More on the Antithesis of Class and Caste

[Reply to Mr.Thomas Mathew’s rejoinder. From Liberation, January 1995.]

Mr.Thomas Mathew’s rejoinder (Liberation, November 1994) to my polemical article on the anti-thesis of class and caste (Liberation, Special Number, April 1994) to say the least, has only rendered more profound the absurdities contained in his book Caste and Class Dynamics: Radical Ambedkarite Praxis. Let me elaborate.

Synthesis Revisited

1. Mr.Mathew informs us that the synthesis of Marxism and Ambedkarism proposed by him was essentially the synthesis of Maoist idealism and Buddhist dialectics. Moreover, this synthesis is not only the only hope for the teeming millions of Indian people, as claimed by him earlier, but also for the entire humanity. A great leap forward indeed!

Well, Mr.Mathew can take me to task for the phrase ‘Maoist idealism’ which he really never used. With due apology, I would still insist that no other inference could possibly be drawn from his interpretation of Mao’s Thought. We are aware of Mr.Mathew’s drawing courage from K. Venu in denouncing Marxist fundamentals and in that perspective his exuberance for Mao’s so-called giving ‘pride of place’ to ideology as against ‘mechanistic practice of Western version of Marxism’ arouses genuine suspicions in the materialist minds.

Dialectical interrelation between the base and the superstructure is the cornerstone of Marxist philosophy. Still if Mao is singled out for praise for bringing into focus the superstructure’s action over the base or, in other words, giving ‘pride of place’ to ideology, the whole exercise appears more in tune with the anarcho-idealist mind-set of petty-bourgeois intelligentsia rather than any genuine appreciation of Mao’s Thought within the dialectical materialist framework.

Mao himself never insisted on more than the concrete application of Marxism-Leninism in Chinese conditions and he indeed retrieved the dialectical core of Marxist philosophy from under the overshadowing influence of Soviet metaphysics.

Overzealous exponents of Maoism the world over, however, invoke Cultural Revolution to pit Mao against Marxist fundamentals and denigrate him to the levels of a subjective idealist. Mr.Mathew does belong to the same breed.

Mr.Mathew also tells us that Ambedkar, who was supposedly under the influence of Western mechanistic materialism, ‘matured’ to Buddhist dialectics in the later part of his life.

Why did Ambedkar, who was well-versed with most modern thought processes in the West, prefer to ‘mature’ in Buddhist dialectics of antiquity instead of its highest development in that phase, the Marxist dialectics? A serious and in-depth probing of this question will reveal that Marxism and Ambedkarism represent two distinctly separate philosophical-ideological systems.

Undoubtedly, in the immediate context of India’s democratic revolution a Marxist programme of action can share a lot with the radical side of Ambedkarism. But the fusion of the two in a single philosophical-ideological stream is not only out of question but at times it may even degenerate into a reactionary endeavour.

Socialist Vs. Radical Bourgeois Vision

2. Mr.Mathew quotes me approvingly to show that Ambedkar stood for socialism and qualifies it with a rider that Ambedkar also believed that socialism can be brought about by the servile classes (untouchables and shudras) only after they become the governing classes.

I had made it clear that despite all limitations, Ambedkar vision was a radical bourgeois vision and it came out in bold relief in his struggle against Gandhi’s conservative bourgeois vision. In those days socialism was a catchword and exponents of progressive and not-so-progressive thoughts all preferred to call themselves socialists. It was so with Nehru and it was the same with Ambedkar. Mr.Mathew should know that the demand for land nationalisation as well as for the end of caste discrimination fall within the purview of radical bourgeois democracy and a full-fledged development of capitalism does have the potential to annihilate the caste. These are also important demands of the communist programme of democratic revolution because no real capitalist development is possible without doing away with the feudal fetters in a radical way. For a radical bourgeois, however, this is the end of the road. For a communist this only opens up the stage where the great class battle for socialism can be decisively fought and won.

Annihilation of castes in no way abolishes classes. On the contrary, it facilitates class formation, accentuates class polarisation and makes the class struggle open, broad and direct. This is not very difficult to understand when one looks at the western societies where we don’t find caste discriminations. This has only brought out the class struggle in a purer form.

