by Bharat Patankar and Gail Omvedt
“The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism (that of Feuerbach included) is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence, in contradiction to materialism, the active side was developed abstractly by idealism – which, of course, does not know real, sensuous activity as such. Feuerbach wants sensuous objects, really distinct from the thought objects, but he does not conceive human activity itself as objective activity. Hence, in Das Wesen des Christentums, he regards the theoretical attitude as the only genuine human attitude, while practice is conceived and fixed only in its dirty-judaical manifestation. Hence he does not grasp the significance of ‘revolutionary,’ of ‘practical-critical’ activity.” (Karl Marx, Thesis on Feuerb ach, I).
“Without knowledge, wisdom was lost; without wisdom morals were lost; without morals development was lost; without development wealth was lost; without wealth shudras are ruined; all these disasters are due to lack of knowledge” (vidyavina mati geli, mativina gati geli, gativina vita geli, vita vina shudra kacle). – Mahatma Phule, Shetkaryca Asud (“Whipcord of the Cultivator”).
“Unless and until all people that is shudras and ati-shudras, bhils, kolis etc. become knowledgeable and they start thinking for themselves, all people in Balisthan cannot become a unified community (“ekmey lok”) and that’s why they cannot become a nation.” – Mahatma Phule, Sarvajanik Satyadharm pustak.
Philosophy and Religion
The emergence of philosophy in the human world marked the separation of the process of understanding the world from religious understanding. Philosophy grew by debating with religious interpretations of the world, but it never could become successful in removing the reasons for existence of religion. It could be said that many philosophers couldn’t go to the roots of the reasons why humanity requires something like religion along with God, heaven, hell etc. in a certain period of time in history. Marx says in his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Introduction, that “Religious suffering is at one and the same time the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”
As yet neither Marxist philosophers up to now nor any other philosophers have done further study of this theme and come out with any philosophical proposition which could become the basis for people to give up a “condition that requires illusions.” It can be said that this is not a question only in the field of philosophy but also of practice. In today’s world that is why religious freedom and freedoms coined by religiousness are contesting with the concept of freedom coming out of the movement of exploited sections of people who want to achieve freedom from caste, class, gender, race exploitation. They want self-respect and want to prove worthy to manage the affairs themselves to build a society of liberated humanity.
Contradictions within “Humanness”
One must note a very crucial and important truth about all the hitherto existing philosophies which deal with the whole human world, talking about freedom, self-respect, worthiness etc. do not talk about freedom etc. of half of humanity, that is women. Even though women’s struggles for these aspects of rights and assertions in these fields have taken place from 19th century onwards to the modern day, they were not incorporated in the developments of philosophical thought. For philosophies, “human” was always “man.” to the extent that a philosopher like Karl Marx, who talks about women’s liberation in some ways, though in subdued manner, wrote his magnum opus Capital considering workers and farmers and peasantry as men. Even if we go to the period before the common era, a Buddhist philosophy which was liberative and was addressing liberation from various kinds of slavery and talking about liberation in this world itself, ignored women’s freedom, rights, self-respect etc. it was required to have a struggle from women s with Buddha himself giving women the right to join the Sangha – and even after admitting women to the Sangha, the Buddha said that the Dhamma now would flourish only 500 instead of 1000 years.
This brings in very crucial and prime aspect to be developed in the field of philosophy of encompassing freedom, self-respect, worthiness, recognition of humanity as “a whole” because it is not the question of women’s liberation separately, specifically etc. It is not a question of “women-ness” versus “men-ness”; it is a question of holistic understanding of humanness. In the present era it goes beyond this and circumstances force us to the inclusion of gay-ness, etc. also in humanness.
It is only Jotiba Phule, not considered a philosopher, but had his own philosophy which reflects explicitly and implictly in his various writings, who says something different about women. First of all, he always uses the words “stri-shudra-ati-shudra” for the exploited people in India, which means, women, and people exploited on caste basis at two hierarchical levels. In this, he puts women always as a priority because his concept of the origin of exploitation starts with the exploitation of women. At the same time in his Sarvajanik Satyadharmapustak (Book of the Universal Religion of Truth), he says that women have greater human-ness than men because the functions which are given to them by nature make them like this, particularly their giving birth and caring for infants. Otherwise we can say in the early period only Eleanor Marx (daughter of Karl Marx), who paraphrases liberation of women in the parallel expression to Marx about liberation of the proletariat, ie “women have to liberate themselves; some individuals from amongst men might help them in doing so.”
