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Mainstream, VOL L, No 39, September 15, 2012

Questions of Freedom and People’s Emancipation — II

Monday 17 September 2012, by Kobad Ghandy


Kobad Ghandy from Tihar Jail is writing on the concept of freedom vis-à-vis present-day society as also in relation to a future just order, bringing out some causes for the failure of the erstwhile socialist states. It will comprise a series of five to six articles. The first article (covering Part I—The Context) appeared in Mainstream’s Independence Day Special (August 18, 2012). —Editor

Part-II—Search for Freedom through History

Throughout history man has searched continuously for freedom, happiness and humanity/justice (that is, good over evil, …I club humanity with justice as one cannot go without the other; the struggle of good over evil necessarily entails justice). Through the ages, prophets (religious), philosophers and enlightened individuals have sought answers to these basic concepts of life. In fact, through early history, right through the Middle Ages, philosophy and religion were basically the same, where freedom and happiness were sought through rapport with God. It was only with the Renaissance (1300-1600), and more particularly the Enlightenment (1600-1800), with the evolving of man’s individuality (from the earliest clan structures), that philosophers focused on a more concrete search for freedom in real life, reflected particularly in the debate on the question of the primacy of mind or matter. But, even through this later period the philosophers’ link with religion continued. The enormous impact of religion on philosophy for about twenty centuries is because the prophets of the various religions were the main people to propound the values of goodness in a desert of evil and stood against the establishment.

It was only in the 19th century, when capitalism was more or less established in Europe and science had advanced, that philosophers sought answers to these vexed questions of life in society itself without any prop of religion. Primarily it was Marx and Engels who crystallised most of these ideas into an analysis showing that the lack of freedom, justice, happiness and humanity was a direct product of the prevailing systems. Marx also went on to show how these values could be achieved in a new just order.

The problem is that while, on the one hand, prophets and philosophers have presented genuine values of humanity and sought to reform society, on the other hand, tyrant rulers and oppressive systems sought to debase these very values and keep mankind in perpetual chains. In this conflict, it was the latter that won, as it is they who wielded power, and this power was able even to co-opt and debase the very religions themselves. We saw this happen during the past period of Zoroastrianisam (before Islam came) and more particularly with the Church. Not only the religions, we saw this happen even with the ideas of Marx, which too have been corrupted, and the socialist systems, which sought to be a stepping stone towards the ideal, have today turned into its very opposite.

In this article I will briefly try and present the history of man’s search for freedom. Let it be remembered that this search was intrinsic to opposing the prevailing establishment and supporting the oppressed. Most prophets had their main supporters from among the poor, and many were martyred by the tyrannical rulers of their times. For example, Moses and his rag-tag supporters were hounded for decades by the Pharoahs of Egypt; Zoroaster is said to have been killed by a General of the King; Christ was crucified; Mohammad was hounded from Mecca and spent the major part of his life fighting wars for survival; Socrates famously drank the cup of poison (399 BC) sitting amongst his disciples, as he refused to retract his views as demanded by the city-state. Not to see the rise of these religions in a historical perspective and their emancipatory efforts, and to only see their present-day forms and roles, covers up an important historical reality.
In this article I will not touch on the aspect of their (prophets’) struggles against the estab-lishment, which is anyhow well documented, but only briefly present their views on the subject under discussion.

A. Pre-Christian Thought

This period witnessed two major phases of intense awakening. The first was the 1500-1200 BC period where the great civilisations of West Asia brought forth the ideas of Moses or Zoroaster. Simultaneously in India, there was the birth of the Rig Veda.

The second phase was around 600-300 BC which brought forth the great phisosophers of Greece; Buddha, Upanishads and the Charvakas in India; and Tao and Confucius in China.

First Period

The Ten Commandments of Moses (part of the Old Testament) not only laid down a set of values to follow, but laws and norms for the systematic functioning of society. Also, by opposing idol worship, he put forward, in effect, the first concept of alienation in Western thought. The essence of what Moses (and other prophets), who opposed idolatory, conveyed was that man bows down to worship things; worship that which he has created himself. In doing so he transfers to the things of his creation the attributes of his own life, and instead of experiencing himself as the creating person, he is in touch with himself only by worship of the idol. He becomes estranged from his own life forces, and from the one and only Ultimate Creator (as then conceived), and is in touch with himself only in the indirect way of submission of life frozen in idols. From Abraham to Christ and Mohammad—all the prophets opposed idol worship and insisted on the one Almighty/Creator who, they said, alone had all the attributes of good. Moses and most of the other prophets (including Christ) came from the Egypt-Syria-Palestine belt.

In the neighbouring region (what later became the vast Persian Empire from 300 BC to 650 AD) was the prophet Zoroaster. His main theme was simple—good thoughts, good words and good deeds. Zoroaster’s life was closely associated with nature, and Fire was the symbol of ultimate purity. Life was portrayed as a struggle between good and evil—between the God, Ahura Mazda, representing light, truth, goodness and knowledge, and Angra Mainyush representing darkness, falsehood, wickedness and ignorance. Like the Old Testament, the Avestha also laid down norms for the systematic functioning of society. Surprising for its time, it gave equal respect to women as men.

So, we find that in both these earliest religions maximum emphasis was given to acquiring the qualities of goodness. Universal Permanent Value systems of goodness are put as the attributes of God by his messengers (prophets) and so, according to them, closeness to him would help acquire his attributes and pave the way to Heaven. One can see the same thread continue in Christianity and Islam.
If we turn to India, we find that around the same time the Rig Veda came into being. While this too was said to contain the result of revelations (from Above), it different from the above two, in that it was polytheist. The Rig Veda (Royal Knowledge) primarily comprised mantras propitiating the gods of the numerous natural forces—rain, wind, thunder, sun, dawn etc. In the Yajur and Sama Vedas, that followed the Rig Veda, mantras were replaced by sacrificial chants and elaborate rituals (yagnas). The latter were not only to propitiate the forces of nature but to also acquire things in life. Here the concept of freedom was mostly from the wrath of nature, and the yagnas were also to gain freedom from the evil forces and spirits.

Second Period

The earliest Greek philosophers put forward theories of hedonism which believed the attainment of pleasure and avoidance of pain to be the aim in life. The earlier crude form of hedonism was refined by Epicurus (4th century BC) who tried to show that his concept of pleasure as the aim of life is consistent with the virtues of temperance, courage, justice and friendship. Here ‘pleasure’ would reflect man’s earliest search for freedom and happiness in life itself.

Plato believed all actions are subject to fate, and considered humans as part of nature’s general laws. He also viewed the human being primarily as a soul/spirit and the body as nothing but a prison-house. For him death was liberation, as the soul was freed from the prison-house of the body. Aristotle propounded differently views on ethics built on the science of man. He said happiness, which is man’s aim, is the result of ‘activity’; it is not a quiescent possession or state of mind. The free, rational and active (contemplative) man is good, and accordingly a happy person. With Aristotle, we have probably the first man-centred humanistic proposition encompassing the concept of freedom and happiness linked to a person’s values. These Greek philosophers had a major impact on the philosophers of the future.
Around the same time (6th century BC), Buddhism evolved in India with its deeply humanist philosophy. It also replaced the ritualism of the earlier period with meditation as a path to liberation. The Buddha put forward his concepts in his Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path and Ten Precepts. But, going to the other extreme as compared to the hedonists, he maintained that nirvana (liberation) could only be achieved by suppressing all desires and wants and cutting off from society.
At that time itself the Charvakas and Upanishads presented opposite poles within Hinduism. The Charvakas promoted somewhat hedonistic views, took up cudgels against caste and much of the ritualism of the past. (Mostly ignored by mainline historians, the Lokayats were elaborated at length by Debiprosad Chattopadhyaya, but this is not available to me in jail.) The Upanishads too opposed the rituals, focusing on meditation, and, like the Buddhists, denied all wordly pleasures as the path to achieve liberation. The Upanishads say the Self (Atman, Brahman) is linked to the mind, which, in turn, is linked to the senses. If the senses are controlled, the mind is still/quiet, then alone we will be able to realise the Self and achieve Moksha (liberation). It says freedom from desires/wants results in freedom from grief and therefore happiness. It thus says a complete suppression of worldly desires alone can result in knowing thyself through meditation—thereby one can achieve liberation and immortality, escaping the trauma of the cycle of life, death and rebirth. Though the Upanishads do not appear to say much on values, around the same time came the epic, Mahabharata, which symbolised the war of good against evil—the Pandavas versus Kauravas.

