Articles by Karl Marx in Die Presse 1862

A London Workers’ Meeting

Source: MECW Volume 19, p. 153;
Written: on January 28, 1862;
First published: in Die Presse, February 2, 1862.

London, January 28

The working class, so preponderant a part of a society that within living memory has no longer possessed a peasantry, is known not to be represented in Parliament. Nevertheless, it is not without political influence. No important innovation, no decisive measure has ever been carried through in this country without pressure from without, whether it was the opposition that required such pressure against the government or the government that required the pressure against the opposition. By pressure from without the Englishman understands great, extra-parliamentary popular demonstrations, which naturally cannot be staged without the lively participation of the working class. Pitt understood how to use the masses against the Whigs in his anti-Jacobin war. The Catholic emancipation, the Reform Bill, the abolition of the Corn Laws, the Ten Hours Bill, the war against Russia, the rejection of Palmerston’s Conspiracy Bill, all were the fruit of stormy extra-parliamentary demonstrations, in which the working class, sometimes artificially incited, sometimes acting spontaneously, played the principal part only as a persona dramatis, only as the chorus or, according to circumstances, performed the noisy part. So much the more striking is the attitude of the English working class in regard to the American Civil War.

The misery that the stoppage of the factories and the shortening of the labour time, motivated by the blockade of the slave states, has produced among the workers in the northern manufacturing districts is incredible and in daily process of growth. The other component parts of the working class do not suffer to the same extent; but they suffer severely from the reaction of the crisis in the cotton industry on the other industries, from the curtailment of the export of their own products to the North of America in consequence of the Morrill tariff and from the loss of this export to the South in consequence of the blockade. At the present moment, English interference in America has accordingly become a knife-and-fork question for the working class. Moreover, no means of inflaming its wrath against the United States is scorned by its “natural superiors”. The sole great and widely circulating workers’ organ still existing, Reynolds’s Newspaper, has been purchased expressly in order that for six months it might reiterate weekly in raging diatribes the ceterum censeo of English intervention. The working class is accordingly fully conscious that the government is only waiting for the intervention cry from below, the pressure from without, to put an end to the American blockade and English misery. Under these circumstances, the persistence with which the working class keeps silent, or breaks its silence only to raise its voice against intervention and for the United States, is admirable. This is a new, brilliant proof of the indestructible staunchness of the English popular masses, of that staunchness which is the secret of England’s greatness and which, to speak in the hyperbolic language of Mazzini, made the common English soldier seem a demi-god during the Crimean War and the Indian insurrection.

The following report on a great workers’ meeting that took place yesterday in Marylebone, the most populous district of London, may serve to characterise the “policy” of the working class:

Mr. Steadman, the chairman, opened the meeting with the remark that the question was one of a decision on the part of the English people in regard to the reception of Messrs. Mason and lidell.

It has to be considered whether these gentlemen were coming here to free the slaves from their chains or to forge a new link for these chains.”

Mr. Votes:

On the present occasion the working class dare not keep silent. The two gentlemen who are sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to our country are the agents of slaveholding and tyrannical states. They are in open rebellion against the lawful Constitution of their country and come here to induce our government to recognise the independence of the slave states. It is the duty of the working class to pronounce its opinion now, if the English government is not to believe that we regard its foreign policy with indifference. We must show that the money expended by this people on the emancipation of slaves cannot be allowed to be .uselessly squandered. Had our government acted honestly, it would have supported the Northern states heart and soul in suppressing this fearful rebellion.”

After a detailed defence of the Northern states and the observation that “Mr. Lovejoy’s violent tirade against England was called forth by the slanders of the English press”, the speaker proposed the following motion:

“This meeting resolves that the agents of the rebels, Mason and Slidell, now on the way from America to England, are absolutely unworthy of the moral sympathies of the working class of this country, since they are slaveholders as well as the confessed agents of the tyrannical faction that is at this very moment in rebellion against the American republic and the sworn enemy of the social and political rights of the working class in all countries.”

Mr. Whynne supported the motion. It was, however, selfunderstood that every personal insult to Mason and Slidell must be avoided during their stay in London.

Mr. Nichols, a resident “of the extreme North of the United States”, as he announced, who was in fact sent to the meeting by Messrs. Yancey and Mann as the advocatus diaboli, protested against the motion.

“I am here, because here freedom of speech prevails. With us at home, the government has permitted no man to open his mouth for three months. Liberty has been crushed not only in the South, but also in the North. The war has many opponents in the North, but they dare not speak. No less than two hundred newspapers have been suppressed or destroyed by the mob. The Southern states have the same right to secede from the North as the United States had to separate from England.”

Despite the eloquence of Mr. Nichols, the first motion was carried unanimously. He now sprang up afresh:

“If they reproached Messrs. Mason and Slidell with being slaveholders, the same thing would apply to Washington and Jefferson, etc.”

Mr. Beales refuted Nichols in a detailed speech and then brought forward a second motion:

“In view of the ill-concealed efforts of The Times and other misleading journals to misrepresent English public opinion on all American affairs; to embroil us in war with millions of our kinsmen on any pretext whatever, and to take advantage of the perils currently threatening the republic to defame democratic institutions, this meeting regards it as the very special duty of the workers, since they are not represented in the Senate of the nation, to declare their sympathy with the United States in their titanic struggle for the maintenance of the Union; to denounce the shameful dishonesty and advocacy of slaveholding on the part of The Times and kindred aristocratic journals; to express themselves most emphatically in favour of the strictest policy of non-intervention in affairs of the United States and in favour of the settlement of all matters that may be in dispute by commissioners or arbitration courts nominated by both a sides; to denounce the war policy of the organ of the stock exchange swindlers and to express the warmest sympathy with the strivings of the Abolitionists for a final solution of the slave question.”

This motion was unanimously adopted, as well as the final motion

“to forward to the American government per medium of Mr. Adams a copy of the resolutions framed, as an expression of the feelings and opinions of the working class of England”.