If Indic culture is to successfully resist the organized assault by Marxism and its ideological offshoots, the resentful politics of group identities and competitive victimhood must end.
Sreejit Datta teaches English and Cultural Studies at the Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham University in Mysore. Variously trained in comparative literature, Hindustani music and statistics; Sreejit happens to be an acclaimed vocalist who has been regularly performing across multiple Indian and non-Indian genres. He can be reached at:
Undoing of the Problem
The way that certain philosophies – especially those fundamentally inimical to the Dharmic outlook, owing to their fundamental differences in epistemology and ontology with the Dharmic metaphysic – have taken root on the Indian soil is symptomatic of human follies, if anything. It was the same set of human follies which were ignored at the very foundation of these philosophies, or perhaps suppressed by their initial proponents due to a sense of vainglory over their scope and potency while constructing the core of those philosophies. Among those philosophies, we concern ourselves here with postmodernism and its ideological predecessor – Marxism.
Several accounts have recorded, in great detail, the derivation of the postmodern outlook from the now ‘failed’ philosophy of Marxism, which by its very nature is nihilistic. That is to say that it axiomatically considers a society’s social, political and economic institutions to be bad – even harmful for humanity – and hence worthy of annihilation by force or any other capable means. Thus, nihilistic philosophies, such as Marxism, believe that the traditional morals, belief systems, and ideas have zero value and that they do not deserve a place at the grand table of discussion where each idea, value or belief could be judged on merit. Remember Marx’s proverbial judgment on religion? In the introduction to his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1844), Marx wrote:
"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."
"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." (Marx and O'Malley, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right 1970)
Every sentence from the passages quoted above manifests overt vainglory, intolerance, and above all, violence. It is of utmost importance for our present purpose to take a special note of the language which Marx uses to express his thoughts on religion. His language, as exemplified by the above quotes, is smeared with violence all over, with phrases such as “struggle against religion” and “abolition of religion”. This language betrays the destructive impulses of Marx’s nihilistic philosophy. The same destructiveness was passed on to later generations through the writings of the postmodernist philosophers, for whom struggle and power are the two most frequently occurring tropes. The nihilistic DNA of postmodernism is also shared with Marxism, with the crucial difference that postmodernism has mutated to greatly expand the scope and targets from class, capitalism, and religion of Classical Marxism to such ill-defined conceptual categories as “race”, “patriarchy”, “heteronormativity”, the “oppressor-oppressed / victim” binary etc. These all are broad categories, and they are malleable enough to accommodate anything and everything - from made up fault lines (like Dravidian vs. Aryan) to “gender neutrality” to radical Islamism - all in the name of bringing more power to the so-called “oppressed” of the world and spreading “social justice”. Thus, the dictatorship of the proletariat, a Marxist “interim goal” in the path of an egalitarian socialist utopia takes on the new but more sophisticated garb of social justice. Postmodernists have been careful enough to avoid Classical Marxist terminology, especially in the American context where the Communist Control Act of 1954 bans the Communist Party of the USA and criminalizes any sympathizer of the communist cause in any form.
Marx had given his call to abolish religion back in 1844. But it was in 1853 when Marx had delivered his judgment on Hinduism in an article appearing in the New York Herald Tribune that he had written on India, titled “The British Rule in India”. In his typical strongly-opinionated prose, Marx asserted:
“Hindostan is an Italy of Asiatic dimensions, the Himalayas for the Alps, the Plains of Bengal for the Plains of Lombardy, the Deccan for the Apennines, and the Isle of Ceylon for the Island of Sicily. The same rich variety in the products of the soil, and the same dismemberment in the political configuration. Just as Italy has, from time to time, been compressed by the conqueror’s sword into different national masses, so do we find Hindostan, when not under the pressure of the Mohammedan, or the Mogul, or the Briton, dissolved into as many independent and conflicting States as it numbered towns, or even villages. Yet, in a social point of view, Hindostan is not the Italy, but the Ireland of the East. And this strange combination of Italy and of Ireland, of a world of voluptuousness and of a world of woes, is anticipated in the ancient traditions of the religion of Hindostan. That religion is at once a religion of sensualist exuberance, and a religion of self-torturing asceticism; a religion of the Lingam and of the juggernaut; the religion of the Monk, and of the Bayadere.” (Marx, Marxists Internet Archive 2005)
It is amazing to see the extent of ignorance of this epoch-making “philosopher”, who is revered by his cult followers the world over, as far as simple historical facts are concerned. By the time Marx wrote this article in 1853, James Prinsep had already deciphered the Asokan edicts and got his research published in a series of papers between 1836 and 1838. These research papers were a huge sensation in both India and England, owing to the fact that Prinsep himself was the editor of the journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and that it was the first time that the Brahmi script, which was used in most of the epigraphs on the Asokan edicts, was deciphered by a European, opening up a new chapter in the study of India’s antiquity. Prinsep had overnight become something of a celebrity in the learned circles of England.
