Frederick Engels in La Réforme

The Chartist Movement

The Fraternal Democrats To the Working Classes of Great Britain and Ireland

Source: MECW Volume 6, p. 466;
Written: on January 9, 1848;
First published: in La Réforme, January 10, 1848.

The Society of Fraternal Democrats at its last meeting adopted an address to the workers of Great Britain and Ireland. This address, edited by Mr. Harney, of The Northern Star, is published in the latest number of this newspaper. [250]

After recalling, in a portrayal as rapid as eloquent, the sufferings of the working class today, this address calls on the workers of the two islands to complete their party organisation:

On all sides the middle class has laid traps for you. In order to divert you from the People’s Charter, the only goal important to you, they spawn all sorts of projects for superficial reforms. But within a few years you have twice had to learn the hard lesson that any scheme of reform emanating from the bourgeoisie must he for you “like Dead Sea fruits that tempt the eye, but turn to ashes on the lips”. Remember the agitation for the Reform Bill, and that for the repeal of the Corn Laws.

...Nonetheless, you are asked to support a “National League for the Reform of Abuses”, an “Anti-State Church Association”, an “Anti-Bribery Society”, and societies for the reform of the currency, and the abolition of certain taxes, etc., etc. The one design of the projectors of these schemes is to perfect the already dominant power of the middle class. They all combine to resist your rightful claim to the privileges of citizenship: they are therefore your enemies. Were they desirous, as they profess to be, of promoting your welfare, they would aid you to obtain sovereign power. They well know that if you controlled the legislature, all the reforms they seek — and reforms of much greater importance — would be forthwith effected. How then can they call themselves your friends, while refusing you the suffrage?

Let this great truth be impressed upon every working man, that it is from the hut and the hovel, the garret and the cellar, that must come the regenerators of his order and the social saviours of the human race. Receive with joy and fraternal love every man who, belonging to the privileged orders, shall renounce class distinctions, and ally himself with you, but look to no class above your own for your emancipation. ...Practically outlawed by the other classes of the state, you must find in your own clear heads, courageous hearts, and powerful arms the means of effecting your regeneration.

... We must call your serious attention to a wicked and abominable conspiracy against your interests, the conspiracy both by the enemies of all reform, and by many of the middle-class sham-reformers. These conspirators seek to revive those national prejudices, now all but extinct, which formerly made the working men of these countries the willing butchers of their fellow men of other lands. They desire to inflame the people of these islands with a dread and hatred of the people of France, under the pretext that the French contemplate the invasion and subjugation of England.

Working men of Great Britain and Ireland, your country is already invaded and subjugated by enemies within — enemies who have reduced you politically and socially to the condition of Helots. You will not dislodge these enemies by increasing the physical power of your rulers. We believe that the veritable people of France — the proletarians — have learnt by experience that, like yourselves, their enemies are not to be found on any foreign shore, but in their own country. In France, as in England, a triumphant moneyocracy rules supreme and grinds the sons of labour to the dust. As in England, the people in France fights against this enemy and for the advent of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Even supposing this country were menaced by aggression from without, England would have nothing to apprehend if her people were freemen. It is not armies, navies or fortresses that constitute the true defence of nations; a nation’s best defence consists in a people which is truly free....

Let the privileged classes renounce their unjust usurpations and establish political equality and social justice, and England will have nothing to fear against a world in arms. On the contrary, the people of all countries would hail with joy the march of England’s power, if that power were arrayed on the side of the liberty and social emancipation of mankind.

Working men of Great Britain and Ireland, why should you arm yourselves and fight for the preservation of institutions in the privileges of which you have no share? For the maintenance of laws made not to protect, but to constrain you? For the protection of property which you can regard only as the accumulated plunder of the fruits of your labour? You are deprived of the produce of your industry; and then your poverty is made the pretext for withholding from you your citizens’ rights! Subjected to plunder, wrong, and insult by the possessors of property, you are asked to pour out your blood in defence of property! Let the privileged and the property-holders fight their own battles! And if they are too weak to do so, let them give the people what belongs to it; let them learn to submit to the popular will; if they do so, the whole nation will form a rampart round these islands which no foreign invader could ever break through!

Your great want is political power as the means to effect your social emancipation; and until that political power is yours, let your resolve be: No vote, no musket! Give us the suffrage, or we will not fight!

Working men of Great Britain and Ireland! Hold in abhorrence the conspirators .Who would set nation against nation, in the name of that wicked lie, that men of different countries are “natural enemies”. Rally round the banner of democracy, with its motto: “All men are brothers!”

Signed on behalf of the Society of Fraternal Democrats: G. Julian Harney, Ernest Jones, Thomas Clark, Charles Keen (Great Britain); J. A. Michelot, H. Bernard (France); Carl Schapper, J. Moll (Germany); J. Schabelitz, H. Krell (Switzerland); Peter Holm, Luntberg (Scandinavia); Louis Oborski (Poland); C. Pohse, P. Bluhm (Russia).