If untouchables and shudra castes emerge as governing classes (castes), it is in no way going to bring socialism. A cross-section of these castes has already emerged as the governing classes in several Indian states. In most of the cases the dominant castes among them start exhibiting the same Brahminical traits towards those at the lower rung of the ladder. Then again, strong kulak lobbies have emerged from among backwards who show deep animosity towards agrarian labourers and poor peasants, mostly from among dalits. Mr.Mathew in his book had pointed out this upward mobility of certain shudra castes in Kerala and in his rejoinder too he talks of class differentiation among dalit-shudra peasantry. Grudgingly though, he had to admit that the national bourgeoisie of backward castes may not be a consistent ally in the changing global economic and political context. While welcoming this realisation, I do hope that Mr.Mathew should also understand that its counterpart, the rural bourgeoisie or kulaks of backward castes will also not be ‘the main force and the main ally’ of a democratic revolution.

The Class Nature of Ambedkarism

3. Mr.Mathew is up in arms against my characterisation of Ambedkar as a class representative of the petty-bourgeois stratum of dalits. Let us see how he himself characterises Ambedkar’s class position. He begins by recognising ‘petty bourgeois limits of Ambedkarism’ and then introduces a hypothetical assumption about the great potential of dalit petty bourgeoisie to ‘imbue proletarian values after successive frustrations of their bourgeois ambition’. Then the ‘maturing’ of Ambedkarism in the post-Buddhist phase and again in the post-Dalit Panthers phase leads Mr.Mathew to conclude that ‘Ambedkarism is torn between the dalit petty bourgeoisie and the dalit proletariat’. Mr.Mathew takes us back to pre-maturity, pre-Buddhist phase of Ambedkar which ‘represented the dalit proletariat rather than the dalit bourgeoisie.’ The ambiguity of statements and hypothetical assumptions resorted to by Mr.Mathew only proves that he is torn between the characterisation of Ambedkar as the class representative of proletariat and that of bourgeoisie.

Mr.Mathew’s laborious exercise only goes to prove my contention about the class nature of Ambedkar because the very vacillation in Ambedkar’s positions, which he talks about, is the fundamental characteristic of the petty-bourgeoisie. He should also be reminded of the fact that successive frustration of bourgeois ambitions of petty-bourgeoisie, dalit or otherwise, does not necessarily transform them into imbibing proletarian values. This often leads to despair and anarchism. Will Mr.Mathew, who places so much hope on the post-Dalit Panthers phase of Ambedkarism, ponder over the question: Where are Dalit Panthers of yesteryears?

I have said that Ambedkar’s vision was a radical bourgeois vision and this comes out in bold relief especially during his polemics with conservative bourgeois vision of Gandhi. The word ‘bourgeois’ has become so notorious in our country that people fail to distinguish between radical and conservative bourgeois visions and tend to overlook the fact that in our immediate context of democratic revolution, the radical bourgeois vision symbolises a revolutionary vision. I drew most of the flak from blind worshipers of Ambedkar on my characterising him as a ‘bourgeois’. I, on the contrary, by portraying Ambedkar as a radical bourgeois made a positive reassessment of him, put him high above his contemporaries and paved the way for a strategic alliance among communists and radical Ambedkarites. This point has been totally missed by Mr.Mathew.

The moot point that merits attention here is the critical assessment of Ambedkar upholding his revolutionary democratic ideals and at the same time recognising inconsistencies in his radical bourgeois vision. After all Sun Yat-Sen of China too was a radical bourgeois, though far more consistent than Ambedkar.

BSP Vs. Janata Dal

4. Mr.Mathew sticks to his formulation that the BSP concept of pan-dalit unity is a major theoretical advance over the Republican (Ambedkarite) practice and, of course, Janata Dal’s grabbing of the Mandal plank was a positive and effective adoption of the BSP framework of pan-dalit unity. Compelling circumstances, since the publication of the book, have forced Mr.Mathew to considerably tone down his euphoria for Janata Dal in general and Mr.Paswan in particular and merely confine to the ‘statement of facts’. But the facts prove otherwise too. BSP has since outwitted Janata Dal and Kanshi Ram has sidelined Mr.Paswan. Mr.Mathew is at a loss to explain the reverse gear.

The God that Failed

5. Mandal for Mr.Mathew symbolises his pet theme of dalit revolution in the making. But alas! The revolution derailed mid-way. His frustration is obvious. Earlier he had accused the mainstream Left, the so-called representatives of upper caste industrial working class, of opposing Mandal; now he appreciates CPI’s stand on Mandal and directs his wrath against us and the CPI(M) for our support to creamy layer verdict.

I don’t know how does he explain the CPI’ stand — as a party with far more entrenched roots than CPI(M) leave alone us, in the so-called labour aristocracy, or to use Mr.Mathew’s phrase ‘upper caste industrial workers’ — vis-a-vis Mandal, or for that matter the phenomenon of CPI, CPI(M) operating as the ‘natural ally’ of Janata Dal quite consistently in the Mandal regime of Bihar.

