Two names are synonymous with social justice in their respective countries, Bhimrao Ambedkar and Dr. Martin Luther King. Both men were considered radicals in their time and even smeared as Communists. Anyone that reads what these men wrote understands the ridiculousness of the accusation.
Ambedkar was an advocate for untouchables, now known as Dalits. As a Dalit himself, Ambedkar faced many hardships. He overcame them to become educated at Columbia University in New York. He returned to India in the late 1920s. He worked to give Dalit’s voting rights, access to water, and education. In advocating for Dalits, he often found himself at odds with Gandhi. Despite political opposition, Ambedkar wrote the Indian Constitution. Toward the end of his life, he promoted Buddhism and held a mass conversion of Dalits to the faith in 1956. He died of natural causes a few months later.
The story of Dr. King is far better known to Americans. King was born in the American South and suffered through segregation. Like Ambedkar, he went to prestigious schools such as Morehouse and Boston College. The Montgomery Bus boycott was King’s first civil rights campaign. While aiding a sanitation workers strike in Memphis, he was gunned down.
The rise of Communism is one of the most important events of the early twentieth century. Communism was billed as the dawn of a new classless Utopia. Unfortunately, the actual implementation in Soviet Russia proved Communism was far from the mother of paradise.
Ambedkar and Dr. King wrote on the subject in their lifetime. Ambedkar’s The Buddha or Karl Marx and Dr. King’s “How Should a Christian View Communism” echo similar themes. A later version of King’s view on Communism is “Can a Christian Be Communist?”. Both works fundamentally rebuke Communism as antithetical to their religion. Due to Communism’s lack of moral absolutes, violence is used to suppress dissent. The result is a totalitarian government with no individual freedom.
Even though both men denounced Communism, they did not dismiss its critique of religion out of hand. Both agreed that the standard form of their faith was “otherworldly.” Most practitioners distracted themselves from the material lack in their life with spiritual pursuits. These religious endeavors foster an unhealthy individualism and a disconnection from social justice.
Ambedkar’s Buddhism and Dr. King’s Christianity were not the mainstream versions of either religion. The clergy of Burma rejected Ambedkar’s attempt to become a lay teacher. Fundamentalist Christians, white and black, opposed Dr. King. Instead, both men forged a new path for their religion infused with social justice. Their advocacy was their spiritual path.
The two works can be found below: