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Monument to a monster: A statue of Karl Marx, donated by China, is unveiled in his birthplace, Trier, to commemorate his bicentenary (©Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

One of the uncanniest commemorations of modern times took place last month. It centred on the Basilica of Constantine, one of several imposing remains of the ancient Roman colony of Augusta Treverorum, later the German city of Trier. This vast brick Aula Palatina — once the throne room of Constantine, the first Christian Emperor of Rome, now the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer — was the setting for a celebration of the bicentenary of the birth of Karl Marx on May 5, 1818.

The ceremony culminated in a remarkable tribute to Marx by Jean Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission. “Karl Marx was a philosopher who thought into the future,” Juncker rhapsodised. He had recognised “the task of our time — Europe’s social dimension that remains to this day the poor relation of European integration”. Having designated Marx as godfather of the European Union, Juncker insisted that Marx’s ideas had been posthumously “reformulated into virtually the opposite” and denied that the author of The Communist Manifesto had anything to do with the crimes of communist regimes: “Marx isn’t responsible for all the atrocities his alleged heirs have to answer for.”

Such an official endorsement of an English-speaking thinker — Adam Smith, say — would be unthinkable, but the European Commission pulled out all the stops for the German ideologue. (It is worth noting that Juncker’s speeches are usually written for him by Professor Martin Selmayr, his German chef de cabinet, whom he recently — and controversially — promoted to be Secretary-General of the Commission, the EU’s most senior civil servant.)

On the same day President Xi Jingping of China described Marx as “the greatest thinker of modern times”. Xi had donated a huge bronze statue to stand guard over Marx’s birthplace; it was unveiled by Juncker amid much pomp. Meanwhile in London, John McDonnell was also defending Marx, who died here in 1883. “Marxism is about developing democracy,” Labour’s Shadow Chancellor declared, “but to have an honest debate we need to be able to cut through the lies about Marxism.”

Juncker, Xi and McDonnell are correct in one respect: Marx was no ordinary thinker. Indeed, he dismissed philosophers who had merely interpreted the world: “The point is to change it.” And change the world he certainly did.

Two centuries have passed since Marx was born, but we are still living in his shadow. No man in modern times has had more influence. Yet nobody, perhaps, has done more harm to humanity.

More than a hundred million people have been murdered in his name by Stalin, Mao and other dictators who were his disciples. Billions more have suffered under Communism, the ideology Marx created and which once ruled nearly half of mankind. But for Marx, there would have been no Gulag Archipelago in the Soviet Union, no Holodomor in Ukraine, no Cultural Revolution in China, no Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, nor any other famines, purges and genocides carried out in the name of Communism.
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July 23rd, 2018
9:07 PM
Karl Marx was a noted backer of Abraham Lincoln for his abolition of slavery. He also spoke out for freedom of the press. Evidently the writer of this article knows little about the man. Whether he was the father of Fred Demuth has been strongly questioned by at least one leading historian - Terell Carver.

July 2nd, 2018
3:07 PM
Socialism is the delusion that everyone can have everything they want. All you need to see it fulfilled is to identify the deplorables who obstruct its arrival and set about destroying them. It's a tough job, but there are many prepared to do it.

June 25th, 2018
12:06 AM
Good and thorough article on the historical influence of Marxism and its devilish roots.

Lawrence James
June 20th, 2018
9:06 AM
Exonerating Marx from the horrors perpetrated in his name does have a moral equivalence to exonerating Jesus from say the Albigensian crusades. Remember He endorsed the Old Testament with its injunctions to slaughter neighbouring tribes. Anonymous's remarks about the Liberty claimed by the Founding Fathers is preposterous: ask a slave on Jefferson's estate, or a Sioux or Seminole.

Anthony Fountain
June 9th, 2018
2:06 AM
Perhaps, Murray, you could provide us an example where Marx's name wasn't "hijacked" and all went went swimingly.

June 9th, 2018
2:06 AM
The world would be a better place if Karl Marx’s mother had smothered him in his crib. Marxists can hardly criticize the concept of murdering an innocent for the sake of 100,000,000, either, unless they claim the 100,000,000 were the correct ones to be murdered.

June 8th, 2018
11:06 PM
"If you're going to be outraged by acknowledgement of Marx because of the atrocities committed by people who hijacked his name and philosophy to achieve their own ends, are you disparaging Jesus for the same failing? " No one hijacked Karl Marx. What happened, the millions of deaths is the corollary of an ideology that does not have limits to its power, neither to its reach. You should acknowledge that Karl Marx started an ideology of social supremacism that made possible to exterminate social classes, people, others. Acknowledge also that Karl Marx was an Hitler avant la letre with a book on "Jewish question" translated rightly "To the end of Jews" and several anti semitic articles because he saw that the Jews didn't disappeared in the culture where they lived which also made them not disappear in the socialist inferno that Marx wanted to build.

June 8th, 2018
11:06 PM
Brilliant piece. Students in high school have NO IDEA what Marx stands for and is responsible for...and how my Jewish colleagues can not see the roots of the current anti- semitism is beyond me.

June 8th, 2018
11:06 PM
Dear Murray, Fuck off with your leftist posturing. Where did Jesus ever say to enslave, rape or murder one's opponents in the name of "equality"? By giving Governments the world over the philosophical tools to centralize power in the name of "equality", Marx paved the way to Governmental oppression. If America's Founders thought it wise to protect Private Property and Liberty in the 1700's, it must be because Governmental abuse had already long existed.

June 8th, 2018
9:06 PM
Thank you for this well-written synopsis of a troubled man with troubled and flawed ideas of how society should be run.

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