Farsi    Arabic    English   

The Labor Question.

Karl Marx

London, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 1853

"The Trade Returns and the Money Market" is the title under which The Economist publishes an article intended to prove the general prosperity and the fair prospects of trade, although we are told in the same number that

"provisions are high and are still rising in price", that "a quarter of wheat will sell at 80 shillings," and that "the state of the Cotton trade [..] is not such as to make the millowners at all anxious to recommence work[a]." "There is much of instruction," says The Economist, speaking of the tables of importations, "conveyed in these long columns of figures—so much that goes to confirm great principles which have been the subject of strong political contest—so much that explains the recent events, with regard to the Money Market, and [...] casts light upon the future—so much that is highly instructive to the statesman, the financier, the banker, and the trader, in enabling them to take an accurate view of the state of things at present, and to make a just estimate of their position hereafter—that we feel we cannot perform a better service than to call attention to some of the main facts developed by these returns, and trace their connection with other most important features of the time."

Let us then sit down at the feet of this prophet and hearken to his very circumlocutory oracles. This time the tables of importation are referred to in order to prove, not the lavish expenditure of the working classes, but the unspeakable blessings these very classes are reaping from free trade. These tables are as follows:

Consumed from Jan. 5 to Oct. 10
Winegals. 4,986,2425,569,560

One glance over this table shows us the fallacy of The Economist. All we know of the enumerated commodities is, not that they have been consumed, as is stated, but that they have been entered for consumption, which is quite a different thing. There is no shop-keeper so ignorant as not to be able to distinguish between the stock of commodities that may have entered his premises, and the stock that has been really sold and consumed by the public.

"This list may be regarded as including the chief articles of luxury of the operative classes," and down The Economist puts it to the account of these classes. Now, one of these articles, viz., coffee, enters but sparingly into the consumption of the English operative, and wine does not enter it at all. Or does The Economist think the operative classes must be better off because their masters are consuming more wine and coffee in 1853 than in 1852? As to tea, it is generally known that, consequent upon the Chinese revolution and the commercial disturbances connected with it, a speculative demand has sprung up based on the apprehensions for the future, but not on the wants of the present. As to sugar, the whole difference between October, 1852 and 1853, amounts but to 324,261 cwt.; and I don't pretend to the omniscience of The Economist, which knows, of course, that not one cwt. out of these 324,261 has entered the stocks of the shop-keeper or the sweetmeats of the upper classes, but that all of them must have inevitably found their way to the tea of the operative. Bread being dear, he will have fed his children upon sugar, as Marie Antoinette, during the famine of 1788, told the French people to live upon macaroons. As to the rise in the import of tobacco, the demand for this article on the part of the operatives regularly increases in the same proportion as they are thrown out of work, and their regular course of living is interrupted.

Above all, we must not forget that the amount of commodities imported in October, 1853, was determined not by the actual demand of that month, but by a conjectural demand calculated on an altogether different state of the home market. So much for the first table and its "connection with other most important features of the time."

Imported from Jan. 5 to Oct. 10
Beef saltedcwt.101,531160,371
Pork saltedcwt.77,788130,142
Hams saltedcwt.6,76614,123
Grain and Flourqrs.5,583,0828,179,956

To The Economist the glorious discovery was certainly reserved that, in years of dearth and imminent famine, the relative excess of imports above those of common years, of provisions, rather proves the sudden development of consumption than the unusual falling off of production. The sudden rise in the price of an article is no doubt a premium on its importation. But has any one ever contended that the dearer an article the more eagerly it will be consumed? We come now to a third class of importations, constituting the raw materials of manufactures:

Imported from Jan. 5 to Oct. 10
Silk, Rawlbs.3,797,7574,355,865
Silk, Thrownlbs.267,884577,884

As the production of 1853 has largely surpassed that of 1852, more raw materials were wanted, imported, and worked up. The Economist, however, does not pretend that the surplus of manufactures produced in 1853 has entered the home consumption, He puts it to the account of exports.

"The most important fact is the enormous increase in our exports. The increase upon the single months ending the 10th October is no less than £1,446,708, completing an aggregate increase [in the nine months] of £12,596,291; the amount being £66,987,729 in the present year, against £54,391,438 in the corresponding period of 1852... Taking only our exports of British produce, the increase is no less than 23 per cent. in the year."

But how does it stand with these additional £ 12,596,291. "A large portion of these exports are only on the way to their ultimate markets," where they will arrive just at the proper moment to completely undo - them. "A considerable part of the increase is to Australia," which is glutted; "to the United States," which are overdone; "to India," which is depressed; "to South America," which is altogether unable to absorb the over-imports repelled from the other markets.

"The enormous increase of articles imported and consumed, is already paid by this country, or [...] the bills thrown for [...] them are running and will be paid in a very short period.... When shall we be paid for the exports? In six months, nine months, twelve months, and for some in eighteen months or two years' time."

It "is but a question of time," says The Economist. What an error!

If you throw this enormous surplus of manufactures upon markets already inundated by your exports, the time you wait for, may never arrive. What appears in your tables as an enormous list of imaginary wealth, may turn out an enormous list of real losses, a list of bankruptcies on a world-wide scale. What then do table No. III and the boasted figures of exports prove? What all of us were long since aware of, that the industrial production of Great Britain has enormously increased in 1853, that it has overshot thé mark, and that its movement of expansion is becoming accelerated at the very moment when markets are contracting.

The Economist arrives, of course, at an opposite result.

"The pressure on the Money Market, and the rise in the rate of interest," he tells us, "are but the transitory consequence of the large imports being immediately paid, while the enormous surplus of exports is advanced on credit."

In his eyes, then, the tightness of the Money Market is but the result of the additional amount of exports. But we may as justly say that in these latter months the increase of exports has been but the necessary result of the pressure on the Money Market. That pressure was attended by an influx of bullion and an adverse exchange but is an adverse exchange not a premium on bills drawn on foreign countries, or in other words, a premium on exportation? It is precisely by virtue of this law that England, in times of pressure on her own Money Market, deranges all the other markets of the world, and periodically destroys the industry of foreign countries, by bombarding them with British manufactures at reduced prices.

The Economist has now found out the "two points" in which the workingmen are decidedly wrong, decidedly blameable and foolish.

"In the first place they are at issue. in most cases, on the merest fraction of a coin.

Why is this? Let The Economist answer himself:

"The dispute has been changed from being a question of contract to being a struggle for power." "Secondly, [...] the operatives have not managed their own business, but have submitted to the dictation of irresponsible, if not self-styled leaders.... They have acted in combination, and through [...] a body of insolent clubs.... We do not fear the political opinions [...] of the working classes themselves; but we do fear and deprecate those of the men whom they allow to prey upon them and speak for them."

To the class organization of their masters the operatives have responded by a class organization of their own; and The Economist tells them that he will discontinue "to fear" them, if they dismiss their generals and their officers and resolve to fight single-handed. Thus the mouth-pieces of the allied despots of the north assured the world again and again, during the period' of the first struggles of the French revolution, that they did "not fear" the French people itself, but only the political opinions and the political actions of the savage Comité du Salut Public[324], the insolent clubs, and the troublesome generals.

In my last letter I told The Economist that it was not to be wondered at if the working classes had not used the period of prosperity to educate their children and themselves. I am now enabled to forward you the following statement, the names and particulars of which have been given me, and are about to be sent to Parliament: In the last week of September, 1852, in the township of ... four miles from ..., at a bleaching and finishing establishment called..., belonging to ..., Esq., the undermentioned parties attended their work sixty hours consecutively, with the exception of three hours for rest!

A.T.15Ann B  9!
W.G.  9J.K.11

Boys of nine and ten working 60 hours consecutively, with the exception of three hours' rest! Let the masters say nothing about neglecting education now. One of the above, Ann B., a little girl only nine years of age, fell on the floor asleep with exhaustion, during the 60 hours; she was roused and cried, but was forced to resume work!!

