Friday, 15 November 2013

Marx And A touch Of The Irish

If you laid all the material that has been written about Karl Marx from London to furthest Siberia it would make a six lane highway; further comment might seem superfluous.  It is likely that this may be known. If not then at last I am rewriting history.

In 1881 his neighbours in Maitland Park Road are to one side an organ builder and on the other a door keeper at the House of Lords.  Possibly, this was as near as Marx got to the working aristocracy.  The others on the street are a mix of largely lower middle class and some skilled trades. 

Earlier, in 1871 it is much the same and a couple of doors along is a retired Treasury Clerk, then a Civil Engineer in telegraphy with a War Office clerk next along.  A Proustian touch is that this last has a wife called Albertine.

So far so petit bourgeois and not the sort of people he might encounter at the Library of the British Museum or in all those academic meetings and discussion groups.  In 1861 I cannot find the Marx (Mark or Marks etc.) family but in the Grafton Terrace said to be their home street the inhabitants are much the same.

But 1851 is a different story altogether.  Dean Street in Soho was a mixed group of people with a number from Europe.  There were Anglican and Roman Catholic clergy with some of modest wealth but the bulk of the residents were working in a variety of trades at one level or another and it was quite a mixture.

Some intriguing names crop up.  At 49 is a publican, George Osborne with a pot boy son, also George.  Was this "The Golden Lion" and did he water the worker's beer?  To offset this is a Balls family, could he have been Temperance?  There is Mary Freshwater, a Lunacy Nurse to keep them all in order.  A couple of doors away from the Marx family was a Covent Garden ballet dancer, did Karl's eyes ever wander?

At 93 is a George Gissing, a shoe maker.  This brings to mind the author of the same name but born in Wakefield in 1857.  Checking up, though, and his father Thomas Gissing, also a shoemaker, was born in the same part of Suffolk as the Dean Street George.  I met the author's son, Alfred, at Les Marecottes in Switzerland in 1951. George and Alfred are in Wikipedia.

The name that did impact and this was in number 28 the same house as the Marx family (he was listed as Charles Mark), had rooms was Morgan Kavanagh.  By this time he was on his own, estranged from his wife, Bridget, born Fitzpatrick and their daughter Julia.  Morgan had an interesting varied life as a writer on unusual areas of study.  Julia was a respected authoress in her own right.

The Kavanagh name of his part of Ireland hit a nerve bringing to mind the famous Arthur Kavanagh MP who led a very full life and was contemporary with Morgan.  Any connection is not known but it might add another dimension.  But to have Morgan and his field of interests at the same time, in the same house and likely drinking in the same pub's as Marx in the period when Marx is moving away from Hegelian thought into others is striking to say the least.

Morgan's ideas, written up at length in a very individual style did not enjoy a good press and he was classed among the eccentrics according to the press reports of the period that are available.  They ran counter to the prevailing ideas of race, nationalism and basics of philosophy.  Nowadays his basic thesis that language, myths, belief systems and religions are essentially as one and relate to common very ancient periods of human development might have a wider audience.

When one looks at Marx's later thinking on religion and contingent matters arguably they might have some basis in the wordy tracts of Kavanagh.  Certainly Kavanagh's ideals of the primitivism of humanity and motivations have an echo in Marx and what he as to say about the division of capitalism and socialism.

Capitalism becomes the evil of the new and of exploitation.  Socialism is then a reversion to a better, more ordered and mutuality of man in his early form.  It is almost Kavanagh writ large and translated into the new industrialised and trading contemporary life.

What is also striking about Marx is not just that allegedly he never saw the inside of a factory, nor went down a pit or had a good look around a dockyard etc. but he seems oblivious to the nature of the lives and economies of his immediate surroundings. 

A good deal of his data came from Friedrich Engels, but that in turn is of its time, depends on the interpretation in an academic study an relates to an area which although economically important was far from typical.  Having worked through a great many Census returns of the districts in question it was a lot more complex and varied than Engels suggests.

What Marx did do was to have an enormous output and engage with many groups to whom he became a kind of prophet.  He was very busy and active and relentless in his pursuit of academic authority in his field.  Our trouble today is how much we view this minor group of activists as important as opposed to the reality.

Again, Engels did his work just at the beginning of the period when the Temperance Movement began to grow.  It was also the time when many clergy in the Anglican Church, the Catholic and very much among Non Conformist and other denominations began to exert influence and authority in making progress in social and welfare matters.

It was these groups that transformed society and not the sundry academics chattering away in their endless discussion groups largely in central London and pursuing rivalries for authority or pouring out theoretical texts on how work might be done and organised.  Our problem today is that it is largely this class who command attention and action.

Morgan Kavanagh was an expert in fantasy and myth and so much of our present governance seems to be based on that as do our ideas of society and the rest.

So it could be that basically, Karl Marx was away with the fairies and the leprechauns.

1 comment:

  1. "So it could be that basically, Karl Marx was away with the fairies"

    My impression is that many others were too. A strange period mixing wisdom, a desire for social justice and extreme naivety.