Sunday, 7 October 2012

Karl Marx: Vampire Hunter?

Karl Marx: Vampire Hunter?

Did you know that the works of Karl Marx and his followers are full of mentioning of vampires? It has been calculated that Marx used the vampire metaphor at least three times in Capital. For example, in one of the cases Marx describes British industry as “vampire-like” which “could but live by sucking blood, and children’s blood too”. Here is another quote: "“Capital is dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks".

Marx’s colleague and long-time sponsor Frederick Engels also used the vampire metaphor in his works and public addresses. In one of his works entitled The Condition of the Working Class in England, Engels identifies and blames the “vampire property-holding class” as the source of "all the social troubles".

Marx’s and Engel’s perception of vampires corresponds very much to the recent Hollywood film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter directed by Timur Bekmambetov. In the film, based on the eponymous book by Seth Grahame-Smith, the 16th president of the United States leads a secret life of a vampire hunter searching and destroying vampires. Vampires in the film supported slave trade and intended to start the Civil War to conquer the North and enslave all American population. In his secret diary, Abraham Lincoln writes that those vampires are “virtually everywhere” - layers, bankers, shop owners, in short the bourgeoisie accused by Marx and Engels of blood thirst.

Marx described vampires’ habits, their greediness and their lounging for blood in such a detail that in many cases it crossed the boundaries of the mere metaphor. Although many researchers perceive Marx’s vampires as metaphoric abstract bourgeois bloodsuckers feeding on working people, his knowledge of vampires is very peculiar. In one particular case, when describing Wallachian peasants performing forced labour for their boyars, Marx refers to one specific “boyar” who was “drunk with victory” and who might have been no one but Wallachian prince Vlad (called “The Impaler”) – or Count Dracula himself!

All this is very interesting because the best-known novel of vampiric genre, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, did not see the daylight until 1897, the whole 14 years after Marx’s death. Surely, one can place the Marx’s metaphor in the wider context of nineteenth-century gothic and horror stories which were abundant these days, and of which Marx was a huge fan. On the other hand, one might assume that some of the vampire legends were true and Marx and his contemporaries were aware of that.