Tuesday, February 27, 2024

How Buddha and Marx thought on similar lines?

How Ambedkar compared Marxism with Buddhism?

A lot of similarities except the theory of proletariat dictatorship

Ambedkar studied Karl Marx’s theory from the perception of Indian sociological background. He compared Marx with Buddha in a seamless way. Both Buddhism and Marxism refused the theory of God’s intervention  in the creation of the universe. That nothing is permanent in this world, everything undergoes change continuously was stated by Buddha as well as Marx. Marx called it dialectical materialism while Buddha said ‘anitta’ (anitya). Buddhism searched for ways and means of removing sorrow from the society, Marx showed the way to combat poverty and exploitation that caused it. Ambedkar agreed with all the stipulations of Marx but he was stoutly opposed to the theory of proletariat dictatorship.

“Karl Marx is like a father of modern socialism and communism. He exposed Fabian Socialism and laid foundation for scientific socialism. He fought theoretical battles against both Fabians and capitalists. Karl Marx made it clear that both are dangerous to the society. That was why Marx was the first to define scientific socialism,” said Baba Saheb Ambedkar in his book “Buddha or Karl Marx.” Ambedkar spoke on this topic in an analytical way at International Buddhist Conference in Khatmandu on 20 November 1956. It was just a fortnight before Ambedkar’s  mahaparinirvana (demise). I think there is no speech or writing other than Ambedkar’s which studied Karl Marx, the great thinker of world proletariat and founder of Communist philosophy from the viewpoint of society.

Comparing Karl Marx and Gautam Buddha may look ludicrous to many. There is nothing surprising about it. There was a huge gap of 2,381 years between Buddha and Marx. While Buddha was born in 563 BC, Marx came into this world in 1818. Marxists feel funny when Marx is compared with Buddha. They think the comparison is glib talk. However, if Marxists set aside their misgivings and study Buddhist philosophy along with that of Marx there is sure to be a change in their attitude,” said Baba Saheb at the very outset in his book. He discussed both Buddhism and Marxism independently and then compared and contrasted both the philosophies. This exercise can be seen in three parts. One, philosophical matters. Second, Socio-econimic issues. Third, the formation of political systems.

We understand certain things when we examine the philosophical positions. While discussing the creation of the universe both philosophies  refuted the theory of God’s creation. Marx took the help of Darwin’s theory of human evolution and other scientific discoveries, Buddha said 2300 years before Marx that the universe came into being on its own and it is not God’s creation. Buddha’s theory appears to be the foundation to Darwin’s theory of evolution.  Nothing is permanent in this world is the second theory. Marx called it dialectics and Buddha said it was Anittha (Anitya). It means something which is not permanent. That a thing is neither created nor destroyed and it only changes from old to new form was what Marx said. Buddha called it Punabbava. Both believed that there is reason and cause behind every development. This was called in Buddhism ‘Pratiitya samitpaada.’ Things don’t happen out of the blue, there would be reason behind the happening. This attitude of looking at society from dialectical point of view was there in both philosophies.

Both the philosophies found ways to resolve problems and difficulties faced by the people. While Buddhism searched for ways and means of removing sorrow from society, Marxism showed the way to combat poverty and exploitation that caused it. Owning assets and properties is not favoured by both the philosophies. Buddhist monks not only don’t own any property, they do not keep anything that is not essential. Marx also thought property is the main cause of exploitation and poverty. He prescribed communes as a solution. Buddha also proposed that the Buddhists should create a new society. The communes and cooperative sectors led social development of people in communist countries.  They gave financial, social and moral support to farmers and workers. Monasteries also used to run financial cooperative societies. We can find evidence of these societies in Buddhist literature.

While Marx thought the only way to bring about revolution (change) is armed struggle, Buddhism said war should be avoided unless it is inevitable.  Many presume that Buddhism preaches nonviolent theory. But it said in order to get justice, protect Buddhism and people, war may become inevitable.  So be it, it said. Buddha made it clear in a  conversation with Simha Senapati, an army chief of a country.  This is there in ‘Simhasenapati sutta’ in ‘Anguttara Nikaya.’  Just like Marxism, Buddhism too led a revolutionary movement against the contradictions.  It opposed the priestly and Vedic ritualistic system that was exploiting society with yagnyas and yagas and succeeded in bringing about social revolution breaking those walls.  That was why Buddhism is said to be the first social revolution in India. In the same manner, Marxism is modern world revolution.

The point on which Ambedkar completely differed with Marx was proletariat dictatorship. This was first defined by Marx and implemented by Lenin, the Russian revolutionary leader. While agreeing with all the aspects of Marxian philosophy, Ambedkar totally disagreed with the theory of proletariat dictatorship. Ambedkar pointed out that his philosophical foundation is in Buddhism. He made it clear that Gautam Buddha not only believed in the democratic traditions of mahajanapadaas, he also propounded that as his philosophy. Society moved forward from the days of Buddha and any type of dictatorship has no place in modern age, that will only distance people from freedom and liberty,  he thought. Ambedkar said Marxism could achieve economic equality but the caste barriers created by the caste system, the chief reason for disparities in India, would stall brotherhood. But for this aspect, there are many similarities  between Buddhism and Marxism, Ambedkar asserted. We should note that there is dire need for Buddhism and Marxism in the struggle being waged by Indians for social, political and economic equality. That is why prominent Marxist theorist Marta Harnecker’s remark that historical materialism should be defined by the historical and societal realities in each country should not be lost sight of.   

(May 5 is Karl Marx’s birth day)

Laxmaiah Mallepalli
Laxmaiah Mallepalli
Mallepalli Lakshmaiah is a special officer of Buddhavanam project and founder chairman, Centre for Dalit Studies. He writes a weekly column for Sakshi, a Telugu daily. He is a Dalit intellectual, Ambedkarite and a Buddhist.


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