By Sankar Ray
Lay readers in the SAARC region may be pleasantly surprised to learn that Karl Marx read and commented on the ‘concept of nothingness (Sanskrit: Śūnyatā; Pali: Suññatā; Vietnamese: Không)’ of Gautama Buddha in two letters, written on 18 and 20 March 1866. While staying as a medical tourist in Margate, England, Marx was, suffering from hidradenitis suppurativa which is a painful and chronic dermatological state that causes abscesses and scarring on the skin, hair follicles, specifically, sweat glands, usually around the groin, bottom, breasts and armpits.
This revelation of Marx is in one of the two papers, to be presented online, by Marx scholar Pradip Baksi from Kolkata + at a two-day international conference on innovation in the social sciences and humanity, hosted by Ton Duc Thang University, Ho Chi Minh City on 17 and 18 December 2021 – the second conference in Vietnam. Baksi who translated ‘Mathematical Mauscripts of Marx into English and Bengali is the author of ‘Karl Marx and Mathematics (Aakar books and Routledge).
Marx wrote to his second daughter, Laura who married Paul Lafargue, “I have become myself a sort of walking stick, running up and down the whole day, and keeping my mind in that state of nothingness which Buddhaism (Buddhism) considers the climax of human bliss… As to myself, I have turned into a perambulating stick, running about the greatest part of the day, airing myself, going to bed at 10 o’clock, reading nothing, writing less, and altogether working up my mind to that state of nothingness which Buddhaism considers the climax of human bliss”
Although published in the 1970s in the complete works of Marx and Engels by the two institutes of Marxism-Leninism of Moscow and Berlin, party ideologues either missed these letters or deliberately ignored them. In the post-Soviet Union years when Marx-related study and researched imbibed sort of ‘glasnost’, such findings assume scholastic interests that were not encouraged under Soviet Union.
So Bakst’s paper is likely to trigger debate around Marx anew. Baksi in a communication stressed that Marx was ‘irreligious but not anti-religion’. Marx came to learn Buddha’s thoughts from one of books by an intimate friend Carl (Karl) Friedrich Koeppen (Köppen) –‘Die Religion des Buddha, 2 Bde. Erster Band. Die Religion des Buddha nd ihre Entstehung’. But ‘Marx’s personal copies of these books appear to be lost; they are not yet indicated in the reconstructed catalog of the on-going publication of complete works, letters, notes etc (original) of Marx and Engels (MEGA2), at the International Institute of Social History, University of Amsterdam.
The paper is of relevance to scholars and perceptive readers of South East Asian region including Vietnam where many currents of Buddhism and Marxism have converged for many years from many directions and made grounds for ‘some unique opportunities for the future emergence of scientific investigations on the teachings of Siddhārtha Gautam Buddha and those of Karl Marx from within the contemporary societies there’, Baksi envisions.
Over 100 papers are scheduled to be presented at the two-day brainstorming conference where Marx and Marx related topics will come under discussion but the papers cover a wide range focusing on the major social issues .. Well known scholars such as Peter Hudis (‘Pathways to social development: Rosa Luxemburg’s studies on the anthropology and sociology of imperialism’) and Marcello Musto (‘A Reappraisal of Marx’s ethnological notebooks) will be participating. .
Apart from Vietnamese who comprise the largest participants at the global conclave, over a dozen of Indians and India-born scholars will take part in the deliberations. Their research is on burning issues from the kinetics of violence on Rohingyas lives (Arnab Roy Chowdhury, Higher School of Economics University, Moscow: ‘Citizen’s alterity: the dynamics of violence, temporality, and sovereignty on Rohingya lives’ and Md Reza Habib: ‘The Rohingyas in Bangladesh: refugees-host community conflicts over natural resources in Cox’s Bazar) to militarism and ethnic dissent in post-LTTE Sri Lanka( Debopriya Shome: Tourism, army and ethnic – conflict in post –war Sri Lanka ) and problems of intertwined spaces of cultural practice of intertwined spaces of cultural practice: the case of Cing/gong culture of Lach people in Vietnam (Truong Thi Thu Hang: The intertwined spaces of cultural practice: the case of Cing/gong culture of Lach people in Lac Duong district, Lam Dong province, Vietnam).
The spread of academic interests is evident. If Anna Potsar and Artem Uldanov’s paper, ‘New Russian political myths: how the narratives on the poisoning of Alexei Navalny and his return to Russia construct binary oppositions, exploit public trust, and deploy arguments through mythologization’, Jack Boulton’s ‘Plantations and prisoners: escaping the plantationocene, by hook or by crook, Jonathan Beller’s (Pratt Institute, New York) ‘A preamble to the decolonization of money’ and Michelangelo Paganopoulos’ ‘Transgressing the ‘field’ notes on the dialectics of enlargement in live cinematic events are of theoretical construct in the main, papers cover topics that are of present continuous reality, varying from tourism and tourism-related issues to COVID-generated socio-psychic and ambient realities.
Huynh Thi Anh Hong ‘Food image to perceive tourists’ awareness on branding destination and revisit intention when traveling post -COVID pandemic, Scott McQuire’s ( University of Melbourne) ‘The right to the networked city: urban communication, geomedia and urban digital infrastructure’, Nguyen Huu Minh’s (Vietnam Sociological Association) ‘Main challenges of Vietnamese families nowadays and the coming years’ , Nikos Papastergiadis’s (University of Melbourne’ ‘ Cosmopolitanism: from the moral imperative to the impulse for eros and hospitality in the creative constitutive and Ishita Banerjee’s ( El Colegio de México) ‘The flavours of tourism and the aroma of home: food as a diasporic concept’ focus on the imperative to fathom into day-to-dayness of human society. (IPA Service)