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Hammers will never kill the ideas and inspiration of Karl Marx

Another attack on Marx’s grave proves just how powerful and feared are the ideas of the great thinker, says PETER FROST

IT IS hard to understand what the fascist idiot who attacked Karl Marx’s tomb with repeated frenzied hammer blows last weekend thought they might achieve.  

Over the years the impressive monument has had more than its share of attacks from hammers, paint and even bombs but Marx’s ideas and philosophy live on to inspire working people all over the world.

Sadly Highgate Cemetery says the Grade I listed monument will never be the same again. No doubt that is true, but far more important is that when Marxists, communists, socialists, Labour Party members and many more left-wing activists from across the globe gather here on Sunday March 17 for the annual Marx Oration and Commemoration Ceremony, they will be inspired, not by the condition of the memorial itself but by the undying Marxist thinking and action that it represents.

Back in 2005 Melvyn Bragg’s Radio 4 Programme In Our Time ran a nationwide poll for the best-known, most respected and influential philosophical thinkers. 

Much to the annoyance of the right-wing Establishment Karl Marx stormed home. He was voted the greatest philosopher of all with an astonishing 28 per cent of the 30,000 votes cast. 

Today he is just as popular and just as influential. Perhaps that is why some benighted and befuddled moron felt they had to take a hammer to his monument.
What this mindless attack will do, however, is inspire the entire labour movement and the left in Britain, and internationally, to ensure the monument is fully restored as quickly as possible.

Communist Party general secretary Robert Griffiths summed it up perfectly when he told the Morning Star: “The ideas of Marx — like his plinth at Highgate — are powerful enough to outlast any damage done by a fascist vandal.”

Most of the new damage is to the 138-year-old marble plaque that was first used on the grave of Marx’s wife Jenny von Westphalen in 1881. It shows the dates of the births and deaths of Karl Marx, Jenny von Westphalen, their daughter Eleanor, grandson Harry Longuet and of their housekeeper Helene Demuth.

The monument is owned by the Marx Grave Trust, represented by the Marx Memorial Library, which will make any decisions about future repairs.

Let’s take a look at the Grade I listed structure, one of only two graves that have this highest listing as really important structures which are fundamental parts of Britain and the world’s cultural heritage.

The original grave was moved, along with the remains of Karl Marx and his wife Jenny von Westphalen, to a more prominent location in the cemetery in 1954 after the original site was felt to be too hidden away for someone of such huge international significance.

So in 1955, the Communist Party of Great Britain set up the Marx Memorial Fund. Money came from members and supporters up and down the country and from communists and Marxists all across the globe.

Communist Party member and well-known artist and sculptor Laurence Bradshaw won the commission to create the monument. 

He viewed the commission as a tremendous honour and designed the entire monument. The original family headstone was incorporated and because of the slope of the site and concern about vandalism, Bradshaw used military engineering construction methods.

Bradshaw wrote that he wanted to make “not a monument to a man only but to a great mind and a great philosopher.”

The artist had been a socialist from his youth and was politically active throughout his life. He joined the Communist Party in the early 1930s. 

Bradshaw began his artistic career in the early 1920s as assistant to Frank Brangwyn, who in turn had been an assistant to one of Britain’s greatest socialist artists, William Morris. 

Much of Bradshaw’s work in between the wars was for sculptural decoration of buildings such as Watford Town Hall and the Radcliffe maternity home in Oxford. He also designed some striking posters for London Transport. This diversity of work saw his reputation grow.

At the same time he was also very active organising and designing for campaigns such as Arms for Spain. Sadly much of his finest graphic work was lost when his studio was destroyed in the London Blitz.  

Bradshaw never hid his communist views and in the cold war 1950s this undoubtedly made him and his work less popular and commissions harder to find. 

He did sculpt busts of leading communists and other progressives such as Harry Pollitt, poet Hugh McDiarmid and the African-American activist Dr WEB du Bois.

His colourful, passionate paintings would often be themed praising peace and internationalism and condemning injustice and war. 

He was active in campaigns to get singer Paul Robeson a US passport so that he could visit Britain and Europe. 

Characteristically, his best-known work, the Marx memorial itself, was unsigned. Bradshaw never sought fame.

The monument was unveiled in 1956 by Harry Pollitt, the general secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Since that date the tomb has become a place where many followers of Marxist ideas come to pay tribute to the great thinker.

It has also been a target for Marx’s opponents, suffering vandalism, including two bomb attacks in the 1970s, many paint splashes and the most recent frenzied but futile hammer attack.  

Marx spent much of his life in London so it is appropriate that this is his final resting place. He moved to London as a political exile in June 1849, living first in Soho and then in Maitland Park Road, Belsize Park, north London, where he died in 1883.

It was in London that he wrote many of his most important works, including Das Kapital. In London Marx enjoyed the support and company of his friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels. It was Engels who delivered the eulogy at Marx’s funeral. 

Marx’s tomb has become a place of veneration for Marxists, including some — such as Yusuf Dadoo, South African communist and hero of the anti-apartheid movement, and communist Claudia Jones, who founded the Notting Hill Carnival — who have been buried nearby.

Despite attacks on his tomb and vilification by the media, Marx and his ideas live on and each year when working people fighting for freedom and improved living standards all around the world come together at the grave, that huge sculpted head lifts their spirits and inspires them in their struggles.


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