Towards a Marxist Analysis of Caste:
A Response to BT Ranadive
COMRADE B T Ranadive's review of my book. Cultural Revolt in a Colonial Society, is to be welcomed. It is both a recognition of the importance of the subject for the development of a revolutionary mass movement in India, and an attempt to carry forward a Marxist understanding of the role of caste and anti-caste movements in Indian society. It is in this spirit that I am responding to some of the points raised in the review.
While Comrade B T R accepts the main points of the substantive, historical chapters of the book, he levels a heavy critical fire against its main theoretical framework. According to him, my outlook was ^dominated by anti-Marxist concepts like plural society and elite competition" and by a ^''revisionist" understanding of imperialism. This criticism I would accept as largely valid.1 At the time I wrote the dissertation, which was only minimally revised for publication, I tended to accept the position that colonial relations of production were essentially "capitalist", that merchants and landlords were essentially a ^commercial bourgeoisie" and thn poor peasants as well as workers could be best described as a ^semi-proletariat. (However this does not fall into a '-colonial mode of production" model so much as the ^world capitalist system" approach of theorists like A G Frank and Immanuel Wallerstein). Now, I would fully agree with Ranadive that this view is mistaken, that imperialism essentially maintained feudalism—though in a subjugated and modified form—as the dominant mode of production in agriculture during the colonial period. Thus a revolt against caste is never simply a ^cultural revolt", can never be an attack purely at the cultural level, and requires the transformation of the relations of production. Thus the Satyashodhak movement and similar movements were essentially democratic anti-feudal movements, in their radical form crucially linked to peasant agrarian revolution and requiring a full destruction of imperialist domination.
Though I grasped this point ai some level during the research and writing of the book, I had no really sound grasp of Marxist concepts to give it a basis. My theoretical approach remaind an eclectic one, borro-