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Monday, October 18, 2021

Marx, The Humanist

Karl Marx envisioned a world where humans are not abstracted by societies or commodities

Written by Apoorvanand |
Updated: May 7, 2018 12:46:17 am
karl marx, marxism, karl marx philosophy, socialism, marxists, capitalism, karl marx 200th birth anniversary, indian express Karl Marx (Source: WikiCommons)

On the occasion of the foundation of a new university conceptualised by some corporate leaders of India, one of them defended his fraternity for not speaking up: “I am paid by my shareholders. They do not pay me to court controversy. They certainly want me to make money.”

“That’s why universities are important… because they are safe houses, because nobody can attack them, because by the act of helping them or sponsoring them, you do create conversations in society,” he added.

The act of critiquing is what makes us human. The corporate leader has to suppress this in himself to make money — his life-mission. He wants the human part, alienated from him, to be actualised through the university he is setting up. As if overhearing him from a distance of more than 150 years, Marx, in the words of Marshall Berman, laments, “The irony of bourgeois activism is that the bourgeoisie is forced to close itself off from its richest possibilities… For all the marvellous modes of activity the bourgeoisie has opened up, the only activity that really means anything to its members is making money, accumulating capital, piling up surplus value.”

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Marx is seen as a theoretician of revolution which would free the proletariat. But Marx assures the fearful bourgeoisie that the revolution would liberate them too. He bemoans that the creative energy the bourgeois has unleashed cannot realise its potential as it is dedicated only towards profit. Marx would like them to involve themselves in the more difficult task of “free development of their physical and spiritual energies”. Here, Marx sounds like Gandhi who told the British that by freeing themselves the Indians would also liberate the British from the compulsion of keeping them as slaves. A slave owner has to constantly keep devising ways to keep the enslaved in their state of slavery. Similarly, capitalism distorts the humanity of the bourgeoisie as profiteering can survive only if the capitalist is always at maximum alert: He has to keep an eye on fellow capitalists to outwit them and also think of creating new demands in others.

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Marxism is often denounced for being an ideology against individuality. Marx, on the contrary, is angry with capitalism precisely because it denies individuality to the masses. How can a society be rich if the subjectivities of its majority are impoverished, if their senses are stunted? For Marx, a human being is primarily a sensory animal. She grasps the world through her senses. Sadly, as Marx explains, the human eye, or ear, or smell, or touch is not a norm — it is a privilege. The sensory abilities of most of us are forced to remain at their crudest level. Pleasure is denied to me as I create the means of pleasure for others.

Who knows this better than the Dalits who lived bare lives so that Brahmins could weave fine yarns of argumentation? Hazari Prasad Dwivedi echoes Marx when he castigates Indian culture because its foundations are soaked in the blood of the toiling masses, the Shudras, who are not regarded even now as thinking or feeling agents. But as other Marxists have pointed out, it only shows that those who think they are rich because they possess the most are the most inhuman. They cannot connect with those who are not useful to them. They thus live a non-human life. The dispossessed, in their struggle for survival and freedom build relations, create solidarities. By doing so, they renew humanity. Marx dreamt of a day when even the struggling people would create a companionship which is free of any outside purpose.

The Marxian project aims at a world where a true and honest companionship of individuals is realised. Where individuals are not abstracted as merely societies or communities or even nations. Commodities enslave us, so do our societies and nations. Rather than they being our creatures, they become our masters. This relationship has to be upturned. Unfortunately, Marxists proved unequal to the task. They created, in the name of emancipation, new subordinations. What remains then is to resist submission, which Marx disliked most, and keep struggling which Marx enjoyed most.

The writer teaches Hindi at Delhi University

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