Sunday, February 01, 2015

Karl Marx on Alienation: Introduction, Part I


 (Suitable reading for students of philosophy,  history of ideas, Marxism)

By Nasir Khan

Notwithstanding all the controversies surrounding Karl Marx and his legacy, one thing which can be said with certainty is that no other figure looms so large in the intellectual and political landscape of world history in this century as he does. His social theory, a synthesis of ideas from philosophy, history and the new social sciences is a unique theoretical construct in the history of nineteenth century. His theoretical work was intended to have a practical effect on the course of social developments in the capitalist society. Sheldon Wolin comments: ‘He founded a new conception of politics, revolutionary in intent, proletarian in concern, and international in scope and organisation’ (quoted in Thomas 1985, 13). Marxist ideas were introduced in various European countries. For instance, in Russia, by the mid-1880s his ideas were advanced by Plekhanov, Vera Zasulich and Akselrod. By the end of 1880s Marxist conceptions had become quite popular with university students and intelligentsia in St. Petersburg. The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party founded in 1898 was Marxist. The Marxist ideas had made inroads into the socialist movement in the 1870s in France. In Germany, soon after Marx’s death, the SDP as an explicitly Marxist party came into existence. The emergence of social democratic parties, originally all being Marxists, in Belgium (1885), Austria (1889), Hungary (1890), Bulgaria (1891), Poland (1892), Romania (1892-1900), Holland (1894), etc. show the impact of Marxist thought. In fact, ‘by the 1890s it was no longer possible to dismiss him as just another proletarian agitator: the size of the political parties that recognised him as their prophet and the seriousness of the economic investigations that he had initiated had made him a massive force that demanded to be related in some way or other to the major traditions of European thought. As the decade wore on, a number of “bourgeois” economists and social thinkers of the most varying intellectual orientations found themselves compelled to come to grips with his doctrines’ (Hughes 1977, 67).
     For evaluating the Marxian legacy in our time, it is important to ascertain, and draw the line between what Marx stood for and what he is made out to be by the one-party, authoritarian states. In this context the cleavage we meet is enormous, as Flöistad remarks that ‘when we see for what Marx and Marxism are being used and misused by the totalitarian states world-over’ (Flöistad 1983, 359). We have witnessed during the last few years the collapse of bureaucratic-socialism, the system of nomenklatura in Eastern Europe and the dissolution of the USSR. The colossal changes which have occurred so far constitute one of the major turning points in this epoch. One of the far-reaching implications relates to the question of Marxism’s responsibility for the ills of the collapsed regimes. However, the aim of this book precludes any discussion of these momentous contemporary development. My overriding concern here is to explore the rich heritage of Marx’s thought on the problem of alienation in his early writings over a limited period as part of research work in philosophy and the history of ideas.
    One fertile ground of research in Marx studies, and a major attraction for Marx scholars, has been the question whether or not Marx’s works can be regarded as forming a continuous whole ever since the publication of the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 in 1932. Most of the writers have defended or expounded the continuity problematic in one form or the other. One notable exception in this debate was the eminent Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser. He intervened as a matter of political necessity to combat the French revisionists and their views on the status of Marxism. His refutation of the continuity thesis, therefore, has to be seen in its political context. His writings polemicised the problematic intensely, with the result that it added to an enlivened interest in Marxist philosophy in the European academic world. Alex Callinicos is correct to assess him so highly: ‘It is to Louis Althusser more than to any other individual or group that we owe the current renaissance of Marxist philosophy’ (Callinicos 1985, ‘Preface’, v). The Althusserian school emerged, defending and elaborating the scientific character of Marxism. Among the well-known writers who have defended the continuity thesis are Avineri, Cornu, Garaudy, Howard, Hyppolite, Kamenka, Korsch, McLellan, Maguire, Mandel, Meszaros, Plamenatz, Ollman, Tucker, Lewis, Kolakowski and Cornforth. Whereas the Althusserian school advocates an ‘epistemological break’ in Marx’s writings, the concept of alienation is viewed as falling under the pre-scientific, early period. I mention this only to highlight the proliferation of literature around this controversy. However, in the present work this controversy is only of peripheral interest and there does not seem to be any need to enter into any lengthy discourse on the topic.
    My treatment of Marx is essentially devoid of any attempts at mythicising him. There is no need for that. An over-zealous supporter or opponent of a political, social or religious cause may be a big asset for his respective group, organisation or denomination. But this sort of activity intrinsically is inimical to any meaningful discourse in philosophy or science. What Bacon calls ‘idols’, the idols of the tribe, cave, market and theatre, stand opposed to human reason and mind. Marxism in this respect can specially be singled out. It has and continues to arouse deep passions of devotion and loyalty in some or down-right rejection (and this very often with scanty knowledge of Marxism) and animosity in others. I have tried to present Marx’s views on alienation as dispassionately as possible and have not let my own likes or dislikes dictate the inquiry. In this matter, I have found Bacon’s advice a sound one: ‘Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider’ (Bacon 1972, 150).
    In a number of ways, this study has its own particular features. First of all, I reject any dogmatic approach to Marxism; and instead view Marx ism as a living and developing theory in view of social practice. Marx had articulated the practical requirements of the labour movement in its struggle for emancipation in his lifetime. I have aimed at explaining, analysing and noting the development of Marx’s ideas regarding alienation in religious, political and economic spheres up to 1844, and in this process have taken notice of any shift in the meanings as we pass from one article or essay to the other. Marx presents a comprehensive theory of alienation only in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts. I have compared the positions which Marx had previously held against the one he espoused in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts. By comparing and contrasting these positions I have en deavoured to show the developmental stages of the concept of alienation in Marx. A concept is regarded as a mental construct. What defines he status of a concept is the nature of essence or content it comes to embody. By comparing and contrasting I have shown how the religious concept of alienation received a definite content and theoretical form in Marx.