Historical Specificities of Concepts and Space and Time
This brings forward the question of specificity of the concepts of freedom, worthiness, self-respect, liberation etc. in relation to the particular epoch and sections of exploited masses of that epoch. So even in a particular epoch you cannot talk about freedom etc. in general, but you have to talk about all these things in relation to freedom conceived from the position of a particular form of exploitation and oppression. This brings forward another question, of the universalization of freedom, worthiness, etc. at least in a particular epoch. Because of this another factor enters the development of the concept, that of historicity. All these things are historically specific. Some things can be called as true even at a trans-epochal level. But which are these things is the question. How to find out these things? How to start from specificities to epochal generalities and from epochal generalities to the trans-epochal generalities of human existence, human freedom, worthiness, etc.? Most of the philosophers have ignored this aspect and they talk about these concepts from the standpoint of particular sections in a particular epoch and universalize them to a trans-epochal level, calling them as “human nature.”
A trans-epochal truth of human existence and development of the consciousness on the basis of human praxis is that humans separate themselves from all other living beings by doing the activity of creation of new world of themselves. Humans went on changing the world around them according to their necessity and this changed world always taught them laws of motion of the rest of the world. On the basis of new consciousness generated by new existence in this new human world, they again try to change the world in a more advanced manner. This process itself is the crux of human nature, and that tells us that human existence, their consciousness, always has to remain historically specific because it is co-related with their activity of changing the world and the changed world changing their consciousness. So, being always is specific being in a specific epoch in specific ecological condition, specific geographical conditions etc.
While doing the activity of creating a new world of themselves, on the basis of the world available around them, they always have to come into relation with each other. They cannot bring about this change individually. So their activity has to be a social activity in which men and women come together and do a collective praxis. But in the process of procreation, coming into the world of new generation of humans, men and women have to do different functions, because of the natural responsibilities decided by the nature of their body functions. This brings in a third factor, that of relations between all men and all women while creating a new world. At the same time, men and men also come into relation with each other while doing this work of creating of new world. But this relation is different than a relation between men and women while doing this function. So, it is a relation between humans and nature through the relation between men and men, and men and women.
Specific development of recreation of their own life, while creating a new world for themselves, takes place not only in a specific time span but also in a specific space, which brings in the ecological aspects which shape the nature of formation of the new world. The way in which humans relate to nature, act on it, decides the circulation of things between humans and nature. If this interaction hampers the healthy exchange between humans and nature, then the process of creation of the new world through this relation of humans and nature would be adversely affected. Because of many other factors, the ecology of the whole world is not the same in every area of the globe, the specific ecology affects this relation in a different way. It also shapes the way consciousness of humans develops and the way they understand the relation between themselves and nature. One cannot exclude this factor from the development of understanding of freedom, worthiness, self-respect etc. because how different sections of people amongst humans are related to nature in this process decides their consciousness in a different way and their relations with these concepts.
So, two things can be said from this. One, that human beings create their new world in whatever relations among themselves, their consciousness is going to be decided on the basis of their activity of re-creating their own being and ensemble of all kinds of relations between humans and humans, men and men, and men and women. So one can say that this is a trans-epochal truth about human beings and that human beings by nature develop their consciousness through this process. Second, that because this process is ever changing the world around humans, and the changed world goes on changing human existence, so consciousness, self-respect, worthiness, freedom, all these things have to be historically specific. We cannot talk about freedom, etc. as if this is a concept which is unchangeable irrespective of historical period, time and space. Marx says, in relation to this, while talking about mechanical materialism, in his Theses on Feuerbach, that, “the materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.
