Religious Fundamentalism

By : Ashoke Mukhopadhyay | : 09 June, 2022
Religious Fundamentalism

Namboodiripad on Some Aspects of Religious Fundamentalism :Some Comments

[1] To Begin with

I had recently had a chance to go through an anthology of essays by Comrade EMS Namboodiripad in Bengali translation. I had left Kolkata on 5 October and came back from Bangalore on 9th night. The puja book stalls of different left parties were over by then. So I had missed them this year. However, the CPI(M) stall at the Subhasgram station was still there. I glanced over the covers arranged on the table with a paper cup of tea at hand and chanced upon the EMS book.Hence …

To those who are/were associated with the SUCI for long, like me, Comrade Namboodiripad is an unsavoury name. Because of mutual political rivalry from both sides. We are not much acquainted with his theoretical writings, at least I am not.

For us there was Comrade Shibdas Ghosh to teach everything there is to learn. We believed with sheer simplicity and naivetywhatever we had to learn—from pin to elephant—we could and must imbibe from Ghosh. It was a cozy and peaceful life stretched over time.

I learnt many things correctly from Ghosh: to enumerate—Indian politics, social and state character analysis, stage of revolution, analysis of renaissance and freedom struggle in India, evaluation of Sarat Chandra, Cultural Revolution in China, Lin Piao phenomenon, Stalin question, and so forth; and also some organizational skills. But the many more things he thought he taught us were abjectly wrong. When he tried to enlighten us on innumerable themes of science philosophy history sociology economics ethics etc., and all on the basis of common sense devoid of source studies, the forceful talks were strikingly poor in facts, truths and interpretations. We have been aware to that fact much late, but, fortunately with a twin feeling—it is not bad to read others. Maybe we may gain some new knowledge.

With that delayed realization I scrolled over the pages of the booklet of EMS. The title seemed attractive. The content page showed essays on Marxist evaluation of Sankaracharya’s philosophy, comparison of Vivekananda with Buddha and Sankar, Rigveda, Religion and secularism, liberation theology, and also two good writings on Debi Prasad Chattopadhyay (hence DPC). It is hardly necessary to emphasize that in the background of the present political situation, these issues deserve open and repeated discourse among the left, Marxists and the rationalist people.

Going through the essays I found them interesting. There is much that we can absorb with profit. However, for most of the discussions he drew on the writings of DPC. The opinions are mostly his. EMS has only utilized on them. We have to reiterate them in order to keep the debate alive in the society.

With the same intention, I may expressly write where I differ, where my knowledge clashes with the position described. If any of my readers is aggrieved thereby, I am sorry, I can’t help. It will mean that he/she does not want exchange of views but only convergence. On all questions. If we really entertain exchange of opinions and crosscurrent of arguments, we have to agree to differ and challenge the veracity of an opinion. Otherwise we shall tread on the regimented unanimity of the RSS and the ilk.

Those who will come forward to debate are welcome. I may readily learn and get satisfaction. If mistakes come to light I may rectify. If anybody decides to deride, no problem, you are still welcome. My walls are not vaccinated with block, unfriend, etc. You may continue to shower libels as long as you like. 

[2] On Sankar and his philosophy

At the outset let me inform that I am discussing on the basis of the translated texts, not the original English versions as published in some English magazines. These were published quite earlier. 

The first essay deals with the thoughts of Sankaracharya on the occasion of his 1200th birth anniversary, written in 1989. It aims at a Marxist evaluation of the Sankarite philosophy. I could hardly recall to have read a piece under this title by a Marxist writer. Although I had read critiques of Sankarite Vedanta in some writings of other authors on different occasions, viz., D. D. Kosambi, DPC, Ramkrishna Bhattacharya, and so on.

I felt special attraction to the essay because of the fact that Sankaracharya hailed from Kerala, in the village of Kaladi under the present Ernakulam District. In 780. It may be revealing as to their political position how a communist leader of the same state tackles Sankar and his views in a public forum.

As expected, EMS proceeded with discretion. Even then let me assure the readers in advance that he opposed the philosophy of Sankar. Quite forcefully did he assert: “The rise of Sankar and his philosophy signalled the victory of the Brahmins and other ruling castes and the defeat of the rest of the Indian society. So we can hardly expect a thinking being to consider Sankar’s philosophy relevant in India and the world today. In fact, if our country and the world have to step ahead with the global shaking progress, we have to resolutely oppose this philosophy like any other idealist views. If India has to develop as a democratic secular state, its necessary precondition is to fight the Hindu revivalism and attempts to revive the ideals of Vedas and Upanishadas.” [EMS Namboodiripad (2019), AdiSankaracharya and Other Essays; (in Bengali) National Book Agency, Kolkata; p. 15. The original essay was published in the Social Scientist, January-February 1989. Free translation from the Bengali text mine and will not tally with the original; henceforth this work will be referred to with page number only]

However this comes after some preliminaries.

He recalled a comment of Lenin on idealism in his Philosophical Notebooks: “Philosophical idealism is only nonsense from the standpoint of crude, simple, metaphysical materialism. From the standpoint of dialectical materialism, on the other hand, philosophical idealism is a one-sided, exaggerated, überschwengliches (Dietzgen) development (inflation, distention) of one of the features, aspects, facets of knowledge into an absolute, divorced from matter, from nature, apotheosised. Idealism is clerical obscurantism. True. But philosophical idealism is (“more correctly” and “in addition”) a road to clerical obscurantism through one of the shadesof the infinitely complex knowledge (dialectical) of man.” [V. I. Lenin (1976), Collected Works, Vol. 38; Progress Publishers, Moscow; p. 361; the page number given by the author and the translator checked and changed]

In the light of this teaching of Lenin’s, Namboodiripad did not outright reject Sankar’s philosophy as idealism. He said: “Marxism-Leninism being dialectical materialism, is obviously opposed to the philosophy of Sankarachrya. For his philosophy is the apex of idealism in India. But a Marxist can hardly afford to deny that the evolution of his thought is an important stage of thinking process in India and is deeply associated with the evolution of Indian society. … That means, if we want to review the philosophy of Sankar, we have to at the same time survey the Indian society and thought.” [Op. cit. p. 8-9]

He then proceeded to show the development of class struggles in India on the basis of Marxist sociology. He said: “In Europe class struggles developed between “freemen and slaves, patricians and plebeians, landowner and serfs, guildsmen and artisans”. In India it was not so. The first split in Indian society took place in the four varnas. The first two were the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas, and the other two Vaisya and Sudra. … Usually the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas wielded maximum power in Indian society. In general we may say, they were the creators of the intellectual, aesthetic, scientific and philosophical, that is, the spiritual resources, while the other segments of the society created the material resources. Hence the division of the Indian society into the exploiters and the exploited took shape through the division of intellectual and manual labour, in the division of the divine and temporal worlds. The dialectics of relations between these two forces is the basis of the society based on intellectual and manual labour.” [p. 9]

