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.

Spanish Relief Effort. Eastbourne Chronicle Saturday August 27th 1938

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 
Mike is part of a group has formed to campaign to commemorate the Sussex International Brigaders with a memorial in Brighton – for more information see here thanks

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 Southwick) 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 the prep school 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’.

65 Summerdown Road Eastbourne, formerly part of St Cyprian’s School

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.’

St Cyprian’s School

The cricket pavilion of St Cyprian’s is still used by Eastbourne College

In 1936, George Orwell went to Spain to fight fascism during the Spanish Civil War – and his contribution here is discussed on the Remembering the Sussex Brigaders website.

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.

Eleanor Marx and Eastbourne

Eastbourne has a wider and longer connection to radicalism than simply Friedrich Engels – and our page on Radical Eastbourne will begin to outline some of this rich ‘hidden history’ – this post also relates to the important work of recovering women’s history in Eastbourne.

Eastbourne and Eleanor Marx 

Eleanor Marx Biography

What is the connection between Eastbourne and Eleanor Marx (the youngest daughter of Karl Marx)? Answer. On August 27th 1895, on a very stormy day, four set off in a boat carrying an urn containing Friedrich Engels’ ashes. They dropped all into the sea 5 miles off Beachy Head. Eleanor Marx was one of those four.

Eastbourne was Engels’ favourite seaside town. He often stayed here in his later years and was keen to invite his friends to join him, including Karl Marx and Eleanor. They would walk with Engels along the promenade from the Pier and up onto Beachy Head.

So who was Eleanor? Apart from being Karl Marx’ daughter, we are more likely to have heard about her troubled personal life and sad end than we are to be aware of her accomplishments.

Eleanor was a determined political agitator, organizer and writer who threw herself into the struggles of her time against imperialism, racism and sexism. She was a champion of the oppressed. She had a resolute recognition of the importance of workers unity. Whilst Eleanor supported the women’s movement’s call for reforms (e.g. women’s suffrage, higher education for women et al) she was a revolutionary socialist. She contributed to a Marxist understanding of woman’s oppression; class being central to women’s liberation. She believed that working women’s struggles had more to do with working men than the middle class leaders of the woman’s rights movement.

In the pamphlet ‘The Woman Question from a Socialist Point of View’ (co-written with Edward Aveling) she critiqued capitalism as a system that placed extra burdens on women and distorted relationships and sexuality. Eleanor recognised that women and men were “comrades in struggle” and needed to organise alongside one another. She saw the worker’s rights movement as being asleep and she planned to play a part in waking it up.

During the 1880’s she actively involved herself in shaping the direction of early Socialist organisation. She lent her dedicated support to the aim of turning Socialism into a mass movement. When the Socialists were subjected to ongoing police repression she organized a free speech outdoor meeting in London’s East End. 50,000 people turned up.

Solidarity with workers struggles was central to Eleanor’s beliefs. She threw herself into the New Unionism, a movement invigorated by the Bryant and May Match Women Strike and the Great Dock Strike. Her courage and the delivery and strength of her arguments and efforts earned her the nickname (by the Beckton gas workers) of ‘Our Old Stoker’. Gas workers’ activism led to the formation of the National Union of Gas Workers and General Labourers. Eleanor worked to set up a Woman’s Union in East End’s Silvertown. She was then successful in ensuring it became a branch of the main union.

But whereas the 80’s were victorious and hopeful, the 1890’s marked a time when the worker’s spirit of the New Unionism began to wane. The bosses and the establishment came out on the offensive. A series of defeats left the unions weakened with the membership of some union being halved. Union leaders fell back into old bureaucratic, non-democratic practices.

Unionists and Socialists then turned attention to politics and parliamentary representation. By 1893, led by Kier Hardy, the Independent Labour Party was formed. Eleanor supported this development speaking at ILP events. It can be argued that the formation of the ILP came out of the defeat of the Unions at that time. Perhaps Eleanor was disheartened by this defeat. She left the Executive of the Union and entered into an isolated time in her life.

In 1898 Eleanor committed suicide by prussic acid after finding out that her partner Edward Aveling had secretly married his actress mistress. Many of Eleanor’s friends had not been at all happy when she’d first fallen ‘hopelessly in love’ with Aveling. They saw him as ‘a cad’, believing he was a bit of a fraudster who lived off her name.

In this short piece I haven’t had space to cover Eleanor’s lifelong interest and support of Internationalism. This is equally an impressive and important part of her political accomplishments.

Marx said of his daughter Jenny ‘she is like me’. He added that his daughter Eleanor ‘is me’. Hopefully, I have provided a bit of a flavour of a woman who played a substantial part in the huge shifts in society during her lifetime. Eleanor was not just the youngest daughter of Karl Marx who was betrayed by her lover and came to a sad end. She was a lifelong activist truly dedicated to the cause.

