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The Coming Election in England[280]

Karl Marx

London, March 13, 1857

"Stand between two churchmen, good my Lord:
For on that ground I'll make a holy descant."

Palmerston does not exactly comply with the advice tendered by Buckingham to Richard III. He stands between the churchman on the one side, and the opium-smuggler on the other. While the Low Church bishops, whom the veteran impostor allowed the Earl of Shaftesbury, his .kinsman, to nominate, vouch his "righteousness," the opium-smugglers, the dealers in "sweet poison for the age's tooth[b], vouch his faithful service to "commodity, the bias of' the world."[c] Burke, the Scotchman, was proud of the London "Resurrectionists."[281] So is Palmerston of the Liverpool "poisoners." These smooth-faced gentlemen are the worthy representatives of a town, the pedigree of whose greatness may be directly traced back to the slave trade. Liverpool, otherwise not famous for poetical production, may at least claim the original merit of having enriched poetry with odes on the slave trade. While Pindar commenced his hymn on the Olympian victors with the celebrated "Water is the best thing" (Ariston men hudor)[d], a modern Liverpool Pindar might, therefore, be fairly expected to open his hymn on the Downing-street[e] prize-fighters with the more ingenious exordium, "Opium is the best thin"

Along with the holy Bishops and the unholy opium-smugglers, there go the large tea-dealers, for the greater part directly or indirectly engaged in the opium traffic, and, therefore, interested in oversetting the present treaties with China. They are, besides, actuated by motives of their own. Having in the past year ventured upon enormous speculations in tea, the prolongation of hostilities will at once enhance the huge stocks they hold, and enable them to postpone the large payments to their creditors at Canton. Thus, war will allow them to cheat at once their British buyers and their Chinese sellers, and consequently realize their notions of "national glory" and "commercial interests." Generally the British manufacturers disagree from the tenets of this Liverpool catechism, upon the same lofty principle which puts in opposition the Manchester man, wanting low cotton prices, to the Liverpool gentleman, wanting high ones. During the first Anglo-Chinese war, extending from 1839 to 1842, the British manufacturers had flattered themselves with false hopes of marvelously extended exports[282]. Yard by yard they had measured the cotton stuffs the Celestials were to be clothed in. Experience broke the padlock Palmerstonian politicians had put upon their mind. From 1854 to 1857 the British manufactured exports to China did not average more than £1,250,000 sterling, an amount frequently reached in years preceding the first war with China.

"In fact," as Mr. Cobden, the spokesman of the British manufacturers, stated in the House of Commons, "since 1842 we" (the United Kingdom) "have not added to our exports to China at all, at least as far as our manufactures are concerned. We have increased our consumption of tea; that is all."[f]

Hence the broader views with which British manufacturers, in contradistinction to British Bishops, opium-smugglers, and tea-dealers, are able to take of Chinese politics. If we pass over the tax-eaters and place-hunters who hang on the skirts of every administration, and the silly coffee-house patriots who believe "the nation to pluck up a heart" under Pam's auspices, we have in fact enumerated all the bona fide partisans of Palmerston. Still we must not forget The London Times and Punch, the Grand Cophta[283] and the Clown of the British press, both of whom are riveted to the present administration by golden and official links, and, consequently, write up a factitious enthusiasm for the hero of the Canton massacres. But then, it ought to be considered that the vote of the House of Commons betokened a rebellion against Palmerston as much as against The Times. The imminent elections have, therefore, to decide not only whether Palmerston shall engross all the power of the State, but also whether The Times shall monopolize the whole manufacture of public opinion.

