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Communist Review

Book Review

KARL MARX & FREDERICK ENGELS: COLLECTED WORKS Vol.50 (Lawrence & Wishart et al., hbk. 686pp. £45)

This volume completes the first comprehensive collection of the works of Marx and Engels in English.
It mostly comprises letters by Engels from October 1892 until July 1895, shortly before his death from cancer at the age of 74. Some appear for the first time in print. Many more from the 1946 and 1966 Moscow collected works, the 1959 Lafargue collection in Paris and the 1963 Liebknecht correspondence are here in English for the first time. Their reproduction can only enhance the deserved reputation of Engels as a great revolutionary and an outstanding thinker and strategist; but they also confirm his warm and deep humanitarianism.

Arguably the outstanding gem in this final volume is the letter of December 22, 1892, to August Bebel, published here for the first time in English, where Engels delights in Bebel”s Reichstag speech against the hypocrisy and bigotry of the anti-prostitution and anti-pornography Heinze Law. Engels expresses his view that:
So long as prostitution cannot be wholly eradicated, our first bid ought, I think, to be the girls” total exemption from any kind of extraordinary legislation. Here in England this is more or less the case; there are no “morality police”, and no controls or medical examinations, but the police still have tremendous power because it is a punishable offence to keep a italsdisorderly house], and every house in which a girl lives and receives visitors can be treated as such. But although this law is enforced only on rare occasions, the girls are nonetheless exposed to frightful extortion on the part of policemen. This relative freedom from degrading police restrictions enables the girls to preserve an independent and self-respecting character in a way that would hardly be possible on the Continent. They look upon their situation as an unavoidable evil to which, since it has befallen them, they must resign themselves, but which otherwise need in no way affect their character or self-esteem and, given the chance to get out of their profession, they seize upon it, as a rule, successfully.

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