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Soap for the People, A Sop for The Times.
The Coalition Budget.

Karl Marx

Everybody knows that a Budget is simply an estimate of the probable Revenue and Expenditure of Government for the year current, which estimate is based on the financial experience, i.e., on the balance sheet for the past year.

The first thing, therefore, for Mr. Gladstone was to produce the balance sheet for the year 1852-3. Mr. Disraeli, in his statement as Chancellor of the Exchequer, has estimated the probable income for 1852-3 at £52,325,000, and the Expenditure for the same period at £51,163,000, thus anticipating a surplus of £1,162,000. Mr. Gladstone, in making up the actual balance from the books, discovers that the real amount of Revenue for the past year was £53,089,000, and the real Expenditure only £50,782,000, showing an actual surplus of £2,307,000, or, as Mr. Gladstone calculates (we know not in what way) £2,460,000.

As it is the fashion, or rather as Parliament affects, to consider the Chancellor of the Exchequer as the mysterious conjuror who, by nobody knows what secret tricks, contrives to produce the whole yearly Revenue of the nation, it is no wonder that that personage, whoever he happens to be, takes care not to discountenance so flattering a delusion. Consequently, if the nation, by increasing the rate of production, is found to have swelled the amount of Tax Revenues above the estimate, it is taken for granted that the Minister of Finance who, by this process, can present more than double the surplus his predecessor had promised, is undoubtedly the man of the greater financial capacities. This was the cheerful idea of Mr. Gladstone, cheerfully received and appreciated by the supporters of the Coalition Oligarchy in the House.

Two Millions Four Hundred and Sixty Thousand Pounds Surplus!

But not a farthing out of the two millions will the House permit to go to the people. Where, then, are they to go to? Mr. Gladstone explains it:

"Favourable as this statement may seem, the House must not forget that it has already largely drawn on this surplus by various extraordinary votes on the estimates of the current year."[a]

The House knew from Mr. Disraeli that there would be at all events a surplus of more than one million of pounds. Accordingly, on going into Committee of Ways and Means,[66] it voted merrily the following additional sums above and beyond the ordinary surplus:—

For the Navy, including Packet Service £617,000
Army and Commissariat £90,000

To these sums, as Mr. Gladstone announced, will have to be added:—

For the Kaffir war[67] (no peace?) £270,000
Increase on Ordnance £616,000
Increase on Militia £230,000
Public (read private) Education £100,000
Making a total of £1,923,000

Mr. Gladstone again (probably by omitting the Kaffir war item on account of its uncertainty) calculates the total at only £1,654,000. Deducting this sum from the original (barely figurative) surplus of £2,460,000, there would remain an actual surplus of £806,000, or, still calculating with Mr. Gladstone, £807,000. Yet, even from this moderate sum the House is warned to deduct £20,000, accruing from precarious, and not recurring sources of Revenue. Thus the original two millions, so cheerfully announced, are after all but £587,000, by no means a very extensive basis for any even the most moderate reform of taxation. As, however, the country is assured that it has a Ministry of Reform, Reforms there must be; and Mr. Gladstone forthwith engages to bring out these Reforms.

An ordinary Free Trader, a Mr. Hume for instance, would perhaps have advised the Chancellor of the Exchequer to do good with his surplus, by the abolition of duties on such foreign articles, the revenue of which, as shown by the Customs' Returns, would balance exactly the £587,000. What a vulgar, commonplace, profane suggestion to so learned and profound a financial alchemist as Mr. Gladstone! Do you think that the man who contemplates nothing short of the suppression of the entire public debt, would gratify his ambition by the simple remission of £500,000 of taxes? Surely, for so small a purpose, Sancho Timber needed not have been removed to his Indian Barataria,[b] to make room for the great Don Quixote of coalition finance.

Gladstone's Taxation Reform bears the proud Oxford Street shop-frontispiece of—

"Immense Reduction!

