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Agitation Against Prussia.—A Day of Fasting

Karl Marx

London, March 19. To showthe attitude of the press here towards Prussia, we have chosen two extracts, one from The Morning Herald, the Tory organ, the other from The Morning Post, Palmerston's organ. Referring to the speech made by Sir Robert Peel, newly appointed Junior Lord of the Admiralty, to his constituents at Portsmouth, The Morning Herald remarks:

"Sir Robert Peel has most truthfully represented the people of England's sentiments when he demanded that Prussia should be urged to adopt an unequivocally stated policy, or our second expedition to the Baltic will be as futile as the first one. We have had enough of protocoling and 'points'; it is now high time to cut off Russia from her resources and to bring about repercussions within Russia."[a]

The Morning Post has received the following report about General Wedell's mission from Paris:

"General Wedell has [...] communicated his new instructions to the Cabinet of Napoleon. And what are they? [...] General Wedell tells the Government of France—First: His Majesty the King of Prussia[b] is deeply afflicted at the death of cousin Nicholas[c]; [...] Secondly: [...] Prussia quite agrees with the Western Powers about the protocol of Dec. 28[87], and is ready to subscribe to the same in any and every imaginable form! Ergo, Prussia must have a place at the Council board of Vienna[88]. [...] But it happens that the protocol of December 28 does not bind any one to anything—it is only a diplomatic sketch for an historical work. And as [...] Prussia refuses to countersign the real alliance treaty between England, France and Austria, Mr. Wedell's mission is, I suppose, closed".[d] It is well known that the rulers of Tyre and Carthage assuaged the wrath of the gods, not by sacrificing themselves, but by buying children from the poor to fling them into the fiery arms of Moloch. Official England orders the people to humble themselves before the Lord, to do penance and fast for the disgrace the misrule of their former government brought upon them, the millions of pounds which it extorted from them to no purpose, and the thousands of lives of which it unscrupulously robbed them. For the Privy Council has ordered a Day of Fasting and Prayer for next Wednesday,[e]

"to obtain pardon of our sins, and in the most devout and solemn manner send u p our prayers and supplications to the Divine Majesty, imploring His blessing and assistance on our arms, for the restoration of peace to her Majesty and her dominions".[f]

Just like the Lord Chamberlain at Court ceremonies, the Archbishop of Canterbury[g] has published a "set of rules" for these religious ceremonies, rules which prescribe how the divine Majesty is to be addressed. On the occasion of this extraordinary competition of the English State Church with that of Russia, which has also entreated God's blessing for their arms, the latter obviously has the advantage over the former.

"Read by the Czar's countrymen," The Leader remarks, "the prayer prescribed by Canterbury is the prayer of cowards; read by Englishmen [...], it is the prayer of hypocrites. [...] Read by Dissenters, it is the prayer of one sect dictating to the rest; and read by the working people, it is the prayer of the rich who belong to that one sect, and who keep up these mummeries [...] through a belief that the mummeries are an indirect means of sustaining the monopolies of rank and office. The Archbishop's unctuous verbiage has aroused the working classes in several parts of the country. A day of fast and humiliation is to them a reality. To the other 'persuasions', besides those of poverty, it only means the addition of fish and egg sauce to the usual dinner, with a closing of their place of business, as if it were Sunday. To the working men a 'fast' means stopped wages and the want of dinner."

In a previous despatch we stated:

"The conflict between the industrial proletariat and the bourgeoisie will flare up again at the same time that the conflict between the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy reaches its climax."[h]

At a large meeting which took place at the London Tavern last Friday[i], this was manifestly demonstrated. We preface our report of this meeting with some particulars of the skirmishes which have recently taken place inside and outside Parliament between bourgeoisie and proletariat. A short time ago the manufacturers of Manchester held meetings where it was resolved to agitate for the removal of the official factory inspectors, since these inspectors not only presume to supervise the observance of working hours fixed by law, but even demand that the measures prescribed by Parliament to prevent damage to life and limb by machinery should actually be put into effect in the factories. The factory inspector for South Lancashire, the well-known Leonard Horner, has incurred their particular displeasure because, in his latest report[j], he insisted on a legally prescribed appliance in spinning mills, the neglect of which, as one manufacturer—a member of the Peace Society[89], of course— exclaimed naively, had "cost the lives of only five adult workers last year".

This was extra parliamentary. Inside the House of Commons, Sir Henry Halford's Bill, which declared the "stoppage of wages"[k] illegal, was thrown out during the second reading. "Stoppage of wages" means deductions from the money wages, partly as penalty for infringements of factory regulations framed by the employer, and partly, in branches of industry where the modern system has not yet been introduced, deduction of rents, etc., for looms, etc., lent to workers.

The latter system prevails particularly in the stocking factories of Nottingham, and Sir Henry Halford has proved[l] that, in many instances, instead of being paid by his employer, the worker has actually to pay his employer. For, under various pretexts, so many deductions are made from the money wages that the worker must give back an excess, which the capitalist notes down in the form of a debit. The worker is thus turned into his employer's debtor, and is forced by him to renew his contract under ever more unfavourable conditions until he has become a bondsman in the fullest sense, but unlike the bondsman, he does not receive even the guarantee of physical survival.

