Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/402/4575
Karl Marx: The greatest philosopher of all time
"PHILOSOPHERS HAVE interpreted the world the point is to change it." This was the opening of Melvin Bragg's Radio 4 programme In Our time, broadcast on 14 July. This well-known quote from Karl Marx is not the usual introduction to a programme introduced by Lord Melvin Bragg, a close friend of Tony Blair!
The reason it was used by a bewildered Bragg, was that Radio 4 listeners had just voted Karl Marx the 'greatest philosopher of all time'.
The vote for Marx was overwhelming, winning 27.93% of the vote compared to his nearest rival, the free trade supporter and contemporary of Adam Smith, David Hume, who received only 12.67% of the vote. This vote represents a blow to capitalist commentators. It illustrates hostility towards modern capitalist society amongst even sections of the middle class.
The result enraged the right-wing Tory press and media. The right-wing Daily Mail denounced Radio 4 listeners for voting for the "Monster Marx".
For weeks it had been reported that Marx was in the lead. Now, dismayed capitalist commentators, following this victory by Marx, have questioned the validity of the poll in which 30,000 people participated.
They have protested that socialists mobilised supporters to vote. Yet all the main capitalist journals attempted to do the same. The Economist supported either Adam Smith or John Locke. But as they admitted, these pro-capitalist philosophers failed to make it onto the short list. So they urged readers to vote for David Hume.
However, Radio 4 listeners rejected this advice and overwhelmingly supported Marx. Capitalist commentators hoped that they had buried Marx with the collapse of the former bureaucratic one-party regimes which ruled in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
However, Marx's analysis of capitalism and ideas are increasingly seen to be relevant to understanding modern capitalist society. Even some individuals from the ruling class have been compelled to recognise the strength of Marx's analysis.
In 1997 the business correspondent of the New Yorker, John Cassidy, reported a conversation with an investment banker: "The longer I spend on Wall Street, the more convinced that Marx's approach is the best way to look at capitalism."
Cassidy himself turned to read Marx for the first time. He found: "Riveting passages about globalisation, inequality, political corruption, monopolisation, technical progress, the decline of high culture, and the enervating nature of modern existence..." All issues at the centre of modern capitalism.
Yet Marx did not only analyse capitalism. He outlined the alternative to it in the form of scientific socialism and the role of the working class in building a new socialist society. He fought to build international organisations of the working class and advance the struggles of working people at great personal sacrifice.
He arrived in Britain as a penniless asylum seeker. It was not only in the realm of ideas that Marx made this gigantic contribution. For him his philosophy was a tool to understand the laws of capitalist society but the essential task was to end it. 'Philosophers have interpreted the world the point is to change it'. He spent his life fighting to do just that.
The vote by Radio 4 listeners recognises his historic contribution. It is a rebuff to Bragg and other capitalist commentators who though they had succeeded in burying Marx beneath the ruins of the Berlin Wall. His ideas are destined to become the most influential of the 21st century.
In The Socialist 21 July 2005: