KARL MARX AND HIS WORK
Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818 in Trier, where he received a classical education. He studied jurisprudence at Bonn and later in Berlin, where, however, his preoccupation with philosophy soon turned him away from law. He is most famous for his critiques to the economic and social power that is created and promoted by Capitalism. Marx is one of the most famous philosophers and revolutionaries to have ever lived, and he spent most of his life fighting for the lower class against the bourgeois and nobility. Marx’s book Das Kapital, Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (Capital: Critique of Political Economy) is the most famous work he has ever produced. In it, he fully expressed his opinions and created the term Proletariat to describe the worker’s class, as well as stating what is now known as the basis
for Marxism and Communism.
MARXISM AND GOVERNMENT FORMS
Both Marx and his book (Das Kapital) are well-regarded for trying to help those who were not helped at all, the workers. Every single society that had ever existed to that point was built upon aspects condemned by Marx, such as exploration of the workers and people becoming richer and richer out of other people’s efforts. Most of the ancient societies known to men, such as Greece, Egypt, and Rome, allowed and benefited from the use of slaves as workers. In these societies, was always also present a extremely powerful individual, such as a king or an emperor. These powerful individuals made their lives out of exploring mostly the slaves, but also their own people. Not very different from today, unfortunately, but more visible, all the power and wealth of those societies resided on the hands of an extremely small group of people, while all the rest had nothing or close to it.
These societies had almost all vanished by the 6th century, but the legacy they left behind shaped the Middle-Age societies. Those societies arose with the same ideals that had been present in the ancient societies: a select group of people control almost all the money and have power over everyone else. Monarchies, which were present in these societies, are the most criticized aspect by Karl Marx, as he lived in a time when they had almost finished, if not already finished, but their legacy caused the exact same thing that happened in them: the select group of people who control everything and everyone. So, it is safe to say that Marx criticism, although it is still valid today, is directed to monarchies and their legacy.
Monarchy is probably the most well-known form of government, after the ones we have today. In it, the most powerful person is above the law and can do anything that pleases. This includes controlling the money, exploring the workers, causing wars, and even killing anyone, if “need” be.
ASOIAF AND MARXISM
And monarchy is where A Song of Ice and Fire steps in. Although it is a fantasy book, it is clearly based on this form of government. Their societies follow the same rules the real world ones did; they have kings, guardians, vassals, and even exploration of the workers. Although almost every character from the book series is part of the nobility, George R.R. Martin is still able to explore the conflict between classes. He clearly expresses who are the haves and the have-nots, and behind his literary work there is an extensive critique of monarchies and the exploration of the proletariat. Martin is an avid critic of war and social power, as well as the high value that is given to money, so it is not hard to find parallels between ASOIAF and Marx’s work.
ASOIAF has shown how a few families controlled everything and how they explore those of lower class, but the people still love them. They have been so brainwashed by the circumstances, that they cannot see how they are explored, and still believe that everything that happens to them is just. This class conflict, however, was not so apparent in the first two books of the series- A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings. This theme became a fundamental matter in the third book –A Storm of Swords– and has continued its path to shaping the story and the characters in books four and five- A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons.
Although the Marxist criticism is present through the whole series, many readers fail to perceive its existence. As the story is told by the views of people who come from wealthy and powerful families – except for a few characters, of whom I will talk later- it can be hard for the reader to look at it with a different perspective, especially when the story is told accordingly to the point of view of the characters (what means that the reader will not know of something the character doesn’t know, and the background of this character determines how things are perceived by himself and, therefore, the reader). It is extremely hard to perceive “small” things in the book, that do not happen to the main characters, and most characters do not feel empathy to the poorer, so nowhere in the books the reader will read a sentence supporting the ascension of these people.
What Martin does, brilliantly, is having characters completely despise the lower class. It may seem odd, but this can actually help readers to perceive this social issue. It would seem even unnatural, kind of Disney-like, to have extremely powerful characters care about the poorer. It does happen in real life, but doing it hundreds of years ago meant either losing all the power and money or being killed, for having different ideas than the nobility and the king.
Showing a little empathy was important to control the masses, but too much was a weakness. This is very clear with one character in ASOIAF, Margaery Tyrell. She is crowned queen in the third book, and what is extremely interesting about her is how she seems to care about everyone, even the poor. She spends her time with them, helps bringing food, and try to make them feel safe, she shows a bit of empathy. However, she still lives in a castle where thousands of people could live, she has as much food as the whole city could consume while hunger is a serious problem for the lower class. She knows that in order to stay alive and powerful, she cannot be too kind.
CHARACTERS WITH POOR BACKGROUNDS
There are also characters who are originally from the lower class, and they deserve a special attention. Ser Davos Seaworth, the Onion Knight, was born and raised in Flea-Bottom, the poorest part of King’s Landing- the capital. In order to gain wealth and some power, he became a smuggler. This is an example of how far people are willing to go, in order to become someone. He became an anointed knight after smuggling onions to lord Stannis Baratheon while he was under a siege, hence his nickname. As soon as he became wealthier and powerful, he realized that in order to survive he had to live like a noble. This shows that no matter how poor someone is, this person is likely to forget how it was and not worry about the people in that situation now.
A second character worth mentioning is Melisandre of Asshai. Not a lot is known about her past, only that she comes from a mysterious place and was extremely poor. She served a few years as a slave, before becoming a red priest. She rose to power when she contacted the rightful heir to the throne, Stannis Baratheon. And although she doesn’t seem to care or have a great wealth, power has become an important aspect of her life. Now that she has become powerful, she seldom thinks about people who are not as powerful as her, and justify this flow of thoughts by her beliefs. She, as many people, use religion to justify things that don’t seem fair and to comprehend things that don’t have an clear explanation. Religion plays a big role in the social class conflict, so it is not surprising that it was included in ASOIAF.
Overall, it is safe to say that George R.R. Martin has viewed the world through Marxist lens. He and his work fit in almost every category of a Marxist critique. And he was able to put it in his book series in a way that few could, and it is so well done that he is able to pass the message even though the characteristics of his book do not help.