[Viewpoint] Revival of Marxism for progressAbout 2,000 years ago, John the Baptist argued that the time had arrived for God’s country. God’s country was an ideal country where God has sovereignty, not the people. Most of the people who had joined John the Baptist’s movement became Christian. There are, still however, about 60,000 to 70,000 people who believe that John the Baptist, not Christ, was the true messiah. They are the believers of Mandaeism.
In the Christian calendar, the feast of John the Baptist falls on June 24. While the day of a saint’s death is usually celebrated as his or her feast day, the feast of John the Baptist is his birthday.
Even in the Islamic community, he is respected as a prophet. John the Baptist undeniably made a clear mark in the history of the world’s monotheism.
Although his field of activity is completely different, Karl Marx (1818-1883) shared a similar fate. He left an incredible footprint on world history, social science and philosophy, but the number of political parties and people directly following him are declining rapidly. In 2004, 50 volumes of the collected works of Marx and Friedrich Engels were published in English. It was a monumental moment in academia, but the sentiment was gloomy.
Of course, there are exceptions that show the tenacious vitality of Marxism. Recently, the Dalai Lama even called himself a Marxist who opposes Chinese-style Marxism.
Last month, British historian Eric Hobsbawm published a book - “How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism.” The key theme of the book is that Marxism can resolve the problems of the 21st century. Hobsbawm is famous for his trilogy of “The Age of Revolution,” “The Age of Capital” and “The Age of Empire.” He is respected as the best Marxist historian, and at least for British leftists, he is a national treasure.
Born in 1917, Hobsbawm became a member of the Communist Party in the 1930s. He was cruelly strict about the flaws and shortcomings of Marxism. He, however, remained a staunch follower of Marx. Hobsbawm is faithful to the view of Marxism that capitalism is not the end of history but a step in history. He has no doubt that the next step will be socialism.
Hobsbawm deplores the idea of a reality without an alternative to capitalism. He said that over the past 25 years, no leftist political leaders in Europe have properly pointed out the problems of capitalism.
The only public figure who has done so was Pope John Paul II, he said. Hobsbawm wraps up his latest work, “How to Change the World,” by declaring that the time has come to seriously consider Marxism.
Hobsbawm’s views have faced fierce criticism from centrist-leftists. They say that 100 million people have been sacrificed by the communist regimes’ inhumane crimes and that Hobsbawm has turned a blind eye to that fact.
Even 2,000 years later, John the Baptist still has believers. Will there be any followers of Marx in 2,000 years? If there are, they will be the people who believe that history develops in steps. They may be the people who believe that ideology can change the world as well.
Some may argue that the time for talk about Marx has long passed.
But Marxism still has strengths, even though it cannot be an alternative for us.
In 1865, Marx sent a message to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln to congratulate him on his landslide re-election. That may puzzle us because we are not very knowledgeable about Marx and his era.
Among the bright minds of the world, including Hobsbawm, many are Marxist. Their academic achievements cannot be separated from Marx and Marxism.
Of course, it is necessary to differentiate Marxist politics and Marxist academics. That will allow for discussion on progress in history.
*The writer is an editor of the JoongAng Sunday.
By Kim Whan-yung