MARXIST INTERNET ARCHIVE |  Marx Engels

The Condition of England by Frederick Engels

II
The English Constitution [206]


Source: MECW Volume 3, p. 489;
Written: in March 1844;
First published: in Vorwärts! (Paris) Nos. 75, 76, 77, 78, 80, 83 and 84, Sept. 18, 21, 25 and 28, and Oct. 5, 16 and 19, 1844


Vorwärts! No. 75, September 18, 1844

In the previous article we elaborated the criteria for assessing the present position of the British Empire in the history of civilisation, and gave the relevant facts concerning the development of the English nation insofar as they are indispensable to this purpose but are little known on the Continent; having thus justified our initial assumptions, we can now proceed without more ado to the object of our investigation.

The position of England has hitherto seemed enviable to all other nations of Europe, and indeed so it is to anyone who dwells on the surface and observes simply with the eyes of a politician. Britain is an empire of such a kind as is possible today, and such as all other empires in essence were as well; for the empires of Alexander and Caesar too represented, like the British, the rule of civilised nations over barbarians and colonies. No other country in the world can measure up to England in terms of power and wealth, and this power and wealth do not lie in the hands of a single despot, as was the case in Rome, but belong to the educated part of the nation. The fear of despotism and the struggle against the power of the Crown came to an end a hundred years ago; England is undeniably the freest, in other words, the least unfree, country in the world, not excepting North America, and the educated Englishman consequently has about him a degree of innate independence such as no Frenchman, to say nothing of German, can boast of. The political activity, the free press, the maritime supremacy and the colossal industry of England have so fully developed the energy inherent in the national character, the combination of the most resolute force and the calmest deliberation, in almost every individual that in this respect too the continental nations trail infinitely far behind the English. The history of the British Army and Navy is a series of brilliant victories, whilst England has scarcely seen an enemy on its shores for the past eight hundred years; the stature of its literature can only be rivalled by the literature of ancient Greece and Germany; England has produced at least two great names – Bacon and Locke – in philosophy, and innumerable ones in the empirical sciences, and if it is a question of which nation has done most, no one can deny that the English are that nation.

These are the things of which England can be proud, in which she surpasses the Germans and the French, and which I have listed here at the outset, so that the good Germans may convince themselves of my “impartiality” at the very start; for I know full well that in Germany it is much more acceptable to make inconsiderate statements about the Germans than about any other nation. And, broadly speaking, the things I have just listed form the subject-matter of that whole literature, so voluminous and yet so very unproductive and unnecessary, which has been churned out about England on the Continent. It has not occurred to anyone to investigate the nature of English history and of the English national character, and just how paltry all the literature about England is, is revealed by the simple fact that Herr von Raumer’s paltry work about England [England im Jahre 1835] is still, as far as I know, held to be the best on the subject in Germany.

Since England has hitherto only been considered from the political angle, let us begin with that. Let us examine, the English Constitution, which, as the Tories put it, is “the most perfect product of English reason”, and let us, as another favour to the politician, for the present proceed quite empirically.

The juste-milieu esteem it a particular beauty of the English Constitution that it has developed “historically”; that means, in plain German, that the old basis created by the revolution of 1688 has been preserved, and this foundation, as they call it, further built on. We shall soon see what characteristics the English Constitution has acquired in consequence; for the moment a simple comparison of the Englishman of f688 with the Englishman of 1844 will suffice to prove that an identical constitutional foundation for both of them is an absurdity and an impossibility. Even disregarding the general progress of civilisation, the political character of the nation alone is quite different from what it was then. The Test Act, the Habeas Corpus Act and the Bill of Rights were Whig measures which arose from the weakness and defeat of the Tories at that time and were directed against these Tories, in other words, against absolute monarchy and open or concealed Catholicism. [207] But within the next fifty years the old Tories disappeared and their descendants adopted the principles which were hitherto the property of the Whigs; since George I ascended the throne, the monarchical, Catholic Tories have become an aristocratic, High-Church party, and since the French Revolution, which first woke them up, the positive precepts of Toryism have evaporated increasingly into abstract “conservatism!”, the undisguised, unthinking defence of the status quo – indeed even this stage has already been left behind. Through Sir Robert Peel Toryism has decided to acknowledge change, it has realised that it the English Constitution cannot be defended, and is making concessions simply to maintain that tottering structure as long as possible.

The Whigs have undergone an equally important development, a new democratic party has arisen, and yet the foundation of 1688 is still supposed to be adequate for 1844! Now the inevitable consequence of this “historical development” is that the inner contradictions which are characteristic features of constitutional monarchy and which were sufficiently exposed even at the time when modern German philosophy still upheld a republican viewpoint – that these contradictions attain their most extreme form in the modern English monarchy. In fact the English constitutional monarchy is the culmination of constitutional monarchy as such, it is the only state where, insofar as this is still possible at the present time, a real aristocracy of birth has held its position alongside a comparatively highly developed public consciousness, and consequently where that trinity of legislative power really exists which on the Continent has been artificially restored and is maintained only with difficulty.

If the essence of the state, as of religion, is mankind’s fear of itself, this fear reaches its highest pitch in constitutional, and particularly in the English, monarchy. The experience of three millennia has not made men wiser but on the contrary more confused and more prejudiced, it has made them mad, and the result of this madness is the political condition of present-day Europe. The pure monarchy arouses terror – people think of Oriental and Roman despotism. Pure aristocracy is no less frightening – the patricians of Rome and the feudalism of the Middle Ages, the nobility of Venice and Genoa have not been in vain. Democracy is more dreadful than either; Marius and Sulla, Cromwell and Robespierre, the bloody heads of two kings, proscription lists and dictatorship speak loudly enough of the “horrors” of democracy. What is more, it is generally known that none of these forms has ever been able to survive for long. What then was to be done? Instead of proceeding on a straight course, instead of concluding from the imperfection or rather inhumanity of all forms of the state that the state itself is the cause of all these inhumanities and is itself inhuman, instead of that people took comfort in the view that immorality only adheres to particular forms of the state, they deduced from the above premises that the result of three immoral factors can be a moral product, and created the constitutional monarchy.

