Attempts to Form a New Opposition Party

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 16 October 1852


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Written on October 16, 1852
First published in the New York Daily Tribune, No. 3622, November 25,
and the Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 783, November 26, 1852
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 11 (pp.273-277), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979
Reproduced from the New York Daily Tribune
Collection(s): New York Tribune
Keywords : Chartism, England, Politics

In the New York Daily Tribune this article was published without a title in the section "England". Originally, this article and "Political Parties and Prospects" formed a single article written in German and sent by Marx to Engels in Manchester on October 16, 1852 to be translated into English. Engels divided the material into two articles. When Marx sent them to New York he dated the first article November 2, 1852, and the second November 9, 1852.

London, Tuesday, November 9, 1852

In the same measure as the hitherto predominating parties dissolve themselves, and as their distinctive marks ate effaced, the want of a new opposition party is felt, as a matter of course. This want finds an expression in different ways.

Lord John Russell, in his already quoted speech, takes the lead. Part of the alarm raised by Lord Derby, he says, had sprung from the rumors that he, Lord J. Russell, had adopted "highly democratical opinions." "Well, I need not say on that subject that this rumor was totally unfounded; that it has no circumstances on which it rested." Nevertheless, he pronounces himself a Democrat, and then explains the harmless meaning of the word:

"The people of this country are, in other words, the Democracy of the country. Democracy has as fair a right to the enjoyment of its rights as monarchy or nobility. Democracy does not mean to diminish any of the prerogatives of the Crown. Democracy does not attempt to take away any of the lawful privileges of the House of Lords. What, then, is this Democracy? The growth of wealth, the growth of intellect, the forming of opinions more enlightened and more calculated to carry on in an enlightened manner the Government of the world. But I will say more. I will say that the manner of dealing with that increase of the position of the Democracy could not be according to the old system of restraint with which I was but too familiar. On the contrary, Democracy ought to be maintained and encouraged, there ought to be given a legitimate and legal organ to that power and influence."

"Lord John Russell," exclaims The Morning Herald in reply, "has one set of principles for office and another set of principles for opposition. When in office, his principle is to do nothing, and when out of office, to pledge himself to everything."

What in all the world may The Morning Herald mean by "nothing," if it calls the above trash, pronounced by Lord John Russell, "everything!" and if it menaces little John Russell, for his king-loving, lords-respecting, bishop-conserving "Democracy," with the fate of Frost, Williams & Co.! But the humor of the thing is that Lord Derby, in the House of Lords, announces himself as the prominent opponent of "Democracy," and speaks of Democracy as of the only party against which it is worthwhile to struggle[1]. And in steps the inevitable John Russell with an examination of what this Democracy is, viz., the growth of wealth, of the intellect of this wealth, and of its claims to influence Government through public opinion and through legal organs. Thus, then, Democracy is nothing but the claims of the Bourgeoisie, the industrious and commercial middle class. Lord Derby stands up as the opponent, Lord John Russell volunteers as the standard-bearer of this Democracy. Both of them agree in the implicit confession, that the ancient feuds within their own class, the aristocracy, are no longer of any interest to the country. And Russell is quite prepared to drop the name of Whig for that of Democrat, if this be the conditio sine qua non for turning his opponents out. The Whigs, in this case, would in fact continue to play the same part, and appear officially as the servants of the middle class. Thus, Russell's plan of a party reorganisation is confined to the adoption of a new party name.

Joseph Hume, too, considers the formation of a new "people's party" a necessity. But he says that on tenant-right and similar propositions it cannot be formed. "On these matters you could not muster a hundred out of the 654 members to unite." What, then, is his nostrum?

"The people's league or party, or union, must agree on one point—say the ballot; and after carrying that one point, proceed from step to step to other points. And while the movement must begin with a few individual[2] members of the House of Commons, it cannot succeed until the people out of doors and the electors shall see the necessity of doing their part, and of giving support to the small party of the people in Parliament."[3]

This same Hume was one of the drawers-up of the People's Charter[4]. From the People's Charter and its six points, he retreated to the "little Charter" of the financial and parliamentary reformers with only three points[5], and now we see him reduced to one point, the ballot. What success he promises to himself from his new nostrum, he will tell us himself in the concluding words of his letter to The Hull Advertiser:

"Tell me how many editors will risk to give their support to a party that, as Parliament is now composed, can never succeed to power?"

Now, as this new party does not mean to change for the present anything in the composition of Parliament, but confines itself to the ballot, it will, by its own confession, never succeed to power. What is the good - of forming a party of impotence, and of openly confessed impotence?

Next to Joseph Hume, there is another attempt made for the creation of a new party. This is the so-called National Party. Instead of the People's Charter, this party would make universal suffrage its exclusive shibboleth, and thus leave out those very conditions which can alone make the movement for universal suffrage a national movement and secure to it popular support. I shall hereafter have occasion to recur to this National Party. It consists of ex-Chartists who wish to conquer respectability for themselves, and of Radicals, middle-class ideologists, who wish to get hold of the Chartist movement. Behind them whether "Nationals" are aware of it or not you find the parliamentary and financial reformers, the men of the Manchester School, urging them on and using them as their vanguard.

