable political-economic alternative capable of resisting and overcoming the hegemony of corporate capital.
(Party School Paper for 2020)
- Introduction: The coming to power of the Modi-led BJP again with a thumping majority poses a serious challenge to the toiling and oppressed masses. Not only there is a further sharp turn to the far right, footsteps of fascism are growing louder by the day. Soon after Modi-2 took over there has been a spurt in mob lynchings and attacks on dalits and minorities. There is talk of implementing NRC in other states apart from Assam, thus creating a situation where millions may be deprived of citizenship rights by one stroke of the pen. Measures like the new draft education policy are a thinly veiled attempt at imposing the Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan paradigm on the younger generations and striking at the root of our culture of diversity and democracy. Fascisization of all fields is taking place more aggressively. Virulent national chauvinism is being peddled as answer to all problems, thus creating a culture of communal frenzy and majoritarian violence. Voices of dissent are being summarily throttled. The RSS Parivar is on an offensive to transform India into a Hindu Rashtra by 2024. Side by side, Modi’s neo-liberal economic policies continuously intensifying corporatization are aimed at pauperization of the masses. The projected privatization of all public sector enterprises, changes in labour laws to please the corporate, the abject surrender to US threats, the growing rate of unemployment, farmers’ distress, aggravating climate crisis – all these are making for a situation of unprecedented catastrophe. The latest developments, scrapping Article 370 of the Constitution and dividing J&K in to two union territories by Modi-2 is a direct attack against the democratic rights of the Kashmiri people. The valley is under total military occupation, with all movements of people, communication and all civilian facilities stopped with the state put under 144 and curfew imposed. While these steps have internationalized the Kashmir question even when Modi is repeating it as an internal matter, it aso threatens whatever federal values still remaining in the Constitution.. This belligerent corporate-saffron fascist offensive can be effectivey challenged and defeated only if party building is effectively take up.
- The Political Resolution adopted by the 11th Party Congress, after analyzing the present situation has pointed out the importance “to urgently engage in building up the Party, strengthening class/mass organizations and developing peoples movements and class struggle”. In continuation to it, analyzing the situation following the ascendance of Modi-2, the Central Committee in its June, 2019, Resolution has called: “to combat this all round intensification of neoliberal/corporatization policies and fascisization of all fields, the Central Committee calls for: Firstly, take up the party building as the first and foremost task, trying to merge all genuine communists and streamlining the party committees at all levels; strengthen class/mass organizations, and develop people’s movements in all fields and at all levels according to the concrete situation;......”. It is evident that unless the task of party building is taken up as the primary task all other tasks shall remain unfulfilled. In the present situation of ever intensifying fascisization, this task has become paramount. Only under the leadership of an ideologically, politically and organizationally powerful communist party, surrounded by class/mass organizations/movements, the development of class struggle and people’s movements this task can be effectively carried forward, and the united front activities according to the demands of the present situation can be initiated and developed.
- The Political Organizational Report (POR) adopted by the Eleventh Congress has explained the various aspect of party building including the necessity for theoretical offensive required for it as follows: “(5.a.3….while considering the magnitude of the theoretical challenges confronting the communist movement, as explained in The Resolution, (Resolution on Theoretical Offensive adopted by the Tenth Congress), what we could do in this field so far is still very little……” It has explained in detail the necessity to intensify the theoretical offensive to continuously develop the Party’s programmatic approach, Path of Revolution and the organizational tasks. An over-view of the organizational strength and functioning of the present state committees, which are still insignificant considering the magnitude of the challenges before us, also underline the importance of taking up the party building in an all embracive manner.
- Unification of Communist Revolutionaries
As the POR called for, the present situation, more than ever, demands the unity of the communist revolutionary (CR) forces to defeat the ruling class forces and to advance towards people’s democracy and socialism. After last five decades long practice of parliamentary cretinism, the CPI(M) led Left Front has suffered severe decimation .On the other extreme, the left adventurist stream also has alienated from the people further. In this situation, we have to expand the call to unite all communist forces who are prepared to struggle against these deviations and to pursue Marxist-Leninist theory and practice according to the concrete analysis of present international and Indian situation. Based on this understanding, as explained in the POR, during the last one decade, especially after the Bhopal Special Conference in 2009, we have merged with many sections/organizations of communist revolutionaries. This process is still continuing. Presently, when almost all the parties/organizations within the broad “left spectrum’ are undergoing a major ideological and political churning, there are good possibilities for merger of many of them with Red Star, leading to a new communist polarization. We have to intensify our efforts in this direction. The experience of the Bhangar people’s resistance struggle has created more favorable conditions for advancing unity talks with the communist forces.
- This question of winning over the communist forces to the party should be taken up at three levels: Firstly, though their number may vary considerably from state to state, there are many former members of organizations belonging to the ‘communist spectrum’ who can be won over and enrolled after convincing them about our party line; Secondly, there are many groups of comrades, especially in states where the left movement had good influence, who have left their previous organizations due to ideological or political or organizational differences, for winning over whom also initiative should be taken; Thirdly, active efforts should be made to find out organizations who are nearer to our party line and to win over them through protracted discussions and, if necessary by even working together with them for some time forming coordination committees..
- Party Membership: Though we have our presence in 17 states and SCs/SOCs in 16 states, our party membership in 2018 was only a little over 4,000. Even among them, many are not fulfilling the responsibilities as explained in the Party Constitution. During this year’s membership renewal process, such inactive members should be convinced to overcome their weaknesses, or, if this is not possible, should be weeded out. Considering the enormous tasks we have to take up in different fields, this membership is absolutely insufficient. Urgent steps should be taken to increase the membership. The following steps should be taken up for accomplishing it:
- We have formed Party Sub-Committees in all class/mass organizations and movements at central level. They are constituted at state level also at least in few states or in few fields. Make these committees active and through them take up the enrolment of party members from all fields, especially from among the workers, agricultural workers and peasantry. Considering the fairly good number of membership in TUCI, AIKKS and ABM a good number of members can be recruited from these areas.
- Though two thirds of the population in our country are under 35 years old, our membership among them is very limited. This is linked to our weakness in building the student and youth organizations in spite of repeated decisions. Give more emphasis to this field and recruit larger number of candidate members from students and youth.
- Women constitute half of our population. Without giving emphasis to women’s liberation, party cannot advance the revolutionary movement. But proportion of women among our party members and their presence in party committees are deplorable. Attention should be given for recruiting large number of women as party members.
- The results of the 17th Lok Sabha elections show severe decimation of CPI(M) and CPI, especially in W. Bengal and Tripura. During the last decade, large number of members of these parties and of the ML organizations have become inactive. Some of the comrades associated with us in the past had also become inactive. An active campaign should be organized and hold continuous discussions to win over them to our Party line and to enroll them as party members.
- The experience of Bhangar movement has taught us that successful waging of such people’s movements become a gold mine for recruiting large number of party members including whole timers. It will be reflected in the growth of party membership in Bengal this year. Similarly in all areas where mass movements are developing, proper emphasis should be given to bring the struggling people nearer to the party and to recruit new members from among them to the party.
- Give emphasis to building grass root level party committees: During the last few years the CC has emphasized repeatedly on the importance of organizing and strengthening party committees at the grass root level, that is party committees at Branch, Local and Area levels and Party Sympathizers’ Groups. Decline of our mobilization strength for party programs, and our poor performance in the elections even in the districts where we have waged many struggles are connected to the weakness of our party at grass root level. With the strengthening of the three tier panchayat system, all the ruling class or main stream parties are giving lot of emphasis to capture these Gram, Block and District panchayats, deploying even their senior cadres to them. Since enormous funds are available for these panchayats, they have become very corrupt. As we are not giving proper emphasis to build grass root level party committees and to provide party education and political guidance to them, even few of our own comrades elected to them also became corrupt and left the party. We have to seriously evaluate these negative experiences. Give utmost political and organizational importance to strengthening grass root level party committees. In districts where our party committees are functioning, select gram and block panchayats where our party presence is there; strengthen the Branch committees at village/town/municipal ward level and Local Committees at Gram/Town panchayat levels; chalk out people’s programs/our alternative development and democratization concepts, and wherever possible form people’s committees to capture the panchayats, struggling against the main stream parties. By striving to make these panchayats to function according to our political and organizational line, consistently strengthening the direct participation of the people in its activities through strengthening the functioning of the neighborhood committees. In this way we shall be able to take class struggle to the grass root levels. (see the Appendix).
- Strengthen the District Committee functioning: The district committees link the state committee with the grass root party committees, and in the party structure of the communist party it has to play an important role. It should have an office and regular office functioning, including the practice of issuing press statements on important developments. It should coordinate the working of area committees and the grass root functioning below them. It should collect the levy regularly and ensure the propagation of party organs and literature. It should maintain levy register and account register. It should send circulars to lower level committees on the one hand, and send regular written reports to state committee.
- Strengthen State Committee functioning: In a multinational/multi lingual country like India, the state committees have to play a very important role if we have to lead the revolutionary movement and party forward. But many of our state committees are very weak. Many of them have no proper office or office functioning. They do not bring out the state party organ or issue statements on important developments. We have to wage consistent struggle against the influence of liberalism on the one hand and against sectarianism on the other to strengthen the state committee functioning, taking practical steps for it.
- Give Emphasis to party Education: As explained in the POR adopted by the 11th Party Congress (quoted above), in spite of repeated efforts necessary emphasis is not given to party education at state and district levels, though central party schools are regularly conducted from 2010, party schools are not organized at lower levels including translation of all central party school papers in most of the states. All the state committees should ensure that immediate steps are taken to overcome this weakness. In the present situation of increasing fascisization of the country and the problems created by alien thinking within the “left spectrum” leading to its splintering, the importance of party education by organizing regular party classes has increased more. It also calls for making necessary basic Marxist classics available to the comrades. The state committees should give ever-increasing attention to this.
- Conclusion: With the coming to power of Modi-2 and intensification of fascisization, the concrete conditions in our country are going to face fast changes. As we intensify our struggle in all fields, it is natural that we shall come under increasing state repression, and we should be prepared to face it. While we shall continue to utilize all possibilities for open work to link the party with the masses, our party committee system and organizational functioning should be properly streamlined so that it is capable of confronting all eventualities. Let us strengthen our party building with all our might, overcoming all past mistakes and present weaknesses.
Appendix: On linking the Party Building at Grass Root level with the 3-Tier Panchayat System.
- While giving emphasis to party building, along with giving emphasis to grass root level party building, Ie, of Area, Local and Branch committees, their activities should be linked to our active participation in the functioning of the 3-tier panchayat system. In the Central Party School in 2013 we had discussed a paper on Our Approach to Participation in Local Body Elections. Even after so amny years, still we could not make any advances in this field. Not only that, as we failed or as we are very weak, in developing grass root level party building linking with revolutionary participation in the panchayat system, and preparing our comrades accordingly, almost all our comrades elected to panchayat samithis so far by and large got influenced by corrupt practices and left our party.
- Under these circumstancess, what is happening under the Bhangar Jomi Committee is significant. As the struggle was reaching its peak, confronting the armed attack of the TMC goons we could fight only six seats of Polarhat panchayat where we won with more than 90% support, while in all other 9 seats TMC won without contest or by capturing booths. When the Bhangar Agreement was signed, apart from the compensation to the affected people, the state government agreed to implement a number of projects in the affected area for the people. Now the TMC is trying to convene the full panchayat samithi and impose its hegemony so that it can control all these projects plus other panchayat projects sanctioned by the government. As it shall lead to a situation like what was happening in the past, the Jomi Committee is waging legal struggle as well as struggle in the streets to continue its control in the areas from where our comrades have won. In this way we are struggling to use the panchayat system to consolidate the gains of the Bhangar movement. It calls for regular attention of the leading comrades also. In this way the WB state committee is striving to maintain and expand our political and organizational influence in this area. It is a good example to be emulated in other areas/states according to concrete conditions.
- Numerous past experiences teach us that wherever such struggles take place, as the gains are not consolidated through effective utilization of the panchayat system and strengthening of our mass base through it, very soon our gains were lost or very little of it is continuing. Many decades of parliamentary experience of traditional communist parties also teaches that if the parliamentary institutions including the 3-tier panchayat system are not used in a revolutionary manner as part of the class struggle, they can lead to negative results. It is in this context, however micro level it may be, the present militant functioning of the Bhangar Committee after signing of the agreement should be viewed.
- Presently under neo-liberalism, both imperialism and comprador Indian ruling classes are effectively utilizing local self governments for their neocolonial objectives in the same manner as they make use of central and state governments. All the ruling class parties like BJP, Congress, regional parties and CPI(M)-led parties are functioning as proponents of this neoliberal approach to local bodies. In this context, it is imperative on the part of the struggling left forces to put forward a class approach to local body elections. It should expose the so called top-down decentralization imposed under the labels of “participatory democracy”, “participatory development” and “empowerment” by imperialist centers. It has to show that such decentralization is not intended for genuine people’s political power at the local level. On the contrary, it leads to increasing global centralization of finance capital by making local bodies as its appendage.
- At the behest of neo-colonial agencies such as the World Bank, as part of downsizing the welfare state, all erstwhile social welfare and developmental tasks of the central and state governments are put on the shoulders of fund-starved local bodies who are increasingly made direct dependencies of WB, ADB and other funding agencies. In spite of the economic burden imposed on them, the right to collect land revenue, which is now with the State government, is not set apart for local bodies. The bureaucratic set up of the local bodies has also changed little in the midst of many talks on decentralization. Even today, the elected representatives of the Panchayat system are not vested with any real powers. All the financial and executive powers are vested with the executive officer or secretary of the Panchayat system at village, bloc and district levels. More precisely, the elected local bodies still lack autonomy regarding resource mobilization and executive powers of implementation.
- Taking these aspects into consideration, according to the concrete conditions prevailing in different parts of the country, we should put forward a people’s alternative of bottom-up decentralization which is inseparably linked with the development of class struggle aimed at basically altering the existing property relations and power structure.
- The Party should actively participate in local body elections with this ideological clarity and with a political program so as to transform local bodies as primary centers of people’s political power. For this, participation in local elections should be linked with the uncompromising struggle and campaigns for redistribution of land on the basis of land to the tiller, confiscation of land held by land mafia, distribution of such lands and surplus land among landless, agitation against displacement, against all super-imposed neo-colonial projects, and so on.
- The genuine decentralization means the workers, peasants and all other oppressed sections and classes, the masses of the people, wielding political power at the local level. It is invariably linked to the abolition of imperialist strangle hold over the country and basic changes in the class relations which are maintained through the present “top-down” decentralization. Instead of this, a “bottom-up” decentralization as people’s alternative replacing the existing class relations and hegemony of imperialist finance capital is indispensable. A restructuring of the property relations including land relations in favour of the landless, entrusting land to the real tillers, is an essential component of this. In spite of the rhetoric on decentralization and empowerment of panchayats, the Indian state keeps the people in the dark and imposes various neo-colonial projects violating their jurisdiction. In numerous court cases where panchayats vs MNCs are involved, mostly the courts uphold the neo-colonial loot of the latter against the rights of the former.
- The Party should reject the neo-liberal decentralization experiments pursued In different states. It should try to draw lessons from the experiences of Paris Commune, the “Soviets” and “People’s Communes”. They should take lessons from them and make efforts for applying them in accordance with the concrete conditions prevailing today. Along with the development of struggles by class/mass organisations, a people’s development agenda should be placed before the people. All State Committees should prepare a manifesto clearly specifying the Party’s program including specific demands for land, shelter, food, drinking water, employment, education, healthcare, etc. with respect to local body elections according to concrete conditions. Along with this, an effective organizational initiative for utilizing local bodies in the interest of class struggle should be evolved.
Marx and Engels located the origin of women’s oppression in the rise of class society. Engels wrote The Origin of Family, Private Property and State in 1884 - a year after Marx's death. He used Marx's Ethnological Notebooks as well as his own notes as the basis of the text. The notebooks contained Marx's notes on Ancient Society by Lewis Henry Morgan. The Origin is a short book which dwells on Morgan's findings and puts forward an argument about the nature of "primitive" society, the rise of commodity production and, with it, the emergence of classes and the state. Engels contended that, for the vast majority of human existence, some 200,000 years (or 2 million years if we include other human-like species), people lived in small communities that were relatively egalitarian, did not contain systematic oppression by one group or another, and to whom concepts such as property and wealth would have had no meaning.
Humans had not yet learned how to cultivate plants or rear animals. These hunter-gatherer societies could sustain only a relatively small population which had to move on when resources became scarce. Sharing and communal living were the best way to ensure the survival of the group. There would have been a division of labour between men and women, but this did not mean the domination of one group by the other - each person would make the decisions about the activities they were involved in.
Rather than living in family units of two parents and their children, or an extended patriarchal family centering round the male elder, people lived in communal systems of kinship - children would be the responsibility of everyone.
