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Marx in London

by Asa Briggs & John Callow
Lawrence and Wishart, London 2008, ISBN 978 -1-905007-60-8. £10

This book certainly achieves what it sets out to do: to provide a guide both for visitors to London who want to see the places in the city associated with Marx and for those who can only see them through the medium of print.

Briggs and Callow preface their guide with an account of Marx’s early life, his education, his marriage to Jenny von Westphalen the roots of his powerful philosophical and economic thinking and of his creative, lifelong collaboration with Frederick Engels. London as Marx found it when he arrived as an exile in1849 is vividly evoked, its squalid poverty alongside fabulous wealth, its rapidly expanding growth in people, housing, industry and transport and its history of working class radicalism.

The growth of Marx’s family and his political and literary progress is outlined through visits to the various homes that they lived in and important landmarks in his life (such as public houses like the Red Lion, Soho where Marx gave economic lessons to the German Workers’ Education Society or Jack Straw’s Castle, Hampstead where he enjoyed many a pint of beer). The British Museum is included of course and Hampstead Heath where later Engels and his entourage joined the Marx family for Sunday picnics. For each site there is a small map with the details of how to get there by bus or by underground.

With the first volume of Kapital published Marx’s final years were spent in a losing battle with failing health in order to try to finish the final volumes of this monumental work. He died in 1883 at the age of 65. Inevitably the last visit is to his tomb in Highgate Cemetery. His friend Engels and Eleanor, his youngest daughter used his vast body of notes to complete his final three volumes. The authors end the trail with the hope that through “retracing his footsteps” readers will come to an understanding of his message, “not just to interpret existing society, but to change it.”

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