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Karl Marx has been called 'a thinker for the 21st century.' (The Canadian Press/The Canadian Press)
Karl Marx has been called 'a thinker for the 21st century.' (The Canadian Press/The Canadian Press)

With financial meltdowns and labour protests, is it the springtime for Marx? Add to ...

"Not since the First World War has there been this kind of domination from the right," Mr. Miliband said. Why? Because right-wing parties have been more flexible in adapting their policies, and by softening their positions on social issues have furtively camped on the left's traditional hunting grounds.

It's not in political parties themselves that radical leftist thought will be resuscitated, Prof. Hobsbawm said in the e-mail interview: "The revival of Marxism as a political project is unlikely, because the social forces that Marx expected to realize his ideas have been decisively weakened since the 1970s, namely the labour movements and mass labour and socialist parties. What should revive in today's global atmosphere is Marxism as the major ideology criticizing capitalism and analyzing its internal contradictions and its incapacity to find effective solutions for the global problems of our century, notably the environmental crisis."

But there are still true believers who plan to seize what they think is a decisive political moment. "I think 2011 is going to be remembered like 1968," says Dan Mayer, organizer of Marxism 2011, a five-day festival in London beginning on June 30. Last year's Marxathon drew 5,000 people; it is the biggest gathering of its kind in Europe (and charmingly old-school: Accommodations can be arranged "if you're an older comrade").

Mr. Mayer expects this year's festival, featuring speakers such as Labour Party veteran Tony Benn, literary critic Terry Eagleton and Richard Wilkinson, author of The Spirit Level, to be even bigger. Revolution is not necessarily on the agenda, but more modest goals are: "We'd like to see the [British]coalition government brought down," and an end to its austerity program, Mr. Mayer says. "A country where the sick, the poor, the elderly and the unemployed are treated in quite brutal ways is not a society you want to live in."

The faithful will look for signs of hope, no matter how faint. At the London Review Bookshop, Prof. Hobsbawm's How to Change the World is on the bestseller list, along with a new volume of letters by martyred revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, though this says more about the shop's clientele than about the likelihood of a proletariat uprising. Just as easily, you could visit Liverpool Street in London's east end, where The Communist Manifesto was first printed in 1848, and see that it's now surrounded by a sea of banks.

Elizabeth Renzetti is a member of The Globe and Mail's European bureau.

Karl Marx in his own words

On politics:

"The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them."

"Political power, properly called, is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another."

On globalization:

"The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere. … It has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old, established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilized nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe."

On capitalism:

"The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated."

"Capital is dead labour, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks."

"The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people."

On the environment:

"The development of civilization and industry in general has always shown itself so active in the destruction of forests that everything that has been done for their conservation and production is completely insignificant in comparison."

On Marxism:

"I am not a Marxist."

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