1980s >> 1980 >> no-915-november-1980

Marx on Britain


The Three articles—or rather the two articles and an extract from a third—which we publish here for the first time in English translation, were written by Marx in 1855 for the Neue Oder-Zeitung. After he came to live in Britain in 1849 Marx earned his living as the European correspondent of the New York Daily Tribune to which he regularly contributed articles during the ten years 1851 to 1861. In 1855 Lassalle found him an additional job as the London correspondent of the Neue Oder-Zeitung which provided Marx with a supplementary income until the paper ceased publication at the end of the year.


Most of the articles Marx wrote at this time, both for the NYDT and for the NOZ, were about the Crimean War. As Marx mistakenly gave support to the British-French-Turkish side in this war, these articles make very embarrassing reading today. The three articles we have selected for publication, however, are more acceptable since they concern the situation of the working class and the struggle for universal suffrage and a shorter working week. As will be seen, Marx was particularly hostile to the industrial capitalists and to the Manchester School, the Parliamentary and Financial Reformers, the Peace Society and the Radical politicians like Joseph Hume, Richard Cobden and John Bright who expressed their interests.


We have added some footnotes to explain a number of historical references.


The Economist of London writes of the present commercial and industrial crisis:


  Whatever may be falling off in the export of other articles, there is none in machinery. The value of 1854 exceeds the value in 1853. Other countries, therefore are now taking into use our machinery. We have no longer any advantage of this kind over them. France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland and the United States are all now great manufacturing countries; and some of them have advantages over us. We have a race to run and we cannot succeed if we tie our legs. Formerly they were tied for the advantage of the landlords, or the advantage of some classes of manufacturers, and very [illegible] work we made of it, as increasing poor rates and perennial disturbances testified.
Nations, as well as individuals, look very foolish jumping in sacks, and get many a fall. Having got rid of the restrictions for landlords and the restriction for the master manufacturer, we must now walk in the workman’s manacles. Experience has satisfied every person that the restrictions imposed for the benefit of the master manufacturers injured them; and by and by the factory workers will find out that the restrictions imposed for their benefit will injure them. It is to be hoped, however, that they will find out before the countries before mentioned have made such progress as to supercede England in their own and third markets and have reduced the factory hands to destitution. (Economist, No. 594, 13 January 1855.)


Mr. Wilson, editor of the Economist and office boy at the Treasury of the anointed and oily man called Gladstone, apostle of freedom and careerist in one and the same person, who denies in one column of his journal the need for a State in general and demonstrates in the next the absolute necessity of the Coalition Ministry [1] in particular, this Mr. Wilson begins his homily with a deliberate falsification. The export statistics for 1854 contain in fact two headings for the export of machines. The first refers to railway engines and show in 1853 exports were £443,259 against £525,707 in 1854, which does indeed give an increase of £82,448. But the second, which refers to all other machines used in factories, records £1,368,027 for 1853 as against £1,271,503 in 1854, a reduction of £96,524. For the two headings taken together there is thus a deficit of £14,076. This detail is typical of the Manchester School. They believe that the present time is favourable for the abolition of the restriction existing in favour of factory workers, i.e., the legal restriction on the working time of young people below 18, of women and of children under 12. To achieve so elevated an aim, a few figures can well be falsified.


But, if we believe the Manchester Examiner, the special organ of the Quaker Bright, as well as the reports coming from the industrial regions, foreign markets, those traditional outlets for the surplus of our factories, are creaking under the weight of our overproduction and overspeculation. If we have reached such a congestion of the world market in spite of the opening up of two fabulous new markets, in Australia and California, in spite of the electric telegraph which has transformed the whole of Europe into an immense trading exchange, in spite of the railways and steamships which have infinitely extended communications, and so trade, how much time would the crisis have waited before coming if the employers had been authorised to operate 18 hours a day instead of 11?The question is too simple for us to need to give the answer. But relatively quicker breaking out of the crisis would not have been the only difference. A whole generation of workers would have lost 50 per cent of their physical strength, intellectual development and ability to live. This same Manchester School, which replies to our scruples “Should this torment torment us, since it increases our pleasure?”[2], weeps and wails, with sentimental lamentations, about the sacrifice of human lives which the war against Russia, every war, costs! In a few days we will hear Mr. Cobden protest in Leeds against this mutual slaughter of Christians. And, in a few weeks, we will hear him in Parliament protest against the restrictions which prevent human lives being consumed too quickly in the factories. But, of all heroic gestures, only one seems justified to him: Herod’s massacre of the innocents.

