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FRIEDRICH ENGELS BUZZING IN SALFORD AND MANCHESTER
 

Star date: 16th July 2017

ENGELS - SO OUT HE'S IN...

This evening there's a huge sold out event for the Manchester International Festival called 'Ceremony', where an old Soviet era statue of Friedrich Engels will be unveiled near HOME, together with events portraying the modern day 'conditions of the working class'.

A few years ago there was next to nothing to commemorate Engels in Salford or Manchester, despite him honing his work here for over twenty years. Now there's a sudden rush to get in on the Engels kitsch - what the hell is going on?

Full details here...


MEN article on Engels centenary 1995 MEN article on Engels centenary 1995 Engels Mill with M602 running over it
Engels Exhibition WCML Engels Beard climbing wall Salford Ceremony Engels Statue
The Condition of the Working Class in England
click image to enlarge

"I once went into Manchester with a bourgeois and spoke to him of the bad, unwholesome method of building, the frightful conditions of the working people's quarters…The man listened quietly and said when we parted 'And yet there is a great deal of money to be made here; good morning sir'…

"All the conditions of life are measured by money, and what brings no money is nonsense, unpractical idealistic bosh!" Friedrich Engels


A few years ago you couldn't buy a positive mention for Friedrich Engels in Manchester or Salford. Every brick of his many rented and secret houses in the areas had been bulldozed, while his former mill in Weaste – surely a world heritage site – had not only been trashed but had the M602 running straight over it.*

The only signs left of Engels in Manchester or Salford was a tower block in Eccles named Engels House, a plaque on the wall of the Toblerones student digs in Manchester and a cardboard notice in the alcove at Chetham's Library where he and Marx researched their theories.

Yet, throughout, the left in Salford and Manchester were trying to keep Engels' spirit alive, with Ruth and Eddie Frow at Salford's Working Class Movement Library (WCML) keeping the only Engels archive in a large drawer, open to anyone who wanted to view it. The authorities, meanwhile, really, really didn't want to know.

In 1995 it was 100 years since Engels died and 150 years since he wrote his seminal book The Condition of the Working Class in England. Neither Manchester nor Salford commemorated any of it.

Indeed, when the then Leader of Manchester City Council, Graham Stringer, was asked whether the Council would maybe put up a banner outside the town hall for the centenary, he explained that it "wasn't in the same league" as the cycle race that was coming through the city that month. (See photos of the MEN article)

Meanwhile, after the fall of the Eastern Bloc in the Nineties, there was an attempt to obtain an Engels statue from St Petersburg, Manchester's twin town, which came to nothing. Then, around the year 2000, BAFTA winning film maker and trade unionist, John Crumpton, had the idea of filming the rescue of a statue and bringing it to Manchester with the provisional title The Hunt For Engels...

"It was about my attempt to obtain a statue of Friedrich Engels from Eastern Europe and have it installed in Manchester as a testament to his years spent in the city" says John "I researched and wrote a treatment but was unable to raise funds to make it in 2000, and was again unsuccessful in 2007. In between these years I'd made the WCML promotional video which was a lot more relevant and of contemporary interest. 

"The idea was not favourably received by the powers that be..." he adds "The country was still on the New Labour honeymoon and all that Marxist stuff was surely bygone history? 'Thanks but no thanks' from potential funders was the response, and I gave up." (see John's original treatment for the film on his website – click here).

Fast forward ten years and Engels is suddenly being 'rediscovered' in the form of statues, which is the last thing the revolutionary communist actually wanted.

First up, in September last year, was the unveiling of Engels' Beard, climbing wall at Salford University, dismissed by journalist Rachel Broady as a "kitsch, ironic hipster beard joke that's gone too far..." (see here)

All the dignitaries were there for its unveiling, as, no doubt, they will be this evening when 'Turner Prize-nominated artist', Phil Collins, holds his 'Ceremony' (get the Joy Division reference) event at the NCP Bridgewater Hall Car Park, with the statue being plonked in Tony Wilson Place near HOME in Manchester.

As well as the unveiling of the statue there's a film about the artist carting the thing across Europe from a yard in Maryanivka, Ukraine, interspersed with music and stuff.

The sold out event has been commissioned by the Manchester International Festival (MIF), which is calling the Engels happening "a singular moment in the city's history"...

Anyone who knows anything about Engels, including the artist himself, understands the irony of lauding Engels, just when the horrific Victorian conditions he exposed in the 1840s are, relatively, just as present now.

This month alone saw the brutal eviction of homeless people occupying the Hostspur Press building - a stone's throw away from Engels' poverty central Little Ireland - to make way for more unaffordable luxury apartment buildings and retail opportunities.

The wealth divide in both Manchester and Salford is now huge and growing...as billionaires and big business sculpt the cities, with the complicity of Salford Council and Manchester Council.**

...And in the midst of all this are a couple of old beardy statues, when Engels himself was in his twenties when he first arrived here, and said on his deathbed that his memorial would be his work - Marxism and the 'triumph of communism'.

