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.


The International Workers’ Mural that Eastbourne should not forget

The International Workers’ Mural that Eastbourne should not forget

At the time of its creation in 1922, the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) was the largest and most ambitious amalgamation brought about within trade unionism. Later, following various talks between unions a merger with Amicus was agreed and Unite the Union was created in 2007. Today in Eastbourne we have an active Trade Union Council and active members of Unite Community Eastbourne Group have been researching some of the town’s trade union history. Here is the story of the International Workers’ Mural that Eastbourne should not forget.

Jack Jones left school at 14 and after a few jobs joined his father as a Liverpool Docker. He became an active member of the Transport and General Workers Union, and later became the General Secretary of this union from 1968 until 1978. He was a great trade unionist, being converted to socialism by reading The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell, who wrote it in Hastings 1906 to 1910.  Jack once explained how that book “was passed from hand to hand among people in the Labour movement and had a remarkable effect on our thinking”.

Newhaven Fort, 7 December 2008 – Jack Jones (with son Mick) who served with the International Brigades fighting fascism in Spain at the ceremony dedicating the Brigaders memorial bench. It was 75 years to the day from when the British Battalion sailed back into Newhaven and then to a big welcome at Victoria Station. The bench is still there on the ramparts overlooking the harbour. The Guard of Honour is two members of La Columna SCW re-enactment group. Fittingly Jack Jones’s final appearance at a Spanish Civil War event.

In September 1974, the first stone was laid by Jack Jones for the TGWU’s new purpose-built convalescent, holiday and educational centre at Eastbourne. The Eastbourne Centre was then opened by Jack Jones in October 1976. This Centre was built for the purposes of a workers’ recuperation and holiday centre and a Conference Centre for the union. The Centre is now called The View Hotel. It is still owned by Unite the Union. The mezzanine level at The View shows some of the hotel’s union history.

The TGWU centre at Eastbourne

In the dining room of the Centre there used to be a full sized and very colourful mural by the Art Workers Co-operative – Michael [Mick] Jones, Christopher Robinson and Simon Barber. Mick Jones was the son of Jack Jones. The mural is an artistic tribute to international trade unionism and the importance of solidarity amongst workers.  For example, part of the mural illustrates “the union’s struggle through depression and war from which emerges a victorious procession with banners of the amalgamated unions. Support for the Spanish Republic in the 1930’s is shown by the inclusion of the graffiti, ‘SOLIDARITY WITH SPAIN’.”

The International Workers’ Mural in the Dining Room of the TGWU Eastbourne Centre

The mural was dismantled during the recent renovations of The View Hotel. It is being stored safely in boxes ready to be reassembled at a planned for new Unite the Union Conference Centre and Hotel in Birmingham.

Mick Jones at the Spanish Embassy 9 June 2009. Mick receives Jack Jones’s Spanish Passport from the Ambassador – Jack had applied but died in April.

Unite Community Eastbourne met with the Manager of The View, about ensuring the story of the mural is not lost from Eastbourne history. There is no picture of the mural on the mezzanine level. The suggestion of a full colour reproduction of the mural was not taken up as it would not fit in with the new colour scheme.  However, it was agreed that a pull-out brochure would be produced showing the mural in all its colourful glory. We are really looking forward to this brochure and will keep you updated on progress. The photo posted here shows a part of the mural that most likely was inspired by our Sussex coastline. Certainly one part of the mural shows the Beachy Head lighthouse.

NB The Eastbourne Trade Union Council and several of our local unions hold meetings at The View and make occasional use of the Conference Centre. (Unfortunately Unite had not negotiated for any discounts with the new management, an oversight that local trade unionists regret).

Carol Mills

Eastbourne Unite Community

[This post is part of a wider series of posts on Radical Eastbourne]

Friedrich Engels on European disarmament – Palle Rasmussen

[This is a guest post by Palle Rasmussen, emeritus professor in the Department of Culture and Learning, Aalborg University, written in November 2020 for the Engels bicentenary – thanks to Palle for allowing us to republish it here. Palle is speaking at the ‘Engels in Eastbourne’ conference in June 2022.]

