Palmerston. The Physiology of the Ruling Class of Great Britain

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 23 July 1855


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First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 343, July 26, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Published in English for the first time in MECW.
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.367-370), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
Collection(s): Neue Oder-Zeitung

London, July 23. If the guarantee of the Turkish loan[1] should run into the same opposition this evening as it did last Friday, then Palmerston will immediately dissolve the House of Commons. To the adroit all circumstances are favourable. Dissolving the Commons as a result of Bulwer's motion, or dissolving it on account of Roebuck's motion[2] —both methods are equally risky. The diplomatic activity at the Vienna conferences[3], the administration organising the winter campaign—neither position is suitable for appealing to the electorate from Parliament. But the "guarantee of the Turkish loan"! Scenery, situation and motive are transformed as if by a stroke of magic. It is no longer Parliament that condemns the Cabinet on the grounds of treachery or incompetence. It is the Cabinet which accuses Parliament of hindering the conduct of the war, of jeopardising the French alliance and of abandoning Turkey. The Cabinet no longer appeals to the country to absolve it from Parliament's condemnation. It appeals to the country to condemn Parliament. In fact the loan is so formulated that Turkey receives no money directly, but, under the most humiliating conditions for a nation, she is put under guardianship and has to allow the sum allegedly loaned to her to be administered and dispensed by English commissioners. The English administration has stood the test so brilliantly during the Eastern war that it must indeed be tempted to extend its blessings to foreign realms. The Western Powers have taken possession of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ,in Constantinople, and not just the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but the Ministry of Home Affairs too. Since Omer Pasha was transplanted from Bulgaria to the Crimea, Turkey has ceased to exercise authority over her own army. The Western Powers are now trying to seize the Turkish finances. For the first time the Ottoman Empire is contracting public debts without receiving a loan. It finds itself in the position of an estate owner who does not only raise an advance on a mortgage but also binds himself to relinquish to his creditor the administration of the sum advanced. The one remaining step is to relinquish the estate itself. Palmerston has demoralised Greece and paralysed Spain by means of a similar system of loans. But appearances are on his side. The participation of the peace party in the opposition to the loan adds strength to these appearances. Thanks to a nimble somersault he again stands as the representative of war against the whole opposition as the representatives of peace. We know which war he intends to conduct. Chaining Finland more securely to Russia in the Baltic by means of useless and unproductive acts of murder and arson. Perpetuating in the Crimea a series of butcheries in which defeat alone, not victory, can produce a decision. Following his old habit he casts foreign alliances into the parliamentary scales. Bonaparte has already had the loan sanctioned by his so-called "legislative corps". The English Parliament must condescend to becoming the echo of the "legislative corps"—the echo of an echo, or the alliance will be jeopardised. Using the French alliance as a shield to ward off all blows from himself, Palmerston at the same time has the satisfaction of seeing it receive a pummelling. As a proof that he can send "the right man to fill the right place"[4] Palmerston has promoted Sir W[illiam] Molesworth to Colonial Secretary, and Sir B[enjamin] Hall to Commissioner of Forests and Land Revenues[5] in place of Molesworth. Molesworth belongs to Wakefield's school of colonisation[6]. Its principle is to make land in the colonies artificially dear and labour artificially cheap in order to engender the "necessary combination of productive forces". The experimental use of this theory in Canada drove immigrants away from that country to the United States and Australia.

In London there are three committees of inquiry in session at the moment, one appointed by the Cabinet, the other two by Parliament. The first, composed of the Recorders[7] of London, Manchester and Liverpool, investigating the events in Hyde Park[8], finds itself flooded daily with evidence not only that the constables used unprecedented brutality, but also that ,this brutality was intentional and used on orders. If it were uncompromising the inquiry would have to begin with Sir George Grey and the Cabinet as the principal offenders. The second committee, under Berkeley's chairmanship, dealing with the effects of the Act on the "sale of spirits on Sundays", shows the sanctimonious superficiality of sabbatarian experiments for the improvement of society. Instead of decreasing, the number of excesses from drunkenness has increased. The only difference is their partial displacement from Sundays to Mondays. The third committee, chaired by Scholefield, is concerned with the adulteration of food and drink and of all commodities contributing to the maintenance of life[9]. Adulteration seems to be the rule, purity the exception. For the most part the substances added to impart colour, odour and taste to worthless materials are poisonous, and all of them are detrimental to health. Trade appears here as a vast laboratory of fraud, the list of commodities as a diabolical catalogue of phantoms, free competition as the freedom to poison and be poisoned.

