Stendhal: The Red and the Black

The Red and the Black traces the fortunes of a gifted and handsome hero, Julien, from his humble origins, the son of a bullying peasant carpenter who despised his son’s intellectual genius, to engagement with the heights of political and social influence in Paris and execution at the age of twenty- one. In the shift from provincial to Parisian mores and society, in all its complexity, the reader witnesses the last throes of the late Bourbon Restoration at the approach of the July Revolution of 1830.

The tale is presented in an easy, fluent style, judging, at least, by Burton Raffel’s translation, that never ceases to entertain, even where Stendhal expresses (in parenthesis) personal doubts about the inclusion, at the behest of his publisher, of limited political explanations. Yet this compulsive read masks a work of sharp conflict, political, moral, personal and sexual, never resolved, and a sad commentary on the misplaced loyalty of devoted women for a deceptively vain and ambitious man. Never once does Julien suffer true remorse, not even at his end, where pride and rank obstinacy prevail over the efforts of those who try to save him. He is a would-be romantic without a cause, save that of his inevitable self-destruction. His father, however cruel and avaricious, was right about him.

Finally, condemned to death, Julien comes face to face with himself. Until then, the reader has only unfocused outlines of what the hero is and what he believes. Now, all becomes clear, not only to the reader, but to Julien also. He confronts all that which motivates life: what people are, wealth and poverty, conscience, power, God’s reputed goodness or vengeance, the politics of revolution and the call of true love … and fails.


Fidelio. Fulfilled Hope in Freedom

Memory of freedoms lost in wild war –
All absent in the cold of love denied.
So gently in this fragile peace restore
An ecstasy methought forever died!

Devoted wife, who ev’ry pain o’ercame
Those heavy shackles from my limbs to loose
Here bless my aspect with your loyal frame
Destroy the unjust scaffold and the noose!

Let mankind now upon this very day –
When liberty, above all evil, gains
One love, one hope – eternally display
A blessed harmony, for heaven reigns.

Draw closer to our Lord of Heav’n and Earth:
Our cares he shoulders by his sacred birth.

Thanks, thanks, and all hail!
To him who comes our chains to sunder.
Justice comes, at length, to give us
Long-lost liberty!

All-Conquering Married Love

In all the strains of music and the mind,
The arch of fate is never far from me,
Where you and I together ever bind
All need of spirit and of ecstasy.

O carry worldliness to heav’n above!
So cast my will, and all I am, to you,
Declared in ways that only speak of love
Aplenty yet, but deem it one in two.

Here lie the promises of hope untam’d,
Forever wild in early purity –
A kindness now by earthly deeds unmaim’d.
Mankind we are and all our destiny.

Find comfort of the soul, the sweetest sound:
Our joys, forever fresh and true, abound.

Duet: Florestan and Leonora

Oh joy oh rapture past expressing!
My love again this bosom pressing!
Throbs this bursting heart!
The world is bright to me
We no more, sweet love, will part
My soul but lives in thee!


In this and the next two posts, I hope, eventually, in some small way, to depict the three pillars of Beethoven’s only opera Fidelio. These are Florestan’s despair in captivity, all-conquering married love and fulfilled hope in freedom.

The language of music and the language of words are one and the same.

Florestan’s Agony

In longing loneliness his love still lives,
Tho’ spurn’d – such painful pangs – in darken’d gloom
By faith, whose terse pursuit of others gives
No quarter, not a space or sharing room
For heaven’s peace to spread its cloaking calm.

Deep prison, where sweet light is but a dream
Cast by thy face. O for a healing balm
To ease these tethers’ sores, a soothing cream!
Small hopes obsess as empty echoes cease.

In closing senses, sleep with nothingness relieves.
No dawn, no hand to smooth old age’s crease
Or lift the burden of the sighs he heaves.

Doubt rents the soul, to yield’s mistaken.
Love is Leonora, death, forsaken.

Peter Ackroyd: London the Biography

Front Cover 2

After the last note of a symphony is sounded, the entire work lingers and we look anew at the world. We turn away from La Gioconda and her lips move as she speaks to us. Close a book, the words rest in the mind and we frame the image.

