Marx the Prophet


Those of you who have read Schumpeter’s ‘Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy’ will recognize the title of this blog. The book starts with an examination of Marxism which is dealt in first four insightful chapters. The first is named ‘Marx the Prophet’, and the subsequent ones, respectively ‘Marx the Sociologist’, ‘Marx the Economist’, and ‘Marx the Teacher’. These four chapters form first part of the book, which then goes on to examine and analyse Capitalism, Democracy, Socialism in subsequent parts.

I have taken up Schumpeter’s book again, but not before going through two other books on Marxism. In addition to Heilbroner’s Marxism: For and Against, I found another little book (hardly 150 pages long) by philosopher Jonathan Wolff titled ‘Why Read Marx Today?’ This, too, is an excellent introductory analysis of Marxist and Socialist thought.

Amazon gives you a good handle in searching for books and literature on particular subjects, and on the basis of my search, I can safely infer that Marxism thought as a field of analysis is largely neglected by today’s mainstream economists – both the above books are written by philosophers, not economists. It is understandable also, especially in the light of the development of economics during past half century – with post-Keynesian and neo-liberal pathways taking ascendancy and with every attempt to make economics mathematical and physics-like, especially by US based economic thinkers dominating the scene.

However, without going further into the state of economics today, let me come back to Marx.

The way philosophical foundations of Marxism have been constructed and propounded by Marx on the religious question makes it interesting, and only substantiate Schumpeter statement. In this process, Marx has been helped by other German philosophers like Hegel and Feuerbach, on whose works he further built upon. Although Schumpeter emphasize that Marx approach was scientific and not metaphysical, and that the true sources of his propositions are not philosophical, yet the way Marx initially constructed his ideas from philosophical foundations are revealing. Schumpeter also notes that finding philosophy in the most matter of fact statements and analysis of Marx can put us on wrong track.

The ‘Young Hegelian theology debate’ of Marx’s time had the question posed: Why did God bother to create the world?..the world full of sorrow and wickedness, especially when God is perfect and self-sufficient. The philosophical reply came was that God needed to define herself in relation to an external object – only through which God came to gain knowledge of herself. During those rationalist times, the claim of such kind of questioning lead to the issue about veracity and authenticity of new testaments – Gospels were said to be folklore, not historical narratives and absolute truth. These sparked much debate. Many felt that Christianity was just an illusion and that the believers were duped. The question of historicity of such issues reminds me of what we have here in India with respect to events and personalities of our epics Ramayana and Mahabharata – and the question of the historicity of Ram and Pandava and the like!

Ludwig Feuerbach, in 1841, then came with the contention that human being resembles God not because God has created us in her image, but because we, the humans have created God in our image! If I try to interpret this in relation to our civilization and cultural setting, I see Indian as creating God not only in their image, but also in the images of animals, and sometimes mixing them too!

Not diverting again, I will stick to the topic.

Feuerbach’s contention was that human being have raised the powers available to them to an infinite level and assigned it to a being outside them – thereby inventing God – omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. He then states that by paying attention to God, by diverting our attention and energies towards God, we, the human beings are not able to lead a truly human life and crate a truly human society. Therefore, what we need to do it to abandon the religion, and replace it with humanism.

Marx takes this argument further. For him, just revelation of the true nature of religion is not enough. We is required is to know the why and how behind this and then to search and find the alternative. Marx argues that the human being have invented religion because their life on earth was so difficult, appalling and poverty-ridden – invention of religion being a response to miseries of life on earth.

One of the famous sound bites of Marx  – “Religion is Opium of masses” fits aptly here. Wolff, in his book, gives three different shades of meaning to this word to explain the metaphor. He states that we need not forget that during Marx time, opium was most notably a painkiller. So religion is something which is used for relief form sorrow, pain, illness, hunger and similar other form of distress. He also agrees that, of course, religion, like opium, is used to produce the feeling of joy, ecstasy and euphoria. The third effect is very destructive. Like opium, the regular use of religion, stunts the growth of human beings, it prevents the full-blown development of a normal human being, mentally, physically and ultimately socially. And this becomes even more important in the newly industrializing society of nineteenth century when workers were put to hard labor and exaction without giving them much in return.

However, Marx was not for overthrow of religion. He said that under the right circumstances, it would disappear on its own. For this, we first need to understand and then remove the conditions which had given rise to religion thereby alienating human being from their true humanism, and then remove those conditions.

In terms of criticism, the question of existence of God, if not in the image of mankind, but some supreme power beyond us, has not yet settled. And if God exist, then the whole edifice of creation of God and religion by mankind, crumbles.

In addition, it appears quite plausible that mankind has invented religion to explain the world around it, especially during the older times, when most of the natural phenomena were unexplained.

Further, the argument that man has invented religion because the life on earth is so difficult and wretched, also does not appear convincing if we look at affluent and wealthy classes, where religion has not vanished.

Nevertheless, the philosophical and dialectical construction of the approach of study of society and history of mankind by the Max is indeed impressive.

Marxism is, in that sense, a religion, which will ultimately replace the existing religion, at an appropriate time in future. The Marxist system is than that of an ultimate ends, of meaning of life – like any other religion. Schumpeter also points that Marxism contains other crucial feature of religion like it being an absolute standards to judge events and actions and then providing a guide for salvation. Continuing this, Marx was a prophet, true like the others, claiming no divinity for himself, but pretend to speak the logical dialectical process of history and society.

It is also quite interesting to note that, as pointed out by Schumpeter, Marxism is a product of bourgeois mind. Marx himself, as well as those over whose analysis he further built, Feuerbach, Hegel and his compatriot, Fredrick Angels, were all of bourgeois origin. I also feel that the middle of nineteenth century was a ripe time for Marx ideas, in some senses, as by this time, the industrial revolution and capitalism has produced a distinct class of proletariat (workers), and also that the earlier church dominated Christianity was taking a serious beating in Europe especially since Martin Luther and reformation, and then subsequently with the rise of rationalistic tendencies and scientific temper. Schumpeter aptly describes the time as “zenith of bourgeois realization and nadir of bourgeois civilization”.


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