Marxist Theory





Murzban Jal



Alongside of modern evils, a whole series of inherited evils oppress us, arising from the passive survival of antiquated modes of production, with their inevitable train of social and political anachronisms. We suffer not only from the living, but from the dead. Le mort saist le vif! We are seized by the dead!


Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I.


The people who laid the spark to the mine will be swept away by the explosion, which will be a thousand times as strong as they themselves and which will seek its vent where it can, as the economic forces and resistances determine.


Fredrick Engels, ‘To Vera Zachlich, 23 April, 1885’.


In Europe 5.4 million square kilometers, in Asia 17.5 million, and a population of 150 million. In this enormous area, all stages of human development: from the primitive savagery of the northern forests, where men eat raw fish and worship trees, to the most modern social relations of the capitalist city, where the Socialist worker regards himself as an active participant in world politics……The most concentrated industry in Europe, based on the most backward agriculture in Europe. The most colossal government in the world,, using all the achievements of technical progress of its own country. This is the soil on which social classes, grow, live and fight.


Leon Trotsky, 1905.






Introduction: Need of an “Indian Fanonism”


Trotsky’s above quote seems to be apt for modern India. Vast area, dense population, where primitive people are found eating raw fish alongside the modern capitalist who wields the most colossal government in the world. India that is part Asia and part Europe, part what one roughly calls “semi-feudal”, part capitalist. It is to these rather strange contradictions that analysis now turns.

We start with a question: “What happens if one ceases to apply mechanically certain postulates of Marxism and then tries to articulate the understanding of the dynamics of subaltern Indian history creatively and scientifically?” What happens is that one is able to develop a form of Revolutionary Marxism that is able to grip the masses. This form of Marxism is thus in direct contrast to both the Stalinism of the parliamentary left and Maoist adventurism. We call this form of Revolutionary Marxism “Indian Fanonism”, or should one say ‘Indian’ in brackets, because Revolutionary Marxism is truly internationalist, whilst ‘India’ does not merely signify the upper class elitist project, but also a Brahminical project that is in direct relation to the project of colonialism and imperialism.

            What one then says is the “Asian Soviets” that are born from the decomposition of the project of nation state, thus a decomposition of Indian liberalism, not to forget the decomposition of the Stalin inspired left parties. “‘Indian’ Fanonism” is a project of the popular classes that needs to construct its own project of materialism and humanism and thus creates a Revolutionary Enlightenment where dialectical materialism as radical science destabilizes the entire superstructure of religion, rituals and superstition. It is not only against the project of the nation state, but also against the project of the political state: thus against parliamentary fetishism, against the bureaucracy, police, army, etc. It is also anti-ideological. It follows the line postulated by Marx and Engels in The German Ideology namely that ideology is nothing but form of “false consciousness” and the discourse of the seeking of specters. In this sense ideology is nothing but a form of the repressed unconscious. The true ideologist is Hamlet who is plagued by the ghost of his dead father, or even better the true ideologist is Don Quixote who is busy attacking the windmills of his deluded mind.

Somewhere (in the Economical and Political Weekly) I have argued that one has to go beyond ideology and the state into the sites of what I term as “Desirelogy” and the “commons” (Jal 2012b). Desireology deals with the masses in ferment. It probes into the repressed unconscious, with the idiocy of caste lying at the basis of this repressed unconscious. It deals with humanity as humanity. It does not attempt to bring in consciousness “from the outside”. It then deals with the proletarian question, by asking the questions: “What is free humanity?”, and “How is free humanity possible as classless society possible?” In India the question of course has to be re-posed as “How is classless-casteless, patriarchy-free society, a society free from religious delusions possible?” The solution to this question is not found in the so-called-socialist state (the Stalinist or Maoists state) or civil society (governed by the insane patriarchs like Anna Hazare or the World Bank) most certainly in not in issues like nationalization of land which we claim to be a part of the question of the Asiatic mode of production, but in the commons, a space that is free from both socio-economic classes and the state. Keeping these points in mind we proceed to an image that Walter Benjamin had drawn: of the angel of history who despite being blown forward by the storm of progress has its eyes fixed backwards in history. The eyes are fixed onto the caste system. Marx words of suffering from the dead haunt us once again.

And if caste implies the construction of borders—or should one say using Etienne Balibar’s phrase: “the extreme borders of cruelty”—then these borders of cruelty are re-born in the modern class system in the form of bourgeois-proletarian opposition, in the forms of parliamentary liberalism, not to forget as communal-fascism. This essay is on articulating Marxism in India from the perspective of “Indian Fanonism”. We take the archaic caste system and relate it not merely to modern classes, but also to question of race. These questions are located in the much neglected genre of the Asiatic mode of production. We claim that caste is a type of the Indian variant of the Asiatic mode of class, but also of race. We thus say that casteism is racism. But then we also relate it to neurosis and psychosis. Not only will Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 along with Capital and the extremely ignored Ethnological Notebooks be parts of this “Indian Fanonism”, but also Phule, Ambedkar and Freud. When we are relating to the caste system we are immediately relating it to not only a type of social hierarchy based on graded inequality, but also on an extreme type of mental illness. We relate it to neurosis because like the eternal recurrence of the self-same trauma, caste too seems to be negated (or seems to be in the process of withering away) only to be re-born once again. It is also psychotic, because like psychosis, all traces of actual reality are effaced. The caste-based person like the psychotic lives in an imaginary world of violence and hatred. Caste as graded inequality will not let the modern idea of class struggle fully operational, where master and slave are locked in intense battle leading to the death of the master. Instead graded inequality will lead to what Ambedkar once called “not merely the division of labour, but the division of labourers”.  The Indian proletariat within the caste order then becomes (to borrow R.D. Lang’s phrase) the “divided self” and thus is realized as the schizophrenic par excellence.

We shall argue things quite differently from the established Indian left who made a fetish of the idea of class and instead of concretely analyzing social structures attempted to apply ideas inherent in the history of Western Europe (especially on the transition from feudalism to capitalism) onto the South Asian context. The idea that Marx himself did not apply this metaphysical method, the idea that he himself thought of an alternative to non-Western societies, simply has never bothered the established Indian left. Our Indian Marxists simply refuse to read Marx!

When we are talking of “Indian Fanonism” are also talking of the legacy of not only the struggles of the working classes, of the trade unions and the peasant insurrections, of Phule and Ambedkar, but also of the theoretical legacy from Marx and Engels to Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky, Lukacs, Gramsci and Raya Dunayevskaya. In this perspective we say that Marxism is humanism and this humanist perspective keeps the toiling masses of the here and the now at the centre of discourse. In this perspective the classical idea of class struggle includes issues of caste, race, patriarchy, etc. Instead of a reductionist idea of class we get the more humanist and inclusive idea of the multitude. We claim that the radical Indian ideas of Bahujan and dalit are realized as the idea of the insurrectionist multitude.

It is keeping these points in mind that begin asking questions of history and politics from the Revolutionary Marxist perspective.  



Caste and Indian Stalinism


Look again at Balibar’s “extreme borders of cruelty”. You will find not only these borders reflected in the narratives of liberalism and fascism, not only reflected in the narratives of everyday life. They are also reflected in the politics of the established Indian left. The Brahmin/Shudra has not only been realized as the bourgeois/proletarian opposition, but also in the central committee/masses opposition. The traditional Brahmin (along with his Sancho Panza- like companions) does not merely become the bourgeois, the bureaucrat, and the media personnel. The traditional Brahmin has also become the General Secretary of the Stalinist parties. The Brahmin is not merely the mouth of the ancient god Brahman, he is also the mouth of the archaic god Stalin.

