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Exhibition Review: The Life & Work of Marx & Engels

Friedrich Engels spent most of his working life in Manchester and Salford, and was frequently visited there by Karl Marx. Now the Working Class Movement Library in Salford is hosting an exhibition on their lives and work, on till the end of September. Sadly, though, there is apparently little hard evidence for the oft-told story that the two of them drank together in the pub now called The Crescent, a couple of hundred yards from the Library.

The exhibition consists mainly of copies of various works by and about Marx and Engels, plus information boards. The topics covered include the two men’s backgrounds and upbringing, their families and personal lives, their political activities and the historical and economic background to these. There are photos, taken as they were being demolished, of the streets where the father of Lizzie and Mary Burns (Engels’ partners) lived. Various copies of the Communist Manifesto are displayed, including the one published on its centenary in 1948 by the Socialist Party.

The fair point is made that the main legacy of Marx and Engels ‘was not a political programme or doctrine, but a detailed methodology for further inquiry.’ It is also noted that it needs to be discussed whether Marxism is responsible for the crimes of Stalin and Mao, but disappointingly nothing more is said on this matter: after all, the straightforward conclusion is that Marxist ideas are in no way to blame. Importantly, it is made clear that Marx and Engels considered that the emancipation of the working class was the task of the working class itself (as in Clause 5 of the Socialist Party’s Declaration of Principles), and this is contrasted with Lenin’s view that socialist consciousness had to be brought to the working class from outside.

All in all, an informative exhibition which displays a range of books and other documents from the Library’s collections. A pamphlet containing the wording of the information boards and some illustrations is available from the Library (51 Crescent, Salford M5 4WX; www.wcml.org.uk).

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