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.

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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.  This post aims to piece together the history of his performances in Eastbourne over a ten year period – please note that in order to do this post reproduces quotes from newspapers and columnists and journalists from the 1920s and 1930s, and so the language used to describe Paul Robeson and his songs is that which was customary for the time and so we apologise if anyone finds the language offensive today.

According to Marie Seton, after Paul Robeson’s 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…’

On 18 May 1929, Paul Robeson performed ‘a special programme of Negro spirituals’ at the Floral Hall, Winter Garden, Devonshire Park in Eastbourne (see Eastbourne Gazette, 1 May 1929).   ‘The famous bass sings fine selections of negro spirituals, and is accompanied Mr. Lawrence Brown, who has composed the music to a good many of them. Paul Robeson’s tour so far has been a triumphant success, all the towns which has yet visited having sold every ticket for his concert. The necessity for early booking of seats is the fact that hundreds of people were turned away from the Brighton Hippodrome when Robeson gave his recital there. Among the songs he will sing are “Deep River,” “Were yen there?” “Water Boy” and “Didn’t it rain?” and many others’ (Eastbourne Gazette, 15 May 1929). Such was his ‘great success’ here that he was invited to return to sing at the Floral Hall in Winter Garden on Sunday 21 July 1929 (Eastbourne Chronicle, 13 July 1929).

In May 1930, Robeson famously starred as Othello opposite Peggy Ashcroft and Maurice Browne at the Savoy theatre in London, in a production Browne also produced.   Maurice Browne’s mother ran Clovelly-Kepplestone, a private boarding school for girls in Eastbourne – and it seems Robeson came down to stay at the school as a guest around this time.

On 30 August 1931 Robeson returned to perform ‘Negro spirituals and plantation folk songs’ at the Winter Garden (Eastbourne Gazette, 26 August, 1931).  On 2 September 1931, the Eastbourne Gazette reported that ‘after his appearance at the Winter Garden many were the enthusiastic comments’.   Robeson ‘ the famous actor-vocalist’ returned again on Sunday 11 October 1931 to perform alongside Henry G. Amers’ Municipal Orchestra at Winter Garden (Eastbourne Chronicle, 10 October 1931).  As one columnist, ‘Gazza’, wrote in the Eastbourne Gazette on 14 October 1931, ‘Those of us who were fortunate enough to hear Paul Robeson at the Winter Garden on Sunday evening were no doubt conscious of the grave personality behind this great negro singer. He stood before us in immaculate evening dress, with gold ring glittering on the little finger of his right band, yet his voice sang to us the deep spiritual outpourings, of his own race. I seemed to see him he might have been in his own country, the ebony blackness of his body etched sharply against the white of the cotton fields; or in days before that … down by the river, while his elders sang of the sweet chariot that was coming to carry them to their home. Today he stands the emblem the triumph of art over colour.’

On the evening Sunday 12 August 1934, Robeson returned after a three year absence to perform again at the Winter Garden in Eastbourne at a sell out show at which many people were turned away, unable to get in.  The Eastbourne Gazette reported on their front page on 15 August 1934 there was Paul Robeson Enthusiasm at the Winter Garden’:

‘Extraordinary and almost overpowering was the enthusiasm that greeted Paul Robeson’s singing at the Winter Garden, Devonshire Park, Sunday evening, by an audience that all but overflowed into the gangways. It is three years ago that this deservedly accomplished and popular singer was in Eastbourne, and doubtless he was in the happy position of one who was sure of pleasing many old admirers. To one who had not heard him before he must have appealed as singularly striking and attractive personality: one who carries his six-feet four with all the modesty of a skylark, sings with the ease and grace of nightingale, and whose art springs direct from Nature. Schubert would have written songs on the back of an envelope for Paul Robeson. A couple of Negro spirituals opened his programme.  “Go Down Moses” and “Roll de ol’ Chariot.” Of course, if some religious artist were to paint pictures to-day of such “far off, divine events” on the lines of these Negro spirituals ” he would promptly be accused of something very closely allied to blasphemy. Still, treating the Old Testament Scriptures as so much folk-lore a step in the right direction, and, after all, it was the way we learnt it at our mother’s knee:

Go down Moses,

Way down an Egypt’s Lan’.

Tell ole Pharoah

To let my people go.”

which is, all said and done, what no doubt really happened. Sung by Paul Robeson, it becomes peculiarly pictorial and dramatic: “And the Lord said unto Moses” becomes a “religious ballad” which would have delighted Robert Burns.