We agree with the Manchester School that the need for a legal limit on the daily working day in no way indicates a high degree of social development. But, in our view, the fault lies not in the laws, but in the state of affairs which makes them necessary.

(First published in German in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, 20 January 1855.)


[1] Britain was then governed by a Coalition between the Whigs and the “Peelites”, or pro-Free Trade lories, one of whom, Gladstone, was Chancellor of the Exchequer.
[2] A line from a poem by Goethe.



The death of Hume has deprived the House of Commons of its father. His long parliamentary career was the exact barometer of the bourgeois Radical party which was at its height in 1831. A kind of Warwick or maker of MPs in the first years of the reformed House, he was, eight  [1] years later, along with Daniel O’Connell and Feargus O’Connor, one of the authors of the People’s Charter which still today constitutes the political programme of the Chartists and which basically amounts to a demand for universal suffrage and the conditions for putting it into practice in Britain. The split which soon occurred between the workers and the bourgeois agitators found Hume on the side of the latter. At the time of the Russell Ministry, he drew up a “little Charter”, which was adopted as a programme by those called the “parliamentary and financial reformers”.


In place of the six points of the People’s Charter, it only contained three points, replacing the demand for universal suffrage with a demand merely for a wider franchise. Finally, in 1852, Hume announced a new programme, in which he gave up his little Charter and only demanded one point: election by ballot. In short, Hume was the classic representative of the opposition called “independent” which Cobbett characterised excellently and definitively as the “safety valve” of the old system. In his old age he had a veritable mania for putting down motions and then withdrawing them, on a sign from Ministers, just before the doors closed. He employed his talents, as everyone knows, “to save public money”. All the Ministers allowed him to fight against the small expenses so that the big expenses passed all the more completely.

(First published in German in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, 28 February 1855.)


[1] The Charter was in fact drawn up in 1838, which is six. not eight years after the election of the first Parliament on the basis of the 1832 Reform Act.



In a previous correspondence we stated “the conflict between the industrial proletariat and the bourgeoisie will begin again at the same time as the conflict between bourgeoisie and aristocracy reaches its climax”. [1] Tangible proof of this statement was provided at a big meeting held last Friday in the London Tavern. Before giving a report of this meeting, [2] we will say a few words on the skirmishes which have taken place recently, outside and inside Parliament, between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Just recently the Manchester factory owners have organised meetings at which they decided to launch a campaign for the abolition of the official Factory Inspectors, on the grounds that these inspectors have not confined themselves to seeing that the legal working day is observed but have had the effrontery to insist that the safety measures laid down by Parliament for avoiding accidents and death to workers from machinery are effectively enforced in the factories. The Factory Inspector for South Lancashire, the famous Leonard Horner, has attracted their particular hostility because in his latest report he strongly called for a safety measure to be legally enforced whose absence, according to the naive admission of one factory owner, naturally a member of the Peace Society, “only cost last year the lives of five workers”.


That is what happened outside Parliament. The House of Commons rejected, on Second Reading, Sir John Halford’s Bill to make illegal “stoppage of wages”. It is thus that are called the deductions made from nominal wages, either because the worker has infringed some regulation laid down by the employer or because, in industries where the modern system has not yet been introduced, he has to pay a rent for the hire of the looms, etc.


This latter is especially the case in Nottingham in the hosiery industry. Sir John Halford showed that in many cases the worker instead of being paid by the contractor is forced to pay him money. So many deductions are made on various pretexts from the nominal wage that in the end the worker has to pay more than is due to him from the capitalist. The worker thus becomes the debtor of his employer who then obliges him to renew his contract on more and more unfavourable terms, to such an extent that he has become, in the full meaning of the word, a real serf, without however, like other serfs, having his material existence guaranteed.


While it rejected on Second Reading Sir John Halford’s Bill to end this abuse, the House of Commons did not even consider the Bill proposed by Cobbett, the son of the great English pamphleteer. This Bill aimed 1. to replace the 1850 10 ½-hours Act by the 1847 10 hours Act; 2. to make really effective the legal limitation of the working day in the factories by the compulsory stopping of the machines at the end of each legal working day.


(Final part of an article first published in German in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, 22 March 1855. The title is ours.)



[1] In an article “The British Constitution” that appeared in the NOZ on 6 March 1855. English translation in Pelican Marx Surveys from Exile, pp. 281-4.
[2] This report was published in the NOZ on 24 March 1855. English translation in Marx-Engels Articles on Britain, pp. 227-30.