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From Parliament.
[—Roebuck's and Bulwer's Motions]

Karl Marx

London, July 11. As is generally known, Roebuck's motion censuring all the members of the old Coalition Cabinet[a] has been put down for next Tuesday. Whilst numerous meetings supporting his motion are being held at Birmingham, Sheffield, Newcastle, etc., and at the same time public petitions are being signed in support of it in every corner of London, members of Parliament are decamping to Paris, Naples and their country homes, in order to avoid the division. In an attempt to prevent this exodus, supported by Palmerston in every respect, Roebuck yesterday moved for power to call over the Commons next Tuesday. The "Call"[b] is an old parliamentary practice which had sunk into oblivion since the- time of the debate on Catholic Emancipation[241]. At the opening of the sitting the name of every single Member of Parliament is called out. Those who are absent are subject to arrest by the parliamentary serjeant-at-arms[c], a public apology before the assembled House and the payment of certain fines. By a majority of 133 to 108, however, the Commons refused Roebuck the right to coerce members by means of a Call. Nothing could be more characteristic of the British Parliament and its press organs than their attitude towards Roebuck's motion. The motion does not emanate from any member of the "official" opposition. That is its first blemish. It is directed not only against members of the present Cabinet but also against members of the dissolved Cabinet. It is not, therefore, a purely party manoeuvre. It declares that the sins of the old Ministry are not expiated by the forming of a new Ministry. It opens the way for a motion calling for impeachment. That is the other great blemish of this motion. For the official opposition is of course only willing to wage the parliamentary war "within the limits of a change of Ministers". It is far removed from waging war against ministerial responsibility. The clique of Outs is no less anxious about maintaining ministerial omnipotence than the clique of Ins[d]. The skill in conducting parliamentary battles consists of course precisely in ensuring that during the fight it is never the office that is hit but always the person holding the office at a given time, and even he only to an extent that will permit him after being brought down as a Minister immediately to come forward as a candidate for the Ministry. The oligarchy does not perpetuate itself 'by retaining power permanently in the same hand, but by dropping it with one hand in order to catch it again with the other, and so on. The Tories are therefore just as dissatisfied with Roebuck's motion as the Whigs are.

As to the press, the reaction of The Times is crucial. Was there a newspaper that clamoured louder for the Roebuck Committee to be set up, as long as its purpose was, on the one hand, to bring about a change of Ministers and, on the other, to provide an outlet for the public passion? However, from the moment that Roebuck comes forward and, supported by the findings of his Committee, threatens to lay all the members of the coalition open to explicit censure by Parliament, is there a newspaper which observes a more stubborn silence than The Times? As far as The Times is concerned, Roebuck's motion does not exist; yesterday's incident in Parliament concerning the "Call" does not exist; the meetings at Birmingham, Sheffield, etc., do not exist in its columns. Roebuck himself is, of course, no Brutus. On the one hand, he has seen how miserably the Whigs have rewarded him for the services he has rendered over many years. On the other hand, he has his constituents behind him. He represents a large body of constituents whom he has to pay in popularity as he cannot pay them in cash. And finally, the role of a modern Warwick, the parliamentary King-Maker, can hardly be displeasing to this ambitious but so far scarcely successful barrister. The Tories who form the opposition cannot, of course, oppose Roebuck's motion in the same way as the Whigs can. They are therefore seeking to forestall it. This is the secret behind Bulwer's motion calling for a vote of no confidence in the Ministry[e], based on Lord John Russell's strange revelations about the Vienna conferences[f]. Bulwer's motion remains entirely "within" the limits of a government reshuffle. It takes the fate of the Ministry out of Roebuck's hands. If it succeeds then it will be the Tories who have toppled the Whigs, and once holding the Ministry, conventional "magnanimity" would forbid them to pursue their victory and to continue supporting Roebuck. But the artfulness of the Tories at the same time enables Palmerston to employ old parliamentary tricks. The dismissal of Russell, whether voluntary or imposed, will serve to parry Bulwer's motion just as Bulwer has parried Roebuck's motion. Russell's departure would be certain to bring Palmerston's Cabinet down were it not to occur shortly before the end of the session. Now, however, it may on the contrary prolong the life of his Cabinet. If so, then no English Minister before Palmerston has managed with such skill and good fortune to use the people's clamouring in order to force himself upon the parliamentary parties on the one hand, and, on the other, to use the petty parliamentary interests, groupings and formalities that exist to force himself upon the people. He is like the old man of the sea whom Sindbad the Sailor found impossible to shake off once he had allowed him to climb onto his shoulders.

Written on July 11, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 323, July 14, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Published in English for the first time in MECW.


[a] Roebuck first gave notice of his motion in the House of Commons on June 22, 1855. See this volume, pp. 297-301.—Ed.

[b] Here and below Marx uses the English word.—Ed.

[c] Marx uses the English term.—Ed.

[d] Marx uses the English words "Outs" and "Ins" (i.e. members of the opposition on the one hand and the ruling party on the other).—Ed.

[e] The motion was tabled in the House of Commons on July 10, 1855. The Times, No. 22103, July 11, 1855.—Ed.

[f] See this volume, pp. 222-26.—Ed.

[241] Emancipation of the Catholics—in 1829 the British Parliament, under pressure of a mass movement in Ireland, lifted some of the restrictions curtailing the political rights of the Catholic population. Catholics were granted the right to be elected to Parliament and hold certain government posts. Simultaneously the property qualification for electors was increased fivefold. With the aid of this manoeuvre the British ruling classes hoped to win over to their side the upper crust of the Irish bourgeoisie and Catholic landowners and thus split the Irish national movement.
Repeal of the Corn Laws—see Note 14↓.

[14] The Corn Laws, the first of which were passed as early as the fifteenth century, imposed high import duties on agricultural products in order to maintain high prices for these products on the domestic market. The Corn Laws served the interests of the big landowners. The struggle between the industrial bourgeoisie and the landed aristocracy over the Corn Laws ended in their repeal in June 1846.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.337-339), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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