The Early Indian Communists’ “Unremitting Criticism” of BR Ambedkar

17 November 2017
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In the early 1950s, BR Ambedkar started working on a book he wanted to call India and Communism. Though he did not finish it, he left behind a table of contents and 63 typed pages of the book. He also left behind an outline for and a section of another book, titled Can I Be a Hindu? This year, LeftWord Books published the works with an introduction by Anand Teltumbde, a civil-rights activist and political analyst. In the introduction, Teltumbde addresses the narrative that Ambedkar was opposed to Marxism, and argues that anyone who believes so is “grossly prejudiced.” He charts the course of Ambedkar’s thinking on communism and Marxism and the corresponding events of the Indian freedom movement that led to rifts between India’s early communists and Ambedkar. In the following extract from the introduction, Teltumbde discusses the acrimonious relationship between Ambedkar and the Communist Party of India (CPI). He writes, “These communists have never been as arrogant and bitter against the caste system as against Ambedkar.”

Ambedkar’s annoyance with communist practice only grew with the passage of time. The CPI’s criticism of Ambedkar could have been plausible only if it had practiced what it professed. But ideologically refusing the necessity of battling caste, ignoring the conceptual basis of linking other forms of (non-economic) exploitation and continuing with unmindful practices vis-à-vis caste, these criticisms rang hollow. Right from his coming to prominence as the leader of the independent Dalit movement, the CPI was angry with him. Instead of befriending Ambedkar, they began attacking him as the divider of the working class, misleader of Dalit masses, opponent of the nationalist movement and a stooge of imperialists. They derided him as “the reformist and separatist leader” who kept “the untouchable masses away from the general democratic movement and to foster the illusion that the lot of untouchables could be improved by reliance on imperialism.”

In March 1952, the CPI Central Committee adopted a special resolution on the SCF [the Scheduled Castes Federation was a political group founded by Ambedkar in 1942], but directed specifically against Ambedkar. It may be interesting to see some extracts from its content. [It states that] the economically “most exploited and socially the most oppressed” Scheduled Caste masses'

urge for economic betterment and social equality have been given a distorted and disruptive form by their pro-imperialist and opportunist leader, Dr Ambedkar who has organised them on a communal, anticaste Hindu basis in the SCF.

The party must sharply expose the policies of Ambedkar and wean the SCF masses away from his influence by boldly championing the democratic demands of the Scheduled Caste masses, by fighting caste-Hindu oppression against them and by drawing them into common mass organisations.

It would be a mistake, however, to adopt the same attitude towards all units of the SCF in all parts of the country . . . Many units of the SCF and several of its local leaders don’t subscribe to the views and policies of Dr Ambedkar. Every effort should be made to draw these units and individuals . . . to help the process of radicalisation among the Scheduled Caste masses.

The CPI’s resolution was clearly meant to drive a wedge between Ambedkar and his associates, and the lower-level SCF workers. These communists have never been as arrogant and bitter against the caste system as against Ambedkar.

Anand Teltumbde is a civil-rights activist, political analyst, and author of many books. He also writes a column "Margin Speak" in Economic & Political Weekly.

Keywords: caste communism Communist Party of India Marxism BR Ambedkar Scheduled Castes Federation
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