Art Vandals 5: Indelible Marx

Weapon: (1) Hammer (2) Red Paint

Reason: (1 & 2) political

tomb of karl marx highgate cemetery london

Three miles down the road from where I am writing is this North London landmark – the tomb of Karl Marx. Buried beneath this grizzly bust are Marx, his wife (Jenny von Westphalen) and other members of his family, all gathered together there in 1954 after having been buried elsewhere in Highgate Cemetery (about a hundred yards away). The tomb has been listed since 1974, elevated to Grade I in 1999.

The monument was attacked for a second time in a month a week ago today (15th-16th February). The first attack was on 4th-5th February. Whether this fully constitutes Art Vandalism is a moot point – it is not the sculpture that has been targeted but, firstly, the plaque with text and, secondly, the pedestal.

Karl_Marx_tomb highgate london

The tomb (as it is generally referred to) was designed by English sculptor and artist Laurence Bradshaw. He was for a while assistant to Frank Brangwyn who in turn was assistant to William Morris, creating a resonant Socialist chain of heritage.

The memorial was officially unveiled on 15th March 1956 at a ceremony led by Harry Pollitt, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The party funded the tomb.

The tomb is topped by the bronze bust of Marx. It sits on a marble pedestal. The words top front on the pedestal – Workers of all lands unite – are the final words of The Communist Manifesto. The central panel – target of the first attack – comes from the original 1883 grave and lists those interred, which include Marx’s housekeeper Helene Demuth. The text at the bottom comes from the conclusion of Marx’s Eleven Theses on Feuerbach.

Marx was a political exile in London, arriving in June 1849. There are various Marx-related London landmarks including at 28 Dean Street, Soho

blue plaque karl marx dean street soho london

2nd floor, 28 Dean St.

and in Maitland Park Road, South End Green/Belsize Park, where he moved in 1875 and remained until his death in 1883. The house there was replaced by a Camden Council housing block in the 50s due to bomb damage from the Blitz.

karl marx brown camden plaque Maitland Park Road belsize park london

site of 41 Maitland Park Road

He wrote Das Kapital in our city, famously using the British Library reading room at the heart of the affluent thinking territory of Bloomsbury.

This month’s attacks are not the first. There were two bombing attempts in the 1970s, including a pipe bomb set off in January 1970 which damaged the front of the memorial.  And there have been numerous other incidents of vandalism ever since its unveiling in 1956. It has had paint daubed over it before. The bronze bust has been dragged off the plinth with ropes.

karl marx tomb vandalised highgate cemetery

Hammer attack on the panel from the original grave

The weapon of choice earlier this month seems to have been a hammer, a rusty one. The words targeted seem to be centred on the second occurrence of his name.

karl marx tomb vandalised at Highgate Cemetery in north London

The second assault was with ironically Communistic red paint.

karl marx tomb vandalised at Highgate Cemetery in north London

The daubed words include “doctrine of hate”, “architect of genocide” and “memorial to Bolshevik holocaust 1917 1953 66,000,000 dead”.

Morgan: a suitable case for treatment karl marx tomb 1966 movie film

Morgan: a suitable case for treatment – David Warner as Morgan

One of my first encounters with the tomb was as a teenager getting deeply into cinema, watching the 1966 film Morgan: a suitable case for treatment directed by Czech-British director Karel Reisz. He was a child refugee from the other more famous Holocaust, rescued by Sir Nicholas Winton along with 668 others. Both his parents died in Auschwitz.

Morgan: a suitable case for treatment karl marx tomb 1966 movie film

The Friends of Highgate Cemetery called the hammer attack “a particularly inarticulate form of political comment”. Suits the times.

After the first attack the Metropolitan Police said: “Initial enquiries have been completed and at this stage the investigation has been closed. If any further information comes to light, this will be investigated accordingly.” Another sign of the times.

Officials from the cemetery are getting in touch with the tomb’s owners, the Marx Grave Trust (based at the Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell). The monument is uninsured. They are to discuss the possibility of installing CCTV around it.

After the second attack the Metropolitan Police said they had received a report of criminal damage at around 10.50am on Saturday. “There have been no arrests. We would appeal to anyone who has any information to contact us.” The Met spokesman also confirmed no arrests had been made over the 4th February attack.

The quality of political debate in this country is about on a level with the effectiveness of an over-stretched police force. Morgan would love it.

1 comment so far

  1. […] Another Marxman on Simple Pleasures. […]


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