What i felt after reasing the primary book on communist philosophy
I just concluded reading the book ‘Fundamentals of Philosophy’ written by Victor Afsyanov in Russian and translated into Nepali. It is indeed the first book that should be read by anybody interested in Marxist philosophy. The theme of the contents converges more and more towards the communist philosophy with successive chapters; beginning with the broad description of philosophical questions and ultimately leading to frank praise and reinforcement of Marxism-Leninism.
Due to the impact of the post cold war scenario with vociferous opposition of communism by the mainstream media and establishments, I was, like every other intellectual, hesitant to begin studying Marxism as a philosophy with priority. Indeed the impression of communism among the middle classes worldwide is now that of an alien and anachronistic propaganda. The term communist has long been the term of contempt in many of the developed countries and their propaganda machines are even more effective in the developing countries now, thanks to globalization. Interestingly enough, I felt the urge to read the Marxist literature after reading the Nehru’s masterpiece ‘Glimpses of World History’. The historical role played by the communist movements that culminated in communist states like the USSR and China was beyond my imagination and I was awed by Nehru’s admiration to the Soviet regime of Stalin that carries so much of disgust in today’s discourses on philosophy and politics.
To start with, I was awry of the language, Nepali seeming the alien language with abstruse philosophical terms beyond my grasp, for the first time. But with the logical succession, the text became increasingly comprehensible. It was an impressive venture and at the end I was ready to study any of the Marxist literature that becomes available.
For anybody with the keen interest on the Marxist creed of historical and dialectical materialism, I would obviously offer to read the literature starting with this book. In this article I intend to express how I felt at the end and how any of the other student of history and philosophy could have felt. Indeed it was the verification of Nehru’s observations about the Soviet communism with remarkably few contradictions. The crucial factor on reading these books now has been, however, the fact that communist regime was in its youth posing unprecedented challenge to capitalism when Nehru wrote the book, while it is practically non-existent in the world-stage today.
It is this very factor that acts decisively when some significance has to be drawn from the literature now. Failure to acknowledge this fact has crippled the efforts of the poorly organized Marxist intellectuals to credibly resurrect in the aftermath of the collapse of USSR. To add insult to injury, the proud march of the Chinese ‘communists’ towards the market capitalism while solidly reasserting themselves as the emerging world power, similar drift of Vietnam and other countries have further challenged the concept.
The significance of the communist philosophy and the feasibility of the orthodox communist state in the current context can be debated though this discourse has long lost its momentum. What I no longer doubt is the significance of the Marxism and Leninism and the contribution of the communist movements and states in breaking the millennia-long vicious cycle of exploitation, privation and further exploitation. Constantly drawing the wrath of the imperial forces that were barely aware of their impending doom, the communist world was no utopian one. But the extent to which they worked for the welfare of the ordinary people, the ‘workers’ or the ‘proletariat’ in those odd circumstances was amazing. The frank slurs about communism, exemplified by Freedman’s famous phrase ‘alliance-to-keep-poor-people-poor’ seem absurd in the historical context and if the destitution of countless people in capitalism’s few decade long career is not to be deliberately ignored. Indeed we can barely ignore the facts like the imperial drainage of wealth from the annexed land and people worldwide that stand firmly behind the never-ending opulence of the western powers. The capitalistic loot in the battered Russia under Yeltsin is enough to show that it was not the mere transition from communism to capitalism that brought liberty and prosperity with it. A consolidated and powerful China under the communists that has given way to a pseudo-communist world power after a transition under Deng Xiao-ping is also a poor match for a battered pre-communist China under Chiang Kai-Sek kneeling pathetically in front of the Japanese imperialism.
I have little to comment about the dialectical approach to the history and the Marxist fusion of this with the materialistic theme to create dialectical materialism, I was simply impressed and amazed by the depth to which Marx and Engels had reached in their quest to hit the bottom of the confusing mess of history created by the multitude of their predecessors. The contribution of the path they showed theoretically to end the crusade of the feudal and capitalistic exploitation, in making this elusive quest of the mankind a reality was even more important.
But history had some different story to tell to our generation. This was exactly what was missed by the great philosophers and their followers. This was about a catastrophe that was silently brewing in the sixties, seventies and eighties of the last century and imploded in Soviet Russia twenty years back, in 1989. In China, it took a different mode of silent diffusion of crisis at the cost of the ideology that was cherished with such a pride for so long.
This is where the Afsyanov’s book, written just after the 26th convention of the Soviet Communist Party and published in 1985 misses the train of history. The praise and admiration of the Communist Party and its ability to grasp history in its proper current creates the paradox at the point. The failure to mention a word about the Chinese revolution, the Chinese Communist Party and the towering personality of Mao-tsetung could have been due to the extreme strains between the two states at that moment. But that was the harshest injustice done to the title of the book: The Fundamentals of Philosophy. The deliberate act of ignoring the red revolution in China deprived the author of the privilege of analyzing and thus criticizing the radical changes in post-Mao China.
