A debate on the Caste Question and Marxism

April 2, 2013

[The Chandigarh conference on Marxism and Caste, organized by the Arvind Memorial Trust, was the site of a vigorous debate on the caste question. In the aftermath of this conference, we published a statement by the Republican Panthers. which had raised objections to the distortion of the comments, as reported in some media outlets like the Hastakshep blog and Bigul, made by Anand Teltumbde at the conference. We have received a rejoinder from Abhinav Sinha, representing the Bigul group and Arvind Memorial Trust, in response to the statement from Republican Panthers of Maharashtra, published below. In light of this debate, we requested Anand Teltumbde for his response. He has sent his comprehensive commentary on the controversy, not necessarily confining to the current debate but also covering the entire controversy that erupted around this issue even among Ambedkarites in Maharashtra. We hope that this exchange will bring the debate to a fruitful conclusion and lead to a more constructive engagement of all concerned reinforcing the intersection of Dalit and Left political movements. We, from Sanhati, firmly and consistently believe that any revolutionary project in India will not be successful without the emancipation of the Dalits, just as the emancipation of the Dalits will require a revolutionary transformation of society. Throughout this debate we have and will continue to encourage all constructive efforts and discussions towards that goal and would appeal to everyone concerned to work together towards that end. – Ed]

1. Dr Anand Teltumbde mounted scathing attack on the so-called Marxists in Chandigarh Conference – Republican Panthers (Maharashtra).

2. A reply to the statement of Republican Panthers in defense of Anand Teltumbde – Abhinav Sinha

3. To the Self-Obsessed Marxists and the Pseudo Ambedkarites – Anand Teltumbde

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A reply to the statement of Republican Panthers in defense of Anand Teltumbde

by Abhinav Sinha

We are surprised to see the statement of comrades of Republican Panthers. The comrades who issued the said statement were present in the seminar, as they themselves have mentioned. Except one occasion when Mr. Sharad Gaikwad made an intervention in defense of Ambedkar on the first, or may be the second day, all the signatories of RP’s statement remained silent throughout the seminar. And now they have issued a statement condemning us for distorting the statements of Mr. Teltumbde and claiming that Mr. Teltumbde launched a devastating attack against the orthodox Marxists of our kind! However, they did not mention a single word about what Mr. Teltumbde said in his second short statement, after being subjected to sharp criticism by us, in which he retracted most of his statements. (Video link of the entire debate is given below). So we feel obliged to respond to the statement of Republican Panthers which grossly distorts the entire picture. Here is our parawise reply:

1). In the first para, the statement claims that ‘Bigul’ has attributed the anti-Ambedkar statement to Anand Teltumbde. The statement which we are talking about here is this: “All the experiments of Ambedkar ended in a grand failure.” First of all, Mr. Teltumbde did make this statement (refer to 11:02 to 11:15 minutes in the video link which is given below). Secondly, we did not publicize this statement of Mr. Teltumbde. It was a sad case of Hindi journalism. A journalist from a Hindi daily picked this statement and quoted it in a news. Then it went viral on the internet. The charge of the RP’s statement that we have quoted him out of context to “malign his image not only among dalits but also among radical communists”, is completely baseless.

2). In the second para of the RP’s statement we have been accused of “conveniently ignoring” the “scathing attack of Dr. Teltumbde” on our orthodox position. This claim is fantastic. On our part, what we have done positively is that we have uploaded the entire video of the two statements of Mr. Teltumbde and two statements from our side, so that everybody could see the entire debate and then decide what is right and what is wrong. The statement claims that our approach paper is completely disdainful of the entire struggle of the lower castes, particularly dalits, and more so of Babasaheb Ambedkar. But they have not quoted a single instance where our paper is disdainful towards the struggle of the lower castes. We have definitely presented a critique of the philosophy, politics and economics of Ambedkar, and we do not think that criticizing Ambedkar is prohibited. Ambedkar is not sacrosanct and criticizing his ideas does not amount to being disdainful towards the struggle of dalits. Thirdly, in the second paragraph, the RP’s statement claims that Mr. Teltumbde showed that the paper, where it refers to his ideas, distorts the facts and smacks of deliberate casteism. But he retracted these charges in his second statement, after facing severe criticism from our part. For this, refer to these time locations in the video to see how Mr. Teltumbde retracts his allegations about us: a) 1:50:58, b) 1:51:36, c) 1:52:40 and d) 1:53:38. In these locations, Mr. Teltumbde retracted his charge that we are dogmatist Marxists; he said he agrees with much of what Abhinav said; he said he is not a supporter of Dewey and Ambedkar and calls himself a Marxist; he again said that they (the organizers) were not dogmatist; they have said many right things and I agree with them. But the statement of RP does not mention a thing about the volte-face of Mr. Teltumbde, though all of them were present there during the entire debate. Should not we call it one of the worst case of political opportunism and dishonesty?