There is another important point to note, that is, that despite the fact that the established left in India—which primarily implies the parliamentary left led by the CPI(M)—swears by the name of Marx, its basic philosophy was, and is, state capitalist. There is also another point that must be noted: that for the left their idea of ‘socialism’ was commoditized socialism run by a bureaucratic state. In this respect they forgot the very basics of Revolutionary Marxism, namely that: “Marx singles out the commodity-form as a fetish, as a fantastic form of appearance of capitalist relations of production, in fact, a necessary form of appearance of reified societal relations” (Dunayevskaya 1982b, Kevin Anderson 1983: 72). The project of the transcendence of capitalism without involving the transcendence of the fetish character would then turn out to be a dream, in fact a fetish-like-dream, no different from the phantasmagoria of commodity production. The left thus fell victim to this fetish, and instead of overcoming it, mimed it lock, stock and barrel. Like the rest of the bourgeoisie parties they too became traders in commodities.

We will begin the articulation on the decline of the traditional left in India by focusing the problems of the Indian revolution to the core factor—the inability to identify the precise nature of social formations in India. This inability arose because one could not articulate caste as the central factor of Indian society. One then could not link the caste system with modern classes, not to forget that one could never articulate the de-casteification programme within the left parties. The core factor is that the Indian left never read Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks and thus could not articulate the dynamics of non-Western societies.

And since these dynamics were never recognized, the de-casteification programme was never articulated (forget being consciously carried out). It was thus inevitable that the upper caste elites (most notable the Brahmins) came to monopolize left politics. This synthesized with Stalinist politics where the Slavic dictator was replaced by the Brahmins. The fact that both Stalinism and upper caste elitism fears the revolution, that both are nationalist and anti-democratic in essence should not be forgotten. What happened was that the fetishized ideology that Stalin canonized where class consciousness was said to come from “the outside” (i.e. brought by the bourgeois intellectuals) and inserted in the proletarian movement would in actuality be the Brahmins who by the “magic of sacrifice”—to borrow Basham’s phrase (2001: 241)—could control society. Little have the organized left (yet haunted by its Stalinist ghost) thought that the Central Committee would turn out to be the dictatorship of the magical Brahmins. The organized left ought to know that the masses are by their very radical proletarian instinct are suspicious of these modern day magicians, whether they are the upper caste elites or members of the Central Committees. Just as the traditional Brahmins would be the monopolizers of knowledge, the Central Committees as the modern Brahmins would continue this monopolistic tradition. And just as the traditional Brahmins would never fight, never struggle, forget partake in the historical class struggle; the organized left (led by the modern Brahmins) would never want to indulge wholeheartedly in class struggle. The parliament would turn out to be the only avenue for them. It would be like the traditional temples of caste Hinduism. The fact that the masses stay far away from these modern magicians should be self-evident. Something is not merely wrong with the left in India, something is rotten in the state of the organized left. There is an essential decomposition that has set in the left parties that the party-elites have not yet perceived, forget understood.

Consequently one must note that articulating caste in the 21st century era of late imperialism does not imply sticking to old formulae usually carried out when one is unable to understand caste and have transfigured the struggle for modernity and radical democracy for a right-wing politics of primordial identities that liberal democracy and parliamentary politics have actively promoted. One proceeds to a historical materialist genealogy. One then articulates the complex and (to borrow Althusser’s term) overdetermined origins of caste—(1) with the breakdown of the primitive gens, (2) how it was imposed “from the outside” by the conquering Indo-Iranian tribes, (3) how it got crystallized with Adi Shankara’s counterrevolution against Buddhism to form the social structure of anti-humanism in India, and (4) how colonialism and modern capitalism rationalized these anti-humanist structures. It is in this complex genealogy that one sees how its annihilation is possible. What we shall do is keep these three points at the epistemic background of this essay and then articulate what caste (in relations to the history of social formations) means in Marx’s original account of the reading of Indian history and what caste as a counterrevolutionary force implies today.

One has firstly to make a methodological point, namely the lack in understanding revolutionary dialectics. The fact that the left had never understood Hegel, thus not been able to understand dialectics (forget Revolutionary Marxism), and thus compelled them to apply the formal methodology from Aristotle to Kant, has also forced them to apply the old formal logical framework to analyze social formations in India. For them the old logical framework compelled them to think in terms of the formal binary: caste or class. What they did was revived the old logic of either/or. They forgot that it was Hegel who broke with the old order of things. And since the organized left was left with the old methodological problematic of formal logic, it was not able to grasp the dialectical whole. What it comprehended was only the parts. It saw either caste discrimination or class struggle as formal binary halves. It did not see that caste remained at the bottom of the great Indian democratic project. Just as “inherited evils” sit cozily besides the “modern evils” thus oppressing us, as Marx famously said (Marx 1986: 20), so too caste sits very comfortably with modernity and liberal democracy.

This existence of caste and the inability to annihilate it (here we are referring to the left movement’s inability) is due to a fetish. The basics of left politics, has to a large extent, been their mimicry of the discourses that originated in Stalinism whereby the European idea of history was thrust as a ready-made model to be applied onto all societies of the world. It could not understand the actuality of Indian society. It could not understand the autonomy and reality of caste in India. One must also remind the reader that for Marx (unlike, as one dare to say so, the Indian Marxists), it is caste that is central to Indian society. It is what Marx calls “the solid foundation of Oriental despotism” (1976: 40, 1975f: 80). It is also the solid foundation of the “inherited evils” that yet possess and haunt modern India. That is why it is pertinent to say that in contrast to the organized left that has made a fetish of class (here on means that only class matters and nothing else) and thus ignored the dialectic of caste and class, one needs keeping this dialectic central in order to understand how these “basic classes” that Prabhat Patnaik is arguing in the pages of the Economic and Political Weekly come into the scene of revolutionary history. There are three basic fault lines centralized on the mechanism of caste:

(1) Caste as the alienated “cutting off” of one human from the other governed by the dictatorship of the upper castes. This dictatorship is carried out through not only through the upper caste Panchayats and communal organizations, but also through the medium of the parliament and the bureaucracy. Caste is thus not merely related to pre-capitalist rural India, not only related to anti-democratic movements of primordial nativism (best emphasized by the RSS and the Shiv Sena) whereby the Indian right-wing produces a fantasy world that is built on the dream-images of imperialist barbarism. It is an essential part of the liberal project institutionalized since the early 1920s where the upper caste ideology of the Hindu reform movement sank deep into national consciousness. We will keep Žižek’s account of Gandhi as a “social fascist” and Jaffrelot’s reading of Indian democracy as “conservative democracy” (2003: 11-12) and Gandhi as the source of Congress conservatism (ibid: 13-47), that despite its cosmopolitan appearance remains conservative in actual practice. It is this conservative character that would not be able to destroy the caste system.

(2) How the caste system, albeit radically modified in the age of late imperialism in multiple crises, structures minorities like the Muslims along with the traditionally oppressed castes to look like the “hellish other” (to borrow Sartre’s term from a different context) that serves the interests of anti-democratic, anti-secular and pro-imperialist forces, and

(3) Caste to be understood as the Confucian lethargy of Indian civilization which serves the production of the political economy of the capitalism-at-the-periphery, as well as the creation of a sluggish de-politicized and fragmented working class that is so internally divided that it cannot play out its role as the insurrectionist proletariat.

Keeping these above noted points we will proceed to the core of the problem. The crisis in present Marxism in India is because one has not been able to articulate the nature of the basic classes, coupled with the inability to grasp the nature of the revolutionary classes and the present mode of production in India. Not only does the revolutionary class, or rather, the classes of the Indian revolution go under-theorized, but also the extremely important questions of pre-capitalist survivals, the nature of patriarchy and the rights of nationalities for self-determination. This is because of a fundamental problem, a problem that is rooted in the crisis of theory. And what is this crisis of theory and how is related to the question of caste? The crisis in theory is that there has been a tendency amongst Indian Marxists to theorize on history in general and Indian history in particular from a perspective that was radically different from what Marx himself postulated.

