Saturday, October 15, 2016

Anti–Imperialism and Annihilation of Caste written by Anand Teltumbde reviewed by Dr Gupta and Arvind

Anand Teltumbde

Attempt to Fuse the Dalit (anti-caste) & Revolutionary Movements

— Dr. Gupta and Arvind

The book under review titled Anti-Imperialism and Annihilation of Castes written by Anand Teltumbde is dedicated to the great anti-imperialist martyr, Bhagat Singh whose 75th death anniversary is being celebrated this year throughout the country.

The quintessentially Dalit {a term now used to generally include all scheduled castes, instead of the degrading term ‘harijan’ coined by Gandhi} emancipation, the role of imperialism and of Indian Marxist practice till date, have been addressed with élan and professional skill.

Notwithstanding the fact that many of the propositions contained in this book were addressed by recent scholars and cited here, the presentation is rewarding for a reader curious to know and determined to demolish the menacing caste system plus Brahminism.

This book is an attempt at drawing on Marxism and Ambedkar’s views with a view to shedding light on the problem and seeking a solution.

While doing so the book seeks to look at the flaws in the histories of both the communist and dalit movements and tries to draw lessons.

In the process it draws many a positive conclusion while also presenting some faulty hypothesis.

Yet, overall the orientation is positive and throws much light not merely in understanding the caste /dalit question as it exists today but, more importantly, in trying to find a solution to it.

There is a scathing criticism on the past practice and present of the ‘Left’ (broadly categorised here) and also dalit movement and politics.

But, the approach of the criticism is positive, whether one agrees with it or not, as it is done with the intention, not merely for finding fault, but to seeking rectification. It also concretely suggests the nature of the rectification in its last and concluding chapter.

In this review let us then look at the major points, both positive and negative in order to take such serious study forward in this most complex aspect of Indian society.

The book concludes with the following statement:

"On the part of the dalit movement, it ought to be clear that caste can never be used as a category for emancipation project.

Caste is intrinsically divisive; it tends to highlight differences among people to keep them away.

Class, on the other hand tends to integrate people along their existential similarities.

Even while pursuing their anti-caste agenda Dalits must transcend castes so as to unite all Dalits.

This process can then easily extend to other democratic people who would come forward to reinforce the anti-caste struggle.

The caste identity only serves to blur the identities of friends and foes.

Both could come wearing the same caste label. Only the class perspective can bring in the requisite polarization of forces for effective struggle for dalit emancipation."

Then, a few paras earlier, regarding the communists it states in the conclusion:

"If one takes into account the amount of attention Lenin paid to the Russian peasantry, the ignorance of Indian peasantry by the Indian communists could only be said as criminal.

Later, the Chinese revolution showed the way how in an industrially backward country, the democratic revolution could be accomplished.

The relevant classes for the ensuing revolution of the communists in India shall thus largely comprise the landless laboureres and the poor peasants.

Dalits, constitute a large part of this rural mass of people.

If one analyses in caste terms, some upper castes, although they belong to the same class as Dalits, would find it difficult to delink from their caste fellows who may constitute a different and even adversary class.

In normal terms, caste consciousness is found to be far stronger and mutable than class consciousness.

In order to transform them as a reliable ally in the revolution, it is imperative either to weaken their caste consciousness or strengthen the class consciousness. In any case unless the hold of castes is loosened, they will not easily ally with the dalits as fellow strugglers.

Dalits too have castes among them but being on the same side of the caste divide, they could be relatively easily overcome. Dalits, besides being natural proletariat are thus a reliable mass for any revolutionary project.

Because of the historical rift created by the early communists between the dalit and communist movements, the Dalits have not joined the revolutionary forces in large numbers.

It certainly constitutes one of the major reasons for the weakness of the revolutionary forces in the country. The historical lesson is largely clear: until Dalits come to shoulder revolution, the communist project will remain a distant dream in India."

From these two quotes we see that whatever be the criticisms the approach is not only positive but seeks a practical solution to a problem left over by history.

The major two flaws in the book are: firstly, its understanding of imperialism and the struggle against it in the Indian context; secondly, not being able to draw a distinction between Marxism and revisionism and painting all under the general category of "left".