3). In the third para, the statement claims that Ambedkar never claimed that he has given a ‘grand theory’ like Marx. He followed the progressive pragmatism of John Dewey and in this, most of his experiments failed. This statement claims that the entire world considers that Marx has failed, and his failure is greater than the failure of Ambedkar. This statement claims to present the “truthful gist” of Mr. Teltumbde’s statement. However, Mr. Teltumbde never said what this statement of RP is claiming. (Link of entire video of debate is given below) Mr. Teltumbde only said that Marx gave a ‘grand theory’; he did not say that it was a failure or success; nor did he compare Marx’s theory with that of Ambedkar’s. He said that for him, Marxist theory is a tool to understand his contemporary reality. In fact, he said that Ambedkar did not have any theory as such, and in that sense, there is no such thing as ‘Ambedkarism’. He argued that Dewey followed a method which has affinity to the method of natural sciences, which tests every hypothesis on the basis of concrete experiments and enriches it. Though, we in our response contradicted this claimed affinity between Deweyan instrumentalism and scientific methodology and also criticized Dewey and Ambedkar for their skepticism for all kinds of theory. Mr. Teltumbde later, in his second statement claimed that he, too, was against Dewey and he accepts that Dewey was an American liberal. As regards Marxism, Mr. Teltumbde only said that Marxism needs to be developed according to the new changes in the world, to which we completely agreed in our statement. However, we rejected his claim that Marxism has become stagnant due to absence of such development and we referred to a number of debates within the Marxist tradition. We also rejected his claim that in terms of method pragmatism is not very far from scientific methodology. In his second statement, he retracted all of his statements. For this, refer to 1:50:58 to 1:53:58 in time location of the video.

4). In the fourth paragaph, the RP’s statement mentions the warning that Mr. Teltumbde gave us about our alleged dogmatism. However, we are stupefied by the fact that the writers of this statement do not mention a word about how Mr. Teltumbde, in his second statement, said that the paper and the statement put forward by Abhinav is not dogmatist. He termed the paper as casteist (see 53:10 in the video) and then said that his charge of dogmatism was not directed towards the paper and he was only referring to the para of the paper which mentions the ideas of Mr. Teltumbde himself, and then said that he agrees with much of what had been said there (see 1:50:58 to 1:53:58). But the statement of RP does not mention it. Is it not a case of being intentionally selective to prove one’s point and malign the image of a revolutionary Marxist organization? And why? Because, we presented a serious criticism of Amdebkar’s ideas.

5). In the fifth para, RP’s statement mentions Mr. Teltumbde’s remarks about Ambedkar’s relation to Marxism. Here too, the statement is intentionally selective. Mr Teltumbde not only said that Ambedkar’s understanding about Marxism was superficial, he also said that his reading list shows that he did not study any serious Marxist writing and his claim that he had read more Marxism than Indian Marxists, was a false claim. Why does not the RP’s statement mention the entire statement of Mr. Teltumbde? Here again, one can see the predetermined objective of those who have formulated the statement. Mr. Teltumbde did say that Ambedkar was not disrespectful about Marxism. But this claim of Mr. Teltumbde was refuted by Sukhvinder, who showed that Ambedkar had called Marxism a “pig’s philosophy”. But RP’s statement again does not mention it. Mr. Teltumbde’s claim of Ambedkar’s friendly attitude towards Marxism was proved to be false one by the respondents and he did not refute them in his second statement.