The old kinship systems were centred on mothers because it was only possible to identify the line of descent through the mother. In such a setup only mothers would know with certainty who their children were and thus build up a network of blood relationships around that knowledge, giving every member of the group a line of descent and a role. The "household" was communal, and the fruits of women's and men's labour were shared among families. There was no separation between what we would now know as ‘housework’ and all other work - there was no public/private divide.
The new male-dominated family broke up this intricate, communal system by placing the family as the key economic unit of society, the means through which wealth would be owned and passed on. Rather than the woman being an equally important economic actor in society, she and her children became dependent upon the individual man in the family.
This change took place with development of production relations and growing people's ability to produce more than they immediately needed to consume. The development of agriculture and the domestication of animals meant goods could be produced for trade - commodities could be exchanged for other things or, eventually, money. More specialised tools became crucial to production and thus very valuable property. Men tended to be the ones responsible for animal rearing and increasingly for agriculture - so they owned the tools and made the economic decisions, gradually increasing their importance in relation to women.
For the first time women's ability to give birth became a burden. This was partly because settled communities with greater productive capacity could sustain larger populations - in fact needed more labourers to work in the fields - and so women would tend to spend more time pregnant or with young children. But the main source of women's oppression was the separation of the family from the communal clan. Women's labour in the home became a private service under conditions of subjugation. This was the "world historic defeat of the female sex" that Engels wrote about:
"The man took command in the home also; the woman was degraded and reduced to servitude; she became a slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children. This degraded position of women...has gradually been palliated and glossed over, and sometimes clothed in milder form, in no sense has it been abolished."
As Marx noted, "The modern family contains in germ not only slavery but also serfdom, since from the beginning it is related to agricultural services. It contains in miniature all the contradictions which later extend throughout society and its state."
This defeat of mother right was a profound change in human relations caused, not by some latent desire in men to dominate women, but by the needs of commodity production and the way it developed. The monogamous family was "the first form of the family to be based...on economic conditions - on the victory of private property over...communal property". Along with domestic slavery came slave labour and the beginning of systematic exploitation. Once communal property was undermined this was inevitable - private property for some always means no property for others. Engels writes that this process "opens the period that has lasted until today in which every step forward is also a step backward, in which prosperity and development for some is won through the misery and frustration of others."
Engels built upon Morgan’s theory in The Origin to develop, as the title implies, a theory of how the rise of class society led to both the rise of the state, which represents the interests of the ruling class in the day-to-day class struggle, and the rise of the family, as the means by which the first ruling classes possessed and passed on private wealth. He developed a historical analysis which located the source of women’s oppression. In so doing, he provided a strategy for ending that oppression. It is no exaggeration to say that Engels’ work has defined the terms of debate around ‘the origin’ of women’s oppression for the last 100 years. Most writers on the subject of women’s oppression have set out either to support or reject Marxist theory as laid out by Engels in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.
Until the women’s movement of the late 1960s began to challenge male chauvinism, sexist assumptions provided the basis for broad generalizations. Claude Levi-Strauss, a leading anthropologist within the structuralist school, went so far as to argue that "human society...is primarily a masculine society." He argued that the "exchange of women" is a "practically universal" feature of human society, in which men obtain women from other men – from fathers, brothers and other male relatives. Moreover, he asserted that "the deep polygamous tendency, which exists among all men, always makes the number of available women seem insufficient." Therefore, "the most desirable women must form a minority." Because of this, "the demand for women is an actual fact, or to all intents and purposes, always in a state of disequilibrium and tension." According to Levi-Strauss, then, women have been the passive victims of men’s sexual aggression since the beginning of human society.
On the other hand, in its purest form, much of feminist theory rests upon more imaginations than facts. There is wideranging supposition like men dominate women because they hold women in contempt for their ability to bear children–or because they are jealous of women’s ability to bear children. Men oppress women because long ago women formed a powerful matriarchy which was overthrown–or because men have always been a tyrannical patriarchy. Gerda Lerner argues in her book, The Creation of Patriarchy, "Feminists, beginning with Simone de Beauvoir… [have explained women’s oppression] as caused by either male biology or male psychology." She goes on to describe a sampling of feminist theories, all of which border on the outlandish: Thus, Susan Brownmiller sees man’s ability to rape women leading to their propensity to rape women and shows how this has led to male dominance over women and to male supremacy. Elizabeth Fisher ingeniously argued that the domestication of animals…led men to the idea of raping women. She claimed that the brutalization and violence connected with animal domestication led to men’s sexual dominance and institutionalized aggression. More recently, Mary O’Brien built an elaborate explanation of the ‘origin’ of male dominance on men’s psychological need to compensate for their inability to bear children through the construction of institutions of dominance and, like Fisher, dated this "discovery" in the period of the discovery of animal domestication.
In his introduction to the first edition of The Origin, Engels explains materialism as follows: “According to the materialist conception, the determining factor in history is, in the final instance, the production and reproduction of immediate life. This, again, is of a twofold character: on the one side, the production of the means of existence, of food, clothing and shelter and the tools necessary for that production; on the other side, the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species.”
Before class society, the idea of a strictly monogamous pairing of males and females with their offspring – the modern, ‘monogamous‘ family – was unknown to human society. Inequality was also unknown. For more than 2 million years, humans lived in groups made up of people who were mostly related by blood, in conditions of relative equality. This understanding is an important part of Marxist theory.
Human evolution has taken place over a very long time–a period of millions of years. The earliest human ancestors (Homo habilus) probably appeared some 2 million or more years ago, while anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) did not appear until 200,000 to 100,000 years ago. The earliest forms of agriculture did not begin until 10,000 years ago, and it is only over the last thousand years that human society has experienced much more rapid technological development.25
For most of human history, it would have been impossible to accumulate wealth – nor was there much motivation to do so. For one thing, there would have been no place to store it. People lived first in nomadic bands – hunter-gatherer societies – sustaining themselves by some combination of gathering berries, roots and other vegetable growth, and hunting or fishing. In most such societies, there would have been no point in working more than the several hours per day it takes to produce what is necessary for subsistence. But even among the first societies to advance to horticulture, it wasn’t really possible to produce much more than what was to be immediately consumed by members of the band.
With the onset of more advanced agricultural production–through the use of the plow and/or advanced methods of irrigation –and the beginnings of settled communities, in some societies human beings were able to extract more than the means of subsistence from the environment. This led to the first accumulation of surplus, or wealth. As Engels stated in The Origin: "Above all, we now meet the first iron plowshare drawn by cattle, which made large-scale agriculture, the cultivation of fields, possible and thus created a practically unrestricted food supply in comparison with previous conditions." This was a turning point for human society, for it meant that, over time, production for use could be replaced by production for exchange and eventually for profit, leading to the rise of the first class societies some 6,000 years ago.
The crux of Engels’ theory of women’s oppression rests on the relationship between the sexual division of labor and the mode of production, which underwent a fundamental transformation with the onset of class society. In hunter-gatherer and horticultural societies, there was a sexual division of labor–rigidly defined sets of responsibilities for women and men. But both sexes were allowed a high degree of autonomy in performing those tasks. Moreover–and this is an element which has been learned since Engels’ time–women not only provided much of the food for the band in hunter-gatherer societies, but also, in many cases, they provided most of the food. So women in pre-class societies were able to combine motherhood and productive labor–in fact, there was no strict demarcation between the reproductive and productive spheres. Women, in many cases, could carry small children with them while they gathered or planted, or leave the children behind with other adults for a few hours at a time. Likewise, many goods could be produced in the household. Because women were central to production in these pre-class societies, systematic inequality between the sexes was nonexistent, and elder women in particular enjoyed relatively high status.
All of that changed with the development of private property. According to the sexual division of labor, men tended to take charge of heavier agricultural jobs, like plowing, since it was more difficult for pregnant or nursing women and might endanger small children to be carried along. Moreover, since men traditionally took care of big-game hunting (though not exclusively), again, it made sense for them to oversee the domestication of cattle. Engels argued that the domestication of cattle preceded the use of the plow in agriculture, although it is now accepted that these two processes developed at the same time. But this does not diminish the validity of his explanation as to why control over cattle fell to men.
As production shifted away from the household, the role of reproduction changed substantially. The shift toward agricultural production sharply increased the productivity of labor. This, in turn, increased the demand for labor–the greater the number of field workers, the higher the surplus. Thus, unlike hunter-gatherer societies, which sought to limit the number of offspring, agricultural societies sought to maximize women’s reproductive potential, so the family would have more children to help out in the fields. Therefore, at the same time that men were playing an increasingly exclusive role in production, women were required to play a much more central role in reproduction.
The rigid sexual division of labor remained the same, but production shifted away from the household. The family no longer served anything but a reproductive function – as such, it became an economic unit of consumption. In the family, men as owners of the means of production and controlling the major share of production, came to be owners of the produce too, and the woman and children of the family became dependent on the man for their share of the produce. This also enabled the men to hold the woman in relative subjugation. Women became trapped within their individual families, as the reproducers of society–cut off from production. These changes took place first among the property-owning families, the first ruling class. But eventually, the monogamous family became an economic unit of society as a whole.
It is important to understand that these changes did not take place overnight, but over a period of thousands of years. Moreover, greed was not responsible, in the first instance, for the unequal distribution of wealth. Nor was male chauvinism the reason why power fell into the hands of (some) men, while the status of women fell dramatically. There is no evidence (nor any reason to assume) that women were coerced into this role by men. For property-owning families, a larger surplus would have been in the interest of all household members. Engels said of the first male "property owners" of domesticated cattle, "What is certain is that we must not think of him as a property owner in the modern sense of the word." He owned his cattle in the same sense that he owned the other tools required to obtain food and other necessities. But "the family did not multiply so rapidly as the cattle." Agricultural output also increased sharply–some of which needed to be stored to feed the community in case of a poor harvest, and some of which could be traded for other goods.
Obviously, every society across the globe did not experience an identical succession of changes in the mode of production. Chris Harman writes, "[T]he exact route from hunter-gathering through horticulture and agriculture to civilization did vary considerably from one society to another." But, “[t]he divergent forms under which class society emerged must not make us forget the enormous similarities from society to society.” Everywhere there was, in the beginning, primitive communism. Everywhere, once settled agricultural societies were formed, some lineages, lineage elders or "big men" could begin to gain prestige through their role in undertaking the redistribution of the little surplus that existed in the interests of the group as a whole. Everywhere, as the surplus grew, this small section of society came to control a greater share of the social wealth, putting it in a position where it could begin to crystallize out into a social class.
What is indisputable is that the onset of class society brought with it a universal shift toward patrilineage–and, more importantly, the role of men as "heads" of their households. Engels was undoubtedly correct–with more supporting evidence today than when he was writing–that the rise of the modern family brought with it a degradation of women which was unknown in pre-class societies. Engels argued, “The overthrow of mother right was the world historic defeat of the female sex. The man took command in the home also; the woman was degraded and reduced to servitude; she became the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children. . . . In order to make certain of the wife’s fidelity and therefore the paternity of his children, she is delivered over unconditionally into the power of the husband; if he kills her, he is only exercising his rights.”
That the rise of the family was a consequence–and not a cause, as some argue–of the rise of classes is central to Engels’ argument.
Engels argued that the rise of class society brought with it rising inequality – between the rulers and the ruled, and between men and women. At first the surplus was shared with the entire clan – so wealth was not accumulated by any one individual or groups of individuals. But gradually, as settled communities grew in size and became more complex social organizations, and, most importantly, as the surplus grew, the distribution of wealth became unequal – and a small number of men rose above the rest of the population in wealth and power.
Engels didn't claim that there was a straightforward, one-way relationship between the development of the productive forces and the social relations - there is always a battle. But everything doesn't influence everything equally: "It is not that the economic situation is cause, solely active, while everything else [political, philosophical, religious, etc, development] is only passive effect. There is rather interaction on the basis of economic necessity, which ultimately always asserts itself."
Engels’ analysis is straightforward–it may need further development, but its essence is there, plain to see. The sexual division of labor which existed in pre-class societies, when production for use was the dominant mode of production, carried no implication of gender inequality. Women were able to combine their reproductive and productive roles, so both sexes were able to perform productive labor. But with the rise of class society, when production for exchange began to dominate, the sexual division of labor helped to erode equality between the sexes. Production and trade increasingly occurred away from the household, so that the household became a sphere primarily for reproduction. As Coontz and Henderson argue,
The increasing need for redistribution (both within local groups and between them) and the political tasks this creates have consequences for sex roles in that these political roles are often filled by males, even in matrilineal/matrilocal societies. Presumably this flows from the division of labor that associates males with long-distance activities, external affairs, and products requiring group-wide distribution, while females are more occupied with daily productive tasks from which they cannot be absented.
Hence, the beginnings of a "public" versus a "private" sphere, with women increasingly trapped in the household in property-owning families. The rise of the family itself explains women’s subordinate role within it. For the first time in human history, women’s ability to give birth kept them from playing a significant part in production.
For Engels, there was a "historic defeat" because something fundamental changed in the economic base of society. We developed ways to produce a surplus, not by nature's bounty but by our own labour. If, as Engels argues, oppression arose alongside class society then is he saying that, once we get rid of class society, oppression will automatically disappear?
A fair reading of The Origin with an open mind makes it clear that the treatise contains no such assumption. No oppression can ever automatically disappear. On the contrary, an uncompromising fight against all forms of gender oppression serves to erode the base on which such oppression stands and paves the way for the uprooting of the base. For instance, the struggles against various aspects of women’s oppression like domestic violence and sexual violence sharpen and intensify the struggle against class. “The first condition for the liberation of women”, argued Engels, “is to bring the whole of the female sex back into public industry”. We have seen over the past few decades how structural changes in capitalism have led to a significant increase in the participation of women in the workforce in many countries worldwide. While this has undoubtedly had a positive effect on the ideas and aspirations of women themselves, as well as influencing social attitudes more broadly, women’s economic, social and personal autonomy are limited by the needs of capitalism. Engels went on to explain that “this in turn demands the abolition of the monogamous family’s attribute of being the economic unit of society”. The family as an institution and women’s role within it, have clearly undergone significant changes since Engels wrote The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. Nevertheless, it retains an economic and ideological relevance for 21st century capitalism which is suffering from a systemic crisis and is riven with contradictions: a system which exploits women as low-cost labour in the workplace while defining their existence by their role in the monogamous family.
Capitalist ideology concerning women’s role and status in society has also evolved since the late 19th century, but the ideas and values of a system based on commodity production for profit and inequalities of wealth and power rest on, combine with, and perpetuate the residue of outmoded ideas of male authority and supremacy which have their roots in earlier class societies. As a consequence, women continue to experience violence, sexual abuse and restrictions on their sexuality and reproductive rights, while facing sexism, discrimination, gender stereotyping and double standards.
For Engels the basis for resolving the problems which women face in society entails “the transfer of the means of production into common ownership”. In this way, “the monogamous family ceases to be the economic unit of society. Private housekeeping is transformed into social industry. The care and education of children becomes a public affair; society looks after all children alike…” In a socialist society, personal relations will be freed from the economic and social constraints which continue to limit them even today. The basis for true liberation will be laid. Close to 150 years after they were first written, Engels’s words regarding the ending of women’s oppression maintain all their force.
Part - 2
In the present day the women’s organization needs to be broad-based, encompassing the aspirations of all struggling women and gender rights movements, and attempting to bring together all resistances to patriarchy under one umbrella. However, since patriarchy today is nurtured and sustained by imperialism, and in every challenge to patriarchy the world order of imperialism is also challenged to some extent or the other, the general nature of the women’s organization will be anti-imperialist.
In our country, with the fascistic onslaught intensifying, there is need for the women’s organization to be particularly strong in order to combat state-sponsored patriarchal challenges. For that the women’s organization needs to break out of the stereotypical mould of being an appendage to a Party and develop independent organizing and agitating abilities. In our country it is the custom of political parties, ranging from right, centre to left, to have women’s wings as women’s organizations. The CPIM has one, the Congress has another and so does the BJP. Even struggling left organizations like the Liberation and others have their women’s wings which go by the name of women’s organizations. However, just as it is uncommon for these ‘women’s organisations’ to ever go against any position adopted by the Party they are associated with, so also it is rare for them to take up independent positions and struggles.
The primary objective of a women’s organization is women’s liberation, and this can be neither achieved nor struggled for by women who aren’t independent themselves. But it is most often seen that far from being an independent organization with distinctive positions on all questions pertaining to the unceasing attacks on women, the tendency is to tail the Party. Thus the independent assertion of women through their own organization remains a far cry.
The relationship between the Communist Party and women’s organization should necessarily be dialectical, independent of each other and yet each hammering away at class-divided society with a view to replace it with a new order. As struggling trade unions set their own agendas of struggle, but the Party remains a bulwark of support all throughout and helps the trade union to view the long-term goals without positing itself as a Grand Patriarch in relationship to the union, so also the women’s organization should at all times set its own agenda of propaganda and struggle, aided by the Party but never dictated by it or constrained by it.