And what is this radically different point from which Marx theorized on India? The radically different point is that Marx did not hold a view of “general and universal laws” governing all humanity, the view that the left in India yet holds. In this case one is challenging the perspective of history that is said to march from primitive communism, via slave society, feudalism, capitalism and culminating with its force of mystical “inevitability” in communism. One is thus not only critiquing the left’s philosophy of history, one is also challenging their theory of “Indian feudalism” and the submergence of the caste system within this generic term “feudalism”. Instead one is concentrating on the caste system in India from the perspective of the Asiatic mode of production. Feudalism, as we will have to note, unlike capitalism, is not universal and thus not applicable to all parts of the world. It is industrial capitalism that lays the basis for this form of universality and the comprehension of a word history. This form of ‘world history’ is albeit combined as well as unevenly determined. (If, however, there are no grand laws of history, there are is also no Stalinist dictated “uneven development” of capitalism in the era of imperialism—an unevenness that was according to Stalin’s imagination not applicable to capitalism in its liberal, pre-imperialist era. And as we know very well Stalin’s imagined unevenness precluded the praxis of revolutionary internationalism. If unilinear history was one half of the Stalinist binary, unevenness was the other half. Today, the children of Stalin inherit this form of binary insanity. Hamlet’s immortal words: “To be, or not to be,” can now be said to emanate from the mouths of the infallible Central Committees) 

Since we are talking of the Indian variant of the Asiatic mode with caste as the bases of its production relations, we are posing the problems thus: “Was (and is) there ever anything called “feudalism in India” whereby one can thrust the landlord/serf relation onto the Indian scenario?” and “How would one conceptualize the Indian caste system in case one is classifying the category of Indian feudalism?” One knows that the genealogy of this concept of “Indian feudalism” is both long as well as rigorous, probably starting with Kosambi and getting rigorous footing with R.S. Sharma’s celebrated work Indian Feudalism. Irfan Habib, the stalwart of left-wing Indian historiography, continues with this line of thinking, a line that is not merely restricted to academic thought, but which also seeps into left politics. Besides methodological issues involved in this debate, there are problems which involve sources, especially on the ‘borrowing’ from Marx’s original repertoire. More often than naught, Marx’s views on India are restricted only to Marx’s articles which appeared in the 1850s in the New York Tribune, ignoring his Ethnological Notebooks. What is also ignored is Marx’s own view of multilinear historicism.

Challenging the orthodox view of history popularized in Stalinist Soviet Union, we are putting a parallel view of a Marxist account of India. Theorizing on India from a Marxist perspective opens avenues form theorizing on modes of production in South Asia, especially in India and Pakistan. As we will note there will be both differences and similarities in social formations in India and Pakistan, primarily because of the differences and similarities in pre-capitalist formations, with special reference to caste. Whilst Islam, after the coming of the Umayyad dynasty to political power, allowed a movement into the decomposition of the Persian version of the Asiatic mode of production thus ideologically attacking the four-tired class system of Iran, in the Indian part of the subcontinent the caste-based hierarchy of the Brahminical variety dominated. What we are saying is that in India the caste system was the basis of the Indian variant of the Asiatic mode of production and thus it is necessary that it precluded feudalism in India. India did not have a feudal mode of production and in this sense the Indian left, courtesy R.S. Sharma and Irfan Habib were wrong in ascribing feudalism onto India. And since the incorrect social formation was ascribed to India, the analysis of classes could only be very problematic.



Reflections on the Asiatic Mode of Production


At the outset one must say that though the legacy of the Asiatic mode of production is said to lie in the 13th century translation of Aristotle’s Politics and consequently with the development of a ‘science’ of politics by Machiavelli, Marx’s idea is not to be confused with either the Latin interpretations of Aristotle  or Jean Bodin, Machiavelli and Montesquieu. For Marx the Asiatic mode of production is not a normative discourse, thus unlike Karl Wittfogel’s Oriental Despotism which drew a fictitious line of demarcation between apparent ‘free’ societies of the West and an alleged totalitarian Eastern world, but a specific concrete mode of production that could not be reduced to the same mechanisms of slave, feudal and capitalist societies of Western Europe, but is a concrete mode of production following its own internal mechanism. As we shall see in the course of this essay there will be three different structures: the centralized state, village communities and the classless communes. Thus any claim that Marx was a Eurocentric thinker in theorizing on the Asiatic mode of production who differentiated a “materialist and rational west” from an “idealist east” would be completely wrong.

One has to be careful about terminology. Firstly one needs to reflect on Marx’s characterization of the “Oriental despot”, the central theme that runs throughout Marx’s works. Marx’s Oriental despot is not any way opposed to the so-called “free thinking liberal European”, but one who is opposed and related to feudal idiocy and barbaric capitalism. As we shall see in this essay Oriental despotism is realized in India as Brahmanical oligarchy. But as we shall also see the Asiatic mode is a complex genre and cannot be reduced to a Unitarian mode of production. In Iran it takes a certain kind of form, whilst in China and India it takes different forms. In India it is caste and the peculiar type of social stratification that forms the basis of the critique of political economy of India. 

We will have to put the following points in mind before we reflect on the problem that we are confronting. Whilst feudalism involves the landlord as lord and master, the owner of land and the sovereign who has absolute power controlling the bureaucracy and the armed forces; the Asiatic mode had the state as the sovereign and the owner of property which was confronted by the village communities. Keeping this in mind we begin our reflection on multilinear historicism and the problem of theorizing on the Asiatic mode. The first few points as we shall see are methodological. They relate to the absence of Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks, as well as reading derived from Engels’s rendering of Marx’s Capital, a rendering that began the interpretation of Marxism as a form of a positivist science dictated by the theory of the iron laws of history. As we know, Marx himself wanted the versions of Capital to stem from the French translation. In reality things would turn out to be quite different. One must point out that not only is the celebrated Moore-Aveling translation of the first volume of Capital (under Engels’s supervision) faulty—recall how the word: “inevitable” enters (Marx 1986: 19) whilst in the original German, the word unvermeidlich, meaning “inevitable” is simply not there (Marx 1993: 12)—but also the one by Ben Fowkes who almost faithfully follows the earlier erroneous translation. Here one needs to recall Kevin Anderson’s essay on the same issue in order to comprehend the complex problems that emerge from the incorrect renderings of Marx’s Capital (Anderson 1983, 2010).

Keeping this in kind, let us this go the problems of Marxism and Indian history. It is necessary to take the Stalinist bulls by the horns and stating the revisionist character of the established Indian left. Habib, for instance, whilst theorizing on the Marxist understanding of Indian history mentions solely the 1959 and 1976 Moscow editions of Marx on India (1995: 14, 2006: XVIX), alongside selected correspondence between Marx and Engels. The complex arguments of Marx on pre-capitalist societies are almost left untouched. Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks, first published in 1974, which include Marx’s notes on Morgan, Phear, Maine, Lubbock and Kovalevsky, are not even vaguely referred by Habib.  They are, so Habib claims, “not available to me” (Habib 2006: XXXIV, n. 84). Since Habib (and one should say all those who subscribe to the erroneous theory of “Indian feudalism”) does not take the extreme complex dialectic of the communes, village communities and the authoritarian Asiatic state as a dialectic of combined and uneven social formation, he reduces Marx to a thinker, who like the Orientalists before him, theorized on an “unchanging” East, calling Marx’s formulation extremely “unjust” and “highly idealized” (1995: 35, 234), sometimes also appearing as a fellow traveler of not only Hegel (ibid), but also Macaulay (2006: XXVII, n. 46). Marx also was said to have a “mystical view of property” (ibid: XXVI) and he also worked with “inherited generalizations” (ibid: XX-XXII), usually borrowed from the Eurocentric baggage of Hegelian metaphysics. One must however note that Habib is one of the most important Marxist historians and his reading has to be taken very seriously. Our response is that Marx’s dynamics of pre-capitalist societies was not taken seriously enough to gauge the nature of the revolutionary forces.

