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The English Middle Class

And as regards the journeyman of all descriptions, in what relation does he stand to his employer? All know with what opposition the employers met the "Ten Hours" bill. The Tories, out of spite for the recent loss of the Corn Laws, helped the working class to get it; but when passed, the reports of the district supervisors show with what shameless cunning and petty under-hand treacheries it was evaded. Every subsequent attempt in Parliament to subject Labor to more humane conditions has been met by the middle class representatives with the catch-cry of Communism! Mr. Cobden has acted thus a score of times. Within the workshops for years the aim of the employers has been to prolong the hours of labor beyond human endurance, and by an unprincipled use of the contract system, by pitting one man against another, to cut down the earning of the skilled to that of the unskilled laborer. It was this system that at last drove the Amalgamated Engineers to revolt, and the brutality of the expressions that passed current among the masters at that time showed how little of refined or humane feeling was to be looked for from them. Their boorish ignorance was further displayed in the employment by the Masters' Association of a certain third-rate litterateur, Sidney Smith, to undertake their defense in the public press and to carry on the war of words with their revolted hands. The style of their hired writer well fitted the task he had to perform, and when the battle was over, the Masters, having no more need of literature or the press, gave their hireling his congé. Although the middle class do not aim at the learning of the old school, they do not for that cultivate either modern science or literature. The ledger, the desk, business, that is education sufficient. Their daughters, when expensively educated, are superficially endowed with a few "accomplishments;" but the real education of the mind and the storing it with knowledge is not even dreamed of.

The present splendid brotherhood of fiction-writers in England, whose graphic and eloquent pages have issued to the world more political and social truths than have been uttered by all the professional politicians, publicists and moralists put together, have described every section of the middle class from the "highly genteel" annuitant and Fundholder who looks upon all sorts of business as vulgar, to the little shopkeeper and lawyer's clerk. And how have Dickens and Thackeray, Miss Brontë and Mrs. Gaskell painted them? As full of presumption, affectation, petty tyranny and ignorance; and the civilized world has confirmed their verdict with the damning epigram that it has fixed to this class that "they are servile to those above, and tyrannical to those beneath them."

The cramped and narrow sphere in which they move is to a certain degree due to the social system of which they form a part. As the Russian nobility live uneasily betwixt the oppression of the Czar above them and the dread of the enslaved masses below them, so the. English middle class are hemmed in by the aristocracy on the one hand and the working classes on the other. Since the peace of 1815, whenever the middle class have wished to take action against the aristocracy, they have told the working classes that their grievances were attributable to some aristocratic privilege and monopoly. By this means the middle class roused the working classes to help them in 1832 when they wanted the Reform Bill, and, having got a Reform Bill for themselves, have ever since refused one to the working classes—nay, in 1848, actually stood arrayed against them armed with special constable staves. Next, it was the repeal of the Corn Laws that would be the panacea for the working classes. Well, this was won from the aristocracy, but the "good time" was not yet come, and last year, as if to take away the last possibility of a similar policy for the future, the aristocracy were compelled to accede to a tax on the succession to real estate—a tax which the same aristocracy had selfishly exempted themselves from in 1793, while they imposed it on the succession to personal estate. With this rag of a grievance vanished the last chance of gulling the working classes into the belief that their hard lot was due solely to aristocratic legislation. The eyes of the working classes are now fully opened: they begin to cry: "Our St. Petersburg is at Preston!" Indeed, the last eight months have seen a strange spectacle in the town—a standing army of 14,000 men and women subsidized by the trades unions and workshops of all parts of the United Kingdom, to fight out a grand social battle for mastery with the capitalists, and the capitalists of Preston, on their side, held up by the capitalists of Lancashire.

Whatever other shapes this social struggle may hereafter assume, we have seen only the beginning of it. It seems destined to nationalize itself and present phases never before seen in history; for it must be borne in mind that though temporary defeat may await the working classes, great social and economical laws are in operation which must eventually insure their triumph. The same industrial wave which has borne the middle class up against the aristocracy, is now assisted as it is and will be by emigration bearing the working classes up against the middle classes. Just as the middle class inflict blows upon the aristocracy, so will they receive them from the working classes. It is the instinctive perception of this fact that already fetters the action of that class against the aristocracy. The recent political agitations of the working classes have taught the middle class to hate and fear overt political movements. In their cant, "respectable men don't join them, Sir". The higher middle classes ape the aristocracy in their modes of life, and endeavor to connect themselves with it. The consequence is that the feudalism of England will not perish beneath the scarcely perceptible dissolving processes of the middle class; the honor of such a victory is reserved for the working classes. When the time shall be ripe for their recognized entry upon the stage of political action, there will be within the lists three powerful classes confronting each other—the first representing the land; the second, money; the third, labor. And as the second is triumphing over the first, so, in its turn, it must yield before its successor in the field of political and social conflict.

First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4145, August 1, 1854 as a leader
Reproduced from the newspaper

[464] The material published in the Appendix to this volume contains the second part of the article published in the New-York Daily Tribune under the title "The English Middle Class". This part is based on Marx's text, the beginning of the article was written by the editors and is not reproduced in this volume.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 13 (pp.663-665), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
MarxEngles.public-archive.net #ME1912en.html