The Communist Party has a great role to play in the educating and organizing of women. The exclusion of women from all important spaces has become a habit that must be consciously fought. Very often it is convenient not to have a woman or two in a meeting or gathering of a couple of dozen men, especially because including women would necessitate making separate logistical arrangements for them. But we are so used to viewing all space as ‘male space’ that the very idea of organizing a space for women appears downright troublesome. Very often women’s voices are ignored simply because the total unfamiliarity with the female voice makes it difficult for the Party to understand what is being tried to be conveyed. This is also obvious from the total invisibilisation of women not just in formal academia but also the history of the communist movement, both in India as well as abroad. History text books in Indian schools teach a wide range of modern, international historical events ranging from the French Revolution to the Paris Commune and the American War of Independence, the Emancipation of Slaves in the US, Emancipation of Serfs in Russia to the Boer War, and of course the Russian Revolution and the Chinese Revolution and the two World Wars and chunks of the post World War scenario, the United Nations, Israel-Palestine, Cold War, et al. However, one chapter of history that is summarily and deliberately glossed over in all history books – left, right and centre – without exception, is the history of the International Women’s Suffrage Movement and its somewhat less-than-triumphant victory. Although this movement, dealing as it did with the question of citizenship rights for half the population of the globe, had a prolonged, fierce and chequered history, pitting citizens against citizens even as women and men united against governments on a fairest possible demand, and had an international character, it is one movement about which most of us know very little. Neither academic textbooks, nor progressive history books which tell us about the uninterrupted fight of the people of the world for democracy and rights, usually have chapters dedicated to the International Women’s Suffrage Movement, and while Abraham Lincoln remains a greatly famous name not merely for his leadership role in the Civil War but more so as the champion of the emancipation of the African Americans from slavery, the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement are forgotten names relegated to the pages of something that goes by the dubious distinction of ‘feminist literature’. Now take a look at the history of the International Communist Movement. Except for Rosa Luxembourg and Clara Zetkin and a handful others, the women leaders are inexplicably missing. Not that they weren’t there. Not that the ICM was largely a male-only movement. But tomes on the ICM will give you a different idea.
This invisibilisation of women has acquired such a degree of normalcy that it isn’t generally considered a part of what is broadly termed as oppression of women. This picture of violent inequality – where women are intruding ‘others’ in a world of men, for men and by men – however, remains a constant, be it in history or the living present. So the visibilisation of women’s struggles and their role in history remains an important duty of the Communist Party.
The most important challenges before the women’s movement today are the tendency to shy away from forming broad-based women’s organizations and the inclination to limit the organization by the position of the Party. AIRWO is an exception to this general rule. It is not an appendage of CPI(ML) Red Star, or any other Party for that matter. It calls itself revolutionary because it believes in the revolutionary reorganization of society for the achievement of the complete emancipation of women. But that is not to say that it is an organization for only women revolutionaries. It is an organization which aims at bringing together the ranks of women, all struggles of, by and for women, and all the liberatory aspirations of women into one united, yet diverse, platform committed to the uprooting of patriarchy.
The caste system in India is a unique system which was developed almost three thousand years back as per the Rig Vedic evidences. However, the system became rigid and institutional at the time of Manu who composed Manusmriti. Ascribing an exact date of composing the Manusmriti is difficult but according to different sources and modern researches it may be safe to assume that the period of Manusmriti is between 200 BCE to 200 CE. The socio-economic fabric of our country reveals that how much powerful an ancient system, like caste division can be in even present times that the practical politics of a revolutionary party cannot ignore its dynamics. However, a systematic study of this system from Marxist point of view was never done with due importance. Therefore, it has become a herculean task today to enter into a comprehensive study of the system. This paper, therefore, did not try to do that. Instead, the paper concentrated on the key issues related to the subject in order to understand the very nature of our social struggles which may facilitate to develop the correct strategy and tactics of our revolution. In this paper it may be fruitless to search answers. On the contrary, the paper has strove to formulate the questions. A collective effort based on the combination of theory and practice may find the answers of those.
Origination of Varna and Caste Division
Manusmriti is the most ill famous source of the ugly form of caste division against which all the democratic forces vow to fight. Manu divided the society into four varnas, i.e., Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra (Chaturvarna system) where Brahmin is in the top of social hierarchical ladder and followed by other three varnas respectively. Shudra is the lowest varna and deprived from all the rights and whose duty is only to serve other three varnas. Some of the dicta of Manu are as follow:
- In whom among the three (higher) castes the most and the best of (those) five may be he is here worthy of respect; a Shudra (is not worthy of respect on the ground of his wealth or knowledge no matter how high they are)….
- A Kshatriya who reviles a Brahmin ought to be fined one hundred (Panas); a Vaishya one hundred and fifty or two hundred, but a Shudra ought to receive corporal punishment.
- A Brahmin may take possession of the goods of a Shudra with perfect peace of mind, for, since nothing at all belongs to this Shudra as his own, he is one whose property may be taken away by his master.
- Indeed, an accumulation of wealth should not be made by a Shudra even if he is able to do so, for the sight of mere possession of wealth by a Shudra injures the Brahmin.
- If a man (of the Shudra caste) makes love to a girl of the highest caste he deserves corporal punishment.
- A woman alone (is) a wife for a Shudra; both she and a woman of his own caste (are) legally (wives) of a Vaishya; they two and also a woman of his own caste (are wives) of a Kshatriya, both they and a woman of his own caste (are wives) of a Brahmin.
We need to discuss Manu’s system more elaborately, however, before that we must understand the actual difference between the varna system and caste system. According to the varna system the Indo-Aryan people were divided into four groups. However, according to the caste system which arose from the varna system in later period divided the people in numerous subdivisions and all the divisions were placed hierarchically. These sub-divisions are rigid and are determined by birth. In the beginning the varna division was not very much rigid because it was said that the division did not take place by birth, but by the action (karma). Therefore, at the time of great epics or even after that we can see many Shudra kings ruled different parts of the country. However, after the fall of Mauryan Empire no major Shudra empire came into being.
But it does not mean that the varna system was mere a theoretical one while the caste system is practical and very much a matter of day-to-day life. Many anti-caste scholars propagate this idea which we consider not only as wrong but an attempt to give concession to the ‘sacred’ scriptures. Therefore, they put overemphasis on the difference between varna system and caste system. It is true that in the beginning the varna system was not rigid and social mobility was there unlike the caste system and this is an important difference between these two systems. However, as time passed by, the system became rigid, oppressive and a matter of day-to-day life and as the division of work spread all over the society and more and more new professions came into existence the caste system originated as a finer and all-embraced form of varna system in later period. However, It should be noted that whole of the Manu’s system is based on varna division, not on the caste division. If the varna system was mere a theoretical one then all the hatred of the dalits against Manusmriti become unexplainable.
But what was the inspiration behind the origination of a system like varna system? Let us hear Manu:
"Shaktena api hi shudrena na karyah
Dhanasanchayah shudrah hi dhanamasadya Brahmanan eba Badhate!"
i.e., even if able, the Shudras should not accumulate wealth. Accumulation of wealth by the Shudras make the Brahmins suffer. Many passages can be quoted form Manusmriti and other Smrities (scriptures of codified laws) to show that the main inspiration behind the varna division was highly economic in nature, that is, to extract the surplus production and to deprive a large section of the people from social production other than the means of subsistence only. JANASHAKTI, the central organ of presently non-existent CPIML—JANASHAKTI once took an attempt to study the caste question from Marxist point of view. The paper was published by a social organization later as a booklet. According to their understanding: “Thus the varna system which first started social making based on a primitive social division of labour and political subordination of one group by another, took the concrete shape of social division based on social division of labour to extract surplus from the toiling people and division of labourers too originated.” (Class Caste Relations: Marxist Approach). Comrade Santosh Rana also had similar understanding. He wrote, “In short, the position of an individual in social division of labour, his role in controlling the means of production, his social prestige in relation of the law, his portion of social surplus and the means of achieving this surplus, etc., are determined by his varna. The task of the Shudras was to produce surplus and the three upper varnas used to extract that. It only means, the class division in India at first expressed itself through the varna system.” (Samaj Shreni Rajniti, A collection of Essays by Santosh Rana in Bengali/ Translation is mine).
Once upon a time the West Bengal state committee of CPIM undertook the task to study the social history of our country under the leadership of Anil Biswas around the year of 2OOO and a brief outline of the study was published as a booklet in the year of 2OO3. They also reached in the same conclusion and admitted that the class struggle in ancient and mediaeval India took the form of caste struggle, however, they considered it as a barrier for the development of a classical class struggle.
Among the early communists of our country Comrade S. A. Dange first engaged in a systematic study of the history of ancient India form a Marxist point of view. Although he was influenced by a mechanical Marxist approach and tried to impose the western pattern of social development on the history of India (especially in the case of slave system), still he has left behind some important observations for us. He also admitted that although the varna system emerged in the primitive communist society of the Aryans, however, with the advent of private property the varna division took the shape of class division. He wrote, “Once that stage has been reached, private property and classes are born. The Varnas metamorphoses into contradictory classes and take the path of civil war, class war. The primitive commune dies, never to return.” (INDIA: FROM PRIMITIVE COMMUNISM TO SLAVERY/ PPH/ Page:1O1).
Professor Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya had an elaborated study on the Vedic society in ancient India. He also convincingly proved that in early Vedic period the Aryan society was a primitive form of communistic society without the class division, although, a simple form of division of work was present there. However, for the first time the Indo-Aryan society became divided into four varnas when the ill-famous Purusha Shukata was composed. It was nothing but the reflection of the emerging class division within the Indo-Aryan society.
The Rig Veda is an important source to understand the transition from classless society to the class society in India. The experts have an opinion that the Rig Veda was composed through a long time, nearly seven hundred to eight hundred years. Within this time frame the Vedic society passed through this transition. That is why we see a concept of equality of all human being (obviously within the clan) and gods too were considered as the friends of all human being (Jananam Jamih). However, in the later portion of the Rig Veda we see a work division came into being where the Brahmins had the prerogatives to maintain the connection with the gods, that is, in the ritualistic matters. The Purusha Shukta proposed a division among the Indo-Aryan people, however, it did not set up the hierarchy. It gave some indications only. The Brahmins were formed from the mouth of the Purusha. The Rajanyas were born from his arms. The Vaishyas came from his thighs and the Shudras from his feet. Many different interpretations are possible of this symbolic presentation of the division. The question arises that how far it is correct to assume that the Rig Veda determined the hierarchical places of four varnas and their duties or role in the society! Manu had his particular interpretation. He was convinced that the Purusha Shukta place the Brahmin at the top of the social hierarchical ladder, by saying that they were born from the mouth of the Purusha. For him it was quite sufficient indication that the Brahmins should own all the knowledge and wisdom in order to appear as the sole representatives of the divinity in this material world. Similarly the Rajanyas had the duty to protect the people since they were born from the arms. The Vaishyas and the Shudras were duty-bound to produce the wealth and the Shudras had a role only to serve the upper three varnas. Since they were born from the feet of the Purusha they had no right.
This interpretation of Manu was not acceptable to many admirers and followers of the Rig Veda and so called Vedic religion. According to them, by the system of Chaturvarna the Vedas only proposed a job division only, nothing more than that. Therefore, a person can be a Brahmin, or Kshatriya, or Shudra not by his or her birth but by work or karma. Ambedkar called these people as the most dangerous enemy of the dalit movement.
However, we must understand why Manu interpreted the Purusha Shukta in such a manner from the historical materialist point of view. Manu composed a literature which was called Smriti, that means, the law. But the laws are creations of the human being. The strong presence of the memory of old days of communistic society never allowed the people to accept any discrimination when it was created by the human itself. This is an important peculiarity of Indian society. Therefore, it must have been supported by the divinity. The Smrities must have been supported by the Shruti (the Vedas). Why? Because ‘the Vedas are not created by the human being, it was composed by the God’. The fatal Shruti-Smriti combine now became eligible to dictate the discrimination. Had there been no Purusha Shukta in the Rig Veda it would be difficult for Manu to justify the class division within the Indo-Aryan society which in return would make the class struggle much sharper. Therefore, today at least it can be said that the Purusha Shukta gives an important service to the ruling classes from the ancient time till today. (The whole hymn of Purusha Shukta made of sixteen verses along with annotation and notes by Wendy Doniger are given in Appendix for the advanced readers).
Now let us enter the political consequences of this development as laid down by Manu. From above discussion one thing is very clear. The varna division and subsequent caste division in Indian society is nothing but the class division in a different form. Therefore, when Ambedkar gave a call for annihilation of castes and the Communist Party gave a call to fight for a classless society, there was no essential difference between these two calls.
The Political Struggle of the Shudras
However, the early communists of our movement failed to see the matter from this angel. This is not true, as some of the critics of the communist movement always try to propagate, that the Communist Party did not take care of the Caste Annihilation movement led by Ambedkar at all. However, all the efforts of the Party were based on some half hearted understanding of the social struggles in our country. In the preface of “Who were the Shudras?” written in nineteen forty six Ambedkar said, “It is well-known that there is a non-Brahmin movement in this country which is political movement of the Shudras. It is also well-known that I have been connected with it.” Thus under the leadership of Ambedkar the political movement of the Shudras was born. When the Shudras of our country who were actually the Indian version of proletariat having nothing to lose except their chains waged a political struggle against their oppressors, it should have been a welcome development for the communists. However, the matter did not develop in this line. Instead, a bitter relation was developed between the Communists and the Ambedkarites and an unwanted rift was emerged between these two camps which helped Congress to manipulate the complicated situation prevailed at that time of nineteen thirties and nineteen forties successfully to capture the leadership of anti-British struggle in India in order to give birth a neo-colonial India after nineteen forty seven. We need to understand the failure of both the camps, the Communists and the Ambedkarites, in this regard in order to determine today’s task in the concrete social condition of Indian revolution. At first we will discuss the mental make-up of B.R. Ambedkar. The above-mentioned preface of “Who were the Shudras” written by him can be an eye opener in this case.
In that preface Ambedkar divided the ‘Hindus’ in five distinct categories. He said, “There is a class of Hindus, who are known as Orthodox and who will not admit that there is anything wrong with the Hindu social system. To talk of reforming it is to them rank blasphemy.” Regarding the second category he said, “There is a class of Hindus who are known as Arya Samajists. They believe in the Vedas and only in Vedas. They differ from the Orthodox inasmuch as they discard anything which is not in the Vedas. Their gospel is that of return to the Vedas.” On the third category Ambedkar said, “There is a class of Hindus who will admit that the Hindu social system is all wrong, but who hold that there is no necessity to attack it. Their argument is that since law does not recognize it, it is dying, if not a dead system.” He remarked on the fourth category, “There is a class of Hindus, who are politically minded. They are indifferent to such questions. To them Swaraj is more important than social reform.” Ambedkar found his ally in the fifth category, so he said, “The fifth class of Hindus are those who are rationalists, and who regard reforms as of primary importance, even more important than Swaraj.”
Ambedkar admitted that there was a fierce battle was going on between him and the first two categories of the ‘Hindus’. On the probable impact of his book, ‘Who Were the Shudras’ on the Arya Samajists he said, “The book treads heavily on the toes of the Arya Samajists…. Both these conclusions are bound to act like atomic bombs on the dogmas of the Arya Samajists.” He said further, “I am not sorry for this clash with Arya Samajist. The Arya Samajists have done great mischief in making the Hindu society a stationary society…… I am convinced that the Hindu society will not accept the necessity of reforming itself unless and until this Arya Samajists’s ideology is completely destroyed. This book does render this service, if no other.”
On the Orthodox ‘Hindus’ he remarked, “What the Orthodox Hindus will say about this book I can well imagine for I have battling with him all these years. The only thing I did not know was how the meek and non-violent looking Hindu can be violent when anybody attacks his Sacred Books. I became aware of it as never before when last year I received a shower of letters from angry Hindus, who became quite unbalanced by my speech on the subject delivered in Madras. The letters were full of filthy abuses, unmentionable and unprintable, and full of dire threats to my life…. I don’t know what they will do this time….. For I know very well that they are a base crew who, professing to defend their religion, have made religion a matter of trade. They are more selfish than any other set of beings in the world, and are prostituting their intelligence to support the vested interests of their class…. What I would like to tell these amiable gentlemen is that they will not be able to stop me by their imprecations.”
