Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Service, Robert. "The Frock-Coated Communist: the Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels." TIMES April 26, 2009.
Hunt, Tristram. The Frock-Coated Communist. London: Allen Lane, 2009. Alone amid the Manchester 19th-century “cottonocracy”, Friedrich Engels hoped for the British economy’s collapse and was carefree about losing his fortune forever. That alone would have made him the most extraordinary capitalist. But of course we have a further reason to remember him: Engels and his friend Karl Marx were communists. Together they developed a theory proclaiming the inevitable fall of capitalism; and neither of them would have been as surprised as most of our financial commentators have been by the world economy’s vulnerability to the rapacity and irresponsibility of bankers. As Tristram Hunt’s excellent book emphasises, Engels was nearly 50 before he left the offices of Ermen & Engels in the north of England and dedicated himself full-time to the revolutionary cause. Born into an industrialist’s family in the Rhineland in 1820, he horrified his parents with his radical beliefs. He took a break from his capitalist functions in the mid-1840s and wrote The Communist Manifesto with Marx. Returning to Germany in 1848 when revolutions broke out in Europe, he saw armed action before their suppression. He had always been an involuntary factory owner. Without agreeing to tend his German father’s business interests in Manchester he would have lacked the income for himself and Marx to live in the comfort they took as their right. The profligate Marx was constantly on the edge of penury. Engels counted his pennies (or rather his tens of thousands of pounds) more carefully but did not stint in his pleasures. He rode out regularly with the prestigious and costly Cheshire Hounds. He drank wine of quality and Pilsner beer in quantity. He treated himself to bevies of young women, including prostitutes. He dressed in fashion. Engels kept up bourgeois appearances by holding his capitalist and communist lives separate. The frock-coated German industrialist bought a second home in Manchester where he installed his fiery Irish mistress Mary Burns and welcomed his socialist comrades. Mary’s sister Lizzy took her place as his lover when she died. Northern industrialists knew he was a “red” but Engels was discreet about his political and sexual activity and avoided social ostracism. After 1869, when the Ermen brothers bought him out of the business, he moved to London and continued to flourish handsomely through judicious investments. He was one of those coupon- snipping rentiers that he and Marx subjected to withering contempt in their pamphlets. . . . Read the whole review here: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/non-fiction/article6154072.ece.