Such is the human propensity to give and to receive.

But the story of London is incomplete.

Peter Ackroyd’s scholarly and vivid work is full to the brim with fascination, long history and variety.

From the pride in antiquity so understated that its founding symbol, the London Stone – linked maybe with Brutus or Troy – is found sunk obscurely into a wall in Cannon Street, to the degradation, crime and corruption of a city which means so much to me, I sought the personality of this living monster, this killer of grandmothers, this seducer of fathers, this national identifier and international enigma.

London 1630

London, 1630, Before the Great Fire

Ugliness and beauty, wealth and poverty in the extremes, justice and arbitrariness, fairness and corruption, cruelty and compassion all react in one volatile, explosive mass. Horror combines with assurance, risk with security, destitution with pioneering spirit, disease or desperation with promise, rebellion and acceptance, eternity with finality and dejected resignation, loss with discovery. The noise, the noise.

Take the bland office buildings and sandwich bars in Fetter Lane, for instance, and discover the hidden suffering and courage, the persecution of protestant and catholic alike, the gallows at both ends, the first Inn of Chancery and its origins, all now disappeared below. Or ponder upon the Abbey founded by Edward the Confessor at Westminster, where the Thames was forded, and where pagan religion and mystery still infuse the soul of the nation.

The Fleet River c1750. An Italian mask on Squalor and Noise

The Fleet River c1750.
An Italian mask on Squalor and Noise

Choose between the outward beauties or the ravages and filth of the millenia now concealed. Consider how fires and pestilence, war and neglect were not enough to quell its spirit, how the sum is a never-ending theatricality in reality – hear the stunned silence in the crowd after a public execution as the pickpockets operate, how business resumes and the corpse is fought over. Know that Pudding Lane, site of the baker’s shop where the Great Fire of 1666 began, is named after the excrement carried down in leaky carts to the dung barges moored in the Thames. Then you may see how the native is obsessed in a love-hate for his home and how it is a template for the gamut of human experience, ignorance and knowledge, a dark nightmare of insanity, a fantasy dreamland of colour and extremes, a sanctuary of calm, modest courage and reason. Its ancient inheritances bubble up here, there and everywhere but never expectedly, like the ancient artefacts forever being unearthed from its disinterred bowels, disturbed for unceasing growth and expansion. A blank face to an unknowing world, a world drawn by its magnetic influences, evil and benign. Order shields life and chaos, for passivity is the toll of death.

Unceasing in international trade since the Thames was spanned in the first century AD – though its Celtic and bronze age relics disclose origins long before – its markets for mammon and stomach evolved into markets of money itself, secured by the great bullion hoards of the Bank of England. The spread of wealth to the north, south and west and the hegemony of global finance colonised and all but obliterated the massive river port, dense with sea traffic and cargo to the east.

Smithfiels Market. Site of St Bartholomew's Fair

Smithfield Market.
Site of St Bartholomew’s Fair

An independence derives from the power of its commerce, relied upon, to this day, by the country at large, the constitutional monarchy and the national government even, such that it retains the character, say, of an Italian city state. Seafaring begat navigation, navigation begat astronomy, astronomy begat scientific discovery. spurred by Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum. See for yourself at Greenwich.

And wealth led to the cleansing and lighting of streets, great building projects, magnificent public and institutional buildings, churches greater in number than any city in Europe – a city viewed by Canaletto from Westminster Bridge as Italianate, masking a wretchedness and poverty on every street corner – devastated by German bombs. The centre of international trade, London became the centre of empire, but also a dream of democracy, freedom, justice, mercy and equality before the law, standards marred by human trafficking and the bloodthirsty spectacle of those public hangings all over the city as well as at the ancient site of Tyburn.

Turner Paints Parliament on Fire, 1834.

Turner Paints Parliament on Fire, 1834.

A city that rose again many times from the ashes. Moscow, did you know, was rebuilt, after Napoleon burned it, on London ash, ash gathered from a rubbish dump at King’s Cross and, inevitably, sold for profit.

