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Engels Returns to Manchester

A statue of Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx’s accomplice and benefactor, has gone up in Manchester. Engels was also the author of The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845), a book based on what he’d seen — little of it pretty — in the course of his time in the city, then a major center of Britain’s industrial revolution.

Manchester Evening News:

Iconic socialist thinker, Friedrich Engels has returned to Manchester . . . 150 years after he left. As part of the Manchester International Festival, a statue will be officially unveiled of the German writer, in Tony Wilson Place, this Sunday . . . 

The Guardian:

This month, the Berlin-based, British-born artist Phil Collins transported a 3.5 metre statue of Friedrich Engels from a village in eastern Ukraine, through Europe, to Britain on a flat-bed truck. Next month, during the Manchester international festival, the sculpture, a 1970s concrete image of the bearded revolutionary, will be erected in the city where he researched The Condition of the Working Class in England, its new permanent home.

…Engels is not an uncomplicated figure. If he is discredited in Ukraine, associated with a cruel and inhuman regime, then one might ask what business Collins has in commemorating him in Manchester. The artist, however, like a number of his biographers (including V&A director and former Labour MP Tristram Hunt, author of The Frock-coated Communist), forbears to hold him responsible for the atrocities committed under communist regimes in the mid-20th century, and points out that “millions of lives have also been squandered via the interpretation of the words of other figures” – not least Christ.

It’s worth remembering that this particular statue was erected by one of those Communist regimes. It was a monument celebrating Soviet power and an ideology that had already been responsible for the deaths of tens of millions.

Giles Udy is the author of  a new book, Labour and the Gulag. Here’s part of what his publishers have to say about it:

In 1929, Stalin deported hundreds of thousands of men, women and children to work in labour camps. Subjected to appalling treatment, thousands died. When news of the camps leaked out in Britain, there were protests demanding the government ban imports of timber cut by slave labourers.

The Labour government of the day dismissed mistreatment claims as Tory propaganda and blocked appeals for an inquiry. Despite the Cabinet privately acknowledging the harsh realities of the work camps, Soviet denials were publicly repeated as fact. One Labour minister even defended them as part of ‘a remarkable economic experiment’.

Labour and the Gulag explains how Britain’s Labour Party was seduced by the promise of a socialist utopia and enamoured of a Russian Communist system it sought to emulate. It reveals the moral compromises Labour made, and how it turned its back on the people in order to further its own political agenda.

I will look forward to reading it. With admirers of butchers past and present now in charge of the Labour party, it looks very timely indeed.

On Twitter today, Mr. Udy tweeted a series of quotes by Engels. The thread begins here.

Here are a few:

[S]uch offensive, vulgar, democratic arguments! To denigrate violence as something to be rejected, when we all know that in the end nothing can be achieved without violence!”

This is our calling, that we shall become the templars of this Grail, gird the sword round our loins for its sake and stake our lives joyfully in the last, holy war which will be followed by the thousand-year reign of freedom.

The second quotation is a remarkably literal (“the thousand-year reign of freedom”) reminder that the early Marxists (and many of their successors) were just the latest in a long series of dangerous millenarian cranks.

And:

We discovered that in connection with these figures the German national simpletons and money-grubbers of the Frankfurt parliamentary swamp always counted as Germans the Polish Jews as well, although this dirtiest of all races, neither by its jargon nor by its descent, but at most only through its lust for profit, could have any relation of kinship with Frankfurt.

Wait, there’s more:

We have no compassion and we ask no compassion from you. When our turn comes, we shall not make excuses for the terror.

And there was the quote about smaller, “trash nations,” a description contained in an article published in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in the aftermath of the 1848 revolutions of those peoples of the Habsburg Empire who had not, in Engels’ view, played their part. The Germans, the Poles and the Magyars had proved to be “standard-bearers of progress,” but, as for the rest:

[General war will] wipe out all these trash nations [a harsh, but reasonably accurate translation of Völkerabfälle, the term Engels used] down to their very names. The next world war will result in the disappearance from the face of the earth not only of reactionary classes and dynasties, but also of entire reactionary peoples. And that, too, is a step forward.”

Iconic!

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