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The Paper Tax.—The Emperor's Letter

Karl Marx

London, Aug. 7, 1860

The great faction fight of the session, which came off yesterday night, in a full House of Commons, proved a failure in the scenical sense, although it was a triumph in the ministerial sense. Mr. Gladstone's resolutions[a] for reducing the customs duties on paper to the level of the excise duties—some slight charge being added to the customs duties to counterbalance the incidental inconveniences of the excise duty—were carried by a majority of 33. But the House of Commons had it all their own way. There was the arena, and there were the gladiators, with their retainers behind them, but there was no audience worth mentioning. Before the battle had commenced, its issue was known and its bulletin promulgated. Hence the indifference of the public. The coalized parties, forming the so-called "Great Liberal Party,"[327] notoriously sway a Parliamentary majority, so that a defeat of the Cabinet could only have proceeded from a split in the ranks of the majority. This point, however, had been settled in Lord Palmerston's official residence, whither he had summoned the liberal members of all shadows and shades. The resolution itself proceeded from the Manchester fraction of the Ministry, Lord Palmerston having only been able to retain the support of Messrs. Gladstone and Milner Gibson by pledging himself to raise Mr. Gladstone's resolution to the rank of a Cabinet question. He had betrayed them by his management of the Paper Duty Abolition bill. This time they had bound him over to a certain line of conduct. The regular Whigs were the only fraction of the majority suspected of hatching treasonable designs; but the harsh voice of their master and the menace suspended over their heads of a new dissolution of Parliament sufficed to bring them back to the stern behests of discipline. Thus many hours before the curtain was drawn, all London had become acquainted with the exact result of the party trial, and, save the habitues of the Strangers' Gallery, nobody cared to assist the sham-fight at St. Stephen's[328]. It was indeed a rather dull affair, enlivened only by the sweeping oratory of Mr. Gladstone, and the highly finished pleading of Sir Hugh Cairns[b]. Mr. Gladstone tried to represent the opposition raised against his bill as a last desperate stand made by Protection against Free Trade. When he sat down, the cheers that drowned his concluding words, seemed to hail him as the true chief of the liberal party, of which Lord Palmerston is the by no means beloved despot. Sir Hugh Cairns, on the part of the Conservatives, proved by close argumentation, and with great analytical power, that the reduction of the customs duty on paper to the level of the excise duty was in no way stipulated for by the commercial treaty with France. His antagonist, Sir Richard Bethell, the Whig Attorney-General, had the bad taste to show ill temper at the success of his rival, to sneer at Sir Hugh's "forensic eloquence,"[c] and thus to draw upon his own devoted head a regular volley of Tory interruptions.

The great faction fight of the session being over, whole flocks of honorable members are sure to desert the House, so that Lord Palmerston, by the sheer process of exhaustion, may now succeed in passing any little bill he has set his heart upon—i.e. the monstrous Indian bill for the amalgamation of the local European army with the British army[329]. If any new striking proof were wanted of the depth of degradation Parliamentarism has reached in England, this Indian bill and the treatment it received in the House of Commons would afford it. Every man in the House, of any authority on, and any experience in, Indian affairs, had opposed the bill. The majority themselves confessed not only their complete ignorance, but they betrayed their dark suspicions as to the ulterior views of the framers of the bill. They could not but confess that the bill had been smuggled into the House under false pretenses; that the most important papers indispensable for a just appreciation of the case had been fraudulently withheld; that the Indian Minister[d] had introduced the bill despite the unanimous dissent of the Indian Council, a dissent which, by an open infraction of the new constitution bestowed upon India in 1858[330], he had omitted to lay on the table of the House; and lastly, that the Cabinet had not even attempted at showing any reason for driving, toward the end of the session, and after the withdrawal of every measure of import, with such indecent haste, a bill through the House which, in point of fact, radically changed the British Constitution by an immense addition of patronage to the crown, and by the creation of an army that, in every practical respect, would become independent of the vote of supplies. Still, this bill may now be carried, the chiefs of both factions having, as it appears, come to a secret understanding with the Court.

Louis Napoleon's letter to his beloved Persigny continues to form the chief topic of conversation here and on the other side of the Channel. It seems that, in the first instance, the protest of the Porte against the Syrian expedition, as originally planned between France and Russia[331], met with a strong support on the part of Austria and Prussia, while Lord Palmerston, having just singled out, during the fortification debates, Louis Napoleon as the great object of British suspicion, could not but throw his weight into the balance of Turkey and the German Powers. It appears, moreover, that the Man of December got somewhat frightened, not only at the dictatorial tone assumed by Russia, but still more at the sneers circulated in the saloons of the "anciens partis"[e] and the low murmurs audible in the Faubourgs in regard to the "alliance Cosaque".[f]

To make the latter palatable to Paris, a far greater complication of things must have been arrived at. Under these distressing circumstances, and in an evidently uneasy state of mind, Louis Napoleon penned his letter, several passages of which are highly perfumed with the scent of the ludicrous.

