The Mother – a Socialist short story

The Mother - Fatmir Haxhiu

The Mother – Fatmir Haxhiu

The Mother – a Socialist short story

In various posts on this site I have been concentrating on providing descriptions and analyses of some of the many Lapidars in Albania. That is ongoing and there are still more to post in the future. At some time I also want to have a look at Albanian paintings from the Socialist period (1944-1990). Some of these have been introduced as they cross over with the sculptures on the monuments. There is still an opportunity to see some of these paintings in various locations throughout the country – principally the National Art Gallery in Tirana but also in the City Art Gallery in Durres, the Historical Museum in Fier and the Museum in Peshkopia.

But it wasn’t just in the plastic arts that Socialist Realism had a role to play in the construction of Socialism. Putting the role of the working class and peasantry in the forefront of all that happened in society, in the post, present and future, was also a task of writers of short stories and novels. For those interested in this aspect of Albania’s road to Socialism the various foreign language publications (especially the large format, monthly colour magazine, New Albania) provided translations from the Albanian language in English, Russian, French, Chinese and Arabic. The story below appeared in New Albania, 1971, No 6.

This particular story dealt with a fictional incident in the National War of Liberation against the Fascist invaders – assisted by local collaborators who were always a threat to true patriots.

Note on translation. Translations into English were good during the time these magazines were being produced – but not perfect. I have made a few minor, obvious grammatical changes to the original but have not sought to correct all errors due to the fear of losing the meaning that the author was wanting to convey to the reader.

THE MOTHER

Skender Drini

There was a man walking, or rather dragging himself slowly, along the bank of the river, weary and hungry. The pain from the wound in his left shoulder made it agony to breathe. He stopped, bracing himself against a tree or a big rock and drew breath very slowly and carefully as the pain stabbed at him. With great effort he pulled himself together.

Great dry flakes of snow that stuck wherever they touched were falling so thickly that they blotted out the world. Earth and sky were blended into a white gloom. He mustn’t stop. There was no road, no tracks but this didn’t trouble him. In his ears was the roar of the Black Drini. When the sound came clear he carried on; when it died away a little he angled more to the left and went ahead again. The Drini, swollen with the past week’s rain, tore madly down its course. Where it narrowed at the bends the waters hurled themselves upon the rocks and obstacles in their way with a sound like the fury of a distant hurricane.

The man lifted his head and listened.

“Good, I’m on the right track”, he whispered. He pushed on. River and man proceeded side by side, the one loud in its arrogant strength, the other wounded and nearly all in. Despite that they carried on side by side. If it had not been for the Drini who knows where Sulo Arifi, courier of the Dibra partisan unit, might have been lost. He had been travelling all night with the river for his guide and companion. He came from Cermenika where he had picked up some letters from headquarters. He was returning to his unit but did not find it where it had been at Ostreni. Instead he found a letter in the secret communications place. ‘Follow us down the Drini. We shall meet in Dibra. As fast as you can.’ “Trimi”. “Trimi” was the Commissar.

Sula Arifi had never done this trip before but that was not important. He would follow the tracks of his comrades down the course of the Drini. He could rely on the Drini. He would get there, come what may, he would get there.

He started early from Ostreni. Although the sky was dark and threatening neither snow nor rain had begun to fall.

Sula climbed the spur, leaving Cerrieci and Gorice on his right. He passed Zalli of Bulqiza and Majtari and daybreak found him near Devolan. So far the trip was going well. He tried to slip undetected past people and houses because there were enemy bands prowling about but he couldn’t get away without being observed. Shots rang out. Bajraktar’s men took a delight in blazing away at any stranger. If he happened to be a partisan, then so much the better.

Sula Arifi exchanged three short bursts with the two who were firing at him from behind a bank and then slipped away. But he hadn’t gone five hundred paces when a fearful pain caught him in the shoulder. A glance showed his jacket stained with blood. ‘Oh, the devil’, he thought. ‘Those dogs of Bajraktar have managed to get their teeth into me. What rotten luck!’ Painfully he managed to struggle out of his jacket and tried to stem the flow of blood by tying strips from his shirt around the wound. It was deep and bleeding heavily. Sula tested his arm, moving it backwards and forwards. ‘Thank goodness – at least it hasn’t touched the bone’, he comforted himself. ‘But I suppose that bit of metal’s still in me. I must get there and the comrades will pull it out.’