Finally, if we turn to the Far East around the same time (500 BC), we see the birth of the famous Chinese philosophies—Taoism and Confucianism. Confucius’ views elaborated on statecraft and values in order to build an ideal society. This was presented in his famous writings: ‘Five Classics’ and ‘Four Books’. In his principles of ‘Li’, morality is actualised through education, self-reflection and discipline. He teaches that a simple, secular and unassuming attitude towards life is the root of morality. In his principles of ‘Ren’, to build a true gentleman, he puts focus on five virtues—self-respect, generosity, sincerity, persistence and benevolence. He also speaks about Tao, the Great Ultimate, giving it a divine status; but here too he sees Tao comprising opposite energy forces—the Yin and the Yang.

So we see that in this earliest period of recorded history, the focus of most religions/philosophers was to bring about some norms in society—at both the personal and societal levels—to facilitate the transition from the nomadic/pastoral stage to a structured state. At the personal level they advocated values of goodness and at the societal level structures and laws for a society to be ruled. Some used the concept of God, where man through rapport with him may acquire his (positive) attributes, while others (like Buddha, the Charvakas, Confucius) did not. So, in places so far apart as West Asia and the Far East, we find a similar search for the victory of good over evil. But, for all the teachings of the prophets/philosophers, evil continued to envelop society. So West Asia gave to this world two more Messiahs: Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammad.

B. Christianity, Islam, Bhakti and the Middle Ages

Hegel had said it was the Germanic people, through Christianity, who came to the awareness that every human is free by virtue of being human, and the freedom of spirit comprises our most human nature. While Christianity, like Islam, does say that men freely choose their own actions, this freedom is, to a large extent, negated as God is the ultimate cause of every-thing. Also Christianity (and most religions) inculcate numerous guilt complexes, like the ‘Original Sin’, which keeps man in a perpetual state of insecurity. An insecure person, generated by any means, can never be free; as such weak people become the most vulnerable tool to ANY form of power. Guilt, insecurity and inferiority complex give man a slave-like mentality, destroy his creativity and quash his initiative.

Christianity presents the most excellent values of love, compassion, honesty, simplicity etc., but we find in its practice (in later years) exactly the opposite. It goes so far as to say that “the Meek shall inherit the Earth”, but in the name of the Bible the entire African continent was raped and the indigenous people of the Americas were massacred on a scale never seen before. Today the ‘civilised’ world perpetrates the worst atrocities.

Then, a few centuries later, came the last major religion of the world—Islam. This contained all the positive aspects of Christianity and even went further. It called for equality of the people and laid down certain economic norms; it spoke of fighting evil not only within us, but in society as well. As the famous poet-philosopher, Iqbal, said: socialism+God=Islam. Islam also produced the great mystic poet-philosophers during the 10th to the 13th centuries like Gazzali, Razi, Rumi etc. Rumi’s entire six volumes (in Persian) is devoted to inculcating the best values within man, told in simple poetry and story form. Throughout history there have, in fact, been numerous Sufi saints that presented the liberating aspect of Islam. But, here too the religion has been corrupted, taking on a fundamentalist form with numerous sects. The Arab Sheikhs, for example, make sure that Islam serves their rule and their billions of petro-dollars.

Both Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammad lived simple lives, with their supporters amongst the poorest. For this reason their philosophies spread far and wide, in spite of enormous persecution. As with other religions, these too were co-opted by the rulers of their times, distorted, twisted, factionalised, and began to be used as ideological weapons amongst the very masses whom the two prophets sought to arouse.

