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“The classes and the races, too weak to master the new conditions of life, must give way. They must perish in the revolutionary holocaust.” (Karl Marx, April 16, 1856)
“Dear Comrades! Marx may lose the past but he will triumph in the future!” shouted Gáspár Miklós Tamás, a well-known Hungarian Marxist philosopher at a demonstration in front of Corvinus University in Budapest. Tamás and his comrades, including members of the leading leftist opposition party, were demonstrating to prevent a statue of Karl Marx from being removed from the university’s main auditorium. These efforts turned out to be unsuccessful. The Marx statue has been removed from the entrance hall of the university that carried his name during the decades of Hungary’s communist dictatorship.
Marx’s thought has deeply and profoundly influenced our modern political history and his intellectual legacy has yet to be completely reconciled with the bloody political ideologies to which it gave rise. The controversy at Corvinus University reminds us just how contested Marx’s legacy is today. Christian-conservatives tend to think that the statue is offensive and incendiary, especially at a university that took his name during the communist era. At the same time, leftists are generally dismissive of efforts to remove the statue, defending what they say are Marx’s contributions to philosophy, economic theory, and political thought.
The Alliance of Young Christian Democrats has been arguing constantly against the statue since 2012, saying its presence at one of Hungary’s premier institutions of learning is an embarrassment. Bence Rétvári, a Christian Democrat politician, also joined this effort in 2014. The under-secretary of public administration pointed out the importance of removing the statue in an open letter to Corvinus faculty and students, citing Marx’s commitment to class warfare and racist ideologies. Marx’s heritage is unacceptable for the university, said the under-secretary, who added that Marx was also a “propagator of hate speech” and the “founder of a totalitarian political movement.”
The head of the university, Zsolt Rostoványi, previously refused all demands regarding the removal of the statue. However, in late August he announced that an exhibition detailing the history of Corvinus would occupy the entrance hall, requiring the removal of the statue. The statue now remains on campus in a different location. Regarding the removal, Rostoványi stated that “no kind of political or external pressure was brought to bear.” In an official statement he said, “interpreting the history of the statue according to everyday politics would be a misstep,” claiming that plans to move the statue were in place long before Fidesz won the 2010 elections. Rostoványi’s claims seem hard to believe, however, given the timing of the move and well-organized outcry against the statue.
The Young Christian Democrats named Marx’s anti-Semitic views as the main reason for removing the statue. But more than anti-Semitic, Marx was famously anti-religious, anti-capitalist, and anti-family—these are a few ways of describing his ideology. While we may wish to condemn parts or all of Marx’s thought, we can recognize that certain parties and institutions may have an affinity or loyalty to it. There are, of course, still many Marxists, especially in academia, and it is not inconceivable that they would want to erect or defend a statue to their favorite leftist thinker.
“What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money.. Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist…” (Karl Marx, “On the Jewish Question,” 1844)
But we must recognize the fact that Marx’s ideology, each and every time it was implemented politically (and it was fundamentally a political ideology), it resulted in mass death, corruption, and war. The countries in which Marx’s ideas have inspired action have never become free and have always been governed by dictators. A handful of countries still suffer under Marxist ideology today, of course, such as Laos, Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea and even China.
The unavoidable fact is that Marx’s ideology provided the basis for the 20th century’s bloodiest dictatorships. His anti-Semitic views appealed greatly to some nationalists, while his class warfare views appealed to most socialists, but his danger goes beyond traditional left-right politics. Knowing the principled and technical similarities between national socialism and communism, we cannot ignore the huge impact Marx had on both of them.
Ideas have consequences, and Marx’s ideas had some of the deadliest consequences in history. We ought to be careful about censuring any kind of philosopher, even the most controversial ones. But in a country such as Hungary that has suffered immensely and tragically under a criminal government that Marxism helped legitimize, we can say with confidence that the statue had to be removed. This is not an offense against free speech or free thought, but simply a sign of respect for all the millions of victims of communism in Hungary and Central Europe. The fact that the intellectual successors of Marx have attempted to force students to pay some indirect honor to the godfather of history’s deadliest ideology is a scandal in its own right. Hungarians know what it is like to live in a Marxist-Leninist state—they experienced it. And they don’t want Marxism-Leninism anymore, not even in the form of a statue.
–Aron Fellegi is an intern with the Common Sense Society in Budapest