Frederick Engels in La Réforme

The Chartist Banquet
In Connection with the Elections of 1847[163]

Source: MECW Volume 6, p.361;
Written: on November 1, 1847;
First published: in La Réforme, November 6, 1847.

In a letter of the day before yesterday I was concerned to defend the Chartists and their leader Feargus O'Connor against the attacks of the radical bourgeois press. Today, to my great satisfaction, I can tell you something which confirms what I suggested about the spirit of the two parties. You will judge for yourselves to whom French democracy ought to give its sympathy: to the Chartists, sincere democrats without ulterior motives, or to the radical bourgeois who so carefully avoid using the words people’s charter, universal suffrage, and limit themselves to proclaiming that they are partisans of complete suffrage! [164]

Last month a banquet took place in London to celebrate the triumph of democratic opinion at the last elections. Eighteen radical members of Parliament were invited, but since the Chartists had initiated the banquet all these gentlemen defaulted, with the exception of O'Connor. The radicals, as we see, are behaving in a way which makes it quite predictable how they will honour their pledges made at the last elections.

One dispensed with their presence the more readily as they had sent one of their worthy representatives — Doctor Epps, a timid man and a petty reformer, conciliatory towards everybody except the active and energetic men of our opinions; a philanthropic bourgeois who burns, he says, to free the people, but who does not want the people to free themselves without him; in fact, a worthy partisan of bourgeois radicalism.

Doctor Epps proposed a first toast to the sovereignty of the people, but so generally lukewarm apart from a few slightly livelier passages that several times it aroused murmurs among the assembly.

“I do not think,” he said, “that the sovereignty of the people can be obtained through a revolution. The French fought three days [165] ; they have been cheated out of national sovereignty. Nor do I think that it can he obtained by long speeches. Those who speak least do most. I do not like men who make a lot of noise; big words do not make big deeds.”

These indirect sallies against the Chartists were received with numerous marks of disapproval. It could not be otherwise, above all when Doctor Epps added:

“The bourgeoisie has been slandered among the workers; as if the bourgeoisie was not the very class which alone can obtain political rights for the workers. (“No! No!”) No? Is it not the bourgeois who are the electors? And is it not only the electors who can give the vote to those who do not have it? Is there anyone among you who would not become a bourgeois if he could? Ah! If the workers would give up their pots and their pipes, they would have money to support their political agitation, they could do much to contribute towards their freedom,” etc., etc.

Such is the language of the men who reject O'Connor and the Chartists!

The speakers who succeeded Dr. Epps energetically rebutted the strange doctrines of the radical doctor, amid much applause by the assembly.

Mr. MacGrath, member of the executive committee of the Chartist Association,[166] recalled that the people ought not to have confidence in the bourgeoisie, that they had to win their own rights by themselves; it was not proper to the dignity of the people to beg for what really belonged to them.

Mr. Jones reminded the assembly that the bourgeoisie had always forgotten the people; and now that the bourgeoisie sees the growth of democracy, he said, it wants to use it to overthrow the landed aristocracy, and crush the democrats as soon as it has attained its objective.

Mr. O'Connor, replying still more directly to Dr. Epps, asked him who had crushed the country with an enormous debt, if it were not the bourgeoisie? Who had deprived the workers of their political and social rights if not the bourgeoisie? Who had, that very evening, refused to respond to the people’s invitation, if it were not the seventeen honourable bourgeois to whom the democrats had so unfortunately given their votes? No, no, capital never represents labour! The lion and the lamb would lie down together before capitalists and workers were united by interests and feelings!

Mr. Harney, editor of The Northern Star, gave the last toast: “Our democratic brethren throughout the world! May their present struggle for liberty and equality be crowned with success!” Kings, aristocrats, priests and capitalists of all countries, he said, are allied together. May democrats of all lands follow the same example! Everywhere democracy marches forward. In France, banquet follows banquet in favour of electoral reform; and the movement is developing on such a scale that it must lead to a happy result. Let us hope that the masses, this time, will profit from this agitation, that the reform won by the French will be worth more than what we won in 183l.[167]

There can be no true reform as long as sovereignty does not wholly belong to the nation; there is no national sovereignty as long as the principles of the constitution of 1793[168] are not a reality.

Mr. Harney then gave a picture of the progress of democracy in Germany, Italy and Switzerland, and ended by disavowing, for his part, in the most energetic terms, the strange doctrines of Dr. Epps about the rights of the bourgeoisie.