The following is a guest post by the Rev Dr Peter Mullen, Hon. Chaplain of The Freedom Association.
The BBC is in festive mode as it celebrates the centenary of Bolshevik Revolution. Laurie Taylor was at it again yesterday on Thinking Aloud. How can all the pundits fly in the face of all the evidence and suggest that the Communist Revolution was anything but a catastrophe? The reign of terror began immediately under Lenin and, by the time of Stalin’s death in 1953, anything between 40-60 million of their countrymen had been slaughtered in the purges and genocides. Apologists for Communism claim that it was a beautiful idea corrupted by the lust for power of the dictators. Eric Hobsbawn, an historian garlanded with the Order of Merit, said that all the millions of deaths under Stalin would have been a price worth paying if the great Communist experiment had delivered the goods. How could it? The only results of Soviet Communism – or Chinese Communism for that matter – were famine, terror and death. But let us go further back and look at the founders of Communism, Marx and Engels, and see if we can find anything in these two to admire.
Marx famously said: “Capitalists are parasites on the working class. All property is theft.”
But he so quickly discovered that, in order to be a seriously successful socialist egalitarian, one needs a good start in life, and in this he was most fortunate. His father was a multi-millionaire and owned many fine vineyards in the Moselle, while his mother came from a wealthy family of factory-owners who would eventually found the Philips Electronics Company. So Karl enjoyed a privileged upbringing and was able to attend Bonn and Berlin universities and turn his mind to planning the Communist Revolution. It was unkind of the authorities to disapprove of his political programme and he was obliged to flee to London.
Marx found that a true prophet of communism requires not merely a sound financial foundation on which to build his programme, but further considerable provision to sustain his aims to abolish all privilege and create the conditions for the flourishing of the working class and the eventual dictatorship of the proletariat. So once again he thanked God – but of course he taught that there is no God – for his uncle Ben Philips, the wealthy financier, who bankrolled him while he was dedicating himself to revolutionary socialism in Soho.
He knew too that it was important for him, as the aspiring leader of the workers of the world, to marry into the aristocracy. Once again he was well looked after, for he became engaged to Baroness Jenny von Westphalen who subsequently became his wife. They had children, two daughters Karl nicknamed Qui Qui, Emperor of China and Kakadou the Hottentot. And he instructed all his children to address him as Old Nick. But then, alas! He began to worry about what would become of his children after his death. How reassuring then when Friedrich Engels, his lifelong friend and co-author of The Communist Manifesto, promised to leave them a substantial portion of his $4.8million estate. As Marx and Engels always said: you can’t beat class solidarity! Friedrich lived in Manchester and Liverpool for some years and wrote his Conditions of the Working Class in England in 1844. Thus comfortably landed, Engels repeated Karl’s slogan “Property is theft” – except when it belongs to aspiring Communists.
Karl was certain that Russia’s rural commune – “once all the pernicious influences have been eliminated” – would form the basis of his communist utopia. And, because he was such an amazing visionary, he predicted that in the 20th century a man would arise in Russia who would exceed anyone in history in the elimination of…well, of nearly everybody actually.
As his bestowing of those nicknames on his girls demonstrates, Marx was no humourless academic philosopher. And in his last years he recalled with affection his trip to Bonn with his friend Bauer and how they were pissed for days on end, got thrown out of church for laughing at the Lutheran Pastor. They ended up charging through the narrow streets on donkeys and terrifying the locals!
There was more naked capitalism in Marx and Spencer than you’ll ever find in Marks & Spencer.
All those riches and worldly success achieved by Marx, the great class warrior – and at the last he managed to secure for himself the biggest memorial in Highgate cemetery.
His friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels enjoyed a similarly favoured childhood. His father, an evangelical Christian, was a wealthy cotton merchant in Wuppertal and Friedrich was brought up in a pious household which he quickly learned to despise. He dropped out of school and became an atheist and street rowdy for revolution, to the distress of his mother who wrote to him one day: “You have paid more heed to other people, to strangers, and have taken no account of your mother's pleas. God alone knows what I have felt and suffered of late. I was trembling when I picked up the newspaper and saw therein that a warrant was out for my son's arrest.”
