You are here:   Features > A spectre haunting Europe: Karl Marx
 
Despite his egocentric behaviour and dyspeptic disposition, the image of Marx as a man of intellectual rigour and iron integrity has been carefully cultivated ever since his death. His influence is still ubiquitous. When in the 1970s the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski wrote his three-volume history of Marxism, he was obliged to include almost every subject in the humanities; not much has changed since. When the Berlin Wall fell, some predicted the eclipse of Marx too. Yet Marx’s reputation survived and after the crash of 2008 it has undergone a resurrection.

At his graveside, Engels praised him as a man of science: “As Darwin discovered the law of the development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of the development of human history.” The widespread acceptance of such bogus claims to academic respectability explains why Tony Blair could get away with making a diehard Marxist historian such as the late Eric Hobsbawm a Companion of Honour.

Ever since the 1960s, the youthful Marx has also made a comeback, most recently in last year’s stage comedy Young Marx, written by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman, directed by Nicholas Hytner and starring Rory Kinnear. The authors present Marx as the hard-drinking bad boy of revolution, climbing lampposts to evade creditors and police: a genial rogue and a roguish genius.

Rather than revolutions and five-year plans, however, these days the emphasis is on spreading the gospel of “cultural Marxism” — what the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci called “the long march through the institutions”. We can see the results of that march throughout the public sector in Britain. Trade unions have always had a strong Marxist presence, from Jack Jones and Arthur Scargill in the past to today’s leader of Unite, “Red Len” McCluskey. So too have media institutions such the BBC and Channel Four — both of which have in the past employed the openly Marxist Paul Mason as an economics correspondent. And then there is Momentum, Jeremy Corbyn’s private movement of far-left loyalists, which targets moderate Labour politicians for deselection. The Home Secretary Sajid Javid once described Momentum as “a neo-fascist organisation”. Whether that is fair or not, Momentum is certainly on the march.

It’s time to take a long hard look at who Marx really was. Behind the bushy, grandfatherly beard was a ruthless, despotic megalomaniac who thought the end — a classless, collectivist society — justified any means, however violent, including what we would now call ethnic cleansing. The shocking truth is that Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Pol Pot and Milosevic (to mention only a few Marxist dictators) were not necessarily unfaithful to the letter or the spirit of his writings.
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Anthony Fountain
June 9th, 2018
2:06 AM
Perhaps, Murray, you could provide us an example where Marx's name wasn't "hijacked" and all went went swimingly.

Penrod
June 9th, 2018
2:06 AM
The world would be a better place if Karl Marx’s mother had smothered him in his crib. Marxists can hardly criticize the concept of murdering an innocent for the sake of 100,000,000, either, unless they claim the 100,000,000 were the correct ones to be murdered.

LL
June 8th, 2018
11:06 PM
"If you're going to be outraged by acknowledgement of Marx because of the atrocities committed by people who hijacked his name and philosophy to achieve their own ends, are you disparaging Jesus for the same failing? " No one hijacked Karl Marx. What happened, the millions of deaths is the corollary of an ideology that does not have limits to its power, neither to its reach. You should acknowledge that Karl Marx started an ideology of social supremacism that made possible to exterminate social classes, people, others. Acknowledge also that Karl Marx was an Hitler avant la letre with a book on "Jewish question" translated rightly "To the end of Jews" and several anti semitic articles because he saw that the Jews didn't disappeared in the culture where they lived which also made them not disappear in the socialist inferno that Marx wanted to build.

Pat
June 8th, 2018
11:06 PM
Brilliant piece. Students in high school have NO IDEA what Marx stands for and is responsible for...and how my Jewish colleagues can not see the roots of the current anti- semitism is beyond me.

anonymous
June 8th, 2018
11:06 PM
Dear Murray, Fuck off with your leftist posturing. Where did Jesus ever say to enslave, rape or murder one's opponents in the name of "equality"? By giving Governments the world over the philosophical tools to centralize power in the name of "equality", Marx paved the way to Governmental oppression. If America's Founders thought it wise to protect Private Property and Liberty in the 1700's, it must be because Governmental abuse had already long existed.

