Monday, 19 March 2012 08:41

Karl Marx: Men of Ideas

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Karl Heinrich Marx (1818-1883) was a German Jew who systematized socialism and tried to make the ideology a science worthy of academic study (his book, Das Capital has academic pretensions).

Karl Marx and Frederic Engels collaborated in writing the Communist Manifesto (1848), a sort of Bible for Communist revolutionaries.

Marx did not see himself as utopian but an utopian (social idealist) he was, for only such a person would disregard human nature and say: “from each according to  his abilities and to each according to his needs”. That is to say that all people should work together, each using his skills to produce what serves other peoples needs but not taking more than his fair share of what the collectivity produces.

Karl Marx studied Hegelian Philosophy and worked as a journalist writing for several newspapers, including American newspapers. Later he moved to Paris and associated himself with French socialists. His association with French socialist eventually got him into trouble and thereafter he devoted his attention to writing on socialist matters. Harassed by German and French authorities, Marx fled to London where he spent most of his time in the libraries reading and writing his tombs, and been supported by his rich friend Freidrich Engels and other well wishers.

Apparently, Marx’s goal was to transform what, to him, seemed like mere utopian wishes of socialists into hard nosed objective perspective on life. He wanted to make socialism a science and the way to do so was to apply Hegelian dialectical historicity to it.

Hegel was a philosopher not a scientist, so applying his philosophical musing to social-economic analysis is a philosophical activity rather than a scientific one.

Marx borrowed from Hegel and posited what he called dialectic materialism, a scientific analysis of history.

Marx appreciated the contradictions of society and claimed that they lead to struggles by the various competing forces, those who benefited from society as it is and those who did not benefit.

The status quo and its supporters (thesis) and those opposed to it (antithesis) fought and the result is change, a new society that benefited both parties and incorporates aspect of both (synthesis).

The new society has beneficiaries and losers and the two parties fight it out and the result is change. This way society keeps on changing, moving forward until it attains communist society, where Marx says social struggles would end.

In Communist society there would be no more social classes, oppressors and oppressed hence no need for struggle and change. In past societies, there were oppressors and oppressed.  In primitive society there were slave owners and slaves; in feudal society there were aristocrats and servants; in bourgeois society there were the moneyed owners of the means of production and poor folk, the bourgeoisie and the workers.

In communism there would be no more struggles, an end of history kind of situation and stability reign in the land.  This claim is a puzzle. How could human nature characterized by competition suddenly change? Of course Marx was wrong, for in the Soviet Union a ruling communist class emerged and oppressed the workers.

Marx simply did not know what he was talking about; better still, he was a hopeless idealist who fancied himself a hard nosed realist. He imagined a situation where the workers took over the means of production and owned the factories and worked for themselves. Marx waxed poetic, visualizing a situation where workers worked only a few hours a day, closed shop and had time left to read and write poetry and study science.

Of course, what came into being in Marx’s proposed communist Eldorado was the state becoming the owners of property. State officials became the new employers and oppressors of the people.

V. I. Lenin and his Bolshevik Party of Russia told folk that the emergence of a powerful state was a temporary phenomenon that would last until the workers are ready to start managing their factories.  The state was supposed to wither away as the workers take control of their work place.

Seventy years later, the monolithic state was still going strong. In 1991, finally, the Russian communist party self destruct.

Let us not waste time on Marx, he was a social idealist; he was a romantic like Rousseau. There is nothing wrong with idealizing the imperfect world we live in. The danger lies in taking ideals for reality.

The world is not going to be a perfect place where perfect equality reigned in the land. Equality is in spirit not in matter. On earth people will remain unequal, some poor and some rich, but in spirit, outside matter, people are equal and the same.

As long as folk live in body, in matter, space and time, and some have stronger bodies than others and some have more intelligence than others, there would be different social classes.

Wishing for a classless society, as Marx did, was a pipe unrealistic dream. What is feasible and doable on this earth is to make inequality less pernicious and offensive. We cannot eliminate social inequality for as long as people live in different bodies.


Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. (1848)

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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: (907) 310-8176