August 2008 – Marx in Venice

By Mark Lipman

Contrary to public opinion, Karl Marx is alive and well … and was living, at least temporarily last month, in Venice.

His reincarnation comes to us thanks to the fact that the one thing you can’t kill is an idea. So, in order to clear his name, he has returned to us in the form of actor Bob Weick, who, for an hour or so, sets the record straight in the play, “Marx in Soho,” brought to the solar powered Electric Lodge by producer Michael McAteer.

While here, the Beachhead took the opportunity to meet with the cast and crew and had the pleasure of speaking with its creator Howard Zinn, best known for his book, A People’s History of the United States. Here’s a little of what we learned:

Beachhead: What are some of the misconceptions about Karl Marx and communism that you are trying to clear up with this play?

Howard Zinn: Probably the biggest misconception is that Marxism leads inevitably to something like the Soviet Union, that is to bureaucracy, centralized power, dictatorship. It is the lack of understanding that Marx believed in the freedom of the individual. He believed that the state, even if taken over by the proletariat, only lasts a short time and the state would disappear when its functions were no longer needed. That is the greatest misconception of Marx, the failure to recognize how much he believed in individual freedom. He would have been appalled at the way his ideas were distorted in the Soviet Union and in other countries that call themselves Marxist.

Beachhead: How can these concepts be applied to today’s world?

Zinn: Well, today’s world is a capitalist dominated world and it is a matter of organizing people, organizing working people, all over the world, in every country, to pose their governments to change their systems to move towards a socialist system.

Beachhead: Is there any way that capitalism and communism could be compatible?

Zinn: No, not really. Maybe some characteristics of capitalism that some future society might take over, some degree of freedom of the markets, but in the most fundamental ways they’re incompatible.

Beachhead: It has been noted that at the end of the 19th century the world was on the brink of socialist revolution, as exemplified by the Paris Commune, and the only thing that stopped it was the outbreak of World War I. How does war figure into all of this?

Zinn: War has always been a way of cutting short the development of a revolutionary movement, by mobilizing everyone against an enemy overseas and it is a way of diverting the revolutionary energy of people towards war.

We also spoke with Bob Weick on what drew him to the character of Karl Marx, who now has 161 performances under his belt. “It’s because he was a family man, like me,” Bob says. “He was someone who loved his family, which you can see from the play and he wanted to create a better world for them.”

“What about his ideas on communism, how would you update them for the 21st century?” we asked.

“That’s just the thing,” Bob says, “there’s nothing to update. His ideas on communism still work and are still valid today. The problem is that communism, the way he conceived it, has never been tried. Believe it or not, Karl Marx was not a Marxist. He never agreed with the way his ideas were used. He wanted dialogue, not dogma.

“But when it all comes down to it,” Bob continues, “it’s about today. It’s about the community that we live in here and now and how what Karl Marx spoke about 150 years ago is still valid today.”

In performance he underlines this by pulling clear examples of unemployment, poverty and homelessness from our own daily newspapers, at times to the discomfort of some audience members, as they shift in their seats, when on stage he boldly declares what we all know to be true that 1 percent of this nation owns 41 percent of our entire wealth and it’s only getting worse. In the words of Zinn’s Karl Marx, “Your employer is paying you poverty wages, but is making much more for himself in return, so that he gets richer and richer and richer, while you stay poor.”

The solution?

Well, standing from his soapbox, Karl might tell you, “It is time for the workers of the world to unite.”

Categories: Art, Events

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