A Dalit Marxist Manifesto
Unlike many of my comrades, I have this peculiar problem of leftist trolls, rather than the rightist ones. Since I do not believe in the usefulness of discussing with fascists and their apologists or the deniers, I focus exclusively on those who are supposed to be fighting fascism or who I think belong to potential or real constituencies against fascism.To dramatize a bit, we Dalit Marxists say: you either smash fascists if you can or be finished by them or at least run for your life. You don’t waste time trying to convince them. Not even for the benefit of those overhearing the conversation. That would give a dangerous impression that fascists are worth talking to. Admittedly, we Dalit Marxists have it a bit easy in this regard. We are most unlikely to be born into or of a family or kin of fanatic Hindu fascists like most Hindu communists are.
However, being a Dalit Marxist is risking a double misunderstanding, and one constant humiliation: you will have to explain always that you’ve got nothing to do with that philistine Anand Teltumbde and other such Dalit agents or imitators of upper-caste leftists.The double misunderstanding in question needs some background. When a typical upper-caste leftist hears the word Dalit Marxism, s/he would wonder what this crazy thing is. Marxism is Marxism, what is Dalit or Muslim or Marathi about it? It doesn’t matter that upon approaching a leftist-sounding person in India, the typical upper-caste leftist tries to figure out if the comrade is China-type (Naxal) or Russia-type (CPM) or some updated version of the division. You can be assured that this ideal-type upper-caste comrade never asks herself why all Communist parties in India are ‘of India’, while they should be internationalist through and through.
Anyway, the typical comrade doesn’t express this irritation at the contamination of the word Marxism with, of all things, the word Dalit. Most of the upper-caste communists will have nothing to do with Dalit Marxism because the very first word puts them off doubly. In the second and engaging-Dalits-type, some of them being the indoctrinating enthusiasts, have already learnt that speaking to, even touching, a Dalit doesn’t actually harm them. In fact, it helps to acquire some ‘radicalism capital’– self-righteous edge over other rivals in the academia or in other fields – or to exude a more-multi-cultural-than-thou kind of airs if one can speak of a Dalit friend, preferably in the context of telling ‘others’ (not quite, because they are of same caste/class/color/accent cluster), how they together had beef in a Muslim slum.
There must be one small category of people among these, a theoretical possibility that cannot be ruled out though experience tells us the opposite, who really want to try their persuasion skills, a kind of training in radical argumentation and recruitment.There is a certain undeniable injustice in subjecting that small upper-caste leftist section which actually tries, for all the ills and ill will of Hindu Communism, to engage with Dalits and Dalit Marxism. Yet, this category of comrades is no less infuriating because of their over-confident stupidity and predictably manipulating behavior from the word go, and till the end. A sample of them, from a much bigger pool of examples we accumulated or put up with, seems to believe that Dalit Marxism is half-Dalit and half-Marxist.
One almost hears a fair-skinned smart sophomore who had already attended two campus or college processions and one wall-poster workshop and innumerable discussions with classmates in the college and hostels, shouting to a Dalit Marxist: ‘Good you have already crossed half-way mark, boy, you will get over with that Dalit bit if you try, no problem, we will only help you!’
My suppressed anger and muted cries to make the upper-caste comrade notice that my ‘full-timer’ experience alone is longer than his entire adult years would not shake an iota of his self-confidence. He would be, in a moment, stretches his hand to me, launching his mission of saving me from the caste and its narrow-mindedness, through Savarnasplaining (a la Solnit), expecting me to notice that what matters is class, state, and economics, above everything else. The upper-caste comrade would also patiently point to me why ‘identity politics’ is a bad thing, and why we must think about ‘larger’ and ‘broader’ issues.
The difficulty in accepting so stretched a hand towards me from our upper-caste comrade is that it is not to shake hands with me but to pat on my shoulder and to nudge me to ‘really real’ things than the ones I feel strongly about, owing to my ‘understandable’ experiences which I must as much unlearn as learn from. Grudge, you know, is not revolutionary. ‘Understandable’ here stands for ‘underdeveloped’ and ‘unacceptable’.
The trouble with such ‘me’ here is that the image is exclusively in the eyes of the beholder. The empirical me and real me don’t resemble the picture in the comrade’s imagination. Such attitude is part of growing up upper-caste in India, they just can’t imagine how to look at the world without them being at the center of it, they can’t look at a lower-caste person except from above. Being progressive, radical, revolutionary are not just products of only honest, idealist and painstaking study and analysis of the world but also a resurfacing of the old theme of Higher-hood now denied to them, or they live in denial of, adjusted on a new surface.