While the House of Commons rejected Sir Henry Halford's Bill, which was to put an end to this malpractice, at its second reading, it refused even to consider the Bill of Cobbett, son of the great English pamphleteer. The aim of this Bill[m] was (1) to replace the ten-and-a-half hours law of 1850 by the "ten-hours law" of 1817[90]; (2) to make the legal restrictions of working hours in factories a "reality" by the compulsory shutting down of machinery at the end of each legal working day.

Tomorrow we shall revert to the meeting at the London Tavern.

Written on March 19, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 137, March 22, 1855
Marked with the sign x


[a] "Portsmouth—Saturday", The Morning Herald, No. 22383, March 19, 1855.—Ed.

[b] Frederick William IV.—Ed.

[c] Nicholas I.—Ed.

[d] "Paris, Friday Evening", The Morning Post, No. 25338, March 19, 1855.—Ed.

[e] March 21, 1855.—Ed.

[f] "A Proclamation for a Day of Solemn Fast, Humiliation and Prayer. Victoria R.", The Leader, No. 260, March 17, 1855. Below Marx quotes another article from the same issue, headlined "Humiliation 'Ex-Officio'".—Ed.

[g] J. B. Sumner.—Ed.

[h] See this volume, pp. 55-56.—Ed.

[i] March 16, 1855.—Ed.

[j] "Report of Leonard Horner, Esq., Inspector of Factories, for the Half Year ended the 31st of October, 1854."—Ed.

[k] Marx uses the English phrase "stoppage of wages" here and below.—Ed.

[l] In his speech in the House of Commons on March 8, 1855. The Times, No. 21997, Mach 9, 1855.—Ed.

[m] Submitted on March 16, 1855.—Ed.

[87] The memorandum handed by Britain, France and Austria to Russia's Ambassador in Vienna, Prince Alexander Gorchakov, during the Vienna Conference on the terms for peace negotiations (see Note 34↓).

[88] The Vienna Conference was to work out the terms for peace between the participants in the Crimean War. It was attended by Russia, Britain, France, Austria and Turkey and lasted, with intervals, from March 15 to June 4, 1855. The negotiations centred on the Four Points (see Note 43↓). While agreeing, with certain reservations, to Points 1, 2 and 4, Russia emphatically rejected Point 3 which, as interpreted by the Western Powers, called for a reduction of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea. Britain and France insisted on its acceptance and turned down Austria's compromise proposal that Russia and Turkey should be allowed to agree between themselves on the size of their naval forces in the Black Sea. The Conference ended without adopting any decisions.

[89] The Peace Society (the Society for Promoting Permanent and Universal Peace)—an organisation founded by the Quakers in London in 1816. It was strongly supported by the Free Traders, who believed that, given peace, free trade would enable Britain to make full use of her industrial superiority and thus gain economic and political supremacy.

[90] The Ten Hours Bill, passed by the British Parliament on June 8, 1847, applied only to adolescents and women and was ignored by many manufacturers.
In February 1850 the Court of Chancery (one of Britain's high courts) acquitted a number of manufacturers accused of infringing the Ten Hours Bill. This ruling caused protests from the workers. On August 5, 1850 Parliament passed a new Bill which stipulated a ten-and-a-half-hour working day for women and adolescents and fixed the beginning and end of the working day.

[34] A reference to the talks between the British, French and Russian Ambassadors and Austrian Foreign Minister Buol sponsored by Emperor Francis Joseph, which opened in December 1854. Their official purpose was to work out a basis for peace negotiations between the belligerents in the Crimean War. They were a sequel to an earlier round of talks between diplomats of the Western Powers, the Prussian Ambassador and the Austrian Minister (the Russian Ambassador refused to participate) held in Vienna in 1853-54 by way of mediation in the Russo-Turkish conflict. The second round failed to resolve the differences between the belligerents in the Crimean War. In mid-March 1855 representatives of Austria, Britain, France, Turkey and Russia met at a higher level at the Vienna Conference (Britain was represented by Special Envoy Lord John Russell, France by Foreign Minister Drouyn de Lhuys). That conference also produced no results (see Note 88↑).

[43] The Four Points—demands made by the Western Powers on Russia as preliminary conditions for peace talks in their Note of August 8, 1854. Russia was required to renounce her protectorate over Moldavia, Wallachia and Serbia, which was to be replaced by an all-European guarantee; to grant freedom of navigation on the Danube; to agree to a revision of the London Convention of 1841 on the closure of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles to the warships of all nations in peacetime, and to renounce its protection of Christians in Turkey. The Tsarist government at first rejected the Four Points but in November 1854 was forced to accept them as the basis for future peace talks. The Four Points were discussed at the Vienna conferences of Ambassadors (see Note 34↑) but the attempts of the Western Powers to link the question of the Straits with demands for 'a reduction of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea caused the Russian Ambassador in Vienna, A. M. Gorchakov, to walk out of the talks.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.94-97), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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