    In view of the result, it becomes easy to approach the question of continuity or break in Marx from a new angle. This, while setting aside the either/or positions, focuses on Marx’s ideas as various and interactive phases of his intellectual development. I have maintained that Marx’s ideas regarding humanist perspective and the question of alienation show continuity, but with important differences in the content and form of the concept and theory of alienation in the period under review. This approach enables us to see the vigour and vitality of Marxism as a living theory and not as a collection of sacrosanct dogmas of a closed system.
Marx, above all, advocated the Aufhebung of the existing alienation which shows its dichotomous character in separating between ‘doing and thinking’, between ‘being and having’, ‘between public life and private life’, and between ‘theory and practice’. This dichotomy was to be overcome by a unified ‘science of man’, in place of the reified science and philosophy as Marx suggested in the Manuscripts. This task was achieved by Marx and Engels in formulating the fundamentals of ‘historical materialism’. As Maurice Cornforth writes: ‘Once the scientific intention of Marxism is grasped, the theory of mankind and society, which itself presupposes scientific theory about nature, becomes the premise for which philosophical theory about thinking — about, in Engels’ own phrases, “thought and its laws” and “the relation of thinking and being” — takes off, rather than the conclusion drawn from prior philosophical theory’ (Cornforth 1980, 45). Marx’s contribution in the matter of a scientific theory of man and society ‘marks a new departure in relation to all previous sciences. … It completes the establishment of fundamental theory for the scientific investigation of the whole of living nature, including mankind, it inaugurates a stage in which science be comes equipped to treat scientifically of everything which concerns us in life — not only of “external” nature, but of ourselves and our entire activity in which we each sustain and live a n individual life and relate ourselves with one another and with “nature” ‘ (ibid., 144; see also 145-53).
    Marx deals with the same problems which had occupied earlier philosophers in metaphysics, ontology, epistemology, etc. But at the same time there is an important difference which we should not lose sight of. Flöistad points to it thus: ‘In many ways, he breaks with [that] tradition and infuses something new. Philosophy should not merely be theory but first and foremost it should be a philosophy of action. And as a philosophy of action philosophy should intervene and change the world’ (Flöistad 1983, 359). Thus the old problem of theory and practice achieves a totally new dimension in Marx. From now on, philosophy of action comes to epitomise Marxian programme in its multi-dimensional aspects signifying the unity of theory and practice. The ground work for this view was laid in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts.