"Five millions, and several odd thousand pounds, forthwith to be dispensed with!"

There is something to attract the people, and to beguile even the most protected Parliamentary old female.

Let us enter the shop. "Mr. Gladstone, your bill of fare, if you please. What is it really that you mean, Sir? Five millions of pounds reduction?" "Decidedly, my dear Sir," answers Mr. Gladstone. "Would you like to look at the figures? Here they are:—

1.Abolition of the entire Soap Tax1,126,000
2.Reduction of duty on Life Assurances, from 2s. 6d. to 6d29,000
3.Reduction of duty on Receipt Stamps to uniform rate of Id155,000
4.Reduction on duty on Apprentice Indentures, from 20s. to 2s. 6 d} 50,000
5.Reduction on duty on Attorney's Certificates
6.Reduction on duty on Advertisements, from 1s. 6d. to 6d160,000
7.Reduction on duty on Hackney Carriages, from 1s. 5d. to 1s. per day26,000
8.Reduction on duty on Men Servants to f 1 1s. for those above eighteen years,
and . 10s. 6d. for those under
9.Reduction on duty on Private Carriages95,000
10.Reduction on duty on Horses, Ponies, and Dogs108,000
11.Reduction on duty on Post Horses, by substituting licenses to charge on mileage54,000
12.Reduction on duty on Colonial Postage (6d. a letter)40,000
13.Reduction on duty on Tea, from 2s. 21/4d. to 1s. 10d. till 5th of April,
'54, to Is. 6d. in 1855, to 1s. 3d. in 1856, and to 1s. thereafter
14.Reduction on duty on Apples, Cheese, Cocoa, Eggs, Butter, and Fruit262,000
15.Reduction on duty on 133 minor articles70,000
16.Abolition of duty on 123 minor articles53,000

Why, a remission of £5,315,000 taxes would unquestionably be a handsome thing. But is there no drawback in this most liberal Budget? To be sure, there is. Else, how could it be called a Reform? Constitutional Reforms and Oxford Street shops, hand-some as they both look, are sure to have always a very handsome drawback.

Of all clever tricks men contrive in the end to catch the secret. Mr. Gladstone, with only half a million in his bag, bestows a donation on the public of five million and a half. Whence does he get it? Ay, from the same blindfold public whom he bewilders with his generosity. He makes them a present, but invites them to return the favour. Of course, not in a direct or petulant manner, nor even from the same people whom it is his purpose to win over now. There are various customers with whom he intends to deal, and Russell, the juggler, has taught the adept Gladstone how to redeem his liberality of to-day by a revenge on to-morrow.

Gladstone remits old taxes to the amount of £5,315,000. Gladstone imposes new ones to the amount of £3,139,000. Still Gladstone would give to us a benefit of £2,176,000. But Gladstone is, at the best, but the Minister of the year; and the amount of his contemplated reduction for the year is only £2,568,000, which will cause a loss to the Revenue of £1,656,000, to be balanced by the anticipated yield of the new taxes for the year, viz., £1,344,000, leaving a deficiency of £312,000, which, set off against the actual surplus, as stated in the Budget, of £807,000, would still show a favourable balance of £495,000.

These are the principal features of the Coalition Budget. We shall now state to our readers what are the points of which the Ministry hope to make the most what objections are most likely to be raised against it by the various Parliamentary parties in opposition and, in conclusion, what is our own opinion of the question.

Gladstone, in all his anxiety to create a sensation, and to secure to himself both financial notoriety and popular favour by a large remission of taxes, felt the necessity of introducing his proposal for an increase of £3,139,000, under some plausible and apparently rational pretence. He was aware that he would not be permitted to nibble with the whole system of taxation, for the sole purpose of an uncalled for and unwarranted personal gratification, without some show of what Parliamentary and middle class men call "principle and justice." Accordingly, he astutely resolved to take the legislating Pecksniffs by what he knew to be their weakest side, adroitly screening his intended augmentation of the public burdens behind the pleasant and acceptable phrase of a "just extension of certain taxes, with a view to their final and lasting equalisation." The imposts he chose for that object were:

1. The Legacy Duty.
2. The Spirits Excise; and,
3. The Income Tax.

The Legacy Duty he demands to embrace equally all kinds of property. As landed property was heretofore exempted, this proposal is expected to gratify the commercial and manufacturing interests. The Spirits Excise is to be extended to Scotland and Ireland, so as to bring them more on a par with distilling England.

Lastly, the Income Tax is to extend, in its area, to incomes between £150 and £100; and also to Ireland. The Income Tax proposal is certainly not one of the points on which Gladstone can expect, or will obtain, much applause. But of that anon, when we come to the objections.

Besides the Legacy and Spirits proposition, the Free Trade reductions on a vast number of import articles are undoubtedly considered by Ministers as the most attractive bait; and some favourable clamour is likely to be got up on this point by the shopkeepers, housewives, and the small middle class in general, before they discover that, with regard to Tea, at least, a very trifling benefit will accrue to the consumers, the profit of the holders and the monopoly of producers tending to absorb the greater part of the advantage. But, then, there is the entire abolition of the duty on Soap —a measure by which he hopes to enable the country to wash away not only its own dirty, filthy, and miserable appearance, by making all faces clean, comfortable and happy; but also to entirely abolish black slavery, and make an end to the misfortunes of numberless Uncle Toms, by the impulse given to "legitimate trading and production of African palm oil." Assured by this, Gladstone bids fair to out-puff the fastest haberdasher and the most bombastic quack doctor. To these attractive features he adds a good number of minor bribes, including one of several millions to the Irish Brigade,[68] in the shape of a remission of the famine loan, and to The Times, the big supporter of the "good Aberdeen," and his colleagues of the Coalition. This latter bribe consists in the abolition of the Stamp on Newspaper Supplements, containing advertisements only, The Times being notoriously the only journal issuing any of the kind to any extent.

We come now to the objections that are most likely to be raised against the Budget from oppositional quarters. The discussion on Monday last, in the House, having been only an introductory skirmish, we must glean, if possible, from the daily papers the intentions of parties. And here we are very scantily supplied. The Times, Chronicle, and Post, are actually in the bonds of the Coalition Government, and The Daily News can scarcely be regarded as the organ of the Manchester School[69]. Besides, it is still vacillating, and apparently much tempted by the Free Trade propositions. But if we look at The Herald, the Tory-Conservative paper, we already find its judgment given; and with a truly unusual frankness:

"The whole Budget of Mr. Gladstone," it says, "is nothing but a contemptible admixture of bribes and jobs."[c]

The Tories, therefore, are sure to oppose the scheme of Gladstone, from whom Disraeli will not fail to revindicate the stolen feathers of the Legacy and Income Tax extension, the Tea reduction, and other impudently-appropriated merits of his own. The landed aristocracy desire, at all events, if they must submit to a further loss of privileges, to reserve to themselves the merit of a voluntary surrender. But as they cannot well take their stand on the Legacy Duty, Mr. Disraeli will cause them to rally around the principle of distinction between real and precarious incomes, on which ground he will have a considerable portion of the Brigade fighting alongside with him. It is obvious that the Irish can and will never acknowledge the obligation of a debt, forced by the English upon their country only in consequence of the previous ruin of its population. Besides, for all practical purposes, the remission of the interest from £3,000,000 imaginary capital, must appear to them a very inadequate concession for the imposition of a Spirit Excise and an Income Tax. As far as the Manchester School is concerned, although they are pledged to their constituents, if not on the abolition, at least on the transformation of the Income Tax, it is not to be expected that they will act otherwise than as business men, i.e. without any political honour, but with a very due regard to profit. And the profit on the side of Mr. Gladstone's Budget, as a "whole," is by no means despicable, as far as those gentlemen are concerned.

