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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 20 New Delhi May 5, 2018

Manufacturing Discontent

Saturday 5 May 2018, by Samit Kar


Noam Chomsky co-authored with Edward S. Herman to write Manufacturing Consent (1988) to uphold the agony of modernity to raise a manufactured consensual social reality keeping at bay the natural voice of protest, The authors lamented how the liberalised regime in the contemporary global order had been incessantly portraying a mystifying peaceful social order. There is a growing crisis looming in different spheres of society: economy, culture, value, politics, morality and perhaps in all rudiments of public and private life. But despite the misery of mankind, the culture of obedience has emerged as the dominant culture in the contemporary social realm.

The depressed voice of Chomsky, like many other social thinkers, appears illustrative in the wake of Karl Marx’s (born May 5, 1818-died March 14, 1883) 200th Birth Anniversary. It was Marx who had shown how the culture of disobedience can be reaped to do away with the social order wherein the right to private property had often robbed the right to sustenance of many people across the world.

The forms of exploitation and the teachers of emancipatory struggles had definitely changed over the period of time. Many countries, which once used to swear by the name of Marx and his famous concept of socialism, had abandoned him. There is hardly any country where his social principles are taken into account to run the government and frame social welfare policies. He is now nothing else than a forgotten hero.

But how many social thinkers, including those who disown the veracity of Marx’s social thought, can refute that the introduction of the concept of social welfare in development planning and welfare economics in the context of classical utilitarian economic doctrine is essentially a fallout of the introduction of socialism in erstwhile socialist countries? Who can deny the emergence of the Soviet Union as a superpower from the debris of a backward Tsarist regime and the emergence of the socialist world in the post World War II regime inhabited by about one-third global population is a fallout of Marx’s social thought?

Marx was the first social thinker in the annals of the history of Social Sciences who first thought to present a systematic charter of the course of social evolution beginning from antiquity to the modern world system. Borrowing from the idea of a famous German social philosopher, Georg Hegel, he described how the power of the negative can lead to the negation of one social formation to another leading to the emergene of socialism as the first step towards the establishment of scientific communism. As a great emancipatory social philosopher, he envisaged to hasten the process of social transformation while introducing the concept of social revolution at the behest of the industrial working class in the making of socialism to be run by what he called ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’. That might have been a blunder on his part to think about epediting the course of social evolution.

V.I. Lenin in his famous book, The State and Revolution, said even in socialism the state and bureaucracy can exist. The main point of consideration is the class that wields the state power. If the bourgeois class does so, the proletarian class remains subjugated and exploited. Whereas if the proletariat has the power to have state power under their control, the bourgeois class stands exploited and coerced. In this way, Lenin was able to revise Marx’s complete rejection of the idea of state and bureaucracy in the gamut of the socialist system.

Marx and Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto (1848) that could provide the charter of the guide to action in the formation of the Communist Party, the political forum of the industrial working class. Its introductory words were: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle.” In the entire volume of Marx’s diction, the concept of class was seldom discussed by him. It is only at the end of Capital Volume III that he began to discuss the concept of class. But his sudden and untimely demise on March 14, 1883 made the task incomplete. Later, it was revealed that Marx could write on this subject for one-and-a-half page. Subsequently, his life-long friend, philosopher and guide, Frederick Engels, could accomplish the task as he was always in the know of things of his friend’s mind.

Despite Marx’s very short treatment of the concept of class, the same remains inherent in his entire social discourse essentially in covert terms. Thus, Marx’s social doctrine is usually referred to as the premise emanating from ‘the class standpoint’ or ‘the class viewpoint’. His obsession with class, class struggle and abolition of social classes in the making of a classless society is well known. He had made a pioneering contribution in the formulation of the Theory of Surplus Value—the cardinal element of exploitation in the capitalist machinery. None could dare to present an alternative to capitalism in a meticulous way prior to him. But still, his critics and even some of his admirers believe, Marx was perhaps too much obsessed with the term ‘class’ and its abolition. They say, class exploitation is indeed not the only form of exploitation prevalent in the modern social order. There are many other distinct forms of exploitation and class exploitation is only one form.

Marx’s social theory had been put under a scanner and there is a growing trend to prove that his consideration is no more valid and contextual while taking into account the present social order. But there are genuine reasons to argue that Marx was the person who first put forth a systematic paradigm to raise the culture of disobedience to alter the inegaliterian social order. The galaxy of social thinkers who could find inspiration to raise their voice of protest against glaring social injustice were indeed indebted to Marx and his glorious legacy. Many of them were his followers in the early phase of their life but later became ardent critics. But the way they could discuss and analyse the different forms of exploitation and subjugation remain captivated to the Marxist legacy. These names include Louis Althusser, Jurgen Hebermas, Eric Fromm, Theodore Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Antonio Gramsci, Micheal Focault, Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida, Max Adler, Karl Renner, George Lukacs and Tom Bottomore.

An incisive author, Ervin M. Zeitlin (1968), said the entire body of 20th century social thought that emerged is the outcome of a prolonged debate with the ghost of Marx. Many may disagree with him but none can ignore him. Marx had spelt out before us the meaning and relevance of the culture of disobedience to live a life with dignity and respectability. There is a critical imperative to recall the contribution of Marx—the man who wrote Capital yet who died of starvation on the bi-centenary his birth. The culture of disobedience must prevail in the midst of the social framework of civility as long as endemic poverty and deprivation exist in the destiny of mankind.

The author was in the Sociology faculty of Presidency University, Kolkata.

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