When Clio, the Muse of History, gets her diary up to date, whom will she write down as the Man of the 20th Century? Barring the unlikely appearance, before 2000, of an extraordinarily effective saint or major prophet, the Man of the Century will be a German intellectual, devoted to children, caviar and Aeschylus.
He does not look the part. His scholarly forehead, his small, sparkling eyes, his massive and majestic beard set him apart from other 20th Century heroes. The black-rimmed eyeglass, which he carries on a thin ribbon around his neck, is a gentle anachronism. Above all, his dates seem wrong. For it was at the height of the Victorian era, when the atom appeared almost as indestructible as Britain's dominion of the waves, that Karl Heinrich Marx died.
But that was a technicality. In the historic sense (as distinguished from the merely biological), Karl Marx has only just begun to live.
Happy Birthday. This month marks an anniversary for Karl Marx. Just 100 years ago his Communist Manifesto, a slender pamphlet bound in green, was first presented to a deeply uninterested public. Since then, public interest has increased. Karl Marx this week is everywhere.
"Marxist" is the word that divides the world. In the lands drained by the Sava, the Bug, the Moskva, the Dnieper, the Don, the Volga, the Yenisei and the Amur, a man who wishes to express approvalof a painting, a factory production record or a military operationis likely to call it "Marxist." In the lands drained by the St. Lawrence, the Mississippi, the Orinoco, the Amazon, the Tagus, the Thames and the Clyde, a man who wishes to express disapprovalof a painting, a production record or a military operationis likely to call it "Marxist." In the lands drained by the Yangtze, the Yellow River, the Mekong, the Tiber, the Po, the Rhone, the Scheldt, the Rhine, men are dividedin some cases bloodily;over whether "Marxist" should express approval or disapproval.
In the lands drained by the Shannon, the Niger, the Nile, the Euphrates, the Ganges, the Indus and the Irrawaddy, Marxism is not the paramount issue. These lands are regarded by both Marxists and anti-Marxists as somewhat backward.
Marxism last week made men fight in the ragged mountains of Greece. It inspired strikes in Seoul, Korea, and San Ferdinando di Puglia, Italy. A Shanghai girl student asked a boy to write in her autograph book. Instead of an affectionate personal sentiment, he wrote: "What is the reason for the existence of people who reap wealth without laboring?" Marx, who guided the Chinese boy's hand, was also last week the most important man in the world's two great centers of power, the U.S. Congress and Moscow's Politburo.
Quite a birthday for a manifesto. Quite a ripple for an unsociable old refugee who had sat, day after day, year after year, under the high glass dome of the British Museum's reading room, his clothes untidy, a sarcastic line edging his mouth.