October 18, 2020

Communists’ Contribution to the Struggle for Social Justice

BV Raghavulu

 In spite of all these factors, it can be justifiably stated that the involvement of communists in the struggle against social oppression cannot be belittled and is no less than anybody else’s. EMS Namboodiripad had stated: “In the early days of socialist communist movement (in Kerala), socialist - communists championed the democratic aspirations of the oppressed Hindu castes and Muslim and Christian minorities against caste Hindu clique….The people of the Left were seen as determined fighters against caste and communal division, solid assets of the democratic movement”.

During the freedom struggle there used to be four main viewpoints on the question of caste discrimination and social oppression among the political forces. RSS was the representative of the hardened feudal reaction. Manu dharmasastra was its guiding philosophy. It considered caste system as a great social system that is continuing from the ‘golden age of ancient India’. It is hence against any struggle for a social reform movement. Even after independence, the RSS and its political off-springs, earlier Jana Sangh and later BJP, essentially pursued the same Manu dharma, together with social engineering to suit its purposes.

Gandhiji, who headed the mainstream of the national movement admired the four varna system (chatur varna system). However, he was against untouchability and other such regressive features. He strove to merge his constructive activity for its eradication with the freedom struggle. Rather than the urge to eradicate caste system, the desire to make people from the lower castes a part of the freedom struggle drove the understanding of Congress. This understanding still prevails among the ruling classes even after our independence. Hence, instead of eliminating caste oppression, they are busy in creating a middle-class among these castes offering only the provision of reservations and representation.
Dr Babasaheb B R Ambedkar represented the most radical trend. He stated that freedom and equality are not possible under the caste system, so his declared objective was annihilation of caste. He started the struggle against untouchability practiced against the dalits. Though his objective was very radical, the path chosen by him – reservations, representation and religious conversions – failed to show a solution for the annihilation of caste. Many of those who claim to be the inheritors of his legacy, do not carry even the radicalism of Ambedkar. They have confined themselves to the liberal solutions proposed by the ruling class parties.

It is only the Communist Party that had not only declared elimination of caste system as its objective, but also showed a correct path for its achievement. In these hundred years, it strove its best to achieve this objective. The Communist Party felt that the ideological struggle against caste and the forms of caste discrimination and oppression should be carried along with the struggle for immediate relief simultaneously. The Party had also declared that this struggle is however not sufficient and that it should be combined with the struggle against feudal exploitation and concentration of land among the landlords and upper-castes, the source from which they derive their strength. We can understand how hard the communists worked to realise these objectives, by studying the history of communist movement.

In the Draft Platform of Action, (1930) considered to be the first Programme of the Communist Party, it was explicitly stated: “The CP of India fights for the complete abolition of slavery, the caste system and caste inequality in all its forms (social, cultural, etc). The CP of India fights for the complete and absolute equality of the working pariahs (untouchables) and all the toilers of our country”.

Communists accused in the Meerut Conspiracy Case, denounced the caste system in their general statement given before the court. They explained how caste system had established its hegemony in our villages. They talked about the necessity of an agrarian revolution for the elimination of caste oppression. Bhagat Singh, who was already attracted towards socialism and communism, wrote an essay in 1929 on untouchability and the need for the elimination of caste system. He supported the proposal for separate constituencies for dalits that was being debated during that period.

Social reform movements were always part of the daily activities of the communists. The struggle against caste and gender discrimination was part of all their struggles. The lives of Comrades P Sundarayya in Andhra Pradesh, A K Gopalan, Krishna Pillai and EMS Namboodiripad in Kerala, P Ramamurti, Jeevanandam and Srinivasa Rao in Tamilnadu, S V Parulekar, B T Ranadive and R C More in Maharashtra, depict the pioneering work of communists against caste discrimination. Not only these leaders, but the lives of almost all the communists during this period were intertwined with the struggle against caste discrimination and social equality. In the course of their political journey, which had started from their struggle against the discrimination of women, caste system and for social reform, they understood the limitations of such struggles and turned towards socialism and became communists.
Excerpts from various resolutions adopted by the Communist Party in its various Congresses show us how extensive was communists work for social reform.

Reviewing the work done in the Andhra region, a report of that period states: “It (the Communist Party) had fought the devil of untouchability. Members of the Party shared food with the untouchables, lived with them and shared their sorrows and joys. Moreover, the very nature of the class struggle was such that it has unified under one banner the touchables and untouchables as well. Marriage ceremonies were simplified….inter-caste marriages were widely popularised and members of the Party were always in the forefront”. Such kinds of activities were carried out throughout the country in that period.

Overcoming caste barriers and establishing unity was an important component in all the struggles conducted during that period, particularly in the agrarian struggles. If we analyse the literature, songs and other cultural forms produced during the course of these struggles, we can understand how anti-caste consciousness was created among the people.
During agrarian struggles like the Tebhaga, Punnapra-Vayalar, the glorious Telangana armed struggle, etc., people got united irrespective of their castes and fought together. Experience of the Telangana armed struggle shows: “Caste distinctions were deep-rooted in the villages. In the struggle against the government, all people were forced to work and fight collectively without any distinction of caste and creed and so after this, fighting the evil of untouchability became easier. In guerrilla squads, equality and mutual respect were strictly practiced. And thus practice changed the ideas of the people”.

Learning from experiences gained from the struggle against untouchability and caste discrimination, the Second Congress of the Party (1948) emphasised: “Every discrimination against untouchables must be denounced as a bourgeois attempt to keep the masses disunited and every just demand of theirs must be fought for as a part of the common struggle for peoples’ rights”.

Even after attaining independence, there is no change in the communist movement’s objective in the struggle for the elimination of caste system. Though initially political, ideological and organisational issues had an impact on the implementation of its decisions and carrying out its policies, soon the emphasis on anti-caste and other social reforms activities regained its importance.

The Programme adopted by the Seventh Congress of the Party (1964) stressed the importance of fighting against untouchability, caste distinctions, unequal treatment of women, inadequate protection to the religious minorities, etc., as a part of the struggle for people’s democratic revolution.

Activities and struggles against untouchability, caste discrimination in states like Tamilnadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and certain Hindi speaking states show communists’ commitment towards this objective. Measures undertaken by the communist governments in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura for the implementation of land reforms, struck at the base of feudal oppression, ensured self-respect and gave strength to dalits and other backward castes to stand up to upper-caste hegemony.

In spite of many struggles against untouchability and for the self-respect of backward sections in the society in these hundred years, the task of demolishing the basis of the caste system still remains. Even though old feudal relations are weakening, developing capitalist classes still want the continuation of caste system. They need caste to increase their exploitation, divide people and pursue their vote-bank politics. It is for this reason that today, the struggle for the elimination of caste is intrinsically linked with the struggle against the entire capitalist system. For this reason, along with our struggles for temporary relief measures against caste oppression like social reforms, reservations, representation and welfare, etc., we need to struggle for the still uncompleted tasks of breaking land concentration and the defeat of capitalist forces that are ensuring the survival of caste system.

The path shown by the communist movement from its inception is still relevant. Temporary relief and social reform measures are necessary, but are not sufficient. Agrarian revolution and attainment of socialism alone can lead to the complete elimination of caste system. Experiences of these hundred years of movement vindicate this perspective of the communist movement.