"I once went into Manchester with a bourgeois and spoke to him of the bad, unwholesome method of building, the frightful conditions of the working people's quarters…The man listened quietly and said when we parted 'And yet there is a great deal of money to be made here; good morning sir'…
"All the conditions of life are measured by money, and what brings no money is nonsense, unpractical idealistic bosh!" Friedrich Engels
A few years ago you couldn't buy a positive mention for Friedrich Engels in Manchester or Salford. Every brick of his many rented and secret houses in the areas had been bulldozed, while his former mill in Weaste – surely a world heritage site – had not only been trashed but had the M602 running straight over it.*
The only signs left of Engels in Manchester or Salford was a tower block in Eccles named Engels House, a plaque on the wall of the Toblerones student digs in Manchester and a cardboard notice in the alcove at Chetham's Library where he and Marx researched their theories.
Yet, throughout, the left in Salford and Manchester were trying to keep Engels' spirit alive, with Ruth and Eddie Frow at Salford's Working Class Movement Library (WCML) keeping the only Engels archive in a large drawer, open to anyone who wanted to view it. The authorities, meanwhile, really, really didn't want to know.
In 1995 it was 100 years since Engels died and 150 years since he wrote his seminal book The Condition of the Working Class in England. Neither Manchester nor Salford commemorated any of it.
Indeed, when the then Leader of Manchester City Council, Graham Stringer, was asked whether the Council would maybe put up a banner outside the town hall for the centenary, he explained that it "wasn't in the same league" as the cycle race that was coming through the city that month. (See photos of the MEN article)
Meanwhile, after the fall of the Eastern Bloc in the Nineties, there was an attempt to obtain an Engels statue from St Petersburg, Manchester's twin town, which came to nothing. Then, around the year 2000, BAFTA winning film maker and trade unionist, John Crumpton, had the idea of filming the rescue of a statue and bringing it to Manchester with the provisional title The Hunt For Engels...
"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" says John "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..." he adds "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." (see John's original treatment for the film on his website – click here).
Fast forward ten years and Engels is suddenly being 'rediscovered' in the form of statues, which is the last thing the revolutionary communist actually wanted.
First up, in September last year, was the unveiling of Engels' Beard, climbing wall at Salford University, dismissed by journalist Rachel Broady as a "kitsch, ironic hipster beard joke that's gone too far..." (see here)
All the dignitaries were there for its unveiling, as, no doubt, they will be this evening when 'Turner Prize-nominated artist', Phil Collins, holds his 'Ceremony' (get the Joy Division reference) event at the NCP Bridgewater Hall Car Park, with the statue being plonked in Tony Wilson Place near HOME in Manchester.
As well as the unveiling of the statue there's a film about the artist carting the thing across Europe from a yard in Maryanivka, Ukraine, interspersed with music and stuff.
The sold out event has been commissioned by the Manchester International Festival (MIF), which is calling the Engels happening "a singular moment in the city's history"...
Anyone who knows anything about Engels, including the artist himself, understands the irony of lauding Engels, just when the horrific Victorian conditions he exposed in the 1840s are, relatively, just as present now.
This month alone saw the brutal eviction of homeless people occupying the Hostspur Press building - a stone's throw away from Engels' poverty central Little Ireland - to make way for more unaffordable luxury apartment buildings and retail opportunities.
The wealth divide in both Manchester and Salford is now huge and growing...as billionaires and big business sculpt the cities, with the complicity of Salford Council and Manchester Council.**
...And in the midst of all this are a couple of old beardy statues, when Engels himself was in his twenties when he first arrived here, and said on his deathbed that his memorial would be his work - Marxism and the 'triumph of communism'.
...At the Working Class Movement Library in Salford there's currently an exhibition running on The Life and Works of Marx and Engels. Here, there's no songs and dances, no statues and no celeb artists – just a quiet contemplation of the revolutionary twosome.
The exhibition gives people a chance to check out what Marx and Engels actually wrote; and to decide for themselves whether "naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation" of the working class still exists. And whether "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of the class struggle" still applies (see Salford Star review – click here).
It's a long way from the sterile HOME, where you feel like you have to dress up just to walk past...and where the past is being dressed up for, what Broady calls, 'kitsch, ironic hipsters'...
Ceremony will be screened live by MIF tonight at around 6pm – click here
*See huge Salford Star special on Friedrich Engels – Are You Ready For Freddy? – click here for part one and follow the links
**See previous Salford Star article: Homeless Plight in the Midst of £650million Developments – click here ; Homeless Evicted From NOMA - click here and see Manchester Council get a Mary Burns Award - click here
MIF has also 'rediscovered' Engels' partner Mary Burns – and produced a short film and sculpture – see here. The Salford Star's parent company, Mary Burns, was named in her honour – for full details click here
UPDATE: 7pm 16th July - Salford Trades Council walks out of 'bourgeois' Engels statue unveiling ceremony which it states is a 'travesty' and a 'disgrace' - click here
* Main graphic shows Engels by Matt Carroll of Central Station Design, commissioned by the Salford Star in 2007