The Association for Administrative Reform. People's Charter
|Written||5 June 1855|
Marked with the sign x
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.240-244), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
This article was first published in English under the heading "The Association for Administrative Reform. People's Charter" in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, On Britain, Moscow. 1962.
London, June 5. The Association for Administrative Reform has gained a victory in Bath. Its candidate, Mr. Tite, has been elected a Member of Parliament by a large majority against the Tory candidate. This victory, gained on the territory of its "legal" country, is being celebrated as a great event by today's Liberal papers. Bulletins about the poll are being published with no less ostentation than those about the bloodless successes on the Sea of Azov. Bath and Kerch! is the motto of the day. But the press—pro-reform and anti-reform, Ministerial, Opposition, Tory, Whig and Radical papers alike—says nothing about the defeats and disappointments which the Association for Administrative Reform has suffered in the last few days in London, Birmingham and Worcester. To be sure, this time the battle was not fought on the well defined territory of a privileged electoral body. Nor were its results such as to draw cries of triumph from the opponents of the City reformers.
The first truly public meeting (i.e., one without admission tickets) which the Reform Association held in London took place in Marylebone last Wednesday. One of the Chartists countered the resolutions of the City reformers by moving the amendment
"that the money aristocracy represented by the City men is as bad as the landed aristocracy; that, under the pretext of reform, it merely wants to climb, on the shoulders of the people, into Downing Street, and there to share offices, salaries and ranks with the oligarchs; that the Charter with its five points is the only programme of the people's movement".
The chairman of the meeting, one of the City illuminati, voiced a number of misgivings, first, whether he should put the amendment to the vote at all, then, whether he should first take a vote on the resolution or on the amendment, and lastly, how he should take the vote. The audience, being tired of his indecision, tactical considerations and troublesome manoeuvres, declared him incapable of presiding further, called on Ernest Jones to replace him in the chair, and voted by a vast majority against the resolution and for the amendment. In Birmingham, the City Association called a public meeting in the Town Hall with the Mayor in the chair. The resolution proposed by the Association was countered by an amendment similar to that moved in London. The Mayor, however, flatly refused to put the amendment to the vote unless the word "Charter" was replaced by a less objection-able one. If not, he would withdraw from the chair, he said. The word "Charter" was therefore replaced by "universal suffrage and voting by ballot". Thus edited, the amendment was passed by a majority of 10 votes. In Worcester, where the City reformers held a public meeting, the victory of the Chartists and the defeat of the Administrative Reformers were even more complete. There the Charter was proclaimed without more ado.
The extremely embarrassing success of these large meetings in London, Birmingham and Worcester decided the Administrative Reformers to circulate in all the bigger and more populous towns petitions to be signed by people holding similar views, rather than to make public appeals to the vox populi. The City notables' manifold links with businessmen in the United Kingdom, and the influence these gentlemen exert upon their clerks, warehousemen and "minor" commercial friends will no doubt enable them to fill the petitions with names very quietly, behind the back of the public, and then to send them to the "Honourable House" with the label, Voice of the People of England. But they are mistaken if they think they can intimidate the Government with signatures collected by cadging, intrigue and stealth. The Government observed with ironical self-satisfaction that the Administrative Reformers were hissed out of the theatrum mundi. Its organs are silent for the time being, partly because they would otherwise have to register the successes of Chartism, and partly because the ruling class is already toying with the idea of putting itself at the head of the Administrative Reformers should the people's movement become importunate. They keep a "misunderstanding" in reserve should this danger set in: a misunderstanding allowing them sometime in the future to regard the Administrative Reformers as the spokesmen of the masses. Such, misunderstandings are an essential element of England's "historical" development, and no one is more familiar with handling them than the free-thinking Whigs.
The Charter is a very laconic document; besides the demand for universal suffrage, it contains only the following five points, which are all prerequisites for exercising it: 1) vote by ballot; 2) no property qualifications for Members of Parliament; 3) payment of Members of Parliament; 4) annual Parliaments; 5) equal electoral districts. After the experiments which undermined universal suffrage in France in 1848, the continentals are prone to underrate the importance and meaning of the English Charter. They overlook the fact that two-thirds of the population of France are peasants and over one-third townspeople, whereas in England more than two-thirds live in towns and less than one-third in the countryside. Hence the results of universal suffrage in England must likewise be in inverse proportion to the results in France, just as town and country are in the two states. This explains the diametrically opposite character which the demand for universal suffrage has assumed in France and England. In France the political ideologists put forward this demand, which every "educated" person could support to a greater or lesser extent, depending on his convictions. In England it is a distinguishing feature roughly separating the aristocracy and bourgeoisie on the one hand, and the people, on the other. There it is regarded as a political question and here, as a social one. In England agitation for universal suffrage had gone through a period of historical development before it became the slogan of the masses. In France, it was first introduced and then started on its historical path. In France it was the practice of universal suffrage that failed, whereas in England it was its ideology. In the early decades of this century, universal suffrage as propounded by Sir Francis Burdett, Major Cartwright and Cobbett was still a very vague and idealistic concept, so that it could become the pious wish of all sections of the population that did not belong directly to the ruling classes. For the bourgeoisie, it was in fact simply an eccentric, generalised expression of what it had attained through the parliamentary reform of 1831. In England the demand for universal suffrage did not assume its concrete, specific character even after 1838. Proof: Hume and O'Connell were among those who signed the Charter. The last illusions disappeared in 1842. At that time Lovett made a last but futile attempt to formulate universal suffrage as a common demand of what are known as Radicals and the masses of the people. Since that day there has no longer been any doubt about the meaning of universal suffrage. Nor about its name. It is the Charter of the people and implies the assumption of political power as a means of satisfying their social needs. Universal suffrage, which was regarded as the motto of universal brotherhood in the France of 1848, has become a battle cry in England. There universal suffrage was the direct content of the revolution; here, revolution is the direct content of universal suffrage. An examination of the history of universal suffrage in England will show that it casts off its idealistic features. at the same rate as modern society with its immense contradictions develops in this country, contradictions that are produced by industrial progress.
