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Political Lives

Thoroughly Modern Marxism

A Marxist upbringing, graduating into a recession, and a lineage of missed opportunities make a brutal combination.

The only compliment my mother ever pays my father is that he looks like Karl Marx. The resemblance is indeed striking, or at least it used to be: Both men once had great tufts of hair that encircled their faces from high forehead to chin, rounded cheeks, prominent noses, thick eyebrows, and an expression that seemed to convey both smug satisfaction and discontent.

The resemblance between Marx and Michael, as we all call my father—the titles of “mom” and “dad” were eradicated on egalitarian grounds in our family a generation ago—is only a compliment because I was raised by Marxists, and because my father, like Marx, is an economic historian. His expertise is in the decline of the British coal industry between the wars, and although it is easy to wonder how someone from suburban Philadelphia came to be obsessed with coalminers in England, the answer is obvious to me: It is almost always people with comfortable lives who take an anthropological interest in those without.

Over the years following my parents’ divorce when I’m four, my mother’s radical... Continue Reading

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