He made to move off, but he was no longer the man he had been the evening before. His makeshift bandage slipped and the bleeding continued. He was obliged to stop and tighten the strip of rag. On he went.

‘Oh! it’s a long way, this Dibra!’

Near Cetushi a fine drizzle began and quickly turned to snow. And what snow! Flakes as big as your hand. The whole world was blotted out. Within an hour six inches, a foot of snow had fallen. Sula struggled forward, lifting his feet high as he plodded along. Unable to see a thing, he strained his ears for the sound of the river. ‘I’m all right’, he whispered, ‘I’m on the right track. Bless you, Black Drini!’ And he hurried his steps as if to keep pace with the river as it rushed northwards. Behind the partisan the snow immediately covered his footprints and the spots of blood.

Sula Arifi came to a halt. His legs would no longer obey him. His whole chest was a fire of agony from his wound, as if his ribs had been riddled with bullets. It was snowing as hard as ever. He couldn’t see ten paces ahead and neither could he hear the Drini. It had fallen silent. ‘Either I’ve lost my way or the river’s wider here and not making much noise’, thought the partisan.

Unexpectedly, a sweet lethargy began to steal over him, spreading over his limbs and warming them, making him drowsy. Hundreds of figures, some new, some familiar, danced before his eyes. He seemed to be back in the old bakery where he had worked so many years as an apprentice. The baker, with his great hairy arms like a bear, quenched the burning paddles from the oven in a tub of water. On the broad counter, trays full of pies, roast meat and pastries, were lined up side by side. Further over, on the shelves, buns fresh from the oven and shining with egg-yolk were steaming. He took one and sank his teeth in it, but he couldn’t get it down his throat. The baker hit him hard in the belly with the butt end of the paddle.

Sula Arifi pulled himself together, scared. It was a near thing. One moment more and he would have been asleep. In the snow, that would have been the end. He took a handful of snow and rubbed his face with it. At first it felt cold, then the sting turned into a scalding heat which flushed his cheeks. Sula Arifi took a proper hold on himself. At that moment he remembered the words of the letter: ‘As fast as you can, comrade’, he whispered mechanically. But his legs would not function. His limbs seemed frozen and numb. The partisan lifted his head. Through that snowy stillness, that fearful stillness, a muffled roar was becoming gradually louder, heading towards the north. ‘Ah! there it is again. Bless you, Black Drini!’ Sula Arifi took one step forward, two steps, then he was on his way again, as though drawn along by the roar of the river.

About midday the snowstorm began to peter out. The flakes thinned out, then they stopped altogether. On his right Sula Arifi could see a village, on his left, the river. He turned from the village, moving towards the river. What would he have given, at that moment, for a crust of bread! It was painful to think that there, five hundred paces away, there was a fire, bread, and people who might gladly give it.But this village ahead – was it Brezhdani? Or Kishavici? March, Sula Arifi, as quickly as you can! But his legs would scarcely move, while the Drini roared furiously on its way. Now, with its banks covered with snow, it seemed like a narrow stream snaking along. ‘This must be Kishavici! But what is the name of this stream?’ He could go no further. He stood, breathing heavily. He was not sleepy now. His limbs were laden, while his feet seemed like two strange, lifeless lumps. He no longer felt his wound. The blood had clotted round the bandage in a heavy crust.

A tall stone house where perhaps he might rest loomed before him in the gathering darkness. The courier stood looking at it, isolated, rising from the snow-covered plain. The other houses were a fair way off, scattered over the ridges and valleys and indistinct now in the deepening twilight. He turned his eyes again to the plain. What was going on behind those cold walls, behind those narrow, loophole windows? There seemed something ominous about the way the angles of the stone stood out in the gloom, clean-cut as with a knife.

Sula Arifi wavered, paused, then moved towards it. It was a partisan base. It was an open fire where wet clothes could be dried and exhausted limbs stretched out. It was a piece of corn bread gladly given, a pleasant corner where one could dream of the morrow.

He approached the house, and pushed open the big door. The wooden stair creaked under his feet, the steps slippery with slushy snow.

‘There’s someone here then’, thought Sula, clinging to the banister. The sight of the open door gave him strength to struggle up the last few steps, but he froze rigid on the threshold. In the room beyond the door lay a dead man. An old woman sat with bowed head beside him. Her face was buried in her hands and partly obscured by her black shawl. Two other women sat in silence, a little to one side.