Food stalls with excrement stored beneath, ubiquitous, scruffy coffee houses requisitioned for business, the city guilds, the fairs, festivals and street musicians, all with echoes to the present day.

So the story must continue, and I must continue to read.

Flowerseller in Piccadilly. Circus see the suffering in her eyes.

Flowerseller in Piccadilly Circus. See the suffering in her eyes.

[Images reproduced from the book]

Wordsworth: The Lucy Poems

Purpose and spontaneity together are the drivers of the poetical art. Without one or the other, there is no illumination, no novelty, no muse to reconcile the irreconcilable.

Do not try to analyse the poems, interpret them or identify to whom they might refer. The poet may not himself know. He did not write them as a series. He is a mere messenger of the divine, a purveyor of the balm which eases the shared agony of human awareness and promises the infinite. Human love, Nature, longing for home all carry the inner pain of unattainable paradise, brought to a near unbearable intensity by his imagery.

We are shown a beautiful maiden, the object of an obsessive love. There is no rival for she lives in a remote cottage, communing only with Nature. Patiently her sole admirer waits as she blossoms into womanhood. Destiny, though, decrees that his passion is not to be consummated. Nature claims her and subdues her will: she dies and they blend in earthly union. Her human lover is left with the embrace of the meadow in which her body lies. Though now away, he will return and never leave again.


Strange fits of passion have I known:
And I will dare to tell,
But in the lover’s ear alone,
What once to me befell.

When she I loved look’d every day
Fresh as a rose in June,
I to her cottage bent my way,
Beneath an evening moon.

Upon the moon I fix’d my eye,
All over the wide lea;
With quickening pace my horse drew nigh
Those paths so dear to me.

And now we reach’d the orchard-plot;
And, as we climb’d the hill,
The sinking moon to Lucy’s cot
Came near and nearer still.

In one of those sweet dreams I slept,
Kind Nature’s gentlest boon!
And all the while my eyes I kept
On the descending moon.

My horse moved on; hoof after hoof
He raised, and never stopp’d:
When down behind the cottage roof,
At once, the bright moon dropp’d.

What fond and wayward thoughts will slide
Into a lover’s head!
‘O mercy!’ to myself I cried,
‘If Lucy should be dead!’


She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and oh,
The difference to me!


Three years she grew in sun and shower;
Then Nature said, ‘A lovelier flower
On earth was never sown;
This child I to myself will take;
She shall be mine, and I will make
A lady of my own.

‘Myself will to my darling be
Both law and impulse; and with me
The girl, in rock and plain,
In earth and heaven, in glade and bower,
Shall feel an overseeing power
To kindle or restrain.

‘She shall be sportive as the fawn
That wild with glee across the lawn
Or up the mountain springs;
And hers shall be the breathing balm,
And hers the silence and the calm
Of mute insensate things.

‘The floating clouds their state shall lend
To her; for her the willow bend;
Nor shall she fail to see
Even in the motions of the storm
Grace that shall mould the maiden’s form
By silent sympathy.

‘The stars of midnight shall be dear
To her; and she shall lean her ear
In many a secret place
Where rivulets dance their wayward round,
And beauty born of murmuring sound
Shall pass into her face.

‘And vital feelings of delight
Shall rear her form to stately height,
Her virgin bosom swell;
Such thoughts to Lucy I will give
While she and I together live
Here in this happy dell.’

Thus Nature spake — The work was done —
How soon my Lucy’s race was run!
She died, and left to me
This heath, this calm and quiet scene;
The memory of what has been,
And never more will be.


A slumber did my spirit seal;
I had no human fears:
She seem’d a thing that could not feel
The touch of earthly years.

No motion has she now, no force;
She neither hears nor sees;
Roll’d round in earth’s diurnal course,
With rocks, and stones, and trees.


I travell’d among unknown men,
In lands beyond the sea;
Nor, England! did I know till then
What love I bore to thee.

‘Tis past, that melancholy dream!
Nor will I quit thy shore
A second time; for still I seem
To love thee more and more.

Among the mountains did I feel
The joy of my desire;
And she I cherish’d turn’d her wheel
Beside an English fire.

