In February 1848, a twenty-three page pamphlet was published in London and it created history. It revolutionized the society with a mammoth of power of feasible thoughts in the form of predictions. The writer who made this prediction was, Karl Marx, and the pamphlet was named as “The Communist Manifesto”.
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Even the disintegration of former USSR in 1990-91, did not dig the grave for Marxian ideology. Indeed, some of its principles have become more relevant today. Marxism has in-fact amplified its sphere in this contemporary era and is well suited to explain multiple social inequalities such as those of gender, race, ethnicity and rights. This paper seeks to underscore the existence and relevance of Marxist ideology after the collapse communism in the 1990s.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines socialism as a ‘theory or policy that aims at or advocates the ownership or control of the means of production by the community as a whole and their administration in the interest of all’. It arose as a reaction against the social and economic conditions generated in Europe by the growth of industrial-capitalism. Industrial revolution had widened the gap between the owning-class(Bourgeoisie) and the working/labor class(Proletariat). Bourgeoisie had control over the resources and exploit the working class. The primary motive of the ideology was to abolish the capitalist-economy (an economic & political system in which market is controlled by private-players for profit, instead by state) and replaces it with socialistic pattern of society, usually based on the principle of common-ownership along with some other basic tenets like community, fraternity, social-equality, social-class, etc.
Karl Marx, German philosopher and economist was the most influential representative of socialism and laid the foundation for communism in the twentieth-century. Marxism gained currency in the mid nineteenth-century in response to the exploitation of the Proletariats by the Bourgeoisie. Just like socialism, Marxism also came to be viewed as a major enemy of capitalism. It is a set of socio- political and economic precepts laid down by Engel and Marx to establish ‘scientific-foundations’ of socialism through its tenets of dialectic-materialism, historical-materialism, teleological theory/class conflict, theory of surplus value; alienation and revolution. Marxism aims towards the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ which will eventually lead to the emergence of communist society. Such a society would be both classless and stateless.
Fundamentally, communism is the communal organization formed for the existence of the society based on the principle of collective-ownership of the property. Marxism is as much about theory as it is about practice. It is a practical programme. Though in the twentieth-century, communism in practice became divorced from classical Marxist notion of a classless & stateless society and the characteristic of communist-state during that period were as follows- Marxism-Leninism was an official ideology Communist party entrenched its rule as a sole authority over the state Economy was planned and state controlled.
The first two Soviet leaders- Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin wanted to establish communism in the USSR, but with certain drastic modifications. For instance, Marx believed in spontaneous development of revolutionary class consciousness among Proletariat. Antithetically, Lenin suggested that a Vanguard or Revolutionary Party would govern the state and comprise of intellectuals only. Furthermore, Karl Marx anticipated that socialist revolution was inevitable as it would be a result of impersonal process while Lenin substituted this idea with the personal intervention of the Revolutionary party for the objective forces of Marxism. In this way, Twentieth- century communism can be best understood as Marxism-Leninism.
Revolution in 1930s metamorphosed the Soviet Society as Stain established the system of orthodox communism. The system completely effaced the existence of private property and intrudes the collectivization of agriculture. All the resources came under the state’s control. During 1930s, Stalin turned USSR into a totalitarian-dictatorship. This model of USSR fed into the cold-war as the world was divided between the two ideologies that are communism and capitalism.
However, the system of Marxism-Leninism (orthodox communism) had put the socio-political system of USSR into dire-straits and the economy became fragile. This deplorable political- economic condition provoked the exorbitant masses to demand reforms. As a result, in 1985, then USSR leader Gorbachev prospected the policy of Perestroika (restructuring) and Glasnost (openness). These policies were aimed to transform the Soviet economic-political modules by liberalizing and democratizing the political-system and integrate their economy with that of world. Nevertheless, this painful transition from orthodox-communism to capitalism had ruined the economy of the USSR and resulted in the disintegration of the USSR into several republics.
The disintegration of former USSR marked the ‘collapse of communism’ in the contemporary era. However, it would be spurious to take the collapse as the death of Marxian ideology. In fact, we can say that the Marxist ideology got freed from the ideas and personal beliefs of Lenin and Stalin and could be an independent ideology.
Most often, people equate orthodox-communist model of former USSR with that of original communism. Therefore, it becomes important to highlight difference between the two. Communism that prevailed in former USSR was manipulated form of socialism wherein the resources were not owned and controlled by the public; instead were controlled by the Communist party. Moreover, Communist party was dominated only by few and masses had no role to play in the political processes. Communism is the more rigid form of socialism where people were barred from owning personal and private property and Communist Party had an absolute control over the state.
Disintegration of former USSR ostensibly drove the final-nail into the Marxist coffin. Instead, it marked the end of Marxist-Leninist Communism. 1990 onwards, numerous countries were compelled by the circumstances to transform their economic-models and adopt the policies of liberalization, privatization and globalization (LPG), that are part of capitalist-model of development. With the passage of time, Marxism has widened its base to address the pressing issues of contemporary world like- inequalities of caste, class, religion; injustice, wealth-concentration etc.
Marxist ideology was very much concerned with prevailing inequalities between Proletariat & Bourgeoisie and wanted to establish parity between the two. According to Marx, economic inequality was the fundamental cause for class-division. Similar is the case in today’s world where inequality is not confined only to economics but also includes aforementioned inequalities into its domain. Moreover, integration of world economies has generated enormous wealth for several countries, but simultaneously the problem of wealth concentration and its unequal distribution emerged. For instance, around 10% of US population holds around 80% of their total wealth. Fight by the LGBTQ for their rights, Colin Kaepernick’s Nike controversy, Sabarimala incident etc are examples of the voices raised by the oppressed against the oppressors demanding their rights.
