According to one of Karl Marx’s most quoted formulations, history always repeats itself twice, first as tragedy, then as farce. One may see the famous – and, of course, infamous – nineteenth-century German radical according to his own schema. We may imagine the severe, thickly bearded founder of dialectical materialism as a modern, tragic reincarnation of the historical figure of the revolutionary: a Dickensian, poverty-stricken exile in place of the rebellious tribunes and slave rebels of ancient Rome. If so, can we not also view the current revival of interest in Marx and his politics as anything other than farcical?
Consider the melodrama around the unveiling of a rather uninspiring statue to commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of the philosopher’s birth in his native city of Trier, donated by one of the most ruthless capitalist forces in human history, the hilariously titled current ‘Communist Party’ of China. The apparent opposition between the local city authorities’ desperate desire to attract Chinese capital and tourists, and the demonstrations against the raising of the statue (led by a dubious amalgam of fascists and New Ageists) is not dissimilar to an episode of the comedy television show Parks and Recreation. At the time of writing, no Marxist hashtag campaign has either been launched or endorsed by ‘woke’ multibillionaire celebrities, but Teen Vogue’s recent article profiling the ‘anti-capitalist scholar’ alongside the promotion of $850 Crocs slippers is nothing if not farcical.