Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales


A reply to critic David Adams by author, Mark Jenkins.

Nineteen years ago, my very first play Birthmarks won first prize in an all-Wales competition. When it took the stage, (the first production in London, the second in Cardiff) critics like Nicole Sochor of the Western Mail and Mike Buckingham of the South Wales Argus hailed it as a triumph and a work of exceptional quality. It later toured to Stuttgart and, three months on, the Berlin Wall came down. No connection, of course, but I’d be proud if there were.

But these days Wales is lumbered with David Adams, who seems to have cornered the market in shallowness. He utterly fails to grasp the psycho-somatic core of the drama in Birthmarks. Ignominious in his perceptive inadequacies, Adams seems to think that Marx’s chronic problems with boils and carbuncles were included in the play for comic light relief, even though the audience, in their wisdom, were not laughing. Nor were they meant to. Judging by the enthusiastic reception, the audience could see what Adams could not. So let me spell it out for him.

The play makes crystal clear that Marx was a Jew and an intolerable anti-semite. As he starts to write Das Kapital, he erupts in carbuncles because he is investigating capitalism, which he (erroneously) construes as a Jewish system of exploitation. The ‘Das Kapital’ project, for Marx, becomes a personal exorcism of everything he hates – Judaism and his own Jewish heritage. So here we have a tragic tale of a tortured soul wrestling with his demons and creating hell for all of those who loved and followed him. The play demystifies Marx and presents him as a man, not a God to be worshipped. Yet all of this, so carefully and vividly depicted, passes over Adams’ head, no doubt because he prefers the Sphinx-like icon, which the play deconstructs. This ‘open-heart surgery’ of Birthmarks doesn’t even merit a passing reference in Adams’ snide defence of the Marx myth.

David Adams asserts that Birthmarks is ‘spiteful’ and that Karl Marx was really a ‘fun-loving academic’! He also states that Frederick Engels’ acceptance of paternity of Marx’s illegitimate son, Freddy Demuth’ is merely an ‘allegation’ by the author. He goes on to claim that ‘most socialists in London at the turn of the century knew about it’.

If so, Mr Adams, how come Marx’s daughters, Eleanor and Laura, only learned the truth in 1895, when Engels confessed all on his deathbed? They were both mature women and dedicated socialists, yet even they had been hoodwinked all their lives. Both women were horrified at the cruel deception. Both committed suicide later for apparently unrelated reasons. A string of dead children from Marx’s self-imposed poverty, two suicidal daughters and a banished illegitimate son (forced to use the servants’ entrance when he came to do odd jobs) do not suggest to me the character of a ‘fun-loving academic’!

More to the point, since Engels’ self-confessed complicity is now historically verified and universally recognised, why does Mr Adams, alone, insist on calling it an ‘allegation’? Is it not clear that the reason he detests my ‘spiteful’ play is simple. It challenges all his pathetic illusions and shallow prejudices about Merrie Marxism and Santa Klaus Marx who, he proudly proclaims, ‘changed the world’. He did indeed. And how! Would Mr Adams care to elaborate on the nature of those changes? I wonder would his inventory of the blessings of his prophet include the 40 million Russians murdered by the KGB in the name of Marxism? Or would Mr Adams exonerate Marx from all responsibility for this bloody heritage, as his apologists always do? That Marx and Engels were men of prodigious talents and massive historical import, I acknowledge fulsomely in the play. That they were cuddly fun-lovers, I expose as a myth.

In place of the God-like prophet, I give you, the man, brilliant but fallible, flawed, deeply traumatised. For this man’s neuroses, the world paid a dreadful price. I do not apologise for restoring the balance.

Finally let’s get to the truth behind Adams’ jaundiced review. He whines that I am a ‘lefty turned liberal’ and that I am ‘attacking Marxism’. Forgive me, but I did not know that it was a thought-crime to hold ‘lefty’ or liberal opinions on such matters as anti-semitism. Nor did I realise that it was against the party line to write plays questioning the infallibility of Marxism. My depiction of Marx as a tortured, self-hating anti-semite, factionalising and demonising former collaborators, foreshadows all that Marxism later became. And we haven’t mentioned Pol Pot yet.

Let me declare openly that, in the mass murder stakes, I am certain the Marxists’ record leaves Nazism in the shade. If Mr Adams wishes to defend the Marx heritage let him do so with equal frankness and stop masquerading his Marxist prejudices as ‘drama criticism’.

author:Mark Jenkins

original source:
05 November 2005


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