Towards Marxism Version 2.0

Can Marxists in West Bengal and Tripura ever hope to regain lost ground? How long will Kerala remain a Left bastion?

The Left bastion in Tripura has fallen. West Bengal was lost ages ago. In Kerala the last vestiges of the Marxist state are battling religious revivalist forces. Today, one hundred years after the October Revolution, the world has negligible spheres of Marxist influence. North Korea has an absolute dictator who calls his country communist. China today is decidedly capitalist, no matter what they call their political system. Xi Jinping has installed himself in power for life. In Russia Putin has done more or less the same by getting himself elected for a fourth term. In Cuba Raul Castro has taken over from his brother Fidel. Vietnam and Laos are seemingly communist. Marxism, a unique politico-economic philosophy, has influenced the world for a century and a half. The 1917 Russian Revolution was the crowning glory of Marxist endeavour. Satellite nations congregated under the communist banner to form the mighty Soviet bloc. The ideology spread like wildfire through Eastern Europe, Central Asia, China, Cuba and pockets in India, Africa and South America. Che Guevara won the hearts of idealists around the world. Lenin, Mao and Fidel Castro became legends. But before the twentieth century had ended the bubble had burst, the Berlin wall had come down, the Soviet Union had disintegrated, and socialist nations seemed to have given up on the communist ideal.

The story of communism in Kerala is a little different. A communist government came to power in a silent non-violent revolution in 1957. Prime Minister Nehru sacked the EMS government in 1959 but the communists soon came back to power with a vengeance and six decades later, a Left coalition is firmly in the saddle. Can the Marxists in West Bengal and Tripura ever hope to regain lost ground? How long will Kerala remain a Left bastion? Can the Left make a significant impact on India's political scene in the coming decades? Are the ideas propounded by Marx and Engels in the 19th century robust enough to meet the aspirations of 21st century youth? Or does Marxism need remodelling to cope with modern day challenges?

A Place for God
Here in God's Own Country we believe Marxism is still a force to reckon with. Oops! That was a faux pas! There's no space for poor old God in Marxland. Marx castigated religion calling it 'the opium of the people' - and millions believed him. When the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia, God was given an unceremonious burial and atheism acquired cult status. But God refused to wither away. In course of time religious resurgence occurred in many parts of the world and the impact was felt even in our tiny coastal state. We are left wondering: Was Marx wrong about God? Should Marxist regimes prepare to accommodate God, religion, rituals et al?

The Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat
The Communist Manifesto, authored by Marx and Engels when they were in their late twenties, foresaw the emergence of global markets and massive monopolies. It called for the abolition of child labour and introduction of free education for all. But there were impractical ideas too. It's hard to figure out how the centralization of banking, communications and transport can facilitate the 'withering away' of the state. But that was in 1848. Marx's emphasis on the economic factors in society and his analysis of class conflict had an enormous influence on contemporary thought. His views on the alienation of labour were profound. Engels' brilliant treatise 'The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State' facilitated a better understanding of gender and property relations, division of labour and the emergence of state power. Lenin's proposals in 'The State and Revolution' include democratic elections with the right of recall, zero policing, no official to receive higher pay than a skilled worker, and 'Every cook should be able to be Prime Minister.' Well, India has a tea-boy PM, but sadly, it has nothing to do with the rise of the proletariat.

For Marx, society consisted of socio-economic classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, the former controlling the means of production and exploiting the latter for profit. Those wielding economic power control all other institutions in society - the political, the religious and the ideological. This appears to be an inadequate view when we take into account the complexities of our society, where caste, class, gender and a host of other factors determine the human condition. The word 'proletariat' has virtually disappeared from the Marxist lexicon, but 'bourgeois' remains a much-loved swear word. When a Marxist disapproves of someone he calls them 'bourgeois'. (I was repeatedly called that in the past, and these words are my sweet revenge.) But today's Marxists, (at least those in GOC), are all bourgeois. You just need to look at their cell-phones and their cars. God bless the Manik Sarkars of this country! OMG! That's a double faux pas! (I'd better stick to facts.)

Core Values and Ideals
'From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.' Fair enough. But how do we go about attaining this lofty ideal? Until homo sapiens learns to eschew greed there will always be conflict. And as long as power and wealth exist they are likely to be are abused. Inquilab Zindabad! Long live the revolution! The theory of violent revolution is an inherent part of Marxist ideology. Fidel Castro earned the wrath of the United States by exporting revolution all over Central and South America - an attempt that eventually cost Che Guevara his life. But times have changed dramatically - and today nobody wants a revolution. 'Inquilab' only serves a sloganeering purpose. Marx and Engels envisaged the withering away of the State, the abolition of private property and the evolution of a classless society. Was this a pipe-dream? Contrary to their expectations the State is staunchly embedded in the life of the individual. Everywhere in the world private property remains sacrosanct, and citizens believe it is the duty of the State to protect their property. This is a perfect conundrum. Class is an ugly reality in every corner of the world - and India has the added ignominy of being in the vice-like grip of a millennia-old caste system.

The Women Question
While understanding the dynamics behind the subordination of women in a patriarchal society, Marxism proposed no remedies or alternative social structures. Did the theorists assume that the ushering in of a classless society would automatically erase all forms of oppression? There is no evidence of gender equity during the few decades of communist rule in the USSR and China. In India, the Marxists had long tenures in West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala, but the situation of women is not really different from that of women in other states. Everywhere in the world women continue to live in subjection. The problem of patriarchy remains unaddressed. One is compelled to recall Engels' words with deep angst: "The overthrow of mother-right was the world-historic defeat of the female sex."

Confusion and Clarification
Dialectical materialism is the Marxist paradigm for understanding economic and political processes. Das Kapital can be viewed as an exercise in dialectics. I wonder how many diehard Marxists truly understand dialectical materialism. Will the real communist educators please stand up? Obviously, all is not well with Marxian theory and practice. The dictatorship of the proletariat never happened. All that materialized was the dictatorship of Stalin, Mao and Castro, followed by that of Putin, Xi and Kim. Private property was never abolished, the means of production still remain largely in private hands, the world continues to have a handful of billionaires and billions of paupers, and women still remain subordinate to men. Interestingly, state-sponsored welfare schemes provide a safety valve against the rising up of the proletariat. And democratic processes make revolution redundant.

Marxian ideology empathizes with the toiling masses but it fails to present a viable alternative to the ills of the capitalism. Neither Marx nor Engels foresaw that one day we would have holes in the ozone layer, global warming, nuclear bombs and cyber warfare, not to mention ISIS, Boko Haram and other sundry entities that pose more diabolic threats than poverty and inequality. But failed revolutions do not erode the intrinsic worth of Marxian ideology, or its ultimate purpose, namely, an end to exploitation of the poor by the rich. The time has come for new-age Marxists to come up with new theories, panaceas and action plans to tackle the ills that plague us in the internet era. Why is homo sapiens bent upon self destruction? How do we end war and weapons, preserve mankind as well as other species, protect the environment, manage disasters and enhance the quality of life? How do we create not just comforts and gadgets but liberty and equality, happiness and contentment, peace and goodwill? If Marx and Engels were alive today they'd probably proclaim, "Comrades of the world unite! Rethink! Remodel! Reinvent! You have nothing to lose but votes."

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