It follows from all this that the meaning of freedom, worthiness, self-respect, etc. or lack of freedom, lack of worth, etc. is going to be different for different sections of humans who are taking part in social relations in a different way. At the same time the place of groups of humans participating in the recreation of their own social being and re-creation of their world as a whole is going to decide their consciousness and so the concept of freedom etc. In a class-divided, caste-divided, gender-divided society in which some sections of are exploited, their demand for freedom, worthiness, self-respect etc. is going to be in contradiction with their exploiters. This cannot be resolved without resolution of the contradiction between exploiters and exploited. Some contradictions are going to be there within the people who are exploited, because of various ethnic, race, and gender divisions. But these contradictions may be resolved in a different way because they are reconcilable contradictions. The first kind of irreconcilable contradiction between exploited and exploiters cannot be resolved without change in the system as a whole.
Contradictoriness of Concepts between Civil and Political Society
Even in a class and caste-divided society, particularly when democratic relations exist, the concepts of freedom, equality, worthiness can have two meanings, because society is divided into various existences of the same people. In a political sphere of the same society, one can claim that everybody irrespective of their caste, creed or gender, is equal. Everybody has freedom to buy things and freedom to sell things. There is freedom of speech for everybody, freedom to write what they like, freedom to criticize. All these people are equal in front of the law, etc. But in the same society, in the civil society sphere, it is the contradictions which come forward, and society is daily involved in a struggle to resolve these contradictions. The struggle for existence for the exploited people themselves becomes a contradiction with the political sphere where they are equal in some respects.
This freedom and equality in the political sphere and sphere of the judiciary is not really a false equality. It is brought in practice because whether the individual is capitalist or a worker, whether individual is upper caste or from the exploited castes, they have a right to vote and everyone has one equal vote. Even in the economic sphere some aspects of freedom and equality are not false. It is true that all exploited and exploiting sections have in practice got equal right to sell the things and buy things in the market. Even the labor power of the workers, though it is treated as a commodity, and this is dehumanizing, is still a commodity which has equitable treatment in the labor market. This creates a confusion about the concepts which we are talking about. The dual existence of the same humans in the same society makes the task of defining the concept of worthiness, self-respect, freedom etc very difficult, though not impossible, if one takes into account the realities behind the appearances of the existence of all sections of people.
We then come to the point where we have to say that the two realities exist in parallel spheres in the same society in relation to concepts of worthiness, etc. People who are not worthy in civil society because of their poverty, their lack of formal education, because they are women, or coming from lower castes, become worthy immediately after they begin practices in the political sphere. So there they are as free as the higher castes, higher class, higher gender to sell the things which they have. The only rider is that things which both sections can sell are different. The capitalists bring into market the things such as raw materials, commodities produced in their factories; the higher caste people bring into market the things which they can sell because of their control over various kinds of property and resources, but some people only have got labor power to sell or the surplus things produced in their own fields after keeping aside what is required for their own consumption. As the sellers of the things on the basis of market laws in that particular period, they are “equal sellers.” The same thing applies to buying. All these categories of people in civil society are “free” to buy anything in the market, with the rider that they have to afford these things. Affordability becomes the part of less worthiness in the sphere of civil society; it doesn’t count in equality and freedom in political society. Though this appears very erroneous and contradictory, this contradiction is part of a united whole of the same society and all categories of people live these contradictions in reality. So freedom, worthiness, in one sphere is as real as unfreedom and unworthiness in other spheres. But philosophies of some kind might ignore this contradiction and contradictory realities and start talking about freedom in general, equality in general, as if it applies universally to all sections of people in all spheres of life.
Removal of Duality for Achieving “Whole Humanness”
There is also a contradiction between individual freedom and freedom of a collective. These collectives could be defined in terms of class, caste, gender, religion, community, nationality, etc. Freedom of an individual, let us say for acquiring knowledge or property, in individual capacity as opposed to unfreedom of a collective because of the social restrictions to do the same is the problematic here. An individual woman can develop herself through struggle in a special situation into a person who is not fettered by gender differences. But this doesn’t mean that exploitation and subjugation of women as a whole in that particular situation ends, because the system which enforces this has not been changed. So there is a question of two freedoms, one the freedom to develop oneself individually, of overcoming one’s unfreedom; and second, the struggle for acquiring freedom by defeating the system which enforces unfreedom and inequality; this becomes a collective struggle for freedom. Both freedoms are necessary, and can be thought about as complementary to each other in practice.
