Struggle over The Ten Hours' Bill
London, Friday, July 8, 1853
With the actual occupation of the Danubian Principalities and the drawing near of the long-predicted crisis, the English Press has remarkably lowered its warlike language, and little opposition is made to the advice tendered in two consecutive leaders of The Times[a] that, "as the Russians could not master their propensity for civilizing barbarian provinces, England had better let them do as they desired, and avoid a disturbance of the peace by vain obstinacy."
The anxiety of the Government to withhold all information on the pending Turkish question betrayed itself in a most ridiculous farce, acted at the same time in both Houses of Parliament. In the House of Commons Mr. Layard, the celebrated restorer of ancient Nineveh, had given notice that he would move this evening that the fullest information with regard to Turkey and Russia should be laid before the House. On this notice having been given, the following scene occurred in the lower House[b]:
Mr. Layard—The notice of my motion was given for to-morrow. I received a note yesterday afternoon asking me to put off the motion to Monday, 11th inst. I was not able to return an answer yesterday afternoon—in fact, not till this morning. To my surprise, I find that, without my knowledge, I was in the House yesterday; for I find from the notices of motions printed with the votes, that Mr. Layard postponed his motion from Friday the 8th to Monday 11th! [...] It seems scarcely fair that independent members should be treated in this way.
Mr. Gladstone—I do not know by whose direction or authority the notice of postponement was placed on the notes of the House. Of one thing I can assure the hon. member, that whatever was done, was done in perfect bona fides.
Mr. Layard—I should like to know who put that notice of postponement in the paper. What reason have you for deferring the motion to Monday?
Mr. Gladstone—An indisposition of Lord J. Russell.
Mr. Layard then withdrew his motion until Monday.
Mr. Disraeli—This appears to me an arrangement of business which requires explanation on the part of the Government—the more so as the India Bill, too, contrary to agreement, is placed on the notes for to-morrow.
After a pause,
Sir C. Wood humbly confesses to have been the double sinner, but, availing himself of Mr. Gladstone's suggestion, declared that he had acted with regard to Mr. Layard with the best intentions in the world.
The opposite side of the medal was exhibited in the House of Lords, where, at all events, the bodily disposition of poor little Russell had nothing to do with the motion of the Marquis of Clanricarde, similar to that of Mr. Layard, and likewise announced for Friday, after it had already several times been adjourned on the request of Ministers.
Lord Brougham rose, with the assurance that he had not communicated with any member of the Ministry, but that he found the motion of Lord Clanricarde, announced for to-morrow, most inconvenient in the present state of affairs. For this he would refer to the Secretary for Foreign Affairs.
Lord Clarendon could certainly not say that there would be neither mischief nor inconvenience in a full discussion of the subject at present. Negotiations were going on; but after the various postponements, he felt that he ought not to ask again his noble friend to withdraw his motion. Yet he reserved to himself, in reply to him, to say nothing more than that which his sense of public duty allowed. Nevertheless, he would ask his noble friend whether he would object to at least postponing the motion until Monday next, it being convenient to have this discussion in both Houses at the same time, and Lord J. Russell being extremely unwell?
Earl of Ellenborough—The noble Marquis opposite would only exercise a sound discretion if he deferred not only to Monday, but generally, without fixing at present any day for the motion of which he has given notice for to-morrow.
Lord Derby—He had been taken by surprise on finding the noble Marquis bringing the question under consideration, and he concurred entirely with the views of the noble Earl (Ellenborough).
Earl Grey—After the declaration of Lord Clarendon the propriety of postponing discussion must be obvious to every one.
The Marquis of Clanricarde then withdrew his motion.
Earl Fitzwilliam—He would ask whether the Russian manifesto, the declaration of a holy war against Turkey, dated June 26, was authentic?
Earl Clarendon—He had received that document from Her Majesty's Minister at St. Petersburg.
Earl of Malmesbury—It was due to the dignity of their Lordships that they should be assured by Government of its intention to prevent, as far as it could, a similar discussion taking place on Monday in the other House.
Earl of Aberdeen—He and his colleagues would exercise any influence they possessed to do their utmost for preventing that discussion.
To resume: The House of Commons is first made to adjourn discussion by a fraud. Then, under the pretense that the House of Commons had adjourned discussion, the House of Lords is made to do the same. Then the "noble" Lords resolve to postpone the motion ad infinitum; and lastly, the dignity of the "noblest assembly on the face of the earth" requires that the Commons too should postpone the motion ad infinitum.
On an interpellation from Mr. Liddell, Lord Palmerston declared in the same sitting:
The recent obstruction of the navigation of the Sulina Canal of the Danube, had been caused by the accidental circumstance of the waters of the river having overflowed and spread over the banks, and so far diminished the force of the current as to increase the quantity of mud on the bar. [...] I am bound to say that, for many years past, the Government has had reason to complain of the neglect of the Government of Russia to perform its duties as the possessor of the territory of which the Delta of the Danube is composed, and to maintain the Canal of the Sulina [...] in efficient navigable state, although Russia always admitted that it was her duty to do so, by virtue of the treaty of Adrianople. [...] While these mouths of the Danube formed parts of the Turkish Territory, there was maintained a depth of 16 feet on the bar, whereas, by neglect of the Russian authorities the depth had diminished to 11 feet, and even these 11 feet were reduced to a small and narrow canal from obstructions on the sides, from sand-banks and from vessels wrecked and sunk, and allowed to remain there, so that it was difficult for any vessel to pass except in calm weather and with a skillful pilot. [...] There was rivalship on the part of Odessa, where existed a desire to obstruct the export of produce by the Danube, and to divert it, if possible by way of Odessa.
