Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Comment
4 March 2022

Tearing down the statue of Friedrich Engels won’t help Ukraine

Russophobia is clouding our judgement.

By Jordan Tyldesley

If you have ever visited Manchester and decided to spend a few hours in HOME – its centre for international contemporary art, theatre and film – you will have spotted the imposing figure of Friedrich Engels outside it. He stands tall and imperfect; weather-worn; battered and bruised. But for how long will he be allowed to remain in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? According to the Manchester Mill, an ominous statement has been issued by HOME, stating: “we are in discussions.”

Oh, dear. Time for another phoney, asinine cultural boycott of Russia. I’m sure it’s what the people of Ukraine would want.

There’s history behind this, of course. In 2015, the village of Mala Pereshchepina in a district of eastern Ukraine that used to be named after Engels, tore down the statue of the communist philosopher following bouts of Russian aggression and hostility. In 2017, the Turner Prize-nominated artist Phil Collins moved the Soviet-era statue of Engels from Ukraine and placed it in its new home as part of the Manchester International Festival. The 12-foot statue had been laid to rest on Ukrainian farmland and covered in a shroud of shame until Collins rescued it and brought him back to Engels’s adopted homeland, Manchester. It is fair to say the reaction to his arrival was mixed. Some are proud to have Engels as part of the Mancunian furniture, but others have expressed concern. Namely: the fact that the statue’s origins are tied to the Soviet era.

But all this does little to explain the need to expunge anything even faintly related with Russia – not to mention the lack of nuanced, intelligent thought over the statue of Engels. It is unclear how toppling the statue of a German philosopher who died in 1895 (some 22 years before the Russian Revolution) can in some way rectify or soothe the wounds of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Instead, I fear that we are allowing ourselves to casually partake in uncritical, generalised Russophobia to feed our egos.

Engels isn’t a part of Manchester’s fabric because it’s full of stark-raving communists, but because of his contribution to the city (and, indeed, the world). His 1845 book The Condition of the Working Class in England documented the fierce and appalling circumstances that many were forced to endure during the Industrial Revolution in the city. He observed workers’ mortality figures, living conditions, wages and general environment. And in his study of the history of family life, he laid the foundations for socialist feminism by connecting capitalist exploitation to gender inequality.

Manchester shouldn’t be embarrassed by this connection – rather, it should be celebrated. Our privileged preoccupation with rewriting history to suit modern causes, whether that is tackling racism or signalling support for Ukraine, has become inordinately tedious.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. Your guide to the best writing across politics, ideas, books and culture - both in the New Statesman and from elsewhere - sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Topics in this article : , ,