In India in this period the Hindu religion witnessed probably the greatest retrogression. Buddhism was thrown out and the Charvka influence reduced and with the consolidation of the Magadh state in BC itself, the Manusmriti was written on social relations and the Kautilya/Chanakyan statecraft. The former consolidated and rigidified all the worst aspects in social relations, while the latter did the same for the form of rule. In reaction to this rigidity, particularly in the sphere of caste (besides inhuman untouchability, only the upper castes had access to God and the temples), the Bhakti Movement said every individual could have direct access to God through bhakti (devotion). Though the first sparks of the Bhakti Movement emerged around the 8th/9th century in the South, it took a powerful form and spread widely between 1300 AD and 1550 AD. Interestingly, the bulk of the bhakti saint-poets were from the lower castes.

Though we find that the ideas presented were powerful, positive and had a great liberating impact (whether Christ, Mohammad and, to a much lesser extent, Bhakti), they were unable to sustain as they were not accompanied by radical social change. This entire period saw little socio-economic change where slave relations continued along with the consolidation of feudalism. Not surprisingly, it is referred to as the Dark Ages.

The period that was to follow in the West witnessed probably the greatest ever leaps in the realm of thought as it was accompanied by enormous socio-economic churning.

C. Renaissance and Enlightenment

The salient feature of the medieval period was an uncritical and blind acceptance of authority and power, overemphasised by theology, neglecting human freedom and life on earth. Emancipation from the authority of the Church led to the growth of the individuality in man. While the Greek philosophers were more institutional, in the Middle Ages the philosophers were usually monks.

The main landmark of modern philosophy, which distinguishes it from medieval thinking, is its growing faith in the power of reason. The ability to reason, independent of the stifling confines imposed by the Church and State, was in itself a great leap in the realm of freedom unleashing a surge of creativity., Of course, this was possible and sustainable as the period also witnessed big social changes.
While the centre of the Renaissance was Italy, that of the Enlightenment was England, France and Germany.


The Renaissance was a sort of bridge between the Dark Ages and the Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason. Three major discoveries added to its impact: gunpower, the compass and printing. The first two facilitated colonial conquest in far-off places; the last allowed, for the first time, the widescale spread of knowledge.

Just the 50 years from 1490 to 1540 in particular witnessed giant leaps in the sphere of knowledge, as also important social changes in society. The latter was reflected in the Reformation, with Protestantism being introduced by Matrin Luther (Germany) and John Calvin (France). These, in turn, were inspired by the writings of the foremost humanist of the period, Desiderius Eramus (Holland).

It was also in this period that Thomas More wrote his ‘Utopia’ as a protest against the abuses of the day. Though he served as the Chancellor to King Henry VIII, he was beheaded when he refused to accept the King pronouncing himself as the head of the Church. It was in the first decade of the 1500s that Italy witnessed the great paintings of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Not only were they among the greatest artists ever, but they were also scientists and philosophers combined into one.

It is also in this period that we see the first steps towards colonial conquest. In the 1490s Vasco da Gama discovered India and Christopher Columbus, America. In 1519 the Spanish Empire spread to Central and South America.
Finally, we see that the Enlightenment was ushered in by the great scientific discoveries of Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo; the works of the great dramatist ever, William Shakespeare (1566-1616); and the writings of the fathers of modern philosophy, Francis Bacon (UK, 1561-1626) and Descartes (France, 1596-1650).

Enlightenment—Age of Reason

The period of the Enlightenment, 17th and 18th centuries, witnessed enormous churning in all spheres of life—the socio-economic, political, scientific and philosophical fields. It was a period of transition from feudalism to capitalism.
In the sphere of socio-political turmoil there were the following: the 30-year war between the Catholics and Protestants from 1618 to 1648; the seven-year civil war in Britain—1642 to 1649—resulting in the beheading of King Charles I and the establishment of Parliament; the American War of Independence from 1775 to 1783. And all these culminated finally in the historic French Revolution of 1789.
In the sphere of the sciences there were Kepler’s discoveries in Astronomy published in 1609; this was immediately followed by Galileo’s famous discoveries; in 1628 William Harvey published a description of the circulation of the blood; in 1687 came Newton’s Principa Mathematica; in 1705 the steam pump was discovered; and in 1709 came James Watt’s steam engine facilitating the industrial revolution.

