Ambedkar and Communism

Reply to Marxist Look at Religion Buddhist Approach

by Dr. K. Jamanadas,


This has a reference to an article by Research Scholars, Kong Fan and Li Shen, published in "Studies in World Religions" #4, 1983, by Kong Fan and Li Shen tr. by P. Barry.

The issues created by the authors are not new. They have been raised time and again and not only in Indian context, but in World context they have been already answered by authorities like Dr. Ambedkar.

The authors expound two theories, that views of Marx, Lenin and Mao are opposed to religion. They feel that only Marx has given scientific explanation of religion, and that it is "Religion is the Opium of the people". Authors say that "It can not lead people who suffer difficulties to overcome the difficulties. It only allows them to anesthetize themselves, thereby, Religion changes material struggle into a kind of spiritual comfort. It transforms real needs to hopes of an illusory world." The authors apparently equate religion with God, and feel that as Science has disproved the existence of God, and as so called religious ethics comes from the will of God, it has no meaning.

Secondly, they believe only Marxism holds that, ultimately, rooting out private ownership will remove all evil. They lament that though Socialism has brought liberation of masses, still people believe in religion. This is because of legacy of feudalism, influence of capitalism, imperialism, beurocratism.

Lastly they outline the line of action not only for their own country but for the whole world. They feel the Communist party of China thinks it necessary to form a united front with "patriotic religious believers to oppose the reactionary forces at home and abroad and to carry out socialist revolution and modernization". They are bound to expound Marxism through "research into religion and into its history, doctrine and present circumstances." This propaganda they wish to do with "unhurried discussion to reason things out" by criticizing religion but not the people who follow or preach it, except the "criminals". Of course they do not forget to assign the power of final judgment to a few persons as they say that all this must be according to the "theories, plans and policies of Party Central".

They, however, admit that there were "religious wrongs", but blame the "Gang of four" with their "ultra leftist" attitude for these religious wrongs. Further claiming that State is not controlling Religion, the Authors are generous in allowing practice of religion to those who are patriotic and not against the government.

As I have been asked to reply this article by Mr. Jaysuria, a Buddhist Dignitary from America, I will try to say a few words from Indian Buddhist's point of view.

Ambedkar and Communism

There is such a vast literature by Dr. Ambedkar in favour of Buddhism and against Communism, that only quoting from Ambedkar, who has already thought over Communism for years before giving Buddhism to the multitudes of Indian masses, will answer all points raised by the above research scholars. One thing needs to be remembered is that Ambedkar's views are nearly fifty years old, and they are still valid. They do not mention Mao, as his theories had not then come into prominence, but what he says about communism in general should also apply to Maoism too.

The very fact that "The Gang of Four" can become successful in capturing power and do the things, against the "real" Marxism, proves the fact that there is some inherent weaknesses in Marxism.

One thing, I wish to make clear is I am not a Communist, I am an Ambedkarite. But I am one of those few who think that Marxism is not finished in Russia, unlike many who do, after the break up of Soviet Union. The meaning of Religion according to Buddhism, as expounded by Dr. Ambedkar, the modern Religion Giver of Indian Buddhism, is well explained in his "Buddha and His Dhamma", the Bible of Buddhist Ambedkarites.

It is rather unfortunate, that we have to say, the authors of the article either misunderstood Marxism or Religion or both. These scholars should have pondered over one point. If any people in the world, needed the liberation from oppression, they were the Dalits of India. According to theories of Marxism, the revolution should have started here by them. But their leader Dr. Ambedkar thought that Communism is no answer, and adopted Buddhism along with his followers. His followers are now about one fifth population of this country of 1000 million people. Was Dr. Ambedkar wrong in discarding Communism and accepting Buddhism?

Pre-requisites of Communism

Dr. Ambedkar avers that there are certain pre-requisites for the Marxism to succeed. These are the society should be a "Free society", meaning it should give importance to an Individual over the society and that it should be based on equality, fraternity and liberty. [Ambedkar, "India and the Pre-requisites of Communism", (W&S vol. 3,), p.95]

These have been brought to China by Buddhism and to Russia by Christianity. The absence of these factors in caste ridden Indian society could not foster the growth of Marxism in India, and that is why Marx failed in Hindu India. Marx could not properly evaluate the importance of caste or its influence on Indian masses. Because, Marx failed here, his followers in India talk of "Class" and not of "Caste". That is the reason, the movement of Marx in India was and still is in the hands of oppressor class.