The major positive aspects are: its depth of analysis and not looking at things superficially as is the trend nowadays; its critical analysis, yet positive approach, to both communist and dalit practice; its attempt at analysis from a Marxist perspective numerous aspects of history, class and caste, nationalism and patriotism, anti-imperialism and anti-feudalism, and imperialist globalisation in the present context.

We will, in this review, first of all look at the positive points in the book, the4n the two major negative flaws and then sumarise the other aspects of the book.

We shall deal with the latter two points at length as if rectified the book can become an even more valuable text on the subject.

Positive Attempt to Seek Annihilation of Castes

Despite some faulty formulations the book is a serious attempt to understand caste oppression, particularly untouchability, within the framework of revolutionary change.

He sharply criticises the lacuna in both the communist (particularly revisionist) as also the dalit movements.

On the question of reservations he takes a dialectical approach by supporting it while also sharply criticizing its negative impact. He says that the structural imbalance caused in society by the caste hierarchy and particularly untouchability creates the need for reservations; yet he points out that reservations do tend to create a class that have faith in this system and thereby blunt class consciousness.

On the question of elections he is rightly critical of the electoral farce in India as one of the many pillars propping up the caste system. He says "The caste and community identities play a big role in these electoral strategies.

It is through these strategic processes the ruling classes have effectively pulverized dalit politics into numerous factions, all engaged in internecine battles for their survival".

On the question of history he has raised many questions regarding the relationship of British rule and dalit oppression, while at the same time uncompromisingly opposing the present imperialist globalization as highly detrimental to all, including dalits.

On the question of class consciousness he has tried to interpret the Leninist understanding in the Indian context of the influence of casteist thinking. He says "Caste as the defining feature of this pre-capitalist society, continued to colour the class consciousness of the new classes". (Page 94) He adds "The social structure under capitalism in India therefore appears to have preserved the caste structure to an amazing degree: the traditional business and commercial castes having become the capitalist entrepreneurs and the lower castes having realigned to fit the job slots closer to their caste occupations".

Yet again he adds (Page 101), "Caste and class consciousness are basically antagonistic. Caste consciousness seeks to divide, searching for micro identities of kith and kin-kind, whereas class consciousness seeks to unite people on the basis of their existential situation into a broad front to struggle for some radical change."

On the question of feudalism he has correctly tried to delve into the difference between classical European feudalism and that which developed in India. In Chapter 7 "On Caste and Class" he has further sought to present some of the understanding of Marxist scholars and Marx’s understanding of the Asiatic Mode of Production.

On page 186 he adds that "…. capitalism in India never clashed with feudalism; rather it ensconced itself with the latter’s support. Not only did it not contradict castes, but also it made skilful use of them in dividing labour, it adjusted itself with the caste-based occupational structure wherever possible and created new caste occupations within the capitalist organisation."

On the question of approach to the caste question he has correctly criticised the economic determinism of the CPI/CPM type ‘communists’. He has elaborately brought our their mechanical thinking

In conclusion he says, "The anti-caste struggle should be oriented to annihilation of castes which is an essential part of the democratic revolution in India. The anti-imperialist struggle is oriented to freeing the country from imperialist control which is a part of the democratic revolution. Both these struggles thus converge to the same goal — the goal of democratic revolution."

Question of Imperialism in India

Generally, there is a righteous anger against Brahminism and casteism among all anti-caste, anti-Brahministic oppresed and emanates from the ghastly and deeply entrenched system of birth ascribed castes perpetually determining or depriving them of the economic resources, social and cultural existence as well as maintaining an oppressive and oppressed condition in perpetuity.

The writer Teltumbde expressed his anti-caste, anti-Brahministic pronouncements borne out mostly by facts and references drawn from Marx, Lenin, Ambedkar et al. Yet some of the theses of the writer are evidently hastily drawn and are not theoretically well-grounded.

The case in point relates to his bid to bring to center stage Brahmanism as imperialism, supposedly matching perfectly with Lenin’s generatively brilliant analysis on finance capital based imperialism. The writer takes it for granted, on which basis he does not care to elucidate, that Brahminisn is not only an all-pervading imperialism it even outsmarted the British colonial regime(in fact the Brahminical and other feudal elite were the first capitulators).

The writer admits it being the principal contradiction in the Marxist sense and for him the imperialism of Brahmanism remained as crucially more menacing than the gigantic British imperialism.