He thinks this social class divisions may help to understand the philosophical conflicts. It will also clarify the socio-economic roots of Sankar’s philosophy. “The struggle between idealism and materialism in India, is a roundabout manifestation of the class struggles specific to India—between the minority upper caste Dwijas on the one hand and the large millions of common people on the other. The latter, who had to undertake manual toil to earn living, had to interact with various facets of nature. That obviously fostered a materialist approach to the world. The thin upper stratum of the society, who worked in the intellectual sphere, speculated on things, having no truck with the natural elements. They gradually embraced idealism and claimed that ideas prevail over nature. This idealist philosophy found its most purified epitome in the Advaita Vedanta philosophy of Sankar, which asserted that there is nothing except Brahma; everything else is avidya, that is, unreal.” [p. 12]

The exploiters gained from this decisive victory of idealism. It became easier to shield exploitation with the different forms of illusory ideas promoted by religion and idealism. But what is that to social progress?

EMS came across some valuable observations of Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray through citations in different texts of DPC. Therein Ray showed how the Vedanta philosophy of Sankar rendered all creative worldly actions valueless as aparavidya (knowledge of lesser quality) by branding the external reality as an illusion, unreal, and dreamlandish! The free pursuit of science and technology got obstructed and squeezed.

Marx had raised an intriguing question, how could the country which taught Europe religion and language stoop so low in time as to fall under the British domination? [Cited by the author, p. 14] EMS answered that “the exploited caste were defeated by the Brahminical chauvinism, and the upper caste won the battle and the saddle. The theoretical gurus had on their part promoted idealism.” [p. 14] This practice of absolute idealism over the years rendered the country, as Ray pointed out, weak and debilitated in all worldly aspects.

EMS exhorted the working class in India to grasp this reactionary role of Sankarcharya’s philosophy, and oppose it in order to advance the cause of salvation. Whether and how far India will be able to progress in the spheres of knowledge, science, culture, and ideas depend on the outcome of this struggle.

Incidentally, up to this, I happen to agree with him in full. However, in order for the readers to understand better the implications of Sankar’s philosophy, let me elaborate some points.

Sankaracharya was a prolific writer in the short span of his life. His language was very simple and unpretentious, legible to a common man. He illustrated the oneness of brahma with some simple examples. We recognize water and salt as two different substances. When salt dissolves in water we see only one thing—the solution. Similarly, he said, we see different things at a lower level of consciousness; at higher level, all differences merge into a oneness. We sometimes, on momentary vision, mistake a coiled rope for a snake. But on closer examination, we identify the mistake. Similarly we fail to identify brahma in our ordinary observations. With critical thinking we come to know of it. Hence the external world, according to Sankar, is like a dream, an illusion (in Sanskrit adhyas), and a mistake—which we become aware of in our awakened state. The realization of brahma requires a similarly upgraded stage of awareness. And so on.

However, after nearly two centuries came Ramanuja, who refuted the claims and arguments of advaita Vedanta philosophy of Sankar. He said: we know by tasting the solution that both salt and water still exist. We identify the rope with a snake only in a momentary reverie. But consciousness relieves us of the mistake and shows that both rope and snake are extant but distinct. Similarly it is awakening to full consciousness that dispels the aberrations seen in a dream. The real world out there is not an illusion but a reality. Brahma incorporates it.

This means that even the wise men of the past had felt the necessity to go beyond Sankar in order to gather knowledge.

More later.

                                               [3] How to view Rigveda

Comrade Namboodiripad nicely reminisced on ritualistic Rigvedic recitals in his childhood:

“I recall those six years of my childhood (from the age of 8 year till 14)—when I used to recite the sacred Rigveda. But I must say I did not study the Rigveda then, but what I used to do was to commit to memory all the hymns by repetition and rote learning. That was the rituals for the Namboodiripad boys after upanayan. … To us Rigveda was such a sacred text that non-Brahmins were not allowed to read it—not even the Brahmin women. Among our community it was not enough for the boys and the adult males to memorize the hymns but to use them in various rituals like the Sun worship. Although I had done this for long six years, I had understood very little of this great piece of creation.” [p.22]

This implies Brahminism did not allow even in 1910-20 Sudras and women to read Rigveda. Oh the liberal Hinduism! Tall spiritualistic talks like Nara-narayana (all men are gods), sarvamkhalwidang brahma (brahma resides in everything), sohahang (I am that), tattwamasi (you are that), stayed confined for few people, and had no universal validity. However, all such prescriptions were phrased by that same Sankar, the saint from kerala!

The occasion for writing on this came on 2 January 1996, the day one of his friends published an eight-volume cheaper translation of Rigveda in Malayalam in Tiruvanantapuram. EMS formally inaugurated the books to the public in a cultural function. He had probably to explain why he, a communist leader, was interested in propagation of the Rigveda, which he did in an invited essay in Frontline on 27 January 1996. We take up therefrom.

His real attitude comes out from this statement: “Later I got to know that the learned men of Europe had studied Rigveda, and not just recited it like me or the boys of my generation. They got at the meaning of every word and also wrote about the rituals we observed in our childhood. For them it was a matter of study.” [p. 22-23]

In other words, Comrade Namboodiripad wants the common people—irrespective of their caste or gender—to study, and not just read, Rigveda. A pious man/woman pronounces the letters of the text with the hope to gain something in his/her blind faith. They try to store the words in memory. A social scientist or a philosopher studies it in order to extract the meaning of the words, look into the social reality behind the phrases, read the grammar, rules of word formation and syntax of this ancient text and thereby to get satisfaction of learning. He participated in that function because, “this great creation which had remained so far confined among the Brahmin males would now be easier available to all people of all communities and of both sexes.”[p. 23]

Again the question may arise: What does it matter if the Rigveda becomes cheaper and if its readership extends across the erstwhile barriers?

The writer thinks that the more the people get access to this ancient text, the more will they come out of the superstitious veneration towards this fostered by the religious clergy: “Turning the pages the reader will find that it is a compilation of hymns, composed by the tribes which had entered India from the south-western side in the millennia before Christ. They paid respects to the natural forces like fire, air, etc. through the composition of the hymns and singing with them. They adored these and other natural forces as deities. They organized sacrificial rites (yajna) and performed other rituals in honour of these deities. While doing these they used to imbibe some intoxicating drink called somarasa. In point of fact both men and women had confronted nature in this process. The knowledge they had gained were stored in the Rigveda.” [Ibid]

These are not new observations to us. We heard long back Akkhay Kumar Datta, HaraprasadSastri, AbanindrNath Tagore—and even Vivekananda—say this kind of things about the Vedas. But the Marxists were, I don’t know why, afraid or hesitant to utter these truths. Debi Prasad Chattopadhyay had penned this in his writings, but that was an academic exercise and not a campaign among the common masses. Seen in this perspective, EMS had surely taken a bold step. Let us thank and congratulate him with respects that he had dared to say all this in his final years. It is also good that the CPI(M) could garner courage enough to publish them in Bengali—although two decades late.

