Contains articles and reports written by Marx and Engels between February 1855 and April 1856 and published in the New York Daily Tribune, the Neue Oder-Zeitung and other European and American newspapers.
Contains works by Marx and Engels written between November 1867 and July 1870 including material from the International Working Men’s Association – documents, reports, pamphlets, articles, statements, records of speeches.
Contains pamphlets, articles, documents of the International Working Men’s Association and other works by Marx and Engels written between October 1871 and July 1874, including the important Preface to the German edition of the Communist Manifesto (1872).
Contains works by Engels written between August 1882 and December 1889. They include The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy and the unfinished work The Role of Force in History.
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.
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.
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
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.
51° 33′ 58.32″ N
0° 8′ 38.04″ W
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)
Summary execution of a petroleuse – note the vicious bourgeoisie on the left
On the 18th March 1871, the Parisian working class gave a lesson to the international proletariat that it was possible for the oppressed and exploited of the world to take the future into their own hands. On the 28th May, the last day of slaughter of those very revolutionaries, coming only 71 days after that momentous spring day of hope, through their martyrdom, they taught the working class of the world that the audacity of challenging the power of the ruling class came with a price. For the 28th May 1871 marked the end of ‘Bloody Week’, the end of the Paris Commune.
The Paris Commune of 1871 started when a group of washer-women thwarted a pre-dawn raid by the capitulationist and pusillanimous government forces who sought to rob the people of the artillery they had paid for in their attempts to prevent the fall of their city to the invading Prussians. What began as a self-defence action in the hills of Montemartre soon spread throughout the city and by the afternoon of March 18th barricades were being constructed and the revolution had begun.
18th March – Avenue Jean-Jaures
In the post on the anniversary of the start of the Commune I listed what I consider to be some of the achievements of that, literally, world-changing event. For it was both in their achievements and failures of the Communards that later revolutionaries were to learn so much and which determined the manner in which they pursued the revolutions in their own countries, especially in Russia, Albania and China.
In studying revolutions there are both positive and negative lessons that need to be learnt. Failure to do so will lead to the same mistakes being made resulting in similar consequences. As the conditions in which a revolution takes place are always specific to the times and the conditions in a particular country it is inevitable that new mistakes will be made. That’s not a problem.
As Chairman Mao stated a revolution is not a dinner party (Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan, FLP, Peking, p8). Revolutions are uncontrollable, it becomes almost a living organism which has a mind of its own. An organised revolutionary party might be able, at times, to direct the flow of events but they are no more than desperate men and women trying to control a river in spate. Dig the channels in the right place at the right time and the water can be controlled. Make one slight mistake and the water will break the banks and all bets are off – until the next crucial moment is reached. If a revolution can be controlled it is not a revolution. This makes the achievements of the Communists in Russia, Albania and China all the more remarkable.
Before going on to the mistakes made by the Communards it’s worthwhile re-iterating some of the achievements in that short two and a bit months. In the first few days:
rents for dwellings abolished
articles that had been pawned declared not for sale
the wage differentials between men and women were abolished
officials would not get any more than a ‘working-man’s wages’
the church was separated from the state
church property was to be national property
religious iconography was to be removed from schools
the guillotine to be publicly burnt, as a symbol of the old regime
night work for bakers was abolished
planned the reopening of factories closed by owners and these to be run on a collective basis
Although many of these were in response to the grievances of the Parisian working class after decades of living under a corrupt system, added to which were the hardships as a consequence of a more than four-month siege of the city – during a hard winter – by the Prussian army many of those decrees would have resonance in Britain (and most other countries throughout the world) even now.
Housing is still a problem – highlighted in Britain by the Grenfell fire of 2016; wage differentials and the ‘gender pay gap’ have long been contentious issues (however, paying everyone the same, more or less, is an easier solution to crashing through ‘glass ceilings’ and has more rationale to it than paying over-paid women as much as even more over-paid men and would have a direct impact upon the poorest in our society who, nowadays, don’t even get the crumbs that fall from the table of the rich); recent events in the Republic of Ireland demonstrates how society can be distorted when the Church has a hand in controlling civil society – not to mention the role of religion in various parts of the world and the death and destruction that comes with it; general working conditions have become worse not better in the last couple of decades in most countries even though the Gross Domestic Product might be rising – the poor ALWAYS get proportionately less in such circumstances; employment is an issue which capitalism finds so difficult to deal with it’s not even considered of any importance in the political debate; and elected representatives of the Commune could be replaced at any time if they failed to live up to their promises – so no chance of the development of a so-called ‘Political Class’, a group of self-selected, self-serving, over-important opportunists who have gained control in too many countries.
