Marx@200 – Neither the beginning, nor the end

Marx and Marxism remain to be the eternal hope of oppressed classes the world over!  Marx’s theories evoke extreme reflections, from pure and uncritical love at one end, to equally uncritical hatred at another end, with mixed reactions from various other shades of thinking.  It’s quite natural of any thinker who stands for revolutionary changes.  Marx, for me, stands for the state of human thought process at a particular stage in its history, a necessary and compelling intervention at a particular point of time, in the milieu of a particular factual matrix.  He interrupted the discourse of ideas, and introduced a permanent wedge in the idealistic-contemplative philosophies, and it was a powerful disjuncture! He created an inevitable presence in all the future intellectual discourse and peoples’ actions.  A compelling presence in all the later human discourse as‘pre-Marx’ and ‘post-Marx’ diction and usage!

But he is neither the beginning, nor the end of a process. Several of his predecessors, the so called ridiculed ‘utopian socialists’ such as Henri de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, Robert Owen et al, and even the so called liberal or capitalist theoreticians such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Adam Smith, David Ricardolaid a road for understanding the idea of ‘value’ of a ‘produce’.  In this process, we can’t even ignore the great contribution of anarchist, like Bakunin and others. Marx can definitely be credited with a very serious effort on his part to steer through the way from the fog of mere idealistic pretensions, by attempting to introduce forcefully certain scientific methods of his time in social studies. He didn’t, by any stretch of imagination, abruptly emerge beyond context, and beyond time-space matrix. But his disciples have created a mystique image of him in their anxiety to universalize him for all times, and for all contexts.  In fact, such process of universalizing Marx, and for that matter any human being, is unscientific, and anti-Marxian.

Maybe, he is one of the greatest visionaries this world had ever produced, and a great mind which had trodden some hitherto un-trodden paths. Maybe, he can be further considered as one who had re-erected the upended project of philosophy on its feet.  He may also be credited with the greatness of introducing the rigor of scientific methods in social sciences in general, and political economy in particular, and as the one who offered course correction to the dream project of many of his predecessors of realizing an egalitarian society.  But all this he could achieve is not out of any vacuum, but on the basis of the received wisdom of his time.  His dedication to research is unparalleled.  His efforts to understand the ‘value’ of a produce in terms of the labour-time invested into it, is also radical.  But his concepts on the accumulation of surplus value on the side of the capitalist only as a result of exploitation of labour or labour-time, as a factum within a system, may not satisfy the further enquiry.  As Rammanohar Lohia, one of the greatest contributors to the Indian thought of socialism, pointed out in his essay, “Economics after Marx”, the development of capitalist societies need also to be understood as a construction on the blood and sweat of colonial workers.  The surplus of capitalist, in a capitalist system, is not the result of pure internal, inter-systemic exploitation of labour time by the capitalist.  Such construction is one of the reasons for the absence any revolutionary action, or if any, only brief in time, on the part of the working class of advanced capitalist societies.  A reading of U.S trade union history explains this abundantly.  With some exceptions, the trade union histories of many developed countries vouchsafe for it.

When a generation recollects it’s past, assesses the contribution of a great thought of earlier periods, the memories can’t be restricted to just writing an elegy.   By eulogizing Marx, by positioning him and his thought as transcendental, by elevating his theories beyond questioning, by ridiculing the questions that continue to haunt the human mind about the correctness of some of his propositions, by quoting him out of context for every challenge that had come in the way of later human endeavour does not do good even to Marx.  If, in our enthusiasm to be called as a better Marxist, project him as impeccable-eternal truth for all situations and for all times, for all regions and for all momentous challenges, universal and transcendental, by projecting him as ‘supreme being’ and thus deifying, we may temporarily secure some young and uninitiated minds to our side.  But, then, we are rendering the greatest harm to the further development of socialist thought.  We have also to see more and more Arthur Koestlers, Louis Fischers writing different elegies – The God that Failed?

