Freedom and Unfreedom

Anirban Biswas

In the sixties, This writer had the opportunity to follow a debate in the pages of a well-known Bengali weekly. The debate started with an article by a well-known intellectual and professor who was a professed anti-Marxist throughout his life. In reply to a critic, who was a teacher of economics at the University College of London, the learned professor argued that Marx wrote his magnum opus Das Capital while living in London. He then asked "When shall we see such freedom in socialist countries?"

The learned professor, who is now dead, found it convenient not to mention that Marx, all through his life in London, had to struggle against poverty. It might be that he did not consider having to live in dire poverty an example of unfreedom. Of course, such pofessors probably considered Marx a minor figure, just as Paul A Samuelson referred to Marx as a 'minor post-Ricardian'. Hence Karl Marx having to live under dire poverty was to them not an event worth noticing. Many of such professors tried to reduce Marxism to economic determinism. The pundit who referred to Marx's freedom in London asked his critic, "Was the war between India and China on the question of market?" No Marxist had ever claimed that all the wars were on the question of markets. What they have correctly and consistently maintained that every war fought in human history hasĀ  had a political character.

Marx-bashing had started in Marx's lifetime and has been continuing ever since. Anti-Marxists, all through the twentieth century has spoken of Marx as a false prophet, as if they were flogging a dead horse. Right now, in the beginning of the twentieth century, representatives of the capital have been showing interest in Marx. Eric Hobsbawm, in the first chapter of his brilliant book 'How to Change the World' recalls that after he had written a piece on the Communist Manifesto on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of its publication, he was approached by the editor of the inflight magazine of the United Airlines, 80% of whose readers were American business travellers. 'I'd written a piece on the Manifesto; he thought his readers would be interested in a debate on the Manifesto, and could he use something from my piece?' If the learned professor were alive today, he would possibly have realized that the class whose cause he had championed for decades was now rediscovering Marx. Certainly, by allowing Karl Marx to write and publish his Communist Manifesto, the bourgeoisie of the mid-nineteenth century had done a service to their successors, and the so-called 'freedom' was necessary as much for the bourgeoisie as for Karl Marx . Doesn't it prove that Marx was a thinker whose replacement the society is yet to find out? The crisis that erupted in 2007-08 and is far from over as yet has clearly shown how unfreedom is inextricably associated with capitalism. But unless capitalism is replaced by its negation, freedom will remain an illusion to mankind.

Vol. 47, No. 2, Jul 20 - 26, 2014