Frederick Engels in La Réforme

The Chartist Movement [185]

Source: MECW Volume 6, p. 383;
Written: on November 21, 1847;
First published: in La Réforme, November 22, 1847;

The opening of the recently elected Parliament that counts among its members distinguished representatives of the People’s Party [186] could not but produce extraordinary excitement in the ranks of democracy. Everywhere the local Chartist associations are being reorganised. The number of meetings increases and the most diverse ways and means of taking action are being proposed and discussed. The Executive of the National Charter Association[187] has just assumed leadership of this movement, outlining in an address to the British democrats the plan of campaign which the party will follow during the present session.

“In a few days,” we are told, “a meeting will be held which in the face of the people dares to call itself the assembly of the commons of England. In a few days this assembly, elected by only one class of society, will begin its iniquitous and odious work of strengthening the interests of this class, to the detriment of the people.

“The people must protest en masse at the very beginning against the exercise of the legislative functions usurped by this assembly. You, Chartists of the United Kingdom, you have the means to do so; it is your duty to use them to advantage. We therefore submit to you a new national petition with the demands of the People’s Charter. Cover it with millions of your signatures. Make it possible for us to present it as the expression of the will of the nation, as the solemn protest of the people against every law passed without the consent of the people, as a Bill, finally, for the restoration of the sovereignty out of which the nation has been tricked for so many centuries.

“But the petition by itself will not suffice to meet the needs of the moment. True, we have won a seat in the legislative chamber by electing Mr. O'Connor. The democratic members will find him to be a vigilant and energetic leader. But O'Connor must he supported by pressure from without, and it is you who should create this pressure from without, this strong and imposing public opinion. Let the sections of our Association be reorganised everywhere; let all our former members rejoin our ranks; let meetings be called everywhere; let everywhere the Charter be made the issue of the day; let each locality contribute its share to increase our funds. Be active, give proof of the old energy of the English and the campaign we are opening will he the most glorious ever undertaken for the victory of democracy.” ["The Executive Committee to the Chartists of the United Kingdom”, November 18, 1847]

The Fraternal Democrats,[188] a society consisting of democrats from almost every nation in Europe, has also just joined, openly and unreservedly, in the agitation of the Chartists. They adopted a resolution of the following tenor:

“Whereas the English people will be unable effectively to support democracy’s struggle in other countries until it has won democratic government for itself; and
"whereas our society, established to succour the militant democracy of every country, is duty-bound to come to the aid of the English democrats in their effort to obtain an electoral reform on the basis of the Charter;
"therefore the Fraternal Democrats undertake to support with all their strength the agitation for the People’s Charter.” [Resolution of the Fraternal Democrats, November 15, 1847]

This fraternal society, which counts among its members the most distinguished democrats, both English and foreigners residing in London, is daily gaining in importance. It has grown to such proportions that the London liberals have considered it advisable to set up in opposition to it a bourgeois International League[189] headed by Free-Trade parliamentary celebrities. The sole object of this new association, whose leadership includes Dr. Bowring, Col. Thompson and other champions of Free Trade, is to carry on Free-Trade propaganda abroad under cover of philanthropic and liberal phrases. But it seems that the association will not make much headway. During the six months of its existence it has done almost nothing, whereas the Fraternal Democrats have openly come out against any act of oppression, no matter who may attempt to commit it. Hence the democrats, both English and foreign, in so far as the latter are represented in London, have attached themselves to the Fraternal Democrats, declaring at the same time that they will not allow themselves to be exploited for the benefit of England’s Free-Trade manufacturers.