There have been lots of discussions in the recent past about the rising tendency among the Sanghis to use ‘science’ to justify totally absurd claims about India having invented planes, plastic surgery, cloning etc., thousands of years ago. Were they talking science really? Similarly, if the brahmin left keeps talking about Marxism, are they talking about equality etc., really?
Science and Marxism are just words to them, attractive excuses to justify their past glory and current domination in all fields. But, when probed closely, while the Sanghis give up all pretensions of science and uphold the primacy of belief and faith, the Indian ‘marxists’ don’t give up so easily. Consider this latest piece of wisdom by Prabhat Patnaik.
Capitalism, he interprets Marx, is ‘a self-driven system that is subject to a set of immanent tendencies. These tendencies are independent of human will and consciousness (nobody for instance wanted the Great Depression of the 1930s to occur, or the current world capitalist crisis which even persists despite all conscious efforts to get out of it); what is more, the human behaviour that goes into the constitution of these immanent tendencies is itself not a matter of volition on the part of the human (economic) agents. They are coerced into acting in particular ways because not doing so would cost them their place within the economic system..’
In other words, capitalists have no free will, they are mere agents of the system, like all others. So let’s look at Motilal Oswal:
That seems to be his spontaneous reaction to the Kolkata flyover collapse. If he was acting ‘spontaneously’ as a capitalist to secure his economic interests, he wouldn’t be talking so derogatorily of such a large majority of his countrymen, or market. His spontaneity here seems entirely driven by his caste self. And he isn’t the first – right from Rahul Bajaj to Narayana Murthy, they’ve all talked in a similar fashion, from the Mandal moment in 1990 till now. And this episode comes only a couple of days after the disgusting Havells fan’s advertisement was withdrawn.
Both reactions seemed to indicate the ‘spontaneity’ of the caste system rather than the capitalist system. In Havells’ case, this spontaneity seems to be much more deeper because the advertising film must have been the work of several minds, and prepared over a period of time. But this casteist spontaneity was sustained over all those processes and time!
The advertising agency which made the film, Lintas Lowe, is one of the oldest agencies in the country. It’s an offshoot of Unilever – a company as old as the British empire, almost – which also spawned Hindustan Lever or Hindustan Unilever now, one of the largest consumer products companies in the country. So between all these agents, they share a vast reservoir of data about a great mass of Indians, a major chunk of them Bahujans, as consumers. But all that the business school bourgeoisie inhabiting all those spaces could express through the film was the anxieties of their savarna selves, not any ‘universally’ appealing message which could attract all classes of their target consumers.
But these instances don’t mean that the Indian capitalists are driven by caste totally – it’s not the intention of this article to make such generalisations. Oswal retracted his tweet within a short time, and the Guptas of Havells’ too withdrew the ad as soon as the Bahujans’ outrage spilled over the internet. Ambedkar had pointed out quite early: ‘History shows that where ethics and economics come in conflict, victory is always with economics’. Oswal’s and Guptas’ caste-perverted ‘ethics’ would prescribe that they should stand by their ascribed social position and not bow down to the lower castes, but their economic interests brought them to their senses. So when some Dalits talk positively of capitalism, it is in this sense – that it could improve social relations, relatively. This understanding has been portrayed as wholesale conversion to capitalism by some Brahmin academics, and is also snidely hinted at by Patnaik, although not as sweepingly. Look at what Patnaik says next:
The reality of caste oppression as an extant phenomenon can scarcely be replaced within the existing system by an alternative reality where caste oppression has disappeared altogether, and class exploitation prevails in some pristine form. It follows therefore that those struggling for an end to caste oppression cannot succeed in their struggle without a transcendence of the capitalist system. The annihilation of caste in short requires a transcendence of the capitalist system. True, such transcendence is not a sufficient condition for the end of caste oppression; but it is a necessary condition. This is the primary conclusion of Marxism.
The truth is, the Bahujans have always understood that caste oppression never wasn’t class exploitation. Guda Anjaiah says*:
We yoke the plough! We plough the land,
It’s us at this fence! It’s us at that mance,
It’s us at the cowshed! It’s us with the cattle too,
It’s us cleaning the latrines! It’s us shaving the beards too,
What’s this plunder? What’s this Dora’s deceit with us,
what’s this plunder! What’s this Dora’s deceit?
By separating the two, caste oppression and class exploitation, Patnaik himself seems to live in an alternative reality. How does he plan to ‘transcend’ Motilal Oswal or Havells or Hindustan Unilever? Does he imagine the major opposition would come from the Bahujans if they’re ‘taken over by the people’, meaning nationalised? Why is his wisdom directed towards them?
The major opposition would come from large sections of the savarnas who would spontaneously raise their caste-perverted objections, couched again in the language of ‘merit’ and ‘efficiency’ though. Earlier, when the Indian government ran companies which manufactured all kinds of consumer goods, from watches to condoms, the major support for those activities again came from the same savarnas. Where both the capitalist, and his class of supporters, and the socialist, and his class of supporters – both are savarnas acting, spontaneously, on the basis of caste – what needs to be transcended? The caste system or the capitalist system?
All through the days of their trysts with socialism, and their current romance with varna capitalism, the fortunes of the Brahmin-savarnas kept rising. And in both phases, they were divided into camps, pro and anti capital, supposedly. How many of them don’t belong to ‘the bourgeoisie or of the upper professional stratum’ now? How could they all prosper? Was their socialism, or capitalism, ever meant to trickle down the varna order?
Dr Ambedkar said (‘Annihilation of Caste’): The effect of caste on the ethics of the Hindus is simply deplorable. Caste has killed public spirit. Caste has destroyed the sense of public charity. Caste has made public opinion impossible. A Hindu’s public is his caste. His responsibility is only to his caste. His loyalty is restricted only to his caste.
Doesn’t that explain ‘spontaneity’ in Indian society better? Shouldn’t Patnaik be directing his wisdom towards the Brahmin-savarnas, instead of the Bahujans?
Look at Oswal, Havells, Hindustan Lever, Bajaj, Infosys etc. Now look again at the first excerpt from Patnaik’s article, at his description of capitalism as a ‘self-driven system’. How vulgar an understanding is that? What could be more ‘pristine’? So where does ‘caste oppression’ come from, into this perfect picture of robot-like-human-will-lacking-classes-only-society? When he hints that the Bahujans seem to dream of a ‘pristine capitalism’, shorn of caste oppression, isn’t he thrusting his own guilt on them?
In the first excerpt, Patnaik’s interpretation of Marx represents extreme economic determinism, with no space for human will. This stands in contrast to the other extremist view, the libertarians’ ideas of untrammeled free will, as propagated by the market fanatics.
As different from the Brahmins’ immanent extremist fantasies, the Bahujan understanding of Indian reality has always been much more comprehensive – from Phule’s Slavery to Ambedkar’s AoC, it presents a much more layered reality, which pays attention to both human agency and social structures. And yes, it also shows the path to revolution, many times. Dr Ambedkar, laying down some ground rules for the ideal Indian constitution (‘A Plea to the Foreigner’), says:
The principal aim of such a constitution must be to dislodge the governing class from its position and to prevent it from remaining as a governing class.
To be continued..
* The full translation of the Telugu song can be found here.