Probably the English Ministry hope that, in case of the Principalities becoming Russian, the mouths of the Danube will reopen according as the rivalry of Odessa will be shut.
A few months ago I took occasion to remark on the progress of the Ten Hours' agitation in the Factory districts[c]. The movement has been going on all the while, and has at last found an echo in the Legislature. On the 5th inst., Mr. Cobbett, M. P. for Oldham, moved for leave to bring in a bill to restrict factory labor to ten hours on the first five days of the week, and to seven and a half hours on Saturday. Leave was given to bring in the bill. During the preliminary debate, Lord Palmerston, in the warmth of improvisation, allowed a distinct threat to escape him, that, if no other means for protecting the factory women and children existed, he would propose a restriction of the moving power. The sentence had scarcely fallen from his lips, when a general storm of indignation burst forth against the incautious statesman, not only from the direct representatives of millocracy, but particularly from their and his own Whig friends, such as Sir George Grey, Mr. Labouchere, &c. Lord J. Russell having taken Palmerston aside, and after half an hour's private pourparler, had to labor very hard to appease the storm, by assuring them that "it appeared to him that his honorable friend had been entirely misunderstood, and that in expressing himself for a restriction of the moving power, his friend had meant to express himself against it." Such absurd compromises are the daily bread of the Coalition. At all events they have the right to say one thing and to mean another. As to Lord Palmerston himself, be it not forgotten that that old dandy of Liberalism expelled a few years ago some hundred Irish families from his "estates," much in the same way as the Duchess of Sutherland did with the ancient clansmen.[d]
Mr. Cobbett, who moved the bill, is the son of the renowned William Cobbett, and represents the same borough his father did. His politics, like his seat, are the inheritance of his father, and therefore independent indeed, but rather incoherent with the state of present parties. William Cobbett was the most able representative, or, rather, the creator of old English Radicalism. He was the first who revealed the mystery of the hereditary party warfare between Tories and Whigs, stripped the parasitic Whig Oligarchy of their sham liberalism, opposed landlordism in its every form, ridiculed the hypocritical rapacity of the Established Church, and attacked the moneyocracy in its two most eminent incarnations—the "Old Lady of Threadneedle-st." (Bank of England) and Mr. Muckworm & Co. (the national creditors). He proposed to cancel the national debt, to confiscate the Church estates, and to abolish all sorts of paper money. He watched step for step the encroachments of political centralization on local self-government, and denounced it as an infringement on the privileges and liberties of the English subject. He did not understand its being the necessary result of industrial centralization. He proclaimed all the political demands which have afterward been combined in the national charter; yet with him they were rather the political charter of the petty industrial middle class than of the industrial proletarian. A plebeian by instinct and by sympathy, his intellect rarely broke through the boundaries of middle-class reform. It was not until 1834, shortly before his death, after the establishment of the new Poor Law, that William Cobbett began to suspect the existence of a millocracy as hostile to the mass of the people, as landlords, banklords, public creditors, and the clergy-men of the Established Church. If William Cobbett was thus, on one hand, an anticipated modern Chartist, he was, on the other hand, and much more, an inveterate John Bull. He was at once the most conservative and the most destructive man of Great Britain—the purest incarnation of Old England and the most audacious initiator of Young England. He dated the decline of England from the period of the Reformation, and the ulterior prostration of the English people from the so-called glorious Revolution of 1688. With him, therefore, revolution was not innovation, but restoration; not the creation of a new age, but the rehabilitation of the "good old times." -What he did not see, was that the epoch of the pretended decline of the English people coincided exactly with the beginning ascendancy of the middle class, with the development of modern commerce and industry, and that, at the same pace as the latter grew up, the material situation of the people declined, and local self-government disappeared before political centralization. The great changes attending the decomposition of the old English Society since the eighteenth century struck his eyes and made his heart bleed. But if he saw the effects, he did not understand the causes; the new social agencies at work. He did not see the modern bourgeoisie, but only that fraction of the aristocracy which held the hereditary monopoly of office, and which sanctioned by law all the changes necessitated by the new wants and pretensions of the middle class. He saw the machine, but not the hidden motive power. In his eyes, therefore, the Whigs were responsible for all the changes supervening since 1688. They were the prime motors of the decline of England and the degradation of its people. Hence his fanatical hatred against, and his ever recurring denunciation of the Whig oligarchy. Hence the curious phenomenon, that William Cobbett, who represented by instinct the mass of the people against the encroachments of the middle class, passed in the eyes of the world and in his own conviction for the representative of the industrial middle class against the hereditary aristocracy. As a writer he has not been surpassed.
