Anti-Imperialism and Annihilation of Caste

– Dr V. Lakshminarayana

by Anand Teltumbde, Ramai Prakashan, Dombivile(W) , Thane (Dt)-421202. Price Rs. 165.

Annihilation of caste – a specific agenda of the Indian left - has been perceived by various intellectuals and activists from varied viewpoints. The debates on caste-class relationships and social versus political changes which were initiated in the Ambedkar era are being carried forward even to date. The literature on interpretation of caste-class projects, the relationship between these, and also between anti-imperialists and anti-caste struggles have been scanty. The present book by a radical Ambedkarite, Anand Teltumbde (and incidentally one of the grandsons of Dr.Ambedkar) is a significant contribution to the contemporary debate. In a situation wherein the whole gamut of dalit leadership is engaged in caste-based struggles and many times degenerates to opportunism, we find few dalit intellectuals trying to comprehend the complex socio-political issues from a Marxist perspective. The arguments of Teltumbde are noteworthy, valuable and very interesting.

Historically, the anti-imperialist struggles had neglected the organic proletariat throughout, which pushed the dalit and anti-caste struggles to the periphery. It is important to note that daits were never considered as a national minority. Teltumbde forcibly argues that caste is the central issue for any social change in India . The new generation of dalits that emerged due to the reservation policy is not of any use to dalit masses. This is because caste politics is cleverly manipulated by the ruling classes to divide the dalits, who themselves are in a state of disarray.

The author, while dealing with the caste-class debate, says that the understanding of caste in the Indian context has wide ramifications and caste is very much part of class. The mechanical interpretation of base-superstructure by the Indian communists has done great damage to the understanding of the caste question. Anti-imperialist consciousness never considered the caste consciousness and treated it as something of a corollary. However, the basic consciousness of Indians continues to be caste consciousness. The caste contradiction needs to be dialectically resolved by the dalits who are the vanguards of anti-caste struggles.

Teltumbde is very critical of Indian Marxists who have fallen into the trap of unilinear understanding of development of capitalism and are blindly following the European model. Karl Marx had forewarned against this kind of development. With this approach, the Indian Marxists failed to see the importance of caste system and totally ignored the specificity of India and thereby got into an idealistic mould. The mechanical argument of putting caste in the superstructure was a grave mistake. The author goes on supporting his arguments from various sources. He strongly condemns the attitude of glorifying armed insurrection and downplaying the social movements with the argument that they are reformist movements.

The doctrinarian approach of the Marxists blocked the objective understanding of the communists regarding anti-imperialist movements and thus alienated the anti-caste movement. Tracing the anti-imperialist consciousness amongst dalits, Teltumbde interrogates the communist perspective on the same and finds a fundamental mismatch between the dalit and communist perspectives. The paradox of dalit leadership making use of colonial manipulations, which wanted the people divided, as leverages for emancipatory struggle is notable. This trend continues even today. Alien rule of Muslims and British has helped dalit consciousness to rise against the Brahminical consciousness. The dalit leadership, including Ambdedkar, came to locate the caste problem predominantly in the non-class. The leftist circles still are to grapple with this question of dalit consciousness. Nowadays, though nobody adheres to the mechanical interpretation of caste in terms of one-sided base-superstructure relationship, even then there is no clarity on the issue of caste. The author passionately calls for the leftists to support the genuine struggles of the dalit masses. He strongly believes that the dalit intellectuals need to be transformed as Gramscian organic intellectuals.

The interrogation of the Marxists' position by the author continues on the caste and the class question. Asiatic mode of production has been referred to against the unilinear model of capitalist development. But the author has not elaborated or submitted the whole argument in the context of Asiatic mode of production. Teltumbde's conclusion that the Indian revolution is elusive since the communists have neglected the peasantry is too simplistic an argument and it lacks sufficient facts and arguments.

On the question of dalit response to imperialism, the author has dealt in detail the understanding of Ambedkar with regard to nationalism and imperialism. The author opines that liberalism and neo-liberalism have very little to offer to dalit masses but offer something only to the dalit elites who are enjoying the fruits of globalization. Teltumbde thinks that the mindset of dalits is unlikely to be impressed by the general discourse on the economists of globalization. He presents no data or arguments in justifying his statements. However, the discussion in detail on the impact of globalization on dalits is his strong point in the book.

Teltumbde makes a passionate plea to the anti-imperialist struggle for incorporating the anti-caste struggle as its integral part. He is of the conviction that the anti-imperialist and anti-state-elite struggle should incorporate both caste and class consciousness. The author makes a very valid point regarding dalit struggle, which looked at caste as a simple offshoot of Hindu religion. This approach ignored the role of caste in economic structure and its subordination to religious ideology which has led to partisan struggles of the dalits.