(To be continued)

Nasir Khan. Development of the Concept and Theory of Alienation in Marx’s Writings March 1843 to August 1844 (1995)

This book can be downloaded here:…/

Friday, January 30, 2015

President Obama in India

Nasir Khan, January 30, 2015

Professor Badri Raina is a canny writer whose obervations go deeper than merely embellishing some news for entertaining the Indian crowds. This is evident in his present article.

Obama represents the power of US imperialism and he is the president of US. But people like Modi may have miscalculated that the guy is in his pocket as a Hindutva devotee who is living far away from his Mother Country whose glorious children are scattered worldwide! So much chutzpah for Indian-ness, without realising that a foreign head of state should be treated according to the usual protocol, without owning him or her!

Then there comes in our Indian-ness. ‘He is just one of us!’ ‘The two are just like our own!' Oh, really? Obama must have been honoured with such adulation, no doubt!

But naivete and stupidity have no anchorage or limit. If Obama and Michelle’s looks were the point of focus then they certainly look like some of our Indo-Pakistani people who are dark-skinned, 'low- caste' people such as Dalits, the Dravadian races or swarthy, flat-nosed old tribals whose miserable lives have not changed much in the last three thousand years.

 BHO has a long tongue and some knowledge as well. He was not ensnared by Modi’s antics. By the way, we don’t see such patronising attitude extended to other black African people as own lost children in the Dark Continent!

Badri has poured some water of sanity on the issue and not followed our leaders to ‘re-baptise’ Obama and his wife in the Vedic faith and embellish them in the saffron chaders and dhotis but first  rubbing some cow dung on their foreheads to complete the sacred initiation into the Hindufold!

Obama: he came, he saw, he gave advice

Just when the Obama visit was going so swimmingly, bathed in the  glow of the Vedas and sundry saffron accoutrement, imagine what this Obama fellow, during an address to India’s aspirating youth, proud of the Vedic  yore, even if by hearsay, but yearning for a Yankee future, chose to do: as if  poking  a finger in the  Hindutva eye, this Obama made bold to say how “Michelle and I have been strengthened by our Christian faith.” No ghar vapsi (i.e. return to the all-encompassing original faith) there, you might well say, Vivekananda or no Vivekananda. Was he also insinuating that it might be wrong to vandalise churches etc.? In other words, teaching us tolerance on our own tolerant soil. Fingers crossed. We need his technology.

Continues >>

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Pakistan from 1947 to 1971 and now

Nasir Khan, January 28, 2015

The majority of Pakistanis lived in East Pakistan. In 1971 they liberated their part of the country from the economic and political domination and exploitation of West Pakistani ruling elite, capitalists and established their independent country, Bangladesh. So half of Pakistan had ceased to exist in 1971. Thus West Pakistan became Pakistan in 1971! It was no longer the Pakistan of 1947.

Now what happens in Pakistan is all too obvious to all observers. Sindhis don’t like it; they want their independent homeland, Sindhu Land. Balochis want to have their independence. The Pashtuns have no interest in this Pakistan. Mohajirs don’t like this Pakistan. Now when it comes to its neighbours, India and Afghanistan, they don’t like Pakistan either. In fact, Pakistan has been regarded as the Number One Enemy by Indian rulers and the vast majority of Hindu Indians.

But Pakistani mullahs, Taliban, landlords and industrialists have their stakes to keep this Pakistan going as long they can – all for their own specific objectives. The mullahs, the Taliban, Islamists of Jamaat-e-Islami, sickly fanatics and Islamic fundamentalists want it so that they can impose their Islamic Caliphate and the Sharia laws.

The idea of the Sharia laws in popular imagination of Pakistanis is a simple one: Cutt off the hands of a thief and that will lead to a just Islamic system in the country – almost a Paradise on Earth!

For the industrialists and landlords this Pakistan gives them better opportunities for exploiting the resources and the people.

Thus Pakistan is quite a spectacle, really!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Washington’s love for the Saudi kings

Nasir Khan: It is the overall US patronage of the House of Saud that keeps the medieval despots in Riyadh in their palaces and enables thousands of Saudi princes to control every aspect of the desert kingdom. Human rights, rule of law and gender equality, etc, are unknown notions for the ruling dynasty. When an ordinary blogger, Raif Baidawi, wrote that the people in this country should be able to express their view on matters of common concern he was falsely charged with insulting Islam and given 1000 lashes as punishment for his views. Such is the country that is America’s closest ally and strategic partner in the Middle East after Israel. That speaks abundantly about the US policies in the Middle East.

