Marx and Iqbal

 In Javednama Iqbal generously praises Marx, giving him the highest status that a person could aspire to, short of prophet-hood. “He is not a prophet but he holds a book under his arm,” says Iqbal about the author of Das Capital, which Iqbal calls the “bible of Socialism.”

Iqbal’s tribute is well-deserved. Marx’s great life is permeated by boundless revolutionary optimism. He saw happiness as consisting in action and in struggle—a theme that resonates powerfully, as well, throughout Iqbal’s poetry. He staked everything on the progressive change that history fosters. He believed that change to alleviate the misery of the toiling masses is worth fighting and dying for. Selfless, unflagging struggle to emancipate society and the toilers of the world—that is the sum and substance of Karl Marx, the greatest revolutionary philosopher of the world.

Marx’s humanism is revealed in the following questionnaire that his daughters made him complete:

Your favorite virtue: Simplicity
Your chief characteristic: Singleness of purpose
The vice that you detest most: Servility
Your idea of happiness: to fight
Your idea of misery: Submission
Your favorite hero: Spartacus
Your favorite motto: Doubt everything
Your favorite maxim: Nothing human is alien to me.

It is not commonly known that Marx started his writing career as a poet, while Iqbal’s first book was on economics Ilm-al-Iqtisad (quoted above). Marx’s poems were dedicated to his wife. They were later compiled into three volumes: Book of Songs, Book of Love I and Book of Love II written in 1835. Marx also wrote a satirical novel that dwelt on the poverty of Berlin workers, but rejected it since it was “full of idealism via false humor.” His following poem resonates with the passion found in Iqbal’s verses:

Never can I do in peace
What has seized my soul with might.
Never can I rest at ease;
I must fight with ceaseless fight.

Let us therefore venture all things,
Never resting, never tiring
Never meekly saying nothing
Ever hoping and desiring.

Marx is above all, a fore-thinker in the epic way that Greek mythology speaks of Prometheus.  Prometheus was not only a fore-thinker, he also stole fire from the gods to emancipate humanity from cold and darkness, disregarding Zeus’ warning not to do so, and conscious of the divine retribution that his defiance beckoned. Like Prometheus, Marx’s mind, his will, and his energy were directed towards realizing a bright future for the toiling masses. The established order, the powers that be, the status quo are ephemeral in the flux of history.

Marx created an integral science of revolution to emancipate humanity and suffered much to achieve it. His teaching is intimately connected with life. It is most true in terms of history. Earlier philosophers created complex ideal systems—mere playthings or, at best, trinkets of narrow circles of elite thinkers. They pretended either to explain some aspects of reality, propounded the ideal form for the world or proposed to reconstruct the world in the name of an unattainable ideal. They proclaimed absolute dogmas to interpret the world and demanded worship of them. But tragically for these philosophers, their dogmas never kept pace with a changing world. Life inexorably moved forward and the “everlasting” theories became hopelessly obsolete soon after they were propounded.

Very aptly, Goethe remarked: “Theory, my friend, is grey, but green is the eternal tree of life.”

As if following Goethe’s dictum, Marx combined theory with life grasping the greenery of the ceaseless movement and change that is the essence of life. This is also the liet motif of Iqbal’s poetry. Iqbal says: “To my mind there is nothing more alien to the Quranic world than the idea that the universe is a temporal working-out of a preconceived plan—an already completed product which left the hand of its maker ages ago and is now lying stretched in space as a dead mass of matter to which time does nothing and consequently is nothing. It is really a growing universe capable of infinite increase and extension.” This universe, according to Iqbal is an unfinished entity evolving and undergoing constant change. He summarizes these ideas beautifully in the following verse:

The universe is still incomplete
As the voice of fiat is constantly being heard

According to Iqbal: “All lines of Muslim thought converge on a dynamic concept of the universe.” The dialectics of this concept is the essence of Marxian philosophy, which regards nature in constant motion and evolution, and studies it in the context of its interconnectedness, constant transformation and development.

Marx visualized, for the first time, the world in the complexity and contradictions of infinite development in time and space. For him, human society represents the crowning achievement of nature’s development, propelled forward inexorably by iron laws of history and social development.  But he emphasized that it is “men who change their circumstances.”

To begin with, the world was chaotic, rough-hewn and shaped by nature. Man brought order and beauty, and, by doing so, according to Iqbal, challenged God, claiming to have improved upon His handiwork:

You made the night, and I the lamp
And you the clay and I the cup
You—desert, mountain peak and vale
I—flower-bed, park and orchard.

Before Marx, human genius had accomplished much by giving a scientific interpretation of many natural phenomena. But in the study of social development the past thinkers only groped in the dark. Marx pioneered the scientific study of society. In the words of Engels spoken at the graveside of Marx, he discovered the law of development of human history just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature: “the simple fact hitherto concealed by an over-growth of ideology that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc.: that, therefore, the production of the immediate material means of subsistence and consequently the degree of economic development attained by a given people during a given epoch form the formulation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, art and even the ideas on religion of the people concerned have been evolved, and in the light of which they must, therefore, be explained instead of vice versa as had hitherto been the case.”

