People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 34

August 21, 2011




Scholars Meet & Celebrate Marxism Together


S K Pande and Bratati Pande


Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here? ‘That depends a   good deal on where you want to go ‘-Lewis Carol, Alice in Wonderland.


It was indeed a gathering with a difference at the Constitution Club, to celebrate the pioneering role of Professor Irfan Habib in the field of Marxist thought on his 80th birthday.  Infact it was a day divided into three phases. Before the symposium, it was a pre lunch meet that could be called moments and memories. Veteran historians, researchers,  students, young and old, social scientists, writers  and select grass-root workers and Professor Irfan Habib with contemporaries and friends but not without a  three hour stint at the library and a few flowers.


The finale: A symposium on “Marxism Today” organised by SAHMAT, Aligarh Historians Society, Social Scientist, Tulika and a number of other bodies in honour of Habib Saab. The speakers were leading  Left intellectuals, Prabhat Patnaik, Utsa Patnaik, Aijaz Ahmad, C P  Chandrashekhar and of course Professor Habib himself. A jam packed gathering – the young and the old jostling with one another, for a seat and a virtual pin drop silence. Chairing the symposium was Prabhat Patnaik. In a rich tribute to Professor Habib, Prabhat Patnaik reiterated how Professor Habib influenced generations of students in the field of Marxist thought. He emphasised that Marxism is in the process of reconstructing today, it is not and never was a closed body of ideas, it was always open-ended. Marxism has always been open to scientific insights coming even from non-Marxists. Lenin’s idea of imperialism was influenced by Hobson considerably. Marxism recognises that scientific endeavour is continuous. He emphasised that the Marxist thought is not just a scholastic exercise; its relevance is immense in the every day life of mankind.


Cutting across streams the meeting in effect gave a call for a united front of the working class and the toiling peasantry with a special focus on organising the unorganised sector.  Caste, class and gender issues will have to be addressed more effectively by the Marxists in the future said Professor Habib, and the spirit of questioning and reasoning should prevail. He added that it was time to call a spade a spade.


He said that Capitalism is passing through a serious period of crisis today belying the hope of capitalist economists that the hegemony of international finance capital would help capitalism in getting immune of any crisis .But the crises in capitalism in recent years belied their hope, the crisis spread to the entire capitalist world, China and India being somewhat better off mainly because of their huge population which helped in keeping wages low helping them to  supply at the world market at lower price creating more and more inequality in the society.


Professor Aijaz Ahmad defined ‘Marxism Today’ as the period since 1989 when socialism in erstwhile USSR and eastern Europe was dissolved. He concentrated on the concept of ‘Today’. He emphasised on the fact how the revolutionary movement in the erstwhile socialist countries affected people outside the socialist world deeply as the threat of communism had a civilising impact on barbaric capitalism. In recent years unleashing of finance capital led to stagnation and crisis. The consequences were far reaching, it led to collapse of social democracy, the distinction between Republicans and Democrats in USA almost vanished and in UK Labour government started following Thatcherism. What was, perhaps, more serious was the strong corporate hold over media depriving it of the age old democratic tradition of freedom of expression. He also emphasised on growing inequality within the society and increasing Islamophobia. This Islamophobia led to huge increase in military budget and subsequent fall in social security expenditure in countries of Europe and USA. Utsa Patnaik began by saying that the four thinkers who influenced her thought process profoundly were Marx, Lenin, Tagore and Habib. She added that the Agrarian System of Mughal India by Irfan Habib had a deep influence on her scholarly pursuit.  She elaborated on Marxism Yesterday and its effect on Today. The legacy of Marxism is German Philosophy, English Political Economy and French Socialism. She emphasised that Industrial Revolution in England did not develop in a closed economy, it was based on the subjugation of other countries. Classical economists always talked of trade amongst sovereign countries, they never talked of the subjugated economies. Both Adam Smith and Ricardo influenced Marxist thought in supplying him the basic tools like the theory of value which he transformed into the theory of surplus value which is at the root of capitalist exploitation. His theory of primitive capitalist accumulation was based on this theory of surplus value.


The creation of a property-less class was necessary to create a propertied class based on the re-investment of surplus value. But this is only part of the story of the hegemony of capitalism, the other part of the story was the transfer of surplus from subjugated people in the colonies. Marx could not complete the last two volumes of Das Kapital dealing with international trade and world market and Marxists have failed him as they could not take his idea forward. The theoretical grandeur of Marxist theory is to be rekindled.


The next speaker C P Chandrashekhar talked of laws of motion, dynamics of capitalism and periodic crises. He said that to deal with the anarchy of capitalism some kind of coordinated decision making is needed.


Professor Irfan Habib started reminiscing about his participation in the huge communist movement in Calcutta in 1949. That was the time when the glory of Marxism as a working system was fresh in the hearts of the toiling masses world over. The Bolshevik Revolution in erstwhile USSR in 1917, spread of communism in Eastern Europe after the Second World War and then the Socialist Revolution in 1949 in China.  “What other ideology in the world had such achievement to show?” he exclaimed.


The meeting brought back memories, memories of the 1960s and 1970s in the Delhi University Campus: Enquiry a journal with which Irfan Habib was associated, the Marxists Club then and the Delhi University Discussion Society (DUDS)  among others. Professor Romila Thapar, Bipin Chandra, the new chief of ICHR Basudeb (Robi) Chatterjee, and   a galaxy of historians and social scientists. Out side the auditorium books and more books by Professor Irfan Habib himself and others. Indeed a peep into the past and the present this was a celebration of a professor at 80 and still going strong. A life of struggle and achievement, through historic Marxist tools.  New Bridges to the past, a peep into the present and some insights into the future. A   small salute to a gentle colossus.