All About Ambedkar: A Journal on Theory and Praxis, Volume 1, Number 1, July-September 2020
“India and the Prerequisites of Communism” is a text included in Volume 3 of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches which was first published in 1987 by the Education Department of the Government of Maharashtra. The volume was reprinted by Dr. Ambedkar Foundation in January 2014, and then reprinted a second time by the same in August 2019.
It should be noted that there is no book by Ambedkar called “India and Prerequisites of Communism.” This title has been given by the editors to a total of three pieces separately written by Ambedkar, namely, “The Hindu Social Order: Its Essential Principles,” “The Hindu Social Order: Its Unique Features” and “Symbols of Hinduism.” The title, however, is not randomly chosen by the editors. In fact, it is derived from the chapter names and chapter contents of one of Ambedkar’s proposed books, i.e., India and Communism, which had been planned to be divided into three parts. The first part was named “The Prerequisites of Communism” (none of the three chapters that it consisted of was found), the second part was titled “India and the Prerequisites of Communism” (of which only chapter four, called “Hindu Social Order,” was found) and no third part was discovered, rendering the work incomplete. Nevertheless, it may be observed that the title given by the editors is imprecise. Even though Ambedkar discusses the possibility and impossibility of a free social order in the three pieces constituting the text, “India and the Prerequisites of Communism” does not directly refer to “communism” per se.
“India and the Prerequisites of Communism” comes off as an argumentative text, comparing and contrasting the Marxist concept of class and class struggles to that of the caste system in India. Ambedkar does this by introducing the idea of a free social order, and then goes on to identify its two significant principles, inseparable in nature: First, the aim of the society is to ensure the growth and development of the personality of an individual, and second, the terms of relations between the members of the society should have the fundamentals of liberty, equality and fraternity at its roots.
While justifying the same, Ambedkar explains why the end of all social purposes – and not the means – happens to be an individual by referring to Professor Jacques Martain’s words, “The value of the person, his dignity and rights, belong to the order of things naturally sacred…” (qtd. in Ambedkar 95). The liberty of an individual can be divided into civil liberty and political liberty; though in the case of the former, Ambedkar notes that the “real liberty of action” becomes a utopian ideal because it would require the annihilation of dominance of a particular class over others, as well as suppression of any form of exploitation, amongst other factors. Political liberty is democratic since it concludes that a government retains power and authority only with the consent of the people that it governs.
The idea of a free social order is totally opposed to the so-called Hindu society, according to Ambedkar. The Hindu social order, he observes, is dependent upon the primary four classes (“Varnas”) and, therefore, does not keep the individual as the centre of social purpose. Indeed, he comments, this makes it absolute that an individual’s merit is useless because they are entitled to the assets and liabilities that come with the Varna to which they belong. This comes under three principles: a) “graded inequality,” b) permanent occupations for each class that is hereditary in nature, and c) the “fixation of people within their respective classes” (Ambedkar 106, 113). These three principles set the Hindu social order inherently against the concepts of liberty, equality and fraternity; due to this, the Hindu social order cannot be regarded as a free social order by any means. Furthermore, the Hindu social order lacks civil liberty because any occupation (that decides one’s class) is firstly permanent, and secondly hereditary. The political liberty to have an opinion that is against the Vedas is not granted, and Ambedkar provides proof for this from the Manusmriti – where the questioning of the Vedas and the “Institutes of sacred law” (qtd. in Ambedkar 114) is wholly unacceptable – and therefore, “liberty” is restricted only to certain classes that are favoured by the social order. The same goes for the principle of equality – the Varnas/classes are graded vertically, in a hierarchy that is rigid in nature – as well as fraternity. Ambedkar points out in particular that the classes of the Hindu social order are therefore self-absorbed and consequently, its insularity is what opposes fraternity between the members of different classes who are not allowed to inter-marry or inter-dine amongst one another.