These profound ideas are repeated almost verbatim by Iqbal in his first book Ilm-ul-Iqtisad: “There is no doubt that religious principles have played an extremely influential role in the course of human history, but it is also clearly established by daily observation and experience that earning a livelihood is the constant concern of man and it is this concern which quite imperceptibly and unconsciously shapes his external and internal instincts. Reflect how poverty or insufficient provision of the necessities of life effect the conduct of man. Often poverty and deprivation so encrust the clean state of human soul that morality and culture are completely corroded.”

According to Engels, Marx “discovered the special law of motion governing the present-day capitalist mode of production and the bourgeois society that this mode of production has created. The discovery of surplus value suddenly threw light on the problem, in trying to solve which, all previous investigations of both right-wing economists and socialist critics, had been groping in the dark.”

Iqbal’s view on surplus labor closely follows that of Marx. He says in Ilm-al-Iqtisad: “If the wealth of the landlord is not the result of personal effort, then his property is unjust. In view of this fact some scholars maintain that this injustice is produced by the private ownership which is harmful to the national interest. Accordingly, land is not the property of a particular individual and should be nationalized.” Similarly, “the profit which in the present conditions goes into the pocket of the capitalist should accrue to labor. And, increased productivity which is the fruit of labor should entirely benefit labor, and capitalists have no claim over it.”

Iqbal assails right-wing economists who conceal the predatory nature of capitalism and exploit science to serve the interests of the ruling class. He rebukes them in his poem Karl Marx Ki Awaz:

The chicanery in your research erudition
The destructive display of debate and disputation!
The world has no more patience left to watch
This farce of worn-out speculation
What, after all, sapient economist
Is to be found in your books?
An exhibit of nicely flowing curves
And a Barmecidal invitation
In the idolatrous shrines of the West
Its pulpits and it seat of education
Greed and its murderous crimes are masked under
Your exhibit of knavish cerebration.

Marx’s criticism of right-wing economists in his books Holy Family, The German Ideology, Poverty of Philosophy and Das Capital closely resembles the tone and tenor of Iqbal’s diatribes against exploiters, capitalists and the preachers of false gods. In these books Marx starts with the proposition that the study of economics must be based on the knowledge of actual social and economic processes going on in society’s material life. He rejects the right-wing notion that “value is wealth” as a heartless negation of man. For him, the supreme value, the highest asset of society is man and not what man produces! The purpose of all production is to increase the prosperity of man, and things/products are simply the means to realize this aim.

Not man as slave of things, but things as slaves of man—this is the essence of Marx’s message. By putting man in the center of all human activity Marx places humanism at the heart of Marxism, just as humanism is the pivot around which Iqbal’s poetry revolves.

Marx’s humanism opposes any form of enslavement and oppression of the individual; it carries a powerful charge of social transformation. Likewise, Iqbal enjoins: Learn to appreciate the true worth of man!

In philosophy, Marx proceeded from the concrete to the abstract, from the material to the ideal. He started with real persons and from their life processes in order to understand how they think. Iqbal echoes these ideas in his fifth lecture on the Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam: “Knowledge must begin with the concrete. It is the intellectual capture of and the power over the concrete that makes it possible for the intellect to pass beyond the concrete.”

Thought that does not lead to action, Romain Rolland observed, is a betrayal. Iqbal agrees. He is not satisfied with a contemplative and meditative approach to life. To him life is action. He begins his book Six Lectures on the Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam with the sentence: “The Quran is a book which emphasizes deed rather than idea.” For Iqbal, the inward transformation of man’s being, if it is real at all, finds an objective correlation in the transformation of the external world. This is the bedrock of Marx’s teaching who believed in the indissoluble unity of theory and practice. He said: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it.” For Iqbal, action is the ultimate criterion of truth. Marx conveys a similar meaning in his second thesis on Feuerbach: “In practice man must prove the truth.”

Marx the philosopher and the revolutionary are organically blended. He was the first scientist in revolution who shook the world of philosophy in a Copernican-type revolution.  He gave to the toiling masses their invincible spiritual weapon; and by gripping them this philosophy has become an indomitable political force across the world.

Five years after the October Revolution, Iqbal recited his great poem Khizr-i-Rah at the annual meeting of the Anjuman-i-Himayat-i-Islam, in which he dwelt on the class struggle between the capitalists and workers. He ended the poem on a note of optimism and looked forward to a new dawn for the working class:

New sun has risen out of the womb of the earth
How long will heaven weep over the demise of the stars

The Communist Manifesto resounds with the optimism in these verses that foretell a new dawn for the toiling masses of the world:

Workers of the world unite!
You have nothing to loose but your chains.
You have a world to win!


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