Marx in Soho
“Oh, ja — ‘capitalism has triumphed!’ — but over whom?” – Marx, Marx in Soho
Although The Zinn Reader held a near-monopoly on my attention last week, there was a brief thirty-minute timeframe in which I visted my post box, discovered to my happy surprise that a book had come in early, and excitedly read through it. As you might guess from those comments, Marx in Soho is not a lengthy work: it is not even a book in the usual sense, but a play written by Howard Zinn. I came to Marx in Soho by the same means I came to The Zinn Reader: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, a documentary on Zinn’s life. Film from a production of Zinn’s speculative play in which Karl Marx visits the present day from the “beyond” featured in the movies, and it intrigued me enough that I started looking for recordings on YouTube. Those were well-done enough to merit my looking for the book, which I did.
As said, the play’s premise is one of speculative fiction. Karl Marx, annoyed that his name and life’s work are being slandered in the modern world, is able to badger the Powers that Be into letting him visit the living world just for one hour — although, due to a bureacratic mix-up, he finds himself in Soho, New York instead of Soho, England. The play is a monolouge, although we hear from other characters through Marx’s reflectings on the past. Most of his attention is focused firmly on the present, as he admits that his predictions of class revolution and Communism were off, muses on why, and applies his criticisms of capitalism in the 19th century to capitalism in the 20th. Marx is portrayed not as a sage-like Gentleman Scholar in this play, but as an ordinary human who loved his wife and children, endured a bad cough, turned his home into a salon for the dicussion of economic and political matters, and who is passionate about his work. Zinn’s Marx has a sense of humor, sometimes making wry comments to the audience after his more spirited rants have attracted negative attention from “Heaven” — lightening flashes whenever Marx becomes too animated.
Marx in Soho is a fun little read. It’s almost a modern Communist Manifesto, communicating Marx’s ideas to a lay audience. It’s nowhere near as thorough as the Manifesto, but the 21st century’s attention span may be too short to endure even the short work that is the Manifesto. Marx in Soho is fairly well done — it’s readable, presents the Manifesto’s basic tenents, entertains, and humanizes a figure who is more legend than man. My only raised eyebrow comes from Marx speaking in Zinn’s voice toward the end.