Welcome

Featured

This is a webblog set up to help commemorate the life, work and legacy of Friedrich Engels, particularly as it relates to Eastbourne.

28 November 2020 marks the bicentenary of the birth of Friedrich Engels, the German radical philosopher who in works such as The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845), The Peasant War in Germany (1850), The Housing Question (1872), ‘The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man’ (1876), Anti-Dühring (1877), Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (1880), Dialectics of Nature (1883) and The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884) made pathbreaking and profound contributions to modern social and political theory.  As the co-thinker of Karl Marx and co-author of The Communist Manifesto and ‘The German Ideology’, he played a critical role in the forging and development of classical Marxism specifically.  But like Marx, Engels was ‘above all a revolutionary’, who also played a role in revolutionary upheavals such as the German Revolution of 1848 and in the international socialist movement.

When Engels died in London on 5 August 1895, at the age of 74, his last wish was that following his cremation his ashes be scattered off Beachy Head, near Eastbourne.  Marx and Engels had visited many Victorian seaside resorts, such as Margate, Ramsgate and the Isle of Wight, but Eastbourne was Engels’s favourite place and where he holidayed for extended periods during the summers in later life.

We currently have sections – many still in the process of being developed – on the following topics, as well as a blog:

The Life of Engels in Eastbourne

Selected writings of Engels written in Eastbourne

Commemorating Engels in Eastbourne, in the past and the present – especially in relation to the campaign for a plaque

A Guide to Further Reading about Engels

Radical Eastbourne – the wider history of radicalism and socialism in Eastbourne

A forthcoming conference on Engels in Eastbourne

A section with more information about this website and its aims

The local campaign for a plaque to honour ‘Engels in Eastbourne is also on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EBEngels/

The website is supported by the University of Brighton, which has a campus in Eastbourne, and aims to help promote the conference ‘Engels in Eastbourne’ and other relevant educational commemorative events relating to ‘Eastbourne and Engels’ – please email Christian Hogsbjerg on c.hogsbjerg@brighton.ac.uk for more information or suggestions of how to improve this site with its various sections – which is a work in progress – many thanks.

 

Engels at 200 – reflections by Keith Flett

Engels at 200: beard wearer, Pilsner drinker, activist, theoretician, revolutionary

28th November marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Friedrich Engels and it is being widely marked.

Engels wrote a landmark volume on the working class in Manchester 1844, much admired by Marx, and was an active participant in revolutionary events in Bavaria and Prussia in 1848/9. He carried the nickname ‘The General’ for his military knowledge and writing. He was of course for some years a Manchester businessman in the family business but throughout an active collaborator with Marx. After Marx’s death in 1883 Engels extended the research and impact of his friends work as well as producing some work of his own.

Some of this has been controversial amongst those who stand in the Marxist tradition but in a short appreciation the key thing to underline is Engels centrality to that tradition.

The fact that he both understood and was partly responsible for Marx’s perspectives is well summed up in the extract below:

‘Marx and I are ourselves partly to blame for the fact that the younger people sometimes lay more stress on the economic side than is due to it. We had to emphasise the main principle vis-à-vis our adversaries, who denied it, and we had not always the time, the place or the opportunity to give their due to the other elements involved in the interaction. But when it came to presenting a section of history, that is, to making a practical application, it was a different matter and there no error was permissible. Unfortunately, however, it happens only too often that people think they have fully understood a new theory and can apply it without more ado from the moment they have assimilated its main principles, and even those not always correctly. And I cannot exempt many of the more recent “Marxists” from this reproach, for the most amazing rubbish has been produced in this quarter, too.’

As perhaps might be expected there are those who seek to draw attention away from the continued importance of such a perspective. The former Labour MP Tristram Hunt has written a partial but entertaining biography of Engels.

Writing in the Observer in November he did emphasise the political importance of Engels writings but underlined that above all Engels should be seen as a bon viveur. A lover of beer, wine and good food. Indeed Engels was all of that (as was Marx) though sadly his recipe for lobster salad has not survived.

