Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Marx: Not Quite the Last Word

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Marx: Not Quite the Last Word

Article excerpt

When Chairman Mao was asked how the French revolution had affected the course of history, he is reported to have replied: "It is too early to tell." This month the Marx Memorial Library, in association with Lawrence & Wishart and the Socialist History Society, launched the final volume of the collected works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the effect of which might well have been judged in the same terms by Eric Hobsbawm, when he spoke at the meeting in Friends House in Euston to mark the occasion. "This book is indispensable to anyone with a serious interest in Marx, Marxism and the 19th century," Hobsbawm told an audience whose average age may have been 70. One of the doyens of Marxist philosophy, David McLellan, observed: "In an increasingly mean and meretricious world, Marx's work is becoming more relevant, especially his writings on historical materialism." The public address system began to falter as he spoke, and someone whispered: "Counter-revolutionary microphones!"

We were addressed as "distinguished guests, friends and comrades", and it turned out that the distinguished guest was the first secretary of the Chinese embassy, who left just before the speakers began mourning the lack of any "force to reverse the trend towards capitalism and globalisation--even in China". The Chinese, as it happens, still like to believe that Marxism underpins their soaraway free-market economy, but what the comrades would make of the news imparted to me in Beijing recently--namely that Peter Mandelson went down well with the Central Committee on his chosen subject of the "Third Way"--I shudder to think.

"Sometimes," said one of the speakers, "it is as if everything solid has melted into the air." That sentiment will echo beyond the dwindling band of British Marxists still travelling in hope. Gordon McLennan was the last general secretary of the long-dissolved Communist Party of Great Britain. …

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