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TOMORROW, an atmosphere of celebration will infuse the annual Oration at Karl Marx’s grave. 2018 marks 200 years since the birth of the revolutionary philosopher.
The bust by sculptor Laurence Bradshaw at Highgate Cemetery has been the site of a yearly assembly for over 70 years. Organisers expect large numbers at the ceremony this bicentenary year.
The Cuban ambassador, Teresita Vicente Sotolongo, will deliver the oration. She will examine the diverse ways Marxism has impacted both thought and action in recent history, with particular reference to Latin America.
Sotolongo explains: “Marxism is humanism; a humanism that is based on the revolutionary potential of human beings to transform history.”
She will be paying tribute to Fidel Castro, the revolutionary leader who passed away in 2016, by quoting his opinion that “Marx’s theory was never a fixed scheme. It was a conception. It was a method. It was an interpretation.”
The ambassador joins an eminent list of speakers who have delivered the oration over the years, including the scientist John Desmond Bernal, general secretary of the RMT Bob Crow, Labour MP Tony Benn and, last year, the Venezuelan ambassador Rocio Maneiro.
Wreaths will be laid at the grave site from delegations from across the globe.
Marx’s tomb — which is being cleaned up and re-paved by the cemetery in time for the bicentenery of his birth on May 5 — is set alongside resting places of other life-long socialists worthy of our remembrance. Claudia Jones, communist, feminist, activist and founder of the Notting Hill carnival was famously buried to the left of Marx.
Sunday’s gathering is one of many events celebrating Marx’s 200th birthday which explore the relevance of Marxism today.
The Marx Memorial Library’s (MML) Marx 200 conference will be held on May 5 at the School of Oriental and African Studies. The event has already sold out.
Sessions will look at themes from “the role of the state,” “nationalism and populism” to “class, race and gender.” It will be a truly international affair with speakers from India, Germany, China, Cuba and the US.
Outside Britain, Karl Marx House in Trier — his birthplace — will re-open following a period of renovation with a new permanent exhibition on May 5. Major conferences will take place in Ireland, Germany, China, to name a few.
These Marx 200 celebrations come at a time of increased interest in Marxism — queues threaded across Clerkenwell Green for the MML’s lectures on the 150th anniversary of the publication of Das Kapital last autumn.
Increasing numbers of students and trade union activists access the MML’s unique historical resources and come to participate in classes and events. Professor Simon Mohun’s series of lectures on Marxist political economy, which starts on March 27 at 7pm promise to be popular.
This interest speaks to dissatisfaction with the status quo — austerity and neoliberalism — and a renewed curiosity and enthusiasm for exploring alternatives. We can see these trends across Europe and in Britain we are talking again about socialism and class politics.
On Sunday, the meeting will not just remember an individual, but a history of collective action founded on Marxism and its continued re-interpretation. Mindful of today’s struggles, the Cuban ambassador will deliver the message: “We must read and reread the works of Marx and Lenin. But in order to properly comprehend them we must also reapply them.”
The Marx Oration gathers at 1.30pm for a 2pm start at Swains Lane entrance Highgate Cemetery. Meirian Jump is Archivist & Library Manager at Marx Memorial Library. Details of MML events, courses and lectures can be found www.marx-memorial-library.org.uk
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