Democratization of Society: The First Step
In understanding the anti-feudal struggle, Mao Tse-tung and the Communist Party of China’s journey offer more insight. China, which too was semi-feudal semi-colonial prior to 1949 carried out a programme with similar aims as Ambedkar’s programme in States and Minorities, though with a more broad understanding of the nature of a state and the need for changing the relations of production. In dealing with the nature of revolution, Mao Tse-tung first argued for democratization of Chinese society through the establishment of New Democracy in China, a democracy led by the proletariat instead of the bourgeoisie like that of the Old Democracy in the west. During this period, along with land reforms and distribution of land to the landless peasants, mutual aid programmes, anti-feudal social revolutions against various feudal superstitions were carried out. Therefore, there was an attempt to not just deal with the economical or the social (the base or the superstructure) in isolation but the programme for change was dual-pronged in nature. China’s move towards socialism, after the completion of the democratization of society by 1957, also saw the move towards collectivized farming. This was of course, where Ambedkar had imagined to be point for economical eradication of the basis of caste. China, due to its Marxist programme which was not satisfied with a society premised on mere state ownership of industry, took their society to an even higher level with the collectivized farms being transformed into large scale people’s communes. Therefore, not only did China eradicate feudalism and democratize society, it was able to advance society further and attack the class divisions in their social order.
Interestingly, in his criticisms of communists of his time, Ambedkar said, “the communists are trying to capture the labour movement in the country. The adverse impact their previous strike created on the workers’ condition has posed a serious question before the working class whether to hand over the reins of their movement to the communist Leaders……If Lenin had been born in India, he would have first annihilated casteism and untouchability and without that he would not have brought forward the idea of [socialist] revolution.” Lenin would concur, as he notably stated in Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, that the proletariat must first ally with the peasantry to complete the democratic revolution and only then advance to the completion of the socialist revolution. As pointed out before, Mao Tse-tung expounded upon Lenin’s point in semi-colonial semi-feudal conditions with the need for New Democratic revolution for the eradication of feudalism and democratization of society in China before the proletariat’s advance to socialism as well. Ambedkar’s criticism was then not only fundamentally aligned with Marxism but also leaned towards the understanding that feudalism (caste-based feudalism in the Indian context) must first be eradicated through a New Democratic revolution, before a socialist revolution.
A Note on Anti-Imperialism: Social Justice or Social Transformation
It must be noted that Ambedkar’s state socialist vision was not accounting for the semi-colonial nature of India, that is, it did not consider whether this state socialist India would be free of the entanglement of imperialism. Yet, it is apparent that Ambedkar understood that there was a need for social transformation of society, which is not possible without the pursuance of socio-economic rights and political power, without struggling against imperialism. The Indian ruling classes masked the formal transfer of power as ‘independence’, with a socio-economic structure premised reliant on foreign finance capital with the comprador bureaucratic bourgeoisie at its helm. A media house owned by the Birlas poignantly mentioned, “India for many years to come will need foreign capital and technical skill which must come mainly from the United States and Great Britain… it is clear from the Eastern Economist’s recent calculations so far as India is concerned that without foreign investment, it is quite impossible now to maintain our standard of life [already quite abominable]… India’s hunger for food this year is great but her hunger for capital – if less evident – is nearly as deep.” From the very start the Indian government, as noted by observers, “retained the structure and style of its elitist forerunner, perpetuating a national administrative system that in numbers and outlook was more suitable to carrying out the narrow colonial functions of law and order than the broad responsibilities for economic development of an independent government.” This India was under great debt to British finance capital and would later increase its reliance to that of Soviet finance capital.
The liberalization-privatization-globalization (LPG) process which began in late 1980s further increased the rampant penetration of foreign finance capital into India and the demolition of any pretensions of ‘self-sustainable development,’ with the diminishing of state-run enterprises in favour of private ventures. Imperialism finds its base in semi-feudalism, the comprador bourgeoisie in India find alliance with big landlords (who comprise a large section of the bureaucracy and the politicians in the Parliament) for the task of valorization of foreign finance capital. Who do these two classes exploit for this task? The free labour of Dalits and Adivasis, both in the factories and the agricultural land is essential for this. The continued informalization of labour allows for caste to play a major role in ensuring that free and democratic labour relations do not foster. The historic development of the comprador bourgeoisie and the big landlord classes emerging from within upper castes also ensures the continuous contraction of the MSME (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) sector, meaning that the “Dalit capitalism” pipe dream being sold to the Dalit petite bourgeoisie remains a pipe dream. Regarding a rally organized by the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Anand Teltumbde writes, “the celebration of Dalit capitalists and their Chamber of Commerce on the basis of some hundred odd individuals (out of more than 17 crores) in businesses, the cumulative value of which may not even be a droplet in the corporate ocean will certainly elate the neoliberal propagandist but in itself it is not a great development. Although, any achievement by Dalits may be laudable, when it is projected over the entire community overlooking its woes, it becomes seriously problematic.”