The trouble is that the Dalit Marxism is not half-Marxist and half- Dalit. It is fully Marxist and fully Dalit. We are in no way keen on meeting our upper-caste comrade halfway. We are in the business of bringing Marxism back to where it belongs: lowest in stature and biggest in numbers of the Hindu society, the lower castes. This also means releasing Marxism from the shackles of upper-castes. Marxism can and must do better than being monopolized by the upper-castes and be abused as a tool for their upward/forward obsession. Not that upper-caste Communists do not mean to improve the world from what it is now. Some of them surely do. Only that it is easy for them to imagine a communist world than to their marginality in society. It somehow cannot be put into their minds that such pathological self-importance is a direct product and clearest expression of upper-caste privilege and upbringing.
Therefore, for the benefit of such comrades, their thinking, their programs, let us clarify what Dalit Marxists stand for. Unlike you Hindus, we Marxists are committed to a politics of clearly stating what we want to do. In an Andersonian(Perry Anderson) spirit, we will make our point not merely as a statement of any abstract principle, but through an instructive case that gives the impression of an ideal meeting ground for both of us – Dalit Marxists and Hindu Leftists.
Hindu communists start an all-India Dalit organizational network! If the shamelessly slavish performance of one of its constituent organizations is anything to go by, it might be one more of a series of cruel Communist jokes on Dalits, projected on a national scale, or even worse.It is tempting to assume that the initiative might be a good thing given the Hindu fascists being in power, and that it is better for the guttural and well-entrenched anti-fascism of Dalits and professionalized, iron-fisted discipline of the Communists to come together and even merge.
Aren’t we the ones castigating Hindu upper-caste Communists all these years for neglecting ‘caste problem’, and in their complicity with caste status quo, its continued perpetration in wider society and even charging the communist upper-castes with the crime of reproducing the same old caste hierarchies in their own ranks even more rigorously?
Isn’t it the oft-repeated Dalit Marxist line to say that there are many Hindu temples Dalits can enter in this country but no single politbureau of any communist party that lets Dalits in? Isn’t this all-India confederation of Dalit organizations something to be welcomed? Even if it is too late and too little, don’t we have to support it and strengthen it? Even if this is seen as hypocrisy, isn’t the hypocrisy a tribute paid by the evil to the virtue? Can’t we dare to imagine that the social processes so unleashed and its resultant new political sensibilities can have a life and momentum of their own? Isn’t it cynical to rule out any good coming out of this gesture, by precluding the potential of Dalits making the best of this?
One of the main sources of the vitality, humanity, resilience, responsiveness, endurance and effectiveness of Dalit organizations across India is that most of them are never organizationally affiliated to any political party, let alone to any – invariably Hindu and upper-caste – Communist party. This allows them to keep away the typical problems that come with rigid structures of organization and top-down approaches the Indian communist parties suffer from.
This happy situation doesn’t let any uniform policy, form of struggle or demand, grip the Dalit activism, as in the case with the most work of the most Communist-affliated front organizations that reduces them to become irrelevant and ideological in their local, specific situation.It is a major part of the explanation for Dalit activism’s superior creativity, humane organizational functioning, freedom from bureaucratization, decency in mostly avoiding and occasionally conducting in-fighting without any communist-style waste of energies in maligning similar and fellow organizations, brainwashing, isolating dissenters, boycotting the recalcitrant and obsessive indoctrination.Since caste-inspired, caste-inflected oppression and exclusion are always and everywhere very specific – with the activists having to each time, in every case, decide on who are opponents, who are friends or neutral parties, and so to what extent, how much of it can change and how – Dalit activism typically doesn’t easily fall for usual communist infirmities like stupid belief in policy or argumentative uniformities.
Before any postmodernist steps in seeing some potential here, let me clarify that Dalit activism’s basic target of struggle is neither Capitalism nor Indian state but Hinduism and non-Dalit society. In fact, sometimes we find the first two less antagonistic to our lives, goals and politics than the latter and, in some conditions, as useful for us against the first pair. Every Dalit activist in this country knows, unless she is fed excessively on the philistine Teltumbde’s work, or still to get out of the ideological slavery of Hindu communist parties, that our main oppressor is society around us more than the state or globalization.Communist-style uniform policies, centralized-command structure, half-feudal/half-militaristic hierarchies and abject cadre surrender and slavishness are neither possible nor useful for Dalit activism as we have to use our own minds and grasp of each empirical situation, agitation or mobilization without resorting to handed-down pre-fixes for all situations, and without any exclusive focus on uniform, impersonal, ‘hidden’ structures like class, capitalism, neo-liberalism etc.
