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THE RESCUE OF KARL MARX

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LISBON, Sep 2 2009 (IPS) - In Europe summer is usually the time when publishers release forgotten books, biographies, and travel writing, and major magazines put out special editions on a past subject of current interest.

And so it was that the French magazine Le Point came out with an issue dedicated to Karl Marx focussing on what he really wrote, on how his thought has been manipulated, and on his life and his influence, past and present. The issue runs a full 120 pages and was written by major economists, political scientists, sociologists, and historians, from a range of political and ideological points of view and with extreme rigour and clarity, which were not always characteristics of Marx the economist or the neo-Hegelian philosopher. The weekly Nouvel Observateur, another major French magazine, also dedicated an issue to the German titled "The Great Return of Marx" in August.

During my youth, between 1942 and 1949, before becoming active in the socialist movement, I was a communist, and for these years -and afterwards as well- I considered myself a Marxist. But I never managed to read "Das Kapital", despite the fact that I own two versions of this major work, one in Portuguese and the other in French. Nor did I read Marx’s other philosophical and economic works. In contrast, I read the "Communist Manifesto", which Marx wrote with Frederick Engels, as well as his historical works like "The Eighteenth Brumaire. And of course I read Jean Paul Sartre’s pamphlet on Marxism and the prologue by Vergilio Ferreira that circulated in Portugal until the end of the Second World War, when it was fashionable to talk about Marxist-Leninism, Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin, and much later about Mao Tse Tung, whom I never found convincing. Of these texts, the writings of Stalin, then considered the father of the poor, stood out as being clearer and more linear.

As is well known, Marx exercised a profound influence on the workers and revolutionary movement of the 19th and 20th century despite the fact that he died in March 1883. This is partly due to the fact that he was the fundamental reference for Vladimir Lenin, notwithstanding how far the latter distanced himself from the German thinker with his cult of violence and the extermination of his enemies, and on more humanistic figures like Karl Kautsky, Eduard Bernstein, Gheorghi Plekhanov, Leon Trotsky, and Antonio Gramsci. Not to mention the distance between Marx’s thinking and that of Mao, Ho Chi Minh, and many others.

Curiously, about twenty years ago, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the figure of Marx seemed to sink into purgatory, if not hell itself. At the same time came the explosive emergence of neoliberalism, the end of ideology was proclaimed, the greatest possible shrinkage of the state postulated, and humanistic values were replaced by the cult of money and the hegemony of the market.

Then came the economic crisis of 2008, still underway, which was the swan song of neoliberalism and, among other things, seems to be bringing about a rescue from purgatory of Marx, who in truth was not a believer and, in line with German historian Ludwig Feuerbach, thought that God was an invention of man.

The new interest that has emerged in Marx is evidenced by various works on his life and thought that have been published recently -like Jacques Attali’s "Marx and the Spirit of the World"- and by a revival of interest in him at various European and American universities.

Why? Because, though there is no doubt that the present global crisis does not mean the end of capitalism -though it does mean the end of financial capitalism without ethical values- the same can be said of democratic socialism. There is still great validity in the idea of a "socialism with a human face", which was posited as an alternative to totalitarian socialism after the fall of the Berlin Wall, with the democratic, humanistic, and ethical values that Marx never rejected in his work, though he did conceive of the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat and class struggle, albeit in a sense different from that later attributed to him. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Mario Soares, ex-president and ex-prime minister of Portugal.

 
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