...At the Working Class Movement Library in Salford there's currently an exhibition running on The Life and Works of Marx and Engels. Here, there's no songs and dances, no statues and no celeb artists – just a quiet contemplation of the revolutionary twosome.

The exhibition gives people a chance to check out what Marx and Engels actually wrote; and to decide for themselves whether "naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation" of the working class still exists. And whether "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of the class struggle" still applies (see Salford Star review – click here).

It's a long way from the sterile HOME, where you feel like you have to dress up just to walk past...and where the past is being dressed up for, what Broady calls, 'kitsch, ironic hipsters'...


Ceremony will be screened live by MIF tonight at around 6pm – click here

*See huge Salford Star special on Friedrich Engels – Are You Ready For Freddy? – click here for part one and follow the links

**See previous Salford Star article: Homeless Plight in the Midst of £650million Developments – click here ; Homeless Evicted From NOMA - click here and see Manchester Council get a Mary Burns Award - click here


MIF has also 'rediscovered' Engels' partner Mary Burns – and produced a short film and sculpture – see here. The Salford Star's parent company, Mary Burns, was named in her honour – for full details click here


UPDATE: 7pm 16th July - Salford Trades Council walks out of 'bourgeois' Engels statue unveiling ceremony which it states is a 'travesty' and a 'disgrace' - click here


* Main graphic shows Engels by Matt Carroll of Central Station Design, commissioned by the Salford Star in 2007

Anon wrote
at 06:37:19 on 21 July 2017
Jeff Grimshaw, I never forgot that Engels was from a very wealthy family, I just finished reading his book the condition of the working class in England and got the impression that his concern for the working class and desire for change was genuine, and I don't think I'm wrong.
 
Em3 wrote
at 13:53:41 on 17 July 2017
No - not heard of the Manchester Letter, but have read Eleanor Marx' letters about Mary Burns and how she was the great love of Engel's life - she loved him and informed him about the conditions of the mills + furthermore she was a highly politicised, humorous individual, rather than an exploited female. Perhaps you might give a reference for the letter P.I.G. as I am interested to read it.
 
Jeff Grimshaw wrote
at 07:47:36 on 17 July 2017
Ironic, really, are we forgetting that Engles was from a very wealthy family, they would probably be billionnaires today! Communism was hijacked be the wealthy and was used as yet anither ploy to put working class people in their place. This is the 21st century and we now know that the idealistic communist theories do not work in the real world, the same can be said or full blow capitalism. We need to change the hearts of minds of people at all social and economic levels of society, that greed and exploitation of the many by the few is not acceptable.
 
Anon wrote
at 07:46:58 on 17 July 2017
P.I.G, why don't you explain what you mean by 'sexually exploiting his female workers'?
 
Michael Herbert wrote
at 14:29:48 on 16 July 2017
Excellent article, which brings some welcome scepticism into the Engels kitsch fest
 
John Crumpton wrote
at 14:28:58 on 16 July 2017
Thanks for this really thoughtful article about Engels, informing readers where they can find out more about his history, ideas and work. Most importantly it highlights the relevance of his ideas to today's economic and social inequalities. This is in contrast to the current vogue for spending a lot of public money to pay a celebrity artist to drag a clapped-out concrete sculpture of Engels - pictured as an old man with shades of God Almighty perhaps? - from Eastern Europe where his and Marx's ideas were initially adopted - then perverted - by Stalin and the Soviet authorities for their own political ends. This was one of the contradictions I wanted to explore in my film proposal of 17 years ago. Engels as the complete communist and a paragon of self-effacement had no wish for solemn commemoration or visible memorial. For him, there was no desire for the annual procession that takes place on the anniversary of Marx's death at the grave in Highgate Cemetery. A few days before his death Engels told his friends to 'Drink a good bottle of wine on it. That will be a fine memorial to me.' In accordance with his wishes, his cremated ashes were scattered from Beachy Head on the windy summer sea well over a century ago. One of his biographers Grace Carlton comments; ' Engels wanted no material memorial and he looked for nothing but oblivion. His memorial would be Marxism, his immortality the triumph of Communism.' BTW Ceremony for someone who didn't want ceremonies? The proposed new multi-pound high-end arts centre called the Factory? Phil Collins? Any chance of an original name anytime?
 
The P.I.G. (politically incorect green) wrote
at 14:28:38 on 16 July 2017
Fantastic idea this. What an expert piece of thinking. I can see this being a great tourist attraction. Countless busloads of Polish ,Hungarian and other former eastern block communist states, all coming to pay homage to the image of this great man. This man was a giant in the world of politically incorect thinking. In the spare time he had in between sexually exploiting his female workers, he managed to write what is known as "the Manchester letter". I was first told of this document 27 years ago whilst in Poland. When I was told of its content,I thought that someone had made a mistake as it sounded more in keeping with Adolf Hitlers view of the world. For all you lefties out there, just read it, then come back with your comments. i would like to hear what you have to say. The thing is though, will the Star print my comment. I am sure the editor of the Star would know of "The Manchester Letter". Will he make a comment on this?
 
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