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An Industrial Sewing Machine

An Industrial Sewing Machine


Lyka Thorn

At the age of fifteen I started working in a factory. This was three years before the law allowed. I was able to work there because it was a small family-run garment factory in the city, not a big multinational one, and they did not worry about such things. I worked about twelve hours a day from 7am until 7pm. I didn’t know anything about the work but I tried hard and they came to teach me how to work the machines. It was very dangerous; I had to be careful all the time. The factory was in a big house with no windows. It was very noisy, and we couldn’t talk to each other.

After about three months, I was moved to another factory owned by the same family, and at the same time I changed from working days to the night shift. This factory was in a villa on the outskirts of the city. It had a lovely garden, although we couldn’t see it when we were working because, again, there were no windows. This was partly to keep the noise in, and partly to stop people looking in. It was a bit quieter, and I met a lot of new friends. We worked hard for just US $3.50 a day – 7 days a week until the order was completed. After that we had to wait up to a day without pay, before starting on the next order. The industrial sewing machine I used was large and cumbersome, encompassing twenty individual sewing devices. I had to stand up and walk from one side of the machine to the other, checking for problems for about 12 hours a day. In the first two and a half years, I got the needle of the machine stuck in my finger three times. When this happened, my workmates would remove the needle with a pair of pliers, making sure that none of the needle was left inside my finger. One of these times, I had to go to see the doctor because my friends couldn’t find the point of the needle. Fortunately the doctor couldn’t find it in my finger, either.

One night I went to work and felt pain of all over my body. I knew I was sick but I carried on working until I fell over, the result of being on my feet every day for extended periods, and eating irregularly and inconsistently. I had to go to the clinic where the doctor gave me medicine to build me up. He asked me why I had rheumatism at such a young age. I was off work about a week in pain and with a fever. For each day I was unable to work, $3.50 was deducted from my wages.

After three years, I started studying English when the night shifts were over. I had only seven hours free time a day. Life was tough. After studying for a year, I had to give it up at the age of nineteen because a marriage was being arranged for me. We never actually got married but started living together.

Soon, I discovered I was pregnant and had to give up work because of morning sickness. I decided to stop working until the baby was born. When I was seven months pregnant my partner left me after a big argument with my dad, and after a month I moved back to my family home.

My baby was born on the 19 September 2007 at 11 am, after I had been in labour for twelve hours, and when I saw her I forgot about all the pain. She looked very cute and all my family loved her because she was the first grandchild.

Three days after she was born, her dad came to the hospital and begged me to take him back. He said he would stop lying to me and would look after me and our daughter. By the time Rita was nine months old, she was costing us a lot of money, and her dad’s wages as a motorcycle taxi driver were not enough. I therefore decided to go back to work in another factory near my family home. The factory employed more then a thousand workers. I worked about eight hours a day- six days a week for US $ 2 a day and I had to work longer hours if they told me to. I had to get up at 4.30 am and often did not get home until 10 pm. I earned about $130 a month but I was exhausted. If I was off for one day they took $5 from my wages.

Factory life is very hard, especially for women. We worked for peanuts until we dropped, and we never ate well, with just one hour a day break at midday. To go home and come back to the factory took about forty minutes, so I had to eat cheap food, which I bought outside the factory gates. This was dirty, of poor-quality and very unhealthy.

Although my partner gave me next to nothing from his wages, and all my wages went on looking after us and our daughter, he accused me of giving my wages to my family. When I denied this, he left me again. I stayed in the factory for another 3 months, then I got very depressed, I couldn’t work, and I decided to stop working there.

Soon after he came back and again asked if we could get back together, but I said, “no”. He nagged me until I agreed to live with him again. I went back to work in the factory for the third time.

I worked there a year, after which we split up again. I tried to commit suicide but even that didn’t seem to bother him. My family looked after me until I felt well. After all this I was totally fell fed up with the factory and my life. I had spent about seven years of my life there, and I decided to end factory life, and start a new one. I just wanted to start again and try to forget about the past.

My new job was a cashier in a bar. I worked from 7pm to 7am every night. I did not have time to look after my daughter, from whom I had never been apart before but because I needed the money I had to leave her with my mum. When I woke up late afternoon, she would say, “mum I miss you, can’t you stay with me tonight?”. I was very sad and told her, sorry I couldn’t, I had to work because of her.

I had been working about six months in the bar, when my ex-partner came back again, and I told him it was too late. I could take care of myself and my daughter. I was fed up with our life together. He left and never came back. He never came to see his daughter. I know she is sad about this, and she used to tell everyone that her dad is dead.

After we split up for good, my sister went to England with her partner and all our family took her to the airport and stayed there for about two hours until she left. When we got back home, we realised we had been burgled. I went straight to the place I had hidden some jewellery, bought during the four years I had worked in the factory before living with my partner – worth about $2000. It had gone. I was very sad. I had worked hard for nothing.

Life is a story, but this was not the end. I worked as a cashier for another year and I met a man from England. He is a good man, and very kind. We got married a year ago, and I now have a spouse visa, and can live in England until 2015, when I need to apply for another visa. My husband looks after me and my family. My daughter, Rita, who is now six years old, and my husband get on very well, and she now thinks of her new-step-father as her only father and calls him ‘papa’. Two months ago, she visited us for six weeks, and we are now waiting for the result of a settlement visa application for her.

An Asian factory worker who knew nothing about the world, I am now studying English and learning more and more about life every day. At last my life is good, and full of happiness and laughter.

© Lyka Thorn, 4th December 2013


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Karl Marx & Jenny Marx


Love & Capital: Karl & Jenny Marx & the Birth of a Revolution

By Mary Gabriel,
Little, Brown & Company 2011
707 pages, $39.99

Review by Barry Healy

October 19, 2012 — Green Left Weekly — The spectre of Karl Marx still haunts the capitalist world. Only 11 people attended his funeral in 1883 and the corporate press still loves to dance on his grave, constantly declaring that his ideas are irrelevant. Yet with every economic crisis all eyes return to Marx’s masterpiece, Capital, to understand what is really going on in our economic system.

How did this extraordinary work get produced? What circumstances fed the creative process?

Through Mary Gabriel’s intimate biography we see that hardship ― unrelenting, heartbreaking miserable poverty ― was the physical context. But in greater measure, love and unstinting generosity of the spirit nurtured the flame of creativity and rebellion.

The author of The Communist Manifesto and Capital, Marx was hounded from country to country in Europe before settling in London to further his revolutionary work. With him every inch of the way, physically, intellectually and emotionally was his family.

Few lives have been lived as intensely as that of Karl Marx. And through this book the zeal that his entire family shared is honoured.

His wife Jenny, his collaborator, transcribed his notoriously indecipherable handwriting so that printers could read it. As such, she was fully united with his thought processes and shared his outlook.

As is clear in this book, she was fully as much a revolutionary as her husband, but in no way such a public figure.

However, she was recognised as a lynchpin of the exiles who swirled around their household, an essential part of the underground movement Marx and his key collaborator Frederick Engels were leading.

Their surviving three daughters were also his collaborators, first as his secretaries and then as revolutionary activists in their own right. Also part of the close-knit group were the household maid Helene Demuth (mother of Marx’s illegitimate son, Freddy) and Engels.

It was this household that was the core of the “Marx party” ― the revolutionary grouping that pulled together such a huge circle of revolutionaries that the political police of several countries spied on them ― and was a key origin of the world socialist movement today.

Marx and Engels’ project was to coordinate and lead, as far as possible, the entire revolutionary movement ― first in Europe and later the globe ― and to have Marx’s investigation of the operations of capitalism published.

Both tasks were Herculean and almost beyond the capabilities of human flesh. A well-funded political office could have achieved the first and a placidly tenured academic could have accomplished the second.

Trying to organise a revolutionary centre without resources in the stinking, disease-ridden backstreets of Victorian London was hard enough. But trying to achieve a ground-breaking analysis of the operations of the entire economic system with nothing but a desk and broken chairs was near impossible.

The stress of producing Capital drove Marx to near distraction. He missed deadlines (by decades), and his body rebelled against him. He suffered sleeplessness, headaches, boils all over his body and a persistent liver complaint.

Other political work would loom large and he would gain apparent relief from his research by diving into the political melee.

The force that drove Marx was shared by them all and made for a terribly difficult, poverty-stricken existence. When Capital, volume 1, was finally published, after 20 years in the writing, Marx observed that he had “sacrificed my health, happiness, and family” to complete the book. Among sacrifices shared with Jenny were the death of four children due to poverty.

We are lucky that Marx and just about everyone in his circle were great letter writers. This biography, which focuses on the personal and the familial, would have been impossible without the great trove of letters. As Engels lived mostly in Manchester, daily letters between the two collaborators were necessary.