Now the potentially pernicious effects of this Hindu communism’s incursions into Dalit activist field are not difficult to discern, it might be impossible later to fight back if we are not alert now. First attack will be on the temperamental autonomy of Dalit Organizations and their constitutive creativity and inbuilt immunity to dogmatism. Second one will take the form of a seduction: Hindu communists offer us unity on a national scale but will only bring in uniformity. This only means training Dalit activists in turning away from empirical realities and possibilities around and learning how to parrot centrally formulated slogans when prompted by higher-ups.
Another predictable danger in this attempted Hindu colonization of Dalit activism through communist bait is, turning our sphere of work from humanizing Hindu society to fighting faceless capitalism/globalization, forfeiting the Dalit-specific rights and concerns, in favor of building the so-called unity of people.Yet another menace in this stealthy and conspiratorial takeover of our slowly growing representational space in the media is, instrumentalization of our issues for communist blackmailing and embarrassing techniques against governments, used opportunistically.
The biggest and deadliest danger in communist patronage/leadership/usurping of Dalit concerns is the immediate abortion of something absolutely important, the upper-caste communists will surely achieve with disastrous effects, if not counteracted.When the ongoing genocide of Muslims created conditions and a demand for much-needed coming together of lower castes and Muslims, Upper-Caste communists with their innate incapacity to understand fascism, ineradicable unwillingness to fight it anywhere outside media and legal domains, will keep Muslims and lower-castes separate.
While all the time preaching to lower caste activists broader perspective and prescribing universalism as against our narrow ‘identity politics’, the Hindu communists are specialization-hungry professionalizers. Unlike the Dalit activists who participate in every single struggle for justice in their realms with a broader sense and grasp of social issues and all-round political education and experience, the Hindu communists severely impose specilization on the activists with one-sided expertise, a pathological inability to work without pre-existing structures or models and also without orders and permissions from above. For all their shouting at the top of their voices of the virtues of unity and universalism, their actual training of cadre follows the Taylorism of professionalization with its inevitable fragmentation of the cadres.
Then, isn’t it the time for us to come together, close the ranks and fight fascism? Dalits must reject this communist colonization precisely because of the fundamentally irreconcilable approaches to Hindutva fascism. Hindu Communists are not against Hinduism but only against Hindutva version of it. We reject both. We consider that Hindutva poses immediate and pressing deadly threat but Hinduism is more pernicious, though a deeper yet long-term problem. This tricky but deadly difference requires us to respond to Hindutva without delay but treat Hinduism as the main and ultimate enemy.
When Hindutva overreach will ultimately spell its doom and open up possibilities for a Post-Hindu India, Hindu communists with their fanatic belief in a good, non-violent, tolerant, even multicultural Hinduism will be our first enemy, something that surely comes in the way of moving towards a post-Hindu India.For Hindu Communists, Hindutva is a problem of Capitalism. For us, it is only one of the many avatars of Hinduism. Hindutva is, from our perspective, a Hinduism that takes its own religious core very seriously. For Hindu Communists, Hindutva is a perversion of Hinduism. For us, Hindutva is more honest and authentic version of Hinduism. It represents the extension of what old Hinduism does to Dalits round-the-clock in all walks of life to new victims: Christians and Muslims. While old Hinduism’s killings of Dalits are to set examples, Hindutva’s inexorable dynamic is to eliminate its new victims.
Hindu Communists believe that Hindutva is divisive. We point out that what they are doing is unification of a religion and a nation. We say that unifying, ‘uniforming’ drive of Hindutva can only be combated by inherently divisive, conflictive force of caste. The Hindu Communists reject both caste-based mobilizations and religion-based mobilizations. We charge that they not only fail to stop Hindutva (they helped them come to power in the first place, but that is a different story), they successfully discredit and preclude the only possible opposition, the Muslim and lower-caste combined mobilization against Hindutva, thus helping fascists.
This post was written by Chittibabu Padavala on November 25, 2014 for flyingfootage. wordpress.com and is reproduced here due to popular demand. Chittibabu is a Dalit Marxist scholar based in Mumbai, India.