Two of the most popular thinkers who raised their voice against the oppressed sections – socially or economically – are B.R. Ambedkar and Karl Marx. Ambedkar worked for the cause of the lower castes in the Indian context while Marx upheld the cause of the economically less powerful people belonging to the working class.
Ambedkar was born in a poor Mahar caste family, which was considered to be one of the “untouchable” castes. Consequently, he faced oppression by the so-called upper castes. This social oppression as a consequence of his caste that he faced during his childhood must be a driving factor in his progress in being their spokesperson later in life.
Marx, on the other hand, was a spokesperson of the proletariats – the economically oppressed sections of society. The bourgeois domination led the proletariat to suffer financially. Thus, the main focus of Marxism is the struggle between the 2 social classes of proletariat and bourgeois.
Karl Marx versus Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar
What is Marxism?
First, let us look at Marxism. Marxism employs historical materialism to comprehend class relations and social conflicts, and also dialectical materialism to analyze social transformation. Marx and Engels designated Marxism to be scientific socialism. According to the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics and International Relations, “Marx and Engels devoted their lives to the analysis of historical forces which they considered to be moving inexorably towards the eventual collapse of the capitalist system and a revolutionary crisis which would bring about a socialist transition and (eventually) full communism. They gave particularly close attention to economic processes and structures, which they saw as the key ‘material’ factors in shaping social structure and class relations, and also the state and the distribution of political power”.
Marxists believe that socialism is a requirement. The orthodox Marxists subscribe to the view that the overthrow of the capitalist system by means of a socialist revolution by the proletariat, is inevitable. As a consequence of class struggle, the proletariat will emerge victorious and the state will wither away. A classless society is the state of final social organization, when Communism would be attained.
What is Ambedkarism?
Ambedkar was a critic of the oppressive practices of Hinduism. Ambedkarism explains the ideology behind the Dalit Movement. Ambedkar was dedicated towards the needs of Dalits and called for the annihilation of the entire caste system. The goal of Ambedkarism, according to The Print, is “to end caste system by progressive means, and by building a general sentiment among different sections of society against regressive social hierarchies. This can be possible largely by adding people from other sections to your platform, and not by creating a rift”. Ambedkar brought about what came to be known as a social revolution through Dalit literature. He became the leader of the Dalits.
In order to ensure representation of the oppressed sections of the society, Ambedkar proposed the establishment of a separate electorate for these sections. This was one of the areas of disagreement between Gandhi and Ambedkar. Gandhi was not in favor of the idea of granting separate electorates for the Dalits, being skeptical that this would divide Congress and the Hindu society. Subsequently came about the Poona Pact which established the Reservation of Electoral seats for oppressed classes in the British Indian Legislature, in 1932.
Application of Marxism in the context of caste
Ambedkar was not anti-Marx. He had studied Marx’s works and developed his own perspective on that from the point of view of an oppressed human being. If he puts his own sufferings in the context of Marxism, the lower castes can be synonymous to the proletariat and the upper castes to the bourgeois. According to Engels’ understanding, the proletariat does not apply to India. The poor lower castes in India i.e, the ones towards the base of the caste hierarchy, are the proletariats in India.
The state is, in Marxist understanding, is a tool in the hands of the bourgeois by means of which the upper-class controls and oppresses the lower classes. The upper-caste Hindus, similarly in the Indian context, had authority over the society and they never thought twice before oppressing the lower castes.
Another interesting observation would be the similarity that exists between the Dalits on the one hand and the Proletariats on the other would be the fact that the Shudras and Namashudras were, in essence, the people belonging to the working class in the Hindu society. In India, based primarily on agriculture, the upper castes needed them to function in order to get going. The Shudras were generally the peasants, washermen, milkmen, and so on and so forth. The Namashudras were also needed by the other castes during the cremation of a body.
We know how accurately this is similar in Marxism. The bourgeois exists because the proletariat works for them.
Differences – Karl Marx and Dr Ambedkar
Marx and Ambedkar on Religion
Marx and Ambedkar treated religion in very different ways. Their approach and beliefs varied a lot.
- For Karl Marx, “Religion is the opium of the people. It is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of our soulless conditions”. According to the Marxist understanding, humans uphold individual traits onto nature through religion. God is a creation of men themselves.
