On the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth, his hometown unveiled a new statue donated by the Chinese government. The event drew praise from EU and German politicians, as well as outrage from pro-liberty thought leaders across Europe and around the world – especially those who had lived under Communist regimes. The president of the European Commission praised Marx’s “creative aspirations,” while anti-Communists called his decision to attend the event “deeply worrisome and outrageous.”
What is the new Karl Marx statue?
The Chinese government announced its intention to donate a statue of Karl Marx to his German hometown of Trier. The famous Chinese artist Wu Weishan sculpted the 2.5-ton, 14-foot-tall bronze statue, which depicts a thoughtful Marx walking astride while holding a book. Last March, city council members voted 42-7 to accept it, although they reduced its proposed size of 18 feet.
What did the EU say about the statue and Marx this weekend?
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker attended the unveiling ceremony in Trier, where Marx was born on May 5, 1818. He told the crowd of 200, which teemed both with cheering far-Left ideologues and jeering conservative anti-Communists, that “Marx isn’t responsible for all the atrocities his alleged heirs have to answer for.”
“One has to understand Karl Marx from the context of his time and not have prejudices based on hindsight; these judgments shouldn’t exist,” he said. In fact, Juncker said, in the popular imagination Marx now “stands for things which he is not responsible for and which he didn’t cause, because many of the things he wrote down were redrafted into the opposite.”
Is is true that Marx’s philosophy was “the opposite” of violence and repression?
In a word, no. Although he did not theorize the full contours of Bolshevism as propounded by Vladimir Lenin, Karl Marx advocated the ruthless use of “revolutionary terror” as part of the global uprising of the proletariat. In May 1849, Marx wrote:
[T]here 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. … We have no compassion and we ask no compassion from you. When our turn comes, we shall not make excuses for the terror.
In 1850, Marx urged his followers to sustain popular violence as long as possible. “Far from opposing the so-called excesses – instances of popular vengeance against hated individuals or against public buildings with which hateful memories are associated – the workers’ party must not only tolerate these actions but must even give them direction,” he wrote.
Likewise, his co-author, Friedrich Engels, wrote in January 1849, “The next world war will result in the disappearance from the face of the earth not only of reactionary classes and dynasties, but also of entire reactionary peoples. And that, too, is a step forward.”
What did the statue’s opponents say?
Juncker received a letter on May 3 from free-market think tank leaders representing former (Poland, Hungary, and Georgia) or current (Cuba) Communist nations – including Roxana Nicula of Spain’s Foundation for the Advancement of Liberty, who grew up in Romania – asking that he cancel his appearance.
“As defenders of individual liberty, we consider this event to be cruel and disrespectful towards millions of European Union citizens who suffered communist dictatorships for over half-a-century. We remind you that even today there are still many countries in the world where the population suffers from the ideological abomination created by Karl Marx,” they wrote, citing the 100 million people killed by Communist regimes during the twentieth century. “Entire societies in the eastern part of Europe were starved, exploited and denied basic human rights,” they noted.
What did the statue’s local supporters say?
Some cast the unveiling as an overdue homecoming for a prodigal son. The premier of the state, Malu Dreyer, said, “We stand by the child of our city. And we deal with Karl Marx in a constructive and active way.” Trier Mayor Wolfram Leibe added, “It was a conscious act to bring Karl Marx into the city,” so that “we don’t have to hide him.” Local officials also expressed hope that the statue will increase Chinese tourism to the city, which does a healthy business selling socialist souvenirs, including – appropriately enough – the face of Marx emblazoned on a “zero euro” bill. Dreyer called “the present from China” a “pillar and a bridge for our partnership” with the PRC.
Why did China bestow this “gift”?
On Friday, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the gift should “declare our firm belief in the scientific truth of Marxism” and acclaim Marx as the “number one thinker of the millennium” – or, in case that were too modest, “the greatest thinker in the history of mankind.” (President Jinping may wish to review his nation’s condition when Beijing’s economic party line hewed closer to “the scientific truth of Marxism.”)
Others see the gift as a symbolic projection of Chinese power into central Europe. One popular interpretation, summarized by Zhu Dake of Shanghai’s Tongji University, is that “sending the statue is tantamount to sending his ideas back to try to reignite the spark of revolution.”
Where does Marx stand in the contemporary West?
With the receding memory of Communism, Marx has enjoyed growing popularity, especially since the Great Recession of a decade ago. In the UK, he has been hailed by everyone from UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn; to the party’s Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, John McDonnell; and the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney. In the United States last Monday, the New York Times published an op-ed titled, “Happy Birthday, Karl Marx. You Were Right!”
How would a disinterested observer evaluate Marxism?
“Every other idea is judged by its necessarily crude, incomplete and imperfect real-world approximations, warts and all,” Kristian Niemietz of the Institute of Economic Affairs in London (where Marx is buried) wrote in CapX. “Only Marxism has the luxury of being judged purely as a set of ideas, which something as mundane as real-world experience could never blemish.” Aside from Marxism’s history of mass murder and genocide in every nation where it has been implemented thus far, the ideology is a proven failure, as Niemietz has documented in one nation after another.
