Communists suppress Ambedkarism in Kerala

M. Kunhaman

AKG centre| Photo: Mathrubhumi Archives

* Ambedkarism and communism naturally run on parallel lines; they can never meet. Their top leadership, especially that of the CPI(M) comes from the upper caste, ex-feudal families.

In this second part, the author takes a look at the Indian society, a sutured totality of castes and an intimidating incubus, in a historical perspective, a la Ambedkar, the most powerful advocate of liberty, equality and fraternity in India. He is the greatest, unremitting and pertinacious champion of the human rights of the Untouchables and scholar nonpareil who discerned the corrosive effects of the caste system. Ambedkar, it may be mentioned at the outset, seized on the idea of justice as a victim of injustice.

In India, social relations were so rigidly defined that it could be compared with the characterisation of the Chinese culture made by Michel Foucault: 'the Chinese culture is the most meticulous, the most rigidly ordered, the one most deaf to temporal events.'( Foucault, 1994, Preface,). The two basic characteristics of the Indian social order were hierarchy and inequality, the mortar that held that order intact and nullified, invariably always with brutal force, any apocalyptic prediction or possibility of its collapse/disappearance.

As a result of the long 'history of upholding the sanctity of hierarchy and inequality, India internalised a 'culture of inequality' (Singh, 2002). Thus, Indian culture is a culture of inequality. In other words, inequality had been a way of life. And, social relations defined and determined production relations. Caste system determined: social structure of ownership and control of property; division of labour; social distribution of the social product; the appropriation and utilisation of the social surplus. Social hierarchy created and maintained wealth and income hierarchies. Hence, Ambedkar, the peerless polymath and the most radical, sui generis Indian scholar, rightly maintained, caste is a basic structure phenomenon; it is not a superstructure phenomenon as the upper caste communists in India ingeniously and in the most lapidary and luminiferous style try to make us believe.

For the dalits, given the caste centrism and caste determinism of the Indian social formation, caste should get primacy in socio-political analysis and policy formulation. It is not caste reductionism; it is a question of the relevant approach to socio-economic analysis in the Indian context where electoral politics resulted in politicising and 'secularising' caste rather than caste annihilation as Ambedkar uncompromisingly advocated. Ambedkarism and communism naturally run on parallel lines; they can never meet. Communism tries to appropriate Ambedkarism, but Ambedkarism successfully resists such invidious attempts. The revanchist and liberal parties' attempts at appropriation is also repulsed.

Ayyankali, the foremost leader of Dalits
n Kerala | Photo: Mathrubhumi Archives

The Ambedkar school of thought is growing in inner strength and visibility and traversing a different intellectual trajectory as is corroborated by the Ambedkar Students' Association, a new reference point on university campuses in every state except Kerala where that school of thought is suppressed and repressed by the casteist, bourgeois, parliamentary Communists who are class/ideology neutral; for them, winning elections for positioning and enriching some careerist leaders is the end-all of the politiics. Their top leadership, especially that of the CPI(M) comes from the upper caste, ex-feudal families. This is not anything strange or unusual. When a society changes, those who were in the top and privileged positions manage to come to top positions in the new system also. And some values of the earlier system continue into the new one.

They Conspired to defeat Ambedkar In the 1952 elections

When the casteist, ex-feudal rulers converted themselves into 'modern', 'secular ' rulers, they retained many values, norms and practices of the feudal order, not unwittingly, but with a purpose. It is an irony that the Untouchable had to and still has to do the manual job to reproduce himself and his oppressor and, thereby, the oppressive system. Needless to say, this felonious and untenable situation must be rejected out of hand. Hence, what the dalits need is not accommodation in a few more positions in the existing iniquitous and involuted system but the ability and determination to overthrow the system itself, eschewing subservience to caste pressure in all its manifestations.

As inequality is injustice, the caste-based social hierarchy invariably meant graded inequality and, hence, graded injustice. Movement down the hierarchy meant decreasing the degree of control over resources; therefore, increasing the degree of injustice. Being at the bottom of the social pyramid, the Untouchables were the victims of resource-deprivation and, hence, the victims of absolute denial of justice. All sorts of injustice- socio-economic and cultural- were heaped on them with impunity, engendering and perpetuating haplessness and hopelessness in the victims and creating in them a pathological sense of resignation. As the system was a religiously ordained one, nobody complained about the social hierarchy, nor about the differential justice or about the total lack of it. Even the absolute denial of justice was scripturally justified. To put in Hegelian terms, what was actual was considered as rational.( Hegel, 1820, Preface).

Ambedkar thoroughly , systematically and scientifically questioned the caste-based social hierarchy and its legacy, the graded injustice, thereby bringing justice into sharper focus and also making it the guidepost for socio- economic change in the Indian context. Economic equality is inevitable for ensuring social justice, and denial of equality is negation of justice. His answer comprised state socialism: a radical land reforms program: state- ownership of land and its equitable distribution among cultivating households and a collectively organised agriculture. The land reforms program Ambedkar visualised was more radical than the one formulated by the upper-caste-/ upper class (ie, the ex-feudal lords-)- dominated Communist Party of India. The radical nature of Ambedkar questioning the Indian social system and the economy conditioned and controlled by it made him bête noire of the CPI which conspired with the Socialist Party and defeated in the first general election. The top leaders of these parties, especially the CPI, hailing from the ex- Brahminical, feudal families, exulting in their own stratagem, exhorted people to annul their votes rather than casting them for the heterodox Ambedkar who showed the gumption to question and challenge the Brahminical order.

This was only the beginning. The grumpy Indian bourgeois Communists never, in fact, got rid of their congenital aversion for and opposition to free, questioning dalit individuals as shown by the fact that the CPM Polit Bureau never had a dalit member. They want from dalits unconditional obedience and unquestioning allegiance. By mixing facts and fictions, they thwart the radicalisation of Indian politics. After all, caste prejudices die hard. For Ambedkar, liberty is the basic premise and, felicitously, there cannot be liberty without equality. Derivatively, both are needed for fraternity. Thus, the core principles of liberty, equality and fraternity are the bedrock of social justice. To the oppressed masses the fight for economic freedom( that is justice) becomes not an option but an absolute necessity.

A Party of the Poor, by the Poor and for the Poor

The poor, including the dalit and adivasi poor, should mobilise themselves and form a political party of their own around the core demand for property right : a party of the poor, by the poor and for the poor. It should not be for fostering and promoting pursuit of power / aggrandisement by a few career politicians. This kind of a subaltern mobilisation is inescapable to prevent the perpetuation of injustice and the inexorable concentration of wealth. A few provisos are in order here. Property right need not be viewed in a dialectical sense; property ownership for a person need not necessarily exclude/deprive another person. It is absolutely possible to give ownership right to every person, thus, achieving universal ownership right. Property right must be for life. Law of inheritance must be abolished. Inherited wealth is the major reason for inequality which is a millstone around India's neck, and , hence, should be redistributed , to start with.

In advocating universal property right, it must be borne in mind that the apprehensions about the two central tendencies of capitalism, viz, concentration and centralisation of capital are credible and unexceptionable. Those two tendencies should not be permitted to happen in the regime we visualise here. Regular, automatic adjustment is called for. A few points are relevant here. 'Control over capital is only a special case of property rights... property should be understood as a cluster of entitlements'(Young,1990). It 'gives control over physical commodities'. (Young, Ibid) Besides, the Communists are ideologically against private property even as many of them hold vast amounts of it. Moral propriety requires that they give up property and wherever they can, abolish private property. A communist, not self-interested and who is averse to private property is yet to be born in India. Politicians, including Communists must realise that politics does not contribute anything to production, and that 'politicians' privileges, benefits and perques are the results of appropriation of surplus value produced by productive workers' . ( Young, op cit, p219) .

Iris Marion Young pointedly asks the question, ' what do these politicians and[ also] religious people contribute to social product?'.( Young, Ibid). Nothing; they simply live a happy life by appropriating the surplus value from those who toil. Thus, it is a travesty to maintain that only industrial and business capitalists exploit the working people( the term, working class is a misnomer in India) by appropriating surplus value; religious capitalists and political capitalists also do the same. Even the self-proclaimed Left leaders [what is left of the Left in India is a debatable question] live a luxurious and exuberant life through exploitation. Parenthetically, it is pertinent to bear in mind that religion and party politics are predicated on the same value premises, viz, discipline, obedience, respect, and unquestioning allegiance. Those ideologically inveterate opponents of universal property-ownership must be pointedly asked: if some persons can own property, why can't all? Also pertinent to bear in mind is the fact that capital does not ipso facto mean capitalism. Also, inequality is not the creation of neo-liberal economic policy. Nor is it the creation of capitalism.

Have Property, Power will follow

In fact, it had been the creation of pre-capitalist economic formations, viz, slavery, feudalism, etc. The point is simply this: the means of production and the product should belong to the producer. The instrumental rationality of property for attaining infinite social prosperity is what is advocated here, the quintessential point being that every person capable of working should be able to work to progress herself and, thereby contribute to social progress. Property is freedom; poverty is unfreedom, social servitude. Property gives the opportunity to ' reflect and speculate'( Adam Smith) and develop ' human creative powers' ( Marx, Avineri, 227) to everybody rather than making it the privilege of a chosen few, thus, the regime based on privileges (inherited, needless to say) and deprivation, long tolerated by humanity, is replaced by one based on right. In the name of meting out justice to the dalits and adivasis, separate plans and programmes devised for them can only create despicable and deplorable divisive tendencies rather than bring about the liberation and forward movement of the poor in general.

As we have already mentioned, with very few exceptions, persons at the top in every field come from propertied families and social groups; hence, what they have is due to inherited privileges rather than acquired abilities, and they sit in judgement on persons coming from under-privileged, marginalised and excluded social sections. No wonder, John Rawls avers that development( for us, justice also) must be evaluated on the basis of what happens to the 'least privileged' persons and groups. The mainstream/conventional practice of judging development in terms of national income or HDI ( based as the latter is, on averages which can conceal as much as they reveal) becomes jaded. The moral and normative dimensions should not be overlooked while discussing growth.( Piketty, 2014, Conclusion, 574).

It is true that through reservation/ affirmative actions, some individuals could move up in employment and politics. However, these are instances of individual justice. Social justice, in the strict sense of the term, requires , for example, that the dalit/ adivasi masses, as a whole should be able to move up and this is possible only if their property/ resource base is built and maintained, and this has not happened. Consequently, dalits and adivasis are subject to atrocities of various sorts even as they have representation and participation at various levels in almost all fields. This is, indeed, a paradoxical situation, corroborating the position that reservation cannot be treated as a true proxy for social justice and the tendency of reducing the question of social justice to reservation has been warped, questionable and deplorable. Social justice must indicate the situation of the deprived masses as reflected in their life and livelihood status. From the point of view of justice, development/social progress must be judged not in terms of whether growth benefits all sections proportionately/equally, but in terms of whether the under-privileged/ dominated benefit more. The insipid conventional indicators of development and the verbal legerdemain must be given the go by and indicators of wealth/ resource base must be treated as the indicators of justice ( To be Continued..)

Dr. M. Kunhaman is Professor(Rtd), Tata Institute of Social Sciences[ TISS], Tuljapur Campus. E-Mail id: mkunhaman@

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