In Bihar, a gathering of ‘scholars of Marxism’

A conference held in Patna on the occasion of the 200th birth anniversary of Karl Marx was historic not only in terms of the participants of various national and international experiences, including reputed academics, but also for its kaleidoscopic canvas of themes and approaches

Quotes from Karl Marx’s works reverberated through the unprecedented five-day conference organized by the Asian Development and Research Institute (ADRI). Delegates from 18 countries were present in Patna, the capital of Bihar, a state that has witnessed many revolutionary and counter-revolutionary movements and uprisings. The central message of the conference was the well-known Marxist maxim: Marxism is a dynamic science to comprehend the world and revolutionary ideology of class struggle to change it. It began with the keynote address by “Lord” Meghnad Desai, chairman, the academic advisory committee of the conference, and ended with the valedictory address by Samuel Hollander, professor emeritus, Toronto University. Over five days (16-20 June 2018), the conference vividly discussed various aspects of Marx, Marxism and its applications via 38 lectures by eminent academicians and scholars and 17 scholarly papers.

Meghnad Desai is honoured on the first day of the conference

Fifty years ago, in 1967, Marxists activists Dr Pijushendu Gupta and Professor Radha Krishna Choudhary had taken the initiative to organize a national seminar in Begusarai, a district town in Bihar. That seminar marked the 150th anniversary of Karl Marx and centenary of the publication of Capital. The brochure of this conference recalled that seminar too: “The present conference at Patna on the bicentenary of Karl Marx is a tribute to the organizers of that memorable initiative, and can be considered as a sequel to that sesquicentennial event, albeit in a very much changed global and local scenario.”

This event was historic not only in terms of the participants of various national-international experiences, including reputed academics, but also for its kaleidoscopic canvas of themes and approaches: Marxian economics from a neo-liberal viewpoint; history of ‘Capital’; theory of centralization; Marxism and the Indian context, and so on and so forth. The conference, however, did not address the question, “what is to be done?”, probably waiting for some Lenin to do that. It “interpreted the world in various ways”, but did not adequately address the question of “changing it”. Coming from a participant in the conference, who presented a critique of the application of Marxism in Indian communist movement, this comment should not be taken as a criticism of the conference or the organizers, but as a self-criticism – one of the key concepts of Marxism, which the leaders of the communist parties have kept in an indefinite abeyance. In fact, British historian Eric Hobsbawm had asked the leaders of Communist Parties to read Marx.

The conference had a number of participants from abroad, too

Not only neo-liberal capitalism but also socialism is undergoing a crisis of theory. The evolution of theoretical and pragmatic Marxism has gone through immense internal stress, encountered multiple contradictions and faced various questions, the answers of which it has failed to provide, or it has simply reduced them into black and white categories. In a sense, the international communist movement witnessed many tragic situations when history overtook it with an unimaginable pace and “official” revolutionaries sought immediate, almost un-Marxian, answers to highly complex situations.

On the question of racism I am reminded of the young delegate, Jared, an Afro-American, PhD candidate at Brown University (USA). He was incisively articulate and assertively confident in his application of Marxist theory of value in analyzing Martin Luther King’s call for a “revolution of values”, but was intensely apprehensive, in private conversation, of getting a college or university job. Capitalism has theoretically abolished the birth qualification but in practice it very much prevails. Contradiction between theory and practice is an innate attribute of all class societies and because capitalist society is the most advanced class society, the duality is the strongest. Professor Kipton Jensen, in his presentation, “History of Black Marxism in the USA”, traced the history of reception of Marxism, primarily among African Americans. Similarly, in India, too, theoretically casteism is abolished but remains a major false social consciousness to obfuscate the major economic (class) contradiction, as pointed out by this author in his presentation, “Marxism and the Indian Context”.

All the lecture sessions were named after prominent, historic intellectual/political leaders including Adam Smith and Ricardo, the classical political economists whose works are among the reference points for Marx’s critique of political economy.

To conclude, this gathering was an attempt to rejuvenate the interest in the discourse of class-struggle politics and an attempt towards radicalization of the social consciousness. It was, in my opinion, a conference of scholars of Marxism who interpret the world and not of Marxists, who apply the interpretation to change it too. As Engels had said, a Marxist is not one who quotes from Marx or his work, but one who reacts in a particular situation as Marx would have.

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The Common Man Speaks Out

Jati ke Prashn Par Kabir

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