For the current Labour leadership, Karl Marx is the man of the moment, says Howard Daviesby Howard Davies / September 15, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Karl Marx has, of late, assumed greater prominence in British public life. After decades when politicians on the left and right were far more likely to quote Groucho than Karl, we have it on no less an authority than John McDonnell, the current Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, that: “Marxism has come back into favour because people have gone back to his analysis of just the basics of how the system works.” This comment was widely interpreted as a warning to Blairites that they would soon be sent to the countryside for forcible re-education, but its true target may have been the Great Leader himself. Jeremy Corbyn admitted to Andrew Marr that he hadn’t read as much Marx as he should have done—a shameful admission in the Labour Party of today.
So a new biography of Marx may be well timed. A book that fillets and prepares Das Kapital for ordinary human consumption could fly off the shelves in Wallasey and Pontypridd, where ideological deselection struggles may shortly be under way. One of the last major biographies of the great man published here was written by the journalist and writer Francis Wheen in 1999. But while his book was readable, entertaining and at times even funny, he does not pack the intellectual punch of Gareth Stedman Jones, a professor of the history of ideas at Queen Mary, University of London, with a lengthy academic publication record on Marx and Marxism behind him. Comrade Wheen is also, shall we say, a touch unsound. Though a committed Republican, he has not always toed the party line.