Inequalities of Race and Caste: Relevance of Marxism

Hira Singh
  hsingh@yorku.ca
  

Abstract

Abstract

W.E.B. Dubois often referred to race in America as caste. More recently, Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of the Other Suns, refers to the racial divide in America as the caste system of the south. Comparing caste and race is, however, a controversial issue, mainly because caste is considered as uniquely Indian, a feature of Indian culture dominantly affected by Hinduism. This conceptualization of caste can be traced back to Max Weber’s seminal distinction between class and status, with caste as prime example of status based on cultural power without economic-political power. Following Weber, mainstream sociology has used caste to negate the relevance of Marxism to the study of Indian society and history, a sentiment currently echoed by many scholars engaged in the study of dalits occupying the bottom of caste hierarchy in India. Very much like race, it is alleged that Marxists treated caste as superstructure determined by precapitalist economic-political infrastructure only to be swept away by modern democratic economic-political structure. Rather than being dissolved, caste in contemporary India is reincarnated, point out the critics of Marxism. This folklore of mainstream sociology of caste is sustained by multiple misconceptualizations of caste and Marxism derived from its Weberian legacy. My paper is a critical interrogation of this legacy to argue that Marxist approach is a resolution to the mystification of caste in mainstream sociology. One key area of comparison proposed in the paper is the idea of the people marginalized by caste and race as lesser humans, which is as much part of the Jeffersonian legacy in the US as that of the Manusmriti in India. In addition to broadening the scope of Marxist theory, comparative perspective will be helpful in developing a common strategy to fight the inequalities of caste and race to eventually eliminate them.

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