The first axiom of constitutional monarchy is that of the balance of powers, and this axiom is the most perfect expression of mankind’s fear of itself. It is not my intention to comment on the absurd irrationality and total impracticability of this axiom, I will merely examine whether it is applied in the English Constitution; as I promised, I shall stick exclusively to empirical facts, so much so indeed that it will perhaps be too much even for our political empiricists. I shall therefore not take the English Constitution as it figures in Blackstone’s Commentaries [W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws and Constitution of England], in de Lolme’s fantasies [J. L. Delolme, La Constitution de l'Angleterre] or in the long series of constituent statutes from “Magna Carta” to the Reform Bill, but as it is in reality. [208]

First, the monarchic element. Everyone knows the real significance of the sovereign king of England, whether male or female. The power of the Crown is reduced in practice to nil, and if this situation, notorious the world over, needed any further proof, the fact that the whole struggle against the Crown ceased over a hundred years ago and that even the radical democratic Chartists know their time is better spent on other things than on this struggle, should be sufficient proof. What then becomes of that third part of the legislative power which in theory is assigned to the Crown? Nevertheless – and in this, fear reaches its climax – the English Constitution cannot exist without the monarchy. Remove the Crown, the “subjective apex”, and the whole artificial structure comes tumbling down. The English Constitution is an inverted pyramid; the apex is at the same time the base. And the less important the monarchic element became in reality, the more important did it become for the Englishman. Nowhere, as we all know, is a non-ruling personage more revered than in England. The English press surpasses the German by far in slavish servility. But this loathsome cult of the king as such, the veneration of an empty idea – or rather not an idea but the word “king” – stripped of all content, is the culmination of monarchy, just as the veneration of the mere word “God” is the culmination of religion. The word “king” is the essence of the state, just as the word “God” is the essence of religion, even though neither word has any meaning at all. The essential thing about both of them is to make sure that the essential thing, that is, man, who is behind these words, is not discussed.

Then, the aristocratic element. At least in the sphere assigned to it by the Constitution, it fares little better than the Crown. If the mockery which has continuously been heaped on the House of Lords for more than a hundred years has gradually become so much a part of public opinion that this branch of the legislature is generally regarded as a home for superannuated statesmen and the offer of a peerage as an insult by any not yet totally worn-out member of the House of Commons, it may easily be imagined in what esteem the second of the political powers established by the Constitution is held. In fact the activity of the Lords in the Upper House has been reduced to a mere empty formality, rising only rarely to a kind of force of inertia such as was displayed during the Whig Ministry of 1830 to 1840 – and even then the Lords are not strong in themselves but through the Tories, the party whose most genuine representatives they are; and the House of Lords, whose main advantage in constitutional theory is supposed to be the fact that it is equally independent of the Crown and of the people, is in reality dependent on a party, that is, on the state of public opinion, and also on the Crown, because of its right to create peers. But the weaker the Upper House was, the firmer was its position in public opinion. The constitutional parties, the Tories, Whigs and Radicals, shrink with equal horror from the idea of abolishing this empty formality, and the Radicals go no further than to observe that the Lords, as the only power in the Constitution that is answerable to no one, are an anomaly and that therefore the hereditary peerage should be replaced by an elected peerage. Once more it is the fear of humanity which maintains this empty form, and the Radicals, who are demanding a purely democratic basis for the House of Commons, take this fear even further than the other two parties by attempting to breathe new life into the worn-out, antiquated House of Lords by an infusion of popular blood, so as to avoid abandoning it altogether. The Chartists have a better idea of what they must do; they know that before the assault of a democratic House of Commons, the whole rotten structure, Crown, Lords and so forth, must collapse of its own accord, and unlike the Radicals they therefore do not worry about the reform of the peerage.

And just as the veneration for the Crown has grown in proportion as the power of the Crown diminished, so the aristocracy has risen all the higher in popular esteem the more the political influence of the House of Lords declined. It is not just that the most humiliating formalities of the feudal era have been retained, that the members of the House of Commons, when they appear in an official capacity before the Lords, have to stand cap in hand before the seated and behatted Lords and that the official mode of addressing a nobleman is “may it please your lordship”, etc.; the worst of it is that all these formalities really are the expression of public opinion, which regards a Lord as a being of a superior kind and harbours a respect for pedigrees, sonorous titles, old family mementoes, etc., which is as repugnant and nauseating to us continentals as the cult of the Crown. In this aspect of the English character too we have again the same veneration for an empty, meaningless word, the utterly insane, fixed idea that a great nation, that the human race and the universe, could not exist without the word “aristocracy”.

For all that, the aristocracy nevertheless has an important influence in reality; but just as the power of the Crown is the power of the Ministers, in other words, of the representatives of the majority of the House of Commons, and has thus taken quite a different turn from that intended by the Constitution, so the power of the aristocracy consists in something quite other than its right to an hereditary seat in the legislature. The aristocracy is strong because of its vast estates, its wealth in general, and it therefore shares this strength with all other, non-aristocratic men of wealth; the power of the Lords is effective not in the House of Lords but in the House of Commons, and this brings us to that component of the legislature which according to the Constitution is supposed to represent the democratic element.

