Growing up I had this uncle who was a “Marxist”. Words like bourgeoisie and proletariat were very common in his lexicon. Similarly books on Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao and many more were found everywhere in his house. While I have always been an ardent reader, reading my first novel in class 4 and reading almost anything I came across; I never read much of this literature on Marx or “communism”. Looking back I can’t say why this was so.
Fast forward to the present, during this “lockdown”, a friend pointed me to the BBC program “In Our Time” which are available as podcasts. Listening to this program, I learnt they conducted a poll to determine the greatest philosopher of all time, and Karl Marx won that “election”, in an election that had the likes of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and several other greats as contestants. While I do not necessarily agree with this election results (for Socrates himself never believed the opinion of the many to be necessarily correct, and did not think democracy was a great form of government); I realized I have to defer to the expert philosophers, as I am only an amateur, or if I am to proceed to an election tribunal, then I must know a bit more about the purported winner of the election. So this is how I found myself doing some research on Marx.
We need to move from categorizations and monikers that no two people really interpret in the same way: capitalist, communist, socialist, democrat, republican, etc. How do you actually behave, and what is your overarching aim? What is your vision for your nation and the world? That is what matters.
From the opening quote in this piece, Marx probably did not consider himself a philosopher; yet he came out tops amongst a long list of distinguished philosophers. This underscores the point that it is not we call ourselves but what we actually do that matters
It’s not about tags but what you set out to achieve, the overarching goal. After all, as communist as Marx was, he himself acknowledged and used capitalist tools – money – which formed part of the basis of his relationship with Engels according to historians.
While conversing with friends, one of them made a submission that change can only be generational and gradual. He gave the example of how being internet savvy was more a characteristic of the younger generation, compared with the older. Further consideration however will make it evident that it took the radical ideas of only a few who pioneered the internet to actually cause this change. So is this change really gradual and generational or radical and selective? It appears what will be more useful, is to set an agenda and work to achieve it, and different persons and groups will key in differently, rather than focusing on categorizations. Marx might have had a vision for a better world, but he tried too hard to make sharp demarcations within society; and by so doing, appropriated to himself the right to decide what is good or bad for others. This is a common pitfall of passionate people and Marx was indeed passionate about his ideas. So passionate he developed a tunnel vision and could not see other angles; this is evident in many statements he made but this one struck me:
“The charges against Communism made from a religious, a philosophical, and, generally, from an ideological standpoint, are not deserving of serious examination.” Karl Marx
Did Marx really mean this? Or knowing those charges against communism were indeed based on superior arguments, he was unwilling to engage them? Obviously this strategy worked for Marx as he had many converts during his time and won the recent elections. It is a strategy prescribed by Sun Tzu, and it says “if your enemy is stronger than you, avoid him; do not engage him.” This seems to me to be what Marx was doing, because he was too smart to have really thought those charges were undeserving of serious consideration.
Socrates was happy to cross examine every idea and proposition. He grasped the beauty in diverse ideas. Socrates was never afraid to engage anyone; and by master Tzu’s submission, what does that make him? Marx accused the bourgeois of subtly turning humans into machines, and as a solution proposed to turn men into machines by more radical means including force; this I find quite comical. In his hurry to change the world, Karl Marx oversimplified obviously complex issues; he did not make enough calculations, and again Sun Tzu said that general that must win is the one that makes the most calculations.
The conclusion of this tribunal is that there can be no conclusion; but that which will be made by one after studying all the philosophers that ever lived. Good luck with that! (And then perhaps, we can consider ourselves luckier than Socrates, as we would have found that wise man whom Socrates was searching for all his life)
The Amateur Philosopher
The Communist Manifesto