Karl Marx Lives and His Ideas of Freedom Perdure


The Independent (London, UK) June 16 2006

Politics and principles: Marx: does he still matter?

In a letter to former Labour leader Michael Foot, written in 1982 and published yesterday, Tony Blair reveals that reading Karl Marx 'irreversibly altered' his outlook. He even agreed with Tony Benn that Labour's right-wing was politically bankrupt. We asked nine commentators – including Mr Benn – whether Marxism still has anything to offer today


Eric Hobsbawm Historian

I think there has been a substantial revival of interest in Marx in recent years, and this has been largely because what he said about the volatility and shape of capitalism was correct – even some business people now seem to recognise this. Marx is once again somebody that you can quote, and this in part is due to the end of the Cold War.

In terms of Marx's legacy, as the Chinese are reported to have said following the French Revolution: "It's too early to tell." What we do know, though, is that Marx and his disciples were massively responsible for the shaping of the 20th century, for good or for bad, and Marx was an extraordinarily important thinker.

In this era of neo-liberal globalisation, Marxist thinking is still important in showing that while capitalism is enormously dynamic, that dynamism creates crises. We need to address these crises, not by free markets, but by controlling the system or changing it altogether. Whether or not that is possible in the short term is a different story.

Matthew d'Ancona Editor, 'THE Spectator'

Marx is certainly relevant. As Francis Wheen's very good biography shows, he was on to the idea of globalisation long before right-wing economists started writing about it. Beyond that, his way of thinking is still pervasive.

One of the fascinating things about the Labour Party is that there has been what you might call a Marx-size hole in it, a quest for a sense of destiny. Blair has tried to fill that: his critics would say with religion, his apologists would say with Europe. Blair is someone with a pretty strong sense of destiny, and he has tried to extend that to the Labour Party. He is no Marxist but in a funny way he has that sense of destiny Marx had.

Marx was wrong about lots of things, but he is still somebody you have to know about. He is one of a very small number of people – Marx, Freud and Darwin are, I suppose, the three big ones – who completely changed the way we see mankind.

Jack Straw Leader of The House of Commons

Karl Marx's legacy – not just for the Labour Party but for intellectual development – is his development of Hegel's more scientific approach to historical analysis and his elevation of the dialectical process. Both are, I think, enduring. Much of his analysis is accurate and his analytical tools are still respected by many historians.

His prescriptions were often widely off-beam, as we now know, and played down non-economic forces to a point where I think he made some grievous historical and political errors – for example, ignoring the role of nationalism and religion as political forces.

What we saw in 1989, with the collapse of theSoviet system, was that the Marxist-Leninist approach to running not only economies but also societies was unenduring. The point of Francis Fukuyama's book The End of History was not that history had ended but that we had reached a point of ideological hegemony which I think we probably had. So Marxist Leninism is not relevant in that respect but the analysis is still worth having.

Hilary Wainwright Editor, 'Red Pepper'

For all the abuses of his work, Marx's view of society was far from being mechanical and determinist. His notion of people "making history but not in conditions of their own choosing" and his idea of "the social individual" points to that crucial balance between recognising the capacity of individuals to choose to transform rather than reproduce the social relations that depend on them and on the other hand the enduring nature of these social relations.

There is in Marx a powerfully grounded belief in human creativity combined with a strong belief in individual fufilment. It's there in his theory of alienation: the way in which the capitalist labour market depends on workers' alienation from their creative capacity. It's there in his vision of socialism: not as a command economy but as the association of free producers. It is a cruel irony his name should have been used to justify authoritarianism and new, state, forms of alienation.

Tony Benn Labour Politician

It's the teachers, including the prophets of ancient times, the founders of the great religions, along with Galileo, Darwin, and Karl Marx, who explain the world and our place in it.

I always think of Marx as the last of the Old Testament prophets who wrote a brilliant book about capitalism but also condemned it because of the oppression by one class of rich and powerful people.

Marx was no more responsible for a Stalinist tyranny than Jesus was for the Inquisition or the recent war of aggression waged by a Christian president and a Christian prime minister. Without the Marxist analysis, it is impossible to understand capitalism and globalisation, to reach a moral judgement, and it is even harder to explain the crude use of that power and the need for it to be held to account. There is nothing in the Marxist analysis to prevent us from thinking things out for ourselves and working to build a genuine democracy, where the polling station replaces the marketplace, and the ballot replaces the wallet as a source of political and economic power.

Alexei Sayle Comedian and Writer

I think that the Marxist historical analysis is an accurate account of how society has developed. Although perhaps a little wide of the mark, it is definitely still relevant. When Marx spoke about the differences in society being based on economic structure he definitely had a point.

Marxism should be seen as a tool and therefore a method of analysing society and that can be relevant today. You can certainly be right-wing and still be a Marxist.

It is a historical analysis of the class struggles and a prediction of the way our society would be, and it isn't wrong. Yes, it is a complex set of ideas, but it makes sense.

Norman Tebbit Former Conservative Party Chairman

I read bits of Marx, though in a way when I grew up what seemed more relevant was Mein Kampf. I read that because I wanted to know about the bugger who was dropping bombs on me. I don't think Marx is relevant, except to show up the folly of people who believe in what is now shown to be an absolute failure of a political system. Blair is right that it purports to be a total system. You can be a Conservative without being a capitalist, you can be Labour without being a socialist, but if you buy Marx, you have to buy the lot. It's like a religion in that respect, and very harmful. So, for once, Tony's right….

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