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Miscellaneous Reports

Karl Marx

London, June 26. During yesterday's sitting in the Commons[a] Mr. Otway rose and asked whether Lord Palmerston

"intended to take any measures to induce Lord Grosvenor to withdraw the Sunday Trading Bill." (General cheering.[b])

Lord Palmerston replied:

"If my noble friend" (Grosvenor) "hears that cheer I think he will be disposed to attend to it." (Cheers.)

As one can see the mass demonstration in Hyde Park has intimidated the Commons. They are dropping the Bill and make bonne mine à mauvais jeu[c] The Times describes the scene on Sunday in Hyde Park as a "great act of retributive justice", and calls the Bill a product of "class legislation", "a measure of organised hypocrisy" and pokes fun at this display of "parliamentary theology".[d]

On the question of the Hangö massacre[225] the First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Charles Wood announces that today he has received dispatches from Admiral Dundas. According to them five seamen and the Finnish captain had been killed by the fire of the Russians, four seamen and two Finns had been wounded and taken prisoner, and three officers, four seamen and two Finns had been taken prisoner without being wounded. Admiral Dundas had written a letter to the Governor of Helsingfors[e] stating what had happened and remonstrating most strongly against the atrocious act of firing on a boat under a flag of truce. He had received an answer in which the Governor excused and to a certain extent justified the act. He declared that the officers and soldiers said they had not seen the flag of truce. They had been irritated because on some other occasions vessels had hoisted the Russian flag and it had been reported in the newspapers that English vessels had elsewhere hoisted the flag of truce to take 'soundings. The whole justification can be reduced to the short-sightedness of the Russian soldiers and officers. At any rate it is a sign of civilisation that Russian soldiers should read newspapers and be "irritated" by newspaper reports.

The Administrative Reformers[226] have announced another meeting for tomorrow in the Drury Lane [Theatre]. As before: a meeting with tickets of admission and speakers by previous arrangement. Pontius Pilate asked: What is truth? Palmerston asked: What is worthiness? The Administrative Reformers have replied: worthiness is equivalent to a man's annual earnings[f]. Accordingly those reformers have undertaken a change in their internal organisation. Previously the members of the general committee—in reality electing themselves— had to go through the motions of an election in the form of a general vote taken within the association. Now anyone who pays £50 and above in annual subscriptions becomes a member of the general committee as a matter of course. Previously the ten-guinea and the one-guinea rule were considered sufficient for protecting the "movement" from plebeian importunity. Now the ten-guinea gentlemen are no longer considered sufficiently "respectable" and the one-guinea people are actually regarded as the mob. The posters advertising the meeting say literally:

"Admission only by ticket, which can be obtained by members. Anyone subscribing £50 and above is a member of the general committee, anyone subscribing ten guineas or one guinea is a member of the association."

The rights of members within the association are therefore calculated according to a sliding scale of guineas. The naked, undisguised dominion of guineas is brutally proclaimed. The City reformers have let their secret out. What agitators! Moreover, circumstances were not very favourable for them lately. Drummond openly accused them in Parliament of "systematic immorality" and "corruption"[g] And what fine examples of the purity of their class have followed each other in rapid succession, as if on command! Firstly The Lancet (medical journal) furnishes proof that the adulteration and contamination of all goods and foodstuffs is a practice by no means confined to the retail traders, but is done in the wholesale trade as a matter of principle. Then it transpires that "respectable" City firms have been circulating false dock warrants[h]. Finally, the great fraudulent bankruptcy, directly connected with the theft of deposited securities, of the private bank of Strahan, Sir Jones Paul and Bates. In this last instance the aristocracy has learned to do homage to the "administrative" talent of the City gentlemen, for the bank "administered" mainly aristocratic guineas. Palmerston is amongst those to suffer, as is the Marquess of Clanricarde, and Admiral Napier has lost almost all his wealth. The Church has also been deprived of a good deal of worldly goods, since Messrs Strahan, Paul and Bates enjoyed a particular odour of sanctity, occasionally chaired meetings for the "conversion of heathens" at Exeter Hall, were amongst the first subscribers to the society for "the Dissemination of the Bible" and were on the committee of the "Association for the Reform of Criminals". Their faith had secured them credit. They were the favourite bank of clerical gentlemen and independent foundations. But their "administrative" talent spared nothing and no one from widows' and orphans' allowances down to the small savings of sailors. Why not let them administer the "public funds" which they are now reaching out for?

"There are symptoms at this moment among ourselves," ruefully exclaims The Daily News, the organ par excellence of the City reformers, "which indicate that no time is to be lost in averting a dangerous lapse from a high and severe tone of morality among our industrial classes."

