Karl Marx is back in fashion. Yes, comrade Marx, the Victorian seer of doom, gloom and economic collapse, is enjoying a renaissance. Bearded, angry, as self-righteous as a biblical prophet, he stares from t-shirts and posters across the world, declaring, “I warned you this would happen.”
And yes he did. Capitalism, he forecast more than 150 years ago, sows the seeds of its own destruction. The proletariat and the bourgeoisie are locked in struggle, but eventually the working class will triumph as a new, communist system arises around the world, ushering in peace, prosperity and social justice.
That part did not work out. But while Marx’s skills as a forecaster are questionable, even the most ardent devotees of capitalism admit that his analysis is increasingly prescient.
Listening to the deluge of bad news about the eurozone crisis, the collapse of the Greek economy, the potential Italian meltdown and their global consequences, it’s hard not to believe that the end of the world, or at least the FTSE Index, is nigh.
Marx’s message is finding a powerful new resonance around the world, from the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, to downtown Athens and Rome and even Wall Street in New York. The protestors may be diverse, their demands diffuse and garbled. But there is no mistaking their heartfelt anger and demands for a fairer, softer capitalism.
Even Vince Cable, the business secretary in Britain’s coalition government, has said that he feels sympathy for the protestors in London.
Yet despite Marx’s foresight, capitalism, even in its present dire straits, will likely still have the last laugh. This crisis, like its predecessors in 2008, or Black Wednesday in 1992, right back to the global depression and crash of 1929, will pass. The worldwide economic system will recuperate, settle down and then slowly revive.
And despite Marx’s claims that the workers, not the financiers will eventually triumph, even now it seems that the opposite is happening. The bankers’ bonuses are still soaring, the richest 1 per cent of the population are steadily accumulating more wealth, while the other 99 per cent see their savings and assets wither away.
The political power of the financiers is certainly growing. The last few days have seen the bankers even engage in regime change, forcing Greece and Italy to depose democratically elected prime ministers in favour of technocrats. Those are the type of supposedly wise men who got us into this mess in the first place.
In Athens, Lucas Papademos, a former vice-president of the European Central Bank, has been sworn in as prime minister, replacing George Papandreou. Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister of Italy, has also resigned and has been replaced by Mario Monti, a former commissioner of the European Union.
Meanwhile, Comrade Karl still glares angrily, knowing that he too, has been turned into a commodity.