Karl Marx is a revolutionary. He is not alone. It is November 1849 and London is full of them: a bunch of fanatical dreamers trying to change the world. Persecuted by a tyrannical housekeeper and ignored by his sexually liberated wife, Marx immerses himself in his writing, believing that his book on capital is the surest way of ushering in the workers’ revolution and his family out of poverty. But when a mysterious figure begins to take an obsessive interest in his work Marx’s revolutionary journey takes an unexpected turn... Marx Returns combines historical fiction, psychological mystery, philosophy, differential calculus and extracts from Marx and Engels's collected works to reimagine the life and times of one of history's most exceptional minds, in this next fiction offering from Zero Books.
|Publisher:||Hunt, John Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)|
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News from Paris
Neue Rheinische Zeitung, No. 27 June 27, 1848
Cologne, 26 June. The latest news from Paris takes up so much space that we have no choice but to omit all analytical articles.
We accordingly offer our readers only a few briefs. Ledru-Rollin, Lamartine and their Ministers Resign; Cavaignac's Military Dictatorship Transplanted from Algiers to Paris; Marrast, A Dictator in Civilian Clothing; Paris Awash in Blood; Uprising Developing into the Greatest Revolution of All Time, the Proletariat's Revolution against the Bourgeoisie. There is the latest news we have received from Paris. The three days that sufficed for both the July Revolution and the February Revolution will not be enough for this gigantic June Revolution, but the victory of the people is ever more certain. The French bourgeoisie has dared to do what the French Kings never did: it has itself cast the die. With this, the French Revolution's second act, the European tragedy is just beginning.
London, 4 November 1849
On the Upper Lambeth Marsh the air was threatening to induce dizziness in any wayward soul. Not that any soul would ever be so possessed as to visit what Dietz had described as Hell's waiting room. From sulphurous clouds the smouldering armour of the Whig parliament emerged in homage to the Great Fossil Lizard that once roamed the Thames Basin. On the South Bank, chimney stacks blasted out their molten debris in a barrage of volcanic eruptions. In Lambeth, the munitions factories sent projectiles skywards with such ferocity that the clouds seemed to ignite before returning the glowing debris back to earth.
In a democratic understanding of sorts, perhaps the signal achievement of the times, the fiery rain fell on top hats and flat caps in equal measure. For anyone crossing the damp element by Westminster Bridge, the threat of tumbling masonry compounded that of falling debris; which, on occasion, would seal the thanks-offering fate of drunks, college-goers and lunatics. On the narrow stretch offshore, in easy range of the cannonade, steamboats and Thames barges jostled for control of the quays and wharfs. Lighters ferried cargo from the bulkier craft and, as if to complete the aquatic food chain, workers in rowboats hawked beer to the lightermen.
Whether or not the seismic activity of bourgeois industry would one day come to rival the Triassic extinction event in its environmental impact was unclear. For the moment, however, what struck the spectator — the one inclined to doubt the evidence of their own eyes — was not remotely how things had evolved thus, or where they might in future, but whether or not any of 'it' could really be described, at all. What exactly was one looking at?
'Sir! Pay me a penny for my cat, say.'
Marx glanced up from his notebook. A gang of street urchins approached, rehearsed in their own variety of extinction event. The ringleader, genderless and caked in mud, dangled an animal from a cord, more rodent than feline, though not long for this world. He thrust the petrified creature at Marx in plain ignorance of the fact that both animal and tormentor shared a common ancestor.
'I-I-I ...' Marx faltered and the creature responded in kind.
'You-you-you,' replied the tormentor and the apprentice demons cackled.
'Raus mit euch, Ihr Tierquäler!'3 Marx would have declared next, had his English been up to the mark.
The creature was almost human. Its bloodshot eyes and pulsating nostrils might have been those of Marx's landlord on rent day. Indeed, but for the unfortunate mystery of the animal's capture, the break in the organic chain might have been minutely deferred. Of such unpredictable encounters was history woven. (The class struggle could surely be traced back to the dark wood of savagery — if not before — when man was a mere tree-dweller among beasts.)
The animal was more attuned to survival than its tormentor and in a gymnastic effort, it wriggled from the latter's hand and catapulted itself forward in a spasm. Landing in a heap, it righted itself then zigzagged through the melee of baying urchins, finding time to bite the ringleader on the ankle before hurtling through the wrought-iron gates of the factory opposite.
Could this be the place? Marx squinted through his tar-stained handkerchief at the smudged outline of a building — an impression, Engels had called it, 'But you'll recognize the thing once you're there.' Genau. "There" was precisely where Marx was trying to be. But the sketch bore little resemblance to the thing itself, to any discernible landmark, moreover. A map would have served his purposes; though, again, the difficulty lay in locating where he was in the first place.
Marx paced along the mud track that separated the factory wall from the wood panel frontage of Field's Candle Works. At the entrance he paused and peered inside the container of darkness. He tried to imagine the synchronized horrors that lay in store for the proletarians as the day shift filed in and the night shift shuffled out, dazed and dishevelled like a community displaced by war.
He brushed a fresh deposit of volcanic debris from the page on which he had jotted down, at some ungodly hour, his latest attempt to master the differential calculus. On reflection, Engels's sketch had its merits. Was that the solution? The whole difficulty in understanding the differential operation — which repeats the negation of the negation — lays precisely in seeing its results. Charles Bloodworth, 11 Vauxhall Walk, Maudslay's Ironworks. At which point the address collapsed into the derived function and careered off the page. If we divide both a(x1 – x) and the left side of the corresponding equation by the factor x1 – x, we then obtain:
y1 - y/x1 - x = a
Since y is the dependent variable, it cannot carry through any independent motion at all; y1 therefore cannot equal y and y1 – y = 0 without x first having become equal to x. Shouldn't one be able to infer the economic crisis from the incremental changes expressed by the derived function in a manner wholly in keeping with the qualitative law of the dialectic?
Mathematics was no mere measure of matter in motion any more than wages were a measure of factory labour. Equally, the patch of inflamed skin threatening to expand into a pus-filled furuncle at the entrance to Marx's anal passage was no mere indicator of pain: it actually hurt. Mathematics was something and as adept in accounting for it as philosophy was. That was the general gist of it, but he would need to go back and derive the theorems later that day in the pub.
Suddenly a proletarian convoy exited a slow-moving mist, their faces shrouded in shawls like a Bedouin tribe and heading toward the river. Or so it seemed. Marx stumbled, almost falling head first down an escarpment that jutted out of nowhere. Wasn't this supposed to be reclaimed marshland? That's what Dietz had said: eben. Dietz! The man could no more give directions than prepare soothing balms for the treatment of haemorrhoids. The reform of consciousness depends on rudely awakening men from their bedridden slumbers. But how would that be possible if men were not in fact asleep, or even capable of sleep, or even bedridden, owing to their incapacity to lie down?
No sooner had they appeared than the proletarians disappeared back into the mist. As the molten dust reignited the coal-black heavens, Marx understood everything in an instant. Come with your gods into a country where other gods are worshipped and you will be shown to suffer from fantasies and abstractions. And justly so.
Marx tiptoed along the escarpment and by the grace of forces unknown descended it in one continuous motion. The ground was sodden underfoot; despite the poisonous stench weeds sprouted obstinately in the bog terrain, their wire-drawn growth a cry to escape the earth. No doubt a botanist from the Royal Society would soon announce the discovery of a new local species.
Across the street a mound of fish garbage had been left to fester, neatly at first, then scattered in piles, as if their owner had suddenly lost interest and decided that preserving the tidiness of the neighbourhood was a lost cause. Nearby, a pig's carcass retained the aspect of wonder at the spectacle of its own demise. What other accursed creatures were lurking in this primeval soup, threatening to rise up and take revenge on the living?
Marx began to retch convulsively. Aware that a minor miscalculation would be enough to land him in a rival state of wonder, he inhaled sharply. Such exertion, however, was too much for his lungs to take in and this provoked a fall the major indignity of which even his gods, unencumbered by the majesty of Reason, did not see fit to avert. The problem, dear fellow, is not that Spirit is a bone, but that your bones are bones.
It was approaching eight on the Upper Lambeth Marsh and Marx's carbuncle lay submerged in a carbuncular-shaped crater in the carbuncular outcrop of this godforsaken carbuncle of a city. Every portion of matter can be thought of as a garden full of plants, or as a pond full of fish. But every branch of the plant, every part of the animal, and every drop of its vital fluids, is another such garden, or another such pool. But such recursion was useless if it only led back to God. Marx rose trembling and braced himself for the pain. Nothing. Had he severed a vital nerve? He shuffled forward shin deep in mud, then paused. Still nothing. Might this be the cure? The New Cut reinvented as a spa town. Pottery had been produced in the region since Roman times and there was a plentiful supply of clay. With its low-lying aspect and mild climate, wasn't this the prime location for the ablutionary treatment of chronic ailments?
It was then Marx realized that it wasn't an escarpment he had just descended, but a dung heap piled six-feet high with human excrement, entrails and coagulating industrial fluids. Some malefactor had disguised the cesspool by raking it over with coal ash.
A clump of green-red ivy clinging to a farmer's cottage beckoned his eye. From the door frame its trail extended along the length of the building, then dropped at a right angle into the gutter. He followed the glistening trail to the source of the strange foliage. It wasn't exactly ornate. But on the other hand, neither was its meandering progress entirely at odds with its surroundings. He reached out to touch the plant, which seemedto recoil from his hand. Odd. Sensing a faint noise, Marx edged closer to the rubbery petals; it was as if they were conversing in a thousand tiny voices. Like the evanescent proletarians, Lambeth was producing species all unto itself that confounded the most up-to-date thinking of the life scientists.
The path began to taper into a dark alleyway between two private dwellings. One of them was so badly subsided that its windows were in danger of being swallowed by the black earth. Through the open window of the adjacent cottage Marx could see a man and his daughter limewashing the walls. The man started and bellowed, either in salutation or rebuke, it was impossible to tell. Marx hurriedly squeezed his way through the alleyway and out into a vacant courtyard, where there, before him, lay the source of the alien plant life.
It was high tide. The green-red ivy fanned out in one continuous expanse from the waterfront all the way to the archway of Millbank Prison on the North Bank. But this wasn't ivy; it was a thick crustaceous blanket of algae, thriving on human waste and factory chemicals. Once enriched by this diabolical concoction, the algae would migrate ashore with the malicious intent of Frankenstein's monster, infecting everything in its path.
As if to confirm Marx's thesis, the daughter emerged moments later from the alleyway carrying a bucket of limewash. The slime on this section of river being at least six-inches thick, she made her way along the shoreline to where the Lambeth ferry was disembarking its passengers and began washing out her bucket there; a mere stone's throw upstream from a woman filling hers.
Earlier that morning the stench of effluvium from the bone-crushing factories had stymied Marx's senses. Looking south from Westminster Bridge had convinced him that Lambeth Marsh, instead of buttressing an eastward bend in the river, was in fact a peninsular jutting out into the Thames and that the carpet of algae was pastureland. In fact, it was the opposite: no outcrop of molten industry, Lambeth was a vast floating sewer at constant risk of being swept away by the tide. Indeed, wasn't the close proximity — nay, osmosis — of land to water the aggravating cause of the recent cholera epidemic, from which hundreds of local residents had perished? Feeling the urge to vomit, he reached for his handkerchief and pulled out the sodden remains of his notebook. Scheisse. A month's worth of research reduced to mush. Perhaps he could dry out the pages once back at the hotel; assuming Jenny hadn't squandered the coal.
A chimney stack started to move. He felt the ground shake and the rumbling steam engine hissed and clattered past. And then it came to him: All that is solid melts into air.
Marx presently came to his senses, conscious that the sulphur was starting to play tricks on his mind. He buttoned his overcoat against the stiffening breeze. Time to disembark the shores of happenstance for firmer ground.
From the steaming engines of the Waterloo Bridge, to the coffee houses of Covent Garden, to the monstrous facades rising from the Piccadilly slime pools, Marx's theory was everywhere. But as he made his way to the pub his only positive thought was Wang's vapour bath. For a shilling the Chinaman could probably be cajoled into washing his clothes and lending him something suitable in the meantime, given the unlikelihood of there being anything clean to wear back at the hotel. Once refreshed he could finally put his treatise to bed and have the manuscript in the post on the morrow, midweek at the latest. Who knows? Perhaps Duncker would even see fit to advance the 1500 talers before the end of the month, thus enabling him to settle up and relocate the family into more suitable lodgings. A study and separate bedroom for Helene and the children would be ideal, thus affording him and his wife some privacy at long last.
The Red Lion stood at the north end of Great Windmill Street opposite some of the most notorious landlords in London. Diagonally it faced a knacker's yard. A construction boom had been threatening the neighbourhood with demolition for donkey's years, but the unwillingness of landlords to sell up, coupled with the latest economic shock, had conspired in its social neglect. It wasn't the most salubrious part of town, which suited the pub's outsider reputation. Its elevated street view appealed to men on the run. In its 70-odd-year history just about every revolutionary worthy of the name — or pretender riding on the coat-tails of someone else's — had passed through its doors and in many cases been thrown back out again. Marx belonged to the first category and in all likelihood the second.
Once inside an arm seized his and veered him through the fug of the saloon bar.
'You'll never guess what Bonaparte's gone and done now,' said the voice in his ear. 'Only gone and locked up his own judges!'
Marx took a moment to acclimatize and put a face to his old comrade. One could never be too careful in the Red Lion; it was a breeding ground for spies. The news from Paris was predictably dire. Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, France's first elected president, was cracking down on his allies this time, most of whom appeared to have fled to this pub.
'How was your field trip?' said Engels, looking his comrade up and down.
'Are you taking the piss?' said Marx. He raised his voice: 'You never told me the city was sinking!'
'What?' screeched Engels, straining to hear above the drunken din of the Marseillaise.
'That district you sent me to. It's a swamp! It's like a proletarian Venice!'
'Menace?' 'Not menace! Venice! A proletarian Venice!'
'Pah!' Engels waved his hand in the manner of someone mildly inebriated. 'It'll burn before it drowns!'
'Are you growing a moustache?' enquired Marx, noticing something altered in the other's regard.
'I'm a moustache, you're a moustache, we are all moustaches!' retorted Engels, spinning round and swinging his arms gaily.
Excerpted from "Marx Returns"
Copyright © 2017 Jason Barker.
Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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