The 202nd Birth Anniversary of Karl Marx

Foil the Design to Use the Covid-19 Crisis as a Tool of Coercion and Control, Use it as a Catalyst for Collective Resistance and Social Transformation

MARX was a revolutionary realist to the core. For him the real was primarily material and motion was the mode of existence of matter. He was always rooted in the objective social reality, but acknowledging reality was never justifying the status quo, but making every effort to transform the social reality and secure emancipation from all bondage. But how does one remember Marx on his 202nd birth anniversary when things seem to have come to a standstill, when the entire world seems to be in a lockdown mode, when distancing has become the norm and the digital is becoming the standard mode of expression?

Taking a cue from Marx, we need to focus on the real conditions of life, on the real situation unfolding before us. This reality is not one-sided but multidimensional, not straightforward but complex. We need to focus on the underlying motion beneath this veneer of stillness or stagnation and look at this motion not as a linear movement but as the net result of contradictory pulls and pressures.

Let us leave aside the medical dimensions of the current global pandemic for virologists and epidemiologists and focus on the social reality instead. Since the pandemic is global, let us begin by looking at the global capitalist reality in the wake of this pandemic. The first thing that stares us in the face is how intimately the pandemic reflects the trajectory of globalization. Here is a virus that originated from China, the biggest powerhouse of the global economy and spread across the world.

The top twenty worst affected countries more or less conform to the composition of the G20. And the intensity of the disaster is more or less directly proportional to the degree of global connectivity and concentration of capital. Of course let us be very clear that the eventual impact will only aggravate existing inequalities, both within the affected countries and internationally.

The crisis has laid bare the fundamental contradiction between human need and corporate greed. The public health system has been systematically subordinated almost in every capitalist country to the profit calculations of private healthcare, to the vested interests of the nexus comprising big private hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and insurance giants. The degradation of nature and climate change caused by the corporate development model has also reached alarming unsustainable levels.

While the World Health Organisation issued an international public health emergency alert in the end of January itself, when there had been no deaths yet outside of China, most countries with the exception of a few in East Asia and Europe, did not pay any heed and woke up much later only to belatedly implement the Chinese model of lockdown with much less efficiency and efficacy. In the process the economy has suffered a massive and protracted disruption, the like of which we have perhaps never seen before, at least not on this scale and for this long.



Every capitalist economy revolves around production and sale of an ever expanding range of commodities, and the lockdown has majorly affected it. The work in segments of service sector, like in IT and education, has been relocated as work from home, but manufacturing and transport and aviation industries have virtually come to a standstill. Retrenchments and pay cuts are already being announced across the board and the resumption of the economy will certainly be no less challenging and we will perhaps be experiencing nothing short of an upheaval.

The modern capitalist state has grown into a complex multilayered behemoth where the coercive core usually lies hidden behind various institutions of statecraft and state-citizen interface. But the pandemic and its administrative adjunct, the lockdown, have put the spotlight back on the basics, the state as a repressive and surveillance apparatus with little to show on the fronts of administration, delivery and governance.

A crisis of this proportion, with insecurity and uncertainty writ large on every front and chaos reigning supreme, has understandably given a big fillip to religious beliefs and even lots of superstition and bigotry. It may be shocking for the modern mind looking for reason and rational inquiry, but it is pertinent to remember what Marx told us about religion: "Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions." In the middle of so much cruelty and chaos, it should not surprise us to see people clinging to religion to secure some solace in a heartless world.

While Marx helps us make sense of the unfolding global crisis, we of course need to pay special attention to what we are experiencing in India. The Modi government and the Sangh-BJP brigade have been aggressively pursuing a communal fascist agenda and they are trying to make full use of the crisis as an opportunity to accelerate their fascist project and tighten their grip. They have been busy redefining the terms of citizenship and reducing citizens to subjects. They have discovered new opportunities to link the health crisis with their scheme of nationalism and regiment the society accordingly.

They grabbed every opportunity to fit the coronavirus into their communal scheme and with the help of a complicit media they managed to put the entire blame at the doorsteps of China and Tablighi Jamaat. When physical distancing was advocated as a key precaution, they lapped it up and used it to reinforce untouchability and social exclusion and spearhead systematic social and economic boycott of Muslims and now we can see around us a whole new level of communal virus, heightened Islamophobia and vicious social stigma around Covid 19.


The lockdown is of course every dictator’s dream and the Modi government is relishing it to the hilt. It has emerged as a staunch champion of lockdown, using it as a weapon to centralise powers and resources (PM-Cares is a brazen case in point), intensify surveillance (by making the invasive Aarogya Setu App increasingly mandatory), suspend and dismantle democracy (we can see the police and bureaucracy dictating terms, opposition parties, mass organisations, civil society organisations, experts, opposition-led state governments all being marginalised and dissenting academics, intellectuals and activists being subjected to a virulent witch-hunt) and further promote the Modi cult (projecting Modi as the saviour and placing him above all accountability).

But history tells us that dictators and emperors do not rule for ever and it is the people who always have the last word. While the Modi regime wants to utilise the Covid19 pandemic and the current lockdown to their advantage, the failure of the government, the cruel and unjust nature of its rule, and the coercive class character of the state and the system have never been as glaring as they are today. India has been shaken by the explosive nature of the social crisis triggered by the lockdown. The migrant worker and the hungry poor have become the representative social faces of the present crisis. While the government is talking about having accepted economic sacrifice to save the people, the fact is that the people have been left in the lurch, to suffer and die, because of lack of food and jobs and money, if not the coronavirus.

Marx used to study and analyse reality to understand and fight it better, never to justify it, and always for the purpose of changing it. He always looked for ways to spread revolutionary ideas and initiatives and strengthen collective action. Today as global capitalism faces an unprecedented crisis and the Modi government stands exposed for its utter failure and betrayal, we must adopt this revolutionary Marxist approach of dealing with the crisis and the emerging reality.

Covid19 is a huge moment of rupture and disruption. Global capitalism cannot continue in its old ways and in India too, the old policies have been exposed like never before. Now is the moment to press for a change of course, to insist on making the systems of public health, public distribution and public transport truly public and universal. Even in the middle of lockdown we have converted ‘stay at home’ into ‘work from home and protest from home’, and we have combined physical distancing with social empathy and solidarity. We will not allow the Modi government to use the crisis to rob us of our resources and rights, we will fight back to foil its fascist design and secure our dignity and justice.

Liberation Archive