Agitation over The Tightening-up of Sunday Observance

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 2 July 1855


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First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 307, July 5, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.323-327), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
Collection(s): Neue Oder-Zeitung

On Marx's participation in the second mass demonstration against the Anti-Sunday Trading Bill, held in Hyde Park on Sunday, July 1, 1855, see (*). On July 3, 1855 Marx wrote to Engels about this demonstration: "The scenes in Hyde Park last Sunday were disgusting, firstly because of the constables' brutality and secondly because of the purely passive resistance put up by the huge crowds. Meanwhile things are clearly seething and fermenting and we can only hope that great disasters in the Crimea will bring them to a head."

The article was first published in English in: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, On Britain, Moscow, 1953, pp. 420-25, as Part II, together with Marx's article on the demonstration of June 24, 1855 (see ) under the common editorial heading "Anti-Church Movement. Demonstration in Hyde Park".

(*) Marx's description of the mass demonstration held in Hyde Park on June 24, 1855, in protest against a series of anti-popular measures adopted by Parliament (in particular, the prohibition of Sunday trading) is based mainly on his own observations. Wilhelm Liebknecht writes in his memoirs that Marx and other German revolutionary democrats took part both in this demonstration and in one organised by the Chartists at Hyde Park on the following Sunday, July 1, 1855. According to Liebknecht, in the course of the latter demonstration, which was dispersed by the police, Marx was very nearly arrested. Two days after the events of June 24, Marx wrote to Engels: "The demonstration held at Hyde Park on Sunday afternoon looked very revolutionary." The present article was first published in English in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, On Britain, Moscow, 1953. It was printed together with another article by Marx, describing the demonstration on July 1 under the joint editorial heading: "Anti-Church Movement. [—Demonstration in Hyde Park]".

London, July 2. Yesterday there was a repeat of the demonstration against the Sunday Bill in Hyde Park[1], but this time on a larger- scale, under more ominous auspices and with more serious consequences. The general mood of gloomy agitation in London today is witness to that.

The posters which called on people to hold a second meeting also invited them to assemble in front of the house of the pious Lord Grosvenor on Sunday at 10 a.m., and to accompany him on his way to church. But the pious gentleman had already left London on Saturday in a private carriage—in order to travel incognito. That he is more inclined by nature to make martyrs of other people rather than become a martyr himself has already been proved by his circular letter which appeared in all the London newspapers, in which on the one hand he sticks to his bill whilst on the other hand he is at pains to show that it is meaningless, pointless and insignificant[2]. His house was occupied all Sunday, not by psalm-singers but by constables, 200 in number. Also the house of his brother, the Marquis of Westminster, famous for his wealth.

On Saturday Sir Richard Mayne, chief of the London police, had pasted notices on the walls of London not only " forbidding" a meeting in Hyde Park but also "forbidding" people to assemble there in "large numbers" and to exhibit any signs of approval or disapproval. The result of these ukases was, even according to the report in the police circular, that as early as 2.30 p.m. 150,000 people from all classes and of all ages, were surging to and fro, and that gradually the crowd in the park swelled to dimensions which were immensely large and astonishing even by London standards. Not only did London appear en masse; people again lined both sides of the road along the Serpentine, only this time the crowds were more closely packed and deeper than on the previous Sunday. The people who did not, however, appear were the upper crust. All in all perhaps 20 carriages appeared, the majority of which were small gigs and phaetons which were allowed to pass unmolested, whereas their more portly, larger bellied, and taller brothers, trimmed with more braid, were greeted with the same calls as previously and with the same babel of sounds, the waves of which made the air vibrate for about a mile around. The police ukases were rebutted by the mass meeting and the exercising of thousands of pairs of lungs. The upper crust had avoided the scene of action and by its absence recognised the sovereignty of the vox populi.

It was 4 o'clock and the demonstration seemed to be fizzling out into a harmless Sunday diversion from lack of anything to keep it going. But that did not suit the police. Were they to retire a general laughing-stock, casting melancholy parting glances at their own notices, which people could read at the main gate of the park in huge letters? What is more, their high dignitaries were present, Sir Richard Mayne and superintendents Gibbs and Walker on horseback, and inspectors Banks, Darkin and Brennan on foot. Eight hundred constables were strategically positioned, mainly hidden in buildings and ambuscades. Stronger detachments had been positioned at intervals nearby as reinforcements. The home of the chief park attendant, the powder magazine and the premises of the rescue services, all situated at a point where the road along the Serpentine turns into a path leading to Kensington Gardens, had been converted into improvised block houses manned by large forces of police and prepared for the accommodation of prisoners and casualties. Hackney cabs were put in position outside Vine Street police station at Piccadilly ready to go to the scene of action and to escort the vanquished safely back. In short, the police had planned a far more "vigorous" campaign, as The Times puts it, "than any of which we have yet had notice in the Crimea''[3]. The police needed bloody heads and arrests so as not to go plunging directly from the sublime to the ridiculous. As soon as the two lines of people had begun to thin out more and the crowds had dispersed in various groups over the huge area of the park further away from the road, the police chiefs took up positions in the middle of the road between the two lines of people, and from their horses began issuing pompous-sounding orders right and left. Supposedly for the protection of passing carriages and riders. As, however, neither carriages nor riders appeared and there was thus nothing for them to protect, they began to pick individuals out of the crowd "under false pretences" and to have them arrested, the pretext being that they were pickpockets[4]. When these experiments became more numerous and the pretext no longer held good, a single cry ran through the crowds, and the hidden corps of constables rushed out of their ambuscades, quickly drew their truncheons, rained blows upon people's heads until they bled, here and there pulled an individual out of the crowd (a total of 104 people were arrested in this manner), and dragged them off to the improvised block houses. The left-hand side of the road is only separated from the water of the Serpentine by a narrow strip of land. By a manoeuvre a police officer and his troop managed to drive the onlookers up to the very edge of the liquid element and. were threatening to give them a cold bath. In an attempt to escape the police truncheons, one individual swam across the Serpentine to the opposite bank; however, a policeman set off after him in a boat, caught him and brought him back in triumph.

