"Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you." – William Blake (1757-1827) from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Saturday, 5 May 2018

On the Occasion of the 200th Anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx (1818-1883)

Karl Marx 001
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Karl Heinrich Marx was born 200 years ago today. He was born in the German town of Trier, in what was then the Kingdom of Prussia, in 1818.

Karl Marx was the most important intellectual figure of the 19th century, whose contributions to various fields of social science – including political theory, philosophy, economics – laid the basis for the immense social transformations, on a world scale, that would follow in the 20th century.

His work was and remains revolutionary and Marx himself was a committed revolutionary, not in the mere academic sense, as one who hid behind books and borrowed phrases. Rather, Marx actively participated in building the revolutionary movement of the day, that rose to challenge the existing social order at the very moment of its inception.

He was, first and foremost, a scientific socialist. Along with his followers, they took a stand against both Utopian and anarchistic trends that were vying for influence, guiding the nascent working class movement on a path that would give rise to the most consistently revolutionary struggle.

His theories and ideas are often summarised or encapsulated by the term, dialectical and historical materialism. He was the first to identify the law of motion of society in general and capitalist society in particular. The importance of this contribution cannot be overstated because, although much has changed since Marx's day, the character of the epoch which he identified has not been altered fundamentally.

It was Marx who set forth the idea that each period of human history is characterised by the ascendancy of a new class but, the emergence of such social classes is itself the outcome of the relations that people enter into in the process of procuring a livelihood. The onset of capitalism had socialised the process of production to a height not seen before. At the same time, the private character of appropriation of the surplus arising out of this socialised production, was a contradiction which the pioneers of capitalism would not and could not resolve in the interests of society as a whole. Such a task fell to the working class – itself the product of the capitalist mode of production but also, its gravediggers – it being in their basic self-interest to secure such an outcome.

On the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx, it can readily be seen how important and influential a figure he was and is. The thoughts and ideas expressed in his writings represent the high road of human civilisation, the full potential of which is only just being realised.

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