Such favourites as “Shenandoah,” Ol’ Man River” (a burning and heartsearching ballad of Mississippi slavery), the pretty “Lindy did you hear dat mockin’ bird sing las’ night”, “Wagon Wheels,”  “L’il David, play on your harp”:

“L’il David was a shepherd boy,

He killed Goliath, an’ he shouted for Joy,”

and some encores (Robeson speaks so quietly that it was difficult be sure of the titles), and a recitation to wind up, all these ditties trolled and crooned in this rich, sweet and mellow monotone, enchanted the large crowd of admirers, who called for more and yet more. Robeson is an “American” born in the States. His father was a parson, and his grandfather—a slave. Britain, following the Roman lead, has made her slaves freedmen, and now the sons of freedmen enslave the masters with their art. Very admirable music came from Alfred Campoli and his Trio of violin, ‘cello and piano. Lawrence Brown at the piano, was accomplished accompanist.’

‘EHB’ added on 15 August 1934 in the Eastbourne Gazette, the following report of Robeson:

‘The unusual spectacle of long queues of people patiently waiting outside the doors of the Winter Garden on Sunday evening ten minutes after the performance had begun in the hope of gaining admission the hall, which was already packed, found its explanation in the fact that Mr Paul Robeson was the attractive magnet that had drawn this huge concourse there. Inside the hall every seat was occupied and there was no standing room. It must always be an interesting problem to the student of psychology in what the particular attraction to the public of any special popular film or musical comedy star lies in excess of that accorded to the others. Fashion has, however, decreed that the particular idol of the moment should reign supreme in his sphere, and the public bow this decree. Many superlatives have been lavishly showered on Mr Robeson by the Press—he is described on the programme possessing the “greatest natural voice in the world today,” which is, of course, merely hyperbolical gush.  Mr Robeson is a man of culture and high attainments with admirable bass-baritone voice, but no critic who knows what he is talking about would call him a great singer. What he sings he sings extremely well, but no better than any other good baritone, and to my mind his range of expression is very restricted, and I find little variety of tone colour or inflection in his voice. He interprets his own native folksongs to perfection, but the standard of a singer’s achievement rests on a much wider basis interpretative scope than that. Mr Robeson was accorded a tremendous welcome by the enormous audience on Sunday evening, and sang many characteristic numbers from his repertoire, including some negro spirituals, folk tunes, and examples by Jerome Kern, Palmgren and Lawrence Brown. A deafening downpour of rain unfortunately drowned his singing of the haunting melody “Shenandoah,” but this was only a transitory eclipse, and in all his songs Mr Robeson showed himself the artist that he undoubtedly is. He was supported in the programme by Mr Alfredo Campoli and his trio – a very attractive instrumental combination, which has been heard here with pleasure before.’

Publicity shot for Paul Robeson’s concerts in the mid-1930s

Robeson – now billed as ‘the world’s greatest Negro actor, singer and film star’ (Eastbourne Gazette, 17 April 1935)  returned to perform ‘a light popular programme’ at the Winter Garden with Lawrence Brown on 20 April 1935.

Advertisement for Paul Robeson at the Winter Garden in the Eastbourne Gazette, 17 April 1935

As ‘EHB’ noted in the Eastbourne Gazette  on Wednesday 24 April 1935,

‘The huge audience that gathered in the Winter Garden hear Mr Paul Robeson on Saturday evening offered another striking example star worship. Not only was every seat, but every inch of standing-room in the hall was occupied by this vast concourse. He was received on Saturday evening with the frenzied acclamation due to a member of the film constellation, and whatever he sang was accorded the tribute of an ovation. He sang, as he always does, very well: but his voice lacks sonority, and in the upper tones is thin and a little nasal in quality, while there is a trace of tremolo here and there. is good baritone voice, but in sense an outstanding one. It is, of course, in his native “spirituals” that Mr Robeson is always at his best, and several of these were included in his selections on Saturday, among them “Go Down, Moses,” “Ebenezer, Roll de ol’ Chariot” and Burleigh’s “Were You There?” (which, by the way, was referred to by the Archbishop of Canterbury ins address on Good Friday morning). By way of variety Mr Robeson included “O, No John, No!” which he sang admirably. In another group were two Gretchaninoff songs and “Ol Man River,” which Robeson substituted for another number, and this, too, was of course, received with appropriate enthusiasm. The duets in which Mr Robeson was joined by his accompanist. Mr Laurence Brown, were cleverly sung; and amusing, and among his encores were such old favourites as “Poor Old Joe ” and “The Old Kentucky Home.” The orchestra contributed a modestly supplementary share to the programme, but their playing was very warmly applauded and appreciated by the holiday audience.’

