Karl Marx in New York Daily Tribune, 1853

The War Question— Financial Matters— Strikes

First published: in the New York Daily Tribune, No. 3904, October 21, 1853 and reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 878, October 25 and in abridged form in German in Die Reform, Nos. 64 and 65, October 24 and 25, 1853;
Transcribed: November 16 1996 (director@marx.org);

London, Friday, Oct. 7, 1853

[ The War Question ]

On Friday last, The Morning Chronicle, in its fourth edition, communicated a telegraphic despatch, according to which the Sultan [Abdul Mejid] had declared war against Russia. The Paris Patrie of yesterday evening announces, in a semi-official note, that the intelligence received from the East, does not confirm the statement of The Morning Chronicle. According to another Ministerial paper, the Constitutionnel, it was on the reiterated representations of Mr. de Bruck, the Austrian Internuncio, that the Divan assembled on the 25th, with the view to deliberate on the Vienna note, when it declared it would abide by the last note of Reshid Pasha. [1] A Grand Council was convoked on the following day. This Council consisting of 120 of the principal Ministers, Councillors, Pashas and religious dignitaries, resolved that

"it would be contrary to the dignity, and subversive of the sovereign authority of the Sultan to sign the Vienna note without the modifications suggested by the Divan, and that, inasmuch as the Czar [Nicholas I] had declared those modifications to be totally inadmissible, and refused to abandon his demand for an engagement destructive of the independence of the Ottoman Empire, it only remained for the Council to advise the Sultan to proceed at once to adopt the measures necessary for the preservation of his Empire, and to free his dominions from the presence of the invader." [Quoted according to the article published in The Morning Post, October 5, 1853 and reprinted in Le Constitutionnel, No. 279, October 6, 1853. -- Ed]

As to the formal declaration of war, it has not yet been confirmed by any authentic dispatch. This time, at least, the Porte has caught the Western diplomats. The English and French Governments, not daring to call their fleets home, unable to hold any longer their ridiculous position at Besika Bay, unwilling to pass the straits in open defiance to the Czar, wanted the Porte to send for ships from Besika Bay on the pretext that danger to the Christians at Constantinople was to be apprehended during the fêtes of the Bairam. The Porte refused, observing that there was no danger; that if there was, it would protect the Christians without foreign aid, and that it did not wish to summon the ships until after the fêtes. But the vanguard of the united fleets had hardly crossed the straits, when the Porte, having now put its vacillating and treacherous allies into a fix, declared for war. As to the war itself, it commenced three months ago, when the Russian forces crossed the Pruth. The first campaign was even brought to a close when the Russian legions reached the banks of the Danube. The only change that can now take place will be that the war will cease to be a one-sided one.

Not only the Bey of Tunis [Ahmed], but the Shah of Persia [Nasr-ed-Din], notwithstanding the intrigues of Russia, has placed at the disposal of the Sultan a corps of 60,000 of his best troops. The Turkish army, then, may truly be said to be a mustering of all the available forces of Mohammedanism in Europe, Africa, and Western Asia. The hosts of the two religions which have long struggled for supremacy in the East, the Russo-Greek and the Mohammedan are now fronting each other, the one summoned by the arbitrary will of a single man -- the other by the fatal force of circumstances, according to their mutual creeds, as the Russo-Greek Church rejects the dogma of predestination, while Mohammedanism centers upon fatalism.

To-day two meetings are to be held, the one in Downing-st. -- the other at the London Tavern; the one by the Ministers -- the other against them; the one in favor of the Czar -- the other in favor of the Sultan.

From the leaders of The Times and Morning Chronicle, we might infer, if there could exist any doubt about the intention of the Coalition, that it will try to the utmost to prevent war, to resume negotiations, to kill time, to paralyze the Sultan's army, and to support the Czar in the Principalities.

"The Czar has declared for peace," The Times is happy to state [here and below Marx quotes from the leaders in The Times No. 21552, October 6, 1853. -- Ed.], upon undoubted authority. The Czar has expressed "pacific sentiments at Olmütz [2] by his own lips." He will not accept the modifications the Porte has proposed; he will abide by the original Vienna note, but he will allow the Vienna conference to interpret the note in a preternatural sense, contradictory to his own Nesselrode's interpretation. He will allow them to occupy themselves with conferences, provided they allow him, meanwhile, to occupy the Principalities.

The Times, in its peace paroxysm, compares the two Emperors of Russia and Austria to a couple of savage chiefs in the interior of Africa, in order to arrive at the conclusion:

"After all, what does the world care for the Emperor of Russia, that it should go to war out of deference to his political mistakes?"

[ Financial Matters ]

The banks of Turin, Paris, Berlin and Warsaw have raised their rate of discount. In the bank returns of last week, the bullion reserve of the Bank of England was stated to have again decreased by £181,615, its total amount now being only £15,680,783. The active circulation of notes has decreased to the extent of nearly £500,000, while the discount of bills has increased by £400,000 [based on an account of September 24, 1853 in The Economist, No. 527 October 1, 1853. -- Ed.] a coincidence which confirms the statement I made in my letter on the Peel Act, that the amount of bank notes in circulation does not rise and fall in proportion to the amount of banking business which is done.

Mr. Dornbush concludes his monthly commercial circular as follows:

"Political events during the last week have greatly added to the agitation in the Corn trade, caused by the increasing reports of a deficient wheat crop, the spreading of the potato disease and the scarcity of ship-room. Town flour has advanced to 70 shillings per 280 pounds, new wheat to 80 shillings, with a rising discount approaching 5 per ct. A great excitement now pervades the corn trade -- the probability of a war in the East, the prohibition of exporting grain from Egypt, the confirmed deficiency in the wheat crop in England, the spreading of the potato disease, the falling off in the foreign arrivals (especially from the South of Europe), the continued demand for France, Belgium and Holland -- these were the principal exciting causes that again drove up prices of wheat variously from one shilling to six shillings per quarter in the leading provincial markets held last week.... Generally, immediately after harvest, the tendency of prices is and remains downward till Christmas. This year the movement has been the reverse.... Prices have been rising for some months past. At this moment there is no actual want of corn in any part of this quarter of the globe; many granaries, barns and rick-yards are full to repletion, and in some sea ports store-room is wanting. The late rise in price, therefore, has not been caused by a present, but by a prospective scarcity of corn, founded on the presumption of a deficiency in the crops, the effects of which are expected to be felt as the season advances. The coming winter is likely to prove one of great hardship and privation.... The prevailing opinion is still in favor of a further advance in prices; and while the bulk of speculators continue 'buying and storing,' the tendency is likely to remain upward, probably till next spring.... The presumable high range of prices during the next winter is likely to become, in the following spring, a great attraction to the importation of corn from distant regions, which, in ordinary seasons, cannot be reached on account of the distance and high cost of carriage; next spring an accumulation of arrivals from all accessible parts of the world is not improbable; and the very cause which now contributes to raise the price by the withdrawal of stocks from sale, will, with the setting in of the downward tide of prices, tend to depress the value of corn with a force commensurate to the then eagerness of holders to dispose of their stocks. Now the rule is to buy; then the watchword will be to sell. Next year may prove as dangerous and disastrous as 1847."

The general depression in the Manchester market continues. In proportion as the news from Australia and China, as well as that regarding the Eastern complication, are taking a more gloomy character, the minds of cotton-spinners manufacturers and merchants, become more unsettled. The fall in prices may now be considered in ordinary qualities and Nos. of yarn to be from 7/8 to 1d. per lb., from the highest point two months ago, which is very near twice as much as the fall in the corresponding quality of cotton, amounting to no more than 1/2 to 5/8 d. And even at the extreme reduction of 1d., people find it difficult to sell, and stocks, the bugbears of our sympathetic school of political economists, go on accumulating. Of course it must not be expected that this accumulation of stocks will increase very rapidly; at the present moment both merchants and manufacturers, on finding several markets overstocked, have yet the outlet of sending their goods, on consignment, to other markets, and this faculty they very largely use just now. But to throw the entire exportable produce of British industry, large enough to swamp, at regular intervals, the whole world, upon a few more or less confined markets, will necessarily excite the same state of plethora, and the revulsions consequent upon it, in those very markets which are as yet stated to be healthy. Thus it is that the slightly improved news from India, according to which there still is no chance of profitable exportation to that country, but merely a chance of diminishing loss upon fresh exports, has induced a rather considerable business to that country, partly on account of the regular India houses, partly on account of the Manchester spinners and manufacturers themselves, who, rather than submit to the loss incumbent upon sales in a declining market, prefer taking whatever slight chance of a better sale there may result from a speculative export to India. And here I may add, that it has been ever since 1847 a regular practice with the Manchester spinners and manufacturers to send out for their own account large shipments to India, etc., and to have the returns in Colonial produce, sold equally for their own account either in British North America or Continental harbors. These speculations do not, certainly, belong to the legitimate trading sphere of the manufacturer, who is necessarily not half as well informed of the state of the markets as the sea-port merchant, but they please the British cotton-spinner who, while directing such distant operations, believes that favorite illusion realized, in which he imagines himself the supreme director, the ruling mind, as it were, of the world's trade and commercial destinies. And if it were not for these speculations which hold fast for a year or eighteen months a considerable portion of the industrial surplus capital, there is no doubt that the extension of manufactures in England would for the last five years have gone on at a still more rapid rate.

In the dry goods market, domestics are the articles suffering under the greatest depression; stocks continue to accumulate although a great number of looms have been stopped. Yet it cannot be said that there is anything doing in other sorts of goods.

A similar stagnation prevails at Leeds and Bradford, at Leicester and Nottingham. At the latter place the hours of work have been reduced to ten and even eight in the lace trade; hosiery has been depressed ever since June last, when the production was at once reduced in Nottingham by one-third of its amount. The only trade that appears to go on in uninterrupted prosperity for the present, is the hardware trade of Birmingham and its vicinity.

At London, bankruptcy begins to spread among the small shop-keepers.

[ Strikes ]

In my letter of August 12, I stated that the master spinners and manufacturers were getting up "An Association for the purpose of aiding the trade in regulating the excitement among the operatives in the Manchester District," that that Association was to consist of local Associations, with a Central Committee, and that it intended "resisting all demands made by associated bodies of mill-hands, fortifying the monopoly of capital by the monopoly of combination, and dictating terms as an Associated body."

Now, is it not a very curious fact, that this scheme, of which informed you about two months ago, has, to this very moment, never been alluded to by the London papers, although silently carried out in the meantime, and already doing its work at Preston, Bolton and Manchester? The London press, it appears, was anxious to withhold the fact from the eyes of the world, that the Factory Lords were systematically arraying their class against the class of Labor, and that the successive steps taken by them, instead of being the spontaneous result of circumstances, are the premeditated effects of a deep-laid conspiracy of an organized Anti-Labor League! This English Capitalist League of the nineteenth century is yet to find its historian, as the French Catholic League did in the authors of the Satyre Menippée, at the end of the sixteenth century. [3]

