Posts Tagged ‘Karl Marx’

Socialist philosopher and sociologist Dag Østerberg (1938-2017)

March 22, 2017
Dag Østerberg

by Nasir Khan
Since 1960 Dag Østerberg had the distinction of being a leading social theoretician and a resourceful intellectual in Norway, who made lasting contributions especially in sociology and social philosophy. His death on 22 February 2017 removed a uniquely talented scholar from the social and academic life of Norway, but his books that represent his critical thinking and social concerns will continue to play a role and inspire students, researchers and others.
He earned his Ph.D. degree in sociology from the University of Oslo (UiO) in 1974 for his work on Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx. From 1981 to 1991, he was a professor of sociology at UiO. For a few years he worked as an adjunct professor in music. But his passion was writing and he left such highly-coveted academic positions to concentrate on writing. The area of his authorship was extensive, covering political and social philosophy, sociology, history of ideas as well as musicology, art and classic literature. He wrote some 20 books and published numerous papers and articles on a wide range of issues in scholarly journals and periodicals.
Within the academic milieus in UiO logical positivism had gained much ground in the 1960s. Some prominent Norwegian philosophers held differing views about its role in the social sciences. Østerberg was of the view that social sciences cannot be objective in the sense the natural sciences are objective, but rather they had to be reflective and interpretive. At present, more people have come to accept this view of positivism in the age of postpositivism and postmodernism.
For most of his life, Østerberg was deeply attracted to the works of the influential French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. He had a profound understanding of Sartre’s philosophy of existentialism. He translated and published three books dealing with Sartre’s works, and also wrote an authoritative biography Jean-Paul Sartre – Philosophy, Art, Politics, Private Life, which was published in 1993.
Since he started writing, he showed he had the ability to go to the core of the complex philosophical and sociological issues by analysing and synthesising them. As an intellectual he was a social critic in the radical leftist tradition. Having imbibed much of the critical sociological thought of Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, Georg Simmel, Østerberg approached Marx well-oriented with the European philosophical and cultural tradition.
We may ask when did Østerberg turn seriously to the works of Karl Marx? This question is lucidly summed up by Professor Per Otnes, a Marxist sociologist and a fellow-colleague of Østerberg when the latter taught in the department of sociology:
“There is, however, a telling appendix to a re-edition [Essays i samfunnsteori theory, Oslo: Pax,1975, p. 28] of this text, where Østerberg states that his command of Marxism as of 1967 was less than adequate. That signals a revised approach. Up to c. 1970 he remained, not unlike Bourdieu, something of a dialectic phenomenologist, influenced by Husserl, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty and others, but not yet influenced very much by Marx’s works. Sartre’s great Critique de la raison dialectique, only just out in 1960, was instrumental in bringing about the inclusion of (neo-)Marxism, to which his A Preface to Marx’s Capital (1972) testifies, summing up critically in no more than c. 60 [79] pp. Marx’s c. 2,500.” 1
Beside Sartre, Østerberg’s discussion of sociological theories included the works of Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons, Pierre Bourdeau, and Karl Marx. He summarised the salient theories of such writers and offered his synthesis in his usual incisive manner.
He interpreted and defended the social and political thought of Marx. But he was not a dogmatic defender of Marx, as some Marx enthusiasts or disciples have been for more than a century. Primarily, he saw Marx as a social philosopher and an economist whose theories explored the contradictions of capitalism and showed the way to a better alternative that met the needs of the people on a wider scale. Even towards the end of his life, he continued to emphasise the importance of understanding the economic thought of Marx. This can be seen in his last book he wrote Fra Marx’ til nyere kapitalkritikk [From Marx’s to recent critique of capital] (2016).
As a writer, Østerberg’s language is clear, precise and has a natural flow. Ludwig Wittgenstein had said: What can be said at all can be said clearly. In Østerberg’s case that remark applies admirably well. Unlike some academic writers and authors who occasionally embellish their texts with some Latin terms or foreign words, he was a puritan in the use of his native language, Norwegian; he avoided the use of foreign words as far as he could. However, he had great mastery over English, German and French, but he was averse to the idea of bringing in any foreign words in his texts. He wrote mostly in Norwegian, except for one major work Metasociology: An Inquiry into the Origins and Validity of Social thought (1988). This remarkable volume shows his immense erudition and mastery of modern western social and political thought, whose reading will help English readers become acquainted with this great intellectual. Obviously, his use of his native language for most of his authorship has certainly enriched Norwegian. However, this has also limited the circulation of his books internationally because Norwegian is understood only in Norway, Denmark and Sweden.
During his lifetime Østerberg had received a wide recognition in the Nordic sociology. He was regarded as a leading sociologist who contributed to the western sociological tradition. His books on sociology are popular among students and are included in the syllabuses. But he was not the type of person looking for reputation or acclaim. He was anti-hero, unassuming and followed a simple lifestyle.
Last but not least, I will mention him in a personal context. When I started research for my Ph.D. degree at UiO in 1985, he was my academic supervisor. He was the leading scholar of Marx and Marxist thought teaching as a professor of sociology at that time and I was lucky to have him supervise my work. In 1991, he graciously wrote a preface to my thesis Development of the Concept and Theory of Alienation in Marx’s Writings that was published in 1995. Our contact led to a lasting friendship that lasted over 30 years. The last time we met in Oslo was 2016. On that occasion he offered me a copy of his newly-published book Fra Marx’ til nyere kapitalkritikk.
1. Otnes, Per, Dag Østerberg: The Dialectic of Post-Positvism, Acta Sociologica March 2006 ◆ Vol 49(1): p. 22.

Frederick Engels about his role in Marxist theory

February 9, 2017

Nasir Khan, February 9, 2017

The names of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels are inseparably linked for laying the foundations of Scientific Socialism in contrast to the previous versions known as utopian socialism. As long they lived, their intellectual partnership was in the service of a common cause but deeply rooted in rigorous scientific work in social sciences including history, economics and the socialist movement.

After the death of Marx in 1883, Engels had the ardous task of sorting out the unfinished notes and scripts that eventually he published as the rest of the volumes of Das Kapital. He wrote a number of books on history and philosophy which hold a pre-eminent position within Marxism.

But how did he see his contribution to the new theories the two friends had developed? Any normal human being who works all his life and produces so much worthwhile scientific works will take pride in his/her accomplishments and will not allow anyone or anything to take away the credit he/she deserves. It is just being human to think so.

But the co-founder of Marxism was a great human being in another respect also. He refused to take any credit for his contributions and instead accredited Marx with developing the fundamental theories that are called Marxism. In fact, I can’t find another example of a dedicated thinker and writer anywhere in world history who showed so much modesty as Engels did about his role.

While reading once again Engels’s Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy (first published in German in 1886), the following marginal note he wrote profoundly stirred me. Such was the friend of Karl Marx!

“Lately repeated reference has been made to my share in this theory, and so I can hardly avoid saying a few words here to settle this point. I cannot deny that both before and during my forty years’ collaboration with Marx I had a certain independent share in laying the foundations of the theory, and more particularly in its elaboration. But the greater part of its leading basic principles, especially in the realm of economics and history, and, above all, their final trenchant formulation, belong to Marx. What I contributed—at any rate with the exception of my work in a few special fields—Marx could very well have done without me. What Marx accomplished I would not have achieved. Marx stood higher, saw further, and took a wider and quicker view than all the rest of us. Marx was a genius; we others were at best talented. Without him the theory would not be by far what it is today. It therefore rightly bears his name. (Note by Engels, in Chapter IV)

On the unity of workers for a socialist world order

December 27, 2016

Nasir Khan, December 27, 2016

When the workers of all countries unite for the common cause of a creating a society where the capitalists and owners of the means of production do not control the lives and destinies of the 99% of human beings in the world, any such unity in Marxist thought is known as proletarian internationalism.

The goal of the struggle of the working masses including peasants and landless serfs is primarily to defend themselves against the power and domination of the owners of means of production that they mostly use for augmenting their own wealth and upholding their privileges. The ideas about the unity of working classes to create a humane world has been the focus of theoretical and practical activities of generations of socialists since the founders of Scientific Socialism formulated their economic and political theories in the 19th century.

The first major step in creating a socialist society took place in Czarist Russia where the Bolsheviks under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin overthrew the old dynastic rule and introduced the Soviet system.

The success of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 was a catalyst for revolutionary activities of the working masses in many countries and also a clarion call to the colonised people to overthrow their colonial masters. As a result, anti-colonial struggles became a powerful force in many Afro-Asian countries. Many countries, big and small, succeeded in throwing off the yoke of European masters.

But in many instances the local ruling classes that emerged had their roots in privileged classes or groups. The struggle for political and economic exploitation became their sole interest. While such leaders plundered their own people and used the political system as a camouflage for furthering their interests, the plight of the poor people remained a non-issue for them. In any case, it is little consolation to the working class, poor or starving people that their “glorious” saviours and leaders have hundreds of millions of dollars stacked in secret banks accounts in Switzerland, France, Britain and America!

However, such exploitation and downright plunder is not incidental. It is endemic, and closely related to how the capitalist political and economic system works. As long as capitalism lives, such exploitation will have its sway. In the third world countries, the problem of institutionalied brainwashing coupled with the exploitation of religion and cheap deceptive slogans at the hands of the ruling elites will continue to play havoc with the people of many Afro-Asian countries.

No doubt, capitalism is wonderful for a few but a disaster for many. To address such issues, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels advocated socialist democracy and a socialist system in place of capitalism. To achieve that goal, political education of working classe people is the first step and that education is part of the political activity that is expressed by the unity of the workers.

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Karl Marx on Religion

November 24, 2015


Karl  MarxMarx a photo


Dr Nasir Khan, November 24, 2015

Note: I am reproducing one section of Chapter 4 (pp. 146-153) from my book, Development of the Concept and Theory of Alienation in Marx’s Writings (1995). My aim is to present Marx’s ideas on religion in the context of his theory of alienation for a wider audience. For complete abbreviations and references, see the book (link provided at the end of this paper).

For Marx religion is primordially an active form of ideological alienation, where inverted world-consciousness and mystification become the essential elements of the alienative process. Marx’s writings show that he hardly ever thought it worthwhile to discuss theological formulations or religious dogmas. The question of religious consciousness for Marx was a matter of little interest. Karl Löwith writes: ‘By advancing towards the criticism of man’s material conditions, Marx does not simply leave behind the criticism of religion but rather assumes it on a new level; for though, on the basis of the social-political world, religion is but a false consciousness, the question has still to be answered: Why did this real world at all develop an inadequate consciousness?

If we assume with Feuerbach that the religious world is only a self-projection of the human world, one has to ask: Why do the latter project the first and create a religious superstructure? . . . It is not enough to state with Feuerbach that religion is a creation of man; this statement has to be qualified by the further insight that religion is the consciousness of that man who has not yet returned from his self-alienation and found himself at home in his worldly conditions’ (Löwith 1949, 48, 49).

Marx’s approach to religion in his early thinking can be seen in his letter of November 1842 to Arnold Ruge, where he says that ‘religion should be criticised in the framework of criticism of political conditions rather than that political conditions should be criticised in the framework of religion … for religion in itself is without content, it owes its being not to heaven but to the earth, and with the abolition of distorted reality, of which it is the theory, it will collapse of itself’ (CW1, 394-95). If religion is without any content, then the whole problematic of religion can be reduced to a particular mode of products and as such it is always a reflection of the material historical developments. In Anti-Dühring, Engels writes: ‘All religion, however, is nothing but the fantastic reflection in men’s minds of those external forces which control their daily life, a reflection in which the terrestrial forces assume the form of supernatural forces. In the beginnings of history, it was the forces of nature which were so reflected and which in the course of further evolution underwent the most manifold and varied personifications among the various peoples . . . But it is not long before, side by side with the forces of nature, social forces begin to be active — forces which confront man as equally alien and at first equally inexplicable, dominating him with the same apparent natural necessity as the forces of nature themselves’ (Engels 1978, 382-83). In this lucid exposition, Engels points to the roots of religion in the early phase of historical development of mankind. At this stage, the primitive man comes to the realisation of his helplessness when he is face to face with the gigantic and mighty forces of nature. His effort to appease these, leads to primitive nature worship. But at a later stage under the antagonistic class society, the exploited classes of society face to face with the social oppression, and in their helplessness give birth to and foster religion, the belief in a better life hereafter, the alleged reward for suffering on earth (see Foreword to Marx & Engels 1972, 8).