Thy mornings show’d, thy nights conceal’d,
The bowers where Lucy play’d;
And thine too is the last green field
That Lucy’s eyes survey’d.

Wordsworth: The Prelude

Whether through personal folly or as a result of the heartlessness of others, there are times in the journey of life when desperation strikes, when all that ever brought meaning is demolished, when existence itself, or its worth, is called into question and there is no apparent path to healing or recovery.

No doubt William Wordsworth endured such from time to time, though his works give no hint that this was the case.

Yet any supposition that he was a pretty poet for pretty places is dispelled upon a reading of his autobiographical epic which came to be known as The Prelude. For a work of this genius, one reading is not enough, and its magnitude increases with every visit, reaching into the knowledge of ourselves and our experiences and bringing to consciousness permanent truths and realities. The poet holds a mystical sway with words, for words themselves have a destiny and purpose of their own which he uncovers, drawing us back again and again so that they form part of our own being. Inasmuch as words may be uttered, or sung or sculpted, the muse may reside as well in music or in the graphic arts.

To all appearances, Wordsworth’s life was of exceptional advantage. There were times of poverty, unhappiness and grief, his father died when he was twelve and his mother when he was eight but his otherwise idyllic childhood, the influences of Nature in his beautiful Cumbrian birthplace and home, sufficient resources to attend grammar school at Hawkshead, to study at St John’s College, Cambridge and to embark upon a tour of Europe single him out as one of the few whom the travails of the times largely bypassed.

Inevitably, then, his time in France before, during and after the French Revolution and the reign of terror wrought a soul-searching revision of his assumptions about human life, its struggles and its relation to Nature.

Always, his homeland restores him and gives him comfort in the face of such agonies for there he was a participant. Never do we find him subjected to the whims, sufferings and misfortunes he undoubtedly understands and describes in his ceaseless iambic pentameters of blank verse, for he is a mere observer. An inspired observer, but an observer nonetheless.

Here he contrasts with that supreme genius of those same times, Ludwig van Beethoven, who was robbed of his hearing, the only vehicle for his muse, and who persisted in defiance to achieve heights of the soul, far exceeding those of Helvellyn that so enthralled Wordsworth.

Given all the spiritual beauties and calms to which I have been exposed, I was once uniquely, unexpectedly and momentarily felt uplifted as never before or since in a place displaying a quite different aspect from that in the poet’s lifetime -Westminster Bridge. Grant me the indulgence to quote some lines of the poet, lines written with his knowledge of everywhere he had visited and lived in: the bustle and variety of London, stilted Cambridge, intoxicating France, overbearing Alps, Scotland, Wales and, above all his beloved Lake District and its people. May I say in all humility that it was the precise feelings he gives voice to that I recognise in my moment of magic. I was twenty, the sun was setting over the river and I had just emerged from the Royal Festival Hall after watching a recital of a Beethoven quartet.

Composed upon Westminster Bridge

Earth has not any thing to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor valley, rock or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still.

(William Wordsworth, 1802)

The Whisper of the River: Ferrol Sams

Among the marks of a good novel must be the easy presentation of complexity, a seamless treatment of ambiguity and a deceiving appeal to the reader’s inadequacies, the ones that trail every human being on the remorseless and ineluctable trudge towards inevitable oblivion.

“Steady on!” you will say, “‘The Whisper of the River’ is a merry romp through three years of college, a bumper joke book, if you like, with a serious moral to make us think.”

To the extent that it may recount to the reader the misspent youth he never had, it represents unfulfilled fantasies and curiosities. The social life, the first casual sexual encounters, the early homesickness, the ribald, if somewhat infantile humour, the improbable pranks, the glowing academic achievement, the close brush with terminal discipline, the admiration, sometimes grudging, of tutors.

Hidden beneath is a dilemma. The subject, or is he the object, of these experiences, Porter Osborne, Jr., “Sambo”, is a raw, if resilient, country boy of sixteen, a devout Baptist, short, bespectacled and studious, devoted to his family and to his church. With all that, his father is an anomalous role model. He had gone to the same college his son now attends at his expense, is a hard-working farmer who keeps his fortunes above the poverty-line and is virtuous in many ways, except for unexpressed boredom in marriage and family life as a whole. College has left him, no doubt, with this legacy of discontent. That is another anomaly – the college is a Baptist foundation.