If we talk about China, where Mao established his own form of Marxism (Maoist-Marxism), has also transformed its socio-economic substantially. In 1982, Deng-Xiaoping has done significant changes to the constitution by laying emphasis on liberalization and modernization without disturbing the principles of Marxism-Maoism-Leninism. As a repercussion, ‘Planned-Economic System’ has been replaced by ‘Socialistic-Market Economy’ in 1992. Successors of Deng have not made any substantial changes, indeed they liberalized the economy further but without liberating their political system. In 2016, Chinese president XI-Jinping in concurrence with the leaders of Communist-party became the president for indefinite time. The antithetical relation between the economic and political system has given an ambiguous shape to Marxism. Therefore, the term ‘Market-Socialism’ can be used instead of ‘Communism’ for the current Chinese system.
Capitalism is implicitly based on the principle of Darwinism (Survival of the Fittest). Fittest and prosperous capitalists have acquired all factors of productions. As market expand its base, income of the industrialists increase. But they distribute only a modicum of their profits among the workers. Moreover, resource concentration and labour exploitation has kept the ‘Theory-of-Alienation’ relevant and alive even in this contemporary era.
Globalization has connected the world economies in a single-thread but at the cost of state’s liberty. It is the duty of the state to contemplate all socio-economic and political aspects while formulating policies. But the forces of globalization has eroded the state’s capacity to take independent decisions and made it an organization, governed and ruled by the elites for the benefits of the few. Additionally, Creation of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) by countries to promote rapid industrialization has made the situation worse for the workers as their rights get effaced in SEZs and are intrude to work in inhumane conditions.
Neo-Marxist theories have also contributed significantly in perseverance of Marxist ideas in this era. Dependency theory describes the dominant-dependent relationship between the states. Where Developed nations (core) are exploiting the developing nations (periphery) by extracting resources from them and have ostensibly provided jobs and income in return. Neo-Marxist thinker Herbert Marucse, extended the Marxist theory-of-alienation and said that Capitalism has completely comodified our lifestyles and workers are merely consumers of the commodities. Industrialists have created fallacious needs solely to expand their market. Group of unemployed, marginalized, exploited and other subservient groups collectively could challenge the capitalist dominance. Poulantzas argued that modern states are functioning in a way to ensure the smooth operation of capitalist society, and therefore benefiting the capitalist-class. Miliband said that bourgeoisies are controlling the states and intrude them to frame policies favorable to them. According to Antonio Gramsci, bourgeoisie dominated the society by using their ideology rather than using violence or economic force. Through their hegemonic culture, capitalists were succeed in propagates their own norms and values so that they become “common sense”. This hegemony become inevitable and is still prevailing in today’s world.
Two major agreements are signed under WTO in 1995, TRIPS and TRIMS. Under TRIMS, signatory countries have to abandon the subsidies given to a particular sector or industry in order to create a level playing field for free-trade across the globe. But USA is still protecting its textile industry and India is protecting its farmers by giving subsidies in these fields. Issues raised by WSF against the ostensible attitude of WTO for the promotion of free-trade. Stringent attitude of Donald Trump against immigration & free trade have raised the question on global acceptability of laissez- faire. Whether it’s ObamaCare or Modi’s ‘Ayushman-Bharat’, unemployment allowance in Scandinavian countries or MGNREGA in India, scheme of old-age pensions or Sarva-Shiksha- Abhiyaan, all these policies eventually aim towards the reduction of economic-divide and to enhance the standard of living. State intervention in free market economies to reduce inequalities is concrete evidence for the perseverance of Marxist idea in today’s world. Ironically, staunch supporter of laissez-faire and capitalist model of development- USA is providing social-security to its citizen like free primary education, basic healthcare facilities, sufficient food, etc to ensure their meaningful survival.
All these examples are proof that states have acknowledged the fact that in Laissez-Faire, the dominant-dependent relation between haves and have-nots will prevail forever. In a nutshell, we can say that the state’s interventions in socio-political and economic-management are done with the objective to reduce the peril of amplifying economic-divide, as foreseen by Marx.
To recapitulate, we can say that almost every country of the world has witnessed or is witnessing some or the other tent of Marxism/socialism. Subsidies/Concessions provided by the state on utilities, free healthcare facilities, education, maintenance of law & order and other welfare programs are eventually pointing towards the development of all, especially that of the less- fortunate and helming the country toward equality.
In his concept of historical-materialism, Marx said that in future, we’ll see that there will be a dominance of the working-class (Proletariat) over the owning-class (Bourgeois). As we are witnessing the tremendous increase in income inequality between the workers and owners, the prediction by Max may come true in near future. Formation of trade unions, movements/protests led by farmers, existence of international-organizations like ILO and WSF, movements against various aforementioned inequalities are helming the world towards the eradication of the dominant- dependent relationship.
Nevertheless, the last stage of historical materialism is ‘utopian’ in nature which states that ultimately classless and stateless society will establish. This stage can also be equated with anarchism or Hobbes ‘State of nature’ which will ignite the struggle for power. Moreover, other Marxist ideas like community ownership, resources sharing based on needs etc are very difficult to implement because of self-centric and acquisitive nature of human beings.
To conclude, we can say that Marxism is relevant and its principles are still prevailing in this contemporary era. To an extent, it can be equated with socialism in today’s world, but it would be a blunder to equate it with the Orthodox Communism that was prevalent in USSR and China. Communism in these countries is highly influenced by the personal stance of Lenin and Mao respectively. Similar is the case of North Korea where Kim-Jong-Un is ruling the state as per his will, not in accordance with the Marxian principles.
Indeed, many modern European countries like Norway, Sweden, and Denmark along with Canada could be taken as an example of modern Marxist states as these countries are trying their best and have been successful to a great extent in reducing the inequalities and ensuring quality life to their citizens.
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