This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx, the originator of the materialist conception of History. Rising inequality, nearly everywhere around the world, with the richest one percent having now accumulated more wealth than everyone else, means that Marx’s ideas are as relevant as ever. We live in an era where the structural crises of the world systems have helped maintain the worst features of capitalism in place: social hierarchy, exploitation and, above all, a polarization of wealth.
In “The Young Karl Marx,” which was directed by Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck and co-written by Peck and Pascal Bonitzer, returning to Marx is indispensable to build a human economy that benefits everyone, not just the privileged few.
The movie, shown at the 67th Berlinale Film Festival, is a nuanced and surprisingly-accurate portrait of the modern revolutionary socialist movement as young man. It relates Marx’s life, from 1843 onward, when he was forced to migrate to the Brussels in 1845 after being expelled from both Germany and France because of the political ideology he was spreading.
Reconstructing the persistence of Marx in trying to understanding the way in which capitalism operates, the movie evokes the reason why Marx’s and Engels’s view of globalization in the Communist Manifesto had such a contemporary ring to it. The young revolutionary was the first to recognize the fact that the struggle between oppressor (evil) and oppressed (good) guides every society, in every age.
In Paris, Marx finds his intellectual soulmate in Friedrich Engels (played by German TV actor Stefan Konarske), a rebellious rich kid, writing about the poor conditions of the working class in England. Together, they wrote The Communist Manifesto in 1848, a text that elaborates the social changes communists hoped to effect on behalf of the proletariat.
“The Young Karl Marx” makes any estheticism irrelevant. Raoul Peck somehow succeeds to portray a figure that is difficult to capture, a Marx in his mid-twenties, played by August Diehl, before he became the iconic revolutionary intellectual who was handed down to us with his voluminous beard and thick mustache.
Past mainstream economists overwhelmingly ignored Marx and dismissed Marxist economics as politically-biased and lacking in rigor. Raoul Peck’s movie offers an opportunity to refresh Marxism as a interesting lens through which to observe the 21st century.