Le Jeune Karl Marx (The Young Karl Marx): An interview with director Raoul Peck
Raoul Peck has always relished tacking challenging subjects in his documentaries, his features and his work as a political activist. His latest documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, looks at the life of James Baldwin and has been nominated for an Oscar. We sat down with the man himself to discuss his latest film, Le Jeune Karl Marx, which depicts the visionary social critic in the days of his youth.
I really enjoyed your vibrant and youthful depiction of Marx and wanted to know what your own personal journey with Marxism was, because a lot of people discover Marx at university when they are quite young.
I did as well but I was lucky to be able to do that outside of a dogmatic, leftist school of thought. At the time there was a lot of critique of Euro-communism. I did four years of seminars on capital in a scientific context and one of the things we would do would be look at entire budgets of countries. We looked at Italy at the time because the unions were debating how to implement Marxist ideals in their context. It allowed me to understand not only Marxism but also how it developed over time.
Your film brings Marx and his era to life but do you think his ideas and work are still relevant today?
What I take personally from Marx is the ability to be able to analyse the society at any given moment. The most incredible thing he gave us is the instrument with which we can analyse any given society critically. It’s situational. For instance, why today, are a majority of white working class people voting for Donald Trump. You sit down, you take the numbers, you do the analysis and you get answers but the answers are complex. We live in a society where we refuse to accept the complexity of social issues. There is such a thing as the dialectic, which means one thing and its contrary are able to exist in the same world. Immense wealth and immense poverty in the same society.
In the film, Marx’s best friend and his wife come from wealth but try to connect with the working class. Do you think that today’s left has become too far removed from the working class?
That’s a good question and it’s something the film discusses. Basically we are witnessing a transfer of class, yes they come from wealth but you can work on leaving that class by taking on responsibility as a citizen and a human being. These people worked hard to develop an understanding of other classes without condescension. I came from a bourgeois family; my father paid for my studies in Germany so I could have ended up like many of my peers, living an easy life. I chose a different life, I chose to question my position and privilege every day and use film as a critical tool.
You highlight the role of Engels as the best friend but also Marx’s wife, Jenny. What was your thinking behind that trinity?
It’s almost like a buddy movie. Karl Marx is the central figure, no one else was on his level. He obtained his PhD at the age of 19 and immediately confronted the brightest minds of the century; Hegel and Feuerbach. It was an incredible act of rebellion but so was Jenny’s decision to marry him. She made an incredible sacrifice, she had everything: wealth, nobility, a bright future. She was too intelligent for a noble life, there was an intellectual connection with Marx.
Why is the film about the young Karl Marx and not his later life?
I made this film because I wanted to bring some clarity to a world of confusion. We’re living in a world where we think we have no history. I wanted to sweep away the confusion and misinformation. This is the first film ever on Karl Marx in the Western world. Why? This is an industry that doesn’t tolerate stories like his.
Great, thank you so much for your time!
Read our review of Le Jeune Karl Marx (The Young Karl Marx) here.
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Watch the trailer for Le Jeune Karl Marx (The Young Karl Marx): An interview with director Raoul Peck here: