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Forty-Niners: Marx, Engels, and Harrod's

The other day, in London, I had a vision on a moving staircase in Harrod's.

Harrod's is a department store in the British capital much loved by local duchesses and well-heeled visiting Americans—a sort of consumer-heaven with chic, from its delicatessen to its china and its sumptuous furnishings. It is less noted for its mystical experiences, which is why I trouble to report the matter. But when a manager—a refined and dignified presence—stepped onto the escalator beside me, I ventured to ask him when his store was founded. "In 1849," he replied. Whence my vision: For 1849, as I knew, was the year Karl Marx left his native Germany for London, where he was to spend the rest of his life. And I suddenly saw the whole history of Britain for the past century and more as a struggle between those two opposing spirits— Harrod's and Marx—with Harrod's winning.

The triumph of consumerism has been clear for a long time. It was already clear when the centenary of Marx's death passed off so unassumingly in 1983, with a modest rite organized at his grave in north London by the dwindling British Communist Party, which lost its last seat in the House of Commons as long ago as 1950. (It still has one in the House of Lords.) It was clear before the Labour Party left office in 1979, in the first of three election defeats; clear even before Clement Attlee lost the premiership to Winston...

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