“In religion, people make their empirical world into an entity that is only conceived, imagined, that confronts them as something foreign”.
- Ambedkar had a different point of view. He was known to be a religious man, and religion was morality to him. He was drawn towards Buddhism because it was known as a religion of learning, knowledge and there was no system of oppression in it like in the caste system of Hinduism. He had given up Hinduism and embraced Buddhism towards the end of his life.
On class and caste
- In Marxism, it’s the working class who were oppressed by the capitalist class.
- Ambedkarism focused on the oppression of the lower castes by the upper castes.
- What Marx really wanted was that the proletariat should bring in revolution in order to establish a stateless and casteless society. That, however, is a very utopian point of view. The society might proceed in that direction but it’s not very possible to attain an absolutely classless and stateless society without competition, especially in the of globalization.
- If the subject of revolution is considered in the context of castes, there exists hardly any record of protest from the lower castes against the oppression they faced from the upper castes in the history of the country. Had there been one, would the situation reach the extremes? Also, there exists lack of enough research on the Shudras and Namashudras. So, one wouldn’t be able to throw much light on it, yet.
Effect of globalization
- Consumerism has aggravated the situation and competition has gotten stronger, which is why establishment of a stateless society is not feasible. Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization is today’s reality and that’s a solid manifestation of capitalism. One cannot fathom on how the system of capitalism, which is of course getting more intense (in other words, exacerbating) in today’s world is going to be overthrown by means of revolution.
- In Gail Omvedt’s understanding, “Globalisation may have more than doubled the rate of growth but it has also heightened caste tensions and widened social inequalities, leading inevitably to protests, especially by Dalits and ‘Shudras.’ Privatization has made it more difficult for the Dalits to get access to facilities and opportunities. Even Education has become a commodity. And, lack of education is one of the main problems behind this oppression.
Withering away of the state or adjustment into it?
- What Karl Marx wanted was the establish a casteless and stateless society. He preached that the state should wither away by means of revolution. State was an instrument in the hands of the dominant class, which is why the state had to stop existing as a whole.
- Ambedkar has brought in the practical implementation of a solution to the problem of the lower castes which means that he established an adjustment of the oppressed section in the state. The Dalits are now called Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Backward Caste (OBC). Apart from the provision of reservation in the Legislature, there exists reservation for them in the educational institutions as well as in government jobs. This is how the century old oppression has been addressed.
- In Marxism, the proletariat are the working class, whose labor is controlled and owned by the bourgeois.
- In the Indian caste system, the Shudras and Namashudras performed the tasks of agriculture, washermen, milkmen and even the burning of the dead. Their labor too, was also in control of the upper castes. Ambedkarism focused on the breaking of this strict division of labor.
- Marxist feminists claim that women’s liberation can be achieved only when the Capitalist system would be dismantled and they trace all their sufferings to this system of inequality.
- Ambedkar was in strong favor of the total reorganization of the Hindu society. He initiated the Hindu Code Bill, which was aimed at the upliftment of the conditions of women in the country.
In order to understand the caste system in India better and to develop some perspective, one should read Ambedkar’s works. To name a few, his works include – Annihilation of Caste; Who were the Shudras; Castes in India. Side by side, reading The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital would help the reader to understand the differences and similarities between the oppression of the Dalits and the Proletariat.
Just like Marxism continues to be a hundred percent significant today, Ambedkarism is relevant in its essence. They’re remembered today for their learned and analytical minds. B.R. Ambedkar is the Father of the Indian Constitution as is still appreciated for his farsightedness. Their relevance is unlikely to dim any time. Rather, their theories are getting more and more relevant in the present era. The youth today practice the act of questioning and asking questions is very significant. A system of oppression is known to have support from the oppressors and the oppressed. In the 21st century, these systems of oppression are beginning to be gotten done with. People are getting more and more aware of the troublesome aspects of Casteism and Capitalism. The youth, especially, raise their voices against these practices on the streets as well as on social media. The youth favor and advocate the existence of a classless and casteless society. Ambedkar and Marx are relevant in today’s times and their theories are applied to the context of oppressions still prevalent in the country and beyond, in the world.
Also Read: How to end caste system in India
Also Read: Karl Marx – Biography and Works
The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics and International Relations