The old woman looked up. Sula Arifi shrank back against the door. ‘Oh women’, called the old woman, ‘stand up and welcome the guest.’

Sula mumbled with embarrassment, ‘I … I … ‘

‘Oh you women’, repeated the old woman in a deeper tone, ‘stand up and welcome the guest’.

‘No’, said Sula firmly, ‘I am going’.

‘You’ll not cross the threshold alive, my boy!’

She stood up and strode towards him.

Sula took off his cap and approached the body.

‘Your son, Mother?’

‘My son.’

‘When did this happen?’

‘Today. Halil Alija. *But relax, boy, don’t get excited!’

Her glance fell on his chest. ‘But you’ve been shot!’ she said. ‘Oh, damn their eyes, you’ve been shot, too.’ Quickly, women, we must get those clothes off him.’

But the women had disappeared. ‘They’ve gone, the fools,’ she whispered. ‘They were afraid. But I’ll dress this wound without them.’

‘No, no!’

‘There, there, dear boy. My son wouldn’t like his mother to leave you in this state.’

The old woman, with a glance at her son, rose to her feet. The flames from the fire at her back cast a long shadow right across the room. As she moved towards him with her great stride, she seemed to Sula Arifi like a mighty oak with a massive trunk and broad-spreading branches. He tried to remember her eyes when he had first seen her through the doorway. They were cold in the beginning, almost lifeless, but the life blazed up in them immediately she noticed the partisan.

‘Ah, what a brave old woman you are, mother, a brave old woman indeed,’ whispered Sula Arifi.

The old woman came back carrying a roll of cloth prepared precisely for bandages. A shudder passed over the partisan when he saw it. In that roll of bandage, the whole blood-stained history of the banks of the Drini was expressed. There wouldn’t be a house without such bandages, nor a woman who didn’t know how to weave them. The bride brought them in her dowry. The blood feuds ran on from century to century.

Reluctantly the partisan lay down. He felt ashamed at being treated. Ashamed and embarrassed in the presence of the dead. But what a woman this was! A slight groan escaped his lips. Immediately the old woman lifted her hands from the wound.

‘Did I hurt you, son? Did I hurt my dear Abaz?’

Sula Arifi looked at the dead man. A lock of blonde hair had fallen across his forehead. The look of death had not yet touched his face. The old woman was confused. The living partisan seemed like her dead partisan son.

She turned his head towards her and wiped his tears. It was too much. Her hand was roughened and cold, but Sula Arifi seized it and pressed it on his face.

‘There, there, dear boy, mother’s here!’ She rose and filled a cup with coffee.

‘Drink it, son. Now I shall get you some food’

‘What courage,’ murmured Sula Arifi to himself. ‘Even at such a time she thinks about food for me.’

‘My son did not leave me on my own this night, you came, my boy.’ The cup quivered in the partisan’s hand. He no longer felt his wounds. Didn’t this old woman show how to bear pain?

Sula put down the empty cup. A rifle shot rang out from nearby. The partisan reached for his gun.

‘Hand over the partisan, old woman, if you don’t want to follow your son to the grave!’

The voice came clearly from just outside the wall. Sula rose to his knees. The pressure of the old woman’s hand on his shoulder prevented him from standing up. From outside the threats were repeated. The house was surrounded. Sula stood against the wall.

‘I’m going out,’ he said.

‘Do you intend to give yourself up, boy?’ The old woman was looking fierce. ‘I’ll never surrender while there’s breath in my body, mother, I want to go out to face them.’

‘No, not while I live. One I gave them, another never!’

‘They will burn the house down.’

‘One I gave them, another never,’ whispered the woman again. ‘Let the house go up in flames!’

In her agony of indecision she began to pace backwards and forwards across the big room. What to do? How to save Sula Arifi? Until then she had been so brave, faced with her dead son. Now, before her living son she seemed lost.

Sula peered out a loophole. They were shooting from outside. Bullets whistled and smashed against the stone walls. It was pitch dark out there.

The old woman threw a pitcher of water on the fire. Darkness enclosed the room. Who knows how much suffering this woman has seen, how many times she has quickly doused the fire when the rifles started at night. Outside they were keeping up a furious fire. Sula fired the odd shot in reply. There seemed to be no end to the volleys. Tiles flew from the roof and smashed to the ground. Dogs were barking from somewhere near.

Sula turned to see what the old woman was doing. To his astonishment, she was coming towards him, with a gun in her hands.

