Hunting a Red Wolf — Peter Imandt’s bicentenary

by James Barrowman

Today marks the bicentenary of Peter Joseph Imandt (1823–1897), a German teacher in Dundee for forty years as well as a revolutionary and a friend and correspondent of Karl Marx. Known in his youth as the ‘Red Wolf’, Imandt was a significant figure in German radical history in his own right. The Saarland equivalent of the Rosa Luxemburg Society is named in his honour. Despite the frequency of references to Imandt in Marx’s correspondence, and the fact he has a permanent place in the McManus Galleries through the materials relating to his daughter Marie Imandt’s trip around the world as one of DC Thomson’s ‘Two Intrepid Ladies’, there is remarkably little written in English that expands upon the bare, yet fascinating, details of his political life. He was well-regarded enough in Communist circles for his second life as a Dundee schoolteacher to provoke shock and disappointment. The move was gossiped upon in letters, and the sentiment is neatly summarised in one from Jenny Marx to Louise Weydemeyer in 1861: “Imandt is a married man in Scotland — Red Wolf a teacher in some godforsaken spot — turned philistine”.

James Barrowman and Mike Arnott, secretary of Dundee Trades Union Council, at the grave of Peter Imandt on the 200th anniversary of his birth

Imandt and Marx had attended the same grammar school in Trier, the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Gymnasium, albeit not at the same time. The Gymnasium was a breeding-ground for radicals. Marx’s schoolmates included other ‘forty-eights’ like Ludwig Joseph Bleser, Ludwig Simon, Viktor Valdenaire and Friedrich Zell. It was so consistent in its promotion of democratic and republican ideals that the Prussian government instructed their secret police to undertake a campaign of surveillance. Its main target was Johann Wyttenbach, a teacher who played a substantial part in moulding the mind of the young Marx. When the authorities intervened to remove Wyttenbach from his position as director, and replaced him with a conservative classics tutor called Vitus Loers, Marx made his feelings clear. He refused to visit Loers upon his commencement of the post, which he was under obligation to do. He also refused to attend a formal dinner held in the new director’s honour. This was taken as an affront, and Marx’s father was forced to lie and say that young Karl had tried to make the visit unsuccessfully in order to cover his tracks. Some of Marx’s schoolwork survives, and of particular interest is an essay he wrote at seventeen, ‘Considerations of a Young Man on Choosing His Career’. In this piece, foreshadowing his later achievements, Marx concludes that a man is insufficient if he prioritises his own individual success above all else: “If he is working only for himself, he can become a famous scholar, a sage, a distinguished writer, but never a complete, a truly great, man.” What separates Marx the scholar and sage from Imandt the philistine is a thorny and complex question.

For a summary of Peter Imandt’s contributions in 1848, we need look no further than Marx himself, describing their activity in Herr Vogt (1860), sometimes considered to be his ‘forgotten work’, that caused him to lose a year of work on Capital:

“On the outbreak of the revolution, Imandt left university in order to take part as a volunteer in the war in Schleswig-Holstein.

In 1849 Schily and Imandt led the storming of the arsenal in Prüm and from there they forced a passage to the Palatinate with their troops and the weapons they had seized. There they joined the ranks of the army of the Imperial Constitution. Having been expelled from Switzerland in the early summer of 1852 they made their way to London.”

Varying assessments of Imandt’s worth and usefulness were a consistent cause for disagreement between Marx and Engels. In 1852, Engels made disparaging comments in a letter to Joseph Wedemeyer, describing how Heinrich Heise used to call on Marx, “never unchaperoned by that lout Imandt and that philistine jackass Schily”. That same year, Marx was impressed by Imandt’s conduct in a stormy meeting concerning the financing of a new German publication, when an attendee named Damm “constantly interrupted” Imandt and “wanted to rule him out of order”. While Imandt read out a passage about the proletariat, a painter named Franck rose in indignation and said: “I can’t stand it anymore, I grunt.” Imandt quickly rebutted that this was something he had in common with other animals. Engels replied to this report by accepting that “Imandt does pretty well for himself after his own fashion”, but could not resist peppering in more condescension, describing Imandt as a deus minimorum gentium, canis domesticus communismi germanici (a god of the minor nation and a house dog of German communism). Engels concluded that Imandt was useful, with the caveat that “we have now learned to keep lesser folk of this kind on a short rein”.

Two years later, in 1854, Engels struggled to conceal his contempt when Imandt was caught up in a legal complaint: “It suits me very well that the swank and swagger of the Heise-Dronke-Imandt trio should come to an inglorious end, for otherwise one would get no respite from these people with their rumbustious drunken contentiousness.” Yet again, Marx was quick to defend Imandt’s conduct: “If he takes part in their childish nonsense, he does so at most in a theoretical sense. Down here, Imandt lives the life of a sober, hard-working citizen.” In Franz Mehring’s biography of Marx, he accepts that the writer of Capital was not one to “greet every new acquaintance as a friend and a brother immediately”, but claims that once a relationship was secured Marx’s “loyalty to his friends was beyond reproach and his friendship firm”. The story of the camaraderie between Marx and Imandt reveals the contradictions in Marx’s interpersonal relationships and their intersection with his political philosophy. This was evident from their first meeting, as at the same congress where “his intolerable arrogance is alleged to have repulsed men who would gladly have approached him”, Marx secured “lifelong friends” in the form of Imandt and Schily.

