Farsi    Arabic    English   

Political Movements.
Scarcity of Bread in Europe.

Karl Marx

London, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 1853

The Sunday Times published in its last number a dispatch from Lord Clarendon to Sir H. Seymour, in answer to the note of Count Nesselrode of June 20. This dispatch bears date July 16. It is a mere "doublière" of the reply of M. Drouyn de Lhuys[a]. A correspondent of The Leader on Saturday last, expresses himself in the following spirited manner on the "antagonism" between Lords Aberdeen and Palmerston[b]:

"Lord Aberdeen [...] could never understand Lord Palmerston's affectations—never seeing that, consequent upon these affectations, Lord Palmerston was always able to promote unmolested the Russian system, even better than Lord Aberdeen himself.... Lord Palmerston [...] disguises cynicism in Compromise.... Lord Aberdeen did, as Lord Palmerston did not, express his convictions.... Lord Palmerston sees the expediency, and Lord Aberdeen does not see the expediency of talking intervention, while acting non-intervention.... Lord Aberdeen knowing, from his acquaintance with the governing classes, how seats are got, and voters bought, does not think the British Constitution the most perfect of human institutions; and, calculating that the people of Continental Europe are not more amiable or more honest than the people of Great Britain, he abstains from urging on continental governments the desirability of abolishing paternal despotism in favor of self-government by governing classes.... Lord Aberdeen [...] perceives that Great Britain is a power made up of conquests over nationalities, and scorns a foreign policy affecting to befriend struggling nationalities. Lord Aberdeen does not see why England, which has conquered and plundered India, and keeps India down for India's good, should set up for a hater of Czar Nicholas, who [...] a good despot in Russia, and keeps Poland down for Poland's obvious good. Lord Aberdeen does not see why England, which has crushed several rebellions in Ireland, should be fanatically angry with Austria for keeping down Hungary; and knowing that England forces an alien Church on Ireland, he understands the eagerness of the Pope[c] to plant Cardinal Wiseman in Westminster. He knows that we have had Kaffir wars, and does not think Nicholas a ruffian for thinning his army among the Caucasians; he knows that we send off periodically, rebellious Mitchells and O'Briens to Van Diemen's Land[d] and does not feel horror because Louis Napoleon institutes a Cayenne. Whenever he has to write to the Neapolitan Government about Sicilian affairs, he does not plunge into ecstatic liberalism, because he bears in mind that Great Britain has a proconsul at Corfu.... It is a happy arrangement, a Coalition Government, which includes, with Lord Aberdeen acting the Russian, Lord Palmerston, to talk the Bermondsey policy."[239]

As a proof that I have not undervalued the heroism of Switzerland[e], may allege a letter addressed by its Federal Council to the Ticinese Government, contending that

"the affair of the Capuchins[240] is purely a Cantonal question, and that consequently it is for the Canton of Ticino to consider whether it is better for it to resist, and continue subject to the rigorous measures of Austria, or to make to the Government offers of renewal of negociations."[f]

Thus it appears that the Swiss Federal Council tries to bring down its dispute with Austria within the proportions of a simple Cantonal affair. The same Council has just ordered the expulsion of the Italians, Clementi, Cassola and Grillenzoni, after the Jury at Chur had acquitted them from the charge of having abetted the Milan insurrection[241] by the forwarding of arms across the Ticinese frontier.

The British support to Juggernaut appears not yet to have been altogether done away with. On the 5th of May, 1852, the following dispatch was addressed by the Court of Directors to the Governor of India:

"We continue to be of opinion that it is desirable finally to dissever the British Government from all connection with the temple, and we therefore authorize to make arrangements for accomplishing this object by the discontinuance of any periodical allowance to it, in lieu of which some final payment may be made in the way of compensation to any persons who may appear upon a liberal construction of past engagements or understandings to be entitled to such indemnifications."

On the 11th April, 1853, however, nothing had been done by the Indian Government, the subject being still under consideration at that date.