In this connection, Kostas Axelos, the French Marxist of Arguments group, sums up the Marxian position: ‘Being the expression of impotence and alienation, religion in turn, in its own modality, alienates man from his life and from his essential forces. Far from being some kind of index of the strength of human being, religion comes about only owing to man’s weakness, his frustrations, his dissatisfactions, his alienation. An abstraction from concrete conditions, religion is a product of the alienation of man on the level of both practice and theory. Mystery, far from implying a truth of its own, veils the truth of reality and masks its own mystification’ (Axelos 1976, 160). Within the sphere of developed productive forces under the institutionalized private ownership, ‘religion begins to express the alienation of man in relation to the products of his labour as the imaginary satisfaction of unsatisfied real drives. The non-development of productive forces determines the genesis of religion, and this later development determines its subsequent “evolution” ‘ (ibid. 159-160).

At the time of writing the Introduction, Marx’s conversion to the standpoint of theoretical communism takes place. In the beginning of the essay, he excellently summarises his views on religion. Marx is referring to the philosophical critique of religion and the religious alienation accomplished by the Young Hegelians from Strauss to Feuerbach when he says: ‘For Germany, the criticism of religion is in the main complete, and criticism of religion is the premise of all criticism’ (CW3, 175). There are possibly two main reasons for Marx’s viewing of religious criticism as the premise of all criticism. First, religion stood in the way of any political change in Germany by its adamant support of the Prussian state. It meant that any change in the political sphere was possible when the powerful support of religion to the status quo was removed. Secondly, religion per se represented the most extreme form of alienation, and it was at this point that secularisation had to start; religion was the pivotal point for the criticism of other forms of alienation (see McLellan 1972, 185).

Marx succinctly summarises the accomplishment of Feuerbach’s religious philosophy: ‘The profane existence of error is discredited after its heavenly oratio pro aris et focis [speech for the altars and hearths] has been disproved. Man, who looked for a superhuman being in the fantastic reality of heaven and found nothing there but the reflection of himself, will no longer be disposed to find out but the semblance of himself, only an inhuman being, where he seeks and must seek his true reality’ (CW3, 175). Religion, in Marx’s view, was ‘the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet found himself or has already lost himself again’ (CW3, 175). The intellectual climate in which the young Marx lived was dominated by the Young Hegelians’ atheistic critique of religion. In the beginning, he shared their viewpoint, but ‘he became disenchanted with their war of words. What eventually turned Marx against philosophical forms of atheism, as he understood them, was their failure to grasp the fact that religion has a justificatory function which resists philosophical critique’ (Myers 1981, 317).

A recurrent theme in Marx’s criticism is the transformational characteristic of religion. The social structure in the first place provides the basis for the inverted world of religion because it is in itself an inverted world. In this, he differs from Feuerbach. Marx does not simply reduce religious elements to any more fundamental elements: ‘The basis of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man . . . But man is no abstract being encamped outside the world. Man is the world of man, the state, society. This state, this society, produce religion, an inverted world-consciousness, because they are an inverted world’ (CW3, 175).

Marx in his evaluation of religion uses a series of illuminating metaphors to show the place of religion in an inverted world: ‘Religion is the general theory of that world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in a popular form, its spiritualistic point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn compliment, its universal source of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realisation of the human essence because the human essence has no true reality’ (CW3, 175). Religion, on the one hand, expresses the real social distress, and on the other, it seeks to justify the social oppression. ‘The struggle against religion is therefore indirectly a fight against the world of which religion is the spiritual aroma. Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and also the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the people’ (CW3, 175). Presumably, Marx thought that taking drugs like opium helped to bring about a condition of illusions and hallucinations; it also proved as a palliative, a consolatory refuge from the heartlessness and hardships of the real world. Religion for Marx is a medium of social illusions. An alienated and alienating human existence calls for these illusions. The need for these illusions is not illusory; it is real. Marx in his much later work, Capital, describes religious world as ‘a reflex of the real world’ (Marx 1977, 83).

Marx’s description of religion in the Introduction has sometimes been seen to contain a positive evaluation of religion. However, this view can be attributed to a perfunctory understanding of Marx’s ideas. McLellan in his book, Marxism and Religion, rightly says that if it was so, then it was an extremely backhanded compliment: ‘Religion may well represent humanity’s feeble aspirations under adverse circumstances, but the whole tenor of the passage is that religion is metaphysically and sociologically misguided and that its disappearance is the pre-condition for any radical amelioration of social conditions’ (McLellan 1987, 13).

The way to overcome religious consciousness is therefore through the changing of the conditions, which provide a material base to inverted consciousness in society. ‘A strictly materialistic critique of religion consists neither in pure and simple rejection (Bauer) nor in mere humanisation (Feuerbach) but in the positive postulate to create conditions which deprive religion of all its source and motivation. The practical criticism of the existing society can alone supersede religious criticism’ (Löwith 1949, 49). Religious persecution and coercion as a political tool only serve to strengthen the chains of religion. The critique of religion, accordingly, addresses itself to the issues in the world that produce and keep religion.

The editors of Marx and Engels: On Religion point out that ‘Marx and Engels most resolutely denounced the attempts of the anarchists and Blanquists, Dühring and others to use coercive methods against religion. . . . They proved that the prohibition and persecution of religion can only intensify religious feeling. On the other hand, Marxism, contrary to bourgeois atheism with its abstract ideological propaganda and its narrow culturalism, shows that religion cannot be eliminated until the social and political conditions which foster it are abolished’ (Marx & Engels 1972, 9). The illusory consolation of religion cannot be remedied by the removal of religion: ‘To abolish religion as the illusory happiness of the people is to demand their real happiness. The demand to give up illusions about the existing state of affairs is the demand to give up a state of affairs which needs illusions. The criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of vale of tears, the halo of which is religion’ (CW3, 176).

Marx in the Introduction makes it abundantly clear that the criticism of religion is not a goal in itself. The criticism of religion is only a premise for every other kind of criticism; it is not more than that. The real aim in the exposure of religion is not that it tears up the imaginary flowers camouflaging the alienated life of the people, but rather that the people ‘shake off the chain and pluck the living flower’ (CW3, 176). It is essential, therefore, that the criticism of religion becomes a criticism of politics: ‘The task of history, therefore, once the world beyond the truth has disappeared, is to establish the truth of this world. The immediate task of philosophy, which is at the service of history, once the holy form of human self-alienation has been unmasked, is to unmask self-alienation in its unholy forms. Thus, the criticism of heaven turns into the criticism of the earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics’ (CW3, 176).

In these formulations, Marx went beyond the Young Hegelians like D.F. Strauss, Bruno Bauer, Max Stirner, and Feuerbach, who criticised everything by making everything a matter of religious representation. ‘The total domination,’ writes Axelos, ‘was presupposed, and religious concepts dominated all realities and all ideas; so that, after first interpreting everything in a religious and theological way, these critical critics would attack that very domination as a usurpation of the true and natural life of man. They wanted to free man from their religious bonds. And yet, since they are the ones who viewed everything through religion, their negation of what held man in chains remained ideologically critical, abstract, theological in an anti-theological form, and simply long-winded’ (Axelos 1976, 161).

Marx’s critique of religion, on the other hand, focuses on the world from which it takes shape, and it is this malaise of alienation, which needs to be extirpated. He gives a materialist explanation to the religious consciousness. ‘Marx undertakes a critique of reality as it is and of the ideology that corresponds to it, a critique that would end by compelling the practical and revolutionary transformation of everything in existence. The battle is engaged not in the name of “philosophic truth” but in order to supersede alienation on a practical level and free both productive forces and men’ (ibid. 161).

Marx, in his early theory of alienation, views religion as a fantasy of the alienated man. ‘Religion rests on a want, a defect, a limitation. Its truth resides in practice, though religion itself, as religion, possesses no practice, just as it does not have a history of its own. Since practice, of which religion is always the sublimation, did not contain real truth, religion has been only the alienated expression of a real alienation and, of course, has contributed to the continuance of that alienation. Marx does not recognise any formative and basic role for religion . . . There is not even any question of the “divine” or the “sacred”; these are but products of the alienation of religious imagination, which is itself a by-product of alienated material production’ (ibid. 165). In Marx’s estimation, religion being a phenomenon of secondary importance merited no independent criticism. In his later works, the element of class ideology becomes his major concern.

Some writers have characterised Marxism as a religion, and have also questioned Marx’s atheism. Robert Tucker, for instance, writes: ‘The religious essence of Marxism is superficially obscured by Marx’s rejection of the traditional religions. This took the form of a repudiation of “religion” as such and espousal of “atheism”. Marx’s atheism, however, meant only a negation of the trans-mundane God of traditional Western religion. It did not mean the denial of a supreme being . . . Thus his atheism was a positive religious proposition. It rules out considerations of Marxism as a religious system of thought only if, with Marx, we equate the traditional religions with religion as such’ (Tucker 1972, 22; see also Reding 1961, 160). According to this approach, Marxism is to be analysed as a religious system within the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and as such it can be assimilated in theology. Eberhard Jüngel in his book God as the Mystery of the World advocates this: ‘The Marxist critique of religion could much more easily be accepted by theology than that of Feuerbach, if the latter were not presupposed by the former. Certainly one can integrate critically the specific interest of Marx’s critique of religion into theology — and in some ways it must be done. But that is the current fashion anyway, so that there is scarcely too little being done along these lines theologically’ (Jüngel 1983, 341, footnote 43).

The positions taken by Tucker and Jüngel concerning Marx’s atheism in fact confuse the issue. Our point of departure in this matter is that Marx viewed religion, without any reservations, as a medium of social illusions, and that all the religious belief claims were false. Marx was a thoroughgoing atheist. In his writings from the earliest to the latest, there is no indication, explicit or implicit, admitting the existence of God. Marx absolutely rejects any idea of a transcendent God or a personal God (i.e. God in the human form); therefore, any religious belief claims like God becoming a human being or a human being becoming God, etc. are false and nonsensical linguistic aberrations and they are nothing more than that. Marx’s atheism cannot be reconciled with religious and theological presuppositions. The loud exclamations about God from the authoritarian pulpits cannot bring into being which is a non-being. Turner rightly suggests:

‘It simply will not do, as some Christian apologists maintain, that Marx was only a relative atheist, that he rejected only the God espoused by the Christians of his day, that this God (primarily the God of the nineteenth-century orthodox Lutheran establishments) is not the God of contemporary Christianity, or that as others suggest, his hostility to theism may have no purchase on that contemporary Christianity. Marx rejected not only particular forms of theism but also any reference whatever to a transcendent reality’ (Turner 1991, 322; see also Lobkowicz 1967, 303-35).

According to Marx, the history of the world is the creation of man through his labour, which is explicable solely with reference to man without the mediation of a divine being. In the EPM, for instance, Marx writes: ‘But since for the socialist man the entire so-called history of the world is nothing but the creation of man through human labour, nothing but the emergence of nature for man, so he has the visible, irrefutable proof of his birth through himself, of his genesis. Since the real existence of man and nature — since man has become for man as the being of nature, and nature for man as the being of man has become practical, sensuous, perceptible — the question about an alien being, about a being above nature and man — a question which implies the admission of the unreality of nature and of man — has become impossible in practice’ (EPM 100). This pronouncement leaves little room for any other interpretation of Marx except that there is no room for God in this world or anywhere else outside it.

