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While most of the European thinkers and philosophers are famous, not all of them are as relevant as Karl Marx who is often referred to as the father of revolution. As a student of social sciences it was a privilege for me to study Karl Marx during early days of my graduation and at doctoral level. The present piece of writing is an attempt to pay my tribute to Marx on his 199th birthday (5th May 2017). This is an ode to the phenomenal figure, which all kinds of people including non-Marxists, closet Marxists, those belonging to either ends of the political spectrum have the right to critique, defend and simply engage with. To write about Karl Marx and his relevance in the contemporary society is not an easy task. There is a plethora of books about Marx and his significant contribution in political science, economics, sociology and anthropology. Unlike many other thinkers, Marx and his theories remain universally applicable where he shares a natural relationship with people and their socio-political and economic circumstances. The teachings and methodology of Marx have provided a different methodological apparatus to analyse social conditions. Today the posthumous writings of Marx have impacted many individuals, writers, practitioners, and academicians who stand for social transformation. Marxism today is an “ideology of consciousness” for the people who believe in Marxian analysis of society. As Marx had also rightly stated that consciousness is a social product and remains as constant as human life. Furthermore he maintained that men are distinguished from animals by consciousness. Therefore understanding Marx and his teachings inspire us to travel on the path of consciousness by illuminating us to liberate masses around us from all kinds of oppressions and social evils. At his best Marx has broadened the horizons of his audience that includes students, writers, intellectuals, and common people.

Marx was born on May 5, (1818-1883), in the city of Trier in Rheinish Prussia in a Jewish family. Though the family was Jewish it converted to Protestantism in 1824. After graduating from a high school in Trier he went to the university in Bonn and later in Berlin where he studied law, majoring in history and philosophy. He travelled with various ideologies first becoming a Hegelian idealist, then a left Hegelian before he turned to materialism and acquainted with political economy. Apart from being an intellectual Marx was a good human being who was committed to his comradeship with Friedrich Engels (1820-1895). Probably, Engels was the only close friend of Marx who accompanied him in his intellectual journey. He was also there for him when he was going through economic crisis in his personal life. Marx’s life as a political exile was an extremely difficult one, as the correspondence between Marx and Engels clearly reveals. Poverty weighed heavily on Marx and his family; had it not been for Engels’ constant and selfless financial aid, Marx would not only have been unable to complete Capital but would have inevitably have been crushed by hunger and malnutrition.[1] Moreover, we know that after Marx’s demise Engels played a vital role in making his essential and unpublished manuscript available in the public domain.

The revolutionary and academic postulations of Marx have grown by remaining relevant in both non-academic and academic lexicon. The beauty of everyday relevance of Marx’s teachings and theories lies in his “merciless criticism” of the corrupt and dehumanizing practices and process of capitalism. His description of the polarised society: bourgeoisie & proletariat understandably concentrate on the increase of industries, urbanization, oppression of the workers, and overall impact of the process of this relationship on the social structures of human societies. Moreover, his analysis of the emerging societies presented the new principles of innovations (that are based on domination), new modes of social organization and new classes in society. As a student of sociology and social sciences I have learnt about Karl Marx in various ways. His academic contribution through his concepts and theories of class, political economy of production, analysis of wage systems, theory of alienation and capitalism prove that he was not only a sociologist but also a great political scientist and economist who maintained that economic activity and the economic structure is the basis on which our social life rests.

Today we are ‘surviving’ in the era of capitalism in every sphere of our social, political and economic life. Marx interpreted how the humans reached this stage of capitalism through his genealogical method of understanding the modes of production. In his famous work, German Ideology, he along with Engels outlined four stages of history. 1) the primitive communal stage, 2) the ancient state based on slavery, 3) the feudal stage and 4) the capitalist stage, that is haunting the lives of millions today. The problems created by the process of industrialization, privatization and globalization continue to matter around the world and the same is true for the contemporary Indian society along with other social problems. The capitalist class by controlling the state resources continues to polarise the society in various ways by controlling the means of development like health, education and employment. Through his materialistic analysis of society he successfully discovered the law of development of human history which, according to him, created our actual state of society with its great class-division of capitalists and wage-labourers.

While there are number of works of Marx that continue to hold important place in academics today, the communist manifesto penned down by Marx and Engels has been recognized as one of the world’s most influential political manuscript. The manifesto that is widely read by students, academicians, revolutionaries and social and political activists was written in 1848 that gave an analytical approach to understand the process of capitalism and the capitalist mode of production. This document is a categorical analysis of society and politics in general and changes occurred due to the process of capitalism and class struggle in particular. As they recorded it in the manifesto:

“The Modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonism. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones”. Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeois, possesses, however, this distinctive feature: it has simplified the class antagonism: society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great classes, directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.”[2]

This analysis of the conditions of oppression and new forms of struggles is very much relevant in the present day condition of our country where the fascists have come into power with the monetary help of the capitalists. Today we are being ruled and dominated by the modern bourgeoisie who have controlled all the means of development and state apparatus. Each and every sphere of our lives including family and education has been dominated by the state and its authorities in coercive ways that strengthens and empowers the ruling class of this country. The modern state is just a tool in the hands of the capitalist class through which they manage to keep their hegemony intact. As the manifesto explains:

“The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie”.[3]

The social and political power of this capitalist class is growing on capital and private gain. With this the capitalist class has succeeded in establishing its supremacy in our social life. The teachings of Marx continue to inspire many of us in academic as well as in personal life. He was not only a political thinker but also a revolutionary whose understanding of society and human relations remains universally applicable. In his speech made at Marx’s graveyard at Highgate cemetery London, Engels said that- “For Marx was before all else a revolutionist. His real mission in life was to contribute, in one way or another, to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat, which he was the first to make conscious of its own position and its needs, conscious of the conditions of its emancipation. Fighting was his element. And he fought with a passion, tenacity and a success such as few could rival.” [4] Marx continues to remain relevant after 199 years in the rapidly changing society by appearing in every form of struggle and assertion against oppression, domination and injustice by the ruling classes in every part of the world.

 Swapnil Dhanraj is a research student at Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

[1] https://www.marxists.org/glossary/people/m/a.htm#marx

[2] The Communist Manifesto 1848

[3] The Communist Manifesto 1848

[4] https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1883/death/burial.htm

One Comment

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    Marx was an outstanding philosopher as well as economist. His birthday shuld be celebrated by the whole working of the world. Timely remembrance of the great person and his struggles