Early on, the novel comes across as superbly executed and amusing, a little flat, perhaps, with a somewhat tedious concentration on bodies and body functions, an obsession that recurs throughout the novel; the author was, after all, a doctor.

Enter Boston, the negro kitchen-hand, and all suddenly comes to life.

“Boston? That’s an unusual name. What’s your last name?”
“Last name’s Jones. What you mean to say is that’s a funny name for a nigger, ain’t it?”
“Certainly not. I was not taught to use that word.”
“Well, don’t get prissy with me. Jest you saying that tells me more’n you think about yo’self. Lessee now. Musta been raised around a heap of us if the subject came up enough for you to have to be taught. Spect yo pa be called Bossman a heap of times. Spect yo maw an maybe yo granmaw high bawn ladies if they go to the trouble to teach you that. None of yo women folks ever held a hoe handle or done nothing more’n a little yard work. Prolly lay down an stretch out a while after dinner ever-day. Uh huh, boy. You quality an you raised right on a cotton farm somers tween here ‘n Atlanta.”
“Boston, how in the world you know all that?”
“Gotta watch, gotta listen in this ole world, boy. Lemme tell you somepin else. My full name’s Boston Harbor Jones, an that is a crazy name for a nigger. Before you laugh, you tell me how come it ain’t funny for a white chile ain’t big as a bar of soap after a week’s washing be named Sambo?”
They laughed simultaneously. Porter felt better than he had since arriving at Willingham.

Such is the introduction of Porter’s new friend, full of gentle irony, accurate, lucid in the vernacular, poetic in conciseness. The reader is riveted.

Strength of style and humour, coupled with an inventive narrative and acute observation amply compensate for the unlikely. The intolerable, hypocritical, albino, blind, early roommate, whom Porter cunningly ousts, sex in a dusty tower, the fat friend, Eunice, “Tiny”, Yeomans of the unhappy home life, who finds romance, the falsely justifiable and improbable pranks, like the the thick scattering of toilet paper over the campus in readiness for a VIP visit and so many other encounters and adventures.

Porter himself is not to be so readily dismissed. He has an independent turn of spirit that often rebels. At the start he is prevailed upon to join his father’s fraternity, but is never comfortable. He and Tiny, after an initial clash, had found mutual help in their studies and became firm friends. To his eternal credit, after calling upon his father to rescue her from financial straits in the third year, he then, when it comes to a squalid issue with the fraternity, who briefly want to exclude her from a dance, loosed his ties in support of his friend. 

On the arrival of a new lecturer in the third year, Philosophy becomes Porter’s fresh and abiding interest in the hands of his gifted tutor, Dr Robert Rudh, who systematically deconstructs the Christian faith and reinstates it. In his third year also, Porter witnesses the discrediting of a self-righteous, religious bigot, who seeks the dismissal of leading lecturers on religious grounds.

Porter’s time at college coincides with the outbreak of WW2 and he adopts a detached, if thoughtful, attitude. Then comes the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, the grief, the effect on plans and the postponement of aspiration as duty calls.

You discover life is not such a trudge, that oblivion is not so certain and that College is more than just a fun time: it is when the quiet, insistent voice of life’s river may first be discerned.

C.S. Lewis: Mere Christianity

CS Lewis. (Image by Taylor Marshall)

As with The Problem of Pain, one reading is not enough to identify a coherent theme, although in the case of Mere Christianity the work is immensely more readable. The reason for this is that it derives from a series of wartime talks given by the author and broadcast by the BBC between 1942 and 1944. Thus the style is easy, conversational even. The content is, however, taut and deceptively difficult, even though richly supported by verbal illustration and analogy.