‘Engels was a figure of profound historical and philosophical significance. Yet what I discovered, as his biographer, was that his vision of socialism could also be richly uplifting: the grisly, corrupt, anti-intellectual egalitarian Marxism of the 20th century would have horrified him. “The concept of a socialist society as a realm of equality is a one-sided French concept,” he said. Instead, Engels believed in cascading the pleasures of life – food, sex, drink, culture, travel, even fox-hunting – across all classes. Socialism should not be a never-ending Labour party meeting, but a life of enjoyment. The real challenge of living in Manchester was that he could find no “single opportunity to make use of my acknowledged gift for mixing a lobster salad”.’

While that was true Engels was also a serious revolutionary. It’s not his taste in drink and food that matters in 2020 but his ideas and his politics.

Keith Flett

Keith Flett is convenor of the London Socialist Historians Group

How Eastbourne got its 1976 Engels Plaque

How Eastbourne Got Its 1976 Engels Plaque 

This story starts in 1975, before the 1989 fall of the Berlin wall (of course), at the London Embassy for the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).  The GDR were surprised at how little Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were commemorated in England. They were keen for this to change and so the embassy mapped all the areas where Engels and Marx lived and worked; and of course, this included Eastbourne.

Enter the National Museum of Labour History, which at that time was based in Limehouse Town Hall, Commercial Road, Tower Hamlets. The origins of this museum derived from the Labour History Archive (held at Labour headquarters), the Trade Unions, and Labour and Co-operative History Society. The museum was opened on 19th May 1975 by Harold Wilson and became the home of the Labour History Archive. The Museum was closed in 1986 but then reopened in Manchester in May 1990 – known initially as both the National Museum of Labour History and the Pump House People’s History Museum. The museum is now known as the People’s History Museum.

The National Museum of Labour History developed close associations with the Soviet, the GDR and the Cuban embassies. It was in this first year that the plan for a plaque to Engels in Eastbourne was first seeded. Terry McCarthy, the curator of the Labour and Co-operative History Society and founder member and Director of the National Museum of Labour History tells us,

“I had the privilege of teaching British Labour history to young people whose families worked in the Soviet and GDR embassies as well as the frequent visits from delegations from socialist countries; this included Cubans. We had regular talks and lectures on Sundays. It was at one of these events that the issue of plaques came up and Eastbourne was mentioned. Hymie Fagan – a historian, journalist, and Communist Party national election agent – who was a close friend of the Museum, volunteered his services. After consultation, it was decided the GDR Charge D’Affaire should unveil the plaque.  We had discussions with the owner of the hotel and when given approval we then notified Eastbourne Trades Council and the local Communist and Labour parties. So, the decision to unveil a plaque was international. Both Henry Fry, myself and Hymie’ were members of the Communist Party”.

The commemorative plaque project then took off locally. Eastbourne Trades Council, Eastbourne Labour Party and the Eastbourne Mayor’s Office all worked together on the preparations. Eastbourne Trades Council paid for the plaque and its installation. The Mayor’s Office were extremely helpful in arranging for the police to be present. The Mayor at the time was Clifford Scott was present for the unveiling of the plaque. Len Caine, the Eastbourne Labour Party’s Parliament candidate at the time was also present. Caine was, for many years, a pivotal figure in the Trade Union Movement in Eastbourne. He was a Labour Councillor for nearly 20 years having first been election in 1963. He fought both the 1974 and 1979 general elections.

And whilst the local preparations were going on Terry, Hymie and Henry were working on invitations to the GDR and Cuban embassies. Senior figures invited were Heinz Birch, the GDR Charge D’Affaires, (who unveiled the plaque) and Senor Lionel Soto, Ambassador at the Cuban Embassy.   Lionel Soto Prieto (1927-2008) was a Cuban revolutionary, historian, diplomat and professor. He was imprisoned during the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Released in 1959, he held positions within the Communist Party of Cuba and the Cuban government, including representing Cuba as ambassador to the Soviet Union and Great Britain.

There were those who were not too pleased with the involvement of the GDR and Cuban embassies in the unveiling of the plaque. This was during the Cold War period so you can imagine.   I will leave this account here. The story of the unveiling of the plaque was covered by the Eastbourne Gazette which you will find on our website. I will leave you to look this up. It is left to be said though that the plaque did not stay in situ for long. The National Front were present at the unveiling in protest and were intent on damaging the plaque. In fact the plaque need to be taken down for the night because of this threat. This did not deter the intent however and within 6 months the plaque was taken down permanently. The graffitied plaque is now in the archives of the Manchester People’s History Museum.

There is unfinished business. The story ought not to end here. To support the campaign for the reinstalment of the plaque please find details here:-

https://www.facebook.com/EBEngels/

Thank you to all those involved in the instalment of the 1976 plaque. And thank you particularly to Terry McCarthy for providing information and lending his support that has invigorated our campaign.

Carol Mills

Engels Memorial Lecture with Prof Mary Davis

Third annual Engels Memorial Lecture, organised jointly by the Marx Memorial Library, London and the Working Class Movement Library, Salford.  We mark 200 years since Friedrich Engels’s birth by welcoming Mary Davis who will speak on ‘Women’s oppression, the origins of the family & the condition of the working class’.

Thursday, 26 November 2020 – 7:00pm

This online lecture is based on two seminal works by Engels – ‘The origins of the family, private property & the state’ & ‘The condition of the working class in England in 1844’. These two books provide the framework for an analysis of the condition of women, class & the family in Britain in 2020.

Mary Davis is Visiting Professor of Labour History at Royal Holloway, University of London. She has written, broadcast and lectured widely on women’s history, labour history, imperialism and racism. She was awarded the TUC Women’s Gold Badge in 2010 for services to trade unionism. She is one of the founder members of the Sylvia Pankhurst Memorial Committee and ‘A Charter for Women’, and is a Trustee of Marx Memorial Library.

The Memorial Lecture is a joint endeavour which examines Engels, his work, and broader themes associated with his ideas and influence. The yearly event has alternated between the two libraries, each with a unique place in the British labour movement and a long-standing shared history – 2020 affords us the opportunity of co-hosting, as the event will be taking place online. This event will be live-streamed.

Register here:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/engels-memorial-lecture-tickets-122054192375

Honouring Engels in Eastbourne

‘Engels grew up in the Rhineland but spent much of his life in Britain. He enjoyed spending time in Eastbourne and his ashes were spread in the sea off Beachy Head. As well as working with Karl Marx, he contributed a huge amount to working class struggles in Britain. Engels documented the conditions in which 19th century workers lived, supported the Chartist struggle for the right to vote and addressed some of the rallies of the early labour movement. He deserves to be recognised as an important figure in the history of Eastbourne.’
Camilla Royle, author of A Rebel’s Guide to Engels

This website has been set up with the support of the University of Brighton, which has a campus in Eastbourne, to help commemorate the life, work and legacy of Friedrich Engels in Eastbourne – by detailing Engels’s connection to the town, his writings here and the attempts past and present to commemorate Engels in Eastbourne. It is a work in progress but new sections and new information are being added regularly, particularly in the run up to the bicentenary of his birth on 28 November 2020.

Book Launch – Letters from England, 1895: Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling

Online book launch organised by the Socialist History Society with Lawrence & Wishart

Monday, 7 December 2020 – 7:00pm

These never-before translated dispatches from London to a Russian journal by Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling offer a unique insight into their lives and radical politics, and the Victorian England in which they wrote. Join us to celebrate and discuss this new contribution to socialist and feminist history, published by Lawrence Wishart.

In 1895, Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling were two of the best-known socialists in Britain, mixing with the most influential figures of their time, from Keir Hardie to William Morris. The couple were committed to building a socialist political force based on the ‘scientific’ theories of Eleanor’s father Karl and his collaborator, Friedrich Engels.

Join editors Stephen Williams and Tony Chandler, translator Francis King, and Professor Mary Davis as they discuss the making of the book and its contribution to new understandings of the intellectual and personal relationships within the Marx-Engels circle.

