Karl Marx and Communism: Is it Dead and Gone?
The 19th century is often referred to as the age colonialism. It was also the era when many revolutionary theories were propagated. One of the theories that shook the world was enunciated by Karl Marx and his associate Engels when they published their book "Das Kapital". At that time it was a revolutionary book and Marx who was a German had to leave Germany. He finally went to London where he died.
Marx was a product of the industrial revolution. This was a very important period in the social history of Europe when the nations graduated from the age of agriculture to industrial factories and plants. This was classical capitalism and with it came the classical ills of capitalism. The capitalist made all the profits and the workers were generally poorly paid and lived in abysmal conditions. This period is beautifully treated by Charles Dickens in his famous book "Hard Times".
Karl Marx enunciated his theory of the destruction of capitalism and the takeover of the means of production by the workers. He called this the dictatorship of the proletariat. Marx was of the view that the workers would control the production and the profits and distribute them as per everybody's needs.
Marx targeted the industrial societies of the West, notably England and Germany. This was the industrial revolution and it dovetailed with the age of colonialism. The factories could get the raw material from the colonies in Africa and Asia cheaply as almost the entire known world had been colonized by the European powers. The Industrial Revolution brought in momentous changes but the workers remained poor though the nations became rich.
In such a situation the theory of Marxism became the flavor of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Marx talked only of the industrial nations and he had very little to say about agrarian societies like India and China. Nevertheless, the theory of Marx was revolutionary and the western powers were greatly shaken.
They carried out reforms in their industrial policy and the condition of the workers improved but Marx found an adherent in Russia. He was a man of great intellect; Vladimir Lenin the leader of the Bolsheviks. He gave his interpretation to the theory of Marx which is now known as Marxism- Leninism and it spread like fire in Russia.
Marx and Governance
The theory of Marx had a romantic tinge and many intellectuals were swayed by it but it must be pointed out that what Marx wrote was applicable to only the industrial world as he had no comprehension of other societies.
Karl Marx propounded an economic theory but at the same time, he did not develop on the theme as to how his economic theory which was being spearheaded by a dictatorship of the proletariat would in practice run a nation. That is the reason that many people talk of Marxism as a utopia.
We can see that Marx viewed the historical process of the advent of communism and rule by the workers was a little simplistic. He wrote about a class struggle leading to communism. Marx's economic analysis of capitalism is based on his version of the labor theory of value and includes the analysis of the distribution of profit and the condition of the exploited proletariat. In other words he left behind a theory that sounds good to read but was impractical because he failed to show how his theory of exploitation of labor could be put into effect without resort to force and coercion.
What Marx stated does look a little utopian. Lenin reinterpreted Karl Marx and applied it to Russia.The state of Russia was backward and ruled by Tsar who lived in the 19th century. Russia was basically an agrarian society and had very little of industrial development. The workers on the farms were exploited and bonded labor was the order of the day.It is to the credit of Lenin that he modified the theory of Karl Marx and applied it to Russia.He was thus able to formant a revolution which has become famous as the October revolution of 1917.
Lenin set up a totalitarian state which was not what Karl Marx had envisaged. The classical Marxist theory does talk of a class struggle but out of this class, there was to order. In Russia, Lenin did have the class struggle but it ended with the elimination of one class of society only to be replaced by leaders of the communist party and the political Commissioner. It meant that the workers again were not controlling the means of production and distribution of profit. In that respect, classical Marxism was not practiced in Russia.
Lenin was followed by Stalin and he further punched nails into the theory of Marx. .But the state built on a foundation of negation of human values and freedom was bound to collapse and within seven decades the Soviets state disintegrated. One is tempted to conclude that communism was a failure.
This is again a simplistic notion because one effect of Marxism has been the improvement in the working conditions of the workers in the western powers. in fact, classical Marxism is more relevant to modern Germany, the UK, and the USA.
Classical Marxism appears to have become dead. We do have regimes in China and North Korea which profess to be communist. Despite this, the collapse of Russia as a Communist power may lead one to conclude that communism is dead and gone.
Even in the 21st-century communism does have a certain role to play. The question is how can one stop exploitation and poor living conditions of the third world. Poverty is the breeding ground of Marxism. There is every chance that communism may again come forward in a different form. In this connection, the role of China which is a communist country will be crucial.
Alive in China?
No theory or discussion of Marx and communism is complete without reference to Mao Tse Tung the Chinese leader. Mao was not an intellectual in the category of Lenin and Marx but at the same time, he was a highly intelligent man. He applied the Marxist- Lenin theory with modifications to China. He added his own brand of agrarian revolution and successfully transported China from a medieval country to great power status. He applied the principles of Marxism but at a tremendous cost of human suffering and death. After his demise, there has been a shift from his ideas but the basic edifice of the communist state remains. It is a matter of historical thought that the theory of Karl Marx which he had thought would apply to the industrial powers in the West, is in practice found a home in the Far East in China. I wonder if we can say that Communism is dead and will never be resurrected?