Mary Barbour and the 1915 Glasgow Rent Strike

Mary Barbour Statue - Glasgow 1915 Rent Strike

Mary Barbour Statue – Glasgow 1915 Rent Strike

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Mary Barbour and the 1915 Glasgow Rent Strike

Introduction

A sculpture commemorating the 1915 Glasgow Rent Strike and one of its female leaders, Mary Barbour, was unveiled on International Women’s Day, March 8th 2018. It can be found in the square in front of Govan Subway Station on Govan Road, Glasgow. It’s the work of sculptor Andrew Brown who won in a competition of five shortlisted entries.

There are many examples of Socialist Realist Art posted on this blog, mainly from Albania but also some from Georgia and the erstwhile Soviet Union. There are, in various parts of the UK, statues and monuments that seek to commemorate working class struggles of the past. There’s not that many but there are a few.

One of the finest is the monument next to the Pierhead in Liverpool. It was originally commissioned to commemorate those men in the engine room of the Titanic who kept the generators running to the very last minute – although they were sealed in and had no chance whatsoever of escape. However, before it was completed the First World War (when workers and peasants fought each other for the benefit of their masters and their respective country’s imperialist ambitions) intervened and so the monument was re-titled ‘To the Heroes of the Engine Room’, meaning all those below decks engineers who died in Naval and Commercial shipping between 1914 and 1918 – as well as those engineers from the Titanic.oo

But Socialist Realist Art needs the workers to be actually involved in the struggle to make a new society if it is to merit such a description. Art that represents workers’ struggles in capitalist societies merely do that, represent a moment, even in the past. It has little more to say. And sometimes instead of actually commemorating the past they just go to demonstrate how matters have not changed.

That’s one of the problems (but not the only ones) with the Mary Barbour statue in Govan. It was inaugurated more than a hundred years after the event it commemorates yet in Glasgow, as in the rest of the UK, the dire situation of housing for millions of people is only slightly (but not much) better than it was in 1915. The workers of Glasgow were facing exploitative landlords who were making even more money due to the very fact that the country was involved in what was to become the first really global conflict. Speculation in housing in early 21st century Britain is rife and its the workers who have to face the consequences.

Profiteering during wartime is not new – and the war of 1914-1919 wasn’t the first where that had happened. And we only have to look at the almost unimaginable amounts of money that have been made out of the disastrous conflicts of the last 20 years – in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen – to see that it goes on to this day.

One of the important aspects of Socialist Realist sculpture is the relationship that those depicted have with each other. What is the power relationship, what is the hierarchy, where is the unity and equality of the efforts of those being celebrated?

And it is this relationship in the statue in Govan that is the most disturbing.

The statue

I would be one of the first to argue for leaders, both as individuals as well as organisations and parties. But what is the relationship here?

Brown has depicted Mary Barbour as at the head of a group of people taking part in one of the many marches that occurred at the end of 1915. However, I have not seen any photo were Barbour is physically at the head of the column of marchers. In fact, most photos seem to depict more of a melee rather than an organised march. Brown has interpreted Barbour’s leadership role in the struggle as being at the front.

Now we have to assume that the idea that is represented by the figures getting smaller as the sculpture moves further away from the woman at the front is to give the impression of the large amount of people who would have been on the streets at the time of the biggest mass gatherings outside local government and court buildings – the idea that parallel train lines ‘merge’ the further they are away from the viewer.

However, by using this device he has also introduced a change in attitude of his subjects.

At the front Barbour is ‘respectably’ dressed in a fitting overcoat – as befits a leader. She wears a smart hat and her hair is immaculate – what we can see of it. She is depicted striding forcefully ahead, hand raised in confrontation with the authorities. She knows were she is going, knows what she wants and is determined to get it. But as we move to the back of the statue the characters become more downtrodden, they hang their heads in despair, the looks on their faces is one of desperation and not determination.

Immediately behind her are two women, both also similarly ‘respectably’ dressed, slightly smaller, and probably supposed to be a helpers, lieutenants, of the real leader. (Or they could also be supposed to represent some of the other women in the leadership of the struggle, but not as important as Mary Barbour.)

