Last Sunday was Mothering Sunday (the third Sunday before Easter). Being 14 March, it was also the 127th anniversary of the death of Karl Marx.
After a very busy Sunday morning with a packed out church, we went on a Northern Line pilgrimage to Highgate Cemetery, getting to Marx’s tombstone just after the moment of his death — 14:45 — made famous by Friedrich Engels graveside remembrance
“On the 14th of March, at a quarter to three in the afternoon, the greatest living thinker ceased to think. He had been left alone for scarcely two minutes, and when we came back we found him in his armchair, peacefully gone to sleep — but forever.”
Being the anniversary of Marx’s death, the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the UK was present with a little crowd of Chinese guests to celebrate the life of the founder of Communism. After hanging around waiting for their speeches to end, the ambassador led us in the singing of the Internationale. Around the edges of those singing heartily in Mandarin, were a few of us joining in in English, and a couple singing in German. It reminded me of the accounts of Marx’s funeral, at which speeches were made and letters read in a number of languages.
I wonder what Marx would have thought about contemporary Dengism in the PRC, or, for that matter, any of the actually existing socialisms in our world. We may be greatly dismayed at news from within North Korea, and there is headline alarm when the country launches a new missile, but the mass ‘defensive’ joint manoeuvres by the US and South Korean militaries is hardly mentioned. Although some have pointed to alleged authoritarianism in Marx’s political theory, there are many more who believe that Marx would have been critical of many of the interpretations of Marxism. In the end, he cannot be held entirely responsible for what has been done in his name.
Visiting Marx’s grave reminded me also of the others who are buried there: Jenny von Westphalen (his wife, who died just over a year before him), Harry Longuet (his grandson, who died aged 5), Helena Demuth (the Marxes’ housekeeper and friend, and mother of one of Karl’s children) and Eleanor Marx (Karl and Jenny’s daughter, who committed suicide after a very unhappy marriage). There is evidence that Karl Marx wasn’t a good husband and father, keeping his family in poverty, dependent on the charity of friends. Remembering Marx’s failings as a man is one way to keep him in perspective, no perfect icon nor saint.