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.”