Marx In Soho

Written by Howard Zinn
Directed by Michael Fox Kennedy
Next To Nowhere Social Centre (2nd-3rd August 2009)

Reviewed by Jeremy Hawthorn

For just an hour Karl Marx is back. His short, unkempt, figure stomps into the social centre and holds forth with unbounded energy on his life and ideas. “Of course,” he chuckles, “I am not a Marxist!” He admits Das Kapital is heavy going and reads its tedious opening sentence with some embarrassment. Yet he is in no doubt: his analysis was and is right. His only mistake is not seeing quite how long it would take capitalism to collapse.

Howard Zinn's monologue play is both engaging and accurate. By the end we have seen Karl (played by Jerry Levy) and Jenny Marx expelled from Germany to Paris to Belgium to London. They end up in Soho, where they live in grinding poverty with the support of their renegade capitalist friend Engels. Children are born and of those that survive, daughter Eleanor is an activist from an early age (I suspect the resurrected Marx has moved with the times in recognising that the women in his life were partners in struggle).

Perhaps the most visionary moment is where Marx describes the Paris Commune. This was a “dictatorship of the proletariat” that resisted German invading forces in 1870 and then resisted the French ruling class as well. For a short time Parisian communities organised themselves without a state structure: Marx saw this as a model for the future. In London Marx is active in forming the International Workingmen’s Association.

Besides the ideas, though, Jerry Levy shows us Marx's zest for life, for Shakespeare and classical music, for brandy and long conversations. He would never be a dull bureaucrat. A bit of an academic, maybe, but then he wasn't a Marxist, was he?

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