The Marxist View of Politics: A Critical Look

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” Thus begins The Communist Manifesto. Indeed, politics as a mode of class struggle is the hallmark of Marxism.

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The Communist Manifesto

Marxism is one of the most important ideologies of the modern age. It influenced the entire world politics, and threatened the capitalist philosophies and countries around the world. The socialist doctrine known as Marxism is based on the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Lenin, Mao Tse-tung and Marshal Tito also made significant contributions to the growth and spread of this political ideology. Rosa Luxemburg, Antonio Gramsci and Leon Trotsky are other prominent thinkers of Marxism.

The Basic Tenets of Marxism

The Marxist view on politics can best be understood through the fundamental principles of the ideology based on the writings of Marx, Engels, and other later Marxist thinkers. These are the following:

 

Dialectical Materialism

According to Marx and Engels, the world is by its very nature material and it develops as the result of a conflict between two opposing material factors. In other words, history is conceived as a dialectical process where contradiction is the essence of it.

When two opposing material forces come into conflict with each other, a new situation is born. This new situation, according to this principle, is called development. We can understand this process in the form of Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis. The capitalist class is the Thesis, and the working class is the Antithesis. The interests of the capitalists and workers are all the time opposite to each other; it is irreconcilable and thus a continuous struggle between the two. The struggle will come to an end only when the workers have won and a new social system is born. This new development is Synthesis. Such a social system is characterized by a ‘classless’ and ‘stateless’ society.

Historical Materialism or Economic Interpretation of History

Marxists believe that in every country, politics, religion, art and culture are greatly influenced by the economic conditions. To Marxists, all the social and political changes, the revolutions and the wars are due to economic and material factors. Therefore, economic system is the root of all events in history. Marxism looks upon economic conditions as the basis of life, our thinking, our behavior as well as the political and ideological systems.

Marx has divided the history of mankind into six periods or ages:

  • the age of primitive communism;
  • the age of slavery: masters and slaves;
  • the age of feudalism: lords and serfs;
  • the age of capitalism: bourgeoisie and proletariat;
  • Dictatorship of the Proletariat; and
  • Communism, when all class struggle ends.

The new ideal society, Communism, according to Marx, will be a classless and stateless society. It will be marked by social harmony and stability.

Doctrine of Class Struggle

In each age, in every society, there have existed two classes- one possessing the means of production and the other which is exploited by the former class. Marxism pictures human history to be an endless struggle between the two antagonistic classes- the ‘Haves’ and the ‘Have-nots.’

To bring an end to this struggle, the Have-nots or the proletariat in the capitalist society must win over the bourgeoisie. And, the only means to do so is through revolution.

Politics as an Instrument of Class Exploitation

Marxists argue that politics is nothing but an act of domination of one class over the other. The class who controls the means of production also dominates the society, culture, religion, state and politics, and influences ideology, morality, family and everyday life. Therefore, politics is the medium in which power allows those who possess it to ensure their hold on the society and to profit by it.

Accordingly, Marxism aims at abolishing the classes from society, which will lead to the “withering away of the state” and politics in due course.

Classless and Stateless Society

A classless and stateless society is the ultimate goal of Marxism. To overthrow the capitalist state, Marx recommended revolution. Immediately after the revolution, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat will be established.

However, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat will only be a transitional state of affairs. It is a state in between ‘capitalism’ and ‘complete communism’. Real communism signifies a stage when there will be no class and no state. In a classless society, though administration will remain, politics and state will wither away. The state arose as an instrument of class oppression; when classes disappear, the state will disappear. The classless and stateless society is Marx’s ideal state, the New Ideal Society.

Critical Evaluation

Karl Marx is the first socialist writer whose work can be termed scientific. Marx, along with Engels, tried to bring a world communist revolution. And, indeed, they succeeded in doing doing so, though it was not a complete one.

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Karl Marx. Image: source

Marx and Engels clearly stated that the interests of the capitalists and those of workers were opposed to each other. They said that politics is the study of class relations and class struggles in the society. In that, they were not wrong.

Marx and Engels gave the working classes the assurance of being on a winning side. The concluding part of the Communist Manifesto declared:

The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.

In fact, success of communism in the erstwhile Soviet Union, China, Cuba and many other parts of the world proved Marx right!

Marx, Engels and Lenin raised the workers from the morass of fatalism and taught them that they have to unite for the purpose of securing their emancipation.

Nevertheless, Marxist view of politics is subject to certain criticisms on many grounds. First, Marx argued that the state is an instrument of class exploitation. However, critics point out that, in modern times, the state cannot be regarded as the product of class antagonism. Rather, it is a social welfare state. It represents all classes in society and tries to promote their interests. The state is not used for coercion.

Second, Marx’s economic interpretation of history is also criticized on many grounds. It is true that in many instances those who command property also capture political power. But this may not be true all the time. On the other hand, history is not determined by economic conditions alone. Political, social, cultural and geographical factors also form important parts in determining historical phenomena.

Third, Marx believed that in the capitalist society, the poor become poorer. But this is not correct all the time. Today, the economic conditions of the working class have considerably improved.

Fourth, Marx glorifies class warfare. He wants to abolish capitalism and establish a classless and stateless society through violent and revolutionary methods. However, critics have argued that it is possible to set up a socialist state through peaceful and constitutional means (Democratic Socialism).

