Karl Marx has been decried by mainstream economists and news outlets as dead, irrelevant and/or outdated. A new study published by the world’s most reputed scholarly journal, Nature, once again shows that despite the hue and cry of naysayers and those who would revise history, his specter cannot be exorcised.
At the height of the capitalist boom, Paul Krugman wrote in Forbes magazine, “Sure, Marx wrote about economic upheavals; so did lots of people. What he never managed to do was offer either a comprehensible explanation of why such upheavals happen or any suggestions about what to do about them (except abolish capitalism). By my reckoning, Karl Marx made about as much of a contribution to economics as Zeppo Marx made to comedy.” This high-flying and baseless rhetoric is hardly unique. In his lifetime and long after, Marx has been caricatured and derided by countless “scholars,” “economists,” and defenders of the status quo. There is even a website dedicated to pulverizing the corpse of the bearded barbarian: www.marxisdead.com.
This unrelenting libel against a man who has been dead for more than a century is rather peculiar and begs an important question: if the guy is dead and irrelevant, why do we keep reminding ourselves of this? We are not constantly reminded of the irrelevance of Franz Joseph Gall, Mikhail Bakunin, Martin Fleischmann, and Stanley Pons, are we? With scant exception, their theories have vanished from public discourse and scientific inquiry—unaccompanied by a torrent of attacks. The reason for this is evident: their ideas have been systematically destroyed by the march of science and history.
But dispatching Marxist theories has not been so easy, even for its staunchest opponents. The last few years have seen an unprecedented revival in coverage of Marx, and a marked change in tone. This reached a new peak as the scholarly journal Nature published an article titled “Who is the best scientist of them all?” Researchers at Indiana University Bloomington devised a test to determine the interdisciplinary relevance of scholars, controlling for field bias.
“Their provisional (and constantly updated) ranking of nearly 35,000 researchers relies on queries made through Google Scholar to normalize the popular metric known as the h-index (a scientist with an h-index of 20 has published at least 20 papers with at least 20 citations each, so the measure takes into account quantity and popularity of research). It found that as of 5 November, the most influential scholar was Karl Marx in history.”
“Karl Marx’s score was more than 22 times the average h-index of other scholars in history (but 11 times that of the average economist). Compared to 35,000 other high-profile scholars, Marx’s score stood out the most. Second in line was psychologist Sigmund Freud. Third was the (still alive and working) physicist Edward Witten.”
It goes without saying that these are impressive results for a man who is continually alleged to be dead. Anyone who considers him or herself to be intellectually honest, forthright, and critical must examine the theories of scientific socialism on their own merit and determine how they confirm or disprove themselves against the experience of living reality.
As capitalism lurches along through its greatest crisis yet, we can rely on defenders of the status quo to remind us that this most “subversive” of scholars is outdated. Fortunately for the Marxists, capitalism itself is convincing more and more people that old Karl’s ideas are not only more relevant than ever, but urgently needed.
As Alan Woods pointed out in The Ideas Of Karl Marx: “Every social system believes that it represents the only possible form of existence for human beings, that its institutions, its religion, its morality are the last word that can be spoken. That is what the cannibals, the Egyptian priests, Marie Antoinette and Tsar Nicolas all fervently believed. And that is what the bourgeoisie and its apologists today wish to demonstrate when they assure us, without the slightest basis, that the so-called system of ‘free enterprise’ is the only possible system—just when it is beginning to sink.”