Karl Marx in New-York Tribune 1859

From Population, Crime and Pauperism


Source: Marx and Engels on Ireland, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1971;
First Published: in New-York Daily Tribune, September 16, 1859;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

There must be something rotten in the very core of a social system which increases its wealth without diminishing its misery, and increases in crimes even more rapidly than in numbers. It is true enough that, if we compare the year 1855 with the preceding years, there seems to have occurred a sensible decrease of crime from 1855 to 1858. The total number of people committed for trial, which in 1854 amounted to 29,359, had sunk down to 17,855 in 1858; and the number of convicted had also greatly fallen off, if not quite in the same ratio. This apparent decrease of crime, however, since 1854, is to be exclusively attributed to some technical changes in British jurisdiction; to the Juvenile Offenders’ Act[77] in the first instance, and, in the second instance, to the operation of the Criminal Justice Act of 1855, which authorises the Police Magistrates to pass sentences for short periods, with the consent of the prisoners. Violations of the law are generally the offspring of economical agencies beyond the control of the legislator, but, as the working of the Juvenile Offenders’ Act testifies, it depends to some degree on official society to stamp certain violations of its rules as crimes or as transgressions only. This difference of nomenclature, so far from being indifferent, decides on the fate of thousands of men, and the moral tone of society. Law itself may not only punish crime, but improvise it, and the law of professional lawyers is very apt to work in this direction. Thus, it has been justly remarked by an eminent historian, that the Catholic clergy of the medieval times, with its dark views of human nature, introduced by its influence into criminal legislation, has created more crimes than forgiven sins.

Strange to say, the only part of the United Kingdom in which crime has seriously decreased, say by 50, and even by 75 per cent, is Ireland. How can we harmonise this fact with the public-opinion slang of England, according to which Irish nature, instead of British misrule, is responsible for Irish shortcomings? It is, again, no act on the part of the British ruler, but simply the consequence of a famine,[78] an exodus, and a general combination of circumstances favourable to the demand for Irish labour, that has worked this happy change in Irish nature. However that may be, the significance of the following tabular statements cannot be misunderstood:

 I. — Crimes in Ireland.
— Committed for Trial —
II. — Paupers in Ireland.
YearsNo of
PaupersYearsNo. of


77. The reference is to the setting up in England in 1854 of corrective schools to which juvenile delinquents, aged from 12 to 16, were sent for crimes which according to former laws were punishable by short-term imprisonment.

78. In 1845-47 a grievous famine blighted Ireland due to the ruin of farms and the pauperisation of the peasants, who were cruelly exploited by the English landlords. Although there was a great dearth of potatoes, the principal diet of the Irish peasants, the English landlords continued to export food from the country, condemning the poorest sections of the population to starvation. About a million people starved to death and the new wave of emigration caused by the famine carried away another million. As a result large districts of Ireland were depopulated and the abandoned land was turned into pastures by the Irish and English landlords.