On the Significance of the Polemical in Marxism


1

A polemic for revolutionaries is a militant dialogic practice to reveal the contradictions of a position, hammering it down to break open its hardened crust in order to rescue life from the stifle of the canon. It is akin to the Socratic dialectic or a militant वादकथा in the Indian tradition, where you demonstrate the limits of a given position – you don’t deny its truth, you begin from it, while going beyond it through the process of dialectical sublation.

However, standard polemics are mere means of defending a canonised position against every particular context. They fetishise forms as in the old tradition of liturgical polemics. Such polemics oscillate between captions criticism or वितंडावाद and जल्पकथा seeking to vanquish the opponent.This polemical exercise is totally opposite of the conception of immanent critique so essential to Marxism. It dualises the text and the context, and then trims the latter to fit the former. This is what can be called lilliputianism —tickling and tempting the giant, while attempting to bind him with the fragile threads of mental schemas.

2

The purpose of a revolutionary polemic is not just defending a position against another, but to clarify and sharpen one’s own by assimilating the partial but essential truth of the other, while rejecting its form. The polemical form is a means of unfolding one’s own position — towards “self-revelation”. That is why emerging from the polemical furnace the position actually doesn’t remain the same. A proof is Marx’s treatment of Feuerbach, Stirner, Bauers & c. in The German Ideology or of Proudhon in The Poverty of Philosophy or even The Holy Family. This polemical phase of Marx’s biography had the sole purpose of clarification (which included self-clarification, as Marx later mentions in the preface to his The Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy).

This polemical form that we see dominating in many of Marx’s early writings mutated into an important formal and literary element of his critique of economic categories, of his practice of immanent critique. This is evident in his published and unpublished economic writings. It never lost its vigour, the proof is Capital itself, where it helps in building the rigour. In fact, Marx is at his polemical best in all these writings —eg., his fragments on Bastiat and Carey in Grundrisse.

3

On Anti-Dühring

Engels’s Anti-Dühring is a landmark in Marxist discourse and practice. It is arguably the most important exercise in the polemical clarification of ideas within the tradition of the working class movement and Marxism. The German Ideology, which could compete, remained in the notebooks. “We abandoned the manuscript to the gnawing criticism of the mice all the more willingly since we had achieved our main purpose – self-clarification.” Anti-Dühring, on the other hand, was the movement’s self-clarification.

For a century at least, Anti-Dühring continued to be the model of Marxist polemics for both revisionist and revolutionist Marxists. In fact, it became a foundational textbook for learning Marxism throughout the globe. It is a polemical text (as clear from the name itself) with the purpose of systematic self-clarification. Nobody reads this text to know the blunders of Dühring, but everybody comes to it for the most accessible treatment of various tenets of Marxism.

But then a textbook always has its limitations and drawbacks. This is true about every good polemical text too —it has a pedagogical significance, students must outgrow it. But like any textbook, such texts become the texts of institutional orthodoxy, not a mere initial stepping stone — not just a transitory moment in theoretical development. The polemical form is autonomised, it becomes an end in itself, not a means of self-clarification. This has been the fate of many of Engels’ works, especially Anti-Dühring, in the hands of Marxist believers.

4

The recent phenomena of academic industrialisation and corporatisation of Marxism through the depoliticised liberal formal academia, on the one hand, and of the supra-political institutionalisation of public intellectual Marxism, on the other, by the publishing industries have marginalised the polemical aspect of Marx and Engels’ works (especially Engels’) to insignificance. It has been reduced to a mere literary form or style appropriate for twitter, Facebook and other social media channels.

However, the political-pedagogical nature of the polemical and its unique relevance in the development of Marxism and working class politics in general can scarcely be denied. It is definitely a form, but which is organic to the essence of Marxism. It is very different from the schematic lilliputianism of sectist politics that seeks to dominate and annihilate. It emerges as a method to demonstrate limits of ideas, positioning them to various levels of abstraction, while approximating the concrete in thought through the dialectic of the polemical dialogue.

We cannot take our poetry from the past but only from the future


We have often used this statement by Marx to attack others:

“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Caussidière for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the Montagne of 1848 to 1851 for the Montagne of 1793 to 1795, the nephew for the uncle.

It is time to use it to critique ourselves, as we too have our Lenins, Trotskys, Stalins, Maos, Ches….

Actually, the whole first chapter of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte is a necessary reading to understand and critique the left and also its obsession not so much with history but with historical facts.

Marx’ critique of revolutionary language in that chapter is quite powerful. (We should perhaps also keep in mind that when Marx was writing this text the French Revolution had happened around 60 years ago. But for us the Russian Revolution happened more than 100 years ago, the Chinese Revolution 70 years ago and…)

Another famous quote from the text is “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.”