Lewis asserts that he provides a common base for all Christianity, irrespective of denomination, and this he hopes to achieve by avoiding controversial theological issues. The marked omission is a treatment of transubstantiation, that crucial dividing line between Roman Catholic and Protestant and a divergence between the approaches of Luther and Calvin. Yet this is no loss, because the question is, to a non-Christian, of no theological consequence whatsoever.

In Christianity, however, as Lewis explains in a different context, the relation to the physical world is important. God becomes flesh, and it is the body that is resurrected after death. Physical love is something to be relished. So how to regard the elements of the eucharist does matter. God, though, is decidedly not Nature, there is no concession to pantheism.

He states clearly that it is not his purpose to convert. After demonstrating that the sense of right and wrong is innate to humanity – the Natural Law – he shows how this may be extended to give meaning to the universe, a question never asked by science. God gives us the choice to be good or bad and offers us, through the redemptive nature of his son, the opportunity to repent and make good our wrongs for all eternity. Lewis uses the word ‘sin’, which is an overloaded expression in modern times. It is unfortunate that the devil is a fallen angel – one who made the wrong choice – and is constantly there tempting us along the wrong road. There is no alternative but to give up our will entirely to Christ and we shall then achieve our full glory as individuals and share with Him in heaven.

If it is to be taken literally, all this may seem a little far-fetched to an outsider. Lewis is adamant, though: it is the reality. It is as well to note, then, that he started out as an atheist. He found it hard to continue in opposition to the vast majority of humanity and it was an intense relief when the light dawned on him while on a motor car journey.

Lewis was no intellectual slouch. At Oxford he defended Christianity over a number of years against all-comers in the Socratic Society. Not until an encounter with fellow Christian and Catholic philosopher, G. E. M. Anscombe, was his confidence shaken. She said he mistakenly equated irrational causes with non-rational causes, and confused the concepts of cause, reason and explanation. This, he said, undermined his whole argument against Naturalism – the contention that God is Nature.

No matter. He tackles the matter of the Trinity. Isaac Newton was a Unitarian, so it is, perhaps, fitting that Lewis should use a mathematical analogy. Consider the restrictions of the one-dimensional world of the line, expand it to the square of two dimensions and finally to the cube of of three dimensions. A square has just four lines, but a cube has twelve edges and six faces. So it is not hard to see a picture that what to us is three, in a higher order becomes the three-in-one of Father, Son and Holy Ghost and has existed since before time itself. The Son is begotten – not, like you and me, created – of the Father and the Holy Ghost is that which dwells within us

A Christian who faithfully pursues a life of Christ and becomes a ‘New Man’ is occasionally recognisable in the seven virtues with which he is blessed. There are four cardinal virtues: prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude – in modern language, common-sense, moderation, fairness and bravery with endurance. Then the three theological virtues, faith hope and charity – hope is in the hereafter which sharpens the good that can be done in this world; charity is love, not alms, and is not emotional but a state of will that has to be learned. Central is humility, limitless forgiveness and a refusal to judge others. Forgiveness must have been hard for his wartime audience to swallow: Christianity does not claim to be an easy path.

The faith promises to make us Sons of God, like Christ himself, by becoming Him, thus achieving the purpose of God’s creation.

Lewis’s smooth tongue and strange amalgam of logic and metaphysics are hard to resist. Contrary to his object of providing a description of the Christian religion common to all sects, what we writes instead is sermon and a highly personal confession of faith.

There is little here of the ascetic or spiritual experience, and in that respect it is stark. God is no pacifist, and thus we need have no qualm to punish a wrongdoer or to kill in battle. Remember these were wartime talks and he himself had fought in the Great War.

Where I do profoundly agree with him, however, and experience commonly with him, is the discovery of the peace and tranquility which Christianity and the community of Christians bring to the troubles, regrets and traumas that characterise the journey through life. Unlike any other religion, Christianity provides a glimpse of God’s personality that is neither anthropomorphic nor austere. For that I have no explanation.


Marx and Engels: The Communist Manifesto

Book Cover_Comm Manif

Only forty pages of this book constitute the Manifesto itself.