In several of his late writings, Engels emphasizes the devastating consequences of war withmodern technology between militarized states. One example is his preface to a book by the German socialist Sigismund Borkheim, published in 1888, in which he gives a gloomy and prophetic description of future war:

Finally, the only war left for Prussia-Germany to wage will be a world war, a world war, moreover, of an extent and violence hitherto unimagined. Eight to ten million soldiers will be at each other’s throats and in the process they will strip Europe barer than a swarm of locusts. The depredations of the Thirty Years’ War compressed into three to four years and extended over the entire continent; famine, disease, the universal lapse into barbarism, both of the armies and the people, in the wake of acute misery; irretrievable dislocation of our artificial system of trade, industry and credit, ending in universal bankruptcy; collapse of the old states and their conventional political wisdom to the point where crowns will roll into the gutters by the dozen and no one will be around to pick them up; the absolute impossibility of foreseeing how it will all end and who will emerge as victor from the battle. Only one consequence is absolutely certain: universal exhaustion and the creation of the conditions for the ultimate victory of the working class. That is the prospect for the moment when the systematic development of mutual one-upmanship in armaments reaches its climax and finally brings forth its inevitable fruits (Marx & Engels Collected Works, vol. 26, p. 451).

Although Engels here refers to “the possible victory of the working class”, the description does not contain much optimism. The framework for eventual victory will be ruined societies and degraded populations. This is not the way Engels wants to build new socialist forms of society and community.

Continue reading

Paul Robeson in Eastbourne

Paul Robeson in 1942

As part of the series on Radical Eastbourne it is worth recalling that the legendary black American socialist, singer and film star Paul Robeson performed in the town in the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s.  According to Marie Seton, after his success in the stage production of Show Boat in 1928 in London he undertook ‘his first provincial tour… he gave a concert in Blackpool … he also sang in Birmingham, Torquay, Brighton, Eastbourne, Folkestone, Margate, Hastings, Southsea and Douglas.  “Very early I had the idea of singing in the summer at the spas and seaside resorts,” Robeson said.  “It seemed to me a way to reach the British public.  Even though this was not the usual tour for a singer, I wanted to try it.  I offered to sing on a percentage basis to prove my point.  That is how I began to build up an audience.”‘  As Robeson continued, ‘on sunny days I loved to sit – no, lie on the earth – try to press it to my bosom.  Many times later I felt gay and joyous as I lay in the gentle breeze on the downs of Rottingdean, near Eastbourne.  How I loved the English countryside.  How understandable the lovely poetry flowing from it.  How comprehensible the lovely music, the wistfully gay tunes…’

It seems Robeson returned to perform in the town on 11 August 1935, possibly again in 1936, and again on 7 August 1938 in the Floral Hall at the Winter Gardens in Eastbourne.  As the Eastbourne Gazette reported on 10 August 1938, there were ‘remarkable scenes at Winter Garden’ as an audience of 1,800 were ‘bewitched’ by ‘the magic’ of ‘that master of song’ – Paul Robeson, with ‘hundreds’ turned away unable to get seats to listen, as had happened two years before.   As Larry Brown, Robeson’s friend and musical assistant, recalled to Marie Seton the provincial tours of 1938-1939 were ‘the most successful’ they ever had.  ‘We never had audiences like those we had in 1938 and 1939.  The people who formed the backbone of England – those who had kind hearts and were human – had always appreciated Paul.  Now they seemed to love him more than ever because of what he was trying to do for the people.’

Notice also in the Eastbourne Gazette‘s report a notice about the local solidarity work with refugees from the Spanish Civil War – a struggle for freedom and democracy against fascism which Paul Robeson had characteristically thrown his support behind, which Mike Anderson, who has helped with this piece, has written about here. When Paul Robeson went to Spain to visit the International Brigades and give a concert to entertain them, one of those in attendance listening was Stan Hilton, a member of the International Brigades born in Newhaven who grew up in Brighton.

Paul Robeson in the Eastbourne Gazette, 10 August 1938

In remembrance of Frederick Engels – by Frederick Lessner (1907)

I now wish to give a few reminiscences of Engels. As mentioned before, my first acquaintance with Engels and Marx took place in London, in 1847, and it was in the Communist Club—the only club that has stuck true to its principles and is still alive. It was on that memorable occasion when Marx, Engels, W. Wolff, and the Belgian comrade Tetesko came from Brussels to come to an understanding about the principles and tactics of the new movement. It is now well known that Marx and Engels at this Congress were chosen to elaborate the Manifesto of the Communist Party.