Robeson returned again to Eastbourne’s Winter Garden with Lawrence Brown on 11 August 1935, for a ‘popular programme featuring his greatest successes’ and alongside H.G. Amers and his Orchestra (see Eastbourne Gazette, 7 August 1935).   As the Eastbourne Chronicle noted on 17 August 1935, Robeson now talked of his love of coming to Eastbourne.

“Whenever I come to Eastbourne I always have lovely audiences, and it pleased me greatly to know that the songs you like best are also my favourites.” Paul Robeson, who may be considered the world’s leading negro baritone, said these few words to the audience at the Winter Garden on Sunday evening at the conclusion of his concert. Every seat was occupied, and the enthusiasm knew no bounds. Seldom a singer been recalled for so many encores, which on this occasion outnumbered the items on the programme while it was plainly evident that Mr. Robeson enjoyed singing as much as listeners appreciated it. The most popular song was, of course, “Old Man River” which Paul Robeson made his finishing item, but even then equally delightful were “Mammies little babie likes shortnin’ bread,” “Steal Away” (this by request), and many others. The Canoe Song from “Sanders of the River,” the film in which Mr. Robeson is appearing was most enthusiastically received.’

AS EHB noted in the Eastbourne Gazette on 14 August 1935,

‘A very large holiday audience filled every put of the Winter Garden on Sunday evening when Mr Paul Robeson, in conjunction with the Municipal Orchestra was the special attraction. Robeson appeared to be in excellent voice and was. as usual, accompanied on the piano by Mr Lawrence Brown a beautiful accompanist, by the way, who first appeared few years ago in London as solo pianist. In his two groups of songs Mr Robeson included several popular spiritual examples, among them “Go down Moses,” “I’ll hear de Trumpet soun’” and “Goin’ to ride up in de Chariot,” arranged by Brown, and interesting songs of other types—“ The Wanderer,” a Finnish folk song arranged Selim Palmgren, the Russian song, “O. Ivan, you Ivan,” Rimaky-Korsakov, a clever nursery rhyme, Short’nin’ Bread,” arranged Wolfe, “Water Boy.” the convict song, and an amusing little folk song. “L’il David,” arranged Lawrence Brown, the charming sea chantie, ‘‘Shenandoah,” and, of course, several encores. Including the favourite plantation song, “Old Jo.” Needless to add, Mr Robeson received the most enthusiastic welcome.  The orchestra, under Captain Amers, also received their full share of appreciation, and every number on the programme was given rounds hearty applause. The selections were of the popular kind and entirely to the taste of the audience.’

It seems he returned possibly again in 1936 (when we know Robeson did play De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on 22 March 1936, see Eastbourne Gazette, 11 March 1936), and again on Sunday 7 August 1938 in the Floral Hall at the Winter Garden in Eastbourne.  As EAT reported for the Eastbourne Gazette 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.

‘About 1,800 Robeson-fans crowded the Floral Hall hundreds more ware disappointed, seats were provided and many contented themselves with standing, but still enough were turned away have filled another hall. And the scenes inside the hall were memorable. More than usually generous in the warmth of their reception of the preliminary items, the crowd applauded wildly on the appearance Mr Robeson.  At the end of the first half of the show the clamour of the audience necessitated two encores, while at the close of the original programme they simply would not let Paul go. He recalled time after time and even after giving four more items the company wanted more. The applause was terrific. The programme was worthy of the reception. Of Mr Robeson one can say nothing new. The richness of his voice, the strength of his expression. the clarity and forcefulness of his enunciation, have moved the hearts of millions. In days when all that is best music, in song and in their exponents is brought to the masses through the wireless, there still remains only one Paul Robeson. His singing is not merely heard, it is felt, and the inspiration of his singing defies adequate description.   The programme on Sunday was admirable in its demonstration of Mr Robeson’s equal capacity in varying moods of song. In compositions both grave and gay, in pieces delicate or inspiriting, he showed himself once again the complete master. Prominent, of course, were the negro spirituals, those songs of enchanting rhythm and haunting melody which he has made famous.  He began with “Go Down Moses,” followed later by the lovely, amusing, yet impressive, “Ezekhiel Saw de Wheel” (in which he was assisted in a vocal duet by pianist, Lawrence Brown). “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and (again in duet form) “Joshua Fit Battle of Jericho,” while another great favourite, “Little David Play on Your Harp.” was given as one of the many encores, again the assistance of Lawrence Brown. The popular, somewhat hackneyed, “Shenandoah” especially appealed to the audience by reason of the new meaning, the new beauty which Mr Robeson’s voice brought to the song. Another especially appreciated rendering was that of the well-known English piece, “O, No, John!” in which the singer’s wealth of expression gave the song its full appeal. The negro convict song “Water Boy,” the little negro’s heart-cry for his African home “In Galam,” Moussorgsky’s “After the Battle,” the Mexican folk song “Encantadora Maria” and “Sometimes I Feel Like Motherless Chile” were also in the programme. Upon his recall to the stage at the close, Mr Robeson could not resist the for the song for which, perhaps. he is the most famous, “ Ole Man River.” while the beautiful melody of “Curly Headed Baby” provided an appropriate and delightful finale. Although Mr Robeson naturally held wide of place, the entire evening’s programme was one of distinction. For opening of each half was sustained by Alfredo Campoli the well-known whose broadcasts are so popular, assisted by Morris Westerby (cello) and Sidney Crook (piano). His playing was of the usual brilliance, worthy of an outstanding evening’.