Britain in 1848, the year of the Manifesto, was a much divided country and there was a general fear of revolution. The Enlightenment had brought about a new way of seeing the world. Along with advances in science and mathematics came the harnessing of power. No longer was manufacture and food production dependent on the horse and the water mill. James Watts’ steam engine, the condensing engine, applied to Hargrave’s Spinning Jenny, invented in 1770, and to Cartwright’s power loom, invented in 1785 and his wool-combing machine, invented in 1789, brought the production of cotton goods on an enormous scale and revolutionised agriculture, reducing the need for human labour. A network of canals provided the necessary boost to transport, enabling raw materials to be moved to the sites of manufacture and products to be carried away for consumption and export. Trevithick’s steam locomotive, invented in 1802, brought power to transport and Stephenson’s rocket of 1829 marked the beginning of the railways.

In search of a better life and relief from hand-to-mouth existence, rural workers moved from the country to the towns, only to find squalor, exploitation, disease and early death for themselves and their children. There were exceptions. Enlightened manufacturers like Wedgwood and the Quakers Rowntree and Cadbury provided decent housing, fair benefits and a reasonable life for their workers.

That was not the norm. Business was the new political power that eclipsed the aristocracy and disrupted the social structures that had developed over centuries. Profit was the principal motive of the mill-owners and to achieve this they were entirely ruthless in their use of human labour. Similar inhumanity occurred in agriculture and 1832 saw the creation of the first trade union in Tolpuddle in Dorset. In 1834 six men were transported to Australia for their activities. This caused widespread outrage and a protest march resulted in four of them returning to England.

Marx and Engels were correct, if selective, in their analysis and a group of communists gathered in London. Marx was tired and sick, so, although Marx’s name is appended, it was Engels who wrote the resulting Communist Manifesto.

The preamble mentions none of these injustices, records the alarm which the Communists party is creating among the powerful and announces:

“I. Communism is already acknowledged by all European Powers to be in itself a Power.
II. It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Communism with a Manifesto of the party itself.

To this end, Communists of various nationalities have assembled in London, and sketched the following Manifesto, to be published in the English, French, German, Italian, Flemish and Danish Languages.”

The original was in German.

Thus from the outset political power is to oust profit. Straightaway the lines are drawn between the Bourgeois, who are blamed for all ills, and The Proletarians. There is to be a class war. Engels provides definitions of the Bourgoisie and the Proletariate in a footnote, as an afterthought, one imagines:

“By Bourgeoisie is meant the class of modern Capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of wage labour. By Proletariate, the class of modern wage-labourers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labour to live.”

The solution is set out after a long analysis and a self-confident rationale in ten measures:

1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state; the bringing together of wastelands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal liability of all labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &C., &C [sic]

Nowhere is mentioned the abolition of money. Earlier the manifesto plans the abolition of the family as having evolved to nothing other than Bourgeois property, and denounces the progress of women because it takes work away from men.

Echoes in modern politics are clear. The humanitarian issues earn only a brief, qualified, note right at the end. The measures are to be achieved by an iron grip on the way people are to be allowed to live their lives, with resort to force where necessary.

Socialists are bracketed with the Bourgeoisie. There were, apparently, three brands of socialism:

Feudal Socialism – ” … they join in all coercive measures against the working class, despite their high-falutin phrases, they stoop to pick up the golden apples dropped from the tree of industry, and to barter truth love and honour for traffic in wool, beetroot-sugar, and potato spirits … Nothing is easier than to give Christian asceticism a socialist tinge… “

Petty-bourgeois Socialism –  “… The mediaeval burgesses and the small peasant proprietors were the precursors of the modern Bourgeoisie… Ultimately, when stubborn historical facts had dispersed all intoxicating effects of self-deception, this form of Socialism ended in a miserable fit of the blues.”

German or “True” Socialism – “… German philosophers seized on [French Communist] literature, only forgetting … French social conditions had not immigrated along with them … the so-called Socialist and Communist publications that now (1847) circulate in Germany belong to the domain of this foul and enervating literature.”

Finally the Manifesto announces:

“The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The Proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”

And famously:


Take your pick, a property-owning proletariate operating in a free market with minimal government, or government, imposed violently, ever-present in every aspect of life.