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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 21 New Delhi May 11, 2019

Karl Marx represented Essence of Human Thought

Tuesday 14 May 2019, by Anil Rajimwale

Bicentenary of Karl Marx

Celebrations of anniversaries usually become a routine exercise. But if we really analyse the achievements of Karl Heinrich Marx, and apply his method to the contemporary transition, the celebration of the 200th anniversary of his birth may no more be an act of formality.

Karl Marx was perhaps the greatest of thinkers in human history. The world and India have produced outstanding thinkers, philoso-phers and scholars, but none can compare with Marx for the monumental contributions, the sweep of thoughts and the number of discoveries. He represented the very essence of his age, even future, changing the way we look at the world, society, human beings and consciousness.

Marx’s Thoughts reflect Change

What was it that Marx achieved which others could not, and how? Immanuel Kant was the giant of a philosopher, feared even today. He delved into the world of the knowable and the unknowable, and his ‘Critique’ series was the pinnacle of philosophy. Incidentally, he was an outstanding scientist who discovered the nebular hypothesis. In philosophy he developed subjective idealism.

Kant was negated by that tallest of philosophers and dialecticians, Georg Hegel. Very few have read and understood him. But Karl Marx was one of the rare thinkers who actually negotiated the deep alleys of Hegel’s philosophy, especially his dialectics. The others were Engels and Lenin, and may be a very few others. Marx’s thoughts were the concentrated reflection of the past, present and future of the era in which he lived. Born on May 5, 1818, he was the epitome of the thought process unleashed by the era of industrial revolution: Marx’s thoughts are the most complete reflection of the era.

The revolution based upon steam engine was the greatest of revolution in history. It brought into being a powerful driving force, not only for the machines, but more importantly for the society itself. It transformed the humans for ever, shifting them from the rural to the urban. Industrial revolution caused emergence of many new sciences, in particular the natural sciences. Physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, study of cells, electricity, magnetism, heat, light, energy transformation, mechanics etc. came into being. They all revealed the forces of nature in different fields. Darwin, for example, showed the evolution (motion) of the living beings from the lowest to the highest, partly explaining the biological emergence of the human being.

Newton, a little before the industrial revolution, explained the laws and causes of motion of the tangible bodies including the celestial ones. Copernicus discovered motion of planets around the sun. Physical bodies and their motions were the chief area of study by the vigorously emerging natural sciences, clearing mysteries. Science rolled back obscurantism and mysticism.

The period around the industrial revolution created new means and tools of knowledge, such as the steam engine, ships, railways, roads, machines, mills and factories, telescope and microscope and so on. Their conclusions were fully utilised by Marx and Engels. Marx studied developments in all these fields, and grasped the nature of the new epoch as that of constant change driven by objective laws. Marx continued further where the German philosophy, British economics and French political science left off, and merged them into a unified whole. These three were the crucial sources of Marxism.

Marx and Engels assimilated the mature development of sciences. Some others were either historically limited or failed to grasp the new because of the lack of scientific method.

Marxism begins its Journey with Philosophy

Marx did not stop at 18th century materialism; he enriched it with classical German philosophy, especially dialectics. The main achievement of the German, especially the Hegelian, philosophy was the method of dialectics, which was assimilated by Marx. This was aided and ‘abetted’ by machines and sciences. The machines initially helped development of mechanical materialism, because of their repetitive motions and the study of heat and mechanical energy. The daily social routine and linear flow of time and space were more amenable to materialism of a repetitive kind. But with further discoveries in sciences and society, the inner workings of the processes became clearer, and thus it was possible to fully evolve the dialectical method. Lenin says: “The latest discoveries of natural science—radium, electrons, the transmutation of elements—have been a remarkable confirmation of Marx’s dialectical materialism...” (Lenin: Marx, Engels, Marxism)

The question of the world outlook was the dominant question during the 18th-19th centuries. The journey of Marxism in fact began with philosophy: unless our world outlook is clear, we cannot interpret the world correctly. Marx got his doctorate (PhD) from Berlin University in 1841, at the age of only 23. His subject was ‘The Difference between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy’, which essentially dealt with a comparative study of atomism of the two philosophers. It was an original piece of work which firmly established (now Dr) Karl Marx as a philosopher. Soon he and Engels became disciples of Georg Hegel. Marx met Engels in 1944 in Paris, although they knew each other through correspondence. Thus began the most fruitful friendship in the history of thought and practice.

Marx and Engels were Left Hegelians, criticising many aspects of Hegel’s philosophy, even while developing his dialectics. According to Marx, dialectics is the science of the general laws of motion. This brought about a revolution in human outlook.

