AS we observe the bicentenary of the birth of Karl Marx, one cannot but be struck by the innumerable times Marxism was declared dead or irrelevant after he had left the scene a hundred and thirty five years ago. However, Marx and his thought, kept bouncing back to public attention. This is because the ideas of Marx, concern social and historical change and that is something which cannot become anachronistic at any period of time.
Karl Marx was born 200 years ago on May 5, 1818. He died on March 14, 1883 at the age of 65. Throughout his adult life, he produced a vast range of work which constitutes the core of what is known as Marxist theory.
Marx and his colleague, Frederick Engels, were the founders of the materialist conception of history, known as historic materialism. This materialistic outlook was distinct from other materialist philosophies as it was based on dialectics.
Based on historical materialism, Marx and Engels showed how society evolves and changes through the development of different modes of production and how capitalism emerges from the womb of feudalism.
Marx, in his magnum opus, Capital laid bare the inner workings of capitalism as a mode of production. He revealed how labour is used as a commodity to extract surplus value. It was Marx who foresaw capitalism becoming a global system of exploitation – a system which would develop into imperialism after Marx’s lifetime. Subsequently, Lenin took forward this analysis of capitalism to the new stage of imperialism.
Marx’s conception of history was, in essence, the history of class struggles. Marx and Engels became the advocates of scientific socialism. In their brilliant Communist Manifesto published in 1848, they set out the revolutionary path to transcend capitalism and go on to a classless society – Communism.
For Marx, theory was only a guide to action. From the call of the Communist Manifesto to the working class to lead the anti-capitalist revolution, Marx became involved in organising the workers. The International Working Men’s Association founded in 1864 was the result of this endeavour.
Lenin’s creative development of Marxist theory was the motive force for the October Revolution of 1917. Since then, there have been various revolutions and revolutionary movements originating from Marxist theory and practice. The failure of any particular revolutionary project, or, its derailment have not affected Marxist theory as such. The failure lay in the distortions and dilution of Marxist theory and practice.
Marx had never considered his views and theories as omnipotent and eternal. What he had done was to set out a methodology to comprehend society and how to bring about change in society. We must, in this connection, always remember what Lenin said: “We do not regard Marx’s theory as something completed and inviolable; on the contrary, we are convinced that it has only laid the foundation stone of the science which socialists must develop in all directions if they wish to keep pace with life.”
It is for Marxists to develop and update Marx’s theory in all spheres of knowledge. It is only through such endeavours that we can successfully advance towards the goal of social transformation.
The 22nd Congress of the CPI(M) has called for an year-long programme to propagate the ideas of Karl Marx and to take Marxism to the people. This has to be done through seminars, public discussions, publication of Marxist works in Indian languages and conducting study circles on Marxist topics. This is the way we can equip ourselves to undertake the struggle to change India and the world.
(May 2, 2018)