Upon which principle, then, is Palmerston likely to appeal to the general election? Extension of trade with China? But he has destroyed the very port upon which that commerce depended. For a more or less protracted period he has transferred it from the sea to the land, from the five ports to Siberia, from England to Russia. In the United Kingdom he has raised the duty upon tea—the greatest bar against the extension of the Chinese trade. The safety of the British merchant-adventurers? But the Blue Book[284], entitled "Correspondence Respecting Insults in China," laid upon the table of the Commons by the Ministry itself, proves t hat, since the last seven years, there occurred but six cases of insult, iii two of which the English were the aggressors, while in the four others the Chinese authorities exerted themselves to the full satisfaction of the British authorities in order to punish the offenders. If, then, the fortunes and the lives of the British merchants in Hong-Kong, Singapore, &cc., are at present endangered, their perils are conjured up by Palmerston himself. But the honor of the British flag! Palmerston has sold it for £50 a piece to the smugglers of Hong-Kong, and stained it by the "wholesale massacre of helpless British customers." Yet, these pleas of extension of trade, safety of British merchant-adventurers, and honor of the British flag, are the only ones put up by the Government oracles which till now have addressed their constituents. They wisely refrain from touching any point of internal policy, as the cry of "no reform," and "more taxes," would not do. One member of the Palmerstonian Cabinet, Lord Mulgrave, the Household Treasurer, tells his constituents[g] that he has "no political theories to propound." Another one, Bob Lowe, in his Kidderminster address[h], girds at the ballot, the extension of suffrage, and similar "humbug." A third one, Mr. Labouchere, the same clever fellow who defended the Canton bombardment on the plea that, should the Commons brand it as unjust, the English people must prepare to pay a bill of about £5,000,000 to the foreign merchants whose Canton property had been destroyed—this same Labouchere, in his appeal to his Taunton constituents[i], ignores politics altogether, simply resting his claims upon the high deeds of Bowring, Parkes and Seymour.

The remark, then, of a British provincial paper, that Palmerston has got, not only no "good cry for the hustings, but no cry at all," is perfectly true. Yet his case is by no means desperate. Circumstances are altogether altered since the vote of the Commons. The local outrage on Canton has led to a general war with China. There remains the question only, who is to carry on the war? The man who asserts that war to be just, is he not better enabled to push it on with vigor than his adversaries, getting in by passing sentence upon it?

During his interregnum will Palmerston not embroil matters to such a degree as to remain the indispensable man?

Then the mere fact of there taking place an electoral battle, will it not decide the question in his favor? For the greater part of the British electoral bodies, as at present constituted, an electoral battle means a battle between Whigs and Tories. Now, as he is the actual head of the Whigs, as his overthrow must bring the Tories in, will not the greater part of the so-called Liberals vote for Palmerston in order to oust Derby? Such are the true considerations upon which the Ministerialists rely. If their calculations prove correct, Palmerston's dictatorship, till now silently suffered, would be openly proclaimed. The new Parliamentary majority would owe their existence to the explicit profession of passive obedience to the minister. A coup d'état might then, in due course of time, follow Palmerston's appeal from the Parliament to the people, as it followed Bonaparte's appeal from the Assemblée Nationale to the nation[285]. That same people might then learn to their damage that Palmerston is the old colleague of the Castlereagh-Sidmouth Cabinet, who gagged the press, suppressed public meetings, suspended the Habeas Corpus act[286], made it legal for the Cabinet to imprison and expulse at pleasure, and lastly butchered the people at Manchester for protesting against the Corn Laws.[287]

Written on March 13, 1857
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4975, March 31, 1857


[a] Shakespeare, King Richard III, Act I11, Scene VII.—Ed.

[b] Shakespeare, King John, Act I, Scene I.—Ed.

[c] Op. cit., Act II, Scene I.—Ed.

[d] Pindar, The First Olympian Ode.—Ed.

[e] Downing-Street—a side-turning off Whitehall, where the main government buildings in London are situated; it contains the residence of the Prime Minister (at No. 10) and the Chancellor of the Exchequer (at No. 11).—Ed.

[f] R. Cobden's speech in the House of Commons on February 26, 1857, The Times, No. 22615, February 27, 1857.—Ed.

[g] G. Mulgrave's speech before the Scarborough constituents in March 1857, The Times, No. 22627, March 13, 1857.—Ed.

