April 5th, 1983


FROM THE ARCHIVES:Radio critic Howard Kinlay wondered if there was a worldwide capitalist conspiracy behind the radio coverage of the centenary in 1983 of Karl Marx’s death. – JOE JOYCE

IT MUST mark some sort of shift in the national perspective, first that a Thomas Davis series is devoted to Karl Marx and second, that on Easter Saturday, which used to be known as Low Saturday, the documentary on RTÉ Radio 1 is an account of the life and times of one of Marx’s least-known legacies, the Communist Party of Ireland.

Contrast that with 50 years ago, or even 15, and the shift is clear. Fifty years ago, as Colm Keane recalled in the documentary which he presented, the only mention Marx or the CPI got was in the course of denunciations from the pulpits or spat from the lips of fascist-inspired mobs intent on burning out this alien ideology and any who espoused it.

Even 15 years ago, RTÉ’s solo recording of the “Internationale” was marked “not to be played”, and it wasn’t. Now that Keane has played it, and the “Red Flag”, too, it is hard to understand what all the fuss was about. Why has this almost benign interest in Marx emerged on the centenary of his death? Are his ideas no longer considered a threat? Like those of Jesus, whose death – but not his ideas – also received wide coverage on radio last week?

On the day of Marx’s anniversary a few weeks ago, BBC Radio 4 managed to convey the impression that Marxism only lived on among the eccentric few. A reporter was despatched to the Marx Memorial Library in London, where he recorded one of those slightly quaint, slightly dotty interviews that are sometimes heard with country rectors and Women’s Institutes in “Down Your Way”.

Clearly a capitalist conspiracy, I thought, and tuned to Radio Moscow for the real thing. Only to find their main item from Britain was also all about the Marx Memorial Library.

And all that Radio Berlin International could come up with was an anodyne piece about the birthplace of Marx’s wife, Jenny.

The conspiracy spreads further than you might think. (I also picked up Radio Peking on Marx’s anniversary, but the only mention I heard was in Spanish – Carlos Marx, they call him – and I couldn’t tell whether they are part of the conspiracy or not).

A friend of mine, a Communist from Italy, spent two weeks here recently studying the social situation. He summed up his observations by asking why we had not had a socialist revolution years ago. All I could suggest was that we never really understood dialectics here, so we just went straight for the materialism.

That was the question which I hoped Keane’s documentary might at least start to answer. Perhaps the cumulative effect of the Thomas Davis lectures will be to suggest an answer, but I doubt it. So, too, I’d say do the series editors, who have dealt with the subject from almost every conceivable angle except the one that really matters – why has Marx been consigned to the dustbin of Irish history?