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There's a similar phenomenon with Jesus. To try to explain a pop song's popularity, just look at populism. Its like a culture's lowest common denominator in choosing the feelgood herd leader, and at the time of Marx's surge in popularity, the international capitalists had the workers of the world by the short and curlies, and along comes an average sociologist who points out the obvious villian after reading and plagiarizing anarchist thinkers. With Lenin and Stalin's propaganda and PR division pumping out Marx emblazened posters and banners he became the Kardashian of the early 20th century press.
The place and timing placed Marx at the pinnacle of the mass popularity ladder, and he still lingers unfortunately, to corrupt the minds of other popular nihilist-communists like Zhachev.