Marx in Soho: A Play on History is a play written by the prominent American author and historian Howard Zinn. He wrote the play in the year 1999 (Zinn, 2010). Howard Zinn is best known for his work A People’s History of the United States. He received recognition from various stakeholders as a brilliant author, activist and speaker due to this and other works. He received the Lannan Foundation Literary Award for his non-fiction works, and also an award from the Eugene V. Debs for his work as an author and his role as a political activist.
Howard was born in Brooklyn, New York. He came from an underprivileged family that could not even avail him literature to read. Nevertheless, he was able to receive sufficient education. He worked in the shipyards and later participated in the World War II as a bombardier. He used to teach at Spelman College and Boston University. He participated actively in the civil rights movements.
The play Marx in Soho: A Play on History by Howard Zinn is a thrilling and skilful work. The play is about Karl Marx, who is not comfortable with the way he left affairs on the Earth. He negotiates with the afterlife authorities, and they grant him with a chance to come back to life and make some changes. There is a bureaucratic error in the processing of his request. Instead of sending him back to his home in old stomping ground in London they send him to Soho in New York. Karl Marx, through his experiences during the trip back to the Earth, reveals significant changes in the society.
Although, the play revolves around the main character – Karl Marx – other characters also appear in the story. The first character is Marx’s wife, Jenny. Jenny and their daughter Eleanor are one of the reasons why Marx resurrects. The child also characterizes the one man play. There is a host of characters like the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin (Zinn, 2010). Mikhail also opposes to the modern day issues affecting humanity, just like Marx does. However, Mikhail and Marx have different views of ways of carrying out a revolution.
To bring out the issues in front of him, his wife, who is critical of all the issues in the world, and his bright daughter often challenge him in order to help him get his thoughts in line with the current issues. Marx is depicted as a family man, always prepared to take pains to give them the support they need. He migrated to London after the expulsion from other European states.
Another reason Marx negotiates for the return from death to life is to defend communism. However, he promotes communism not in the way it was practiced in the Soviet Union. He is against the communism because of its dehumanizing nature. Karl Marx is against capitalism either. He is against all the principles of capitalism. He says that capitalism is the root of anarchy in society.
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He suggests that, under capitalism, the government is not neutral as it is supposed to be, but it serves the few owners of resources in society known as the capitalist class. The government only operated on the pretensions that it served all the citizens equally. All decisions, in one way or the other, are meant to benefit the capitalist class. Before his death, Karl Marx had always been against the principles of capitalism. He devotedly supported the principles of communism. Communism did not encourage greedy accumulation without consideration of the values and humanity as a whole.
Karl Marx now finds himself in modern New York. He joins his communist friends in order to protest against capitalism at Times Square. The police manhandle and disperse the protesters. The protesters are against being fooled by the government. They are also against war and fascism. Marx becomes a victim of the police himself, receiving a knock that renders him unconscious. The knock leaves him thinking of how the police are agents of the wealthy few. The police and the state only protect the interests of the capitalist class in this society.
He laments on how freedoms of speech and assembly are accorded on the basis of an individual. The mere citizens have no freedom for speech or assembly. The agents of the consumerist class are sheltered by the state and its machinery. He suggests that capitalism has lost conscience making people rise in opposition against it. The people are tired of a few people profiteering off the ordinary workers.
In the play, Karl Marx promotes his principles of Marxism while criticizing the current state of affairs. He reckons it is only a matter of time before the growing discontent puts the society in anarchy. He is for an intellectual revolution to overthrow capitalism. Capitalism widens the gap between the rich and the poor. The poor suffer injustices in the course of the rich trying to accumulate wealth. The scene is set in the Soho district of New York. Marx’s mind reels on the capitalism in the modern world.
The capitalists are corrupt and greedy. They use common workers for personal profit and benefit. They utilize the corrupt government system to channel decisions their way. They gain more wealth, widening the gap between them and the underprivileged ones even further. The evident state of divided society will be the recipe of revolutions to protest the injustices. The society is divided into haves and have nots.
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As a solution, Marx suggests socialism as the answer between the contention of the capitalist class and the poor. Socialism does not encourage the accumulation of wealth at the expense of the poor. It encourages development of people as a whole, rather than on a personal basis. Therefore, no single man or group of individuals can take control of the government and its machinery for their personal gain. However, he discourages the socialism, which was practiced in the Soviet Union, as it was dehumanizing.
Howard Zinn cleverly imagines the play, realizing an effort that is worth the audiences’ attention. He employs a well written prologue to deliver the work and the message in an interesting way. The author applies his well defined skills and passion to produce a play that is rather quality. Zinn, as a historian, uses his political activism skills to bring out the issues to the modern society. The play takes us through a rollercoaster of Karl Marx’s life with a combination of the emerging issues facing society. He is depicted as a devoted and loving family man. As a revolutionist, he is depicted as charismatic and with his own vision.
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Zinn himself reckons the government is not neutral. He believes that it is biased towards capitalist class. This is revealed in the foreword of the book. He concedes that he realized the government was biased when he was 17. He says the freedom one gets is determined by the class one holds allegiance to. The play is only performed by one person. He concedes that his inspiration was to bring out Karl Marx in an angle people had not viewed him before.
The issues depicted in the book can be compared to the Occupy Wall Street movements. The occupy movements represent the unrests, predicted in the book, against the capitalist class. Karl Marx suggests that capitalism without conscience is the recipe for revolution. The ruling class, which constitutes 1% of population, influences the lives of the majority (99%).
