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Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Marx And Us

He taught us to look at not what the facts say, but what they do

Written by Yoginder K. Alagh | Updated: May 21, 2018 12:04:43 am
Karl Marx's 200th birth anniversary For this generation, Karl Marx occurs at various places largely in footnotes. (Source: WikiCommons)

I am a Democratic Socialist like many who were there in the midnight hour — Gandhiji, Nehru and Subhash Bose. For this generation, Karl Marx occurs at various places largely in footnotes. I was slightly precocious and doing my MA in Economics at the age of 18. One of my teachers presented me with a copy of The Communist Manifesto. This one was reprinted in its 1948 centennial with an introduction by Sydney and Beatrice Webb, the founders of the London School of Economics.

In Jaipur, Niros restaurant had a somewhat iconic status in 1958 with the college and intellectual crowd. You could drink as much cheap coffee as you wanted and sit there as long as you were drinking it. The Niros owners were known to me and I said it does not make economic sense. They winked at me and said it creates a great ambience and others flock in. I was walking in with the copy of the Communist Manifesto which had just then been presented to me when an American tourist also walked into Niros. A tall burly gentleman in a Texan hat looked at me and loudly informed his wife: “Dirty Commy Rat”. I kept quiet, knowing that like all Americans, one could start a conversation with him, but explaining that we of the midnight hour are Democratic Socialists and not Communists would not go very far.

In our MA, the guest speakers were truly impressive. Later in the Wharton School, in an advanced course in Mathematical Economics, Edwin Burmeister had just joined the faculty. He was to use the Transformation Problem, Marx’s famous example of going from production labour cost prices to market prices, given a wage mark up rate of exploitation, as an interesting way to teach the maths. Being a good American, he kept on saying it is great fun and cool algebra, but irrelevant in real life.

Back home, Indira Gandhi was in full command and IIM, Calcutta, one of the finest Marxist Schools of Economics those days East of Suez, was being enchanted by the French trained Marxist economist, Paresh Chattopadhyay. Paresh used Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte to liken it to the re-emergence of Nehruite ideologies by the emergence of Indira Gandhi. Marx in this document had said that history repeats itself but the second time as a farce. This was popular stuff in Kolkata in the mid and late Sixties of the last century. Pran Chopra editorialised on it in a critique in The Statesman of the Governor.

I was a few years later to join a delegation which started contact with China after 17 years. P N Haksar had sat with a Chinese counterpart, a wise man, and they had written a well known non-paper which said that cultural contacts can precede as the border negotiations continue. This carries on today. This delegation was led by G Parthasarathy and I was the vice leader. In a bookstore we visited, the Eighteenth Brumaire was available for the equivalent of three Indian rupees. Being a pathological book buyer, my eyes gleamed and I wanted to lap it up. But I could not escape the hawk eyes of GP. He looked sternly at me and said we will leave that alone and go home, and if need be, buy it.

I was Member of the Planning Commission and we had implemented Panchayati Raj. Kerala was one of the first states to do so and introduced Block Level Planning. E M S Namboodiripad called me to Kerala for the inaugural bash. He gave me a lovely meal of red rice, avial, fish, and the delicious payasam. He then held forth on Gandhiji and Marx. I had read his book The Mahatma and the Ism and he was very happy at being with a “literate minister from Delhi” and so it goes on.

Marx does give you the training and urge to watch real facts and not blindly believe what they say but to look at what they are doing. At some level, a faith in the destiny of man goes on. Societies ultimately make their own destinies based on their own beliefs. Faith is in the human being and not his sex, caste or the wrinkles that other men have cut on his face. These are all messages that the desi can get from Marx for a vision related to his own upbringing and culture.

The writer, a former Union minister, is an economist

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