Tag Archives: Marxism

Marx’s Das Kapital: A Biography by Francis Wheen

Marx’s Das Capital: A Biography by Francis Wheen (2008, Manjul Publications, India, Rs. 195)

Francis Wheen’s biography of Karl Marx, published in 2001, was probably the first one to be published after the collapse of the Soviet Union and ‘existing socialism’ in Eastern Europe. He has now written a ‘biography’ of Marx’s magnum opus Das Kapital. Wheen’s central point is that Capital needs to be seen, above all, as a work of art.

Although Das Kapital is usually categorized as a work of economics, Karl Marx turned to the study of political economy only after many years of spadework in philosophy and literature. It is these intellectual foundations of underpin the project, and it is his personal experience of alienation that gives such intensity to the analysis of an economic system which estranges people from one another and from the world that they inhabit- a world in which humans are  enslaved by the monstrous power of inanimate capital and commodities. (page 7)

Continue reading

What is the People’s History of the World?

British writer Chris Harman, author of A People’s History of the World (2008) explains in an interview about why he wrote the book at the blog Grits & Roses

I wrote the book out of frustration at the fact that although there were many radical accounts of particular episodes and phases in history, mainly influenced by the insights of Marx and Engels, there was not over-reaching account. In the earlier part of the book the major influence was the Australian archaeologists of the first half of the 20th Century, Gordon Childe. But his account had to be updated to take into account new research by archaeologists and radical anthropologists like Richard Lee and Eleanor Leacock since his death in 1957. For the Roman period there was the writing of St Croix, for India the work of D D Kosambi, Irfan Habib and Romila Thapar, for the rise of slavery, Eric Williams and CLR James, for Britain that of Christopher Hill and Edward Thompson, for the French revolution Albert Soboul and Andre Guerin,…and so on.
Continue reading

VG Kiernan

For those of us in South Asia, Victor Kiernan was known primarily as the translator of Mohammad Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. His works as a historian are relatively unknown. Even his translations, for that matter, are not so much read as they are appreciated, mainly because few need to when they can read the original in Urdu. His relative ignorance in India is also difficult to understand because he was one of the few of the British Marxist Historians who actually spent some time in India. In Kiernan’s case, he was even married to an Indian lady, though for a short time. For all this, however, India (and Pakistan) seems to have been a passing interest for him and his personal and intellectual association ended pretty much around 1950. He lived to the ripe age of 95, and passed on earlier this week on 18th February.

A google search yesterday led to a tract ‘Marxism and Gramsci‘ (pdf), written by Kiernan  in 1972 when Gramsci’s works were being introduced to English readers. Besides a number of insightful and critical comments on both Marxism and Gramsci, he provides a comment on the state of Marxism in India as well:

Continue reading

Charles Darwin and Materialism

(12th Feb 2009 marks the 200th birth anniversary of Charles Darwin)

Reading about Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in school did not ruffle any feathers in our young minds. After all, once explained, the whole story about evolution made common sense. It was much later when reading Marx and Engels, especially Engels’ little classic The Part Played by Labour in the transition From Ape to Man, that one began to realize the great significance of the work of this British  naturalist. The oft quoted ‘fact’ of Marx wanting to dedicate his magnum opus, Das Capital to Darwin added another layer of awe for him. Unfortunately, this ‘fact’ was little more than a myth, as  Francis Wheen’s biography of Marx published in 2000 proved.

Continue reading

150 Years of the Grundrisse

The more deeply we go back into history, the more does the individual, and hence also the producing individual, appear as dependent, as belonging to a greater whole: in a still quite natural way in the family and in the family expanded into the clan; then later in the various forms of communal society arising out of the antitheses and fusions of the clan. Only in the eighteenth century, in ‘civil society’, do the various forms of social connectedness confront the individual as a mere means towards his private purposes, as external necessity. But the epoch which produces this standpoint, that of the isolated individual, is also precisely that of the hitherto most developed social (from this standpoint, general) relations.(Source)

The Grundrisse was the last of the trilogy of Marx’s mature works- the other two being Contribution to the Critique of the Political Economy and Das Capital- to be published. Indeed, these notebooks were published one hundred years after they were written, leading Marcello Musto to comment that the work was published after ‘one hundred of years of solitude’. It is a tribute to Marx’s genius that he wrote this huge tome as a means of clarification of his own thoughts and as a preparation for his magnum opus, Das Capital, though some of its thoughts went into Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy as well. He did not intend it for publication.
Continue reading

Free Markets: “Never Again!”

The BBC has an interview with Eric Hobsbawm, who is best described as the pitamah of Marxist historians. He draws parallels from the 1930s and concludes that the biggest collapse of the financial system may lead to a revival of the Right as it did in the aftermath of the great depression.

He does have a point- even though at that time there was a choice- socialism, the political climate lurched towards fascism In Rosa Luxemburg’s apt warning cry: it’s  a question of ‘Socialism or Barbarism’. In the absence of socialism, barbarism is a very real possibility (of course, it is also very much possible that we will see some kind of a revival of neo- Keynes- ism rather than barbarism or socialism).