Our support to the creamy layer verdict, according to Mr.Mathew, amounts to supporting the economic criterion for reservations. This again means looking at the reservation as a measure of economic advancement. And further, this amounts to subserving to Gandhian approach of upliftment as against Ambedkarite approach of ‘participatory democracy and democratisation of the administrative machinery’. A deductive logic par excellence!

My own analysis of Mandal as quoted by Mr.Mathew himself speaks of ‘striking a balance in the power structure’; in other words, of ‘participatory democracy and democratisation of the administrative machinery’ by incorporating sections of backwards within the confines of the ruling classes. What else can a reform measure in the present socio-economic set-up lead to? By supporting the verdict of creamy layer, the layer comprising those who have more or less attained the capacity for the free competition and who will otherwise grab the entire quota reserved for OBCs, aren’t we trying to broadbase the range of participatory democracy and democratising the administrative machinery?

Aren’t we thus pressing for a radical element in the reform process? It is really strange to find a self-proclaimed representative of dalit proletariat so assiduously pursuing the cause of creamy layer. But then Mr.Mathew believes, of course in the world of his fantasy, that the Mandal struggle was led by SCs and the brunt of the anti-Mandal mania was also borne by them. He laments Left’s shortsightedness in missing this great opportunity of forging dalit-backward unity around Mandal and instead working for accentuation of class conflict between the rural proletariat and the kulaks of backwards.

First of all, I must say that this accusation doesn’t hold good for CPI and CPI(M). None can accuse them of accentuating class conflict between the rural proletariat and the backward kulaks. Had it been so they could never have had such a lasting brotherhood with Janata Dal. This accusation does hold good for us and Mr.Mathew may be surprised to know that the same accusation we daily encounter from our left friends, CPI and CPI(M) in Bihar.

Secondly, the dalit-backward unity envisaged by Mr.Mathew is strangely built around calling dalits to sacrifice their class interests vis-a-vis kulaks and fight, make sacrifices and even lead the cause of reservation for creamy layers.

Mr.Mathew should know that kulaks are quite capable of leading their own struggle and leaving a stooge of kulaks like Ram Vilas Paswan apart, dalits in general are not going to heed his advice. In the process Mr.Mathew only exposes whose class interests he has uppermost in his mind.

He, of course, raises a pertinent question. If the Mandal agenda was aimed at broadening the base of the ruling class by accommodating powerful BCs, was this agenda achieved even while excluding the creamy layer?

Mr.Mathew can rest assured that the court verdict will hardly dictate the social reality. The social reality will find out ways and means to circumvent the verdict and reduce it to tokenism. The verdict to keep the reservation limit to 50% is already bypassed by Tamil Nadu and some other states are to follow suit. The criterion formulated for creamy layer in states like Bihar and UP hardly leaves any creamy layer worth recording. The verdict on creamy layer only provides the Left an opportunity to enhance the class consciousness within caste communities and we haven’t missed this opportunity.

Class and Caste

6. Mr.Mathew readily agrees to my formulation that the class is the basic category rooted in the mode of production and then he immediately introduces the element of duality in the theoretical framework by declaring that castes too are rooted in the mode of production.

When Marx and Engels declared that history of all hitherto existing societies (except the primitive communist society) is the history of class struggle, they discovered a fundamental law of social development. It is, however, only in a fairly developed capitalist society that classes and the struggle among them appear in a purer form. In all other societies class struggle assumes highly complex forms. Marx himself made several studies to show how behind the facade of religious crusades, colonial expeditions, palace coups and conflicts among social estates etc., various class interests battled out against each other. Starting from this Marxist premise Indian communists shall have to penetrate the appearance of caste struggle to unravel the essence of class dynamics in our society. But the introduction of class-caste duality sabotages this study from the very start.

For me, the caste system itself was the product of a certain mode of production and the corresponding level of production relations. Class relations here assume the form of castes, which, in their turn, are given a divine sanction by priests. Their ‘permanence’, however, is determined primarily not by any divine sanction but by the static social organisation of the village community which again is the product of a definite level of productive forces. The caste and class here appear in an apparent harmony. This harmony of class and caste, this correspondence of base and super structure is apparent because the two are distinctly separate categories rooted respectively in the base and the superstructure, in the mode of production and regulation of distribution.