On the other hand Ambedkar admitted that he had no expectation to be able to change the minds of third and fourth categories of the ‘Hindus’. While he furnished some arguments against the third category he just simply ignored the fourth category of the “Hindus” whom he called “politically minded”. On them he only employed two or three remarks, “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.” On the ‘Hindus’ of fifth category Ambedkar said, “The only class of Hindus, who are likely to welcome the book are those who believe in the necessity and urgency of social reform. The fact that it is a problem which will certainly take a long time to solve and will call the efforts of many generations to come, is in their opinion, no justification for postponing the study of the problem. Even an ardent Hindu politician, if he is honest, will admit that the problems arising out of the malignant form of communalism which is inherent in the Hindu social organization and which the politically minded Hindus desire to ignore or postpone, invariably return to plague, those very politicians at every turn. These problems are not the difficulties of the moment. They are our permanent difficulties, that is to say, difficulties of every moment. I am glad to know that such a class of Hindus exists. Small though they be, they are my mainstay and it is to them that I have addressed my arguments.”
From above quotations we can have a sketch of mental make-up of B.R. Ambedkar and his general political understanding. For him the Independence of the country was not that much important if the rule of the newly independent country would go in the hands of the caste-Hindu leadership. A Hindu India was no way better for him than the colonial India. Therefore, he wanted to launch a decisive battle against caste discrimination and for the annihilation of the caste system at that point of time when the struggle for independence of our country from the British rule reached at its peak. This became the point of difference between the Ambedkarite movement and the Communist movement. It is also very clear from the discussion put forward by Ambedkar in that preface that he meant the leadership of the Communist Party and the non-Orthodox leaders of Congress as “politically-minded Hindus”. Here, one can easily notice the weakness in Ambedkar’s politics which lost credibility to represent the nation as a whole and remained merely as dalit politics. The Communist Party warned Ambedkar continuously about this lacuna and urged him to be united with the mainstream of the struggle for Independence. However, the Communist Party was always apprehensive about the actual political aim of Ambedkar and thought that his politics would create disunity among the ranks of the working class and the toiling masses which in return might create harm to the communist movement in particular and the struggle for Independence in general. Therefore, while the party was sympathetic with the condition of the dalits and agreed upon the justification of dalit movement and criticized heavily the Congress leadership for not paying attention to their cause, the Communist Party did not believe the leaders of the dalit movement including Ambedkar. (See the documents of B.T. Randive on dalit movement, nineteen forty six) Thus, a space of political dialogue between the Communists and the Ambedkarites could not come into being and the warning from the CP to Ambedkar went in vain as the later saw no friendly advice in it. Therefore, the Communist Party failed to perform its historical duty.
Today a large number of the Communists will accept this fact, however, it is not enough. We must analyze why the Communist Party failed to build unity with the dalit movement. We must identify the shortcomings in the theoretical understanding of the communist practice in this question in order to understand today’s task. Otherwise again the movement will be directed by the pragmatic political understanding and we will repeat the same mistake, may be from an opposite direction.
It is a well accepted fact that the original Shudras of the Rig Veda were gradually marginalized more and more by the three upper Varnas and at one point of time started to be mixed up with the so called fifth Varna or the Avarnas who were actually the vanquished non-Aryans and formed a large section of the Indian people who are generally called as the dalits. According to a recent survey conducted by NSS nearly three fourth of the Indian population are entitled to some kind of reservation as they belong to SC, ST or OBC categories. The overwhelming majority of the dalit people in our country are landless, property-less, marginalized, socially and economically oppressed. The largest section of nearly fifty crore strong unorganized workers in India is made of by these people.
However, it must be taken into account that we are not living in English or West European condition. In Indian context this huge section of the working class is not only economically exploited but at the same time socially deprived since in our country the class division was introduced in the form of caste or varna division in order to take religious sanctity. The positive side of Ambedkar’s politics lies in the fact that he understood that without snatching the political power from the caste-Hindus, dalits could never achieve a country or society of its own. The annihilation of the caste division cannot be achieved by changing the minds of the caste-Hindus or through some patch work to reform Hindu social structure. So he declared his movement as the political movement of the Shudras.
From a Marxist point of view the political struggle of the Shudras is nothing but the political struggle of the working class. Therefore, the political formation which led this struggle must have been a party of the working class. However, Ambedkar was not a Marxist. It is not necessary for a working class party to be a Marxist party all the time. The Marxist party does not necessarily lead through its majority or organizational strength but through its clear and profound theoretical-political understanding. The Communist Manifesto says: “In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole? The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working-class parties. They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole. They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement. The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.” (The Communist Manifesto/ Edited by Frederic L. Bender/ Norton Critical Edition/ pp 67).
Therefore, the Communist Party cannot oppose other working-class parties because they don’t have any separate sectarian principles. Keeping a cooperative and friendly relation with those parties the CP must lead them to move forward by pointing out the general and long-term political interest of the working class. Now the question is did the early Communists of our country apply this teaching of the Communist Manifesto or were they were led by sectarian principles?
Instead of becoming glad to see the political upsurge of the dalits under the leadership of Ambedkar, the Communist Party became apprehensive and scared. Comrade BTR repeatedly pressurized SCF (Scheduled Caste Federation) to dismantle the dalit mass organizations under its umbrella and to work within same mass organizations led by the Communist Party.(See the above mentioned documents of BTR and also the Introduction by Anand Teltumbde of ‘India and Communism’ written by Ambedkar/ Left Word/2O17) Sometimes the organs of the party openly advocated the necessity to bring out the dalit masses from the dalit organizations in order to organize them under the fold of the Communist Party. All this activities of the party and the mentality behind those helped to develop mistrust, fear and distance among the ranks of the dalit movement. Undoubtedly it was nothing but the sectarian policy of the Communist Party. Instead of performing the labourious task to find out the general and long-term political interests of the working class and by pointing out those to the leaders of the dalit movement the party took a shortcut road of putting the organizational interest in command and did the same mistake which The Communist Manifesto warned against, i.e., to develop sectarian principles against other working class parties.
What was the general interest of the working class in India at the decisive moment of the struggle for Independence? Undoubtedly it was Swaraj—— the Independence from the British rule which Ambedkar failed to see. It was quite expected from a man like Ambedkar as he was not a Marxist and from a political formation like SCF as it was a non-Marxist working class party. The Communist Manifesto clearly said that it was the distinguishing feature of the Communists to see and uphold the general interest of the working class. However, while the Communist Party correctly pointed out the general interest of the working class to the dalit leaders but at the same time showing left-anarchist political mentality they accused and opposed and very often described Ambedkar and other dalit leaders as the stooge of imperialism. But what was the reason behind this kind of behavior of the Communist leaders towards the dalit leadership?
The answer probably lies in the fact that the leaders of the Communist Party never recognized the dalit movement as the integral part of the Indian working class movement. They never recognized the dalit leaders as the representatives of a large section of the Indian working masses. Therefore, they never recognized SCF as another working class party. So they never tried to find out the way to develop a proper relation with them. It does not mean that the Communist leaders did not know the actual condition of the dalits in our country or they had no sympathy towards the dalit movement. BTR admitted in those documents that in the Indian Railways thousands of the dalit workers received only nine rupees as DA while the workers in the garment factories of Mumbai were paid one hundred rupees for the same. The party admitted that since the time immemorial the dalits were deprived from all the rights which were absolutely essential to lead a decent life and if these people were not given equal status then an Independent India was not possible. Practically there was actually no demand of Ambedkar left which was not accepted by the Communist Party. However, when the dalits formed their own political organization in order to launch a political struggle, the Communist Party became scared and apprehensive. Actually half-hearted understanding on the Indian history and reality led the Party to commit this political blunder.
We will see how this blunder took more complicated and irreversible turn when the question of the long-term interests of the working class was confronted by the Communist Party. What was the long-term interest of the working class in the freedom struggle? Undoubtedly it was to build up a New Democratic India as a result of anti-colonial struggle. Now, the question is, was it possible under the leadership of Congress? The answer is No. Then why the Communist Party accepted the leadership of Congress in the freedom movement and never tried snatching the leadership? Ambedkar and other leaders of SCF were not against the freedom movement or freedom from the British as such. However, Ambedkars was in total disagreement of the leadership of Congress as he knew that since the Congress party used to represent the interest of the bourgeois and zaminder class of our country who were at the same time from so called higher castes then it was quite imperative that the ‘free’ India would be a prison for the dalits. Ambedkar called those freedom fighters as ‘politically minded Hindus’ and advised his fellow comrades ‘not to take them seriously’ who did not bother that outcome of the freedom movement. Unfortunately, the Communist Party placed itself in this position. Had the party been directed by the long-term interest of the working class then it became absolutely natural for it to develop a rock-solid alliance with the Ambedkarite movement in order to emerge as a potential claimant of the leadership of the freedom struggle. In that case the course of the history might change into a new direction.
Some comrades do not accept the fact that the Communist Party accepted the leadership of Congress in the freedom movement. Many documents can be cited to negate this thought. If this is done the size of the present article might be longer than it was intended. However, one can remember that as early as in nineteen thirty two there were four communist parties of the Third Communist International to write an open letter to the Indian Communists warning about the danger of accepting the leadership of Congress in the freedom struggle which they thought that the Communist in India did not care. In nineteen forty four, Comrade P.C. Joshi wrote a few letters to M.K. Gandhi and MK replied those, too. The correspondence between PC and MK is one of the important documents of the Communist Party. Replying one letter from Gandhi Comrade Joshi wrote to him, “If my own father wrote such a letter I would not respond and never would see his face. However, I am replying you because you are the father of our nation. As a patriot it goes against my duty to be angry with you even when you insult and harass us.” (English translation is mine from Bengali document)
Some comrades think that Ambedkar and other dalit leaders were against the freedom struggle as a whole, therefore an alliance with them was not possible in the movement for Independence. Again, many articles wrote by Ambedkar can be cited to negate this thought but for the time being we can be restricted in the above mentioned documents of comrade BTR in this regard. He wrote: “However, it is true that SCF never commit a crime to go against the demand of freedom. As a matter of fact Rao Bahadur Shibraj, the President of their Kanpur session clearly stated, ‘We are not against the freedom of India but we want assurance that what we demanded in Nagpur that will be accepted’.”(English translation is mine form Bengali document)
In spite of knowing all these things the Communist Party never paid deeper attention to the fact that if it was true that the SCF leadership were not actually against the freedom movement then why apparently they used to take such political position which might be depicted as against anti-colonial struggle! The party never tried to realize with enough seriousness that why the severe bitterness emerged in the relation between the dalit movement and the Congress party! The party never learned from the history of our country to understand the serious nature of the contradiction between the dalits and the caste Hindus.
On the contrary Comrade BTR tried repeatedly to convince Ambedkar and his fellow comrades about the importance and necessity of the leadership of Congress in general over the freedom movement and the leadership of MK Gandhi in particular whom the party already recognized as the father of the nation! It is true that the Communist party criticized the Congress for not accepting the demands of SCF, but it is also true that in the contradiction between SCF and the Congress the party associated itself with the later which meant that in the contradiction between the dalits and the caste Hindus the party associated itself with the later.
This strategic blunder of the party negated the merit of its criticism against Congress for not accepting the demands of the dalits. It is true that the Communist Party honestly and earnestly wanted the unity among Congress, Communist, Muslim League and SCF including all the nationalist forces against the British but they failed to realize that it could not be possible if the Congress would remain as the leader of the freedom movement. The party needed Congress as they used it as a cover and continued to work inside it. This tactical blunder negated the merit of its honest aspiration to unite all the nationalist forces against the British rule.
After seventy two years of so called Independence a serious evaluation is required regarding the relation between the dalit movement and the communist movement. By this span of time many changes took place in the Indian political scenario. Congress ruled the country for more than 6O years within these seventy two years of ‘Independence’. No significant improvement in the general condition of the dalit masses can be seen by this time. In spite of the capitalist development in India the ugly form of caste discrimination, caste oppression, and the domination of Brahmanical ideology and practices continue with same vigour. Ambedkar’s apprehensions have come true. The “free” India is actually a neo-colonial India which has become the prison of the dalits. Receiving an insignificant share of the state power by a handful of the dalit leaders does not indicate any kind of change in the condition of the dalit masses.
The dalit movement has undergone many changes. Repeated division and re-division within dalit movement has weakened the movement which only helped the Brahmanical Manuvadi ruling class to use one section of the movement against another in order to retain its domination over the country. The communist movement also has passed through many changes and within this movement, too, repeated division and re-division have taken place.
Initial lacuna in theoretical understanding has aggravated, however, from the same pragmatist outlook many left and revolutionary left organizations now are raising Joy Bhim Lal Salam slogan landing in the opposite pole in the case of relation with the dalit movement and started to preach red-blue unity. However, how far this change of position is coming from the improvement of theoretical understanding on Indian reality or comes as a result of practical-political need at the time of severe crisis throughout international communist movement, is a difficult question to answer.
However, it is interesting to see that while the party like CPI(M) is raising Joy Bhim Lal Salam slogan in different parts of the country, at the same time they support the cunning step of the BJP government of introducing economic condition based reservation. This self contradiction only raises serious doubts that they have not learned anything from the past experiences. For them the talk of red-blue unity is nothing but a short-term tactical game. Their tacit support to BJP in the political battle against TMC in Bengal again shows how easily these ‘communists’ can ally with the Brahminvadi, Manuvadi forces.
In this scenario we, the revolutionary lefts, must accomplish the long-pending task to bridge the
‘unholy rift between the dalit movement and the communist movement’ (as coined by Anand Teltumbde) in our country. We need to recognize the dalit parties as different kind of working class parties. It is true that today many dalit organizations under the leadership of Mayavati like leaders actually left the revolutionary slogan of Ambedkar, the annihilation of the castes. Instead of that they are busy to find privileges for a handful of dalit aristocrats within this caste-divided society. However, it does not mean that the whole dalit movement has lost its relevance or deteriorated in a reformist opportunist movement. We cannot forget that the same scenario is also evolved in the communist movement itself. However, it does not mean that the communist movement has lost its relevance as the revolutionary movement in the society. We can say it emphatically that if we can build the real red-blue unity based on proper understanding of the Indian condition and history, the struggle against the ruling classes of our country will have a better chance to win.
(Paper presented in Study Class) n
“…turn in any direction you like, caste is the monster that crosses your path. You cannot have political reform, you cannot have economic reform, unless you kill this monster.”
– B. R. Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste
“To be radical is to grasp things by the root.”
No two words in modern history might have had as menacing a consequence to the future of a country as caste and class. They have not only divided the working class movements into two camps, viz., movements believing in class struggle and movements believing in anti-caste struggle, but each backed by the ideological obsession of their protagonists and their historical trajectories pushed them onto the path of divergence and in course weakened both of them to the extent that today they find themselves struggling for relevance. Castes have been the life-world of people in the Indian subcontinent for more than two millennia and largely acknowledged to be the unique feature of its majority of people called Hindus although they never remained confined to them and infected the other religious communities that came into being since medieval times. It did face threats from counter-ideological streams such as shramans (later best represented by Buddhism) and political threats by the outsider invaders coming in from north but managed to outlast all of them. Contrary to a commonplace notion, Buddhism despite its ideological hegemony over the subcontinent for about a millennium could not disturb this life-world. Most of the outside invaders either left or settled mixing up with the local population leaving this life-world undisturbed in its essence. The medieval period saw emergence of Islamic society in India presenting an alternate civilizational prospect to the lower castes and it posed a significant threat to this life-world to the extent a large section of them escaped the thralldom of Brahmanism and embraced Islam. However, even this threat remained short-lived and soon even this new society got infected with caste virus. The new religion of Sikhism ostensibly professing equality of all humans by assimilating noble precepts of both Hinduism and Islam, also could not guard off the caste virus from infecting its society. Later, when Christianity came in, similarly attracting the lower castes in huge numbers as Islam did, the minority of upper castes who embraced it, castized it. Castes thus remained a pervasive reality of the India since antiquity to this day.
The life-world implied all its inhabitants internalized its principles and ethos. The people behaved as they were expected to by the caste code. It was only during the colonial rule that anti-caste consciousness germinated in the lower castes. The opportunities for economic progress, the new institutional mode of governance and the advent of capitalism under its shelter, catalysed it. Barring stray pockets in the world that reflected caste-like characteristics and African continent which had dominance of tribalism, classes characterized rest of the world. They came into prominence, however, with the spread of capitalism, which in its idealized form, divided the society into two interdependent but antagonistic classes, viz., proletariat and bourgeoisie. They particularly assumed prominence with the theories of Marxism that saw struggles between these two classes reaching their zenith where they would usher into a revolutionary change to socialism and thence, communism.
In this note I intend discussing the meaning of caste and class to elucidate the mistake committed by both the movements, dalit as well as communist, in dealing with them. While presenting my analysis of the situation of these movements, I try to sketch out a strategy for them to converge over a reasonable timeframe.
Definitional Aspects: Varna and Jati
Simply put, caste is a defining feature of the Indian society. Etymologically, the English word “caste” derives from the Spanish and Portuguese casta, with its roots in Latin castus. It meant “race, lineage, or breed”. When the Portuguese arrived in India in 1498 and encountered thousands of in-marrying hereditary Indian social groups they called them “castas”, which became “castes” in English in 1613. The Indian name for castes is Jati or Jat. While the Europeans did not know anything like jati, their conception of caste subsumed racial connotations and tended to confuse with the varna division of the society, which still prevails significantly among the western scholars.
There is much confusion even in the scholarly literature between jati, and varna [They are used interchangeably by most scholars. For instance, Stuart Corbridge, John Harriss, Craig Jeffrey, India Today: Economy, Politics and Society, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2013; Also see Bharat Jhunjhunwala, Varna Vyavastha: Governance through Caste System, Rawat Publications, New Delhi, p. 183; Binod, C.Agrawal, Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Complex Societies, Ethnographic & Folk Culture Society, Lucknow, 1982, p.44; N. K., Dutt, Origin and Growth of Castes in India, Vol. I, The Book Co. Ltd., Calcutta, 1931, p. 4.], which together constitute basis for the caste system. It is largely agreed that varnas were brought into India by the conquering tribes of Aryas during the dark period of history. If the lineage of Aryans is traced to the Iranian society, Avesta mentions only three classes of people based on economic functions in society [See, Mukhtar Ahmed, Ancient Pakistan: An Archaeological History, Vol. V, Foursome Group, Reidsville, 2014, p.149.] sans hierarchy, evolved into four (Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Shudra) varna System (Chaturvarna) by the end of Rigvedic period with a notion of hierarchy and then led to designate the excluded ones as the avarnas (non-varna) or pancham (fifth) varna,.Thus, varnas were finite and with definitive hierarchy. Castes (jatis), in contrast, are countless and (because of it) with fluid notion of hierarchy. [The rough estimate of castes runs into thousands but no one for sure can vouch for those numbers. Louis Dumont deals with this question but leaves it unanswered because of its infeasibility. See Louis Dumont, Homo Hierrachicus, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1970, p. 33]. Varna is the vedic classification of the four ranked occupational order, whereas caste refers to ranked hereditary, endogamous and occupational groups separated from each other by the ideas of purity and pollution. Classically, varnas defined the borders of Hinduism, whereas jatis were local within the borders of ethnolinguistic regions. The varnas may be taken as theoretical, a framework, whereas castes (jatis) are real and concrete. Besides, Brahman and the shudra within the original chaturvarna and avarna dalits in its extended form, which bracket overall Hindu social order, all other varnas are rarely found everywhere, but castes are found all over. As a result, the mapping of castes with intermediate varnas remains hazy and not accepted by many castes. Many castes reject legitimacy of the varna hierarchy and/or the places assigned to them by others. In the Brahmanical strongholds of south India itself the intermediate varnas hardly exist. Where they exist, they do so with local variations. Even historically, the village roost was not necessarily ruled by any Brahman caste; when it was, one could find wealth and power rather than its ritual status being instrumental in its placement. Many Brahmans did not enjoy any such reputation. Second, even their explanation for the advent of varnashram dharma also is unconvincing as it does not explain why it only survived in India and not elsewhere.
Historicity of Castes
The discourse on caste customarily starts curiously with the origin of caste, as though castes were the same as they originated. Many scholars have proffered theories of the origin of castes which in sum are no better than a blind man’s description of an elephant. Whether they are plausible or not, from the perspective of their annihilation, they do not serve any purpose. One of the motivations behind knowing the origin of caste is to possibly strike at its root in order to eradicate it. Probably Dr Ambedkar adopts it when in Annihilation of Caste; he attributes its origin to the Dharmashastras of Hinduism and therefore infers that unless they were dynamited, the caste system would not be annihilated.
The theories of the origin of castes may be broadly classified into as many as ten classes based on their thrust: (i) traditional or Indological theory, (ii) racial theory, (iii) political theory, (iv) religious theory, (v) occupational theory, (vi) racial/functional theory, (vii) guild theory, (viii) mana theory, and (ix) evolution or multi-factor theory. According to the traditional or Indological theory, the caste system is of divine origin. It is based on the allegorical explanation in Purushsukta in Rig Veda for the origin of four varnas being parts of the cosmic being purusha or the supreme creator (God)., Castes were born later as a result of different types of marriages between varnas in ancient India. Although of little intellectual value, it underlies the popular belief in castes. The Racial Theory propounded by Sir Herbert Risely held that caste system was due to racial differences between migrant Aryas and Anaryas (native people). G. S. Ghurye (1932) appear to support this theory. The political theory held that caste system was the result of political conspiracy of the Brahmans to secure control over the functions of the society. This theory was originally propounded by a French scholar Abbe Dubais and found tacit support in many scholars like Denzil Ibbetson and also S.G. Ghurye. The religious theory was advocated by Hocart and Senart. Hocart postulated that castes were a hierarchy of ritual offices centered on a king (or a local lord) having as their purpose the performance of the royal ritual for the benefit of the entire community. The king, as the representative of the god and religion, allotted positions to different functional groups. Senart tried to explain the caste system on the basis of prohibitions regarding sacramental food. Occupational/Functional theory, originally propounded by Nesfield, held that occupation were the main base of the caste system. The notion of hierarchy of castes stemmed basically from the superiority or inferiority of occupations. The Racial/ Functional theory put forth by Slater combines both the racial and functional origins, postulating that the caste system was created to safeguard the professional and occupational secrets of different races. The Aryan invasions intensified and developed the existing structure making occupations hereditary and marriages only within the same occupation groups, sanctified later by ritual practices and religious ceremonies. The Guild theory put forth by Denzil Ibbeston, holds that castes are the modified forms of guilds and the caste system was the product of three forces, (i) tribes, (ii) guilds, and (iii) religion. The guilds evolved into castes imitating the endogamy of the prestigious class of priests. The mana theory based on the views of J.H. Hutton accords the caste system pre-Aryan origin and suggests that the primitive belief in ‘mana’ among tribes accounted for the origin of the caste system. Mana was associated with magical and harmful powers and hence the ancient tribes evolved elaborate taboos or restrictions to protect themselves from other tribes’ mana. Lastly, the Evolutionary or Multifactor theory propounded by sociologists held that a complex phenomenon of the caste system could not be explained by a single factor and rather was a result of many factors such as beliefs in racial superiority, geographical isolation. metaphysical concepts, belief in mana, desire to maintain racial purity of blood and manipulation by Brahmans.
As could be seen, none of these theories, save for the last one, which does not claim a specific factor and hence is flexible enough to accommodate any of the above or entirely new one within its fold, are explaining the origin of the caste system. They rather explain the varna system and take for granted that caste system is born out of the varna system.
Ambedkar on Caste
In relation to castes, Babasaheb Ambedkar assumes extraordinary importance because of his life-long struggle, both in the realm of theory as well as practice. His seminal paper, Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development, which Ambedkar presented as a student, at an Anthropology Seminar taught by Dr. A. A. Goldenweizer in Columbia University on 9 May 1916, dealt with some of these views and also those of Dr. Ketkar and dismissed them as Petitio Principii of formal logic.. It was here that he observed, “A caste is an enclosed class”.
He disagreed with Senart that the “idea of pollution” was a peculiarity of caste as it was “a particular case of the general belief in purity”. As per him, the idea of pollution could be ignored without affecting the working of castes. It was attached to the institution of caste only because of the priestly caste which enjoyed the highest rank. To Nesfield’s theory highlighting absence of messing with outside the caste, Ambedkar would say that it was mistaking the effect for the cause. Caste being a self-enclosed unit, it naturally limits social intercourse, including messing. He did not find Risley’s views deserving even a comment. He rather included Ketkar who had defined caste in its relation to a system of castes, and had focused his attention only on those characteristics which were absolutely necessary for the existence of a caste within a system. Ambedkar however, critiqued Ketkar for taking “prohibition of intermarriage and membership by autogeny” as the two characteristics of caste and argued that they were but two aspects of one and the same thing. If intermarriage is prohibited, the membership of those born within the group also shall be automatically limited.
Ambedkar argues that the Hindu society like other societies was essentially a class system, in which individuals, when qualified, could change their class. However, at some time in history, the priestly class socially detached itself from the rest of the people and through a closed-door policy became a caste by itself. The other varnas, which were subject to the law of social division of labour, developed sub-division with social mobility of the class system. However, as he argued, they too lost the open-door character of the class system and have become self-enclosed units called castes. He explained their becoming castes saying “Some closed the door: Others found it closed against them.” He proffered a psychological explanation for the former saying that since the Brahmans or priestly class, occupied the highest position in the social hierarchy of the Hindu society, the other classes simply imitated them by adopting endogamy. Over the years, endogamy became a fashion since it originated from the priestly class, who were venerated and idolized in the scriptures. Endogamy was thus practiced by all the classes, which ultimately resulted into the rigid formation of castes. The custom of endogamy superimposed on exogamy, which prevailed in all ancient tribes, became the creation of castes. He points out that without the practice of endogamy, the caste system cannot survive. Along with endogamy, Brahmans followed the custom of sati and enforced widowhood which later spread to other castes. The mainstream sociology never acknowledged this analysis of Ambedkar, although it predated the thesis by G. S. Ghurye, celebrated as the first sociological treatise on caste by a decade and anticipated many of the ideas of the later scholars.
Ambedkar developed his theory of untouchability on the basis of ‘broken men’ (broken from their tribes during the tribal wars), who, since they were Buddhists, and did not respect Brahmans were made untouchables. He wrote, “...the Broken Men were Buddhists. As such they did not revere the Brahmins, did not employ them as their priests and regarded them as impure. The Brahmin on the other hand disliked the Broken Men because they were Buddhists and preached against them contempt and hatred with the result that the Broken Men came to be regarded as Untouchables”. They were made untouchables because they continued eating beef when the Gupta Kings made cow killing a criminal offence and beef eating a sin in the 4th century AD. This theorization that attributed untouchability to the struggle for supremacy between Buddhism and Brahmanism helped him to endow the dalits with Buddhist past.
Ambedkar’s theorization of untouchability is as problematic as his analysis of castes was insightful. It is pivoted on ‘broken men’ being Buddhist, which, as candidly admitted by Ambedkar does not have any evidential support. He just concludes it saying “No evidence is ... necessary when the majority of Hindus were Buddhists. We may take it that they were.”
While the ideological contrivance surely plays a role in sustaining a social order, it cannot create it. The fact that varna-like systems of stratification existed in most ancient societies and they were not ordained by any religious ideology, purely ideological explanation for the origin of the caste system becomes problematic. Social systems come into being because the material conditions demand them. The ideological superstructure develops later to preserve them. A section of society that benefits from the system develops vested interests and wants to preserve it through an ideological apparatus. The pervasiveness of the caste system over the vast subcontinental space and its becoming a ‘life-world’ of people is surely attributable to the spread of ideology but the origin of the caste system needs to be searched elsewhere.
The material factors that gave rise to the caste system can perhaps be located in the uniquely rich natural endowment of the Indian subcontinent for the biotic mode of production extant in ancient times. In terms of plentiful flat, fertile land; rivers and water bodies; abundant and all time sunshine, and congenial climate, Indian subcontinent may scarcely have parallel on the planet in its richness for agriculture. These factors might be seen to be the key to unfathom the mystery of the unique system of stratification in the form of the caste system. When nomadic tribes began settling for agriculture, they necessarily underwent change in their social structure everywhere confirming to their material conditions. For instance, the places where lands were hostile and not so fertile; water sources were scanty and seasons were erratic; and sunshine had a narrow window of a few months, as for instance in England, it gave rise to a system of serfdom. In order to cultivate vast tracts of lands within a small time-window necessitated huge army of serfs to work and a lord to control them. In contrast, Indian tribes did not have to undergo such a structural transformation and had settled down with their tribal identities intact. These tribal identities were rather castes, albeit sans hierarchy or any stigma.
The notion of hierarchy and stigma (purity and pollution) were rather superimposed by the post-Rigvedic varna system. Thus, contrary to the proposition of the traditional ideological theory, it is not the varnas that came first and they evolved into castes, but quite the opposite. The castes in the form of tribal identities with some amount of magico-religious development, natural to agricultural communities, already existed in India, which were later overlain by the varna system brought in by the vanquishing Aryan tribes. With the growth of surplus production, it needed an intricate ideological contrivance, appealable to agricultural society as it purported to solve their myriad knowledge problems about natural events on which agriculture depended. The priestly class of Brahmans assumed the role of a mediator between people and gods, and slowly became ‘gods on earth’ themselves to establish their hegemony. They propounded a theory of karma to justify the present order and fortify their own supremacist position. While it made people to accept their caste statuses as their destinies according to their past karma, it also motivated them to adhere to the caste dharma in order to be born into better caste in the next birth. Besides this self propellant, there was a cobweb of rules as in Manusmriti that prescribed their behavior and punishments for any deviation from the prescribed code. This entire superstructure would stabilize making castes as the life-world of people.
It may be noted that the Manusmriti-like rules with harsh punishments provided for violation of caste code must have occasioned clearly to thwart the tendencies towards violation of the caste code. One may attribute it to the ideological influence of Buddhism when it began spreading among masses. In order to fortify the brahmanic structure of the society, such regidfied code might have been occasioned. But during the period of Buddhist hegemony, there appears no evidence that Buddhism actively engaged to fight the caste division in the society. It may be that while people followed Buddhism, the life-world of caste also survived. Buddhism, after it got royal support, lost its missionary zeal and became vihar centric engaged in production of intricate philosophies. People did adore Buddhism and its monks but the practice of castes also continued as a cultural drag. If the Buddhist tenets had crystallized into the cultural practice of people, it would be difficult to imagine complete erasure of it all over the subcontinent.
There were many upheavals in Indian history but this life-world adjusted itself to any disturbance. After the resurgence of Brahmanism under the leadership of Shankara in eighth century, it got strengthened further. It received numerous jolts during the medieval times through the stabilization of Muslim rule, emergence of Bhakti movement, emergence of Sikhism, etc., all of them ideologically oriented against castes, but it managed to adjust itself to the emerging circumstances.
Catalytic Role of the Colonial Rule
However, it received its severest jolt during the colonial period. The advent of western liberal institutions of governance, English education and capitalist enterprises proved hugely beneficial to the lower classes. Many of them ran after the opportunities created in new urban centers and made significant economic progress. Even before these changes began to befall, the advent of Britishers opened up opportunities for the lower castes to get into their employ and later into army. The latter proved especially significant because it not only gave them an opportunity to wield weapons, which were forbidden to them, but also win wars. It proved great moral booster in decimating the self image of inferiority solidified through centuries’ Brahmanic culture and realizing their martial prowess. The compulsory education in military service further reinforced it. All these changes created a class of relatively educated and economically well off Dalits, who became the harbinger of the Dalit movement. The work of Christian missionaries among them pushed the upper castes into taking up reforms in the Hindu society. The colonial rule variously impacted various sections of the Indian society including their life-world of castes.
From the dawn of the twentieth century, in process of responding to the various mass agitations (militant youth uprising in Bengal in response of partition and other parts), the British strategized to devolve power to Indian elites, albeit along the communal lines, so as to keep it in their control. The communal basis of sharing political power between two major divisions, Hindus and Muslims represented by the Congress and the Muslim League respectively, inevitably brought the question of where dalits and tribals belonged. On the eve of the Morley-Minto reforms in 1909 the Muslim League objected to the Congress’ taking them for granted as Hindus. It seeded the political space for the dalits in future to claim their separate identity and use it to bargain for their rights. The descent of Ambedkar, endowed with high academic accomplishments, as the dalit leader greatly accelerated this process. His main contributions have been in catapulting the caste question into the political arena, winning the dalits certain special rights such as reservations, theorizations of their struggles, and providing vision of emancipation.
The most significant measure that is entirely attributable to him is the scheme of reservations. Ambedkar won the dalits reservations with separate electorates in the Round Table Confernces during 1931-32 in contention with Gandhi. He was, however, blackmailed into giving up separate electorates by Gandhi with his fast unto death. The Poona Pact that symbolized the new agreement contained the principles of preferential recruitment of dalits in public services and other necessary things from the viewpoint of their uptliftment. In course, reservations in political representation, educational institutions and in public services (in 1943 when Ambedkar was a member in the Viceroy’s Executive Council) were established. The main justification of this ‘affirmative action’ was the exclusion suffered by the dalits in the Hindu society. They were accepted by the colonial rulers as an exceptional policy in favour of the exceptional people and were also largely reconciled by the populace. The significant development that happened for instituting these policies was the creation of a schedule that included all the untouchable people, imparting them a new administrative/political identity as scheduled castes. There was no back reference to the Hindu religious texts or customs necessary in future, thereby rendering the castes as such redundant.