Learning to view Rigveda in this modern light may dispel much of the deep rooted long continuing confusion among the larger masses about the Vedic period. Then they will see the Vedas as pieces of ancient literature stripped of the sacred hallow surrounding them. The people will understand that this is not a religious scripture; this does not contain any religious appeal. The things the deities are seen doing therein are repugnant to the modern taste, unless trained by the Nagpur brigade! The lively way the sages described the cooking of the cow buffalo and horse meat in the hymns would seem to a bigot to be a thorough Pakistani infiltration! 

At a time when the BJP has been rabidly trying to capture the brains of the people, this kind of immunization is a most welcome effort!

                                                                     [4] Religion

The next three essays deal with various issues pertaining to Marxism on religion, secularism, and attitude of a communist party towards practice of religion among its followers. The titles are: “Opium of the People: Marxist Theory and Religion”, “What Secularism Means for Society and Politics” and “Is Secularism Anti-Religious?” The present political panorama of the country has made these issues sufficiently talked about and debated ones. Thanks to BJP and the SanghParivar, these theoretical issues have once again become relevant not only to the Marxists, but also to the science movement activists. The fact that he had written three essays within the space of two years I995-96 proves that he understood the need of the time.

However, even then the realization was already late. This discussion should have started still earlier.

।। Religion = Opium।।

EMS was correct, When Marxists go to explain Marx’s views on religion, and when non-Marxist scholars try to criticize Marx’s views on religion, both sides use this citation as the handiest material. “They all cite celebrated observation of Marx’s that ‘religion is the opium of the masses’ and concur that this is the crux of Marx’s viewpoint on the subject.” [p. 26] He was right that most critics cite or oppose this observation out of context.

What is the context then?

While discussing Hegel’s philosophy of law in an essay in 1843, Marx used this phrase in the beginning in wake of a preliminary critique of religion. Our author cited a large extract from that: “Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But, man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man—state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.”

Marx further said: “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against realsuffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul ofsoulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” [Cited, p. 26-27]

On the basis of these long citations from Marx Namboodiripad said: “So those religionists who criticize Marx and those Marxists who hold that ‘religion is opium’ is the essential Marxist stand on the subject are both guilty of ignoring the context. The meaning of this statement is that the helpless people under the ruling class exploitation expect a kind of emotional support from religion. Religion provides that relief, but temporarily, just as taking opium may result in amelioration of pain for the time being. But this temporary relief is not the real and final treatment of the disease. For that men will have to organize themselves, fight against the class exploitation and usurp political power in order to build up a classless society.” [p.27]

Up to this there is nothing to disagree. All over the world Marxists explain Marx’s observation on religion in this fashion. In our country too. Whereas previously the discussion focused on “opium”, now it focusses on “deep sigh”. Very few people are however aware that this shift in explaination owes its origin to Christopher Caudwell. In his first essay “The Breath of Discontent: A Study in Bourgeois Religion” in the posthumously published book Further Studies in a Dying Culture (1949). Later generations of Marxists are repeating the same idea, without acknowledging the debt.

But I have three fundamental objections to this explanation: one theoretical difference and two historical reservations.

Let me place the theoretical point first.

Opium may or may not relieve pain temporarily in case of a real trouble; religion however cannot alleviate any real trouble in life—neither temporary nor permanent. It is impossible to get even a slight relief with religion in real troubles without deceiving others.

Does it mean that nothing is available from religion?

Yes, it may be possible to derive certain dose of mental solace in times of distresses in life, or even to forget the adverse things for some time. The aphorism of opium comes in there. The way a man may withdraw or set aside his mind from the hard realities of life in an intoxicated state, the way opium may help to achieve this temporary withdrawal, similarly religion may foster intoxication or a frenzied mood about the socalled afterworld, oblivious of the this-worldly problems. The Providence is supervising everything; he will ensure justice for the deprived; he is testing me; how many are his arts of control—who knows!

Historically speaking, Marx said these, no doubt, but not the Marxist Marx. Then he was yet to become the Marxist in the truest sense. When he had been writing this, he was in the stage of coming out of the orbit of Hegelianism and passing over to Feuerbach materialism. The cited paras reflect the Feuerbachianstuff; even the linguistic tone follows him. If we want to share Marx’s views on religion, we have to find other sources.

With reference current history it is as clear as daylight that religion today is no longer a sedative type addiction. It is a violence generating stimulant, inciting craze for genocide, to establish it supremacy. BJP in India and ISIS in the Middle East demonstrate this for every body to see. When Comrade EMS wrote this, he might not have seen ISIS, but he had surely seen the Talibansbecome active in Afghanistan. For them religion is not opium but a stimulanting preparation. Once drugged with it, people may commit any crime without hesitation, scruple or conscience! In mob lyncing episodes with religious banners and slogans, while torturing a person or a girl alone, they derive a kind of perverse pleasure and feel proud.

Marx did not experience this. We who have seen should leave the bounds fenced by the words “opium” and “deep sigh”! We should narrate what religion is, in a way Marx would have done today. We must make our analysis of religion uptodate. Marx and Engels did not waver to speak the truth. Marxists today are afraid and hesitant. With truth we must overcome the fear and hesitation.

We need only a modicum of courage to do this!

                                       [5] Religion and Communist Party

Ya, courage, the nerve to cal a spade a spade. A communist party will require this in order to come to a firm decision as regards religion. It has again two parts: the policy and attitude to be adopted by the state today and/or in future with respect to religion; and the position of the party about religious practice by its members with respect to its inner party organization.

These two are different questions; pertaining to different areas of activity. The decision taken in one place will not work in the other. Or, if applied, it will produce odd results.

Naturally, Comrade Namboodiripad did not get complete and satisfactory answers from Marx-Engels’ works. For they had paid more attention towards to the questions of emergence and evolution of religion and much less to the questions of state policy and party line about it. Engels had of course discussed some points, as we see in Lenin’s writings with references. And then Lenin elaborated on them. So EMS had to go to Lenin’s relevant works for Marxist solution of the questions.