This is generally posed as a principle of historical materialism, to counter idealism and voluntarism. But Marx uttered this to critique ideology —the process of the fetishisation of the past —names, slogans and costumes etc.

What immediately follows the above statements is quite revealing. It shows how and why such fetishisation happens and ideologies are formed:

“The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language.”

He adds,

“Thus Luther put on the mask of the Apostle Paul, the Revolution of 1789-1814 draped itself alternately in the guise of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and the Revolution of 1848 knew nothing better to do than to parody, now 1789, now the revolutionary tradition of 1793-95.”

We can easily replace these figures and facts with ourselves and the historical names, costumes etc with which we seek to connect to.

In fact, Marx compares this tendency with that of “the beginner who has learned a new language”. He “always translates it back into his mother tongue.” But “he assimilates the spirit of the new language and expresses himself freely in it only when he moves in it without recalling the old and when he forgets his native tongue.”

So in which stage of learning are we presently?

Marx differentiates between those who were indulging in “conjuring up of the dead of world history” during his own time and the old French revolutionaries. The latter “performed the task of their time – that of unchaining and establishing modern bourgeois society – in Roman costumes and with Roman phrases.” Once the tasks were completed, the “resurrected Romanism” also disappeared.

According to Marx, the bourgeois revolutionaries needed the old language of “heroism, sacrifice, terror, civil war, and national wars” to bring the bourgeois society into being, as it was in itself unheroic. “And in the austere classical traditions of the Roman Republic the bourgeois gladiators found the ideals and the art forms, the self-deceptions, that they needed to conceal from themselves the bourgeois-limited content of their struggles and to keep their passion on the high plane of great historic tragedy.”

But what is our purpose in conjuring the past?

Marx further says:

“Thus the awakening of the dead in those revolutions served the purpose of glorifying the new struggles, not of parodying the old; of magnifying the given task in the imagination, not recoiling from its solution in reality; of finding once more the spirit of revolution, not making its ghost walk again.”

But during Marx’s time, as in our times too, “only the ghost of the old revolution circulated”. The old names, facts etc become means to disguise, and hide trivialities and “repulsive features”. Only “caricatures” could be produced now with these. Why is this so? Because,

“The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot take its poetry from the past but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped away all superstition about the past. The former revolutions required recollections of past world history in order to smother their own content. The revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury their dead in order to arrive at its own content. There the phrase went beyond the content – here the content goes beyond the phrase.”

So, what lessons can we draw from all this? For this purpose, let us improvise on the last quote.

Today, “the social revolution… cannot take its poetry from the past but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped away all superstition about the past.” Let us not use “recollections of past world history in order to smother” the content of today’s revolution.

Today, “the revolution… must let the dead bury their dead in order to arrive at its own content.” We must not allow our phrases to overpower and hide the content, since the content today will tear every veil of phraseology.

Didn’t Lenin too tell us not to behave like comedians who “chase words, without thinking about how devilishly complicated and subtle life is, producing entirely new forms, which we only partly ‘catch on’ to”? We must go beyond words and phrases, beyond our literary preferences of names and facts.

“If you can’t change the world, change yourself.”


“While Butler, needy wretch, was yet alive,
No generous patron would a dinner give;
See him, when starved to death, and turned to dust,
Presented with a monumental bust.
The poet’s fate is here in emblem shown,
He asked for bread, and he received a stone.”

Ultimate!!! Marxism is really going big and funny – academic and publishing monopolies, and now this!!! We danced every time a mainstream publication or newspaper or liberals called Marx’s this or that theory relevant. In fact, this has been the job of Marxist academia and publishing businesses, of convincing the mainstream of the prescriptive, descriptive and analytical relevance of Dr Marx. In the name of rigour, the great sanitised figure of Marx the theoretician is built, who cannot be charged of Leninism (well, Leninology too is there to do similar with Lenin) and of the “crimes” of the Georgian and other Orientals. The Melancholic figure of Prof Marx, instead of Bacchanalian inclinations of Herr Marx. Marx’s father tried hard to achieve this by forcing him to transfer from Bonn to Berlin, the “workhouse”, but he eventually failed and died. But now it is different, it does not matter if his spirit rebels, the high priests of academic and publishing Marxisms can easily exorcise “the spectre of Marx”.

