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Servant of the Revolution

by Anitra Nelson on October 31, 2017

Servant of the Revolution

Date and time: Thursday 7 December, 11.45am–1.10pm,

Venue:  Law Lounge, New Law Building, University of Sydney

A rehearsed play reading introduced by playwright Anitra Nelson, with discussion after the performance

Entry is free whether you attend the conference or not but places are limited — first in first served. For more details contact: Anitra.nelson@rmit.edu.au; 0426 766 755

Anitra Nelson was interviewed by Richard Aedy, ‘Marx’s love child”’ for Life Matters, ABC Radio National 20 July 2009, 9:00–10:00 am, available to download as a podcast HERE.

An event of the Historical Materialism Sydney Conference 2017, Sydney Law School, 7–8 December, https://hmsydney.net/

About the play

The creative non-fiction play Servant of the Revolution speculates — in women’s liberationist and socialist ways — on the relationship between Karl Marx and Lenchen (Helene Demuth), the household servant who bore his illegitimate child ‘Freddy’. Engels covered for Marx by claiming Freddy’s paternity.

Servant of the Revolution takes Lenchen’s point of view. Essentially a two-hander between Lenchen (Kate Stones) and Engels (Ken McLeod), their dialogue is interrupted by Marx’s youngest daughter, Tussy (Nioka Mellick-Cooper) whose dilemma reflects further on the dynamics of the Marx household.

This 2017 Sydney performance is by actors of a Central Victorian season in 2016. The play premiered in Melbourne in 2009 when playwright Anitra Nelson was interviewed by Richard Aedy, ‘Marx’s love child”’ for Life Matters, ABC Radio National 20 July 2009, 9–10 am, available to download as podcast.

An article on the challenges of writing the play appeared in 2010: ‘Servant of the Revolution: The creative art of serving history and the imagination’, Hecate: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Women’s Liberation 36(1&2): pp. 137–52.


Servant of the Revolution presents and analyses, in a concentrated, real time situation, the crosscurrents of lofty idealism vs. cruel pragmatism and enduring love vs. enduring duty. These forces swirl about and trap Lenchen, the faithful servant of the Marx family and the mother of Karl Marx’s illegitimate son.

Cunningly, Anitra Nelson puts Engels, not Marx, on stage as go-between and manipulative fixer when Lenchen wants to see and know her boy, long since fostered out and now a man. Engels, the prophet of revolution and freedom, pleads Victorian respectability to prevent her. He plays on the servant’s own devotion to the cause and on her indestructible love for her master, Marx.

At the end, a cheery Mrs Marx — who knows, but chooses not to know — returns home and Lenchen is where she began: the faithful servant, who will serve to the end. Her yearning can’t break through and she can’t break out.

An ironic slice of imagined biography, based on known facts, about how revolutionaries can exploit the proletariat, and are human, all-too-human, too.

Award-winning screenwriter and script editor Michael Brindley

The major impression after watching Servant of the Revolution is that one has been given a unique and disturbing glimpse into the specific circumstances and personal conduct of Karl Marx and his family.

The domestic arrangements and the personal/class relationships portrayed in the play appear detailed and authentic. The central dialogue between Engels and Helene Demuth is lively, compelling and unsettling. Every character has an individual voice and manner. By placing the action in the kitchen, the author is able to sharpen and foreground the awkward, confronting class tensions. That Marx himself doesn’t appear and others are left to pick through the consequences of his actions, creates tension and a degree of justified anger in the spectator. His absence and that of the unacknowledged son, has a potent theatrical effect.

All in all, Servant of the Revolution reveals a formidable level of research and a commitment to the complexity and truth of a potentially tragic situation. It provokes consideration about issues of class, gender and politics that remain largely unresolved and unacknowledged today.

Actor-director Paul Hampton

Anitra Nelson
Anitra Nelson is an activist-scholar and Associate Professor at RMIT University’s Centre for Urban Research, author of Marx’s Concept of Money: The God of Commodities (1999), co-editor of Life Without Money: Building Fair and Sustainable Economies (2011), and her Small Is Necessary: Shared Living on a Shared Planet was published by Pluto Press (London) in January 2018.
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