Happy Birthday, Karl Marx! You still matter in the age of the iPhone

Marxism's enduring relevance comes from class struggles which show a huge resurgence.

 |  5-minute read |   05-05-2016
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"Karl Marx is no god and Marxism is no religion. Marxism is a methodology to understand class struggles, analyse the flow of power and money in economies. Marx is as relevant now as it was when Das Kapital or Critique of Political Economy was written," said a confident Umar Khalid, a JNU student who currently faces sedition charges over freedom of speech and often termed as "anti-national" by ultra-nationalists.

What Khalid points out here is that as long as capital, state, private property, wage-labour, foreign trade and world market continue to be part of social order, Karl Marx and Marxism will continue to be indispensable.

In 1848, Karl Marx, in his Communist Manifesto, wrote, "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles". 168 years later, the magnetism of his ideas still continue to attract scholars, while his unmatched foresightedness about capitalism continue to give chill down the spine of bourgeois class. A poll conducted in 1999 by BBC placed Karl Marx as the most influential person of the millennium with Newton and Einstein just being spectators of such greatest achievement of human mind.

However, a lot has changed in the present reformist and postmodernist world since Marx in the last sentence of Das Kapital concluded, "proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains". In the times of Walmart monopoly and constructed essentialities like iPhones, one wonders if Marx or Marxism is still relevant.

karl-marx-embed_050516043650.jpg Karl Marx.

Marxism, or for that matter of fact Marx himself, is not about just a man and his work. It is about connections outlined, analysed and criticised between the two classes, bourgeois and proletarians, in the exploitative social order. Social relations, power struggles and economic disparity between bourgeois and proletarians. It is about how the ones who own the means of production exploit the ones who produce.

Having established that Marxism is a timeless practice of socialist ideology, it cannot be denied that there still remains a thick film of fog among the masses that obstructs the clear understanding about the man and his works. As Lenin puts it, none of the Marxists for the past half century have understood Marx; major part of this dictum implies Lenin himself. This points to the ubiquitous misconception on Marxism which in turn amounts to blind criticism.

The restricted readings of Karl Marx and his ideology is the root cause of the staunch criticism it faces in the society today. And thanks to Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin, the ugly evolution of socialism in Europe and communist dream turning into a nightmare in China, the defenders of Marxism have always faced a bitter laughter.

Infelicitously, the criticism comes from the people who have hardly laid their hands on Communist Manifesto or Das Capital. Mostly people understand Marx through popular notions or propaganda. For instance, Marxism is often remotely confused with Maoism and closely associated with the debacles of CPI(M) in West Bengal.

It thus becomes incumbent to establish a distinction between Marxism and Communism. Both are the branches of socialism with close association but thin yet clear distinction. While Marxism is an analytical dissection of two classes in the society, Communism is a form of political movement leading to a particular form of social order.

Where Marxism calls for complete abolishment of private property, Communism on the other hand ceases the power from private property and vests it into state property.  What went wrong with North Korea or Cuba is not the fault of Marx's socialist dream but vulgar evolution of social democracy and perversions of Marx's ideology.

"One of the main ideologies in Marxism is to be critical of events. Yes, Communism might have shaped up horrifically in some parts but that doesn't mean we will totally belittle a genius and his work," said Khalid.

Many lies have been floated around just to bring down Marxist ideologies and ones who practice them. The golden run of global capitalism from 1990 to 2008 saw many economists drafting final obituaries to Karl Marx. Marx was disregarded under the pretext of social development. The propaganda of social development through economic development overshadowed Marx's vision which just the opposite.

"Capitalists have been never more scared anything other than Marx and Marxism. They don't want to be challenged and Marxism is the only direct logical challenge they face. And as Marx said in Dialectic Materialism that those who own production own ideas, these capitalists have created propaganda that disregards Marxism," added Khalid.

While disintegration of Marxism from Lenin to Stalin to Mao is debateable, Marx's relevance cannot be disregarded given the fact that he's been right about economic development of the societies. Be it great depression, acute job crisis in mid 1970s or recession in 2008, Marx has been right when he said capitalists are their own grave-diggers and its colossal production supremacy will tear it down. Since 2008 crisis and economic slowdown for almost three years now, Marx and his predictions have been vindicated.

Economists have now started to accept that Marx was never outdated and capitalist regime, even if patch-worked with reformism, is cyclical process of crisis which will eventually wear itself out.

If we closely examine current economic slowdown we can see how right Marx was when he said "accumulation of wealth on one side is accumulation of misery on the other". For instance, the big corporate houses in United States in their pursuit of profit earning, have brought about massive stagnation in wages and rise in unemployment, which now stands at an alarming 10 per cent. And this, in the most developed economy. Naturally, the situation gets worse in "third world" countries.

It's mere ignorance when we question relevance of Marx at present times. The times might have changed but the structure is still the same. When Marx drafted his understanding of social order he talked about two forces in the society, market and civil society. The market forces then owned the means of production and they still do;  the civil society was then alienated from its labour and it still is.

Marx will continue to inspire those oppressed as long as needs are constructed and consumerism is encouraged. As long as big corporate houses own the media houses and directly or discreetly control the political and economical discourses of the society, Marx will continue to be as relevant as ever.

The leopard hasn't changed its spot.


Siddharth Tiwari Siddharth Tiwari @siddharth_stoic

Journalist at India Today Group Digital.

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