‘Slip out through the little door at the back. I’ll hold them off, they won’t suspect anything.’

‘Oh mother, mother,’ whispered the partisan, ‘I’m not leaving. You go,’ he said to the old woman.

‘I’m carrying letters from headquarters. They must be delivered to the unit at all costs. You know the way. You go, mother.’

‘I have a brave son here,’ she said.

‘Now go! One son I gave another never!’

‘But I am wounded. I’ll not get there.’

‘The letters must be delivered at all costs. I am wounded.’ His words became almost delirious, beseeching. He could not leave her on her own and go.

‘Away you go! A wounded man can make it, a live man can make it, but not a dead one. I want you to live. Abaz would have listened to me. Now please go!’

And he went. He valued his life that night no more than a hair of his head, but there are bigger things, more important things than that.

As he went, for a long time he could hear a shot with a particular sound distinguishable amongst the others, the sound of a carbine. It continued all through the evening until nearly midnight. Then it was silent. Sula Arifi went on towards Dibra.

*Halil Alia was a collaborator with the fascists and one of chiefs of the traitor forces that fought against the National Liberation Movement.

‘Burnt School’ – Mackintosh Building, Glasgow School of Art

Entrance - the still not yet Burnt School

Entrance – the still not yet Burnt School

‘Burnt School’ – Mackintosh Building, Glasgow School of Art

‘To allow a building to burn down may be regarded as a misfortune; to allow it to do so twice looks like carelessness.’ (With apologies to Oscar Wilde.) But this is the situation the people of Scotland are faced with after the second, even more devastating, fire at the Mackintosh Building of the Glasgow School of Art – henceforth referred to as the Burnt School.

Before the inferno(s)

The Burnt School was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh at the end of the 19th century. He was one of the few British artists and designers who embraced Art Nouveau which was becoming dominant in Europe at the time. (Art Deco, the British equivalent didn’t really take off until after Word War I.) Like others of that school, especially Antoni Gaudi in Catalonia, Mackintosh designed everything from the buildings themselves down to the door handles. The Mackintosh Building was built in stages but was finally completed in 1909.

It managed to survive for just over a hundred years but in may 2014 a fire in the basement, amongst work being prepared by students for the end of year exhibition, ended up destroying a huge section of the building to the right of the main entrance – the west wing – including the very distinctive library.

Old Library - Mackintosh Building - Burnt School

Old Library – Mackintosh Building – Burnt School

I’m not aware of any real investigation into why the fire happened in the first place or why it caused so much damage. What is certain is that no lessons were learnt at all. After all it was such an ‘iconic and historic building’ there would always be public money to rebuild. Modern technology meant that the building had been surveyed and even the door handles (mentioned above) could be replaced with accurate copies. A mere £35 million contract was drawn up and the job was given to Kier Group – which had become a big player in the construction business throughout the UK.

This was in 2016 and at a time when another big player in the construction business (Carillion) was coming under scrutiny for its less than stable financial performance so some alarm bells should have been ringing.

The Second Inferno

The bells made no sound in 2016 and they didn’t on the night of 15th June 2018 either. That was when, the majority of the restoration having been completed, yet another fire broke out in the building. How long the fire had been raging before the alarm was given is unknown (there doesn’t ever seem to be any proper investigations and the apportioning of blame in these incidents) but this time it was impossible for the local Fire Brigade to bring it under control. Basically they were fighting a rear-guard action and were attempting to stop the fire from breaking out of the block where the now Burnt School was located. This meant that an old ballroom, that was being used as a large bar, and a number of shops on Sauciehall Street were allowed to burn – and are derelict to this day.

So much water was pumped into the building that the ground became saturated and the walls, that remained after all the flames had been put out, started to subside. To stabilise the now gutted structure took weeks and local residents in the immediate vicinity were denied access to their homes over that time.

Burnt School Facade - before

Burnt School Facade – before

.... and after

…. and after

(Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris benefited from the Scottish experience as the fire fighters there – in another fire that was burning longer than it should have before the alarm was raised – had learnt that too much water will bring such a major structure crashing to the ground. They followed that tactic despite the wise advice provided by Donald Trump who suggested bombing the building with water from the air – in the same way that forest fires are tackled.)