Why and how was Marx able to critically analyse Hegelian dialectics and philosophy and create a new world outlook based upon dialectical materialism? Marx was in tune with the deep-going industrial, natural and social scientific events of his times. He was able to grasp motion in matter, in all forms of matter, which others missed. Marx went to the beginnings of various forms of matter, and derived one from the other. That is why he was able to trace the origin and development of the earth, the human being, the society and the consciousness, leading up to and beyond capitalism to socialism and communism.

Karl Marx was a most complete thinker.

So far in history, the humans generally derived reality from ideas and thoughts. This was particularly true of society. Thought was looked upon as the creator of the world. Even materialist philosophy existing prior to Marx suffered from lack of clarity, often using mechanical and metaphysical method and outlook.

Marx for the fist time showed consistently that all the reality was matter, developing independently of consciousness, in motion even before the human being came into existence. It has its own laws of motion, not created by any kind of consciousness. It was only at a certain stage of development of matter that, becoming unusually concentrated and complex, it began to reflect the world around as ideas. Ideas think in accordance with the motion of objective reality.

Thus, so far, we had been thinking ‘upside down’; Karl Marx taught us to think ‘down side up’! Now onwards, everything could be ‘explained’.

Marx’s Revolution: Study of Society becomes a Science 

Society had so far been kept out of bounds for human thought in general and philosophy in particular. Karl Marx was the first philosopher in history to break these shackles on social studies. He extended dialectical materialism to the inner depths of society. He showed that society is nothing but the product of a certain stage of development of matter, when human beings emerge through evolution of life and living beings.

With Karl Marx study of society became, for the first time, a science. Marx made precise study of social phenomenon. It is like in the natural sciences where every word or concept has a certain meaning, not mere rhetoric. By developing the materialist conception of history, Marx was able to put the study of revolution and socialism on a scientific basis. He went into the why and how of the revolutionary process. This is where Marx, the scientific socialist, differed from the Anarchists and pseudo-revolutionists, the utopian socialists.

The materialist conception of history was among the greatest of scientific discoveries. Marx said: “Technology discloses man’s mode of dealing with nature...” (Capital, Vol 1) Marx and Engels made concrete study of technologies and sciences. There is a separate chapter in Capital, Vol 1 on the Dialectics of Machine Development.

 In the course of the ‘social production of life’, the human beings enter into definite relations with each other. Marx made things very simple, yet very profound. Like animals, human beings must eat. Animals take their food direct from the nature, but the humans make tools and use them to ‘produce’ their food. These tools are not fashioned and used in isolation but in a social cooperation, in the course of which they enter into mutual relations. These relations are production relations. They evolve and change according to the changing tools/means of production. This contradiction creates society and propels its development from simple to complex.

 Frederick Engels completed the other half of the dialectics of the biological and the social in the emergence of the human being from the ape. Darwin had explained the biological half of his great discovery on evolution of human beings from the apes. But his explanation was incomplete as it was only biological. Engels completed the ‘opposite’, social, pole by pointing out the role of labour in the transition. Fashioning and use of tools is ‘labour’, and it is labour that determines the social evolution.

Social Being determines Social Consciousness

It was Marx who for the first time explained the emergence of social and individual consciousness. In fact, society is seen as part and parcel of the material reality, which emanates ideas and human relations. Society is a form of matter, which is active, ‘conscious’ (conscious matter). It has aspects different from ‘matter’ on several counts, yet is part of the concept of matter.

 The social consciousness of the human society, of the human beings, is determined by their social being. This ‘social being’ undergoes constant changes through the history, based upon the nature of the means of production and the tools in particular, and the way they are put to use. It is ultimately the economic relations that determine social and individual consciousness.

 This approach of Marx-Engels has often given rise to controversies even within the broad Marxist movement, with Korsch, Gramsci, Balibar, Althusser and others trying to restrict the application of dialectical materialism to society only. Some of them do not even recognise that the laws of dialectics operate in nature: they work only in society.

‘Economic Relations determine all Other Relations’: a Fundamental Discovery

“The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic relations of society, the real foundation... to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness.” (Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

 For the first time, Marx found the material source of social consciousness in all forms, an extraordinary revolution. Before him, it was a mystery as to how family, cultural, civilisational, social, religious etc ideas and practices emerged and existed. These ideas were taken for granted, ‘as given’. Human thought created ‘as it liked and wished’.

Marx scientifically contradicted this approach, showing that, in the ultimate analysis, it is the economic relations, based upon a given level of productive forces in coordination and contra-diction with existing relations of production, that determine all other relations and ideas. He termed the economic relations as the basis and the structures built upon it as the superstructure. Even religion is the product of certain level of economic relations. Marx and Engels analysed in detail the emergence and role of religion in their great work On Religion, which includes history of the early Christianity.

