Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818 a little over 202 years ago in Trier Germany and passed away in London, United Kingdom on March 14, 1883, aged a little less than 65.
Marx is remembered as a prodigious writer, journalist, philosopher and economist, whose ideas have had a lasting impact on a scale that few others have achieved. The life of Marx coincided with a very turbulent period in the history of the world. During this time, the colonial system gained full steam across the length and breadth of the world. It was also a period in which Europe was embroiled in wars and battles and was a period of utmost confusion and chaos.
Marx worked as an organiser of labour, as a journalist, as a writer and as an independent researcher. Along with Friedrich Engels, he authored the Communist Manifesto which is probably one of the most read pamphlets ever published. During his life Marx was possessed with the mission of understanding society and philosophy. In order to accomplish the mission, he took up the study of economics, and in particular of capitalism, and he achieved what other economists before him could not. Marx based his study on dialectical materialism and discovered the theory of surplus value, and explained how capitalism works. His theory was able to explain and predict the boom and bust cycles of capitalism. He also showed that the political structures, the super-structure as he named it, arose to protect the system. Marx established how the relations of production are the basic engine of society. He argued that the fundamental contradiction within the system was the socialised nature of production and the individual nature of ownership of the means of production. Marx also showed that the existence of class struggle within society is inevitable, and reflected the relations of production at any given epoch. In the capitalist epoch, Marx established that the two antagonistic classes are the bourgeoisie and the working class. The latter had nothing to offer but its labour. Surplus arising from the labour was pocketed by the bourgeoisie. Thus the working class had in it the seeds to overthrow the bourgeoisie and establish its own rule.
The work of Marx was based on analysis and a scientific approach. Though his predecessors such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo identified problems of capitalist society, they were not able to understand the laws of motion of capitalist society. Simultaneously, Marx solved the problems of philosophy in Germany developing the work of G. W. F. Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach. They were unable to settle the problems and paradoxes of philosophy because they were not able to note the primacy of the role of the means and ownership of production and social relations under capitalism.
Marx also argued that war between countries is a necessary consequence of the competition for raw materials and control of markets. Having analysed all these, Marx concluded that the problems of capitalist society could only be solved when the power would pass into the hands of the working people. The working class being a revolutionary class would create a state that would guarantee the rights for all. In such a society there would be no classes and exploitation could be ended.
In order to understand the relevance of Karl Marx today, we must recall some of the important features of the epoch we are in. Let us begin with a look at the history of the twentieth century.
Recalling that the work of Marx inspired many successors including V. I. Lenin and others, today the world is one where socialism does not exist anywhere. While socialism was constructed in the USSR starting from the October Revolution in 1917 and for several decades afterwards, a slow restoration of capitalism took place, under the shell of socialism in the USSR and in the East Bloc countries after the death of Stalin. In the entire period after the end of the First World War and into the nationalist struggles in the colonies after the Second World War, socialism filled the hearts and minds of millions who fought for their emancipation from colonial powers. However, the bi-polar division of the world took place in the 1950s and continued for several decades during the period of the Cold War.
The world changed in a momentous manner in the period between 1989 and 1991. This was the period in which the Berlin Wall came down, the unification of Germany took place after the division of Germany between the Allied Powers and the USSR after the end of Second World War in Europe. In 1991 the USSR was liquidated. A Commonwealth of Independent Nations constituted by several of the former Soviet Republics replaced it. They adopted capitalism as their way forward. The victors of the Cold War announced that this was the triumph of so-called liberal democracy and superiority of market economics. A book entitled `The End of History and the Last Man’ proclaimed that such values are the highest form of civilization. The Paris Charter was signed that would put the rights of private property as the supreme. Other countries like India were quick to adapt and discarded the slogans of socialism and opted for liberalization and privatisation.
We are now in a position to evaluate what was the outcome of those momentous events. As the Cold War epoch ended, and as the imperialist camp tightened its hold on the world through its organs and established the post-Cold War era, none of the predictions of peace and prosperity have come true. But rather the world finds itself more and more chaotic, and more and more ungovernable. There have been endless wars of imperialist conquest, none of which have been conclusive. Working people across the world are completely disempowered and thrown to the streets. Youth and intelligentsia find themselves at the mercy of the most crude and filthy political leadership. Women are insulted and humiliated every day. The world is becoming an intolerable place for most human beings.
The above said, the work and life of Marx which are timeless examples on how to work together and solve problems by coming together and waging a tireless struggle for change. The analyses of Marx demonstrates that in every epoch there is a need to have an objective understanding of the world around us. This understanding can only be based on the relations of production. The analysis of politics as an integrated whole is an imperative for the youth and citizens of the world.
Let us take a fresh look at society using the methods Marx originated and developed and contend and solve the problems of today. Let him inspire us so that we have a tomorrow.
B.A., May 12, Bengaluru