The panel conversation will be followed by an opportunity for questions from the audience. Audience members will be able to buy discounted copies of the book via the Lawrence Wishart website.

To register please follow this link

The ‘Little Spain’ Shop – Eastbourne and the Spanish Civil War

Eastbourne has a wider and longer connection to radicalism than simply Friedrich Engels – and our series on Radical Eastbourne will begin to outline some of this rich ‘hidden history’.

The ‘Little Spain’ Shop – Eastbourne and the Spanish Civil War

by Mike Anderson 

In the period of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), Eastbourne had a ‘Little Spain’ shop in Cornfied Road which operated for two weeks to raise funds for Spanish refugees. It was opened by the Carnival Queen and among the local worthies who supported Aid for Spain was Sydney Caffyn. Was this the first charity shop in Eastbourne?   A pastor from the Spanish Reform church gave a talk on the Holy Trinity vicarage lawn in support of the Republic which he said had given people freedom from the tyranny of the Catholic Church. Nearby Herstmonceux Castle (owned by Tory MP Sir Philip Latham) gave refuge to 20 Basque boys.
In terms of the Spanish Civil War and East Sussex more generally, from memory I identified more than a dozen International Brigaders from or connected with Brighton/Hove. I did get a Brighton bus named after Dr. Reginald Saxon who was a pioneering medic in the Spanish Civil War although I understand that it’s since been withdrawn from service or renamed.  The South East film archive has a film made by Ernie Trory (Sussex CP Organiser) showing two Brigaders being welcomed back to Brighton Station and a march to the War Memorial on the Old Steine to lay a wreath.

1938: Ex-prisoners of war from the International Brigade, foreign volunteers who fought with the Republican government during the Spanish Civil War, arriving back in Britain. (Photo by London Express/Getty Images)

Mike Anderson 

C.L.R. James visits Eastbourne

Eastbourne has a wider and longer connection to radicalism than simply Friedrich Engels – and as part of our series on Radical Eastbourne we will begin to outline some of this rich ‘hidden history’.

C.L.R. James visits Eastbourne to report on a critical cricket clash between Lancashire and Sussex 

C. L. R. James Biography, Life, Interesting Facts

In August 1934, the black Trinidadian Marxist writer and historian C.L.R. James – later author of classic works such as The Black Jacobins (1938) about the Haitian Revolution (which was partly written up in Brighton) and Beyond a Boundary (1963) – about West Indian cricket – visited The Saffrons, Eastbourne in his capacity as a cricket reporter for the Manchester Guardian to cover the critical county cricket clash between Lancashire and Sussex, with both sides hopeful of winning the championship that season.

‘Before the match between Lancashire and Sussex could begin at Eastbourne the rain came down; luncheon was taken at one o’clock, and play started at two.  During the delay many spectators walked to the centre of the ground, stood round the protecting ropes, and stared solemnly at the pitch for minutes on end.  There was nothing to be seen on its virgin surface.  What could there be?  But this was a real championship match and had the championship atmosphere…’  James describes the clash between Sussex bowler Maurice Tate and Lancashire batsman Ernest Tyldesley ‘it was a day’s watching to see these two striving with one another, knowing that from the result of this duel a championship might be won or lost; Tate genial but deadly, Ernest graceful but dour, steel rasping against steel… ‘ (‘Lancashire in Difficulties’,  Manchester Guardian, 23 August 1934)

With Lancashire making 196 in their first innings, on the second day, ‘during the interval the sun shone out nobly and the Sussex crowd came pouring in, so that when the game began again the ground was packed close with excited people, hoping that the wicket would improve and Sussex retrieve the position … when Tate came in last Sussex had scored only 106, but Tate at once stood back and with a back stroke than which nothing finer had been seen in the match forced Pollard past cover.  He was rarely in any difficulty; he made easy strokes to suit the particular balls bowled.  Then he lifted a no-ball from [Dick] Pollard to the screen, hooked the next ball for four, and lifted the next clean over the crowd at long-on for six.  He stole a humorous single and pretended to steal another.  To make Adam and Eve laugh, the elephant “wreathed his little proboscis,” the most that Milton could bring himself to say.  The Sussex crowd, more easily amused, laughed uproariously at Tate’s elephantine gamboilings.  Pollard had him unexpectedly leg-before-wicket, and Sussex ended 53 behind.’  (Lancashire’s first innings lead’, Manchester Guardian, 24 August 1934).