The Marx family, which essentially included Engels, was characterised by astonishing intellectualism, great playfulness and passion.

It is clear that Marx, for all his public political work, was an introvert. That trait made him prickly and challenging in public but a joy to his family and friends in private. Evenings at the Marx home would be spent with the family performing scenes from Shakespeare’s plays or reciting poetry in various languages.

Marx loved books and found relief from sickness and hardship through such things as teaching himself Danish or studying advanced calculus.

Gabriel pulls no punches about Marx’s personal failings. Marx was quite capable of selfishness and foolishness, not least of which was his fathering of a baby with Helene Demuth while Jenny was in Germany begging money from rich relatives so the family could survive.

Of all of the characters in this epic, Demuth and Freddy are the least developed, which is a great pity, because they were not minor figures. Evidently they wrote less than the others.

Engels looms large as the benefactor who generously opened his purse not only to the Marx family but to other revolutionaries in need.

Gabriel is no Marxist, rather she is a liberal who appears to have been awakened to Marx’s brilliance through researching this book.

She is very good at conveying the physical and political setting of each stage of the Marx family journey and she ably summarises important political texts. That is very useful for situating these writings in their context and makes this book a useful reading guide to Marx’s writings, similar to Alan Brien’s Lenin, The Novel for Lenin’s works.

Gabriel’s political grasp is a bit thin at times. Unaccountably, she underestimates the importance of Marx and Engels’ work in support of the Union forces in the American Civil War. She pictures Marx spending the war reading newspapers in a cafe.

In Marx at the Margins, Kevin Anderson showed that Marx was personally involved in the effective ban on slave cotton that the Manchester workers maintained for the duration of the conflict. That was at the expense of their own livelihood, an outstanding example of working-class solidarity.

Moreover, when the British government tried to enter the war on the side of the south, Marx was responsible for a huge demonstration that stopped the government in its tracks. In that manner, Marx and Engels made no small contribution to the victory over slavery in the US, a world historic event.

To counteract these deficiencies, this book could be read together with Anderson’s book and Karl Marx, Man and Fighter by Boris Nicolaievsky and Otto Maenchen Helfen.

What shines through Gabriel’s book is not just the extraordinary hardships that were endured by the Marx family, but the love shared. This family was committed to a socialist vision and worked tirelessly towards it.

Turning these pages to find out what happened, both the joy and the heartbreak, is very easy. Gabriel draws the reader into their world.

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Raya Dunayevskaya


Marxist-Humanist Initiative is hosting a screening and discussion of a new documentary on the ideas of Raya Dunayevskaya this Thursday night in NYC. Details are below. 

Film and Discussion:– THURSDAY JUNE 28, 6:30 TO 9:00 P.M.


Marxist-Humanist Initiative will screen and discuss a new documentary film about the ideas of the philosopher, activist, and feminist who developed Marxist-Humanism over much of the last century.

This month marks the 25th anniversary of her death. The film’s title and content follow from Dunayevskaya’s declaration that her biography ‘is the biography of an idea’. 

Dunayevskaya was the author of Marxism and Freedom, from 1776 to Today; Philosophy and Revolution, from Hegel to Sartre and from Marx to Mao; Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution; American Civilization on Trial, Black Masses as Vanguard, and many other works. The film emphasizes how contemporary her ideas remain today. 

The film-maker will be present for the discussion by Skype.
At TRS Inc. Professional Suite, 44 East 32nd Street, 11th floor (bet. Madison and Park Aves.), Manhattan

Contribution requested but not required. 

For more information, visit MHI’s website, www.marxist-humanist-initiative. org



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Gerrard Winstanley




Introduced by TONY BENN

Published 10th April 2011



TONY BENN in conversation with PAUL MASON at the Southbank Centre on WINSTANLEY, the Diggers and English radicalism.

Monday 23rd May, 2011

Part of the Festival ofBritain

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”Sick to death of the royal wedding? Then where better to take refuge than in the radical ruminations of Gerrard Winstanley, the voice of revolutionary republican England?…a useful and inspiring collection” — SOCIALIST REVIEW

”With house prices at ridiculous levels and employment plummeting, perhaps this neat introduction to Winstanley’s writings could provide an excellent instruction manual for a new breed of 21st century Digger?” —  MORNING STAR

In Spring 1649, at the end of the English Civil War, Gerrard Winstanley and his comrades, the Diggers, went to St George’s Hill to farm the common land and to distribute the food amongst themselves. Winstanley’s extraordinary writings from this period have remained a huge influence for many on the left, and are cited as some of the earliest examples of communist thought.

