World-famous filmmaker Raoul Peck is releasing a film today in Los Angeles and New York on the life and times of Karl Marx. It’s called The Young Karl Marx. The film’s release comes as the head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, broke his silence after last week’s Florida school shooting that left 17 dead, attacking gun control advocates as communists in an address to the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC. We speak with acclaimed Haitian filmmaker and political activist Raoul Peck about his new film and the role of Marxism in organizing for gun reform.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. The head of the National Rifle Association, NRA chief Wayne LaPierre, has broken his silence over last week’s Florida school shooting that left 17 people dead and sparked a student-led movement for gun control. On Thursday, LaPierre attacked gun control advocates as communists.
WAYNE LAPIERRE: On college campuses, The Communist Manifesto is one of the most frequently assigned texts. Karl Marx is the most assigned economist. And there are now over 100 chapters of Young Democratic Socialists of America at many universities, and students are even earning academic credit for promoting socialist causes. In too many classrooms all over the United States — and I know you think about this when you decide where you’re going to kid — send your kids to school, and your kids think about it, too — the United States Constitution is ignored, United States history is perverted, and the Second Amendment freedom in this country is despised.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s NRA head Wayne LaPierre, speaking at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, Thursday.
Well, who better to respond to this than the world-famous filmmaker Raoul Peck, who happens to be releasing a film today in the United States, in Los Angeles and New York, on the life and times of Karl Marx. It’s called The Young Karl Marx. Raoul Peck is an acclaimed Haitian filmmaker, political activist. His documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, just won the top documentary prize at the British Academy Film Awards, or BAFTA, on Sunday. It was also nominated for an Oscar in 2017. His previous films include Lumumba: Death of a Prophet, Haiti: The Silence of the Dogs and Sometimes in April, about the Rwandan genocide. Raoul Peck also briefly served as Haiti’s culture minister in the ’90s.
Raoul Peck, welcome to Democracy Now!
RAOUL PECK: Well, thank you for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s start right there. You’re in this country right now, fresh in from Paris, to talk about your new film, The Young Karl Marx. What is your response to Wayne LaPierre?
RAOUL PECK: Well, even I’m not sure that I have to respond. One thing I would say, though, is if he is saying that so many teachers, so many institutions put Karl Marx on the curriculum, they probably are doing something right. And I think it would help discussion around what is Karl Marx, what is — as a great philosopher that he is, as a great economist that he is, somebody who changed the whole discourse about, you know, class and the working class, the bourgeoisie, the development of capitalism. He has predicted what we are calling globalization today.
And basically, the book he’s referring to, The Communist Manifest, if you read the first chapter, it’s exactly the description of what’s going on. And his organization is on top of the list as an institution which is moved by profit. And when profit dominates your life, that means you’re capable to accept the most unacceptable thing, like killing of young people, and still try to justify it. And this is what is in that manifesto. And I think if young people start reading it and have a fair discussion around it, that’s a good thing.
AMY GOODMAN: And the student-led movement that is now ripping across this country, started by the actual survivors of the Parkland massacre.
RAOUL PECK: Exactly, because they are concerned. They went through that trauma. And they know what they are talking about. And I’m very proud of those young people. And in the history of the world, many times it was the youngest who started making the real change. And even in my own country, the dictatorship was finally thrown out when schoolchildren went to the street, after four or five of them were killed by the police. And I see it as a good sign that young children can now take the words and talk for themselves.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to the trailer of your brand new film, out today in the United States, The Young Karl Marx.
KARL MARX: [played by August Diehl] How do you do?
FOUNDRY OWNER: Nice to meet you.
UNIDENTIFIED: Zunela [phon.] owns foundries. He employs many workers, including children.
KARL MARX: Child labor in factories.
FOUNDRY OWNER: But we have no choice. Without child labor, we’d price ourselves out of the market.
KARL MARX: And where would a society without exploitation leave people like you? You would have to work, too. Wouldn’t that be horrible?
UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] We must fight the establishment. Soon the old world will crumble.
