On Marxism

Author: Himanshu Ranjan


Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels together developed Marxism. Marx, an atheist had to live in exile in London due to his radical thoughts in the newspaper Vorwarts. Marx worked upon developing the concept of ‘dialectical materialism’. Marx found the model that relates to – the problem, the reaction to the problem, and the solution – has become too abstract and so he focused more upon real-world conditions of class, labour, and the socioeconomics that links them.

The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital are the more famous works of Marx and Engels. Despite the derogatory attitude the word communal has got associated with – the word actually means a commune (a group of people who share and care). The Communist Manifesto gives primary importance to class struggle and class conflict. It observes the exploitation of labour class (proletarians) that are in majority by the bourgeoisie (pronounced bʊəʒwɑzi) or capitalist class that forms the minority. The exploitation results from the fact that the means of production are owned by a few. Hence, Marx tries to unite all the proletarians irrespective of the nations they belong to form a revolutionary group that is supposed to not reform but to abolish such an oppressive system.

Marx advocates that rich people should be taxed higher, private properties should be abolished, public education should be free, banks should be nationalised, and the means of production should be publicly owned. It should be noted however that Marx believed not in the state but society. The means of production should be owned by society as a whole. He dreams of a stateless and classless society.

In their work Das Kapital, Marx and Engels show the flaws of a capitalist system. The class struggle is inherent in such a system as the profits are shared among a few shareholders. Marx believes such a system shall be short-lived and a revolution by the proletarians shall ultimately lead to a socialist mode of production. Marx thought to create a system in which the profits instead of getting shared among a few shareholders who own the means of production shall get distributed to the proletarians through socialism – a new set of laws that discourages the private ownership of the means of production.

Marx points out that the aim of the bourgeoisie is to yield as much surplus value from the proletarians and thus keep accumulating capital for a few shareholders. This leads to the exploitation of the labour class and the resulting conflict though latently present has the potential to become a revolution in order to abolish such a system.

Adam Smith in his work ‘An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations’ describes self-interest as the motive among both the proletarians and the bourgeoisie to specialize and compete.

Marx had an influence on many leaders including Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela. He had also read Adam Smith’s work and understood well that the self-interest and free-market concept leads to the exploitation of the proletarians.

However influential were Marx thoughts such as “From each according to their ability to each according to their needs”, and however significant it was to put light upon the evils of capitalism, at the end of the day it did not account for the fact that human psychology and the greed to succeed even at the cost of exploiting others remains a driving force for the economies to flourish though unequally. The extent of wealth inequality can be understood from the fact that the bottom half of the population accounts for just 1 % of the wealth while the top 1 % have more than twice the wealth of six and a half billion people combined.

Here, I would like to share an anecdote. Once I was crossing the road in Noida, I could see there was no vehicle around as far as I could see. So, I started to cross the road and then suddenly I heard a honking with increasing pitch. It was a lavish car coming at a very very high speed and I just had to run to save my life. What gave the driver so much confidence I don’t know – maybe such lavish cars would have an instant stop mechanism. Let’s say I am a proletarian in this example who felt exploited by the bourgeoisie who owned an asset. Such exploitation however subtle promotes further exploitation. Money has the capability to change the minds and hearts of people and to encourage them to look away from humanity and empathy.

But socialism on the other hand couldn’t prove to be a success. The great Chinese famine in 1960, the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, and the disintegration of the USSR in 1991 had examples that socialism couldn’t bring out the desired results. Communism is an ideology that required socialism rather than capitalism to thrive and then it can transition into a communist stateless and classless utopian society. That’s not an easy dream.

Mixed economies where the state is performing a regulatory role and free markets are allowed to let the economy thrive has been adopted in many nations. The trickle-down effect has also not worked and so the government needs to be a player in some crucial sectors.

Compassionate capitalism asks us to rely on our self-interest instincts but to minimize our exploitative behaviour. It also means that the proletarians be given a share of the surplus-value they generate. It also asks people who have accumulated capital to share it for philanthropic and social purposes. It is good that there are examples of many billionaires and multi-millionaires such as Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Azim Premji among others who are doing philanthropic deeds but more needs to be done.

Karl Marx, I believe was an observer of the class struggle that takes place on a day to day basis. His objective was to develop a revolutionary thought to stop the exploitation of the proletarians who form the majority. He was thus empathetic towards a majority of the section of the population irrespective of the boundaries of nation and race. What makes us a human being is both our ability to look into our self-interest as well as empathize with those getting exploited. Karl Marx just took the balance to the other side for us to see it clearly.


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