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

Argentinian Diary – Monument to the Fallen in the Malvinas – Buenos Aires

Malvinas Memorial - Buenos Aires

Malvinas Memorial – Buenos Aires

Argentinian Diary – Monument to the Fallen in the Malvinas – Buenos Aires

There are many monuments and memorials to the Malvinas War throughout Argentina, especially in the south from where the forces that were sent to liberate the islands departed in March and April 1982. These vary in approach, some concentrating on the local involvement, such as Rio Gallegos and Puerto Madryn with others taking the issue on board for the sake of the nation, as in Ushuaia and in the capital, Buenos Aires where the Monument to the Fallen in the Malvinas can be found in Plaza San Martin, near to the Retiro train and bus terminal in the north-east of the city.

Architecturally and artistically the Monument is relatively simple. The structure has been excavated out of the hill and the concave wall is faced with red marble on which black plaques have been attached. Inscribed on these 25 plaques, in gold lettering, are the names of the 649 fallen in the conflict – on land, sea and air.

Above the first seven plaques on the left is a large piece of red marble and on this, in white, can be seen the outline of the Islas Malvinas. (Until I started to see these islands being represented in various monuments in different parts of the country I had forgotten how jagged an outline they present, with innumerable coves and small islets.)

Malvinas Memorial - Buenos Aires

Malvinas Memorial – Buenos Aires

On the extreme left, there’s a black, metal chimney, going from ground level to just above the stone that carries the image of the islands. This is for the ‘eternal flame’.

In front of the plaques is a small passageway allowing visitors to get close to see the names of their relatives or friends who had not returned from the war.

A low wall, which forms the bottom edge of this passage, is also faced with red marble slabs and on the front, facing the entrance to the monument, are 24 regimental shields and in the centre the symbol for the Argentinian Armed Forces.

Malvinas Memorial - Buenos Aires

Malvinas Memorial – Buenos Aires

From each side of the memorial plaques a small wall (which have not very impressive shrubs planted in the top) extends down towards the entrance, narrowing the space as it gets closer to the gates and which, if allowed to, would end up meeting at the point where a tall flagpole flies the national flag. From the entrance gate three small platforms, in the central portion, lead up to the memorial wall, ramps allowing a step free access on the outsides. The whole area is surrounded by a low, black iron fence with lockable, sliding gates.

This is a simple memorial but there are indications that some, at least, within Argentina, whether that be the local or national government, don’t really think the issue of the Malvinas is as important as it was in 1982 where it cost the lives of over a thousand military on both sides, many hundreds of injured and an unregistered total of millions of pounds in material. (Not a problem that it gets destroyed but in present circumstances this only throws more money into the coffers of the arms manufacturers and diverts resources away from other, more useful projects.)

I had read before arriving in Buenos Aires that there was a permanent ceremonial guard at this memorial and that the ‘eternal flame’ was, as the phrase implies, eternal. Neither is the case. My first visit to the memorial was in the days after the G-20 (when the centre of the city had been locked down for the best part of three days) and this square is only a stone’s throw from the Sheraton Hotel, one of the locations which housed people so ‘important’ that the hotel had a ring of vallas to itself, one of the rings within the rings within the rings. At that time there were even lower, more conventional barriers around the monument. Can’t really understand the thinking here as this area was a long way from any mass mobilisation and why would anyone want to attack a monument to young men who died in 1982? (As far as I can tell there were no female military casualties on either side – three women who were killed were civilians living on the Malvinas and they were killed by the British.)

I understand that there’s sometimes a guard of honour, sometimes by soldiers in ceremonial dress (who are permanently on guard in the Metropolitan Cathedral in the Plaza de Mayo – presumably the, in the main, conscripts who died in the Malvinas under the leadership of the cretinous military fascists don’t merit such treatment), sometimes by one or two individuals from the various armed services. I have seen pictures on the internet but have been unable to work out any pattern. However, I would assume that on the anniversary of the conflict greater effort would be made to recognise those who died for Argentinian pride.

As for the ‘eternal’ flame I assume that with the economic crisis that Argentina is presently undergoing there’s no money to pay the gas bill.

Also there’s an element of decay creeping in, as it is in all the Malvinas Monuments I’ve seen in the country (Rio Gallegos, El Calafate, Puerto Madryn and Ushuaia). If you build a structure into a hill you can expect water to find its way through – as it does here with the marks of water damage between and below the name plaques. Also lack of proper care means that litter and other rubbish accumulates in every corner.

Malvinas Memorial - Buenos Aires

Malvinas Memorial – Buenos Aires

Location

At the northern edge of the Plaza San Martin, close to the Retiro train and bus station, in the Retiro district of Buenos Aires.