How should people of faith view Karl Marx?
Marx propounded a fully materialist conception of the human race, where even a person’s thoughts were determined by membership in a socioeconomic class. That, coupled with his advocacy for violence and “terror,” should disqualify Karl Marx from the support of any Christian. (For Roman Catholic readers, Pope Pius XI wrote that the mission of the Vatican is “to defend truth, justice and all those eternal values which Communism ignores or attacks” in his 1937 encyclical Divini Redemptoris.)
The full text of the letter to Juncker by European free-market think tank leaders, in English and its original Spanish, is as follows:
Mr Jean-Claude Juncker,
President of the Commission of the European Union,
May 3rd 2018
Dear Mr President,
I am writing to you on behalf of the undersigned organizations, gathering European citizens in several EU member states. Our think tanks, foundations, and associations promote civil liberties and economic freedom across our continent. We find it both deeply worrisome and outrageous to learn that, on behalf of the Commission, you are planning to attend the 200th Birth Anniversary of Karl Marx in the city of Tréveris [Trier] on May 5th.
As defenders of individual liberty, we consider this event to be cruel and disrespectful towards millions of European Union citizens who suffered communist dictatorships for over half-a-century. We remind you that even today there are still many countries in the world where the population suffers from the ideological abomination created by Karl Marx. More than 100 million people died as a direct consequence of communism in the past century all over the world. A president of the European Commission is not allowed to forget this when acting on behalf of the European Union and representing all of its citizens. Entire societies in the eastern part of Europe were starved, exploited and denied basic human rights, even to the extent of systematically forcing children out of school to work in the fields every year.
We know that the president of the European Commission would certainly refuse to participate in an anniversary of the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg. We call upon you to reflect on this and cancel your participation in the Karl Marx anniversary event, in order to avoid celebrating the single highest intellectual contributor to the tyrannical regimes that destroyed entire societies, in our continent and worldwide. On the contrary, it is today more necessary than ever to debunk Karl Marx’s wrong theories. We also request you to make a formal apology to the victims of communism for this mistake.
Chairperson, Foundation for the Advancement of Liberty (Spain)
President Warsaw Enterprise Institute (Poland)
Free Cuba Foundation
Versión en Español
A la atención del sr. D. Jean-Claude Juncker,
Presidente de la Comisión Europea de la Unión Europea,
3 de mayo de 2018
Estimado Sr. Presidente,
Le estoy escribiendo esta carta en representación de varias organizaciones formadas por ciudadanos europeos de diferentes países miembros de la Unión Europea. Nuestras instituciones y think tanks promueven las libertades civiles y económicas en todo el continente. Nos preocupa y a la vez nos produce horror el hecho de que, en nombre de la Comisión Europea, Ud tiene planeado participar en la inauguración de las fiestas del 200 Aniversario de Karl Marx en la ciudad de Tréveris el 5 de mayo.
Como defensores de la libertad individual, consideramos este evento como algo cruel y falto de respecto hacia millones de ciudadanos de la Unión Europea que sufrieron la dictadura comunista durante más de medio siglo. Deseoamos recordarle que a día de hoy, todavía hay muchos países en el mundo donde la población está sufriendo la abominación ideológica creada por Karl Marx. Más de cien millones de personas murieron en el mundo como consecuencia directa del comunismo en el pasado siglo. Un presidente de la Comisión Europea no puede permitirse olvidar estos hechos cuando actúa en nombre de la Unión Europea y representa a todos sus ciudadanos. Sociedades enteras en el Este de Europa sufrieron hambrunas, fueron explotadas y los Derechos Humanos básicos de sus integrantes violados hasta extremos en que los Estados comunistas llevaban por la fuerza y de forma sistemática a realizar las labores del campo a los niños en cada comienzo de curso escolar y parte de las vacaciones de verano cada año.
Sabemos que el presidente de la Comisión Europea rechazaría participar en un aniversario del ideólogo del nazismo, Alfred Rosenberg. Por ello, le pedimos que piense nuevamente lo que implica su participación en el aniversario del ideólogo del comunismo, Karl Marx y cancele su viaje. Ello evitará la celebración del mayor contribuyente intelectual a los regímenes tiránicos que destruyeron sociedades enteras en nuestro continente y en el mundo entero. Hoy es más necesario que nunca desenmascarar las teorías equivocadas de Karl Marx, y además le exijimos una disculpa formal por este error a las víctimas del comunismo.
Presidenta, Fundación para el Avance de la Libertad (España)
Presidente Warsaw Enterprise Institute (Poland)
Vice-President New Economic School Georgia (GE)
Free Cuba Foundation
Director Free Market Foundation (Hungary)
(Photo credit: Jan Maximilian Gerlach. This photo has been cropped. CC BY-SA 2.0.)