Idlers of the World, Unite!

Charlie Tyson in Jewish Currents:

KARL MARX’S GIFT FOR SATIRE is often underestimated. In his chapter on the working day in Capital, he recounts the death of a 20-year-old dressmaker named Mary Anne Walkley who was “exploited by a lady with the pleasant name of Elise.” After working for 26 1/2 hours straight in a cramped, poorly ventilated room, Walkley suddenly expired, “without, to the astonishment of Madame Elise, having finished off the bit of finery she was working on.” Zola at his most acidic could hardly do better.

Marx peppers the text of Capital with such blackly comic moments. Quoting a factory manager who justifies the 15-hour workday he requires by noting that his machine is always stopped for dinner, Marx comments in a parenthetical: “What generosity!” Describing the adulteration of bread resulting from the capitalist takeover of the baking industry, he reflects: “Englishmen, with their good command of the Bible, knew well enough that man, unless by elective grace a capitalist . . . is destined to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow.” But these pious Brits did not know that their bread would include “cobwebs, dead cockroaches,” and sand, among “other agreeable mineral ingredients.”

If the socialist writer Paul Lafargue, the husband of Marx’s daughter Laura, could not rival his father-in-law’s brilliance or scholarship, he took up the economist’s satirical streak with great enthusiasm, writing humorous sketches, essays, stories, and speeches.

More here.