The advent of Karl Marx and Marxism constitutes a revolutionary epoch in the history of humanity. Marxism provided a philosophical understanding of human history and a practical method to liberate human beings from the chains of exploitation and enable them to realise essential human worth. The comprehensive scope of Marxism, which encompasses not only the materialistic basis of production, but also other finer dimensions of life, makes it a wholesome and holistic method to understand — and transform — the social, economic and cultural aspects of human consciousness.
In studying history and its dynamics through the matrix of dialectical materialism, Marx brought out the false consciousness determining exploitation, extraction of surplus value and the resultant dehumanisation of society. He offered not just a comprehensive analysis but also a remedy to liberate human beings from the bondage of exploitation. It is grossly unfair to reduce Marxism to a mere study of the economic dimensions of life. Indeed, Marx took into account the finer aspects of life, such as aesthetics, ethics, music and so on. Pope John Paul II once remarked that Marx’s theory of alienation constituted a singular contribution to humanity for explaining the alienation of human beings from the means of production, the surplus value created, human worth and nature, and all that is loftier to human life.
Marx’s philosophy and analysis remains relevant for the 21st century, marked by a market-driven society and growing inequality of incomes. While Marx acknowledged the liberating impact of capitalism on human beings in relation to the bondage imposed by feudalism, he deeply analysed the exploitative capitalist structure and the endless suffering it caused to human beings. The dynamic nature of Marxist concepts and their dialectical character are of enduring significance for humanity, caught in a whirlpool of global warming and climate change.
In fact, the dialectics of nature is a critical imperative for our age marked by environmental degradation: A reckless capitalist economy and predatory market forces threaten the very existence of the earth. The capitalism which Marx analysed has today transformed into crony capitalism, leading to more exploitation and causing grave dehumanisation. Marx was prophetic about the destructive nature of capitalism and offered scientific socialism as the alternative. It is the task of the working classes to realise it.
The present-day world needs a philosophy and practice to herald non-exploitative social and economic structures based on compassion, equality, liberty, fraternity and equal opportunity. In terms of both philosophy and practice, Marxism combines in its scope both the dimensions and thereby, provides a comprehensive approach for dealing with complex social and economic issues of our time. Marxism, founded in the 19th century, continues to be equally valid and pertinent for society and economy in the 21st century. This is all the more striking in the context of Europe, where every 20 years, a new philosophy emerges and influences human action and consciousness.
The salience of Marxism for the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America is a proven fact. The national liberation movements in those countries were taken forward by the liberating doctrine of Marxism. In our own country, the philosophy and practice centered around Marxism was best understood and reflected by B.R. Ambedkar, when he juxtaposed it with Buddhism and reconciled both to emancipate those who suffered from rigid social structures such as caste and gender. This has brought together communists and followers of Ambedkar to fight economic and social oppression.
At a time when there is growing planetary consciousness for a more equitable world order, we require a philosophy and practice which does not divide people along the lines of nationality, religion, language, ethnicity or any such primordial categories. Terrorism and right-wing conservatism, new forms of fascism, global warming and
climate change are threatening to take us back to the dark ages of the medieval period.
Never has the liberating and emancipatory philosophy of Karl Marx, whose bicentennial birth anniversary falls on May 5, been of more relevance. After all, the evolution of civilisation, from one stage of consciousness to a higher stage of consciousness, is inevitable.