His allusion to the abstract entity of British imperialism several times is palpably misleading.

Instead of delving deeper into the nitty-gritty of the social fabric under British rule in its entirety the writer chose the easy route to tackle the tricky problem by prioritizing Brahminism as the first enemy, underrating colonial exploitation in all concrete forms as a secondary abstract phenomenon.

The perpetual blunder of those so-called Marxists as well as caste leaders lay in the former overlooking the enormous caste system while the latter ignored the imperial system. Teltumbe seems to have landed in the same misleading trap.

A scientifically revolutionary Marxism demanded a programme during the colonial period with a multi-pronged attack on both the British regime and the caste system itself (as a part of the anti-feudal struggle).

And obviously a Marxist would have striven for emancipation from the British Raj as the foremost enemy of the period while simultaneously going in for the emancipation from the yoke of Brahminism and the caste system and the entire semi-feudal structure.

That the then ‘communists’ did not see the significance of an anti-feudal programme is now an established fact. So, as a corollary, the so-called Marxists virtually kept out of their agenda the very crucial question of the Varnashram system enveloping the lives of the millions, reducing many millions of the toiling masses to a perennially pariah status. The writer rightly referred to what Marxists like Godelier had posited caste as being both in the structure and super-structure of the Indian socio-economic, cultural set-up.

It was a class-caste society binding the two categories inseparably with one or the other aspect expressing itself vocally and tangibly in the emerging context. It is now an indisputable fact that the wrong understanding of the CPI mechanically tried over decades to address class only from a revisionist approach and even the anti-British struggle was compromised for this reason.

The great Tebhaga, Telengana struggles could not be taken forward due to the economistic non-revolutionary positions of the official CPI line. And the question of fighting untouchability was not even on their agenda. Teltumbde has of course justifiably refuted the mechanical approach of economic determinism that Engels warned against.

To resume the question of Brahminism as imperialism that is said to have preponderated over British imperialism as Teltumbde argues, one is surprised to find such a proposition since Brahminism is not a material, objective structure in the sense imperialism is considered. It is basically a question of feudal ideology of keeping down the toiling masses in the form of endogamous castes through creating a dangerous belief system and practice eternally glorifying the Karma, dharma, jati position.

There is a long-standing, debate among sociologists and anthropologists (Cultural and physical) as to how the caste system evolved. Some recent scholars like Morton Klass et al have challenged the deeply entrenched view that caste was imported by the Aryans. Teltumbde has rightly stressed the need for attacking Brahminism but as a Marxist student of history and anthropology we have to draw a line of demarcation between Brahminism and casteism. It is an irrefutable fact that Brahminism is more often than not fused with casteism.

Yet there lies an obvious difference between the two where Brahminism is the ideology and caste the structure. The caste system gains its sanctity from religion which has taken a Brahmnical form. But Brahminical thinking affects other aspects of society as well, not just caste — such as patriarchy, attitude to labour, etc.

Let us now put in brief what imperialism is in the Leninist sense. Many people use the category imperialism eclectically without any sound basis. Obviously it is not merely a narrow reference to economic and political domination. Lenin sharply criticised such a narrow view of Kautsky merely subscribing to oppression and exploitation of the weak, backward countries by the advanced and powerful ones.

In the Leninist sense modern imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism when the process of capitalist accumulation assumes a world scale character; resulting from the interlocking of banking capital and industrial capital and the emergence of a financial oligarchy.

In such a stage the markets have already covered every corner of the world and need for the redivision of the markets resulting even imperialist countries getting locked up in wars for extending their markets and spheres of influence.

The characteristics of such a stage of imperialism are: Export of capital, centralised production and distribution in great trusts or cartels, merger of banking and industrial capital, scrambling for extending power of influence by the capitalist countries for re-division of world markets, wars, etc.

Teltumbde‘s formulation virtually negates all the Leninist formulations in general, although he claims that he has followed Lenin‘s theory of imperialism in order to justify his theories on caste imperialism. If Brahminism or caste, as he states, means imperialism in the Leninist sense as the writer would have us believe, then we have not only to take a tunnel view we have to dismiss the crucial question of imperialist wars.

The question here is not a dogmatic upholding of Lenin’s theories vs a ‘creative’ interpretation. The question is linked to the strategy and tactics of revolution and future practice. There is no meaning in calling Brahminism by another name such as imperialism.

