Fourth Arvind Memorial Seminar
The Caste Question and Marxism
12–16 March, 2013
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In memory of our dearest Com. Arvind, who left us on 24 July 2008, we are organizing the Fourth Arvind Memorial Seminar in Chandigarh this time.
Com. Arvind was a brilliant and energetic fighter of the workers’ movement, cultural movement and movement for alternative peoples’ media in India. Following the untimely demise of this young comrade of ours we had decided to organise a seminar in his memory every year on any of the burning and challenging problem or question of Indian revolution . The first (one-day) and second (three-day) seminar were held in July 2009 and July 2010 in Delhi and Gorakhpur respectively. Both these seminars focused on the orientation, prospects, problems and challenges of working class movement in India in the age of globalization. The Third three-day seminar (July 2011) was held in Lucknow and focused on the condition, orientation, problems, challenges and prospects of the democratic rights and civil liberties movement in India.
After these three successful seminars, we are organising the Fourth Arvind Memorial Seminar between 12-16 March 2013 in Chandigarh on the topic: ‘The Caste Question and Marxism’. In view of the comprehensiveness of the subject, its various dimensions, history of the controversies associated with the subject and its complexity, this time we have extended the duration of seminar to five days so that there is a detailed as well as satisfactory debate and discussion on each and every aspect of this subject. Until now we had been organizing the seminar on the death anniversary (24 July) of Com. Arvind. However, from this time onwards, we are going to organize it on his birth anniversary (12 March).
The caste question, particularly the Dalit question, is still one such burning question of Indian society, without the process of whose resolution, the class unity of the toilling masses and the success of their emancipatory-project can not be envisaged. Therefore, it becomes imperative for all those who, even today, consider Marxism to be the guiding principle of revolutionary practice in true terms (instead of treating it as a tool of ruminating academic discourse or that of merely vote bank politics) to attempt to form a consummate understanding of each and every aspect of the caste question, research and study it and debate it from a Marxist standpoint.
There have been seminars-symposiums on this question for a long time now. However, often every aspect of this serious historical question has been settled conclusively in a ‘hence proved’ fashion through few position papers and brief debates. There has been an absence of serious research and unbiased lengthy debate. On the one hand, there has remained a view of looking at or rejecting the caste question from a mechanical class reductionist standpoint, on the other, an opportunist tendency of reconciling Marxism and Ambedkarism-Neo-Ambedkarism and shying away from uncomfortable questions has also been present. The scholars belonging to American sociological school have long been rejecting the method of Marxist class analysis in studying the caste question. It is required, even today, to put forth a balanced Marxist critique of such views. In the recent decades, the academic practice of understanding the question of caste and gender through sundry “post-“ ideologies including ‘subaltern studies’ and identity politics has been very much in vogue. Plenty of critiques of these thought-streams have been put forth from diverse Marxist positions, however, a lot needs to be written on the inconsistencies of various post-modernist, subaltern interpretations of the caste question, and the tasks of the presenting a balanced critique of the criticism of Marxism advanced by these schools still remains to a large extent. There is no dearth of such Marxist academics who are trying to correct the “class reductionist defects” by creating a hodgepodge of the method of subaltern studies and identity politics with Marxist methodology. Therefore, a detailed debate and discussion on this subject is even more needed.
The first and foremost question is that are the Marxist methodology of dialectical historical analysis and Marxist categories (class, production relations, base, superstructure, etc) inadequate or inappropriate to understand Indian social formation and caste question? How should the interrelation of caste and class be viewed? In what way have the Marxist historians explained the origin and evolutionary process of caste question? The caste system, right from the times of its origin to the present day, instead of perishing has continuously been in existence, however, instead of existing in situ, inertly, it has been co-opted by each subsequent socio-economic formation, there has been an articulation between them and it has been reinvigorating itself. The question which is worth considering as well as worth debating is that as to how Marxism has interpreted this phenomenological process and in what way has this been interpreted by other theoretical positions!