Fred said, “To get the most out of life you must be active, you must live and you must have the courage to taste the thrill of being young.”
In 1842 his parents sent him to Manchester to work in the offices of Ermen and Engels' Victoria Mill which made sewing threads. On his way he visited the office of the Rheinische Zeitung and met Karl Marx. At first they didn’t like each other. Marx thought that Engels was still mixing with the Berliner Young Hegelians; and Marx had just fallen out with them. None of the socialist sects and parties got on with one another: in fact they hated rival socialists more than they hated the capitalists, in much the same way that in the film The Life of Brian the Judean People’s Front hated the People’s Front of Judea more than they hated the Romans.
At Manchester he met Mary Burns, a young working woman who shared his radical opinions. She was witty and drank a lot. She showed him round all the roughest spots in Salford and they shacked up together for twenty years until her death from drink at the age of only forty-one. They never got wed for they both regarded the bourgeois institution of marriage, promoted as it is by both church and state, as “one of the biggest forms of class oppression.” But when opportunity arose, Engels had the mental agility to ditch his principles with ease. When Mary died, he married her sister Lizzie.
He wrote Conditions of the Working Class in England in 1844 - about squalor and the grim future guaranteed by capitalism in the industrial age.
He then went to Paris and made up his differences with Marx and told him that the working class would lead the revolution against the bourgeoisie as society advanced inevitably towards socialism. Marx immediately incorporated Engel’s idea into his own philosophy. Fortunately, Fred was still receiving money from his rich dad, so he could support Marx’s campaign against capitalism. Marx, with the Engels, joined a revolutionary group called the League of the Just and worked to overthrow the French government and set up an egalitarian society. Thrown out of Paris, they settled in Brussels, joined the Communist League, wrote The Communist Manifesto and issued their call to arms: “A spectre is stalking Europe. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletariat have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win ... Working Men of All Countries, Unite!”
Cologne next, where they stirred up revolution as best they could. Again his mother wasn’t at all pleased and she wrote to him again: “Your parents hope and pray that you decide to turn to activities other than those which you have been pursing in recent years and which have caused so much distress. Give up your revolutionary agitating and take yourself off to America out of harm’s way. If you don’t mend your ways, you’ll get no more money from us!”
With Marx, he escaped to London, but the Prussian government held a warrant for his arrest together with a reward for help leading to his capture. The authorities put out his description: “Height: 5 feet 6 inches; hair blond; forehead smooth; eyebrows blond; eyes blue; nose and mouth well-proportioned; beard reddish; chin oval; face oval; complexion healthy; figure slender. Special characteristics: speaks very rapidly and is short-sighted.” Engels was not worried about his short-sightedness, “… as my eye trouble renders me completely unfit for active service of any sort.”
Having made it to Britain, he decided to re-enter the Manchester company, part-owned by his father. In this way, he was able to support Marx financially, so that he could work on Das Kapital. He worked his way up the business ladder and eventually was made a partner in the firm – which provided a lot more capital and left him more time for his writings about the pressing need for an egalitarian society.
Marx and Engels together schemed to instigate an aristocratic-bourgeois revolution in Russia which would begin in St. Petersburg with a resulting civil war throughout the country. Did he not fear that the working class would suffer greatly in such a war? “Yes, but their victory was always inevitable.” And, as Marx’s disciple Stalin said, “One man’s death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”
Engels moved to London to be closer to Marx and found for himself a nice house in a desirable part of the city: 122 Regent's Park Road, Primrose Hill NW1. By living where he did, he established a happy precedent for generations of Communists to come. He was no drab, dull economic scientist but a lover of poetry and fox-hunting, and playing host to regular Sunday parties for London's left-wing intelligentsia “…where no one leaves before two or three in the morning.” His stated personal motto was “Take it easy, and jollity is my idea of virtue.”
In his will, he declared that he wished to be cremated in Woking and his ashes scattered off Beachy Head. Marx and Engels raised personal hypocrisy to an art form. Communism never had a garden of Eden period: it was verminous from the start.
All views expressed in contributions by named authors are their own and may not reflect the views of The Freedom Association.