If this was not sufficient, there are already some new moles in the market who are prepared to take on capitalists with AltMarxist cryptocurrency, Marxcoin, our own money. Of course, “money cannot overthrow capitalism”, but with money we can win capitalism. Who cares about Marx’s attacks on “artful tinkering with money”? These have been sufficiently academicised, or reduced to policy and economic issues. The spirited science of Marxist polemics is gone. Who cares about Marx’s form and content dialectic?

Time to rewrite the Eleventh Thesis: “If you can’t change the world, change yourself.” Or perhaps in the context of 100 years of the October Revolution (and what we have been doing after 1989), we can further innovate, “We have been interpreting ourselves in various ways, the point is to change ourselves.”

Notes on Materialism in Earliest Marx


1. Marx’s “Reflections of a Young Man on the Choice of a Profession” that he wrote for school-leaving Examinations in August 1835 (when he was 17 years old) is quite revealing. We find some definite traces of his social materialism in this otherwise idealist text.

2. Nature and deity in these Reflections are forces of necessity. They determine the sphere of activity for animals, which animals cannot transcend. But for humans they provide “a general aim” towards which they must seek their own roads and means.

3. But this open-endedness of human activity is a source of both fulfilment and frustration. It is here experience, knowledge and conscious learning become crucial.

4. However, the “deity” or force of necessity does not leave human totally helpless – it “speaks softly but with certainty.” She must know how to recognise it, without self-deceiving.

5. This recognition of necessity can easily be lost in immediate and momentary inspirations, imaginations, emotions, phantoms acting on our impetuous instincts – thus the voice of the deity is drowned and we suffer.

6. In the choice of profession one needs to hear the true calling (the voice of the deity, the necessity). Once you give yourself to the demon of ambition, you lose sight of the “deity” and start relying on “chance and illusion”. You still remain an object of necessity, but obviously not as a master navigating through the narrow escapes provided by necessity to your destination. Instead you walk without a guide and without any knowledge of the pathways, hitting the walls of necessity. And the result is failure and “self-contempt”. Now not just our physical and intellectual constitution, but also already established social relations act as the given structure of necessity. It is here that even the Earliest Marx stands united with the core of early and late Marx’s materialism:

“our relations in society have to some extent already begun to be established before we are in a position to determine them.”

Introducing Marx’s “Wage Labour and Capital”


This text in Hindi has been written to introduce the Oriya translation of Marx’s “Wage Labour and Capital”. It mainly emphasises on the political reading of the text and of Marx’s other “economic” writings.

परिचय: श्रम और पूंजी के बीच सम्बन्ध – अर्थशास्त्र और राजनीति
(Introduction: The Labour-Capital Relationship – Economics and Politics)

मार्क्स की एक बात जिसे सबसे गलत ढंग से समझा गया है वह है उनका आर्थिक मूलाधार का सिद्धांत – कि तमाम मानवीय गतिविधियों का मूलाधार आर्थिक है. विरोधियों ने इस बात को पकड़ कर यह साबित करने की कोशिश की कि मार्क्स पूरे मानवीय सामाजिकता को आर्थिक संरचना का ऊपरी ढांचा मात्र मानते हैं. अतएव उनकी नज़र में मानवीय सोच और व्यवहार पूरी तरह से अर्थ-तंत्र द्वारा निर्धारित एवं परिभाषित हैं, उनकी अपनी कोई आन्तरिकता नहीं है, उनके विकास का अपना नियम नहीं है, उनकी स्वतःस्फूर्तता और अभिव्यक्ति पूर्णतः आर्थिक सन्दर्भ का नतीजा है.

दूसरी तरफ, मार्क्सवादियों ने मार्क्स के बचाव में कई तरह की व्याख्याएं दीं जिनका निचोड़ बस इतना है कि मार्क्स की समझ में आर्थिक मूलाधार होते हुए भी वह सब कुछ नहीं है. ग्रंथों पर ग्रन्थ लिखे गए मार्क्स के समझ की समृद्धि दिखाने के लिए – यह दर्शाने के लिए कि उनकी संस्कृति, साहित्य, राजनीति आदि की समझ कितनी समृद्ध थी. अवश्य ही इन सब से मार्क्सवाद और पैना हुआ तथा उसका अथाह विकास जो हम आज देख रहे हैं संभव हो सका.