Burnt School West Wall before

Burnt School West Wall before

.... and after

…. and after

The Aftermath

What was most disturbing about the aftermath of the fire – before any ‘investigation’ of why it was allowed to happen in the first place – was the mad rush by so many individuals, including the Directors of the Art School and top Scottish politicians, to pledge that the phoenix would rise from the ashes. They made these statements as if it were a given. Even while the smoke was still rising from the rubble the figure of (yet another ‘mere’) £100 million was being suggested as the re-bulild price. Anyone who has followed such estimates in the past on many projects throughout the UK would doubt whether the final price would be at that ‘low’ level. Such schemes tend to go two, three or even more times over the original budget.

It was just assumed by this artistic and political ‘elite’ that the public purse would cough up to provide a spanking new reproduction of a 110 year old building and place it in the hands, and under the control, of a group of people who had shown themselves totally inept in looking after what was part of the Scottish National Heritage. You wouldn’t put them in charge of a Wendy house let alone something so valuable.

If there’s such a lot of money sloshing around why isn’t it being used for more important, crucial and socially valuable projects. Glasgow is far from being the wealthiest part of the UK and although there are wealthy people there is an awful lot of deprivation and squalor – even close by the Burnt School.

Soon after the second fire local people, including community groups and local politicians, started to ask if the money couldn’t be better spent. A report from the Culture Committee of the Scottish Parliament (in March 2019) stated that the Burnt School Directors had shown complete disregard to safety procedures and a cavalier attitude towards looking after the building – just assuming someone would be prepared to sign a blank cheque.

Now opportunist politicians, like Nicola Sturgeon, remain quiet after they had been able to shine as concerned under the limelight in the days after the fire. As in Paris there are always those who spout off about what will happen but become quite and slink back into the shadows when they realise that they might have made promises they won’t be able to keep.

Even if you look at the official website of the Burnt School you will find that they seem to think history stopped in the days before Fire No. 2. They report on ‘progress’ up to the early part of 2018 but ignore the present day reality.

As I was checking my information for this post I came across a statement which I found amusing – but also one that asks more questions than it answers. On 29th June 2018 Kier were taken off the contract. Not surprising as (together with the management of the Art School) they were significantly responsible for what happened that Friday night a couple of weeks before. However, I’ve been unable to find out how much Kier had been paid for the work they had completed up to the 15th June 2018. Presumably they didn’t have to wait until the end of the project before cheques started going into their account. Now that all that work has come to nought should they be paying back what they have already been given? After all they have failed to live up to the conditions of the contract.

Kier is presently ‘in difficulty’ financially at the moment, seemingly having followed a similar pattern to Carillion and overstepping themselves. Their responsibility for the fire at the Burnt School might not be the cause but it wouldn’t have helped their current situation. Would you give them a contract for your home?

Another aspect which involves finance is the fact that the Scottish Parliament has compensated those other business in Sauchiehall Street, and some of the nearby residents, for the losses and disruption they have incurred in the last year or so. That money again comes out of the public purse. As with the disaster of the fire in the Grenfell Tower in London two years ago private companies make a cock-up but it is the State that has to pay for the consequences. In London that is amounting to hundreds of millions of pounds and the issue still hasn’t been resolved. What will be the figure in Glasgow?

So that’s the situation in July 2019. The future restoration of the building is certainly not certain and it will probably be sometime before the final decision is made.

The Future?

Now I want to discuss scaffolding.

One of the ‘positives’ of the fire is the amazing structure that surrounds the Burnt School. I’ve only seen the outside but I assume that there must be something similar on the inside of the ruin.

But what can be seen is truly remarkable. That single building must be using virtually all the scaffolding that was in Glasgow and the immediate surrounding area. I have never seen such a complex pattern of scaffolding. The sheer quantity, in such a relatively small space, is mind-boggling.

The owners of scaffolding companies in Scotland must have, figuratively, warmed their hands on the flames of that fire. What they are charging for all this work will keep them in champagne and caviar for a long time on their world cruises. And the actual scaffolders who climbed and created the structure must be glad that Glasgow has so many incompetents in charge of such heritage buildings. In any other circumstance the bulldozers and wrecking balls would have been in within hours and by now the plot of land would be empty, ready for yet another speculative complex that Glasgow doesn’t really need. As it is the scaffolding will be there for years.

But it’s a work of art in itself. It is both aesthetically pleasing as well as being a bit of an engineering masterpiece. It must have been a challenge which no scaffolder had ever encountered in the past. And to keep the place ‘safe’ in the present and for the near future they had to go really far back in the past. The way the scaffolding is constructed, especially on the east side, is reminiscent of the wall of a mediaeval Cathedral, with its buttresses spreading out at the lower levels.

Burnt School - east wall

Burnt School – east wall

I think it’s an artistic wonder in its own way. My suggestion is that they get rid of any of the stone that still hasn’t fallen, or been cracked by the heat after having been dowsed with cold water, so the area is safe and then turn the area and scaffolding into a tourist attraction.

Children could practice their climbing skills. Artists from around the world who have a history of covering mountains and other large structures in coloured plastic could be invited to create temporary installations, perhaps with light and sound shows at night. That would attract even more people than used to visit the Burnt School before it was burnt.

The scaffolding should be bought and that would save a fortune. Such an approach would cost much less than the estimated £100 million and might make people think more seriously about what they have and, hopefully, make them more careful not to lose it through their carelessness.

Future generations would then be able to wonder at the foolishness of mankind and the destruction created as well as the ingenuity of others in trying to mitigate those disasters.

Karl Marx Tomb and Memorial

Karl Marx Tomb - Highgate Cemetery, London

Karl Marx Tomb – Highgate Cemetery, London

Karl Marx Tomb and Memorial

The British working class have shown themselves somewhat reluctant to take on board the revolutionary ideas of Karl Marx in the past. This is a shame on a number of levels but especially as he formulated his ideas based upon the what he learnt of how the first real ‘working class’ – in the sense of a class that was totally divorced and separated from the means of production – developed as the industrial towns of England sprung up from the mid-18th century onwards. But as they were so central to the development of his political and economic theories he lived and died in England and the Karl Marx Tomb and Memorial is in Highgate Cemetery, northern London.

Original Location

Karl Marx original tomb - Highgate Cemetery, London

Karl Marx original tomb – Highgate Cemetery, London

When Marx died on 14th March 1883 he was buried in the family plot which already contained his wife, Jenny, who had died a couple of years before. They weren’t alone for long as within a week of his death Marx was joined by his five year old grandson. The family’s life long friend and companion (who had started out as a servant) Helene Demuth joined them in 1890 – after helping Frederick Engels put together Marx’s notes that became the second volume of Capital – and then the last of the group to use the plot was Marx’s daughter, Eleanor, who died young in 1898.

This unremarkable and nondescript grave, tucked away in the central part of the cemetery, was Marx’s almost final resting place until the 1950s.

The plan for a Memorial

Coincidently or not (I’m not sure) very soon after the death of the great Soviet leader and Marxist-Leninist, JV Stalin, in March 1953, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) made plans for a much more substantial memorial to the founding father of Marxism. An application was made, and permission given, for all the remains in the original location to be disinterred and reburied (in 1954) in a much larger plot close to one of the main pathways through the cemetery.

A commission was then given to a member of the CPGB, Laurence Bradshaw, a sculptor and he designed the plinth (made of marble), the very large bust of Marx (bronze) and also choose the quotes and completed the calligraphy. One thing he did which I very much liked and that was in no place will you see mention the sculptor’s name. This is in line with arguments I have made in relation to art commissioned and carried out under a system where Socialist Realism is in operation, in particular Albanian lapidars, that the artist should step back from the art work and not make it all about themselves. The memorial was unveiled on 15th March 1956 in a ceremony led by Harry Pollitt, at that time the General Secretary of the CPGB.

The Memorial

It’s quite a simple, and striking, monument. Whether I like it is another matter.

It’s a basic marble clad monolith upon which sits a huge bronze bust of Marx. The plinth is about 3 metres high and the bust must be at least a metre high itself. I think what makes the bust seem slightly strange is that Marx’s beard is virtually touching the edge of the plinth. He looks as if he is crouching down. Perhaps if Bradshaw had given Marx more of his shoulders then it wouldn’t look so pressed down. Apart from that I think it’s a good likeness of the proletarian ideologist.

On the front of the plinth, just under the bust, are the words ‘ Workers of all lands unite’, the final word, the most important word in the phrase, being on a separate line underneath, placed exactly in the centre. These words come from the very end of The Manifesto of the Communist Party although in authentic texts they are written as ‘Working men of all countries, Unite!’ The meaning is the same but with a different construction taking into account the way of thinking in the middle of the 19th century. Then just about halfway down, and centred, is the name ‘Karl Marx’.

