At the north-eastern corner of Hampstead Heath in London is a very special nature reserve—a cemetery. Strolling down its Eastern avenues, one can easily get lost among the trees, bushes and wildflowers nurtured by 170,000 busy dead people. An overabundant green has conquered a tombstone here, and caused an angel to fall there. Nature is creeping. Amidst all this a superhuman monolith sits, topped by a head—the grave of Karl Marx. The massive bronze bust, resembling Coca Cola’s Santa Claus pouting, was built in 1956 after a design by English sculptor Laurence Bradshaw. In comparison to photos of Marx, in which his face recedes into a cloud of beard and hair, this Marx is groomed. And indeed, he is rarely alone. In front of him meet people from all over the world. They bring Chinese flags, Polish vodka, Chilean songs, or German friends dragged before him for a birthday. Besides being a lovely destination for excursions, the monolith also shelters politics, whose field has been disrupted. History had ended with the 20th century, when nations started to be run like corporations that always focus first on balancing their books. This is why at Highgate cemetery, Marx and politics pause for breath, here, in the monolith, idling, eagerly anticipating what is to come.
From their perspective, the new century had started disappointingly. Globalisation was meant to deliver a chance for radical change drawn from a technical revolution. There was hope. In the past, industrialization had given birth to the idea of communism. But this time, the revolutionary potential given by digitalization was missed. Boat migrants are the tragic symptom of this revolution that no one took advantage of—financial capital would benefit from global organisation, but it would not be used to the abolition of misery. Still something has happened and that lies scattered across a nature reserve waiting for us to stroll along and pick it up. All that is solid has not melted into air. It is only in galleries and theory books that politics creates post-human aesthetics, not in political life.
Marx, this monolith, is still the tempering that makes politics radical and real, a radicality that is also a comedy of errors: Guarded by an autonomist gesture stuck in the German autumn of 1977 once bang up-to-date, Marx is set up safely out of reach. Meanwhile Italian operaismo has taken on the Sisyphean challenge to stridently analyze an ever-changing capitalism. Britain’s versatile cultural studies use Marx as a handy construction kit. Head-shakingly, Marxists turn to the scriptures to check where all that radicality has gone wrong. What is radical? Men out there on our megacities’ streets have beards that are secretly striving to compete with Marx’s. But today, there needs to be organic salad in the supermarket, the day after the revolution. In the 20th century, the revolutionary subject—the worker—has left the arena that is politics. In the 21st century, revolution itself might have followed. Is this a disaster or did it make room clearing away? After all, radical change might not need a revolution. Queer or feminist theory could never count on it when thinking their radical change.
Up on the hill of Highgate, politics frowns and lights a cigarette on one of the eternity candles at the foot of the monolith. Her political body has become a problem—forming this body is not seen as an opportunity anymore but as some decisive effect. Since recently, she is even made responsible when economy is in trouble. Fallen out of favour like religion before her, she discusses with Marx this recent development. Radical change, she says blowing smoke rings, cannot be thought when human plurality is no more than a sum. But human plurality, Marx replies, always will be more than a sum, even if you are turned into an unconscious figure, hidden away out of site in this overabundant green. Nature is creeping.