Karl Heinrich Marx AND COMMUNISM

Karl Marx (1818 -1883)

Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. His ideas played a significant role in the establishment of the social sciences and the development of the socialist movement.

Das Kapital   Front Cover 

At the time when Marxism first emerged on the political scene, the concept of secular or atheistic communism did not exist. All communism was rooted in religious principles. During the mid-to-late 1840s, the largest organization espousing communist ideas in Europe was the League of the Just, whose motto was "All Men are Brothers" and whose aim was to establish a new society "based on the ideals of love of one's neighbor, equality and justice". 

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels joined the League of the Just in 1847. Under their influence, the organization (a) became analytical, scientific, activist, secular, supporting action to implement the doctrines, not merely document and discuss them and (b) changed its name to the Communist League. The League invited Marx and Engels to write a programmatic document that would express communist principles, and they obliged, producing the Communist Manifesto.  The manifesto is considered to be one of the world's most influential political tracts. The Manifesto established a course of action for the working class revolution to overthrow the bourgeois social order and bring about a classless society. In 1859 Marx published A Contribution To The Critique Of Political Economy, which was his first serious economic work.

The Communist Manifesto by Marx has had an enormous influence on the communist movement ever since. It has also been one of the founding documents of the secular communist tradition. Within a few decades, secular communists grew much more numerous than Christian communists had ever been. As a result, Christian communists found themselves in the minority. Most of them joined the much larger, secular communist organizations. Near the end of the 19th century, these groups would in turn be absorbed into the wider socialist political parties and trade unions which placed strong emphasis on unity and cohesion for the purpose of breaking through the electoral monopoly held by liberal and conservative parties. For a time, around the start of the 20th century, the vast majority of socialists – including moderates and communists, Christians and atheists – were more or less united under the umbrella of the Socialist International. This lasted until World War I, when the International broke up. Communists and the rest of the socialist movement went their separate ways. World events took place in rapid succession for the next few decades – the creation of the Soviet Union, the Great Depression, the rise of fascism and World War II in Europe – giving Christian communists no opportunities to assert their unique character. It was only the relative calm of the Cold War that finally allowed a distinct Christian communist movement to take shape again.  We will trace this emergence in the later chapters.

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Marxism and Caste System




The basic concern and proposition of Marxism was that it is the labor which is the means of production that create value and it is these values that provides power.  Marx (along with Engels) talked about castes in India for the first time in “The German Ideology” (1845-6).   ‘Capital’ (1867) also refers to it several times.  

According to Marx’s theory, there must be a material cause for the evolution of human history. If it is a correct answer, that cause is something that arises from labour relations. However, since the past times, there has been an idealist conception among philosophers predominantly with regard to the evolution of history. It is a conception which assumes that human history evolves based on the will of god, or of the kings who are incarnation of gods, or religious leaders or some supernatural power.

Criticizing the wrong conception concerning the process of history in general and the idealist conception of post-Hegelians in Germany in particular, Marx made the following observations on caste in “The German Ideology”:

“When the crude form of the division of labour which is to be found among the Indians, and Egyptians calls forth the caste-system in their state and religion, the historian believes that the caste-system is the power which has produced this crude social form.” (Moscow edition 176, p. 63)

In 1847, Marx wrote ‘Poverty of Philosophy’, a critique of Proudhan’s book. There he says:

“Under the patriarchal system, under the caste system, under the feudal and corporative system, there was division of labor in the whole of society according to fixed rules. Were these rules established by a legislator? No. Originally born of the conditions of material production, they were born of the conditions of material production; they were raised to the status of laws only much later. In this way these different forms of the division of labour became so many bases of social organization.” (p. 118).

While commenting on ‘how capitalist economists wrongly understand the relationship between production and distribution’, in his 1859 work, “A contribution to the critique of political economy”, Marx makes a reference to castes.

“Or, legislation may perpetuate land ownership in certain families, or allocate labour as a hereditary privilege, thus consolidating it into a caste system.” (p. 201, Moscow edition 1970)

In his 1853 article on “The Future Results of British Rule in India”, Marx expressed certain views on castes and division of labour.