Probably in no other period of recorded history has there been such a spate of well-known philosophers as during these two centuries. It produced three major schools of philosophy—the rationalists, the empiricists and the idealists. While much of the debate revolved around the existential question of the primacy of mind or matter, in their bid to understand man’s relation to the outer world, they also focused on questions of freedom, humanity/justice and happiness.
In the rationalist school the big names were Descartes, Spinoza and Leibnitz; among the empiricists there were Locke, Berkeley and Hume, also Spencer; and the idealistic school of thought was initiated by Emmanual Kant, and followed by Fichte, Schelling and Hegel. These are just a few of the names, there were many more. And together with these the two great French philosophers, Voltaire and Rousseau, propounded the concepts of freedom, equality and justice, and their views had a major impact on the French Revolution.

It was, in fact, Origen who was one of the first authors of this period to write a treatise on freedom. His famous work, De Principiis, is a remarkably profound and systematic work on free will. According to Origen, men are free; truly man is everywhere in chains, but it is, in Origen’s opinion, his own responsibility that is the cause of his enslavement. Origen asserts that Divine Providence allows man’s free will full scope in his cooperation with God. He says that if a believer takes away the element of free will from virtue, he destroys its essence.

Here, not only does the author make a break with the fate-centred concepts of most religions, but also links the question of humanity (virtue) to the question of freedom.

Acquinas distinguishes between the free choice of humans and the natural instincts of animals. Descartes regards freedom of the human will, or liberty of choice, as so important that he compares it with the concept of Divine Infinity. He presents it simply as having the power of choosing to do a thing or choosing not to do it. He holds that the power of free will is the greatest perfection in humans, through the exercise of which we become masters of our actions, and thereby merit praise or blame.

In the sphere of values/virtue, it was Spinoza’s masterpiece ‘Ethics’ that had a major impact on future philosophers like Goethe, Hegel and even Marx. ‘Ethics’ is a work of ethical philosophy, whose ultimate aim is to aid in the attainment of happiness. For Spinoza, all affects were to be divided into passive affects (passions), through which man suffers and does not have an adequate idea of the reality, and active affects (generosity and fortitude), in which man is free and productive. He adds that while reason shows man what he ought to do in order to be truly himself and teaches him what is good, the way to achieve virtue is through the active use man makes of his powers. Famously Spinoza said: “Happiness is not the reward of virtue, but is virtue itself”, and he put forward a ‘Model of Human Nature’ as a scientific concept. He adds that virtue is identical with the realisation of man’s nature.

For Spinoza, Goethe, Hegel as well as for Marx, man is alive only inasmuch as he is productive: inasmuch as he grasps the world outside himself in the act of expressing his own specific human powers, and of grasping the world with these powers. In this productive process man realises his own essence, he returns to his own essence, which in theological language (according to Spinoza) is nothing other than his return to God.

Scientific ethics was further elaborated by John Dewey. Like Spinoza, he postulates that objectively valid value propositions can be arrived at by the power of reason; for him, too, the aim of human life is the growth and development of man, in terms of his nature and constitution. But, his opposition to fixed ends leads him to reject Spinoza’s ‘Model of Human Nature’.

Here, I have in no way done justice to the elaborate views presented by the philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries on questions of freedom, humanity (also called ethics, virtue etc.) and happiness. Here, I have tried to present a small sample of the type of thinking taking place in these spheres during this period. There was a deep search for the meaning of life within life itself. In the earlier period, the search was mostly within the realm of rapport with God. Now, though Divinity often still played some part with most, the emphasis was to find answers within society itself.

D. Age of Science

And as we come into the 19th century, we could say one has shifted from the ‘Age of Reason’ to the ‘Age of Science’; and this has continued uptil today. The advances in sciences in the 19th and 20th centuries would be greater than all hitherto history put together. Capitalist production demanded continuous scientific research to increase productivity, and big powers required continuous upgradation of weaponry. So, scientific advance has literally reached the moon, nay the Mars.
The positive aspects of this was it developed a scientific temper. With it God was given a back-seat, only to be utilised as an opium of the masses. The scientific temper demanded no longer mere ‘reason’ but concrete evidence for any postulation. Though this approach was also put forward by the empiricist philosophers of the earlier period, it was not so clear-cut. Scientific discoveries one after another widened man’s horizons beyond anything earlier imaginable. (It is another matter that science has wrought unimaginable destruction as well—in wars, of the environment, and even of man. However, that was not the fault of science per se, but of those who wielded it.) But, somehow with all this scientific fever and ever new gadgetary ethics was lost, values were considered old-fashioned, freedom was merely reduced to the free market and right to vote, and happiness was, de facto, equated with pleasure. Market fundamentalism and crass consumerism reduced philosophical materialism (primacy of matter over mind) to vulgar materialism which added to the destruction of man’s spiritual values—his emotions, feelings, and his very humanity. No doubt there has of late been a reaction to this materialism; but this is as bad as the former. It is in the form of religion; religion minus its value-system, with a fundamentalist, intolerant and hate-oriented form. This is to be seen in Christianity, Islam and Hinduism, even Buddhism (as in Sri Lanka). So, humanity has been lost by both the ‘materialists’ and today’s religionists.

Now, coming back to the philosophers of the early 19th century, we find that most of the answers to the existential questions raised by the earlier philosophers was found by Marx. But, even before Marx we find utopian socialist idealistic views presented by philosophers like Fourier, St. Simon etc.; the dialectics of Hegel; we see the materialism and humanism of Feurerbach; as also the political economy of Adam Smith and Ricardo. Marx took much from these past philosophers and economists, but he did not confine his views within the framework of their debates; he took a major leap in the realm of thought by interlinking the concepts of freedom, justice, humanity, happiness etc. with a scientific analysis of the prevalent capitalist system. For, Marx sought not merely to interpret the world but to change it
Change it did with socialism sweeping one-third of the world during the 20th century. But, by the end of that century all those huge changes were reversed. So, were his views utopian? Well, during the recent financial crisis it was reported that there was an upsurge in reading Marx to understand the crisis. But, that is regarding the present system; what about the future?

In the 1990s, it was postulated that with capitalism we have reached the ‘End of History’. But even these authors have revised their views since the unending crisis beginning 2008. Like all human endeavours and scientific discoveries, however great, they will have the limitations of time, existing knowledge and prevalent conditions. If Marx’s writings are turned into some infalliable gospel, Marxism de facto becomes a new religion. But here I seek to bring out Marx’s understanding of the concepts under discussion—freedom, humanity, happiness—to better understand not only the causes for the reversals, but also the impact of the lack of these values in today’s prevailing existence. I will not dwell on his concepts of justice as those are well known except, of course, in their interconnection with the above concepts.

Very often Communists give a crude under-standing to the term class struggle, totally negating the individuals who comprise the “class”. This sort of thinking results in economic determinism on the one hand, and, on the other, it sees only the forest and not the trees. It tends to reduce people into mere instruments/tools of change, forgetting that change is for those very people themselves. It tends to put everyone into straitjackets where any sign of emotion, feelings etc. are ‘bourgeois sins’ and ‘class’ rigidity is the only virtue, even if it entails the “Mani syndrome” (who in Kerala said we kill all those who dissent/oppose). So, humanity is said to be non-class; so also freedom and happiness. Once this was said about caste as well.

In further articles we will see how these are not only misconceived and blinkered views, but precisely those that resulted in reversals to socialism. For the present, I will restrict myself to briefly mention what Marx had to say on these issues. I will have to be forgiven for quoting at length. As these views of Marx are little known, if I do not quote the original I may be accused of misrepresentation. Under normal circumstances it would be best not to quote too much as that is the method of dogmatists with a tendency to lose creativity.

Here I will just present the basic concepts on these issues in brief. Later I will try and develop these, while applying them to alienation today and also the socialist reversals.

