Caste Culture and Socialism

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Item Code: IDJ252
Author: Swami Vivekananda
Language: English
Edition: 2001
ISBN: 8175050284
Pages: 127
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 6.3" X 4.1"
Weight 70 gm
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Book Description


About twenty year ago a book, purporting to present the views of Swami Vivekananda on Socialism, was published: and on the fly-leaf was displayed in bold letters these words of Swamiji: 'I am a Socialist'. The book created some interest; but people steeped in the Vivekananda lore could easily see that the picture was over coloured.

True, Swami Vivekananda had an intimate knowledge of such Western movements as Anarchism, Nihilism, Socialism, and from personal contacts. He met Peter Kropotkin at the Paris International Exhibition (1900); and Plekhanoff's party was than very active in England. These movements were then in their Infancy; and even their protagonists had no great hope for the cause they advocated. It was remarkable, therefore, for such an Orientalist as Swami Vivekananda to prophesy at that distant date that 'Socialism of some form was coming on the boards' and that the Shudras as shudras would be the future ruling caste. Besides, Vivekananda was never tired of drawing our attention to the source of our strength – the masses:

Whether the leadership of society be in the hands of those who monopolize learning, or wield the power of riches or arms, the source of its power is always the subject masses. By so much as the class in power severs itself from this source, by so much is it sure to become weak. But such is the strange irony of fate … that those from whom this powder is directly or indirectly drawn … soon cease to be taken into account by the leading class.

People reading the Vivekananda literature, are also impressed by his heartfelt sympathy for the poor and the downtrodden; and his dynamic appeal for serving them is irresistible:

'Feel for the miserable and look up for help-it shall come.… Go now this moment to the temple of Parthasarathi, and before Him who was friend to the poor and lowly cowherds of Gokula, who never shrank to embrace the Pariah Guhaka – yea, down on your faces before Him and make a sacrifice, the sacrifice of a whole life for them, for whom He comes from time to time, whom He loves above all – the poor, the lowly, the oppressed!'

To Vivekananda's vision, the Shudras, the Pariahs, were the proletariat of India, and the Indian Socialism was to be conceived in terms of their betterment. True, he could not condemn caste outright; for caste, fundamentally, was a glorious institution, and any future society must recognize its intrinsic worth. Nevertheless, Vivekananda had no love for the present-day hereditary caste system which is a hindrance to progress. His wide sympathy could not be confined within its steel frame:

'Do you mean to say I am born to live and die one of those caste-ridden, super-stitious, merciless, hypocritical, theistic cowards that you find only amongst the educated Hindus?'

On the other hand, he was not much enamoured of a mere economic equality; he rather stood for a cultural and spiritual fraternity in which there would be not only economic Socialism and political freedom, but also moral and intellectual kinship. In short, he did not believe in leveling down, but rather in levelling up. His conception of the Golden Age was an age in which diversity of capacity and occupation would remain, but in which privilege would be totally unknown. This required a root-and-branch reform; but that reform could not come through a revolution based on force, it could be ushered in only through evolution based on culture and mutual esteem. Thus his motto seems to have been, 'Form caste to Socialism through culture'. In the Golden Age, or the Socialistic Age of Swami Vivekananda's conception, all would be Brahmanas in the ideal sense of the term:

'In the beginning of the Satya-Yuga (Golden Age) there was one caste, the Brahmanas; and then by difference of occupation they went on dividing themselves into different castes; and that is the only true and rational explanation that has been given. And in the coming Satya-Yuga all the other castes will have to go back to the same condition. The solution of the caste problem in India, therefore, assumes this form – not to degrade the higher castes, not to crush out the Brahmana.'

Evolution, however, was not to be confused with complacency. Vivekananda was up in arms against all social inequities. In his scheme of dynamic living, certain things had no place. It was the bounden duty of the privileged classes to make a voluntary exit by rapidly handing over their culture to the masses. Delay would be dangerous: for that would mean an inevitable class-struggle, the foregone conclusion of which would be the supremacy of mere mass power: "There will be a great distribution of ordinary culture, but extraordinary geniuses will be less and less,' For the priests he had hardly any soft word, because they could not avoid their responsibility for all the irrational developments in the Hindu Society in the form of regulations about food, marriage, untouchability, etc. His quick, discerning mind could not fail to discover the heartless oddity of the situation. In fact, he called it lunacy:

'Was there ever a sillier thing before in the world than what I saw in Malabar country? The poor Pariah is not allowed to pass through the same street as the highcaste man, but if he changes his name to a hodge-podge English name, it is all right; or to a Mohammedan name, it is all right. What inference would you draw except that these Malabaris are all lunatics, their homes so many lunatic asylums, and that they are to be treated with derision by every race in India until they mend their manners and know better. Shame upon them that such wicked and diabolical customs are allowed! Their own children are allowed to die of starvation, but as soon as they take up some other religion they are well fed! … The Mohammedan conquest of India came as a salvation to the downtrodden, to the poor. …. That is why one-fifth of our people have become Mohammedans. … And one fifth – one half – of your Madras people will become Christians if you do not take care.'

