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Monument to a monster: A statue of Karl Marx, donated by China, is unveiled in his birthplace, Trier, to commemorate his bicentenary (©Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

One of the uncanniest commemorations of modern times took place last month. It centred on the Basilica of Constantine, one of several imposing remains of the ancient Roman colony of Augusta Treverorum, later the German city of Trier. This vast brick Aula Palatina — once the throne room of Constantine, the first Christian Emperor of Rome, now the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer — was the setting for a celebration of the bicentenary of the birth of Karl Marx on May 5, 1818.

The ceremony culminated in a remarkable tribute to Marx by Jean Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission. “Karl Marx was a philosopher who thought into the future,” Juncker rhapsodised. He had recognised “the task of our time — Europe’s social dimension that remains to this day the poor relation of European integration”. Having designated Marx as godfather of the European Union, Juncker insisted that Marx’s ideas had been posthumously “reformulated into virtually the opposite” and denied that the author of The Communist Manifesto had anything to do with the crimes of communist regimes: “Marx isn’t responsible for all the atrocities his alleged heirs have to answer for.”

Such an official endorsement of an English-speaking thinker — Adam Smith, say — would be unthinkable, but the European Commission pulled out all the stops for the German ideologue. (It is worth noting that Juncker’s speeches are usually written for him by Professor Martin Selmayr, his German chef de cabinet, whom he recently — and controversially — promoted to be Secretary-General of the Commission, the EU’s most senior civil servant.)

On the same day President Xi Jingping of China described Marx as “the greatest thinker of modern times”. Xi had donated a huge bronze statue to stand guard over Marx’s birthplace; it was unveiled by Juncker amid much pomp. Meanwhile in London, John McDonnell was also defending Marx, who died here in 1883. “Marxism is about developing democracy,” Labour’s Shadow Chancellor declared, “but to have an honest debate we need to be able to cut through the lies about Marxism.”

Juncker, Xi and McDonnell are correct in one respect: Marx was no ordinary thinker. Indeed, he dismissed philosophers who had merely interpreted the world: “The point is to change it.” And change the world he certainly did.

Two centuries have passed since Marx was born, but we are still living in his shadow. No man in modern times has had more influence. Yet nobody, perhaps, has done more harm to humanity.

More than a hundred million people have been murdered in his name by Stalin, Mao and other dictators who were his disciples. Billions more have suffered under Communism, the ideology Marx created and which once ruled nearly half of mankind. But for Marx, there would have been no Gulag Archipelago in the Soviet Union, no Holodomor in Ukraine, no Cultural Revolution in China, no Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, nor any other famines, purges and genocides carried out in the name of Communism.
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June 7th, 2018
7:06 AM
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?

June 5th, 2018
6:06 AM
Communism is given far too easy a time by our mass media. To the end they treated Tony Benn as a great statesman and "national treasure". Yet, in spite of knowing of Mao's atrocities, Benn declared him the greatest man of the 20th century. To the left, actions that would be crimes against humanity if perpetrated by a right wing regime, are just a regretable part of the process of revolution.

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