When the reins of power came into the hands of the native upper caste-class elites, then represented by the Congress Party, they resorted to their Brahmanic cunning lain over the learning from colonial masters. The constituent assembly set up in accordance with the cabinet mission plan with the representatives elected by the provisional assemblies formed through the elections in July-August 1946 had to deal with the aspirations of masses, built up by the Congress during the freedom struggle. Way back in in 1928, under the Nehru committee, the Congress had resolved to undo untouchability. Later, in 1936, the Congress had decided to have a socialist system inspired by the constitution of Soviet Russia. Behind this mass façade, the Congress at its core remained the representative of the interests of the incipient bourgeoisie like Kuomintang in China during the same period. After gaining power, while it tried to keep up this façade, in reality it began surreptitiously but systematically pushing for the development in the interests of the capitalists as could be seen from its clandestine adoption of Bombay Plan (An investment plan prepared by the eight big capitalists during January 1944 for a period of 15 years in the post-colonial India, with the objective of doubling the GDP and trebling the per capita income) while rejecting it in public. In the context of castes, the constituent assembly took a decision to outlaw untouchability with much fanfare and amidst the slogan ‘Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai’. It was indeed a victory to strategist Gandhi as he best represented all the upper caste reformers who wanted to abolish untouchability but variously defended castes. Untouchability, however, was a mere aspect of caste; it could not go away if the castes existed. There was a clear opportunity for the new ruling classes to outlaw caste itself. With castes gone, untouchability would automatically vanish. As could be experienced, nothing happened with the untouchability law as survey after surveys, right from the 1950s to just the present day (NCAER report) reveal.
Castes were not abolished ostensibly for giving reservations to the dalits. While theoretically, it may be conceded that the constituent assembly could do away reservations for the dalits that came through colonial times, none little versed with politics would dare say so. The constituent assembly expectedly adopted the 1936 schedule and continued with the reservations to the dalits but not without a mischief. It created another schedule for the tribals and extended the ditto provisions to them as were given to the scheduled castes. In doing this, it skillfully projected reservations as the only measure of social justice. Notwithstanding the fact that the tribals also were excluded like dalits, albeit not stigmatized socially, and therefore deserved reservations like dalits, the natural solution could have been to expand the existing schedule to include the tribals. By so doing the stigma associated with the schedule for the Dalits could have been diluted as the tribals did not have castes. It would have greatly aided the objective of eradicating untouchability if it honestly meant it. But it was not to be. There were many other problems too in creating this schedule. Foremost, there was no indisputable criterion like untouchability to identify tribals. Many a well-off caste managed to get them included into the schedule and deprived the real tribals of its intended benefits. It is an empirical fact that the entire benefit of the ‘scheduled tribes’ is bagged by these fake ‘tribes’ keeping the real tribals high and dry to take up guns. The ruling classes haven’t even stopped at that. They would create a vague provision that the state would identify the ‘backward classes’ (read castes) so as to extend similar provisions in future. They were to seed the reservations for the so called Backward classes but in reality was meant to construct a can of caste-worms the lid of which could be opened at an opportune time in future. As we see, the Prime Minister, V.P. Singh opened the lid in 1990 and unleashed the caste worms all over, castizing the country as never before.
The entire schema about castes being kept alive comes out clear when we see similar scheming around religion, the other weapon to divide people. The constitution scrupulously avoided the term secular that could create a separating wall between religion and politics with an alibi to have space for the state to carry out religion-related reforms. The only reform, seen with hindsight, that one could imagine was in the form of passing the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 in the wake of the burning of Roop Kanwar on her husband’s pyre. It is important to understand these matters to uncover the real strategies of the rulers in devising multiple layers of fortifications over castes.
Notwithstanding huge scholarly interest in caste in recent years, there is huge intellectual inertia in understanding them. Castes today are not the classical castes representing graded inequality. Actually, castes today are reduced to their primordial kink in continuum: dalit versus non-dalits. With the advent of capitalism the ritual aspects of castes have been fast weakening in direct proportion to the degree of interface the castes had with the capitalist system. The traditional ritual differences would come in the way of building supply chain relationships, thereby tending to increase transaction costs. Moreover, the rational base of capitalism also acted against the ritualistic systems. Therefore, the castes in urban areas that entered the sphere of capitalist relations began gradually dropping the ritualistic aspects of castes. It happened with the dwija castes. There is no necessity in caste context that all people belonging to a caste or caste group have such an interface. It may typically happen to a few families but the entire caste would emulate them as the leading elements of caste. When during the first decades of independence, the ruling classes carried out Land Reforms and brought in the capitalist strategy of Green Revolutions, in the name of giving land to the tillers and boosting agricultural productivity, respectively, but in reality to create a class of rich farmers in rural India that would stay as an ally of the center, the phenomenon extended to the shudra castes.
With the capitalist relations entering the country side, the bandwagon of the shudra castes also got hitched to the dwija castes. As for the dalits, these developments proved utterly detrimental. The traditional jajmani relations of interdependence collapsed under the onslaught of capitalist relations, reducing the dalits to be the rural proletariat, utterly dependent on the farm wages by the rich farmers. The latter wielding the baton of Brahmanism from the erstwhile upper caste landlords, who fled to the greener pastures in the urban areas, proved far more atrocious than the ones before because of the backing of overwhelming numbers of their castemen and their lack of cultural sophistication. The conflict over farm wages between the dalit labourers and the shudra farmers began to manifest through the familiar faultlines of castes creating a new genre of caste atrocities. Kilvenmeni, a village in old Tanjavur district classically inaugurated this new phenomenon. On 25 December 1968, the landlords along with their army attacked the agitating dalits and burnt 44 of them (mainly their women and children) alive. The saga of these atrocities continues unabated and unacknowledged by our bankrupt scholarship as characterizing changes in castes!
On the one hand, the majority of dalits in rural area (they are predominantly a rural people) suffered dual prospect of marginalization and repression by the new ‘Barhmans’ and on the other, they were seen as the undeserving beneficiaries of the state largesse. Their cultural awakening due largely to the Ambedkarite movement reinforced this perception. There is a widespread grudge against dalits in rural population. The politicians keep on announcing a plethora of schemes and keeping the fire alive. These schemes, if at all, benefit a typical minority of better off dalits but are propagandized in the name of entire people. As a matter of fact, reservations, as they have been formulated, benefitted only the relatively better-off dalits and thereafter kept on benefitting only them, increasingly excluding the needy ones. They have rather acted against the interests of majority of dalits. If one took an objective stock of this policy, the people it benefitted in terms of economic uplift may be less than 10 percent. However, the brunt of reservations is borne by the rest 90 percent of dalits in rural areas who can never dream of availing them. As I explained the mechanism of caste atrocities in my books , Khairlanji and Persistence of Castes, the pervasive grudge against dalits acts as fuel, which with the presence of systemic impunity (oxygen) can easily precipitate into a gory caste atrocity with a minor spark (source of ignition) explained with an analogy if fire triangle.
Dalits today are the sole prop of castes which cannot be afforded by the ruling classes to die. They may allow a section of them to be capitalist (as they indeed are promoting so called Dalit Capitalism) so as to neutralize potential resistance of dalits to their social Darwinist neoliberal policies but will not permit the same logic of capitalist relations to permeate the dalit masses. This feat is achieved through the instrument of reservations that preserves their dalithood. Interestingly, the bunch that flaunts their ‘coming of age’ as job givers and not job seekers also are sustained by reservations. The state that never listened to even the agonizing cries of dalit masses has picked up whispers of this bunch and promptly reserved a 4 percent of the SME quota for them. Tomorrow, the cost of this development also shall be borne by ordinary dalit masses.
Reservations as the Bane
Reservations have been used dexterously by the ruling classes in decimating dalit, which was a quasi class category Ambedkar conceived. Reservations as stated before benefitted a relatively tiny section of better-off dalits, who invariably belong to the most populous dalit castes anywhere. There is a material reason for it. The most populous dalit castes, because of their ‘excess' population could not be absorbed within a village system with any specific caste vocation. As a result, they have reflected most enterprising tendency in grabbing opportunities in history. As they did not have any stake in the village system, they were the first ones to go out. It follows that they were the ones who came to constitute the dalit movement. By the same logic, they grabbed better share of reservation when they came in. Over the years, this was gradually grudged by the other castes among dalits which could not stand in competition with them. The politicians rushed to cash in on this grudge. They could easily incite the next populous dalit castes to demand their due share of reservation as per their population. As a matter of fact (as I showed in many of my analyses) even among the most populous dalit castes, all people have not benefitted equally. When caste is taken as a unit, the most populous caste appears to have grabbed most of the reservation. In terms of family, (which I had proposed to be a viable unit as it is family—an immediate family—that really benefits if a member gets reservation benefits) my hunch is that the situation across the castes may be the same. But reservation has never been subject to amy such objective analysis. Today, this categorization demand, which had started in Andhra Pradesh in 1995 by the Madigas there (through their Madiga Reservation Porata Samiti) has spread all other states, making Ambedkar’s dalits as the most casteist community.
Reservations have distorted the entire politics in the country. They have been taken for granted as benefit by dalits, who never counted costs paid for it. Indeed, dalits have paid huge costs – psychological costs of killing one’s self esteem right in the childhood, living with social stigma for the entire life; depoliticization of the advanced elements of dalits (as they land up in the public services where politics is banned), questionably benefiting a few but definitely costing the majority, incurring the grudge of the entire society, and distortion and marginalization of the fundamental obligation of the state in terms of providing basic inputs like health care, education, jobs, land, etc. to the population, to recount the broad ones. Reservation-like policy could only be valid if the state has fulfilled its minimal obligations towards all. There have been numerous such deficiencies with reservation policy as it is designed and operated. I have been writing about them over many years (you may refer “On Reservations” in Mainstream, easily accessible on the net) but without much reception.
The concept of reservation was a product of representation strategy of Ambedkar. He thought that if dalit representatives reach legislative bodies, they would take care of political interests of dalit masses. Likewise, he expected dalits, endowed with higher education, to occupy important positions in bureaucracy to create a protective cover over the dalit masses from the bureaucratic bias and possibly help them. He experienced the folly of this strategy in his own life time insofar as he could never win an election in independence India. He painfully realized that the political reservations had turned out to be more beneficial to the ruling classes than to the dalits. It only produced the ‘stooges’ to use Kanshiram’s language. It is a proof enough that the political reservations which were meant only for initial ten years get automatically renewed before their expiry, without anybody especially asking for them. Ambedkar had similar experience even with reservations in public employment. He found that the beneficiaries of them were engrossed with their own promotion and betterment of their families. It was this realization that he vented off in a public meeting in Agra in 1953 saying that the educated people had cheated him.
While reservations are grudged by the non-dalit masses, this grudge is accentuated by treating them as holy cow by politicians. As far as they could be attributed to Ambedkar, with his iconization and glorification, as it has been happening in recent years, they killed many birds with a single stone. They wooed dalits by titillating their identitarian pride and correspondingly intensifed the grudge in non-dalit population. This may be roughly correlated with the increasing atrocity numbers. Politicians of all hues, including the parliamentary left (they essentially follow the same grammar as any ruling class party for winning the electoral race in the first-past-the-post type of elections) and even the revolutionary left. The latter is certainly surprising and one would wish to imagine that it is just because of the understanding deficit on their part. But unfortunately one cannot ignore the aspect of wooing dalits even among them. More unfortunate in their case is the ideological laziness that accepts any reservation as progressive and pro-poor. As reservations have become a ‘holy cow’ for politicians, for dalits, they are an irrational emotional issue. For instance, I have been telling them that the public employment had reached its peak in 1997 and since then it has been consistently declining declining. Over the first decade (i.e. up to 2007), there was a decline of over 1.7 million jobs over a base of 19.7 million. It clearly indicates that reservations in net terms had come to an end right in 1997 itself. Paradoxically, only after this decline set in, the clamour for reservations virtually by all castes, has reached its zenith. Dalits, anyway, would not like to listen to it as many of them engaged in pseudo-activism would find themselves jobless.
It is therefore that once I said that the day dalits come out and declare that they do not want reservation, that day will be the beginning of the Indian revolution.
Class Analysis and Castes
The ‘class-caste’ duality came into being with the communists coming on to the scene. They typically belonged to upper caste educated middle class youth dreaming of a revolution in India inspired by the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917. They were fed on the secondary sources of literature which was smuggled into the country. As such there was neither an adequate understanding of the philosophical framework of Marxism, much less the nuanced understanding of its formulations. What guided their actions was the youthful romanticism about revolution. They jumped on to organize the workers in the urban industrial centers with stereotypical understanding that they were the proletariat who had nothing to lose but their chains. The environmental problem of castes that excluded almost half the population did not bother them. They convinced themselves that it was a superstructural matter drawing support from a metaphorical dictum of Marx, blissfully ignorant about the follow up on it that made both Marx and Engels to regret it. The dictum informed them that once the material (read economic) structure is revolutionized, the superstructure would ‘automatically’ confirm to it. Truly speaking it reflected a Brahmanic attitude of taking the word as sacred, a ved vakya syndrome. The words that reached them, they followed literally. The Brahmanic inertia in realizing the misery of the lower castes also played a role. And Brahmanic arrogance about their own ‘knowledge and wisdom’ added fuel to fire. The birth of idiocy was thus nevitable.
While castes are not a class they were not entirely different either. Ambedkar’s understanding that they were the enclosed classes was far superior compared to theirs. The simple thing to understand was that if castes were the life-word of people, how they could be excluded in the possible class analysis. It was gravest error to think that they were mere religious-cultural matter that belonged to superstructure. Unfortunately, even Ambedkar in his enthusiasm to prove them wrong came to support them when he argued in his celebrated text of Annihilation of Caste that religious revolutions always preceded political revolutions. Even when they (communists) confronted castes in practice, they shied away from correcting themselves and preferred to keep away from the monster. The case in point is the Girni Kamgar Union under their leadership (SA Dange, one of the stalwarts of communist movement was the secretary of the union) which did not take any note of exclusion of the dalit workers from the better paying jobs in weaving section of the mill and the blatant practice of untouchability in keeping separate pitchers for drinking water for dalits. Even when Ambedkar challenged them over the issue, it was not corrected. The communists, informed by their understanding that the caste issue was a superstructural matter, not only kept themselves away but also ridiculed Ambedkar for belabouring a non-issue. The other factor beneath their behavior was the fear of displeasing the non-dalit workers who were in larger number, reflecting the embryonic attitude that would that would dominate their politics when they entered parliamentary system..
What could have been done?
Class is a pivotal category in Marxism but Marx or Engels did not give its precise definition as for many such terms in their writings. The basic theme was that there could not be possible definition of such categories or constructs lest they should be inapplicable to some other social systems that they were not familiar with. It is not to say that they left any ambiguity about what they meant. In various historical contexts they discussed classes which make it clear that classes were to be conceived in concrete social conditions obtaining in a space and time. Marxist-Leninists hold that a person’s social class is determined not by the amount of his wealth, but by the source of his income as determined by his relation to labour and to the means of production. Lenin, who had to translate Marxism into practice to bring about revolution in Russia necessarily had to define class as follows:
“Classes are large groups of people differing from each other by the place they occupy in a historically determined system of social production, by their relation (in most cases fixed and formulated by 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 their mode of acquiring it”. (Vladimir I. Lenin: 'A Great Beginning: Heroism of the Workers in the Rear: 'Communist Subbotniks' in: Collected Works, Volume 29; Moscow; 1965; p. 421).
To Marxist-Leninists, therefore, the class to which a person belongs is determined by objective reality, not by someone’s opinion. What was the objective reality of India then? If one goes by the above definition, one would necessarily come closer to consider castes themselves as classes. Are dalits, for instance, not differing from non-dalits ‘by the place they occupy in a historically determined system of social production, by their relation (in most cases fixed and formulated by law—law of Manu (?)) 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 their mode of acquiring it’? This perhaps is the sense in which Ambedkar said that the castes were the enclosed classes. But there is obvious difficulty in considering dalits as class because the law which made them different from non-dalits also could apply to the castes within them. While class potentially brings people together, caste tends to divide them by seeking hierarchy. Therefore they do not become a class. Moreover, the classes are to be conceived in relation to the dominant mode of production wherein the caste would lose their salience. Therefore, class analysis in the caste society should necessarily subsume castes. For example, proletariat would include most of the shudras and dalits but they would not be automatically a class until the caste contradiction between them is not eradicated. Therefore, the process of class consolidation should embed the anti-caste struggles. If this had been done in the 1920s, the need for the separate dalit movement itself could have been eliminated. It would have given real fillip to the anti-caste struggle accomplishing the annihilation of caste. It may sound exaggeration today, but this approach would have made Indian revolution a reality much before China.
What Can Be Done Now?
