Marxism and Oppression
Adiga’s criticism and examination of India’s institutions supports the Marxist belief that the state, and its overruling superstructures, is oppressive. According to Marxists, the state was created to be an “instrument of force and violence for dominating, suppressing and exploiting the poor (Sharma). One example of this is the corruption and manipulation of the election.
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Balram recounts how “the tea shop owner had already sold us…[h]e had sold our fingerprints…which the illiterate person makes on the ballot paper to indicate his vote…he had got a good price for each one of us [from the government] ” (81). The election is simply a show staged by the politicians and those in power to make it seem as though the people have freedom and choice. The reality is the voices and freedoms of the people are suppressed.
The government relies on the votes of the uneducated and illiterate to manipulate the election, maintaining its power and control. Adiga then goes on to describe the extreme methods of control used by the state to dominate, specifically its use of violence. When a man tries to vote he is attacked by a government official and the police, “they had begun beating him; they hit him with their sticks…they kicked him…they kept stamping on him, until he had been stamped back into the earth” (85). This violent act is a demonstration of power by the state.
It is used as a controlling mechanism, inciting fear among the people. In this way the state gains power over the populace, not just physically but mentally. Their spirits are weakened, thus they become more compliant. As such, any movements to overcome this suppression are seen as “brave [but] mad” (85) and change feels impossible. Hence, the suppression of the lower class’ freedom of speech, free will, and hope, through manipulation and violence, is proof of the corrupted, oppressive nature of the state’s institutions and superstructures.
The novel also demonstrates the Marxist belief in the implementation of Communist Society as a classless, stateless society and calls for the rejection of the state. Balram is highly critical of the state and democracy. He goes so far as to declare that democracy is “a fucking joke” (144) and that “[i]f [he] were making a country, [he]’d get the sewage pipes first, then the democracy” (80).
His cynical comments demonstrate Balram’s complete lack of faith in democracy. His views are in alignment with the Marxist idea that “[t]here is no such thing as [true] democracy…[it] always remains…restricted, truncated, false and hypocritical and a snare and a deception for the exploited and the poor” (Lenin). Contrastingly, parties on the far left wing such as communism and socialism represent equality and stand for truth. Both these branches of the left have a strong presence in the novel and are emphasized by strong bias.
From “[t]he Great Socialist[‘s] [party]” (78) to the “ALL INDIA SOCIAL PROGRESSIVE FRONT (LENINIST FACTION) which was the name of the landlords’ party” (82), each one calls to the workers to “Stand up to the rich” (83) and makes promises of power for the poor, schools, “good roads, clean water [and] good hospitals” (82). The socialists and communists are portrayed as the heroes who will fix society’s problems by implementing a classless state and socialist ideologies. As the parties campaign, they mark a gradual movement towards the adoption of Communism and Socialism, embodying Marxist values and rejecting the restriction of democracy and state.
Through Balram’s firsthand experiences and observations as a servant, a deeper understanding of the ever-present class struggle in Indian society is realized. Through the “analysis of social relations on the basis of class structure and class struggle” (Sharma) a central element of Marxism is applied.
“Marx advocates the view that each society has been and still continues to be inhabited by two classes… rich and the poor. The rich are the exploiters and the poor are the victims [of] exploitation. The former always maintain and try to perpetuate their system of exploitation, while the latter always try to get rid of their exploitation” (Sharma).
The rigidity and confinement of class structures, for instance, are seen India’s caste system. When Balram looks for a job he is immediately asked: “what caste [are you], top or bottom” (Adiga, 53). The caste system is everything, determining his future and his destiny (53). Balram, a Halwai, is one of the “3,000 castes and 25,000 sub-castes” in India (BBC). The more complexity there is in the social structure the more divided the people are, thus the rich easily maintain and control the structure, supporting themselves.
Moreover, Adiga’s analysis of social structure shows the difficulties faced by the poor and the depth of their struggle to overcome their oppression. In India, the class structure seems to permeate into one’s life becoming so ingrained that the self becomes one with its class and it becomes almost impossible to discern one from the other. Balram experiences this, and describes himself as “[an] ass… all I would do, if I had children, [is] teach them to be asses like me, and carry rubble around for the rich… The desire to be a servant ha[s] been bred into me: hammered into my skull” (165).
It is a struggle for the poor to fight the social hierarchy of the caste system, which is embedded in Indian culture, society and identity. To reject their class would be akin to rejecting a part of their identity and to renounce the caste system would be to dismiss a tradition “more than 3000 years old” (BBC). These realities inhibit and discourage the poor from climbing the social ladder.
The disparities between the classes enable the rich to use the system to their advantage. This exploitation of the poor becomes evident when Balram is forced to confess to “a murder his master committed on the road” (144). Wherever they go, “the masters… own [the poor], body, soul, and arse” (144). While the man at fault faces no consequences, Balram must face the possibility of being imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. He, like many others in the lower class, lacks the means, money and power to fight back against such injustices. The system is corrupt, working in favour of the rich and allowing them to abuse their power, to the detriment of the poor. The novel effectively captures the class structure and struggle espoused by Marxism.
Finally, the novel demonstrates and supports the Marxist theory of revolution. Throughout the novel, there is an underlying threat of revolution and traces of civil unrest. Consistently, the lower class is called to “stand up to the rich” by the socialist parties (83) To discourage uprisings, the government publishes the “magazine, Murder Weekly… every week and sells it… for just four and a half rupees so that even the poor can buy it” (105).
Despite this, Balram feels restricted by his “Indian family” and the “Rooster Coop… [that] trap[s] so many millions of men and women” (150). Although Balram recognizes “only a man who is prepared to see his family destroyed–hunted, beaten and burned alive by the masters– can break out of the coop, he believes that “change is necessary” (Paul) for the greater good and to attain change a revolution must occur (Sharma). The Marxists view (as clarified by Lenin) that “revolution means a violent revolution involving bloodshed and use of force” (Sharma) is fulfilled when Balram kills his master, Mr. Ashtok (245). His revolt frees him from servitude and the confines of his class and caste.