Now, what cannot but be evident to everyone in all these miserable compromises and backslidings, these huntings after weakly expediency, these vacillations and quack nostra, is this: Catiline is at the gates of the city[6], a decisive struggle is drawing near, the opposition knows its unpopularity, its incapacity for resistance, and all the attempts at the formation of new centers of defense agree in one point only, in a "going backwards policy." The "National Party" retreats from the Charter to General Suffrage, Joe Hume from General Suffrage to the ballot, a third from the ballot to the equalization of electoral districts, and so forth, until at last we arrive at Johnny Russell, who has nothing to give out for a battle-cry but the mere name of democracy. Lord j. Russell's Democracy would be, practically speaking, the ultimatum of the National Party, of Hume's "people's party," and of all the other party shams, if any one of them had anything like vitality about it.

But on the one hand, the political flaccidity and indifference consequent upon a period of material prosperity, on the other hand the conviction that nevertheless the Tories are menacing mischief—on the one hand, the certainty on the part of the Bourgeois leaders that they will very soon require the people to back them, on the other hand the knowledge acquired by some popular leaders that the people are too indolent to create, for the moment, a movement of their own all these circumstances produce the phenomenon that parties attempt to make themselves acceptable to each other, and that the different factions of the opposition out of Parliament attempt a union by making to each other concessions, from the most advanced faction downwards until at last they again arrive at what Lord J. Russell is pleased to call democracy.

Of the attempts at creating a self-styled "National Party," Ernest Jones justly remarks:

"The People's Charter is the most comprehensive measure of political reform in existence, and the Chartists are the only truly national party of political and social reformers in Great Britain."[7]

And R. G. Gammage, one of the members of the Chartist Executive[8], thus addresses the people:

"Would you then refuse the co-operation of the middle classes? Certainly not, if that co-operation is offered on fair and honorable terms. And what are these terms? They are easy and simple; adopt the Charter, and having adopted that Charter, unite with its friends who are already organized for its achievement. If you refuse to do this, you must either be opposed to the Charter itself, or, piqueing yourselves upon your class superiority, you must imagine that superiority to entitle you to leadership. In the first case, no honest Chartist can unite with you, in the second, no working man ought so far to lose his self-respect as to succumb to your class prejudices. Let the working men trust their own power alone, receiving honest aid from whatever sources, but acting as though their salvation depended upon their own exertions."[9]

The mass of the Chartists, too, are at the present moment absorbed by material production; but on all points the nucleus of the party is reorganized, and the communications re-established, in England as well as in Scotland, and in the event of a commercial and political crisis, the importance of the present noiseless activity at the headquarters of Chartism will be felt all over Great Britain.

  1. See Derby's speech in the House of Lords on March 15, 1852, The Times, No. 21064, March 16, 1852.—Ed.
  2. The Hull Advertiser has here "Radical".—Ed.
  3. Joseph Hume, Letter to The Hull Advertiser, September 15, 1852, The Hull Advertiser, September 24, 1852. Below the same letter is quoted.—Ed.
  4. The People's Charter, which contained the demands of the Chartists, was published on May 8, 1838, in the form of a Bill to be submitted to Parliament. It consisted of six points: universal suffrage (for men of 21 years of age), annual elections to Parliament, secret ballot, equal constituencies, abolition of property qualifications for candidates to Parliament, and salaries for M.P.s. In 1839 and 1842 petitions for the Charter were rejected by Parliament.
  5. This is a reference to the representatives of a radical political trend among the Free Traders who founded the National Parliamentary and Financial Reform Association in 1849. The Association campaigned for the so-called Little Charter, a reform Bill repeatedly introduced in Parliament by the bourgeois-radical leader Joseph Hume from 1849 to 1851. As distinct from the Chartist People's Charter, the Little Charter consisted of three points containing demands for household suffrage, three-yearly elections to Parliament and voting by ballot. By opposing their programme to that of the Chartists and at the same time borrowing some of their demands from them, though in a rather curtailed form, the bourgeois radicals hoped to influence the workers during the decline of the Chartist movement. But the majority of the politically active English workers did not support the Little Charter, except for the reformist elements in the Chartist movement including Feargus O'Connor's followers who had degenerated into a reformist sect. The Association ceased to exist in 1855. p. 375
  6. The expression "Catiline is at the gates of the city" ("Catilina est aux portes") belongs to Goupil de Préfelne, a deputy of the French Constituent Assembly of 1789, and is a paraphrased ancient Roman expression of the period of the Second Punic War: "Hannibal ad partes.—Ed.
  7. Ernest Jones, "The Race of Shams", The People's Paper, No. 23, October 9, 1852.—Ed.
  8. The reference is to the Executive Committee, the leading body of the National Charter Association founded in July 1840. This Association was the first mass workers' party in the history of the working-class movement, numbering up to 50,000 members at its peak. The Executive Committee was elected at congresses and conferences of delegates. After the defeat of the Chartists in 1848 and the ensuing split in their ranks the Association lost its mass character. However, under the leadership of Ernest Jones and other revolutionary Chartists it fought in 1851-52 for the revival of Chartism on a revolutionary basis, for the adoption of the People's Charter, and for the socialist principles proclaimed by the Chartist Convention in 1851. It ceased its activities in 1858.
  9. Robert George Gammage, "Respectable Democracy", The People's Paper, No. 23, October 9, 1852.—Ed.