One would then expect that Marx, who had immigrated to London by 1849 to reside permanently in the city, would have come across such path-breaking historical research publications on India, provided he was serious enough in his intellectual engagements concerning India and Indian subjects. Yet all we receive from the most influential philosopher of the nineteenth century is: “Just as Italy has, from time to time, been compressed by the conqueror’s sword into different national masses, so do we find Hindostan, when not under the pressure of the Mohammedan, or the Mogul, or the Briton, dissolved into as many independent and conflicting States as it numbered towns or even villages.” (Marx, Marxists Internet Archive 2005). Nothing can be further from truth in light of the historical findings that Prinsep had made regarding Mauryan India, whose sovereign political extent was greater than both British-ruled India and Mughal-ruled India in terms of area (not to mention the cultural colonies from Samarkand in the north to Ceylon or Sri Lanka in the south, from Bactria in the west to Myanmar in the east), almost two decades prior to the appearance of Marx’s article on the New York Herald Tribune. During this long period, Prinsep’s research findings must have sipped in the psyche of Europe’s intelligentsia and the general public and changed the perception of India’s antiquity. Why would Marx, a sufficiently well-read and intellectually super-active man located in London, the heart of all these intellectual developments, still commit such a gross misrepresentation of Indian history? We are left wondering.
It is indeed highly amusing to see how a man, sitting in the post-French Revolution Europe, which was at the height of its colonial expansionism and thus, the world’s center for acquiring and processing information, could issue sweeping judgments about an institution so broad and diverse as religion, without ever travelling outside Europe. This attitude bespeaks of what Edward Said has dubbed as “Orientalism” – a reductionist attempt to paint anything and everything according to the standards of the Occident, and thus exercise a monopolistic power to control information and depiction of the Oriental subjects – but one suspects that it may have been something more sinister than the mere acquisition of power over information. By bracketing all faiths, creeds, belief systems and traditional worldviews of the whole world within a single, essentially Christian conception of religion, Marx declared the abolition of religion as the ultimate goal of his political philosophy.
[Protests for social justice by misinformed crowds have become increasingly common in India]
Perhaps more amusing is the persistent continuation of this tradition of factual incorrectness by postmodernists of various hues – radical feminists, LGBTQ activists, social justice warriors, Black Lives Matter, Dalit activists and the like. For example, Dalit activists and Dravidian-ist politicians build their political narrative around an outdated, highly contentious ‘theory’ of the Aryan invasion of India. Their obstinacy to continue with the now-dismissed theory, in the face of textual, genetic and archaeological evidence galore, is a hallmark of the propagandist nature of their ideology-driven activism, something that Marxists, right from the time of their founding father, were especially adept at. More than truth and facts, Marxists have relied upon such concocted narratives that fit into their ubiquitous ideological framework.
Postmodernists have ventured a step further to justify this irrational yet compulsive behaviour by proclaiming truth and facts as mere “tools” through which the “oppressors” seek to perpetuate their power over the “oppressed”. The most unfortunate manifestation of this intellectual dishonesty can be witnessed in the humanities and social sciences departments across the globe, especially in the new disciplines like women’s studies and cultural studies which lack in a sound methodology of their own, depend entirely on the “peer review” system for their research outputs. This peer review system hardly generates any citation outside the small coterie of influential postmodernist scholars and those who look up to them for a prospective career in the academia – students, research scholars, adjunct professors. Instead of scholarship and the noble pursuit of truth and knowledge as goals, these disciplines have institutionalized propaganda-driven ideological activism, producing social justice warriors in place of scholars in the true sense of the term. India is no exception to this phenomenal global degeneration of the humanities and social sciences.
The big question, however, is: how to undo this problem, rather menace, which is gnawing at the intellect of our nation, and has already co-opted several generations of Indians? The determining factors that resulted in the capitulation of a vast number of heirs to Hindu and other dharmic traditions before a nihilistic non-philosophy like Marxism and, ultimately, the New Left via postmodernism, can be classified into three broad categories:
- Islamic colonization of the greater part of the Indian subcontinent ever since the sacking of Sindh, due to the raids of marauding Arab and Afghan Islamists led by Muhammad bin Qasim and Mahmud Ghaznavi;
- The systematic estrangement of the only desi lingua franca – Sanskrit – through British legislature at the behest of self-effacing, idol-phobic Hindus such as Raja Rammohan Roy;
- The gradual loss of the mother tongue as the linguistic medium for pursuing both basic as well as higher education – a disease that persists to this day, even after seven long decades since the British left the Subcontinent; and has now acquired an almost terminal form.
Since languages act as the repository of meanings, concepts, and ideas, doing away with one’s language in everyday usage for both work and play erodes the root and ultimately leaves one detached from their inheritances, with little or no access to the ancestor’s thoughts, ideas and the conceptual universe. The rootless individual or nation then has to take resort to translation – the most tragic case of reversal of the gaze where a language’s inheritor has to approach it via mediators, who may have had some political interest in not being a stickler for accuracy. This has happened every time a country got colonized by an imperial aggressor – in Africa, North America and most notably in Asia, of which India has probably suffered the most due to its large diversity in languages and a great number of languages with a significantly small number of speakers. This ailment of the Indian psyche is compounded by the onslaught of the postmodernist New Left/neo-Marxists, who do not believe in free speech – a fact that is exemplified by the postmodern obsession with political correctness. Greatly extending the Victorian mania of “proper manners” which used to dictate (and still does in several pockets of the erstwhile British colonies) what should/should not be spoken so as to safeguard an elite ethical code and a particularly English sense of morality, the cult of political correctness has busied itself with censoring speech to keep its championed “oppressed” groups (like Muslims, radical feminists and transgender activists) from what they call “micro-aggressions”, evoking a surreal materialisation of the fictional accounts in Orwell’s 1984.
