The closing ceremony of the Manchester International Festival on July 16 focussed on the installation of a statue of Friedrich Engels in Manchester.
The statue is now in Tony Wilson Place in an area that in Engel’s time had been known as ‘Little Ireland,’ among the most notorious of Manchester’s slums.
Between Oxford Road, the River Medlock and the railway line that passes through Oxford Rd Station, Engels had described it in ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England.’
He wrote: “The cottages are old, dirty and of the smallest sort. The whole rookery furnishes such a hateful and repulsive spectacle as can hardly be equalled in the worst court on the Irk.”
In total, Engels would spend more than 20 years in Manchester, working with his friend Karl Marx and laying down the foundations of Communism.
Strangely, Engel’s father had sent his son to Manchester to try and cure him of his radical politics.
But Manchester’s history is bound up with radical politics and Engels himself would become part of that radical tradition.
Back in the 17th Century, during the English Civil War the city had backed the forces of Parliament against those of the King.
In the 19th the demand to extend the vote resulted in the Peterloo Massacre when cavalry charged into a crowd demanding Parliamentary reform, killing 18 people and injuring hundreds more.
A limited extension of the vote was achieved by the 1832 Reform Act but that was limited to men of wealth and property and for many people in Manchester that was not enough: Manchester was an important centre of the Chartist movement which campaigned for the secret ballot and the principle of “One Man, one vote.”
But for some in Manchester, even that was not enough. Emmeline Pankhurst would lead the Suffragettes in their demand that the franchise be given to women.
The people of Manchester also helped to forge the Trade Union movement, the Cooperative society and the Labour Party as well as the ideas of Engels and Marx.
So in commemorating Engels’ life, the statue represents a part of Manchester’s own development.