The Report of the Inspectors of Factories for the half-year ending April 30[10] has been laid before both Houses of Parliament—an invaluable contribution to the characterisation of the Manchester men of peace and the class disputing the aristocracy's monopoly of government. In the report the "accidents arising from machinery" are classified under the headings:

1. "Causing death", 2. "Loss[11] of right hand or arm. Loss of part of right hand. Loss of left hand or arm. Loss of part of left hand. [...] Fracture of hand or foot. Injuries to head and face" and 3. "Lacerations, contusions and other injuries not enumerated above."[12]

We read of a young woman "who lost her right hand", of a child who "had the nasal bones crushed in and the sight of both eyes destroyed by this machine", of a man whose "left leg was cut off, [...] right arm broken in three or four places", whose head was cut and. "mutilated in a shocking manner"; of a youth who had his "left arm torn out at the shoulder joint", among other injuries, and of another man who had "both arms torn out of the shoulder joints, his abdomen lacerated, the intestines protruded, both legs broken, head contused", etc., etc. The industrial bulletin of the factory inspectors is more terrible and more appalling than any of the war bulletins from the Crimea. Women and children provide a regular and sizeable contingent in the list of the wounded and killed. Deaths and injuries are no more praiseworthy than the colours marked on the body of a Negro by the plantation owner's whip. They are almost exclusively caused by the absence of the legally prescribed protective guards around the machines. It will be recalled that the manufacturers of Manchester—this metropolis of the party of peace at any price—assailed the Cabinet with deputations and protests against the Act ordering certain safety precautions in the use of machinery. Since they were unable to change the law at present, they attempted by intrigues to get rid of the Factory Inspector L[eonard] Horner, and to manoeuvre a more pliant guardian of the law into his place. So far without success. They claimed that the introduction of the safety equipment would eat up their profit. Horner has now proved that there are few factories in his district which could not be made safe for £10. The total number of accidents arising from machinery during the six months covered by the report is 1,788, among these 18 fatal accidents. The sum total of money fines imposed on the manufacturers, of compensation for injuries paid by them, etc., is £298 for the same period. To make up this sum fines for "permitting work during illegal hours", for "employing children under 8 years of age", etc., are included in it, so that the fines imposed for the 18 deaths and the 1,770 mutilations fall far short of £298. £298! This is less than the cost of a third-class racehorse![13]

The Roebuck committee and the British oligarchy! Scholefield's committee and the British commercial class! The report of the Factory Inspectors and the British factory owners—these three headings provide a graphic idea of the physiology of the classes now ruling in Great Britain.