Legendary voice of the left, Tony Benn, introduces this collection of Winstanley’s work and shows how it still has the power to inspire us to turn our world upside down. Benn credits the Diggers, along with the Levellers, with helping to launch into the public domain ideas about freedom, equality and democracy which, though now regarded as normal were then hugely threatening of the status quo, and are “some of the most important radical ideas of all time.”

Winstanley and the Diggers saw the earth and its natural resources as belonging to all mankind, a “common treasury”.  Since the 15th century, the enclosure of land by private landlords had meant that the poor were unable to farm and increasingly had to rely on wage labour. The Diggers attempted to seize the revolutionary moment to reclaim these common rights to the land through both argument and direct action.  Protestant agrarian socialists, the Diggers are an example of the long-standing relationship between Christianity and radicalism.

Emerging at the end of the English Civil War, the Diggers started their colony at St George’s Hill on 1st April 1649, just two months after the King, Charles I had gone to the scaffold. While the Diggers were ultimately unsuccessful in reclaiming the common land and destroying the system of “enclosures”, Winstanley’s ideas resonate to this day.

ISBN: 978 1 84467 595 1 / $15.95 / £8.99 / CAN$20 / 192 pages
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Part of Verso’s REVOLUTIONS series

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New from Haymarket Books
Rosa Luxemburg

By Paul Frölich

Written by a contemporary of (and sometime collaborator with) Rosa Luxemburg with an intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the German Social Democratic Party, this biography strikes the right balance between personal insight and political analysis. Tracing Rosa Luxemburg’s development from a humble Polish girl with a keen interest in herding geese to the most important leader of the German Communist Party, the image that emerges from Frölich’s narrative is that of arguably the most remarkable woman ever produced by the international socialist movement.

PAUL FRÖLICH (1884—1953) was a member of the German Social Democratic Party from 1902 until 1918, when he, along with Rosa Luxemburg, became a founding member of the German Communist Party.

Trade paper | 320 pages | $18
Available from

With questions or for a review copy, contact Jim Plank (

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Radical Pedagogy


The paperback edition of “Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism,
1883-1918” is now (as of November 1, 2010) available in paperback.

Faculty members interested in exam copies for possible course adoption can contact Columbia University Press via this form:

Dr. Jeffrey B. Perry

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“Ernest Gellner was a great twentieth-century intellectual, and John Hall’s fine biography conveys a vivid sense of the man and of the extraordinary range of his ideas, while commenting with great intelligence upon them. A must read.” Michael Mann, Professor of Sociology, UCLA

“The authentic voice of Ernest Gellner: honest, cool and reasonable. Mr. Hall is to be congratulated for reminding us of how much we miss it today.” WALL STREET JOURNAL


Ernest Gellner (1925–95) was a multilingual polymath and a public intellectual who set the agenda in the study of nationalism and the sociology of Islam. Having grown up in Paris, Prague , and England , he was one of the last great Jewish thinkers from Central Europe to experience directly the impact of the Holocaust.

His intellectual trajectory differed from that of similar thinkers, both in producing a highly integrated philosophy of modernity and in combining a respect for nationalism with an appreciation of the power of modern science.

Gellner was a fierce opponent, in private as well as in public, of such contemporaries as Michael Oakeshott, Isaiah Berlin , Charles Taylor, Noam Chomsky and Edward Said. As this definitive biography shows, he was passionate in the defence of reason against every form of relativism – a battle that his intellectual inheritors continue to this day.



“This is a fascinating biography of one of the seminal and most interesting thinkers of the later twentieth century … John Hall has done a great deal to make clear the complex background and underlying motives of this remarkable man and thinker.” Charles Taylor, Professor Emeritus at McGill University in Montreal

Praise for Ernest Gellner:

“Gellner’s world is austere. But therein lies its attraction. Not much real comfort for our woes is on offer; the consolations peddled in the market are indeed worthless. What Gellner offered was something more mature and demanding: cold intellectual honesty.” John A. Hall

“A university don and intellectual of the first rank, Mr Gellner understood the needs of the press. He loved public debate and infuriated less nimble opponents with cutting wit and memorable epigrams. He poured out articles and books – more than twenty by one count – routinely apologising: ‘I’ve written another; I just couldn’t help it.’“ THE ECONOMIST

“As a philosopher Ernest Gellner was a maverick and a gadfly. Yet neither of these quite captures the uniqueness of his subversiveness.” Steven Lukes, Professor of Sociology, New York University

“Ernest Gellner was a scholar in the classic mould, whose intellect and influence could not be confined within national boundaries or within the bounds of any one academic discipline.” Edward Mortimer, Foreign Affairs Editor of the FINANCIAL TIMES

“Although known primarily as a philosopher, Gellner had a vertiginous perspective on life. He expanded his interests into the fields of anthropology and social and political theory, exposing with a dazzling and at times controversial lucidity the patterns by which modern society has been shaped.” TIMES

“David Glass, the sociologist, once said “with a touch of irritation”, that he wasn’t sure whether the next revolution would come from the right or from the left; but he was quite sure that, wherever it came from, the first person to be shot would be Ernest Gellner.” The GUARDIAN, obituary of Ernest Geller.


JOHN A. HALL is the James McGill Professor of Comparative Historical Sociology at McGill University in Montreal . His previous books include Powers and Liberties; Liberalism; Coercion and Consent; Intern ational Orders; and (with Charles Lindholm) Is American Breaking Apart? He taught at the Central European University in the early 1990s, when Gellner had returned to Prague, and gained an appreciation at that time of his background in Central Europe .


ISBN: 978 1 84467 602 6 / $49.95 / £29.99 / CAN$62.51 / Hardback / 400 Pages


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Mao Zedong



From Rebecca Karl:

I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book Mao Zedong and China in the Twentieth-Century World: A Concise History (Duke University Press). The book describes Mao Zedong’s life and thought in relation to the Chinese revolution and twentieth-century history. It is ideal for teaching.

“Rebecca E. Karl has written a lively, readable account of Mao’s life and thought, showing how they fit into and affected the twentieth-century world.”—Delia Davin, author of Mao Zedong

For more information, and to order the book directly from Duke University Press, please visit  

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Karl Marx


Frank Thomas Walker (1918-1996) had a lifetime interest in Karl Marx. During his working years he would spend most of his leisure time reading, researching and writing about Marx and he continued with this interest after his retirement. He continued to revise and add to his research until his death.

Living in London until 1976, Frank was a well known visitor in many libraries including the Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell where he spent many hours. He also frequented the many second hand bookshops throughout London including the bookstalls in Farringdon Road (now gone) and he was able to build up a large library of books and other materials to aid his research. He engaged the assistance of his family to obtain access to and photocopies of additional materials from library resources around the country and abroad, and he made effective use of his membership of the British Library. He corresponded with like minded individuals in Germany, France and Italy to further his research.

Frank appreciated that he needed to be able to read the literature not only published in English but also that published in French, German and Russian and, like Marx, taught himself these skills. His library of well over 3000 items, contained books, journals, copies of letters, and pamphlets in all these languages and formed the basis for his research materials. His library was split up when sold after his death.

This book was written by Frank over many years and revised by him several times. He never felt it was finished and never looked to publish it during his lifetime. Whilst pertinent personal information is included, the biography concentrates on Marx’s writings, his contemporary radical thinkers and activists, and his influence on the main political events happening in Europe during his lifetime. Some of the information contained within should be familiar to readers already knowledgeable about Marx, but there will also be fresh gems of information and interpretations of events that will add to the knowledge of Marxist scholars everywhere.

The actual manuscript was in the form of typewritten sheets with a large number of hand written amendments and additions and it has taken a long time for a publishable version to be prepared. At last it is complete and all Frank’s research can now be accessed by academics and anyone with an interest in Marx. This work will be welcomed by everyone interested in Marx’s life, work and times and would be a useful addition to many libraries. It has been published as an e-book on CD-ROM, 2009, 410 pages.

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Writing Political Biographies of the Left

A Birkbeck Arts Week Panel Discussion:

Gregory Elliott (writer and translator, biographer of Perry Anderson).
Esther Leslie (Birkbeck, biographer of Walter Benjamin)
Gonzalo Pozo-Martin (UCL/Birkbeck, biographer of Isaac Deutscher)

The event will be chaired by Alex Colás (Politics, Birkbeck) and co-convened with the Isaac Deutscher Memorial Prize Committee.

Tuesday 12 May 2009, 18:00-19:30
Clore Management Building, Room 203
Torrington Square, London WC1 7HX

Alejandro Colas
Senior Lecturer in International Relations
School of Politics and Sociology
Birkbeck College
Malet Street, Bloomsbury
London WC1E 7HX

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