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200th Birth Anniversary & His Relevance

What would have happened if the 18-year-old poet decided to continue writing verses? What if he died at the age of four or five (which was common in the contemporary world)? What if he wasn’t excused from military duty (because of Pleurisy) at the age of 18? What if he followed his father’s instruction and became a lawyer or a government employee? Then (of course) the wealthy people across the globe might have been able to enjoy a peaceful life. The person became ‘famous’ only after his death at the age of 64 on March 14, 1883. And the wealthy people considered him as a ‘living nightmare’ even after his death…….. his name still haunts them.
Karl Marx was a completely different person. Even his critics didn’t deny Marx’s contributions to history, philosophy, economics, politics and sociology, and the Capitalist System reassessed his theories to find a way out from the global financial crisis in 2007-08. In fact, the answer to ‘what if’ is a vast one, as it extends to the entire human society. The German thinker remains relevant even after the fall of former Soviet Union and other Socialist countries. The Capitalist world welcomed the fall of Socialism, saying that the communists had made a mistake by ignoring the ‘personal interest’ and concentrating only on ‘social interest’.

However, academicians believe that Marx’s political and philosophical ideas can help the global community overcome the theoretical and ideological crisis the modern world is facing. According to experts, it becomes important for the modern world to analyse Marx’s writings once again. That’s why many of his books have been reprinted in the last 10 years.
Once, Marx said: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living…….” (18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. 1852) His own ‘construction’ was just like that.

Karl Marx ageing

The German philosopher, economist, historian, political theorist, sociologist, journalist and revolutionary socialist was born in Trier on May 5, 1818. Just three years before Marx’s birth, Trier became a part of the Kingdom of Prussia (with the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in the Battle of Waterloo). And the French Revolution (1789) took place only three decades before his birth. Europe was going through a political turmoil at that time. Germany was no exception, as a dictator came to the power there.

Marx’s family background, too, was very much complicated. He was ethnically Jewish. His maternal grandfather was a Dutch rabbi, while his paternal grandfather was a Jewish priest. Marx’s paternal line had supplied Trier’s rabbis since 1723, a role taken by his grandfather Meier Halevi Marx. His father, Heinrich Marx, was the first in the line to receive a secular education and became a lawyer. They lived a relatively wealthy and middle-class existence. Marx lost his father at the age of 20. Interested in the ideas of philosophers Immanuel Kant and Voltaire, Heinrich was well aware of his son’s ‘outstanding talent’. He wanted Karl to become a professionally successful person. Although his father insisted on law as a more practical field, 17-year-old Marx travelled to the University of Bonn to study philosophy and literature in October 1835. Later, his father forced the youngster to get admission to the University of Berlin, where he studied Hegel’s dialectics. Hegel’s idea of dialectics influenced Marx’s thought process.
Once, Marx said: “I intend to use Hegelian dialectics, but in revised form.” He also admitted that his ‘dialectical materialism’ was highly influenced by Hegel’s concept of dialectics.
However, the subject of his Doctoral Dissertation was the difference between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature. He also studied the philosophy of Plato, Aristotle and other European thinkers. The solid foundation of his knowledge encouraged Marx to find solutions to problems faced by the subaltern people.
In his publication ‘Karl Marx: His Life and Environment’ (p. 1939), Isaiah Berlin presented an account of Marx’s life as one of the most influential and incendiary social philosophers of the 20th century and depicted the social and political atmosphere in which Marx wrote. The author also highlighted the bearded thinker’s boundless intellectual enthusiasm in the book. According to Berlin, Marx was a perfectionist and he remained so till his death.

Marx spent the last four decades of life in London. He had to leave his motherland and was deported from countries, like France and Belgium. As he had no fixed income, the great philosopher had to depend on the money he inherited from his mother. Fortunately, he received all sorts of help from his ‘friend’ Friedrich Engels upon his arrival in London.
His life was a painful one……he not only experienced poverty, but also lost four of his seven children. He was afflicted by poor health (what he himself described as “the wretchedness of existence“). But, these all were mundane. So, he ignored the sufferings. In her ‘Love and Capital‘ (p. 2011), Mary Gabriel described Marx as “a man-child”, whose mind was “as hard and brilliant as a diamond”. The ‘brilliant mind’ used to think only about the liberation of people. He spent most of his time in London’s British Museum, dreaming about a socialist society.
Marx studied history, philosophy, science, mathematics, government reports and newspapers extensively only to find a way to reach his goal – socialism (or communism). He studied not only the nature of a capitalist society, but also the Asian, African and Latin American societies. He possessed a great light of knowledge and that light helped him find more lights. This ‘process’ is called Karl Marx, whose life enlightens our thought process 200 years after his birth. The global community is indebted to Marx for his contribution to different branches of Social Science.
Jason Barker – the Associate Professor of Philosophy at Kyung Hee University in South Korea and author of the novel ‘Marx Returns’ – rightly said: “Marx does not offer a one-size-fits-all formula for enacting social change. But he does offer a powerful intellectual acid test for that change. On that basis, we are destined to keep citing him and testing his ideas until the kind of society that he struggled to bring about, and that increasing numbers of us now desire, is finally realised.

Happy Birthday, Karl Marx.

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