That indefatigable bunch, the International Socialists, have just published the latest issue of their journal, ISJ. You may notice that I have snuck in the back with a piece on Tristram Hunt’s biography of Engels.

It begins with:

In a recent and reasonably popular biography, Tristram Hunt charges Friedrich Engels with a series of class and gender contradictions: he condemned prostitution but enjoyed it himself; he looked askance at marriage and yet married Lizzy Burns on her deathbed; he was fully in favour of education for women and universal suffrage but could not tolerate the likes of Annie Besant or the women’s rights campaigner Gertrud Guillaume-Schack; he lived a double life as cotton lord and revolutionary communist, a mill-owning Marxist who was objectively a bourgeois … In short, Engels was a hypocrite …


Issue 133


The crisis wears on

Alex Callinicos

The rebirth of our power? After the 30 November mass strike

Charlie Kimber

The Occupy movement and class politics in the US

Megan Trudell

Interview: Working people have no interest in saving the euro

Costas Lapavitsas

The Egyptian workers’ movement and the 25 January Revolution

Anne Alexander

Libya at the crossroads

Simon Assaf

Revolution against “progress”: the TIPNIS struggle and class contradictions in Bolivia

Jeffery R Webber

“Take that, Maynard G Krebs!”: the Beat Generation

Adam Marks

Engels’s contradictions: a reply to Tristram Hunt

Roland Boer


Chasing down some material for ‘Engels and the Good Life’, I realised I would need to get hold of Tristram Hunt’s annoying and superficial biography of Engels. However, when I went searching two titles came up. I had heard of the first, but not the second. The first one:

The first champagne socialist, reads the inside cover. And here he is, tarted up and ready to hit the town.

But then another book appeared:

This one is obviously more militant, with an older Engels, good old communist red splashed all over the place, bold letters, etc. And on later covers you even find that old left warhorse, Eric Hobsbawn, quoted: ‘the best biography of one of the most attractive inhabitants of Victorian England’.

Bloody brilliant, I thought. Hunt has written two biographies, one stressing the personal, the other the political. But then a close look reveals that they have exactly the same page numbers, came out within a year of one another, that they are the same book.

Why the name change? The spin is that the second title is for release in the USA. Crap. Even though the first obviously suits Hunt’s own petty-bourgeois British Labour preferences (he was one of the few Labour people actually to win a seat at the 2010 election – a parachuted in candidate for Stoke-on-Trent Central), it simply did not resonate with the main readership for a book like this, which is long way to the left of Hunt’s own position. So ‘Marx’s General’ trumps ‘The Frock-Coated Communist’.