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Reports Of Marx’s Death May Prove Exaggerated

September 7, 1991

LONDON (AP) _ ″Workers of the world, excuse me,″ is scrawled on a statue of Karl Marx in Moscow.

With statues of Lenin and other Communist worthies being toppled throughout the Soviet Union and elsewhere, Marx is perhaps fortunate to remain on his pedestal.

How, then, about Marxism?

″Without the Soviet state to sustain it, Marxism will be dead in 20 years,″ said Paul Johnson, a prominent right-wing writer and historian in Britain.

Professor David McLellan of the University of Kent argues, however: ″As far as critical theories of capitalist societies go, his is still the only one around. It is by far the most powerful.″

McLellan recently edited an anthology of Marx’s writings for Oxford University Press.

It is ironic for a man who described religion as ″the opium of the people″ that those who take his analysis most seriously today include elements of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly those ministering to the Third World, where international capitalism and poverty collide.

″The question as to where Christians must part company with Marxism is a difficult one,″ said the Rev. Michael Campbell-Johnston, provincial superior in Britain of the Society of Jesus.

″Certainly classical Marxism, which gives all importance to economic factors in human motivation, goes against the Christian concept of the individual,″ the Jesuit official said. ″But Marxist analysis is a powerful tool for understanding society better, how power structures depend on who owns the forces of production.″

Marxism’s durability, according to supporters, results from its critical analysis of capitalism - wrong in detail, perhaps, but correct in overall global vision - and in its vagueness.

McLellan noted that the German social philosopher offered no specific conclusions, but an open-ended dialectic: an explanation of social change based on an analysis of the ownership of the means of production.

Marx, horrified by some interpretations of his thought, declared shortly before his death: ″As for me, I am not a Marxist.″

He remained convinced that capitalism contained the seeds of its own destruction and would be replaced by communism through revolution, a final vanquishing of the class system, and with it the state, by the proletariat. About how, where and when it would happen, Marx had little to say.

It took Lenin to devise the role of the revolutionary party that, according to 75 years of Soviet-written history, brought communism into being.

Johnson, an admirer of Margaret Thatcher’s vigorous anti-communism, describes Marx’s theories as ″vicious nonsense″ enforced only by the brute force of dictatorship.

″Marxists seized control of one of the world’s largest countries and held it for three-quarters of a century,″ he said in an interview. ″That is why Marxism achieved quasi-intellectual respectability.″

According to Johnson, Marx took his raw material from Engels’ study of the conditions of the working class in Manchester, knowing it was 30 years out of date, and from British government economic statistics he systematically misquoted.

″Engels was a crook and Marx was a crook too,″ he said. ″They falsified their evidence and it’s not surprising that their theories were vicious nonsense, nor that when they were applied to millions of people they produced massacres and misery.″

Victor Kiernan, who retired as professor of modern history at Edinburgh University in 1969, feels Marxist political parties have had their day, but also believes society can be analyzed only in terms of class conflict.

Kiernan was introduced to communism in 1931 at Cambridge University by Guy Burgess, fellow student and future spy, and left the party shortly after the Soviets crushed the Hungarian uprising in 1956.

He no longer regards Marx as a prophet.

″I have arguments with old friends who still believe that the class struggle will result in the eventual collapse of capitalism,″ he said in a telephone interview.

″Marx’s analysis was based on the world of more than 100 years ago. There are so many new factors now to take into account that prophesying the future like he did is impossible.

″Marx’s disciples in the Soviet Union made the mistake of believing his prophecies remained true, and of thinking in terms of masses of people and ignoring human nature.″

Martin Jacques, editor of the leftist magazine Marxism Today, agrees Marxism has failed as a set of theories that can be put into practical effect, but said it ″remains a valid analytical tool.″

″Marxist ideas have entered the bloodstream of the way we think about things in ways people don’t notice,″ he said, ″like the importance of economic factors in explaining society, and a way of looking at things which considers what is going on underneath the surface, not just what you can see.″

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