The representative structure was for the working class and it was run by the working class. At the same time it’s important to make clear that the Commune was not a state of all the people. The bourgeoisie had run society for years and had failed – a bit like now – so the Parisian working class decided that it was time for a new class to be in control and purposely excluded certain sections of society. This was the first time in history where the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ was in action – something which Marx, Engels and, later, Lenin picked up and developed in their post 1871 theoretical writings and which Lenin sought to put into practice after the Great October Proletarian Revolution of 1917.
Did the proposals and declarations of the Commune always work out as it was intended? No. Did they get some things wrong and follow an incorrect direction on some policies? Yes. But give them a break, many hadn’t had much formal education and it takes time for people to learn to do things in a new way – they weren’t given that time. Did opportunists and renegades from the working class get into positions of power which they then abused? Yes. These parasites exist in all societies and it will take decades of a new society before we can say that they definitely have been eliminated. Seventy one days was not long enough. Were they divided when unity was necessary? Yes. But that’s how things go. Either honestly or dishonestly people in such circumstances come to different conclusions over crucial matters. Here, again, time would have allowed the Commune to overcome (at least in part) some of these differences. But time there wasn’t.
But what is important is that they tried. They did not surrender when the going got tough – which happened very soon after the heady days of the recovery of the guns from the government troops. Many persisted, tried to make a difference to their community and many of them died for their tenacity and determination.
‘The sacred revolt of the poor, the exploited and the oppressed’
Not only were working men involved in running society in a new way so were women – who also established women only debating clubs which used to meet in expropriated churches and which was a revival of a practice from the bourgeois French Revolution of 1789. They took up arms and enrolled in the National Guard and also played a major role in attempting to delay the entrance into the city of the murderous Versailles troops during ‘Bloody Week’. They were never ‘victims’ (as too many women claim today). They asked for nothing – they demanded and took.
But mistakes were made which led directly to the events of ‘Bloody Week’ from the 21st-28th May 1871.
Probably the most serious was that the Parisian Communards were too magnanimous – they didn’t recognise the viper they had in the nest, the government supporters and the bourgeoisie in general who would do any and everything to see the destruction of the new workers power. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the great Russian Marxist and Revolutionary, took this particular lesson of the Paris Commune on board and his seminal work on proletarian revolution, The State and Revolution, FLP, Peking, 1970, takes as its starting point the experience of the Parisians workers.
It’s strange that this soft approach towards the enemy within persisted throughout the period of the Commune. In the Declaration of the Commune, dated 29th March 1871, reference was made to the fact that if the people of the Commune didn’t deal severely with their enemies then they would become powerful enough to destroy the revolution or, at least, be able to undermine its advances. But little was done practically to avoid the counter-revolution.
However, in all revolutionary circumstances there will be those who call for leniency towards the deposed ruling class, either out of opportunism – in an effort to protect their own class interests under the guise of being revolutionary – or, more usually, out of naivete as many don’t realise what challenging power entails and that the deposed ruling class will never accept their loss of power and will wreak vengeance on all those that try. The naïve were to learn their lesson – but when it was too late to do anything about it.
Lax security meant that bourgeois counter-revolutionaries were able to allow the entry of the government, Versailles, forces inside the walls of the city on May 21st. Once inside the forces of reaction, composed mainly of ignorant and easily manipulated peasants, just carried out a blood-lust campaign of slaughter. One of the failings of the Commune was seen in the very instrument of their destruction – the workers of Paris had failed to communicate to the vast majority of the population of France the true importance of what they were trying to achieve in the capital. The interests of the peasants were with the workers but the reaction was able to convince these soldiers that they should stick with the theocratic, capitalist state.
Once the defences had been breached the Commune was reduced to fighting a rear-guard action. It was soon evident that with the actions of the government troops there was literally nothing to be lost in fighting to the death. No quarter was being given so none was asked. Many of those who surrendered were subject to summary execution – the vicious and degenerate bourgeoisie egging on the executioners. History often mentions the women knitting on the occasion of the execution of the aristocrats during the bourgeois French Revolution of the late 18th century but there is little mention the finely dressed bourgeois harridans who cackled and spat as young men, women and even children, were stood against a wall and shot.
Execution of a trumpeter
The workers did fight and most notable, and for the bourgeois reaction the most notorious, were Les Petroleuses, the women who set fire to buildings in the city centre to slow down the advance of the murderous government forces. In this action there was also an idea of ‘if we can’t have these properties then neither shall you’. This was branded as mindless destruction by bourgeois commentators and the press.
The writer Emile Zola condemned the Communards for what he saw as pointless destruction of a beautiful city. He changed his mind slightly on learning of the scale of slaughter in subsequent days but at the same time his attitude that property was sacrosanct pervaded the ideas of many opponents of the activity of Les Petroleuses. Such an attitude exists to this day and can be seen whenever there are riots against the present capitalist system – whether politically motivated or just out of sheer frustration and anger about injustices in the society – where property is destroyed. Many, including the working class, in capitalist societies have an idea of the sanctity of property and no concept at all about the reasons for the ownership of such property.
Despite all efforts to hold them back the government troops were soon in control of increasingly large areas of the city and the slaughter continued. By the end of the week the ‘conservative’ estimate was that around 30,000 men women and children were murdered by the peasant Versailles troops. No proof was needed for active participation in the Commune, being in the wrong place and the wrong time was enough to merit the bullet or the bayonet of the soldiers.
But this was the aim of the reactionary forces. They were not concerned about capturing, taking to trial, convicting and punishing those who might have been elected members or active supporters of the Commune. The vary fact that the working class had permitted such an organisation and structure to exist in the first place was enough to deserve the death sentence. The reaction were not just thinking of those 70 days when the working class of Paris had taken control from their traditional rulers they were concerned that the working class of France (and indeed, the rest of the capitalist world) would be aware of the penalties for acting above their ‘station’.
Marx wrote about the importance of the working class being an independent armed force even before the blood of the Communards had been washed from the city’s streets;
All this chorus of calumny, which the Party of Order never fail, in their orgies of blood, to raise against their victims, only proves that the bourgeois of our days considers himself the legitimate successor to the baron of old, who thought every weapon in his own hand fair against the plebeian, while in the hands of the plebeian a weapon of any kind constituted in itself a crime. Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, FLPH, Peking, 1966, p99
The workers had taken up arms to better their condition and they were crushed by superior arms so that in future workers would be content to act within the bounds set by the ruling class itself. Fights and struggles around who should rule by depending upon the ballot box was to be the norm. It didn’t matter if people were to die in such internecine and tribal struggles (which is happening in many parts of the world even into the 21st century) as long as such fighting doesn’t challenge parliamentary cretinism – the belief that only by a cross on a piece of paper can society ever move forward.
By the 28th May the only fighting combatants of the Commune found themselves surrounded at the Père Lachaise cemetery, to the east of the city. One hundred and forty-seven were summary shot and buried in a trench – beside which today exists a simple monument to those murdered in that Bloody Week.
Communard’s Wall – Pere Lachaise
The repression didn’t finish when the shooting stopped. Thousands were arrested and about another 100 were shot ‘after due process. Many workers were imprisoned in various parts of France and 4,000 or so transported to New Caledonia, one of a group of islands that was part of the French Empire in the Pacific, 1,200 kilometres east of Australia, which at the time was a penal colony. (It’s still a French dependency to this day.) Included in their number was Louise Michel – probably the only ever decent anarchist.
Women of the Commune at Chantiers prison
Many lessons were taught in that short period of time in the spring of 1871 – both positive and negative – but, unfortunately, the example of the wrath and brutality of the ruling class has had a greater influence over the proletariat of the world than the shining example of courage, audacity and true freedom.
Only in a few cases have the workers (and this time in an alliance with the peasantry) got off their knees and attempted to establish a new world order. Internal problems and mistakes in those countries (and here I specifically talking about Russia, China, Albania – and perhaps Vietnam) led to the eventual demise of the socialist goal but the lack of proper, meaningful support in, especially, the so-called ‘advanced’ industrial countries meant that the burden, which would have been light if spread more widely, had to be taken on a relatively few shoulders.
Nonetheless, the same issues which caused the Parisian workers to take up arms and establish the Commune are the same under which most workers and peasants throughout the world still have to endure. There is no doubt they will rise and take control, but they will have to do so in a position of weakness, as did the Communards, as history has shown us that revolutions only occur at times of severe crisis – which inevitably mean not the best of circumstances under which to build socialism.