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MARX IN SOHO by Howard Zinn


A Play on History

by Howard Zinn

Pub Date: March 31st, 1999
ISBN: 0-89608-594-5

By left-wing historian Zinn (The Zinn Reader, 1997; A Peoples’ History of the United States, not reviewed), a whimsical one-man play in which Karl Marx returns from the grave to modern-day Soho—not to the London Soho where he lived, but through some otherworldly bureaucratic error, to the New York neighborhood of the same name. Zinn explains in his introduction that he intends to show that “Marx’s critique of capitalism remains fundamentally true in our time.” Mercifully, however, Zinn’s Marx spends little onstage time defending chimerical Marxist oddities like the surplus value theory. Instead, Zinn presents Karl Marx the revolutionary, the family man, and the impecunious scholar. Rather than the often nasty and abusive character portrayed by some writers, Marx emerges here as an earthy, passionate figure, righteously angry about poverty, injustice, concentrations of wealth and power, and rapacious corporations. Marx also emerges as a beleaguered family man (no mention here of his impregnating the family maid), struggling to keep his wife and children clothed and sheltered. Proclaiming that “I am not a Marxist,” Zinn’s Marx decries the defunct Soviet Union and other police states created in his name, and talks dreamily of the paradisaical socialist society which he still believes will follow the imminent collapse of capitalism, in which workers are no longer alienated from the products of their labor and from one another, and in which inequality and want will be abolished. Imaginatively pointing to the globalization of the world economy and the merger frenzy as dark confirmations of the truth of Marxist criticism of capitalism, Zinn has Marx urge Americans to strive for an egalitarian society. The onstage Marx urges that we use “the incredible wealth of the earth for human beings” and to give people the necessities of life. An imaginative critique of our society’s hypocrisies and injustices, and an entertaining, vivid portrait of Karl Marx as a voice of humanitarian justice—which is perhaps the best way to remember him.