"There's no such thing as an original idea, there's only an idea whose time has come?"       

Gary Herman misquoting Victor Hugo 2017

The Hunt for Engels was the working title of a proposed video project. It was about my attempt to obtain a statue of Friedrich Engels from Eastern Europe and have it installed in Manchester as a testament to his years spent in the city.

I researched and wrote a treatment but was unable to raise funds to make it in 2000 and was again unsuccessful in 2007. In between these years I'd made the wcml promotional video which was a lot more relevant and of contemporary interest. 

The idea was not favourably received by the powers that be and approve or turn down production commissions. The country was still on the New Labour honeymoon and all that Marxist stuff  was surely bygone history?

Thanks but no thanks from potential funders was the response and I gave up. 

In light of Phil Collins project at the Manchester International Festival 2017 I have revisited my bottom draw and decided to publish the original treatment and the follow up seven years later. There are a number of similarities so for the record it can be read below. 

 Frederick Engels visiting a workers' quarter in Manchester

THE HUNT FOR ENGELS - A VIDEO PROPOSAL 2000

The Past

Frederick Engels, the famous socialist philosopher (1820-1895) was resident in Manchester for more than twenty years. He first arrived in December 1842 at the hardest of all times in the city's economic history with massive distress among the mill workers, falling wages and job losses. Manchester was at the bottom of an economic roller coaster of boom and slump, creating instability for masters and men alike. The Manchester Times described the situation as 'absolutely frightful' with 'Hungry and half-clothed men and women stalking through the streets of the manufacturing districts begging for bread.'

Manchester, a city at the vanguard of the industrial revolution had descended into near anarchy as mobs battled with militia on the streets.

Into this chaos came Frederich Engels, who on the wish of his father was being prepared for a career in the family's textile factory back home in Barmen, Germany. He was to witness first hand the workings of his father's second factory, the cotton company Ermen & Engels and was based at their warehouse and offices just a short walk from the Royal Exchange. Although firmly positioned in the bourgeois world of commerce, whilst in Manchester Engels established strong links with local Chartists and other subversives and engaged in a clandestine relationship and set up home with Mary Burns a local Irish factory girl.

Consequently he fluctuated between this group of the prosperous business classes and the world of the poor who made such wealth possible. These links across the social divide presented Engels with a unique perspective from which to observe the life of the industrial city. During his wanderings around the city Engels found traumatic evidence of the appalling social conditions that the mass of Manchester's working inhabitants endured.

  Engels talks to a factory worker (from Frederick Engels. His Life and Work)

""I forsook the company and the dinner parties champaign (sic) of the middle-classes " Engels wrote in his address To the Working Classes of Great Britain " and devoted my leisure hours almost exclusively to the intercourse with plain working men: I am both glad and pround of having done so. Glad, because thus I was induced to spend many a happy hour in obtaining a knowledge of the realities of life...proud, because thus I got the opportunity of doing justice to an oppressed and calumniated class of men..having at the same time, ample opportunity to watch the middle classes, your opponents, I soon came to the conclusion that you are right, perfectly right in expecting no support whatever from them. Their interest is diametrically opposed to yours, though they always will try to maintain the contrary and to make you believe in their most hearty sympathy with your fates. Their doings give them the lie."

He detailed and analysed this economic situation in his book The Condition of the Working Class in England first published in Leipzig in 1845. The book was a vivid, indignant, eye witness polemic which provided the raw material underpinning Karl Marx's Das Kapital and their later joint works, including The Manifesto of the Communist Party of 1848. His encounter with Marx at this time lead to their life-long friendship and collaboration. He returned to Manchester in 1850 and for the next nineteen years he was tied to the office-work with Ermen & Engels, not from any personal choice but primarily to provide financial and other support to Marx in London so that the latter might devote himself to completing his analytical study of industrial capitalism. After Marx's death Engels was largely responsible for the dissemination of these ideas and he edited the second and third volumes of Das Kapital. These publications became the theoretical 'Bible' for the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and for good or ill, the rest as they say is history.

 

 

The Recent Past

By the beginning of the 1990s and almost a century after Engels' death, events had gone full circle and the once mighty Soviet Empire was coming apart at the seams. The West watched on television as following the collapse of the Berlin Wall many symbols and statues of the Communist Regime came literally crashing down throughout the cities of the Eastern Bloc.

In Manchester one such observer was Christine Derbyshire, then working at the Central Manchester Development Corporation. She set in motion an attempt to find and transfer a statue of Engels to Manchester from the former USSR. Investigating, she discovered that in St. Petersburg, Manchester's twin town, the authorities were well aware of how Engels had used his knowledge of the city to support communist theory and pledged to help the CMDC in the search. Possible sites were discussed. The favoured spot being the triangle in front of the Whitworth Street Fire Station. An enormous statue would fit the scale of the buildings in that area and would overlook the Victorian warehouses; old palaces of capitalist profit now transformed into urban housing.

Unfortunately there were stumbling blocks. 'They couldn't find a statue' says Christine Derbyshire, 'Engels is a very hard statue to get, Engels may not exist.' Further investigations were not exhaustive and were curtailed further not just by the CMDC's dissolution in 1996 but also by the intervention of an IRA bomb which devastated the Manchester city centre a few weeks later that same year. Consequently with a whole new agenda of problems and priorities to deal with the search for a statue was dropped well down the list and has remained there since.

The Present and the Future

So is there any point to day in celebrating a socialist thinker whose time has been and gone? In the age of the Internet, global capitalism, New Labour and the pre-eminence of the tourism and heritage industries does Engels and his ideas still have any relevance? The answer is a resounding 'yes'.

Many Mancunians and Salfordians that I have spoken with have answered in the affirmative believing that the time has come to erect a memorial to this renowned adoptive son of the city and it is to this end that it is proposed to revive the quest to find a statue with renewed vigour.

Pinning down concrete evidence as to how far the previous inquiries to locate a statue has proved problematic. A very thin folder if it exists at all is filed between hens' teeth and rocking horse droppings somewhere in the countless filing cabinets of the labyrinth of local authority departments. Most of the development officers connected with the project although dispersed by the break up of the CMDC are however still around in the North West and could be interviewed on camera as to what happened five years ago.

In addition there are individuals in the Town Hall, elected councillors and paid officials alike who would like to see Engels given a more substantial memorial than the blue plaque on the wall of Aberdeen House commemorating the fact that he lived on the site. It is significant that unlike his fellow German émigré Charles Halle, Engels has only this memorial in the city and all of the houses associated with him during his many years in Manchester have been lost; the last standing at 51 Richmond Grove being demolished in 1982.

There are certainly a number of local historians and writers most notably Ruth Frow, Roy Whitfield, Mike Herbert and Dave Haslam (whose research in his book Manchester England has been inspirational) who can supply testimony as to Engels relationship to the city. I have also been in contact with business people who have contacts in Eastern Europe and who could make the necessary initial approaches to the relevant parties.

What is needed now is a project champion, an individual with charisma who could bring together and motivate the wide range of interested people and make the dream a reality. The video would be a record of their progress in locating, negotiating, securing, transporting and finally erecting in Manchester the Engels Statue if it can be found.

Filming in Eastern Europe would be undertaken including footage at the Szoborpark Statue Park in Budapest, or similar Russian location, which will help explain and illustrate the history and background of 'official' painting and sculpture beloved by totalitarian regimes of all political shades. Indications are strong that there is plenty of news coverage available of people pulling down these monuments in the early nineties.

Bearing in mind budgetary considerations it may be possible to dramatically reconstruct key incidents in Engels' life and this could be a thread recurring throughout the programme. Further research will be needed to find out what has been written on the subject.

