Reflections on Karl Marx at 200; was he applicable to the Caribbean

Reflections on Karl Marx at 200; was he applicable to the Caribbean

May 5, 2018 marked Marx the 200th birth anniversary of the great German thinker Karl Marx. He is undoubtedly the greatest thinker of modern times – a philosopher par excellence. As many penned, Marx laid the philosophical foundations for a communism or socialist society – a system of governance and political ideology that called for shared ownership of the means of production (factories and farms) and the ultimately for the absence of social classes (rich and poor). But is/was Marx's theory of revolution applicable to underdeveloped Caribbean societies? The imperialist powers did not allow revolutionary ideas to germinate in colonies; Marxists were targeted. At any rate, Caribbean societies lacked the prerequisites for a revolution (advanced stage of capitalism) that Marx predicted.

Contrary to what many thought, Marx was not a revolutionary or someone who called for repressive rule. Marx is (wrongly) credited for the ideas behind modern social revolutions in general (and de-colonization movements) that took place in several countries over the last century. Many terrible things (including murders and persecution of the working class) were carried out in his name by repressive rulers. But true Marxism had nothing to do with these types of governance. However, the ground reality is he was tied to their repression and so became tainted with their governance. In any event, there are so many who called themselves Marxist who don’t even understand Marx’s writings. And there are as many shades of Marxism as there are Marxists. And who are we to say someone is not a Marxist if he so claims! Burnham claims he was a Marxist although we known him as a racist and fascist.

As Ralph Ramkarran writing in Guyana Stabroek News surmised, Marx is undoubtedly the most read author. His writings are relevant to all disciplines in the social sciences (mandatory reading for majors in Sociology, Economics, History, Political Science, and even aspects of Anthropology). As Ramkarran correctly pointed out, Marx analyzed capitalism (a system of a small wealthy class and a large working class) pointing out its ills. Marx concluded that capitalism has its own internal contradictions and will eventually collapse leading to a society that will be controlled by workers in a class less society. The Caribbean did not qualify for revolution because they were underdeveloped peasant societies. After three hundred years of capitalism, we are yet to see the collapse of capitalism or the rise of an egalitarian society; the closest to socialism is what exists in the Scandinavian societies.

Marx was wrongly glorified and derided during the cold war. The left praised him for advocating revolutions against the oppressive capitalist societies while the right heaped scorn on him for wanting to take over their wealth. He was or has been blamed for a lack of democracy in many countries and for political repression (Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, Kimism, Castroism, Burnhamism, Ho Chi Minism, Pol Potism, Ortegaism, etc.). But Marx had nothing to do with ill rule in these countries or those bad rulers. He was not for gulags or killing fields. And he would not have opposed the idea of the working class (plantation workers) getting a share of the land (had the PPP government done so in Guyana). He would have opposed the distribution of wealth to the rich and governing class as has happened in so many left wing societies including Guyana. He would not have supported the many revolutions that were carried out in his name and the kind of governance (oppressive rule) that passed as Marxist. He would have been the first victim of Stalin, Pol Pot, and Burnham.

Marx was simply a philosopher who believed in a just equitable society, end of ethnicity, eradication of hunger and poverty in which everyone will be almost equal in status. However, the realty is many of the leaders of these countries called themselves Marxist and so Marx got the bad name for their horrific rule and for every bad deed carried out in his name.

Since the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union (1990) and the rise of unbridled capitalism in the West and even in the East (former left wing societies), discontentment in these societies has fueled a renewed interest in Marx's work. Many writers feel his theories on social and economic inequality and the oppression of the working class find more resonance today than they did two hundred years ago. In fact, they seem more relevant today because of rising income inequality. The quality of life of the working class has been declining while the wealth of the rich has been growing exponentially – the main argument of Marx. Would this galvanize the working class to become more politically active to seek their own representation in government?

Marx’s birthday was May 5th and programs marking the occasion were held worldwide in virtually every major city and off course all the left wing (communist, socialist) countries. Large celebrations were planned in New Delhi where I was doing research. Indian Marxists hold true to the ideology of Marx; and they embrace Marxism through a democratic electoral process. As part of the celebration of Marx’s birthday, China donated a 18-foot tall statue of Marx to the City of Trier where Marx was born in Germany. The Chinese President Xi Jinping said China will forever remain and practitioner of Marxism. Which aspect of it we don't know!.