Chartism in England


Louis Jean Joseph Charles Blanc (1811-1882)

An influential French socialist, Louis Blanc, in 1839, started the Revue du Progres, a journal of advanced social thought. His most important essay “Organisation of Labour” serially appeared in 1839. In his writings, he proposed a scheme of state-financed but worker-controlled “social workshops” that would guarantee work for everyone and lead gradually to a socialist society. Louis Blanc argued that socialism cannot be achieved without state power. In 1848, he became a member of the French provisional government and was able to influence it to set up workshops for the unemployed and provide employment to all who needed it.

Karl Marx and Scientific Socialism (1818–1883)

Eventually their ideas came to be known as Marxism or Communism. T hey called their views on socialism as scientific socialism. On the eve of the 1848 Revolution, Marx and Engels published The Communist Manifesto. The most famous rallying cry in this famous work is: “Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.” Marx believed that in just the same way as capitalism replaced feudalism, so socialism would eventually replace capitalism. Marx built his theory on a belief that there is a conflict of interests in the social order between the prosperous employing classes of people and the employed mass. With the advance in education, this great employed mass will become more and more class-conscious and more and more f irm in their antagonism to the class-conscious ruling minority. In some way the class-conscious workers would seize power, he prophesied, and inaugurate a new social state. In 1867 Marx published the first volume of Das Kapital, a critique of capitalism. In this work, he highlighted the exploitation of the proletariat (the working class) by the bourgeoisie (the capitalist class). T he International Working Men’s Association, founded in 1864, was influenced by his ideas. Its purpose was to form an international working class alliance. Marx worked hard to exclude the moderates from the International and denounced other socialists such as Ferdinand Lassalle and Bakunin. Despite his efforts to consolidate the International it declined by 1876. However, many socialist parties emerged in Europe: the German Social Democratic Party in 1875, the Belgian Socialist Party in 1879, the Paris Commune, 1871 and the establishment of a socialist party in 1905. The Second International was founded in Paris in 1889 which influenced the socialist movement till the outbreak of the First World War.

Chartism in England

Chartist Movement In England the working class lined up behind the Chartist movement. The Chartist movement was not a riot or revolt. It was an organised movement. The impact of 1830 French Revolution in England was the outbreak of militant labour agitation. Different streams of agitation converged to give rise to the Chartist movement. The chartists propagated their ideas through newspapers such as The Poor Man’s Guardian, The Charter, The Northern Star and T he Chartist Circular.

Its principal paper, the Northern Star, founded in 1837, soon equalled the circulation of the Times. Articles published in the Northern Star were read out for the illiterates in workshops and pubs in every industrial area. Hundreds of thousands of workers attended mass meetings held during 1838–39. T he People’s Charter, prepared by William Lovett of the London Working Men’s Association, the six key points that the Chartists believed were necessary to reform the electoral system, was presented and deliberated in these meetings. T he six key points were:

1. Universal suffrage.

2. Voting by ballot, to prevent intimidation.

3. No property qualification for candidates.

4. Payment of members elected to the House of Commons, as it would enable the poor people to contend for office and contest elections.

5. Equal electoral districts and equal representation.

6. Annual parliaments. Panicked by rumours that there would be a popular uprising, the government sent the army to the industrial areas.

In 1842 the workers struck work in Lancashire and marched from factory to factory stopping the work, and extending and intensifying their action. In 1848, in the wake of a wave of revolutions that swept Europe, subsequent to the February Revolution of that year in France, masses of workers prepared again for confrontation. The state stood firm with the backing of the lower middle class. The Chartist leaders also vacillated, when the 50,000 strong crowd at Kennington, south London, began to melt away. In the meantime the government arrested most of them and turned half of London into an armed camp. Chartism comprised a mixture of different groups holding different ideas. Its leaders were divided between those who believed in winning over the existing rulers, and those who believed in overthrowing them. Though Chartism was not successful, its main demands, which were not conceded in the 1832 Reform Act, were later incorporated in the Parliamentary Reform Acts of 1867 and 1884.

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