Within all this material there remains a basic paradox that should be explored. As the complete communist and a paragon of self-effacement Engels had no wish for solemn commemoration or visible memorial. For him there was no desire for the annual procession that takes place on the anniversary of Marx's death at the grave in Highgate Cemetery. A few days before his death Engels told his friends to 'Drink a good bottle of wine on it. That will be a fine memorial to me.' In accordance with his wishes his cremated ashes were scattered from Beachy Head on the windy summer sea over a century ago. One of his biographers Grace Carlton comments; ' Engels wanted no material memorial and he looked for nothing but oblivion. His memorial would be Marxism, his immortality the triumph of Communism.'

c.John Crumpton

19th Sept.2000

Postscript 2007 - The original copy for my website

The Hunt for Engels was yet another of my video proposals now struggling for survival in the bottom draw of my office filing cabinet.

Despite promising initial research, the transformation from idea on paper to moving picture on screen was never realized.

It proved too difficult to find funding, even in these post-modern, super-ironic times of ours.

All was not lost however and several good things did come from it.

Most notably the relationship I developed with members of the Working Class Movement Library in Salford - Ruth Frow, Stephen Kingston, Bernadette Hyland and Michael Herbert in particular, which led to the making of Past-Present-Future for them a few years later.

In addition I did get to know and interview on camera the remarkable Roy Whitfield who had spent 20 years trawling through property deeds, census forms and housing lists to establish Engels whereabouts within the city.

Engels wanted this information kept hidden during his lifetime and went to great lengths to keep it secret. Roy's painstaking detective work is a story in its own right, ripe for the telling.

Post-Postscript 2017

There's a place for us.....?

Somewhere a place for us... 

 

Peace and quiet....The empty alcove in Manchester Town Hall - see ref. below

Background from a later (unsuccesful) submission for funding in 2000.

People as well as pigeons can enjoy statues. The relationship between public statuary and civic consciousness is complex and always subject to change. How did the Manchester middle classes, the subscribers to statuary schemes in the Victorian period perceive the social purpose of art? Fortunately light has been shed by various writers- Janet Wolff in The Culture of Capital and more specifically regarding Manchester in A Walk round Manchester Statues by Derek Brumhead. He writes, "Monuments recalling the working class history of the town were few in number. Memorials to Henry Hunt in Ancoats (1842) and Ernest Jones in Ardwick (1871) were in cemeteries; sites which did not save them from demolition. The idea put forward in the 1880s for a more public monument in Steveson Square, celebrating the city's working class was probably beyond the pockets of the workers even had the City Fathers been agreeable. In spite of calls made ever since the event, Manchester still awaits a suitable monument on the site of the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. Queen Victoria excepted, no statue was erected to a woman. Proposals for statues to Lydia Becker, Elizabeth Gaskell and Mrs Linnaeus Banks were unsuccessful. Even today Mancunians have to visit London to see a statue of Mrs Pankhurst."

The first statue to a literary figure and working class man, dialect writer Ben Brierlley (1825-96) lies vandalised and awaiting repair in a hut in Heaton Park with little hope that he will ever return to his pedestal.

In contrast to the Victorian years it was largely public money which financed the public sculpture of the 1980s as focal points were sought and created for newly pedestrianised areas and the city that declared itself nuclear-free opened peace parks and commissioned peace sculptures.

Within the visually stunning Manchester Town Hall there exists countless depictions of the great and the good but amongst them there stands a vacant niche in the Great Hall.

"No realistic offer of a statue to fill it came before the Council. So for over a 100 years this niche has remained unoccupied, the most public reminder that the internal decorations of Manchester's municipal palace await completion", laments Derek Brumhead.

Step forward Freidrich Engels perhaps?

Finally a fragment from my proposed shooting script 2000

Fade up from black to reveal a digitally created statue of the young Friedrich Engels standing sixty feet high and straddling the Metrolink tramline outside Piccadilly Station like a cross between the Colossus of Rhodes and Godzilla.

The statue speaks,

"I have been transplanted into a whole New World. I will leave them something to remember me by."

A caption scrolls through frame, it reads:

"Few men who have lived in Manchester have had a greater influence on the course of world history than Friedrich."