The mixed legacy of Karl Marx in the 21st century

Shihab Sarkar | Published: May 10, 2018 20:51:39 | Updated: May 11, 2018 21:05:51

Guests unveil the Karl Marx statue during the unveiling ceremony of the Karl Marx statue in Trier, Germany, on May 05, 2018. A China-donated statue of German philosopher Karl Marx was unveiled on Saturday in his birth town on the 200th anniversary of his birth. —Photo: Xinhua

The 200th birth anniversary of Karl Marx (1818-1883) comes at a time when socialism has fallen into its worst times since it was introduced in the former Soviet Union in 1917. The Soviet socialism is no more, nor is it in place in the former East European socialist countries. The Chinese leaders have branded their socialism as homegrown. However, the country has not much veered from the core pillars of the socio-economic system propounded by Karl Marx. Its present leader Xi Jinping has recently reassured his countrymen of his unflinching allegiance to the roots of China's socialist ideology, on which it is founded. At the same time, distressing news continue to dominate many other parts of the socialist world.

The continent of South America comprises a large segment of these regions. In the context of the global romping of the individualistic market economy, socialism has already become a shibboleth in many parts of the continent. Miguel Diaz-Canel, the newly named presidential successor to Cuba's Raul Castro, has affirmed his commitment to socialism in running the country. The reality, however, is different. During the short tenure of Raul Castro, the ex-socialist country began tentatively opening up and loosening the tight grip of the state on the country's economy. The younger-generation Cubans are eagerly waiting for a more liberal and freer society. Although Cuba, a trusted ally of the now-defunct Soviet Union, is far from adopting market economy anytime soon, it has started shifting from its earlier rule with an iron fist. People are visibly disillusioned with the austerity of the socialist system. Most of them are showing their impatience in following the path of freedom.

The Latin American country Venezuela has recently been shaken to the roots by the mass upsurge being steered by quarters opposed to the socialistic government of Nicolas Maduro. He has taken the helm from Hugo Chavez, the left-leaning leader. Staunchly anti-US since his early days in power, Chavez had drawn so much ire of Washington that their bellicose rhetoric at one stage began smelling of naked animosities. Venezuela is not alone in experiencing an anti-government movement. The latest addition to the list is Nicaragua, a Central American country. Nicaragua is the most recent socialist country to be rocked by popular unrest. It has been a bastion of Soviet-style socialism since its change of guard in 1979.  Nations around the world have for ages been repressed by exploitative rules. At one point of time, their peoples are shoved into the path of violent movement against dictatorial rules. In Nicaragua's case, it was a popular guerrilla war brought to victory by Daniel Ortega in 1979. The war and revolution toppled the dictator Anastasio Somoza.  With Ortega-led Sandinista guerrillas seizing power, he began ruling the country on socialist ideology as President from 1985. Between short intermissions, the Sandinista government and Ortega have ruled the country from 1985 to 1990 and from 2007 till date. Thanks to persisting poverty, unemployment and graft, the socialist government of Ortega has continued to fall from public favour. The year 2018 in Nicaragua witnesses the old spectacle of how a charismatic leader begins losing his mystique before making an exit from the scene. Latin America experts attribute the murky developments in the country to the government's failure to put the socialist system in place efficiently.

The grim turn of governments based on Marxist socialist system began after the start of Soviet Union's collapse in 1989. It started precisely after the fall of the Berlin Wall in socialist East Germany. The massive Soviet Union, comprising the vast Russia and some other 'republics', is said have begun imploding in its last few years. Coupled with the popular demands for more freedom of expression and movement, the memories of the dreadful Lenin-Stalin era gulag days expedited the completion of a cycle in 1991. It was kind of a making of the coffin for the Soviet system, then already 74 years old. The infamous red tape and the party honchos' excesses in the privileges of 'nomanklatura' finally drove the last nail to the coffin. The ideologues of Soviet Marxism later pointed the finger at Gorbachev, Solzhenitsyn et al for the fall of the Soviet Union. A large section of Marxist scholars, however, detected a number of drawbacks in Marxism 60-65 years after the death of Karl Marx. It was exactly 100 years after the declaration of the communist manifesto prepared by Marx-Engels duo. In the later times, communism's limitations turned out to be a widely held notion. The common view of the Marxist ideology's lacunae comprises its lack of sufficient interpretations and details. As a consequence, Marxism has assumed an eclectic character by default. Political and economic theorists hold this feature responsible for the localised characters of socialism in different regions. Quintessentially, Marxism is an economic system denouncing concentration of capital in a few hands. It envisions the establishment of a workers' state. The ideology also comes down hard on the broader domain of culture. According to it, all the branches of feudal and capitalistic culture reflect anti-proletariat thoughts. These segments of the arts are product of the bourgeoisie class. In order to build a materialistic and classless workers' society, its members should not have any other identity except the one belonging to a collective self. By abolishing the institution of the traditional State, Marxism has envisioned a new society. Marx's repeated stress on the proletariat culture and voluntary sacrifice of self-interest sparked debates in the intellectual circles in the capitalist world soon after the October Revolution in Russia in 1917 under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin. As decades rolled by, the discourses only intensified. Their ripples began to be felt across the world acutely in the late 1940s and the early 1950s. British novelist George Orwell published his anti-authoritarian rule novel, '1984', in Britain in 1949. It was followed by the anti-communism frenzy and witch-hunting of suspected communists in the US in the early 1950s. The seeds of a violent ideological conflict remained lurking in the ideology since the early days of Soviet socialism. Thanks to it, poets Vladimir Mayakovsky and Sergei Yesenin in the Soviet Union had to opt for committing suicide to save them from continued state surveillance.

Karl Marx showed special interest in colonised India. With the sub-continent ruled by the British colonial power, the intellectuals and social reformers took it upon themselves to spread the message of revolution. While political activists fought for independence, the intellectuals, especially in Bengal, remained busy translating Marxist literature including the Communist Manifesto into Bangla. The persons included Prince Dwarakanath Tagore, grandfather of Rabindranath Tagore, Shibnath Shastri, and novelist Bankim Chattopaddhyay. In the later period Reboti Barman, M.N. Roy, Kutubuddin Ahmad et al joined the Indian communist movement. However, it was Comrade Muzaffar Ahmed who played a pioneering role in the dissemination of the message of socialism in the sub-continent. He was one of the founders of the Communist Party of India. The historic event of the party's founding occurred in Tashkent in 1920. Muzaffar Ahmed found Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam beside him while in socialist campaigns in Bengal. The two brought out the left journal 'Langol', later called 'Gonobani', in 1925. The region's independence movement at one stage drew a great extent on the communist philosophy.

Days are changing fast in world politics and economy. These are the times of triumphant march of individual freedoms and openness. Except China, few countries are interested to stick to socialistic practices today. Yet Marxism once held aloft the beacon of hope for the poor and developing countries. The ideology is expected to remain alive mostly among the youths with a quixotic bent.


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