Out of the three essays Lenin wrote on the religious question he cited only one, the first—“Socialism and Religion”. However, he also referred to another writing of Lenin’s—“To the Rural Poor”. Lenin had raised two demands on behalf of the working class to a modern government: One, state will have no religion; in case of more than one religions, it will not discriminate among them showing favour or disfavor; it will not fund any religious organization. Two, religion is a private affair of a person and his/her right to religious practice shall be protedted; minority right to religion has to be protedcted against majoritarian pressure and to be assured by the majority and the state.

Namboodiripad is right when says, “These are liberal bourgeois ideals propagated to serve the needs of the working class movement of the day.” [p. 29] In other words, as a communist leader Lenin had been reminding the rulers of different countries, in particular those of the backward countries, the policies the bourgeoisie had proclaimed earlier but failed to keep up to. 

The moot question follows: What is the attitude to religion inside a communist party?

Namboodiripad recalls Lenin once again.

Lenin says: “We demand that religion be held a private affair so far as the state is concerned. But by no means can we consider religion a private affair so far as our Party is concerned. … So far as the party of the socialist proletariat is concerned, religion is not a private affair. Our Party is an association of class-conscious, advanced fighters for the emancipation of the working class. Such an association cannot and must not be indifferent to lack of class-consciousness, ignorance or obscurantism in the shape of religious beliefs.” [Cited, ibid]

How to ensure that the party of the proletariat is not indifferent to obscurantism of any sort and religious beliefs?

Leni has two suggestions. One, the party will publish and publicize those books which expose religion. “Our Programme is based entirely on the scientific, and moreover the materialist, world-outlook. An explanation of our Programme, therefore, necessarily includes an explanation of the true historical and economic roots of the religious fog. Our propaganda necessarily includes the propaganda of atheism; the publication of the appropriate scientific literature, which the autocratic feudal government has hitherto strictly forbidden and persecuted, must now form one of the fields of our Party work.” [Cited, p. 30]

Secondly, while carrying out campaign against religion, communist movement is not directed against religion. The party activists may be atheist, but atheism is not the sine qua non to join the party or any of its wings. For the exploited people with religious faith may also come to join the banner of the party. They must feel free to do so. To follow Lenin: “That is the reason why we do not and should not set forth our atheism in our Programme; that is why we do not and should not prohibit proletarians who still retain vestiges of their old prejudices from associating themselves with our Party. We shall always preach the scientific world-outlook, and it is essential for us to combat the inconsistency of various “Christians”. But that does not mean in the least that the religious question ought to be advanced to first place, where it does not belong at all; nor does it mean that we should allow the forces of the really revolutionary economic and political struggle to be split up on account of third-rate opinions or senseless ideas, rapidly losing all political importance, rapidly being swept out as rubbish by the very course of economic development.” [Cited, ibid]

Thus, “From the long citations from Marx, Engels and Lenin on the relation between religion and class struggle”, in the opinion of Comrade EMS,“it transpires—

  1. We shall not oppose religion in the same way as the non-Marxist rationalsts do in the abstract manner, completely divorced from the class struggles.
  2. We have to free the backward sections of the democratic and proletarian movements still under the spell of superstitions from these superstitions through rich experiences of class struggles, that is to say, they have to be trained in the spirit of Marxism-Leninism and dialectical materialism. [pp. 30-31]

Beautiful!

Up to this I fully agree.

But have you noticed—that question is yet to be answered: What does Marxism-Leninism say about the activists of the party, who had joined long back and have become leaders at various levels, in relation to the practice of religion? Let us be more candid: Can a communist party allow Subhas Chakraborty, a state committee member to offer puja to the Tarapeeth, or Tanmay Bhattacharya, an MLA, to participate in the pulling of the Ratha, per se Lenin’s teachings? Or conversely, can such comrades be member of the state committee or nominated for MLA candidature?

Consider the case of YakubPailan, a member of the Polit Bureau of the SUCI-C, who had been sufficiently advanced in mind and committed himself to offer his body to hospitals post mortem. But the present higher leaders of the party decided against it, took his body to the village, and carried out all religious (Islamic) rituals in the funeral ceremony.

Can these things be done while professing Lenin’s teachings on the problem?

You require courage to get to the answer to this question, as I previously spoke of. You have to dare to read the salient prescriptions offerred by Lenin. Once you read them, it will be difficult to compromise on those questions in the above situations. Nothing will justify the actions—condition, people, parents, wife, or vote!

Salient? Why?

Because drawing upon Engels Lenin wrote there: “Social-Democrats regard religion as a private matter in relation to the state, but not in relation to themselves, not in relation to Marxism, and not in relation to the workers’ party.” [Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 10; Progress Publishers, Moscow]

It is not a private affair to believe in and practise a religious ritual for a party’s important activist. He/she must conform to the party line. If the party has asked him to participate in the pulling of Ratha, he shall do it. But if the party holds that it is an ageold superstition, he cannot do it as his/her personal choice. With Lenin in mind. If he/she still carries this out, it will be considered an anti-party anti-Marxist activity.

On the other hand, if the party allows or allots such a programme, then it is not following the revolutionary line chalked by Lenin. It is following somebody else from the list of the revisionists, which is quite a large one.

Lenin wrote another essay just on this question: “The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion” Namboodiripad did not cite that essay, although I think he had better do that, in view of the discussion he was conducting. One might not understand the point in abstracto. Lenin therefore elicited two interesting examples in concreto.

Example 1: “If a priest comes to us to take part in our common political work and conscientiously performs Party duties, without opposing the programme of the Party, he may be allowed to join the ranks of the Social-Democrats; for the contradiction between the spirit and principles of our programme and the religious convictions of the priest would in such circumstances be something that concerned him alone, his own private contradiction; and a political organization cannot put its members through an examination to see if there is no contradiction between their views and the Party programme. … And if, for example, a priest joined the Social-Democratic Party and made it his chief and almost sole work actively to propagate religious views in the Party, it would unquestionably have to expel him from its ranks. We must not only admit workers who preserve their belief in God into the Social-Democratic Party, but must deliberately set out to recruit them; we are absolutely opposed to giving the slightest offence to their religious convictions, but we recruit them in order to educate them in the spirit of our programme, and not in order to permit an active struggle against it. We allow freedom of opinion within the Party, but to certain limits, determined by freedom of grouping; we are not obliged to go hand in hand with active preachers of views that are repudiated by the majority of the Party.”

