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Today is the 200th birthday of Karl Marx


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Kiwithrottlejockey
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« on: May 05, 2018, 04:13:57 pm »


from the print edition of the Los Angeles Times....

Seeing red over Marx's specter

German hometown's tribute for his 200th birthday is
stirring debate about the communist-capitalist divide.


By ERIK KIRSCHBAUM | Friday, May 04, 2018

Workers install a statue of Karl Marx in Trier, Germany, which is planning a year of events to celebrate the founding father of communism. The fact that the statue is a gift from China has only added to the controversy. — Photograph: Harald Tittel/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images.
Workers install a statue of Karl Marx in Trier, Germany, which is planning a year of events to celebrate the founding father of communism. The fact that
the statue is a gift from China has only added to the controversy. — Photograph: Harald Tittel/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images.


BERLIN — A specter is haunting Germany — the specter of Karl Marx.

A curious debate has erupted just as the hometown of communism's founding father is about to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth in the western German town of Trier.

Is it appropriate for a country split by the Cold War, which pitted communism against capitalism, to honor the 19th century critic of free markets? Is it tasteless to capitalize on Marx's name for the sake of tourist income? Is nostalgia for communist East Germany clouding people's memories? Or might Marx be a modern-day antidote to an era of unbridled capitalism?

Those are among the questions roiling Germans — and people across Europe — this week as his hometown prepares to pay tribute to Marx's memory by unveiling an 18-foot-high statue of its native son. The inauguration of the colossal statue will kick off a year featuring 600 events in the Trier area celebrating Marx, who was born on May 5, 1818. That the 2.3-ton bronze memorial of the bearded philosopher in a pensive pose and frock coat was a gift from the People's Republic of China has only added to the controversy.

“It just wouldn't have been possible to do this 30 years ago,” Trier Mayor Wolfram Leibe told reporters last month as workers bolted the still-concealed monument onto its pedestal on a square just around the corner from the house where Marx lived with his family until he was 17. “Karl Marx is one of Trier's greatest citizens and we shouldn't have to hide that.”

Leibe did not have to mention the 150,000 Chinese tourists who make the pilgrimage to Trier each year and his city's hopes that even more will make the journey after the statue's wrapping is removed Saturday.

In a nod to the debate that has raged since the Trier city council agreed last year to accept the gift made in China, Leibe did acknowledge that it took time after German reunification for “a more distanced and differentiated” view of the town's most famous son to evolve. “The monument should inspire people to think about Marx and his literary works,” Leibe said.

Marx's signature work, the book “Das Kapital”, and “The Communist Manifesto”, a pamphlet written with fellow German Friedrich Engels, shaped 20th century history. They provided the philosophical underpinnings of the Russian Revolution, which gave birth to the Soviet Union, and the Chinese Revolution, which created the People's Republic. Together, the events divided the world for decades into sharply defined blocs of East and West, capitalist and communist.

“A specter is haunting Europe — the specter of communism,” The Communist Manifesto famously begins.

Marx's theories on economics and politics came to be known collectively as Marxism. His works had a major impact on his native country, which was divided into capitalist West Germany and communist East Germany for more than four decades after World War II.

The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope,” he wrote. And: “Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries unite!”

In his writings, Marx argued that the relentless drive for profits in the capitalist system would lead enterprises to continuously mechanize their workplaces and that it would, in turn, lead to more goods being produced even as workers' wages were being squeezed. He warned, also prophetically, that capitalism's tendency to concentrate high value on arbitrary products would lead to a “subservience to inhuman ... unnatural and imaginary appetites.”

There were statues, streets, squares and schools named after Karl Marx throughout East Germany and even in parts of West Germany, but his name lost its luster as communism collapsed across Eastern Europe and the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. An East German city of 240,000 known as Karl-Marx-Stadt changed its name back to Chemnitz in 1990.


Marx-like green and red figures on traffic lights for pedestrian crossings are part of the Marx mania in Trier, the philosopher's west German hometown. — Photograph: Patrik Stollarz/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images.
Marx-like green and red figures on traffic lights for pedestrian crossings are part of the Marx mania in Trier, the philosopher's west German hometown.
 — Photograph: Patrik Stollarz/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images.


But generations of East Germans raised on Marx's teachings began recalling his lessons in the wake of the global financial crisis starting in 2007.