The factory operatives seem resolved to take the education movement out of the hands of the Manchester humbugs. At a meeting held[b] in the Orchard by the unemployed operatives at Preston, as we hear:

"Mrs. Margaret Fletcher addressed the assembly on the impropriety of married females working in factories and neglecting their children and household duties. Every man was entitled to a fair day's wages for a fair day's work, by which she meant, that he ought to have such remuneration for his labor as would afford him the means of maintaining himself and family in comfort; of keeping his wife at home to attend to domestic duties, and of educating his children. [Cheers.] The speaker concluded by moving the annexed resolution:

"Resolved, that the married portion of the females in this town do not intend to go to work again until their husbands are fairly and fully remunerated for their labor.

"Mrs. Ann Fletcher (sister of the last speaker) seconded the resolution, and it was carried unanimously.

"The Chairman announced that when the 10 per cent. question was settled, there would be such an agitation raised respecting the employment of married women in factories as the millowners of the country little expected."[c]

Ernest Jones, in his tour through the manufacturing districts, is agitating for a "Parliament of Labor"[325]. He proposes that

"a delegation from all trades shall assemble in the center of action, in Lancashire, in Manchester, and remain sitting until the victory is obtained. This would be an expression of opinion so authoritative and comprehensive as would fill the world with its voice, and divide with St. Stephen's[d] the columns of the press.:.. At a crisis like this the ear of the world would hang more on the words of the humblest of those delegates than on those of the coroneted senators of the loftiest House."[e]

The organ of Lord Palmerston is of a quite different opinion:

"Among ourselves [...]," exclaims The Morning Post[f], "the boasted progress has been effectually checked, and since the wretched failure of the 10th of April[326] no further attempt has been made to convert laborers into legislators, or tailors into tribunes of the people."

Written on November 15, 1853
Reproduced from the newspaper
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 3938, November 30, 1853
Signed: Karl Marx


[a] "Faults and Follies of Wages Movement", The Economist, No. 533, November 12, 1853. The tables and quotations below are cited from the above-mentioned article published in the same issue of The Economist.—Ed.

[b] On November 7, 1853.—Ed.

[c] Quoted from "The Operatives of Preston" in The People's Paper, No. 79, November 5, 1853.—Ed.

[d] The British Parliament.—Ed.

[e] Ernest Jones, "A Parliament of Labour. To the Trades and Working Men in General", The People's Paper, No. 80, November 12, 1853.—Ed.

[f] Of November 14, 1853.—Ed.

[324] Comité du Salut Public (The Committee of Public Safety)—the central body of the revolutionary government in France during the Jacobin dictatorship (June 2, 1793-July 27, 1794).

[325] In connection with an upsurge in the strike movement in 1853 a group of Chartists headed by Ernest Jones proposed the setting up of a broad workers' organisation "The Mass Movement" which was to unite trade unionists and unorganised workers with the primary aim of co-ordinating strikes in various parts of the country. The organisation was to be headed by a regularly convened Labour Parliament consisting of delegates elected at meetings of unorganised workers and at trade union meetings. The Labour Parliament assembled in Manchester on March 6, 1854 and was in session until March 18. It discussed and adopted the programme of the Mass Movement and set up an Executive of five members. Marx, who was elected an honorary delegate to the Parliament, sent it a letter (see this edition, Vol. 13) in which he formulated the task of creating an independent political party of the proletariat. Marx saw the convocation of the Labour Parliament as an attempt to lead the labour movement out of narrow trade unionism and to unite the economic and political struggle. Most of the trade union leaders, however, did not support the idea of creating a single mass workers' organisation. The abatement of the strike movement by the summer of 1854 also affected the campaign. The Labour Parliament was never convened after March 1854.

[326] On April 10, 1848, a Chartist demonstration was organised in London to present the Chartist petition to Parliament. The government banned the demonstration and troops and police were brought to London to prevent it. The Chartist leaders, many of whom vacillated, decided to call off the demonstration and persuaded the participants to disperse. This failure was used by reactionary forces to launch an offensive against the workers and repress the Chartists.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 12 (pp.464-470), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979
MarxEngles.public-archive.net #ME0776en.html