April 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard
Reprint of a Famous Speech
(The following address was delivered by Marx on the occasion of the inauguration of the International Working Men’s Association, September 28th, 1864. Apart from its interest as an historical document, it contains many timely lessons for the workers in face of present problems.
The reader will notice that the tone and phrasing of the Address are moderate and indefinite by comparison with others of Marx’s speeches and writings —the “Communist Manifesto,” for example. This was a restraint imposed on Marx, as he explained in a letter to Engels, by the character of the organisations in the International. They were composed of Trade Unionists and others who had only made the first approaches towards accepting internationalism and towards understanding Socialism. If, too, Marx was more optimistic about some developments of the period than they deserved the essentials of the speech have worn well. How well can be seen by comparing this speech with a typical product of the man Marx was criticising, Mr. W. E. Gladstone. Who cares now what Gladstone said in 1864? Marx, on the other hand, with his remarkable understanding of the slow but inescapable trend of events, becomes every year a more vital figure in the task of moulding the society of the future.
Some of the points in the speech are dealt with elsewhere in this issue. EDITORIAL COMMITTEE.)
Fellow Working Men: It is a great fact that the misery of the working masses has not diminished from 1848 to 1864, and yet this period is unrivalled for the development of its industry and the growth of its commerce. In 1850 a moderate organ of the British middle-class, of more than average information, predicted that if the exports and imports of England were to rise 50 per cent., English pauperism would sink to zero. Alas! On April 7th, 1864, the Chancellor of the Exchequer delighted his Parliamentary audience by the statement that the total import and export trade of England had grown in 1863 “to £443,955,000, that astonishing sum about three times the trade of the comparatively recent epoch of 1843.” With all that he was eloquent upon "poverty.” "Think,” he exclaimed, “of those who are on the border of that region,” upon “wages —not increased”; upon “human life—in nine cases out of ten, but a struggle of existence.” He did not speak of the people of Ireland, gradually replaced by machinery in the North, and by sheep-walks in the South, though even the sheep in that unhappy country are decreasing, it is true, not at so rapid a rate as the men. He did not repeat what then had just been betrayed by the highest representative of the upper ten thousand in a sudden fit of terror. When the garotte panic had reached a certain height, the House of Lords caused an inquiry to be made into, and a report to be published upon, transportation and penal servitude. Out came the murder in the bulky Blue Book of 1863, and proved it was, by official facts and figures, that the worst of the convicted criminals, the penal serfs of England and Scotland, toiled much less and fared far better than the agricultural labourers of England and Scotland. But this was not all. When, consequent upon the Civil War in America, the operatives of Lancashire and Cheshire were thrown upon the streets, the same House of Lords sent to the manufacturing districts a physician commissioned to investigate into the smallest possible amount of carbon and nitrogen, to be administered in the cheapest and plainest form, which, on an average, might just suffice to avert “starvation diseases.” Dr. Smith, the medical deputy, ascertained that 28,000 grains of carbon and 1,330 grains of nitrogen were the weekly allowance that would keep an average adult just over the level of starvation diseases, and he found, furthermore, that quantity pretty nearly to agree with the scanty nourishment to which the pressure of extreme distress had actually reduced the cotton operatives. But now mark! The same learned doctor was later on again deputed by the medical officer of the Privy Council to inquire into the nourishment of the poorer labouring classes. The results of his researches are embodied in the “Sixth Report on Public Health,” published by order of Parliament in the course of the present year. What did the doctor discover? That the silk weavers, the needle women, the kid glovers, the stocking weavers, and so forth, received, on an average, not even the distressed pittance of the cotton operatives, not even the amount of carbon and nitrogen "just sufficient to avert starvation diseases.”
