Happy Birthday, Karl Marx!

It is surely a sign of our postmodern times that, while we in North America are forming mobs to tear down politically incorrect statues, the German city of Trier is having a 5.5-metre sculpture of Karl Marx erected in the town square.

The occasion is the 200th anniversary of Marx's birth in Trier, which falls on May 5, and the generosity of the People's Republic of China in offering the statue as a present. Predictably, some Germans are uncomfortable with the gesture. "The glorifying Marx monument is a poisonous gift," says Ulrich Delius, director of the Society for Threatened Peoples, given that China "commits state terror against its own people." Dieter Dombrowski of the Union of Victims' Associations of Communist Tyranny agrees, noting that Marx "laid the spiritual foundations for the communist dictatorships that came afterwards." But town officials in Trier, who voted in 2017 to accept the statue, aren't having any of it. "Karl Marx is one of the biggest citizens in this city and we should not hide it," Trier mayor Wolfram Leibe told the press.

Marx traffic light - Picture Alliance, DPA, H. Tittle.jpg

How to explain why the most politically sensitive country in the world would erect a new monument to one of history's foremost architects of totalitarianism? Why, tourism, of course! Cashing in on Marx's birthday is an unparalleled opportunity to separate tourists from their money—particularly the Chinese, who are expected to make spring pilgrimages to Trier by the tens of thousands. This would explain why Germany's Moselle region is hosting more than 300 events to celebrate the birth of Marx and, indeed, why Trier's pedestrian traffic lights feature cute little "Don't Walk" Marx icons.

Postmodernism, indeed. It was the underrated (non-Marxist) cultural theorist Steve Martin who first excavated the transgressive positionality via which King Tut "gave his life for tourism" (click the video link above)—and his insights now apply even to Marx. Modernists destroy the past by destroying its monuments. Postmodernists destroy the past by draining its monuments of meaning.