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Proletarian issue 8 (October 2005)
Karl Marx? Been there, done that, got the t-shirt
A Proletarian correspondent visits Karl Marx’s birthplace and is interested to discover that Lenin had “no understanding of Marx”.
“The enemy has become skilled at co-opting dead revolutionaries. Dead revolutionaries find it hard to answer back when their lives, their images, and often even their words, are used by the imperialists to promote reaction rather than progress, and complacent apathy rather than militant political activity.” -- Huey P Newton (Black Panther Party, USA)

If you walk down the main street of any town or city in Britain, you’re bound to bump into at least one teenager sporting a Che Guevara t-shirt. Try asking him or her who Che was, and what he represents.

You might get one person in ten talking about Guevara’s role in the Cuban revolution and his reputation as the quintessential proletarian internationalist.

The problem is that eight other youngsters – if they don’t simply tell you to f*** off – will admit that they’re wearing the shirt simply because it suits them or because their mates have already got one and they felt left out.

The last of the ten may know something about Che and the struggles he led, but – while he may even question the clear injustices of the capitalist status quo – he’s unlikely to accept the dictatorship of the proletariat as a viable alternative. After all, there’s Geldof and Bono, isn’t there?

Revolutionary symbolism, much as we may like to see it as we’re trekking about in our daily lives, is not the same thing as revolutionary consciousness. If it were, there would be no need for a vanguard, proletarian party such as the CPGB-ML.

And, unfortunately, revolutionary symbolism is not confined to Che Guevara or to the hammer-and-sickle CCCP shirts that seem to be making a comeback.

There can be few Proletarian readers who, at some time or another, haven’t visited the grave of Karl Marx in London’s Highgate cemetery.

The place where Marx was put to rest in 1883 doesn’t cost anything to enter, it’s run by a charitable trust, and the huge stone bust surmounting his tomb was erected with funds raised by the organisation from which the CPGB-ML draws its inspiration, the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Compare this with the venue where Karl Marx was born, 65 years earlier in 1818.

The house where the co-founder of scientific socialism came into the world is located in the western German town of Trier, not far from the Luxembourg border, and described in the tourist literature as a “middle-class townhouse” .

It’s always been a big draw for people visiting the town, but nothing prepared our Proletarian reviewers for what awaited them when they showed up late in the evening at Trier’s tourist bureau.

“Are you here for Marx?” asked the assistant. “Actually,” our comrades replied, “Marx is here for us – and for all the exploited workers and oppressed peoples of the world. Es lebe die Revolution! ”

His response was not to give the Popular Front clenched-fist salute. Instead, he gave our Proletarian supporters the address of an expensive hotel and pointed out that – in this very office – they could buy Karl Marx mugs, Karl Marx badges, Karl Marx baseball hats, Karl Marx pens (blue ink only), Karl Marx t-shirts, Karl Marx keyrings, Karl Marx scarves, Karl Marx underwear and even a bottle of Karl Marx red wine (more reliable sources tell us that the man himself preferred brandy).

This was, of course, not a good introduction to the German equivalent of the Marx Memorial Library in London, which is operated by the Morning Star’s CPB along with their fellow revisionists of the NCP.

But at least Marx House in Clerkenwell is run by people still calling themselves communists (however disingenuously).

The Museum Karl-Marx-Haus Trier doesn’t have even that distinction. The house where Karl Marx was born has been run by the German social democrats (SPD) since 1928. It was symbolically important enough for the Nazis to take it over as their local party HQ during the period of Hitlerite fascism (1933-45), but the SDP got it back at the end of the second world war and is now running it via a private trust they set up in 1968 called the Friedrich Ebert. Foundation.

Proletarian readers will not need to be reminded that Friedrich Ebert was the main German leader who, in the wake of the first world war, ordered the murder of the proletarian revolutionaries Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.

All of the foregoing notwithstanding, the Trier museum is still worth visiting, or, at least, the first and second floors, where a fairly balanced biography of Karl Marx is available, along with original manuscripts. You can also read excerpts from Capital and The Communist Manifesto on screen, but getting in will cost you three Euros (two quid).

The third floor, by contrast with the first and second, departs from Karl Marx’s life and work to the extent that it systematically lies about the nations and peoples seeking to establish socialism in the twentieth century. In other words, it proves yet again that social democracy is nothing more than the respectable, ‘left’ face of monopoly capitalism.

A few gems:

The Soviet Union? Established, on the basis of a “conspiratorial coup” , by “a dictator [Lenin] with no interest in changing the world and no understanding of Marx, but obsessed by becoming the new Tsar” . Vietnam? Ho Chi Minh was, of course, another “dictator” who believed in “state socialism” rather than “proper democracy” .

In that the Marx Museum is located in Germany, it should not surprise us that the main fire of the social-democratic curators is reserved for the former German Democratic Republic. There are two exhibits slandering that state in excruciating detail, and the production of a GDR flag outside the museum by Proletarian supporters was clearly not welcome.

Overall, however, we think that members and supporters of the CPGB-ML should visit – rather than avoid – the Marx Museum in Trier. The life and work of Karl Marx is ours, not theirs, and the visitors’ book already contains messages suggesting that we, the proletariat, must take back his legacy and act on it.

Karl Marx called for proletarian revolution; so does the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist)!


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