‘Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels came to the checkout at the 7/11…

…Marx was skint- but he had sense/Engels lent him the necessary pence’ (The Clash ‘The Magnificent Seven’)

Two pieces I’ve seen in recent days have just increased by admiration for Karl Marx. As the man himself said ‘I am not a Marxist’, in quite possibly the same way c.30AD Jesus said ‘I am not a Christian’ (for all the subsequent good it did on both occasions!). You don’t have to be a ‘Marxist’, let alone a dogmatic one, to see that Charlie Heindrich was a class act. The fact that he had some  numbskull self-declared followers, who carried through innumerable crimes during the last century or so (often against fellow ‘Marxists’)  doesn’t invalidate his way of looking at the world, any more than the actions of millions of self-proclaimed ‘Christians’ in the last two thousand years invalidates everything Jesus is supposed to have said and stood for.

Exhibit One: Dan Hind in last Friday’s Evening Standard magazine, discussing the revival of radical politics in London. He notes that:

Karl Marx was a notorious toper. He was particularly fond of a pub crawl (or ‘beer trip’) from Oxford Street to the Hampstead Road. And on his jaunts away from The British Library Reading Room he wasn’t averse to childish disorder of the kind we now associate with the pampered sons of rock aristocracy. His friend Wilhelm Liebknecht tells how, when their friend Edgar Bauer threw a stone at a gas lantern, the greatest socialist intellectual of all time and one of the founders of German social democracy both joined in. Together they ended up smashing five street lamps. Liebknecht remarks in his description of the evening that ‘madness is contagious’, something for Dave Gilmour’s son Charlie to bear in mind next time he tries a spot of protesting.

The Museum Tavern opposite the British Museum: a regular Marx watering hole. George Orwell also used to drink in there, so there must be something in the water!

If you can’t face the full rigours of a Marxist beer trip you can, instead, raise a glass to dialectical materialism at The Museum Tavern on Great Russell Street, Marx’s local when he was working on Das Kapital. Coincidentally, urban legend has it that Lenin and Stalin used to drink together at The Crown and Anchor, now The Crown Tavern, on Clerkenwell Green. As far as we know neither of them went in for Marx’s brand of high jinks – maybe a bad sign, in retrospect.

I think I’ve been here. However, all other things being equal, I would rather drink where Marx and Orwell used to go, rather than the establishment Lenin (abstainer)and Stalin (partial to the vodka) frequented!

Exhibit Two: Terry Eagleton’s review in the London Review of Books of Eric Hobsbawm’s How to Change the World.  In it Eagleton notes:

Marx…was an artist of sorts. It is often forgotten how staggeringly well read he was, and what painstaking labour he invested in the literary style of his works. He was eager, he remarked, to get shot of the ‘economic crap’ of Capital and get down to his big book on Balzac. Marxism is about leisure, not labour. It is a project that should be eagerly supported by all those who dislike having to work. It holds that the most precious activities are those done simply for the hell of it, and that art is in this sense the paradigm of authentic human activity.

Following on from that (apart from observing that Marx was also a ‘piss artist of sorts’ when the occasion demanded it) it seems to me that if there is to be any worthwhile ‘socialism’ or ‘leftism’ for the 21st Century, it needs to inspire people who want to escape ‘the dull compulsion of labour’ we have now and which characterised the societies of ‘Actual Existing Socialism’ until they collapsed through (as much as anything else) terminal boredom. The only socialism that will get anywhere now is one that proclaims:



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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. One of the best articles I’ve read on Marx for a long time.

    BTW, I’ve been in both pubs. And I’ve walked from Oxford Street to Hampstead Road and all the way up to the Heath.

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