When there are various sections and subsections among the people who are exploited or suppressed by a particular social system, contradictions though reconcilable come in the way of a unified struggle for defeating the system and creating a new system which paves the way to liberation of all these sections. Hierarchy within the exploited and internal exploitative relations or relations of suppression and domination lead to struggle within the camp of people demanding freedom from the overall social system. All of them are considered unworthy, respect-less, and people who are to serve the “masters.” The formation of a unified understanding or meaning of freedom, liberation, among these sections can only come by the way of changed practice of the people responsible for internal suppression/exploitation and people who are suppressed and exploited. This changed practice means independent women’s struggle against patriarchy, struggle for caste annihilation, struggle for ending the hierarchy within this camp. This is a very difficult endeavor. The cognition of the necessity of this struggle means development of consciousness towards the unified concept of freedom, worthiness, etc. dissolving the separate identities and life realities. This necessitates these sections becoming not “women in themselves” or “exploited castes in themselves” etc. but women for themselves, exploited castes for themselves and emerging as a single identity. The idea that any one of these sections which is crucial for defeating the established system would lead the others by generalizing its particular interests to the general interest of the rest of the exploited sections does not cognize the eradication of the barriers of ideological, ethical and material aspects of the consciousness of the rest of the sections. It then boils down to struggle for specific freedoms of every section dissolving into newly emergent unified community having a struggle for freedom of all without any distinction. Philosophies which don’t take this into consideration would be wandering in the realm of theory of freedom or liberation detached from praxis. So this kind of philosophy should think about searching answers to the contradiction in theory in the realm of praxis of the majority of the people engaged in creation and recreation of the human world in the continual process of becoming.
Babasaheb, Jotiba and Philosophy
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s concern for liberty, equality and fraternity on the one hand, and that for caste annihilation and defeat of Brahmanism and capitalism on the other hand, never gets resolved in theory and also in practice. On the one hand he has to say that one individual, one vote is equality only in the realm of electoral democracy, because even with this kind of equality, social and economic inequality gives rise to unfreedom of the sections which he wants to be liberated. Another dilemma in his theory relates itself to the actually existing democracy in the constitutional framework or even in practice within the judicial and political sphere, and lack of democracy because of class, caste and gender inequality in civil society. If one says that this democracy is the means for the achievement of freedom and liberation, then one has to come to the conclusion from Babasaheb’s understanding about this democracy that it is a sham democracy. His appeal to Dalits to become a ruling clan contradicts the basic requirement of democracy which needs majority on the side of people wanting change. And it leads inevitably to the unity of all oppressed under the leadership of Dalits, which he never states in his discourse. His recourse to Buddhism as a way out makes him say that karuna, maîtri and prajna would be binding ideological categories for achieving the required majority. This leads one to say that the majority should become Buddhist to have a unified identity and to dissolve the separate contradictory identities.
Becoming Buddhist falls mainly into the realm of a kind of religiosity. Even if people from various classes, castes and genders or communities become Buddhist, this will not automatically lead them to dissolve the contradictions among themselves based on hierarchical, suppressive and exploitative relationships. For dissolving these contradictions it is not sufficient to be Buddhist alone, but to have a program for changing the actual relations through which people daily recreate their existence. And this program takes you to the economic, political, legal, cultural and production realms. This problematic was attempted to be solved by Babasaheb Ambedkar through the proposition of starting the Republican Party before his death. But the Republican Party proposal didn’t resolve the previous contradiction between the aim of liberation of all exploited and liberation of specific oppressions and exploitations within the mass of exploited. This makes us learn a lesson about how to understand freedom, liberation, and worthiness in all their historical, social and systemic aspects. It also makes us learn that the concept regarding freedom etc. cannot be trans-epochal and detached from space and time. Buddha’s philosophy taught pratitya samutpada, which means the world is ever-changing, and the ever-changing world gives rise to ever-changing life reality and ever-changing meaning of the various concepts related to human relations. Freedom of the dasas from field slavery of a certain kind to become karmakaras ie wage laborers, was a freedom in Buddha’s lifetime. But still, for Buddha, freedom was related not to this particular section but for all sections which are suffering from dukkha. Cognition of the existence of dukkha and that of the necessity to find reasons for dukkha and solutions to achieve “sub-mangalam” is a crucial requirement but this also is subject to ever-changing character of the world and ever-changing character of dukkha itself.