  1. On June 27, 1855 Britain, France and Turkey concluded an agreement by which the British and French governments undertook to grant Turkey a loan of L5 million. In July the British Government tabled a Bill in the House of Commons calling for a guarantee of the loan. It encountered strong opposition and was only passed by an insignificant majority. In August the Bill was sanctioned by Queen Victoria. p. 367
  2. For a description of the Bulwer-Lytton and Roebuck motions and their discussion in the House of Commons see From Parliament. Roebuck's and Bulwer's Motions, and From Parliament (July 18, 1855).—Ed.
  3. The Vienna Conference was to work out the terms for peace between the participants in the Crimean War. It was attended by Russia, Britain, France, Austria and Turkey and lasted, with intervals, from March 15 to June 4, 1855. The negotiations centred on the Four Points (*). While agreeing, with certain reservations, to Points 1, 2 and 4, Russia emphatically rejected Point 3 which, as interpreted by the Western Powers, called for a reduction of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea. Britain and France insisted on its acceptance and turned down Austria's compromise proposal that Russia and Turkey should be allowed to agree between themselves on the size of their naval forces in the Black Sea. The Conference ended without adopting any decisions.
    (*) The Four Points—demands made by the Western Powers on Russia as preliminary conditions for peace talks in their Note of August 8, 1854. Russia was required to renounce her protectorate over Moldavia, Wallachia and Serbia, which was to be replaced by an all-European guarantee; to grant freedom of navigation on the Danube; to agree to a revision of the London Convention of 1841 on the closure of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles to the warships of all nations in peacetime, and to renounce its protection of Christians in Turkey. The Tsarist government at first rejected the Four Points but in November 1854 was forced to accept them as the basis for future peace talks. The Four Points were discussed at the Vienna conferences of Ambassadors (**) but the attempts of the Western Powers to link the question of the Straits with demands for 'a reduction of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea caused the Russian Ambassador in Vienna, A. M. Gorchakov, to walk out of the talks.
    (**) A reference to the talks between the British, French and Russian Ambassadors and Austrian Foreign Minister Buol sponsored by Emperor Francis Joseph, which opened in December 1854. Their official purpose was to work out a basis for peace negotiations between the belligerents in the Crimean War. They were a sequel to an earlier round of talks between diplomats of the Western Powers, the Prussian Ambassador and the Austrian Minister (the Russian Ambassador refused to participate) held in Vienna in 1853-54 by way of mediation in the Russo-Turkish conflict. The second round failed to resolve the differences between the belligerents in the Crimean War. In mid-March 1855 representatives of Austria, Britain, France, Turkey and Russia met at a higher level at the Vienna Conference (Britain was represented by Special Envoy Lord John Russell, France by Foreign Minister Drouyn de Lhuys). That conference also produced no results.
  4. From Layard's speech in the House of Commons on June 15, 1855. The Times, No. 22082, June 16, 1855.—Ed.
  5. Marx calls it Minister der Waldungen und Domänen. The actual title was up to 1857 Commissioner of Woods, Forests and Land Revenues and in that year was changed to Commissioner of Works and Public Buildings.—Ed.
  6. By the Wakefield School Marx means the supporters of the plan for "systematic colonisation" advanced by the British economist and statesman Edward Gibbon Wakefield in his work England and America (Vols. 1 & 2, London, 1833) and in other writings. Wakefield advocated colonisation through emigration, but held that there should be restrictions on the purchase of land by resettlers. This was to ensure the colonies an ample supply of wage labour and reduce social conflicts in the home country by providing an outlet for redundant labour.
    Wakefield's theory of colonisation attracted Marx's attention as early as the beginning of the 1850s, when he made a number of notes from Wakefield's book A View of the Art of Colonisation (London, 1849). Later he gave a detailed critique of this theory in the last chapter of the first volume of Capital.
  7. Marx uses the English word.—Ed.
  8. See Agitation over The Tightening-up of Sunday Observance.—Ed.
  9. Marx later used the findings of the parliamentary committee in question ("First Report from the Select Committee on Adulteration of Food. Ordered, by the House of Commons, to be printed, 27 July, 1855) in a number of notes to the first volume of Capital (see MECW, Vol. 31, Index of Quoted and Mentioned Literature).
  10. Reports of the Inspectors of Factories to Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department, for the Half Year Ending 30th April 1855.—Ed.
  11. Here and in the rest of this passage the Report has "Amputation of" where Marx writes "Loss of".—Ed.
  12. Marx paraphrased the extract.—Ed.
  13. Marx subsequently discussed the problem of industrial accidents stemming from employers' neglect of safety precautions in the first volume of Capital, notably the chapter "Machinery and Modern Industry" (see the section "The Factory"). As in the present article, he compared industrial accident reports to military bulletins, pointing out that the development of capitalist machine industry "with the regularity of the seasons, issues its list of the killed and wounded in the industrial battle". Characteristically, there too Marx corroborated his conclusions with quotations from reports of factory inspectors, notably that of Leonard Horner for the second half of 1855 ("Reports of the Inspectors of Factories for the Half Year Ending 31st October, 1855." London. 1856). The "Reports of the Inspectors of Factories for the Half Year Ending 30th April, 1855", which he analyses in the present article, were also used by him, but in a different context, in the chapter in Capital on the rate of surplus value (see MECW, Vol. 31. Index of Quoted and Mentioned Literature).