Now, as to our opinion on the question at issue, we desire most eagerly to see a ministry defeated, which deserves equal contempt for its reactionary deceitful dodgery at home, as for its cowardly subservient policy abroad. And we think we are the more right in doing so, as such an event would certainly promote the interests of the people. One thing is clear: as long as an aristocratic coalition does the work required from them by the manufacturing and trading class, the latter will neither make any political effort themselves, nor allow the working class to carry their own political movement. If, however, the country party once more obtain the upper hand, the middle class cannot get rid of them without remodelling the rotten oligarchic parliament, and then it is no longer in their power to agitate for a limited reform, but they must go the whole length of the people's demands. The people, of course, can never, without abandoning both their principles and interests, join and appeal to the middle classes: but for the bourgeoisie, it would not be the first time that they are forced to throw themselves on the shoulders of the people. And such- a contingency would lead to a very decided revolution in the present financial system. Already, it is evident that even middle class society inevitably tends towards the substitution of one direct property-tax in lieu of the traditional fiscal olla podrida. The Manchester School has long since registered, Disraeli has acknowledged, and even the oligarchic coalition has confirmed, the principle of direct taxation. But let the machinery of a direct property-tax be once properly established, and the people, with political power in their hands, have only to put that engine into motion, in order to create the

Budget of Labour.

Written about April 25, 1853
Reproduced from the newspaper
First published in The People's Paper,. No. 52, April 30, 1853


[a] Here and below William Gladstone's speech in the House of Commons on April 18, 1853 is quoted from The Times, No. 21406, April 19, 1853.—Ed.

[b] Allusion to the appointment of Charles Wood, Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Whig Cabinet of 1846-52, as President of the Control Council on India. Barataria is a fictitious island given over to Sancho Panza in Cervantes' Don Quixote.—Ed.

[c] Marx's rendering of the statement from The Morning Herald, No. 22137, April 20, 1853.—Ed.

[66] In accordance with parliamentary procedure, the House of Commons, when discussing important questions concerning the national budget, declares itself a Committee of Ways and Means. This is one of the cases when the House sits as a committee (see Note 50 ↓).

[50] In accordance with parliamentary procedure, the House of Commons, when discussing certain important questions, declares itself a Committee of the whole House. The functions of the Chairman of the Committee at such sittings are performed by one of the persons on a list of chairmen who is specially appointed by the Speaker.

[67] A reference to the eighth Kaffir war waged by Britain in 1850-53 against the Xhosa tribes. (The name "Kaffir" is wrongly applied to members of all the tribes inhabiting South-Eastern Africa.) In accordance with the peace treaty of 1853 the Xhosa tribes ceded some of their lands to the British.

[68] The Irish Brigade—the Irish faction in the British Parliament from the 1830s to the 1850s. It was led by Daniel O'Connell until 1847. As neither the Tories nor the Whigs had a decisive majority the Irish Brigade, alongside the Free Traders, could tip the balance in Parliament and. in some cases decide the fate of the government.

In the early 1850s, a number of M.P.s belonging to this faction entered into an alliance with the radical Irish Tenant-Right League and formed the so-called Independent Opposition in the House of Commons. However, the leaders of the Irish Brigade soon concluded an agreement with British ruling circles and refused to support the League's demands, which led to the demoralisation and final dissolution of the Independent Opposition in 1859.

[69] The Manchester School—a trend in economic thinking which reflected the interests of the industrial bourgeoisie. Its supporters, known as Free Traders, advocated removal of protective tariffs and non-intervention by the government in economic life. The centre of the Free Traders' agitation was Manchester, where the movement was headed by two textile manufacturers, Richard Cobden and John Bright, who founded the Anti-Corn Law League in 1838. In the 1840s and 1850s the Free Traders were a separate political group, which later formed the Left wing of the Liberal Party.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 12 (pp.75-81), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979
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