6). In the sixth para, the statement again says that Mr. Teltumbde taught us some lessons about the dynamic nature of Marxism, which meant that we are dogmatists. However, he retracted this charge against us in his second statement. Why the RP’s statement does not mention it?

7). In the seventh para, the statement says that Mr. Teltumbde criticized the early Indian communists for borrowing the western moulds for a class analysis in India and this led them to exclude caste from their class analysis and also to reject Ambedkar as irrelevant. However, we too have criticized the Indian communist movement in our paper for not understanding caste properly, however, we have also said that it would be too much to expect the Indian communists (even before 1951 when they took the path of parliamentary Left) to understand caste, as till 1951 they did not even have a program of Indian revolution. Our paper has also criticized the inability to conceive anti-caste movements as an integral part of class struggles, which Mr. Teltumbde claimed to have read in the beginning, but apparently had not read. However, Mr. Teltumbde put this charge on us without reading the paper, for which Sukhvinder and Abhinav criticized him later. And he did not refuted their critique, rather expressed agreement on most of the questions. But, again, RP’s statement never mentions the second statement of Mr. Teltumbde.

8). In the last para, the statement said that Mr. Teltumbde said what he has been saying for years, that there can be no dalit liberation without a revolution and there can the no revolution without the participation of the dalits. Mr. Teltumbde did not even notice that we have said exactly the same thing in the paper and went ahead to claim that our paper will increase the alienation of dalits from revolutionary movements. Had he read the paper, even in bits and pieces, he would not have made such a baseless claim about the paper. He had in fact read only those para which mentioned his name and this fact was conceded by him in the end, when he expressed his agreements on most questions with us and said that he had been referring only to the para of the paper which mentioned his name. Though, this was a u-turn, because, Mr. Teltumbde in fact had branded the paper as casteist in his first statement.

9). In the last para, RP’s statement accuses us of dishonesty unbecoming of any Marxist. However, we would appeal these comrades to review their own stand, their selective and false representation of Mr. Anand Teltumbde’s statement, completely overlooking his second statement in which he changed most of his positions. All of these RP comrades were there in the seminar, throughout the debate with Mr. Teltumbde (the video of which has been uploaded and the link of which is given below). Leave alone being a Marxist, or whatever, such kind of glossing over, mythification of facts by RP comrades is unbecoming of any honest democrat and humanist.

Link of the video of the entire debate : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYZPrNd4kDQ

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Dr Anand Teltumbde mounted scathing attack on the so-called Marxists in Chandigarh Conference

22nd March, 2013

We the members of the Republican Panthers from Maharashtra who were present in the Chandigarh conference are deeply pained to see the attribution of Anti-Ambedkar canard to Dr Anand Teltumbde in the Hastkshep blog and Bigul, the organ of the organizers’ outfit. We feel that ignoring his spirited attack on the orthodox Marxists of their ilk and projecting him as anti- Ambedkar with stray sentences sans context is a deceitful action to malign his image not only among dalits but also among radical communists.

They have conveniently ignored the scathing attack Dr Teltumbde mounted on the orthodox position the conference organizers had taken in their approach paper. The approach paper was completely disdainful of the entire struggle of the lower castes, particularly dalits, and more so of Babasaheb Ambedkar. Dr Teltumbde had initially declined their invitation because of his previous commitment in Jalandhar, where he was invited as a chief guest in the foundation day programme of Samata Sainik Dal by the respected senior Ambedkarite leader Mr L R Baley. He reached late in the evening of 13th and was expected to make a special speech in the conference. The next day, when he was called upon to make a speech he instead targeted the distortions indulged in the approach paper. He said that the approach paper was merely a reiteration of the old orthodox position which he thought most Indian Marxists were apologetic about. For the paucity of time he just focused on the reference in the approach paper to him and explained how each and every word was a distortion. Since his opinions on the subject were known to the entire country, this distortion, he alleged was willful and deliberate and smacked of deep casteist prejudice.