Ambedkar goes on to discuss the three unique features of the Hindu social order: First, the worship of the “Brahmin or the Superman” (118), while the common person is suppressed since the rise of the latter is antagonistic to the supremacy of the former. Second, only one class (that of the Brahmins) is allowed to take up arms despite their profession, for the preservation of the social order in case of an unprecedented attack. And third, the Hindu social order claims to be designed by God and is therefore above being subjected to criticism or questioning of any nature or by anybody.
(Image courtesy: velivada.com)
Friedrich Nietzsche credits Manu Smriti for his theory of the superman, and Ambedkar explores how the Manusmriti promotes Brahmanical supremacy – because the Brahmin was created from the mouth of God, he is born as an embodiment of the sacred Vedas – and what this means for the other classes that are present. The other classes must be subservient to the Brahmins, while the latter enjoys all the privileges that come with his class. These privileges include not being hanged for murder, being able to be with a woman from any class lower than his own but being unbound to her by ties of marriage and was also exempt from taxation – to name a few. Ambedkar concludes that this ensures the common man (that is, the Shudra) is kept in a state of constant repression and degradation since it is written in the Manusmriti that a Shudra must do nothing except for serving the other three classes. He is restrained from learning, since he is not allowed to hear the Vedas being read, and any Brahmin who teaches the Vedas to Shudras and women has committed a sin that must be atoned for. A Shudra cannot have an empowering name either, and he is denied the right to become a Sanyasi – and Ambedkar elucidates to convey that this is because a Shudra who becomes a Sanyasi renders no more service to the Brahmin, and therefore becomes part of God (“Bramha”). Therefore the interests of the Superman are promoted over that of the common man, and the latter ought to be willing to sacrifice as much as necessary for the well-being and comfort of the former. Due to this, the common man does not have the right to bear arms (unlike the other three classes above him). Ambedkar compares and contrasts this with the Nazis and Muslims, who in his opinion do the exact opposite: allow the liberty to gain knowledge and take up arms as and when required. Ambedkar further writes that the Hindu social order is unashamed to deny such liberty to the masses and that too while portraying itself as a humane order; and he comments that using the same system, Nazis would have been able to “crush the Jews without open cruelty and…exhibited themselves as humane masters” (125). In respect to the third feature, Ambedkar quotes Sri Krishna from the Bhagavat Gita forbidding propaganda against the Hindu social order and declining any reform of the same, promising that he will take birth to established “Righteousness” (qtd. in Ambedkar 128). Ambedkar further argues that except for Hindus, class order in terms of status and occupation in other contexts is socially constructed in nature and hence unbound to religion. Therefore, he continues, it is only the Hindu economic order that becomes sacred and sacrosanct; and the reason as to why it has survived for so many years.
In the third part of the text, namely “Symbols of Hinduism,” Ambedkar refers to several historians and their notes to point out the peculiarities in the traits of the Hindu social order, including but not limited to concepts of class division. Amongst them are Megasthenes (Greek ambassador in Chandragupta Maurya’s court), who writes that the population in India was divided into seven classes. Members of a certain class were not allowed to marry members of another class, and neither could they change professions for any reason. The only exception to this, Megasthenes notes, was the philosopher who was allowed to follow more than one business. Alberuni too writes about the Varna system, and how the members of each class are named according to their occupations and mode of life. Alberuni claims that the major stepping-stone to an understanding between the Hindus and Muslims would be the caste system. Duarte Barbosa, a Portuguese official, compares the worship of idols by Brahmins to that of the Holy Trinity; and also remarks on the rigidity of the classes using instances such as how only a Brahmin may cook food for the King in the kingdom of Calicut (present-day Kozhikode). All three, therefore, present a dynamic record of the caste system and its growth since they describe it in ways similar yet with particular differences.