Carol Mills

Jack Cade and Heathfield (?)

Eastbourne and its surrounding area has a wider and longer connection to radicalism than simply Friedrich Engels – and as part of our series on Radical Eastbourne we look at some other radicals with a connection to the region.

Jack Cade and Heathfield (?)

As the late Hymie Fagan once pointed out, ‘it was at Heathfield, a few miles outside Eastbourne, that Jack Cade, leader of the 1450 uprising against Henry VI, was finally captured by Sherriff Iden.  The spot is marked by a seat in Cade Street, surmounted by a tablet giving a vicious account of Cade.’  However, historians now think it is likely that the rebel was actually captured in his home county of Kent, in Hothfield, though thousands of people in Sussex did join his rebellion.

Engels in Eastbourne – by Hymie Fagan (1975)

[This article by Hymie Fagan (1903-1988) entitled ‘Engels in Eastbourne’ was first published in Visual History in August 1975 and is reproduced here with the kind permission of Terry Mccarthy.]

Eastbourne is often regarded as the acme of respectability – a sort of Kensington-by-the-Sea.  Much of it belongs to the Duke of Devonshire and the family has imposed a sort of hall-mark on it, for it is one of the safer of Tory seats.  Nevertheless, despite its somewhat aristocratic air it has a better claim to fame than its link with the Devonshires.

It was the favourite seaside resort of Frederick Engels.  Marx and his wife Jenny also favoured it and they both stayed at No. 43 Terminus Road in July 1881 a few months before Jenny’s death.  Engels was so fond of Eastbourne that whenever he had a few moments to spare he hurried down, usually accompanied by a member of Marx’s family or some other close friend.

Time and again he returned to his favourite Astor House, which still stands at No. 4 Cavendish Place, ‘near to the Promenade and opposite to the pier’, he wrote to Laura Lafargue, the second daughter of Karl Marx, in a letter dated  August 19, 1883.

In August 1887 he went down to Astor House accompanied by Helen Demuth, who had been housekeeper to the Marx family for so many years.  When Marx died and the family broke up, she took over the household of Engels and cherished the old man as she had done the Marx family.

At times he was accompanied by the niece of his common-law wife, Mary Burns.  Pumps, as he nick-named the niece, came with her two children of whom Engels was very fond.

‘The whole party is returning to lunch’, he wrote to Laura, then living in France, ‘and the children want me to make them paper boats, so that’s an end to writing’.

His favourite walk was along the sea-front and over the downs to Beachy Head, high over the Channel.  Here he would stand looking towards the Continent and enjoying the magnificent views of both sea and downs.

When Astor House was not available, he stayed at another charming house, Regency Villa, on Marine Parade, facing the sea.  This house too is still standing and from it one has a sweeping view of the sea right over to Hastings on the one side and Beachy Head on the other.

On July 20 1893 Engels wrote to Lafargue (Marx’s son-in-law), ‘Tomorrow Louise (the divorced wife of Karl Kautsky, the famous German social-democrat) and I are going for a week to Eastbourne (address as before, 28 Marine Parade) as I need to regain a little strength before my journey to Germany … we leave Eastbourne on Friday July 28 … to travel to the Continent to meet Bebel’.

Although Engels was on friendly terms with such early socialists as Tom Mann, Will Thorne, John Burns, Keir Hardie, Harry Quelch (Social Democratic Federation) and William Morris, there is no record of their having visited Engels at Eastbourne, although they visited him at his London home in Regents Park Road.

As he grew older and more sick – towards the end he suffered from cancer of the throat from which he died – so he sought the peace of Eastbourne more frequently.  Between the years 1893 and 1894 he went down several times and on November 14 1894 during a period of intense pain, he added a codicil to his will to the effect that his body should be cremated and his ashes thrown into the sea at Eastbourne.

The last letter written by Engels was from Eastbourne.  Dated July 23 1895 it was addressed to Laura Lafargue and at the end of the letter he wrote ‘I do not have the strength to write long letters, so keep well’.  The next day he returned to London and died on August 5.

Engels who loathed ceremony and hero-worship above all else, had directed that his funeral should be private with only his closest personal friends present.  The urn containing his ashes was dropped into the sea five miles off Beachy Head, on August 27.  Eleanor Marx, Edward Aveling, Edward Bernstein and Frederick Lessner were in the boat.  The sea was very stormy.

It was at Heathfield, a few miles outside Eastbourne, that Jack Cade, leader of the 1450 uprising against Henry VI, was finally captured by Sherriff Iden.  The spot is marked by a seat in Cade Street, surmounted by a tablet giving a vicious account of Cade.

The great English radical Tom Paine, author of The Rights of Man, lived in Lewes near Eastbourne.  Paine was a customs officer in Lewes and his house still stands near to Lewes Castle, and is well worth a visit.  And Shelley was born not far away from there.

