New York Times book critic Dwight Garner on Wednesday enthused over a new biography of Friedrich Engels, cooing that Marxism is "back in vogue" and adding that the founding communist comes across as a "jovial man of outsize appetites" in Tristram Hunt’s new biography "Marx’s General."
Garner opened the review by insisting that decrying capitalism is now hip again: "Thanks to globalism’s discontents and the financial crisis that has spread across the planet, Karl Marx and his analysis of capitalism’s dark, wormy side are back in vogue."
Writing approvingly of Hunt’s argument that the man who co-wrote "The Communist Manifesto" in 1848 has "become a convenient scapegoat, too easily blamed for the state crimes of the Soviet Union and Communist Southeast Asia and China," Garner delighted in recounting the charming stories that the author reveals about Engels:
A few of this book’s piquant details: Engels was proud of his lobster salad and liked to fox hunt. He hosted regular Sunday parties for London’s left-wing intelligentsia and, as one regular put it, "no one left before 2 or 3 in the morning." On a personality quiz, three of Engels answers were: "Favorite virtue: jollity"; "Idea of happiness: Château Margaux 1848"; "Motto: take it easy."
Towards the end of the review, Garner did allow that Engels possessed a few negatives:
As artfully as Mr. Hunt flushes out Engels’s human side, he can’t — and to be fair, doesn’t try to — hide the brutal ideologue that also existed inside his cranium. Engels was an advocate, on at least one occasion, of ethnic cleansing; his writing about science helped lead to the abominations of Soviet-style scientific inquiry, which dismissed results that might be seen as bourgeois. He was a master tactician whose purging of rivals in political organizations foreshadowed later purges.
However, the Times critic quickly moved on to defending this gentle communist:
Ultimately, however, Mr. Hunt largely exonerates him. "In no intelligible sense can Engels or Marx bear culpability for the crimes of historical actors carried out generations later," he writes, "even if the policies were offered up in their honor." Engels was skeptical of top-down revolutions, Mr. Hunt notes, and later in life advocated a peaceful, democratic road to socialism. He connects Engels the man to Engels the thinker. "This great lover of the good life, passionate advocate of individuality, and enthusiastic believer in literature, culture, art and music as an open forum could never have acceded to the Soviet Communism of the 20th century, all the Stalinist claims of his paternity notwithstanding," he writes. Engels almost certainly was, in other words, the kind of man Stalin would have had shot.
Garner concluded the review by claiming Engels as a witty, fun drinking buddy. He enthused, "At the end of this vivid and thoughtful biography, you are quite persuaded that Friedrich Engels would have been a fine man to drink a Margaux with."