परन्तु एक ज़रूरी चिंता जो इन तमाम बौद्धिकताओं के नीचे कहीं दब सी गयी – वह थी मार्क्स के चिंतन प्रक्रिया में आखिरकार आर्थिक मूलाधार का अर्थ क्या था. अधिकांश मार्क्सवादी पंडितों ने भी आर्थिक को अर्थ-शास्त्रीय चश्मे से ही देखा, जबकि मार्क्स का पूरा “सैद्धांतिक व्यवहार” अर्थ-शास्त्र की आलोचना पर टिका था. उन्होंने यह समझने की कोशिश की कि कैसे अर्थ-शास्त्रीय नियोजन मानवीय समाज की अस्तित्वपरकता को, उन मौलिक संघर्षों को, जिनके आधार पर पूरी सामाजिक आर्थिक संरचनाएं बनती और बिगड़ती हैं, ढांपता है. मार्क्स ने अपनी आलोचनाओं द्वारा उन शास्त्रीय और व्यवस्थापरक पर्दों को हटाकर पूंजीवादी सामाजिक-आर्थिक संरचना में गतिमान मानवीय श्रम – उसकी रचनात्मकता – पर आधिपत्य के लिए होते दैनिक संघर्षों के धरातल और नियमों को समझने की कोशिश की. उन्होंने पूंजीवादी व्यवस्था के तहत, उत्पादन के साधनों के ऊपर निजी और अपवर्जनात्मक अधिकारों से पैदा हुए मानवीय श्रम और उसकी रचनात्मकता के बीच अलगाव को समझा. उन्होंने दिखाया कि पूंजी वह सामाजिक सम्बन्ध है जिसके तहत जीवित श्रम को संचित श्रम की मूल्य रक्षा और वृद्धि के साधन मात्र में तब्दील कर दिया जाता है. पूरी सामाजिक संरचना – आर्थिक और राजनैतिक व्यवस्था – इसी सम्बन्ध को कायम रखने में मदद करती है.

मार्क्स की इस समझदारी ने अवश्य ही कई परिष्कृत सिद्धांतों को जन्म दिया, पर ये सिद्धांत कोई सैद्धांतिक अटखेलियों के लिए नहीं थे, बल्कि वे मार्क्स के राजनैतिक पहल का नतीजा थे. उनके लिए यथार्थ हमेशा सम्बन्धात्मक और गतिमान होता है, जिसमे अंतर्विरोधों की नियामक भूमिका होती है. यही वजह है पूंजी और श्रम के बीच के अंतर्विरोधात्मक परन्तु गतिशील सम्बन्ध की विशेषताओं के अध्ययन को वह आवश्यक समझते थे. जहां अर्थशास्त्री पूंजी-श्रम के सम्बन्ध को महज तकनीकी और प्रबंधकीय समझते हैं, वहां मार्क्स इस सम्बन्ध में अंतर्विरोधात्मकता को दिखाकर उसके राजनैतिक स्वरूप को उजागर करते हैं.

उन्नीसवीं सदी पूंजीवादी-औद्योगिक विकास के वैश्विक फैलाव और उसके बढ़ते अंतर्विरोधों का दौर था. कई तरह के सामाजिक विद्रोह पैदा हो रहे थे – अधिकांश तबकों का सर्वहाराकरण हो रहा था और मजदूर वर्ग सुसंगत शक्ति के रूप में ऐतिहासिक पटल पर पहली बार उभर रहा था. मार्क्स का दार्शनिक और राजनैतिक विकास इसी दौर में, यूरोप के क्रान्तिकारी मजदूरों के सरोकारों के बीच हुआ. इसी ने उनके वैचारिक चिंताओं को जन्म दिया.

“मजदूरी श्रम और पूंजी” मार्क्स के इसी राजनैतिक और सैद्धांतिक परिश्रम का आरंभिक नतीजा थी. उन्होंने पुस्तिका के आरम्भ में ही यह साफ़ कर दिया है कि किसी भी आन्दोलन का, “चाहे उसका लक्ष्य वर्ग-संघर्ष से कितना ही दूर क्यों न मालूम होता हो,” प्रगतिशील निष्कर्ष इस पर निर्धारित है कि उसमे मजदूर वर्ग की हिस्सेदारी किस प्रकार की है – वह कितनी निर्णायक है. मार्क्स की आर्थिक विवेचना इसी वर्ग-संघर्ष के मौलिक धरातल को समझने का, वर्गों के आपसी संरचनात्मक एवं विरोधात्मक सम्बंधों में परिवर्तनकारी संभावनाएं देखने का प्रयास है. यह विवेचना अर्थ-तंत्र की निष्पक्ष जाँच नहीं है, बल्कि ऐसी निष्पक्षता का दावा करते सामाजिक और आर्थिक “वैज्ञानिकों” का माखौल उड़ाती है. मार्क्स दिखाते हैं किस प्रकार आर्थिक तत्वों के तकनीकी पक्ष दिखाने के नाम पर इन पंडितों ने ज्यादा से ज्यादा सतही प्रक्रियाओं को ही दिखाया है – उन्होंने उनमे छिपे मानव सम्बंधों और संघर्षों को पूरी तरह से नज़रंदाज़ ही नहीं किया, वरन तकनीकी शब्दावलियों और विश्लेषणों के परत पर परत चढ़ाकर उनकी सच्चाई को ढांप दिया.