Residue of Marxism

Marx expounded his theories about 150 years ago. Most of Marxism is demolished during these years. But what remains of the Karl Marx, Dr. Ambedkar feels, is a residue of fire, small but still very important. The residue in his opinion, consists of four items:

(i) The function of philosophy is to reconstruct the world and not to waste its time in explaining the origin of the world.

(ii) That there is a conflict of interest between class and class.

(iii) That private ownership of property brings power to one class and sorrow to another through exploitation.

(iv) That it is necessary for the good of society that the sorrow be removed by the abolition of private property.

Comparison between Buddha and Karl Marx

Taking the points form the Marxian Creed which have survived Dr. Ambedkar compares the Buddha and Karl Marx. He feels that, on the first point there is complete agreement between the Buddha and Karl Marx. That language is different but the meaning is the same. If for misery one reads exploitation Buddha is not away form Marx. ("Buddha or Karl Marx", (W&S vol. 3), p. 444)

On the question of private property, Dr. Ambedkar quotes the illuminating extract from a dialogue between Buddha and Ananda, Buddha saying avarice is because of possession, which in turn is because of tenacity. Not only Buddha prohibited private property in Sangha, he put more restrictions and "rules are far more rigorous than are to be found in Communism in Russia" (Ibid. p. 446)

Means to achieve goals

Dr. Ambedkar, then, examines the means to achieve the goals. Having summarized Buddha's tenets, he feels that, it is clear that the means adopted by the Buddha were to convert a man by changing his moral disposition to follow the path voluntarily. The means adopted by the Communists are equally clear, short and swift. They are (1) Violence and (2) Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

The Communists say that there are the only two means of establishing Communism. The first is violence. Nothing short of it will suffice to break up the existing system. The other is Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Nothing short of it will suffice to continue the new system. It is now clear what are the similarities and differences between Buddha and Karl Marx. The differences are about the means. The end is common to both. (Ibid. p. 450)

The Bhikshu Sangha had the most democratic constitution. The Buddha was only one of the Bhikkus. At the most he was like a Prime Minister among members of the Cabinet. He was never a dictator. Twice before his death be was asked to appoint some one as the head of the Sangha to control it. But each time he refused saying that the Dhamma is the Supreme Commander of the Sangha. He refused to be a dictator and refused to appoint a dictator.

What about the value of the means? Whose means are superior and lasting in the long run?

Can the Communists say that in achieving their valuable they have not destroyed other valuable ends? They have destroyed private property. Assuming that this is a valuable end can the Communists say that they have not destroyed other valuable end in the process of achieving it? How many people have they killed for achieving their end. Has human life no value? Could they not have taken property without taking the life of the owner? (Ibid. p. 452)

Dictatorship is often defined as absence of liberty or absence of Parliamentary Government. Both interpretations are not quite clear. There is no liberty even when there is Parliamentary Government. For law means want of liberty. The difference between Dictatorship and Parliamentary Government lies in this. In Parliamentary Government every citizen has a right to criticize the restraint on liberty imposed by the Government. In Parliamentary Government you have a duty and a right; the duty to obey the law and right to criticize it. In Dictatorship you have only duty to obey but no right to criticize it. [Ibid. p. 453]

We must now consider whose means are more lasting. One has to chose between Government by force and Government by moral disposition. As Burke has said force cannot be a lasting means. In his speech on conciliation with America he uttered this memorable warning:

"First, Sir, permit me to observe, that the use of force alone is but temporary. It may subdue for a moment: But it does not remove the necessity of subduing again; and a nation is not governed which is perpetually to be conquered."

"My next objection is its uncertainty. Terror is not always the effect of force, and an armament is not a victory. If you do not succeed, you are without resource, for, conciliation failing, force remains; but force failing. no further hope of reconciliation is left. Power and authority are sometimes bought by kindness; but they can never be begged as alms by an impoverished and defeated violence.

A further objection to force is, that you impair the object by your very endeavors to preserve it. The thing you fought for is the thing which you recover, but depreciated, sunk, wasted and consumed in the contest." (Ibid. p. 453)

Withering away of State

Dr. Ambedkar also discusses the Communist theory of "withering away of the state". He says, The Communists themselves admit that their theory of the State as a permanent dictatorship is a weakness in their political philosophy. They take shelter under the plea that the State will ultimately wither away. There are two questions which they have to answer. (1) When will it wither away? (2) What will take the place of the State when it withers away? To the first question they can give no definite time. (Ibid. p 459)

Though the second question is more important than the first, Dr. Ambedkar feels, the Communists have no satisfactory answer to the question what would take the place of the State when it withers away. Will it be succeed by Anarchy? If so, he feels, the building up of the Communist State is an useless effort. If it cannot be sustained except by force and if it results in anarchy when the force holding it together is withdrawn what good is the Communist State. [Ibid. p.460]

He therefore avers that, the only thing which could sustain it after force is withdrawn is Religion. He observes:

"But to the Communists, Religion is anathema. Their hatred to Religion is so deep seated that they will not even discriminate between religions which are helpful to Communism and religions which are not. The Communists have carried their hatred of Christianity to Buddhism without waiting to examine the difference between the two." [Ibid. p. 460]

Charges against Christianity

Dr. Ambedkar discusses two charges against Christianity leveled by the Communists. Surprisingly, the same charges are leveled by Chinese Research Scholars in the same terminology. Ambedkar answers these charges as he observes:

"Their first charge against Christianity was that they made people other worldliness and made them suffer poverty in this world. As can be seen from quotations from Buddhism in the earlier part of this tract such a charge cannot be leveled against Buddhism."

Dr. Ambedkar then answers the second charge as follows:

"The second charge leveled by the Communists against Christianity cannot be leveled against Buddhism. This charge is summed up in the statement that Religion is the opium of the people. This charge is based upon the Sermon on the Mount which is to be found in the Bible. The Sermon on the Mount sublimates poverty and weakness. It promises heaven to the poor and the weak. There is no Sermon on the Mount to be found in the Buddha's teachings. His teaching is to acquire wealth." [Ibid. p.460]

He then gives the Buddha's Sermon on the subject to Anathapindika one of his disciples, wherein Buddha describes how wealth should be acquired justly and legitimately. [Ibid. p. 460]

Dr. Ambedkar concludes the discussion by observing:

"The Russians do not seem to be paying any attention to Buddhism as an ultimate aid to sustain Communism when force is withdrawn.

"The Russians are proud of their communism. But they forget that the wonder of all wonders is that the Buddha established Communism so far as the Sangha was concerned without dictatorship. It may be that it was a communism on a very small scale but it was communism without dictatorship, a miracle which Lenin failed to do.

"The Buddha's method was different. His method was to change the mind of man: to alter his disposition: so that whatever man does, he does it voluntarily without the use of force or compulsion. His main means to alter the disposition of men was his Dhamma and the constant preaching of his Dhamma. The Buddha's way not to force people to do what they did not like to do although it was good for them. His way was to alter the disposition of men so that they would do voluntarily what they would not otherwise to do.

"It has been claimed that the Communist Dictatorship in Russia has wonderful achievements to its credit. There can be no denial of it. That is why I say that a Russian Dictatorship would be good for all backward countries. But this his no argument for permanent Dictatorships. Humanity does not only want economic values, it also wants spiritual values to be retained. Permanent Dictatorship has paid no attention to spiritual values and does not seem to intend to. Carlyle called Political Economy a Pig Philosophy. Carlyle was of course wrong. For man needs material comforts. But the Communist Philosophy seems to be equally wrong for the aim of their philosophy seems to be fatten pigs as though men are no better than pigs. Man must grow materially as well as spiritually. Society has been aiming to lay a new foundation was summarized by the French Revolution in three words. Fraternity, Liberty and Equality. The French Revolution was welcomed because of this slogan. It failed to produce equality. We welcome the Russian Revolution because it aims to produce equality. But it cannot be too much emphasized that in producing equality society cannot afford to sacrifice fraternity or liberty. Equality will be of no value without fraternity or liberty. It seems that the three can coexist only if one follows the way of the Buddha. Communism can give one but not all. [Ibid. p. 462]

