One hundred years later, Marx leaves marks on West
Leipzig, East Germany — Karl Marx's imposing bearded portrait reigns in many a shop window here - in framed reproduction of oil paintings, in newsprint pointillism, in white-on-red cameo, in inlaid wood. And the opera house cellar theater is presenting a dramatization of the Marx-Engels correspondence.
Every day is Karl Marx day in East Germany, of course, not just the 100th anniversary of his death March 14. High school pupils study his ideology in the form of Marxism-Leninism in citizenship training. University students, whether they are majoring in literature or electrical engineering, spend a further compulsory two years on the subject. And it would be hard to find any issue of a newspaper or magazine that didn't pay homage several times to this German guru of the Russian revolution.
East Germany and other communist lands are not alone in honoring Marx on this occasion: the West German city of Trier has just renovated and reopened for the public the lovely baroque house where Marx was born. And the main speaker at the reopening was Rhineland-Palatinate's conservative Premier Bernhard Vogel - testimony indeed to Marx's influence not only on later communist ideology but on the mainstream of Western economic and political analysis as well. The burghers of Trier - who gave the West German Communist Party only 127 out of more than 50 ,000 votes in the March federal election - clearly think their native son was a giant, even if they don't hold much truck with what Marx's followers have made of him.
In like vein, all the major West German newspapers devoted full-page articles to Marx in their weekend editions. The most trenchant of these was the analysis by Berlin Free University professor Richard Lowenthal, a one-time anti-Hitler communist who was shocked by Stalin's purges into becoming a very anti-communist Social Democrat. In his essay in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the political scientist esteems Marx the analyst but faults Marx the revolutionary.
Marx the analyst, he says, saw connections between philosophy, science, economics, and politics that are taken for granted now but were unperceived before Marx opened our eyes to them. Along the way, he pointed out the dehumanization of production by machines and the alienation of the individual in ever larger depersonalized organizations - phenomena we are still coping with today.
''Today's (western) social science and history may not be 'Marxist' in the doctrinaire sense,'' comments Lowenthal, ''but their overall accomplishments would be unthinkable without the contribution of Karl Marx.''
Marx the utopian revolutionary, on the other hand, erred greatly in his expectations. He tried to transfer the Christian concept of heavenly salvation to a this-world salvation - accomplishing through social and political conflict a final conflict-free society.
In those lands that according to Marx should have had the most advanced class polarization and thus been most ripe for revolution - Britain and France in a purely industrial sense and Germany in a psychological sense - the working class did not fall into the anticipated critical decline in standard of living.
Instead, the workers improved their lot, through trade union bargaining (that Marx's pessimistic prognosis itself helped to stimulate), through social security, the spread of stockholders to the working class, and mixed economies with government intervention that moderated economic cycles.
Nonetheless, concludes Lowenthal, ''the teachings of this great thinker influenced in its essence the consciousness of modern mankind about its existential conditions and their determination.''