Fifth, The Marxist theory of withering away of the state is also untenable. In Russia, there is no sign of the disappearance of the state, nor in China. Instead, the Soviet State became omnipotent and all-powerful. To assume a society without a class and a state, as a matter of fact, is a mere flight of imagination.

Finally, there have always been a question of freedom and democracy in the communist countries. In the former Soviet Union, people had no political or spiritual freedoms. Even today, political and civil rights are allegedly denied to people in China.

Conclusion

With the disintegration of erstwhile Soviet Union, the relevance of Marxism has been questioned by many scholars. However, the disintegration of the Soviet Union does not mean the end of Marxism or its influence on politics and economy. Many political systems and ideologies continue to be influenced by Marxism. No discourse on political economy is complete without reference to Marxism.

With global reports indicating the growing gap between top executives and lower employees, we cannot satisfactorily argue that the economic conditions of lower working class have actually improved under capitalist economy. Moreover, the increasing conflict between large industries and their factory workers does not indicate that class antagonism has actually faded.

What has to be noted is that Marxism continues to be extremely relevant. So is its views on politics and economy.

NOTE: This was my assignment during undergraduate studies in Ramjas College, University of Delhi, New Delhi.


Reference

 

The Pursuit of a Clean India and Its Enemies

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

Thanks to honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ability to spread awareness and reach to large population of the country, the talk of the nation today is about a Clean India. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign) has been a game changer at least at our level of consciousness. Initiatives for cleanliness existed earlier as well but hardly anyone knew about any of it. One thing I would like to laud about Mr. Modi and his Government is that people today talk about cleanliness. The politicians, media houses and the people talk about open defecation and keeping cities clean. One notable example in this regard is Akshay Kumar’s “Toilet- Ek Prem Katha” movie. Who would think that we would talk about human excreta at this level?

A great scholar once said that civilization is the distance that man has placed between himself and his own excreta. I can’t agree more. Much of the talk about cleanliness in India is about ending open defecation. The core objective of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is also to make India open defecation free by 2019. Despite areas to be improved, we are moving towards the right path.

But let’s not limit our discussion on Clean India to building toilets and covering shit. Let’s talk about clean roads, clean public toilets, clean government office buildings, and more importantly a clean air as well.

Diwali
Image: Source

In a landmark development, the Supreme Court of India has banned the sale of fire crackers in Delhi till November 1 of this year. The ban means that people won’t be able to buy fire crackers in Delhi and this may positively limit Delhites firing crazy amount of crackers during Diwali, a religious festival of Hindus, that falls in the third week of October this year. Having lived in Delhi for quite some time, I know the pollution level Delhites are compelled to face post Diwali festival. Last year (2016), there was high level of pollution during Diwali and men, women, children all had to wear pollution masks for many days. Doctors and health experts predicted rise in pulmonary, respiratory and other air pollution-related diseases. People were advised to stay indoors. Many people protested against the rise of pollution level in the atmosphere.

But the irony is: some people are again criticizing the Supreme Court’s order to ban on the sale of fire crackers during Diwali this year. Some politicians are even inviting Delhites to come to their state and fire crackers to their satisfaction! Some religious figures are saying that the Supreme Court’s order is anti-Hindu! What has become of these so-called ‘leaders’?

I agree that fire crackers are not the only cause of rise in air pollution in Delhi. But, we all should agree that it hugely contributes to the rising air pollution in the capital. Moreover, fire crackers cause not only air pollution but noise pollution as well and make the streets of Delhi extremely dirty. Besides, while most of us are sleeping after a night of celebration, many municipal workers have to wake up and clean the mess created by these senseless people amidst high level of pollution. These workers do not wear any pollution masks and their health is in risk. Who cares for them? None.

The deafening sound of firing crackers also disturb not only humans but animals and birds as well. In all, there is a huge environmental impact of our insensible celebration of this beautiful festival. This festival is supposed to be a peaceful festival of lights and not a war-like festival of bombs. If Lord Rama would be visiting India during Diwali, we would not want to see Him wear pollution masks and put cotton balls in His ears. Personally, I would want Him to come with a beautiful smile, peacefully, without any jump in between when He hears explosion of crackers and bombs, and blessing us freely, not closing His nose with one hand because of the smoke from the crackers. I hope all Hindu brothers and sisters wish the same.

I am of the view that the remarks of certain section of uneducated politicians and communal babas are essentially against the larger interest of the people and the nation. They are inciting people to do what is repudiated as wrongful by the highest court of the country. They are leading the people toward the wrong path. Their statements are against the essence of Clean India Campaign, a flagship program of the Narendra Modi Government, against the welfare of the people in terms of living a healthy and environmentally clean life. They want us to live dirty.

The nation as a collective should strongly reject their communal and politically motivated statements. I would strongly urge the Prime Minister to condemn such statements. The administrative machinery of the country should also effectively communicate to the people why such a ban is necessary and how this, in fact, is for their own good. This ban is of urgent need if we want to save Delhi from the rising air pollution and the related health risk. We should not let these enemies of a united and, yes, Clean India walk through our mind with their dirty feet.

Be clean and remain away from filthy mind! An advance Happy Diwali!