A week has been consumed in a government inquiry into the cruelties practised upon the prisoners in Birmingham jail, cruelties which have induced several of them to commit and others to attempt suicide. Startled on one side by an exposition of atrocities not surpassed by any committed in an Austrian or Neapolitan carcere duro[g], we are on the other side surprised at the tame acquiescence of the visiting magistrates in the representations which were made to them by interested parties, and at their utter want of sympathy with the victims. Their solicitude for the barbarous gaoler was so great that they regularly forewarned him of their approaching visits. The chief culprit, Lieutenant Austin, is one of those persons whom Carlyle designated in his Model Prisons[242] as the true officers of the pauper and criminal.

One of the topics of the day is Railway morality. The Yorkshire and Lancashire Board of Directors particularly announce on their tickets that

"whatever accident may happen, whatever injury may be inflicted through their own negligence or that of their servants, they would hold themselves absolved from all Iegal responsibility."[h]

At the same time the Directors of the Birmingham and Shrewsbury line appeared before the Vice-Chancellor's Court on Saturday for having cheated their own shareholders. There exists a rivalry between the Great Western and the North-Western lines as to which of the two should absorb the above line in question. The majority of the shareholders being in favor of amalgamation with the North-Western, and the Directors of absorption into the Great Western, it occurred to the latter to turn a number of shares held by them in trust for the Company to account, for the manufacture of fictitious voters. For this purpose the shares were transferred to a number of nominal holders in some instances it would seem without the concurrence of the parties whose names were used, and in one instance to a child of nine years of age who paid no consideration for the shares, but executed re-transfers of them into the hands of the Directors, and supplied them, in virtue of their nominal ownership, with a given number of proxies, to insure a majority in favor of the union with the Great Western. The learned Judge remarked that "anything more flagrant or more gross could scarcely be conceived, and the way in which the plan had been carried out was still more gross." With this reflection he dismissed the guilty parties, as is usual among the bourgeoisie, while a poor devil of a proletarian would have been sure to be transported for a theft beyond five pounds.

It is curious to observe the British public in its fluctuating indignation now against the morality of mill lords, and now against the pit-owners, now against the little dealers in adulterated drugs, and then against the railwaymen who have supplanted the obsolete highwaymen; in short, against the morality of every particular class of capitalists. Taking the whole, it would seem that capital possesses a peculiar morality of its own, a kind of superior law of a raison d'état, while ordinary morals are a thing supposed to be good for the poor people.

Manchester Parliamentary Reformers seem to be in a pretty fix. The election revelations of the last session concerned almost exclusively boroughs, and even the great ones, as Hull, Liverpool, Cambridge and Canterbury. The liberal election-broker, Mr. Coppock, confessed in a fit of veracity: "What St. Albans was all other boroughs are." Now the oligarchy meditate turning these exposures to recount in effecting a reform in favor of counties and at the cost of boroughs. The Manchester Reformers, who desire no general extension of the suffrage, but only one within the borough-limits, are, of course, dumb under such a proposition. It is pitiful to see how their organ, The Daily News, struggles to get out of this difficulty.

On January 14, 1846, the Bank rate of interest was raised to 3½ per cent.; on Jan. 21, 1846, to 4 per cent.; and it was not until April, 1847, that the rate rose to 5 per cent.; but it is known that in the last three weeks of April, 1847, almost all operations of credit were at a deadlock. In 1853, the upward movement of the Bank rate of interest was by far more rapid. From 2 per cent., at which it was on 24th April, 1852, it rose to 2½ per cent. on Jan. 8, 1853; to 3 per cent. on the 22d of the same month, to 3½ per cent. on the 4th June, to 4 per cent. on the 1st of September, and already the rumor runs through the city that it will shortly rise to 5 per cent. In Nov. 1846, the average price of wheat was 56/9 per qr.; in the latter weeks of August, 1853, it had reached 65/ to 66/. About this period last year the Bank of England

held in its cellars ........... £ 21,852,000
It now holds only ............. £ 16,500,068
Being a difference of ......... £  5,351,932

The bullion decreased during last week but one by £208,875, and in last week by £462,852. The effect upon prices at the Stock Exchange has been immediate, every description of security declining. We read in the Money article of last Wednesday's Times:

"Notwithstanding the depression in the Stock-market, Exchequer bills remained at 2 per cent. discount to 1 per cent. premium, but an impression is entertained that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in order to sustain the price, causes them to be purchased on Government account, in the absence of any funds immediately available for that purpose, by the sales of 3 per cent. Stocks held on account of savings-banks."[i]

This would be a masterpiece on the part of Mr. Gladstone: selling Consols at a low figure and purchasing Exchequer bills at a high one, causing a loss of half the income of the 3 per cent. stocks by converting them into Exchequer bills bearing little more than 1½ per cent. interest.

How can we reconcile an unfavorable exchange or drain of bullion with the unprecedented increase of British exports, which at the end of the year will surpass by £16,000,000 even the exports of 1852?

"As we give credit [...] to all the world in the case of our exports, and pay ready money in the case of our imports, a large expansion of our trade at any moment must necessarily lead to a considerable balance in the payments against us at the time, but which must all be returned when the credit upon our exports has expired, and remittances ought to be made for them."

So says The Economist[j]. According to this theory, if the exports of 1854 were to surpass again those of 1853, the exchange mist continue to be against England, and a commercial crisis would be the only means of adjustment. The Economist thinks that disasters like those of 1847 are out of the question, because no considerable portion of capital has been fixed now as then, in railways, etc. He forgets that it has been converted into factories, machinery, ships, etc. On the other hand, The Observer laments the

"foolish investments in foreign railways, and other companies of very doubtful and suspicious character."[k]

The Economist thinks that the extended commercial operations, so far as Europe is concerned, may receive a wholesome check from the high price of corn, but that America and Australia, etc., are sure. The Times at the same time asserts that the tightness of the New-York money market will put a wholesome check on American operations.

"We must not calculate on the same extent of orders from the United States that we have hitherto experienced," exclaims The Leader.[l]

Australia remains. Here steps in The Observer:

"Exports have been pushed injudiciously forward. [...] From the 74,000 tons of shipping now entered in London for the southern colonies, the condemnatory notices we gave from Adelaide, Melbourne, etc., will receive their justification. It is not to be denied that present prospects are not promising."

As to the Chinese market all reports are unanimous on the point that there exists a great alacrity to sell, but as great a reluctance to buy, the precious metals being hoarded, and any alteration of this state of things remains out of question as long as the revolutionary movement in the monster Empire has not accomplished its end.

And the home market?

"Large numbers of the power-loom weavers in Manchester and its neighbor-hood have followed the example of Stockport in striking for an advance of 10 per cent. on their wages.... The factory heads will probably find, before the end of the winter, that the question is not whether an increase of 10 per cent. will be conceded, but whether the manufacturers will allow work to be resumed at the present rate of wages."

In these terms, not to be misunderstood, The Morning Chronicle[m] alludes to the imminent decline of the domestic market.

I have repeatedly dwelt on the immense enlargement of the old factories, and the unparalleled erection of new ones. I reported to you upon some new-built mills which form, as it were, whole manufacturing towns. I stated that at no former epoch had such a proportion of the floating capital accumulated during the period of prosperity, been directly sunk for manufacturing purposes[n]. Now, take these facts on the one hand, and on the other the symptoms of overstocked markets at home and abroad; remember also, that an unfavorable exchange is the surest means to precipitate over-exports into foreign markets.

