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The Crops in Europe

Karl Marx

London, August 21, 1860

The more the season advances the gloomier become the harvest prospects and the fainter grow the hopes still founded on a possible return of fine weather. The character of the past Summer was altogether exceptional, not only throughout the United Kingdom, but over the whole of Northern Europe, Northern France, Belgium, and the Rhenish Provinces included. In regard to this country the season has been justly described in these words:

"After the cold, backward Spring, June proved so extremely wet that in many districts turnips could not be sown, mangel-wurzel hoed, nor any of the usual operations of the period performed. Then, after about ten days of fine weather, the season became so unsettled that two days together without rain have been rather a surprise. But, in addition to the excess of moisture, the present, we may say the past Summer, has been remarkable for the absence of sunshine and the very low temperature which have prevailed even when there has been no rain."[a]

The average fall of rain for the year being about 20 inches, and the fall of rain during the months of May and June having reached the figure of 11.17, it appears that these two months have given over half a year's supply of water. During the last week, at the commencement of which a favorable change seemed impending, the weather proved more unsettled and boisterous than ever, real deluges of rain being, on the 16th and 18th inst., accompanied by thunder-storms and the tempests of the south-west wind. Consequently the wheat prices at Mark Lane[337] advanced yesterday about two shillings the quarter over the rates of last Monday's[b] market.

Hay-making has been already seriously interfered with and belated by the incessant wind, rain, and cold. The grass having been laid and constantly saturated with water, it is feared that much of its nutritive substance has been washed away, so that a great part of it will not do for fodder, but must be used for litter, and will thus prove a very serious loss, greatly increasing the consumption of Spring corn. Much of it is still to be gathered, and much is irretrievably lost.

"There can be little doubt," says The Gardeners' Chronicle of Saturday last, "that the wheat crop generally is considerably injured. Of 140 reports received from as many correspondents in England and Scotland, no fewer than 91 declare the crop to be below the average, and if the chief wheat-growing districts be selected, it will be found that the proportion of unfavorable returns is quite as large. Thus, five out of six reports from Lincolnshire, three out of five from Norfolk and Suffolk, and all from the counties of Oxford, Gloucestershire, Wilts, Hants, and Kent, are unfavorable."

A great deal of the wheat crop has rotted at the root before the grain was mature, and in many districts it has been blighted and mildewed. While wheat is thus attacked by the disease, and in many districts to a large extent, the potato disease, which commenced in 1845, continued with great virulence for the four subsequent years, and gradually abated since 1850, has reappeared in an aggravated form, not only in Ireland, but in many districts of England and the Northern Continent.

The Freeman's Journal thus resumes the general harvest prospects of Ireland:

"The oat crop is generally looked upon as all but lost. Except in a few inconsiderable districts, it has not yet ripened; but remains perfectly green, and beaten to the ground by the violence of the weather. Wheat promises to share in the calamity which generally threatens the grain crops. Little of it has been yet cut, and this crop, the condition of which inspired the most sanguine expectations only a few weeks since, is now causing farmers the deepest concern. [...] With regard to the potato crop, the general opinion is, that if the present weather continues for another month, it must be inevitably lost."[c]

According to the Wexford Independent,

"the potato disease is progressing, and in some places fully one-third of the produce is found affected, irrespective alike of size and description, and in proportion to the time of planting."

This much appears, therefore, certain: The general harvest will be much belated beyond its usual term, and the existing stores consequently be run short. The partial failure of hay, coupled with the potato disease, will press to an unwonted extent upon the cereals; and the yield of all sorts of corn, especially wheat, will fall far below the average. Till now, the imports from abroad, instead of showing an excess over the imports during the years 1858 and 1859, exhibit, on the contrary, a marked comparative decline. On the other hand, corn prices, although, on an average, they rule now 26 per cent higher than at the same period of last year, have as yet been kept down by the news of the plentiful harvests in America and Southern Russia, by the hope of a favorable turn in the weather, and by the extreme caution the late collapse in the leather trade had imposed upon all monetary transactions. The conclusion to which I am led by a comparison of the present prices with those of similar seasons since 1815, is, that the average price of wheat, which may be taken now to amount to 58/@59/ the quarter, will have to rise, in England at least, to 65/@70/. The effect of such a rise in the price of breadstuffs will be considerably aggravated by its coincidence with a progressive decline in the export trade of the country. From £63,003,159, which sum they realized during the six months ending June 30, 1859, the British exports have sunk to £62,019,989 during the corresponding period of 1860[d], and, as I have shown in a former letter,[e] the contraction was mainly due to a decline in the sale of cotton goods and yarns, consequent upon the markets of Asia and Australia having been glutted. While the exports are thus falling off, the imports have considerably risen, if compared with the corresponding period of 1859. We find, in fact, the imports for the five months ending May 31, 1859, £44,968,863; 1860, £57,097,638.

This excess of imports over exports must necessarily aggravate the drain of bullion and the consequent unsettled state of the money market which characterizes all periods of failing harvests, and extraordinary purchases of foreign corn. If, in England, the effect of the imminent monetary pressure is not likely to stretch far beyond the sphere of political economy, it is quite another thing on the Continent, where serious political disturbances are almost unavoidable whenever a monetary crisis coincides with a failing harvest and a great increase of taxation. Already the most serious apprehensions are entertained at Paris, where the magistrate is just busied with buying up whole lots of old houses, in order to have them pulled down, and thus cut out work for the "ouvriers".[f] The Paris prices of best wheat range at this moment as high, if not somewhat higher than the London prices, namely at 60/6 to 61/. The last dodges by which Louis Bonaparte tried to divert the public mind, viz.: the Syrian expedition, the advancement of Spain to a "great power",[338] the transactions with Prussia, and the attempts at interference with Garibaldi's progress, having all turned out dead failures, he must needs meet the dangers of a bad season, a monetary pressure and a stinted exchequer at the very moment when his political "prestige" is evidently at a considerable discount. If any proof for the latter assertion were wanted, is there not his letter to "Mon cher Persigny"?[g][339]

Written on August 21, 1860
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 6043, September 6, 1860;
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1595, September 7
and in the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 991, September 8, 1860 without the last paragraph


[a] "The Wet Summer", The Economist, No. 886, August 18, 1860, p. 899.—Ed.

[b] August 13; see The Times, Nos. 23698 and 23704, August 14 and August 21, 1860.—Ed.

[c] Quotations from The Freeman's Journal were given in the article "The Harvest" in The Times, No. 23703, August 20, 1860.—Ed.

[d] The figures quoted here and at the end of the paragraph were given in The Economist, No. 886, August 18, 1860, p. 895.—Ed.

[e] See this volume, pp. 406-08.—Ed.

[f] "Workmen".—Ed.

[g] "My dear Persigny."—Ed.

[337] Mark Lane—the grain stock exchange in London.

[338] In 1860 France put forth a project which acknowledged Spain as a great power. Owing to Britain's opposition, the project did not materialise.

[339] In a letter to Persigny, the French Ambassador in London, written on July 25, 1860, and published in French papers (Le Constitutionnel, "Paris le le août", No. 215, August 2, 1860), Napoleon III denied a hostile attitude to Britain and sought to dispel suspicion and distrust, prevalent in Britain at the time, of his foreign policy (see this volume, p. 446).

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 17 (pp.461-464), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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