Anti-Church Movement. Demonstration in Hyde Park
|Written||25 June 1855|
Marked with the sign x
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.302-306), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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 (see Agitation over The Tightening-up of Sunday Observance) under the joint editorial heading: "Anti-Church Movement. [—Demonstration in Hyde Park"].
London, June 25. It is an old and historically established maxim that obsolete social forces which are still nominally in possession of all the attributes of power and continue to vegetate long after the basis of their existence has rotted away, because the heirs are quarrelling among themselves over the inheritance even before the obituary notice has been printed and the testament read, such forces, when they face their final death struggle, will once more muster all their strength, pass from the defensive to the offensive, become defiant instead of evasive and seek to draw extreme conclusions from premises which have not only been put in question but already found wanting. This is the case today with the English oligarchy and the Church, its twin sister. Countless attempts at reorganisation have been made within the Established Church, both the High and the Low Church, attempts to come to an understanding with the Dissenters and thus to set up a compact force to oppose the impious mass of the nation. There has been a rapid succession of religious coercive measures. The pious Earl of Shaftesbury, formerly known as Lord Ashley, mournfully announced in the House of Lords that in England alone five million had become wholly alienated not only from the Church but from Christianity. "Compelle intrare", is the reply of the Established Church. It leaves it to Lord Ashley and similar dissenting, sectarian and overwrought pietists to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for it.
The first measure of religious coercion was the Beer Bill, which shut down all places of public entertainment on Sundays, except between 6 and 10 p.m. This Bill was smuggled through the House at the end of a sparsely attended sitting, after the pious men had bought the support of the big public-house owners of London by assuring them that the licensing system would continue, that is, that big capital would retain its monopoly. Then came the Sunday Trading Bill, the third reading of which has now taken place in the Commons and separate clauses of which have just been debated in the Committee of the Whole House. This new coercive measure too was sure to receive the votes of big capital, because only small shopkeepers keep open on Sunday and the proprietors of the big stores are quite willing to do away with the Sunday competition of the small fry by parliamentary means. In both cases there is a conspiracy of the Church with the monopoly of capital, but in both cases religious penal laws are to be imposed on the lower classes to set the conscience of the privileged classes at rest. just as the Beer Bill did not hurt the aristocratic clubs so the Sunday Trading Bill does not interfere with the Sunday occupations of genteel society. The workers get their wages late on Saturday: it is for them alone that trade is carried on on Sundays. They are the only ones compelled to make their purchases, small as they are, on Sundays. The new bill is therefore directed against them alone. The French aristocracy said in the eighteenth century: For us, Voltaire; for the people, the mass and the tithes. The English aristocracy says in the nineteenth century: For us, sanctimonious phrases; for the people, Christian practice. The classical saints of Christianity mortified their body for the salvation of the souls of the masses; the modern, educated saints mortify the bodies of the masses for the salvation of their own souls.
This alliance between a dissipated, degenerating and pleasure-seeking aristocracy and the Church, an alliance based on squalid profiteering on the part of beer magnates and monopolistic wholesalers, occasioned yesterday a mass demonstration in Hyde Park, the like of which London has not seen since the death of George IV, "the first gentleman of Europe". We saw it from beginning to end and do not think it is an exaggeration to say that the English Revolution began in Hyde Park yesterday. The latest news from the Crimea acted as an effective ferment upon this "unparliamentary", "extraparliamentary" , and "anti-parliamentary" demonstration.
When someone objected that the Sunday Trading Bill was directed exclusively against the poor and not at all against the rich, Lord Robert Grosvenor, who initiated the Bill, retorted that
"the aristocracy was largely refraining from employing its servants and horses on Sundays".
The following wall poster, issued by the Chartists, which could be seen throughout London at the end of last week announced in ,huge letters:
"New Sunday Bill prohibiting newspapers, shaving, smoking, eating and drinking and all kinds of recreation and nourishment, both corporal and spiritual, which the poor people still enjoy at the present time. An open-air meeting of artisans, workers and 'the lower orders' generally of the capital will take place in Hyde Park on Sunday afternoon to see how religiously the aristocracy is observing the Sabbath and how anxious it is not to employ its servants and horses on that day, as Lord Robert Grosvenor said in his speech. The meeting is called for three o'clock on the right bank of the Serpentine (a small river in Hyde Park) on the side towards Kensington Gardens. Come and bring your wives and children in order that they may profit by the example their 'betters' set them!"
