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Vandalism of Marx tomb 'proves his enduring power'

By Angus McNeice in London | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2019-02-13 01:20

The grave of German philosopher Karl Marx at London's Highgate Cemetery seen after it has been vandalised; the memorial was supposedly attacked with a hammer, Feb 5, 2019.[Photo/IC]

Commentators in the United Kingdom have remarked that a recent attack on a Karl Marx monument in London is proof of the “enduring power” of the socialist revolutionary during a time of “growing interest” in his ideas.

Last week, an unidentified vandal attacked a plaque marking the tomb of Karl Marx in North London’s Highgate Cemetery, where the German political theorist was buried in 1883.

“It looks like someone has had a go at it with a hammer,” Highgate Cemetery staff wrote on social media. “This is no way to treat our heritage.”

Ian Dungavell, chief executive of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust, called the attack “shocking and disappointing”, but also said it was testament to the strength of Marx’s legacy.

“It’s a sign that Marx still means a lot today, if people are bothered to attack it,” he told China Daily. “It’s an example of how he is still relevant. People attack monuments that they believe have enduring power.”

Paul Mason, a columnist at British political magazine the New Statesman, said the act of vandalism occurred at a “significant moment”, during a period “growing interest in Marx the man”.

“The hammer attack on Marx happened now … because the ideals Marx fought for are achievable in this century,” Mason wrote on Wednesday.

Marx was exiled from Germany and moved to London from Brussels in 1849, the year after he co-authored The Communist Manifestowith Friedrich Engels.

Marx produced some of his most influential work in the UK, including Das Kapital, a political and economic critique in which he argued that the motivating force of capitalism is the exploitation of labor.

In 1956, the now-disbanded Communist Party of Great Britain funded the construction of a 2-meter monument to Marx in Highgate Cemetery. It includes a bronze bust of Marx’s head, a marble plinth and a plaque from Marx’s original grave, which was targeted in the attack.

No suspect has been identified and London’s Metropolitan Police has closed its investigation.

The Marx Grave Trust, which owns the monument, will consult with specialists regarding repairs.

The tomb is listed as a Grade I structure of “exceptional interest” by the UK Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission. Other Grade I listed structures include royal residence Buckingham Palace and St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

The tomb has become an important place of veneration for Marxists and other adherents to socialism.

“Within two weeks of my arrival in London as ambassador I visited the Highgate Cemetery to pay tribute to Marx,” China’s ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, said in a past speech. “Britain is the second home of Karl Marx. It was from Britain that Marxist theory spread worldwide.”

Both Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel and representatives from China’s embassy in London visited the monument last year to mark the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birthday.

In November, the Chinese government paid for the addition of a paved area in front of the monument.

“By honoring the memory of Karl Marx, we seek the guidance of Marxism in upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics and advancing in the direction of a communist society,” Charge d’Affaires a.i. of the Chinese Embassy Zhu Qin said when the grave received the upgrade.

The tomb is regularly visited by Chinese tourists, according to Dungavell.

“Obviously, Marx has been so important for the governing ideology of China,” he said. “We are very pleased to have a monument here that means so much to so many people.”

Dungavell said the memorial’s designer, Laurence Bradshaw, made the structure particularly robust in anticipation of vandalism.

In 1970, a pipe bomb was exploded in front of the memorial and two granite panels were destroyed.

A note sent to the Marx Memorial Library in London at the time of that attack linked it to the far-right National Front political party, though the party’s involvement was never confirmed by investigators.

Restorers have had to remove graffiti, including swastikas, from the tomb on several occasions. Some remnants of paint remain on the memorial, as do markings where the perpetrators of the bombing attempted to saw off the nose from the bust.

“It’s an evolving memorial,” said Dungavell. “It will bear these new scars in the future, as it bears the scars of past attacks.”

Each year, the Marx Memorial Library holds a ceremony at the tomb on the day of Marx’s burial, March 17. Minister Ma Hui from China’s London embassy will deliver the oration at next month’s event.

“Show your solidarity and support in the face of the recent act of vandalism against the grave of Karl Marx by joining us for our annual oration at the grave site,” library staff wrote on social media.

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