Barack Obama is travelling with a 27-strong delegation to cement ties with the new king of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday as concerns over Yemen and the Islamic State take centre stage in the increasingly volatile region.

Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan, Republican hawk senator John McCain and General Lloyd Austin, head of US Central Command forces in the region, are among the surprise additions to a hastily organised trip that has drawn critical comparisons with the US failure to send any senior figures to Paris following recent terrorist attack.

Continues >>

Friday, January 23, 2015

On the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

Nasir Khan, January 23, 2015

All the devils in Hell were much excited today to welcome a newcomer. Guess who was coming? A great king was coming to join them. When the short worldly sojourn ends here a long and upward journey to a new life starts, I was told as a child. Today was one such day for a great king to go upward.

So that was the end of that short worldly sojourn for the mighty king. There will be no more displays of gold, diamonds and emeralds to please any. That will be a task for his successor now. But any fabulous gifts of golden chains and garlands with diamonds were only for the influential and the mighty ones. Not for any ordinary people. No worker from Asia or Africa received any such gift. They were mere workers, the raw material to keep the oil industry going.

The children of Gaza, hundreds of them, and thousands of adults were massacred by Israel in the summer of 2014. There was not a single concrete step taken by the great mighty king of Saudi Arabia to stop the killing of the Palestinians of Gaza. Netanyahu knew the great king was his ally, not an opponent. So the job of killing a besieged people and destroying Gaza’s infrastructure – its buildings, homes, hospitals, mosques – and causing misery in a captive people could go ahead unhindered. And it did.

Netanyahu wanted to do it. He had the support of America and his Arab allies, including the mighty king. So Israel did what it wanted to do. The reactionaries were all on one side. They had no fear from any quarter. Everything was crystal clear for the kill, the big kill. No problem. Some voices around the world? Some bloggers and internet activists included. But who cares when you have America and Saudi Arabia on board. Therefore when Israeli military and air force were in ‘full action’ the great king, didn’t stir a finger to stop the massacres and destruction of Gaza.

But his friends may have some thing to add. I have nothing more to add today. Sometimes later perhaps.

War criminals exploit the name of God

Nasir Khan, January 23, 2015

Some people like George W Bush, for instance, also believe in a Loving God. But he invaded Iraq and killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and destroyed a great country. Now he continues to assert not only what did was right but also that God had asked him to invade Iraq. It is obvious that warmongers and powerful rulers exploit and misuse the name of God that has different names in different languages or religions for their political and military objectives. Unfortunately, God does not stop them from doing so. So, there is no point in complaining about some attributes of God when in reality we should be more concerned with those who commit the crimes against others and our struggle to stop them. The faults lies with us, not God. (Here I am using the term 'God' that is commonly understood by the vast majority of people in the world. Whether there is any such entity or not is a different question that people may discuss at length in some other place.)


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Maulana Azad stood for a united, secular State of India

Nasir Khan, January 20, 2015

Maulana Azad, the Imam-al-Hind, was an outstanding Islamic scholar, a great orator and a prominent political leader of India during the British rule. He opposed the idea of the partition of India on the basis of religion and warned Muslim leaders of the dangers of a separate homeland for Muslims. This great scholar understood the problems Indian Muslims faced if the demands of an Islamic country (Pakistan) were accepted. 

The events leading to the partition of India in 1947 and the subsequent history of Pakistan have shown the political sagacity and far-sightedness of this astute politician. But the upholders of the two-nation theory had won and the secularists and advocates of a united India had to agree to the partition plan. 

However, it will be a lopsided view to blame only Jinnah. Many sections of Muslim community had fears of Hindu domination in an independent state of a united India. The top Hindu leaders, Gandhi and Nehru, did little to assuage such fears. As British historian Perry Anderson in 2012 in his three profound historical articles, ‘Gandhi Centre Stage,’ ‘Why Partition,’ and ‘After Nehru,’ had shown the situation was really quite complicated and any simplistic interpretations of history of the period that are quite common in India and Pakistan are of little value except for amateurish recriminations and misrepresentation of historical facts of the period.