The Chartists (August 10, 1852)
|Written||2 August 1852|
First published: in the New York Daily Tribune, August 25 1852.
London, Tuesday, August 10, 1852[edit source]
While the Tories, the Whigs, the Peelites — in fact, all the parties we have hitherto commented upon — belong more or less to the past, the Free Traders (the men of the Manchester School, the Parliamentary and Financial Reformers) are the official representatives of modern English society, the representatives of that England which rules the market of the world. They represent the party of the self-conscious Bourgeoisie, of industrial capital striving to make available its social power as a political power as well, and to eradicate the last arrogant remnants of feudal society. This party is led on by the most active and most energetic portion of the English Bourgeoisie — the manufacturers. What they demand is the complete and undisguised ascendancy of the Bourgeoisie, the open, official subjection of society at large under the laws of modern, Bourgeois production, and under the rule of those men who are the directors of that production. By Free Trade they mean the unfettered movement of capital, freed from all political, national and religious shackles. The soil is to be a marketable commodity’ and the exploitation of the soil is to be carried on according to the common commercial laws. There are to be manufacturers of food as well as manufacturers of twist and cottons, but no longer any lords of the land. There are, in short, not to be tolerated any political or social restrictions, regulations or monopolies, unless they proceed from “the eternal laws of political economy,” that is, from the conditions under which Capital produces and distributes. The struggle of this party against the old English institutions, products of a superannuated, an evanescent stage of social development, is resumed in the watchword: Produce as cheap as you can, and do away with all the faux frais of production (with all superfluous, unnecessary expenses in production). And this watchword is addressed not only to the private individual, but to the nation at large principally.
Royalty, with its “barbarous splendors,” its court, its civil list and its flunkeys — what else does it belong to but to the faux frais of production? The nation can produce and exchange without royalty; away with the crown. The sinecures of the nobility, the House of Lords? faux frais of production. The large standing army? faux frais of production. The Colonies? faux frais of production. The State Church, with its riches, the spoils of plunder or of mendicity? faux frais of production. Let parsons compete freely with each other, and everyone pay them according to his own wants. The whole circumstantial routine of English Law, with its Court of Chancery? faux frais of production. National wars? faux frais of production. England can exploit foreign nations more cheaply while at peace with them.
You see, to these champions of the British Bourgeoisie, to the men of the Manchester School, every institution of Old England appears in the light of a piece of machinery as costly as it is useless, and which fulfils no other purpose than to prevent the nation from producing the greatest possible quantity at the least possible expense, and to exchange its products in freedom. Necessarily, their last word is the Bourgeois Republic, in which free competition rules supreme in all spheres of life; in which there remains altogether that minimum only of government which is indispensable for the administration, internally and externally, of the common class interest and business of the Bourgeoisie; and where this minimum of government is as soberly, as economically organized as possible. Such a party, in other countries, would be called democratic. But it is necessarily revolutionary, and the complete annihilation of Old England as an aristocratic country is the end which it follows up with more or less consciousness. Its nearest object, however, is the attainment of a Parliamentary reform which should transfer to its hands the legislative power necessary for such a revolution.
But the British Bourgeois are not excitable Frenchmen. When they intend to carry a Parliamentary reform they will not make a Revolution of February. On the contrary. Having obtained, in 1846, a grand victory over the landed aristocracy by the repeal of the Corn Laws, they were satisfied with following up the material advantages of this victory, while they neglected to draw the necessary political and economical conclusions from it, and thus enabled the Whigs to reinstate themselves into their hereditary monopoly of government. During all the time, from 1846 to 1852, they exposed themselves to ridicule by their battle-cry: Broad principles and practical (read small) measures. And why all this? Because in every violent movement they are obliged to appeal to the working class. And if the aristocracy is their vanishing opponent the working class is their arising enemy. They prefer to compromise with the vanishing opponent rather than to strengthen the arising enemy, to whom the future belongs, by concessions of a more than apparent importance. Therefore, they strive to avoid every forcible collision’ with the aristocracy; but historical necessity and the Tories press them onwards. They cannot avoid fulfilling their mission, battering to pieces Old England, the England of the Past; and the very moment when they will have conquered exclusive political dominion, when political dominion and economical supremacy will be united in the same hands, when, therefore, the struggle against capital will no longer be distinct from the struggle against the existing Government — from that very moment will date the social revolution of England.
