Respec’, Karl, Paul and the Iraqi Communists

Post-it Note: I’ve been having a bit of difficulty accessing wordpress for the past week or so, but finally found an empty draft that I could canibalise.

A couple of weekends ago I visited Highate cemetery, near Hampstead Heath in north London. There’s a five pound entry fee, but the grounds themselves are worth the price of admission and the place is run by volunteers. The whole graveyard is overgrown with elms, beech and other very British trees. It’s a real urban jungle and it’s also over-run with grey squirrels. Apart from the first couple of metres either side of the paths, the trees have been allowed to regenerate and the older gravestones are hidden in the undergrowth. When I was there it was a lovely autumn day and the dappled sunlight through the forest gave the whole place a serene and gentle feel.

A restul grove in Highgate cemetery, north London

A restful grove in Highgate cemetery, north London

The purpose of my visit was to stand next to Karl Marx memorial headstone and have my picture taken. What i wasn’t quite prepared for was the mixed company in which the brilliant socialist theorist and agitator is resting [his remains were moved to the current spot many years ago].

Just across the path from Karl’s impressive memorial is a small, black headstone that marks the last resting place of journalist Paul Foot. The epitaph on Foot’s headstone is from Percy Shelley’s epic poem, The Mask of Anarchy. The poem was written as a lyric response to the Peterloo massacre and it’s a stirring call to revolution. On 16 August 1819 a cavalry charge into a crowd at Peterloo near Manchester was ordered by magistrates, to break up a protest of 50,000 demonstrating for parliamentary reform . 18 people were killed and over 500 injured.

[Account of the Peterloo events from Spartacus]

Paul Foot memorial headstone in Highgate cemetery, London

Paul Foot memorial headstone in Highgate cemetery, London

‘Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number –
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many – they are few.’

I have always admired Paul Foot, he was a much-lauded investigative reporter and he was a lifelong socialist revolutionary. This is a rare combination and one that can cause grief for those who publicly adhere to their beliefs and attempt to have a career in the mainstream.

Tam Dalyell wrote a fantastic obituary in the Independent when Foot died at the age of 66 in July 2004. He was a respected reporter and editor in newspapers and magazines, but he also contributed and edited the Socialist Worker-a far cry from the mainstream.

Paul Foot was the finest polemical writer of his day. He was the staunch friend of lost causes, and so staunch and sustained that his timescale for crusades was measured not in years – let alone months, weeks or days – but in decades. The names of James Hanratty, Helen Smith, Carl Bridgewater, Hilda Morrell and Colin Wallace reverberate down the years and bear testimony to Foot’s persistence.

[Tam Dalyell’s obituary in The Independent]

Foot joined the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the 1960s while working as a cadet journalist in Glasgow. He was committed to the socialist cause for 40 years. When I joined the International Socialists in 1977, one of the first books I read about socialist politics was Foot’s little pamphlet, Why you should be a socialist.

“Only the working masses can change society; but they will not do that spontaneously, on their own. They can rock capitalism back onto its heels but they will only knock it out if they have the organisation, the socialist party, which can show the way to a new, socialist order of society. Such a party does not just emerge. It can only be built out of the day-to-day struggles of working people.” –Why you should be a socialist (1977).

You can read a collection of his journalism in two books,  Words are Weapons, or Articles of Resistance. Foot was a contemporary grey collar intellectual. Even though he was Oxford-educated, and liked the poetry of Shelley, he was dedicated to the cause of workers’ liberation. Paul Foot was respected too by his colleagues and contemporaries. Writing in British Journalism Review, Bryan Rostron called him a “star of England”.

Re-reading Paul Foot, only days after his death, what instantly struck me was how his words roar off the page, energising and fresh but above all as ferociously passionate and spot on as the day he wrote them. In that wonderfully direct style, full of wit and brio, one can hear Paul’s own spirited voice. It never wavered. It was not a specially tailored public performance; the man, his life, his work, his titanic integrity and generosity were one. This probably explains how Paul Foot sustained, often against the odds, such an epic and courageous journalistic output. It also explains, I think, why so many fellow journalists and readers loved him.

