all that is solid b&w1

Riverside, Greenwich, London. Photo: Su Leslie, 2015

It is ironic, or perhaps just fitting, that these words should be painted on rusting industrial pipes abandoned beside London’s river Thames; they come from The Manifesto of Communist Party, written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and first published in London in 1848.

The phrase is from a section of the manifesto (1) describing the ways that capitalism fundamentally changes economic, social and even physical structures. By their nature, capitalist enterprises require constant growth and innovation to survive. With changing economic conditions, old social and cultural relationships give way (willingly or not) to new forms of engagement. That which seemed permanent is no more.

London, like many cities, is growing rapidly, with huge physical changes to the landscape. Much of this growth — in construction and infrastructure development — is taking place south of the river around Greenwich and eastward towards the Thames Estuary. The skyline is punctuated with the harsh geometry of cranes and tower blocks.

London skyline. Photo: Su Leslie, 2015

View from a Greenwich apartment. Photo: Su Leslie, 2015

Earlier this year, we spent a week in Greenwich. Our apartment, occupying a corner position on the seventh floor of a building, had expansive views; of the Cutty Sark, of the three-hundred-year-old St Alfege church (designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor) — and of building work. From every window, the prevailing view was of cranes and half-built apartment blocks, rising above London’s history.

Old and new. Local pub closed, as new apartment developments rise up. Greenwich, London. Photo: Su Leslie, 2015

Loss of community. No place for an old-style neighbourhood pub amidst new housing developments. Greenwich, London. Photo: Su Leslie, 2015

Canary Wharf Station, London. Photo: Su Leslie, 2015

Evening at Canary Wharf Station, London. Photo: Su Leslie, 2015

We are beginning to wake up to the fact that unlimited growth is not possible on the closed, finite system that is our planet. Voices of dissent are growing in strength and number and I would like to think that Marx’s words can have another meaning — that neo-liberal ideologies, which are currently made to appear as “solid fact”, will melt in the heat of public scrutiny and critical analysis.

Change is inevitable; the form it takes is up to us.

This post was written for Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge.


(1) The full paragraph is:

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind (I. Bourgeois and Proletarians, Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848).


All that is solid melts into air

22 thoughts on “All that is solid melts into air

    • Wow! I’m impressed. I discovered Marx at about 19, and got through my first year at Uni writing essays and exam answers that were variations on a the same 2-3 themes; Marx on alienation, Marx of modes of production, Marx on …. You get the picture.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I very thought-making piece, Su. We used to go into Greenwich quite often when we lived in Kent. There were still some shreds of community there then, but one wonders what on earth is going on in London – who or what is funding all the constant redevelopment? Is it just property speculation and an Emperor’s New Clothes of a city? How can it be happening on such a scale when everyone else is being subject to cuts and austerity measures? Personally, I think we’re all being hoodwinked. It reminds me of the story of the Kenyan charlatan priest, who won large crowds with his flamboyant, full-of-holy-spirit style. Then he got everyone to close their eyes while praying, so he could run off with the collection money.

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    • Thank you Tish. We wondered too how all the building was being paid for. Having been away from England for 15 years (with only three short visits in that time), we really noticed the contrast between all the glass and glitter of London, and the rather tatty state of the hinterland. One thing that really struck us was the amount of litter along the roadside. At first we thought a truck may have overturned, or had an insecure load, but after seeing plastic bags and other debris caught in trees and hedges, and all along the ground, we realised it was a much bigger problem. It really made the otherwise lovely countryside seem very shabby. I assume that budget cuts mean that councils can’t afford to have rubbish picked up anymore.

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        • Makes me feel very grateful for our weekly rubbish collection and fortnightly recyclables collections. I have been known to pick up rubbish dropped by people, follow them with it, and say (as sweetly as I could manage) “excuse me, I think you dropped this” and hand it back to them. The boy-child cringes, but I notice he’s very conscious of his own litter.

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  2. Great entry for the challenge Su!You have so thoughtfully connected Political Systems and Brutalist Architecture.I’ve been watching all these contradictory constructions in London & outer London for many years now.My first bad experience was when things started to change down in the Docklands and I could hardly work it out in my poor mind then.We are talking about real eyesores next to historical and traditional areas.I consider your first photo pure Conceptual Art.Truly,so ironic.Strong the words from “The Communist Manifest” pamphlet on the rusry pipes by the river …
    Revolutionary Evolution or an Inevitable Evil both in Politics and Architecture ?
    Your last statement epitomises it all and sensitises your WP visitors.Thank you for this remarkable and thought-provoking entry in Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge 🙂 Doda xxx
    PS:When next time in London visit Highgate Cemetery in north London to see Karl Marx’ grave … There are always fresh flowers on it …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Doda. Thank you so much for your comments and good wishes. When I was talking to a friend about this post, he suggested I read Marshall Berman’s book (named after the Marx quote) about modernism in the 20th century. Exciting: I had to admit I’d never heard of it. Never having visited Highgate while I lived near London is one of those “I’m still kicking myself” things. I will try to remedy on my next visit. Thank you again, dear Doda. I hope you are well. xx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A very thoughtful and profound post Su.

    I particularly like “I would like to think that Marx’s words can have another meaning — that neo-liberal ideologies, which are currently made to appear as “solid fact”, will melt in the heat of public scrutiny and critical analysis. Change is inevitable; the form it takes is up to us.”

    I am not a fan of growth for the sake of growth which is what I think has been happening at a frenzied rate the past 25 years or more. I would like to believe that public scrutiny and critical analysis still mean something although every effort is made to muzzle it.

    Your selection of photos really enhance the piece you’ve written – especially since they’ve been presented in b&w.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge: looking back on the year | Zimmerbitch

  5. Pingback: A BOOK REWIEW: ALL THAT IS SOLID MELTS INTO AIR – Architecture & Society | Mimarlık & Toplum


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