Saturday, 16 June 2018

Thoughts in Progress

In the The Young Karl Marx August Diehl smirks a lot. He displays a smug smile when he meets his future comrade-in-arms Friedrich Engels. It is there again when he takes on the apocalyptic- and evangelically-sounding rabble-rouser Wilhelm Weitling. And we come across Marx’s scornful expression again when he confronts a rich mill owner, friend of Engels’ father, on child exploitation. That such a dialogue-rich movie contains such strongly-conveyed facial messages speaks volumes about the quality of the direction, script and performances.

Whereas in I am Not Your Negrodirector Raoul Peck’s Oscar-nominated, James Baldwin-inspired documentary, the film-maker  uses the late civil rights movement writer’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House to put contemporary US society in the dock, in the The Young Karl Marx, he injects both Marx and Engels with a dose of much-needed humanity. The script suits Diehl’s bruising Marx and Konarske’s arrogant Engels, both of whom have plenty of scores to settle. Rounding up the leading roles are two actresses who rise up to the challenge posed to them even if their contribution is not as evident as the men’s. On one side we have Vicky Krieps, who was last seen poisoning Daniel Day Lewis (admittedly, with his consent in the end) in Phantom Thread, in the role of Jenny Marx. Although here the Luxembourg-born actress seems to play second fiddle, there’s still fierceness in her performance as a staunch defender of her husband’s ideas. On the other side we have Hannah Steele, she of Wolf Hall fame, as Mary Burns, Engels’ lifelong partner and a working-class, Irish woman who adopts both Marx and Engels’ ideas as her own.

The elephant in the room is the theory both thinkers come up with. Whilst Engels acquires first-hand knowledge of the conditions of the English working-class (chiefly with Mary’s help), Marx is busy polishing up his ideas on the inner workings of capitalism. Their findings are valid but their solutions controversial, and sadly history has not been kind to these men’s communist- or socialist-driven agenda (it is always amusing to find a group of western intellectuals locked in a verbal brawl over which system is the better antidote to modern-day capitalism).

In believing that the way to accelerate the demise of capitalism and usher in a new equalitarian society was by transferring power from the ruling elite to the working class, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels created unintentionally a virtuous oppressed Other. This oppressed Other was cast in an angelic and almost-perfect light. Nuance went out of the window, along with the power of the individual.

To be clear: the underage children slaving away in coal mines were real, the poor families with barely anything to eat and in constant fear of eviction were real and the workers deprived of their own rights and voice were real. It is just that the solution to their plight was not and should never have been Lenin, Stalin, Mao or Fidel. When these leaders introduced their own version of socialism, the last thing on their minds was that oppressed Other. The irony was that they used the nuance-free image created by the followers of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and manipulated it for their own power-grabbing purposes. This was not Marx or Engels’ fault, any more than the writer(s) who cobbled together those first passages of the Old Testament are to blame for the current situation with abortion in Ireland. Socialist dictatorships’ first step when they come to power is to wipe away any kind of joyful expression that does not match the incoming government’s revolutionary zeal. And if that includes self-satisfying, smug smirking, so be it.

What, smirking again, Herr Marx?

© 2018

21 comments:

  1. Sadly leaders and power-grabbing are familiar to most of us. And cross political and religious divides with ease.

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  2. It’s more than sad that the ‘faces of socialism’ that spring to minds are Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Fidel - and not Putin. I struggle with a system in which the few rich and powerluf assume the right to make life decisions for the poor and powerless. I wish there were a way to move towards a society in which we were all kinder to each other. I know that’s pie-in-the-sky - but even if I’m the only one, it’s the way I try it live.

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  3. The longer I live the more I dislike our so-called leaders.

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  4. Sure all comes back to their own ego and greed, leaders seem to all stack up the same.

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  5. Communism sounds great as a pure ideal, but on the ground it fails because it ignores greedy and ego-driven human nature.

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  6. The problem I see with those like Marx and Engels is that they come up with a theory but do not follow the idea through to the end. The beginnings of many ideals seem sound. But if one follows the dots eventually most of them are not good for the majority.

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  7. Many years ago, a sociology teacher, in leading a discussion of the various types of government, purposely wrote them on the blackboard in a side-by-side manner, as opposed to in a vertical list, which would imply the superiority of one type over the other. What I learned from him is that most forms of government have some implicit appeal within the ideals of pure theory. It's in the implementation that we tend to fail, because of the corruption and greed of those leaders who are more interested in serving themselves than they are in serving the good of society.

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  8. Any theory is only as good as those who implement it.
    Luckily most people really are decent and kindly on a small, local scale so we all jog along without attracting much in the way of government attention at all.

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  9. Good thoughts here, there are no real answers to our problems...capitalism vs communism with greed and power in the mix.

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  10. I agree with your words, CiL, and with the words in the comments by the others. Each of us, I think, likes to believe we could be benevolent benefactors for all those who populate the earth, but only a very/very/very few could reach such a level.

    Your observations about the "smirk" fascinate me. With the advent of big screen television and the absurd habit of showing extreme, close-up views of faces, it has become evident to me that many smiles actually are smirks. What can I say ????

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  11. It's true that facial expressions (as well as tone of voice) can make all the difference in getting across a point or attitude. It's one reason folks are often misunderstood when commenting on blogs, tweeting, or whatever. Emojis can help clarify the tone :) but even then, there can be misunderstandings.

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  12. "It is just that the solution to their plight was not and should never have been Lenin, Stalin, Mao or Fidel." Yes.

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  13. In the end "leaders" take the best for themselves and do not even have to take responsibility for their actions (these days), it seems...

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  14. Many thanks for sharing 'thoughts in progress'.
    My good wishes for the new week ahead.

    All the best Jan

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  15. Don't you think that whatever theory or lifestyle or government style we come up with, there will always be those who don't get it and try to bring it down, for whatever reason seems best to them? My rule of thumb is to assume that governments and other institutions will always look after themselves as top priority, (as being shown in our own political shenanigans at the moment) above the good of the people, the country, the idea, etc. Those at the top of those institutions will aim to keep as much power as they can. Even so, some systems are considerably better than others, so we have to try and cling on to that

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  16. We live in a time of such shocking greed and cruelty. I'm looking for anything that will really drain this ever-growing swamp.

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  17. Not sure what to say about this topic so I just say Hi :)

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  18. Very true. And clearly analyzed from very real experience.I think we are revisting similar political times and now is the chance to get the nuances right.

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  19. We never seem to get it right, do we?
    FYI: I was in London. Where were you? Ha.
    We went to see one of my daughter's paintings in the National Portrait Gallery. I'd never been to London and because of its size was dreading it. Instead, I fell in love with it.

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  20. I'am glad to read the whole content of this blog and am very excited,Thank you for sharing good topic.

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  21. Movies with political messages add interest. If you have a dark sense of humor, you might enjoy Death of Stalin too. The current political reality in the USA is grim too.

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