Vorwärts No. 76, September 21, 1844

If the Crown and the House of Lords are powerless, it follows that all power must necessarily be concentrated in the House of Commons, and this is the case. In reality the House of Commons makes the laws and administers them through the Ministers, who are but a committee of the House. The House of Commons being thus omnipotent, England ought to be a pure democracy, even if nominally the other two branches of the legislature continue to exist, provided the democratic element itself were truly democratic. But there is no question of this. The local organisations were quite unaffected by the constitutional settlement after the revolution of 1688; the cities, boroughs and constituencies which had previously had the right to send a member retained it; and this right was by no means one of the democratic “universal human rights”, but an entirely feudal privilege, which as late as Elizabeth’s reign was conferred quite arbitrarily by the grace and favour of the Crown on many towns which had not previously been represented. Even the representative character which the elections to the House of Commons at least originally had, was soon lost through “historical development”. The composition of the old House of Commons is well known. In the towns the return of a member was either in the hands of an individual or of an exclusive corporation co-opting its own members; only a few boroughs were open, in other words, had a fairly large electorate, and here the most brazen bribery put paid to the last vestiges of true representation. The closed boroughs were mostly in the pocket of one individual, usually a lord; and in the rural constituencies the all-powerful big landowners suppressed any free, spontaneous stirring there might be among the people, who were moreover politically inert. The old House of Commons was no more than an exclusive medieval corporation independent of the people, the culmination of the “historical” right, incapable of adducing even a single genuinely or apparently rational argument for its existence, existing in defiance of all reason and hence denying in 1794 through its committee that it was an assembly of representatives and that England was a representative state. [Second Report of the Committee of Secrecy, to whom the Papers referred to in His Majesty’s Message on the 12 May 1794, were delivered (Report on the London Revolutionary Societies, London, 1794). Page 68 ff. – Note by Engels] In comparison with such a Constitution, the theory of representative government, even of an ordinary constitutional monarchy with a chamber of deputies, must have appeared thoroughly revolutionary and reprehensible, and the Tories were therefore quite right when they described the Reform Bill as a measure diametrically opposed to the spirit and the letter of the Constitution and which undermined the Constitution. The Reform Bill, however, went through, and it is now our task to see what it has made of the English Constitution and particularly of the House of Commons. In the first place, the conditions for the election of members in the countryside have remained exactly the same. The electors are here almost exclusively tenant farmers, and they are utterly dependent on their landlord since the latter, who has no contractual relationship with them, may at any time terminate the lease. The members for the counties (as opposed to the towns) remain, as they were before, deputies of the landowners, since it is only at times of the greatest unrest, as in 1831 [209] that the tenant farmers dare to vote against the landowners. Indeed, the Reform Bill only aggravated the evil, since it increased the number of county members. Of the 252 county members, the Tories can consequently always count on at least 200, except when there is general unrest among the tenant farmers which would make any intervention by the landowners unwise. In the towns representation was introduced, at least formally, and every man occupying a house of at least ten pounds sterling annual rental value and paying direct taxes (poor-rate, etc.) received the vote. By this means the enormous majority of the working classes is excluded; for in the first place it is naturally only the married who live in separate houses, and even if a significant number of these houses have an annual rent of ten pounds, almost all the occupiers avoid the payment of direct taxes and are therefore not electors. Universal suffrage as advocated by the Chartists would at least treble the number of persons entitled to vote. The towns are thus in the hands of the middle class, and this in its turn is in the smaller towns very frequently – directly or indirectly-dependent on the landlords, via the tenant farmers, who are the main customers of the tradesmen and craftsmen. Only in the large towns does the middle class really achieve supremacy, and in the smaller factory towns, especially in Lancashire, where the middle class lacks significant numbers and the country people significant influence, where therefore even a minority of the working class has a decisive effect on the outcome, the illusory representation approaches true representation in some measure. These towns, e.g., Ashton, Oldham, Rochdale, Bolton, etc., consequently send almost exclusively Radicals to Parliament. In these places, as in all factory towns generally, an extension of the franchise on Chartist principles would enable this party to gain a majority of votes. Apart from these various and in practice very complex influences, various local interests also make themselves felt, and finally, a very significant influence – bribery. In the first article of the present series, we already mentioned that the House of Commons, through its Bribery Committee, declared that it was elected by bribery, and Thomas Duncombe, the only thoroughgoing Chartist member, long ago told the House of Commons plainly that not a single member of the whole assembly, not even he himself, could say that he had secured his seat by the free vote of his constituents without bribery. [210] Last summer, Richard Cobden, member for Stockport and leader of the Anti-Corn Law League, declared at a public meeting in Manchester that bribery had reached greater proportions than ever, that in the Tory Carlton Club and the Liberal Reform Club in London the representation of towns was positively auctioned to the highest bidder, and that these clubs acted as contractors – for so many pounds we guarantee you a certain position, etc. – And on top of all this we must not forget the fine manner in which the elections are held, the general drunkenness amid which the votes are cast, the public houses where the electors become intoxicated at the candidates’ expense, the disorder, the brawling, the howling of the crowds at the voting-booths; thus putting the finishing touches to the hollowness of representation which is valid for seven years.

Vorwärts! No. 77, September 25, 1844

We have seen that the Crown and the House of Lords have lost their importance; we have seen how the all-powerful House of Commons is recruited; the question is now: who then actually rules in England? Property rules. Property enables the aristocracy to control the election of deputies for rural areas and small towns; property enables the merchants and manufacturers to choose the members for the large and to some extent also for the small towns; property enables both to increase their influence by bribery. The rule of property is explicitly recognised in the Reform Bill by the property qualification incorporated in it. And to the extent that property and the influence conferred by property constitute the essence of the middle class, to the extent therefore that the aristocracy brings its property to bear in the elections and thus does not act as an aristocracy but puts itself on a level with the middle class, to the extent that the influence of the actual middle class is on the whole much greater than that of the aristocracy, to that extent the middle class does indeed rule. But how and why does it rule? Because the people do not as yet really understand the nature of property, because they are in general – at least in the countryside – still intellectually dead and therefore tolerate the tyranny of property. England is admittedly a democracy, but in the same way as Russia is a democracy; as the people unwittingly rules everywhere, and the government in every state is but another expression for the level of education of the people.

