How Karl Marx became a pop icon
Karl Marx's legacy is ambivalent: while his ideas made Marx the spiritual father of the labor movement, they have also been used as justification for tyranny. Still, he is celebrated around the world as a cultural icon.
Marx as prophet of the bottle collectors
Today, Karl Marx serves as something of a prophetic symbol, warning about the class divide between rich and poor. In this street art piece in Berlin, the philosopher is dressed as a bottle collector, bag in hand, with a T-shirt that reads: "I told you how to change the world." Of course, it's never as easy as it's made out to be.
A number of infamous political heirs to Marx's communist ideas have included the likes of Joseph Stalin, who manipulated these theories to justify a reign of terror against his perceived enemies. Marx is seen here displayed in April 1969 at the ninth annual Party meeting for China's Communist Party, alongside his spiritual collaborators and heirs Engels, Lenin and Stalin.
Justifying mass murder
That's how it works with theories: they can be re-interpreted and misused. Marx would not have been enthusiastic about being appropriated by a dictator and mass murderer like Mao Tse Tung. Marx's ideas may have been revolutionary, but he preferred, if possible, a moderate approach to their implementation.
In hostile company
While the ongoing homage to the philosopher in his hometown of Trier is understandable, Marx himself might question why some other more egregious world figures are constantly celebrated next to him. Here a Marx figure is pictured alongside those of Vladimir Lenin and Mao Tse Tung during Labour Day on May 1, 2017 in the Philippine capital Manila as protesters demanded workers rights.
Lending his name to an Indian party
Marx has been similarly exploited in the Indian state of Kerala on the tropical Malabar coast (Arabian Sea), where he was once again staged alongside Lenin and the tyrant Stalin. Incidentally, when India's Communists split in 1964, CPI (M) emerged from the CPI Communist Party: the "M" stands for Marxist.
A Communist leader
Although communism has historically been compromised and often associated with oppression, Marx's idea of a classless society has since remained a universal guiding political principle around the world. In this image, Lenin, Marx and Engels adorn a billboard at a demonstration on Labor Day in Sri Lanka in 2012.
Theater in Havana
After the Cuban Revolution, the largest theater in the country with 8,000 seats was renamed after Karl Marx in 1959. Cuba's music stars perform here, and in 2017 the political leadership celebrated the 100th anniversary of the October socialist revolution.
Opposing christmas consumerism
He may share Marx' beard, but Santa Claus is a symbol of the commercialization of Christmas — and thus of capitalism. The urban myth that Santa was invented by a certain large US soda manufacturer is played on here by a street artist in São Paulo, who has turned Marx himself into a red giver of a different kind of gift, namely a proletarian revolution.
The Beijing branch of the Madame Tussauds' waxworks depicts the philosopher in a much more appropriate manner: as a thinker with alert eyes, ready to argue his positions. With glasses and outstretched tongue, it could just as well be Albert Einstein.
Conceptual art object
There is one place in the world where no concept is too strange to honor the philosopher. In his hometown of Trier, the marketing of their famous son is nonstop. In 2013, a conceptual artist installed 500 fairly representative Marx figures in front of the Porta Nigra, the city's Roman landmark. More unusual homages are in the works for this year's 200th birthday celebration ...
Also available in green, or go
... including the newly introduced pedestrian light figures who take on the thinker's uniform and beard. He's not only seen in red, as above, but also in green. But that is not enough. Trier really wants to cash in on the anti-capitalist, for example, with ...
Bathe with Marx
... rubber duckies, replete with Marx's masterpiece, "Das Kapital," in their hands. Other souvenirs include mouse pads with the phrase "Karl has sent you a friend request. The question remains: have the people of Trier always been so excited about their hometown hero or do they still feel insulted that he turned his back on them so soon after leaving school?