As the level of productive forces develops and the mode of production undergoes a slow change, the harmony is broken; class and caste, base and superstructure come into conflict, each trying to define the other. And you have a long transitory phase where class assertions become pronounced, and oddly enough, often manifest themselves in the vortex of caste mobility. The so-called permanence of division of means of production among different castes is shaken. Institutional banner of castes is, however, invoked by new modern economic classes to fight it out among themselves, for the share of power — both political and administrative. The instrument is old, but the content is radically changed. In this phase, the harmony of the first phase is negated and the classes and castes crisscross and overlap each other. This is also the phase of sharpening of the conflict between class and caste identities. Eventually, the historical movement shall negate this phase too and bring back the harmony and correspondence between the base and the superstructure, albeit in a higher form, when castes stand annihilated and class relations and class struggles appear in a purer form. This correspondence cannot just be brought about subjectively. As I had already mentioned, caste system was the product of a definite mode of production and the corresponding level of production relations. Its annihilation too will be accomplished at a higher level of productive forces and mode of production. I had said that the unfettered development of capitalism, which abolishes the extra-economic form of coercion, makes the class direct arbiter in the mode of distribution too, and thus has the great potential of annihilating castes.

For Mr.Mathew, however, caste system basically decided the production relations and permanently divided the means of production among different castes. Caste system and its permanence in his scheme thus appear a priestly conspiracy. While he agrees that the caste system performs the major function of the superstructure, viz. the regulation of distribution, he takes the crucial role played by the caste system in the domain of production relations — in other words, the superstructure acting upon the base — to mean that the caste too belongs to the base. This immediately raises the paradox what then happens to the other basic category of class and how does its relation with caste proceeds. Mr.Mathew doesn’t see the process of class formation, taking place in however rudimentary form, in the limited industrialisation that we have in our society. On the contrary, to him it only appears to have strengthened caste formation. In the case of pre-capitalist formations, in contrast to my formulation that class may express itself in the form of caste, Mathew advances the thesis that caste, combining economic and extra-economic forms of exploitation, takes the form of economic class. He further argues that in other historical situations it is not class and caste but economic and non-economic aspects of class which get interwoven. In other words, both class and caste have economic and non-economic aspects to them, both are basic categories rooted in the mode of production and thus there is no anti-thesis between them. The paradox is still not resolved Mr.Mathew. How then are the two categories basic in their own rights? How are they different from each other? The duality doesn’t take us anywhere and the only logical inference one can draw is that caste is the basic category that determines the class. Class is thus pushed up to the superstructure devised by the modern priests, the communists. The anti-thesis of caste system is the caste system itself and in the ensuing caste struggle, class stands annihilated! And this is the very theme of the so-called dalit democratic revolution of Mr.Mathew.

Annihilation of the Class!

In Dalit Democratic Revolution you don’t find proletariat as an integrated class but only as dalit proletariat and upper-caste proletariat. Similarly various classes of the peasantry as well as bourgeoisie are split up and stand opposed to each other on the basis of their caste affiliations. Mr.Mathew forgets that unlike castes, class is not and cannot be a fragmented entity. Factory system and capitalism has created the conditions for forging class identity of the proletariat and for that, apart from organising them for joint actions, a communist party must combat caste, communal, chauvinistic biases among different segments of the organised and unorganised working class.

Mr.Mathew doesn’t see the emergence of capitalism and the industrial working class as an anti-thesis to the caste system carrying the potential for its abolition. He even tends to forget that radical ideas including that of Ambedkar for annihilation of caste only emerged with the dawn of capitalism and in the course of interaction with radical bourgeois and proletarian ideas emanating from the West. He assumes that caste system which was devised subjectively can also be done away with by means of mere subjective efforts like some sort of Cultural Revolution. He fails to see any link between Ambedkar’s crusade against casteism and his advocacy of radical economic programme, and concludes that neither capitalism nor industrialisation is possible without annihilation of caste.

Proletarian leadership

Mr.Mathew harbours some strange notions about the Maoist concept of new democratic revelation. To my assertion that the essential difference between the old democratic revolutions of western countries and the new democratic revolutions in semi-colonial countries of the East lies in the fact that the later don’t stop at capitalism and pass over to socialism, Mathew comments that this is not a Marxist-Leninist understanding. Marxist-Leninist understanding, according to him, is that the new democratic revolution is led by proletariat. Fine, but what does this leadership of proletariat imply in terms of the new social order? Economic content of a democratic revolution, old or new, is, of course, bourgeois: it abolishes feudal remnants and paves the way for unfettered capitalist development. But in the semi-colonial countries, where the leadership of this revolution has historically fallen on the shoulders of the proletariat, a strong socialist sector too emerges side-by-side and the proletarian leadership ensures transition to socialism. This is how it happened in Mao’s China, and even a cursory reading of Mao’s thesis On New Democracy will substantiate all this.

