Communist Pub Crawl Through London

Harry Wise, BA Politics

During the 1970s, when the trade unions were considered more powerful than the government, union leaders, such as Jack Jones, would often pop round to 10 Downing Street for ‘beer and sandwiches’ to thrash out a new deal with the government of the day. Beer has always been a favourite for the radical man. After all, Marx and Engels both liked a pint.

Any left-winger wanting a night on the town might like to try a ‘Communist Pub Crawl.’ Pubs have been the favourite haunt for many a socialist. The History Society at King’s College, London did a pub crawl in 2014 that went around pubs that Karl Marx has known to have drank in.

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So, if you were to go on a Communist pub crawl, what pubs would you visit? Well, let’s start in Bloomsbury itself and outside one of the greatest institutions in the world, the British Museum. The Museum Tavern, as the Lonely Planet describes, is ‘a lovely traditional pub set around a long bar.’ Its Victorian interior has carved wooden fittings, etched and cut-glass outer windows. Arthur Conan Doyle was a well-known regular. And so was Karl Marx. He would drink there after spending many hours writing Das Kapital. Marx would go on long pub crawls with other German revolutionaries and was quite the drinker. And today, students still cause the same raucous antics that Marx and his mates would have caused inside this establishment.

So you’ve had your first pint. Now let’s take the 55 bus and be off to Clerkenwell Green and the Crown Tavern. This is where Communism’s very own version of Lennon and McCartney met for the first time. According to the archives, Lenin and Stalin met each other for the first time at this pub in 1905. Wonder what they might have said, as you consume your £5 Strawberry Blonde and Dusk cocktails. Clerkenwell itself is a fascinating area for communists. It’s home to the Marx Memorial Library, a treasure trove of British socialist history. The building was also home to the William Morris-backed Twentieth Century Press Ltd, which published the Social Democratic Federation newspaper, Justice. The SDF was Britain’s first organised socialist political party and its members included former Labour party leader, George Lansbury and Eleanor Marx, Karl Marx’s daughter. Lenin was also a frequent visitor to the library.

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Off to Holloway on the Piccadilly line now. Anybody who has visited the Emirates Stadium may have passed El Comandante. With a Che Guevara pub sign to boot, this South American bar in a pub will delight Corbynistas. Corbyn himself, is an Arsenal fan, but probably hasn’t visited El Comandante himself. He’s a teetotaller. There’s Latin music on the jukebox though and as fancyapint.com says, ‘with a warm welcome from the Bolivian landlord, it’s easy to forget you’re on the grey backstreets of N7.’

The Flask in Highgate is another north London haunt of Karl Marx. It was also a favourite of Romantic poets like Shelley and Keats. A Fuller’s pub, it is one of the few that still engages in the old ceremony of “The Swearing on the Horns.” The ceremony, which is nothing more than a farcical oath, involves a costumed Master presiding over a ceremony where revellers commit to debauchery reminiscent of a Roman bacchanalia.

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Finally, there’s no better place for a Red to go, than the former Red Lion of Soho. It’s a Be at One now chain pub now. And despite its facelessness, it was here in 1847 that Marx and Engels gave lectures in a room above the pub. That room is now a restaurant. But more famously, it was where they wrote an ‘action programme’ for The Communist League. This programme was published in 1848 and was titled ‘The Communist Manifesto.’

So, Reds of London! If you want to smash capitalism, inspire the next proletarian revolution, and are looking for political inspiration, then what’s better than having a night on the town and visiting some old Communist hangouts? You probably won’t see very much revolution in the real world, but in years to come, you’ll at least be nostalgic for the times when you thought you could.

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Post Author: SOAS Spirit

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