We now come to the Chartists, the politically active portion of the British working class. The six points of the Charter which they contend for contain nothing but the demand of Universal Suffrage, and of the conditions without which Universal Suffrage would be illusory for the working class; such as the ballot, payment of members, annual general elections. But Universal Suffrage a is the equivalent for political power for the working class of England, where the proletariat forms the large majority of the population, where, in a long, though underground civil war, it has gained a clear consciousness of its position as a class, and where even the rural districts know no longer any peasants, but only landlords, industrial capitalists (farmers) and hired laborers. The carrying of Universal Suffrage in England would, therefore, be a far more socialistic measure than anything which has been honored with that name on the Continent.
Its inevitable result, here, is the political supremacy of the working class.
I shall report, on another occasion, on the revival and the reorganization of the Chartist Party. For the present I have only to treat of the recent election.
To he a voter for the British Parliament, a man must occupy, in the Boroughs, a house rated at £10 to the poor’s-rate, and, in the counties, he must be a freeholder to the annual amount of 40 shillings, or a leaseholder to the amount of £50. From this statement alone it follows, that the Chartists could take, officially, but little part in the electoral battle just concluded. In order to explain the actual part they took in it, I must recall to mind a peculiarity of the British electoral system:
Nomination day and Declaration day! Show of hands and Poll!
When the candidates have made their appearance on the day of election, and have publicly harangued the people, they are elected, in the first instance, by the show of hands, and every hand has the right to be raised, the hand of the non-elector. as well as that of the elector. For whomsoever the majority of the hands are raised, that person is declared, by the returning officer, to be (provisionally) elected by show of hands. But now the medal shows its reverse. The election by show of hands was a mere ceremony, an act of formal politeness toward the “sovereign people,” and the politeness ceases as soon as privilege is menaced. For if the show of hands does not return the candidates of the privileged electors, these candidates demand a polls only the privileged electors can take part in the poll, and whosoever has there the majority of votes is declared duly elected. The first election, by show of hands, is a show satisfaction allowed, for a moment, to public opinion, in order to convince it, the next moment, the more strikingly of its impotency.
It might appear that this election by show of hands, this dangerous formality, had been invented in order to ridicule universal suffrage, and to enjoy some little aristocratic fun at the expense of the “rabble” (expression of Major Beresford, Secretary of War). But this would be a delusion, and the old usage, common originally to all Teutonic nations, could drag itself traditionally down to the nineteenth century, because it gave to the British class-Parliament, cheaply and without danger, an appearance of popularity. The ruling classes drew from this usage the satisfaction that the mass of the people took part, with more or less passion, in their sectional interests as its national interests. And it was only since the Bourgeoisie took an independent station at the side of the two official parties, the Whigs and Tories, that the working masses stood up, on the nomination days, in their. own name. But in no former year has the contrast of show of hands and poll, of Nomination day and Declaration day, been so serious, so well defined by opposed principles, so threatening, so general, upon the whole surface of the country, as in this last election of 1852.
And what a contrast! It was sufficient to be named by show of hands in order to be beaten at the poll. It was sufficient to have had the majority at a poll, in order to be saluted, by the people, with rotten apples and brickbats. The duly elected members of Parliament, before all, had a great deal to do, in order to keep their own parliamentary bodily selves in safety. On one side the majority of the people, on the other the twelfth part of the whole population, and the fifth part of the sum total of the male adult inhabitants of the country. On one side enthusiasm, on the other bribery. On one side parties disowning their own distinctive signs, Liberals pleading the conservatism, Conservatives proclaiming the liberalism of the views; on the other, the people, proclaiming their presence and pleading their own cause. On one side a worn-out engine which, turning incessantly in its vicious circle, is never able to move a single step forward, and the impotent process of friction by which all the official parties gradually grind each other into dust; on the other, the advancing mass of the nation, threatening to blow up the vicious circle and to destroy the official engine.
1 shall not follow up, over all the surface of the country, this contrast between nomination and poll, of the threatening electoral demonstration of the working class, and the timid electioneering manoeuvres of the ruling classes. I take one borough from the mass, where the contrast is concentrated in a focus: the Halifax election. Here the opposing candidates were: Edwards (Tory); Sir Charles Wood (late Whig Chancellor of the Exchequer, brother-in-law to Earl Grey); Frank Crossley (Manchester man); and finally Ernest iones, the most talented, consistent and energetic representative of Chartism. Halifax being a manufacturing town, the Tory had little chance. The Manchester man Crossley was leagued with the Whigs. The serious struggle, then, lay only between Wood and Jones, between the Whig and the Chartist.