It should be borne in mind, of course, that what Longchamps means to the Parisians, the riding track along the Serpentine in Hyde Park means to the English haute volée—the place where in the afternoon, particularly on Sunday, they parade their magnificent carriages and their finery and exercise their horses, followed by swarms of lackeys. It will be realised from the above poster that the struggle against clericalism assumes the same character as every serious struggle in England—that of a class struggle waged by the poor against the rich, the people against the aristocracy, the "lower orders" against their "betters".
Approximately 50,000 people had gathered at the place announced on the immense lawn on the right bank of the Serpentine in Hyde Park at about 3 o'clock. Gradually the assembled multitude swelled to a total of at least 200,000 due to additions from the other bank. One could see that small groups of people were made to move from one spot to another. The police, who were present in force, were obviously endeavouring to deprive the organisers of the meeting of what Archimedes had asked for to move the earth, namely, one firm spot to stand upon. Finally a fairly large crowd made a firm stand and Bligh the Chartist constituted himself chairman on a small eminence in the midst of the throng. No sooner had he begun his harangue than Police Inspector Banks at the head of 40 truncheon-swinging constables explained to him that the Park was the private property of the Crown and that meetings could not be held there. After some negotiations in which Bligh sought to demonstrate to him that parks were public property and in which Banks rejoined he had strict orders to arrest him if he should insist on carrying out his intention. Bligh shouted amidst the bellowing of the masses surrounding him:
"Her Majesty's police declare that Hyde Park is private property of the Crown and that Her Majesty is unwilling to let her land be used by the people for their meetings. So let's move to Oxford Market."
With the ironical cry: "God save the Queen!" the throng broke up to walk to Oxford Market. But meanwhile Finlen, a member of the Chartist Executive, rushed to a tree some distance away followed by a crowd who in a twinkle formed so close and compact a circle around him that the police abandoned their attempt to get at him.
"Six days a week," he said, "we are treated like slaves and now Parliament wants to rob us of the bit of freedom we still have on the seventh. These oligarchs and capitalists allied with sanctimonious parsons wish to do penance by mortifying us instead of themselves for the unconscionable murder in the Crimea of the sons of the people."
We left this group to approach another where a speaker stretched out on the ground addressed his audience from this horizontal position. Suddenly, shouts could be heard on all sides: "Let's go to the Row, to the carriages!" The heaping of insults upon riders and occupants of carriages had already begun. The constables, who constantly received reinforcements from the city, drove the promenading pedestrians off the road. They thus helped to form a thick throng of people on either side of Rotten-Row, from Apsley House along the Serpentine as far as Kensington Gardens—a distance of more than a quarter of an hour walk. The spectators consisted of about two-thirds workers and one-third members of the middle class, all with women and children. The involuntary actors comprising elegant ladies and gentlemen, "commoners and lords", in their high coaches-and-four with liveried lackeys in front and behind, joined by a few elderly gentlemen on horseback slightly under the weather from the effects of wine—were not showing off this time but were made to run the gauntlet. A babel of jeering, taunting, discordant ejaculations, in which no language is as rich as English, enveloped them from both sides. As it was an improvised concert, instruments were lacking. The chorus therefore had to use its own organs and was compelled to confine itself to vocal music. And what a diabolical concert it was: a cacophony of grunting, hissing, whistling, squeaking, snarling, growling, croaking, shrieking, groaning, rattling, howling, gnashing sounds! A music that could drive men mad and move a stone. To this must be added outbursts of genuine old-English humour peculiarly mixed with long-contained seething wrath. "Go to church!" were the only articulate sounds that could be distinguished. One lady soothingly offered a prayer book in conventional binding from her carriage. "Give it to read to your horses!" came the thunderous reply, shouted by a thousand voices. When the horses started to take fright and began to rear, buck and finally run away, jeopardising the lives of their genteel burdens, the derisive shouting grew louder, more menacing and more ruthless. Some of the noble lords and ladies, among them Lady Granville, the wife of a minister and President of the Privy Council, were forced to alight and use their own legs. When some elderly gentlemen rode past whose apparel and especially their broad-brimmed hats betrayed their special claim to perfectitude in matters of belief, the cries of fury as if by command were drowned by irrepressible laughter. One of these gentlemen lost his patience. Like Mephistopheles he made an impolite gesture, sticking out his tongue at the enemy. "He is a word-catcher, a parliamentary man! He fights with his own weapons!" someone shouted on one side of the road. "He is a saint! He is psalm singing!" was the antistrophe from the opposite side. Meanwhile the metropolitan electric telegraph had informed all police stations that a riot was about to break out in Hyde Park and the police were ordered to the theatre of military operations. Soon one detachment after another marched at short intervals through the double file of people, from Apsley House to Kensington Gardens, each received with the popular ditty:
"Where are gone the geese?
Ask the police!"
This was an allusion to a notorious theft of geese which a constable had perpetrated in Clerkenwell a short time ago. The spectacle lasted three hours. Only English lungs could perform such a feat. During the performance opinions such as "This is only the beginning!" "That is the first step!" "We hate them!" and the like were voiced by various groups. While rage was inscribed on the faces of the workers, such smiles of blissful self-satisfaction covered the physiognomies of the middle classes as we had never seen there before. Shortly before the end the demonstration increased in violence. Canes were menacingly raised at the carriages and the cry of "you rascals!" could be heard through the welter of discordant noises. During the three hours zealous Chartists, men and women, made their way through the throng distributing leaflets which stated in big type:
"Reorganisation of Chartism!"
"A big public meeting will take place next Tuesday, June 26th, in the Literary and Scientific Institute in Friar Street, Doctors' Commons, to elect delegates to a conference for the reorganisation of Chartism in the capital. Admission free."
Most of the London papers carry today only a brief account of the events in Hyde Park. No leading articles have appeared as yet, except in Lord Palmerston's Morning Post. It writes that
"a scene in the highest degree disgraceful and dangerous was enacted yesterday in Hyde Park", an "outrage on law and decency. [...] It was distinctly illegal to interfere, by physical force, with the free action of the Legislature [...].We must have no repetition of violence on Sunday next, as has been threatened".
At the same time, however, it declares that the "fanatical" Lord Grosvenor is solely "responsible" for this mischief, and that he has provoked the "just indignation of the people"! As though Parliament had not passed Lord Grosvenor's Bill in three readings! Or perhaps he too brought his influence to bear "by physical force on the free action of the Legislature"?
- The High Church—a trend in the Anglican Church which stressed the latter's derivation from Catholicism, maintained the traditional rituals and originally drew its following mainly from the aristocracy.
The Low Church—a trend in the Anglican Church which laid special emphasis on Christian morality; its following originally consisted predominantly of members of the bourgeoisie and the lower clergy.
Dissidents or dissenters were members of various Protestant sects and trends in England who to some degree or other rejected the dogmas of the Established Church.
- Shaftesbury's speech on June 12, 1855. The Times, No. 22079, June 13, 1855.—Ed.
- "Compel them to come in, that my house may be filled" (Luke, 14:23).—Ed.
- Marx uses the English terms "Beer Bill" and, below, "Sunday Trading Bill".—Ed.
- According to British Parliamentary procedure the House of Commons, when discussing certain important questions, may declare itself a Committee of the Whole House. Each of its sittings is presided over by one of a list of chairmen who is appointed by the Speaker.
- From Grosvenor's speech in the House of Commons on June 13, 1855. The Times, No. 22080, June 14, 1855.—Ed.
- A hippodrome on the outskirts of Paris.—Ed.
- The upper crust.—Ed.
- Marx uses the English words.—Ed.
- A reference to the Executive Committee of the National Charter Association. Founded in July 1840 and numbering nearly 50,000 members in its heyday, the Association was the first mass working-class party in the history of the labour movement. In 1848, the defeat of the Chartists and division in their ranks drastically reduced the Association's following. Nevertheless, in the 1850s the Association, headed by Ernest Jones and other revolutionary leaders, launched a campaign for the revival of Chartism on a revolutionary basis. It urged the implementation of the People's Charter and the socialist principles proclaimed by the Chartist Convention in 1851.
In 1855 widespread discontent with the policy of the ruling oligarchy induced the revolutionary Chartists to make another attempt to reorganise Chartism. In the summer of that year a number of local Chartist committees were elected, and in August the Executive Committee of the National Charter Association was formed. It included Ernest Jones, Abraham Robinson and James Finlen. The Association ceased its activities in 1858.
- Marx uses the English words "Go to church!" followed by a German translation in brackets.—Ed.
- Marx uses the English words "prayer book" and "Give it to read to your horses!" followed by a German translation in brackets.—Ed.
- Cf. Goethe, Faust, Der Tragödie erster Teil. Hexenküche.—Ed.
- Marx gives these and the following exclamations in English and translates them in brackets.—Ed.
- Marx quotes in English and gives the German translation in brackets.—Ed.
- Marx uses the English words followed by a German translation in parenthesis.—Ed.
- The Morning Post, No. 25422, June 25, 1855.—Ed.