"Moreover” (we quote from the report), "as regards the examined families of the agricultural population, it appeared that more than a fifth were with less than the estimated sufficiency of carbonaceous food; that more than one-third were with less than the estimated sufficiency of nitrogenous food, and that in three counties (Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Somersetshire), insufficiency of nitrogenous food was the average diet.” “It must be remembered,” adds the official report, “that privation of food is very reluctantly borne, and that, as a rule, great poorness of diet will only come when other privations have preceded it. Even cleanliness will have been found costly or difficult, and if there still be self-respectful endeavours to maintain it, every such endeavour will represent additional pangs of hunger. These are painful reflections, especially when it is remembered that the poverty to which they advert is not the deserved poverty of idleness: in all cases it is the poverty of working populations. Indeed, the work which obtains the scanty pittance of food is, for the most part, excessively prolonged.” The report brings out the strange and rather unexpected fact, "That of the divisions of the United Kingdom," England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, “the agricultural population of England,” the richest division, “is considerably the worst fed,” but that even the agricultural labourers of Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Somersetshire fare better than great numbers of skilled indoor operatives of the East of London.
Such are the official statements published by order of Parliament in 1864, during the millennium of free trade, at a time when the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House of Commons that
"the average condition of the British labourer has improved in a degree we know to be extraordinary and unexampled in the history of any country or any age.”
Upon these official congratulations jars the dry remark of the official Public Health Report: —
"The public health of a country means the health of its masses, and the masses will scarcely be healthy unless, to their very base, they are at least moderately prosperous.”
Dazzled by the “Progress of the Nation,” statistics dancing before his eyes, the Chancellor of the Exchequer exclaims in wild ecstasy: —
“From 1842 to 1852 the taxable income of the country increased by six per cent.; in the eight years from 1853 to 1861 it has increased from the basis taken in 1853 20 per cent.: the fact is so astonishing as to be almost incredible.”
“This intoxicating augmentation of wealth and power,” adds Mr. Gladstone, “ is entirely confined to classes of property.”
If you want to know under what conditions of broken health, tainted morals, and mental ruin, that “intoxicating augmentation of wealth and power entirely confined to classes of property ” was, and is being produced by the classes of labour, look to the picture hung up in the last “Public Health Report” of the workshops of tailors, printers and dressmakers. Compare the “Report of the Children’s Employment Commission” of 1863 where, it is stated, for instance, that: —
"The potters as a class, both men and women, represent a much degenerated population, both physically and mentally,”
that the unhealthy child “is an unhealthy parent in his turn,” that a progressive deterioration of the race must go on and that "the degenerescence of the population would be even greater were it not for the constant recruiting from the adjacent country, and the intermarriages with more healthy races.” Glance at M. Tremenheere’s Blue Book on the "Grievances complained of by the Journeymen Bakers.” And who has not shuddered at the paradoxical statement made by the inspectors of factories, and illustrated by the. Registrar-General, that the Lancashire operatives, while put upon the distress pittance of food, were actually improving in health, because of their temporary exclusion by the cotton famine from the cotton factory, and that the mortality of the children was decreasing, because their mothers were now at last allowed to give them instead of Godfrey’s cordial their own breasts.
Again reverse the medal. The Income and Property Tax Returns, laid before the House of Commons on July 20th, 1864, teach us that the persons with yearly incomes valued by the tax gatherer at £50,000 and upwards, had, from April 5th, 1862, to April 5th, 1863, been joined by a dozen and one, their number having increased in that single year from 67 to 80. The same returns disclose the fact that about 3,000 persons divide amongst themselves a yearly income of about £25,000,000 sterling, rather more than the total revenue doled out annually to the whole mass of the agricultural labourers of England and Wales. Open the Census of 1861, and you will find that the number of the male landed proprietors of England and Wales had decreased from 16,934 in 1851 to 15,066 in 1861, so that the concentration of land had grown in ten years 11 per cent. If the concentration of the soil of the country in a few hands proceeds at the same rate the land question will become singularly simplified, as it had become in the Roman Empire, when Nero grinned at the discovery that half the province of Africa was owned by six gentlemen.
(to be concluded).