Alongside the official and semi-official parties, as well as alongside the Chartists, there is another clique of "wise men" emerging in England, who are discontented with the Government and the ruling classes as much as with the Chartists. What do the Chartists want? they exclaim. They want to increase and extend the omnipotence of Parliament by elevating it to democratic power. They are not breaking up parliamentarism but are raising it to a higher power. The right thing to do is to break up the representative system! A wise man from the East, David Urquhart, heads that clique. He wants to revert to England's Common Law. He wants to squeeze Statute Law back into its bounds. He wants to localise rather than centralise. He wants to unearth "the true old legal sources of Anglo-Saxon times" from the rubbish. Then they will gush forth of themselves and will water and fertilise the surrounding country. But David is at least consistent. He also wants to reduce modern division of labour and concentration of capital to the old Anglo-Saxon level or, preferably, to that of the Orient. A Highlander by birth, an adoptive Circassian and a Turk by free choice, he is able to condemn civilisation with all its evils, and even to evaluate it from time to time. But he is not trite like the men with lofty ideas who separate the modern political forms from modern society, and who prattle about local autonomy combined with concentration of capital, and about the uniqueness of the individual combined with the anti-individualising division of labour. David is a prophet who looks backwards, and is in an old-fashioned way enraptured by old England. He must therefore consider it quite all right that new England passes him by and leaves him behind, however urgent and persuasive he may be exclaiming: "David Urquhart is the only man who can save you ! " As he did only a few days ago, at a meeting in Stafford.
- The Association for Administrative Reform was set up in London in May 1855 on the initiative of liberal circles in the City. Taking advantage of the outcry caused in the country by press reports and the findings of the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry on the plight of the British army in the Crimea, the Association hoped by means of mass rallies to bring pressure to bear on Parliament and win broader access for members of the commercial and finance bourgeoisie to government posts, monopolised by the aristocracy. In their campaign the Association's leaders sought to obtain the support of the Chartists. However, at rallies organised by the Association and at their own rallies the Chartists refused to back the moderate bourgeois demands for administrative reform and instead urged a Parliamentary reform based on the People's Charter (*). The administrative reform campaign was a failure, and the Association soon ceased to exist. In his subsequent reports Marx frequently touched on the Association's activities and relations with the Chartists.
(*) The People's Charter, which contained the demands of the Chartists, was published in the form of a Parliamentary Bill on May 8, 1838. It contained six points: universal suffrage (for men of 21 and over), annual parliaments, vote by ballot, equal electoral districts, abolition of the property qualification of MPs and payment of MPs. Petitions urging the adoption of the People's Charter were turned down by Parliament in 1839, 1842 and 1848.
- Q. C. Whateley.—Ed.
- Marx uses the English word.—Ed.
- May 30, 1855. A report on the meeting was published in The People's Paper, No. 161, June 2, 1855.—Ed.
- H. Farrer.—Ed.
- The meeting was held on May 21, 1855. A report on it was published in The People's Paper, No. 160, May 26, 1855.—Ed.
- The meeting was held at the end of May. A report on it appeared in The People's Paper, No. 161, June 2, 1855.—Ed.
- Marx uses the English word.—Ed.
- The alignment of class forces in France after the defeat of the uprising of Paris workers in June 1848 enabled the Bonapartist circles to take advantage of universal suffrage in order to get Louis Napoleon elected President (December 10, 1848). On May 31, 1850, the French Legislative Assembly abolished universal suffrage. Louis Napoleon demagogically used the slogan of its restoration in staging his coup d'état on December 2, 1851. An analysis of these events is given in Marx's The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850 and The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.
- In 1842 the radical and liberal Free-Trade circles made several attempts to enlist the working-class movement in the campaign for the repeal of the Corn Laws and for moderate reforms. To distract the workers from the struggle for the implementation of the Chartists' social- and political programme, they put forward the vague demand for "full suffrage". With the aid of some conciliatory Chartist leaders (Lovett, Vincent and others) the radicals succeeded in convening in Birmingham two conferences of representatives of the bourgeoisie and Chartists (in April and December 1842) which discussed joint campaigns for electoral reform. However, on December 27 the Chartist majority at the conferences rejected the proposal to replace the People's Charter with a new "Bill of Rights" and the demand for "full suffrage". From then onwards the Charter was the exclusive demand of the proletarian masses.
- Marx uses the English terms "Common Law" and "Statute Law" and explains their meaning in German in brackets.—Ed.