“Modern industry, resulting from the railway system, will dissolve the hereditary divisions of labour, upon which rest the Indian castes, those decisive impediments to Indian progress and Indian power.” (On Colonialism, Moscow edition 1974, p. 85)

“I know that the English millocracy intend to endow India with railways with the exclusive view of extracting at diminished expenses the cotton and other raw materials for their manufactures.” (p. 84)

“All the English bourgeoisie may be forced to do will neither emancipate nor materially mend the social condition of the mass of the people, depending not only on the development of the productive powers, but on their appropriation by the people. But what they will not fail to do is to lay down the material premises for both.” (p. 85)

From what Marx had said (that the ‘modern industry will dissolve the hereditary divisions of labour’), we can infer that it will transform traditional aspects of the division of labour here. He is saying that such changes will not suffice to liberate the working class. He is also saying that the working class must wage struggles against the class of owners primarily to appropriate the means of production. As a result of this, the means that enables the exploiting class to snatch land rent, interest and profit from the working class in the name of property rights will be abolished. There arises a need for the class of owners to live on its own labour. When all the people work, the master-worker relations will transform into relations between producers who are equal to one another.

We have to transform labour relations at every place wherever they are unequal. Transforming division of labour applies to all these conditions.

Changes in the division of labour between castes, changes in the traditional division of labour between men and women ─ all those things come under this.

Only by following the path of class struggles that are waged from a correct perspective against exploitation of labour, is it possible for the working class to transform various forms of “faulty social relations” (to use Marx’s expressions) and liberate itself from the slavery to the class of masters.

If all the lower castes in society are part of the working class and if they are living within traditional division of labour based on exploitation, then elimination of faulty relations of labour alone will be the correct solution for the liberation of those castes.

Marx’s observations on castes in volume one of ‘Capital’ that appeared in 1867:

“Manufacture, in fact, produces the skill of the detail labourer, by reproducing, and systematically driving to an extreme within the workshop, the naturally developed differentiation of trades which it found ready to had in society at large. On the other hand, the conversion of fractional work into the life-calling of one man, corresponds to the tendency shown by earlier societies, to make trades hereditary; either to petrify them into castes, or whenever definite historical conditions beget in the individual a tendency to vary in a manner incompatible with the nature of castes, to ossify them into guilds. Castes and guilds arise from the action of the same natural law that regulates the differentiation of plants and animals into species and varieties, except that when a certain degree of development has been reached, the heredity of castes and exclusiveness of guilds are ordained as a law of society.”

According to Marx, the tendency of earlier societies was to make trades hereditary either to ‘petrify’ them into castes (as in India) or to ‘ossify’ them into exclusive guilds(as in Egypt).

Marx  observes that the division of labour under the caste system was according to ‘fixed rules’. These rules were not ‘established’ by a legislator. He further observes that these rules were originally born of the conditions of material production and were raised to the status of laws only much later. Legislation allocates labour as a hereditary privilege and consolidates it into a caste system.  The heredity of castes, according to Marx, is ordained as a law of society only when a certain degree of development has been reached.

How came it that English supremacy was established in India? The paramount power of the Great Mogul was broken by the Mogul Viceroys. The power of the Viceroys was broken by the Mahrattas. The power of the Mahrattas was broken by the Afghans, and while all were struggling against all, the Briton rushed in and was enabled to subdue them all. A country not only divided between Mohammedan and Hindu, but between tribe and tribe, between caste and caste; a society whose framework was based on a sort of equilibrium, resulting from a. general repulsion and constitutional exclusiveness between all its members. Such a country and such a society, were they not the predestined prey of conquest? [...]

Modern industry, resulting from the railway system, will dissolve the hereditary divisions of labor, upon which rest the Indian castes, those decisive impediments to Indian progress and Indian power.

"The Future Results of British Rule in India," New-York Daily Tribune (August 8, 1853)

The proletarian revolutionary program consists of the following steps that ultimately lead to the dissolution of castes by transforming radically the existing unequal division of labour.

(1) Overthrowing the existing semi-feudal and semi-capitalist (i.e., exploitative) state power.

(2) Compelling the hitherto non-labouring population (i.e., the class of appropriators of surplus product) to perform some labour or the other.

(3) Transforming the existing division of labour in such a manner that each person (male or female irrespective of their caste origins in the past society) performs both mental and manual labour, skilled and unskilled labour, clean and unclean work, and less unclean work and more unclean work.

(4) Involving the entire male population too in all the hitherto-so-called female work both at home and outside.