The relationship of Ambedkarism with Marxism is often considered an intricate and uncomfortable question. There has been an absence of comprehensive Marxist analysis and critique of Ambedkar and Ambedkarite-Neo-Ambedkarite positions to a large extent. Usually, the discussions on these have been either cursory or fragmentary. In recent years numerous Marxist scholars and organizations have, without going into an in-depth and detailed evaluation of the philosophical-political-social positions of both the sides, been making efforts to harmonize Marxism and Ambedkarism in a populist manner. Without a detailed analysis, adverse comments have been made and charges of economic determinism and class reductionism have been levelled against Marxism from an Ambedkarite position. The need is to analyse Ambedkar’s philosophical position (his world view and methodology), put forth a critique of his view of history, evaluate his political position and his economics, analyse his viewpoint on social questions and to see what is his project for the abolition of caste and Dalit liberation, and how logical, historical and practical it is! There is also a need to present an elaborate analysis of all the criticisms advanced by Ambedkar and Ambedkarites of Marxism. The same method of thorough analysis and criticism should be followed by Ambedkarite and various Dalit thought-streams too. Only then a meaningful debate can take place and it will be possible to arrive at correct conclusions.
It is very important to present a historical analysis and sum-up of the theoretical positions and practical activities of communist movement on caste question and Dalit question. What is the form and nature of caste question and Dalit question in present-day India, what is the position of various communist revolutionary organizations therein, what is the relation of Dalit liberation or whole of the caste question with the liberation struggle of Indian toiling masses, and what can be the correct, scientific, practical project of the abolition of caste in Indian society – this is an important subject of detailed debate and discussion. The aforementioned agenda cannot be fulfilled without understanding the interrelations of class and caste by situating them within socio-economic-political perspective in historical context.
During the past decades, the influential political organizations running in the name of Ambedkar have remained submerged in the mire of bourgeois parliamentary politics of the basest kind. There are few others whose social base has been quite narrow. Mostly, the position of diverse forms of ‘dalitism’ influenced by Ambedkarism-Neo-Ambedkarism and “post-” ideologies such as subaltern studies, identity politics etc has remained confined to the fields of sociology and literature. Their absence in the form of a socio-political movement is worth consideration. In literature, the Dalit literature exists with its own ideology, and a lot has been written on Dalit aesthetics too. The questions worth pondering are that how does the realism of Dalit literature form a separate independent category, what is the theoretics of Dalit literature and Dalit criticism, and what is the philosophical position of Dalit aesthetics?
All in all, the debatable key issues in this five-day seminar focusing on ‘The caste question and Marxism’ are:
– Dr. Ambedkar’s philosophical position, his view of history, political thought and practice, economic theory and policies, views on socio-cultural formation and his projects of the abolition of caste and Dalit liberation – A Marxist critique. Critique of Marxist positions on these questions from Ambedkarite and other pro-Dalit positions. Analysis of Ambedkar’s view on Marxism. Discussion on all these questions.
– Dialectical historical materialist understanding of the caste question. Neo-Ambedkarite positions, their Marxist critique and discussion on them. Post-Modernist positions such as those of subaltern studies, identity politics etc on the Dalit question, other sociological schools and neo-Marxist positions, their Marxist critique and discussion on them.
– Marxist historiography on caste question, its Ambedkarite opposition and discussion on them.
– The caste question and the communist movement in India. Retrospection of history – undivided communist party and caste question, revisionist parties and caste question, positions of a few chosen communist revolutionary organizations on caste question, the communist revolutionary project for the abolition of caste.
– The theoretics of Dalit literature and criticism. The philosophical content of Dalit aesthetics.
We are sending this invitation much in advance so that you have ample time to prepare for your article/paper and discussions. We shall be obliged if you intimate us about the status of your arrival as well as your paper by 25 February. If you send your paper by 28 February, it would be easier for us to plan the sessions.
We sincerely request you to participate in this seminar. Kindly, inform us about the date of your arrival, bus, train etc. on any of the mobile or landline numbers given below. You can also contact us for any information on the email ids. We promise you of warm-hearted hospitality and assure you that there would not be any kind of inconvenience.
Awaiting your reply.
— With sincere regards,
Meenakshy (Managing Trustee)
Anand Singh (Secretary)
Katyayani, Satyam (Member)
Arvind Memorial Trust
12 – 16 March
First session: (10 AM to 1 PM)
Second session: (3 PM to 8 PM)
Lunch break: 1 PM to 3 PM
Tea break during second session: 6 PM
Sohan Singh Bhakna Bhavan, Sector 29-D, (Opposite Tribune Colony), Chandigarh
You can contact any of these members of the organising committee, or the Lucknow office of the Trust:
Meenakshy – Ph: 9212511042, Email: email@example.com
Anand Singh – Ph: 9689034229, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Katyayani – Ph: 9936650658, Email: email@example.com
Satyam – 8853093555, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Address of Lucknow office:
69 A-1, Baba ka Purwa, Paper Mill Road, Nishatgunj, Lucknow – 226006
Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org