From the hell freezing over department, there have been scores of mainstream media references to Karl Marx in the last two weeks. Here is an article in todays London Times Business Section:
October 20, 2008
Banking crisis gives added capital to Karl Marx’s writings
Roger Boyes in Berlin
Bankers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your bonuses, houses in Esher, holidays in the Caribbean and your Jermyn Street shirts. The upside is that you have the time, at last, to read the complete works of Karl Marx.
The prophet of revolutionaries everywhere, the scourge of capitalism, is enjoying a comeback.
In Germany Das Kapital, which for the past decade has been used mainly as a doorstop, is flying off the shelves as the newly disenfranchised business class tries to work out the root of the present crisis.
“Marx is fashionable again,” declares Jörn Schütrumpf, head of the Berlin publishing house Dietz, which brings out the works of Marx and his collaborator Friedrich Engels. Sales have trebled – albeit from a pretty low level – since 2005 and have soared since the summer.
“We have a new generation of readers who are rattled by the financial crisis and have to recognise that neo-liberalism has turned out to be a false dream,” said Mr Schütrumpf.
Visitors to Karl Marx’s birthplace in Trier have soared – 40,000 so far this year – with many coming from China, eastern Germany, Cuba and Bolivia.
“I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say: ‘The man was right!’,” says Beatrix Bouvier, chief curator of the museum. Alexander Kluge, the film director, is preparing to make a blockbuster film out of Das Kapital. Little wonder, since Marx comes highly recommended. President Sarkozy of France has been seen flicking through the book, while the Peer Steinbrück, the German Finance Minister, recently admitted: “Certain parts of Marx’s thinking are really not so bad.” The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, gave him a decent review last month: “Marx long ago observed the way in which unbridled capitalism became a kind of mythology, ascribing reality, power and agency to things that had no life in themselves.” Even the Pope has put in a good word for the old atheist – praising his “great analytical skill”.
Marx’s new relevance relates mainly to his warning about the creation of an exploitative capitalism that ends up destroying itself: “An over-expansion of credit can enable the capitalist system to sell temporarily more goods than the sum of real incomes created in current production, plus past savings, could buy,” said Ernest Mandel, the Marxist scholar, quoting his guru, “but in the long run, debts must be paid”. Since these debts cannot be automatically paid through expanded output and income, capitalism is destined for a “Krach” - Marx’s word for a crash.
Marx set out his thoughts not only in Das Kapital but in articles such as “The Financial Crisis in Europe” which was written for the New York Daily Tribune in 1857, and in the Communist Manifesto, which was written with Engels.
In the manifesto, published in 1848, he lists the ten essential steps to communism. Step five was: “Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state. . .”