मार्क्स अपने विश्लेषणों द्वारा इन्ही संबंधों और संघर्षों की जांच करते हैं और उनकी मौलिकता को उजागर करते हैं. वह दिखाते हैं किस प्रकार से इन संबंधों और संघर्षों के तहत एक तरफ पूंजी मानवीय श्रम का अधिकाधिक जीन्सीकरण करने को उतारू (या कहें मजबूर) है, क्योंकि इस प्रक्रिया के फैलाव और गहनता में ही उसका जीवन है. इस प्रक्रिया के तहत श्रमिक श्रम-शक्ति देने वाला महज एक मशीन बन जाता है – श्रमिक के श्रम और उसकी रचनात्मकता को ही निचोड़ कर पूंजी को सतत नया जीवन मिलता है. परन्तु मार्क्स के लिए यह प्रक्रिया निश्चित नहीं है – वह संघर्ष है क्योंकि श्रमिक अपने मशीनीकरण, अर्थात श्रम-शक्ति से श्रम खींचने की प्रक्रिया, का लगातार चेतन-अवचेतन तौर पर विरोध करता है.

यह संघर्ष केवल उत्पादन प्रक्रिया में ही नहीं होता, बल्कि पूरे सामाजिक स्तर पर होता है. आखिरकार श्रमिक को श्रम बाजार में भी तो लाना होगा – जिसके लिए उसे मजबूर करना होगा. श्रमजीवियों का मजदूरीकरण अथवा सर्वहाराकरण ज़रूरी है. उसको भूमि और अन्य साधनों के बंधनों से मुक्त करना ज़रूरी है, तभी वह अपनी श्रम-शक्ति का व्यापार करने को मुक्त होगा. श्रम की यही “दोहरी मुक्ति” पूंजीवादी समाज व्यवस्था की नीव है. यही मुक्ति मजदूर-दासता की शुरुआत है. इस व्यवस्था के कायम रहने के लिए इस दोहरी मुक्ति को बनाए रखना आवश्यक है. श्रमिक के पास इतना हो कि वह अगले दिन काम के लिए तैयार हो पाए, और बस इतना ही हो कि वो काम के लिए तैयार रहने के लिए मजबूर हो. अतः उत्पादन प्रक्रिया की तैयारी में ही संघर्ष के तत्व मौजूद हैं, जो अपने दूसरे तेवर के साथ उस प्रक्रिया के अंतर्गत दिखाई देते है.

मुक्ति ही दासता है, सहमति ही जोर-जबरदस्ती है – पूंजीवाद की विशिष्टता उसके अंतर-द्वंद्व हैं, उसका दोहरापन है – पर यह द्वंद्व अथवा दोहरापन असल में पूंजी और श्रम के बीच हो रहे संघर्ष की सामरिक भाषा है. पूंजी के लिए मुक्ति, श्रम के लिए दासता है. मार्क्स इसी संघर्ष को पूंजीवादी समाज का आर्थिक मूलाधार मानते हैं – दूसरे शब्द में कहें, यही उनका आर्थिक मूलाधार का ‘राजनैतिक’ सिद्धांत है.

“मजदूरी-श्रम और पूंजी” एक ऐसी अनूठी पुस्तिका है जो कि मार्क्स की एक अधूरी कृति होते हुए भी पूंजीवादी विकास के भिन्न अवस्थाओं में नीहित श्रम-पूंजी संघर्ष की केन्द्रीयता को पहचानने में मदद करती है. भारत में अब कोई ऐसा कोना नहीं बचा जो पूंजीवाद से अछूता हो, और हम एहसास कर सकते हैं तमाम व्यक्तिगत और सामाजिक संघर्षों में पूंजीवादी अंतर्विरोधों को. मगर उन्हें पहचानने और इन संघर्षों के बीच सम्बन्ध स्थापित करने के लिए मार्क्स द्वारा विकसित सैद्धांतिक हथियारों की आज भी ज़रुरत है. “मजदूरी श्रम और पूंजी” भी कुछ ऐसे महत्वपूर्ण हथियार प्रदान करती है.

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नोट: हिंदी में इस पुस्तिका का अनुवाद “उजरती श्रम और पूंजी” के नाम से किया गया है.