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Exploring London’s Marxist past

By Fabian Van Onzin

Grave of Karl Marx at Highgate Cemetery

London, U.K. – When thinking of London, one often thinks of Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, double-decker buses, and fish and chips. We might also think of its fabulous museums, concert halls and cultural life. One thing we might not think of is that Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin and even Josef Stalin all had an important relationship to the City of London. Across the city, one can find all sorts of interesting places related to the history of Marxism and the workers' movements.

Karl Marx lived many years in London, spending hours in the British Library writing Capital, organizing the British Workers and playing an important role in building the International Workingman's Association. While in London, I went to Dean Street in Soho and visited the apartment where Marx lived from 1851-1856. All one can see now is a blue plaque stating that Marx lived there, but one can stroll down the streets and get a feeling for the environment where Marx lived during some of his most productive years. Not far from Marx's home is the Red Lion Pub, which is where Marx and Engels discussed the ideas that resulted in the Communist Manifesto.

Visiting Highgate Cemetery, one can see Marx's grave. There is a massive statue of Marx of bearing the inscription “the philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point however is to change it.” Many important revolutionaries are buried alongside and around Marx, including Claudia Jones, the great African American communist leader; Saad Saadi Ali, an Iraqi communist; and Dr. Yusif Mohamed Dadoo, former leader of the South African Communist Party.

In addition to Marx and Engels, London has a lot of historical sites related to Lenin and the early history of the Bolshevik Party. In Islington, a historical working-class neighborhood in London, is located Lenin's former office while he was editor of Iskra from 1902-1903. It is now the Marx Memorial Library and Workers School, and contains a stunning wall mural painting and hundreds of Marxist books. One can visit the Crowns Pub next door, which is where Lenin and many Bolsheviks held important political discussions for the Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, which resulted in the split between the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks.

London is absolutely worth visiting, not just for its architectural beauty and cultural life, but for its exciting socialist history. One can get a real feeling for the world that the founders of Marxism-Leninism lived in, the places they discussed their ideas, and the homes where they lived.

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