Thursday, January 24, 2008

In Karl Marx's Footsteps


by Andy Brooks

Marx in London; Asa Briggs & John Callow, Lawrence & Wishart, London 2008,128pp £9.99.

WE OFTEN FORGET that the founders of scientific socialism spent the most creative parts of their lives in Britain and that the British communist movement can justly claim that its origins go back directly to the work of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.
Twenty-five years ago Prof Asa Briggs helped to redress the balance by writing a guidebook that was designed to accompany the BBC programme Karl Marx in London that was first broadcast in the summer of 1982. Marxists and Londoners could, for the first time, visit Marx’s haunts and retrace the steps he took during the 30 years he spent with his family in the metropolis. In those days Marx’s fame ran throughout eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Asia and Latin America. Now the Soviet Union is no more but, if anything, interest in the life of Karl Marx and his co-worker, Frederick Engels has grown at home and abroad.
This long overdue second edition, revised with the able help of John Callow, the secretary of the Marx Memorial Library, will help a new generation to reach out and touch the life of the founder of scientific socialism. Marx in London is fully illustrated with photos, maps and prints along with transport details to places of interest while the text gives a potted history of Marx and London life in the late 19th century.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, there is no museum in London dedicated to the life and times of Marx and Engels. But their memory lives on in the streets and houses they knew so well. Some are remembered with the odd blue plaque – others would be passed unnoticed without the help of this excellent guidebook.
Marx lived in London from 1849 until his death in 1883 and you can travel back in time with this guide to those heady days so full of hope, revolution and struggle. But it wasn’t all bread and roses but a struggle for day-to-day existence because Marx’s early days in London were those of abject poverty.
Evicted from their lodgings in Chelsea, the Marx family decamped to the German Hotel in Soho which in those days was the home of many revolutionary exiles from Germany Austria, Italy and France. They stayed there in April and May 1850 but had to leave again when they were unable to pay the £5-a-week rent. They managed to find rooms in nearby Dean Street before moving to Kentish Town in 1856. Marx’s life is then traced through the landmarks of his life and those of his old friend Engels, who moved to London in 1870 until his own death in 1985.
Well-known sites include the British Museum Reading Room, where Marx worked on Capital, Covent Garden, where the meetings of the First International took place, Hampstead Heath, where Marx and his friends spent family Sundays and of course, his last resting place at Highgate Cemetery.
The book is published in association with the Marx Memorial Library and copies are available from the Library at a special price of £8.99 plus £2 postage.