Robeson also performed across the South Coast in these years – in April 1938, Paul Robeson performed at Brighton Dome – as covered in the Brighton and Hove Gazette on 30 April 1938.

Paul Robeson review “Audience clamour for more” – Brighton and Hove Gazette, 30 April 1938

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.’

Eastbourne Winter Garden – Paul Robeson performed here at least nine times between 1929 and 1939

Notice also references to Spain in the Brighton and Hove Gazette report and 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

On Monday 10 April 1939, for Easter Monday, Paul Robeson returned to the Winter Garden, supported by the Municipal Orchestra, once again ensuring a full house in attendance (Eastbourne Chronicle, 15 April 1939)  As the Eastbourne Gazette noted on 12 April 1939,

‘Easter Monday and Paul Robeson brought what was expected: a large audience to the Winter Garden. His programme contained, at the one emotional extreme, a song by Moussorgsky (“After the Battle”), and one of Kennedy Reaser’s arrangements of the Hebridean Songs (“An Eriskay love lilt ”). On the other hand there was, of course, a group of those spirituals ” which some admire so profoundly and others dislike so heartily, “Stan’ still Jordan,” “Roll de ol’ chariot along,” Li’l David,” the “sermon-song” about “Weepin’ Mary” and another about Methusaleh and Elijah and Daniel as “Witness for de Lord”; and between these cults came the nursery rhyme “Shortenin’ Bread,” and “Ol’ Man River,” and “Ma Curly-headed baby.” The quiet power of Robeson’s rich and resonant voice penetrates everywhere the softest syllable could be heard at the back of the Winter Garden on Monday evening.’

On 30 July 1939 once again Robeson was set to perform at the Winter Garden accompanied by Lawrence Brown on the piano (Eastbourne Gazette, 19 July 1939), though it seems this was postponed to 24 September 1939 (See Eastbourne Gazette, 26 July 1939), and so given the outbreak of war this concert probably did not take place.

On 6 November 1940, one reader to the Eastbourne Gazette  noted that ‘Myra Hess, Richard Tauber and Paul Robeson’ have ‘been the biggest concert “draw” we have had at the Winter Garden for the last few years’.  On 17 February 1945 the Eastbourne Chronicle columnist G. Wilcox confirmed that Paul Robeson drew the largest crowds in recent years to Winter Garden, Devonshire Park.  Robeson’s 1,573 tickets sold for his 1938 show at Winter Garden was still regarded as ‘the record for recent years’ – beating the likes of Richard Tauber (1,404), Arthur Askey and Richard Murdoch for ‘Band Waggon’ (1507) – both in 1939, as well as the 70 strong London Philharmonic Orchestra playing in 1945 (1,175).

Update (May 2022): The refurbished Winter Garden is going to dedicate a special Paul Robeson Room in honour of Robeson’s legendary performances at the venue and a special commemorative programme of events is being put together to help launch this.  So far these include a special performance of ‘Call Mr Robeson’ by Tayo Aluko at the Grove Theatre in Eastbourne on Friday 4 November 2022 – details of how to book tickets here:  Thanks to Mike Anderson for help with the research for this blog post.

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:

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.