            We will be starting with the view that the “basic classes” that Prabhat Patnaik talks of in his famous article in the Economic and Political Weekly (2011) are to be derived from the history of concrete social formations in South Asia, to be precise to be derived from the emergence of capitalism in India in the background of the Asiatic mode of production. One has to keep the balance of forces in mind, alongside the understanding of the Asiatic state, that Marx calls “Oriental despotism”. A note on this articulation is extremely necessary since one could critique this formulation as the imagination that springs from the discourses of Orientalism, a type of discourse that draws some sort of “imaginary line”, as Edward Said once put it (1992: 3), dividing some ‘mystical’ and ‘spiritual’ East for a ‘materialist’ and ‘rationalist’ West. That the foundations of the Congress led anti-British movement were also based on this ideology and that Gandhi also based his political action on the same is well known. That the same is now used by Yankee imperialism (following Samuel Huntington’s infamous “clash of civilizations” thesis) where the “mystical and exotic east” is now replaced by the “barbaric and terroristic east” has to be noted.

Since Marx has so often been said to be a Eurocentric thinker (because of his conceptualization of the Asiatic mode of production), one must state that Marx was no cultural imperialist and most certainly no follower of Eurocentric mode of reasoning who fantasized that all Asian people were unchangeable in character. Instead when one reads Marx on non-European societies as a critic of the dominant social groups, then one is able to read Marx on pre-capitalist, non-European societies in a more enlightened manner. The discourse on pre-capitalism cannot be reduced to the discourses of European feudalism. A clear-cut line of demarcation must be drawn between the caste-based village communities (which Marx abhorred, and as we shall see which were romanticized by Gandhi) and the classless communes (which Marx supported). Remember that in the 1881 letter to the then Narodniki (and later revolutionary fellow traveler of Lenin in his Iskra days before moving to the Mensheviki political position), Vera Zasulich, Marx talked of the vitality of primitive societies, a form of vitality that even modern societies lacked (1970: 154).

 It is in this space that one understands how Marx’s thesis is extremely different from the Eurocentric perspective and that Marx’s reading of the Asiatic mode cannot be reduced to the imagination of Orientalism. For Marx there is nothing exotic or mysterious in the so-called ‘Eastern’ world. If anything is mystical (rather “magical and necromantic”, if one recalls the chapter on commodity fetishism), then it is the West European bourgeoisie who are charmed by the fetishism of commodities and are constantly under the spell of money-making. As we know in the famous chapter on the fetishism of commodities in Capital, he says that the same market-driven European bourgeoisie are like the seekers of the souls of the people long dead, obsessed with the alienated and transcendent world of commodities, which “evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas”, as Marx once famously said, which is “far more wonderful than “table-turning” ever was” (Marx 1986: 76). “Table-turning, as we all very well know, was the rage with the 19th century European aristocracy who actually sought to evoke the spirits of the dead. Mary Shelley’s master piece Frankenstein was one such instance that noted the obsession of the bourgeoisie with the mystical and the dead. Thus when Marx talks of the capitalist class as necromantic magicians (ibid: 80), he is not talking of something that is contingent to the capitalist class, but something that is necessary. Once we note this, we shall also be able to note that Marx did not borrow the categories of Orientalism, in fact, placed the very same placard of the eternal mystics on the unfortunate chest of the European ruling classes. It is at this site that one will be able to critique Edward Said’s thesis of Marx as an Orientalist thinker.

Understanding thus that the fictitious exotic paradise is not to be found in the ‘East’, but in the world market, we can proceed further on the theorization of history. The Asiatic mode springs from the following theorization. According to this form of dialectical reasoning, the dissolution of the ancient communes did not give way to slave society—a form of reasoning that is present in Engels’s Origins of Family, Private Property and the State—but to  multiple class-based societies form the Greco-Roman ones to the Germanic, Slavic, Asian, American, African, etc. Consequently there was nothing inherent in history, per se, that led to only one form of historical development.

And since the ideas of the Asiatic mode of production and the Oriental state themselves have a history of their own; one will have to briefly visit this little history. One will have to note that Marx’s ideas do not have to be forced into the political discourses of Aristotle, Machiavelli, Jean Bodin, Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes. For one, Marx, unlike the above thinkers, was not seeped in the imagination of Asiaphobia. He did not hold Asian societies in general to be despotic, without any history, or if not having a history then at least devoid of a sense of history. One will have to read Marx’s articulation of “the unchangeableness of Asiatic societies” (1986: 338) in a different context, not in the context of a hypostasized ‘Asian culture’ but in the concrete context of caste. For Marx, Asiatic despotism is directly related to the caste question and the nature of power emanating thereon, both the power at the village level, as well as political power that resided in the infamous Oriental despotic state. Caste, as Marx puts it, is the not only the “solid foundation for Asiatic despotism” but also of its legendary stagnation (1975f: 80). Two features emerge: Marx does not generalize on Asia as despotic and stagnant, but claims that the caste element served for this very same stagnation and despotism. Secondly, in India, one does not talk of feudal landed property—thus no feudalism in India—but caste at the level of “completely independent”, “idyllic republics” as well as the level of government (ibid: 79-80). One cannot graft the concept of serf on the idea of caste, nor reduce the caste equation to the landlord/serf relation. Pre-capitalist relations of production in Western Europe and India would be totally different.

Now one knows that this idea of multilinear historicism which Marx had introduced in the lexicon of historical materialism lies largely forgotten. Soviet historians like S. Shmonin who advocated the idea of the Asiatic mode in 1929 were never referred to in either Marxist discussions on history or in radical politics, nor was Plekhanov’s History of Russian Social Thought (where the Asiatic mode was located) taken seriously. By 1931 there were no references to this mode in discussions in the Soviet Union. Not only was the discussion under Stalin purged—M.D. Kokin, the Soviet proponent of this idea, died in the Stalinist anti-communist genocide—but even Marxist scholars like G.A. Cohen, Maurice Dobb and Paul Sweezy made no reference to it. Likewise Edward Said thought that the Asiatic mode of production was an Orientalist intervention and Marx became a Romantic and Messianic Orientalist, condemning non-European societies to eternal backwardness (1978: 154, 206).

            Repercussion of this theme of ignoring the Asiatic mode of production is that the history was made to look like the infamous march-past of iron laws. According to this thesis capitalism could only emerge from feudalism, whilst communism could only grow from capitalism. And since India is not capitalist (or not “fully developed” capitalist), communism would have to wait like the missing messiah. That there are views (Kevin Anderson is an example) that capitalism emerged in India not from feudalism, but from primitive commune property (2007) is also largely not known. It is the Indian Maoists (albeit unwittingly) who have taken the view of tribal commune property—the ager publicus (public lands) of Marx’s Pre-capitalist Economic formations—as the pivotal force for the Indian revolution. The old thesis of semi-feudalism and the New Democratic Revolution will be the rocks to which Indian Prometheus is permanently chained. Neither the parliamentary left nor the Maoists have ever thought that communism in India can come directly by simply skipping over capitalism.

