[…] Karl Marx’s tomb in Highgate Cemetery is a sorry place. The sculpture of his great bearded head is sometimes soiled with pigeon droppings; the army of celebrated intellectuals and communist dignitaries that used to come to pay its respects to the master has dwindled into a tiny band of eccentrics. In one way, this is a pity. As a prophet of socialism, Marx may be kaput; but as a prophet of “the universal interdependence of nations,” as he called globalization, he can still seem startlingly relevant.
For all his hatred of the Victorian bourgeoisie, Marx could not conceal his admiration for its ability to turn the world into a single marketplace. Some of this admiration was mere schadenfreude, to be sure, born of his belief that in creating a global working class the bourgeoisie was also creating its very own grave diggers; but a surprising amount of this respect was genuine, like a prizefighter’s respect for his muscle‐bound opponent. In less than a hundred years, Marx argued, the bourgeoisie had “accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts and Gothic cathedrals”; had conducted “expeditions that put in the shade all former exoduses of nations and crusades”; and had “created more massive and more colossal productive forces” than all preceding generations put together. In achieving all this, it had begun to transform an agglomeration of warring nations and petty principalities into a global marketplace.
Marx was at his most expansive on globalization in The Communist Manifesto, which he cowrote with Friedrich Engels, a factory owner turned revolutionary, and published in 1848, a year in which ancien régimes were tottering throughout Europe.
Even Marx’s final resting place is, to some extent, a vindication of this great insight. Opposite him in Highgate lies William Nassar Kennedy, a colonel of the Winnipeg Rifles who was “called home” in 1885 while returning to Canada from Egypt, where he was in command of the Nile Voyageurs. A little further down there is John MacKinlay and his wife, Caroline Louisa, “late of Bombay.” Highgate Cemetery is strewn with the graves of Victorian soldiers, bureaucrats, and merchants who devoted their lives to turning the world into a single market.
What would Marx make of the world today? Imagine for a moment that the prayers of the faithful were answered and the great man awoke from his slumber. Having climbed out of his mausoleum, dusted himself off, and taken a frustrated sniff at the bottle of scotch, what would Marx find? There would, of course, be the shock of discovering that, on all the big issues, he had been proved hopelessly wrong. It was communism that succumbed to its own internal contradictions and capitalism that swept all before it. But he might at least console himself with the thought that his description of globalization remains as sharp today as it was 150 years ago.
Wandering down Highgate Hill, Marx would discover the Bank of Cyprus (which services the three hundred thousand Cypriots that live in London), several curry houses (now England’s most popular sort of eatery), and a Restaurante do Brazil. He might be less surprised to find a large Irish community. But the sign inviting him to watch “Irish Sports Live,” thanks to a pub’s satellite‐television linkup, might intrigue him. On the skyline, he would soon spot the twin towers of Canary Wharf, built by Canadian developers with money borrowed from Japanese banks and now occupied mostly by American investment banks.
Marx would hear Asian voices and see white schoolchildren proudly wearing T‐shirts with pictures of black English soccer stars. Multicultural London (which is now home to thirty‐three ethnic communities, each with a population of more than ten thousand) might well exhilarate a man who was called “the Moor” by his own children because of his dark complexion. He could stop at almost any newsstand and pick up a copy of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that would be no more than a day old. Nearly swept off his feet by a passing Rolls‐Royce, he might be more surprised to discover that the vehicle, like the rest of Britain’s car industry, was now owned by a German company.
If Marx were to venture back to his old haunts in Soho, he would find a cluster of video‐production companies and advertising agencies that sells its services to the world. If he climbed up to Hampstead Heath, the Marx family’s favorite picnic spot, he might be surprised to discover that the neighborhood’s most expensive house is now owned by an Indian, Lakshmi Mittal, who has built up one of the world’s biggest steel companies. London is home to around a quarter of Europe’s five hundred biggest companies. Its financial‐services industry alone employs directly or indirectly 850,000 people, more than the population of the city of Frankfurt.
Yet even as Marx marveled at these new creations of the bourgeoisie and perhaps applauded its meritocratic dynamism, it is hard to believe that some of the old revolutionary fires would not burn anew. Poverty of the grinding sort that inspired Engels to write The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845) might have disappeared; the rigid class system of ...