"Marxist Thinking on Caste in India

"Karl Marx was the first thinker to draw sharp attention to the highly deleterious impact of caste on Indian society and its causal link with the relations of production. In his famous essay on The Future Results of British Rule in India Karl Marx characterized the Indian castes as “the most decisive impediment to India’s progress and power”. Marx correctly argued that the caste system of India was based on the hereditary division of labour, which was inseparably linked with the unchanging technological base and subsistence economy of the Indian village community. At that time he believed that British rule would undermine the economic and technological foundations of these primitive, self-sufficient, stagnant, and isolated village communities, particularly through the spread of railways. The industrialization and commercialization of India under British rule, facilitated by the spread of railways, would lead to the breakdown of the traditional village communities, and with them also the caste system.1  But Marx wrote later on that he had exaggerated the possible impact of the spread of railways on the traditional relations of production characterized by the Indian village community.2 The important point, however, is that Marx clearly and causally connected the archaic social formation of caste in India with the relations of production. It followed logically that the abolition of the caste hierarchy and the oppression and exploitation of the ‘lower’ castes could not be separated from the Marxian form of class struggle.

Elamkulam Manakkal Sankaran Namboodiripad
World's first Marxist Cheif Minister who came to power through democratic method.

 "Following this Marxian approach to the relationship between the class struggle and the struggle against caste oppression, the renowned Indian Marxist leader and thinker, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, placed the Marxian approach to the struggle against caste consciousness and caste oppression as a part of the class struggle in modern India when he  observed in 1979:

One has to realize that the building of India on modern democratic and secular lines requires an uncompromising struggle against the caste-based Hindu society and its culture. There is no question of secular democracy, not to speak of socialism, unless the very citadel of India’s ‘age-old’ civilization and culture – the division of society into a hierarchy of castes – is broken. In other words, the struggle for radical democracy and socialism cannot be separated from the struggle against caste society.

There is a widespread belief among orthodox Hindus that chaturvarnya , or the hierarchical four-tier social structure of ancient India, had a religious origin. This belief is engendered by the apparently religious justification of chaturvarnya in the Rig Veda,  the Manusmriti, and the interpolated forms of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, where it has been declared to be of divine origin. In reality, however, the support to chaturvarnya given by the religious texts on the pretext of its allegedly divine origin served merely to sanctify and perpetuate an ancient form of unjust division of labour that was based on the oppression and exploitation of the entire working class, which constituted the overwhelming majority of the population in ancient India, by a small and parasitic ruling class. The ‘other-worldly’ religious injunctions were in the nature of a deliberately contrived functional ideology that served to camouflage a this-worldly socioeconomic structure of exploitation.  In other words, the social roots of the metaphysics of chaturvarnya were embedded in the relations of production in ancient India.

As is well known, the religious texts assigned the parasitic functions of teaching,  preaching, and the performance of religious rituals to the Brahmins, ruling and fighting to the Kshatriyas, and trade and business to the Vaishyas. The sociopolitical status of the Vaishyas was, however, somewhat ambivalent and fluctuating. In the age of the dharmasutras,  all peasants, except rural artisans, craftsmen, and landless labourers, were reckoned as Vaishyas. By the middle of the period of the dharmasastras, however,  most of the peasants, including those who tilled their own land, were demoted to the status of Sudras. Only that small section of peasants who were big landowners and produced a marketable agricultural surplus, were now counted as Vaishyas. From that time onwards, the Brahmins and Kshatriyas effectively constituted the ruling class of ancient India, with the Vaishyas playing a somewhat auxiliary role. ....

The concept of swadharma was central to the injunctions of the religious texts regarding the division of labour consummated by chaturvarnya. Manu defined swadharma as swakarma, or the occupational duty as prescribed by the dharmasastras. All major religious texts, including the Manusmriti, the Bhagavadgita, and the interpolated versions of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, prescribed the unquestioning service of the three ‘higher’ varnas as the swadharma of the Sudras. The vast working class of Sudras was thus denied all social, economic and political rights, which were, of course, monopolized by the Brahmins and Kshatriyas.

The Manusmriti also denied the Sudras the right to education, the right to property, the right to carry arms, and even access to religious observances. The Manusmriti declared that if a Sudra acquired any property, any Brahmin or Kshatriya had the right to take it away from him forcibly. As regards the carrying of arms, even the Brahmins were empowered to carry and use arms in times of trouble, although it was alien to their swadharma. But the Sudras were totally forbidden to carry or use arms. The denial of the right to property in a social structure based on private property perpetuated the proletarianization of the Sudras, while the denial of the right to carry arms rendered them incapable of overthrowing the structure of exploitation. Thus the whole purpose of the ostensibly religious injunctions regarding chaturvarnya was to reduce the entire working class to the status of subsistence labour, close to that of slaves, and generate a huge surplus value through its productive labour for the enjoyment of a parasitic ruling class. ...

The religious texts have also forbidden the change of occupations prescribed by them for the four varnas respectively on pain of dire consequences in this world as well as the next, because this would destabilize and destroy the prevailing social order.