By doing so Teltunmbde in effect seeks to downplay the struggle against imperialism, while recognising its pernicious nature today. Merely because the revisionists in their obsession with-anti-imperialism negated the anti-feudal struggle, including the struggle against caste and untouchability, does not mean that by merely redefining imperialism the problem will be solved.

The problem lies elsewhere in the petti-bourgeois, economic determinist and liberal outlook of the then so-called communists (actually revisionist) and their refusal to advance the anti-feudal struggle, or for that matter even lead an uncompromising struggle against the British imperialists. Though at one particular time one aspect of the struggle will be principle that does not negate the other aspects of struggles.

Besides, in India without a democratic awakening (built around the anti-feudal struggle of which caste and untouchability are a part) there could be no consistent anti-imperialist struggle. As Teltumbde rightly points out elsewhere, when narrow caste thinking dominates there will be little response to a call against foreign domination — as in the casteist mould, caste exclusiveness narrows one’s thinking and social interaction to within one own caste — or rather sub-caste. Through such a narrow outlook no anti-imperialist consciousness can be built.

The writer stresses on the fact that territorial imperialism is no longer the prevailing mode. The writer finds himself in a haze of argumentation though occasionally he accepts that in the indirect neocolonial system finance capital retains control of the lion‘s share of their profitable resources.

His confusion leads him to say that imperialism "is an abstraction and therefore it is not amenable to precise description" (P.50) reducing the whole system of imperialism to "the relationship of a hegemonic state to peoples or nations under its control."(P.51)

This abstraction and mere relationship as concept, although accepting somewhere the basic question of indirect control of resources by a hegemonic imperialist power, spurs the writer to theoretically ignore territoriality (as a predominant feature) as such.

The writer makes such sweeping conclusions like "the notions of geographical territory are not fundamental to the existence of empire of imperialism."(P.54) and that "imperialism, in the territorial sense is now dead" (P.54) We have the living example of Iraq, Afghanistan, etc and we see US imperialism acting unilaterally to promote its own TNCs. Both conquest and imperialist control are still very much territorial, even though it gives the appearance of being general.

The writer compounds his problem in course of his overstressing abstract, relationship, etc. by approvingly referring to Edward Said’s view on the lingering presence of imperialism "in a general cultural sphere as well as in specific, ideological, economic and social spheres". [P.57]. This theory of preponderance of imperialism in the cultural sphere has received enormous criticisms as a post-modernist scheme embodied in the so-called Cultural Studies with Said as a leading soul.

What is stressed in such studies is the cultural side of imperialism, as basic and fundamental against the Marxist view of imperialism pin-pointing basically economy and politics, as then in the cultural field. Though there is a dialectical relationship with each impacting on the other, this order of precedence is obviously Marxist not the other way round.

The writer, with such a view, actually wants to posit caste system / Brahminism as a system of imperialism.

With territorially placed at a secondary or at inconsequential position the writer considers after Ambedkar, each caste as "a nation in India" The writer does not stop at that he goes on to say that caste is imperialism with such sweeping comments and misplacing the enemy he announces "…caste imperialism a more combatable phenomenon at this stage of development than that of external imperialism —" (p59)

So many questions spring out from such propositions. If each caste is a nation then which is to be considered as the starting point: caste or sub-caste? And if such fantastic order is conceived then how to explain the conglomeration of various castes / sub – castes claiming a Dalit identity? The same problem arises in respect of castes / sub castes of the upper caste-varna layers claiming Kurmi identity or such other caste identities.

Brahminism and the caste system (particularly untouchability) is pernicious and inhuman in itself and has to be fought against and destroyed as part of any democratic revolution and there is no need to try and paint it further black by putting the imperialist label on it. To do so only confuses the issue and the methods to be evolved in fighting and destroying it.

Question of Revisionism & Marxism

The author throughout the book refers to the ‘left’ or ‘communists’ in general. This is a layman’s approach towards a political phenomena, and given his extensive quotes from the Marxist classics one would not have expected the writer to fall into the trap.

The problem with such an approach is it tends to put all communists as faulty and not distinguish between the two.

By so doing Teltumbde is unable to draw a distinction between those who are intrinsically wrong and opposed to genuine radical change and those who are for a total destruction of the system (including caste) and yet may tend to err.