Karl Marx Tomb - central plaque

Karl Marx Tomb – central plaque

Beneath his name (also centred and slightly indented) is the white marble plaque placed at the original site of the tomb. Or should I say ‘was’. It was damaged in February 2019 and now there’s a plastic facsimile in its place. Whether the original is underneath or has been taken away – either for conservation or for repair – I wouldn’t know. This is inscribed with the names of the five individuals in the tomb, with there birth and death dates.

On the bottom third, or so, of the plinth are the words ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it’. These are the very final words from the Theses on Feuerbach, (point XI), which was written by Marx in the spring of 1845 – preceding the publication of The Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848). One slight quibble here. In the written text the words ‘interpreted’ and ‘change’ are emphasised. As Marx thought it important to do so in his text it’s a shame that Bradshaw didn’t also include, in some manner, the importance of that stress. All the text is highlighted in gold.

On each side of the plinth is a single olive wreath, close to the top and centred, in bronze. This can be interpreted in a number of ways, as in the past such wreaths have come to have various meanings. One would be a celebration of the successes and the achievements of Karl Marx. He was the first to formulate a coherent ideology which, if implemented in the manner expressed in the quotes on his tomb, is exclusively of use to and benefit for the working class and all other oppressed and exploited peoples of the world.

It would be difficult to suggest that the olive branches represent peace. Like all great ideologists many of Marx’s words can be taken out of context and thereby remove the revolutionary nature of Marxism. In his early writings Marx was clear on the need to complete replace the old system and replace it with one that was designed purely for the working class. If he had any doubts about that (which I don’t think he did) before 1871 he was clear in his own mind, and in his writings, that such a change would invariably have to be violent after the experience of the Paris workers in 1871. The ferocity of the reaction and the slaughter that accompanied the defeat of the Commune showed the world that once capitalism’s power was truly challenged they would stop at naught to crush any such attempt. Events worldwide in the almost 150 years since the Commune has proven that thesis time and time again.

There is nothing on the back of the plinth.

As an aside here it’s worth mentioning that at the time that the CPGB was making moves to commemorate Marx with the structure in Highgate Cemetery the Party itself was making moves to go against the very revolutionary essence of Marxism. The Party had already adopted the revisionist British Road to Socialism as its programme. By the end of the same year as the unveiling of the monument the Party leadership would accept the attacks made on JV Stalin by Khrushchev at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Subsequently the CPGB took the revisionist, capitulationist, side in the upcoming Polemic in the International Communist Movement.

Target of Vandalism

From the early days the monument has been the target for anti-Communist and Fascist elements within British society. In 1960 it was painted with yellow swastikas and suffered a couple of inept bombing attempts in the 1970s. There was also a paint attack in 2011. However, things have heated up recently as there have been two attacks this year (2019).

The first was on the night of 5th February 2019 when Marx’s name was chipped away at by a hammer. This might have done irreparable damage to the original marble plaque but it wouldn’t take too much to get a replica made. Whether the money or the will is there is another matter. Then, less than two weeks later, on 15th February 2019 it was daubed on three sides with anti-Communist slogans. These were easily cleaned off but I think the strip of red that runs down the facsimile of the plaque when I visited (in June 2019) was a remaining sign of that paint attack.

For those who believe and follow the ideas of Karl Marx a visit would be recommended if in the vicinity. The Marx monument was the result of a local, British initiative. The raising of a statue to Frederick Engels in Manchester was as a result of the failing of the revisionist system in the Ukraine. That’s also worth a visit.

How to get there:

Get to the centre of Archway (by the underground station) either by Tube or Bus. Then walk up Highgate Hill, away from the centre, passing the hospital and a statue of Dick Whittington’s cat, and at the top of the hill, by the church on the left, turn into Waterlow Park and exit by the bottom entrance which is right beside the entrance to Highgate Cemetery.

Location:

GPS:

51.5662

-0.1439

DMS:

51° 33′ 58.32″ N

0° 8′ 38.04″ W

Highgate Cemetery (East) Plan

Highgate Cemetery (East) Plan

A paper map is given after paying at the entrance but if you want an idea before you arrive click on the above for a pdf version.

Opening Times and Entrance Costs:

Daily: (except 25 and 26 December)
10am to 5pm (March to October)
10am to 4pm (November to February)
last admission 30 minutes before closing.

Adults: £4.00 (capitalism even makes money out of revolutionaries – and the dead)

Under 18’s: Free