In 1855 Karl and Jenny suffered the loss of their son Charles, affectionately termed Musch. Imandt was able to extend a kindness to the Marx family. Chased by creditors and finding their surroundings coloured by grief, writing that “the memory of our poor, dear child torments us”, they sought a new home. Imandt was at the same time heading northwards to seek work in Montrose and Arbroath, which Marx thought a dubious prospect. Nevertheless, Imandt invited the family to take up residence at his cottage in Camberwell for the duration of his work in Scotland, soon to be rendered indefinite. New surroundings certainly helped the family to begin to gradually heal. On their arrival at the cottage, a letter of Jenny’s about the children depicts the bleak circumstances the family were in and the urgency of the change of scenery that Imandt’s accommodation provided: “All their lovely little games have stopped, their songs have fallen silent. The third person in their circle was missing , their loyal, inseparable comrade left with his happy jokes and games, with his wondrous ringing voice which used to sing Scottish and Irish folk songs.”

Imandt meanwhile managed to secure work in Dundee, with the help of a letter of recommendation from the poet Ferdinand Freiligrath. His writings were respected in the city at that time, possibly in part for his ‘Trotz Alledem’, a translation of the ‘A Man’s a Man for A’ That’ of Robert Burns that was explicitly repurposed in response to the 1848 revolution. A letter from Marx to Engels in 1856 suggests Imandt did not immediately adapt to his new life as a teacher in Dundee: “Imandt himself grumbles a great deal about the Scots, with whom it is impossible to have more than 12 lessons to teach them German, whatever ruses he adopts.” Marx must have been curious enough to see the philistine Scots attempting German for himself, as that same year he made arrangements to visit Imandt, telling Engels: “Should you write to me during this week, address the letters ‘C. Marx, CARE OF P. Imandt, 29 Cowgate, Dundee.” However, this visit never came to fruition, as Pieper convinced Marx to travel to Hull instead.

Whether this visit ever took place as initially planned seems to me a bit of a mystery. Marx’s long standing friendship with Imandt is likely what gave rise to the urban myth that Marx had a ticket for the ill-fated train that befell the Tay Bridge Disaster in 1879, but that has no basis in fact. Yet, there remains a suggestion that Marx did visit Dundee in 1859. W.O. Henderson’s essay ‘Marx in Manchester’ indicates so: “Marx was away from London for about three weeks visiting Engels and Wolff in Manchester and Imandt and Heise in Dundee.” This appears to be seconded in Hal Draper’s The Marx-Engels Chronicle, where on the subject of Das Volk’s financing he states that “M also talks about it to Imandt and Heise in Dundee”. The German-language biography of Imandt by Erhard Kiehnbaum also claims Marx visited in 1859.

However, a glance at Marx’s correspondence from this period does not offer a definitive answer. We know that Marx arrived in Manchester on approximately the 12th of June 1859, the day after the publication of part one of his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. He sent one recorded letter to publisher Franz Duncker from Manchester on the 22nd. From there he went to Scotland to meet with Imandt and Heise, arriving back in London around the 2nd of July. Marx’s first letter to Engels after he left Manchester is not until the 14th of July. Here he apologises for a long silence after one week where he “had to scurry round like mad” on paper business, and one in which “PRIVATE MATTERS obtruded”. Yet in this letter the subject of Imandt, Heise and Scotland is not touched on at all, despite the heavy Das Volk focus and the fact it was customary for Marx to write to Engels and pass on gossip about their comrades in Scotland. In a letter to Lassalle later in 1859, Marx confirms he was in Scotland for “business reasons” during this period. I am unable to say with any certainty where he visited while in Scotland, and look forward to hearing about evidence I have not reviewed.

A letter to Engels in May had related the news of Imandt’s engagement: “Imandt is marrying his landlady’s daughter, a Scotswoman. Auch eine schöne Gegend!” This German phrase references a joke where a mother tells a friend that her son has been killed in Leipzig, to which she responds: “And a nice district, too!” In 1860, Marx wrote that Imandt had become a father and that he had “grown thin as a rake, has been ill all the summer and still is. Poor devil!” Curiously next time he is described some manner of reversal has taken place, as Marx in 1862 reports Imandt “has grown frightfully obese. It’s almost as though a second back has formed on top of his old one.” Marx spoke of his lifelong friends with a casual cruelty, but there is an affection in his descriptions that he did not show for his enemies. The closeness of the relationship between Marx and Imandt is shown through their interactions with each other’s families. There is warmth in Jenny’s letters to Imandt, whether he had turned philistine or otherwise. In 1870, Imandt’s nephew Robert stayed with the family in between Paris and Dundee, and Marx described him as “a very sound and well-educated young man who has given us all immense pleasure”. The next time he wrote, he asked after ‘Bourbaki Junior’ — a reference to the French general who famously ran into trouble at the Swiss border. An 1858 letter from another Imandt nephew, aptly named Carl, urges the Marx family to visit next spring so that he might see “the redhead” Laura and “black-haired Jenny” again.

