This week in history: The bicentennial of Karl H. Marx
A Karl Marx impersonator inspects a wooden cutout of the planned Karl Marx statue in Trier, Germany, the political philosopher’s birthplace. In April 2017, the City Council gave final approval to the monument, a gift from China that is being installed this week for Marx’s 200th birthday. | Harald Tittel / Deutsche Presse-Agentur via AP

Karl Heinrich Marx, co-author of The Communist Manifesto, author of the three-volume Capital, and a founder of “scientific socialism,” was born in the city of Trier in the Kingdom of Prussia (now Germany), on May 5, 1818. His bicentennial is being honored throughout the world. People’s World would like to add this poem by Hans Magnus Enzensberger to the conversation. Born in 1929 and now living in Munich, Enzensberger is a German author, poet, translator and editor. This poem appeared in The Penguin Book of Socialist Verse, edited by Alan Bold, 1970. The translation is by Michael Hamburger.

karl heinrich marx

gigantic grandfather
on brown daguerrotypes
i see your face
in the snow-white aura
despotic quarrelsome
and your papers in the linen press:
butcher’s bills
inaugural addresses
warrants for your arrest

your massive body
i see in the “wanted” book
gigantic traitor
displaced person
in tail coat and plastron
consumptive sleepless
your gall-bladder scorched
by heavy cigars
salted gherkins laudanum
and liqueur

i see your house
in the rue d’alliance
dean street grafton terrace
gigantic bourgeois
domestic tyrant
in worn-out slippers:
soot and “economic shit”*
usury “as usual”*
children’s coffins
backstair calamities

Hans Magnus Enzensberger at the University of Tübingen, 2013 / Felix König (Creative Commons)

no machine-gun
in your prophet’s hand:
i see it calmly
in the british museum
under the green lamp
break up your own house
with a terrible patience
gigantic founder
for the sake of other houses
in which you never woke up

gigantic zaddik
i see you betrayed
by your disciples:
only your enemies
remained what they were:
I see your face
on the last picture
of april eighty-two:
an iron mask:
the iron mask of freedom

*Quotations from Marx’s letters to Engels in the 1850s and 1860s.


Special to People’s World
Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.