The postmodernists in the academia and the media – the two spaces in the Western as well as Indian public sphere that they have infiltrated the most – use physical coercion, slandering, character assassination, verbal abuse, hate speech, bullying, threats to life and livelihood and a variety of other tactics to silence those who dare to fight for preserving their free speech rights. This has been apparent by the many instances in Europe, North America and India, some of which are worth reiterating like the threats to the academic career of the Canadian psychology professor Dr. Jordan Peterson for not ceding linguistic territory to postmodernist laws, the persecution of James Damore by Google for upholding statistically significant biological differences between male and female behaviour, the downgrading of UK’s Labour shadow minister Sarah Champion for speaking up against Pakistani sex gangs in Britain, the wholesale labelling of prominent public intellectuals as far-right/Hindu fundamentalist in India for registering protests against cultural appropriation and in some cases for simply speaking the truth. (Lott 2017)
The debates around Hindutva, projecting the idea as a supremacist ideology, rage on in India, almost ritualistically, during each of those spells when the Bharatiya Janata Party captures power at the centre. But a significant point that should have taken the centre-stage in such debates, but somehow never got its due, keeps haunting the thinking minds unfettered by the shackles of dogmatic ideologies. The point concerns with the observation that those individuals, institutions, and organisations, who do not align politically and ideologically with the left, are increasingly ending up being left out of the discourse on issues which are relevant for the country and for the Hindu dharma in the here and now, thanks to their branding by the left. The left has a staggering and more organized presence, both in terms of political and ideological grounds, in almost all levels of the media and the academia – the two columns of the Ideological State Apparatus that the Marxist dogmatist Althusser had elaborated. This gives the left, though smaller in number in comparison with those who may be located anywhere on the spectrum identifiable as the right, unrestrained access to the most potent platforms for voicing their opinions, thereby influencing the public discourse.
By contrast, Hindu dharma does not impose any such dictum of restraint on the individual’s speech or action; it only urges the individual to screen any speech/action by her viveka or the discriminating faculty so as not to hurt another being. This precept comes with the addendum that it is to be absolutely upheld at all times by the sannyāsin who has renounced the mundane affairs and has taken to a strictly spiritual life; and should be upheld with appropriate exceptions (such as in times of defending oneself and one’s family and nation) to the rule by the householders. The Vedanta, Upaniṣadic texts and the Śrīmad Bhagavad Gītā, in general, prescribe abhīḥ (fearlessness) in the face of challenges and aggression and contemns inaction, passivity, and diffidence.
The Source of Power
With postmodernism, the source of power resides with forming victimhood groups on racial, religious or gendered lines, and the power is exercised through collective shaming of the perceived ‘other’, ‘other-ing’ such people with respect to the parameters set by the characteristically resentful and aggressive victimhood groups. One group is thus set against another, conveniently slipping human relationships into a reworked oppressor-oppressed model based on classical Marxism’s class struggle. Hence, the postmodernist New Left derives its power from group identities, for which the individual is sacrificed.
Another source of power for the postmodernist ideologies is the gradual erosion of values, or at least a misplacement of values. This is achieved by deconstruction of traditional values, by deconstructing texts – the repository of spoken and written word – and filling it with new, subversive meanings. For this reason, deconstruction has turned out to be a powerful instrument at the hand of the postmodernist. In the name of critical intimacy with the text, as opposed to critical distance (to borrow Gayatri Chakravarty Spivak’s words) deconstruction takes a dangerous liberty of coming out with wishful interpretations that often make a text stand on its head. (Spivak 2016)
On the other side of the comparison, we are faced with the question: is it the individual or is it the group wherefrom power emanates in Hinduism? While a cursory look at Hindu social organisation and obligations (kartavya and/or dharma) of a Hindu man/woman at various stages and in different – sometimes even contradictory – roles of his/her life creates the impression that Hinduism gives little autonomy to the individual, a sound metaphysical understanding of the Hindu life and worldview is bound to give a completely different picture.
Where does the power reside for the Hindu, then?
We shall concern ourselves with that question in the next part in this series.
Lott, Tim. 2017. “Jordan Peterson and the Transgender Wars.” The Spectator, 20 September.
Marx, Karl. 2005. Marxists Internet Archive. February. Accessed September 21, 2017. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1853/06/25.htm.
Marx, Karl, and Ed. Joseph O'Malley. 1970. Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, interview by Steve Paulson. 2016. Critical Intimacy: An Interview with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (29 July).