Revival of Marxism
Ritu Raj Subedi
On March 14, 1883 when Karl Marx died, only eleven people had turned up for his funeral. The attendance of such a paltry number of mourners sounded a satire on a man, who had devoted to and sacrificed all his life for the emancipation of the poor and oppressed people in the world. Throughout his eventful career, Marx was known as an intellectual star only to a small group of ‘radical exiles and failed revolutionaries’ in addition to spies and censors. Perhaps only his intimate friend Friedrich Engels knew what would be the place of Marx in human history.
Yes, 200 years after his birth, he is being remembered as the most influential thinker, economist and social scientist. He gave the most explosive intellectual weapon to the proletariats, who, according to him, have nothing to lose but their chains, and they have a world to win. His scientific socialism derived ideological inputs form the 19th century’s Europe that was in turmoil. The industrial revolution divided the society into two classes – capitalist and proletariat. In 1948, Marx and Engels wrote ‘The Communist Manifesto’, the second best-selling book of all time after Bible, to herald that the grave-diggers of bourgeois were born. But it is Das Capital that turned out to be a Bible to understand the nitty-gritty of capitalism. Today the people in the West have started to leaf through the pages of Capital to know the crisis of capitalism that has thrown their life out of gear.
Marx’s thought dominated almost all of the 20th century. His key tenets are dialectical materialism, class struggle and dictatorship of the proletariat. They received global limelight following the Russian October Revolution which took the world by storm in the first quarter of the last century. Communism spread to Asia, Latin America and other continents. Before the Fall of Berlin in 1989, a large number of nations had identified themselves as the Marxist states. From 1990 to 2008, Marxism was reviled for giving birth to the ‘red dictators’ of various sorts. This prompted neo-liberalist Francis Fukuyama to announce the ‘End of History’. But the 2008 financial crisis again brought Marx into the mainstream of political thinking and economic discourse, mocking Fukuyama’s immature analysis of evolution of political ideology.
History does not end there, just one experiment of Marxism fails. Marx views history as ‘radically open, a process of change and development within society enacted by humanity itself as the self-mediating being of nature’. History is the continuous process of human struggle and evolution. There will be nothing like absolutely final utopian golden age. There exists ‘higher society’ beyond capitalism. John Bellamy Foster writes that Marxism is an open-ended scientific inquiry that enables it to constantly reinvent itself by expanding its empirical as well as theoretical content, so as to embrace ever larger aspects of historical reality in an increasingly interconnected world.
Why is Marxism reviving? Because what Marx had predicted more than 150 years ago has turned out to be true now. He said that free market economies would lead to gross inequalities among the people. It leads to accumulation of wealth at the hands of a few. This observation made in the 19th century Europe also applies in the 21st century’s world despite the fact that many groundbreaking industrial and technological innovations took place in-between.
Harvard professor Louis Menand writes in The New Yorker: “By 1900, the richest one per cent of the population in Britain and France owned more than fifty per cent of those nations’ wealth; the top ten per cent owned ninety per cent. We are approaching those levels again today. In the United States, according to the Federal Reserve, the top ten per cent of the population owns seventy-two per cent of the wealth, and the bottom fifty per cent has two per cent.” This trend of inequality prevails globally as the trickle-down theory of neoliberal economy fell on the stony ground.
Today Marxism is invoked not only to resolve the riddles of economic inequalities but it is being revisited to sort out the ecological crisis triggered by reckless capitalism that has robbed the nature for unlimited profit at the expense of entire humanity. “For Marx, the relation between nature and society was a reciprocal one, a unity of seeming opposites, materially mediated through the social-ecological metabolism.” This Marxist insight is a critical tool to fight the climate change that has threatened the planet.
Towards the end of his life, Marx had begun to pin faith on the peaceful means for the transition to socialism from capitalism. He viewed that election and parliament could play an effective role in changing the condition of working class. This peaceful vision of Marxism served as a catalytic role in the rise of social democracy in Germany and Nordic countries that sought to overcome extremes of both capitalism and communism and treaded the path of ‘golden mean’ envisioned by Gautam Buddha.
In Nepal, there has been an unprecedented craze for Marxism. More than 65 per cent voters are left-leaning. They believe communism will bring a meaningful change in their life. Madan Bhandari’s ‘People’s Multiparty Democracy’ has taken much of the ideological insights from the soft liner Marxism that calls for defeating capitalism through the ballot, not bullet. Two big communist parties – CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre – are engaged in rigorous negotiations for unification. The nation has got a strong communist government of Left Alliance, comprising the UML and MC, which swept the three-tier polls on the planks of nationality, stability and prosperity last year. On May 5, bicentenary of Marx’s birth, the two parties promised to get united and work to bring prosperity and happiness to the Nepalis. The Karl Marx Bicentennial Celebration Committee is organising an array of activities to mark the occasion. It plans to train 10,000 youths on Marxism in a bid to spread Marxist ideas to the grassroots level. Now time has come for the Nepali communists to rise above the rhetoric and adopt the egalitarian Marxist character to build a prosperous socialist nation.