The Relevance of Comrade R B More to the Dalit Movement-II
K K Theckedath
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BABASAHEB AMBEDKAR AND THE COMMUNISTS
BEFORE joining the Communist Party More had a series of discussions with Babasaheb Ambedkar. He was trying to explain to Dr Ambedkar about the nature of the communist movement and the advantages for the dalits from such a movement. Finally, Dr Ambedkar said that he would not come in the way of his joining this mighty struggle of mankind. He only expressed the hope that Ramchandra would find a respectable place in the Communist Party whose leadership could be described as “Bamananchi pudharipan” (leadership of the Brahmans).
Dr Ambedkar continued to have great respect for Ramchandra More, and later when elections to the Bombay provincial Council were to be held, he offered a ticket from his newly formed political party for More to contest. When More politely refused to contest on behalf of this party, Dr Ambedkar said that the offer was open even if More remained in the Communist Party: “Tu tujha paksha sodla nahis tareehi mi tula ubha karavayas tayar aahe.”
It is often extrapolated from isolated facts of history that Dr Ambedkar was against the communist movement. In fact, anti-communist intellectuals have an axe to grind in keeping the nascent and potentially powerful dalit movement from joining the rising communist current. However, in trying to hurry up and repair the chasm created by such propaganda, some communist writers have also done some unwarranted “self-criticism”.
One example given in such self-criticism is that the communists had kept away from the Kala Ram Mandir temple entry satyagraha in Nashik. A cursory examination of facts would show, however, that the decision to start the temple entry satyagraha at Kala Ram Mandir was taken in October 1929, just before Dr Ambedkar had to sail for England to attend the Round Table Conference. Our intellectual critics forget that on March 20, 1929, in a sweeping spell, the British arrested thirty-one top communist leaders from all over the country in the infamous Meerut Conspiracy case. These included the following eleven leaders from Mumbai, the city bearing the brunt of this imperialist attack: S A Dange, S V Ghate, K N Joglekar, Dr G Adhikari, R S Nimkar, S S Mirajkar, Shaukat Usmani, M G Desai, S H Jhabwala, G R Kasle and Arjun Atmaram Alve. It must be placed on record that of the four entrances of Kala Ram Mandir, the satyagriha at the East Entrance was manned by a group under the leadership of Kachru Mathuji Salvi. It may also be noted that in Mumbai R B More organised several meetings in support of the satyagriha and collected funds for it.
As regards the criticism that the communists were not sensitive about the discrimination against the untouchables being practiced in the mills, the above-mentioned demand number 9 in the strike of 1928 gives the lie to this accusation. The British journal ‘Labour Monthly’ has recorded this, but our anti-communist intellectuals fail to notice this demand in the bitterly fought six-months long strike of 1928.
In fact, with his deep understanding of the sufferings of the untouchables and his vast reading of political science and philosophy, to imagine that Dr Ambedkar would be against the communists is puerile to say the least. His radical economic ideas, including state socialism, nationalization of the land, the government providing housing to the untouchables and the poor, the eradication of the obscene levels of inequality in the country, against which he had warned in his address to the Parliament while speaking about the Constitution, all point to a close approach to Marxism.
In fact, seeing the results of the 1952 general elections, and the wave in favour of Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr Ambedkar made a very important statement in a letter to his close friend and a leader of the dalit movement, Karmaveer Dadasaheb Gaikwad. Dr Ambedkar had realised during the last phase of his life that his own political philosophy was incomplete in some fundamental way.
I quote from the biography of Dadasaheb Gaikwad written by Haribhau Pagare
“Babasaheb pudhe lihitat:
‘Mala Federation madhun bahar padavese vatate. Evadhech navhe, tar rajkaranatun ata poornatah nivrutta vhavese vatate. Te evadhe sope nahi, he mala mahit aahe. Tareehi majhe rajakeeya tatvajnan aaplya lokanche agdi twarit kalyan sadhu, ase mala vatat nahi. Majhya shivai kunalahi aaplya lokanchi kiti halakhichi sthiti aahe he mahit nahi. Tevha tyanche kalyan sadhanya sathi tari aankhi kiti divas vat pahavi? Communist Partyith jave, ase majhe mat hot chalale aahe.’ ” ( Haribhau Pagare, Dadasaheb Gaikwad- Jeevan va Karya, 1987,pp 244-245).
This meant: “I feel like coming out of the Federation. Not only this, I now feel like taking total retirement from politics. I know that this is not so easy. However, I do not feel that my own political philosophy will be able to bring immediate relief (welfare-kalyan) to our people. No one other than me can understand how extreme and desperate is the situation of our people. Therefore, how many days more should we wait to obtain relief for them? I am coming to the opinion that I should join the Communist Party.”
It is important to note that Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar had come to this conclusion, namely, about the incompleteness of his political philosophy, in 1952, even after he had been a key figure in the drafting of the Constitution of India, and after this constitution had come into effect in 1950.
R B MORE’S CRITICISM AND THE DALIT QUESTION
In his 1953 letter to the Polit Bureau of the Party, More made the following assessment of Dr Ambedkar’s political philosophy and its weakness:
“Yet it must be borne in mind that Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s influence in bourgeois ideology, in the final analysis, made him refuse (he has refused) to take into consideration the economic side of the problem in a revolutionary way.” (Satyendra More, p 281).
To understand the economic exploitation inherent in caste oppression we must consider Marx’s idea of surplus value in capitalist society and surplus produce in much earlier forms of society. In human social evolution it was the discovery of agriculture as a form of production, and the immense productivity of this form, that opened up the possibility of surplus produce. In the field of agriculture, ten persons’ labour could produce much more than what ten persons needed for sustenance. Prior to the discovery of agriculture, there was no slavery as we understand it. Indeed, “after examining the social institutions of as many as 425 primitive tribes, the sociologists Hobhouse, Ginsberg and Wheeler came to the conclusion that slavery was non-existent among primitive people who were ignorant of agriculture or cattle raising.”
In Capital Volume I, published in 1867, Marx makes this idea of the relation between land ownership and relations of oppression and exploitation clearer. In the last chapter of the book, he refers to one Mr Peel, who “took with him from England to Swan River, West Australia, means of subsistence and of production to the amount of 50,000 pounds. Mr Peel had the foresight to bring with him, besides, 3000 persons of the working class, women and children. Once arrived at his destination, Mr Peel was left without a servant to make his bed or fetch him water from the river. Unhappy Mr Peel who provided for everything except the export of English modes of production to Swan River!”
Three pages later, Marx gives the following statement: “Where land is very cheap and all men are free, where every one who so pleases can easily obtain a piece of land for himself, not only is labour very dear, as respects the labourer’s share of produce, but the difficulty is to obtain combined labour at any price.” (Marx,Vol I page 719).
It was the genius of the Indian exploitative system in general that it invented a special mode of production involving the caste system, which was extremely stable, and could stand its ground for thousands of years through the rule of the Moghuls, the Marathas, the British, and the Indian bourgeoisie with its so-called land distribution.
The simple idea was to deny through legislation and tradition the right to own or buy land or indulge in agriculture to a large section of the people, namely, the conquered tribes and groups. These were the untouchable castes. The word ‘jati’ for caste, as well as for describing the tribals as ‘janajati’, gives the key to understanding the social formation underlying this.
R B More’s first criticism points out that land possession is the key to the cause of dalit liberation. The slogan of immediate nationalisation of all land does not help in this democratic task, but the immediate distribution of land to all the dalits would be the correct slogan today.
THE SECOND CRITICISM OF R B MORE
To deal with the issues in a revolutionary way means to recognise the class nature of society, and of bourgeois democracy and constitution, as well as to note that social changes are to be brought about through the engine of class struggle. This involves recognising that in any region (village) the dalits are in a miniscule minority, and are generally dependent on the upper castes, and the general population, for their livelihood. The often reported ‘boycott of dalits’ is a weapon with the majority of the population who want to impose their will on the dalits.
Hence it is important to recognise the fact of their belonging to the class of landless labour. After all, they form a reservoir of unfree, servile and landless labour available for work at the lowest cost to peasants as well as superior landlords.
Moreover, what is the character of the agricultural labour class in India? Of the so-called farmer suicides recorded in Maharashtra in 2020, half were of landless labour. Out of the recorded 10,677 deaths, 5,579 deaths were of cultivators and 5,098 were of agricultural labourers. Out of the agricultural labourers 49 per cent belong to the dalit and adivasi populations.
As regards the landlessness of the dalits, the National Sample Survey office reports that in 2013, the 58 per cent of all rural dalit households were landless. The list of the top three states in this regard, Haryana (92 per cent), Punjab (87 per cent) and Bihar (86 per cent), shows that landlessness among dalits has been a feature of agricultural development in India even after 66 years of independence.
Thus, the need of the hour is to recognise the commonality of interests of agricultural workers’ unions and the dalit movement, and to link the dalit movement with the movement of the landless agricultural workers, and in a reciprocal relationship, strengthen the struggles of Dalits as well as of agricultural workers.
These are the conclusions to be drawn from the observations of Ramchandra Babaji More. The inspiration and fire power comes from the example of Dr B R Ambedkar, but the direction for movement for the present situation comes from the life of Comrade R B More. Truly, let us celebrate his life and make his views known to all those who struggle for justice for the dalits.
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