As early as 1908, Lenin in his essay "Marxism and Revisionism" had said "And the second half-century of the existence of Marxism began (in the 1890s) with the struggle of a trend hostile to Marxism within Marxism itself. Bernstein, a one-time orthodox Marxist, gave his name to this trend by coming forward with the most noise and with the most purposeful expression of amendments to Marx, revision of Marx, revisionism."

He added "Pre-Marxist socialism has been defeated. It is continuing the struggle, no longer on its own independent ground, but on the general ground of Marxism, as revisionism." Of course through the ages revisionism has taken varied forms and has had various characteristics — the essence ofcourse is pushing off bourgeois ideology and politics in the garb of Marxism.

They may go under any brand name, whether CPI, CPM, CPI(ML), etc, if they do not advance the class struggle for the seizure of power and establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat as the key question they degenerate into revisionists. This is more clearly seen when they gain power as can be seen in West Bengal or Kerala in India of China internationally.

But even before such overt and crude manifestations they can be seen for what they really are to the discerning eye.

Often the liberal sees the writings of the Marxists as that of just another important intellectual and does not treat it as a science — albeit a social science. As a result they tend to take from Marx what is convenient to their overall framework while negating its essence and the entire doctrine. Often the revisionists pose that the ‘orthodox’ Marxists are dogmatic, rigid and not open to change. But, in reality dogmatism is the enemy of Marxism as, like any science, it is practical, creative and continuously develops — but in so doing it does not lose its scientific essence.

So in India, the CPI and CPM were (and are) revisionists, so one cannot even expect them to have a correct understanding on caste of for that matter any other phenomena. It is not they may not use the Marxist tools to understand, on some issues they may do it well (just as a bourgeois scholar may also do it well); the point however is not merely to understand the world, but to change it. That is where they err and their understanding therefore has these limitations. Of course on the caste question they even did not do that properly.

Teltumbde has rightly charged the Indian Marxists with negligence and avoidance of the caste question and Brahminism.

What appears to be a wrongful generalization is that the writer brackets the revolutionary Maoists with the CPI, CPI(M) etc. though he has quoted positively from the 1995 Conference document of the CPI(ML)(People’s War) the tendency is to lump all together.

This has gone so far as to imply that Maoists use dalits as cannon fodder (page 249). A cursory investigation into the facts of those who have been martyred would have disproved this.

In fact this is the propaganda of the ruling classes to push a wedge between the Maoists and the vast dalit sections joining them. It is surprising that the author too should fall into their trap!!

The facts of the matter are that the Maoists are deeply rooted in the most oppressed sections, unlike the revisionists, so it is natural they have deep links with the dalits and tribals in the areas where they have firm roots as AP, Bihar, and Jharkhand.

Of course he tries to ‘excuse’ this supposed error by saying "The communist parties are not a paragon of virtue outside the society; they too would reflect in some degree the state of society we live in.

What is expected of them as the revolutionary vanguard is that they are aware of these societal proclivities and consciously guard against them.

As for these complaints, they can only be assessed on the criterion of commitment to revolution.

Even though a revolutionary party cannot be expected to run things on a caste line, it could still incorporate measures to prepare dalit cadres for taking up leadership positions, not as a caste or class bias but to orient its politics along the interests of true proletarianism." There is of course need to do this but there is no need to distort the reality to press this point.

The reality is that inspite of all the limitations, where the Maoists have any strength and deep roots in the masses, they have great respect amongst the rural dalits. In AP there is a strong base amongst dalits; in Bihar it is well know that it is only under Maoist leadership that the dalits have fought back the cruel upper caste domination and their varied senas. The heroic revolutionaries belonging all castes, and not just dalits, have given their lives for the revolution and not one communist-baiting dalit organisation has been able to give facts and figures to establish this much-touted propaganda of the ruling classes aimed at driving a wedge within the Maoist ranks.

It is in fact the Maoists who have retaliated against the dalit atrocities like Karamchedu, Tsundur, etc in AP, hit massive blows at the upper caste senas in Bihar and stood by the dalits in time of adversary.