Hobsbawm attributes the revival of Marx to businessmen in context of globalization and underlines that the level of collective consciousness  is not ripe to replace capitalism in the near future.
Continue reading

From One Wall to Another: Marx’s Spectre Looms Large

First a look at some headlines past few days:

Twenty million jobs will disappear by the end of next year as a result of the impact of the financial crisis on the global economy, a United Nations agency said on Monday. (source)

With capitalism in crisis, Karl Marx has become fashionable again in the West. Das Kapital, his seminal work, is set to become a best-seller in Europe.
(source)

An even more curious bit of evidence: a recent poll of East Germans by a major magazine found that 52 percent had lost all confidence in the free market economy while 43 percent would support a return to a socialist economy. (source)

Capitalism as we used to know it is on its deathbed. And those who predicted that the old brand, the unfettered, American-promoted system, was a danger to the world, are being vindicated.They include Karl Marx, whose thinking on banks seems oddly contemporary these days. (source)

*

It was in the aftermath of the fall of ‘existing socialism’ symbolized by the fall of the Berlin wall, that the French philosopher Derrida wrote his book Specters of Marx. This was his manner of acknowledging the great power of the German who was written off as his statues and pictures were dismantled all over Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union.

Such positions were rare, however, and there has been a great diminishing of those who have continued to acknowledge the influence of Karl Marx and his theories. One of the early forebodings was the dramatic lack of interest in the thoughts of Marx and in Left politics in general among students. In some countries like China and India, a new generation that had witnessed only the fall of socialism and were enamored of the immense possibilities that a new wave of capitalism had opened up for them, swerved to the right. Those left out of the limited progress turned towards identity politics, which, carried to its logical extreme, is self- defeating.
Continue reading

Capitalism: A system built to fail

Professor, Richard Wolff of the University of Massachusetts explains in this superb lecture, why the financial crisis is the biggest crisis of capitalism in his, and our, lifetime. Listen till the end, because that is where the symphony’s crescendo is.

Click here to watch the video (38mins). Link via Lenin’s Tomb

[and WordPress- I hate you, for once, because I can't embed a google video in the post].

Read also Prof Wolff’s recent articles in MR.

Capitalism happens.  When and where it does, capitalism casts its own special shadow: a self-critique of capitalism’s basic flaws that says modern society can do better by establishing very different, post-capitalist economic systems.  This critical shadow rises up to terrify capitalism when — in crisis periods such as now — capitalism hits the fan.  Karl Marx poetically called that shadow the specter that haunts capitalism.

This one is on the so- called distinction between the main street and wall Street, or regulated and un- regulated capitalism. Capitalism is capitalism, in whatever form in comes. The main street leads to the Wall Street.

Capitalism has everywhere oscillated between private and public phases.  Private capitalism minimized government interventions and mostly kept state officials off boards of directors.  In capitalism’s public phases, governments intervened and sometimes replaced private with public members of boards of directors.  Crises of one phase often provoked transition to the other.

Reading Capital with David Harvey

Listening to David Harvey’s lectures on Capital Vol 1 not only gave me a feeling that I was re- reading Capital but also provided a refreshing enthusiasm that I had experienced when first reading the tome. Though the first three chapters are considered to be somewhat intimidating, these three chapters are also the most interesting ones. As Harvery points out, Marx follows different literary techniques in different parts of the book, and the first three are marked not only by philosophical flamboyance but also literary flourishes with copious references to Shakespeare , Schiller and Balzac (the latter, like Harvey, I read much after reading Capital).

If someone were to read Capital, I would now, with the benefit of hindsight recommend that one read it along with Shakespeare, Balzac and Hegel- not necessarily in that order. Again, as Harvery points out, it might be a better idea if one reads some works by Hegel before getting on to Capital- if only because it makes reading Marx much simpler. Similarly, for anyone reading the Communist Manifesto, I’d recommend reading it along with Flaubert’s A Sentimental Education and maybe even Lajos Zilahy’s Hungarian novel set in a similar period- A Century in Scarlet.
Continue reading

Why Marx supported Free Trade

It is always fruitful to “go back to Marx”. While reading this speech that the old man made when he was quite young (in 1848) I could not but admire the clarity with which he grasps and articulates the essence of the matter at hand. At the end of his speech, he proclaims that he supports free trade… though from a different point of view than the “free traders”. His reference to the criticism that those opposed to free trade is as contemporary as it can be when any criticism of globalization is accused of supporting Nehruvian “socialism” and not as an exercise in identifying the contradictions inherent in the new phase of capitalism.
Do not imagine, gentlemen, that in criticizing freedom of trade we have the least intention of defending the system of protection.

One may declare oneself an enemy of the constitutional regime without declaring oneself a friend of the ancient regime.

Similar is his take on other aspects that are nowadays packaged in only slightly more sophisticated jargon of management gurus (I am reminded of phrases like “core competency”- according to which some countries are “naturally” suited for back office work and others for manufacturing)

For instance, we are told that free trade would create an international division of labor, and thereby give to each country the production which is most in harmony with its natural advantage.

