cover image Marx in Soho: A Play on History

Marx in Soho: A Play on History

Howard Zinn. South End Press, $23 (88pp) ISBN 978-0-89608-594-7

Taking his inspiration from Karl Marx's stay in London's Soho district after his exile from the Continent, Zinn's (A People's History of the United States) one-man play reads like a first-person memoir narrated by a distinctive voice. Laid out on the page as seamless monologue, it envisions Marx in the Soho district of New York in the present, where his mind reels at the same capitalist injustices that boggled him 150 years ago. The wizened and ailing Marx discourses on the economic state of the modern-day U.S., heatedly decrying the vast disparity between rich and poor and the corrupt, systematic funneling of the wealth that workers earn into the hands of capitalists. Through cascading recollections, we learn of Marx's devoted marriage, his love for his children and his stormy debates with Mikhail Bakunin, a fellow radical whose concept of a revolution of the spleen rather than the intellect makes Marx seem cold by comparison. These nuggets of personal information yield warmth and mettle where the dialectical prose gets heavy-handed. Often, the doctrines espoused threaten to overwhelm Zinn's expressed mission to expose Marx's human side. Zinn is, after all, reissuing Marx's socialist critique to apply to modern America and, along the way, revising Marxist doctrine by imagining the theorist himself rethinking some of his more off-the-mark notions. Most often it is Marx's critical wife, Jenny, and brilliant daughter Eleanor who take him to task when he fumbles. With Zinn's hefty prologue and scholarly but pointed reading list, the text is a cleverly imagined call to reconsider socialist theory as a valid philosophy in these times. Zinn's point is well made; his passion for history melds with his political vigor to make this a memorable effort and a lucid primer for readers desiring a succinct, dramatized review of Marxism. (Mar.) FYI: Actor Matt Damon is coproducing a TV adaptation of A People's History. Zinn recently won a Lannan Foundation Literary Award for Nonfiction.