E. Marx and Freedom

As I mentioned is my earlier article, besides defining freedom as the consciousness of necessity, Marx outlined at length how alienation in the capitalist production process deprives man of his freedom, de facto turning him into a commodity.
It was Hegel who, is fact, first used the term alienation. For Marx, as for Hegel, the concept of alienation is based on the distinction between existence and essence; on the fact that man’s existence is alienated from his essence; that in reality he is not what he could be.

Marx outlined how alienation operates in the capitalist system of production. While comparing it with earlier forms of production, he said (Capital, Vol. I): “In handicrafts and manufacture (the earlier mode), the workman makes use of the tool; in the factory, machines make use of him. There the movements of the instrument of labour proceed from him; here it is the movement of the machine that he must follow. In manufacture, the workmen are part of a living mechanism; in the factory we have a lifeless mechanism independent of the workman, who becomes its mere living appemdage.” This, in fact, was beautifully portrayed by Charlie Chaplin in his film Modern Times.

As a result of this type of relationship in the production process, Marx added (Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts—EPM): “A direct consequence of the alienation of man from the product of his labour, from his life activity and from his species-life is that man is alienated from other men. When man confronts himself, he also confronts other men. What is true of man’s relationship to his work, to the product of his work, and to himself, is also true of his relationship to other men, to their labour and to the objects of their labour. In general, the statement that man is alienated from his species-life means that each man is alienated from others, and that each of the others is likewise alienated from human life.”

Then Marx goes on to show how the production system totally dehumanises man. He adds (EPM): “Production does not simply produce man as a commodity, the commodity man, man in the role of a commodity, it produces him in keeping with this role as a spiritually and physically dehumanised being—the immorality, deformity and hibernation of the workers and capitalists. Its product is the self-conscious and self-acting commodity—the human commodity.”

This was written over 150 years ago. There is no comparison between the factories of those days and the highly automated production of today, where everyone is a mere cog in the giant global industrial machine. The more sophisticated the technology, the less the need for skill, and more mundane and repetitive the task. Even the middle-class jobs of clerks, accountants etc. are much the same; those of salesmen are even worse where they are forced to act roles, maintaining artificial smiles to please customers; worse still is the role of call-centre employees, where they must not only have a fake identity, but also a false accent/voice; and if one turns to models, actors, TV people, even their bodies are fake—made up artificially. Today the entire life has reached extremes of artificiality and the levels of alienation are so extreme that mind-related (tension-associated) diseases and deaths have reached epidemic levels, not to mention the unheard-of levels of suicides. When Marx spoke of alienation, it would not have been even one per cent of what it is today. Such acute levels of alienation bring with them a total lack of freedom (becoming slaves to the images we seek to maintain), unhappiness, and lack of self-confidence. And people with such deep insecurities are the most prone to fascist and fundamentalist values as they are desperate for recognition and an identity outside themselves.

In fact for Marx, independence and freedom are based on the act of self-creation and self-assertion, exactly opposite to that of the above type of insecure individuals. He says (EPM): “A being does not regard himself as independent unless he is his own master, and he is only his own master when he owes his existence to himself.” Further, Marx adds that man is inde-pendent only “… if he affirms his individuality as a total man in each of his relations to the world—seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, thinking, willing, loving—in short if he affirms and expresses all organs of his individuality.”

Indeed the maximum the flowering of one’s individuality, the greater is a person’s creativity and effectivity. Unfortunately, often even in people’s organisations we tend to see the relation between the leader and the cadres similar to that between the boss and his clerk in an office. The cadres often have little individuality, little ability to make decisions independently and therefore little impact on the people. In such cases the leader tends to monopolise to himself all ‘creativity’, authority etc., while the cadre is forced into a claustrophobic existence. And if the leader-cadre relation is further cemented by money dependency, the boss-babu relation is complete. In India’s feudal/casteist culture such structures/relations evolve spontaneously if one is not alert against it.

