The Life and Work of Marx and Engels

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The Working Class Movement Library, in the heart of Salford, hosts a large collection of socialist literature and materials. Their latest exhibition focuses on the lives of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. There is a particular spotlight on the lives of the working class of Manchester and Salford in 1842.

Among the many photographs and examples of their writing on display, the library gives detailed accounts both of the works and personal lives of the pair.

Each panel gives information on different periods in their relationship, including their historical context — such as detail on the lives of the working class at the time and the conditions in which workers lived. One panel describes “a friendship which would last over 40 years” and how it “gave rise to a body of brilliant and revolutionary, philosophical, and economic writings”.

The pair’s unique bond led them from being followers of the German philosopher Hegel, and pushed them to develop their own theories regarding the nature of the developing capitalist system. Their works would go on to inspire people across the globe, most importantly during the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Another panel describes how Engels arrived in Salford in late 1842 to work in a mill part-owned by his father. The exhibit describes the rapidly industrialising city of Manchester where poverty was widespread and life expectancy short. This led Engels to write The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, which was published in Germany, and many years later in Britain. Accompanying the information is a set of images which show the slum dwellings in Manchester at that time.

Sections of the exhibition also reveal the personal lives of both Marx and Engels. Information is given on Engels’s partner Mary Burns, a working class Irish woman who he met within a year of arriving in Manchester. A final panel is dedicated to the legacy that Marx and Engels left behind in their works including, most famously, The Communist Manifesto.

The exhibition paints a varied picture and provides a fascinating insight into the lives, times and legacy of these important revolutionaries.