This summer Phil Collins returned Friedrich Engels back home to Manchester. Presentation on his sabbatical project.
Collaborating over the course of a year with local communities, activists and organisations which deal with the devastating effects of conservative government’s politics of austerity, Collins explored the lives of Manchester workers today and Engels’ legacy in the city in which he made his name.
The radical son of a German mill owner, Friedrich Engels (1820 – 1895) arrived in Manchester in 1842 to run his father’s business, Ermen & Engels Victoria Mill. During his 20-year stay he documented the plight of the city’s working classes, which profoundly influenced his ideas as a philosopher, writer and radical thinker. One of his most important works The Condition of the Working Class in England was a searing indictment of early capitalism’t inequality and exploitation based on his observations of Manchester slums, child labour, environmental devastation, the indignity of lives of deprived and impoverished workers. It is now exactly 100 years after the ideas from The Communist Manifesto, written by Engels and Karl Marx, changed the course of history by inspiring the Russian Revolution during the final phase of the First World War.
After extensive research and repeated trips to Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, Collins has located a large concrete statue of Engels ascribed to an unknown sculptor and dated to 1970. It originally stood at the crossroads of a village in eastern Ukraine until 2015 when it was removed under decommunisation laws. When Collins encountered it, the statue was cut in half and hidden in an agricultural compound, covered in raffia sacks. Collins negotiated the donation of the statue, transported it across Europe and brought it to Manchester where it was permanently installed this July in the city centre in a performative live-film event which closed this year’s Manchester International Festival.
At the inauguration a crowd of thousands gathered to take part in the live broadcast which included stories of people who Collins met and filmed during the year, scripted performances, a soundtrack by Mica Levi and Demdike Stare, a new workers’ anthem by Gruff Rhys, as well as Engels Exchange — a one-day transformation of the ‘privately owned public space’ into a realm of shared ideas, experience and the kind of good time which Engels loved.
Reflecting on contemporary struggles and the last century of change, Ceremony returned Engels to prominence in Manchester, reasserting the city’s crucial role in the history of radical thought.