In the Communist Club it was that I bought Engels’s book on The Condition of the Working Class in England, first published in 1845, which was there for sale.

Engels’s personal appearance was quite different from that of Marx. Engels was tall and slender, his movements quick and impulsive, his language short and to the point, his bearing erect, with a soldierly effect. He was of a lively nature, with an effective wit, and everyone who came into contact with him could feel at once that he had to deal with an unusually intellectual man. When occasionally persons came to me to complain that Engels did not treat them as he ought, they did not know and realise that Engels was very reticent with strangers, and very friendly with those whom he had once acknowledged as friends. He was a good judge of human nature, which, however, did not prevent him from being taken in sometimes.

He was very liberal in granting relief to persons who came to him in need, but as he found out that he was victimised by the systematic “beggar-league,” he later on consulted me, and largely left it to me to expend his bounty.

Engels’s portrait would not be complete if I were not to mention the estimate of his old friend George Julian Harney, the editor of the Chartist organ, Northern Star, who knew him since 1843:—“I have known him, he was my friend and occasional contributor, for many years. It was in 1843 when he came from Bradford to Leeds and inquired after me at the office of the Northern Star  . . . I found a tall, stately young man, with an almost boyish face; his English was already at that time—in spite of his German birth and education—without fault. He told me that he was a constant reader of the Northern Star, and with the greatest interest had followed the Chartist movement. And so commenced our acquaintance, 32 years ago. Engels, with all his work and troubles found always time to remember his friends, to give advice, to help where required. His vast knowledge and influence never made him proud; on the contrary, with 75 years he was just as modest and ready to acknowledge the work of others as when he was 22. He was extremely hospitable, full of fun, and his fun was contagious. He was the soul of the entertainment, and managed admirably to make his guests comfortable, who, at that time, were mostly Owenites, Chartists, Trade Unionists, and Socialists.”

My own more intimate knowledge with Engels commenced in 1848, at Cologne, where he was one of the editors of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. I went then under the assumed name of “Friedrich Carstens,” and Engels had found out that I was a tailor by trade, and henceforth appointed me “master of his wardrobe.” I am sorry, however, to state that at that time my functions consisted mainly in repairing his garments. Neither he nor Marx ever took much notice of dress, and, besides, pecuniary conditions just then were not very flourishing.

I was only a young man at that time, and it never was my habit to push myself into the front, and I only met Engels at meetings.

However, the Prussian reaction was at work to destroy the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, and when this did not succeed at the first onset, they tried more drastic measures. Two prosecutions were instigated, the first on February 7th, the second on February 9th, against the Executive of the Rhenisch Democrats.

Both these proceedings I attended, and it was a pleasure to me to see with what ingenuity and perseverance the reactionary methods of that time were combatted. Even opponents could not help expressing their admiration.

After the suppression of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, and the illegal expulsion of Marx, the editors dispersed in all directions. Marx went to Paris, Engels to the Palatinate, where the movement for a constitution for the whole German Empire had just commenced. Engels’s activity in the Palatinate may be judged by his contribution on that subject in the Politische Oekonomische Revue (London Hamburg, and New York, 1850), of which Marx was editor.

After the suppression of the revolution in Baden, Engels and other revolutionists had to escape to Switzerland, where, however, Engels did not stay long, and went, in 1850, to London, where a great number of refugees at that time had assembled. Here commenced hard times for Engels and Marx, as neither of them had any income.

It was about that time that the Communist Club was most active; political refugees of all ways of thinking met here, among them being Marx, Engels, Liebknecht, and Wolff. With so many refugees entertaining different views on past and future political efforts, it was no wonder that great differences existed.

Engels left London in 1850, in order to enter his father’s cotton factory in Manchester, in which he became, in 1864, a partner. In 1869, after his father’s death, he retired from business, and returned to London, in order to devote all his time to collaboration with Marx.

In 1859 the Communist section started a German weekly paper, Das Volk (of which only 16 numbers were printed), in opposition to the Londoner Zeitung Hermann, founded by Kinkel.