In this perspective of multilinear historicism one recalls Marx’s phrase that just as the history of the expropriation of the peasantry “in different countries, assumes different aspects”, so too the emergence of the modern proletariat takes different forms (1970: 152). And since it was only in England that took what Marx calls the “classical form” (ibid), one cannot remain enslaved to this European form of capitalism only. Nor does one, as Marx insists, pass through the dreadful vicissitudes of capitalism (ibid: 153).

That the articulation of the parliamentary left who want to march with the myth of historical inevitabilities is in direct opposition to Marx’s formulation of jumps in history determined by the radical politics of permanent revolution also ought to be noted. They seem to have forgotten that the “historical inevitability” of the rise of capitalism that involves the divorcing of the producer from the means of production was limited only to Western Europe (ibid: 152). One cannot impose this history onto the entire world. As Marx said with regards another Narodniki, Mikhailowsky, there is no “general path of development prescribed by fate to all nations” where one could impose a “general historico-philosophical theory” onto the entire world (Marx 1975e: 294). Recall Marx again “the supreme virtue of this (understanding) consists in being supra-historical” (ibid: 294).

Keeping this very important theme of multilinearism in mind, one is able to locate the complexity of Indian history. One is also able to see how Indian history keeps its pre-capitalist formations within its capitalist breast and thus hops on its two feet—one being the archaic caste foot, the other the modern class foot. And because the caste foot is ahead of the class foot one can say that,  is in this sense, that we are able to understand Marx’s formulation that one “suffers not only from the development of capitalist production, but also from the incompleteness of that development” (1986: 20). The tragedy of Indian history is that it shall be haunted not merely by the incompleteness of bourgeois development, but by the impossibility of this alleged “full development”. It is in the womb of this underdevelopment that one reads Marx’s viewing of the Oriental state as the ‘despotic’ sovereign, along with the village communities that are said to be “contaminated by caste and slavery” (1976: 40). At one level the caste system seems to echo Marx’s views of feudal Europe stuck with its idiocy and superstition. At another level it is concrete and anticipates Ambedkar’s critique of the caste system where caste not only degrades and saps the energies of the peasants and the menial castes, but degrades humanity as a whole.

But besides these two very well known formations, Marx also talks of the communes that are said to have vitality that are superior not only to Greek and Roman societies, but also in comparison to modern societies (Marx 1970: 154). The communes thus had to be to be preserved (ibid: 153). Not only were these communes to be preserved, they were to be the spring board for direct communist revolutions. One thus distinguishes the spaces of Gemeinschaft (community) and Gemeinwesen (commune) within the space of pre-capitalist societies. Pre-capitalism is not one single, undifferentiated space. It most certainly is not destined to go through capitalism. One could jump directly from this Gemeinwesen (commune) to modern communism, whilst the site of the caste-based Gemeinschaft was fit only to be destroyed lock, stock and barrel. .

            To claim that the communes were to die out due to the necessity of some inexorable law of history (rather: Law of History) was for Marx an outrageous imperialist lie. Let us put Marx’s commune at the background and re-think tribal India and the struggles being carried there. One must note how the Indian state has declared these struggles—i.e. struggles against the corporate colonization of the Indian forests—as terrorists of the highest order. Consider then Marx as how to theorize in this space of combined and uneven development and how the communes could be preserved:


One should be on one’s guard when reading the histories of primitive communities written by bourgeois historians. They do not stop at anything, even outright distortion. Sir Henry Maine, for example, who was an ardent active supporter of the British government in its policy of destroying Indian communes by force, tells us hypocritically that all noble efforts on the part of thegovernment to support these communes were thwarted by the elementary force of these laws!(ibid: 154).




Iron Laws of History or Radical Praxis?


Keeping this articulation of the communes, along with the caste-based village communities and the despotic state, one begins articulation on the nature of what the established left calls the  “basic classes”. These “basic classes” do not spring from the air. They emerge from the long history, a history that is constituted within the political economy of South Asia. Neither can we bracket the communes, nor the caste-based communities. Nor does the Indian proletariat emerge like the missing messiah, free from its pre-history. One has to take this real history. And, of course, the Indian communist cannot manufacture a class consciousness in the cranium of the Central Committee, a class consciousness that somehow would be imposed onto the masses “from the outside”.

            What the organized left has done is besides being abstract is that they have reified the concept of class. “Empirization” (what Patnaik has recently called the method of the CPM) thus does not mean empirical. In fact, it is exact its opposite: it involves an abstraction and then tries to force this abstraction onto reality. It means becoming what Trotsky called Stalin in the History of the Russian Revolution as the “stubborn empiric”. The established left thus become dogmatic. They do not start from real premises. In order to analyze modes of production in India, they try to ply out what Lenin said in the year so-and-so and what Mao did, and then apply these laws of so-called “dialectical materialism” onto the Indian context. They thus become applied metaphysicians.

            Further their idea of class—what they mean some sort of “pure” class that emerges from their messianic cranium—is anti-humanist, in the sense that it totally ignores real individuals and the needs of these individuals. They forget the very basics of historical materialism implies that the “real premises” with which one starts are “real individuals”, their activity and the material conditions of their life (Marx, Engels 1976: 36-7). And since one has disposed with the idea of real individuals as the starting point of not only theory but also praxis,  the quantum jump to the idea of the “laws of history’ can be deemed to be almost inevitable. That the view of unilinear history, or reified version of history, is the starting point of the reified left (first reified in the parliament and now out from it) should not thus shock anyone. However our critique of the unilinear view of history claims that such sort of theorization is necessarily based on the theory of reductionism where historical materialism was reduced to the auto-genesis of the self-evolving productive forces. In many respects Hegel’s spirit (Geist) in ferment became Marx’s alleged auto-moving forces of production, a theory made famous by G.A. Cohen’s Karl Marx’s Theory of history. A Defence. And since Hegel’s Geist in permanent ferment was transformed into Marx’s march past of productive forces, history was made to look like the universal theory of history marching from primitive communism, via slave society, feudalism and capitalism to socialism. Just as potentialities for socialism are said to be inherent in the cranium of capitalism, so too potentialities of capitalism were said to be inherent in pre-colonial India (Habib 1997: 180-232). It was the British, who by draining the wealth of India, strangulated Indian industry (ibid: 180). That caste and its inherent decadence is absent from such analysis ought to be noted. Such a view of unilinear view of history (that is happily forgetful of caste) would quote Marx himself who once said:


The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future. (Marx 1986: 19).


And since we read that capitalism is said to “create a world after its own image” (Marx, Engels 1975: 39), the entire world would inevitably have to go through capitalism. It would also, through its inexorable laws of necessity, abolish all pre-capitalist formations. One would necessary have to march through these inexorable laws of necessity, becoming mysterious “Asian tigers” before evolving into socialism. The “necessary natural laws of history” would dictate this movement. One would have to reflect on this rather dangerous thesis for three reasons. Firstly that it smacks of Stalinism who through its brutal industrialization broke the backs of the Soviet peasantry, secondly this thesis is reflected in the now infamous capitalism as the “end of history” theory of Francis Fukuyama, and thirdly fatalism, political-quietism and imperialist barbarism are written on the banners of this Stalinist-Fukuyamaean theory. That both the Soviet state and the contemporary American one share the same logic has to be noted.

            Now whether Marx himself ascribed to a unilinear view of history (see Kevin Anderson 2010: 10) and consequently by 1857 changed it (ibid: 37-8, 44, 52) is a matter that one needs to reflect on. However two important points need being noted. One that the subject, or multiple subject positions of the Indian revolution, cannot be reduced to a simple proletariat, or the proletariat in alliance with the peasantry. The second point is that the social and material bases for the revolutionary subject of the Indian revolution cannot be considered without the understanding of the composition and decomposition of the caste system. My proposition is that the revolutionary subjects in India are born only with the absolute and unconditional decomposition of the caste system. In this sense, not only am I reading Marx’s view of non-Western histories from a radical different perspective, and thus not only bringing in Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks into the epistemic forefront along with his correspondence with the Russian Narodnikis, especially his 1881 correspondence with Zasulich; but also bring in this discussion, Ambedkar on the necessity of the annihilation of caste. Behind this discussion one will hear the voices of the Marxist-humanists, especially Raya Dunayevskaya and Kevin Anderson’s ideas of class, race and ethnicity.





Caste and the Ideology of Social and Political Retardation


So how is the radical reading of Indian history possible, a radicalism that brings in multiple subaltern subject positions out in the open, such that not only is the caste system destroyed (and along with it social and political retardation and conservatism), but along with it, capitalism that actively nurtures it? We have already noted that one has to by-pass the unilinear theory of history for a radical historicism, a radicalism that talks of International Communism and the solidarity of the toiling classes of the world. We have also noted that the organized left has held to the Sharma-Habib thesis of “Indian feudalism”, thus mimicking, by and large, Stalin’s view of history. That this Stalinist theory gives no room to the autonomy of political action peculiar to concrete conditions, and that they ultimately have to be dictated from Stalin’s cranium, is not only a fact, but a tragic one.

            In contrast to this mimesis of Stalinism one takes the route of radical praxis, a route that directly takes Third World nations to communism, by passing not only capitalism, but also the fictitious “first stage” of communism. For that, one would have to simultaneously fight class, caste and the Indian state all at the same time. In this radical rendering of political praxis, one critiques the state from the perspective of humanism and mass politics “from below”. We firstly grasp the essence of the Indian state as the representation of social conservatism (governed, even today, in the last resort, by the ideology of the Hindu social reform movement and caste elites who work in combination with neo-liberalism and finance capital). The state by having a kitsch of the Nehruvian and the Gandhian models has the appearance of being inclusive and democratic, whilst in reality being conservative and repressive. And since we are insisting that the state as the duplicate and the counterfeit serves as the representation of a false universality, and since we are claiming that there is another site for Marx, a site that is marked by a deep line of demarcation from the state, one needs to see how the state has become the state of the bourgeois-kulak elites that continuously sabotages the process of democracy.

            What a radical reading does is to see the state as a coherent and unified whole despite its contradictions, especially the contradictions between the essence of comprising the interests of the elites and the functioning of social conservatism and the appearance of being democratic. A radical reading does not see the BJP (the party of the conservatives) as the “other” of the alleged secular Congress. On the contrary one sees the binary halves of Indian politics: one being led by the Congress led front and the other by the BJP one. One forgets what Jaffrelot calls the “silent revolution” where the post-Mandal political scenario challenges the hegemony of the upper caste elites. And yet being caught in the structure and logic of the state, this silent revolution devours itself. To be caught in the binary form of the state: either liberalism or conservatism, thus either Congress or the BJP, induces one to be Kantians in our post-Hegelian world.




Marx, the Asiatic Mode and Ambedkar


The most pertinent question is: what is the nature of Indian society and what is the ideology of the dominant social groups such that the Indian elites can discipline and control the masses, thereby thwarting the revolution in India? The answer seems to be simple—caste. Despite the simplicity of the answer one needs a rigorous explanation in order to unravel this bizarre secret of Indian civilization. Let us have a look at this bizarre character. Let us see how caste is an essential component of the Asiatic mode. One cannot write caste off as being accidental or contingent to India. Nor can one have the innocent liberal theory that modernity will see to the automatic withering away of caste. Instead one will hold with Marx in seeing caste as some sort of neurosis in Indian civilization whereby “when accidently destroyed, spring up again on the spot and with the same name” (Marx 1986: 338). One will also hold with Marx that it is because of caste that led to the cretinism in India where wars and famines raged but the caste inflicted Indian forgot the wars and famines and was obsessed only with his miserable piece of land. Caste is both a neurosis as well as a cretinism. With colonialism and industrialization classes also evolved, and with this evolution one saw a simultaneous evolution of the Indian form of neurosis and cretinism. In noting this neurosis one will also have to put the psychoanalytic hat on, besides being with both Marx and Ambedkar on the necessity of a casteless, classless society.

There are a number of points that one needs to note on the specificity of Indian history. For one, it has been noted that the Asiatic state did not emerge from class contradiction (a point that Habib critiques), but emerges as a bureaucratic elite which is itself part of an economic system (see Sawer 1977: 101). Secondly concentration of power was not merely on economic differences, but primarily on social ones built on the principle of social stratification (ibid). The absence of private property in the West European sense and the lack of individuation led to the ‘civilizational’ lethargy, an Asian Confucianism, which impeded economic and political development (ibid: 102). But this does not mean that private property as such did not exist in India. Note what Marx once said about private property and the Brahmins:


The priestly pack thus plays a central role in the process of individualization of family property….In order to get this property, the legislation, which is developed under Brahmin influence, must attack this bastion more and more…(What we find in India, my insertion, M.J.) that gifts to the priest first, preeced every other mode of alienation of immovable property. (See Anderson 2010: 210).


Brahminism is the name of this lethargic Indian form of Asian Confucianism. It got crystallized with Adi Shankara’s counterrevolution against the egalitarian Buddhist order thereby privileging the parasitic Brahminical priests and condemning the artisan and craftsmen as unclean untouchables. In the process this counterrevolution likewise privileged the infamous “spiritualization” thesis over the indigenous sciences. The fact that even today the ghost of this Brahminical spirit haunts modern India is rooted in this counterrevolution that segregated people and denounced humanism, democracy and the sciences.

And just as Confucianism retarded the development of Chinese society, in India it was Brahminism institutionalized by Adi Shankara’s counterrevolution that laid the basis for India’s retardation. And thus one says that if Brahminism created the ideology of “Indian spiritualization” and the political economy of Brahminical overlordship by denouncing the artisans and their scientific practices, then one has to say that the role of the idiocy in rural India would be taken by this same overlord. The same upper caste elites would fit in well with Marx’s description of the French peasantry as the figurative “sack of potatoes”.

If liberalism as the guiding doctrine of Western Europe emerged as a new ideology to meet the needs of a new world of rising capitalism in which privilege and status were replaced by the celebrated theory of social contract which served as the judicial foundation of society, and where science not only replaced religion as the dominant factor in giving shape to social ideas but also delegitimized religion; in India the new order even post-1947 could not get rid of the old. That caste did not wither away was also because the liberal elites compromised with the old order. If Lenin had said that a scientist must be a materialist in practice and if the artisans of ancient India who were the practitioners of technology were downgraded by the Shankaraean counterrevolution (as also the downgrading of their scientific practice); then Brahminical overlordship which defeated the oppressed castes and constituted a victory of idealism over materialism laid the fertile ground for the lethargy and sluggishness of Indian civilization. The “unchanging character” of India is to be seen in this counterrevolution. Colonialism would follow this same logic: it destroyed the unity of manufacture and agriculture; destroyed the artisans and their technologies, and like the earlier counterrevolution privileged the same phantasmagorical ‘spiritual’ Indian civilization. Gandhi, as we very well know, would use this same logic of the phantasmagoria. Independent India (despite the thoughts of Phule, Periyar, the trade union movement and Ambedkar) could not develop a materialist logic. ‘Spiritualization’, the only commodity that the Indian bourgeoisie could produce for the world market, was found in abundance in independent India. Confucian lethargy and the unchangeable character could not be thus very far behind. 