At the same time, the LPG reforms have even transferred this question of social justice (a concept the BJP is currently celebrating) into the realm of the private. Instead of the state providing welfare measures for the oppressed sections of society, NGOs have privatized this field, funded by the big bourgeoisie and foreign finance capital. In these NGOs, socially aware Dalits find themselves working underpaid jobs while imperialism’s neoliberal spree ensures that their political consciousness is privatized into the NGO reformist framework. Ambedkar’s vision of an active state that would directly provide equitable rights to the oppressed sections of society meets its death under imperialism. Until and unless this nexus between the comprador bourgeoisie and the big landlords, between imperialism and feudalism is smashed, the project of annihilation of caste or of even social justice cannot be realized. There is no struggle for democratic rights without smashing imperialism.
Saffron Tug of War for Ambedkar’s Legacy
It must be clarified that Dr. Ambedkar was not a Marxist, though a vigorous socialist and a progressive democrat. It is apparent that the most radical of his propositions are historic lessons for the Indian peoples in the process of dynamiting caste. Dr. Ambedkar had a vision on how to go about the process of democratization of Indian society, through both an economic and social change programme, which he elaborated in States and Minorities, a text he wrote during time when he thought that he would not be invited to the Constituent Assembly for drafting the Indian Constitution. But by the time the Indian Constitution was finalized, the original vision of this document enshrined in States and Minorities was butchered. Contrary to Dr. Ambedkar’s original roadmap, instead of the large scale eradication of private property, the right to hold private property was made an inalienable fundamental right (status later changed in 1978) under Articles 31 and Article 19(f) with no mention of collectivization of land for all industries. While Ambedkar’s original programme attempted at both a social and economic reform, the Constitution made the issue purely a social one, contrary to the understanding of social change that Ambedkar had developed.
By parroting that the Indian Constitution was Dr. Ambedkar’s vision for democracy, the ruling classes attempted to subvert the struggle of the oppressed castes in India. Dr. Ambedkar recognized this during his own lifetime. “My friends tell me that I made the Constitution. But I am quite prepared to say that I shall be the first person to burn it out. I do not want it. It does not suit anybody,” he stated in the upper house of the Indian Parliament in 1955. While Ambedkar talked of the need to oppose brahmanism, the Indian ruling classes consulted Hindu astrologers for the right time of declaring independence. India’s first Prime Minister and President, both brahmins, chose to initiate “free” India into its future with a grand pooja conducted by brahmin priests, specially hailed from Tanjore for this task. The anti-caste struggle was reduced to the tokenized presence of Dr. Ambedkar in the Constituent Assembly and the Parliament of the ruling classes.
The reduction of the anti-caste struggle to merely all the work done by Dr. Ambedkar and those he upheld is anti-thetical to Ambedkar’s focus on rationality and education. The anti-caste movement’s developments after Dr. Ambedkar, including the co-option and failure of the Republican Party of India, the radical Dalit Panther movement that brought vitality back to anti-caste politics, Kanshi Ram’s movement and the formation of the Bahujan Samajwadi Party, all must be critically evaluated and lessons must be drawn from them and the consistent failure in their providing a programme which can annihilate caste.
Meanwhile, the tokenized glorification of Dr. Ambedkar as a person has also allowed those Ambedkar vehemently fought against to try to paint him saffron. The BJP and RSS, Brahmanical Hindutva fascists, aggressively peddle the Brahmanical ideology Ambedkar spent his lifetime combating against. The same parties now hold big events, especially on Ambedkar Jayanti, making grand gestures trying to snatch Ambedkar’s name. Party representatives from Dalit background cleverly grasp at straws to build a haystack out of Ambedkar’s thought that would fit their Hindutva narratives regarding nationality and the nature of India. For example, the RSS twisted Ambedkar’s position regarding the need to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir into stating that Ambedkar had opposed any discussion on Kashmir and considered the matter ‘trecherous.’ Similarly, when the BJP undertook demonetization, a claim started to float around that Ambedkar supported it! In another form of butchery, the communist revolutionary Bhagat Singh and Dr. Ambedkar find their images plastered all over government offices in Punjab under the diktat of the Aam Aadmi Party, which peddles Hindutva under the garb of liberalism and uses this tokenization to legitimize themselves.
Dr. Ambedkar had clearly stated, “if Hindu rashtra does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country. Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account, it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu rashtra must be prevented at any cost.” According to modern figures, nearly 70% of the children of labourers belonging to the Scheduled Castes continue to be labourers. Class struggle remains deeply affected by the caste relations. Violence against Dalits remains commonplace in India, with even basic demands of promised land reform remaining unfulfilled in an India that pretends to be a democracy built on the thought of Dr. Ambedkar. All who uphold Dr. Ambedkar’s radical legacy must find common ground in the need to complete the democratization of Indian society through a New Democratic revolution through anti-feudal anti-imperialist struggle, in the need to oppose Brahmanical Hindutva fascism and carry on the struggle against caste until it is dynamited from existence.
by Shri Rishi, student of law, Jindal Global Law School
Download PDF of Part 1 and Part 2 combined here
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