Ambedkar replaces Marx in CPM's lexicon

By Smita Gupta

The Times of India News Service

NEW DELHI: Marx must be turning in his grave. In June 1883 he wrote that ``England has broken down the whole framework of Indian society'' and that it was a positive move forward as ``these little communities were contaminated by distinction of caste and by slavery''. But 117 years later, the Communist Party of India - Marxist has finally recognised that it cannot win the class war in India without taking on board the realities of caste.

In the draft of the updated party programme adopted by the central committee recently, the party has included three paragraphs on caste in its chapter ``State structure and democracy''.

The draft, stressing that ``the bourgeois-landlord system has also failed to put an end to caste oppression. The worst sufferers are the Scheduled Castes..'' says: ``The assertion by the Dalits has a democratic content reflecting the aspirations of the most oppressed sections of society. The backward castes have also asserted their rights in a caste-ridden society.''

Simultaneously, it says, `` a purely caste appeal which seeks to perpetuate caste divisions for the narrow aim of consolidating vote banks and detaching these downtrodden sections from the common democratic movement has also been at work. Many caste leaders and certain leaders of bourgeois political parties.. ignore the basic class issues of land, wages and fight against landlordism which is the basis for overthrowing the old social order.''

Underlining the fact that ``society under capitalist development has compromised with the caste system.. Working class unity presupposes unity against the caste system and the oppression of the Dalits, since the vast majority of the Dalit population is part of the labouring classes..'' it ends by acknowledging: ``To fight for abolition of the caste system is an important part of the democratic revolution. The fight against caste oppression is interlinked with the struggle against class exploitation.''

For the CPM, this acknowledgement comes after 36 years of existence in which it has not been able to grow beyond the boundaries of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. The party touched a high of 36 seats in the Lok Sabha in 1980 and the entire Left's best was 56 in 1991.

Clearly, the growth of caste-based parties in the Hindi heartland, the part of the country which is home to the poorest of the toiling masses, has made the comrades realise that they have to give a swadeshi touch to what Marxtaught them.

Not that Indian Communists never thought about caste. The undivided Communist Party had in 1930 in its Platform of Action said it would fight ``for the complete abolition of slavery, the caste system and ..caste inequality''. But as recently as 1982, BT Ranadive, in a monograph entitled Caste, Class and Proprty Relation wrote ``...the failure to develop a revolutionary movement in agrarian areas and the country as a whole prevented the development of a common struggle in which both Harijans and non-Harijans could participate'' and bridge ``the deep gulf that separated them.

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