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Marxian Renaissance & 150th anniversary of Das Kapital

Published : Nov 9, 2016, 6:17 am IST
Updated : Nov 9, 2016, 6:17 am IST

An international conference in commemoration of 150th anniversary of publication of Das Kapital (September 18, 1867) is scheduled to take place at the York University, Toronto on May 25 and 26, 2017.

An international conference in commemoration of 150th anniversary of publication of Das Kapital (September 18, 1867) is scheduled to take place at the York University, Toronto on May 25 and 26, 2017. The two-day academic deliberations will be symbiotic with the unprecedented enthusiasm in reading it afresh after the traumatic global financial order as a sequel to the sub-prime crisis in 2008 afflicting every major bourse all over the world. Even apologists of neo-liberal finance capital look to Mars as their church, Chicago School of Monetary Economics failed to envision seismicity of mega-crisis. They have been paying the price for unflinching faith in Keynesian, neo-Keynesian, classical or neo-classical economics. Not that the neo-liberal economic theorists endorse Marxian theories but realise that prescriptions of their high priest Milton Friedman can’t even be palliatives, forget cure.

All the three volumes of Marx’s magnum opus were published in the 1880s, when Marx was no more. The English version of Das Kapital — Capital: A Critique of Political Economy — was brought out four years after Marx’s death in 1887. Marx scholars, insulated from partyocracy of official Marxism (read Leninism) evince interest in several drafts of Capital in German and French. There are interesting revision by Marx.

Several leading Marx scholars are expected to participate at the Toronto conference, the major topics, to be deliberated, are (a) the contemporary relevance of Capital to the actual understanding of capitalist society, (b) a critical reconsideration of the most important debates on Capital and its problematic; (c) new reflections on its unfinished character, in relation to the recent textual acquisitions of the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe or complete works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (Mega); and (d) an analysis of Capital’s dissemination and reception throughout the world. Mega is the new historical-critical edition of complete works of Marx and Friedrich Engels, a collation of original texts, including several manuscripts of Capital and other works in German and French. Mega was first initiated under the guidance and directorship of David Riazanov at the Institute of Marxism, Moscow, in 1920, the greatest “Marxologist” of his time (Izvestia in 1930), but brutally killed on false charges during the “counter-revolutionary who perished during the ‘counter-revolutionary’ Stalin period” (coined by Marx scholar Murzban Jal) in 1938. A second Mega venture was made by the Soviet and East German communist parties in the late 1960s. The present one, insulated from the Leninists or traditional Marxists, is under the aegis of the Amsterdam-based International Institute of Social History (IISH), an arm of the university, an autonomous centre under the University of Amsterdam. Associated with the IISH is the International Marx-Engels Foundation — IMES in Amsterdam. Among principal collaborating centres are Karl Marx-House of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Trier, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the Social Research Institute of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Bonn and the Russian State Archive for Socio-Political History. Out of projected 114 volumes, 57 volumes have been published so far.

Unfortunately, official Marxist (Leninist) parties like the Communist Party of India (Marxist) are apathetic to celebration of the 150th anniversary. On the contrary, they are preparing for centenary of Bolshevik Revolution or the Great October Socialist Revolution (GOSR), which has lost much of its sheen after the fall of Soviet Union and subsequent demise of the Communist Party of Soviet Union. According to the previous Russian calendar, the seizure of power at Petrograd happened on October 25. In today’s calendar it is November 7). The CPI(M) central committee has brought out a 2,900-plus word booklet in English and Hindi — October Revolution: A New Path for Humanity in abeyance of the CC decision at its meeting between September 17 and 19, 2016: “Successfully implement the centenary of the Great October Socialist Revolution”. Sadly enough, the CC was completely mum about 150th anniversary of Das Kapital. On what the GOSR is all about, the booklet states. “The October Revolution in Russia in 1917 marked a new epoch in world history. The revolution led to the establishment of a new socialist state — the Soviet Union”. The reflex of vulgarisation is in the very connotation, “socialist state” Lenin invented words like “socialist state”, “workers’ state” and “commune state”, distancing himself from Marx who in a letter to Dr Ludwig Kugelmann on April 12, 1871 warned against any form of state: “If you look at the last chapter of my Eighteenth Brumaire you will find that I say that the next attempt of the French revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it, and this is essential for every real people’s revolution on the continent.” Marx had all along laid emphasis on the society itself and not the state, which in the Marxian scheme, is to disappear in a classless society — being the (collective) owner of the means of production. Interestingly, Lenin himself wrote, “We, Marxists, are opposed to every kind of state (protivniki vsyakogo gosudarstva),” quotes Paresh Chattopadhyay from original Russian text in his paper, Twentieth Century Socialism: Minority Rule (Economic and Political Weekly, May 14, 2016). In State and Revolution too, perhaps his most important book, Lenin categorically stated, “When there is state there can be no freedom, but when there is freedom there will be no state.”

Very much in contrast to Marx, Lenin artificially differentiated between socialism and communism and defined socialism as the lower phase of communism for Marx the two concepts are identical. For Lenin, socialism is “social ownership” of the means of production or “ownership by the so-called socialist state”. Thus, Lenin stood Marx on his head.

Lenin looks at the economy under Bolshevik rule as one “state syndicate” or one “single factory” with “all citizens” having been transformed into “hired employees of the state”. This is completely opposed to Marx who in his “Inaugural Address” (1864) to the International categorically made a hiatus between “hired labour” (of capitalism) and “associated labour” (of socialism).

Lenin revised and misinterpreted Marx repeatedly. Little wonder, Leninist parties press Marx below Lenin in practice. But sale curves of Lenin’s works like Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism, Development of Capitalism in Russia and What Is To Be Done have a distinctively negative gradient.

There has been a Marxian renaissance in the West and for younger people “it is untainted by association with Stalinist gulags”. The 150th anniversary of Capital is being observed when Marx remains a rare economist of the 20th century. Lenin deified Marx saying that “Marxism is omnipotent, because it is true”, but Marx scholars reject this dogma. Marxian texts are incomplete and Marx wanted the posterity to take them forward towards completion. Two years ago, the topic of a two-day conference at IISH was “Capital an unfinished and unfinishable project”.

The writer is a Kolkata-based journalist specialising in Left politics and history and the politico-economics of India’s neighbours