Thus for the first time ended the arbitrariness, anarchy and confusion, chaos and randomness, etc. in the previous ‘history’ and study of society, replaced by clear scientific (materialist) explanations and order in thought. For the first time, it became possible to understand why and how the individuals, classes, communities, kings and slaves, capitalists and feudal lords, workers, peasants and intellectuals, ordinary common humans lived, worked, thought, behaved and so on.

Their behaviour was historically determined: history from now on was to be seen as a law-governed process. Classes emerged at a point, class struggle proceeded as the driving force of a part of history, in order that they disappear one day.

Marx revealed that humans made history not arbitrarily, not at random, not at will and wish; that happened only seemingly, superficially. Humans acted and made history in accordance with objective laws of social development. We look at events ‘ideologically’, that is, through the prism of class, community, caste, groupings etc., in a restricted and layered manner, as if through simmering prism or wavering layers of hot air. The scientific ideology helps us break the barriers of ideology and reach superior levels of scientific ideology, which alone is capable of overcoming historical limits of class, caste, community and groupings, on way to a society with universal ideology or without ideology. Marx’s ideas on ideology have given rise to much controversies inside and outside the people’s movement.

Political Economy of Capitalism and Organisation of Working Class

Marx and Engels subjected the European revolutions of 1848-50 to extensive analyses, but the revolutions did not proceed as expected. Marx and Engels felt that their study of economic basis of society was inadequate. By this time, Marx and Engels had shifted to England for several reasons. England was the land of ‘classical or pure capitalism’, which went through all the ‘logical’ and dialectical steps of development, providing a favourable medium for economic study.

Continuing his earlier works such as A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx set about writing his monumental Das Capital, for which he is best known. It is a work of both political economy and dialectical philosophy. It is one of the rarest works in human history, the work of a genius.

Capital reveals inherent mechanisms of capitalist mode of production, delving into its very dialectical depths. He made at least two discoveries (in fact more): labour power as commodity, and surplus value. They explained the way exploitation worked. Karl Marx worked like a true scientist, comparable to a natural scientist, as if in a laboratory, as he himself explained. He begins with ‘commodity’, isolating it from all others objects, and says it reflects all the relations in capitalism.

Marx on the Lookout: Working Class at the Centre of Modern Production

Karl Marx at last discovered a class, at the centre of capitalist industrial production, capable of carrying on capitalist commodity production as well as building a society without commodities. With working class, ‘the class’ reaches its peak of development, displaying all the features and changing from ‘proletariat’ to the working class.

 Marx’s attitude to the ‘proletariat’ is often subjectively misunderstood. He is seen in ‘sympathy’ and support of the workers, their ‘great friend’, standing for their rights, jobs etc. All this of course he was. He had worked among the factory workers; so also Frederick Engels. But that did not render Marx revolutionary. His discoveries did. He was not a philanthropist.

 Marx did not have sympathy alone but much more! He made a discovery about the proletariat being the


class of the future. Marx was on the lookout of a force (class) which could eliminate all the classes. He found in the proletariat, the

‘classless class’

(working class),

the very last one in history

. Their poverty or employment/unemployment was not the issue, not the criterion of their being ‘revolutionary’. Working class is revolutionary because of its very


in modern industrial production:
it operates the most advanced tools, and therefore is capable of declassing these very these very tools!

In comparison, peasantry and petty bourgeoisie represented private property, and therefore were incapable of building collective property (ownership). They were the survival of the past, and were not ‘class’ in the strict sense of term. (See, Communist Manifesto) They were rendered revolutionary in relation to the democratic revolution but were incapable of carrying out the socialist revolution on their own. While the proletariat fought for social ownership, peasantry stood for private property and distribution of land.

It was the great contribution of Marx that he brought the working class to the centre of world history. Nobody else did it.

The way was thus cleared for the political entry of the working class. Marx and Engels severely criticised the highly subjective ‘dreams’ of the anarchists and utopian socialists. ‘Dreams’ did not end exploitation and establish socialism, science did.

Marx put socialism and communism on a scientific basis.

Communist Programme

Communism is the result of the maturity of the productive forces: that was the essence of ‘Communism’. Only then exploitation could be ended, not by wishes and dreams. Manifesto of the Communist Party (Communist League), written by Karl Marx in 1847, is the first Communist programme of the world. The same year, an international organisation, the Communist Party was established in London, based on the programme. In fact, its outlines were prepared by Engels in the Principles of Communism, published a year previously. Marx emphasised the importance of struggle for democratic rights on way to and in Communism.

The Communist Party inspired the formation of workers’ parties in various countries, the first one being the German Social Democratic Workers’ Party. The German party scored massive successes in the successive elections in the country.

