Dr Ambedkar analysed Communism through the vantage point of Buddhism. He contemplated on the crucial triad of ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’, and unlike Communism, didn’t wish to compromise on any of the three
The word ‘Communism’ has the Latin root ‘communis’, which means that which is ‘held or done in common’. In this sense, Communism refers to ‘the mode of living in idealistic, self-managed communities, where the means of production and consumption are shared on a communal basis’. Dr. Ambedkar pointed out that Buddha had introduced such living in the form of Sangha in Bharat.
Dr Ambedkar suggests that, “The Buddha established Communism so far as the Sangha was concerned without dictatorship. It may be that it was a Communism on a very small scale but it was Communism without dictatorship, a miracle which Lenin failed to do.”
He pointed out that Buddha’s Communism was superior to the Russian variety because the private property of a Bhikku was restricted only to eight minor personal possessions, contact with gold or silver was forbidden, and because it was established without dictatorship.
In modern times, the word ‘Communism’ has different connotations but its characteristic meaning is mostly directed to a political praxis of violence and bloody revolution.
The category refers to the ideology which believes that a society with complete social equality and absence of private property is possible, necessary and inevitable and that can be ushered in through “dictatorship of proletariat” installed by a revolution. This is ideological Communism. It is also termed as Marxism, Marxism-Leninism, or Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, depending upon the significance attributed to the chief ideologues. All these variants are conspiratorial and insurrectionary in nature and are well-directed as political movements.
The result of the movement has usually led to the dictatorial and authoritarian regimes that preside over a nation after an insurrection is successful. This is how Communism as a system of Government works. Contrary to Democracy, Communist Governments are highly centralised, exclusionary, obstinate and inconsiderate towards any opposition and gravely conservative and reactionary.
Dr. Ambedkar criticised the modern connotations of Communism. His direct criticisms were mostly laconic and brief. However, criticisms were often elaborated implicitly in the long passages that he quoted from Buddhist scriptures. Let us briefly examine his criticisms in the context of communist theory.
Is Communism Inevitable?
Karl Marx contrasted and distinguished his own brand of Communism and Socalism from other variants by claiming that his socialism was “scientific”. Dr. Ambedkar pointed out that Marx’s claim to uniqueness was connected with the idea of inevitability. Thus, he asserts that, “By scientific socialism what Karl Marx meant was that his brand of socialism was inevitable and inescapable and that society was moving towards it …”
The claim of ‘inevitability of communism’ is obviously false. Dr Ambedkar pointed out that “a revolution, much deliberate planning, with a lot of violence and bloodshed” were required in order to establish a Communist regime. This shows that Communism did not come ‘inevitably’, but required much human effort guided through the internal and external forces.
The ground for holding that Communism is inevitable is the belief that “the forces which shape the course of history are primarily economic” or materialistic. On this ground, it was envisaged that under privatisation of the ownership of production – exploitation and increasing pauperisation of labour and repeated capitalist crises would be obvious consequences. This would help to organise and expand a proletariat class that leads the communist revolution. Certain teleology was seen in this ‘March of History.’
Dr Ambedkar began by challenging the primacy in history accorded to economic or material forces by Communism. He said, “One may contend that economic motive is not the only motive by which man is actuated. …That the social status of an individual by itself often becomes a source of power and authority is made clear by the sway which the Mahatmas have held over the common man.”
He further asks, “Why do millionaires in India obey penniless Sadhus and Fakirs? Why do millions of paupers in India sell their trifling trinkets which constitute their only wealth and go to Benares and Mecca? That, religion is the source of power is illustrated by the history of India where the priest holds a sway over the common man often greater than the magistrate and where everything, even such things as strikes and elections, so easily take a religious turn and can so easily be given a religious twist.”
Dr. Ambedkar believed that religious and national motives also acted as autonomous forces in history. Thus, speaking of the reasons of breakup of Turkey, he said that the “real motive force was the spirit of nationalism”. To argue in favour of the power of religion, he cited the example of the Roman plebs who renounced their hard fought political gains merely to please the Delphi Oracle. In another context, he argued that religious motives often override material interests, and said cuttingly: “man is more than meat”.
Marx had argued that the property-less proletariat, having no private interests or stakes in private property, was the organic or natural leader of communism fostered within capitalism. Capitalist progress and crises invariably increased its size, organised it, pauperised it, and imbued it with discontent. This made the proletariat, a potent source of social change and political revolution.
Against this, Dr. Ambedkar argued that “nobody accepts that the proletariat has been progressively pauperised”. Further, “the proletarians are not a uniform class. It is marked by class composition, the higher and the lower. This is reflected in their attitudes towards social change, the higher are reformist and the lower are revolutionary.” In other words, the growth in the number of the proletariat does not automatically create discontent and a revolutionary class.
Dr. Ambedkar also questioned the Communist assumption that “the proletarian does not desire advantages for themselves” and “is willing to share everything with others”. By posing this rhetorical question he hinted that the proletarian also had private interests. This means that even though it had no private property, the proletariat could have property consciousness. It was therefore, not an organic or natural vehicle of communism.
In relation to India, Dr Ambedkar said that the idea that the proletariat sought no special advantages or status for itself was “positively false”. He rhetorically queried, “Can it be said that the proletariat of India, poor as it is, recognise no distinctions except that of the rich and the poor? Can it be said that the poor in India recognize no such distinctions of caste or creed, high or low?” These questions reveal that Dr Ambedkar did not believe that the proletariat was a ‘natural social vehicle’ for communism.
Against Communist Agenda
Dr Ambedkar reported that, “The means adopted by the Communists are … clear, short and swift. They are Violence and Dictatorship of the Proletariat.”
Against these means, Dr Ambedkar cited Edmund Burke to say that force had only temporary effect since it “may subdue for a moment; but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again…”. Moreover, if and when it failed, it brought unforgiving inexorable retaliation in its wake. Finally, by force “you impair the object by your very endeavours to preserve it. The thing you fought for is the thing, which you recover, but depreciated, sunk, wasted and consumed in the contest.” Dr. Ambedkar referred to the destruction of life, liberty and fraternity as the inexcusable collateral damage in the violent communist quest for political supremacy.
Worse still, the change forced by Communist methods is necessarily impermanent and vanishes with its dictatorial power. This is because, Communism does not have the means of eliminating the roots of private property, which are nourished by the delusion of self and avarice. Making this point, Dr. Ambedkar cited the Buddha, “Thus it is, Ananda, that craving comes into being because of desire for gain, when desire for gain becomes a passion for possession when the spirit of possession gives rise to tenacity of possession it becomes avarice. Avarice or possession due to uncontrolled acquisitive instinct calls for watch and ward.”
One may infer from Dr Ambedkar’s comments that so long as these psychological traits remain in man, the seeds of private interest and private property continue to germinate, whether within the proletariat, within the communist movement or under the communist regime. Communism has no means of ending the delusion of self or of bringing enduring changes in human feelings and psychology.
Dr. Ambedkar was a modernist, uncompromisingly committed to the principles of ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’, the ideas that inspired the French Revolution.
Thus, for Dr Amebdkar, Communism was a flawed product of modernism because it compromises liberty and fraternity at the cost of equality. Its dictatorship promised only equality at the best, but even that promise would evaporate with the inevitable collapse of the dictatorship that sustained it. Communism was a colossus with feet of clay.