Though there is a big segment of dalits that are, as yet, outside the Maoist fold there cannot be any comparison with the revisionists who, till recently, did not even consider casteism and untouchability as an issue. And today when they do see it (or are forced to see it due to dalit assertion) they seek to only use this for their vote banks.

There may be many a lacuna in Maoist practice, as none are perfect and there is always room for improvement in any project, there can be no comparison between the revisionists and the Maoists (i.e. communists) even on the caste question. In fact even the ordinary dalit activist recognise the difference even though they may be critical of both.

Some Point for Clarification

Firstly the communists (here when we use the term ‘communists’ we do not mean the revisionists but the genuine communists , i.e. Maoists) do not see merely imperialism as the main enemy — it is primarily three targets of revolution; i.e. imperialism, feudalism and comprador bureaucrat capitalism.

Of these three, at the present, semi-feudalism is seen as the principle contradiction. While all reactionaries, including the imperialists, consciously prop up the caste system as it is an ideal tool for exploitation, the caste system is primarily part of the feudal/semi-feudal structure. As the latter is the principle target of revolution, quite naturally the destruction of the castes system would come within that framework.

Here we are not once again adopting any economic determinist formulation of trying to say that smashing feudal authority would automatically destroy the caste system and untouchability; it is a dialectical relation — smashing feudal authority will weaken the caste system, and attacking the caste system and untouchability will help undermine the very basis of feudal authority. And as for imperialism the author quite rightly states that what has to be attacked primarily in the anti-imperialist struggle is their agents, the compradors, within the country.

It is only by cutting off the legs of their props within the country that the imperialist edifice will come crushing down.

The other point that needs clarification is on the question of reform and revolution. Unfortunately the terms reform, reformer and reformism tend to be used loosely giving rise to the confusion. Communists generally refer to the non-revolutionary methods adopted within their camp as reformism. In this case it has a negative context. On the other hand a reformer or social reformer is seen as a progressive who seeks change though no doubt in a limited framework. And the term ‘reform’ when related to the former has a negative meaning while when related to the latter it is seen as progressive.

One last point of clarification is the distinction communists draw between ‘patriotism’ and ‘national chauvinism’. The latter is reactionary and counter-revolutionary and in the Indian context it is interwoven with big-nation chauvinism (to push the ruler’s expansionist policies) and Hindu chauvinism (to push their fascist agenda). ‘Patriotism’ in the Indian context should be more preferably said as anti-imperialist.

In the Indian context the term ‘patriotism’ can be confusing as it has the connotation of being against the nationality movements and their just struggle for their right to self-determination including secession. India is not a nation, it is a multi-national country and any coercive and forcible attempt to assimilate any nationality into the ‘Union’ is undemocratic and to be opposed.

Having clarified some point on which some confusion seems to be reflected in the book, it must be remembered this muddling of issues is primarily the handiwork of the revisionists and some ‘left’ intellectuals. Finally, let us end this review by reiterating some of the positive aspects.


Finally, it must be clearly asserted strongly and forcibly that in India the practice of untouchability is a horrendous, degrading, vulgar and inhuman practice and should not be tolerated even for a second. No genuine democrat, let alone a communist, can be silent on it.

To turn a blind eye to it under whatever pretext, as the revisionists did, is nothing short of willful appeasement of upper-caste and brahminical sentiments. Without eradicating it, and the cancer of caste from which it emanates, there can be no complete democratic transformation of the country. That is clear.

The most positive aspect of this book is that it looks at everything from the point of an activist (not just an academic) with a view to change, even though at times it tends to see conditions statically.

For example the backwardness in the anti-imperialist consciousness in the country today is seen as something in the very structure of society and gives the impression it is difficult to change and ignores the great anti-British consciousness that developed throughout the country during the pre-independence period.

It quotes profusely from the writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin, not abstractly, but to add weight to the issue being addressed. It also draws on the writings of a number of other scholars on the subject, including Ambedkar.

Teltumbde’s book is really a contribution to the literature against the menacing caste system and the necessity to eradicate it.

The tenacity of the writer in presenting his viewpoint, the skill and effort taken in presenting the findings of various scholars, the serious attempt to effect the practice of the of the ongoing anti-caste movements, the depth of the study, etc, make this book a welcome addition and valuable contribution.

One should go through this book to understand the importance of the fight against untouchability and destruction of the caste system in the overall democratization of society and the democratic revolution.