Political Consequences of the Commercial Excitement

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 12 October 1852


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Reproduced from the New York Daily Tribune
First published in the New York Daily Tribune, No. 3602, November 2, 1852;
reprinted in the Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 777, November 5,
and the New York Weekly Tribune, No. 582, November 6, 1852
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 11 (pp.364-368), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979
Collection(s): New York Tribune

Originally Marx wrote this article and "Political Consequences of the Commercial Excitement" in German as a single article, which he sent to Engels in Manchester on October 12 to be translated into English. Engels divided the text into two independent articles. When sending the translated articles to New York, Marx dated the first article October 15, 1852, and the second October 19, 1852. In this volume some figures have been verified on the basis of the sources used by the author.

London, Tuesday, October 19, 1852My last letter described the present industrial and commercial situation of this country; let us now draw the political consequences therefrom.

If the outbreak of the anticipated industrial and commercial revulsion will give a more dangerous and revolutionary character to the impending struggle with the Tories, the present prosperity is, for the moment, the most valuable ally to the Tory party; an ally, which, indeed, will not enable them to re-enact the Corn Laws, abandoned already by themselves, but which effectually consolidates their political power and assists them in carrying on a social reaction that, if let alone, would necessarily end in the conquest of substantial class-advantages, as it has been from its beginning started in the name of a substantial class-interest. No Corn Laws, says Disraeli[1], but a fresh settlement of taxes in the interest of the oppressed farmers. But why are farmers oppressed? Because they, for the most part, continue to pay the old protectionist rates of rent, while the old protectionist price of corn is gone the way of all flesh. The aristocracy will not abate the rent of their land, but they will introduce a new mode of taxation which shall make up, to the farmers, for the surplus farmers have to pay into the pockets of the aristocracy.

I repeat that the present commercial prosperity is favorable to Tory reaction. Why?

"Patriotism," complains Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, "patriotism is apt to go to sleep in the cupboard if meat and drink be there. Hence, free trade is the present security of the Earl of Derby; he lies on a bed of roses plucked by Cobden and Peel.[2]

The mass of the people is fully employed and more or less well (off—always deducting the' paupers inseparable from British prosperity; it is therefore not at present a very malleable material for political agitation. But what, above all things, enables Derby to carry out his machinations, is the fanaticism with which the middle class has thrown itself into the mighty process of industrial production, erecting of mills, constructing of machinery, building of ships, spinning and weaving of cotton and wool, storing of warehouses, manufacturing, exchanging, exporting, importing, and other more or less useful proceedings, the purpose of which, to them, is always the making of money. The Bourgeoisie, in this moment of brisk trade—and it very well knows that these happy moments are getting more and more few and far between will and must make money, much money; nothing but money. It leaves to its politicians ex professo the task of watching the Tories. But the politicians ex professo (compare, for instance, Joseph Hume's letter to The Hull Advertiser[3]) complain justly that, deprived of pressure from without, they can agitate as little as the human frame could react without the pressure of the atmo¬sphere.

The Bourgeoisie have, indeed, a sort of uneasy divination that in the high regions of government something suspicious is brewing, and that the Ministry exploits not overscrupulously the political apathy in which prosperity has thrown them. They, therefore, sometimes give the Ministry a warning through their organs in the press. For instance:

"To what extent the democracy [read the Bourgeoisie] may carry their present wise forbearance, their respect for their own power and for the rights of others, making no attempt to strengthen themselves by doing as the aristocracy have done, we cannot foresee; but the aristocracy must not infer, from the general conduct of the democracy, that they will never depart from moderation." [London Economist[4]]

But Derby replies: Do you think I am fool enough to be frightened by you now, when the sun shines, and to be idle until commercial storms and stagnation of trade give you the time to mind politics more clearly?

The plan of the Tory campaign shows itself every day.

The Tories began by chicaning open-air meetings; they prose-cute, in Ireland, newspapers which contain articles unpleasant to them; they indict, in this moment, for seditious libel, the agents of the Peace Society[5], who have distributed pamphlets against the use of the lash in the militia. In this quiet manner, they push back, wherever they can, the isolated opposition of the street and of the press.

In the meantime, they avoid every great and public rupture with their opponents, by delaying the meeting of Parliament, and by preparing everything in order to occupy it, when met, with the funeral "of a dead Duke[6], instead of the interests of a living people". [Radical Paper][7] In the first week of November, Parliament will meet. But before January there can be no question of a serious beginning of the session.

And how do the Tories fill up the meantime? With the Registration campaign and the formation of the militia.

