So I decided to sit down and watch “The Young Karl Marx”, a multi-lingual movie (German, French, and English) produced by independent filmmaker Raoul Peck. The movie describes the origins of both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, how they met each other, which philosophers influenced them, and the story of transforming the International Workers’ Party into the Communist Party.
…and I must say, it was not what I anticipated.
The first thing I’d like to address is my prejudice before watching. I found out about the movie after watching a social media advertisement. My first notion was what any Capitalist would think: “Just another communist Hollywood production glorifying one of the most evil men in world history”. However, this was not the case… sort of.
Even though Karl Marx is shown in a revolutionary light, it did show a lot of his faults and his dark side. In the movie, Karl Marx is somewhat of a drunkard who won’t find a job other than writing articles for The New York Daily Tribune. He can’t feed his family and he freeloads off of his rich friend and partner, Friedrich Engels. Toward the end of the movie, it is revealed that Karl Marx’s philosophy supported confronting the Bourgeois through violence, instead of through peaceful means, as advocated by his opponent and counterpart in the International Workers’ Party, Wilhelm Weitling. That caught me off guard, and I appreciated the movie’s illustration of this.
The movie also posed the dilemma with the statement that “property is theft”, asking “what is theft if there is no such thing as property?”. That was also interesting.
Obviously, it would not be a movie about Karl Marx unless there was a vilification of capitalism and the business owner. The factory workers in the movie were the stereotypical (and false) depiction of strung out, dust-covered women and children grinding out 16 hour work days being cruelly whipped by their supervisors whilst the wealthy bourgeois fat cat businessman laughs as he consumes the 3-pound lobster dinner prepared for him by his underpaid, mute maids.
Yeah, a little heavy, but hey, I think this was pretty much expected.
The ugly, or in this case, the “unexpectedly bad”, was that there was dialogue in the movie that specifically linked liberty with exploitation. In the beginning of the movie, Karl Marx is in France and attends a rally organized by then anarchist-socialist revolutionary Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who had just released his new book Qu’est-ce que la propriété (What is property?). Giving his speech to the crowd, Proudhon proclaims that liberty only benefits the bourgeoisie, and that “natural rights” are anti-social. This I found to be abhorrent, but I do believe it described accurately the sentiment in France at the time.
You should watch the movie because I learned a lot; Not only about Karl Marx but also about his opponents and the development of the International Workers’ Party into the Communist Party. In order for us to understand the enemy, we must study them. I started viewing the movie believing it was going to be communist propaganda, and then ended the movie having a better understanding of the world during Karl Marx’ time. Is it biased? Probably a little, but it was historically accurate and educational.