The Frock-Coated Communist: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels

The Frock-Coated Communist: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels

Tristram Hunt

Language: English

Pages: 450

ISBN: B002RI9X9M

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Friedrich Engels is one of the most attractive and contradictory figures of the nineteenth century. Born to a prosperous mercantile family in west Germany, he spent his career working in the Manchester cotton industry, riding to the Cheshire hounds, and enjoying the comfortable, middle-class life of a Victorian gentleman. Yet Engels was also the co-founder of international communism - the philosophy which in the 20th century came to control one third of the human race. He was the co-author of The Communist Manifesto, a ruthless party tactician, and the man who sacrificed his best years so Karl Marx could write Das Kapital. Tristram Hunt relishes the diversity and exuberance of Engels's era: how one of the great bon viveurs of Victorian Britain reconciled his raucous personal life with this uncompromising political philosophy. Set against the backdrop of revolutionary Europe and industrializing England - of Manchester mills, Paris barricades, and East End strikes - it is a story of devoted friendship, class compromise, ideological struggle, and family betrayal.

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tongue of fire, but have you ever defended justice?’ he demanded of the Sage of Weimar whose career he ridiculed for its courtier-like servility towards princes and patrons.45 Börne's cause was cultural and intellectual freedom under a system of modern liberal governance, and he was highly dismissive of the nostalgic forests-and-ruins conservatism of traditional Romanticism. Exiled in Paris, having run foul of Metternich's censors, he moved towards republican politics whilst lobbing sarcastic

generation of trade unions, with their belief in class solidarity and socialist ideology, to the guild-like conservatism of the old craft unions. ‘These new trade unions of unskilled men and women are totally different from the old organizations of the working-class aristocracy and cannot fall into the same conservative ways,’ he told Laura before recounting with almost paternal pride Tussy's role in radicalizing the East End.35 These then were Engels's people: not the SDF demagogues or the

greater good of the communist cause. Over twenty long years, in the prime of his life, he endured a self-loathing existence as a Manchester millocrat in order to allow Marx the resources and freedom to complete Das Kapital. The notion of individual sacrifice, so central to communist self-definition, was there at the movement's birth. This extraordinary deference to Marx's mind made great periods of Engels's adult life a time of painful contradiction. Symbolically, at the heart of the Marxist

directing their attention towards Hess's wife. Sibylle Hess, née Pesch, was, according to Cologne police reports, a former prostitute turned seamstress whom Hess rescued from the gutter as much out of political conviction as emotional attachment – ‘he wished to perform an act expressive of the need for love among men and for equality between them’, according to Isaiah Berlin. However, Sibylle had a wandering eye.74 In July 1846 Engels agreed to help Hess by smuggling the passport-less Mrs Hess

merchant homes of Barmen there was a renewed cultural stress on the value of a tight-knit household. This vehement championing of the family unit expressed itself in an almost suburban ethic: a high-bourgeois desire to draw the curtains tight, seal off the corrupting outside world and seek spiritual renewal in the simple pleasures of domestic ritual – reading, embroidery, pianoforte performances, Christmas celebrations and birthday parties. ‘It is really nice and homely to have a piano!’ Engels's

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