Saturday, 25 November 2006

Marx on the lash

I have the uncanny ability to remember random trivia and anecdotes and yet forget important things like what day it is or what I should be doing in an hour. That said, I still manage to keep myself entertained if not the people who have to listen to my stories. La Rochefoucauld in his maxims asked the pertinent question 'Why is it that our memory is good enough to retain the least triviality that happens to us, and yet not good enough to recollect how often we have told it to the same person?' So if you have heard this one before then I apologise profusely.

Karl Marx spent a great deal of his life living in exile mostly due to the inflammatory rhetoric that characterised his journalism and his general work. Starting off in Prussia he set up or joined left-wing periodicals which led to his expulsion from Prussia itself, followed by Paris and then Brussels, he finally ended up in London in 1849 where he stayed until his death in 1883. The image we are presented of his time in England is that of a man living in the direst poverty undergoing the most horrific personal catastrophes (namely the loss of successive children) yet working every hour he could in the British Library writing the great epic, darkly gothic and frustratingly impenetrable 'Das Kapital' but it is quite reassuring to find out that life wasn't all poverty and politics.

At some point in the 1870's, I have not been able to ascertain the exact date, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Wilhelm Liebknecht went on what can only be described as a legendary pub crawl. They started off in central London and went down Tottenham Court Road through to Hampstead having a glass of beer in each of the eighteen pubs they passed. As they stumbled home Marx picked up some stones and smashed four of five street lamps before the Police gave chase. It was said by Marx's friend Liebknecht, that in evading capture "Marx showed an agility I could not have attributed to him".

Opinions of Marx will always been polarised and I don't think that an anecdote of 'drunk and disorderly' will act to change anyones' opinions but it is wonderful to hear the personal side to someone who, for better or worse, certainly shaped much of the twentieth century for a large proportion of the world's population.