Tristram Hunt on Engels at 200

Tristram Hunt, author of a very readable and well researched biography of Engels, has written a timely piece on Friedrich Engels – ‘one of Britain’s greatest emigres’ – for the ObserverEngels comes of age: the socialist who wanted a joyous life for everyone – it is well worth a read in full – but some highlights are here:

This month marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Rhinelander turned reluctant Mancunian turned old Londoner. Always happy to play “second fiddle to so splendid a first violin” as Karl Marx (“How can anyone be envious of genius; it’s something so very special that we, who have not got it, know it to be unattainable right from the start?”), he deserves so much more than just being cast as history’s supporting man…

Born on 28 November 1820 in Barmen, along the Wupper Valley, in Prussia, Engels grew up as the scion of a strictly Calvinist, capitalist, and suffocatingly bourgeois family of textile merchants. His was a loving childhood of plentiful siblings, family wealth and communal cohesion in what was termed “the German Manchester”. But from an early age Engels found the human costs of his family’s prosperity hard to bear. Aged only 19, he wrote of the plight of factory workers “in low rooms where people breathe in more coal fumes and dust than oxygen”, and lamented the creation of “totally demoralised people, with no fixed abode or definite employment”.

After falling under the spell of the Young Hegelians at Berlin University it was 1840s Manchester that turned him towards socialism. Sent to work at the family mill in Salford in the epicentre of the industrial revolution, he saw how unregulated capitalism entailed sustained dehumanisation: “Women made unfit for childbearing, children deformed, men enfeebled, limbs crushed, whole generations wrecked, afflicted with disease and infirmity, purely to fill the purses of the bourgeoisie,” as he put it in his masterwork, The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845).

What Engels also brilliantly revealed in this book was how urban planning and regeneration were arenas for class conflict. He is the father of modern urban sociology, explaining in ways in which we are only now familiar how city space is always socially and economically constructed. Today’s commentators on the privatisation of public space or Mike Davis’s work on our Planet of Slums all exist in the shadow of Engels’ pioneering critique of industrial Manchester…

It was Engels’s popularisation of Marx’s central insights in his pamphlets Anti-Dühring and Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, that launched Marxism as a compelling global creed… After Marx’s death in 1883, Engels enjoyed the freedom of expanding Marx’s thinking in new directions. In his study of the history of family life, Engels laid the foundations for socialist feminism with his connection of capitalist exploitation to gender inequality. Similarly, Engels pioneered the Marxist vision of colonial liberation with his early analysis of imperialism as a core component of Western capitalism. From Vietnam to Ethiopia, China to Venezuela, Engels’s theory of emancipation was adopted by anti-imperial freedom fighters, even as the Soviet empire deployed him to expand across eastern Europe.

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”…

Engels at 200

Engels at 200 – From Historical Materialism conference, November 2020

With Michael Roberts and Camilla Royle

Engels and the Dialectics of Nature – Michael Roberts

Marx is often accused of what has been called a Promethean vision of human social organisation, namely that human beings, using their superior brains, knowledge and technical prowess, can and should impose their will on the rest of the planet or what is called ‘nature’ – for better or worse. On the 200th anniversary of his birth, Engels too must be saved from the same charge. Actually, Engels was well ahead of Marx (yet again) in connecting the destruction and damage to the environment that industrialisation was causing. Engels’ major work (written with Marx’s help), The Dialectics of Nature, written in the years up to 1883, just after Marx’s death, is often subject to attack as extending Marx’s materialist conception of history as applied to humans, into nature in a non-Marxist way. And yet, in his book, Engels could not be clearer on the dialectical relation between humans and nature. it’s time to revise the revisionists.

Engels and Ecology – The Urban Political Ecology of Friedrich Engels – Camilla Royle

This paper takes the 200th anniversary of Engels’s birth in November 1820 to rethink his contribution to what we might today call urban political ecology. Marxist thinkers within critical environmental geography, have long argued for a focus on the natural processes that constitute the urban environment, demonstrating how the urban is shaped by both social and ecological processes. Their approach is rooted in a dialectical rather than a mechanistic materialism. While some have cited Engels as an early advocate of these views, others – such as Neil Smith in Uneven Development – have been more critical of his views on nature, seeing them as representing a dualist approach alien to Marx’s understanding. This paper will address these debates by highlighting Engels’s work on housing conditions, air and water pollution as well as his writings on infectious disease pandemics of the time such as typhus and cholera. It will show how Engels’s approach to public health and his accusations of “social murder” perpetuated by the ruling class predates the analysis of structural violence developed by critical theorists of global health over a century later. It will suggest that Engels’s understanding of how capitalist social relations produced an urban environment detrimental to workers aligns with Marx’s views.