Thursday, March 09, 2006

Does Globalisation Resurrect Karl Marx?

The “New Statesman” (13 March 2006) carries extracts from a debate between
Eric Hobsbawm and Jacques Attali: entitled “The new globalisation guru?” Hobsbawm, a distinguished historian, remains a self-proclaimed communist, while Jacques Attali, remains a banker and French right-of-centre politician.

The theme argued by Hobsbawm is that Karl Marx wrote for the 21st century, not the 19th century and that the Soviet communist experiment was a deviation from the path predicted by Marx. Marx is now coming into his own because of globalization and his ‘uncanny’ vision of the end of capitalism when capitalism is triumphant all over the world is the future. I suppose that means that Francis Fukuyama’s essay the ‘End of History’ should have been titled ‘the End of Capitalism is Nigh.’


Hobsbawn, clutching at straws, makes his point with the most dubious of data:

I don't think enough has been made of the BBC poll which named him the most famous of all philosophers.”

Readers of Lost Legacy will remember the announcement by the Socialist Party last July that a BBC poll of Radio 4 listeners showed an ‘overwhelming’ vote for Karl Marx and represented a blow to ‘capitalist commentators’:

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.”

I posted a short comment on Lost Legacy July 29 2005 (see Archives):

“Out of such exaggerations a belief becomes heady for those infected. Yet, in a moment’s reflection, Tony Sauvnois might ponder that if 27.83 per cent voted for Karl Marx, then 72.17 per cent voted for other philosophers, which suggests the Red Dawn is postponed again, as it has been for far longer than the Socialist Party has been in the propaganda business.”

Hobsbawn’s reference to this poll, ignoring the dubiety of the numbers (and the fact the BBC allowed multiple voting, an open invitation of committed Marxists members to do just that) follows a similar degree of fantasy to the Socialist Party’s by clutching at another alleged indicator of the popular importance of Karl Marx. He writes:

If you actually put "Marx" into Google you will find that there are several million entries - in fact, 39 million when I tried it last time. He is much the largest of the great international presences, exceeded only by Charles Darwin and Adam Smith.”

So I put some names in to Google and found 79 million for Adam Smith.

He received twice the number of hits as Karl Marx, so that part of Hobsbawn’s statement is correct. Not so with Charles Darwin: he received fewer hits than Marx at 23.4 million.

But by far the largest number of hits reported was for George W. Bush: 199 million! (Even Tony Blair scored 42.2 million).

Hitler scored more than Marx: 59.5 million hits, 20 million more than Marx, and the latest unspeakable dictator, Saddam Hussein, had 47.9 million, 8 million more than Marx.

(Incidentally, Mickey Mouse, a cartoon character, scored 18.2 million, just under half those for Marx.)

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