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

‘King’ Zog’s remains return to Tirana

 

Ceremony at the new Zog tomb in Tirana

Ceremony on 17th November 2012

The ‘democratic’ government of Albania embraces the country’s reactionary, feudal and fascist past in a ceremony marking the return of the remains of Ahmet Zogu.

On the 17th November 2012 a closed ceremony was held in a former royal palace (now a military barracks) to mark the return of Zogu’s bones from a cemetery in Paris where they had lain since the tyrants death in 1961. Very much an event for the politicians (it went virtually unnoticed in the city of Tirana) this occasion says much of how matters have developed in the small Balkan country since the chaos of the 1990s.

In politics such occasions are never ‘coincidental’, despite the protestations of the present Prime Minister, Sali Berisha. The date is very relevant for Tirana as it was on the 17th November 1944 that the city was finally liberated from German Fascism after a long and bitter battle (following years of guerrilla warfare) by the Communist led Partisan Army.

Neither was the location of the new tomb a matter of chance. It’s on the site of one of his former palaces and the place where his mother was buried after her death in 1934. Ten years later hatred of the Zogu family’s collaboration with Italian fascism meant that this tomb was blown up by the liberators of Tirana. Also the entrance to this once palace is directly across the road (Elbasan Road) to the National Martyrs’ Cemetery where those who died in the more than 5 year battle against fascist occupation are honoured. The cemetery overlooks the city from a high point in the south and is where the huge statue of Mother Albania holds high the red star of liberation.

Mother Albania, National Martyrs' Cemetery, Tirana

Mother Albania, National Martyrs’ Cemetery, Tirana

Berisha also sought to re-write history in his statement to the media. For the present Prime Minister Zogu’s running away from the country and making it to Britain when the Italians decided that direct rule was more desirable than his acquiescent collaboration; his suffering during his stay at The Ritz in London; and that his time in Parmoor Country House in Buckinghamshire are all indications of his ‘staunch anti-fascist struggle’. Whilst Zogu lived in such ‘hardship’ more than 30,000 Albanians died as a result of the fascist occupations, first Italian Fascist and then German Nazi, as well as huge material and economic destruction of what was still at that time a country barely out of feudalism.

The so-called Socialist Party didn’t attend the ceremony, some of the leadership claiming they were involved in a celebrations for those who fell in the liberation of Tirana, others in the town of Korca in the north working on a new party programme yet a couple of opportunist renegades did attend the dinner (anything for a free lunch?). But the Socialist Party can’t really hold the high ground when it comes to monarchism. It was they who, in 2002/3, used their majority in favour of allowing the return to Albania of the ersatz king’s descendants.

Zog's new tomb in Tirana

Zog’s new tomb in Tirana

Zogu as tyrant and usurper

Here it’s perhaps worthwhile to look at Zogu’s history before his cowardly desertion of the country in 1939. He was from a feudal landowning family and when he entered politics this was to maintain the control of the country in the hands of his class, and as much in his own hands as possible. He was Prime Minister from 1922-4 and due to his policies (after many years of feudal oppression of the people) was thrown out by a popular uprising. He returned with the support of the White Russian General Wrangle (who had been defeated earlier by the then young Soviet Red Army) as well as some Yugoslav fascists – so early on establishing himself as a collaborator with any foreign power that would support his ambitions, whatever the consequences for his country.

With military might on his side he was ‘elected’ President and three years later declared himself King Zogu I with the justification that he had some family connection to Skanderbeg, the 15th century national hero. (Even though Skanderbeg was a feudal lord the Communist government from 1944 to 1990 recognised that he stood, and fought, for national independence against the Ottoman Turks.) Claiming a blood relationship after a period of about 450 years was pushing it a bit far, probably all Albanians could have claimed some link to Skanderbeg in a country that barely had a million population at the beginning of the 20th century.

 

Visiting Enver Hoxha’s grave in Tirana

Enver Hoxha;s Grave in Tirana

Enver Hoxha’s grave

Visiting Enver Hoxha’s grave in Tirana

After his death on 11th April 1985 Enver Hoxha was buried next to the Mother Albania statue in the Martyr’s Cemetery overlooking Tirana. However, the counter-revolution that took place in 1990 allowed his political enemies to take their revenge by denying him a place of honour in the country’s history and he was reburied in the main public cemetery of the city.

To get there take the bus to Kombinat, an orange and always crowded bus, from the top end of Rruga Kavajes, the road that leads away from Skënderbeu Square in a westerly direction. Cost of the fare is 40 leke.

Stay on the bus until it arrives at the terminus. This is the main square of Kombinat. During Socialism, in this square, standing atop a large plinth, was the statue of Joseph Stalinwhich now stands in less grandeur behind the National Art Gallery in Tirana. Across the square from where the bus drops you is the entrance of the now abandoned and partially destroyed textile factory, which bore Stalin’s name and provided not only work for the vast majority of the population of Kombinat but also its name – kombinat means factory in Albanian.

Go back to the main road and follow the direction the bus had brought you, i.e., with Tirana at your back, and walk for about ten minutes to arrive at a narrow road that leads off the main road, slightly uphill, to the left. This junction is opposite a petrol station and there are flower shops as well as stone engravers workshops plainly visible. Continue along this road for a few minutes until it turns to the right and in less than 50 metres go through the gate on the left. There are always flower sellers on either side of this gate.

Once through the gates take the path to the left and then the first path, heading up hill, to the right. When you see a sign with ‘Parcela 6’ on your right you know you are getting close. Look for the back of the doubled-headed eagle symbol, ubiquitous throughout Albania, and that’s where Enver‘s remains currently reside. If you arrive at the same level as a second caged grave (presumably the relatives were afraid s/he would escape otherwise) you have gone too far.

It’s a modest grave, two in from the path, of red marble and the only inscription being his name and dates (1908-1985), surmounted by a small star. At the head there are two pillars which support a black metal, double-headed eagle. There are always flowers on the stone, a mixture of real and artificial.

Enver‘s remains were moved to the public cemetery in Kombinat in April 1992 from its location in the Martyrs’ Cemetery that looks down on the city of Tirana, in the north-west of the city, beside the road to Elbasin.

Even in its original setting the grave wasn’t ostentatious. It was a bigger piece of marble but the inscription was no different. What made it special was its location, the Martyr’s Cemetery being the place of honour for those who died in the fight against fascism during the Second World War. This was just a spiteful, political move by those opposed to Socialism as has been demonstrated by the installation of a pro-fascist monument to the right of the Mother Albania statue.

The original tomb stone was later used as the principle monument to the English military who died fighting in Albania during the Second World War. The English Cemetery is in Tirana Park just behind the main Tirana University Building.

Because the British had supplied the Communist Partisans with weapons after the victory over Nazism they thought they had the right to determine what should happen in Albania after liberation. British activities in the aftermath of the war continued until the fall of the Socialist system in 1990, beginning with the infamous ‘Corfu Incident’.

To read Enver Hoxha’s son’s (Ilir) account of the exhumation click here.

Or to read that account as a Word document Lilo Hoxha on his father’s, Enver Hoxha, exhumation.

Enver Hoxha's Grave October 2014

Enver Hoxha’s Grave October 2014

The above picture was taken a few days after the celebration of Enver Hoxha’s birth, which falls on October 16th.