Marx’s discussion of religion in the Introduction, shows that he was well acquainted with the Western religions and their various traditions. In OJQ and the Introduction, Marx, no doubt, has the contemporary dogmatic Lutheranism in Germany in his view, but he writes about religion in general and therein his rejection of it is absolute. For him atheism, as a negation of God was inseparable from humanism which postulates the existence of man through this negation.


Abbreviations used:

Introduction      ‘Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right
OJQ                      ‘On the Jewish Question’
EPM                   Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844
CW 3                  Marx/Engels, Collected Works, Volume 3, Moscow, 1975


For downloading the book, click on the following:

Dr. Nasir Khan. Development of the Concept and Theory of Alienation in Marx’s Writings March 1843 to August 1844 (1995)

Book Review: Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms (Khan)

October 17, 2015

Editor’s Note: This is a recent  review by Jacob J. Prahlow of my book Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms: A Historical Survey.

This book can be downloaded by clicking on the following link.

— Nasir Khan, Editor


Book Review: Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms (Khan)

History is contested. Though far from a novel statement, we often need to be reminded that the past is not as clean and easy as our history textbooks make it out to be. This is especially true in matters of religious history and conflict, where seemingly everyone wants to contribute their two cents to hot button issues. Occasionally, however, someone will produce a historical narrative that—while outside the mainstream—remains valuable enough to warrant consideration. Nasir Khan’s Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms may be one such book.

In Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms: A Historical Survey (Oslo: Solum Forlag, 2006), Khan traces the history of Christianity and its interactions with Islam, admittedly writing from the perspective of a Muslim historian and political analyst. Weighing in at nearly five hundred pages, Khan’s tome-like work stands as one of the most thorough treatments of Islamic-Christian in recent decades. After three chapters on early Christianity and the pre-Islamic world, Khan devotes two sections to the rise of Islam and early doctrinal differences between Christianity and Islam and two chapters on political influence and spread of Islam. Next come two chapters on the Crusades, a section on Islamic interaction with the Mongol empire, and three chapters on “shifting perceptions” of Islam and then rise of Enlightenment perspectives. Perceptions of Islam closes with two chapters on late-nineteenth and twentieth century interactions between Islam and Christianity.

There is much of value in this volume. In the first place, it is well written and easy to follow, something that cannot be said of every attempt at a historical survey. Khan does an especially admirable job providing a Muslim perspective on the history of Christianity, world history, and Muslim-Christian relations. Books that provide other ways of engaging history—even if they are ultimately disagreeable—are integral to properly engaging the complexities of the past. In this vein, Khan provides a good sense of Muslim interpretations of important events—the Crusades in particular—and how these events continue to shape Muslim perceptions of the West. Finally, he offers some solid reading in the general history of Middle East. Overall, there is much that students of history will find useful in Khan’s presentation.

However, much here also stands in need to critique. Two primary issues loom large throughout this volume: the assumption of modernity and its harshest critiques of Christianity without reciprocity toward Islam and a fundamentally faulty understanding of early Christianity. In the first place, Khan takes a thoroughly modernist approach to history—Marxist it seems, both in term of approach and the laudatory citation of Marx and Lenin. This historiography relies heavily upon considerably older scholarship, especially when it comes to discussing the ills of Christianity. Khan’s primary authorities when considering the history of Christianity are Voltaire, Thomas Paine, and Gibbon. Further, he relies on ‘First Quest’ Historical Jesus scholars—Wrede and Renan primarily—when talking about the historical Jesus. This would be problematic in itself, but Khan also almost entirely avoids similarly dated and perspectival criticisms of Islam. This approach to scholarship is simply not acceptable for something published as recently as 2006. Second, Khan’s chapters on early Christianity are filled with numerous inaccuracies, the most troubling of which is a flawed understanding of the Trinity. For a writer who consistently criticizes Christians for not coming to a proper understanding of Islam,[1] this is disappointing.

Overall, Khan’s work stands as something of a mixed bag. The most valuable use of Perspectives of Islam may be that it offers a good indication of “where we’re at” in terms of Muslim-Christian dialogue. Whereas many interfaith-minded authors seem to put the best face possible on any given situation, Khan gives what appears to be his honest opinion, no holds barred. In that sense, this book may serve as a valuable source for where Christians and Muslims need to seek further clarification and understanding. This book comes recommended for those thinking about Muslim-Christian dialogue, and those who already possess a solid foundation in the history of Christianity. For other readers, Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms should only serve as piecemeal source or an example of Muslim perspectives on the history of Christianity.

All opinions in this review belong solely to the reviewer.

[1] For one example of this, see page 329.

Why you’re wrong about communism: 7 huge misconceptions about it (and capitalism)

February 9, 2014

Most of what Americans think they know about capitalism and communism is total nonsense. Here’s a clearer picture

Why you're wrong about communism: 7 huge misconceptions about it (and capitalism)Karl Marx, Gordon Gecko

As the commentary around the recent deaths of Nelson Mandela, Amiri Baraka and Pete Seeger made abundantly clear, most of what Americans think they know about capitalism and communism is arrant nonsense. This is not surprising, given our country’s history of Red Scares designed to impress that anti-capitalism is tantamount to treason. In 2014, though, we are too far removed from the Cold War-era threat of thermonuclear annihilation to continue without taking stock of the hype we’ve been made, despite Harry Allen’s famous injunction, to believe. So, here are seven bogus claims people make about communism and capitalism.

1. Only communist economies rely on state violence.

Obviously, no private equity baron worth his weight in leveraged buyouts will ever part willingly with his fortune, and any attempt to achieve economic justice (like taxation) will encounter stiff opposition from the ownership class. But state violence (like taxation) is inherent in every set of property rights a government can conceivably adopt – including those that allowed the aforementioned hypothetical baron to amass said fortune.