As discussed, both movements—dalit as well as communist—have their share of wrongs committed during the last centuries. The wrongs by the communists, however, certainly outweigh those of the dalits. Dalit movement confronted a unique issue and was juggling with theorizing and strategizing its struggle. It was thus an original exercise in which errors were natural. But the communists had a grand theory of Marxism to guide and the task was just to apply it in the concrete condition of Indian society. The errors therefore were expected to be minimal. But looking back, they were not even errors; they were blunders. The blunder related to ignoring the almost one-fifth of the population that could be the organic proletariat. The dictum of the dalit movement (given by Ambedkar) was not incorrect when he said that whatever path one traversed in India, one necessarily crossed the path of castes. The communists of all hues today have reluctantly come to terms that castes are a part of structure as well as superstructure, and hence deserved attention of the revolutionists; they just reflect a tailist tendency. Why can’t they discard the useless metaphor of structure-superstructure that has done more harm than good to the communist movement right since its birth?
Dalit movement, today equally dilapidated, failed to provide any solution to dalits. Contrary to the slogan of ‘annihilation of caste’ the dalits are out to strengthen castes and have already descended to the sub-caste levels. Ambedkar’s vision of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity is in shatters today. The political democracy that he imagined was established by the constitution itself is in question. It is only a notion of ‘one man, one vote, one value’ that is not even valid in rituals of elections. The economic and social democracies have been the chimera. He had famously warned that if they were not achieved soonest, the victims would blast off the structure of political democracy. Even this warning of him failed to materialize. Indian democracy neither flourished nor perished and has only limped along with its burden of contradictions. Ambedkar’s other solution such as conversion to Buddhism also yielded questionable result. The greatest contra-evidence is that castes are kicking as never before, untouchability is intact, and the condition of dalits, measured in terms of relative distance between them and others, is perhaps worse than when they kicked off the dalit movement. Then they had a hope, today they do not have any.
In such a hopeless situation, how does one look at castes? There should be no doubt that without annihilation of castes, there is no radical future for India. It should also be clear that annihilation of castes is impossible to accomplish only by dalits hampering upon castes. Unless masses of broad people realize the fact that their radical emancipation is not possible without eradication of castes, it would stay as distant goal. Annihilation of castes in this sense is an integral part of the Indian revolution. Those who tend to consider and contrast caste against class must understand that caste is a poisonous category unlike any other. Its fundamental property is seeking hierarchy. Therefore, it knows only to split; split ad infinitum like amoeba. It is incapable of uniting. It should therefore be clear that no radical movement can be articulated on the basis of castes. Even for annihilation of castes, class is inevitable. The caste question is an integral part of the class question and they cannot and should not be spoken in dual terms.
Necessarily, it demands coming together of the communist and dalit movements. In the current situation it may sound like a wishful thinking. But unfortunately there is no option than working for it. Since, the communists had blundered more; they must take an initiative in this regard. Apart from their failure to understand and analyse Indian society, the Brahmanical arrogance and superiority complex of the early communists had played a big role in alienating the dalit movement. The divide between them has gone deep enough and there developed vested interests in deepening it further (many educated Dalits vehemently treating communists as enemy number one), there are even opportunities emerging out of the intensifying crisis of living. The prerequisite in availing of these opportunities however is reestablishing dialogue with the dalit movement. This may only be done if the communists honestly admit their mistakes demonstrate their new understanding of the caste situation. While this may be necessary for moving closer to the dalits, it is in no way sufficient to get them into struggle.
The communists need to discard their dogma and rethink their theories and practice in light of the fast changing world. While the core of their theory still holds good, many a derivatives need critical examination. All this need to lead to a viable strategy in face of fascized and militarized states. Unless they convince dalits or for that matter any people that they can win them a better world, their project may be a non-starter.
Fascism as a topic is conceptualized and debated today with respect to different ideological persuasions ranging from liberal bourgeois and reformist to Marxist positions. A striking characteristic ofthe fascist parties, movements and regimes today is their adaptation to contemporary conditions and unlike that of the inter-war European fascism, many of them are coexistingin varying degrees with outward manifestations of bourgeois parliamentary democracy, though in essence all of them stand for an outright negation of it. A de-facto fascist dictatorship can exist even with the façade of elections if it is possible to hold entire mechanisms of state power under its control so that no other party or coalition of parties except the fascist party comes to power. Common manifestations of fascism (also called ‘neo-fascism’ today to differentiate it from‘classical fascism’ that emerged in Europe of the inter-war period) such as terrorism, ethnic and racial cleansing, extermination and oppression of minorities, immigrants, refugees, women and other oppressed, climate catastrophe, super-exploitation and oppression of workers, elimination of hard-earned democratic rights, militarisation and above all unleashing the power of corporate capital on all aspects of socio-economic life are visible at a global level ranging from the Americas and Europe to Asia. However, irrespective of the manifestations of fascism, Marxism invariably situates it in the whole trajectory of transformation of imperialism and finance capital. At the same time, from a Marxist perspective, no social phenomenon can be a text-book copy from an erstwhile period, nor can bean alysed from a static perspective. Therefore, fascist regimes’ organic link with the logic of capital accumulation today may assume different characteristics according to varying historical, national, political, economic and cultural context.
Origin and Development of Fascism
From the very beginning of the outbreak of fascism in Europe, when liberal-bourgeois and reformist circles interpreted the phenomenon as ‘authoritarian capitalism’,it was Marxism that based on a comprehensive analysis of monopoly capitalism approached fascism as rooted in the very foundations of finance capital with its economic, political, and cultural manifestations. Accordingly, fascism has been the outcome of the extreme intensification of the internal contradictions of finance capital or imperialism. Fascism outbreaks when these contradictions sharpen and lead to a severe internal crisis which cannot be resolved through normal methods of surplus value extraction from both internal and external sources. For instance, unlike the other European powers who had their colonial empires and the US which could enforce its imperialist diktats over the entire Americas and the Pacific even “withoutcolonies”, both Germany and Italy had restrictions to pursue an imperialist policy abroad. On the other hand, these two countries though rivals in World War I, and having lost their colonies and hence weakened during the war, went through unprecedented domestic economic crises resulting in militant working class struggles leading to social disruption, especially in the context of the ideological-political challenges raised against the capitalist-imperialist system by Socialism in Soviet Union. However, in the absence of a communist leadership in these countries, as that led by Lenin in Russia capable of overcoming the crisis through a revolution, the situation was favourable for an interpenetration between monopoly finance capital and bourgeois political leadership giving rise to fascism.
Thus the social anarchy arising from all round economic crises and political turmoil provides a fertile breeding ground for fascism. Such a situation is an opportune moment for fascists to have their firm foothold by attracting the depoliticized petty-bourgeois sections through rhetorical and demagogic proposals, though they are mutually contradictory and ill-digested, and blaming the racial, religious, regional and national minorities and other marginalized for all the misfortunes of the society. Once fascism firmly establishes, as happened in Italy and Germany, along with the petty bourgeoisie, other sections of the population such as unorganized workers, unemployed youth, criminal and lumpen elements are also attracted to fascists. Gradually fascism makes further headway through elections by appeals to the disgruntled larger sections of the dissatisfied people. Both Mussolini and Hitler in their programs even included better wages and social security for workers, protection to petty traders, increased state-sector investment, more taxes on the rich and similar other demands pampering to the sentiments of common people. Together with this, blatantly false and malicious propaganda were systematically used to build up hatred among the common people against targeted sections of the society. For instance, in the fascist definition of ‘New Germany’, Jews, communists and trade unions were identified as enemies of the nation. After assuming power, while constitutional and parliamentary institutions and democratic values were demolished from above, armed fascist goons and storm troopers (black shirts, brown shirts, etc.) integrated with state’s repressive apparatus and effectively propped up and funded by monopolies are let loose on the people from below.
From the very beginning Marxists tried to have an in-depth understanding on the fascist transformation of the bourgeois state. In fact, Lenin had mentioned on Mussolini fascism though he had no direct knowledge of the working of the fascist party at that time. And, he had interpreted the Russian ‘Black Hundreds’ as a proto-type of fascism which in the hands of police chiefs under Tsardom was used as a para-military weapon against the revolutionary movement.However, it was only after the coming to power of Mussolini and Hitlerthat Comintern (Communist International)came to have a clear-cut understanding of fascism. Thus, it was based on an objective evaluation of the transformation of the bourgeois state into a dictatorial, terrorist and annexationist regime during the twenties and thirties that the Report drafted by Dimitrov and adopted by the 7th Congress of Comintern (1935) and endorsed by its 13th Extended Executive Meeting defined fascism thus: “Fascism is an open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, the most chauvinistic, the most imperialist elements of the finance capital… Fascism is the government of finance capital itself. It is an organized massacre of the working class and the revolutionary slice of peasantry and intelligentsia. Fascism in its foreign policy is the most brutal kind of chauvinism, which cultivates zoological hatred against otherpeoples.” Obviously, this definition of fascism is the most comprehensive one that unfolds the close integration of both the economic foundation and political superstructure of fascism with the domestic and overseas interests of finance capital. In those countries where the fascists took over power, the communists and trade unions were physically eliminated while bourgeois opposition was in total disarray. And, as elucidated in the above definition which provided a concrete understanding of fascism at that historical context when domestic resistance against fascism became virtually impossible, it was Comintern that under its initiative forged an anti-fascist front including a broad alliance with other bourgeois regimes to resist and defeat the fascist challenge.
The defeat of fascist powers Germany and Italy in World War II followed by the surging national liberation movements and advancement of socialism increased the prestige of communist movement and inspired world people in general. These were threatening factors for the perpetuation of the colonial system of imperialism. This prompted world imperialism led by USA, the supreme arbiter in the postwar order to bring about necessary changes regarding the form of finance capital’s continued expansion at a global level. Thus to hoodwink world people, the camouflage of decolonisation together with welfare state based on Keynesian state intervention was initiated even while laying down the foundations for a neocolonisation process for more intensified penetration of finance capital into erstwhile colonies. However, asgenerally acknowledged, the International Communist Movement(ICM) on account of ideological-political factors, failed to properly grasp the content and gravity of this epoch-making transition from colonialism to neocolonialism. The Khrushchevite revisionism that emerged in the mid-fifties even interpreted neocolonialism as a weakening of both imperialism and hegemony of finance capital. This was at a time when the US ascendancy as the postwar imperialist leader had been filled with loot, plunder, horror, genocide and even ‘holocausts’on defenceless people the world over.
Neocolonialism does not at all imply that it is less militaristic than old colonialism. As an inalienable component of Cold War initiated against Soviet Union and socialist bloc, the US also went on installing ‘fascist regimes’backed by military coups in many countries from Latin America, its backyard to Asia. As part of the Cold War offensive, several anti-communist, fascistic, terrorist and counterrevolutionary organisations were also planted within seemingly independent bourgeois regimes in many parts of the globe. Such terrorist outfits and right-wing forces often acted as effective tools in the hands of US imperialism to direct against the emerging national liberation and revolutionary movements in neocolonially dependent countries. In a number of countries from Latin America to Asia including Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Iran, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, Philippines and so on, US succeeded in installing fascistic regimes through military coups. McCarthyism characterised by heightened anti-communism and political repression in the US that flourished in the 1940s and 1950s provided the required ideological basis for all these fascistic-counterrevolutionary US overseas moves often keeping US-trained fascist cadres at “civilian deep cover” in neocolonies and dependent countries ensuring the neocolonial rules of the game of as per the diktats of finance capital.
By the turn of the 1970s, the post-warimperialist ‘boom’ came to a close and on account of the irresolvable contradictions inherent in capitalist-imperialist system, persistent stagflation emerged as a relatively new, more prolonged and more complex phenomenon compared to the imperialist crisis of the 1920s and 1930s that gave rise to fascism. However, unlike the situation then, by the seventies the ideological-political setbacks of the ICM became so glaring that yielded the political condition for imperialism to abandon ‘welfare state’ altogether and resort to a change in the accumulation process through neoliberalism. In essence, it implies a reversal of the downturn in profit rate from stagnating productive sphere by developing new avenues of plunder from the ballooning financial sphere utilizing latest advancement in information and communication technologies. Obviously, the parasitism, decay and degeneration associated with this neoliberal accumulation has been complex, multi-dimensional and several-fold more pronounced than that exposed by Lenin a century back and the political reaction emanating from it shall therefore is bound to be horrific. On the eve of the altogether collapse of Soviet blocand emergence of post-Cold War neoliberal situation, US imperialism so cunningly and assiduously brought up the so called “Islamic terror” as its new enemy and a critical counterweight in its militarisation strategyleading to a more favourable condition for a bouncing back of fascism with intensified vigour. However, instead of openmilitary coups, required groundwork has already been underway byneoliberal centres and deep-seated reactionary forces that made it possible for fascist parties with their far-right socio-economic and political agenda to ascend to power through ballots even maintaining formal constitutional edifice or apparent features of bourgeois parliamentary democracy. As such, today’s fascism or neo-fascism cannot or need not be mere text copies or stereotyped versions of erstwhile classical fascism of the 1930s.
Fascism under Neoliberalism
From the Marxist-Leninist perspective, the neoliberal wave of fascism or contemporary fascism can be analysed only with respect to what is called globalisation or internationalisation of capital, i.e., limitless and uncontrollable cross-border movement of finance capital. On the one hand, by restructuring the erstwhile centralised and nation-centred basis of production and by super-imposing a new international division labour, internationalisation of capital has enabled imperialism tobring about an alteration in the process of surplus value extractionand unleash a world-wide super-exploitation of working class thereby temporarily overcoming the crisis associated with capital accumulation. On the other hand, while capital has increasingly become global and transnational, by utilising the heterogeneity among proletariat of different countries and through the effective use of postmodern identity politics, international finance capital also succeeded in creating division among anti-globalisation forces by disorganising and fragmenting resistance to capital. Together with this, being freed from all erstwhile controls, finance capital moved into the sphere of speculation at a maddening pace and for the first time in the history of capitalism the global speculative bubble started thriving on the stagnating productive economy. Consequently, the decadent and reactionary essence of finance capital pinpointed by Lenin almost century ago has become terribly destructive under neoliberalism. To be precise, unlike the period of ‘classical fascism’ which was specific to capitalist-imperialist countries, fascism under neoliberalism has become transnational on account of internationalisation of capital.
The ideological-political weakness of the International Left and on the part of organisations and movements leading the working class and the oppressed prevented them from taking up the required organisational tasks. For instance, when imperialismstarted unleashing the tyranny of finance capital on workers and oppressed beginning with Thatcherism and Reaganomics by resorting to a dismantling of the welfare state and replaced public sector and social democratic ideas of distribution with privatisation/corporatisation together with propping upof voluntary and NGO spending as an alternative to public spending,the Left failed to build up effective resistance against them due to lack of a coherent and clear grasping of neoliberalism. The emergence of postmodernism and post-Marxism as neoliberal ideologies espoused by ultra-reactionary imperialist think-tanks since the eighties and manifested in such prognoses as ‘identity politics’, ‘multiculturalism’ (that emphasises difference rather than commonality), etc. that negated both the importance of working class resistance against capital and united political struggles by the oppressed has led to an effective depoliticizing mission preparing the groundwork for the emergence of several neo-fascist trends. In the guise of fighting the ‘evils of capitalism’, postmodernism went on glorifying and romanticizing the orient, the past and all obscurantist and pre-modern identities and ‘subaltern cultures’. This brought forwardvarious religious fundamentalist, revivalist, chauvinistic, xenophobic, and autarkic reactionary ideologiesto the centre-stage of history to divert world people’s attention away from the global operations of corporate finance capital. Quite revealingly, the Left failed to put forward what is called a “counter narrative” or an alternative to this neoliberal offensive from a progressive-democratic perspective.
This all round depoliticising provided a fertile ground for the rapid emergence of many neo-fascist forces all over the world. Neo-fascists everywhere are quick to take advantage of the mass psychology of social and economic insecurity due to the loss of livelihood, employment, habitat and environment arising from corporate plunder as well as people’s loss of faith in mainstream traditional parties includingsocial democrats who have no alternative to neoliberal policies. Everywhere, fascists use more or less the same campaigns with populist, romantic, idealist and moral nuances often filled with hatred towards the ‘other’ based on hypotheses such as ‘clash of civilisations’ though with variations according to concrete local, national, historical and cultural contexts. Often, according to the specificities of each country, fascists could be seen conspicuously pursuingan exclusivist line allying with the ‘homogeneous’ part (often representing the majoritarian culture) of the population effectively pitting against the ‘heterogeneous’ sections generally composed of religious, ethnic/racial and linguistic minorities, migrants, refugees, dalits, tribals and other marginalized and oppressed sections. And a striking feature of all the far-right neo-fascist parties and forces is their apparently anti-establishmentarian and anti-globalisation (often right-wing populist) stance often sprinkled with seeminglyanti-ruling classrhetoric directed against the privileges of the superrich and the elite.Trends like ‘new history writing’ being sponsored by European neo-fascists today is also of particular relevance here. An example is the McCarthy-styleargumentation thatthe anti-fascist alliance of Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt was the wrong one; rather what required was Stalin’s defeat led by the Hitler-Chamberlain-Hoover coalition. In the latter case, Europe would not have to bear the burden of the ‘welfare state’ that led to the stagflation of the 1970s, it is argued. From this perspective, the neo-fascists in European parliament recently have even moved a Resolution equating communism with “fascism” with the aim of whitewashing the latter. In India, for instance, a ‘new history-writing’ is in the offing camouflaging all the misdeeds and ‘anti-national’ history associated with RSS. No doubt, whatever be their populist pretensions, once in power, the neo-fascists show no qualm for betraying those masses who enabled them to rise to power thereby wholeheartedly serving the interests of international finance capital and ruling classes -- a common feature of fascists of all hues, both old and new.
