"Marx in Soho" is something between a short play and a long soliloquy written by Howard Zinn in which he attempts to defend Karl Marx and his ideas against both his fanatics and the ravages of time. Howard Zinn presents himself as qualified to speak for Marx because of the remarkable similarities between the lives of the two men, in addition to Zinn’s scholarly studies of Marx’s writings. Karl Marx, angry at what he has seen happen since his death, appeals for and receives a permit from the beaurecrats of the afterworld to return for one hour and speak to the people. During this hour, he explains parts of his philosophy that he has seen people misinterpret or disregard, denounces one of his followers as an incorrect zealot: “He was an embarrassment, a satellite encircling my words, reflecting them to the world but distorting them.”. Finally, he ends with a mammoth assignment for mankind: “Give people what they need… Don’t ask who deserves it. Every human being deserves it.”

Despite the changing times, modern Soho, New York is enough to convince Karl Marx that what he predicted would happen already has: capitalism would enable the poor to get poorer and poorer in the constant quest for efficiency and the “triumph of capitalism” would come for a few at the cost of the many. Zinn’s Marx cites an article in the newspaper about “a hundred thousand people lined up… for two thousand jobs” as evidence that the “thief” who is put into prison and denounced by society has no choice – for some, our justice system has never moved forward past the time of Les Miserables.

Although Karl Marx has often been dismissed as isolated from the real world because his time in London was spent alternately working in the library and walking home from the library, Howard Zinn’s Marx describes the influence that walk home had on his writings and perspective: “Yes, if you want to make much of it, that walk home through Soho fueled the anger that went into Das Kapital.” Zinn, mirroring his own life, also tells of Marx’s ardent involvement with various revolutionary groups throughout Europe. As a teacher at Spelman College, a school for black women, Zinn also saw first-hand the suffering endured by the people and became deeply involved with the civil rights movement, but did it all in a very academic framework.

In defending Karl Marx as a relevant character, Howard Zinn is writing a classical defense of intellectualism and it’s value in any movement. For if history repeats itself, and when Karl Marx sees the suffering in the streets of New York over a hundred years after his death he proclaims disgustedly that it does, a defense or condemnation of one player is either a defense or a condemnation (respectively) of his correlate in another time.

Taking into account both the parallels drawn between Howard Zinn and Karl Marx and the repetitions of history, Howard Zinn’s play becomes a personal defense of his own work against his critics, but it is also a powerfully written plea for socialism and egalitarianism. He reminds us that each of our attempts at “socialism” – China, Russia, and so on, have forgotten about the dictatorship of the masses and replaced it with the dictatorship of the party. Marx asks: “Why is it necessary to declare me dead again and again?”. Perhaps the immortality of Karl Marx reflects the indomitability of the human spirit – that bravery which has wrought to end child labor and bring about universal suffrage, but which still has a very, very long way to go.

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