In capitalism, competing ownership claims are settled by the state’s willingness to use violence to exclude all but one claimant. If I lay claim to one of David Koch’s mansions, libertarian that he is, he’s going to rely on big government and its guns to set me right. He owns that mansion because the state says he does and threatens to imprison anyone who disagrees. Where there isn’t a state, whoever has the most violent power determines who gets the stuff, be that a warlord, a knight, the mafia or a gang of cowboys in the Wild West. Either by vigilantes or the state, property rights rely on violence.

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Marx and Darwin: Two great revolutionary thinkers of the nineteenth century

November 10, 2009

Part 1

By Chris Talbot, WSWS.og, June 17, 2009

This is the first of a three-part series comprising a lecture by WSWS correspondent Chris Talbot to meetings of the International Students for Social Equality in Britain. Part 2 was posted on June 18 and Part 3 on June 19.

We have organised these meetings of the International Students for Social Equality in honour of Charles Darwin from a different standpoint from the many other bicentenary events. We want to bring out the connection between Darwin and that other great thinker of the mid-19th century, Karl Marx.

Charles Darwin

The importance of Marx hits you when you take in the events of the last few months. We are now in a world economic crisis comparable to, if not more severe than, that of the 1930s, which will have a major effect on all of our futures. Current economic theory completely failed to predict this crisis. The economists cannot explain how it happened and have no answer to it [1]. In contrast, Karl Marx spent much of his life developing an economic analysis that explains the inherent instability of capitalism and provides a scientific basis for the development of the socialist working class movement.

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Marx and Lenin Revisited

October 8, 2009
by Paul Craig Roberts, Foreign Policy Journal, Oct 6, 2009


“Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.” — Karl Marx

If Karl Marx and V. I. Lenin were alive today, they would be leading contenders for the Nobel Prize in economics.

Marx predicted the growing misery of working people, and Lenin foresaw the subordination of the production of goods to financial capital’s accumulation of profits based on the purchase and sale of paper instruments. Their predictions are far superior to the “risk models” for which the Nobel Prize has been given and are closer to the money than the predictions of Federal Reserve chairmen, US Treasury secretaries, and Nobel economists, such as Paul Krugman, who believe that more credit and more debt are the solution to the economic crisis.

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The Spectacular Return of Gandhi’s Spectacles

March 7, 2009

By Badri Raina | ZNet, March 7, 2009

Badri Raina’s ZSpace Page


Gandhi’s spectacles did go under the hammer in New York  for money.

And money bought them back for India.

The Mahatma (great soul) wished the Capitalist class to perform as the “Trustees” of the nation’s interest.

As the premier Gandhian, Vinobha Bhave, was to write of Gandhi’s equation with Scientific Socialism: “Socialism wishes to advance by setting class against class, Gandhism by cutting across classes.”

Well, the whisky magnate, air-line and stud farm-owning industrialist, Vijay Mallya, may or may not be a trustee of the nation’s interest, but he surely has paid more than a million dollars to retrieve Gandhi’s spectacles etc.

India of our days may have only an archival interest in those spectacles, but Mallya surely will benefit. Frontline entrepreneur that he is, his vision is sharp.

He may even set up a huge enterprise cloning those spectacles for the global market.  And global celebrities may pay for them more than handsomely as well.  And then walk the ramp. Them spectacles could become the best business going.

The powers-that-be, after all the melt-downs, still devoted to neo-liberal economics, may claim during the forthcoming general elections that they did not let the Mahatma’s spectacles fall into foreign hands as mere commodity, even if it barely sees eye to eye with the eye that saw through those spectacles.

Asked once how any individual may assess and evaluate the rightness or wrongness of a course of action, the Mahatma responded with his famous talisman:

Ask yourself, he counseled, whether the thought you think or the action you contemplate has any benefit for the most wretched of faces you may ever have seen, and if the answer is “yes” know that you are in the right path.

As the number of Indian billionaires burgeons, and the gulf of inequity between the top and the bottom widens forever, it beggars the imagination to claim that the Indian state has been a devoted votary of that talisman.

But, on another front, what is a nation without heritage?


The word “memorabilia” is of course a dead give-away.

It connotes at once that he/she whose effects we gather and embellish is a memory, rather than something that impels our present thoughts and actions as a living force.

Yet, the more fallible we are, the more good memories and tough ideals we need.

Plagiarising the poet, Browning, a man’s memory must exceed his greed, or what is our striving for.

There are times when a twitch of memory may reclaim us from the excesses we are about to commit.  It sort of lends a Kantian distance to our embroiled subjectivity.

And memory expanded manifold is after all what we call history-which is something quite distinct from a chronology of past events.

And it may even now be rather impossible to conceive of India’s modern history without reference to Gandhi, however we may work that hermeneutic.  Indeed, the more he nags us, even if as an unpleasant toothache, the better our gastronomical functions might become.


To illustrate.

I was once asked by a perfectly well-intentioned bigot why I retained my commitment to socialist ideals, since socialism was now all a memory.

Naturally, this was several years before now, when Capitalism is fast on the way to becoming one as well,–a memory, I mean– and when Das Kapital is suddenly the highest selling work in Europe and Karl Marx on the cover of Time Magazine.

I sighed back in shamefaced agreement, but posed a question back to him as well.

You seem to me a very religious man, I said, and a good one at that.  Of course, he shot back with glee, and some satisfaction at my percipience.

So, do you often go to the temple?

Ever since I was a child.

That would make it some fifty odd years.  Yes.

Which means you must have seen god more than once?

Alas, that good fortune I haven’t had.

And yet, I said, you keep visiting the temple?  I do, he answered with pride.

In other words, you continue your devotion to something you have never seen, but advise me to abandon that which I and the world have, and which continues to exist in one shape, colour, or form, here, there, and elsewhere?

That indeed was the end of that.


Which is to say, Gandhi did exist and walk the earth, even when, as Einstein had prognosticated, many find it hard to believe that such a one did so.