Lancashire then dug on for the draw on the final day, with good displays of batting again,  and as James notes ‘a malicious observer might have thought that the gloom of the Sussex crowd during the early torpidity was due to the fact that Sussex were losing the championship.  No such thing; when [Eddie] Paynter and Tyldesley were going in their reception by crowd and pavilion alike could not have been exceeded at Old Trafford.  It was only a little cricket that the crowd wanted … [Peter] Eckersley declared with his score at 321 for eight, leaving Sussex 375 runs to get in a hundred and sixty five minutes, which is absurd.  The afternoon ended in peace and tranquillity.  That Lancashire should decide two hours before the end of the second day’s play to freeze out the match has met with a harsh reception.  Their reputation in the South is already not good … tomorrow they go to the Oval, committed to do everything else except secure a finish; the prognostications of the nightmare of boredom are bitter and sincere.  Still, a championship is a championship, but the only justification for this timidity will be success.  Should Surrey defeat Lancashire, and Sussex beat Yorkshire, not only Sussex but the whole of the south coast will chuckle till next season’ (Lancashire’s cricket to arithmatic’, Manchester Guardian, 25 August 1934).  In the event, Lancashire did hang on to successfully take the championship title in 1934.

George Orwell and St Cyprian’s School

Eastbourne has a wider and longer connection to radicalism than simply Friedrich Engels – and our Radical Eastbourne series will begin to outline some of this rich ‘hidden history’.

George Orwell and St Cyprian’s School

George Orwell in September 1917, not long after leaving St Cyprian’s School

The young Eric Blair – later better known as the writer George Orwell – attended St Cyprian’s School in Eastbourne from 1911-1916 – and Orwell later denounced the brutality of the masters there in his 1952 essay ‘Such, Such Were the Joys’. As Andrew Watson notes,

‘Some of Orwell’s time in Eastbourne found its way into his fiction: in his ‘fairy tale’, Animal Farm, the local village is named after Willingdon, just to the north of town; its pub, The Red Lion, is where Farmer Jones gets drunk; and Manor Farm, where the revolution takes place, is based on Chalk Farm on the edge of the Downs. If Orwell used simple landmarks that he would have come across on ‘character-building’ walks for settings in Animal Farm, the area had a more profound effect on his final novel. The Last Man in Europe was Orwell’s original title for Nineteen Eighty-Four, and it perhaps gives us a further clue to how he felt about his time in Eastbourne. Exposed as a young child to an authoritarian regime that was, by turns, caring and violent, the sense of isolation and powerlessness that Winston Smith feels in Orwell’s most well-known novel can be traced back, in Such, Such Were the Joys, to his five long years at St. Cyprian’s.’

A.L. Morton and Eastbourne College

Eastbourne has a wider and longer connection to radicalism than simply Friedrich Engels – and as part of our series on Radical Eastbourne we are exploring some other figures with a connection to the town.

A.L. Morton and Eastbourne College

A.L. Morton Archive

In 1918, the fifteen year old Arthur Leslie Morton – later author of the classic A People’s History of England (1938)  and a leading figure in the Communist Party Historians’ Group –  was sent to Eastbourne College, a minor public school, which he detested.  After graduating from Cambridge University in 1924, Morton returned to Sussex and became a school teacher at Steyning Grammar School.  Though a Labour Party member, from 1925, Morton had started reading the Communist Party paper the Sunday Worker, which would later become the Daily Worker, regularly, and during the General Strike of May 1926 in Britain, Morton along with most other teachers had sided with the strike, supporting local railway workers, which saw him lose his work at Steyning Grammar the next year.