It will be difficult to retrace our steps from the practice of the English Constitution to the theory of it. There is the most flagrant contradiction between the theory and the practice; the two are so estranged from one another that they no longer have any similarity. On the one hand the trinity of the legislature – on the other the tyranny of the middle class; on the one hand a two-chamber system – on the other the all-powerful House of Commons; on the one hand the royal prerogative – on the other a government chosen by the Commons; on the one hand an independent House of Lords with hereditary legislators – on the other a home for antiquated members of the Commons. Each of the three components of the legislature has had to surrender its power to another element: the Crown to the Ministers, in other words to the majority of the House of Commons, the Lords to the Tory party, that is, to a popular element, and to the Ministers who create the peers, in other words, basically to a popular element too, and the Commons to the middle class, or, which amounts to the same thing, to the people that has not yet come of age politically. In reality the English Constitution has ceased to exist at all, the whole wearisome process of legislation is a mere farce; the contradiction between theory and practice has become so glaring that it cannot possibly persist for long, and even if the vitality of this ailing Constitution appears to have been somewhat increased by the emancipation of the Catholics, [211] of which we shall have cause to speak further, and by the parliamentary and municipal reform, these measures – which in themselves are an admission that hope of preserving the Constitution has been given up – introduce into it elements which unquestionably contradict the fundamental principles of the Constitution and thus further intensify the conflict by making the theory contradict itself.

We have seen that the organisation of powers in the English Constitution depends entirely on fear. This fear is even more evident in the rules by which legislation proceeds, the so-called Standing Orders. Every Bill must pass three readings in each of the two Houses, at stated intervals; after the second reading it is referred to a Committee which discusses it in detail; in cases of some importance, the House becomes a Committee of the whole House to discuss the Bill and appoints a reporter, who afterwards with great solemnity presents a report on . the discussion to the very House that discussed the Bill. Incidentally, is this not the most splendid example of “the transcendent within the immanent and the immanent within the transcendent” that a Hegelian could possibly wish for? “The knowledge the House of Commons has of the committee is the knowledge the committee has of itself”, and the reporter is “the absolute personification of the intermediary, in whom the two are identical’. Every Bill is thus discussed eight times before it can receive the royal assent. Once more it is of course fear of humanity that underlies this absurd procedure. They realise that progress is the essence of humanity but have not the courage to proclaim progress openly; they pass laws which are supposed to have absolute validity and which therefore put barriers in the way of progress; and by reserving the right to amend laws, the progress which they have just denied is allowed in again through the backdoor. But care must be taken not to proceed too fast, not to be over-hasty! Progress is revolutionary, it is dangerous, and there must therefore be a powerful brake on it; before they decide to acknowledge it, they must ponder the matter eight times. But this fear, which is futile in itself, and only proves that those who are filled with it are themselves not yet real, free men, is bound to lead to the introduction of inappropriate measures. Instead of ensuring a comprehensive examination of the Bills, the repeated reading of them becomes quite superfluous in practice and a mere formality. The main argument is usually concentrated in the first or second reading, sometimes also in the debates in committee, according to what suits the opposition best. The whole futility of this multiplication of debates becomes evident when one considers that the fate of each Bill is already decided at the outset, and where it is not decided, the debate concerns not the particular Bill but the existence of a Cabinet. The outcome of all these antics, which are repeated eight times, is thus not a calmer discussion in the House itself, but something quite different which was by no means the intention of those who introduced these antics. The protracted nature of the deliberations gives public opinion time to form an opinion about the proposed measure and if need be to oppose it by means of meetings and petitions, and often – as last year in the case of Sir James Graham’s Education Bill – successfully. But this, as we have said, was not the original purpose and could be achieved far more simply.

While we are now on the subject of the Standing Orders, we may mention a few more points which betray the fear that is part of the English Constitution and the original corporate character of the House of Commons. The debates in the House of Commons are not public; admission is a privilege and is usually secured only by written order of a member. During divisions the galleries are cleared; despite this absurd secretiveness, the abolition of which the House has always vigorously opposed, the names of the members who have voted for and against are in all the newspapers on the following day. The Radical members have never been able to get approval for an authentic publication of the minutes – a fortnight ago a motion to this end failed [212] – and as a consequence the printer of the parliamentary reports that appear in the papers is solely responsible for their content and can be sued, according to the law even by the government, for the publication of defamatory statements by anyone who feels insulted by a remark by a Member of Parliament, while the author of the defamation is protected from any prosecution by his parliamentary privilege. These and a host of other points in the Standing Orders show the exclusive, anti-popular character of the reformed Parliament; and the tenacity with which the House of Commons holds to these customs shows clearly enough that it has no desire to transform itself from a privileged, corporative body into an assembly of representatives of the people.

Vorwärts No. 78, September 28, 1844

Another proof of this is the privilege enjoyed by Parliament, the exceptional position of its members vis-à-vis the courts and the right of the House of Commons to have anyone it wishes arrested. Originally aimed against infringements by the Crown, which has since that time been deprived of all its power, this privilege has in recent times only been used against the people. In 1771 the House was angered by the insolence of the newspapers which had published its debates, a thing which after all only the House itself was entitled to do, and tried to put a stop to this insolence by arresting the printers and then the officials who had released these printers. Of course this was unsuccessful; but the attempt shows the nature of the privileges Parliament enjoys, and its failure shows that even the House of Commons, despite its being exalted over the people, is nevertheless dependent on the latter, in other words, that the House of Commons does not rule either.