Traces of Imandt in the Dundee press paint a picture quite different from the one depicted in the letters of Marx and Engels. It did not take him long to earn the respect and admiration of Dundonians. Already in March 1857, there was a complimentary supper held in his honour, at which he gave a talk in German on ‘The Cause of Italian Independence’ and received toasts from friends and former students. As a teacher, The Dundee Courier reports he “won for himself the affection of his pupils, as well as secured the approbation of the parents. These, he thought, were the highest testimonials.” He played an active part in the Dundee Chess Club, and kept an eye on local events — he is recorded present at political meetings and was at one time an active force on the educational board. In 1862 he was able to poke fun at the Reverend George Gilfillan during a dinner held for William MacLaren, advising him to begin taking German lessons so as to read Goethe and Schiller in the original and therefore revise his arguments from an earlier lecture on their atheistic tendencies.

Imandt also kept Marx aware of his reception in Dundee. In 1872, he thanked Marx for sending him a French translation of the first part of Capital, of which the German original had for years proven a ‘hard nut’ for him to crack. It has been theorised that Imandt’s lukewarm reaction to Capital and delay in responding harmed their relationship somewhat. In the same letter, he notes that The Dundee Advertiser had called it an ouvrage de luxe on account of the pretty pictures. He passes on regards from Robert, now tutoring in Edinburgh, and tells how he has aged into “an old Scottish schoolmaster who heartily greets you all”. Later, in 1875, Imandt wrote to Marx with another complimentary enclosure from The Advertiser, written under the name of ‘An Internationalist’. Marx replied speculating that it came from Barry, who he describes as “a very fanatical Scottish party member”. This is probably Michael ‘Maltman’ Barry, who was accused at one stage of being a British spy and later became a committed Tory.

Upon Imandt’s death, some years after Marx’s own, The Dundee Courier featured two tributes that depict the schoolmaster not as a lout or a philistine, but as a scholar, a sage, and a great man. An unnamed correspondent who knew him well wrote: “He was not long in Dundee when it was discovered that there appeared amongst us a highly trained intellect of rare acuteness and penetration, cosmopolitan in its instincts and capable of taking a wide survey of most of the subjects that interest humanity.” Beyond his knowledge and talents as an educator, he was admired socially: “His bonhomie, his joyousness of spirit, and his great conversational powers, notwithstanding the drawbacks of his having to impress himself in a language not familiar to him and a certain abruptness of manner arising chiefly from his hatred of all pretence and sham, made him a welcome guest in social circles.” The tribute does not sanitise his past or obscure his radical politics either, it says plainly that “his reverence for the author of Capital was boundless, and one of his greatest treasures was a copy of Marx’s masterpiece presented to him by the author himself”. Given these qualities, it is no surprise that Imandt, like Wyttenbach before him, fostered a generation of radical students. The eulogy states: “He soon became the centre of a band of young men in the town who took an interest in something higher than local politics.”

While there are lists of his students scattered throughout the papers printed during his forty years in Dundee, it is difficult to get a picture of who these disciples may have been. For both Marx and Imandt, the clearest examples of the impact their teachings had on young minds are their children. We can say for certain that Eleanor Marx did visit Dundee, during a speaking tour with her husband Edward Aveling in 1895. She remained close with friends of her father, including Engels and Liebknecht, throughout her life, so we can speculate that Peter Imandt may well have been in attendance. Marie Imandt had risen to even greater prominence than her father locally through her serialised travel literature and a successful series of lectures with magic lantern slides of photographs taken during her journey. During their trip, Marie and her companion Bessie Maxwell sought to inform their views on the treatment of women around the world, and prioritised visits to factories, prisons, and women’s shelters over typical tourist sights.

Whether Marx himself ever made it to Dundee or not, Imandt was the first of the thousands that have brought him into this city through other means. This afternoon I visited his grave at Barnhill Cemetery in Broughty Ferry with Mike Arnott, where we laid flowers and talked about his life. I chose to think of him, in 1856 or 1859 or anytime in the twenty-eight years he lived here while Marx was alive, unsure whether he’s coming or not, but anticipating his arrival. Laughing with his friends at the Chess Club about the night Marx stayed up until morning analysing the board during a game against Liebknecht. Telling his students about his greatest treasures. Saying to a comrade: they used to call me the Red Wolf.



James Barrowman is a writer and PhD student at the University of Dundee. His project, 'Counterfooting the Conjuring of a Ghaist', attempts to reimagine two lost plays by James Wedderburn from the sixteenth-century, by weaving together fragments and anecdotes from Dundonian history. He also works as a barista and a tour guide.



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