May 5 marks the bicentenary of the birth of Karl Marx. Last year, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Marx’s Capital/Das Kapital, I wrote about Marx’s extensive history with the British Library and speculated about how he would fit in with today’s Gig Economy, including where he would physically work and research (home/library/Starbucks/coworking; or perhaps a combination of all).
We can extend that line of thought to how a 21st century Marx would approach his own intellectual property, and what would go into the creation of its output. In an article in the March 10/11 issue of the Financial Times, Rupert Younger and Frank Partnoy ask a compelling question: “What Would Marx Write Today?” The article describes their highly ambitious edit/rewrite of Marx and Friedrich Engels’ 1848 The Communist Manifesto, as The Activist Manifesto. The website for the book allows you to compare the original text to the new one.
In Section II, ‘Have-Nots and Activists,’ Younger-Partnoy’s point 7 is: “Provide security and protect private property, including intellectual property.” In the FT article, Younger-Partnoy write that “…we think a modern Marx and Engels would be less philosophically minded and more focused on dramatic changes in technology. They would probably have disparaged inequalities arising from modern technologies, just as they bemoaned the effects of 19th-century manufacturing, commerce and navigation. We also think they would have been open to the protection of intellectual property rights and would have favoured more equal distribution of high-speed connectivity.”
This would have direct applicability to Marx (and Engels, for that matter) as a knowledge worker in 21st century London, or elsewhere. His intellectual property is presumably highly valuable, and if he were actively writing today, someone would have to control/share in those rights, worldwide and in many languages. He’d also have to decide how to promote himself, his ideas, and his creative output. He would be under pressure to have a platform: website, blog, books, op-eds and other articles, podcasts, videos, TV appearances, webinars and public speaking.
I’ve previously written that Tom Butler-Bowdon, in his recent 50 Economic Classics, wrote about Marx’s Capital. In Tom’s 2015 book 50 Politics Classics, he covers The Communist Manifesto. Marx plays a major role in Paul Mason’s book of the same year, Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future. If you’d like a brief primer on how Marx worked each day, consult Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Currey quotes Marx in 1859 as follows: “I must pursue my goal through thick and thin and I must not allow bourgeois society to turn me into a money-making machine.” Yet through sheer accumulation of publications in more than 150 years since then, that fate has unfolded. A 21st century Marx would have to figure out the meaning, importance, and applicability of the role of intellectual property in how that money-making machine works.