Happy Karl Marx day. To mark the 200th anniversary of the revolutionary philosopher’s birth, a statue of the revolutionary philosopher (funded by the Chinese, natch) has been erected in his German hometown Trier to protests, Owen Jones has tweeted a picture of his cat reading Das Kapital and a range of pieces have been published across the media on his legacy.
Only some articles are more gushing than others. Take for example, the Financial Times essay on new Marx biography ‘A World to Win: The Life and Works of Karl Marx’. The glowing piece sees the journalist offer a rather selective account and verdict of Marx’s life and legacy. Adam Tooze praises the book for providing a ‘comprehensive and reliable guide’ which shows that ‘even the best 21st-century social science pales beside the complexity and richness of Marx’s protean, 19th-century thought’:
The glowing piece credits Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto for offering ‘an astonishing glimpse of a future to come’:
‘The two men wagered that the revolutionary transformation of capitalism would come not from without, but from within. For all its terrible side effects, the enormous dynamic of industrial development could not be suppressed or sidestepped. It would have to be transcended.’
The paper notes in great detail Marx’s difficulty locating a crisis that would lead to a genuine revolution – charting his hopes for the promising revolutionary uprising of 1848, America’s relentless expansion and the crash of 1857. However, the article moves rather more briskly when it comes to places where Marx’s ideas were actually tried out:
‘Nevertheless, by the 1890s, Marxism was the official ideology of the largest mass party in the world, Germany’s Social Democrats. In the wake of Lenin’s Bolshevik revolution and the expansion of Soviet power under Stalin, statues of Marx were erected worldwide.’
Tooze muses that writing a biography of Marx is challenging as you have to decide what kind of acorn he was:
‘You have to braid history with philosophy, politics and economics. And then there is the question of the plot line. How do you tell the story of an acorn that grew into a mighty oak, an oak which was subsequently riven and split and a large part of which, in 1989, was blasted by the lightning of world history?’
The safest thing is to consign Marx to the 19th century. He was the acorn and nothing more. Others take a gloomier view. The seed was blighted from the start. The dismal end was foreseeable. It was not by coincidence that Marx could not finish Das Kapital. It was riddled with contradictions. His personal frustration anticipated that of the Soviet Union.’
It seems that writing an article on Marx is also challenging for some. You have to braid philosophy with reality. A so-called dream of a Utopia that in practise resulted in over 100 million deaths. Where citizens in countries under this type of rule even today – like Venezuela – can’t get access to basic things like toilet paper. How did Marx think communism should arise in a revolution?
With sycophantic pieces such as this, Mr S thinks it’s little wonder that a survey last year from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation found that one in two U.S. millennials say they would rather live in a socialist or communist country than a capitalist democracy. What’s more, 22pc of them have a favourable view of Karl Marx. Perhaps they can get up to 25pc this year.