In her book This Changes Everything Sarah Van Gelder gives the reasons for the occupy movement (Gelder, 2011). She supports the movement financially by investing the book’s royalty into it. She explains the ways in which the occupy movement may change the state of affairs in the country. She claims capitalism and greed, associated with it, to cause decay in the society. The corrupt banks on Wall Street coupled with corporations that want to assimilate the political system. Employing the power they possess, they use it to influence decisions in the government to favor their interests rather than the interests of the majority.
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The book suggests the course of change that will be beneficial to all the individuals concerned rather than only the rich, who constitute 1%. Instead of the government decisions going only in one direction, they will be neutral so that nobody will be undermined. It also advocates society free from corporate dominance, promotes interaction between people from all races, backgrounds and economic status and provides deep democracy that keeps in mind ethical issues.
It advocates for a united community that works to reclaim the power from the greedy capitalists in order to establish harmony. Through leaving together in tents, people share a common course to achieve a common goal. They achieve harmony to achieve long lasting transformative policies. The people come together to accord everyone the chance to effect change. Everyone has the responsibility of effecting transformative structural change through local approaches and aims, but these are integrated to form a common platform at the global level.
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Sarah van Gelder collected all stories from the participants of the movement to write the book. She collected all the firsthand stories, blog spots, essays and tweets to write the book. The book provides the feelings and gains made by the 99% of population in the course of participating in the movement (Gelder, 2011). The book shares similarity with that of Marx in Soho as they are both against capitalism. The uprisings are against the little dominance in the decisions made in the society. They encourage equal participation in the drafting of policies in the society for equal development.
Another book that shares common views with the Howard Zinn’s play is The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right. The author – Michael Lerner – explores the topics of religion and politics (Lerner, 2005). The book is in English and was printed in 2006 by Harper One printing house. Lerner suggests a paradigm shift from the religious right to progressive forms of religion. He suggests that, in the long run, the religious right fails to meet the expectations of people who join it. He supports the candidates who finally contravene spiritual and moral vacuum.
On the other hand, progressive religion seems to be better as it encourages inspiration, belongingness and creates meaning in the people. It also explores how the American culture is dominated by capitalism and characterized by bureaucracy (Lerner, 2005). The desire to obtain more and more money causes depression among many people in the country. American liberals are encouraged to accept progressive forms of religion as a solution rather than be exposed to risk of accepting authoritarian forms of religion. He believes that progressive forms of religion reache out to the real spiritual and emotional needs of people without having to force them to compromise.
The author is also against the anarchy caused by the capitalism’s greed. He encourages a caring and nurturing community. His book emphasizes on human righteousness combined with social responsibility to the community. Lerner explains how relationships have been forged between political movements and the religious right. The relationships have not yet been able to meet their mandate. They leave the people who joined the religious right religions even more frustrated than they were before.
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On the contrary, the author does not suggest communism in the way Howard Zinn does. He suggests progressive religious forms as a way of countering the issues that society faces. The interaction between the political rights and the religious rights threatens to mix issues like war, business, wealth, science and environment with God and religion. Applying his vast knowledge, he shows the consequences of such a union in the past. He portrays the consequences people had to endure due to accepting the pre-conditions for joining the right religion. The recommendation is aimed at implementing positive social changes in America.
The policies expressed by Howard Zinn in Marx in Soho encourage socialism in place of capitalism (Zinn, 2010). Socialism will decrease the gap between the wealthy and the underprivileged. It will end the political dominance of the capitalist class. It will encourage more participative policy drafting and implementation. However, socialism bears its own shortcomings. It distorts competition in business, may lead to infringement of individual rights and may lead a country to financial crisis. Socialism aims to establish a society that is free from dominance by a few and provide equal opportunities for all. Having considered all the advantages and drawbacks of socialism, one may state that it is more practical than capitalism. Socialism will quell the unrest among the masses who feel to be subject of injustices.
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The Occupy Wall Street policies are meant to get rid of dominance by the capitalist class. The corrupt banks and large corporations influence the decisions of the government. The policies of the movement are viable to achieve the change the people desire (Cochran, 1972). They encourage people to join and proceed in the same direction. Such an endeavor offers a chance for everyone to make the change in his or her own small way. It promotes ethics, democracy and solidarity in achieving local and global goals. The weaknesses of the Occupy Wall Street policies are: the government may use its mechanisms to crash the resistance; it is difficult to organize individuals at the local and global level: people may face the sheer magnitude of resistance from the capitalist class.
The people’s movement may spark the need for social change in America. Although, proper organization is needed to put masses in order to realize their goals. The people participating in the protests may face arrest and even be subject to use of force by the authorities. Nevertheless, Occupy Wall Street policies and procedures are viable and may lead to substantial gains in reformation of the American culture.
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The use of progressive religion forms is also a viable solution to countering the social problems facing the USA. It advocates for the rights of individuals to make their decisions without the influence of authoritarian right religions. The individuals, who are vulnerable to stress due to the American culture of basing every bottom line on money, will not be manipulated by the right religions. Progressive religions encourage individual correctness on top of social responsibility to society. Therefore, I think progressive religions are a viable solution to numerous American social problems.
Capitalism has its benefits, but it also has its disadvantages. In order to encourage positive social changes in America equal opportunities should be granted everyone. Power should be placed in the hands of many rather than a few individuals to avoid dominance (Cochran, 1972, p. 170).
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