Lance
June 8th, 2018
9:06 PM
Thank you for this well-written synopsis of a troubled man with troubled and flawed ideas of how society should be run.

formwiz
June 8th, 2018
9:06 PM
In the space of a century, Communism took the lives of 125 million people. Not even Islam killed that many in that space of time. Fact is, the abject failure of Communism has required the liquidation of so many dissatisfied with it.

Tom Billings
June 8th, 2018
9:06 PM
The idea that Marx did not know the quality of what his disciples would do is belied by his own writings. He knew. Marxist reaction against the market freedoms of action, of other people, has been a standard of 20th Century academia, because academics always assumed the State would be there for them. Mostly, they've been right about that. However, that may be coming to an end. In particular, the collapse of the definition by Marx's funder Friedrich Engels' of the industrial revolution, will bring joy to many. Engels' definition was used to justify calling "the socialist camp" an industrialized" society, when it barely reached the productivity of pre-industrial society. It will be interesting to see the progress under the definition academics shoved aside in the 1920s for that of Engels, by Arnold Toynbee: “When a society moves from allocating resources by custom and tradition (moderns read here, by politics) to allocating resources by markets, they may be said to have undergone an industrial revolution” Arnold Toynbee-1884 This was the standard definition in 1920. Then came academia's romanticist infatuation with a certain Communist State, and the substitution of Engels' "hunks of stuff" definition. Toynbee's won't be the last word, but it is a far better starting point than Engels.

TMLutas
June 8th, 2018
8:06 PM
Proletarian logic is probably the least covered and the worst of Marx's innovations. Denying the legitimacy of criticism based on the class origins and non-proletarian thoughts of those who are anti-communist means never having to admit you are wrong. This makes it so much easier to keep defective philosophies alive and has led a collection of nonsense ideas to gain a patina of marxism by association and by that association survive their own challenges and debunkings. Until proletarian logic and truth become unacceptable in academia, Marxism will always have a safe haven there and we will never be rid of the stuff.

Jacob
June 8th, 2018
7:06 PM
@Murray Amongst those who study Marx's teachings, those (like myself) who absolutely despise him have a very specific reason for doing so; if you accept Marx's ideological foundations/premises as he presents them (even if you disagree with everything else), then there is no possible future for humanity except slaughter, misery, and variations of slavery. If LotR has the One Ring, then our world has Marxism; a vile influence that breaks good people and turns them into cowards, liars, and backstabbers. I'm not angry that Marxism is being acknowledged. I'm angry that it is promoted as a good and decent thing when it has produced literally nothing good. Consider his rants against religion, particularly his famous "opium of the people" statement. Religion is defined and separated from other ideologies by the presence of faith: the deliberate choice to believe in something that does not necessarily have solid evidence of its existence. Such a choice is risky, but faith is a necessity in the messy, complicated situation we call life. Although the people responsible for these advances were not always religious or even spiritual, the religious propagation of the concept of faith, and its concurrent promotion of the idea that acts of faith can accomplish impossible things, is the root cause of some of the greatest technological achievements of our time. The Wright Brothers testing their aeroplanes at Kitty Hawk, the discovery/definition of genetics by an Augustinian friar (followed by the discovery/definition of DNA in a drug fueled haze), the many advances in architecture from the Pyramids to the skyscrapers... Without religion, without faith, without the constant driving force that there is more out there even if we can't see it, that there is more to be accomplished for no greater reason than "I believe it can be done", these things and many more like them would not exist. Marxism begins with religion, and his blanket denial of all things "intangible" directly refutes faith in its entirety. Such a premise condemns Marxists to failure and mediocrity because they never strive to create something new, only to take what others have already produced.

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