So, this brings us back to the question of MONEY—it is not only the source of satisfying all needs, today it is the source of power. Money is a necessity, it is also the source of what is rotten in this system. This contradiction cannot be wished away, but has to be taken cognisance of, and dealt with by those seeking change.
Marx said (EPM): “The need for money is the real need created by the modern economy, and the need which it creates. The quantity of money becomes increasingly its only important quality —excess and immoderation become its true standard. This is shown subjectively partly in the fact that the expansion of production and of needs becomes an ingenious and always calculating subservience to inhuman, depraved, unnatural and imaginary appetites.”

Then, elaborating on the alienating effect of money, Marx added: “Everything which the economist takes from you in the way of life and humanity, he returns to you in the form of money and wealth. And everything which you are unable to do, your money can do for you, it can eat, drink, go to the theatre. It can acquire art, learning, historical treasures, political power; and it can travel. It can appropriate all these things for you … But, although it can do all this, it only Desires to create itself, and to buy itself; for everything else is subservient to it.” Marx also famously added that “the production of too many useful things results in too many useless people”. And that a man who has thus become subject to his alienated needs is “a mentally and physically dehumanised being … the self-conscious and self-acting commodity”.

So, through all these writings (and more) Marx outlines at length how this unjust system destroys every aspect of man—his humanity, his freedom, his happiness. And, of course, all this to perpetuate an exploitative system. Quite obviously, his call for a just order entails bringing out all that is best in man, resulting in freedom and happiness. His concept of justice does not merely mean satisfying man’s economic needs, but also fulfilling his spiritual needs and thereby creating happiness for the majority of people.

C. Summing Up

So we see that throughout history, the struggle for people’s emancipation has been intrinsically linked to man’s search for freedom, humanity and happiness. This we particularly see throughout the 2000-year history of the prophets of West Asia. Even in China we find that Confucius, while seeking an ideal society, was hounded in his later years. Surprisingly in India, it seems the mainstream religion/philosophy has remained more or less independent of the struggles for people’s emancipation. (Historians need to study this.) But, here too the Charvakas, Lokayats and some other schools of thought at that time, as also some of the bhakti saints, linked their ideas with people’s issues and did face repression at the hands of the establishment.

Another factor to note is that economic justice is only one aspect of people’s emancipation. The economic determinists tend to equate the two. The tragedy is that the bulk of humanity is even worse off than animals, who at least have their food, water and habitat. By such logic the determinists seek to merely bring man to the level of animals! But, there are also many other aspects to people’s emancipation like social (caste, gender etc.), religious, spiritual/ethical, environ-mental (man’s relation with nature), educational and recreational (language, sports, music, theatre, art, literature etc.); sexual and man-woman relations, questions of alienation, questions of dignity of labour (important in this feudal/Brahminical culture), and of course genuine political empowerment, with the right of all to live with self-respect and dignity. Though economic justice may be the starting point, unless all other aspects are developed step by step (that is, consciously) societal change will not sustain, as we have seen in the erstwhile socialist countries.

Of course, this is easier said than done, as the international powers with their enormous ability at subversion and moral corruption, as also the force of past habits, tend to destabilise the process of change. In order to prevent these forces from impacting the process of change, the Communist Parties, and particularly their leaderships, maintained tight controls over most aspects of peoples’ lives. But, did it stop the reversals? Not only did they revert, in every case it was that very leadership, who controlled ‘tight’ reins of power, that was the first to revert. This was the case everywhere—the USSR, China, East Europe—and it was these very leaders who became the new elite. And ironically it was precisely these ‘tight controls’ that prevented any resistance to the reversals. That there was not much opposition is another aspect… But, more on this later, when we deal with the subject, freedom and socialism.

Here, to conclude, we see that in the history of society, man’s search for meaning in life goes far beyond meeting the basic economic necessi-ties. He has sought fulfilment in all other spheres of life, which can be realised through a set of ethical values, which alone will allow humanity to flower in the fresh breeze of freedom.
Invariably the class that ruled resisted such positive values developing in the people; so the struggle for ideas/values has continued through-out history. And, as we will see in the next article, it continues till this day.

(To be continued)

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