“Sir Charles Wood made a speech of about half an hour, perfectly inaudible at the commencement, and, during its latter half, for the disapprobation of the immense multitude. His speech, as reported by the reporter, who sat close to him, was merely a recapitulation of the Free Trade measures passed, and an attack on Lord Derby’s Government, and a laudation of ‘the unexampled prosperity of the country and the people!’ — [Hear, hear.] He did not propound one single new measure of reform; and but faintly, in very few words, hinted at Lord John Russell’s bill for the franchise.”
1 give a more extensive abstract of E. Jones’s speech, as you will not find it in any of the great London ruling-class papers.
“Ernest Jones, who was received with immense enthusiasm, then spoke as follows: Electors and Non-electors, you have met upon a great and solemn festival. To-day, the Constitution recognizes Universal Suffrage in theory that it may, perhaps, deny it in practice on the morrow. To-day the representatives of two systems stand before you, and you have to decide beneath which you shall be ruled for seven years. Seven years-a little life! I summon you to pause upon the threshold of those seven years: to-day they shall pass slowly and calmly in review before you: to-day decide, you 20,000 men, that perhaps five hundred may undo your will to-morrow. [Hear, hear.] I say the representatives of two systems stand before you. Whig, Tory, and money-mongers are on my left, it is true, but they are all as one. The money-monger says, buy cheap and sell dear. The Tory says, buy dear, sell clearer. Both are the same for labor. But the former system is in the ascendant, and pauperism rankles at its root. That system is based on foreign competition. Now, I assert, that under the buy cheap and sell dear principle, brought to bear on foreign competition, the ruin of the working and-small trading classes must go on. Why? Labor is the creator of all wealth. A man must work before a grain is grown, or a yarn is woven. But there is no self-employment for the working-man in this country. Labor is a hired commodity-labor is a thing in the market that is bought and sold; consequently, as labor creates all wealth, labor is the first thing bought-'Buy cheap! buy cheap!’ Labor is bought in the cheapest market. But now comes the next: ‘Sell dear! sell dear!’ Sell what? Labor’s produce. To whom? To the foreigner-aye! and to the laborer himself-for labor, not being self-employed, the laborer is not the partaker of the first fruits of his toil. ‘Buy cheap, sell dear.’ How do you like it? ‘Buy cheap, sell dear.’ Buy the working-man’s labor cheaply, and sell back to that very working-man the produce of his own labor dear! The principle of inherent loss is in the bargain. The employer buys the labor cheap — he sells, and on the sale he must make a profit; he sells to the working-man himself — and thus every bargain between employer and employed is a deliberate cheat on the part of the employer. Thus labor has to sink through eternal loss, that capital may rise through lasting fraud. But the system stops not here. This is brought to bear on foreign competition-which means, we must ruin the trade of other countries, as we have ruined the labor of our own. How does it work? The high-taxed country has to undersell the low-taxed. Competition abroad is constantly increasing-consequently cheapness must increase constantly also. Therefore, wages in England must keep constantly falling. And how do they effect the fall? By surplus labor. How do they obtain the surplus labor? By monopoly of the land, which drives more hands than are wanted into the factory. By monopoly of machinery, which drives those hands into the street — by woman labor which drives the man from the shuttle — by child labor which drives the woman from the loom. Then planting their foot upon that living base of surplus, they press its aching heart beneath their heel, and cry ‘Starvation! Who'll work? A half loaf is better than no bread at all'-and the writhing mass grasps greedily at their terms. [Loud cries of “Hear, bear."] Such is the system for the working-man. But Electors! How does it operate on you? How does it affect home trade, the shopkeeper, poor’s-rate and taxation? For every increase of competition abroad, there must be an increase of cheapness at home. Every increase of cheapness in labor is based on increase of labor surplus, and this ‘surplus is obtained by an increase of machinery. I repeat, how does this operate on you! The Manchester Liberal on my left establishes a new patent, and throws three hundred men as a surplus in the streets. Shopkeepers! Three hundred customers less. Rate payers! Three hundred paupers more. [Loud cheers.] But, mark me! The evil stops not there. These three hundred men operate first to bring down the wages of those who remain at work in their own trade. The employer says, ‘Now I reduce your wages.’ The men demur. Then he adds: ‘Do you see those three hundred men who have just walked out — you may change places if you like, they're sighing to come in on any terms, for they're starving.’ The men feel it, and are crushed. Ah! you Manchester Liberal! Pharisee of politics! those men are listening — have I got you now? But the evil stops not yet. Those men, driven from their own trade, seek employment in others, when they swell the surplus, and bring wages down. The low paid trades of to-day were the high paid once — the high paid of to-day will be the low paid soon. Thus the purchasing power of the working classes is diminished every day, and with it dies home trade. Mark it, shopkeepers! your customers grow poorer, and your profits less, while your paupers grow more numerous and your poor’s-rates and your taxes rise. Your receipts are smaller, your expenditure is more large. You get less and pay more. How do you like the system? On you the rich manufacturer and landlord throw the weight of poor’s-rate and taxation. Men of the middle classl You are the tax-paying machine of the rich. They create the poverty that creates their riches, and they make you pay for the poverty they have created. The landlord escapes it by privilege, the manufacturer by repaying himself out of the wages of his men, and that reacts on you. How do you like the system? Well, that is the system upheld by the gentlemen on my left. What then do I propose? I have shown the wrong. That is something. But I do more; I stand here to show the right, and prove it so.” (Loud cheers.)