Example 2: “Should members of the Social-Democratic Party be censured all alike under all circumstances for declaring “socialism is my religion”, and for advocating views in keeping with this declaration? No! The deviation from Marxism (and consequently from socialism) is here indisputable; but the significance of the deviation, its relative importance, so to speak, may vary with circumstances. It is one thing when an agitator or a person addressing the workers speaks in this way in order to make himself better understood, as an introduction to his subject, in order to present his views more vividly in terms to which the backward masses are most accustomed. It is another thing when a writer begins to preach “god-building”, or god-building socialism (in the spirit, for example, of our Lunacharsky and Co.). While in the first case censure would be mere carping, or even inappropriate restriction of the freedom of the agitator, of his freedom in choosing “paedagogical” methods, in the second case party censure is necessary and essential.” For some the statement “socialism is a religion” is a form of transition from religion to socialism; for others, it is a form of transition from socialism to religion.”

Let me point out: Although Lenin did not name him, Maxim Gorky also belonged to the Co. he referred to above.

And he reminded: “For some the statement “socialism is a religion” is a form of transition from religion to socialism; for others, it is a form of transition from socialism to religion.” [Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 15; Progress Publishers, Moscow]

Since Lenin was so vehement on just uttering the word “religion” during propaganda work, it is very easy to see what he would say in respect of Rathapulling or ritualistic funeral.

Lenin was bold. He could therefore carry the revolution through to success.

Those who want to be communist, to educate party activists and the people, and thereby to ultimately build up the revolutionary movement, must have that boldness.

No plea or ploy.

                                                      [6] Liberation Theology

Liberation theology. I did not hear of a write-up on this subject in Bengali. It is also rarer in English in our country at least. In the present anthology Namboodiripad tackled the issue in three essays from different perspective. This ideology originated in the South America and then spread to Africa and some other lands. It theorizes Christianity in such a way that grossly diverges from the established dogma of the Roman, Greek, Russian Orthodox churches on the one hand, and also from the different protestant schools on the other. Jesus is here a friend of the poor and the oppressed. He not only shares their pains and pangs but is a partisan in the struggle for liberation from the social political and economic injustices. I was not aware that its appeal had reached the shores of India too.

The discussion that followed under this item is therefore very much interesting.At least to the activists like us in West Bengal. To whom Kerala is far out land, almost like Greece. We don’t know what happens in Kerala politics, who participate and how, what fishes the people there consume, what their chief festivals are, and c. I am not alone in this ignorance. The shared exoeriences are the basis on which I may dare to say so. So in course of reading the essays of Namboodiripad, I got to know that the Christians are a large community there in kerala, and they exert much influence in the social and poltical life of the state.

The Christian Churches were by tradition with the power that be, namely, the Congress and reaction. This is usually what happens with the instituitional religions. It converges with the theory. When the progressive CongressiteJawharlal Nehru toppled the first leftist government In Keralain 1959, the Catholic Church sided with them. But after some time the Congress government had taken a development programme in which they evicted from land some thousands of peasants, “a large bulk of whom were followers of that church”. The CPI, unlike the present CPI(M) leadership,then did not believe in any development that proceeded to evict peasants. Comrade A. K. Gopalan sat in a fasting demonstration in protest. As a consequence, the catholics at large, both common people and the clerics, forwent their anti-communist attitude. “The catholic population, including a section of the lower level clergy associated themselves withthe left and democratic movement.” [p. 44]

The undivided party in Kerala in those times, and CPI(M) in 1996 had yet to forget the role of the leftists in respect of such cases of development. The mass battles of Singur, Nandigram and Chadmoni against the Left Front Government sponsored corporate loot of peasants’ resources were to burst forth ten years hence. So Namboodiripad could write all this at that time in public forum. I appreciate that. 

One good job entails another. It turns out product previously unthought of. What had followed were some such things. In February that year, “the Conference of the Catholic Bishops openly declared that they are going to adopt certain fundamental changes in their position as regards the socio-economic and political problems of the state as well as the country as a whole. From now on the Church will no longer act as a part of the anti-communist camp, but move to the line of liberation theology, that is, they will start talks with the communist on the service to the distressed and deprived and to buil up struggles in their interest.” [p. 45]

Other Churches went a step ahead and told their followers, “Our stand is liberation theology.” [ibid] “Now even the subscribers to the Catholic Church are adopting this line. This change of attitude is quite intriguing and may be hardly underestimated in the transformation of politics in the state of Kerala.” [p.46]

The truth is, with the rise of intense aggression on the common millions launched by capitalism in the wake of its systemic maturity the class service of religious ideology in its opium/deep sigh role can no longer assuage the actual sufferings of the faithful even temporarily. To keep faith intact, the church of every religion finds itself compelled to defend the real class interests of the oppressed. I am not sure whether the religious leaders are doing this consciously in clear conscience or as a manoevre in face of the pressure of reality. But do they must. Liberation theology is theology on the outfit; it is a programme for struggle in the body.

While turning these pages, I happened to know the name of Dietrich Bönhoffer (1906-45), a Church Father who had gone to jails in the Hitlerite Germany for opposing the fascist regime and ultimately, tortured and incarcirated, died in the Flössenburg concentration camp. 

Many people had done so. Why did this particular name come to the surface?

It did, for, a non-catholicbishop, A. K. Paulson carried out a research on the viewpoints of this man in the Berkeley University of California and submitted the thesis in 1975. It was a work on “Bonhöfferian Corrective to Karl Marx’s Critique of Religion” The thesis was not yet published but the author had given Comrade EMS a copy to read. That was the basis and beginning of this discourse. Here we are not concerned with the details of that discourse, but one thing is worth mention. On reading the thesis Namboodiripad had surmised: “Liberation theology is going to appear in India, at least in Kerala.” [p. 39]

For several reasons we havealso acquaint ourselves with these new trends. Hitler, concentration camp—these are gradually gaining currency and pertinence in our country. Those of us who are preparing for the ensuing battles may have to befriend many a Bönhoffer of our time.

We need allies in greater number—real allies, not fortune seekers.

I therefore express my gratitiude to EMS, as he directed my eyes to a new angle.

                                [7]Sankar’s Anti-Knowledge Philosophy

Now I am going to enter the territory where I have wide differences with statements in this book. The questions are important. For, these are the areas where our people harbour a lot of confusions. These misconceptions are created by continuous propaganda, wrong education, opinions offered by many VIPs, etc.—which though wrong prevail in the social psyche through repeated utterance of many. So those who intend to bring about a radical change in the society will have to strike at the basis of these misperceptions in the social psychology. Consciously, with a plan.

I want to begin from the end.

The last two essays are also good and important.

After Debi Prasad Chattopadhyay, the great scholar of Indian philosophy, died, Comrade EMS had written two essays in memorium. Frontline published the smaller essay (1994); The Marxist, theoretical organ of his party brought out a bigger one (1993). The latter was reprinted in the same magazine last year (2018) on the occasion of the birth centenary of DPC. I had the scope to read it there. The Bengali book helped to rehearse with gain. 

