Feature: Britain relives Marxist ideals as bicentenary birth anniversary draws near

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It was hot, humid, noisy, dusty and deadly. Britain's early industrialization that essentially propelled the country to become the world's largest imperialist power in the 19th century, was achieved at the cost of workers who suffered appalling breathing and spine problems and very often, unexpected deaths.

The show, held on a regular basis at the museum, relives the wretched condition of the old Victorian cotton mills that witnessed the darkest chapter of workers' lives in modern human history due to ruthless capitalist greed for profit.

A recent YouGov survey put Labour's support rate at 42 percent, ahead of the Conservatives at 40 percent. There has been speculation among the mainstream media about the possibility of Corbyn being the next British prime minister.

But the zeal for visiting the remains of the mills or anything related to Marx or Engels seems to be on the rise especially in the run-up to the 80th anniversary of Marx's birth.

"Maybe sometimes we think that this is just an old story, but no, it has a real echo, a real resonance for today as well, and young people appreciate that," he told Xinhua.

What helped motivate Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to embark on a lifelong fight for justice and communist ideals still resonates to this day ahead of the bicentenary anniversary of Marx's birthday on May 5.

Britain has seen in recent years rising support for socialist ideas shown by public support for the opposition Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn known for his strong socialist views.

Unlike the over-80s with secure pensions, paid-off mortgages and money in the bank, the younger generations are struggling with precarious jobs, unaffordable housing and growing debts, according to a report by the DOC Research Institute.

After the Grenfell Tower fire which killed at least 80 people in one of the richest and most unequal districts in central London in 2017, Aditya Chakrabortty, a columnist, wrote in the Guardian that "over 170 years after Engels, Britain is still a country that murders its poor."

"Marxist ideas are revisited not only because of its influence on history but also on present times," said Wilde.


Housed in a light-brown medieval sandstone building in the city, the library is known for a stained oak desk in the window alcove of the reading room -- Karl Marx's desk.

A huge black and white picture of a little girl was placed in front of the machines. Children were employed to fix broken threads and sweep the floor as it was easier for them to get under the machines. The youngest workers in the mills were five to six years old.

In a demonstration at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, the staff are trying to show the long and complex process that turns raw cotton into cloth, with real machines left from 19th century mills.

The increasingly widening gap between the rich and the poor has apparently revived public interest in communist ideals, he said.

Apparently, "social murder" is not an obsolete expression, as the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen partly due to a decade of austerity measures adopted by the British government since the global financial crisis.

Marx's social critique has enjoyed a revival as the public realized that the financial crisis was essentially triggered by capitalist greed and a resurgence in neo-liberalism.

In front of the old site of Little Ireland, a notorious former slum of Irish immigrant workers described by Engels in his book as "the worst of the slums of the township," Jonathan Schofield, a tour guide, said his tours about Marx and Engel's footsteps in Manchester were very popular. The two tours scheduled for May 5, Marx's birthday, were sold out two months in advance.

Most of the mills that existed in the Victorian era were demolished as the cotton industry in Manchester declined quickly after 1945. The remaining ones have now been turned into either residential apartments or offices buildings.

To tackle the "multiple failures of neoliberal orthodoxy," the Labour promised "For The Many Not The Few." In its 2017 Labour manifesto, the party offered a wide-ranging socialist program, including increasing taxes on the wealthy and nationalizing the railways, postal services and utilities.

"The rising support for the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn is the best proof that Marx's critique of the capitalist economics is pretty solid and still holds today," he said.

"It brought back all the memories," said 54-year-old visitor Katy Turnbull. Like many Mancunians, Turnbull has a grandma who used to work in a mill as a weaver close to Manchester, the world's first industrial city known then as the "Cottonopolis."


MANCHESTER, Britain, May 3 (Xinhua) -- The second the spinning machines were turned on to twist cotton to make yarn, the thunderous noise became so unbearable that visitors had to plug their ears.

Holding the original book of The Literature of Political Economy that Marx read in 1845 at his hand, Fergus Wilde, a senior librarian, said there is a "rebirth" of public interest in Marx.

In his landmark work The Condition of the Working-Class in England, Engels used the phrase "social murder," accusing the bourgeoisie, the class which held social and political control, of placing "hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death."

Chetham's Library, the place where Marx and Engels frequently met and studied together in Manchester during the summer of 1845, has also attracted an increasing number of visitors in recent years.

by Xinhua writers Jin Jing, Gu Zhenqiu, Zhang Dailei

"My grandma used to tell me the stories when I was young. It was impossible to imagine how hard life could be for the workers," Turnbull told Xinhua. "History needs to be reminded every now and then," she added.

"The victims of Grenfell Tower didn't just die. Austerity, outsourcing and deregulation killed them - just as Victorian Manchester killed the poor then," he wrote.

Manchester, where Engels lived for more than 20 years and which Marx visited almost every year since 1845, marked a crucial stop where Marx and Engels developed their theories about class, surplus value and capitalist mode production.

"Marxist ideas are not alien in Britain," said Alain Kahn, senior librarian at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford. Some of the left-wing politicians have clearly picked up some Marxist ideas, which have helped them expand public support, he noted.

After Brexit, young people who may have dodged politics, seemed to have realized that politics can make things happen and they want to be more involved, Schofield said.

The ruling Conservative Party led by Prime Minster Theresa May unexpectedly lost its majority in the 2017 general election. Polls showed that Tories had lost the support of both young and middle-aged voters due to the Tory cuts in health, education, welfare and local government.

Outside the science museum housed in a former warehouse close to the world's first inter-city railway, traces of the cotton mills are hard to find.

Schofield, who started his tour business 21 years ago, said his tours have drawn an increasing proportion of young people.