Opening times

From 08.00 to 18.00 every day – when there’s no G-20 that locks the city down.

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Waalsdorpervlakte – National Memorial in The Netherlands

Waalsdorpervlakte, The Hague, Netherlands

Waalsdorpervlakte, The Hague, Netherlands

The simple memorial at Waalsdorpervlakte, in southern Holland, to Resistance fighters murdered by the Fascists during the Second World War, is a place for the people to remember and celebrate the sacrifices made to liberate their country.

Second World War memorial sites have a different meaning in Europe to those that commemorate the event in the UK – they’re more immediate. In Britain direct experience of war for the civilian population was limited to whatever might rain down on them from the air whereas huge parts of Europe were totally devastated in the conflict, most especially the Soviet Union, and invasion and its consequences were an everyday matter in all those countries occupied by Fascist forces.

Most of the western European countries capitulated within days and as a result physical damage to the major cities was minimal. For example, both Paris and Amsterdam suffered less destruction than London (and many other British cities) even though France and The Netherlands lost their independence through the German occupation. Quick capitulation, pro-Fascists internally and the attitude of the Nazis that the French and the Dutch were Aryans (unless you were a Communist, Jew, Gypsy or homosexual) meant that the local population were not unduly mistreated by the invaders – as long as they played along with the occupiers.

The situation was very different in the east. Just look at pictures of German officers walking around the Eiffel Tower with French women on their arms or boat loads of German soldiers playing at tourists – doing 70 years ago what thousands of tourist do today – looking at Amsterdam’s attractions from the canals. Compare that with the Soviet Union where the only pictures of Germans with Russian women is when they are standing beside a gibbet with a line of Soviet citizens hanging from a short rope, indicating a slow strangulation rather than an ‘efficient’ hanging.

In France and Holland most accepted the occupation and kept their heads down, not wishing to court trouble; some were out-and-out collaborators – and from that number some paid the price at the end of the war whilst others went on to positions of power and influence in the post-war reconstruction; others actively fought in the Resistance at various levels, from taking up arms to hiding those being sought by the Gestapo. But the price for being in the last group could mean death.

And for 250-280 Dutch Resistance fighters their last stand of defiance would be where they would be buried.

Waalsdorpervlakte, The Hague, Netherlands

Waalsdorpervlakte, The Hague, Netherlands

The Waalsdorpervlakte is an open place in the dune area “Meijendel” not far from The Hague (the government and administrative centre of Holland). This area, close to the sea, is relatively isolated today and would have been even more so in the 1940s. Prisoners were brought here, shot and then buried in unmarked graves. Not by chance this was also the execution site of the Anton Mussert, one of the founders of the National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands (NSB) and its formal leader. On the defeat of the Nazis he was arrested, convicted of high treason and sentenced to death. Exactly a year after he was arrested he faced a similar firing squad to the Resistance fighters but was buried in a public cemetery, there being no desire to pollute the most recent of Holland’s memorial sites.

After the war May 4th was declared the day for the ‘Remembrance of the Dead’ and almost spontaneously, and without any official government input, survivors of the Resistance and relatives of those murdered there decided to congregate and commemorate their lives.

Although this has now turned into a ritual it still retains its common approach. There are no VIPs (except any remaining survivors and relatives of those assumed to be buried there), no speeches and it’s for anyone who wishes to turn up to take part.

Waalsdorpervlakte, The Hague, Netherlands

Waalsdorpervlakte, The Hague, Netherlands

On a slight rise overlooking the simple memorial there’s a huge Bourbon bell. From the time that the procession arrives from the entrance to the park, at about 19.40, groups of people slowly toll the bell by pulling on ropes attached to the four corners of the bell support. At 20.00 the bell is silenced, the ‘Last Post’ is sounded and this is followed by a two minutes silence. The national anthem signals the end of the two minutes and then the assembled people place their tributes. Whilst they are doing this the big bell sounds out its deep, bass tone and tradition holds that the bell will continue to toll as long as there are people still waiting to place their wreaths or flowers. The ceremony normally finishes between 22.00 and 23.00.

This is not a mass event the way that some of the national memorial services tend to be, with their so-called ‘dignitaries’ in attendance, but there were just a few short of 4,000 people at the event in 2013.

Although May 4th is a special event the site is accessible all year round.

Click here for a short video of the ‘Remembrance of the Dead’ day in 2013.

Practicalities

Public transport

From Station The Hague Central Station take bus 22 going in the direction of Duinzigt. Get off at stop ‘Waalsdorperweg’ (13 minutes) and then on foot (about 10 minutes), heading in a generally north-easterly direction. There are 4 buses an hour.

GPS coordinates:

International coordinate system WGS84
Monument: Lat N 52.11577 ° Long E 04.33624 °