Ambedkar concludes that while these foreign writers could not give a complete picture of the caste system, it was something that struck out to them as an aspect unique to the Hindu social order. However, what is clear is that the modern caste system appears to have evolved from the Varna system, in the way that four Varnas became four thousand castes down the road. Hence, it is to be observed that a Hindu’s status will not change under any means; they are bound to their caste throughout their life. At most, they would lose their status or caste if they commit certain offences that cannot be atoned for with penances (Prayaschitas) which will ultimately lead to their exile from the community. Ambedkar mentions, hence, that the relations between different castes are not horizontal, but vertical – one class is dominant over the other. Nonetheless, Ambedkar does note that this caste system is not just mere evolution, but degradation – a perversion of the erstwhile Varna system. This has resulted in a pyramid of castes that is again divided into blocks and forms the base of the class divisions in modern society; between the “high class” and the “low class” that follows along the lines of the Chaturvarna system. Those who were outside this system were referred to as the “Avarna” Hindus in contrast to the “Savarna” Hindus, and Ambedkar holds the former to be equally important while trying to understand the division of class and caste in the Hindu social order. Another interesting point is that Ambedkar calls the Aryan race theory absurd and that Brahmin scholars only hold it in high regard to assert Brahmanical supremacy by claiming that the Brahmin is “the representation of the Aryan race”, and regards the rest of Hindus as non-Aryan descendants (qtd. in Sharma 864).
In my personal opinion, Ambedkar’s words are deeply impactful and engrossing in nature, presenting a new outlook into the discourse of the Hindu social order. I agree with the arguments that he puts forward for the most part, yet differ from him on a few points. For instance, regarding his claim that the Nazis “allow equal opportunity to all.” The concept of Völkisch equality (equality before law) was only for those who were deemed to have pure Aryan blood and excluded others (like the Jews) and yet Hitler declared Emil Maurice (born of Jewish parents) an “honorary Aryan”, as Hopmans notes (53-55). Therefore, in terms of the rigid Hindu social order in this context, Emil Maurice did change “classes” to become one of the top members of Schutzstaffel – and if it is considered that he did not, then it becomes a flaw because Völkisch equality in Nazi Germany only permitted equality to those of Aryan blood. Hence, the Nazis did not allow equal opportunity to everybody, only exceptions. The role of Aryan women in Nazi Germany was nowhere equal in nature to their masculine counterparts either, being “… bestowed the Cross of Honor of the German Mother on women bearing four or more babies, and increased punishments for abortion” ("Women in the Third Reich" para 3). It was much later that they actively participated in the army when the need for labour arose. Of course, this makes the parallels between Nazism and Brahminism or between Jews and the Shudras questionable and debatable if the statement is taken in a literal sense. Otherwise, Ambedkar might well be implying that even the Jews had a better status than the Shudras.
Since “India and the Prerequisites of Communism,” deriving from the unfinished project titled India and Communism, is an incomplete work, it is likely that Ambedkar still had a lot to say about the Avarna Hindus, etc. which are left unknown. Still, “India and the Prerequisites of Communism” takes an in-depth look at the toxicity of the caste system and its rigid ways – especially more important in the context of the time-period when Ambedkar was writing this book. Even though this never fully saw the light of the day as a complete work, it contains his pragmatic opinions backed up by rational arguments giving an overview of the scriptures and the slokas. These bring to light the unique traits of the Hindu social order and outline the prerequisites for a free and egalitarian social order in an Indian setting.
Ambedkar, B. R. “India and the Prerequisites of Communism.” Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, vol. 3, edited by Vasant Moon, Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, 2014, pp. 93-148.
Hopsman, Rob. “Maurice, Emil.” WW2 Gravestone, https://ww2gravestone.com/people/maurice-emil/. Accessed 5 March 2020.
Sharma, Arvind. “Dr. B. R. Ambedkar on the Aryan Invasion and the Emergence of the Caste System in India.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, vol. 73, no. 3, 2005, 843–870. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4139922/. Accessed 5 March 2020.
“Women in the Third Reich.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/women-in-the-third-reich. Accessed 5 March 2020.
Abhista Goswami studies English literature at Presidency University, Kolkata. Her fields of interest include mythology, horror and Victorian literature. She aspires to be a creative writer and engages herself in writing stories and poems for literary magazines.