Tests of Religion

In his memorable treatise, "Buddha and future of His Religion", after comparing Buddhism with Hinduism, while comparing Buddhism with other non-hindu religions, Dr. Ambedkar concludes by enumerating the tests a religion must pass:

"(i) That society must have either the sanction of law or the sanction of morality to hold it together. Without either society is sure to go pieces. In all societies law plays a very small part. It is intended to keep the minority within the range of social discipline. The majority is left and has to be left to sustain its social life by the postulates and sanction of morality. Religion in the sense of morality, must therefore, remain the governing principle in every society.

(ii) That religion as defined in the first proposition must be in accord with science. Religion is bound to lose it respect and therefore become the subject of ridicule and thereby not merely lose its force as a governing principle of life but might in course of time disintegrated and lapse if it is not in accord with science. In other words, religion if it is to function, must be in accord with reason which is merely another name for science.

(iii) That religion as a code of social morality, must recognize the fundamental tenets of liberty, equality and fraternity. Unless a religion recognizes these three fundamental principles of social life religion will be doomed.

(iv) That religion must not sanctify or ennoble poverty. Renunciation of riches by those who have it may be a blessed state. But poverty can never be. To declare poverty to be a blessed state is to pervert religion, to perpetuate vice crime, to consent to make earth a living hell."

Dr. Ambedkar asks, which religion fulfills these requirements today, reminding that the days of the Mahatmas are gone and the world cannot have a new Religion. It will have to make its choice from existing religions. Some of the religions might satisfy one or two tests but Buddhism is the only religion satisfying all tests. He observes:

"So far as I know the only religion which satisfies all these tests is Buddhism. In other words Buddhism is the only religion which the world can have. If the new world - which be it realized is very different from the old - must have a religion - and the new world needs religion for more than the old world did - then it can only be religion of the Buddha." [Buddha and future of his religion", p. 9]

"Could the Buddha answer Karl Marx?"

Admitting that all this may sound very strange, because most of writers on Buddha have propagated the idea that the only thing Buddha taught was Ahimsa. It is true Buddha taught Ahimsa, he says, he does not want to minimize its importance, because it is a great doctrine and the world can not be saved without it. He further observes:

"What I wish to emphasize it is that Buddha taught many other things besides Ahimsa. He taught as a part of religion, social freedom, intellectual freedom, economic freedom and political freedom. He taught equality, equality not between man and man only but between man and woman. It would be difficult to find a religious teacher to compare with Buddha whose teachings embrace so many aspects of the social life of a people whose doctrines are so modern and whose main concern was to give salvation to man in his life on earth and not to promise it to him in heaven after he is dead." [Buddha and future of his religion", p. 10]

Dr. Ambedkar says many divergent views expressed about Buddha's teachings, including Samadhi, Vippasana, Esoterism etc. are because the authors are not students of Buddhism, but of history or anthropology. He asks "Did the Buddha have no social message?" If pressed for an answer, the Buddhist scholars admit that Buddha taught 1. Ahimsa and 2. Peace. But the real questions are seldom asked and replied. These are: Did the Buddha teach 1. Justice, 2. Love, 3. Liberty, 4. Equality, 5. Fraternity, and 6. "Could the Buddha answer Karl Marx?" He further avers that "My answer is that the Buddha has a social message. He answers all these questions. But they have been buried by modern authors." ["Buddha and His Dhamma", book III, part II, sec. 1. (p. 159)]

The Proof of Buddhism superseding Marxism

It is well known that His Holiness Pope John Paul II, does not have much love about Buddhism. Also John L. Allen Jr., recently reported in National Catholic Reporter, of Feb. 26, 1999, that the Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in 1997,

"had riled Buddhists when he called the religion an "autocratic spirituality" that seeks "transcendence without imposing concrete religious obligation." He also suggested that Buddhism would replace Marxism as the church's biggest foe by 2000."

If Buddhism is being replacing Marxism, by authorities like above, as per Laws of Contradictions by Mao himself, it shows a great future for Buddhism in World affairs. And Ambedkar's prophecy will come true sooner than later.

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