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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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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.

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.

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.

June 8th, 2018
7:06 PM
@Murray Because Marx and Jesus both taught men are the same and should love each other. Oh wait, no that was only Jesus. Get a clue.

June 8th, 2018
7:06 PM
@Murray... Lets see, Jesus said that those with the ability to, should help those in need voluntarily, or else face the judgement of God in the hereafter. His name was then used as an excuse to control and conquer in direct opposition to what Jesus suggested was right and proper. . Marx suggested people with abilities should be forced to help those with needs involuntarily, or else face the judgement and punishment of the State... and then that philosophy was put into action, brutally. If don't see a difference between the two situations - the key words are voluntary and involuntary. What made the Christians wrong was trying to implement the words of Jesus via involuntary means - and what made the communists wrong was implementing the words of Marx via involuntary means. "“there is only one way in which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated, and that way is revolutionary terror.”" Karl Marx. "The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution." And you suggest Marx didn't advocate such violence? His legacy is very much one of the terror he felt was required...

Niall Kilmartin
June 8th, 2018
7:06 PM
Murray (June 7th, 2018) thinks we should be no ruder about marxist regimes than about e.g. christian ones. As the article's list of outcomes, from Russia to Venezuela, should remind us, all regimes that attempt Marxism suffer decline. Some (Stalin, Mao, etc) descend so far as to reintroduce slavery; others (Zimbabwe, Venezuela) content themselves with introducing abject poverty. By contrast, history contains regimes that adopted Christianity and improved on their predecessors. The spectacle of emperor Theodosius doing penance for what happened to the people of Thessalonika may not impress us much, but it was a marked step up from any previous emperor. Slavery was once universal in the world; evangelicals like Wilberforce made it rare. And as regards reducing poverty from what it was in the first millennium, it is people in and from the area once called Christendom who have led the way. Marx would need to have at least some such success stories for Murray's tu quoque to get anywhere.

Captain Midnight
June 8th, 2018
7:06 PM
Thanks for this excellent essay showing how the murderous excesses committed by every single Marxist state do not by any means conflict with the teaching of Marx himself, but are the direct and necessary consequence of his ideas.

John Drake
June 8th, 2018
7:06 PM
That's some pretty overt whataboutism there, Murray.

June 8th, 2018
6:06 PM
The difference between Marxism and Christianity is that Marxism MUST devolve into totalitarian authoritarianism. There is no other way to make it work. There is no such requirement for Christianity.

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?

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