Today, April 14, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s birthday is a monumental day for India. It is the day when we celebrate the movement to break the bonds of caste and of social hierarchy. The point of Dr. Ambedkar’s movement – as he said in 1927 during the Mahad Satyagraha – was to fight to ensure that our society ‘treats human beings like human beings’. In 1944, Dr. Ambedkar was most explicit at a Depressed Classes Conference, ‘The root of untouchability is the caste system; the root of the caste system is religion attached by varna and ashram; and the roots of varnashram is Brahminical religion; and the root of the Brahminical religion is authoritarianism or political power’. Democracy in the widest sense was the true antidote to authoritarianism.
It was not enough for Dr. Ambedkar to understand democracy merely in terms of elections and the right of the people to vote. In the Constituent Assembly, the draft Constitution – written by Dr. Ambedkar – was criticised for being too socialistic. Dr. Ambedkar rose to defend his document. He said, ‘political power in this country has too long been the monopoly of a few and the many are not only beasts of burden, but also beasts of prey’. Dr. Ambedkar pushed for the complete social overhaul of the system – with a direct attack on landlordism and finance capital. He called for state socialism alongside parliamentary democracy. Dr. Ambedkar could be quite cutting in the debates when he was challenged on the point of taxation on the wealthy. ‘If you do not mind paying taxes to meet the expenditure on war’, he asked of the propertied, ‘why do you object to raising funds when their purpose is
to raise the labour standard?’
Next month, LeftWord Books is proud to present to you Dr. Ambedkar’s unfinished book India and Communism, with an insightful and important introduction by Anand Teltumbde. Dr. Ambedkar, as Teltumbde shows, was never against Marxism or the idea of Communism. He had major differences with the Indian Communist movement on their understanding at that time of the relationship between class and caste as well as with what he understood to be the means adopted by the Communist movement. Later in his life when he converted to Buddhism, Dr. Ambedkar would say that the ends of both Communism and Buddhism were the same – to create a just and equitable society.
To get a rich sense of the contemporary Communist understanding of the central struggle against caste and to keep up with various struggles of this kind, please see the new website: Communists Against Caste. It shows that the Indian Communist position on the relationship between caste and class has evolved a great deal. One of the most recent posts there is of EMS Namboodiripad’s very important essay – Castes, Classes and Parties in Modern Political Development (1977), which has been reprinted from our volume of EMS’s essays – History, Society and Land Relations).
We honour Dr. Ambedkar on this day – his birthday – with the hope that his struggle, which is also our struggle, will one day prevail.