From the October 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
Letter sent to the Calcutta paper The Statesman.
In the evening of August 23 in the Sunday Discussion Meeting of our party, the World Socialist Party (India), we read with interest the Saturday Statesman, August 22, article ‘Relevance of Marx’ written by Professor Gargi Sengupta (see here). It is really heartening to note that a nineteenth century communist revolutionary, Karl Marx, is being revisited by the 21st century mainstream press to find answers to the present-day woes and worries. Hopefully, this signals the beginning of Marx’s media-ride in India too.
This happens because, as Marx and Engels themselves observed, ‘consciousness can sometimes appear further advanced than the contemporary empirical conditions, so that in the struggles of a later epoch one can refer to earlier theoreticians as authorities’ (The German Ideology). ‘Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past’ wrote Marx in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.
In her appreciation in defence of Marx, Gargi Sengupta has rightly claimed that ‘Marxism enables us to understand the nature of the capitalist crisis,’ and also that ‘Marx believed that human development requires a cooperative society based on common ownership of the means of production.’
She has excellently pronounced, ‘The overall significance of religion may have declined, but the family, the schools, and the capitalist controlled mass media continue to brainwash the working class and prevent them from realizing their true destiny’.
Her observation: ‘From a global perspective, a class-based analysis is still relevant,’ holds up one of the basic principles of Marxism. She defends Marx for ‘making a very fundamental contribution’ whereby ‘He placed human beings and their conscious, purposive activity – human labour – at the centre of his analysis’ and also for a ‘unique contribution’ – the role of ‘class struggle’ in ‘human historical development’. She is right in pointing out that ‘Marx’s writings still evoke interest across the world. … Marx’s writings can throw light on the problems of our age’. Simply because, as Marx viewed, ‘The nature of capital remains the same in its developed as in its undeveloped form’; and ‘Production of surplus value is the absolute law of this mode of production’(Capital, Volume I).
Actually, Marx is more relevant today than ever before.
This said, I would like to comment on a couple of inaccuracies in Professor Sengupta's article. She says, ’Marx visualized the remedy in violent revolution followed by decades of civil and international warfare.’ This is a half-truth. True, in his early years Marx held a ’violent revolution’ view. However, eventually and finally he arrived at the following conclusion: ‘Proletariat – organized in a separate political party. That such organization must be pursued by all the means which the proletariat has at its disposal, including universal suffrage, thus transformed from the instrument of trickery, which it has been up till now into an instrument of emancipation’ (written on about May 10, 1880, printed according to L'Egalité, no. 24, June 30, 1880, checked with the text of Le Précurseur).
Secondly, in portraying capitalism as only a ‘private enterprise’ system she has missed the yardstick of defining state capitalism – the defining characteristic of which is state ownership and control of the means of production and articles for distribution. As a result she is mistaken in recognizing the erstwhile so-called ‘communist’ dictatorial and despotic state capitalist regimes of Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. How could there be ‘the eclipse of communism’ when communism (socialism the same) has nowhere and never been attempted at all? Just what happened in these countries was appropriately described in 1918 by Fitzgerald of the Socialist Party of Great Britain: ‘What justification is there, then, for terming the upheaval in Russia a Socialist Revolution? None whatever beyond the fact that the leaders in the November movement claim to be Marxian Socialists’ (Socialist Standard, August 1918).