Marx Reloaded and the revolutionary turn

This entertaining and thought-provoking German documentary starring Slavoj Žižek features interviews with some of the world’s most renowned thinkers, written and directed by British writer and theorist Jason Barker


If you had your ear to the underground last year then chances are you’ll have heard of Marx Reloaded. Originally broadcast on the Franco-German TV channel Arte in 2011, the film was released in the UK last year following spectacular success at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, where it sold out a two month run. Now, as the film is finally released on DVD, we asked Jason Barker who teaches at European Graduate School to give us his take on capitalism, communism, revolution – and what really happens when you swallow the red pill.

What made you decide to make a film about Karl Marx?

Marx Reloaded is not about Marx as such. I chose the title of the film because I thought it would be a good way to highlight the current fascination with the idea of communism. There’s a revival of leftist thinking going on in universities; not just in the UK, but in the more developed countries, including the former Yugoslavia. Slavoj Žižek and the other philosophers who I interviewed – Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Jacques Rancière and others – have been partly responsible for it.

On one level I guess it’s ironic and slightly amusing that hundreds of people are prepared to pay 100 pounds each to attend a conference where they listen to Žižek talk about communism. That’s one aspect of it. But on the other hand there are also pressing social and economic reasons why more and more people, and not just young people, are thinking seriously about communism as a political alternative.

You mention the former Yugoslavia, which of course is no stranger to leftist ideas. How do you see the current political situation in the Balkans?

Pretty much the same as in most other parts of Europe right now: bleak and depressing. The student movement has had some success in Croatia, and in Belgrade the students succeeded in shutting down the Philosophy Faculty in protest at rising tuition fees. They approached me to put on a screening of Marx Reloaded in support of their occupation. We had a very good discussion afterwards. But the experience of those students is similar to the experience of people almost everywhere who are trying to defend their rights and their jobs through direct action. Basically they’re told to grow up and stop being so idealistic and irresponsible. The global economic crisis has only made it more difficult to imagine a world without capitalism or privatisation.

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So what’s the alternative?

I think that’s the wrong question. It seems to me the only question that makes political sense these days is not “what’s the alternative to capitalism?” but “what’s the alternative to revolution?” Because if capitalism goes on the way it is, aided and abetted by so many of our spiv governments and their banker friends, then it’s probably only a matter of time before people realise that they have nothing left to lose but their chains, as Marx puts it, and they rise up in revolt. But to answer your question: there is none.

What was the idea behind the animation?

Animation appeals to me because it allows you to illustrate complex ideas in a very direct and visual way. Of course the opening scene where Marx meets Trotsky and the scene at the end with the bullets is also a spoof of the Hollywood action movie The Matrix.

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There’s also an animated spoof of Žižek in the film.

I’m not sure it’s possible to spoof Žižek when his public persona relies so much on self-parody. Is it possible to spoof a spoof? Then again, maybe the spoof isn’t a spoof and he’s more “real” than we think. In the film I made a point of giving his ideas the respect they deserve.

At the end of the film Trotsky gives the audience a choice between a red and a blue pill. Which pill would you take?

It’s funny how people believe that choosing a red or blue pill involves some sort of conscious decision, or weighing up of alternatives. It’s almost the same question you asked before about the alternative to capitalism. I like what the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk says in response to this question. He says that we already took both pills a long time ago, and that we’ve been poisoned by them. That’s pretty much the situation we’re in today. There is no longer any choice to make. Instead, we are all struggling to come to terms with the “choices” of previous generations.

So the choice is an illusion?

It seems that way, yes.

*The Marx Reloaded DVD box set is available to purchase at: