Today in London’s radical history: an attempt to blow up Marx’s grave, 1970

An attempt to vandalise Karl Marx’s grave, 18th January 1970. Possibly not so much ‘anti-German racists’ as people of a rightward bent…?

From the Camden New Journal, 2005:
“THE home-made bomb that vandals hoped would blow up the tomb of Karl Marx wasn’t sophisticated – it was made of a bolt ends, crudely adapted fireworks and a fizzing cocktail of weed-killer and sugar.

But confidential police files – seen only by the New Journal – reveal how Special Branch experts ruled the kit was as potent as dynamite and powerful enough to maim and kill.
The dossier shows how vandals planned to saw through the face of Marx’s bronze bust in Highgate cemetery (pictured) before filling the hollow statue with explosives.
The explosion could have caused irreparable damage but the statue was saved by its nose – the vandals failed to cut through the nostrils and missed the chance to fit the bomb inside the bust.
Instead, the explosion on January, 18, 1970 – hardly reported at the time – was set off close to the grave, shattering paving slabs and scarring the marble decoration.
But although Marx’s bust was left battered and bruised, the £600 worth of damage was reversed with a full restoration and police files suggest the blast was a lucky escape for a monument still part of the area’s well-worn tourist trail.
Mystery still surrounds who was behind the attack. Nobody has ever been charged with the criminal damage and detectives are no longer investigating.
Newly-released documents, however, show how behind-the-scenes the case raised fears that officers would be unable to protect the tomb from vandalism and reveal how at one stage desperate investigators believed the only way to stop repeat attacks would be to patrol the cemetery at night.
The documents were unlocked by a Freedom of Information inquiry by the New Journal and will be made available to the public at the Public Records Office in Kew, west London.
They include a sketch of how the bomb was made and an abusive hand-written letter to one of the cemetery’s guardian which simply read: “And when you’ve repaired the statue of that commie bastard, we’ll blow it up again.”
Bomb squad experts, who trawled through the shavings of Marx’s moustache found at the foot of the statue, described the blast as “powerful”, adding that the explosives had “lethal properties within a range of at least 200 yards”. Fortunately, the explosion came at night and no visitors to cemetery were harmed.
A Special Branch report compiled a month after the blast said: “The nose had been sawn through with a fine hacksaw blade from within approximately a quarter of an inch of the nostrils.”
Files also reveal a bout of vandalism in 1981. A police report said: “Clearly this tomb will always be subject to unwelcome attention no matter what happens.
“It is not necessary for me to stress the difficulties encountered when endeavouring to combat this type of offence, indeed the only sure solution would be a permanent guard in the tomb which is obviously impractical from a police point of view, particularly as the cemetery is private property.”


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online:


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