If nirvana is considered as freedom from dukkha (in this very life), and from reasons which give rise to dukkha, then the nirvana of 6th century BC is different from the nirvana of 20th century and that of 21st century. In the same manner the meaning of karuna, maîtri, prajna etc. is ever-changing.
Even though there are unresolved contradictions in relation to philosophical concepts, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar dealt with these contradictions in a very advanced manner while talking about annihilation of caste. His concepts like “graded inequality,” “division of laborers,” “destroying superstructure before the base,” give a great intuition for developing a very advanced philosophy of the 21st century which would be dealing with positive concepts, instead of relative concepts, of freedom, liberation etc. Babasaheb also critiques bourgeois democracy in such a way that one can stand on his shoulders taking the help of his understanding of Buddhism and develop a new philosophical concept of liberated humanity.
Jotiba Phule defines freedom from various standpoints. For him unfreedom is created by a-vidya, absence of knowledge. At the same time Jotiba also talks about freedom from colonial rule, freedom from caste oppression, patriarchy, established irrigation systems, and forest management systems, by which he relates the first unfreedom to the second unfreedom. That means he connects freedom to subjectivity as well as objectivity. Ekmey lok for him is removal of contradictions within the exploited, suppressed masses and formation of these sections as a unified “nation” by achieving a single concept of freedom and liberation. His limitations are related to almost absence of analysis and understanding of the newly emergent capitalist and democratic structures coming with concepts related to freedom and liberty within their framework. Though his philosophy cognizes the historicity and specificity aspect of freedom and liberation, it doesn’t deal with the reality and falsity of newly emerging democracy which not only was being brought by the capitalist relations of production but also because of people’s struggle for democratic rights. But surprisingly, his concept of vidya being an objective force which can become the means to enslave people by the exploiters could be developed for understanding today’s knowledge structures and emergence of intellectual property rights.
Jotiba Phule developed a concept regarding alternative society which guides for the development of a philosophy which coincides with a society without caste, class and gender etc. exploitation. Philosophies hitherto developed, including that of Karl Marx, cannot come out of conditionalities put on them by the stratified and exploitative society dividing into both hierarchical and horizontal divisions. This happens because Jotiba not only critiqued the existing society, but gave an alternative which would transcend the established society. Even in the proposition of Karl Marx’s concept of revolution, the productive forces developed by bourgeois society are to be taken over by the proletariat who collectively developed them. He calls it “negation of the negation” but actually it is not a complete negation of the negation, that is negation of the established society, but adjusting to the major aspect of creation of established society by merely changing relations of production. There are no concepts in Marx related to new forces of production, new culture, new viewpoint of understanding of natural resources etc. But Phule is the founding person for these concepts. Future generations after Phule, if they want and recognize the potential of his understanding, can very well develop philosophy which ends the necessity of philosophy of the old kind.
Development of the Philosophy of Liberated Humanity
Concepts of freedom, self-respect, liberation, are related to freedom from something, liberation from something, self-respect as opposed to non-respect, etc. In that sense all these concepts are negative concepts in relation with the creation of a new society where there would be no necessity of freedom from something, etc. So one must talk about a new society which is devoid of any “cracy” including democracy. It would be a society in which worthiness and non-worthiness would not matter because worthiness relates itself to unworthiness as its concomitant. So if one is not necessary the other is of course not necessary. Liberated humanity relates with each other going beyond the specificities of the individuals, going beyond treating specificities of individuals as things to be compared with each other to decide what is beautiful; then the question of respect and non-respect does not arise; of recognition and non-recognition doesn’t arise. Who is one to recognize the other? This question itself would be relegated to the dustbin of history. So now is the time for philosophy to go beyond the negative comparison of these concepts to the creation of positive concepts related to a new society where ‘one shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.’
So, we can end by saying, in Marx’s words, “All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice….(Theses on Feuerbach); and “Clearly the weapon of criticism cannot replace the criticism of weapons, and material force must be overthrown by material force. But theory also becomes a material force once it has gripped the masses. Theory is capable of gripping the masses when it demonstrates ad hominem, and it demonstrates ad hominem as soon as it becomes radical. To be radical is to grasp things by the root. But for man the root is man himself” (Introduction to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right). Phil