We can’t fail to see that the systems established by, and in the name of Marx, in Russia, East Europe, and China have turned out to be the centres for violation of all human rights.  My intellect can’t be satiated by terming the rights as bourgeoisie rights.  The fall of empire after empire during 1980s and 1990s is still fresh in my memory.  As the young man growing through those days, while reading Marxism on one side, and “The God That Failed” on the other side, the unfolding events have shaken my faith in all theories.  Blaming capitalist propaganda or conspiracy for its fall appeared to me unconvincingly bad then, and now.  There must be internally something within the main text that had caused the degradation.  The element of violence, the roots of undemocratic approaches, the ideas of secrecy, the intellectual impetuosity, the condemnation of all opponents – is within, and not without.  The external environment might have contributed to quicken the process, but it can’t be accorded the status of primacy.  Some Marxists argue that there is nothing wrong in the basic theory, but incorrectness crept in Marxist praxis because of its later practitioners.  But this also doesn’t quench my intellectual thirst.  This is one of the oldest explanations given by every religion – “My basic texts – the Books, are always correct, and for any defect in its translation into action the blame is attributable to its interpreters and practitioners.”

Marx@200 does not only offer an opportunity to praise Marx, but also for deep reflections on its inadequacies and failures, its limits and extent.  It is the time to reflect upon as to why it could not convince many countries and regions.  Marx also cannot escape from his responsibility, for all that was realized in his name, and in the name of those who claim to have understood him better than the other lesser mortals.  The suffocating citizens of the erstwhile USSR, the German Wall, the cries of Poland workers for bread and butter, the Tiananmen Square etc., all ring through my memories.  These are inescapable parts of the Marxist history of action, a fact which cannot be ignored or brushed aside lightly as mere aberration.    The sources for these atrocious deviations are not just external.

Another question that troubled me always has been – do we have answers for all the momentous challenges that came in the way of human advancement in Marx writings?  Post-Marx economies, the two World Wars, the developing and underdeveloped nations and regions, the anti-colonial struggles of India, Africa etc., the post-modernism, the consumer-oriented economic order, the globalization, the environmental degradation out of developmental models of both the capitalists and the communists, the big industries, the unbridled exploitation of nature for satisfying the human greed, the advances of science culminating in the atom bomb, the researches into biotechnologies, the advent of information technology, the artificial intelligence (AI), the robots, the loss of working hands etc., challenge the very human existence on earth.  But Marxists try to quote one or the other sentence from Marx to answer every challenge – a typical method followed by all priests of all world religions!

In my humble endeavors I found some solutions in Gandhi or in Nehru or in M.N. Roy or in Lohia or in Ambedkar.  There are some remedies in Buddha or Jesus or in Hinduism, or in Islam.   There are some explanations in the simple life of a tribal living in harmony with the nature or in the Asiatic or African lives of yester years.   I have, of late, found more answers in Gandhi.Man’s quest doesn’t end with satisfying economic needs, or social equality.  The dream of spiritual realization is not an abandoned project by human beings, despite of Marx’s powerful intervention or even that of many positive sciences.  The need of internal peace continues to haunt the human beings even after he or she reaches the peaks of materialist achievements.  No one’s single thought is a final statement on human affairs.   The ‘Gurus’ are the victims of their own disciples.  They are preventing the gurus from realizing their follies by constructing fortified structures around them.    Marx needs to be rescued from Marxists in order to be placed in a historical context, and I hope with all sincerity at my command that it doesn’t in any way reduce his greatness.  By appreciating inadequacies of a thought it grows further.  Marx had examined the conditions of working class at a particular stage of human history, made some great insights into the problem of value of a produce, and the accumulation of ‘surplus value’, and anticipated in his own dialectical-materialistic historical process an intensification of class antagonisms, consolidation of classes into the Capitalist and the Proletariat, and the eventful revolutionary change in ordering the society under the vanguard of the socially advanced class – the Proletariat, which would end all the class contradictions.  In the skillful and creative hands of Lenin and Mao, it saw its realization.  But that is not the end of the history and the last man.  Even the fall of communist States all over the world is not the end of history.   It is neither the beginning nor the end; it is a continuum, where the wheel of history is imposing its inexorable laws, where the human nature accepts the challenges of history from time to time, irrespective of victories and defeats.  The human endeavor for more equal, and more and more egalitarian social order is a relentless and ongoing process, and the solutions demand more and more innovative thinking and action from many, and more.  We have to locate Marx in this process as one of the important stages of our collective thought, neither as the beginning, nor as the end statement or an epilogue or a curtain call.

Dr. A. Raghu Kumar