Further, the perception of Teltumbde is strategically based on the basic concept that caste has to be fought both in the realm of economics and in the realm of culture. He makes a significant statement that this strategy has been cleverly used by the bourgeoisie in the electoral games, but not by the revolutionaries. The need of the hour is to support all the genuine struggles of the dalits by anti-imperialist forces. It is only by creating class consciousness amongst the people the caste can be overcome. This concept is of paramount importance in the present-day dalit politics and signifies the maturity and intellect of the emerging dalit intellectuals. To support the statement, an analysis of various non-Brahmin movements has been made. The logic of the elites who are the beneficiaries of the above movements is explained in detail.

Even Ambedkar with correct articulation against caste system could not muster the wherewithal to achieve his aim of annihilation of caste (P. 211). The limitation of Ambedkar, after his conversion to Buddhism, is dealt in detail. The statement, 'The dalit movement should be considered as an essential stage in the annihilation of the caste and it can be accomplished with non-caste idiom (p213)', is of profound nature.

The logical approach of annihilation of caste is to attack its manifestations. They are as follows: 1) caste atrocities; 2) discrimination and 3) deprivation. In this process, dalits of organic proletarian quality are added to the anti-imperialist camp. The author believes this will be the virtual tsunami of the rural proletariat. He calls for the convergence of the anti-imperialist and dalit camps. The mistakes committed by the communists in the past are enumerated and earnest appeal is made to learn from the past.

Teltumbde, after analyzing the limitations of the present-day demands of the dalit movements, states that the dalit question is also the land question. The irreconcilable contradiction between landholders and the landless labor has to be handled in a prolonged and tactful manner since non-dalit castes are becoming the strong defenders of the caste hierarchy. The opportunism of the politicians of the OBCs in not aligning with dalits is analyzed in detail. The limitation of the BSP politics has also been referred to.

The dalit emancipation project has undergone many transformations since the non-Brahmin movements of India , particularly in Maharashtra , Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. After these movements exhausted their steam, with the consolidation of the non-Brahmin elites, the banner of anti-casteism was carried forward by dalits. The great ideologue Ambedkar with his firm belief in bourgeois liberalism was the lone voice. He remained an anti-communist, vacillating between Hindu reformation and political reformation. Ultimately, he embraced Buddhism as an alternate to Hinduism and communism. With this, one stage of dalit emancipation project ended with him.

The emergence of dalit panthers in early '70s was the reaction against the then fossilized dalit leadership and the Congress. This protest was transient and later degenerated to various opportunistic factions. The Karnataka experience, with which the reviewer has associated himself, since the inception of the dalit movement is more interesting. In a state where the traditional left has been weak, the Dalit Sangharsha Samithi could expand into the vast expanse of rural Karnataka and has been the lone voice for more than a decade. Inevitably, the petty-bourgeois dalit leadership, instead of deepening the struggle went in for shortcut to power politics and splintered into irreconcilable groups. Apart from greed for power and comforts the right-left sub-caste divide amongst dalits played a crucial role to this degeneration. In the absence of identity and direction, today they are trailing behind one or other bourgeoisie party. They have not identified themselves with the communists. The Lohiyaite social democratic influence is partly responsible for this kind of formation.

The post-Independence dalit emancipation project had many tendencies within it. One of the tendencies of the dalit movements, which challenged established leadership at one point of time, slowly degenerated and got tagged behind the ruling parties. The same dalit petty bourgeoisie who were in a hurry to seize power is now rallying around the BSP. Another powerful stream comprises dalits who are in the revolutionary communist camps. They constituted the bulk of the glorious anti-imperialist and anti-feudal struggle. The intellectuals of this stream are demanding deepening of the caste-class and the proletarian leadership debate. It is in this context Anand Teltumbde's present book draws rapt attention. Teltumbde's views represent the presentday demand of the Marxist who wants to make anti-caste struggle an important aspect of every struggling class organization. Since caste is not only an ideology but also a relation of production, class organizations have to include this concept into their fold.

Teltumbde's book has done only one half of the interrogation of the anti-imperialist and anti-caste struggles and in the end suggests the convergence. The other half due is the evaluation of the anti-caste movement of Ambedkar and others. In particular, Ambedkar's bourgeois liberal beliefs, his social radicalism and state socialism need to be evaluated historically. This is the need of the hour because Ambdekar is being extensively used by a whole spectrum extending from Congress to BJP.

The Indian proletarian movement cannot go forward without understanding the dalit question and Ambedkar's contribution. The contrary is also true. Treating the dalit question only as a new social movement like women' movement and environmental movement etc. is not adequate for anti-imperialist and anti-caste projects.