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Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Reading Marx in times of COVID-19

His writings helps us understand how situations like the pandemic do not affect all sections of the society in the same way, helps frame the quest for a humane and democratic world order

Written by D. Raja | Published: May 4, 2020 5:51:55 pm
Covid-19 Coronavirus, Karl Marx, Karl Marx Marxism, Post Covid-19 world, Thomas L Friedman Karl Marx, Karl Marx capitalism, D Raja CPI German philosopher Karl Marx. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

With the help of science, humanity will eventually overcome the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Many theories and philosophies will emerge. Many interpretations will be presented before the people and the governments. But the question is whether the post-COVID 19 world will be the same as before or will it change, whether the capitalist order will become more inhuman and exploitative. Thomas L Friedman has written that “COVID-19 is a black elephant. It is the logical outcome of our increasingly destructive wars against nature”. The emerging situation is likely to be a matter of much public debate in which Karl Marx and Marxism will occupy centerstage.

“All philosophers have interpreted the world in various ways. However, the point is to change it” Marx wrote in Thesis on Feuerbach. This was the fundamental premise of the philosophical pursuit of Marx and his lifelong companion Friedrich Engels. They analysed human existence, the relationship between human beings and nature and the ways in which production and the reproduction of the human species and the economy take place.

While asserting that “labour is the source of wealth and prime basic condition for human existence,” Marx and Engels analysed the dialectics of nature. They pointed out how the harmony among people, land, water and air leads to changes. In Capital, Marx explained that “labour is in the first place a process in which both man and nature participate”. Marx went on to explain that labour process was nothing but the production process. He showed how labour is the source of wealth and how labour power keeps producing surplus value. In the same work, he explained how under capitalism, surplus value is appropriated by capitalists, who are the owners of the means of production. He also explained how this appropriation of surplus value leads to accumulation of wealth at one pole and the pauperisation of the working people at another. Such inequality is reflected in the miserable working and living conditions of the working people.

While analysing the housing question of the society, especially how the bourgeoisie solves the housing question, Engels pointed out “the poor districts in which the workers are crowded together are the breeding places of all those epidemics which from time to time afflict out towns. Cholera, typhus, typhoid fever, smallpox and other ravaging diseases spared their germs in the pestilential air and the poisoned water of these working class quarters”. This explains why the poor and the migrant workers of all countries including India are facing unimaginable difficulties and becoming victims of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The developments in the past two decades have forced the capitalists to think of new deals and plans to perpetuate the exploitation of the working classes. Before COVID-19, the world capitalist economy faced a crisis in 2008, when the US economy was confronted with a subprime loan crisis. The current pandemic has pushed the world economic order on to a ventilator.

There are many who think that this pandemic is affecting all countries, all communities and all classes in the same way. Therefore, we should first allow the governments to handle it and then fight for our concerns. But that is not right. Capitalists are more clever. In the name of fighting the pandemic, capitalist governments are taking more control in their hands.

In India, the BJP-RSS combine is trying to push the country towards a theocratic fascist state. Left and secular democratic forces have intensified efforts to channelise the anger of the working people against this capitalist and fascist political order, which has put the lives of millions of common people at stake by denying them their rights.

The lies and failures of the government have to be exposed. Capitalism uses religion as a tool to make people fight each other but the millions of people will understand the heinous design of communal-fascist rulers, and not allow them to divide society further. When Marx looked at the Indian social structure, he understood the place of caste in it. His writings after the Taiping Rebellion in China, Sepoy Mutiny in India (India’s first war of independence) and Black Resistance in America made him talk about the urgent need of a democratic revolution in India. Marx’s term “democratic revolution” holds possibilities for the abolition of the caste system.

In the philosophical pursuit for a new world, Marxism emerged as a revolutionary theory and science. The three integral components of Marxism, as Lenin pointed, out are one, the philosophy of dialectical materialism (historical materialism), two, the theory of surplus value and three, the doctrine of class struggle as the motive force of History.

The future is going to witness intense class struggles for political power so that a new social order emerges in which the state shall ensure housing, healthcare, education and all means of livelihood to all its citizens, and equality, justice and dignity of all citizens are upheld.

On the occasion of the birth anniversary of Karl Marx on May 5 (1818) while paying tributes let the working people advance their struggle to overthrow the capitalist society and to liberate from the chains of oppression and exploitation.

The writer is general secretary, CPI

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