Accessibility links

Breaking News

Karl Marx At 200: Controversy Over Revolutionary Philosopher Never Grows Old


A worker covers the head of a statue of German philosopher, economist, political theorist and sociologist Karl Marx in Trier on April 13.

The bicentennial of Karl Marx's birth is being marked in his German hometown amid similar controversy to that evoked by the revolutionary philosopher when he was alive.

Viewed in the West as a deluded utopian and blamed for communism's failures, Marx is being feted in China as the world's "greatest thinker" whose writings underpin that country's political and societal structures.

The May 5 celebrations marking 200 years since Marx's birth in the western German city of Trier will include the unveiling of a Chinese-funded 5.5-meter statue of the author of The Communist Manifesto (co-written with Friedrich Engels) and Das Kapital.

The Trier city council voted last year to accept the statue by Chinese artist Wu Weishan but added a resolution to their approval that cited the importance of observing human rights.

A boost in the steady stream of some 150,000 Chinese tourists who make the pilgrimage to Trier every year to see the birthplace of communism's founder was cited by Mayor Wolfram Leibe as a factor in deciding to erect the larger-than-life bronze statue.

About the controversy to honor a person many see as responsible for a political ideology that bitterly divided Germany for 40 years, Leibe said that "the monument should inspire people to think about Marx and his literary works."

"It's hard for many victims of the communist system to accept that a west German city is putting up a monument like this," Hubertus Knabe, the head of a memorial at a former prison for political prisoners in Berlin, told the Los Angeles Times.

Juncker Speech

Among the festivities expected to be attended by thousands there will also be "Das Kapital" wine and Marx banknotes worth "0 euros" for sale in a display of capitalism that the writer surely would disapprove of.

In addition to an art installation of some 500 red, midget statues of Marx, Trier's crosswalk signals have been fitted with Marx's figure.

Karl Marx's figure has been used for traffic lights in Trier.
Karl Marx's figure has been used for traffic lights in Trier.

Several German lawmakers will be on hand for festivities that will feature a speech by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Juncker's decision to appear in Trier has been criticized as being insensitive to those killed in wars fought over communist ideology. His spokeswoman defended him by saying that "nobody can deny that Karl Marx is a figure who shaped history in one way or another. Not speaking about him would come close to denying history."

China's involvement in Marx's anniversary has led Falun Gong activists to converge on Trier to protest Beijing's persecution and jailing of tens of thousands of the spiritual movement's followers.

'Greatest Thinker' In History

Meanwhile, back in China, an array of big events is in full swing to honor Marx and his contributions to the communist philosophy that is the basis for China's political system.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a speech in Beijing's Great Hall of the People on May 4 that Marx was "the greatest thinker in human history."

Xi called Marxism "a powerful ideological weapon for us to understand the world, grasp the law, seek the truth, and change the world."

Last week, the Chinese leader ordered his colleagues to study the Communist Manifesto, and he will be on hand to open a worldwide forum at Peking University for Marxist researchers on May 5.

State TV, meanwhile, is showing a five-part series called Marx Is Right, and the country's newspapers are awash with articles proclaiming the German philosopher's greatness.

Many, of course, see the irony of the very capitalist Chinese society attempting to embrace Marxist tenets.

"If Chinese people actually learned Marxist concepts seriously, then it would become clear to all that China today has nothing to do with Marxism," Professor Sean Kenji Starrs, City University of Hong Kong, told the South China Morning Post.

With reporting by Bloomberg, qz.com, ecns.cn, the Los Angeles Times, and the South China Morning Post

Subscribe to our newsletter for the week’s best reporting and analysis on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

XS
SM
MD
LG