Karl Marx in Die Presse 1861

From The Crisis in England


Source: Marx and Engels on Ireland, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1971;
First Published: in German in Die Presse, November 6, 1861;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

The Crisis in England” was one of 52 articles published by Marx in the Viennese newspaper Die Presse between October 1861 and the end of 1862.

Today, as fifteen years ago, England faces a catastrophe which threatens to undermine the foundation of her entire economic system. Potatoes as is known were almost the only food of the Irish and of a considerable part of the English working population when the potato blight of 1845 and 1846 struck the Irish root of life with rot. The results of that big catastrophe are well known. The Irish population decreased by two millions, some of whom starved, while others fled across the Atlantic. At the same time, this enormous calamity promoted the victory of the English Free-Trade party; the English landed aristocracy was compelled to sacrifice one of its most profitable monopolies, and the Repeal of the Corn Laws[80] ensured a wider and sounder basis for the reproduction and maintenance of the working millions.

What the potato was to Irish agriculture, cotton is to the dominant branch of Great Britain’s industry. On its processing depends the subsistence of a mass of the population which is greater than the whole population of Scotland or two-thirds of the present population of Ireland. According to the 1861 census, the population of Scotland was 3,061,117, and that of Ireland only 5,764,543, while more than four million people in England and Scotland live directly or indirectly on the cotton industry. True, the cotton plant has not contracted any disease. Neither is its production the monopoly of a few areas of the world. On the contrary, no other plant providing material for clothing thrives on such extensive areas in America, Asia and Africa.. The cotton monopoly of the slave-owning states of the American Union is not natural, but historically shaped. It grew and developed simultaneously with the monopoly of the English cotton industry on the world market. ...

Suddenly the American Civil War threatens this mainstay of English industry. While the Union blockades the ports of the Southern States to prevent the export of this year’s cotton harvest and thereby cut off the secessionists’ main source of income, the Confederation imparts compulsive force to this blockade merely by its decision not to export a single bale of cotton voluntarily and, moreover, to force England to come and fetch cotton herself from the southern ports. England is to be driven to break through the blockade by force, to declare war on the Union, and thus to throw her sword on the scales in favour of the slave-owning states.


Die Presse was an Austrian bourgeois daily of a liberal trend. It appeared between 1848 and 1896 with small interruptions. In the early sixties it took an anti-Bonapartist stand in foreign policy questions and opposed the reactionary course of the quasi-constitutionalist government of the Austrian Empire.

80. Corn Laws — the high import tariffs on corn, aimed at limiting or prohibiting the import of corn to England — were introduced in 1815 in the interests of the big landlords. The struggle over the Corn Laws between the industrial bourgeoisie and the landed aristocracy ended in 1846 with the passing by the Peel Government of a Repeal Bill. This was a heavy blow to the landed aristocracy and promoted the development of capitalism in England.