[Bryan Rostron’s obituary in British Journalism Review]

Socialist, journalist, writer Paul Foot

Paul Foot, 1937-2004

One Foot’s last articles was probably this piece in the Guardian arguing against Tony Blair’s foreign policy positions on Iraq and the “useful” but horrible dictators that the British and other governments have adopted as their own in the war on terror. [Paul Foot ‘Our kind of dictators‘, The Guardian, 9 June 2004]

After his death The Guardian and Private Eye established the Paul Foot Awards for Campaigning Journalism; a fitting memorial. There’s no doubt that Paul Foot deserves his place in the shade at Highate cemetery. If I believed in God or ghosts, I’d be sure that Foot and Marx were having great discussions in whatever place old Communists go when they die.

So who else is keeping company with Karl?

Marx was most likely buried in Highgate cemetery because he lived in he area for many years. It’s quite a coincidence that my flat at Chalk Farm is literally across the road (Haverstock Hill) from the estate where Karl and his family resided for many years. I have the addresses now, so on Sunday I plan to take a walk around the area to see what’s left of his old lodgings. I’ve also walked down Dean Street in Soho where Marx lived quite tragically for some time. He lived at a couple of addresses in Dean Street with his wife and family. It was during this time that the Marx family lived in abject poverty and lost three children. There’s supposed to be an historic plaque in Dean Street, but I haven’t been able to find it.

Ethidal Martini in Highgate cemetery, Marx in the background

Ethical Martini in Highgate cemetery, Marx in the background

Highgate cemetery is a real landmark in London, I knew Marx was there, but did not know that creator of Hitch-hiker’s guide to the galaxy, Douglas Adams is buried there along with George Elliot and loads of other famous people, including another Marxist academic, Ralph Milliband and Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned with Polonium-210. I know that journalists often scoff at Wikipedia, but the online encyclopedia has a great list of the noteable corpses hiding under the trees, grass and weeds of Highgate. Unfortunately though, the list is very British and needs to be updated.

Me and Karl communing on the edge of the woods

Me and Karl communing on the edge of the woods

Among the many headstones and graves in the area around Marx’ memorial are a surprising number of dead communists and a handful of other journalists. I’m not sure why, or how they got here but I’d suggest that it’s not cheap to be buried or commemorated on this expensive piece of London real estate.

In close proximity to Karl, I saw three headstones marking the burial place of Iraqi communists and another for an Iraqi/Kurdish poet, Bouland Al Haidari, who’s epitaph said he was an advocate for democracy and human rights who had been exiled from Iraq for 30 years.

I was only able to find one reference to Al Haidari and when it was machine-translated from Korean, it came out too garbled to quote from. It seems he might have been a member of the Democratic Union [Kurdish political organisation]. He wrote an essay defending Salman Rushdie in the wake of the fatwah issued over his book Satanic Verses, so it seems his heart and mind were in the right place.

I was unable to locate any online reference to the Iraqi communists Saad Saadi Ali, Dr Jamil Munir Abdul-Hamid, or Rahim Mohsen Ajina, and links to information about the Iraq Communist Party are, IMHO, probably unreliable. While the ICP was in opposition to the Hussein regime, I’m certain that it was tainted with nationalism and Stalinism. It eventually ended up getting financial support from the Syrian regime, so that’s not a good sign. I’ve listed some sources here, you can make up your own mind. I personally wouldn’t align myself with the ICP’s politics.

Wikipedia entry; Library of Congress “country studies” series; this final source is interesting it’s a 2006 letter to “fraternal parties” internationally from the ICP on the situation in Iraq. While this letter was written towards the end of 2005, the ICP position was not to call for the immediate withdrawal of occupying forces and also to join the coalition-backed governing council. The message to supporters outside Iraq was clear.

