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Issue #1856      February 13, 2019


Hammer out freedom

Following a frenzied attack on Karl Marx’s memorial at London’s Highgate Cemetery last week the Cemetery officials warned that the listed monument will never be the same again.

Far more important is that when Marxists, communists, socialists and left-wing activists from across the globe gather there on Sunday March 17 for the annual Marx Oration and Commemoration Ceremony, they will be inspired, not by the condition of the memorial itself but by the undying Marxist thinking and action that it represents.

What this mindless attack will do, however, is inspire the entire labour movement and the left in Britain, and internationally, to ensure the monument is fully restored as quickly as possible.

Communist Party of Britain general secretary Robert Griffiths summed it up perfectly when he told the Morning Star newspaper: “The ideas of Marx – like his plinth at Highgate – are powerful enough to outlast any damage done by a fascist vandal.”

Most of the new damage is to the 138-year-old marble plaque that was first used on the grave of Marx’s wife Jenny von Westphalen in 1881. It shows the dates of the births and deaths of Karl Marx, Jenny, their daughter Eleanor, grandson Harry Longuet and of their housekeeper Helene Demuth.

The monument is owned by the Marx Grave Trust, represented by the Marx Memorial Library, which will make any decisions about future repairs.

Let’s take a look at the Grade I listed structure, one of only two graves that have this highest listing as really important structures which are fundamental parts of Britain and the world’s cultural heritage.

The original grave was moved, along with the remains of Karl Marx and his wife Jenny, to a more prominent location in the cemetery in 1954 after the original site was felt to be too hidden away for someone of such huge international significance.

So in 1955, the Communist Party of Great Britain set up the Marx Memorial Fund. Money came from members and supporters up and down the country and from communists and Marxists all across the globe.

Communist Party member and well-known artist and sculptor Laurence Bradshaw won the commission to create the monument. He viewed the commission as a tremendous honour and designed the entire monument. The original family headstone was incorporated and because of the slope of the site and concern about vandalism, Bradshaw used military engineering construction methods.

Bradshaw wrote that he wanted to make “not a monument to a man only, but to a great mind and a great philosopher.”

Bradshaw never hid his communist views and in the 1950s cold war this undoubtedly made him and his work less popular and commissions harder to find. He did sculpt busts of leading communists and other progressives such as Harry Pollitt, poet Hugh McDiarmid and the African-American activist Dr WEB du Bois.

His colourful, passionate paintings would often be themed praising peace and internationalism and condemning injustice and war. He was active in campaigns to get singer Paul Robeson a US passport so that he could visit Britain and Europe. Characteristically, his best-known work, the Marx memorial itself, was unsigned. Bradshaw never sought fame.

The monument was unveiled in 1956 by Harry Pollitt, the general secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Since that date the tomb has become a place where many followers of Marxist ideas come to pay tribute to the great thinker.

It has also been a target for Marx’s opponents, suffering vandalism, including two bomb attacks in the 1970s, many paint splashes and the most recent frenzied but futile hammer attack.

Marx spent much of his life in London, so it is appropriate that this is his final resting place. He moved to London as a political exile in June 1849, living first in Soho and then in Maitland Park Road, Belsize Park, north London, where he died in 1883.

It was in London that he wrote many of his most important works, including Das Kapital. In London Marx enjoyed the support and company of his friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels. It was Engels who delivered the eulogy at Marx’s funeral.

Despite attacks on his tomb and vilification by the media, Marx and his ideas live on and each year when working people fighting for freedom and improved living standards all around the world come together at the grave, that huge sculpted head lifts their spirits and inspires them in their struggles.

Next article – Noam Chomsky – “10 strategies of manipulation” by the media

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