An Englishman may indulge in a downright laugh at the phrase addressed by Louis Napoleon to Lord Palmerston: "Let us understand one another in good faith like honest men as we are, and not like thieves who desire to cheat each other"; but the exquisitely bad taste blended with the power of ridicule of the original French "entendons nous loyalement comme d'honnêtes gens, que nous sommes, et non comme Des Larrons qui veulent se duper mutuellement",[g] can only be appreciated by a French ear. No Frenchman can read that passage without being reminded of a similar sentence occurring in the famous play of "Robert Macaire".[332]

I subjoin some data for a comparison between French and English state expenditure[h]. According to the provisional or prospective budget, the total revenue of France for the year 1860 is estimated at 1,825 millions of francs, or £73,000,000 sterling, derived from the following sources:

I.Direct Taxes, land, house, personal patentes[i] £18,800,000
II.Enregistrement (stamps and domaines)14,300,000
III.Woods, forests, and fisheries1,500,000
IV.Customs and tax on salt9,100,000
V.Contributions indirectes (excise, etc.)19,500,000

The English revenue for 1859 (the financial accounts for 1860 have not yet been issued) was as follows, in both cases round numbers only being given:

I.Taxes (including income tax)      £10,000,000
III.Crown Lands420,000

The comparative public expenditure of the two countries was as follows:

Interest on the debt£22,400,000£28,500,000
Army and Navy18,600,00022,500,000
Civil List of the Crown1,000,000400,000
Cost of collecting the Revenue8,000,0004,500,000
Other expenses23,000,0009,000,000

From the last tabular statement it will be seen that the interest on the public debt is in Bonapartist France rapidly mounting to the British level; that Continental centralization keeps the Army and Navy at a cheaper cost than insular oligarchy; that one Louis Napoleon wants for his private expenses twice and a half more money than a British sovereign; and finally, that in a bureaucratic country, like France, the cost of collecting the revenue grows at a rate disproportionate to the amount of the revenue itself.

Written on August 7, 1860
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 6030, August 22, 1860


[a] Moved on August 1, 1860. See The Times, No. 23692, August 7, 1860.—Ed.

[b] Hugh Cairns' speech in the House of Commons on August 6, 1860, The Times, No. 23692, August 7, 1860.—Ed.

[c] Richard Bethell's speech in the House of Commons on August 6, 1860, The Times, No. 23692, August 7, 1860.—Ed.

[d] Sir Charles Wood.—Ed.

[e] Old parties.—Ed.

[f] Cossack alliance.—Ed.

[g] Napoleon III's letter to Jean Persigny of July 25, 1859, "Paris, 1er août", Le Constitutionnel, No. 215, August 2, 1860.—Ed.

[h] The tables are taken from the article "Taxation in France", The Economist, No. 884, August 4, 1860, p. 840.—Ed.

[i] The New-York Daily Tribune gives 18,000,000—a misprint.—Ed.

[327] The Liberal Party was formed in Britain in the late 1850s 'and early 1860s. It united in its ranks the Whigs, the Manchester men (representatives of the industrial bourgeoisie) and the Peelites (moderate Tories). In the British two-party system the Liberal Party's counterpart was the emerging party of Conservatives (former Tories).

[328] At St. Stephen's Chapel (in Westminster Palace) the British House of Commons held its sessions from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth.

[329] A reference to a Bill passed in August 1860. Under the Act for the Reorganisation of the Indian Army, the European contingent of the Indian Army, formerly at the disposal of the East India Company, became part of the British royal armed forces, and the number of British soldiers in the Indian army increased sharply. Adopted after the suppression of the Indian uprising of 1857-59 (see Note 311↓) the Act was one of the measures the British British Government resorted to in an effort to consolidate British rule in India.

[330] Under the Act for the Better Government of India, adopted by the British Parliament on August 2, 1858, India passed under the control of the British crown and the East India Company was liquidated. The Act also provided for the formation of the Indian Council as an advisory body of the Board of Control for India. The Governor-General of India became known as the Viceroy, though he remained virtually functionary of the Secretary of State for India in London.

[331] In 1859 Northern Lebanon was the scene of an anti-feudal rebellion started by the Maronite peasants (see Note 250↓); disturbances spread to the centre of Lebanon and in the spring of 1860 fierce clashes took place between Druses and Maronites. This was largely due to British and French policy. Britain gave support to the Druse feudalists, whereas the Maronite feudal lords and the clergy were backed by France. British and French emissaries incited enmity between rival Druse and Maronite feudal groups and fanned religious strife between Moslems and Christians. The Turkish authorities also played a provocative part. Napoleon III used the massacre of May-June 1860 as a pretext for sending an expeditionary corps to Lebanon. The agreement between Britain, Austria, Russia, France, Prussia and Turkey provided for setting up an international commission and specified the term during which the French troops were to stay in Lebanon. Under pressure from Britain and Austria, the French forces were withdrawn from that country in 1861.

[332] Robert Macaire—a social comedy staged by the famous French actor Frédérick Lemaître in collaboration with the playwrights Antier and Saint-Amand. Marx is referring to Macaire's words "Foi d'honnête homme ... pas de bêtises!" (Acte II, III tableau, scène VIII). The character of Robert Macaire, portraying a clever swindler, was a biting satire on- the domination of the financial aristocracy under the July monarchy. Marx alluded to this character on several occasions. See, for example, The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850 (present edition, Vol. 10, p. 50).

[311] In 1857-59 India was the scene of a big popular uprising against the British. It flared up in the spring of 1857 among the Sepoy units of the Bengal army and spread to large areas in Northern and Central India. Its main strength was in the peasants and the poor urban artisans. Directed by local feudal lords it was put down owing to the country's disunity, religious and caste differences and also because of the military and technical superiority of the British.

[250] Maronites-members of the Maronite Christian Church, chiefly in Lebanon. The reference here is to the clashes between Maronite peasants and townspeople, on the one hand, and their feudal lords belonging to the Druse Moslem sect, on the other. Externally a religious conflict between Christians and Moslems, it was essentially a class conflict.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 17 (pp.444-448), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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