Reflections on Marx

Anirban Biswas

Not so long ago, study of Marxism was seriously on the wane and terms like 'post-Modernism', 'post-Colonialism' etc became vogue words. Marxists as a species seemed to be on the verge of extinction and capitalism seemed to be the terminus of history. Those who did not lose faith, however, began to think somewhat afresh, and started discussions and practices on linking Marxism with broader democracy, taking lessons from the defeats of the proletariat in the Soviet Union and China. They were, however, too few in number and study of Marx's life and works was relegated to a corner, becoming a matter of academic-historical interest only. Opposing Marxism became a fashion. Yet these opponents could not disprove the following basic propositions of Marx: (i) the existence of classes is related to specific historical phases of development of production; (ii) class struggle inevitably leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat; (iii) this dictatorship is by itself a transition that is led to the abolition of classes and establishment of a classless society.

The global meltdown that started in 2008 and is far from over as yet—it was earlier preceded by the East Asian crisis that reduced the so-called 'tiger' economies to lambs—has, however, demolished the myth of capitalism as an eternal category. One of the outcomes of this meltdown is a renewed interest in Marxism. Even the bourgeoisie and those who earn their career by serving as propagators of bourgeois mainstream economics are trying to learn from Marx's theory of crisis. They are buying Marx's Capital in huge quantities. Considering this fact, the publication of this *collection of articles on the occasion of the bi-centenary of Marx's birth is most welcome.

All the pieces were written in the nineteenth century. The first one, written by Eleanor Marx, youngest daughter of the great thinker, provides a brief, but graphic sketch of the life and activities of her father. Besides, it gives a lucid exposition of the labour theory of value as developed by Marx in contradistinction with the formulations of pre-Marxian English classical political economy. The second piece of the volume is a reproduction of Frederic Engels's speech at Marx's grave. This speech is profound and an elegant summing up of Marx's contribution to the store of human knowledge. Engels concluded the Speech with these words: "His name will endure through the ages, and so also his work". Later history has borne out the accuracy of this statement, because Marxism has provided a scientific outlook for studying the past and understanding (and changing) the present. Wilhelm Lebknecht's piece, which consists of excerpts from his book Karl Marx : Biographical Memoirs, acquaints the reader with some aspects of Marx's personality, Marx as a human being. Next is produced a letter by Prudhon. This letter, however, does not explain much about the differences between the two thinkers. Eduard Bernstein's article (Karl Marx and Social Reform) is interesting in a double sense. First of all, it contains replies to the blatantly unjust denunciations of Marx in a clear fashion. Secondly, it embodies Bernstein's doubts about Marx's predictions on revolutionary upheavals.

The final essay is that of Mikhail Bakunin. A perusal of Marx's comments on the subject of the state, particularly those written in the immediate aftermath of the Paris Commune, suggests that Bakunin's understanding of Marx's position was not fully correct. Of course, the growth of statism in post-revolutionary Russia (and to some extent, China) and the consequences that followed have not been good for the transition to communism. But certainly Marx's teachings cannot be blamed for this reversal. Still, a study of Bakunin is useful.
To conclude, this small book should inspire readers to learn more on Marx and Marxism.

*Karl Marx: Nineteenth Century Memories and Reflections
by Debraj Bhattacharya (ed)
Parchment, Kolkata-700126,
120 pages, Price Rs 225

Vol. 51, No.18, Nov 4 - 10, 2018