“Karl Marx had a lot of good ideas and many of them are still valid,” said Hartmut Meier, a 57-year-old mechanic who grew up on a steady diet of Marxism at a school in East Berlin. Although he does not miss life in communist East Germany, Meier said he harbors fond memories of Marx's ideas. “Unfortunately, most of them weren't implemented. I do like the idea that they're putting up a monument for him.”

Ilona Tschitschke, 66, studied Marx and “Das Kapital” at university in East Germany and believed that he was wrong about a lot of things — in particular his views against private ownership. But she was always impressed with the way he was able to describe and define the capitalist system in society at such an early date in the 19th century.

“I've got a lot of respect for what he achieved and he deserves recognition,” Tschitschke, a retiree who worked in administration and marketing after reunification, said in an interview. “His goals were utopian and he got a lot wrong. But I think we're all more open now to acknowledge and admire what he did. He tried to make the world a better place.”

That is far from a unanimous opinion. Hubertus Knabe, head of a memorial at a former prison for political inmates in East Berlin, is among those who has criticized the Marx memorial in Trier.

“It is hard for many victims of the communist system to accept that a west German city is putting up a monument like this,” he said.

Still, a recent poll by Ipsos in 28 nations found that Germans, whose country is now the economic powerhouse of Europe, were far more skeptical about capitalism and free markets than people in other countries. The online survey of 20,793 adults around the world last month found that only 49% of German respondents agreed that free market competition brings out the best in people, compared with clear majorities of 70% and higher in a host of other countries — including not only the United States but also China. Only in France were people more doubtful about free markets bringing out the best in people.

“There's a lot of criticism about the excesses of the free market economy in Germany,” said Robert Grimm, 43, director of political research at Ipsos in Germany and an East German by birth.

“Social inequality and poverty is the biggest worry,” he added. “People have lost faith in capitalism. It's created an economic environment that's not as transparent as it was and a dynamic where many people feel threatened.”

In any event, Trier, a city of 115,000 in the Moselle River wine region whose politics have long been dominated by Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, is banking on capitalism fueled by Marx. Vendors are busy selling everything from zero-euro notes with Marx's hirsute face on them (for nearly $4) to rubber ducks wearing Marx-style beards. It has installed Marx-like green and red figures on traffic lights for pedestrian crossings and a local jeweler is selling silver Marx rings bearing his visage.

Over in the eastern city of Chemnitz, the nostalgia for Marx in the place that long bore his name led one savings bank to issue credit cards with a picture of the 23-foot-high Marx bust that still stands in the city. A local brewery created a “Marx Staedter” (Marx city dweller) brew in March.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will give a speech in Trier on Saturday to launch the Marx commemorations, ignoring criticism from Britain and elsewhere that he is being insensitive to people killed in the conflicts waged over Marxism and communism.

“Nobody can deny that Karl Marx is a figure who shaped history in one way or another,” a spokeswoman for Juncker said. “Not speaking about him would come close to denying history.”


__________________________________________________________________________

• Erik Kirschbaum is a special correspondent to the Los Angeles Times and is based in Berlin. A native of New York City, he grew up in Connecticut and studied history and German at the University of Wisconsin.

http://enewspaper.latimes.com/infinity/article_share.aspx?guid=33d7c8b9-b7e0-4b58-993c-1da7d23870fb
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Kiwithrottlejockey
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« Reply #1 on: May 07, 2018, 03:30:46 am »


from the print edition of the Sunday Los Angeles Times....

A letter to Karl Marx on his 200th birthday

By MARY GABRIEL | Sunday, May 06, 2018



Dear Karl,

Happy birthday! It's tempting to say that much has changed in the 200 years since your birth, but as I sit down to describe those changes, I must admit I am more struck by the similarities than the differences between your time and mine.

The big news is, of course, that the kings you fought so hard to unmask as charlatans no longer are divine. Well, there are a few monarchs who still claim tangential ties to a higher power, but most people have cottoned on to the fact that royal power is really just a combination of heredity and tenacity. And, unfortunately, your kings have been replaced by new ones who base their right to rule on an aristocracy of wealth.

Have you heard about the terrible wars of the 20th century? They were called World Wars, and that was no exaggeration. The first one, which involved said kings and their ambitions, killed as many as 40 million people. A second war began 20 years later because the first had never truly ended. It would kill twice as many people and produce a weapon so formidable it could wipe out the planet. In that war, man proved he could kill like a beast and a god. Ironically, your name was invoked in the slaughter.

Yes, Karl, after you died in 1883, people discovered your writings and some promptly misused them. There are statues of you in capitals around the globe where governments expounded “Marxism” to deprive people of the very freedoms you extolled. They reinterpreted your vision of “the free development of each” being “the condition for the free development of all” as the freedom to be equally miserable. Indeed, the repression and butchery accomplished in your name during the last century would horrify you.

Do you remember your high hopes for democracy? How you believed free speech, universal education and the vote would help usher in a world that created the greatest good for the greatest number? It hasn't really worked out that way. While so-called Marxists operating under a communist banner expunged rights around the globe, capitalists busily subverted democracy in a long and insidious hostile takeover.

Don't get me wrong. The initial benefits of capitalism were tremendous. Humankind's possibilities soared. Scientific, technological and medical discoveries ensured that people lived longer and better. The arts flourished because people had leisure time to read, paint and compose. Natural resources were harnessed to improve agriculture, so everyone could eat. It really was marvelous, but as you said, for the capitalist, marvelous isn't enough. That omnivorous beast hungers eternally for more and bigger profits.

In the past 40 years, especially, such capitalists have turned democracies on their heads. Most of those governments are no longer of the people or for the people. They serve one constituent: business. Politicians are bought by the dozen, the highest echelons of government bureaucracies are peopled with titans of industry and finance and their minions, and laws are written to protect corporate interests over people's interests. Citizens of democracies, who fought so hard in your century for the right to vote, have seemed to lose interest in the ballot when faced with the powerful adversary, capital. The vote has been devalued, and like any commodity, it has been snapped up by savvy investors who understand its power.

I remember how much you admired Abraham Lincoln and how you thought that brilliant son of the working class embodied everything good and great about the United States. Well, I hate to tell you, but the man now occupying Lincoln's house is your old capitalist friend Mr. Moneybags. I recently re-read your “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844” and laughed because you described him to a tee when you wrote about the wizardry of money, which can turn even a brute into a prince. “I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the effect of ugliness — its deterrent power — is nullified by money. … I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honored and hence its possessor. … Does not all my money, therefore, transform all my incapacities into their contrary?” You must have had a crystal ball in the Paris apartment where you wrote those words.

So, what else has happened 200 years down the road? African men and women are still being sold, but now it's called “people trafficking”. Citizens have been made somnolent by the trinkets of capitalism the way populations in your time were subdued by conquering colonial powers. Now, as then, the distance between factory workers and the people who use their products is great enough that the guilt over the exploitation of workers dissipates by the time coveted stretch jeans or smartphones arrive on store shelves. As in your day, happy consumers congratulate themselves on grabbing a bargain without being troubled by the fact that a person a continent away worked themselves to death to produce it.

It's a grim picture, indeed, I'm sorry to say. But there is hope! This century has seen a series of events that indicate a new generation may be finding its way past the prison houses of 20th century ideologies. A collapse of the global financial system in 2008 exposed for even some free-market stalwarts the flaws in its construction. Newspapers that had previously scoffed at the mere mention of your name began to question, “Was Marx right?” Sometimes, brave individuals stuck their necks out and whispered, “Yes”.

And then, two years later, in late 2010, spontaneous revolts that came to be known as the Arab Spring signaled the possibility of mass social change. It was a revival of your 1848 Springtime of the People revolts in Europe. Entire populations rose up to overthrow autocratic and corrupt rulers in North Africa and the Middle East. Unfortunately, history repeated itself in that, as in 1848, the reaction from entrenched powers was swift and deadly. Alas, the counter-revolution won again. But, eight years later, the embers are still warm, and the wind (which is now called the internet) is spreading them.

In the past two years, individuals have discovered their voices and the strength that resides in their numbers. Black and white citizens have taken to the streets to denounce the murder of black men by police. Women have joined forces to expose sexual predators and the industries that not only enable them, but profit by it. Tens of thousands of children have assumed the mantle of adults by acknowledging the truth their elders are too cowed to express: Guns kill.

So, dear Karl, as you celebrate your 200th birthday, there is hope. And it's great that you are still around to help us, if not in person, then through your work and your words. You inspire us still.

— Mary


__________________________________________________________________________

• Mary Gabriel is the author of “Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution”. Her latest book, “Ninth Street Women”, will be published by Little, Brown in September.

http://enewspaper.latimes.com/infinity/article_share.aspx?guid=379a5643-080f-4d49-95aa-50a70f45cad1
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