What The F***king Hell Is That?
"Kitsch approaches to significant political figures aren't engaging or community-spirited, they're shallow and exploitative..." Rachel Broady
For anyone who doesn't know who Friedrich Engels is, here's a few facts...
* He worked at his father's mill in Weaste between 1842 and 1844, and between 1850 and 1870.
* During that time he lived a double life as a `bourgeois' and a revolutionary, who firstly documented absolute poverty in Salford and Manchester in his book The Conditions of the Working Class in England, age 25, and, later wrote The Communist Manifesto with Karl Marx, at the age of 28, amongst loads of other works and deeds.
* Engels lived all over Manchester in official and unofficial addresses to avoid the secret police
* With Marx, he demystified capitalism and the "basic evil" of exploitation which we are still living with today
* Engels and Marx inspired revolutions all over the world which led to portraits of them being paraded like gods, particularly in the so-called `Communist' Eastern bloc. To help with the reverence Engels was portrayed as a `wise old man' with a huge beard – even though, when he wrote his hard-core political pamphlets and books in Salford and Manchester he was still in his twenties and thirties, and didn't actually have a full beard, only a goatee.
* Engels' legacy in Salford has so far been limited to a towerblock named after him in Eccles and the M602 which goes straight over the family mill.
Friedrich Engels' latest legacy is a huge sculpture called Engels' Beard, unveiled yesterday outside the University of Salford's New Adelphi arts campus. The 'Beard also doubles as a climbing wall, with its artist, Jai Redman from Engine, saying the sculpture, costing a reported £60,000, is "paying homage to Engels' huge influence".
One of Engels' top legacies was an essay he wrote called The Housing Question in 1887, pointing out how the centre of cities indulge in social cleansing by driving out the working class in the name of "beautifying the town"...and how housing for the working class becomes "rare and expensive and often altogether unobtainable".
...Why, he could even be describing Salford and Manchester today, and particularly Greengate, where Engine has recently developed ArtWork, "a studio and exhibition space", with "support from Renaker Build", according to the Engels' Beard press release. Renaker has avoided paying almost £4million in planning fees to Salford City Council on its unaffordable Wilburn Basin apartment blocks near Ordsall and its Private Sector Rent apartment towers in Greengate.
Meanwhile journalist Rachel Broady, who also lectures at Manchester Met University and whose PhD is in journalistic representations of political protests by Manchester Victorian workers, has slammed everything about Engels' Beard...
"Using Engels as fodder for regeneration nostalgia is the worst way he can be remembered" she says "Engels didn't want a statue, he made this clear, so this pretence to celebrate his work is doubly insulting.
"At a time when Salford children are experiencing increasing poverty and a rise in Victorian diseases, I think as a city we should look more closely at the work of Engels, instead we're invited to climb his face in what seems to be an ironic beard joke that's gone too far" she explains "I suspect the beard joke came before the decision to `celebrate' Engels, to tap into a recent hipster trend. I find it frustrating and cynical.
"Engels' contribution to this city was huge but this literal play on 'standing on the shoulders of giants' offers nothing to explain why his work is as relevant today as it always was" she adds "Kitsch approaches to significant political figures aren't engaging or community-spirited, they're shallow and exploitative; they don't contribute to a wider or contemporary understanding of philosophy or our city's history but instead reduce both to a wry playground giggle; worse still a tourism or promotional tool, within which Engels' worth is lost.
"I hope that it is used by local children, to give it some value" she concludes "but ultimately it adds nothing to our city's need to remain connected to its political history. We just see Engels as someone literally to be walked all over."
Top author and historian of Manchester and Salford's working class movements, Michael Herbert, also weighed in on Twitter yesterday, tweeting `Salford University puts up a pointless statue to Engels whilst attacking pay and conditions of staff #doublethink'...
*For a full background on Engels and his relationship to Salford see the Salford Star Engels special in print issue 6 or click here and follow the links
Photos by Andrew Goudie