Further down the speech is appropriately targeted as those who see globalization as a mere opening up to the world and not a phenomenon driven by capitalism (Amartya Sen in his book The Argumentative Indian is a case in point).

To call cosmopolitan exploitation universal brotherhood is an idea that could only be engendered in the brain of the bourgeoisie.

A longer quote from Marx’s speech on the question of free trade (1848)
Continue reading

A selection of Chilean poet Marjorie Agosin’s poems at the The International Literary Quarterly.
The Disappeared

The disappeared
took their voices with them
their voices with which they sang
The International
their tongues and languages

We became accustomed to not hearing them
while we searched for them
perhaps secretly
we dreamt that some day
they would be waiting for us at the corner café
or in the schoolyard
as if nothing had happened
because it was a bad dream in some
short story by Borges

With them we also lost the transparency
of objects
the illusion of every day
that it was always the present the moment
the transparency of objects

And so we grew accustomed to filling ourselves with absence
to a gray silence on our cracked faces
to forgetting their voices
to really believing that perhaps not one of them existed
that these disappeared
were not real

And so we too disappeared from history
we shriveled up
the sky also smaller
we no longer searched for anyone
we did not question anyone
we grew silent in order to die or perhaps to live in miniature
and one day like them
we also disappeared
except that
we were aware
we dressed in mourning
we joined forces with fear
little by little indifference defeated us too

We expected nothing else
except occasionally thinking yes,
perhaps they would again appear in that corner café
or in that instant of the sun when summer is a
ceremony of delight.

Link via RSB

*

Jacues Rupnik on why 1968 needs to be remembered not so much for the Parisian student revolt as for The Prague Spring. 1968: The year of two springs

The French Left rejected the market and capitalism at the same time as, in Prague, Ota Sik was putting forward a “third way” between eastern state socialism and western capitalism.

*

Scientist DP Sen writes on the problems of the communist movement.

A middle class leadership for a working class movement is a contradictory arrangement and cannot continue forever. The above two classes have different class interests, more so in a developing country….In China, the middle class leadership has allowed capitalism in the name of development. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal and also a Polit-Burean member of the Communist Party of India-Marxist , proclaims every alternate day, so to say, that they are practising capitalism. If so, why the name: Communist Party of India-Marxist?

*

Rembrandt – Philosopher in Meditation

Initially what I saw in the painting is the man, presumably the philosopher in the center of the painting, under the staircases that seem to represent both the cascading movement of the mind as well as the transience of time- the philosopher is situated in a particular position in time and is thus also limited by it. He basks in the glow, as it were, of enlightenment within those confines.

As one looks closely at the painting, one can also see a woman, and there is another source of light. The source of light comes not from the skies or the external world, but from the hearth. Unlike the man, the woman is not sitting placidly and reflecting or basking in the light, but is in the act of keeping the fire, the source of the illumination going.

There is not one, but two philosophers in the painting. Or perhaps there is indeed only one. And it’s not the one seated next to the window.

Link via Flowerville

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

90th Anniversary of the Revolution against Das Capital

The Bolshevik Revolution … is the revolution against Karl Marx’s Capital….events have overcome ideologies. Events have exploded the critical schema determining how the history of Russia would unfold according to the canons of historical materialism. The Bolsheviks reject Karl Marx, and their explicit actions and conquests bear witness that the canons of historical materialism are not so rigid as might have been and has been thought.

(Live Marxist) thought sees as the dominant factor in history, not raw economic facts, but man, men in societies, men in relation to one another, reaching agreements with one another, developing through these contacts (civilization) a collective, social will; men coming to understand economic facts, judging them and adapting them to their will until this becomes the driving force of the economy and moulds objective reality, which lives and moves and comes to resemble a current of volcanic lava that can be channelled wherever and in whatever way men’s will determines.

On the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the Great October Revolution, 17 leading academicians from Russia, among them Roy Medvedev and Mikhail Shatrov have issued an appeal reiterating the achievements of the Revolution and criticizing post- USSR attempts to whitewash that period of history.

In sum, the popular power of the initial years of the revolution degenerated into rule by the bureaucracy and its leader Stalin.  We consider the massive Stalinist repressions, along with the violation of the rights of the individual and of whole nationalities in the USSR, to have been a crime.  All this discredited the ideals of the revolution and of socialism.

While acknowledging these facts, we do not accept scholarly-sounding lies and stupefyingly one-sided propaganda with regard to the whole of Soviet history. This history was diverse; within it, democratic and bureaucratic tendencies engaged in conflict with and replaced one another.  Hence, the freedoms of the NEP years were replaced by Stalinist totalitarianism, which in turn gave way to the Khrushchev “thaw”.  Later, the Brezhnev authoritarianism was replaced by perestroika, which proclaimed as its goal the creation of a humane, democratic socialism.

Image Source: Marxists.org