KARL MARX: There are two kinds of men: men who’ve been forged by manual labor and men who profit from the fruit of that labor.
FACTORY OWNER: This has got to stop! It’s intolerable! Count yourselves lucky I don’t sack the lot of you.
KARL MARX: I hate and despise gentlemen. They are swine who grow fat on the sweat of laborers.
FACTORY WORKER: We are fit for the scrap heap. Is that what you’re saying?
UNIDENTIFIED: You heard him. Get out.
UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] They can try to stop us, but they cannot stop our minds!
KARL MARX: [translated] A few nights in jail will do us some good. Gentlemen, I’m all yours.
UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] Karl, allow me to introduce Friedrich Engels.
FRIEDRICH ENGELS: [played by Stefan Konarske] [translated] Have you read my work? I’ve read yours. You’re the greatest thinker of our times.
UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] Happiness requires rebellion.
KARL MARX: [translated] Everything can change. Nothing lasts forever. We’ll overthrow the old order.
FRIEDRICH ENGELS: [translated] It’s time to wake up!
KARL MARX: [translated] Until now, philosophers interpreted the world, but it must be transformed.
UNIDENTIFIED: The bourgeois and the workers, are they brothers?
FRIEDRICH ENGELS: No, they are not. They are enemies.
KARL MARX: [translated] To free minds and free spirits!
UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] By the order of the prime minister, you are expelled from France.
UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] What name stirs in the veins of such inspired writing?
KARL MARX: Karl Marx.
AMY GOODMAN: The Young Karl Marx, the film. Set in factories in ferment of Paris, Brussels, Prussia and England of the 1840s. The Young Karl Marx is nonetheless a film about today. Raoul Peck, it’s quite astounding to see this. The 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birthday is in May. Talk about why he was so influential in your life. You say he and James Baldwin have had the greatest effects.
RAOUL PECK: Well, James Baldwin and Karl Marx were basically my two main teachers. I was lucky to read James Baldwin when I was 18. And I did four years of seminar on The Capital in Berlin, where I was studying when I was 21. And for Marx — Marx, don’t forget, is the main brain who analyzed the capitalist society, starting by the Industrial Revolution. And the story of the film, it’s exactly the beginnings, where three young Europeans — from wealthy families, by the way, wealthy middle class — decided that the world had to change. The type of incredible production of riches, of merchandise, that went hand in hand with the creation of poverty and exploitation, they thought this had to change. And they started not only to work on a theoretical level, but, as well, in organizing the new working class, which was basically beginning, in Manchester and elsewhere.
AMY GOODMAN: And the film, The Young Karl Marx, also happens to be about Friedrich Engels —
RAOUL PECK: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: — who was the son of an industrialist.
RAOUL PECK: And also great friendship, you know? And Engels did a major work before meeting Marx. What he did is an important research about the condition of life of workers in England, and especially in Manchester. And those two minds met and realized that together they could make everything change. And, of course, Jenny Marx, Karl Marx’s wife, who is also part of that, and Mary Burns, she’s a working woman. And the four of them became friends for their — during their whole life.
AMY GOODMAN: Burns married to Engels.
RAOUL PECK: Yes. They didn’t actually marry, but they lived together until the end of — Mary Burns died first.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, as this film is released, The Young Karl Marx, in the United States, in the aftermath of the Parkland massacre and the remarkable uprising of the students who are taking on the entrenched power of the NRA? We have 10 seconds.
RAOUL PECK: Yeah. Well, that’s the thing. Capitalism, and people like LaPierre, makes you believe that we cannot change anything, because that’s the way it is. And Marx and those young children are telling you no, because human beings make history. So, if you get together and if you’re a collective, you can change anything you set your minds to.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Raoul Peck, we’re going to continue our conversation. And by the way, congratulations on your BAFTA —
RAOUL PECK: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: — the equivalent of the Oscars in the United States, for I Am Not Your Negro, about James Baldwin. The new film, The Young Karl Marx, out today in New York and Los Angeles.