Swami Vivekananda knew, however, that though he mentioned Malabar as a typical case, other parts of India were equally guilty. Indeed untouchability in some form or other was eating into the vitals of Hinduism itself:

'You Hindus have no religion; your God is in the kitchen, your God is in the kitchen, your Bible the cooking pot. … People here have given up the Vedas, and all your philosophy is in the kitchen. The religion of India at present is "Don'ttouchism". … The present Hinduism is a degradation.'

Such a state of things was bad enough to upset a susceptible mind like Swami Vivekananda's. But this faith in his own country's ideal and goal rebelled against blind reform inspired by foreign propaganda. In fact, India was never in need of reformers and the Indians, on the whole, never stood against advance. India possessed enough idealism to supply the leaven for millions of years still to come. Furthermore, growth must be from within. Our society was caste-ridden to be sure; but what society was not in some form or other? In some respects 'Indian caste is better than the caste which prevails in Europe or America. I do not say it is absolutely good.' If, to remedy our defects, we were to learn something from the West, the basis of reconstruction was to be our own past, and we were not to proceed by denying its contribution. For 'Where would be your learning and other things, if there were no caste? There would be nothing left for the Europeans to study if caste had never existed. The Mohammedans would have smashed everything to pieces.' So the ideal society would be one in which would be synthesized the Indian idea of spiritual integrity and the Western idea of social progress.

The greatest single factor that Swami Vivekananda brought to bear on these social problems was the spiritual vision of India which refused to study life in mere fragments, but viewed it as a dynamic whole comprising all states and stages, and leading humanity progressively to the highest goal. Indeed, India to him was as Divine Personality to be loved and worshipped. His Socialism, accordingly, was enunciated not in terms of rights and privileges to be ensured for the component parts, but in those of service and duty to whole. 'All evils come,' said he, relying on differences. All good comes from faith in equality, in the underlying sameness and oneness of things. He contrasted Socialism, not with Capitalism, but rather with individualism, and said, 'The doctrine which demands the sacrifice of individual freedom to social supremacy is called Socialism, while that which advocates the cause of the individual is called individualism.' So his exhortation to his country was:

'Oh India! … Forget not that thy marriage, thy wealth, thy life are not for self-pleasure –are not for thy individual personal happiness, forget not that thou art born as a sacrifice to the Mother's altar; forget not that thy social order is but the reflex if the Infinite Universal Motherhood; forget not that the lower classes, the ignorant, the poor, the illiterate, the cobbler, the sweeper, are thy flesh and blood, thy brother. Thou brave one, be bold, take courage, be proud that thou art an Indian, and proudly proclaim- "I am an Indian, every Indian is my brother." Thou, too, clad with but a rag round thy loins proudly proclaim at the top of thy voice- "The Indian is my brother; the Indian is my life; India's gods and goddesses are my God; India's society is the cradle of my infancy, the pleasure-garden of my youth, the sacred heaven-the Varanasi (Benaras) – of my old age," Say brother – "The soul of India is my highest heaven, the good of India is my good." and repeat and pray day and night – "O Thou Lord of Gauri, O Thou Mother of the Universe, vouchsafe manliness unto me! O Thou Mother of Strength, take away my weakness, take away my unmanliness, and make me a Man!"

Lastly, India must evolve according to her own genius. India's life is centred in her spirituality, and no Plan of national reconstruction can ignore this fact with impunity. There is need for learning from others: but learning means independent assimilation of ideas, and not mere imitation. Imitation does not lead to healthy growth, but rather to national death. And in Vivekananda's conception, such an imitation is unthinkable for India. 'Is it possible for the Hindu race to be Russianized?' – he asks his self-deluded countrymen.

This, then, in brief, is what Vivekananda wanted Hinduism and India to be. But his message is scattered all over the pages of his works, and is not so palpably clear to casual readers. We, therefore, present all the excerpts on this subject in a systematized form, believing that this intensive study in the modern context of social and political re-thinking will be highly beneficial.


  Preface 5
Chapter 1 The Background 17
Chapter 2 In Tune with the past 37
Chapter 3 Priest and privilege 63
Chapter 4 False Gods 80
Chapter 5 Avoid Strife 99
Chapter 6 I am a socialist 111
  References 127

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