Marx voted top thinker

Charlotte Higgins
Thursday July 14, 2005

In a shock result, Karl Marx has been voted the 
greatest ever philosopher following a poll by 
Melvyn Bragg's Radio 4 show In Our Time 

In the public's poll, which assessed 20 
philosophers, Marx, author of the Communist 
Manifesto and Das Kapital, got 27.93% of the 
30,000 votes. In second place came David Hume 
with 12.67%, followed by Ludwig Wittgenstein with 
6.8%. Plato trailed in fifth place and Socrates 
at eighth.

Andrew Chitty, who, at Sussex University, teaches 
the UK's only MA in Marxist philosophy, said: 
"This shows that philosophy should take Marxism 
seriously. It is possible he won because Marxists 
organised a mass vote; they're much more 
organised than Hegelians, for instance.

"But I think it's more likely that people 
understand that in this increasingly capitalist 
world Marx gives us the best vision with which to 
understand that world. Marx talks about capital 
in a philosophical way - he's unique in that.",9115,1528137,00.html


Kapital gain

Karl Marx is now the Home Counties' favourite

Mark Seddon
Thursday July 14, 2005

Karl Marx is the nation's most revered 
philosopher. No, this isn't old Soviet agitprop, 
but the result of a Radio 4 listeners' poll 
organised by the broadcaster Melvyn Bragg for his 
series In Our Time. The veteran Marxist 
historian, Eric Hobsbawm, thinks he knows why. 
His reasoning is as contemporary as Marx's was 
visionary. "The Communist Manifesto," he says, 
"contains a stunning prediction of the nature and 
effects of globalisation."

Taking 28% of the votes cast, the former 
down-at-heel Victorian gent, who suffered 
appalling outbreaks of boils, beat the Economist 
magazine's trumpeted candidate, David Hume, hands 
down. So with even the communist daily Morning 
Star keeping tight-lipped, the strange exhumation 
of Marx can only be attributed to thousands of 
Radio 4 listeners in the Home Counties. This is 
clearly a very real middle-class conspiracy, 
designed to give those ex-Marxists in the cabinet 
- John Reid and Charles Clarke among them - 
sleepless nights.

But should we really be so surprised? Marx, now 
freed from his flawed pupils, is as liberating as 
he was when he published the Communist Manifesto 
150 years ago. Re-visiting Marx's theories on 
historical and dialectical materialism, it is 
possible to see a genius at work because, as 
Bragg would have it, "everything can be 

But then, as the self deprecating Marx once 
argued: "The philosophers have only interpreted 
the world in various ways. The point, however, is 
to change it." Marx reaches through the centuries 
not only because he understood how modern 
capitalism would exacerbate the divide between 
rich and poor, but because he could see that, 
left to its own devices, it would create monopoly 
and exploitation.

He could have left it there, but of course he 
believed that there had to be an alternative. And 
in these dumbed down times where Lord Birt's 
blue-sky thinking and management consultancy 
gobbledegook has our technocratic political class 
in a vice-like grip, it is refreshing to discover 
that thousands of Britons must believe that real 
change is possible. Amazingly for the slayers of 
social democracy in New Labour, as many of these 
people probably live in places like Esher and 
Surbiton as they do in Oxford and Cambridge.

Market fundamentalism has now replaced Marxism 
and its many derivatives in the west, as it has 
done in the east. Elsewhere, nationalism and 
religious fundamentalism vie to fill a dangerous, 
illiberal void. It is as if the age of 
enlightenment, of the Renaissance, had never 
happened. Marx spawned some horrors, and the 
flight from him by the political class has been 
so total that the gentler tradition of democratic 
socialism has been all but lost.

Marx's mother despaired at the futility of it 
all. "I wish you could make some capital rather 
than just writing about it," she once 
remonstrated. Well, maybe his old bankroller, 
Friedrich Engels, might have agreed, but Marx has 
left a rich intellectual inheritance. Before 
Gordon Brown has another chance to say "No return 
to boom and bust", I heartily recommend to him a 
few hours spent perusing Das Kapital.

 Mark Seddon is a member of Labour's national executive committee

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