The problem with Mr.Mathews is that his proletariat is dalit proletariat, rural proletariat, plus workers in the informal unorganised sectors standing in conflict with industrial proletariat supposedly from upper castes. Moreover, this dalit proletariat takes kulaks and bourgeoisie of backward castes as its main ally and the main force. With this ‘class’ configuration Mathew knows well that transition to socialism is neither possible nor desirable. He also knows that building socialism demands a strong proletarian state. His anarchist mindset, on the contrary, rejects the socio-economic role of the state. Hence, he prefers to remain non-committal to socialism and continues to evade the question of the new social order, sometimes alluding to Gorbachev’s Russia or Deng’s China and at times on the pretext of outgrowing Ambedkar’s statist prescriptions. Mr.Mathew must know that the so-called distribution of public share assets to the people on an equal basis is just another name for privatisation.

Mr.Mathew should also know that the vanguard role played by the rural proletariat and the poor peasants in Naxalbari was only guided by the proletarian world outlook carried to them by the communist party. Depriving them of this guidance and leadership simply amounts to bringing them into the fold of bourgeoisie. There is just no midway. The proletarian world outlook is essentially the world outlook of industrial proletariat. Its historical mission to march forward towards socialism and communism — mission to which this class is objectively destined, but only objectively. Subjectively speaking this class needs to be prepared for this mission by the communist party, in which this objective destiny finds its concentrated expression.

Mr.Mathew’s pet theme is exhorting dalits to fight for the interests of the creamy layer, the kulaks of the backwards. He justifies this on the pretext that rich peasants too are the main ally of the revolution. You are wrong again Mr.Mathew! Rich peasants as a class can at best be neutralised through the policy of unity and struggle. Only a small section of them may support the revolution whereas other sections will fiercely oppose it. In Indian conditions, with the greater development of farm sector we must remain prepared for a greater resistance on the part of kulaks.

Mr.Mathew agrees to the danger of the leadership of his alliance going over to the ‘national bourgeoisie’ and the backward caste kulaks dominating the rural poor. This, however, he generalises to the Maoist model and even declares that this danger has already struck our Party’s movement. I must only remind Mr.Mathew that had it been so in our movement, our Party, would have been a ‘natural ally’ of the Janata Dal in Bihar like CPI and CPI(M). Raising the red banner against the only Mandalised government of Janata Dal in Bihar is nothing but upholding the absolute class and political independence of the rural poor.

I had pointed out in my article that Mr.Mathew’s synthesis robbed Marxism as well as Ambedkarism of their radical spirits and what he achieved was a hybrid of K. Venu and Ram Vilas Paswan — the two renowned renegades of their respective streams. As it turns out, Mr.Mathew is least bothered about that and takes pride in the fact that his academic exercise has reflected reality to a great extent.

What is this reality? K.G. Satyamoorthy, ex-secretary of PWG, joining BSP and K.Venu, ex-secretary of CRC, joining KR. Gowri’s Democracy Protection Committee in Kerala — two cases of betrayal to the ideology of Marxism and to the cause of Naxalism — are cited by Mr.Mathew in support of his academic exercise.

In support of his thesis he also refers to our sharing of Ambedkar Jayanti platform with Ram Vilas Paswan on the 14 April 1993. First of all, it was a programme of the National Campaign Committee against communalism. Choice of the date and Mr.Paswan’s insistence on the same did make us suspicious about his motives and we repeatedly raised our apprehensions in the Committee, and we were given positive assurances in this regard. Still Mr.Paswan, flouting all democratic norms, virtually reduced the whole show to the Ambedkar Jayanti celebrations and Surjeet presiding over there took no heed of our objections. This was precisely the culminating point when we decided to part company with the National Campaign Committee.

Secondly, I must make it clear that sharing of platform with radical Ambedkarite forces or our people joining Ambedkar Jayanti celebrations in no way goes against our Party’s policy. We do regard Ambedkar as a radical democrat and we are very much for joining hands with radical Ambedkarite forces in our common democratic endeavour. Confusing this with the so-called synthesis of Marxism and Ambedkarism and equating it with the, renegacy of Satyamoorthy and K. Venu is the height of academic bankruptcy.

I hope Mr.Mathew will disregard the bitterness in polemics that may arise out of my choice of certain words.

I think I succeeded in nailing down Mr.Mathew to agree to the dangers of kulak leadership over the rural poor in his model. He proposes to combat this danger ‘by adapting the Maoist model to the specificities and dynamics of each society and epoch’. I still remain confused and hope that Mr.Mathew will seriously ponder over this question in order to achieve a ‘synthesis’ of our respective ideas.