Karl Marx Again
After graduating in science, I enrolled for post-graduation in Industrial Relations. I was as comfortable studying industrial relations as a cyclist would be driving a tank on a battlefield. The behaviour of molecules, it appeared to me, was more predictable than the behaviour of men! Laws of science were derived from the behaviour of the molecules; laws of industrial relations were made to control behaviour of men, capitalists or otherwise.
My institute was situated in Parel in Mumbai; it was a stronghold of the communists. This was the area where big Textile Mills were established and where Mill workers stayed in their chawls. As a science graduate, my knowledge of communism went not far beyond its spelling. I had never really thought about the ideologies, and I did not have any view on communism, capitalism etc. This is not to say that I was not aware of the workers’ plight.
Soon after taking up a job, I heard communist leader Vitthal Chaudhary speak at a seminar. He was a very persuasive speaker. His speech impressed me and for a good time I kept thinking about the points he made; my interest in the teachings of Marx grew. I started interacting with eminent labour leader GR Khanolkar, a CPI-M leader. I met him a few times at the bastion of communists – Dalvi Building. But he never discussed ideology, and his pragmatism won him many friends and admirers among the managers of many companies.
Then I read ‘Haravlele Divas’ (The Lost Days) by Prabahkar Urdhvareshe. It was an excellent account of an ex-communist. The book has a sub-title which translated in English will read ‘The autobiography of an ex-communist.’ This book won Sahitya Academy Award (1989). GP Deshpande, the versatile person and playwright, observed, “It is a story of his short-lived association with the CPI in the forties and the early fifties. He calls those days as ‘haravlele’, which means irretrievably lost, but also suggests a sense of sorrow and regret at the loss……I have read very little by ex-Party people which attempts such a balanced and an “optimistic”, to use Urdhvareshe’s word, view of the left movement.” The disillusionment of Urdhvareshe stayed on my mind.
I met a certain communist union leader who became a friend. His son had difficulty in getting a job because his father was a communist union leader! Frontline managers were afraid of communist leaders and would do everything to keep them away.
I attended funeral of the leader’s father – no last rites were performed. Religion was an anathema for the communists. As Wikipedia states, ‘Karl Marx had an antithetical and complex attitude to religion, viewing it primarily as “the soul of soulless conditions”, the “opium of the people” that had been useful to the ruling classes since it gave the working classes false hope for millennia.’ There was a visible unease among his family members about the decision of not performing last rites. The picture of the grieving family has been engraved on my mind, and also the firm resolve to follow the diktat of the communist ideology ignoring feeble wishes of the family.
When I read ‘Majhe Vidyapeeth’ – a collection of poems by Narayan Surve who was also called ‘Kamgar Kavi,’ my sensitivity for issues of labour was heightened. I also wrote a blog ‘When I Met Karl Marx And Narayan Surve’.
But, as you will see, my experience and information about working of communists was a mixed bag.
Looking back, I am surprised that Karl Marx was never discussed in our industrial relations post-grad course. His theory is not covered in the academic syllabus of any management school. This is important to note because the highest number of students come from disciplines other than humanities, and who have not had any introduction to Marx’s views. While teaching at an institute I asked students to define ‘exploitation’, and none could do it with reasonable accuracy. Many people hold adverse view about Karl Marx without study. At a seminar I spoke about the travails of contingent workforce; the person sitting next to me enquired what my ‘political leaning’ was! Speaking sympathetically about their travails begets the label of leftist!
The neo-liberal policies of the Government have produced extreme disparities. I have often written about their travails. That Marx was relevant was a realisation! Books like Precariat, A Value For Everything are impacting minds of several students. The latter book by Mazzucato was reviewed by an Economist who wrote:
“I agree with Mazzucato’s argument that the debate about different theories of value has vanished from economics. Looking at how economics is currently taught, value is commonly seen as price multiplied by quantity. In economic research, even though the word ‘value’ appears, for example, in the term ‘global value chains’, a value-added of all activities needed to produce goods, its analysis starts from a completed distribution of wages and rent in total output. The question about the actual value arising from the factors of production is not raised. This significantly limits our ability to criticise the current market system and for us to design a better alternative.”
