“Workers of all lands unite,” reads the marble engraving atop Karl Marx’s grave in London. But if said workers were to congregate at the tomb of their advocate, they’d have to part with some of their capital: It costs about $6 to enter the portion of Highgate Cemetery where he lies.
Some modern-day admirers of Marx who want to abolish private property are understandably upset that it’s not free to get in. “There are no depths of irony, or bad taste, to which capitalists won’t sink if they think they can make money out of it,” whined one 24-year-old Marxist to The Wall Street Journal. Instead of paying, he chose to peer over a fence at Marx’s imposing bust. (This is far from the most bitter reaction the grave has inspired: People have tried to blow it up, twice.)
This is not the first time skeptics of capitalism have been given ammunition when it comes to their intellectual forefather’s burial site. The cemetery’s chapel at one point sold mugs and postcards with Marx’s likeness on them. And, about 20 years ago, the Friends of Highgate Cemetery, the charity that maintains it, permitted an Italian fashion brand to stage a photo shoot around Marx’s grave to promote a new line of sportswear emblazoned with Cyrillic characters.
That charity, whose mission is to keep up grounds that contain 170,000 people’s remains, does more than just defend itself from Marxist objectors—it fires back. Its leaders have asserted that Marx himself wasn’t so pure, given that he purchased a spot in the private cemetery for the equivalent of about $5 today. The alternative, of course, was leaving his remains to a state-owned cemetery.
So whose position is most justified? Marx, who wrote Das Kapital while living in London, did indeed object to the ownership of private property on the grounds that it allowed the upper classes to maintain their place over laborers. Getting rid of property, he thought, would get rid of the means through which the surpluses of labor—i.e. the value of goods and services produced beyond what it costs to hire someone—were distributed to a small few.
Still, the charity has a sprawling cemetery to maintain, so it’s hard to blame them. And hopping the fence isn’t the solution either: “Marx believed that labor should be rewarded, he didn’t believe that you could achieve a classless society simply by refusing to pay for things,” Alex Gordon, the chair of a charity that helps maintain the grave itself, told the Journal.
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