But there is also another fact that necessitates that pre-capitalist social formations are a dire need for global capital accumulation. Here one needs to articulate Marx’s idea of capitalism-at-the-periphery differently from the model of West European capitalism. One brings in Rosa Luxemburg’s idea of the necessity of pre-capitalist formations in the dialectic of capitalist exchange of commodities (1972: 61-2, 77). Consequently one does not read the intrusion of capitalism in Asia as bringing in “pure capitalism”—capitalism with “free labour”. Instead it would bring in capitalism with unfree labour, labour that has the stamp of caste marked on its unfortunate forehead. That labour in India, exits as both free and unfree labour, labour that exists within the parameters of caste stratification should not shock anyone. Consequently when one conceptualizes the dramatic changes that capitalism has done to India, the neurosis of caste has also to kept in mind. Capitalist change comes along the neurotic unchanging character. The problem is that the progressive forces in India have not been able to sweep away the forces of regression and state sponsored superstition. One is thus compelled to say that if in Europe “science rebelled against the church”, as Engels said, “the bourgeoisie could not do without science, and, therefore had to join in the rebellion” (1975: 383), in India things would turn out to be different. The ghost of the “unchanging” would return to haunt India.

One is also compelled to say that if the European bourgeoisie could get what Marx calls an “upper hand” where it struck at “feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations” (1975g: 38), the Indian bourgeoisie struck everyone but its idyllic past. In India, capitalist self-interest and egoistical calculation coincided with patriarchal, idyllic relations. If in Europe exploitation veiled, as Marx puts it, “by religious and political illusions” is substituted with “naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation (ibid), in India (as in great parts of Asia: one only has to look at the mullahs in Iran and Pakistan and their counterpart the RSS fascists) “religious and political illusions” and “naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation” are neatly synthesized. If the European bourgeoisie constantly revolutionized the instruments of production and the relations of production, breaking all “fixed, fast-frozen relations with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions” (ibid), in India it is these fixed, fast-frozen relations with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions which refuse to leave the scene of history. The core, or what one may call after Marx the “cell-form” (1986: 19), of these ancient and venerable prejudices is caste.  The superstructural train of prejudices runs on the rails of the caste system. One thought that modernity and modern industry would destroy caste, but caste sits comfortably on the seat of modern industry. True, caste alliances and power structures change continuously, but caste per se refused to leave. It has to be (to borrow Ambekkar’s term) “annihilated”. It has to go through the dialectical system of the negation of the negation. The expropriators have to be expropriated. And once one has struck this awful schizophrenic system, one also is able to strike at the train of ancient and venerable prejudices.

Marx’s basic categories of historical materialism need slight amendment: caste then is understood as the base, whilst insanity is the superstructure. And according to the grand logic of the universal laws of history it was the bourgeois who was to be the striker of both caste and superstition. Instead they themselves sat in the retrograde train. One only has to see this very modern train run by finance capital and one will see the faces of the most modern industrialists sitting besides the RSS and the Khap panchayat in this infamous train.

That is why an analysis of caste in the age of late imperialism in permanent crisis needs detailed analysis with its double roots in the Brahminical counterrevolution and colonialism that have to be pointed out. But if caste is a form that serves as the material for lethargy, then its schizophrenic stratification leads also for the commodity production of parliamentary politics. That it also leads to communalism where the Muslims are made to replace the ‘unclean’ oppressed castes, and that it leads to the triumph of the politics of the RSS, where Brahminical process of purifying is replaced by anti-Muslim genocide, should also be noted.

Here one puts the caste system at the center of not only lethargy but also at the center of the Indian counterrevolution. In this sense, with a certain sense of irony, one could say following Engels that if “the great international center of feudalism was the Roman Catholic Church (which) united the whole of feudalized Western Europe into a grand political system” (1975: 383), then one could also say that the Indian caste system unites the reactionary system in India into the same grand system of not only idyllic republics, but schizophrenic communities. Just as the Europeans in the times of the bourgeois revolutions had to destroy the influence of the pre-capitalist institutions and practices led by the Church, one needs to destroy the caste system. And since capitalism in India (one should call it “surrogate-kulak capitalism”) is not the capitalism that emerged in the liberal epoch that needed to sweep away pre-capitalist remnants; the anti-caste revolution could not be carried out in the bourgeois epoch. Instead as Indian capitalism emerged with colonialism and stuck its roots in the times of imperialism and the global crisis of capital accumulation, its backwardness was inscribed deep in the belly. The “image of the future” was not going to be the galloping world market, the emergence of the educated middle classes seeped into sciences and so-called high culture. Instead the picture of Auschwitz would serve best as the image of the future of world capitalism both at the center and of the periphery. Instead of the image of the gassed Jew, one would have the picture of Bhopal (in 1984) and Gujarat (in 2002). Backwardnesss and underdevelopment is the essence of world capitalism. Capital accumulation is necessarily interlocked with various pre-capitalist economic formations. In the logic of uneven development and unequal exchange, the pre-capitalist caste figure would return once again. If not in purely economic terms of commodity exchange, then in terms of the reactionary politics

And since the vision of the Indian bourgeoisie was too much locked up in the horizons set by its colonial parent, it could not led this bourgeois revolution it was for the left to undertake an annihilation of caste and the system of human slavery, racism, patriarchy and superstition that it actively propagated. And since, as Nehru had prophetically noted, that “many a Congressman was a communalist under his national cloak” (2001: 136), and since we know from Ambedkar that the Congress party would not go for social reform, but hand over this process of reform to the reactionary Hindu Mahasabha (1945: 23), the burden for social reform would have to be with the left. But then did the left fulfill this very basic task it was to supposed to fulfill?

So how does one understand this very peculiar mode of social stratification and control, where caste as clannish oligarchy, is understood in theory and then destroyed in practice? How does this type of Marxist science at the same time become a popular philosophy that is able to grip the masses? In a certain way just as the Marxists after Marx betrayed Revolutionary Marxism by substituting the abolition of the class system by the preservation and maintenance of classes (Stalin and Mao are the two classical examples); so too the post-Ambedkar-Ambedkarites became the Stalinists of the dalit movement. They did not want to annihilate caste—they want to preserve it. 

Lenin’s phrase “concrete analysis for concrete conditions” has to be applied in the analysis of caste. One needs thus concrete analysis in order to understand caste and the nature of pre-capitalist-capitalist India, especially in the context of international politics, even more so when one knows of international terrorism of the variety of the Butcher of Norway, Andres Breivik, whose hatred for communism and the Muslims, not to forget his love for Mediaeval Europe and the fictitious “European supremacy” and the RSS, is now well known with lethal consequences. In this case caste as race gets special meaning especially after the Breivik massacre as well as after the 2002 anti-Muslim genocide by a chief minister who is now being projected by the corporate media as the next prime minister of India. The question whether caste is race (and casteism is racism) is not any more a speculative question, it is real one. The hegemony of ‘new’ capitalism and how it enforces on the Indian masses, through the old caste-based structures, albeit re-worked accordingly to the cultural and political logic of late capitalism, is found only through periodic massacre of innocent people. The understanding of caste in the age of not only late capitalism, but in the age of late imperialism in permanent crises is of extreme importance.