Chattopadhyay sided with the CPI after party split. Notwithstanding that, Namboodiripad had a good relation with him for his works in an appreciative mood. When the book Lenin the Philosopher was published around 1980, Namboodiripad wrote an extended review threof in the Social Scientist. The two essays under discussion also carry the same tune of commendation. In my second part on Sankar’s philosophy I had remarked that he garnered most of the critical ideas from the works of DPC. It appears he was somewhat infatuated with these works in the later part of his life.

This reading brought to my mind a problem. Let me share it with others. Ours is a vast country, with dispersion of so many languages. A large number of writings of DPC has not been translated in English. Some of the main and larger volumes are availbale in English. Namboodiripad could lay his hands on and commented upon them only; the large number of small tracts dealing with popular exposition remained beyond his reach. He could find pleasure in them and we might have some more commendable writings from his pen.

Now let me start with the promised tasks—to register my reservations.

a) Despite the good discussion, when I saw for the first time the title of the first essay “Debi Prasad: the philosopher of secularism” [p. 48], a sudden jolt shuddered my spine. A writer who excerpted so many things from Marx Engels and Lenin on religion, who knows that Marxists are proponents and defenders of secularism only in social and state policies, and they are ideologically staunch atheists and godless beings, how could he adopt this title?

Yes, when he wrote that “works of Debi Prasad Chattopadhyay are great weapons to the secular, science minded intellectuals and social activists”, and also “sharp weapons” “against the theory and practice” of the “revivalist and and anti-truth seeking forces of all kinds” [p.51]—I fully agree with him. Really so. By providing us with the knowledge necessary to fight against the religious fundamentalists his philosophical works act as ideological munitions in our hands.

Debi Prasad had stood against religious beliefs on the basis of a dispassionate rational approach and undertaken a thorough study of Indian society religion and philosophy on the pedestal of Marxism. The study helps us to underscore secularism, but does not constitute a philosophy of secularism only. It is much more than that. So the title of his second essay (actually written earlier) is the right one—“Debi Prasad: Pioneer in the Marxist study of Indian philosophy”. [p. 52] That’s the true tribute to this great scholar!

b) Simailarly, when Namboodiripad says, “The philosophy of adwaitaVedanta” of Sankaracharya, “is the subtlest and most distilled sytem in Indian philosophy” [p. 10], or, “Sankaracharya was an idealist philosopher of the highest level in India (and the world as well)” [p.16], we see no reason to object to. But I strongly object to his statement that “In the treasurehouse of knowledge of mankind, Sankar’sadwaita Vedanta is one of the richest contributions.” [ibid]

Why? Let me explain.

We talk about knowledge, knowledge resources, storehouse of knowledge, etc. with reference to such intellectual works, which contain truth, elements of truth or inculcation of truth. Vedanta, or for that matter, adwaita Vedanta, represents no truth, no element of veritable knowledge. It is on the contrary a barrier to knowledge. It has blocked the further development of science in Indian soil. EMS saw the indication thereabout in the citations from PC Ray in the works of DPC.

The epistemology of this philosophy is such that it violates the first and the fundamental condition of learning.

Knowledge veers round identification of the two parties: the subject who knows, and the object, which is to be known. This demarcation is the first step, the initial task, the ABC of a gnosiological function. Without making this distinction between ‘this’ and ‘that’, one cannot start knowing anything. Just A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G!

And Sankar’s philosophy proceeds by forestalling this distinction. It asserts that this is knowledge of a lower level, first hand impression, which is actually no knowledge but an illusion or a false notion. It is called aparavidya in the Vedantic terminology. The real knowledge begins when this distinction disappears, when the subject and object merge into one. At this stage every separate thing appears as the great one, brahma, the one and the unique. This is real knowledge, absolute knowledge, paravidya.  

Is it?

You can’t cook rice (that is, have the knowledge to do so) without separately knowing fire, oven, rice, water and a pot as different from one another. What do you cook with what on what? If a chemist doesn’t distinguish between iron and mercury he/she can’t understand the properties and uses of these metals. What do you use for a barometer and which for a magnet? In other words, Sankar’s philosophy of adwaita Vedanta inspires you to be ignorant of all this. It is a philosophy of ignorance. It says, you need not know. Only then you are a brahmalogist and belong to a higher berth. But if you intend to know you will miss brahma, and fall to a lower berth of knowledge.

Obviously nobody likes to embrace such a fate of fall. The process of learning with the sense of distinctions is difficult and laborious. You have to handle lots of things, make measurements. But if you follow Sankar, and identify iron = mercury = brahma, you have nothing to know any more. With this subtle learning you attain paravidya. The brahma cares not a whit for iron or mercury! 

This is the point Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar wanted to impress upon the EI Co. managers. When they were contemplating to invest money in order to dig into the Sanskrit learning, he said, there was nothing to be expected of value. Sankkhya and Vedanta are false systems of philosophy and full of sophism in the name of knowledge. This is what PC Ray pointed to as the cause of decline of scientific pursuit in India immediately after Sankar.

What is more startling of Sankar’s views is that after so much of preaching on the identity of all into one, propounding the thesis that every thing is that brahma, Sankar could not forget the caste distinction between brahmin and sudra. In his commentary on Badrayan’sBrahmasutra, while he got no reference to sudra, he picked up the word “Shuk” and called it sudra to suit his thesis of casteism.

I am at a loss how one could find “rich resources of knowledge for mankind” in the same Sankar! 

 

                                                     [8] More on Philosophy

c) This time too I shall raise questions regarding philosophy. For this we shall have to leave India and go to Europe. It concerns how philosophy developed in Europe, in what course.

After he had narrated the story of defeat of materialism in early mediaeval India with the rise of Sankar’s philosophy Comrade Namboodiripad compared the case with what happened in Europe: “Sankaracharya lived and worked at a time when an intense struggle had been continuing between idealism and materialism. India is no exception. But there was a major difference: In Europe none of the two sides had won the final victory; both had been working in parallel amidst mutual conflicts; as a result many towring personalities had appeared in the respective spheres. In consequence two giants had come in the nineteenth century: Hegel on the one side, Feuerbach on the other. . . . But  in India, in the battle between two sides, one side (the materialists) was defeated and the other dominated.” [p. 14-15]

There are kindred comments elsewhere: “[In the post Sankar period] Greek materialism and Greek dialectics developed further in Europe. The development of dialectics of the early Greek society gave birth to Hegel in modern Europe, and on the other side Feuerbach further enriched the Greek materialism.” [p. 50] Again, “Whereas Greek dialectical thinking and materialist views had a natural development in European history, India left the tracks owing to this social and political ossification.” [p. 59]

What I object to is this simplistic presentation of a unilinear course of development of philosophy in Europe as the “natural advance”.