In the Registration campaign the object is to throw out or to prevent their opponents from entering the new lists of parliamen¬tary electors for the ensuing year, by making out this or that objection which legally prevents a man from being registered a voter. Each political party is represented by its lawyers, and carries on the action at its own expense, and the revising barristers, named by the Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench[8], decide on the admissibility of claims or objections. This campaign has hitherto had its principal theater in Lancashire and Middlesex. In order to get up the money for the campaign in North Lancashire, the Tories circulated lists of subscription on which Lord Derby himself had put down his name for the liberal sum of £500. The extraordinary number of 6,749 objections to voters have been taken in Lancashire, viz, 4,650 for South, and 2,099 for North Lancashire. For the former, the Tories objected to 3,557 qualifications; the Liberals to 1,093; for the latter, the Tories, to 1,334 qualifications; the Liberals to 765. (This, of course, merely amongst County voters, independently of the voters for the Boroughs, situated in that County.) The Tories were victorious in Lancashire. In the County of Middlesex there were expunged from the registers 353 Radicals and 140 Conservatives --the Conservatives thus gaining 200 votes.

In this battle, the Tories stand on one side—the Whigs, with the men of the Manchester School, on the other. The latter, it is pretty well known, have formed freehold land societies machines for manufacturing new voters. The Tories leave the machines alone, but destroy their products. Mr. Shadwell, revising barrister for Middlesex, gave decisions by which great numbers of the freehold land society voters have been disfranchised, declaring that a plot of land did not confer the franchise unless it had cost £50. As this was a question of fact and not of law, there is no appeal from this decision to the Court of Common Pleas[9]. Everybody conceives that this distinction of fact and law gives to the revising barristers, always open to the influence of the existing Ministry, the greatest power in composing the new voters' lists.

And what do these great efforts of the Tories, and the direct interference of their leader in the Registration campaign, prognos¬ticate?

That the Earl of Derby has no very sanguine hopes for the continuance of his new Parliament, that he is inclined to dissolve it in case of resistance on its part, and that in the meantime he seeks to prepare, by the revising barristers, a conservative majority for another general election.

And while thus the Tories, on one hand, hold in reserve the Parliament-making machine placed at their disposal by the Registration campaign, they carry out, on the other hand, the Militia Bill, which places at their disposal the necessary bayonets for carrying out even the most reactionary acts of Parliament, and for supporting in tranquillity the frowns of the Peace Society.

"With Parliament to give it a legal semblance, with an armed militia to give it an active power, what may not the reaction do in England?"—exclaims the organ of the Chartists.[10]

And the death of the "Iron Duke", of the common-sense-hero of Waterloo, has in this particular critical moment freed the aristocracy of an importune guardian angel, who had experience enough in warfare to sacrifice, often enough, apparent victories to a well-covered retreat, and the brilliant offensive to a timely compromise. Wellington was the moderator of the House of Lords; he held in decisive moments often 60 and more proxies; he prevented the Tories from declaring open war against the Bourgeoisie and against public opinion. But now, with a conflict-seeking Tory Ministry under the direction of a sporting character[11], the House of Lords,

"instead of being, as under the guidance of the Duke, the steady ballast of the State, may become the top-hamper that may endanger its safety."

This latter notion, that the lordly ballast is necessary to the safety of the State, does of course not belong to us, but to the liberal London Daily News. The present Duke of Wellington, hitherto Marquis of Douro, has at once passed from the Peelite into the Tory camp. And thus there is every sign that the aristocracy are about to make the most reckless efforts to reconquer the lost ground, and to bring back the golden times of 1815 to 1830. And the Bourgeoisie, in this moment, has no time to agitate, to revolt, not even to get up a proper show of indignation.

  1. In his address to the electors of the County of Buckingham on June 2, 1852 and in his speech at a dinner of the electors of this county on July 14, 1852, The Times, Nos. 21135 and 21168, June 7 and July 15, 1852.—Ed.
  2. "Mr. Hume's 'Rope of Sand'", Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, No. 516, October 10, 1852.—Ed.
  3. Dated September 15, 1852, The Hull Advertiser, September 24, 1852.—Ed.
  4. "Lord John Russell and the Democracy", The Economist, No, 475, October 2, 1852.—Ed.
  5. The Peace Society —a pacifist organisation founded by the Quakers in London in 1816. The society was actively supported by the Free Traders, who thought that in conditions of peace free trade would enable England to make full use of her industrial superiority and thus gain economic and political supremacy.
  6. Duke of Wellington.—Ed.
  7. The People's Paper (in the article "Lord Derby and the People"), No. 23, October 9, 1852.—Ed.
  8. The Court of Queen's Bench is one of the high courts in England; in the nineteenth century (up to 1873) it was an independent supreme court for criminal and civil cases, competent to review the decisions of lower judicial bodies.
  9. The Court of Common Pleas, the court for trial of civil cases, was one of the high courts of England based on English Common Law (after the reform of 1873 it became a division of the High Court of Justice). Among other matters it examined appeals against decisions of lawyers who were responsible for revising the voters' lists. In accordance with English Common Law only questions of law, i.e. questions concerning the violation of legal and judicial procedure, came within the competence of a court of appeal, while questions of fact, i.e. questions concerning the factual circumstances of a case, were examined by jury.
  10. The People's Paper (in the article "Lord Derby and the People"), No. 23, October 9, 1852.—Ed.
  11. Earl of Derby.—Ed.