The work-people, in order to succeed in their demands, must naturally try to keep the one party in till the strike of the others has proved victorious. Where this plan is acted upon, the mill-owners combine to close all their mills, and, thus, to drive their hands to extremities. The Preston manufacturers [4], as you know, were to begin the game. Thirteen mills are already closed, and, at the expiration of another week, every mill is to be shut up, throwing out of work more than 24,000 men. The weavers have addressed a memorial to the masters, soliciting an interview, or offering to refer the matters in dispute to arbitration, but their request was rejected. As the Preston weavers are assisted by penny collections from the operatives of the surrounding districts, from Stalybridge, Oldham, Stockport, Bury, Withnell, Blackburn, Church-Parish, Acton, Irwell-Vale, Enfield, Burnley, Colne, Bacup, &c.; the men having discovered that the only means of resisting the undue influence of capital, was by union among themselves; the Preston factory-lords, on their part, have sent out secret emissaries to undermine the means of succor for the men on strike, and to induce the mill-owners of Burnley, Colne, Bacup, &c., to close their establishments, and to cause a general cessation of labor. In certain places, as at Enfield, the overlookers have been induced to inform their masters, who had taken a part in forwarding the movement, and accordingly a number of penny collectors have been discharged. While the Preston men are exhorted by the work-people of the surrounding districts to remain firm and united, the Preston masters meet with an immense applause from the other manufacturers, being extolled as the true heroes of the age.

At Bury, matters are taking a similar turn as at Preston. At Bolton, the bed-quilt makers having lots cast to decide which of them were to begin striking, the masters of the whole trade at once closed their mills.

Besides the simultaneous closing of mills, other means of combination are resorted to. At Keighley, for instance, the weavers of Mr. Lund struck for an advance of wages, the principal cause of their turn-out being his giving less than was received by the weavers of Mr. Anderton, at Bingley. A deputation of the weavers having asked for an interview with Mr. Lund, and proceeded to his lodgings, they had the door politely shut in their faces. But, a week afterward, Mr. Anderton's work-people were informed by notice that a reduction would be made in the wages of his weavers of 3d. per piece, and of his woolcombers of one farthing per pound, Mr. Lund and Mr. Anderton having, in the meantime, concluded an alliance offensive and defensive, with a view to fight the weavers of the one by pulling down the wages of the other. Thus, it is supposed, Mr. Lund's weavers will be driven to submission or Mr. Anderton's weavers to a turn-out, and the additional weight of another turn-out doing away with all chance of support, both sets will bend to a general reduction.

In other instances the masters try to enlist the shop-keepers against the working men. Thus Mr. Horsfall, the coal king of Derby main pit, when, in consequence of a reduction of wages, his hands struck, went to all the butchers, bakers and provision dealers of the neighborhood the colliers trade with, to prevail on them not to let his men have anything on credit.

In all localities where the Association for "regulating the excitement among the operatives" exists, the associated masters have pledged themselves to heavy fines, in case of any individual member violating the status of their League, or yielding to the demands of the "hands." At Manchester these fines amount to £5,000, at Preston to £3,000, at Bolton to £2,000, etc.

There is one feature which, above all, distinguishes the present conflict from past ones. At former periods -- as in 1832, 1839, 1840, 1842 -- a general holiday, as it was called, viz.: a general and simultaneous stopping of labor throughout the whole kingdom, was a favorite idea with the operatives, and the great object they aimed at. This time, it is capital which threatens a general withdrawal. It is the masters who endeavor to bring about a general closing of mills. Do you not think that, if successful, it may prove a very dangerous experiment? Is it their intention to drive the English people to an insurrection of June [5], in order to break their rising spirit, and to lay them prostrate for a series of years to come?

At all events, we cannot too closely watch the symptoms of the civil war preparing in England, especially as the London press intentionally shuts its eyes to great facts, while it diverts its readers with descriptions of such trifles as the banquet given by Mr. Titus Salt, one of the factory princes of Yorkshire, at the opening of his palace-mill, where not only the local aristocracy were regaled, but his hands, too. "Prosperity, health, and happiness to the working class," was the toast proposed by him, as the public is told by the Metropolitan press, but it is not told, that, some days afterwards, his moreen weavers received notice of another reduction in their wages from 2/3 to 2/1. "If this means either health or prosperity to the moreen weavers," writes one of his victims to The People's Paper, "I, for one, do not want it."

You will perhaps have seen from The Times that a Mrs. MacDonnell, of Knoydart, Glengarry, has, in imitation of the Duchess of Sutherland, undertaken to clear her estates, in order to replace men by sheep. The People's Paper, informed by a correspondent on the spot, gives the following graphic description of this Malthusian operation!