First of all let us remember materialism and idealism did not undergo parallel development in Europe. Materialism, which developed from Anaxagorus up to Democritus and Epicurus in Greece, was defeated by Plato’s idealism. Aristotle consolidated it through his idealist construction on a materialist foundation. This philosophy of Aristotle’s survived through the Middle Age in Europe and provided support to the Greek, Roman and Russian Orthodox Churches. In between Titus Lucretius, the renowned thinker of Rome, reopened the ideas of Epicurus for some time, but that materialism eclipsed no sooner than it had arisen. The manuscripts of all the ancient materialists were destroyed—mostly in fire. A larger part of these manuscripts were rescued and preserved by the Arab conquerors following the Islamic expansion; these were translated in Arabian by the scholars and were the sources of the fresh spate of learning with them on the eve of the renaissance. In the intervening millennium, there prevailed only idealism. Materialism raised its head once again in the writings of Roger Bacon in the thirteen century.

In India as much as in Europe, during the same socioeconomic condition of the mediaeval feudal rule, idealism was the order of the day and materialism lived on in seclusion from the mainstay of scholarship. And it was longer in Europe. In India, on the contrary, materialism could continue at least seven centuries longer than in Europe, till the rise of Sankarite idealism.

And both these were natural courses of development of philosophy in the respective spheres.

So it is as much ahistorical to try to locate the historical continuity of Hegel’s philosophy with the Greek dialectics, as to link Feuerbach’s materialism to classical Greek materialism. When after a nagging slumber philosophy rose to prominence after renaissance the newly retrieved Greek resources were of trememndous use no doubt, especially in the identification of the subjects of knowledge and in working with the laws of logic, but the contents of the philosophical ideas were all new born children of the time. Thus Hegel followed from Spinoza, Bruno, Kant, Fichte, Schelling and so on. Similarly Feuerbach drew on the materialist schools of the seventeenth century England and eighteenth century Franceas well as the critiques of religion in Germany of his time. Hegel absorbed a lot from the predecessors, whereas Feuerbach took little.

This history is not something unapproachable. Engels had thoroughly dwelt on this subject in his work on “Feuerbach”.

d)In the last part of his life DPC had worked on a prpoject of an 8-volume study on philosophical views of the world, titled, Global Philosophy for Everyman. In the preface to the last volume, he wrote: “The assurance of the future, as we have it in Marxism, represents the culmination of the movement that brought modern scien into being. These were days of infinitive optimism about science and progress. But where is scienc going today? If about 60,000 men, women and children in Hiroshima and 39,000 in Nagasaki are snuffed out in a moment in the recent past and after decades of this the nuclear, biological and other technologies are threatening the very existence of life on earth, who else but an abject fool can still talk of science ensuring a better future for man? This is a question too significant to be avoided in our time. Without facing it the main theme of our present volume is liable to be unconvincing.” [Cited, p. 68; here cited by me from: EMS Namboodiripad (2018), “In Memory of Debiprasad: the Pioneer of Marxism in Indian Philosophy”; The Marxist, Vol. 34, No. 4 (October-December 2018), p. 27.]

Comrade EMS did not comment upon the message conveyed in this excerpt, which implies, he shared the agony of Chattopadhyay. Therein is our concern.

I don’t know whether he had said something more on the point. I have not read the book or its preface.

But with reference to Hiroshima, Nagasaki, nuclear weapons, biological war, warfare, decimation of organic species, and degradation of the environment we hear fiery salvoes gainst science for a long time since. Science is, so they say, pushing the earth and mankind to the brim of disaster. Earlier we used to hear allegation from the religious men, idealists; now it also comes from the post-modernists, who identifies science with modernity and also/thereby with all vices of modern life. Eco-feminists find even a male chauvinist rapist of nature in the pursuit of science.

But how could DPC, a committed Marxist, say all this, and why Comrade Namboodiripad shared this agony without any qualification—I am seriously at a loss to understand. Did some scientists drop atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Is science disparaging nature and environment? Is it science and scientists who are felling down trees in Chattisgar? Are scientists dredging on the Westernghat mountains and cutting trees on the Jessore Road?

No, there is no need to theorize. I would like to warn the readers only about how wrong perceptions in philosophy may lead any of us astray. We have to learn to situate the blame on proper shoulders.

                                                           [9] On Vivekananda

As per the follow up norm, this argument should have entered as point (e). But since this is the last section of my review, I refrain from spending a letter unnecessarily. I hope the readers will pardon me.

Attentive readers have surely noted that in this serial writings I had jumped from the first chapter of his anthology to the third over the second. I did not refer to that till naw. Why—I shall explain here. The title of the chapter is “Buddha and Sankara to Vivekananda”. The author wanted to present a “Marxist” evaluation of Vivekananda. I am interested in a re-examination of his theses.

In 1993, when the whole country had been observing the centenary year of Chicago addresses of Vivekananda, Comrade EMS was invited as a speaker to a seminar organized by the Sanskrit Department of the Calicut College. “The subject of discussion was Relevance of Vivekananda philosophy today”. [p. 18] On the basis of his talk there he wrote this piece for Frontline. The anthology we are talkig of included this in translation.

In the writer’s opinion, “The spokesmen of the Hindutwavadi philosophy claim that they are upholding the greatness of the Hindu philosophy through Vivekananda. Opposed to them on the other side are those political activists and thinkers who hold Swami Vivekananda as one of the leading lights of the nineteenth century renaissance.” [ibid] He wrote further: “Vivekananda is a product of the great renaissance that had started with Raja Ram Mohan Ray. In his explication of Vedanta, Vivekananda had helped in the development of the new resurgence. This is why the title of the talk of this author in that seminar was: ‘The Philosopher of Renaissaance’.” [ibid]

EMS rightly said: “In order to study a philosopher and his contributions, it is not enough to undertake a thorough study and elucidation of his works; we have to analyse the socio-economic and cultural milieu he lived and worked.” [ibid]

He compared Vivekananda with Buddha and Sankara and showed the closeness of the former with Buddha, for bopth of them worked for social change—as per their time. They played a positive and progressive role in history. And Sankara wanted to strengthen the existing reactionary caste society in his time. So he played a retrograde role.

I shall not go to analyse the historical roles of Buddha and Sankara except a few comments. I am interested in Namboodiripad’s evaluation of Vivekananda and his socio-historical role.

He recalled Marx’s eleventh thesis on Feuerbach, where Marx wrote: “Philosophers have so far interpreted the world, the task is to change it.” He thinks:“Vivekananda was a thinker and philosopher of the genre who had not only explained the Indian society he saw but thought of changing it—a change not to the tribal society back, like Buddha, but toward a modern, science based democratic, secular and political India.