How greatly had the character of the scene changed since last Sunday! Instead of the state carriages, dirty hackney cabs which drove to and fro from the police station at Vine Street to the improvised prisons in Hyde Park and from there to the police station. Instead of footmen up on the box a constable seated next to the drunken cab-driver. Instead of the elegant ladies and gentlemen inside the coaches there were prisoners with bloody heads, tousled hair, hatless, their clothes torn, guarded by shifty-looking characters recruited from among the Irish lumpen-proletariat and pressed into the London police. Instead of the swishing of fans the whizzing of the constables' leather truncheons[5]. Last Sunday the ruling classes had shown their fashionable physiognomy, now they showed their political physiognomy. Behind the kindly grinning old gentlemen, the fashionable dandies, the genteel and frail widows, the fragrant beauties in cashmere and ostrich feathers, adorned with garlands of diamonds and flowers—was the constable with his water-proof coat, greasy oilskin hat and truncheon. It was the reverse side of the coin. Last Sunday the crowd was confronted with the ruling class in its individual form. This time it appeared as political power, the law, the truncheon. This time to resist was to commit insurrection, and the English have to be heated up slowly and for a long time before they are prepared for insurrection. Thus the counter-demonstration was on the whole limited to cat-calling and hooting and whistling at the police vehicles, to isolated and weak attempts at freeing the prisoners, and above all to passive resistance and a phlegmatic determination to remain at the scene of action.

Characteristic was the role played in this drama by the soldiers—partly from the Guards and partly from the 66th Regiment. They were present in large numbers. Twelve of them, Guards, some decorated with medals from the Crimea, were in the middle of a group of men, women and children who were the targets for police truncheons. One old man fell to the ground after receiving a blow. "The London stiffstaffs"[6] (name of abuse for the police) "are worse than the Russians were at Inkerman"[7], cried one of the heroes from the Crimea. The police grabbed him. He was immediately released to loud shouts from the crowd of "Three cheers[8] for the army!" The police considered it advisable to retire. In the meantime a number of grenadiers had joined the crowd, the soldiers formed a troop and, surrounded by the crowd and accompanied by the cry of "Long live the army, down with the police, down with the Sunday Bill!", they strutted up and down the park. The police were standing there not knowing quite what to do, when a sergeant from the guards appeared who loudly took them to task for their brutality, attempted to calm the soldiers and persuaded some of them to follow him to their barracks so as to avoid more serious collisions. The majority of the soldiers, however, stayed behind and, amongst the crowd, gave vent to their indignation against the police in impassioned terms. The antagonism between the police and the army in England goes back a long way. The present moment, when the army is the pet child[9] of the masses, is certainly not suited to diminish that in any way.

An old man by the name of Russell is reported to have died today as a result of the injuries he received; half a dozen injured people are in St. George's Hospital. During the demonstration various attempts were again made to hold separate meetings. At one such meeting, at Albert Gate, outside that part of the park originally occupied by the police, one anonymous speaker harangued his public in roughly the following manner:

"Men of Old England! Awake, rise from your slumbers, or be for ever fallen! Oppose the Government, the 'send-us-to-Church' Bill, every succeeding Sunday, as you have done today. [...] Don't fear to demand your just rights [...] but throw off the shackles of oligarchical oppression and misrule. If you do not [...] you will be irretrievably oppressed and ruined. Is it not a pity that the inhabitants of this great metropolis—the greatest in the civilised world—should have their liberties placed' in the hands of my Lord Robert Grosvenor or such a man as Lord Ebrington? His Lordship wants to drive us to church and make us religious by act of Parliament; but it won't do [...]. What are we, and what are they! Look at the present war; is it not carried on at the expense and the sacrifice of blood of the productive classes? And what are the unproductive classes doing? They are bungling it."[10]

The speaker and the meeting were of course interrupted by the police.

At Greenwich, near the observatory, Londoners held a similar meeting attended by 10,000-15,000 people. It was also cut short by the police.

  1. For an account of the first demonstration, held on June 24, see Anti-Church Movement. Demonstration in Hyde Park.—Ed.
  2. R. Grosvenor, "The Sunday Trading Bill. To the Editor of The Times", The Times, No. 22093, June 28, 1855.—Ed.
  3. The Times, No. 22095, July 2, 1855.—Ed.
  4. Marx uses the English word and gives the German translation in brackets.—Ed.
  5. Here and below Marx uses the English word.—Ed.
  6. Marx uses the English word.—Ed.
  7. A reference to the battle of Inkerman (November 5, 1854) in which the British suffered heavy losses. In the battle of Inkerman in the Crimea (November 5, 1854) the Anglo-French forces defeated the Russian army, but the Russians' vigorous action compelled the enemy to refrain from storming Sevastopol and instead lay siege to the city. Engels described the battle in detail in his article "The Battle of Inkerman".
  8. Marx uses the English word.—Ed.
  9. Marx uses the English expression.—Ed.
  10. The text of this speech was given in the report on the demonstration published in The Times, No. 22095, July 2, 1855.—Ed.