Going by the events that followed, it can be inferred now that all was not well within the USSR in the early eighties when the book was written and the Soviet Communist Party was busy rejoicing the success of the grand 26th convention. The rhetoric of the party represented in the papers presented in the convention resembles with that during the fifties when the communist camp was sound and successfully challenging the capitalistic camp. But something had radically changed over the decades that escaped the proper attention of the communist leadership. This created a kind of pseudo-confidence that was soon to be proved suicidal for the Soviet communism.
The declaration of the ultimate and unconditional conquest of the communism in the world supposedly under the leadership of the Soviet Communist Party, mentioned countless times in the book as well as every other document of the party, is now beyond imagination of the young generation worldwide. The very fact that the two giant communist states of USSR and China were close to military confrontation and China eventually shook hands with the American power was enough to practically deflate this argument.
Unfortunately I am now not in a position to assess objectively as to what exactly was the decisive force behind the fall of Soviet Communism. In Freedman’s view, it was the percolation of the means of communication including personal computers among the Soviet citizens that brought down the communist regime that heavily depended on ignorance of the people about the outer world to sustain itself. The extent to which this factor played the role can be debated. The incredibly bleak presence of the Bolshevik party in the current Russian state , however, speaks for its deplorable role in the eighties of which the Afsyanov’s book paints a shining picture. Going by the Marxist teaching about the disintegration of any ailing system, it is the internal events and conflicts that are decisive while the external factors like the Jihad against the Soviets in the Afghanistan only play a supportive role. The projections of the Soviet Communist Party about the unavoidable crash of capitalism due to the conflicts within it went thus horribly wrong while proving the same for the fate of communism.
We still don’t know what story the history will create to tell to our children. After a relatively smooth journey in last few decades, capitalism has now stumbled upon the financial crisis whose magnitude has been the subject of concern and speculations about the fate of capitalism with perfectly interconnected economies of the states worldwide. The mushrooming conflicts based on the identity and other post cold war creeds are threatening to overwhelm the establishments worldwide. The radical extremism, the ‘offspring of illegitimate union between the US under Ronald Reagan and Pakistan under Zia-ul-Haq’ in Pervez Hoodbhoy’s terms, threatens to annihilate states like the nuclear-powered Pakistan now.
The insanity of the capitalist world order with the American leadership has recently manifested as the Israeli genocide in Gaza that rendered the whole world the mere spectators as the American bosses kept approving this. This again reminds us of the US invasion of the Iraq executed in the animated pretext of the WMD. The consequences of that invasion have illustrated now that the calculations of the bullying power of the world can also go wrong. A series of such events in the history may create an altogether different outlook of the history for our children.
I don’t know if they exactly feel like they say. The western intellectuals get never exhausted by praising their democratic values and the institutions. As history shows, however, these are the very humane institutions, that engineer most ruthless and inhumane acts in territory of the ‘other people’ often through the barbaric dictators. Not to mention, this stage has followed the collapse of the overt imperialism of the Europeans that thrived in the pool of sweat and blood of millions of people in Asia, Africa and Latin America for centuries. Seen in this context, the purges and the losses of life that occurred during the regimes of the communists like Stalin and Mao-tsetung appear nominal. This is of course not to mean that the brutalities during the communist regimes were justified or acceptable, but to illustrate the extreme hypocrisy and fact-creation by the intellectuals of capitalist camp.
It was against this very skewed interpretation of the state-of-affairs to suit the powerful states and people that the communists fought for decades. Their success was also remarkable time and again terrorizing the capitalist powers. What Victor Afsyanov wrote in ‘Fundamentals of Philosophy’ as the official voice of the Soviet Communist Party was also perfectly relevant at a time in the history. But what remains now is the crumbled foundations of communism with the ideology-based conflicts being increasingly displaced by those based on identity traits like the religion and ethnicity. The capitalist camp may be in a deep crisis now with the unfolding financial turmoil but there is no communist power to gain from this loss to capitalism unlike the thriving USSR during the great depression of the thirties. This may help capitalism to further consolidate itself after it comes out of this crisis, sooner or later.
It was this very failure to predict the implosion of the communist states and the consolidation of the capitalism that cost the communist states their existence. The Marxists have now the huge challenge of reorienting their efforts on deciphering this elusive message of history. Marxism as a science, demands enormous devotion in this regard as Marx and Engels had done one and a half century ago. The developments may bring more gloom to the opponents of capitalism in the short term, but what transpires in the long run of history is anybody’s guess for now. The way the development of the Marxist philosophy in the 19th century led to the implementation of the theories in practice in the 20th century, it was not the isolated sequence in the history. More important, the communists should now learn more from the failures in the past, that they have been reluctant even to understand and acknowledge till now. That is exactly what could change the course of history, later if not sooner.
17 Jan 2009