The Manusmriti makes the change of occupations a serious and heavily punishable offence.

The Bhagavadgita says that it is better to die in the performance of one’s own swadharma, even if it be without merit, than to practise the swadharma of another varna, even if the latter be easier to perform. But not being sure of the effectiveness of religious injunctions by themselves, the wise writers of religious texts also provided for political safeguards against any potential challenge to chaturvarnya.

The Manusmriti enjoins upon the king the duty of preserving the four-tier social hierarchy, and to inflict severe punishment on those who attempt to change their occupations.

The Bhagavadgita cautions the Kshatriyas against the non-performance of their swadharma of fighting, lest such an example inspired the ‘lower’ varnas to change their occupations.

The Manusmriti also advises the Brahmins and Kshatriyas to form a class alliance in their common class interest. Such an alliance, it says, would ensure tremendous gains for themselves in this world and the next, whereas in the absence of such an alliance both the varnas would perish. For the same reason, the dharmasastras, including the Manusmriti, made it a major political duty of the king to suppress all forms of atheism and to inflict severe punishment on atheists.

 Class Structure, Dalits and Adivasis

One special characteristic of this exploitative socioeconomic structure was the marginalization, alienation, economic exploitation, and geographical separation of the atisudras, also called asprishyas or panchamas or antyajas in the dharmasastras. Originally stigmatized on account of the ‘unclean’ jobs assigned to them, they were subjected to numerous inhuman disabilities, in addition to those suffered by the rest of the Sudras.

Perhaps the most disabling injunction against them proclaimed by Manu and other law-givers was the one that denied them the right to live in the main village inhabited by the exalted ‘upper’ varnas, and were compelled to live in separate hamlets on the outskirts of the village. It was from this geographical and social exile that they acquired their status as antyajas, meaning “born on the margin”. According to the injunctions of the dharmasastras, they were obliged to wear the mark of untouchability on their bodies, and eat only the foulest kind of food, including the leftovers thrown away by the ‘higher’ varnas, from iron or broken earthen pots. They were allowed to wear only iron ‘jewelry’ on their bodies. They were not to draw water from the wells used by the ‘upper’ varnas, not to enter temples, not to enter areas inhabited by the  ‘higher’ varnas except to perform menial jobs for the latter, and not to tread the roads used by the latter. They had to wear a bell in their necks in order to warn the ‘higher’ varnas of their approach, so that the latter could move out of sight in time. They were permitted to move around only in the darkness of the night, avoiding the areas inhabited by the exalted ones. 

 The adivasis or indigenous people of ancient India suffered more or less the same socioeconomic disabilities as the atisudras, and were virtually indistinguishable from the latter with regard to their status in relation to the socioeconomic structure of chaturvarnya. They were also both geographically isolated and socially marginalized, and relegated to the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid. They represented that section of the pre-Aryan population of India, which had retreated into the jungles and hills in the face of the Aryan advance, and remained by and large inaccessible to the conquering Aryan ‘civilization’ and its chaturvarnya. Those who lived in the forests were generally called nishadas or shabaras, depending on their tribal belonging as well as occupation, while those who dwelt on the mountains were generally called kiratas. There is abundant evidence in the dharmasastras and Sanskrit literature to show that these indigenous people were also treated as untouchables.

This forest and mountain-dwelling section of the people of India differed from the rest of Aryan-dominated ancient Indian society in at least three important respects. In the first place, they practised a form of primitive communism of property that was diametrically opposed to the system of private property on which the Aryan ‘civilization’ was based. Hence, unlike the exploitative class structure of the Aryan-dominated society, the relations of production of adivasi society did not generate a class structure.  Secondly, they had refused to come under Aryan domination, and hence, were outside the purview of chaturvarnya. There never was any varna or caste system in adivasi society. Thirdly, They had refused to be a part of the Vedic and dharmasastra-based Brahminical religion of the Aryas, and never practised the rituals and ceremonies of the latter. Because of their refusal to be integrated into mainstream Aryan society, the adivasis remained even more isolated, geographically as well as socially, than the asprishyas within the fold of chaturvarnya. As regards their socioeconomic status vis-à-vis Brahminical society, they were also treated in practice like atisudras and untouchables. Like their counterpart within Brahminical society, they also belonged to the most exploited section of the proleatariat of ancient India, and were assigned to the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid. They were not a part of chaturvarnya in terms of religious doctrine. But along with the panchamas or atisudras, they were the worst victims of the exploitative class structure of ancient India.

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