But it is the bad harvest which, above all, will drive the long-accumulated elements of a great commercial and industrial crisis to eruption. Every other sort of produce, when enhanced, checks its own demand; but Corn, as it becomes appreciated, is only the more eagerly sought for, drawing depreciation on all other commodities. The most civilized nation, like the most brutal savage, must procure its food before it can think of procuring anything else, and the progress of wealth and civilization is generally in the same proportion, in which the labor and cost of producing food diminish. —A general bad harvest is in itself a general contraction of markets, at home and abroad. Now the present harvest is at least as deficient in the southern part of Europe, in Italy, France, Belgium, Rhenish Prussia, as it was in 1846-47. It is by no means promising in the north-west and north-east. As to England, The Mark Lane Express, that Moniteur of the London Corn Exchange, states in its number of yesterday week[o]:

"That the produce of wheat in the United Kingdom will be the smallest gathered for many years, does not admit of question. [...] The average yield will fall materially short in almost all parts of the kingdom, [...] independent of which it must be borne in mind that the breadth of land sown was, owing to the unpropitious weather during the seeding time, at least one-fourth less than usual."

This situation will not be alleviated by the delusion of commercial convulsions, industrial over-production, and bad harvests having been simultaneously done away with by free trade. On the contrary.

"Holders," remarks the same Mark Lane Express, "cannot yet realize the idea of scarcity under Free Trade. Hence few are disposed to hold heavy stocks. [...] If our necessities should drive us hereafter to import largely, the chances are, that we shall have to pay dearly for supplies."

The Mark Lane Express of yesterday adds:

"There is still so large a proportion of the crops abroad that the character of the weather for some weeks to come will have great influence on trade. [...] The quality of the grain exposed in the fields has already suffered from the last rains, [...] and a continuance of wet might be productive of an immense amount of mischief.... The ultimate result of the harvest threatens to be [...] less satisfactory than appeared likely a week or two ago.... The accounts which have reached us the last few days with regard to potatoes, are less favorable than those previously received.... Notwithstanding the enormously large supplies from abroad during last week (88,833 qrs.), the reaction on prices has been only small, the fall from the highest point not having exceeded 1s. to 2s. per quarter.... The probable result of the harvest in the Baltic is on the whole of an unsatisfactory character.... According to the latest advices, wheat was at 60s. f. o. b. at Dantzic, at 56s. 3d.at Königsberg, 54s. at Stettin, 58s. at Rostock."

The consequences of the dearth are already appearing, as in 1847, on the political horizon. At Naples the town authorities are without means to employ the laborers on public works, and the Exchequer is unable to pay the State officers. In the Papal States, at Tolentino, Terni, Ravenna and Trastevere, there have been bread riots by no means mitigated by the recent arrests, the invasion of the Austrians, and the threat of the bastinado. In Lombardy the political consequences of dearth and industrial stagnation will not be avoided by Count Strassoldo's imposing an additional tax of 6½ kreuzen per florin, payable on the 20th Sept. and 10th Oct., this year, and to be levied on all payers of direct taxes, including the income tax and the tax upon salaries. The general distress in Austria is betrayed by her lingering after a new loan, introduced on the market as usual by the assertion that she wants the money only to reduce her army. The feverish anxiety of the French Government may be inferred from its false harvest accounts, its false assize of bread at Paris, and its immense purchases of corn on all markets. The provinces are disaffected, because Bonaparte feeds Paris at their expense; the bourgeoisie are disaffected because he interferes with commerce in behalf of the proletarians; the proletarians are disaffected because he gives wheat bread instead of brown to the soldiers, at the moment when peasants and workmen are menaced with the prospect of no bread at all; lastly, the soldiers are disaffected because of the humble anti-national attitude of France in the Eastern question. In Belgium several food riots have echoed the foolish festivities lavished by the Coburgs on the Austrian Archduchess[p]. In Prussia the fear of the Government is so great that several corn-brokers have been arrested by way of show, and the rest summoned before the Police President, who "requested" them to sell at "honest" prices.

I conclude by again recording my opinion, that neither the declamation of the demagogues, nor the twaddle of the diplomats will drive matters to a crisis, but that there are approaching economical disasters and social convulsions which must be the sure forerunners of European revolution. Since 1849 commercial and industrial prosperity has stretched the lounge on which the counter-revolution has slept in safety.

First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 3886
and the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 871, September 30, 1853
Signed: Karl Marx


[a] See this volume, pp. 203-09.—Ed.

[b] Below is quoted the second article of the series "The Governing Classes" dealing with Aberdeen's surrender. (The Leader, No. 181, September 10, 1853).—Ed.

[c] Pius IX.—Ed.

[d] Tasmania.—Ed.

[e] See this volume, pp. 107-08.—Ed.

[f] The Leader, No. 181, September 10, 1853.—Ed.

[g] Punishment cell.—Ed.

[h] This and the following quotation are from "Vice-Chancellor's Court, Saturday, Sept. 3", The Times, No. 21525, September 5, 1853.—Ed.

[i] The Times, No. 21527, September 7, 1853.—Ed.

[j] In "As Applied to Interest on Capital", The Economist, No. 524, September 10, 1853.—Ed.

[k] The Observer, September 11, 1853. The passages rendered below are from the issue of September 4, 1853.—Ed.

[l] "The Threatened Stop in the Rise of Wages", The Leader, No. 180, September 3, 1853.—Ed.

[m] On September 7, 1853.—Ed.

[n] See Marx's articles "Pauperism and Free Trade.—The Approaching Commercial Crisis" and "Political Prospects.—Commercial Prosperity.—Case of Starvation" (present edition, Vol. 11, pp. 357-63, 477-85).—Ed.

[o] Of September 5, 1853.—Ed.

[p] Marie Henriette.—Ed.

[239] A reference to Nesselrode's circular letter to Russian diplomats abroad of July 2, 1853. (Below Marx cites the date as June 20, 1853, according to the old style accepted in Russia.) The text of it was published in The Times, No. 21418, July 12, 1853. Written in the spirit of the previous Note of June 11, 1853 (see Note 136 ↓), it supported the Tsarist Government's demands on Turkey and criticised the policy of the Western powers. In referring to the French Minister's reply to the Note, Marx made a slight error, which was due to the lack of clarity in the text of the telegram from Paris published in The Morning Post. He quoted from Drouyn de Lhuys' reply to Nesselrode's first Note of June 11, 1853, the text of which together with the text of the French Government's reply of June 25, 1853 was published in the official newspaper Le Moniteur universel, No. 195, on July 14, 1853. Nesselrode's Note of July 2 and Drouyn de Lhuys' reply to it of July 15 were published in Le Moniteur universel, No. 198 for July 17, 1853, after Marx had written his article. In the second Note, the French Government likewise expressed its disapproval of the Tsar's position in the Eastern question and professed to stand for a peaceful solution of the conflict.

[136] A reference to Nesselrode's Note (a circular letter of June 11, 1853) to Russian diplomats abroad. The Note criticised the Porte's actions and gave grounds for presenting a new ultimatum to Turkey demanding that the Russian Tsar be recognised as the protector of the Christian subjects of the Sultan and threatening to resort to "decisive measures" if these demands were rejected. This ultimatum, which Marx calls below an "ultimatissimum", was presented to the Porte on June 16, 1853.

[240] A reference to the closure of the Capuchin monastery in Locarno in the autumn of 1852 and the expulsion of 22 Italian-born Capuchins from Ticino to Lombardy. The actions of the Swiss authorities against the Capuchin Order, which enjoyed Austrian protection, aggravated Austro-Swiss relations, which were further strained by the fact that participants in the Italian national liberation movement resided on Swiss territory.

[241] A reference to the Milan insurrection started on February 6, 1853 by the followers of the Italian revolutionary Mazzini and supported by Hungarian revolutionary refugees. The aim of the insurgents, who were mostly Italian workers, was to overthrow Austrian rule, but their conspiratorial tactics led them to failure. Marx analysed it in a number of articles (see present edition, Vol. 11, pp. 508-09, 513-16 and 535-37).

[242] Th. Carlyle, Latter-Day Pamphlets, No. II, Model Prisons, London, 1850. A critical analysis of this work was given in one of the reviews published by Marx and Engels in the fourth issue of the journal Neue Rheinische Zeitung. Politisch-ökonomische Revue, 1850 (see present edition, Vol. 10, pp. 301-09).

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 12 (pp.301-308), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979
MarxEngles.public-archive.net #ME0760en.html