Political Parties and Prospects

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 16 October 1852


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Written on October 16, 1852
First published in the New York Daily Tribune, No. 3625, November 29, 1852
Reproduced from the newspaper
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 11 (pp.369-372), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979
Collection(s): New York Tribune

Originally, this article and "Attempts to Form a New Opposition Party" formed a single article written in German and sent by Marx to Engels in Manchester on October 16, 1852 to be translated into English. Engels divided the material into two articles. When Marx sent them to New York he dated the first article November 2, 1852, and the second November 9, 1852.

London, Tuesday, November 2, 1852

We continue the deduction of political consequences which follow unavoidably in the wake of the present commercial and industrious prosperity.In the midst of this atmosphere of universal industrial activity, of accelerated commercial interchange, of political indifference, deprived of any pressure from without, parliamentary parties complete in perfect tranquillity the process of their own dissolution.

"The Peelites and the Russellites gravitate at this moment toward each other in the strongest manner. The Peelites, those indispensable 'statesmen', not being able to do anything by themselves, now want to be received into the kinship of the governing family. Only look how much their organ, The Morning Chronicle, praises the very indifferent speech of Lord John Russell, at Perth."

Thus speaks The Morning Herald, the semi-official organ of the Government.

Quite the contrary, says The Guardian. Only listen to Mr. Henley, the President of the Board of Trade, speaking in the malt-house of Banbury to the circle of his farmer-friends:

"This party." declares Mr. Henley, "had principles of its own, and had stuck to them. Free Trade or Protection was an open question, and had only been made a party question by the late Sir Robert Peel." He speaks respectfully of the Peelites: "There was now no substantial obstacle to the reunion of the great Conservative Party."[1]

That's just it, exclaims The Guardian; sink Protection, and revive Conservatism. In other words, The Guardian supposes that the Peelites are ready the Corn Laws left out of the question to enter into a reactionary alliance with the Tories. And The Daily News reports as a fact, that a portion of Peelites has already passed into the Derbyite camp[2]. But a portion of the Whigs, too, is suspected of the same offense—and it would be nothing miraculous, considering that their aristocratic nucleus is formed by a clique of place-hunters. There is, for instance, Lord Dalhousie. My Lord was a Minister under Peel, in the liberal period of government. After the downfall of Peel, Russell offered him a seat in his new Cabinet. In common with the Duke of Newcastle, Lord St. Germans, and other members of the former Government, he supported in the Upper House the maneuvers of the Whigs, and was rewarded, on a vacancy, with the Governor-Generalship of India, that most splendid prize of all in the oligarchic lottery. He turned it to the greatest economical account. The Whigs boasted of the "unprecedented" sacrifice they had made in alienating so highly coveted an office from their own immediate connection. And now, at this present moment, the lure held out to Lord Dalhousie is the Wardenship of the Cinque Ports, a sinecure of thousands a year[3]. Our man is said not to be overburdened with patrimonial wealth and to consider it his patriotic duty to secure the Cinque Ports against a surprise, even under a Derby Ministry.

Similar bits of chronique scandaleuse, anecdotes of negotiations of this or that Whig as to the lowest price at which he is to make himself over to the Tories, are found by dozens in the Liberal weekly press. They prove the profound corruption of the Whig party; but their importance disappears before the schism between its two principal leaders, Russell and Palmerston. We had already known, some time ago, incidents connected with recent election contests in which the part taken by Lord Palmerston in support of the ministerial candidates seemed unaccountable, as the Liberal papers expressed themselves. Now, one fine morning, Palmerston's own organ, The Morning Post, brings out a leader[4], referring to the rumors that Palmerston either was to enter the Cabinet as Secretary of State and leader of the Commons, or in case of a speedy dissolution of the Derby Ministry, to form a new cabinet with those fragments of it which might not have become quite "impossible," The Morning Post, finding upon the whole these rumors very attractive, declares that it does not speak in Lord Palmerston's name, but in its own private name. But Palmerston, in despite of all the pressing and even importunate calls of the Whig and Liberal press, does not think it proper to refute the calumniating report. The Peelite Morning Chronicle mentions these rumors[5] in a tone which plainly shows that Gladstone & Co. would not feel any horror vacui[6] at the idea of similar amalgamations. The Daily News, a paper of the Manchester School, discovers this circumstance, and indignantly calls upon the traitors among Whigs and Peelites to join themselves openly to Derby[7]. Thus you see how every one of the Parliamentary coteries which have hitherto one after the other taken hold of the political helm, is distrusting all others and its own members, how they accuse each other of desertion, corruption, compromise and yet each and all admit, that, leaving the Corn Laws out of the question, there is nothing in the way of their joining the Derbyites but personal rancor and personal ambition. They occupy toward Derby about the same position as, before the 2d December last, the different fractions of the Party of Order toward Bonaparte.

That the opposition is awaiting the coming Parliamentary campaign in a rather pusillanimous mood, is easily explained.

Little John Russell received the freedom of the burgh of Perth in a little bag, and replied, after a giant dinner, in a little speech, the most important part of which was the following declaration:

"We are bound in justice, as well as, I think, directed by policy, to wait until those measures are produced which are to give to the agricultural interest, to the colonial interest, to the shipping interest, all the compensation of which they have hitherto been unjustly deprived [laughter]—those admirable measures which are to put an end to a long contest."[8]

The only daily paper of which Russell yet disposes, The Globe (evening paper), gives on the above the following commentary: "Any such opposition, as was urged against Sir R. Peel in 1835, would involve a certainty of failure," on account of the rivalries of the various Liberal leaders[9]. Thus the experiment to upset the Derby Cabinet at the very outset of the session, by a compact vote of the coalesced opposition, has been entirely abandoned, and Lord John Russell remains faithful to his part, being the first to sound the retreat. And as to the prospects of Parliamentary opposition at large, its chief, Mr. j. Hume, makes the following confession in his letter to The Hull Advertiser:

"If my experience, as regards the Irish members hitherto in the House of Commons, is to be taken, the material is not likely to be of that substance to be moulded and kept in proper position, or under the influence of any leader. The Irish members are too extravagant, too ardent, too strongly imbued with Ireland's wrongs and her sufferings. At present nothing, as far as I know, has been done toward a union of Liberals who may be doubtful of the acts of the Derby Administration; and when I look to the hollow professions of those who preceded Lord Derby (the Whigs), and on their throwing up the cards rather than play out the game for the popular cause, by calling on the Reformers to join them, I cannot have much confidence in anything they may do to promote the union of parties. Indeed, they must be left, I fear, to chew the cud, whilst the Derbyites are committing all kinds of misgovernment to forward their own cause, and to benefit their supporters; and it will only be after considerable time of such conduct that there can be any chance of a People's party being formed."[10]

John Bright, the actual chief of the Manchester School, has indeed attempted, in his after-dinner speech to the manufacturers of Belfast, to make good by cajoleries to the Irish members the attacks of Joseph Hume[11], but in all matters of Parliamentary discipline "Old Joe's" opinion is an authority.

Thus the Parliamentary opposition is completely despairing of itself.

Nay, the old Parliamentary opposition has so far outlived itself that its Nestor, Hume, at the end of his long career now publicly declares that there is in the House of Commons no "People's party." Whatever was there called so, was a mere "rope of sand."

Thus, general dissolution, universal weakness and impotency in the camp of the Opposition.

  1. J. W. Henley's speech at a Tory banquet in Banbury on September 28 and the comments on it that follow are quoted from the article "The Week" in The Guardian, No. 357, October 6, 1852.—Ed.
  2. The reference is to the leading article in The Daily News of October 12, 1852.—Ed.
  3. The Cinque ports —aconfederation of five maritime towns (Hastings, Sandwich, Dover, Romney and Hythe) in south-east England formed in the Middle Ages. They enjoyed privileges in sea trade and fishing but had to supply the king with warships and equipment. The Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports possessed wide administrative and judicial powers. With the formation of a standing royal fleet his office gradually became one of the major sinecures of the British monarchy.
  4. The Morning Post, October 7, 1852.—Ed.
  5. In its leading article of October 5, 1852.—Ed.
  6. Horror vacui — fear of death (literally: fear of vacuum).—Ed.
  7. The reference is to the leading article in The Daily News of October 12, 1852.—Ed.
  8. John Russell, Speech at a dinner in Perth on September 24, 1852, The Times, No. 21231, September 27, 1852.—Ed.
  9. Quoted from the leading article in The Globe, September 28, 1852.—Ed.
  10. Joseph Hume, Letter to The Hull Advertiser written on September 15, 1852, The Hull Advertiser, September 24, 1852.—Ed.
  11. John Bright, Speech at a dinner in Belfast on October 4, 1852, The Times, No. 21240, October 7, 1852.—Ed.