An interesting article ‘Karl Marx 200th Anniversary: The world is ready for Marxism as capitalism reaches the tipping point’ by Youssef El-Gingihy, in The Independent says this:
“In 2015, socialism was the most searched word on Merriam Webster’s online dictionary. Socialism does not carry historical baggage for a younger generation left behind by the iniquities of capitalism. A Harvard study found that a majority of millennials reject capitalism and a third are in favour of socialism. This is what might be called the revenge of Marx; the rehabilitation of one of the world’s historical philosophers. Marx inverted Hegelian doctrine into dialectical materialism, affirming that it was material relations that were responsible for consciousness and social relations – not the other way round. In 2011, back when it was still unfashionable to confess to being Marxist, Oxford University literary theorist Professor Terry Eagleton boldly decreed that the bearded prophet had been right after all. Eagleton is no longer alone.”
Karl Marx is in discussion again. It was a coincidence that I was visiting his grave at Highgate Cemetery in London. Kudos to this great man who has left his indelible mark on the history. His words are inscribed on his grave ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways – the point is however to change it.’
And his spirit seems to be rising!
Vivek S Patwardhan
”What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”
THANK YOU vIVEK-Always a pleasure to read of your thoughts and views and of course Karl Marx who we thought fashionable at a certain age and then realised what it really meant!
“Many people hold adverse view about Karl Marx without study… ” is actually the main stay in Marx or any unpopular (or popular) argument revolving around communism. And then they masquerade as neo-liberal subject matter experts as well, even that is more ‘judging the book by its covers’ sorts 🙂
Communist leaders are difficult in the whole ER/IR context since they somehow never have opened up to those neo-liberal options. Should they have or not, would be a whole new debate but one can’t fault them for being deep technical masters of their domain. Its like faulting Nadal for being the clay master.
Now whether a clay master has worth in today’s jet age is again a different debate.
Was an absolute pleasant read Sir… Sometime one needs to read a piece to just understand a paradigm in greater detail and not look for quick answers or solutions. As you many years back had said, there are no right answers but just the right questions 🙂
Pleasure to read your experiences about Karl Marx philosophy in those days. Our Govt chose socialist pattern of society which was supposed to be middle path having best of both capitalism and communism. While it may not have achieved the desired objectives, it is best suited for large country like ours. Thanks for sharing thought provoking blog as usual. Regards
Dear VSP, You have this uncanny knack of connecting the dots. A visit to Karl’s memorial and the thoughts and views cone flowing to you. To someone like me who has had little experience in labour issues your notes have been an eye opener. Thanks
Dr Zahid Gangjee comments:
Ideologies are relevant for the time and I – like you – believe that socialism IS being appreciated for it real truth all over the world. The irony is it is still unfashionable here.
Real good writing.
This is flowing commentary.
Sir, why not more about Das Kapital ?
Thanks Abhay for considering me to be competent to do it…, some challenges are best not taken! 😀
Shweta Bandri writes:
Wonderful piece… Marx is becoming increasingly relevant in today’s day and world…much to the chagrin of the ‘haves’.
As you rightly pointed out that an absence of Marx’s reference in our academic syllabus has actually turned him into a figure who is more feared than revered.
I genuinely believe that we do not have a sense of history and hence we end up not learning anything from it. Therefore we keep committing the same blunders all over again.
We are moving into an age where only the Right triumphs and the rest are ‘left’ to fend for themselves. We have made every possible amendment in the lawbook that will never allow Marx’s dream of ‘Workers of the world to unite’ to turn into reality.The cotractualization and casualization of labour in every sphere of the industry has made matters worse.
The ‘opium of the masses’ is being sold legally and doping would no longer be a punishable offence. A country riding high on such dope would eventually give way to what Germany under Hitler propagated -Lebensraum.
I am just hoping my fears are unfounded and we continue to live in a more tolerant country where our democratic ethos remains unscathed.