The Telegraph
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
 

A living idea

First published on 12-Oct-2017

The apathy of official Marxist parties in India to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Karl Marx's first volume of Das Kapital: Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, published on September 14, 1867, is not unexpected. Official Marxism is, in essence, Leninism. Hardly 10 per cent of the top brass of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) bother to note that Marx's magnum opus was unfinished. Between June and November 1871, Marx wrote at least three letters to Nikolai Danielson, who translated it into Russian and published it in 1872, expressing a desire to rewrite the whole of the magnum opus defying protracted illness.

Official Marxist parties celebrate the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution, which, in the view of scholars such as Kevin Anderson, Paresh Chattopadhyay and Marcello Musto, failed to create a socialist society. Chattopadhyay drove his point formidably in a paper titled, "A Minority Rule - Twentieth Century Socialism". Twentieth century socialism had nothing in common with the socialism envisioned by Marx and F. Engels who looked forward to 'associated mode of production' as the basis of a socialist order. Instead, in Russia, China and elsewhere, twentieth century socialism, Chattopadhyay argues, set up a 'party-State' system with 'wage slavery' intact. Totalitarianism was inevitable. By vulgarizing socialism as 'social ownership' of the means of production, Lenin, Chattopadhyay inferred, 'turned Marx on his head'.

Different thoughts

In 'Friedrich Engels - Marxism's Founding Father: Nine premises to a theme' (1977), Maximilien Rubel, arguably one of the best Marxist scholars of the 20th century, had declared, "Marxism is not an original product of the Marxian way of thought...". In 2016, at an international conference hosted by the Amsterdam-based International Institute of Social History, the theme of the keynote address by David Harvey, the author of Seventeen Contradictions and The End of Capitalism, was 'Capital: An Unfinished and Unfinishable Project'. In Toronto, Michael R. Krätke of Lancaster University and Étienne Balibar of Université Paris Nanterre, endorsed this view. Balibar suggested that the unfinished nature of Capital is not merely 'a product of unfortunate mortality' but 'several incompatible conclusions' as well. Such is the dispassionate mindset of participants. Theirs is a commitment against treating Marxian ideas as inviolable. They defend instead research on Marx as well as efforts to problematize Capital in order to highlight crucial areas for further studies, thanks to the on-going project of a new historical-critical edition of the complete works of Marx and Engels - Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe - including letters, notebooks and manuscripts in original at the International Marx-Engels Foundation under IISH in collaboration with the Karl Marx-House of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Trier, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Bonn and the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History. There is unmistakably an international effort to insulate Marxian thoughts from the ideological fetishism of the official Marxist parties.

Centre Jean Bosco, Lyon, recently hosted a three-day debate on new developments on Karl Marx's thought and writings to commemorate the bicentenary of Karl Marx's birth, organized jointly by the research centre, Triangle, and the European Journal of the History of Economic Thought. Over 90 papers had been submitted. Contrary to the enthusiasm for reading Capital even among apologists of neo-liberal finance capital after the outbreak of the sub-prime crisis of 2008, heaps of Lenin's works are gathering dust.


 More stories in Opinion

  • Shifting towards the Right
  • Slices of salami
  •