[h] R. Lowe's speech before the Kidderminster constituents on March 10, 1857, The Times, same issue.—Ed.

[i] H. Labouchere's speech before the Taunton constituents on March 11, 1857, The Times, same issue.—Ed.

[280] In Marx's Notebook for 1857 this article is entitled "Palmerston and the General Election".

[281] The name "resurrectionists" was given in England to people who secretly exhumed corpses and sold them to dissecting rooms. In the 1820s this practice was particularly widespread; for example, there was the notorious case of William Burke, who murdered people in Edinburgh solely for this purpose and left no traces of the crime.

[282] A reference to the First Opium War (1839-42)—an aggressive war waged by Britain against China which started China's transformation into a semi-colony. One of the clauses of the Nanking Treaty imposed on China provided for the opening of five Chinese ports to foreign trade. See also Note 197↓.

[283] The Grand Cophta was the name of the omnipotent and omniscient Egyptian priest who headed the non-existent Masonic "Egyptian Lodge" which the famous eighteenth-century impostor "Count" Cagliostro (Giuseppe Balsamo) claimed to have founded.

[284] Blue Books—periodically published collections of documents of the British Parliament and Foreign Office. Their publication began in the seventeenth century.

[285] Louis Bonaparte's appeal to the National Assembly of November 4, 1851, contained a demagogic demand for the re-establishment of universal suffrage in France. After the National Assembly's rejection of the Bill, introduced on the occasion by Bonaparte's ministry, Louis Bonaparte accomplished a coup d'état on December 2, 1851.

[286] Marx is referring here to the six laws passed by the British Parliament, on Castlereagh's proposal, following the massacre (known as Peterloo) of the workers, participants in a mass meeting in support of electoral reform and in protest against the Corn Laws at St. Peter's Field, Manchester, on August 16, 1819. Known as the "gagging laws", they virtually abolished the Habeas Corpus act and restricted the freedom of the press and assembly.

The Habeas Corpus Act was passed by the British Parliament in 1679 and envisages the issue of a writ requiring an imprisoned person to be brought before a court or a judge within three to twenty days or to be set free. The procedure does not apply to persons accused of high treason and could be suspended by decision of Parliament.

[287] On the butchery of the people at Manchester see Note 286↑.
The Corn Laws (first introduced in the fifteenth century) imposed high import duties on agricultural produce in the interests of landowners in order to maintain high prices for these products on the home market. The struggle between the industrial bourgeoisie and the landed aristocracy over the Corn Laws ended in 1846 with their repeal (see also Note 228↓).

[197] This refers to Article 9 of the Anglo-Chinese treaty of October 8, 1843 signed to supplement the Treaty of Nanking.

The Treaty of Nanking, concluded between Britain and China in 1842, was the first of a series of unequal treaties imposed by the Western powers on China, reducing it to the status of a semi-colony. The Nanking Treaty made China open five of its ports to British commerce—Canton, Shanghai, Amoy, Ningpo and Fu-chou, cede the Island of Hongkong to Britain "in perpetuity" and pay a large indemnity. It introduced import and export tariffs advantageous to Britain.

The supplementary protocol of 1843 concerning the general rules for trading in the five open ports contained articles (2, 7 and 13) envisaging cooperation between the British and Chinese authorities in inspecting the goods brought to the ports and in organising their work. According to its Article 9 the Chinese who cooperated with the British were not subject to China's jurisdiction.

[228] In 1774 Baron A. R. J. Turgot, who became controller general of finances, introduced free trade in corn and flour. This measure and his subsequent reforms roused strong opposition on the part of the Court, high priesthood, nobility and officialdom. In 1776 Louis XVI signed his resignation.

The Anti-Corn Law League was founded in 1838 by the Manchester textile manufacturers and free traders Richard Cobden and John Bright. It campaigned for the repeal of the high import tariffs on corn established in 1815 and for unrestricted free trade. The League ceased to exist after the repeal of the Corn Laws (see Note 287↑) in 1846.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 15 (pp.219-222), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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