Sankara used the Vedanta philosophy to consolidate the caste ridden society; but Vivekananda put the same to the service to mobilize people against casteism. He propagated the coming of Sudra regime, which is nothing but a Hindu version of proletarian rule. When he saw the unbridled casteism in Kerala, he had cried out, ‘This country is nothing but a madhouse per se.’ He called for social, economic and political, that is, total equality.” [pp. 20-21]

He is alert that nobody misunderstands him for the last words: “it does not follow from this that he was a socialist or a Marxist. . . . We consider him a democratic rebel who worked for the radical reorganization of the Indian society. It was in continuity with the activities he and his contemporaries had labored in that the later working class movement and modern socialist revolutionary movement developed on the basis of Marxism.” [p. 21]

I am afraid I cannot accept any of these statements.

I think while the renaissance movement in the nineteenth century in India, in spite of its many limitations and weaknesses, had emarked essentially on a road for progress, Vivekananda worked against it and he was much successful in redirecting the orientation. He is neither a proponent, nor a representative or a thinker of that movement; he is a proponent of an opposite idea and an organizer of an opposite movement allied to that idea. He was one of the—although not the sole—theoreticians and organizers of the Hindu revivalist movement that erupted following the Sepoy mutiny. 

Let me explain.

But I want to warn the readers that I want to play temporary Molotov-Ribbentrop anti-war pact with those who hold that, whatever be the case of Europe, there was no real renaissance in India, or those who reject the idea of renaissance both in Europe and India as a myth of the western capitalism. On some suitable occasion I shall wage an Operation Barborossa-2 with them. Here we are talking in a tripartite sitting—Vivekananda, EMS and myself.

What did renaissance aim to achieve—in Europe as well as in India?

In Europe it aimed at creating a superstructure conducive to the bourgeois revolution to overthrow feudalism. In India its aim was to steer clear the path for national capital from the grip of the feudal and colonial rule, and to create an intellectual atmosphere for that. The aim coincided, despite the different conditions.

What are the signs of renaissance?

We get to know renaissance only by addressing this question. And profitably.

Political revolution?A rebellion? Armed struggle? No, these were follow-up agenda.

Agrarian revolution?Radical land reform? No, the political agenda may or may not include them. But they followed.

Revolution in science and technology?Again no. The door opened to this aim through renaissance. But the actual developments took place much later. In Europe it took nearly three hundred years.

If we focus on the immediate signs of renaissance, we shall find that—

One, individual freedom; freedom of thought and expression, freedom of opinion; free development of all individuals; equal rights for all;

Two, as a corollary, liberation of the womenfolk; honour to the women; equality of man and woman in social economic and political rights;

Three, fostering rationality, critical analysis, quest for knowledge; giving up preconceptions and authority cult; refusal to grant final and absolute veracity to any book or person;

Four, democratic societal life and values; humanism and man centric outlook; dignity of labour, etc.

When Vivekananda became a disciple of Ramakrishna, started a campaign on Vedanta and declared the AdwaitaVednta of Sankara as the pinnacle of knowledge in the world, he rejected the first and third desiderata above. One rejected implied two was also shunned. Though the fourth idea is not till now dropped out, the inside stories of the RK Mission may testify that democracy is the last thing they may choose, if at all.

Let me cite only one instance.

The very day Vivekananda died, the new authority told Sister Nivedita that either she leaves the Mission on her own with an open declaration in the public media to that effect, or the Mission would throw her out in any case. Miss Noble had come from Ireland to India at the call of Vivekananda and wrongly inspired by his fiery speeches she got herself embroiled in the freedom movement of this country. Datta and his Mission were uncomfortable with her growing involvement in politics but could not stop him. With Datta’s demise Swami Brahmananda took no time to do the job. Noble did not go back to her country. But she was in dire financial trouble to maintain the school she had founded for the girls and to feed herself. She died of TB out of malnutrition. Before her death Acharya J. C. Bose took her to their Darjeeling home where she succumbed finally in 1911. The RK Mission did not show the least decorum even to place a plaque upon her grave till 1924.

Let us now switch over to Swamiji in his own words.

Did he subscribe to casteism?

Ya and nay. Had he lent his full support to the caste practice, he could not grace the chair of a modern theological guru. And as a guru, though a dedicated saint having deserted family and every thing else, he did not discriminate in eatables but used to consume all kinds of food including beef. On the other hand, whenever he got the chance to speak in a public forum, he sang the praises of the traditional caste divisions and injunctions. Thereby he defended a system that aimed at perpetuating concepts and customs to divide men and keep one section under permanent subjugation of another and that opposed any idea of equality.

Did he favour the pursuit and cultivation of modern knowledge and science?

Ya and nay. He talked highly of modern science because without it you can’t move a single step in the present world. But immediately after he started talking on the limitations of modern science and superiority of spiritualism. It pertains to the external world, and caters a superficial knowledge. It knows nothing about the essence of things. Thus the philosophy of Sankar peeps in, with a new cloak. And the moment he holds aloft Vedas, Upanishadas and the Geeta as the store keeper of knowledge, and situate Vedanta in the heads of the Indian people (while allowing them to keep the Islamic body), he extinguishes the light of knowledge then and there.

Was he in favour of women’s emancipation?

Again yes and no. Without agreeing to the tenet of women’s freedom, he could not bring Nivedita to this country. Unless they were free to decide, Sara Bull and Oli Bull could not donate their mite to the Mission’s fund. But then come along Sita and Sabitri in the dialogues with thumping steps. He highlights women’s chastity, burning of widows, sacredness of widowhood with a sonorous voice. When Ram Mohan opposed burning of widows on the dead husbands’ piers, Vidyasagar fought for introduction of widow remarriage among the Hindus, they were trying toadvance the cause of the women’s emancipation. And in their footsteps comes Vivekananda who opposed all such progressive programmes, glorified all the ageold traditions of muddy superstitions and reversed the direction of renaissance. He called the people of India to walk out in the opposite direction! 

His entire thoughts and practices constituted in reality an anti-renaissance programme, a somnissance, a call for torpor.

That is why the RSS family did not find any difficulty in choosing Vivekananda as their icon. They don’t like Vidyasagar and Tagore. They like Bankim Chandra and Vivekananda. This is not something accidental. It followed from his words and deeds.

The leftists and the Marxists sometimes try to hijack him to their camp. With a suitable selection of quotations. But his philosophy and his programme are all for the rightist upsurge.

Marxists must rid themselves of such wrong perceptions. EMS too.And so the others.

 

 

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Ashoke Mukhopadhyay
Ashoke Mukhopadhyay
Free-lance science writer and activist; General Secretary of CESTUSS and The Other Mind.
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