The outbreak of the Franco-German war interested Engels greatly, and he devoted his time during that period to writing articles for the Pall Mall Gazette, which proved his military talent, and procured him the nickname “General.” He prophesied several defeats of the French. When the concentration of the Germans around the French Northern army was in progress, Engels stated in the Pall Mall Gazette that if General MacMahon could not succeed in breaking through with his army to Belgium, he would be forced to capitulate in the plain of Sedan—which really happened two weeks later.

After the defeat of the Commune of Paris, the position of the General Council of the International Workingmen’s Association became very difficult, especially for Marx and Engels, as a great number of international refugees arrived in London, which occasioned additional work and loss of time. Among those refugees we must not forget the Hungarian comrade Leo Frankel, who had been a member of the Government under the Commune, and after its defeat succeeded in passing through the German lines in the disguise of a match-seller. Frankel was one of the few who were perfectly clear-headed, and sure of our goal. After the amnesty, Frankel returned to Paris, where he continued his propaganda. He died some years ago in Paris; in him our cause lost a devoted comrade. Honour to his memory!

The Commune refugees who arrived here belonged to all shades of political and economical ideas, and accused each other of having caused their defeat. Blighted hopes, as well as the poor circumstances in which most of them found themselves here, were the cause of these disputes. The invidious attacks of the capitalist press, combined with the general ignorance of the Commune and its aims, as well as the open hostility of the Anarchist section, all seemed to tend to crush the international Labour movement about that time.

The transfer of the General Council of the International to New York, according to the decision of the Hague Congress, gave both Marx and Engels more leisure for their economical studies. Marx devoted himself to his great work, Das Kapital. Engels became secretary of the International. The translation of the Communist Manifesto, as also the translation of other pamphlets, and the writing of articles on topics of the day, occupied Engels at this time. In 1878, he suffered a heavy loss by the death of his wife, an Irishwoman, who had been heart and soul in favour of the Fenian movement. As Engels had no children, he felt the loss of his wife acutely.

Engels took a great interest in the Trade Union movement, as also in the propaganda for the legal eight hour day. In spite of his age, he witnessed the May Day demonstrations, and usually managed to get on one of the carts which were used as platforms.

Being a member of the Communist Club, the Social-Democratic Federation, and Socialist League, and helping at the starting of the Independent Labour Party, my visits to Engels were always welcome, as I kept him informed on all that occurred in these organisations. I must mention here that Engels did not quite agree with some of the tactics of the Social-Democratic Federation.

Engels kept his freshness for work until his death. He was a good linguist, mastering ten languages, and at the age of 70 learned Norwegian, in order to read the works of Ibsen and Kielland in the original.

Engels, like Marx, seldom appeared as a public speaker; each liked a debate, but as speakers they were not popular. Engels’s last public appearance was in 1893. He spoke at the Congress of Zurich, at Vienna, and Berlin. His reception at Zurich, and the enthusiastic outburst at his greeting made a deep impression upon him, as he often told me. His visit to Austria, Germany, and Switzerland was really a triumphal pilgrimage of our ideas. He regretted much that Marx was not spared to visit this new Germany, the Germany of the workers.

In 1895 Engels went for the last time to Eastbourne, his favourite summer resort, but returned without improvement, as Eleanor Marx informed me.

Under such circumstances, I decided not to molest him by a visit, and was sorry for it, as I did not see Engels alive again. On the evening of August 5th, Bernstein sent me information that if I wanted to see Engels again, I should make haste, as his condition was desperate. I resolved to see him early next morning, but received the news of his death, which occurred between 11 and 12 the night before.

When I went, I found Engels dead on his bed, similar to the occasion when I saw Marx the last time, on March 15th, 1883.

Engels’s will stipulated that he was to be cremated, and his ashes thrown into the sea. This last wish was fulfilled on August 27th, when Eleanor Marx, Dr. Aveling, Herr E. Bernstein, and myself, travelled to Eastbourne, hired a boat, and two miles from the coast threw his ashes into the sea.

That was the last of him. But if Marx and Engels have thus disappeared from the earthly scene, the principles they advocated are alive, and will continue to spread in all countries, until the final victory of International Socialism.

[From Frederick Lessner, Sixty Years in the Social-Democratic Movement: Before 1848 and After. Recollections of an Old Communist (1907)]  The tribute to Engels by Chartist leader George Julian Harney that is mentioned by Lessner was published as ‘Frederick Engels’, Newcastle Weekly Chronicle, 17 August 1895, and is reprinted in David Goodway (ed.), George Julian Harney: The Chartists Were Right: Selections from the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle, 1890-97, Merlin Press.

Friedrich Engels – a tribute by Wilhelm Liebknecht (1895)

Wilhelm Liebknecht‘s speech on behalf of the Social Democratic Party of Germany on 10 August, 1895 in London at the funeral for Friedrich Engels, published in Vorwärts, 189, 15 August, 1895 – reproduced with thanks to the Marxists Internet Archive

As Engels’ oldest friend in Germany, it fell to me to speak for German social democracy and to express our pain at the loss that affected us. No such blow has fallen on us since Karl Marx was taken from us. Marx died for the second time in Friedrich Engels. And he himself no longer has his own kind among the living. The number of those standing here at the coffin is small. If all were present in the body who are in the spirit – millions and millions would be here and the whole of London would not be big enough to accommodate them all. The simple sense of the dead forbade any public demonstration, and so there are only a few here, but these few represent millions, represent a world which Friedrich Engels discovered and conquered together with Karl Marx and which will bring down the world of capitalism.

Friedrich Engels created scientific socialism with Karl Marx, from whom he is inseparable, with whom he – the intellectual giant with the intellectual giant – has grown into one; He has put socialism from the cloud home of dreams, the philanthropic utopia, on the hard ground of facts and revealed the secret of the laws of development, the knowledge of which, excluding any wrong path, shows the sure way to victory. Already at the age of twenty-three, more than half a century ago, he became a guide for the proletariat in his “situation of the working class in England”. From the high international vantage point of England, which dominated the economic world and the world market, he – like Karl Marx – overlooked the course and the gears of economic development and, jumping over the barriers of nationalities, he grasped the internationality of the labour movement. The class struggle has divided the world into two hostile camps – there are really only two peoples: the people of the capitalists and the people of the proletarians.

Friedrich Engels worked for half a century, and how worked! Half a century of sowing and harvesting. This half century is the history of international social democracy. And when Friedrich Engels visited Germany and Austria two years ago he was able to keep a watchful eye on part of the mighty army which he called up with his Karl Marx. Engels once received the nickname General from his friends as a joke and kept it later. But he was a general, a real military leader. Had things come to a head in a really great battle on the battlefield, he would have been our general at our head. He was a signpost and a guide, a champion and a fellow campaigner, theory and practice were united in him. He stood as a spiritual leader at our head and in his thinking and feeling in action in our midst.

He was a wonderfully versatile and at the same time firmly closed personality, a personality in large and small – capable of the greatest, not neglecting the smallest. Selflessly, always subordinating himself to the matter, sacrificing himself to his great friend until Marx’s death and even after Marx’s death, he always lived his duty, always making the highest demands on himself. A member of his family who is politically distant from us has just told us how he has done his duty in the family. That characterizes him. above humanity he has not forgotten the family – nothing human was alien to him, he always and everywhere did his duty and was loving and cheerful – cheerful even in the most serious battles. In 1849, smiling and joking, he exchanged the pen for the musket, and he stood smiling and joking in the fire. He retained this cheerfulness to the end. Death, the all-conqueror, could probably fell it, not overcome it.

I can’t tell his life. He and Marx gave us the Communist Manifesto; he and Karl Marx founded the International Workers’ Association, which, dead in its old form, is today far, far more than the founders hoped for in their boldest hope – the organized proletariat of the world. The workers of all countries are united, and nothing can stop their victorious course.

The spirit of John Brown advanced the Americans in their struggle against slavery and the slave barons. Your spirit pulls ahead of the proletariat of the world, Friedrich Engels! Your spirit and the spirit of your and our Karl Marx, together like a flaming double star leading us to victory!

We mourn for you as we mourned Karl Marx – but we do not consume each other in inactive mourning! We do not set a monument of ore and stone for you and you both. You are too big for such a monument. And you are not dead. You live in us, and the immense debt of gratitude we owe to both of you can only be removed by putting your teaching into practice. We will do your will! We promise that on your coffin, Friedrich Engels.

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:-


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: