Works of Frederick Engels
Source: MECW Volume 3, p. 379;
Written: May-June 1843;
First published: in Schweizerischer Republikaner Nos. 39, 41, 46 and 51, May 16 and 23 and June 9 and 27, 1843
The democratic party in England is making rapid progress. While Whiggism and Toryism, the moneyed aristocracy and the landed aristocracy are engaged in a boring verbal battle over trifles in the “national talkshop”, as the Tory Thomas Carlyle calls it, or in the “House which claims to represent the parishes of England”, as the Chartist Feargus O'Connor says, while the Established Church exerts all its influence on the bigoted inclinations of the nation in order to maintain its decaying edifice a little longer, while the Anti-Corn Law League squanders hundreds of thousands in the irrational hope to see in return millions flowing into the pockets of the cotton-manufacturing lords — during this time despised and derided socialism marches forward calmly and confidently and gradually compels the attention of public opinion. During this time, too, a new party of countless numbers has taken shape in a few years under the banner of the People’s Charter and has carried out such vigorous agitation that compared with it O'Connell and the League are bunglers and blunderers. It is well known that in England parties coincide with social ranks and classes; that the Tories are identical with the aristocracy and the bigoted, strictly orthodox section of the Church of England; that the Whigs consist of manufacturers, merchants and dissenters, of the upper middle class as a whole; that the lower middle class constitute the so-called “radicals”, and that, finally, Chartism has its strength in the working men, the proletarians. Socialism does not form a closed political party, but on the whole it derives its supporters from the lower middle class and the proletarians. Thus, in England, the remarkable fact is seen that the lower the position of a class in society, the more “uneducated” it is in the usual sense of the word, the more closely is it connected with progress, and the greater is its future. In general, this is a feature of every revolutionary epoch, as was seen in particular in the religious revolution of which the outcome was Christianity: “blessed are the poor” [Matthew 5:3], “the wisdom of this world is foolishness” [1 Corinthians 1:20], etc. But this portent of a great revolution has probably never been so clearly expressed and so sharply delineated as now in England. In Germany, the movement proceeds from the class which is not only educated but even learned; in England, for three hundred years the educated and all the learned people have been deaf and blind to the signs of the times. Well known throughout the world is the pitiful routine of the English universities, compared with which our German colleges are like gold; but on the Continent people cannot even imagine the kind of works produced by the foremost English theologians and even by some of the foremost English natural scientists, and what miserable reactionary publications form the bulk of the weekly “list of new books”. England is the homeland of political economy, but what about the level of scholarship among professors and practical politicians? Adam Smith’s free trade has been pushed to the insane conclusions of the Malthusian theory of population and has produced nothing but a new, more civilised form of the old monopoly system, a form which finds its representatives among the present-day Tories, and which successfully combated the Malthusian nonsense, but in the end arrived once more at Malthus’ conclusions. Everywhere there is inconsistency and hypocrisy, while the striking economic tracts of the Socialists and partly also of the Chartists are thrown aside with contempt and find readers only among the lower classes. Strauss’ Das Leben Jesu was translated into English. Not a single “respectable” book publisher wanted to print it; finally it appeared in separate parts, 3d. per part, and that was done by the publishing house of a minor but energetic antiquarian.  The same thing occurred with translations of Rousseau, Voltaire, Holbach, etc. Byron and Shelley are read almost exclusively by the lower classes; no “respectable” person could have the works of the latter on his desk without his coming into the most terrible disrepute. It remains true: blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven and, however long it may take, the kingdom of this earth as well.
Parliament now has before it Sir James Graham’s Bill on the education of children working in factories, in accordance with which their hours of work are to be restricted, compulsory education introduced, and the High Church entrusted with supervision of the schools.  This Bill has, of course, given rise to general commotion and has provided the parties with a fresh opportunity for testing their strength. The Whigs want to have the Bill rejected completely because it ousts the dissenters from the education of the young and, by restricting the working hours of children, causes difficulties for the manufacturers. Among the Chartists and Socialists, on the other hand, there is considerable agreement with the general humane tendency of the Bill, except for the provisions relating to the High Church. Lancashire, the main factory centre, is also, of course, the main centre of agitation in regard to the Bill. Here, the Tories are quite powerless in the towns; moreover, their meetings in this connection were not held in public. The congregations of the dissenters first of all met in order to put forward a petition against the Bill, and then arranged for town meetings in alliance with the liberal manufacturers. A town meeting of this kind is summoned by the highest urban official, is completely public, and every inhabitant has the right to speak at it. Here, therefore, if the meeting hall is sufficiently large, only the strongest and most energetic party can be victorious. And at all the town meetings so far convened, the Chartists and Socialists have won. The first such meeting was in Stockport, where the resolutions put forward by the Whigs received only one vote, while the entire meeting voted for those of the Chartists, so that the Mayor of Stockport, a Whig, as chairman of the meeting had to sign a Chartist petition and send it to a Chartist M.P. (Duncombe) for presentation to Parliament. The second meeting was in Salford, a sort of suburb of Manchester, with a population of about 100,000; I attended it. The Whigs had taken every precaution to ensure victory for themselves. The borough reeve took the chair and talked a great deal about impartiality; but when a Chartist asked whether a discussion would be allowed, he was given the reply: yes, when the meeting is over! It was intended to have the first resolution smuggled through, but the Chartists were on the alert and prevented this. When one of the Chartists climbed on to the platform, a clergyman dissenter came forward and tried to throw him off! However, everything went well until, finally, a petition on Whig lines was proposed. Then a Chartist spoke and proposed an amendment; thereupon the chairman and his whole retinue of Whigs rose and left the hall. But the meeting continued, and the Chartist petition was put to the vote; but police officers, who had already intervened several times on the side of the Whigs, put out the lights just at the right moment and forced the meeting to disperse. Nevertheless, the Whigs caused all their resolutions to be published, as carried, in the next issue of the local newspaper, and the borough reeve a was dishonest enough to sign his name “on behalf of and on the instructions of the meeting"! So much for Whig fairness! The third meeting took place two days later in Manchester, and here the radical parties likewise achieved a most brilliant victory. Although the time was so chosen that the majority of the factory workers could not be present, there was nevertheless a considerable majority of Chartists and Socialists in the hall. The Whigs confined themselves solely to the points which they had in common with the Chartists; a Socialist and a Chartist spoke from the platform and bore witness that the Whigs on this occasion had behaved like good Chartists. The Socialist told them frankly that he had come with the intention of creating opposition if there was the slightest occasion for it, but everything had gone according to his wishes. So it has turned out, therefore, that Lancashire, and particularly Manchester, the stronghold of Whiggism, the centre of the Anti-Corn Law League, is able to show a brilliant majority in favour of radical democracy and thereby the power of the “liberals” is completely held in check.
The Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung has a liberal correspondent (*) in London who writes favourably about the manoeuvres of the Whigs in horribly long and boring articles. “The Anti-Corn Law League is now the power in the land,” declares this oracle and thereby utters the greatest lie ever told by a partisan correspondent.  The League — the power in the land! Where is this power? In the Ministry? In it are Peel, Graham and Gladstone, the bitterest enemies of the League. In Parliament? But there every one of its proposals is rejected by a majority rarely equalled in the annals of the English Parliament. Where then is this power? In the public, in the nation? This question can only be answered in the affirmative by such an empty-headed, frivolous correspondent, for whom Drury Lane is the public and a drummed-up meeting is public opinion. If this sagacious correspondent is so blind as to be incapable of seeing in broad daylight — this is the legacy of the Whigs — then I will tell him how matters stand with the power of the League. It has been driven out of the Ministry and Parliament by the Tories, and out of public opinion by the Chartists. Feargus O'Connor has triumphantly routed it in all the towns of England, everywhere he has challenged it to a public debate and the League has never picked up the gage. The League cannot call a single public meeting without being most ignominiously trounced by the Chartists. Or does the Augsburg correspondent really not know that the pompous January meetings in Manchester and the meetings now being held in the Drury Lane theatre in London, where the liberal gentlemen tell one another lies and try to deceive themselves about their inner instability — does he really not know these are “whited sepulchres"? Who are admitted to these meetings? Only members of the League or persons to whom the League gives tickets. Hence no hostile party can have a chance of successful opposition there, and therefore no one applies for tickets; no matter what cunning it resorted to, it could not manage to smuggle in even a hundred of its supporters. The League has been organising such meetings, which are afterwards called “public”, for some years past and at them it congratulates itself on its “progress”. It is very becoming that at these “public” ticket meetings, the League rails against the “spectre of Chartism”, especially since it knows that at truly public meetings O'Connor, Duncombe, Cooper, etc., are giving a straightforward reply to those attacks. Up to now the Chartists have shattered every public meeting of the League by a brilliant majority, but the League has never been able to disrupt a Chartist meeting. Hence the League’s hatred of the Chartists, hence the clamour about the “disorder” caused by the Chartists at a meeting — that is to say, the rebellion of the majority against the minority, which from the platform tries to make use of the majority for its own ends. Where then is the power of the League? — In its imagination and — in its purse. The League is wealthy, by the abolition of the Corn Laws it hopes to conjure up a trade boom and therefore throws a sprat to catch a mackerel. Its subscriptions bring in considerable sums of money which cover the expenditure on all the pompous meetings and the rest of the appearance and tawdry finery. But behind this glittering exterior there is nothing real. The National Charter Association — the Chartists’ organisation  — has a greater number of members, and it will soon be seen that it can also collect more money, although it consists only of poor workers, while the League has all the rich manufacturers and merchants in its ranks. And the reason is that the Chartist Association gets its money — even if only in pennies — from nearly every one of its members, whereas although considerable sums of money are contributed to the League, they come only from certain individuals. The Chartists can easily collect a million pennies  weekly; it is very questionable whether the League could sustain this. The League opened a subscription list for £50,000 and received about £70,000. Feargus O'Connor is about to open a subscription list of £125,000 for one project  and soon afterwards perhaps another for an equal amount — he will certainly get it — and what does the League then intend to do with its “huge funds"?
Why the Chartists are in opposition to the League will be dealt with on another occasion.  For the present only one further remark, viz., that the efforts and work of the League have one good side. This is the movement which is being aroused by the Anti-Corn Law agitation in a hitherto entirely stable class of society — the agricultural population. Up to now the latter has taken no interest in public affairs; dependent on the landowners who can put an end to the lease agreement any year, the farmers, phlegmatic and ignorant, have sent only Tories to Parliament year after year — 251 out of the 658 members of the House of Commons — and up to now this has been the strong basis of the reactionary party. If an individual farmer wanted to come out against this traditional vote, he found no support among his fellow farmers and the landlord could easily give him notice. Now, however, a considerable alertness among this class of the population is evident; there already exist liberal farmers, and among them there are people who realise that in very many cases the interests of the landlord and those of the tenant are directly opposed. Three years ago, particularly in England herself, no one could have said this to a tenant without being laughed at or even beaten up. Among this class the work of the League will bear fruit, but quite certainly the fruit will be different from what the League expects, for while it is probable that the mass of the tenants will gradually go over to the Whigs, it is still more probable that the mass of the agricultural labourers will be impelled to take the side of the Chartists. One without the other is impossible, and thus here, too, the League will obtain only feeble compensation for the decisive and total withdrawal from it of the working class which the League has suffered during the past five years in the towns and factory districts owing to Chartism. The kingdom of the juste-milieu has had its day and the “power in the land” has become divided into two extremes. In view of these undeniable facts, however, I ask the correspondent of the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung: Where is the “power of the League”?
The English Socialists are far more principled and practical than the French, which is especially due to the fact that they are engaged in an open struggle against the various churches and do not want to have anything to do with religion. In the larger towns they usually maintain a hall where every Sunday they listen to speeches which are often polemical against Christianity and atheistic, but often also deal with some aspect of the workers’ life; of their lecturers (preachers) Watts in Manchester seems at any rate to be an outstanding man, who has written some very talented pamphlets on the existence of God and on political economy. The lecturers have a very good manner of arguing; they always start out from experience and from verifiable or obvious facts and at the same time the exposition is carried out in such a systematic way that it is very difficult to fight them on the ground they have chosen. If anyone tries to carry the argument into a different sphere they laugh in his face. If, for example, I say: For man the existence of God does not depend on facts for its proof, they retort: “What a ridiculous proposition you put forward: if God does not manifest Himself through facts, why should we want to trouble ourselves about Him? From your proposition it follows directly that it is a matter of indifference to people whether God exists or does not exist. And since we have thousands of other things to care about, we leave to you the good God above the clouds, where perhaps He exists, or perhaps does not exist. What we do not know through facts does not concern us at all; we keep to the basis of ‘real facts’, where there can be no question of such fantastic things as God and religious theories.” So the rest of their communist propositions are supported by proof based on facts, in accepting which they are indeed careful. The stubbornness of these people is indescribable, and how the clergy are going to win them over — heaven alone knows. In Manchester, for instance, the communist community has 8,000 members openly registered at the hall and paying their subscriptions to it. The assertion that half of the working classes of Manchester share their views on property is no exaggeration; because when Watts says from the platform (for the Communists the platform is what the pulpit is for the Christians): Today I am going to one or other meeting, you can count on it that the motion put by the lecturer will have a majority.
But among the Socialists, too, there are theoreticians or, as the Communists call them, complete atheists, while the former are called practical atheists. Of these theoreticians the most famous is Charles Southwell in Bristol, who published a polemical journal The Oracle of Reason and was punished for that by a year’s imprisonment and a fine of about £100. Of course, the fine was quickly covered by subscriptions, for every Englishman subscribes to his newspaper, helps his leaders to pay fines, pays for his chapel or hall, attends his meetings. But Charles Southwell is already in prison again; in fact the hall in Bristol had to be sold because there are not so many Socialists in Bristol and among them few are rich, whereas such a hall is a fairly expensive thing. It was bought by a Christian denomination and converted into a chapel. When this new chapel was consecrated, the Socialists and Chartists crowded into it to see and hear the ceremony. But when the clergyman began to praise God that all the wicked doings had been ended, and that where ‘formerly God had been defamed, praises would now be sung to the Almighty, they regarded this as an attack, and since according to English notions every attack demands resistance, they raised a shout of Southwell, Southwell! Let Southwell speak in opposition! Southwell therefore got up and began to make a speech. Now, however, clergymen of the Christian denomination put themselves at the head of the columns of their parishioners and hurled themselves on Southwell; other members of the denomination called in the police, because Southwell was said to have disturbed a Christian religious service; the clergymen laid hold of him, struck him (as often happens in such cases) and handed him over to a policeman. Southwell himself ordered his supporters not to offer physical resistance; when he was led away, some 6,000 people followed him crying “hurrah” and cheering him.
The founder of the socialist movement, Owen, writes in his numerous booklets like a German philosopher, i.e., very badly, but at times he has his lucid moments and then his obscure writings become readable; moreover, his views are comprehensive. According to Owen “marriage, religion and property are the sole causes of all the calamity that has existed since the world began” (!!),  all his writings teem with outbursts of rage against the theologians, lawyers and doctors, all of whom he lumps together. “The law-courts are the seat of a class of people which is still completely theological and therefore prejudiced; the laws also are imbued with theology and must therefore be abolished together with the jury.”
While the Church of England lived in luxury, the Socialists did an incredible amount to educate the working classes in England. At first one cannot get over one’s surprise on hearing in the Hall of Science the most ordinary workers speaking with a clear understanding on political, religious and social affairs; but when one comes across the remarkable popular pamphlets and hears the lecturers of the Socialists, for example Watts in Manchester, one ceases to be surprised. The workers now have good, cheap editions of translations of the French philosophical works of the last century, chiefly Rousseau’s Contrat social, the Système de la Nature  and various works by Voltaire, and in addition the exposition of communist principles in penny and twopenny pamphlets and in the journals. The workers also have in their hands cheap editions of the writings of Thomas Paine and Shelley. Furthermore, there are also the Sunday lectures, which are very diligently attended; thus during my stay in Manchester I saw the Communist Hall, which holds about 3,000 people, crowded every Sunday, and I heard there speeches which have a direct effect, which are made from the special viewpoint of the people, and in which witty remarks against the clergy occur. It happens frequently that Christianity is directly attacked and Christians are called “our enemies”.
In their form, these meetings partly resemble church gatherings; in the gallery a choir accompanied by an orchestra sings social hymns; these consist of semi-religious or wholly religious melodies with communist words, during which the audience stands. Then, quite nonchalantly, without removing his hat, a lecturer comes on to the platform, on which there is a table and chairs; after raising his hat by way of greeting those present, he takes off his overcoat and then sits down and delivers his address, which usually gives much occasion for laughter, for in these speeches the English intellect expresses itself in superabundant humour. In one corner of the hall is a stall where books and pamphlets are sold and in another a booth with oranges and refreshments, where everyone can obtain what he needs or to which he can withdraw if the speech bores him. From time to time tea-parties are arranged on Sunday evenings at which people of both sexes, of all ages and classes, sit together and partake of the usual supper of ‘ tea and sandwiches; on working days dances and concerts are often held in the hall, where people have a very jolly time; the hall also has a café.
How does it happen that all this kind of thing is tolerated? Firstly, under the Whig Ministry the Communists secured the passage of an Act of Parliament and in general achieved such a strong position at that time that now, as being a corporation, it is no longer possible to take any steps against them. Secondly, the authorities would very much like to attack prominent individuals, but they know that this would only redound to the advantage of the Socialists by drawing public attention to them, which is what the Socialists want. If they were to become martyrs for their cause (and how many of them would be ready for that at any time), it would give rise to agitation. But agitation is a means of making their cause still more widely known, whereas at present a large part of the nation takes no notice of them, regarding them as a sect like any other. The Whigs knew very well that repressive measures have a stronger effect in favour of a cause than agitation for the cause itself, and hence they gave the Communists an opportunity to exist and take form; but every form is a bond. The Tories, on the other hand, take some action against them when the atheistic publications seem too outrageous, but every time it is to the advantage of the Communists. In December 1840, Southwell and others were punished for blasphemy; immediately three new periodicals appeared: one was The Atheist, another The Atheist and Republican, and the third, published by the lecturer Watts, The Blasphemer. A few issues of The Blasphemer caused a great sensation, and the authorities tried in vain to discover how this trend could be suppressed. They left it alone, and lo and behold, all three papers ceased to exist!
Thirdly, the Socialists, like all the other parties, save themselves by circumventing the law and resorting to verbal quibbles, which is the regular practice here.
Thus everything here displays life and cohesion, a solid basis and action; thus everything here is assuming a definite external shape; whereas we imagine that we know something if we have swallowed the dull, miserable contents of Stein’s book [Lorenz von Stein, Der Socialismus und Communismus des heutigen Frankreichs], or that we are of some importance if somewhere or other we utter an opinion perfumed with attar of roses.
In the Socialists, English energy is very clearly evident, but what astonished me more was the good-natured character of these people, I almost called them lads, which, however, is so far removed from weakness that they laugh at the mere Republicans, because a republic would be just as hypocritical, just as theological, just as unjust in its laws, as a monarchy; but for the reform of society they are ready to sacrifice their worldly goods and life itself together with their wives and children.
One hears nothing now but talk about O'Connell and the Irish Repeal (abolition of the Union of Ireland and England).  O'Connell, the cunning old lawyer, who during the Whig government sat calmly in the House of Commons and helped to pass “liberal” measures in order to be rejected by the House of Lords, O'Connell has suddenly left London and absented himself from the parliamentary debates and is now raising again his old question of repeal. No one was thinking about it any more; and then Old Dan [Daniel O'Connell] turns up in Dublin and is again raking up the stale obsolete lumber. It is not surprising that the old yeast is now producing remarkable air-bubbles. The cunning old fox is going from town to town, always accompanied by a bodyguard such as no king ever had — two hundred thousand people always surround him! How much could have been done if a sensible man possessed O'Connell’s popularity or if O'Connell had a little more understanding. and a little less egoism and vanity! Two hundred thousand men — and what men! People who have nothing to lose, two-thirds of whom are clothed in rags, genuine proletarians and sansculottes and, moreover, Irishmen, wild, headstrong, fanatical Gaels. One who has never seen Irishmen cannot know them. Give me two hundred thousand Irishmen and I will overthrow the entire British monarchy. The Irishman is a carefree, cheerful, potato-eating child of nature. From his native heath, where he grew up, under a broken-down roof, on weak tea and meagre food, he is suddenly thrown into our civilisation. Hunger drives him to England. In the mechanical, egoistic, ice-cold hurly-burly of the English factory towns, his passions are aroused. What does this raw young fellow — whose youth was spent playing on moors and begging at the roadside — know of thrift? He squanders what he earns, then he starves until the next pay-day or until he again finds work. He is accustomed to going hungry. Then he goes back, seeks out the members of his family on the road where they had scattered in order to beg, from time to time assembling again around the teapot, which the mother carries with her. But in England the Irishman saw a great deal, he attended public meetings and workers’ associations, he knows what Repeal is and what Sir Robert Peel stands for, he quite certainly has often had fights with the police and could tell you a great deal about the heartlessness and disgraceful behaviour of the “Peelers” (the police). He has also heard a lot about Daniel O'Connell. Now he once more returns to his old cottage with its bit of land for potatoes. The potatoes are ready for harvesting, he digs them up, and now he has something to live on during the winter. But here the principal tenant  appears, demanding the rent. Good God, where’s the money to come from? The principal tenant is responsible to the landowner for the rent, and therefore has his property attached. The Irishman offers resistance and is thrown into gaol. Finally, he is set free. again, and soon afterwards the principal tenant or someone else who took part in the attachment of the property is found dead in a ditch.
That is a story from the life of the Irish proletarians which is of daily occurrence. The half-savage upbringing and later the completely civilised environment bring the Irishman into contradiction with himself, into a state of permanent irritation, of continually smouldering fury, which makes him capable of anything. In addition he bears the burden of five centuries of oppression with all its consequences. Is it surprising that, like any other half-savage, he strikes out blindly and furiously on every opportunity, that his eyes burn with a perpetual thirst for revenge, a destructive fury, for which it is altogether a matter of indifference what it is directed against, so long as it can strike out and destroy? But that is not all. The violent national hatred of the Gaels against the Saxons, the orthodox Catholic fanaticism fostered by the clergy against Protestant-episcopal arrogance — with these elements anything can be accomplished. And all these elements are in O'Connell’s hands. And what a multitude of people are at his disposal! The day before yesterday in Cork — 150,000 men, yesterday in Nenaph — 200,000, today in Kilkenny — 400,000, and so it goes on. A triumphal procession lasting a fortnight, a triumphal procession such as no Roman emperor ever had. And if O'Connell really had the welfare of the people in view, if he were really concerned to abolish poverty — if his miserable, petty juste-milieu aims were not behind all the clamour and the agitation for Repeal — I should truly like to know what Sir Robert Peel could refuse him if he demanded it while at the head of such a force as he now has. But what does he achieve with all millions of valiant and desperate Irishmen? accomplish even the wretched Repeal of the solely because he is not serious about it, because he is misusing the impoverished, oppressed Irish people in order to embarrass the Tory Ministers and to put back into office his juste-milieu friends. Sir Robert Peel, too, knows this well enough, and hence 25,000 soldiers are quite enough to keep all Ireland in check. If O'Connell were really the man of the people, if he had sufficient courage and were not himself afraid of the people, i.e., if he were not a double-faced Whig, but an upright, consistent democrat, then the last English soldier would have left Ireland long since, there would no longer be any idle Protestant priest in purely Catholic districts, or any Old-Norman baron in’ his castle. But there is the rub. If the people were to be set free even for a moment, then Daniel O'Connell and his moneyed aristocrats would soon be just as much left high and dry as he wants to leave the Tories high and dry. That is the reason for Daniel’s close association with the Catholic clergy, that is why he warns his Irishmen against dangerous socialism, that is why he rejects the support offered by the Chartists , although for appearances sake he now and again talks about democracy — just as Louis Philippe in his day talked about Republican institutions — and that is why he will never succeed in achieving anything but the political education of the Irish people, which in the long run is to no one more dangerous than to himself.