The first, who is not looking in the direction of ‘march’ but to her right, wears a long overcoat over a fashionable dress (the decoration showing through the open coat just below her neck). The dress extends below the overcoat. On her head she wears a fashionable floppy hat with a wide brim and embroidered decoration. On her feet she has very smart, pointed shoes or boots. She shows her determination in a couple of ways. Her mouth is open as if she is shouting her opposition to the police, sheriffs and bailiffs and her left hand is clenched into a fist.

The second wears a smart fitting jacket with a tailored skirt and although she is bare-headed she wears a long woollen scarf around her neck to keep her warm from the winter cold (things came to a head in November). She also walks in a more elegant manner, her hands away from her body and her fingers apart.

But as we go further back the state of dress becomes more shabby, more neglected. The women wear threadbare caps or scarves tied under their chin. Some have no hats or head coverings at all – the really poor. The same goes for the footwear. These aren’t leaders as they don’t dress the part.

Next comes a group of three, a old man (we must remember this was at a time of conscription and if not in one of the ‘protected trades’ all young men would have been in the slaughter fields of the Western Front or some other hell hole in more far flung locations) and two young boys. He has his right hand on the shoulder (also touching the placard) of the boy on the left, the younger of the two. The other child is leaning against the left side of the man, presumably their grandfather. The depiction of children in these marches, demonstrations is accurate as can be seen by photos of the time. Both these boys are carrying placards, the one on the right saying ‘The will of the people is law’ and the one on the left ‘We want justice’.

Next is a group of three, but this time female. On the right is an old women who seems to be bearing the woes of the world on her shoulders as well as the babe in arms she carries in her left arm, wrapped in a large shawl. Her clothes are makeshift, wearing whatever (possibly all) she had to combat the cold of a Glasgow winter’s day. She also wears a wide-brimmed hat but it’s a not a fashionable copy of the one worn by lieutenant number one, being without decoration.

Next to her is a young teenage girl. She’s wearing what would have ben quite fashionable for a young working class girl at the time – a short cropped jacket. This is worn over a long dress, the standard of the time. She has a scarf on her head, tied under the chin in a rather large bow, presumably also the fashion for young girls of her age. But however fashionable, or not, these two women show their roots by their footwear. They are both wearing functional but not very fashionable heavy and durable shoes – compare with the three ‘leaders’ (whose footwear, incidentally – to again show them different from the hoi polio – have high heels).

Next in line, and as has been the case so far, slightly smaller in size, is a group of four – an old man (again above conscription age and probably the grandfather) with two young boys on his left and a young girl (probably just pre-teen) on his right. The two boys seem to be stuck to him like glue as they are pressed right up against him.

The boy who is the youngest of the children is carrying a placard with the slogan ‘Justice for all’. His older brother, who is pressed against his back as well as the thigh of the grandfather, seems to be more interested with what is happening behind the group than where they are going. The girl on the old man’s right is the oldest of the siblings and she is depicted in a charming manner as her left hand rests on the right sleeve of her grandfather, too old to be holding hands but too young to be totally separated from him.

They are all reasonably dressed, especially the young girl as she wears a very long overcoat, with large buttons on the front and a high necked shirt, the collar of which we can see behind the turned back collar of her overcoat. She has her long hair tied back in a bun and wears nothing on her head, as do her two brothers. The old man wears a flat cap.

Bringing up the rear is the most desperate of the whole procession, this is a group of four – a women (who really looks like she has suffered all her life) with her three children. The two on her left are in a strange combination. The oldest boy is holding his baby brother/sister in his arms but the two of them are then wrapped in the same large shawl that passes around their mother – sharing body warmth as well as the protection provided by the shawl.

They look the poorest of the statue as although they are all wearing decent clothes and shoes they don’t have enough to pay for an overcoat that is necessary in a Glasgow winter. The only one that has anything on their head is the mother who has a large scarf over her head tied with a large bow under the chin – as did the teenage girl earlier in the procession. The final figure of the ensemble is a young boy who is slightly away from his mother but also more interested in what is happening behind the group than the direction it is moving.

The Plinth

The group, which is made of bronze, is standing on a sand coloured concrete plinth which gets higher as it curves at the back as the characters get smaller, extenuating the idea of distance between the ones at the front and those at the back.