We hope that the anti-war forces take into consideration the complexities of the situation in Iraq. At the same time, we respect the right of all parties and organizations in the countries that have sent troops in Iraq to call for their speedy withdrawal. It is their own internal affair, while we too reserve the right to formulate our own position in accordance with what we consider to be in the interests of our country. Such an approach can provide an effective and practical basis for joint action that would serve the noble cause of world peace and the struggle for freedom, democracy, human rights and social progress.

My suspicions have been confirmed by multiple references to national “patriotic forces” and some such. I’m sure Marx would not approve either, this type of language is a hallmark of  classic Stalinist rhetoric that does not support independent workers’ political action.

Another dead communist sharing hallowed ground with Marx is Yusuf Mohamed Dadoo. He was a leader of the Communist Party of South Africa, which, unfortunately was another important working class organisation whose politics were distorted by the deadhand of Stalinism. There’s a glowing biography of Dadoo on the CPSA website.

Two more journalists of note

There are two more journalists of note buried in close proximity to Marx. One is quite well known, the other maybe not so much.

Farzad Bazoft,murdered by Saddam Hussein

Farzad Bazoft, murdered by Saddam Hussein

Farzad Bazoft was a reporter for the Observer newspaper, he was executed by Saddam Hussein in 1990 after being convicted of spying for Israel.  Thirteen years after his death, the Iraqi intelligence officer who interrogated Bazoft confirmed that he was innocent of the espionage charges. [source: Wikipedia] The 2003 admission by the Iraqi officer was carried in several newspapers. [] [the observer]

Writing in The Observer, Donald Trelford opened his piece with this poignant anecdote:

MInutes before his execution as a spy at 6.30am on Thursday 15 March 1990, Farzad Bazoft said to Robin Kealy, the British consul general in Baghdad: ‘I was just a journalist going after a scoop.’ None of his colleagues on The Observer ever doubted this – and we are gratified that his innocence has now been conclusively established 13 years after his death.

A simple marker for Denzil Peiris, journalist - editor

A simple marker for Denzil Peiris, journalist - editor

The second journalist, Denzil Peiris, has a modest marble marker over his grave; it simply says “journalist – editor”. There is little information about him, but it seems he was an editor of The Observer newspaper in Ceylon [Sri Lanka]. He was living in London when he had a heart attack in a restaurant, according to this obituary [The Sunday Times]. Denzil died in 1985, but his widow, Roshan (also a well-known Sri Lankan journalist) died in August 2008.

Highgate cemetery is well worth a visit if you’re in London and have a free sunny afternoon. There’s a pub at the bottom of the hill below the cemetery and Hampstead Heath is close by. There’s someone here for everyone.

4 Responses to Respec’, Karl, Paul and the Iraqi Communists

  1. Colleen Murrell says:

    Beautifully done…
    An idea that might be interesting. From the website: The Ragged School Museum is located adjacent to Mile End Park on the towpath of London’s Regent’s Canal, a five to ten minute walk from Mile End Underground station.

  2. Liz says:

    You could check out Sir John Soane’s museum in Holborn, architect professor and avid collector (free but a couple of pounds donation encouraged). The museum is literally his former home and there are oddities galore scattered throughout. Despite his wealth he gave his home to academia to set up as a museum as he was estranged from his son.

    I’ve still not been to Highgate Cemetery despite living here for many years and this post has encouraged me to seek it out.

  3. Nice compilation.I am ruing at a missed opportunity. I was in London in summer of 2008 and made it a point to visit the Highgate cemetery. I visited graves of Karl Marx and Paul Foot but did not know that DNA rested there as well. Wish there was a list of the prominent occupants somewhere on the premises.

    [Cheers Manoj; you can buy a guide to the cemetery from the booth where you pick up tickets. It’s probably a good idea. I will certainly get one next time I visit. EM]

  4. Laura Brown says:

    It was a search for Saad Saadi Ali that led me here. I saw his tombstone today, and thought from his age and date of death that he might have been one of Saddam’s victims. But Googling him only seems to lead to references to his grave.

    By the way, I only paid £3 to get into the cemetery today – maybe they charge less in winter?
    [EM: thanks Laura, pls add detail on Saad Saadi Ali if you can]

Leave a reply and try to be polite

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: