Bicentenary of Karl Marx: Nothing Insurmountable With Marx as Beacon Light

R Arun Kumar

NEO-CONSERVATIVE US talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, has accused Pope Francis of promoting ‘pure Marxism’. Wall Street Journal, a premier conservative magazine, commenting about the correctness of Marx’ analysis of capitalism’s tendency to maintain a reserve army of labour to increase its profits during the ongoing global economic crisis, wrote: “Lately, the US recovery has been displaying some Marxian traits. Corporate profits are on a tear, and rising productivity has allowed companies to grow without doing much to reduce the vast ranks of the unemployed”. Why are the ruling class ‘back slappers’ showing this sudden interest in Karl Marx – a man who was born two hundred years ago? This is indeed a reaction to the growing interest on Marx and his writings among the youth and working people precisely in this period of global economic crisis.

The prolonged crisis has pushed people to search for alternatives to the economic exploitation they are subjected to. In their quest, many are finding that Capital, written by Marx, one hundred and fifty years ago has many of the answers. Youth in particular are reading the works of Marx in droves and are trying to assimilate his teachings to develop their critique of the capitalist system and also struggle for a better alternative. This renewed interest in Marx has frightened the ruling classes, who can never forget the opening lines of the Communist Manifesto – the spectre of communism haunting Europe. It is this abiding relevance of Marx teachings that makes him the most sought after person even two hundred years after his birth.

Marx was born in an ordinary middle-class family. His father was a lawyer, who wanted Marx also to become a lawyer. Marx chose otherwise and went on to pursue his interests – the study of human society. He was an avid reader. To describe him in his own words, he is “a machine condemned to devour books and then throw them, in a changed form, on the dunghill of history”. Books according to him are his ‘slaves’, whose purpose is to ‘serve him as he pleases’. At the young age of seventeen, he was clear about how to service the knowledge he had gained through his voracious study. He had concluded that: “...the chief guide which must direct us in the choice of a profession is the welfare of mankind and our own perfection. It should not be thought that these two interests could be in conflict, that one would have to destroy the other; on the contrary, man's nature is so constituted that he can attain his own perfection only by working for the perfection, for the good, of his fellow men. If he works only for himself, he may perhaps become a famous man of learning, a great sage, an excellent poet, but he can never be a perfect, truly great man. History calls those men the greatest who have ennobled themselves by working for the common good; experience acclaims as happiest the man who has made the greatest number of people happy...” Marx writings showed the way of happiness to millions of people and continues to show them this path even to this day.

Marx familial life was a great tragedy. He lost three children and had a stillborn child. He himself suffered from serious ailments. He lived a life of extreme penury. All this could not prevent him from writing the Communist Manifesto, at the age of thirty, along with Engels. It is the single most powerful book that shook the foundations of the capitalist class. At forty-nine, he had completed the first volume of the Capital. All through this period, he was forced to live a life as an exile and never slept with a full stomach. Braving all these odds, he continued in his chosen path of ‘ensuring happiness to the greatest number of people’. For all of us who talk of ‘difficulties’ and ‘hardships’, Marx life is a barometer to measure what our ‘difficulties’ with what he and his family had gone through and compare the volumes of our work. Invariably Marx would emerge as the person who had undergone the worst of hardships and in spite of it produced a huge heap of work that needs to be studied and re-studied.

Marx watched the enactment of bourgeois revolutions in Europe in 1848. He also witnessed the betrayal of the working class interests. Marx was also a living witness to the first working revolution – the unsuccessful Paris Commune of 1871. Instead of confining himself to the study of only ‘ideas’, he was also interested in the ‘actuality’. In spite of the defeat, he never doubted the final triumph of the proletarian revolution. He discussed the various strategies and tactics to be adopted in the struggle against capitalist exploitation. The crux of which is: proletariat assuming the leadership role in the revolutionary struggle, the strengthening of the working class organisations and politicising them. Engels, explaining Marx ideas stated: “We seek the abolition of classes. What is the means of achieving it? The political domination of the proletariat...revolution is the supreme act of politics; whoever wants it must also want the means, political action, which prepares for it, which gives the workers the education for revolution and without which the workers will always be duped...But the politics which are needed are working class politics; the workers’ party must be constituted not as the tail of some bourgeois party, but as an independent party with its own objective, its own politics”.

Marx and Engels advised the working class party to be prepared for all eventualities – to be ready to work using all the institutions available in a bourgeois democracy and also be prepared to work when all these democratic rights and access to these institutions are curtailed. They wanted the working class parties to be always prepared to face ‘reaction’ and repression. They wanted the working class parties to be always conscious enough to plan their activities according to the ‘programmatic understanding’ and never ‘relinquish’ or ‘postpone’ the implementation of ‘programmatic tasks’. They warned against converting the ‘social democratic workers’ party’ into a ‘social democratic petty-bourgeois party’.

Marx believed with conviction that it is people who create history and in the role of the proletariat in replacing the capitalist system with a socialist system. Marx wanted the working class party to be disciplined, patient and work without despair even when meted with defeat. Analysing the 1848 revolution and Paris Commune, Marx and Engels wanted the working class to look at these defeats as providing them with new opportunities to educate and organise working class in even more larger numbers. Engels writes: “in order that the masses may understand what is to be done, long, persistent work is required, and it is just this work which we are now pursuing, and with a success which drives the enemy to despair”.

In the present conjuncture where the right reactionary forces are growing in our country, it is an important lesson for us to work with patience and persistence without losing hope. Marx wrote, “If we have chosen the position in life in which we can most of all work for mankind, no burdens can bow us down, because they are sacrifices for the benefit of all; then we shall experience no petty, limited, selfish joy, but our happiness will belong to millions, our deeds will live on quietly but perpetually at work...” It is these unselfish, persistent and dogged efforts to politicise people and organise struggles that is the need of the day.

‘Therefore, only courage, gentlemen; here is no backing out of it; here you are in for it!’

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