Karl Marx is undoubtedly one of the greatest thinkers of all times whose ideas have profoundly impacted the modern world.
A prolific writer, theorist, polemicist and activist, his revolutionary theory of socialism proved to be the most telling indictment of the horrors, which the industrial society of the 19th century had generated. Addressing the workers of the world rather than any nation or religious community he invited them to join ranks to overthrow capitalism. No wonder his ideas reverberated all over the world and found followers who dedicated their lives to realise his ideals in their own society.
Aslam Gurdaspuri is a prominent Pakistani revolutionary poet, writer and political activist who has spent a large part of his life on the barricades in pursuit of another world, a better world in which finally the wretched of the earth will be liberated from the fetters of class exploitation and the concomitant cultural prejudices which assume social hierarchy to be natural, as something written in the stars and sanctioned by the gods. As a senior member of the Pakistan People’s Party which in its pristine phase promised an end to the old order Aslam Gurdaspuri has inside knowledge of how the powers-that-be obstruct all progressive reform and the old order continues one way or another.
The book is a labour of love. The author begins with a biographical account of Karl Marx’s personal life and his evolution as a thinker and economist. German high philosophy had reached a high point under the towering influence of Wilhelm Fredrich Hegel whose Dialectical Idealism attained a hegemonic status in German universities. Under its influence the State came to represent the highest achievement of civilisation. It was the continuation of a long tradition of philosophy proceeding from premises deriving from religion, rational religion as Hegel believed Protestantism was. Moreover, Hegel saw the state as the embodiment of the highest good. He therefore favoured reform rather than revolution through the superior wisdom invested in the state and represented by the ruling elite.
Marx challenged Hegelian idealism and instead advanced an opposite theory of the movement in history: that of Dialectical Materialism. It looked beyond the state to the historical struggles between the haves and have-nots in the final victory of the latter and the end of the State and class society. Marx instead argued that religion was the opium of the people. By that he meant that religion helps the masses go through stoically the hardships of capitalism and social misery and suffering it entails. In that sense, it blunted the revolutionary zeal to overthrow the capitalist system. Therefore, it was the economic base, which had to be overthrown to liberate man from social, economic and cultural oppression.
The author begins with a biographical account of Karl Marx’s personal life and his evolution as a thinker and economist. German high philosophy had reached a high point under the towering influence of Wilhelm Fredrich Hegel whose Dialectical Idealism attained a hegemonic status in German universities. Under its influence, the State came to represent the highest achievement of civilisation
Reviewing Marx’s prolific writings and the wide range of social and political issues that he took up we learn that Marx was a champion of the free word and was against censorship and restrictions on the press. He believed in the freedom of expression. Marx served as an editor of a famous newspaper and was a contributor of articles as well. Basically, Marx was the founder of the critical school of thought which challenged the truth claims of Western philosophy from the Greeks to Hegel – all of which assumed social hierarchy as natural and inevitable and sharply distinguished between the intellectual elite and the masses as if these were destined always to exist – as if indicative of the Divine Will.
The author reviews the different debates Marx had with his contemporaries around the nature of reality, the difference between theory and practice, between idealism and materialism, between mechanical materialism and dialectical materialism. For Karl, it was not enough for philosophers merely to interpret the world – the real task was to change.
Therefore, the theory of history, which Marx developed, came to be known as historical materialism indicating the contradictions between the haves and the have nots down the ages. It was the actions of the oppressed, which provided the motor of change from one mode of production to another.
Having accounted for the overall framework of Marxism theory Aslam admits that the predictions Karl made about the future course of history and the direction of change he predicted did not turn out to be correct. Revolutions took place not in the most advanced societies of Western Europe as Marx had said but in Russia and other backward societies. The Bolshevik Revolution and other revolutions based on armed struggle resulted in drastic actions, even extreme actions. The reason was the absence of democratic and peaceful means of bringing about change.
However, in Western Europe social-democratic parties used democratic and parliamentary methods to advance egalitarian and emancipatory changes. Marx had talked about such alternative paths to socialism and so using them is justified argues the author. Aslam argues that the main thing is that Marx’s struggle to eliminate inequality, oppression, and the scourge of war will always be legitimate as long as inequality, poverty, illiteracy and crime and violence ravage the lives of the weak and the vulnerable. However, the means to tackle them and eliminate them will have to change.
Barbaric means will have to give way to civilised means of building just societies.
The book is written with a lot of passion and sincerity and with an open mind. There is no doubt that the author is very well read about not only Marx and Marxism but also history and politics and can therefore pay tribute to Marx but also point out the limitations of any human philosophy or theory. In that sense, it is original and independent. Indeed, the Marxism of the 21st century will have to adjust to the realities of the contemporary world.
The great merit of the book is that it is in Urdu. Such a book is badly needed to inform the younger generations of Pakistan about the great contribution of Marx in the struggle to emancipate mankind from superstition and fatalism and instead inculcate rational thought and confidence in the ability of humankind to change the world for the better.
The writer is a scholar, professor and an award-winning author. He is the Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Stockholm University and can be reached at email@example.com
Published in Daily Times, September 17th 2017.