"This lady had a number of cottagers on her domains, many of whom were unable to pay their rents -- some being considerably in arrears, as we are told. She, therefore, ordered them all off, and drove them to take refuge in the woods and caves, where they have since been lurking, or rather dying, while Mrs. MacDonnell's horses have been warmly bedded in secure and comfortable dwellings. She at the same time offered them a free passage to Canada, passage money being cheaper than poor rolls, and permission to sell their little stocks,' they having no stock whatever to sell, except the clothes they stand in, a broken table, or a rheumatic cat. Finally, she forgave them the arrears -- she could not get. This is called 'noble generosity.'"

Such ejections appear to be again the order of the day, throughout the Highlands. Thus, at least, we are informed by Sir Charles Forbes, a Highland laird, writing to The Times,

"that sheep-farms are now becoming so valuable, that it will pay our English sheep-farmers to hire sheep at any time, and to pay for the removal of all who stand in their way."

Signed: Karl Marx


BACKGROUND: On November 3 1853, the New-York Daily Tribune (No. 3915) published a comment from Buffalo on this article. It was written in the form of a letter to the editors, entitled "Workmen's Strike in England" and signed "An Old English Factory Clerk." The writer of the letter stressed, in particular, that "every word of 'Karl Marx's' letter of the 7th inst., is true, touching the intentions of bad men, to provoke the operatives to overt acts." In their note, the editors argued the importance of strikes in the struggle for the workers' economic interests, advising the latter to fight for protectionist tariffs, and concluded with "but let every one act as to him shall seem advisable."

The article, entitled "Die Lage England," was published in an abridged form in the New York newspaper Die Reform.

The first section of this article was published under the title "The War Question" in The Eastern Question.

[1] A reference to Reshid Pasha's Note of August 19 1853 to the representatives of Britain, France and Prussia, which stated that the Turkish Government would accept the Vienna Note only if certain amendments and reservations were made in it, and if the Russian troops withdrew from the Danubian Principalities.

[2] In September 1853 a meeting between Nicholas I and the Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph took place in Olmütz as a result of which the Austrian Government made an unsuccessful attempt to encourage the Western powers to take a new step toward settling the Russo-Turkish conflict on the basis of unconditional acceptance of the Vienna Note by the Sultan. During the talks, Nicholas I sought to convince Francis Joseph that the operations of Russian troops in the Danubian Principalities would be limited to defence of the left bank of the Danube.

[3] A reference to an anonymous political pamphlet published in France in 1594. It was written by supporters of religious peace closely associated with King Henry IV (Jacques Gillot, Florent Chrestien, P. Le Roy and others). The pamphlet was directed against the Catholic League (which was founded in 1576 during the Huguenot wars and operated with intervals up to 1596), whose aristocratic leaders strove to reduce the power of the monarchy and gain unrestricted privileges for the Catholic feudal nobility. The title of the pamphlet was borrowed from the Roman author Varro (1st century B.C.) who wrote his Menippean Satires in imitation of the Greek philosopher Menippus.

[4] A description follows of the initial stages of the major social clash between workers and employers which is known in the history of the working-class movement as the Preston strike. The weavers and spinners of the textile mills in and around Preston went on strike in August 1853 demanding a ten per cent wage rise; they were supported by workers of other trades. In September of the same year the Manufacturers' Association responded with a lockout. Twenty-five thousand workers out of thirty thousand were without work. The lockout lasted until February 1854, but the strike continued after that date. To break the strike the Manufacturers' Association started bringing workers to Preston from Ireland and English workhouses. In March 1854, the leaders of the strike were arrested, and as funds were low the workers were compelled to return to work. The strike ended in May.

In his reports to the New-York Daily Tribune, Marx wrote about different episodes of the strike; at the end of March 1854, he devoted a whole article to this event, "British Finances. -- The Troubles at Preston."

[5] A reference to the heroic uprising of the Paris workers in June 1848. The uprising was the first great civil war between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie in history.