Book: Marx and Ambedkar: Continuing the Dialogue
Authors: D Raja, N Muthumohan
Publisher: New Century Book House (P) Ltd
Price: Rs 275
Buddha or Karl Marx, asked BR Ambedkar. He chose Buddha, because he felt the ideals of the French Revolution, equality, fraternity and liberty, could coexist only in the path of the Buddha. Communism promised only equality, but “society cannot afford to sacrifice fraternity or liberty” and “equality will be of no value without fraternity or liberty”, he wrote. This choice of Ambedkar has influenced the ideological outlook of the Dalit movement since, even to the extent of pitting Marx and Ambedkar against each other. The Marx-Ambedkar dialogue has returned to centerstage in the context of new Dalit assertions, supported by the Marxist Left. Student movements raise the slogan, Neel Salam, Lal Salaam, to build solidarities between two streams of politics, that have historically been suspicious of each other. Marx and Ambedkar: Continuing the Dialogue, an ambitious work, tries to understand the two thinkers and trace their ideological commonalities. The Marxists, until recently, were dismissive of Ambedkar and had slotted him as a mere liberal thinker, whose theory didn’t demand any particular attention. Post ’80s, Ambedkarite thought has seen resurgence and the Marxist Left has been forced to recognise that caste needs discussion on its own terms.
N Muthumohan and Raja see Ambedkar as a post-colonial thinker, who “uniquely contributed a social democratic component in Indian politics” and want to contextualise his work in the light of European neo-Marxists. However, the communist movement, mostly led by members of the Hindu caste elite, has focussed on mobilising workers and peasants on the broad platform of their class identity, while engaging with caste purely for electoral gains. In the vein of self-criticism, the authors say: “Marxists have remained blind to caste questions… from the point of view of their class politics…” Post colonialism, they argue, asks “present Marxist scholars to revive the dialogue between Marxism and indigenous thinkers who represented the differential politics of the subaltern masses of people”.
This is the context in which the authors propose the Ambedkar-Marx dialogue. They lay out the ground for the dialogue by introducing the broad conceptual categories used by Marx, neo-Marxists and Ambedkar, the interplay between class and caste in the making of subjectivities and identities and then propose a united front to annihilate caste, and thereby complete the democratic revolution.