Caste as inherited class status, frozen classes, classes that are reified and hypostasized and based on segregation, a status that is sanctioned on theological grounds and built on the metaphysical opposition of clean/unclean has found itself a breeding place in neo-liberal India. The upper castes led by the once-upon-a-time priestly castes who besides being priests were also alleged scholars and ideologists, not to forget the interpreters of Dharma (the Hindu moral law), and who apparently consider themselves ‘pure’, whilst the working masses (the proletarian Shudras) were said to be ‘impure’, have returned on the scene of Indian politics. Sometimes this counterrevolutionary appears riding a chariot chiding the masses to enforce religious war; sometimes it is deluded media sponsored yoga teacher who jumps on the running chariot. One must note that they use caste stratification to build their fascist politics. One should also note that revolutionaries like Trotsky used the word “caste” to point out that the bureaucratic Stalinist state was akin to the age-old Asiatic caste structure (2005: 40, 2006: 102, 214, 256). That caste is a form of ossified class one knows very well. But whether it is form of racism has also to be noted. And because Hinduism (even in its reformed and Gandhian forms) glorifies caste, Revolutionary Marxism thus has to note what Ambedkar meant by saying: “Hindu society had its morals loosened to a dangerous point” (1943: 30), and what Hegel meant when he said that there is no “moral sentiment” with the ruling ideology of India because (and this is contradiction to the very popular view that states that Hinduism is predicted on the ideas of ahimsa or non-violence) one is compelled to fight against the varna-sankara, i.e. fight against the mixture of castes (the spurious brood)” (Hegel 1995: 17, 19, 51).

Something is rotten in the state of India, and it has not yet been cleared away.







Caste as Human Alienation


There is a method of annihilating caste, a method that one will need to locate in Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. This is the way the method works. It relates caste as a fragmented social system with modern alienated reality. Anxiety, despair, and acceptance of the ruling ideas of the ruling classes are among the prevailing forms of reified capitalist consciousness. How this reified capitalist consciousness now manifests in caste forms needs to be articulated. After all caste, as the term itself implies (as both varna and jati), a system of “cutting off” (as the Portuguese word castus implies) human beings from one another. Consequently caste involves this alienated process of “cutting off” humanity from one another, a form of alienation that is built on the notion of purity and pollution. In this sense caste as cutting off is directly related to alienation. In this case one will have to re-think the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 in relation to the caste question. One will also have to rethink the role of the left in remaining away from the Ambedkar movement, as if, the proletariat movement would automatically resolve the caste question.

            The role of the Indian Stalinists and the betrayals of liberalism and social democracy, have to be pointed out in fragmenting the unity of the popular classes and not solving the real social problems of India. In contrast to the Stalinists and the liberals we are viewing Marx’s views of the Indian caste based villages as particularist, inward looking and apartheid driven—“restraining the human mind within the smallest compass, making it the unresisting tool of superstition, enslaving it beneath traditional rules” as Marx famously summed up the caste based anti-human condition (1976: 40) with the contemporary human condition. The tragedy of the democratic movement is that the left could neither articulate the centrality of caste, nor how class hegemony and political power are directly related to the caste system.

Contrary to the popular views that do not see the rigidities of the Indian caste system as inhibiting the development of an indigenous industrial bourgeoisie, we claim that it is because of the caste order that one finds the repression of the development of the sciences as well as promotion of the infamous ‘spiritual’ heritage of so-called ‘Indian civilization’.  We thus insist on this double fault of the Indian caste system as inhibiting not only the rise of the insurrectionist proletariat but also democracy, especially radical proletarian democracy. Forget the militant trade union movement, forget even the regime of rights with the caste system being around. If Hegel had said in his Science of Logic that the beginning (of his logic) is not lost, one could ironically say that the caste system is never ever lost. And if Marx had conceptualized capitalism as the system of human alienation, one needs to re-draft this theory to explain the caste system.

Not only is it a peculiar system of class—or reified and ossified classes—but it is also equivalent to race in the South Asian sense. “Varna”, one must insist, means “colour”, and social classifications and stratification are according to race inspired markers. Casteism in this sense is equivalent to racism. And it is in this double-bind of class and race that we re-imagine caste and its process of its economic base of stratification, clannishness and fragmentation; and its ideological superstructure of superstition and rituals, whereby the upper caste elites govern through this very strange type of power and control. And if one wants to understand the basic classes in India, if one has to re-imagine the proletariat one has to actively confront this very strange and uncanny apparatus. The uncanny (das Unheimlich), as we know from Freud is the feeling of dread and terror (1990). And since the fascist RSS has classified the Muslims in the same caste-like hierarchical manner, the importance of understanding and annihilating this uncanny and dreadful system is of extreme importance. 

In this case one will have to say that the articulation of caste in the age of late imperialism in permanent crises has to be articulated differently than those that we find in the early discourses of Hibert Risley, John Nesfield, Emile Senart, Max Weber and Louis Dumont. One may also add that late imperialism will also compel and necessitate a different articulation than those found in the works of Kosambi, Namboodripad, Srinivas, Sharad Patil, Nicholas Dirks and Christopher Jaffrelot. Caste in this sense is no longer class on a primitive level of production.

It is an essential part of the most modern of most moderns, mimicking not only the German form of fascism, but also the Israeli form of imperialist occupation.

And since caste has hitherto been taken merely as some sort of primitive division of labour, devoid of the terrible consequences—here one would imply fascist implications—one needs to take the radical Indian Fanonist position that it is not a mere division of labour (Ambedkar 2008b: 385). It is both a “legal system of pains and penalties” that subjugates the proletariat (ibid: 386), as well as a system of psychosis when it conveniently forgets its apartheid type of social control. And to the Indian democrats who curse Marx and swear by Gandhi one needs recalling Ambedkar again: “Gandhism may be well suited to a society which does not accept democracy as an ideal” (2008c: 159). In this sense one needs to recall Žižek who in his 2010 Sarai lecture called Gandhi a “social fascist”. And to do so one need not stick to the old Comintern definitions of fascism, but to radically create and recreate new ones, definitions that are suitable for India and to the space of multilinear historicism.  

            It is from this epistemic articulation that comprehends caste from the perspective of global capital accumulation that one relates caste with modern classes. The latter, one must insist, emerges from the former. Modern economic classes emerge from the caste system. Caste is not something that is outside the ambit of class struggle. Further it also ought to be noted that imperialism does not merely involve the exchange of unequals, and consequently needs the existence of pre-capitalist social formations, but also requires caste and clan-based organizations—not only the fascist RSS and the Shiv Sena, but alongside them conservative organizations penetrating into many areas of society—that would not only sabotage revolutionary processes and break the unity of the popular classes, but also derail bourgeois-democratic processes. After all, if one was to see the political economy behind the RRS (and its pogroms), one will find the phenomena of the saffron dollar, just as one would see the Wahabi-Petro dollar behind the rise of conservatism in the minorities. In this case if Hamlet was to answer Polonius’s question: “What do you read my lord?”, Hamlet’s response would have been: “dollars, dollars, dollars”.

            If “the betrayal of socialism”, as Dunayevskaya once said, “came from within the socialist movement” (1982: 106), the reemergence of Revolutionary Marxism has to be seen from a creative and activist reimagining of Marxism. Revolutionary Marxism is not reactive like the political practice of our contemporary parliamentary comrades. It does not let the fascists create mass hysteria, let them mobilize on communal grounds, let them break a historical mosque followed by a pogrom and then by a genocide. It does not peacefully protest by passing a memorandum condemning the barbaric fascists. It actively confronts the fascists. It differentiates the active force from the reactive force. It consequently sets the agenda for politics in India. And since Hamlet’s dollars are found littered all over the world, one will have to actively transcend the nationalist imagination for a Revolutionary Internationalism. From henceforth the Asian Soviets will have to replace the traditional left parties. It will have to widen the scope of freedom struggles. Not only will the freedom of labour (free from capital) but also freedom of oppressed nationalities, thus freedom from Kashmir to Kurdistan, from Baluchistan to Palestine, will have to be written on the banners of the Revolutionary Left.  For that one will also have to recreate the idea of the specter of communism that will haunt the global bourgeoisie. The arena of the struggle against capitalism and imperialism is much wider than imagined in the fantasyland of the Indian parliament. It requires another space. It also requires struggle unimaginable for the legal Marxists.

Are the present comrades ready for this?









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