And not only did he walk the earth, he led a movement for freedom from colonial oppression in a way that seems today to have come to invalidate other ways of seeking freedom from oppression.

So that the more violence the world sees and perpetrates, without finding the ends that the violence is directed to achieve, the more Gandhi stands validated.

The more that the glaciers melt and the oceans rise, and the forests disappear, and draught and flood answer the sophistries of the profit-maximizers, the more all of that underscores the simple truth that Gandhi enunciated:  “the earth has enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.”

The more that organized bigotry backed by big money takes mankind away from god, the more Gandhi’s pluralist pieties seem  vindicated, warts and all.

I recall once asking a colleague at Madison, Wisconsin-a seventh-day Baptist he was– what he thought might be Gandhi’s fate on Judgment day, remembering that he was one man who carried the Sermon on the Mount everywhere he went, and sought to live Christ’s simplicities.

He took not a second to answer that he (Gandhi, that is) would be damned, not having been baptized.

Jesus, are you there, and listening?

Further, the more that technologies calculated to free us from necessity actually bind us into unfreedom, the more we may recall what Gandhi said of freedom:
ask not what you are free from, but free for.


So, what of the warts I spoke of-his insistence that politics without religious inspiration must be evil, that the varna ashram (caste system) has a point to it, barring the reprehensible practice of untouchability, that the cow be seen as a panacea for all kinds of economic and moral maladies, that the rich have a place just as the poor, assuming economic democracy to be  neither achievable nor perhaps desirable, that the village system be preserved in perpetuity, and so forth?

Here is my simple suggestion: take a cue from the old man and mount a Gandhian movement against all those warts.  And most others as well.

Indeed, what many Civil Society Movements in India and elsewhere in the world seek to do in resisting authoritarian pogroms against democracy and human rights, against the degradation of the earth, against social evils of one kind or another, against corruption in political systems, bureaucracies, and big business, against armaments, polluting agents, war, after all, owe not inconsiderably to the legacy that the Mahatma left the world.

It remains for us then only to extend the reach of that legacy to resist the irrational and  uncritical impulse of idolatry, of the impulse to justify his work everywhere without warrant, and to use his methods to rid his legacy of those warts.

Something of course that must require us first to imbibe as much as we can the daring selflessness and freedom from distorting personal ambitions, the conviction to refuse sectarian purposes and  self-righteous loathing of the “other”, or the belittling impulse always to claim credit that so informed his life and work.

Now that his spectacles are back with us, how about we recall what he said to the Nawab of Junagarh when he made a gift of those glasses to the fleeing Nawab:  “these are the glasses through which I saw my way to the freedom of India.”

That seems far more miraculous than anything in Harry Potter.

The paradox is that while India strains to recover those spectacles, it is governments and leaders elsewhere who talk passionately of his vision.

Gandhi said to Louis Fischer that he regarded himself a Communist, and that Communists after Marx had greatly distorted the spiritual force of the latter’s work and vision.

Hey, as the meltdown deepens everywhere, how about we begin to see our way to marrying the two-Gandhi and Marx-and see where that takes us.

What is there to lose, more than we have lost?

Attacks on evolution and the right wing’s social agenda

March 5, 2009

Science vs. ‘intelligent design’

Monday, Feb. 12, was celebrated as “Darwin Day” by schools and other institutions in the United States. Scientist Charles Darwin was born on that day 198 years ago. This article about Darwin and right-wing attacks on his theories was first published in the December 2005 issue of Socialism and Liberation magazine.

A recent court case in Pennsylvania brought the right wing’s attacks on science into the public spotlight. The case is the tip of the iceberg in a well-funded effort to promote religious ideology at the expense of scientific and rational thinking.

The Harrisburg, Pa. case involved the legality of referencing “intelligent design” in public school biology classrooms.


Charles Darwin (1809-1882), originator of the theory of evolution.

“Intelligent design” is a code phrase for the anti-scientific idea of a god creating life. The movement asserts that only an unknown designer—not evolutionary processes—can explain the development of life on earth and the biological complexity of the natural world.

The case comes from a 2004 decision by a Dover, Pa., school board requiring biology teachers to read a four-paragraph statement telling students that “gaps” existed in current evolutionary theory and that “intelligent design” was a reasonable alternative worth exploring. Eleven parents sued the school board, calling the statement a violation of the separation between church and state and a thinly veiled attempt to reintroduce a faith-based concept of “God” into the natural sciences.

Attorneys presented final arguments for the case on Nov. 5.

A brief exposition of the political forces and “scientific” premises behind the intelligent design movement shows that the parents’ accusations are correct. The Harrisburg trial has not received national attention because of Dover’s renegade school board, all of whose members were voted out on Nov. 8. At the root of the trial and the entire intelligent design “controversy” is a far-reaching, right-wing attack on the fundamental methods and premises of modern science.

It is an attempt to roll back more than a century of scientific thinking and progress with implications that go far beyond biological theories.

Science and evolution

The main issue in the Harrisburg case was whether intelligent design represents religion or science. In common definitions, a theory is accepted as scientific when it is consistent, testable, correctable, progressive (meaning it builds off of previous discoveries) and based on controlled, repeated experiments.

Every high school science class learns about the scientific method, which is the cornerstone of every scientific theory. This method begins with observations of natural phenomena. Then reasoning is used to generalize from the observations to make theoretical models capable of making predictions about future observations. These predictions are then tested in experiments and results are collected. Once the results can be reproduced consistently, the hypothesis becomes a theory.

Science attempts to arrange observations of the natural world into rational laws that allow us to understand that world more completely without resorting to forces outside of nature itself.

This is an important feature of evolutionary theory. In 1859, Charles Darwin published “The Origin of Species,” which elaborated the theory of evolution by natural selection. That theory says that over time, biological populations change according to the capacity of certain individual organisms to adapt to their environment. Darwin explained this adaptation as a result of the chance variations of the organism’s individual traits.

The organisms that survive are able to reproduce. As the changes accumulate over generations, new species arise—those that are best able to adapt to their natural environment. The conditions of the natural world—not humans or any god—determine which species survive.

One aspect of Darwin’s theory is “common descent,” which means that all living things come from a common gene pool or ancestor. Over billions of years, this common pool has split into various families and species.

One can see evidence of common descent in the traits shared by all living organisms. In Darwin’s time, he was only able to make this argument with visible observations, comparing the anatomy of various species. For instance, even birds that do not fly have wings—suggesting that birds come from a common ancestor.

Darwin’s theory was incomplete, lacking an explanation of how certain traits were inherited or the source of variations among individual organisms. In the 1930s, however, scientists used their knowledge of genetics to update and improve evolutionary theory. The discovery of DNA was a stunning confirmation of evolution and common descent. Every living thing has nucleic acid as its genetic material with the same 20 amino acids as the building blocks for proteins.

The explanation for variations was given when scientists discovered that a whole variety of genetic mutations regularly occur in cell division and other biological processes.

Far from being an unchanging belief system, evolutionary theory has been tested against biological and archeological facts, revised and improved time and again.

The ‘god of gaps’

Does intelligent design hold up to these same scientific standards? The National Academy of Sciences regards evolutionary theory as the bedrock of modern biology. It recommended that intelligent design “and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life” not be treated as science. (“Science and Creationism,” 2nd ed., 1999)

Although intelligent design advocates have different names for their arguments—”irreducible complexity,” “specified complexity,” and the “fine-tuned universe”—they all can be reduced to the same premise: since organisms are so complex, and so “perfectly put together” in ways that evolution cannot fully explain, someone or some thing must have designed them.

Evolution is a general theory that provides a framework for explaining the development of different species. How each individual species and mutation arises and fits into the evolutionary framework is an active area of scientific work.

Intelligent design advocates seize on phenomena that have not yet been explained by evolutionary theory as evidence for the work of a godlike being. According to them, every unexplained detail—for instance, a genetic variation that happened millions of years ago—can only be explained by some divine or supernatural intervention.

For this reason, critics have called intelligent design the “god of gaps,” whereby its advocates use “God putty” to fill in every perceived crevice in accepted theories. This is not science. Instead of making conclusions based on what is observed, it makes conclusions based on what cannot be observed. It cannot be tested or corrected.

It is also bad logic. Why begin with the assumption that complexity requires conscious design and cannot develop according to its own internal laws? Why can there not be just some things we have not figured out yet? And if every complex thing must have a designer, who designed this intelligent designer?

In short, intelligent design requires faith. It breaks down once it is subjected to any serious scientific interrogation. It should be no surprise, then, that intelligent design advocates do not put their articles up for peer review. They keep their advocacy campaigns on the editorial and opinion pages.

The forces at play

Although the spokespeople for the intelligent design movement include a few scientists, it is above all a political and


Women in Boston face off against religious anti-woman bigots. Anti-evolution forces promote reactionary social ideology.
Photo: Marilyn Humphries

religious movement. Scientists have called it “creationism in a lab-coat.”

Since 1990, the Discovery Institute, a right-wing think tank, has championed intelligent design. It gives lucrative scholarships to individual scientists willing to give a cover of legitimacy to their anti-science schemes. Far from any aspirations to improve science, their own documents reveal an intention to use intelligent design to “reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview … and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.” (Knight Ridder News Service, Oct. 16, 2005)

Their widely publicized strategy is called the “wedge strategy,” which aims not to take evolutionary theory head-on in the field of science (where they admit they will lose), but to simply “teach the controversy.” In other words, by appealing to “critical thought” and “free discussion,” they hope to win policy-makers and the general public over to the idea of presenting evolution as one of a variety of explanations for the development of life.

The creators of the deceitful “wedge strategy” consciously avoid Biblical references and have tried to avoid any lawsuits that would put the legal system officially on record against intelligent design. In the 1980s, a school of “creation science” emerged, which attempted to have the flood of Noah’s Ark taught as a viable explanation for the world’s present geological makeup. When geologists universally rejected the view, the courts barred the teaching of the creation pseudo-science, and set the right-wing movement back.

Learning from the experiences of their predecessors, the stated goal of the Discovery Institute’s sub-division, the Center for Science and Culture, is to have “design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life” by 2018. According to a document released by a member of Kansas Citizens for Science at a June 2001 conference, the Center’s five-year objectives include: “One hundred scientific, academic and technical articles by [Discovery Institute] fellows,” “significant coverage [of intelligent design] in national media,” and “ten states … [rectify] ideological imbalance in their science curricula.”

The right wing on the move

So far, thanks to heavy funding and right-wing political support, the Discovery Institute has been effective. By simply putting intelligent design on the map and stirring up a controversy—which does not exist in the science community—the movement has gained wide exposure.

Appealing to the continued lack of scientific background among the U.S. public, the movement has won new supporters. Meanwhile, many Republican leaders, including President Bush, have endorsed intelligent design. (Associated Press, Aug. 2, 2005)

The rightists are not devoting so much time and energy to the intelligent design campaign for academic reasons, much less the interest of truth or science. They are aiming to strengthen the ideological position of Christian fundamentalism, an essential tool in providing the billionaires and generals with a semblance of a mass base.

It is part of the effort to roll back women’s reproductive rights. It is part of the effort to prevent the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities from winning any basic democratic rights. It is part of the effort to demonize the Arab and Muslim people to gain support for U.S. imperialism’s military adventures in the Middle East.

Karl Marx dedicated his economic masterpiece, “Capital,” to Charles Darwin. That was not because Darwin was a communist or a political activist. Instead, Darwin’s theory provided a materialist analysis of the development of the natural world, devoid of superstition or religious prejudice. Just as Darwin discovered that species developed according to their struggles and interactions with the world around them, Marx applied a similar scientific method to the development of human societies. What Darwin did for natural sciences, Marx did for social sciences.

Socialists protect the tradition of materialist thought, which uses scientific examination and not some supernatural force to explain how the world works.

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