In the course of his talk Teltumbde said that Babasaheb Ambedkar did not claim he had a a grand theorization of society beyond the expression of his conception of an ideal society. He followed the progressive pragmatism of John Dewey, his professor at Columbia University. Ambedkar’s greatness lay in his focus on the unique disease of the subcontinent (i.e. caste) and sincerely struggling against it. Whether he was right or wrong therefore becomes irrelevant. It is an empirical fact that Ambedkar failed in most things he had tried. Initially, he imagined that the advanced elements of the caste Hindus would come forward to undertake certain reforms but soon in Mahad, he got disillusioned with them and turned towards political opportunities. He laboriously won the separate political identity for Dalits but could not use it as Gandhi’s blackmail annulled it. He won political reservations but realized that they rather served the ruling class interests and demanded their withdrawal in 1953. Interestingly, he himself could never get elected on the reserved seats even against the political pigmies. Other reservations (jobs and education) operated over 60 years could barely uplift 10 percent of dalits; the balance 90 percent of Dalits being where they were in relation to others. He promoted higher education among Dalits but it also did not work and had to lament that the educated Dalits had cheated him. He wrote the Constitution with great hope but had to declare that it was no good for anyone and that he was used as a hack. He embraced ‘radical’ Buddhism and imagined that he would make entire India Buddhist but Buddhism today is confined to only his community and is reduced to an additional identity. One may thus easily recount his failures. But then every great man has failed in that sense. The entire world considers that Marx has failed. This failure is far more serious because unlike Ambedkar Marx had given a ‘grand theory’. It is far more serious than any other failures in history.

Dr Teltumbde repeatedly warned the organizers that their attitude towards Marx was no different from the attitude of Hindutvavadis who claim that everything was discussed in the Vedas. He said that trashing all non-Marxist struggles only revealed their casteist attitude.

Ambedkar was no Marxist. He had serious reservations about Marxism. But still he was not disrespectful about it notwithstanding his casual remarks that it only considered material wellbeing and ignored the spiritual aspects of human life. He always used Marxism as a benchmark to assess his own decisions as clearly revealed by his last lecture in Kathmandu “Buddha or Karl Marx”. Like many people of his times, including many self-appointed Marxists, his conception of Marxism was superficial and today we may not consider it as valid. But is it relevant in evaluating his contributions, Dr. Teltumbde asked. He emphasized that the contribution of Ambedkar not only to dalit emancipation but to the democratization of Indian society is greater than that of all Marxists together.

Dialectical materialism he said was the core tenet of Marxism. He cautioned that capitalism has transformed since the days of Marx and Engels. that might prompt a rethinking of Marxism, that orthodox Marxists do not acknowledge. It was this ‘enthusiastic’ attitude that caused Marx to declare that he was not a Marxist. He expressed concerns that a reductive Marxian approach would limit the revolutionary potential of Marxism.

He said the early communists with their dogmatic and brahmanical attitude simply borrowed western moulds for a class analysis in India. Had they even internalized Lenin’s definition of class, castes as the life world of people in the subcontinent could not have been excluded from the conception of classes. They had advanced tools of Marxism to dissect the concrete reality of India but they reduced them into a simplistic metaphor of base and superstructure. What they did belonged to the ‘base’ and others’ to the unimportant superstructure, thus declaring Ambedkar as irrelevant. If they had followed Marxism, castes could have been embodied into classes making anti-caste struggle as an integral part of the class struggle. But because of their brahmanic folly, castes was left out of a class analysis, leaving behind the idiotic duality of class and caste.

He repeated what he has been saying for many years that there can be no revolution in India without the participation of Dalits and there can be no emancipation of Dalits without a revolution. The approach paper would only deepen the alienation of Dalits from revolutionary struggles and strengthen reactionary politics. While this process has been shaped by many historical elements, one cannot absolve communists of their role.

This is the truthful gist of what Dr Teltumbde spoke there. To pick up stray sentences ignoring such a thick context is a dishonest way unbecoming of any Marxist.

Sharad Gaikwad, Vira Sathidar, Uttam Jagirdar, Raju Kadam, Swati Birla, Harish

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