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Saturday, 2 June 2018

Karl Marx and Typewriters

What has Karl Marx got to do with typewriters? Well, not a lot really. As one commentator wrote a short while ago, " ... to young people for whom the Cold War is ancient history, Marxism may seem as relevant as a typewriter." The hide of him!
So why, then, is this German woman using a Triumph Norm-6 portable typewriter to write text about Marx at an exhibition exploring his works and life at his birth house in Trier? (It's now a museum, by the way, called Karl Marx House).
The exhibition opened a month ago, to mark Marx's 200th birthday (he was born on May 5, 1818, to be precise). The organisers might just as well have supplied (along with a Chinese-made statue of Marx) a Chinese typewriter, like a Flying Fish. The whole shebang is being paid for by the Chinese Government, leaders among those who still cling to Marxist ideals. But of course Marx didn't use a typewriter, though his handwriting was certainly bad enough to warrant one:
The home town of the legendary philosopher, economist, historian, political theorist, sociologist, journalist and revolutionary socialist sits on the banks of the Moselle, in a valley between low vine-covered hills of red sandstone in the west of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, near the border with Luxembourg. During the festivities, Moselle wine is being served under the label “Das Kapital”. I kid you not.
Perhaps the closest Marx came to typewriters was 70 years after his death, when in 1953 Saxony city Chemnitz became known as Karl-Marx-Stadt, and stayed that way until the fall of the Berlin Wall. Chemnitz was the home of one of the massive Robotron factories (VEB Robotron-Buchungsmaschinenwerk) - though the Robotron plant that spewed out typewriters in their tens of thousands was in Dresden. (The machines being assembled below, in November 1971, are teleprinters and tape-point transmitters for the Soviet Union.)
In the absence of such manufacturers, and in the post-Cold War era, the Chinese have capitalised by, among other things, continuing to make typewriters. But in Beijing, Chinese president Xi Jinping used Marx's birthday to reinforce Marxist ideals. Sidney Rittenberg, a journalist who joined Mao Zedong’s revolution and served for years as his translator, said, “Xi is depending on restoring the theoretical soul of the Chinese people. They built a better life and made money, but they lost their soul and I think he's  trying to restore that.” Xi told a Politburo session in late April that officials need to “grasp the power of the truth of Marxism” and view the Chinese Communist Party as the heir of the “spirit of the Communist Manifesto” [which was first published 170 years ago].  
Back in Trier, however, a city spokesperson told the Xinhua news agency that townsfolk “have long been a bit ashamed about Marx”. And that might have something to do with the Berlin Wall, too.
Maybe, amid all these confused loyalities. the festival organisers were thrown by the portable typewriter below, though I don't think that's another member of the Marx family, Groucho, with Greta Garbo as Nina Ivanovna Yakushova in Ninotachka (in fact it's Felix Bressart.)
As for me, my only connection with Marx and typewriters is yet another relation, Louis Marx:


Ted said...

oh, dang. I missed the chance to write a manifesto on my Marxwriter on Marx's birthday - but then I've never read Marx, wasted my youthful reading on Ayn Rand. :D

Richard P said...

"Restoring the theoretical soul of the Chinese people" through a philosopher who denied the soul? Interesting.

I think that sample of handwriting is Cyrillic. The first word is "Tovarishchi!" (Comrades!).

Today there's a very skilled typewriter artist in Chemnitz, Robert Dörfler.

Alex Volkov said...

The handwritten piece looks like made in russian language, i don't know if Marx wrote in Russian, but everything is possible :)