On the very front of the plinth, under her feet, is the name Mary Barbour and the dates 1875-1958.

We are not removing

We are not removing

History and staues

But that’s the only information provided. And that’s one of the problems when statues are erected in many capitalist countries – most people don’t know why. Statues do become a point of focus in certain circumstances but if everything is without conflict then any new statue might cause a short amount of discussion (e.g., the Mary Wollstonencraft statue in London) but it is soon forgotten.

Obviously there are times when statues become the centre of focus of a particular event or political situation. Presently there’s controversy of the statues of those who were related to the African slave trade, both in America (where a number of Confederate statues and monuments are being taken down) or in the UK when the statue of Edward Colston was pulled off its plinth in Bristol and dumped in the docks.

But that ‘debate’ which has been promised, in pre-revolutionary circumstances, will only go so far. Horatio Nelson was a prominent supporter of the trans-Atlantic slave trade but it’s unlikely he will be deposed from his dominant location in London’s Trafalgar Square. And other statues of British pro-slavers will remain throughout the country because people, in general, don’t know they exist.

It’s a sad fact that British people, at least, have a poor concept and knowledge of history and the placing of this statue is a case in point. When I first saw the Barbour statue it had been in place for over a year yet whilst I was taking photos I was approached by a local woman who asked me who it was and what is was all about. A Sassenach had to explain her history to a local, Govan woman.

So a plaque somewhere in the vicinity would not go amiss.

Brown reproduced the placards from those that were on the streets at the end of 1915 – so are authentic in that sense. However, a placard that also appeared in a number of newspaper pictures was one with the slogan ‘My father is fighting in France and we are fighting the Huns at home’. This just goes to emphasise the climate in which this dispute took place.

(For many the war (that was starting to take a dark turn) was still a patriotic affair – this was the case even though many of the leaders of both the Rent Strike and other industrial disputes in Glasgow at the time were Communists and members of the various groupings that were later (under the instigation of VI Lenin) to form the Communist Party of Great Britain in the early 1920s. Many of these activists were against the war as an imperialist war where the workers were fighting and dying for the imperialist interests of their own ruling class – but this was not necessarily the case with a majority of the working class.

Although attitudes to the war changed in the next couple of years when Lloyd George’s promise of ‘Homes fit for Heroes’ became, very quickly, just mere words and the whole of the UK was plunged into the deprivation of the 1920s, there was still a reluctance on the part of the workers to ditch the ‘patriotic’ stance and make previous promises a reality.

More than a hundred years later that’s still the case – as is shown by the chronic situation of housing and the impossibility of the problem being resolved under capitalism.)

But if there was a reason for including the derogative ‘Hun’ in the placards of the strikers in 1915 there’s also a reason, in the climate in the second decade of the 21st century, NOT to make reference to the word on a public statue – a change in sensitivities.

Glasgow Rent Strikers 1915

Glasgow Rent Strikers 1915

History and background of the 1915 Glasgow Rent strike

For more information on the history and background to the strike you’ll get some reasonably good information on the links below. Unfortunately, some of the sites are Trotskyite but as they had no presence at all in 1915 Glasgow all they can quote are Labourites or Communists who were either in the leadership of the rent strike or were shop stewards and union representatives in the Clyde shipyards.

Some of these articles contain interesting archive photos of the struggle.

1915 Glasgow Rent Strike: how workers fought and won over housing – a reprint (published on the centenary of the strike) of an article produced on the occasion of the Fiftieth anniversary in 1955.

Mary Barbour & Rent Strike 1915

1915: Glasgow Rent Strike

Trish Caird looks at the life of Mary Barbour, leader of the 1915 Glasgow Rent Strike – a movement that was principally led, organised and executed by women

Our Housing Heritage: How Glasgow tenants ‘fought the huns at home’ during World War One

as well as an article that seeks to find inspiration from the past struggle to address the current crisis in housing in Glasgow

We need spirit of Mary Barbour to reform rents

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

Entrance - the still not yet Burnt School

Entrance – the still not yet Burnt School

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‘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.

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Karl Marx Tomb and Memorial

Karl Marx Tomb - Highgate Cemetery, London

Karl Marx Tomb – Highgate Cemetery, London

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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

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