Social Scientist. v 18, no. 203 (April 1990) p. 3.


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K.N. PANIKKAR^

Culture and Consciousness in Modern India: A Historical Perspective **

Discussion and debate among Marxists on problems of culture and consciousness have remained within the reductionist-non reductionist syndrome, drawing upon the formulations of Marx in The German Ideology and The Preface to the Critique of Political Economy, and the later explanations of Engels on structure-super structure relationship. About the forms of consciousness Marx said:

Morality, religion, metaphysics, and all the rest of ideology as well as the forms of consciousness corresponding to these, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this their actual world, also their thinking and the products of their thinking.1

Marx put this idea more rhetorically in the Communist Manifesto :

'What else does the history of ideas prove, than that intellectual production changes its character in proportion as material production is changed?*2

Even during Marx's own lifetime the reductionist-determinist character of this formulation had its critics which led Engels to underline the interaction of various elements and to decry 'the stress on the economic side than is due to it* and to correct the fundamentalist misinterpretations. As a result, he insisted upon the interaction between all three levels—the material base, the political and legal superstructure and the ideological and cultural superstructure. Yet Engels' explanations continued to contain expressions as 'the ultimately determining element', 'the economic movement' that 'finally asserts itself as necessary' and 'the economic necessity which ultimately always asserts itself, expressions which hardly occur in Marx. In fact in Marx's scheme, the base and superstructure not only interdepend but interpenetrate as well. For the purposes of our present discussion what is important in the explanation offered by Engels is the emphasis on the interaction between the elements of the superstructure, agi idea

* Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

** Damodaran Memorial Lecture, delivered at Trivandrum. ^^

Social Scientist, Vol.18, No.4, April 1990



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