Marx’s views on social change continue to significantly impact post-war life, most notably in the contemporary revival of social life. Ideas of Karl Marx continue to exert political, intellectual, and practical influence all across the globe. However, the socialist future, which he so confidently foretold, has not become a reality as envisioned by him. The capitalist model of production that he diagnosed as ‘crisis-prone and vulnerable to extinction within the course of later historical development’ dominates modern times. He believed that the economic base of the society influences the general character of all other aspects of culture and social structure, namely, law, art, religion, government, education, etc. The dominant class tends to own, control, and manipulate all of these institutions, molding them to serve their interests. Early revolutionaries in India, such as Bhagat Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose, and parties such as the CPI, were also influenced by his ideology and philosophy.
What is Marxism?
Marxism, or Scientific Socialism, refers to the frame of thoughts first rolled out by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels more than one and a half centuries ago. Generally, it is considered as the antithesis of Liberalism. In its totality, these thoughts and ideas offer an exhausting theoretical stand for the struggle of the working class which Marx termed as Proletariat, to achieve a better state of human society. Marx believed that humanity’s core problems engender from the ruling class, or Bourgeoisie, that controls the means of production, including factories, farms, and mines. As a result, the working class, or Proletariat, are compelled to sell their labor at minimal value.
Theories Proposed by Marx and their Relevance
The theories explained below are some of the most essential and prominent ideas proposed by Marx, in relevance with the contemporary, modern world:
3.1.Theory of Alienation
The belief in ‘Alienation’ forms a crucial part of Marx’s early writings. Marx depicted the workers under capitalism to be suffering from 4 forms of alienated labor. According to him, ownership and control over the material means of production define the general character of one’s social, political, and spiritual life processes. Thus, it is not men’s consciousness that determines their life but their worldly possessions. Their social life, on the other hand, decides their consciousness. Thus, the driving powers of life are the modes of production, which determine the society’s superstructure.
Nevertheless, the condition of workers has improved today, as compared to Marx’s time, partly due to the presence of workers’ unions, efficient management, and modern equipment. Also, the minimum wages of workers are paid by corporations and factories following the laws prescribed by the government. A second example is a move towards ‘Keynesian Economics.’ As a result, the State came to play a more central role in regulating capitalism and ensuring that the worst excesses of exploitation, inequality, and insecurity were kept in check.
3.2. Theory of Historical Materialism
One of the significant contributions of his theories was the concept of ‘historical materialism. It perceives human society as being fundamentally determined at any given time by its material conditions or the relationships which individuals have with one another in the Industrial system. Marx identified six stages of the evolution of those material conditions, which are- Primitive Communism, Slave Society, Feudalism, Capitalist Economy, Socialism, and Communism.
Karl Popper, one of Marx’s strongest critics, called him a ‘false prophet.’ The countries that embraced capitalism in the 20th century have recently become democratic, open, and prosperous societies. It is undoubtedly true that the economy has an essential role to play in the political condition of humanity. But one cannot deny that the economy isn’t the single dominant factor; several other factors contribute to it, like religion, customs, traditions, morals, etc.
3.3 Theory of Class Struggle
According to Karl Marx, ‘class struggle’ is a social strain in society due to conflicting socio-economic interests and desires of people belonging to different classes. Although Marx believed that diverse levels were present in all communities, he considered class division distinctly visible under capitalism. According to him, every society consists of two classes, the haves and the have-nots; the former owns the means of production, and the latter sells his labor. In other words, the ‘Bourgeois’ rules as the dominator while the ‘Proletariat’ comprises the dominated. Proletariats produce ‘surplus wealth’; however, they do not receive this surplus, whereas the Bourgeois does not produce anything but exploit the workers to make huge profits.
Marx calculated that the rate of profit would fall in the long term would inevitably produce conditions wherein the Proletariat, comprising the vast majority of society, would rise in revolution.
However, Marx’s view of social class was way too simplistic and monotonous. The Class structure in the present society is exhaustingly complicated. An extensive middle class invests in stocks and shares in the corporate system run by the ‘capitalist class. In the present society, a large section of the population (mostly the middle class) owns a major share of private property and is called ‘Petite Bourgeoisie’.
Is Marxism relevant in Contemporary times?
Different societies have absorbed Marxism differently from Communism. Communism launched from Lenin’s October Revolution, spread to China with Mao Zedong’s rise to power, and then to Cuba, with Fidel Castro’s takeover. Instead of bringing about equality and freedom, this revolution in Russia and Europe transformed idealistic Communism to totalitarian rule by a dictator and his propagandists. This ideology saw a symbolic decline with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
4.1. Republic of Cuba
After the overthrow of the USSR, it was anticipated by everyone that Cuba would follow it too. But Cubans overcame the pressures and maintained the ‘Marxism-Leninism’ model. The United States embargo on Castro’s National Independence Programme pushed the Cuban government to become even more radical.
Despite these challenges, reforms began on a small scale in the final years of Fidel Castro’s leadership. Conventional capitalists are almost non-existent in Cuba, yet petty bourgeoisies are still present. Also, Cuba engages in extensive trade with other countries, and people do produce certain commodities on a small scale for profit. Overall, the means of the production run by the State are still operational and active. People refer to Cuba as a communist country, but they refer to themselves as a socialist country en route to Communism.
4.2 The people’s Republic of China
China was predominantly a Socialist state under Mao Zedong, but this took a turn when the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China changed to Deng Xiaoping. He advanced the policies of market economics to foster growth using foreign investment and increase productivity. The CPC justified this by stating that China’s economy wasn’t strong enough to develop a Socialist state yet. Deng thought it necessary to guide a capitalist process under the vanguard party so that at the appropriate time, Socialism can prosper. The proponents of this thesis called this ‘preliminary stage of Socialism.’
The government predominantly controls China’s economy. Healthcare costs, for example, are covered by three public insurance programs for 95 percent of the population. However, the influence of the private sector has significantly increased. Most of the properties in China are owned by private individuals and foreign companies for production. Many of the world’s billionaires live in China.
60% of China’s GDP is generated from private enterprises. The rich-poor divide is growing more comprehensive day by day. This would move China closer to a ‘social democratic’ structure, with high government spending and some control over private enterprise, but they have primarily avoided interfering with the capitalist institution. The present ruling is on the same line. According to all these criteria, China does not fully qualify as a socialist state.
Media, an instrument of persuasion and influence, is manipulated and controlled by the affluent upper-classes. They manage the masses’ thoughts and promote their beliefs to maintain the status quo in society. They set impracticable agendas and exploited the workers. Marx called this ‘false consciousness’.
Marxism across the Globe?
Technically, there has never been a government in history that has fully implemented Marxist principles. Thus, for Communism to be established, the State itself needs to wither away. Furthermore, consciously or unconsciously, no nation in the contemporary world has an economic system utterly devoid of Marxist ideals.
The United States is practically a welfare state, providing citizens with social security, healthcare, and other benefits, despite being the flag-bearer of capitalism. On the other hand, Cuba, China, Laos, Vietnam, North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are called communist countries. However, their regimes resemble quite the opposite of what Communism stands for.
North Korea, for example, claims to be the Socialist Republic, but its government resembles an authoritarian monarchy. Cuba claims to be a socialist country that follows certain quasi-communist ideals, yet they have incorporated the concept of ‘free-market,’ typical of Capitalist regimes. China, too, operates extensively on the free-market model globally. Despite high government spending and private-sector regulations, they have primarily avoided interfering with the capitalist system.
In no part of the world have we envisaged a genuinely socialist society, nor a characteristic communist society. Instead, we’ve seen and continue to see brave efforts to construct and embrace Socialism and incorporate the critical insight offered by Marx, Engels, and Lenin. If we truly desire a Marxist society today, it is indispensable to reciprocate the exceptional ideas of Karl Marx and work collectively towards a classless society.
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