Ernest Jones then went on to expose his own views on political and economical reform, and continued as follows:
“Electors and Non-electors, I have now brought before you some of the social and political measures, the immediate adoption of which I advocate now, as I did in 1847. But, because I tried to extend your liberties, mine were curtailed. [Hear, hear.] Because I tried to rear the temple of freedom for you all, I was thrown into the cell of a felon’s jail; and there, on my left, sits one of my chief jailers. [Loud and continued groans, directed towards the left.] Because I tried to give voice to truth, I was condemned to silence. For two years and one week he cast me into a prison in solitary confinement on the silent system, without pen, ink, or paper, but oakum picking as a substitute. — Ah! [turning to Sir Charles Wood] it was your turn for two years and one week; it is mine this day. I summon the angel of retribution from the heart of every Englishman here present. [An immense burst of applause.] Hark! you feel the fanning of his wings in the breath of this vast multitude! [Renewed cheering, long continued.] You may say this is not a public question. But it is! [Hear, hear.] It is a public question, for the man who cannot feel for the wife of the prisoner, will not feel for the wife of the working-man. He who will not feel for the children of the captive will not feel for the children of the labor-slave. ["Hear, hear”, and cheers.] His past life proves it, his promise of to-day does not contradict it. Who voted for Irish coercion, the gagging bill, and tampering with the Irish press? The Whig! — There he sits! Turn him out! Who voted fifteen times against Hume’s motion for the franchise; Locke King’s on the counties; Ewart’s for short Parliaments; and Berkeley’s for the ballot? The Whig-there he sits; turn him out! Who voted against the release of Frost, Williams, and Jones? The Whig-there he sits; turn him out! Who voted against inquiry into colonial abuses and in favor of Ward and Torrington, the tyrants of Ionia and Ceylon?-The Whig-there he sits; turn him out! Who voted against reducing the Duke of Cambridge’s salary of £12,000, against all reductions in the army and navy; against the rep cal of the window-tax, and 48 times against every other reduction of taxation, his own salary included? The Whig — there he sits; turn him out! Who voted against a repeal of the paper duty, the advertisement duty, and the taxes on knowledge? The Whig-there he sits; turn him out! Who voted for the batches of new bishops, vicar rates, the Maynooth grant, against its reduction, and against absolving dissenters from paying Church rates? The Whig — there he sits; turn him out! Who voted against all inquiry into the adulteration of food? The Whig — there he sits; turn him out! Who voted against lowering the duty on sugar, and repealing the tax on malt? The Whig — there he sits; turn him out! Who voted against shortening the night-work of bakers, against inquiry into the condition of frame-work knitters, against medical inspectors of workhouses, against preventing little children from working before six in the morning, against parish relief for pregnant women of the poor, and against the Ten Hours Bill? The Whig — there he sits; turn him out! Turn him out, in the name of humanity and of God! Men of Halifax! Men of England! the two systems are before you. Now judge and choose!’ [It is impossible to describe the enthusiasm kindled by this speech, and especially at the close; the voice of the vast multitude, held in breathless suspense during each paragraph, came at each pause like the thunder of a returning wave, in execration of the representative of Whiggery and class rule. Altogether, it was a scene that will long be unforgotten. On the show of hands being taken, very few, and those chiefly of the hired or intimidated, were held up for Sir C. Wood; but almost everyone present raised both hands for Ernest Jones, amidst cheering and enthusiasm it would be impossible to describe.]
“The Mayor declared Mr. Ernest Jones and Mr. Henry Edwards to be elected by show of hands. Sir C.Wood and Mr. Crossley then demanded a poll.”
What Jones had predicted took place; he was nominated by 20,000 votes, but the Whig Sir Charles Wood and the Manchester man Crossley were elected by 500 votes.