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Karl Marx

London, September 30

After the Garibaldi meeting in Newcastle which I described in a previous letter,[a] similar meetings were held in Sunderland, Dundee, Birmingham, London, and other places. The tone of the meetings was the same everywhere and their last word was always: "Removal of the French from Rome". At this moment, it is intended to choose delegates in every London district and send them en masse to Lord John Russell to compel him to take steps against the continuing occupation of Rome by French troops. "Pressure from without"[b] is the ultima ratio[c] of the Englishman against his government.

In the meanwhile, the Tuileries cabinet[d] neither feels easy about nor is indifferent to the demonstrations of the British people, as the following excerpt from the Newcastle Journal will show:

    "The Emperor of the French has called the attention of the English government to the language prevailing at the last Garibaldi meeting in Newcastle. It was emphasised that two speakers, including the chairman, Town Councillor Newton, alluded to plots to assassinate the Emperor and, in the most unmistakable way, threatened him with death because of his Italian policy. The government therefore felt itself obliged to take steps in this matter and to declare that the laws of England are to be applied rigorously to prevent and punish any such conspiracies, like those of Orsini, Dr. Bernard, and others, particularly since a repetition of Orsini's attempt at assassination was announced so openly at the meeting. This warning by the government is based on the fact that in Mazzini circles speeches have recently been made, threats uttered and dark hints dropped similar to those that foreshadowed the Orsini conspiracy. Finally, we are able to inform the public that the first legal steps arising out of the Newcastle meeting have already been taken."

This is what the Newcastle Journal had to say about it. Anyone who has the slightest knowledge of English conditions and the attitude prevailing here knows, in addition, that any interference on the part of the present cabinet with the popular demonstrations can only end in the fall of the government, as at the time of the Orsini attempt.[1]

As winter approaches, the conditions in the factory districts grow more menacing every day. The Morning Star warns today that, if the present method of "official charity" is continued, next winter will see the violent scenes of 1842-43[2] far exceeded. The immediate occasion for its Cassandra cry is a declaration, which appeared in all the English papers, of a Manchester worker previously employed at a machine (cotton) weaving mill and now out of a job. In order to understand this declaration, which I will summarise briefly further on, it is necessary to know what the "labour test"[e] is. The English poor law of 1834,[f] which aimed at eliminating pauperism by punishing it as a disgraceful crime, requires the applicant for help to prove his "willingness to work", before his application is granted, by breaking stones or "picking oakum",[g] useless operations with which criminals condemned to "hard labour" are punished in English prisons. After this "labour test", the applicant receives a shilling a week for each member of his family, that is, half a shilling in cash and half a shilling in bread per capita.

Now to the "declaration" of the English weaver. His family consists of six persons. Previously he earned good wages. For 18 weeks, however, he had been cut down to half-time and quarter-time. During this period the weekly income of the family hardly came to 8 shillings. Last week the factory he worked at was closed down completely. His rent is 2 sh. 3d. a week. He had pawned everything that was not nailed or riveted down; he had nothing more to sell, not a penny in his pocket; hunger was staring him and his family in the face. He was therefore forced to look for help from the poor board. Early last Monday[h] he went to the "guardians".[i]

After "pointed questioning", they gave him a note to the relief officer of his district. It took an hour for the official to allow him into his august presence. Then he underwent questioning again — and was denied relief on the grounds that he had earned 3 shillings in the preceding week, although "the patient" had given a detailed accounting of the way in which this "fortune" had been spent. He and his family had to go hungry until the following Wednesday. He went back to the office of the "guardians". There he learned that he had to go through the "labour test" before help could be given him. And so he marched to the workhouse (a Bastille for the poor) and there, on an empty stomach, he had to pick oakum until half past five, packed in together with 300 other workers in a narrow room about 30 yards [long]. There, squeezed tightly together on benches, in the stifling summer heat, choking with smoke and dust, the "patients of the labour test", skilled workers, pillars of England's national wealth, had to perform the meanest operations that can be imposed on a human being. One could just as well require a watchmaker to hammer horseshoes, or an organist to blow his own bellows. At the end of this operation, he received exactly 5 shillings, half in bread, half in money. After paying the rent, there was hardly 2 pence (about 2 Prussian silbergroschen) for the daily consumption of 6 persons. And the following Wednesday he would have to go through the "ordeal" again, since it is repeated every week. The "weaver" now declares publicly that he would rather starve to death with his family than have that ignominy repeated.

Written on September 30, 1862
First published in Die Presse, No. 273, October 4, 1862
Printed according to the newspaper
Published in English for the first time
* MECW-V19-PP245-247


[1] An allusion to the resignation of Palmerston's Cabinet in February 1858 over the Commons' rejection of his Conspiracy Bill.

An allusion to Palmerston who, taking advantage of the Italian revolutionary Orsini's attempt on the life of Napoleon III, tabled a Conspiracy Bill in Parliament in February 1858 to facilitate the extradition of political refugees living in Britain. The Bill was voted down and the Palmerston Cabinet was forced to resign.

[2] This refers to the rise of the Chartist movement in the summer and autumn of 1842 in connection with the aggravation of the economic crisis in the spring of that year. In early August 1842, workers downed tools at a firm in Staleybridge, near Manchester, the strike soon spreading to the country's main industrial areas. The workers' initial demands were economic, but the strike rapidly grew into a political struggle for the Charter. It was only by bringing in the army that the ruling classes were able to quash the strike. Government repressions followed, and the Chartist movement subsided for a time. A slight improvement of business was a contributing factor. These events were described in detail by Engels in The Condition of the Working-Class in England (present edition, Vol. 4, pp. 520-23).

[a] See this volume, pp. 236-38.—Ed.

[b] Marx uses the English phrase and gives the German translation in brackets.—Ed.

[c] Last resort.—Ed.

[d] The government of Napoleon III.—Ed.

[e] Marx uses the English term and gives the German translation in brackets.—Ed.

[f] An Act for the amendment and better administration of the laws relating to the poor in England and Wales [1834].—Ed.

[g] Marx uses the English expression and gives the German translation in brackets.—Ed.

[h] September 22, 1862.—Ed.

[i] Here and below Marx uses the English word. He also uses, further on, the English words "workhouse", "oakum" and "labour test".—Ed.

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