KARL MARX died in his study in London at half-past two on the afternoon of Wednesday 14th March 1883. To commemorate his passing the Marx Memorial Library has for many decades held an annual graveside oration at his burial place in Highgate Cemetery in North London at the exact moment of his death.
NCP leader Andy Brooks represented the New Communist Party together with Library committee members and delegations from the London embassies of Belarus, Cuba, People’s China, Vietnam and the DPR Korea, many of whom laid flowers at the grave, along with staff from the Xinhua news agency, Vietnam News Agency (VNS), Morning Star and the Communist Party of Britain. Members of the local Camden Tenants’ Association and a large number of young Chinese students swelled the crowd paying tribute to the memory of Marx and his contribution to the world.
This year’s address was given by Prof David Margolies who said:
“FREDERICK ENGELS concluded his funeral oration for Marx in 1883 by saying, ‘His name will endure through the ages, and so also will his work!’ However, in the 124 years since then, Marx and his work have indeed survived but they have suffered some very rough times. The McCarthy witch hunts in the late 1940s and ‘50s and the Cold War stigmatised Marxists in the West and made life very difficult for them.
“Marxism did not come through the period without damage – in both East and West. The hostile atmosphere fostered a defensiveness which discouraged exploration and development. Too often more attention was paid to being ‘correct’ rather than being useful, Marx’s writings were treated as a bible, and cliche could substitute for genuine Marxist thinking.
“Under such conditions Marxism did not flourish. The collapse of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was greeted by triumphalism in the West. It was hailed as the definitive victory of capitalism and held up as the final proof that Marxism was an erroneous doctrine. Marxism was reckoned to be dead (although this reckoning was made without taking account of Cuba, China and Vietnam, where Marx’s ideas have remained very much alive). And even though small on the scale of world events, it is significant that Marx Memorial Library, which served the working-class movement without interruption since 1933, continues to be a major resource of Marxism.
“Today there is a further danger for Marxism that was not anticipated in earlier periods of struggle – Marxism is being co-opted in the higher education institutions of the capitalist world. There is a long and honourable tradition in this country of institutions such as Ruskin College providing university education for trade union activists and sending them back into the trade union movement empowered by their education. But in recent years the higher education sector has offered theorists, even Marxist theorists, a comfortable home, and too often their theory has become abstract and divorced from practice.
“Marx said in his Thesis II on Feuerbach, ‘The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.’ The most radical of social theories can become tame when the very system it was designed to help overthrow welcomes it – and pays its wages. Marxism in such conditions can become merely another philosophical position.
“This separation of theory from practice was ringingly denounced by Marx in the most famous quotation from his writing, his Thesis XI on Feuerbach, the words which are engraved here on his monument: ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.’
“But anyone who thinks Marxism will disappear in the complacency of the universities is forgetting Marx’s own emphasis on practice. There is a renewal of revolutionary action around the world – most notably in Latin America with the Bolivarian revolution and the crumbling of United States hegemony. Changing practice, as Marx himself makes clear, leads to changing theory.
“Out of the new thinking of revolutionary movements, we can expect – and are already getting – a renewal of revolutionary theory. Engels was indeed right that Marxism would endure, but in many respects we have moved on from the specific content to which Marx applied his theory in his writings.
“Although the writings contained the most advanced thinking of the 19th century, it was the 19th century; we must be able to see through to the essentials of dialectical materialism without having the theory obscured by concentration on specific or local applications.
“Half a century after Marx’s death, one of his most imaginative adherents, the dramatist Bertolt Brecht, said simply,‘Change the world; it needs it’. The world still needs it – more than ever. It was Marx who gave us a method to understand the world and to make that change.”
Rob Laurie from London District NCP and NCP leader Andy Brooks
Mary Rosser from the Marx Memorial Library with Prof Margolies
Chinese students raise the red flag