[Debate] In praise of Engels
pwaterma at inter.nl.net
Tue Jun 23 10:01:49 BST 2009
'Vile' seems to me too good a word to waste on someone who should be
trashing notables for some salivating celeb mag. Maybe one sub-titled
'Superficiality Rules OK' (or 'UK').
Reading the other reviews of this book, I get the impression that
Tristam Hunt reveals the contradictory life of a capitalist socialist.
If so, he has done both Engels and us a service.
The various traditional models of this far from exceptional figure have
been equally superficial and damaging. I once wrote a piece on
'internationalists in the americas', with a part on Rigoberta Menchu,
who was then subject of sharp controversy in the US. I also mentioned
Che. My title or subtitle was: 'Saints, Sinners or Companyer at s'
('Companyero' is the Spanish, for comrade, the @ sign makes it fe/male).
The argument was, as might be suggested, to see such figures as
Rigoberta (from the indigenous poor) or Che (from the urban middle
class) neither as the first or the second but rather as the third; as
friends, companions, fellow travellers on the long march toward social
emancipation on a world scale. ('Companyer@', incidentally, is distinct
from the Spanish word 'camarada') adopted by Communists, and therefore
confining these to Party members and, maybe, 'fellow travellers' in the
And here's a point that maybe neither the reviewers nor Hunt makes. That
there is a temptation, if not a compulsion, for the relatively wealthy
(capitalist, aristo, middle class) socialist to project his/her desires
onto the working class, the poor, the women, the 'wretched of the
earth'. The relatively wealthy radical/revolutionary has typically
broken with his/her class or state-defined nation, often despises and
condemns it as the source of exploitation, oppression, discrimination.
Marx and Engels certainly did this with the modern, urban, concentrated
mass of their day, socialised by capital into collective and cooperative
behaviour (capitalism producing its own grave-diggers, right?).
When, in their lifetime, the working class failed to act out in
accordance to their dreams, desires - and particularly their analyses -
M&E rationalised this in hand-me-down, untheorised language: 'labour
aristocracy', 'semi-proletarianised peasantry', 'lumpen proletariat'.
The first and third of these, if not the second, are still in use today,
as if their utterance by M&E sanctified their utterance.
If Tristam Hunt helps us to see Engels as a companyero, rather than
either a saint or a sinner, then this would be a welcome addition to
Helena Sheehan wrote:
> That review is vile and not justified by either the facts or the book.
> Gus Gosling wrote:
>> The champagne Marxist
>> Wednesday, 3rd June 2009
>> Jane Ridley
>> THE FROCK-COATED COMMUNIST
>> Tristram Hunt
>> Allen Lane, 443pp, Â£25
>> Marx is back in fashion. For decades Marxists have been an endangered
>> species, but now the collapse of capitalism has caused a revival in
>> their stock and Das Kapital tops the German bestseller lists. Tristram
>> Huntâ€™s biography of Karl Marxâ€™s shadowy collaborator Friedrich Engels
>> could hardly be more timely.
>> â€˜Marx was a genius,â€™ declared Engels, â€˜we others were at best
>> talented.â€™ Engels was a socialist hack who had the nous to attach
>> himself to the genius Marx. It was his friendship with Marx that
>> differentiated him from the other would-be revolutionaries, now long
>> forgotten, who sat up drinking and arguing until 3 a.m. in the bars of
>> Brussels in the 1840s. But as Tristram Hunt makes clear, Engels was
>> not just Marxâ€™s stooge. Without Engels, Marx might never have made it.
>> The two men were bonded by a co-dependent relationship that in many
>> ways resembled a marriage.
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