In a country where “Christianity is part and parcel of the laws of the land” the Established Church is necessarily part of the Constitution. According to her Constitution, England is essentially a Christian state, indeed a fully developed and powerful Christian state; state and church merge entirely with one another and are inseparable. This unity of church and state can however only exist in one Christian denomination, to the exclusion of all others, and these excluded sects are of course thereby branded as heretical and are victims of religious and political persecution. So it is in England. These sects were thus all along thrown together as one class, excluded, as nonconformists or dissenters, from all participation in the state, harassed and hampered in their worship and prosecuted by penal laws, The more fervently they declared themselves against the unity of church and state, the more violently was this unity defended by the ruling party and exalted to a vital concern of the state. When the Christian state in England was still in its heyday, the persecution of the dissenters and more especially of the Catholics was therefore a daily occurrence, a persecution which was admittedly less violent but more universal and persistent than that of the Middle Ages. The disease ceased to be acute and became chronic, the sudden, blood-thirsty outbursts of anti-Catholic fury were transformed into cold political calculation which sought to exterminate heterodoxy by gentler but sustained pressure. Persecution was transferred to the secular sphere and thereby made harder to bear. Disbelief in the Thirty-Nine Articles [213] ceased to be blasphemy, instead it was made a crime against the state. But the progress of history was not to be halted; the discrepancy between the legislation of 1688 and public opinion as it existed in 1828 was so great that in the latter year even the House of Commons found itself obliged to revoke the most oppressive laws against the dissenters. The Test Act and the religious clauses of the Corporation Act [214] were abolished; the emancipation of the Catholics [215] followed in the next year, despite the furious opposition of the Tories. The Tories, the exponents of the Constitution, were perfectly correct in their opposition, as not one of the liberal parties, not even the Radicals, attacked the Constitution itself. The Constitution was to remain the foundation for them too, and on the basis of the Constitution only the Tories were consistent. They realised, and said so, that the above measures would inevitably bring about the downfall of the Anglican Church and necessarily that of the Constitution too; that to give the dissenters the civil rights would mean the de facto destruction of the Anglican Church and the sanctioning of the attacks on the Anglican Church; that it is a dangerous inconsistency towards the state itself to allow a Catholic a share in administration and legislation since he recognises the authority of the Pope over the power of the state. Their arguments could not be answered by the Liberals; nevertheless, the emancipation went through and the prophecies of the Tories are already beginning to be fulfilled.

So in this way the Anglican Church has become an empty name and now only differs from the other denominations by virtue of the three million pounds it draws annually, and a few small privileges which are just sufficient to sustain the struggle against it. Amongst these are the ecclesiastical courts in which the Anglican bishop exercises sole but quite unimportant jurisdiction and whose oppressiveness consists particularly in the law costs; and then there are also the local church rates which are used for the maintenance of the buildings available for the use of the Established Church; the dissenters come under the jurisdiction of these courts and are equally liable for payment of these rates.

But it is not just the legislation against the church but also the legislation for it which has contributed towards making the Established Church an empty name. The Church of Ireland has always been a mere name, a perfect established or government church, a complete hierarchy from the archbishop down to the vicar, lacking nothing except a congregation, and whose occupation consists in preaching, praying and singing off litanies to the empty pews. The Church of England has an audience, it is true, although it too, especially in Wales and the factory districts, has been to a considerable degree dislodged by the dissenters, but then the well-paid pastors trouble themselves little about their sheep. If you wish to bring a caste of priests into disrepute and cause its downfall, then pay it well, says Bentham, and the English and Irish churches testify to the truth of this statement. In the countryside and in the towns of England nothing is more hateful and more contemptible to the people than a Church of England parson. And in the case of as pious a people as the English, that is really saying something.

It is self-evident that the emptier and more meaningless the name of the Anglican Church becomes, the more firmly does the conservative party and indeed the confirmed constitutional party become attached to it; the separation of church and state might draw tears even from Lord John Russell; it is equally self-evident that the emptier the name becomes, the harsher and the more strongly felt does its oppressiveness become. The Irish Church particularly, because it is the most insignificant, is the most hated; it has no other purpose than to embitter the people, than to remind them that they are a subjugated people upon whom the conqueror forces his religion and his institutions.

Hence England is now at a stage of transition from a determinate to an indeterminate Christian state, to a state which bases itself not on one determinate denomination but on an indeterminate Christianity, a mean of all existing denominations. Naturally the old, determinate, Christian state defended itself against unbelief, and the Apostasy Act of 1699 punishes it with the loss even of the passive civil rights and with imprisonment; this Act has never been annulled, but is no’ longer ever applied. Another law, originating in Elizabeth’s times, lays down that anyone who fails to attend church on Sunday without a proper excuse (if I am not mistaken, even the episcopal church is laid down, because Elizabeth acknowledged no dissenting chapels) is to be made to attend it by a fine or imprisonment. In the countryside this law is still frequently applied; even here, in civilised Lancashire, a few hours travel from Manchester, there are some bigoted justices of the Peace who – as Mr. Gibson, member for Manchester, alleged a fortnight ago in the House of Commons [216] – have sentenced a large number of people, sometimes to six weeks imprisonment, for failing to attend church. However the main laws against unbelief are those which disqualify from taking an oath anyone who does not believe in a God or in any reward or punishment in the afterlife, and make blasphemy a punishable offence. Blasphemy is everything which aims to bring the Bible or the Christian religion into contempt, and equally the direct denial of the existence of God; the penalty for this is imprisonment – usually one year, and a fine.

Vorwärts! No. 80, October 5, 1844

But the indeterminate Christian state too is moving towards its downfall, even before it has been officially recognised by legislation. The Apostasy Act is, as we have said, entirely obsolete; the requirement of church attendance is likewise rather antiquated and it is only enforced in exceptional cases; the blasphemy law is likewise beginning – thanks to the fearlessness of the English Socialists and particularly of Richard Carlile – to become antiquated and is only applied here and there in particularly bigoted localities such as Edinburgh, and even a refusal of the oath is avoided where possible. The Christian party has become so weak that it realises itself that a strict operation of these law is would bring about their repeal before long, and it therefore prefers to remain passive so that the Damocles sword of Christian legislation may at least remain suspended over the heads of the unbelievers and perhaps continue to be effective as a threat and deterrent.

Apart from the political institutions proper which we have so far considered, there are several other matters which may be included in the sphere of the Constitution. There has so far been scarcely any mention of the rights of the citizen; within the Constitution strictly speaking, the individual has no rights in England. These rights exist either through custom or by virtue of individual statutes which are quite unconnected with the Constitution. We shall see how this strange separation has arisen; for the moment we move on to a critique of these rights.

The first is the right that any man may publish his opinion without hindrance and without the previous permission of the government – the freedom of the press. Taken as a whole it is true that nowhere is the freedom of the press more extensive than in England; and yet this freedom is still very limited here. The law of libel, the law of high treason and the law of blasphemy weigh heavily on the press, and if the press is rarely prosecuted, that is not due to the law but to the government’s fear of the inevitable unpopularity which would follow measures taken against the press. English newspapers of all parties commit press offences every day, both against the government and against individuals, but they are allowed to pass with impunity, until it is possible to launch a political trial, and then the occasion is used to deal with the press as well. That is how it turned out with the Chartists in 1842 and just recently with the Irish Repealers. [217] The freedom of the press in England has been living just as much on grace and favour for the past hundred years as it did in Prussia from 1842.

The second “birthright” of the Englishman is the right of popular assembly, a right which no other nation in Europe has enjoyed to date. This right, although very ancient, was subsequently made explicit in a statute as the right of the people to assemble for the purpose of discussing grievances and petitioning the legislature for their remedy. This wording contains a limitation. If no petition results from a meeting, the latter thereby acquires if not precisely an illegal character, then at least a very ambiguous one. In O'Connell’s trial the Crown particularly emphasised that the meetings which were described as illegal were not convened for the deliberation of petitions. The main limitation however is imposed by the police; the central or local government can prohibit any meeting in advance, or interrupt and dissolve it, and it has done this often enough, not just at Clontarf but actually in England in the case of Chartist and Socialist meetings.[218] This however is not considered an attack on the Englishman’s birthrights because the Chartists and Socialists are poor devils and thus have no rights; no one cares two hoots about it except the Northern Star and the New Moral World, and therefore one hears nothing about it on the Continent.

Then the right of association. All associations which pursue lawful aims by lawful means. are permitted; but in any given case, only one big society is allowed, and this may not include branch associations. The formation of societies divided into local branches, each with its own organisation, is only permitted for charitable, or pecuniary purposes in general, and may only be embarked upon in England on the issue of a certificate by an official appointed for this purpose. The Socialists obtained such a certificate for their organisation by declaring their purpose was of this nature; it was denied to the Chartists, although they copied the statutes of the socialist society word for word in their own. They are now forced to circumvent the law and are thus put in a position where a single slip of the pen by a single member of the Chartist association[219] may entangle the whole society in the snares of the law. But even apart from that, the right of association, in its full extent, is a privilege of the rich; an association needs money first of all, and it is easier for the rich Anti-Corn Law League [220] to raise hundreds of thousands than for the poor Chartist society or the Union of British Miners to meet the bare expenses of association. And an association which has no funds at its disposal is not likely to have much effect and cannot conduct any agitation.

Vorwärts! No. 83, October 16, 1844

The right of Habeas Corpus, that is, the right of any accused person (high treason constitutes an exception) to be released on bail pending the start of the trial, this much-praised right is once more a privilege of the rich. The poor man cannot offer surety and therefore must go to prison.

The last of these rights of the individual is the right of each man to be tried only by his peers, and that too is a privilege of the rich man. The poor man is not tried by his peers, he is without exception tried by his born enemies, for in England the rich and the poor are openly at war with one another. The jury must have certain qualifications, and their nature is evident from the fact that the jury list in Dublin, a city of 250,000 inhabitants, contains only 800 qualified persons. At the most recent Chartist trials at Lancaster, Warwick and Stafford [221] the workers were tried by landlords and tenant farmers, who are mostly Tories, and by manufacturers or merchants, who are mostly Whigs, but in any case they are the enemies of the Chartists and the workers. But that is not all. A so-called impartial jury does not exist. When O'Connell was tried four weeks ago in Dublin, every member of the jury, being a Protestant and Tory, was his enemy. “His peers” would have been Catholics and Repealers – and not even they, for they were his friends. A Catholic in the jury would have prevented the verdict, he would have made any verdict impossible, except an acquittal. This case is a particularly blatant example; but fundamentally it is the same in any case. Trial by jury is in essence a political and not a legal institution; but because all law is essentially political in origin, the reality of legal practice is revealed in it, and the English trial by jury, because it is the most highly developed, is the consummation of juridical mendacity and immorality. The starting point is the fiction of the “impartial juryman”; it is impressed upon the jury that they must forget everything relating to the current case that they may have heard before the trial, and judge only by the evidence brought before the Court – as though such a thing were possible. The second fiction is that of the “impartial judge”, whose task is to expound the law and bring together the arguments presented by both sides, without partiality, quite “objectively” – as though that were possible! It is moreover required of the judge that he should especially and in spite of everything exert no influence on the verdict of the jury and should not put the verdict into their mouths – in other words, he must present the premises as they need to be presented for the conclusion to be drawn; but he should not draw the conclusion himself, he may not even draw it for himself, for that would have an effect on his presentation of the premises – all these and a hundred other impossibilities, inhumanities and stupidities are demanded, simply so as decently to conceal the original stupidity and inhumanity. But there is no deceiving actual practice, in practice all this rubbish is ignored, the judge gives the jury clearly enough to understand what sort of verdict it is to pronounce, and that verdict is then regularly brought in by the obedient jury.

But next! The defendant must be protected in every way, the defendant, like the king, is sacred and inviolable and can do no wrong, in other words, he can do nothing at all, and if he does do anything, it has no validity. The defendant may confess his crime, it will avail him not at all. The law decides that he is not trustworthy; I believe it was in 1819 that a man arraigned his wife for adultery after she had confessed to her husband, during an illness she thought would prove fatal, that she had committed adultery – but the defence counsel for the wife objected that the defendant’s confession was no evidence, and the charge was dismissed. [Wade, British History London, 1838. – Note by Engels.] The sanctity of the defendant is furthermore sustained in the legal formalities which surround the English jury, and which offer such a very fertile field to the cavilling wiles of the barristers. That a trivial technical blunder can upset a whole trial verges on the incredible. In 1800 a man was found guilty of forgery but released because his defence counsel discovered before the sentence was pronounced that on the forged banknote the name was written in the abbreviated form Bartw, while in the bill of indictment Bartholomew was written in full. The judge, as I have said, accepted the objection as adequate and released the convicted man. [Ibid. – Note by Engels.] In 1827 a woman was charged with infanticide in Winchester but acquitted because in the verdict of the coroner’s jury the latter declared “upon their oath” (The jurors of our Lord the King upon their oath present that, etc a) that such and such had happened, whereas this jury of thirteen men had sworn not one oath but thirteen oaths and the verdict therefore ought to have read “upon their oaths”.[Ibid. – Note by Engels.] A year ago in Liverpool a boy who stole a handkerchief out of someone’s pocket one Sunday evening was caught in the act and arrested. His father objected that the police officer had arrested him unlawfully because there is a law which says no one may perform on Sunday the work by which he earns his living; the police, therefore, may not arrest anyone on Sunday. The judge agreed with this, but continued to examine the boy, and when the latter confessed he was a thief by profession, he was fined five shillings because he had followed his profession on a Sunday. For each of these examples I could give a hundred more, but they speak for themselves well enough. English law sanctifies the defendant and is applied against the society for whose protection it really exists. As in Sparta, it is not the crime but the stupidity with which it is committed that is punished. Any form of protection is turned against the person whom it is intended to protect; the law is intended to protect society and attacks it; it is intended to protect the defendant ‘and injures him – for it is obvious that any man who is too poor to oppose the official pettifogging with a counsel equally skilled in pettifogging has against him all the forms which were created for his protection. Any man who is too poor to provide a defence counsel or an appropriate number of witnesses has no hope in any suit that is in the least degree doubtful. Before the trial he can read only the indictment and the statements originally made to the magistrate and therefore does not know the details of what is to be brought against him (and this is most dangerous precisely for the man who is innocent); he must answer at once when the prosecutor has concluded his case and may only speak once; if he does not deal with everything, or if a witness whom he had not regarded as necessary is absent, then he is lost.

Vorwärts! No. 84, October 19, 1844

But the culmination of the whole system is the rule that the twelve jurors must be unanimous in their verdict.

They are locked in a room and are not let out until they are agreed or the judge realises that they cannot be brought to unanimity. It is however thoroughly inhuman and to such an extent contrary to human nature that it is quite ridiculous to demand that twelve people should be of exactly the same opinion on a particular issue. But it is consistent. The procedure of the Inquisition is to torture the accused physically or mentally; the jury system declares the accused sacred and tortures the witnesses with a cross-examination in no way less formidable than that of the Inquisition; it even tortures the jury; it must have a verdict, though the heavens should fall in the process; the jury is punished by imprisonment until it produces a verdict; and if it should be so capricious as to wish to adhere to its oath, a new jury is appointed, there is a retrial, and so on until either the prosecution or the jury becomes weary of the struggle and surrenders unconditionally. Proof enough that the whole legal system cannot exist without torture and is in any case barbaric. But there is no other possibility; if one wants to have mathematical certainty in matters which do not admit of such certainty, one cannot but end up in absurdity and barbarism. Practice once again brings to light what lies behind all these things; in practice the jury takes the easy way out and, there being no alternative, breaks its oath with perfect composure. In 1824, a jury in Oxford could not agree. One man said: guilty; eleven: not guilty. Finally they reached a settlement; the one dissenter wrote “guilty” on the bill of indictment and withdrew; then came the foreman with the other jurors, picked up the paper and wrote “not” in front of the word “guilty” (Wade, British History).

Another case is recounted by Fonblanque, editor of the Examiner, in his work England under Seven Administrations. In this instance too a jury could not reach a decision, and eventually the jurors had recourse to the drawing of lots; they took two straws and drew; the opinion of the. party which drew the longer straw was adopted.

While we are concerned with the legal institutions, we may examine the matter a little more closely in order to complete our survey of the legal situation in England. It is well known that the English Penal Code is the most severe in Europe. As recently as 1810 it was in no way inferior in barbarity to that of the Carolina [222]; burning, breaking on the wheel, quartering, disembowelment while the person was still alive, etc., were widely used types of punishment. Since then, it is true, the most outrageous atrocities have been abolished, but there still remain numerous instances of brutality and infamy unamended on the statute-book. The death penalty applies to seven crimes (murder, high treason, rape, sodomy, breaking and entering, robbery with violence and arson with intent to kill); only in 1837 was the formerly much more widely applicable death penalty limited to this number; and in addition, English penal law knows two forms of punishment of particularly choice barbarity – transportation, or debasement through association, and solitary confinement, or debasement through isolation. Neither could be more cruelly or more vilely chosen to ruin systematically and consistently the victims of the law physically, intellectually and morally and to reduce them to below the level of beasts. The criminal who is transported finds himself in such an abyss of degradation and loathsome bestiality that the best of men cannot but succumb there in six months; anyone who wishes to read the reports of eyewitnesses about New South Wales and Norfolk Island will agree when I maintain that everything I have said earlier falls far short of the actual truth. The prisoner in solitary confinement is driven insane; the model gaol in London, after only three months of existence, had already three lunatics to transfer to Bedlam, to say nothing of the religious mania which is still usually regarded as sanity.

The penal laws against political crimes are drawn up in almost exactly the same terms as in Prussia; particularly “exciting discontent” and “seditious language” are phrased in the same vague way which gives so much latitude to the judge and jury. In this field too the penalties are harsher than elsewhere; transportation is the main form.

If these severe penalties and these ill-defined political crimes are less significant in practice than it might seem according to the law, this is, on the one hand, a failing in the law itself, which is so confused and unclear that a clever barrister can raise objections in the defendant’s favour at every turn. English law is either common law, in other words, unwritten law such as existed at the time when statutes were first gathered and later collated by legal authorities; on the most important points this law is naturally uncertain and ambiguous; or else it is statute law, which consists of an infinite number of individual acts of Parliament gathered over five hundred years, which contradict each ‘other and represent not a “state of law”, but a state of complete lawlessness. The barrister is everything here; anyone who has wasted a lot of his time on this legal jungle, on this chaos of contradictions is all-powerful in an English law-court. The uncertainty of the law naturally led to belief in the authority of decisions taken by past judges in similar cases, and this only aggravates the uncertainty, since these decisions also contradict one another, and the outcome of the proceedings depends again on the learning and presence of mind of the barrister. On the other hand, lack of importance of English penal law is however just a matter of clemency, etc., and regard for public opinion, which the law by no means obliges the government to have; and the vigorous opposition to all law-reforms shows that the legislature is by. no means inclined to change this state of affairs. But it should never be forgotten that property rules and that in consequence this clemency is only practised towards “respectable” criminals; it is on the poor man, on the pariah, on the proletarian that the full force of the law’s barbarity descends, and no one cares a brass farthing about it.

This favouritism towards the rich is moreover explicitly stated in the law. While all serious crimes are liable to the severest penalties, fines are stipulated for almost all minor offences, fines which are of course the same for the poor and the rich but which affect the rich man little or not at all, while in nine cases out of ten the poor man cannot pay them and is then committed without more ado to the treadmill for a few months “in default of payment”. One only needs to read the police reports in the first English newspaper that comes to hand to be convinced of the truth of this statement. The maltreatment of the poor and the preferential treatment of the rich in all the courts of law is so universal, is practised so openly and brazenly, and is reported so shamelessly by the newspapers that one can rarely read a paper without being filled with indignation. Such a rich man is always treated with uncommon courtesy, and however brutal his offence may have been, “the judges are always very sorry” that they have to sentence him to what is usually a quite paltry fine. The administration of the law is in this respect still more inhuman than the law itself; “law grinds the poor and rich men rule the law” and “there is one law for the poor and another for the rich” are completely true sayings that have long since become proverbial. But how can it be otherwise? The magistrates and the jury alike are themselves rich, are chosen from the middle class and are thus biased towards their own kind and are born enemies of the poor. And if the social effect of property, which we cannot go into now, is taken into account, then indeed nobody can be surprised at such a barbaric state of affairs.

The question of direct social legislation in which this infamy culminates, will be dealt with later. [223] In any case it could not be described in its full significance at this point.

Let us summarise the conclusions of this critique of the law in England. Whatever objections may be raised to it from the viewpoint of the “constitutional state” are a matter of supreme indifference. The fact that England is not officially a democracy cannot prejudice us against her institutions. For us there is only one matter of importance: that we have found everywhere theory and practice in flagrant contradiction with each other. All the powers of the Constitution, the Crown, the House of Lords and the House of Commons, have dissolved before our eyes; we have seen that the Established Church and all the so-called birthrights of the British are empty names, that even trial by jury is in reality only an outward show, that even the law has no existence, in short, that a state, which has given itself a clearly defined legal foundation, denies and abuses this foundation. The Englishman is not free on account of the law but despite the law, if one can say at all that he is free.

We have seen furthermore what a jungle of lies and immorality follows from this state of affairs; people prostrate themselves before empty names and deny reality, they do not want to know anything about it and are reluctant to acknowledge what really exists, what they have themselves created; they deceive themselves and invent a language of conventions with artificial concepts, each of which is a parody of reality, and cling fearfully to these hollow abstractions, so as to avoid having to own to themselves that what matters in real life, in practice, are quite different things. The whole English Constitution and the whole of constitutional public opinion is nothing but a big lie which is constantly supported and concealed by a number of small lies whenever at one point or another its true nature appears a little too openly in the light of day. And even if a person comes to the realisation that the whole of this construction is but untruth and fiction, even then he still adheres to it, indeed more tenaciously than ever, so that the empty words, the few meaninglessly assembled letters, should not fall apart, for these words are after all the pivot on which the world turns, and with them the world and mankind would of necessity plunge into the darkness of chaos! One cannot but turn away in deep disgust from this tissue of blatant and concealed lies, of hypocrisy and self-deception.

Can such a state of affairs last long? There is no chance of that. The struggle of practice against theory, of reality against abstraction, of life against hollow words devoid of meaning, in short, of man against inhumanity, must he decided, and there is no question as to which side will be victorious.

The struggle is already on. The Constitution is shaken to its foundations. What form the immediate future will take emerges from what has just been said. The new, alien elements in the Constitution are democratic in nature; it will become evident that public opinion too is developing in a democratic direction; the immediate future of England will be democracy.

But what a democracy! Not that of the French Revolution, whose antithesis was the monarchy and feudalism, but the democracy whose antithesis is the middle class and property. The whole of the preceding development shows this. The middle class and property are dominant; the poor man has no rights, is oppressed and fleeced, the Constitution repudiates him and the law mistreats him; the struggle of democracy against the aristocracy in England is the struggle of the poor against the rich. The democracy towards which England is moving is a social democracy.

But democracy by itself is not capable of curing social ills. Democratic equality is a chimera, the fight of the poor against the rich cannot be fought out on a basis of democracy or indeed of politics as a whole. This stage too is thus only a transition, the last purely political remedy which has still to be tried and from which a new element is bound to develop at once, a principle transcending everything of a political nature.

This principle is the principle of socialism.