Bettany Hughes, Karl Marx and the spectre of Communism

I watched the Genius of the Modern World, an insightful portrait into the life, work and ideas of Karl Marx which was aired on the BBC. This documentary was made by the historian Bettany Hughes, whose past work on Sparta and Helen of Troy have been truly remarkable. 

Bettany explored many of the events, ideas and influences on Karl Marx, whose perspective for the overthrow of capitalism, was laid down in the Communist Manifesto. Bettany did a fantastic job in what she produced, but lacking in the documentary was the central feature of Marxism; “Workers of the World Unite”. 

While Bettany touched on the fact, that Communist states numerically once and in some cases still do control incredibly large areas of the globe, with populations going into their millions, what this seemingly propagandist slogan does, is pose a question into the very heart of Communism itself. 

In the late 1990’s, British Trotskyist Bill Hunter had been studying the economic and political developments in China and stated, the greatest contradiction of China, was that Communism was giving birth to a global industrial revolution. 

After the economic devastation which had befallen countries once governed by the USSR, many dismissed Bill’s statements because for those who had studied the theories of Karl Marx, it was incompatible that out of Communism, should emerge global economic growth. 

Such beliefs were felt until the emergence of Vladimir Putin as President of Russia, who under the Soviet Union had been the head of the KGB and resided for some time in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), the country and former home of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

After the fall of the Soviet Union, it would have been inconceivable to think, that out of three distinctive Marxist states, would see a world now faced with the current military might of Russia, the economic strength of a reunified Germany and the global influence of China. 

Marx stated that a “spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of Communism” but that spectre has gone from haunting the global bourgeoisie, to sitting down with the current bourgeoisie and being more than equals in trade negotiations. 

The same spectre is also haunting old capitalist countries in regions of the world like the Middle East. Where over the years, Western influence has declined and in the Middle East, has emerged a dominant military and economic alliance between Russia, China and Iran. 

But this seemingly haunting spectre from within Communism, if it exists, is old or is a new phenomena, was recalled in 2013 by the former head of MI5 Dame Stella Rimmington. In the article The day I met the KGB, Dame Stella was asked by the Guardian, Was there a sudden sense of shared humanity, a celebration of the final thawing of the cold war? 

Her answer: “No, there wasn’t.” 

By Hussein Al-alak, editor of Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)

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