Fascist Transformation in India
The advent of fascism in India needs to be analysed in the broader global context briefly analysed above. BJP that rules India today is just a political outfit of RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) that came in to being in mid-1920s more or less at the same time when fascism appeared in Europe, and as per records, fanatical adulation or admiration of both Hitler and Mussolini was endemic to RSS leadership from the very beginning.For instance, Moonje, the mentor and political guru of Hedgewar, the founder of RSS, hadvisited the Italian fascist dictator Mussolini in 1931 and inspired by the Fascist Academy of Physical Education that trained paramilitary lumpen goons like Black Shirts, started the Bhonsala Military School in Nasik in 1937 for imparting paramilitary training to RSS cadres and Hindutva goons under the management of Central Hindu Military Education Society. In fact, Bhonsala School’s links with terroristic actions by Hindutva extremist groups including 2008 Malegaon blasts had beenknown to Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad led by Hemant Karkare. Now after the ascendance of Modi.2, the RSS initiative to start Army Schools on the model of Indian Military Schools to train children to become officers in Indian armed forces with effect from April, 2020 directed towards open saffronisation of the entire Indian military apparatus should be seen aspart of the qualitatively new trends linked with RSS directly taking India’s reins in its own hands.
Meanwhile, as a fascist organisation espousing Hitler’s Aryan racial puritanism and white supremacy together with genocidal hatred towards Muslims in a predominantly brown-skinned India and with extreme servility to British imperialism, from the very beginning, the RSS totally distanced itself from the independence movement, and hence remained outside the Indian political mainstream for a long period. As a brahmanical saffron supremacistorganisation upholding Hindutva (which is basically different from Hindu) as codified by Savarkar and later clarified by Golwalkar, the RSS vehemently opposed the adoption of Indian Constitution and suggested ‘Manu Smriti’ (the sacred book of chaturvarnya or varna system) in its place on the ground that a Republican Constitution would give equality to all castes. Being banned three times as a terrorist organisation, it was its ‘laudable action’ during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency that enabled its entry into the mainstream politics. Since then, leading the ‘Sangh Parivar’ composed of hundreds of secret and open, militant terrorist outfits and widening and deepening itselfacross space and time and with its far or ultra-right economic philosophy and unwavering allegiance to US imperialism that leads the imperialist camp, today RSS has grown into the biggest fascist organisation in the world with innumerable overseas saffron extensions and affiliates backed by immense corporate funding.
Revealingly, RSS’ sudden shoot-up from relative obscurity to the political lime-light in mid-1970s is coterminous with imperialism’s transition to neoliberalism in the context of its first biggest postwar crisis. And, as a manifestation of the mounting neo-colonial plunder and consequent increasing integration of India with imperialist capital, by 1970s, India was also in the grip of an unprecedented political-economic instability aggravating all the contradictions in the country and Indira Gandhi’s proclamation of Emergency in 1975 was comprador Indian state’s response to this crisis. In view of Indira Gandhi’s alliance with Soviet Union at that time, it was also convenient for the pro-American RSS to carry on its anti-Emergency campaign with US backing. Obviously, lifting of Emergency and Indira Gandhi’s return to power in 1980 was immediately followed by India’s abject surrender to US diktats through a huge Extended Fund Facility loan from IMF with stringent conditionalities. It was during this extremely crisis-ridden period of India that RSS designed its well-thought-out strategy ofeventually transforming Indiaas a Hindutva fasciststateby floating BJP as its political party. In the ensuing period, it was effectively taking advantage of the facilitating role of the soft-Hindutva Congress that RSS transformed BJP, its electoral machine into India’s biggest ruling class party within a relatively short span of time.
And, withthe entire trajectory of this long drawn-out process marked by such milestones as the beginning of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement after the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, Vajpayee-led government in the late 1990s, Gujarat Pogrom in 2002, the ascendancy Modi regime in 2014 followed by its reiteration as Modi.2 in 2019, the fascistisationhas reached a qualitatively new stage in India.With Modi.2, in continuation of the saffronisation of all the constitutional, administrative and institutional structures required for a fascist transformation already underway, RSS is now moving towards its ultimate goal of establishing Hindu Rashtra, which is an intolerant theocratic state unequivocally defined by M S Golwalkar in 1939 in his magnum opus, ‘We, Our Nationhood Defined’. For instance, under its corporate-saffron raj of Modi.2 is blatantly unveiling itself as a typical fascist state acquiring all the requisite features of a majoritarian Hindu Rashtra firmly adhering to the process of forcible integration of Kashmir into Indian Union, superimposition of Hindu code under the euphemism of ‘uniform civil code’, construction of Ram Temple at the site of Babri Masjid and even making Muslims as second class citizens by amending the Citizenship Act itself.All other specificities of corporate saffron fascism such as anti-Muslimness, pan-Indian homogenizing drive subjugating the oppressed caste organisations aimed at integrating them intoHindutva, rejection of all values of modernity such as rational-scientific thinking, fostering the cult of tradition and obscurantism, treating dissent and disagreement as treason, worship of heroism and elitism, anti-communism and an uncompromising integration with corporate finance capital are to be analysed in the proper perspective.
And, in thiswhole course of transformation that propelled RSS to wielding Indian state power, a neoliberal process spanning almost a quarter century, the soft-Hindutva Congress had been faithfully playing second fiddle to the former without any let up. After her return to power in 1980,Indira Gandhi totally reversed her earlier approach towards Sangh Parivar. After her assassination, her son Rajiv Gandhi who ascended to power provided facilities to Hindutva forces for performing shilanyas at the disputed site where Babri Masjid was located. In the series of highly venomous and violent saffron offensives and communal riots that ensued since 1984 such as the ‘Liberation of Ayodhya’ campaign by Dharam Sansad, formation of Bajrang Dal and Durga Vahini as aggressive Hindutva militant organisations respectively for young men and women, etc., the Congress while remaining a mute spectator, also tried to cash in Hindu sentiments for electoral gains. It extended all facilities to VHP to collect Ram Shilas for the foundation of Ram Mandir at Ayodhya and even allowed it to lay foundation stone of Ram Mandir in 1989. The Congress government pursued the same soft Hindutva approach when the VHP organised a number of international conferences since mid-1980s for rallying Hindutva expatriates around the idea of saffron consolidation. In the background of the Mandal agitations, though Advani’s Rathyatra was stopped in Bihar, with the connivance of the Congress regime, including communal riots in many parts of India, immense damage had already been done as was manifested in BJP winning Assembly elections in Gujarat, Rajasthan, MP, Bihar and UP. Quite logically, the Rao-Manmohan government that demolished the Nehruvian model and embraced full-fledged neoliberalism in 1991 also extended security cover for the demolition of Babri Masjid by Hindutva goons in the next year. By that time RSS had succeeded in converting Ram into a political symbol for capturing state power. And the ten-year UPA regime in its relentless pursuit of soft-Hindutva did nothing to bring the perpetrators of Gujarat Pogrom before law even as US denied visa to Modi for ten years due to this. To be precise, while the soft Hindutva pursued by the Congress totally devastated it, the RSS-led BJP with its hard Hindutva became the ultimate victor.
This understanding on Indian fascism is also fully in accord with the specific historical factors and concrete political conditions of the country. It is a fundamental Marxist approach that any social phenomenon when develops further and transforms in a different social formation will inevitably adapt itself to the particularities and specificities of that context. Of course, fascism’s inseparable integration with the hegemony of corporate finance capital is its universal character. However, ascribing a universal pattern or form to the emergence of fascism for all situations is erroneous, and it will impede the building up of anti-fascist struggles too. For instance, in his concluding speech at the 7th Comintern Congress that defined fascism with its firm foundations in finance capital, its General Secretary Dimitrov had also underlined different course of development of fascism in colonial and semi-colonial countries,and in these countries, according to him, “there can be no question of the kind of fascism that we are accustomed to see in Germany, Italy and other capitalist countries”, and for such countries he suggested an analysis of their specific economic, political and historical conditions based on which fascism may assume different forms. As such, communists can formulate the methods of resisting and defeating fascism in India only through an evaluation of the country-specific or national peculiarities that provide the fertile basis for the development of Hindutva fascism integrating itself with corporatefinance capital today.
Viewed in this perspective, the specific feature of Indian fascism as embodied in the ideology of RSS is aggressive ‘Hindu nationalism’ or Hindutva aimed at the establishment of a Hindu theocratic state or Hindu Rashtra. But as is obvious, the content of this nationalism is at variance with classical fascism that waged aggressive wars for the protection of bourgeois national capitalist interests. In Afro-Asian-Latin American countries which have a long period of colonial and neo-colonial oppression, nationalism or patriotism must invariably be linked up with anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles and anti-imperialism is, therefore, an indispensable component of nationalism in these countries. On the other hand, neither in the colonial period nor in the postwar neo-colonial period, RSS has ever resorted to any genuine initiative for an independent national capitalist development. Rather, its entire history from the very inception has been that of betrayal of genuine nationalism. Even today its far-right economic orientation or affinity to neoliberal-corporatization is integrally linked up with its allegiance to US imperialism, leader of the neo-colonial global order. That is, its ‘cultural nationalism’ is only a camouflage for serving international finance capital. In this context, it would be in order, if we make a distinction between jingoistic and pseudo nationalism of RSS from that of the progressive and democratic national sentiment of the people which is directed against imperialism. While the former is chauvinistic, jingoistic, exclusivist, divisive and reactionary that inevitably leads to fascism, in the present historical context, the latter is anti-imperialist and hence progressive, secular, democraticand inclusive consisting of the struggling unity of workers, peasants, women, dalits, adivasis, minorities and all oppressed.
A striking feature of Indian fascism that makes it all the more venomous is its shamelessideological orientation towards Brahmanical Hindutva supremacy. According to this ideology, vast majority of Indian people composed of the lower and oppressed castes are subhuman who deserve no civic or democratic rights. As a result, under Modi.2, on the one hand, most heinous atrocities on dalits and other oppressed castes are strengthening without any let up. Such atrocities manifested in the form of lynching, mass rape and ‘honour killings’ have even permeated to institutions of higher learning and research in the form ‘institutional murders’.On the other, RSS is most opportunistically and cunningly utilising identity politics to carve out caste-based vote banks along with unleashing a process of forcible integration of the oppressed castes in to the Hindutva fold.That is, pursuing an aggressive policy of saffronisation and divide and rule, the manuvadi RSS has also succeeded in deconstructing the various caste-based parties so as to submerge them in to the majoritarian saffron agenda. Therefore, in the Indian context, along with sustained struggles against the foundations of corporate capital, building up effective resistance against the Brahmanical caste system through appropriate ideological and practical interventions such as caste annihilation movementis a major task of the anti-fascist movement that invariably encompasses economic, social and cultural dimensions.
In the 1930s when two imperialist regimes, Italy and Germany had embraced fascism, the Comintern and Soviet Union had been there giving ideological-political leadership to the anti-fascist struggle. On the other hand, today in Europe alone ten neo-fascist parties are in power, and backed by financial oligarchs they have also initiated steps for a pan-European fascist alliance against workers, migrants and refugees. Meanwhile, unlike the relatively nation-centred capital of the pre-war period when European fascism emerged, today finance capital has become internationalised. Consequently, in accordance with the complex dimensions of capital accumulation and the concomitant decay, parasitism and reaction associated with internationalisation of finance capital, 21st century fascism shall inevitably be several-fold oppressive and militaristic.On the other hand, on account of its ideological-political weakness, the communist movement todayis not capable enough to take up the task of objectively evaluating and effectively challenging this fascist threat. The situation in India is also the same, though the specificities of Indian corporate-saffron fascism are different. Of particular importance here is the need ofclarity on the constituents of an anti-fascist front or platform.
In this context, Dimitrov’s observations in his address to the 7th Congress of the Comintern is very relevant even today. For instance, he had been very sceptical of the involvement of the imperialist bourgeoisie as fascism was inherently connected with the bourgeois attempt to shore up plunder by changing the state-form of class domination. Another weakness pinpointed by him was the class collaborationist attitude of the social democrats. Later, Stalinhimself endorsed this position of Dimitrov by pinpointing the weakness arising from the alliance with bourgeois regimes in the anti-fascist front of the 1930s. According to Stalin, at that time itself, the unique nature of accumulation under the hegemony of finance capital had made it difficult for the imperialists to adhere to a regime of bourgeois democracy. He also characterised the reactionary character ofsocial democracy as ‘moderate wing of fascism’ having affinity to the policies of financial oligarchs. In fact, Stalin’s criticism was vindicated later when, in spite of the horrors of Hitler fascism, US imperialism under the camouflage of decolonisation and welfare state went on installing terrorist-fascistmilitaryregimes across many countries in accordance with the needs of neo-colonial expansion of finance capital in the immediate postwar period, an aspect already referred.
Today, the fascist offensive is taking place in the neoliberal context whencorporate capital as represented by both imperialist and comprador bourgeoisiealong with social democrats who are apologists of neoliberal policies has degenerated furthertogether with the concomitant ideological-cultural challenges at the superstructure. In this context, the communists have to pay much attention in differentiating the sustainable friends of the anti-fascist front from its foes and win over the former (including progressive sections of social democrats) to the side of the struggle against neoliberal fascism. The Indiansituation is such that along with the Congress which is in total disarray,other ruling class parties together with the social democratic leadership has already gone over to the side of neoliberal-corporatisation that forms the foundations of fascism today, even as the people are coming out against ruling regime in diverse forms. In this context, an anti-fascist offensive is to be initiated based on studying lessons from past experiences and concrete evaluation of the present with particular attention to the objective realities of India. For instance, though religion in itself is not fascistic, under neoliberalism majoritarian religion everywhere is amenable to be used by finance capital as an ideological basis of fascism (e.g. Evangelism in the Americas, Political Islam in West Asia, Hindutva in India, Buddhism in South-east Asia).As such, majoritarian fascist oppression on religious minorities is to be identified as an objective fact today. Hence, while isolating extremist groups and fundamentalist elements of all religions, it is the task of the anti-fascist democratic forces to declare solidarity with the oppressed religious minorities, especially the Muslims who are particularly targeted in the concrete Indian context.
Thus, in continuation of the Political Resolution as adopted in the 11th Congress of our Party and taking into account the qualitative changes associated with Modi.2, the Central Committee (CC) has stressed the central role of the revolutionary unity of struggling left forces in the fight against corporate-saffron fascism. The essential basis of such an initiative is the building up of mass movements and class struggle capable of imparting effective resistance against fascism in all its manifestations. To initiate this process, the CC has called for an open dialogue among the struggling left forces to explore the possibilities of developing mass political platformsbased on common minimum program at the national and state levels encompassing both parliamentary and non-parliamentary struggles according to concrete conditions. This initiative on the part of the Left with a people’s alternative shall form the core and the prelude for abroad anti-fascist united platform at the all India level. Such an effort uniting with all progressive-democratic forces on the one hand, shall effectively explore the possibility of tactical issue-based alliances with other sections based on people’s genuine needs and requirements according to the concrete conditions on the other. This approach, while ensuring our independent fighting space, is indispensable for winning over more and more forces with an anti-fascist orientation andfor utilising contradictions within the ruling classes and for isolating the most reactionary elements of who are allying with corporate-saffron fascism.This shallenable us to pursue for ourlong-term goal of achieving genuine democracy for all the people.
- Georgi Dimitrov, Selected Works (www. Marxists.org)
- Lenin, Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder
- James VGregor, Interpretations of Fascism, Transactions Publishers, New Jersey, 1997
- John Bellamy Foster, Monopoly Capital at the Turn of the Century (www. monthlyreview.org)
- Thomas Klikauer & Kathleen Webb Tunney “Rise of Saffron Power: Reflections on Indian Politics , Counter Currents, May 4, 2019
- Red Dawn (MLKP), Issue 18-Winter 2018/19
- P J James, Imperialism in the Neocolonial Phase, Second Edition, 2015
- “ “ , “imperialism Today”, Red Star, November, 2018, p 8-15