The present Mr. Cobbett, by continuing under altered circumstances the politics of his father, has necessarily sunk into the class of liberal Tories.
The Times, anxious to make good for its humble attitude against the Russian Czar[e] by increased insolence against the English workingmen, brings a leader on Mr. Cobbett's motion that aims to be monstrous, but happens to turn out plainly absurd. It cannot deny that the restriction of the moving power is the only means for enforcing upon the factory lords a submission to the existing laws with regard to the hours of factory labor. But it fails to understand how any man of common sense who aims at attaining an end can propose the only adequate means to it. The existing Ten-and-a-half-hours act, like all other factory laws, is but a fictitious concession made by the ruling classes to the working-people; and the workingmen, not satisfied with the mere appearance of a concession, dare insist upon its reality. The Times has never heard of a thing more ridiculous or more extravagant. If a master should be prevented by Parliament from working his hands during 12, 16, or any other number of hours, then, says The Times, "England is no longer a place for a freeman to live in."[f] Thus the South Carolina gentleman who was placed before and condemned by a London Magistrate for having publicly whipped the Negro he had brought with him from the other side of the Atlantic, exclaimed in a most exasperated state of mind, "You don't call this a free country where a man is forbidden to whip his own nigger?" If a man becomes a factory hand, and enters into contract with a master, in virtue of which he sells himself for sixteen or eighteen hours, instead of taking his sleep as better-circumstanced mortals can do, you have to explain that, says The Times,
"by that natural impulse which perpetually adjusts the supply to the demand, and directs people to the occupation most agreeable and most suited to themselves."
Legislation, of course, must not interfere with this travail attrayant[g]. If you restrict the 'moving power of machinery to a definite portion of the day, say from 6 o'clock, A. M. to 6 P. M., then, says The Times, you might as well suppress machinery altogether. If you stop the gas-light in the public thoroughfares as soon as the sun rises, you must stop it also during the night. The Times forbids legislative interference with private concerns, and therefore, perhaps, it defends the duty on paper, on advertisements, and the newspaper-stamp, in order to keep down the private concerns of its competitors, asking the Legislature to relieve its own concern of the supplement duty. It professes an utter abhorrence of parliamentary interference with the sacred interest of mill-lords, where the lives and the morals of whole generations are at stake, while it has croaked its most determined interference with cabmen and hackney-coach proprietors, where nothing was at stake except the conveniences of some fat city-men, and perhaps the gentlemen of Printing-house-square[h]. Till now the middle-class economists have told us that the principal use of machinery was its shortening and superseding bodily labor and drudgery. Now The Times confesses that, under present class-arrangements machinery does not shorten but prolong the hours of labor -that it firstly bereaves the individual labor of its quality, and then forces the laborer to make up for the loss in quality by quantity thus adding hour to hour, night labor to day labor, in a process which only stops at the intervals of industrial crises, when the man is refused any labor at all when the factory is shut before his nose, and when he may enjoy holidays or hang himself if he pleases.
Written on July 8, 1853
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 3826,
and the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 851, July 22, 1853
Signed: Karl Marx
The Times, No. 21475, July 8, 1853.—Ed.
Rendering of passages from debates in the two Houses on July 7 is according to the report in The Times, No. 21475, July 8, 1853.—Ed.
The reference is to the article "Parliamentary Debates.—The Clergy Against Socialism.—Starvation" (see present edition, Vol. 11, pp. 522-27).—Ed.
See Marx's article "Elections.—Financial Clouds.—The Duchess of Sutherland and Slavery" (present edition, Vol. 11, pp. 486-94).—Ed.
Here and below Marx quotes the second editorial of The Times, No. 21474, July 7, 1853.—Ed.
The square in London where The Times had its main offices.—Ed.
The first section of this article was published in The Eastern Question under the title "Layard.— Gladstone.— Aberdeen.— Palmerston".
A reference to the excavations of Nineveh, the capital of ancient Assyria, directed by the English archaeologist Austen Henry Layard in 1845-51.
Under the Poor Law of 1834 the only relief available to the poor who were fit for work was admission to a workhouse. These were dubbed "Poor Law Bastilles".
A reference to the Bill passed by Parliament on August 5, 1850, in response to workers' protest against the verdict of the Court of Exchequer, which on February 8, 1850 acquitted a group of manufacturers accused of violating the Ten Hours' Bill. This ruling created a precedent and was tantamount to a repeal of the Bill. The workers were also incensed by the relay system practised by British manufacturers. Under the relay system, women and juveniles stayed at work for the full length of the working day for adult men (up to 15 hours), but worked at intervals. The length of their actual work was not outwardly to exceed the legal limit. The manufacturers began to make especially wide use of this system after 1847, in an attempt to circumvent the Ten Hours' Bill.
The new Bill prohibited the relay system but fixed a 101/2-hour working day for women and juveniles. Marx makes a more detailed analysis of the British workers' struggle for a shorter working day in Volume I of Capital.
Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 12
(pp.185-191), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979