The red flag was hoisted first in 1832 in France, spreading rapidly all over the world, particularly after May 1, 1886, becoming the symbol of the working people. The First International was founded in 1864, Paris Commune took place in 1871, the Second International was established in 1889, and other major events happened. The process culminated in the Russian Revolution 1917 led by Lenin.

Marx-Engels on Democracy and Parliamentary Form of Struggle: Ideological Battle against Anarchism

A false and distorted impression spread by the Anarchists and other pseudo-revolutionists is still doing much damage to the democratic movement. It is said that Marx and Engels favoured armed struggle and that he considered parliaments and assemblies as ‘bourgeois hoax’. Nothing is far from the truth. There is nothing in their works to draw such conclusions. On the contrary, Marx and Engels were


in favour of democratic rights and use of parliamentary forms of struggles, even for transition to socialism.

Marx warmly welcomed the Chartist movement of the English working class of 1836-44

for adult franchise

and a 10-hour work-day. He emphasised that the working class should carry on class struggles openly. He never advocated armed struggle; in fact he disliked any advocacy of armed struggle, and had serious and heated arguments with the Anarchists on this question. He of course was aware that forms of struggle depended upon the concrete situation, and that one may have to resort to arms when no democratic rights were available.

He agreed to form the Communist League only on the condition that it functioned openly and not secretly. Marx asked the workers and their parties of the different European countries to make maximum use of press and parliament. He had even advocated a peaceful revolution In England, Holland and other countries. He gave exceptional importance to extending democratic rights and democratic revolution.

Engels’ comments here are revealing. He characterised the electoral successes of the German SDP as a form of transition to socialism. Engels wrote that “The Communist Manifesto had already proclaimed the winning of universal suffrage, of democracy, as one of the first and most important tasks of the militant proletariat.” (Introduction to Marx’s Class Struggles in France, 1895)

Engels advised German workers not to commit any folly, so that their march to socialism through the parliamentary path was assured, in view of the massive electoral successes. At one point, Engels even characterised the two million voters for workers’ party, along with their family members, as ‘the vanguard of the international working class’.

Marx on India

A virulent campaign has been launched in this country by the Rightwing reactionary circles vilifying Marx, saying that he knew nothing of India and that he, a ‘foreigner’, was glorified by the Marxists, rather than Indian philosophers.

Reactionary forces forget that ‘foreigners’ fighting for democracy, equality and freedom have always been an inspiration for Indian democrats and revolutionaries. The great French revolution, Mazzini, Garibaldi, Italian and German unification, etc., greatly inspired the Indians in the 19th century, and they expressed their admiration through celebrations of days and anniversaries. The Young Bengal Movement is just one example. Marx and Lenin were highly popular among our freedom fighters including Bhagat Singh. Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg warmly supported Madam Cama’s unfurling of the Indian Tricolour at the Stuttgart Congress of the Second International (1908).

All this does not lead to our ‘forgetting’ Indian thinkers and leaders. Democrats and revolutionaries help each other.

Karl Marx wrote extensively on India, supporting the Indian people’s cause. He dealt with the class and caste system in India, nature of the Indian society, and the first war of independence of 1857. He explained the varna/caste system as a ‘mode of production’ based upon village community system. Marx developed the concept of Asiatic Mode of Production (AMP) to explain Indian and Asian characteristics.

 Marx made a profound prophesy when the first railway was laid down from Bombay to Thane in 1853. He stated that British rulers had unconsciously ‘sowed the seeds of a social revolution In India’. Exactly 96 years later, this revolution happened when India got independence in 1947.

In his amazing despatches to the New York Herald Tribune on the ‘First War of Indian Independence’ in 1857-58, minutest details of battles and skirmishes at major towns and rural areas were described with pin-pointed accuracy, accompanied by in-depth analysis. In the despatches, he sided with the Indian people against the British colonial rulers.

The contribution of Karl Marx to an under-standing of Indian and Asian societies far outstrips that of any other scholar of his time, because he was equipped with the materialist conception of history.

Karl Marx and World Today


Marx’s dialectical method is the guide to understand the STR or the scientific and technological revolution, a revolution much higher, deeper and faster than the industrial one. More than a century has elapsed since Marx’s death (March 14, 1883). The world has undergone drastic transformations. Many of his concepts need serious updating, even giving up of some. Old forces are becoming part of history, while new ones are emerging. Electronics are causing new means of production and information. The structure of the working class is changing, and new forms of democracy and social reorganisation are emerging. Theory and practice need to be updated in this light.

 Today is the world of quantum sciences and quantum philosophy, genetics, relativity, replacement of production by services as the focus, and so on. We need to develop new concepts.

We cannot underestimate the crucial importance of theory. We need to master the diale-ctical method of Karl Marx to grasp the new world.

The author is a Marxist ideologue.

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