The crisis of Messrs Strahan and Co. has of course given rise to a run[i] by the public on the counters of the City's private banks, which up to then had been regarded as far more respectable than the joint stock banks. Already the big private bankers are obliged "publicly" to invite each other periodically to examine their holdings of securities deposited with them, and also to request their customers through The Times to inspect for themselves the effects entrusted to them. Another circumstance which arises at a very inopportune moment for the reforming City gentlemen is the following: As is well known, one of their kings, Rothschild, is standing as their elected representative at the threshold of the Commons, but is not being allowed to enter that Holy of Holies because he will not swear "on the true oath of a Christian" and because Lord John Russell, his colleague, will not "realise" the Jewish Bill[227]. And yesterday Duncombe rose to his feet having found out that, under an Act of Parliament of 1782, any member entering into a delivery contract with the government after he has been elected loses his seat in the House of Commons, and that Rothschild had stood security for the most recent loan of £16,000,000. Having discovered this he gave notice that tomorrow evening he would move that a writ be issued for a by-election in the City of London. And there is more. Malins followed in Duncombe's wake and gave notice of a similar motion against Lindsay, who had been directly charged by Sir Charles Wood in the reform debate with having negotiated contracts with the government for the supplying of ships, while he was and still is a member of Parliament. The incident is not only important because of the people who have been compromised, a City magnate and a City reform magnate! It is important because it reminds the public that it was amongst the high dignitaries of the City, those people entering into contracts for loans and supplies with the government both inside and outside Parliament, that Pitt, Perceval and Liverpool, who ignored the act of 1782, found their main sup-port. The financial aristocracy—at that time more corrupt than under Louis Philippe—was the moving-force of the anti-Jacobin war. Whilst they plucked the golden apples of the Hesperides, they demonstrated to the nation in notorious City meetings that

"it must sacrifice money and blood in order to preserve the blessed comforts of our holy religion from the desecrating French, and to preserve itself from the mournful desperation of atheism".

Thus the nation is reminded, at the most inopportune time, that the City, which is rebelling against the oligarchy, was the forcing house in which that same oligarchy grew and put forth its most luxuriant blooms.

Written on June 26, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 297, June 29, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Published in English for the first time in MECW.


[a] The speeches by Otway, Palmerston, Wood, Duncombe and Malins were published in The Times, No. 22090, June 26, 1855.—Ed.

[b] Marx uses the English terms "Sunday Trading Bill" and "cheers".—Ed.

[c] Make the best of a bad job.—Ed.

[d] The Times, No. 22090, June 26, 1855.—Ed.

[e] J. M. Nordenstam.—Ed.

[f] In the original a pun on the word "Verdienst" which can mean either "merit", "deserts", "worthiness" or "earnings", "income".—Ed.

[g] Marx refers to Drummond's speech in the House of Commons on June 18, 1855. The Times, No. 22084, June 19, 1855.—Ed.

[h] Marx uses the English words "dock warrants".—Ed.

[i] Marx uses the English word.—Ed.

[225] On May 26, 1855, the British frigate Cossack stopped off Gange (Hangö) in the Gulf of Finland and sent a boat under a flag of truce to treat with the Russians. Mistaking the envoys for an intelligence party, the Russian commanding officer, an ensign, laid an ambush. In the ensuing clash half the British sailors were killed and the others wounded and taken prisoner. The incident was discussed by the British Parliament. Marx describes the debate in question in his next report for the Neue Oder-Zeitung (see this volume, pp. 292-96).

[226] The Association for Administrative Reform was set up in London in May 1855 on the initiative of liberal circles in the City. Taking advantage of the outcry caused in the country by press reports and the findings of the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry on the plight of the British army in the Crimea, the Association hoped by means of mass rallies to bring pressure to bear on Parliament and win broader access for members of the commercial and finance bourgeoisie to government posts, monopolised by the aristocracy. In their campaign the Association's leaders sought to obtain the support of the Chartists. However, at rallies organised by the Association and at their own rallies the Chartists refused to back the moderate bourgeois demands for administrative reform and instead urged a Parliamentary reform based on the People's Charter (see Note 46↓). The administrative reform campaign was a failure, and the Association soon ceased to exist. In his subsequent reports Marx frequently touched on the Association's activities and relations with the Chartists.

[227] An Act passed in Britain in the early eighteenth century obliged newly elected Members of Parliament to swear what was known as the Oath of Abjuration, which was a solemn denial of the right of James II's descendants to the Crown. The Oath included a statement of devotion to Christianity. Refusal by an MP to take the Oath virtually debarred him from participation in Parliamentary proceedings. Despite repeated motions for amending the text of the Oath, it was not until 1866 that the passage on devotion to Christianity was omitted.

Lord John Russell's Jewish Disabilities Bill (1853) to allow elected Jews to swear a non-Christian oath had been carried in the Commons but rejected by the Lords.

[46] The People's Charter, which contained the demands of the Chartists, was published in the form of a Parliamentary Bill on May 8, 1838. It contained six points: universal suffrage (for men of 21 and over), annual parliaments, vote by ballot, equal electoral districts, abolition of the property qualification of MPs and payment of MPs. Petitions urging the adoption of the People's Charter were turned down by Parliament in 1839, 1842 and 1848.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.308-312), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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