Five O'Clock with Theral Timpson
Five O'Clock with Theral Timpson
Republicans Call Democrats Marxists, But Who Really Was Marx? We Ask His Biographer, Jonathan Sperber
Republicans Call Democrats Marxists, But Who Really Was Marx? We Ask His Biographer, Jonathan Sperber


0:00 Marx is not our contemporary, but from a past world that no longer exists

10:52 Two personal losses that shape the young Marx

17:35 The early journalist who writes against communism

21:45 In Paris, the communist is born

24:30 Finding "the proletariat"

31:00 Have Marx’s ideas had staying power?

34:15 Pushing back on historicism

37:13 Marx in today’s politics

43:50 What to read?

Is Marx relevant today?  Our guest on today’s show says Marx was a product of the 19th century and not much more.  

But tune into the current presidential race in the U.S., and you’ll hear his name bandied about right and left—primarily by Republican candidates using Marx as a bogeyman.  Democrats can seem a bit nervous when Marx’s name comes up.   How much is their platform influenced by the New Marxists of the 60s and the application of Marx's core ideas to race, gender, and sexuality?  Indeed, how much do we still use Marxian economic categories to see history through the lens of class struggle?


We talk with Jonathan Sperber, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Missouri and author of Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life.  Jonathan’s aim in the book is to rethink the way we look at this famous thinker, activist, philosopher, journalist, economist, and author.

“For a long time--and this reflects the impact of the Cold War and the massive political and military confrontations of the 20th century--people saw Marx as a contemporary.   He was either this brilliant thinker who understood perfectly the nature of today’s world and its future development, or he was this evil genius behind the most horrible mass murders and dictatorships of the 20th century.  If you liked Marx, he was Nelson Mandela.  If you didn’t like him, he was Sadam Hussein.  I think about him differently, someone more like Martin Luther,” says Jonathan at the outset of today’s program.

Jonathan wants us to see Marx in context, as a person shaped by his time whose ideas were created for specific moments in the 19th century.   What events shaped the young Marx and turned him into one of Europe’s greatest agitators and activists and at one time, leader of the communist party?  What has been the staying power of Marx’s ideas, and how does he figure in today’s politics and political thought?

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