Paul Lafargue

Britain coming into line

(28 April 1906)

Britain coming into line – letter to Quelch, Justice, 28th April 1906, p.5.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Dear Comrade Quelch, – This First of May the Socialists of the two worlds unite fraternally in heart and thought with English Socialists in celebrating the electoral victory of the working-class of Great Britain. Its victory is the victory of International Socialism.

It is not the number of those elected, nor of the votes obtained, which constitutes the world-wide importance of this event; it is the entry, en masse, of the British working-class, with its economic organisations, on the political field of battle, which it has deserted ever since the defeat of Chartism. The trade unions, which then organised themselves, inscribed in their rules abstention from all political action. The workers neglected to concern themselves with the general interests of their class. They decided that it was necessary humbly to await reforms from the philanthropy of the dominant class instead of wresting them from that class against its will. They abandoned to the landlords and capitalists, of which the Ministers – Tory, Whig, Liberal and Radical – are only the agents, the power to legislate, to apply the laws and govern the nation with the sole object of enriching themselves.

The English working-classes were the admiration of the capitalists of the Continent. Their economists and their politicians would say to us: “Imitate these wise and admirable trade unions, who have nothing to do with politics and do not concern themselves with Socialism. In fact, politics are no good except for capitalists, and Socialism commends itself to none but the crack-brained.” But we no longer hear this silly and discouraging song. Our capitalists have received with as much uneasiness as we have of joy, the news of your victory. The political axis of England is changing its pivot.

The trade unions, these formidable organisations which have brigaded some hundreds of thousands of workers, which have accumulated some millions in their funds, which have fought economic battles extending over long months, have now thrown their weight into the political balance. At last they understand that these heroic struggles, in which their members have proved their inflexible solidity, supporting with a stoical courage the horrors of starvation, not only for themselves, but, what is a thousand times more terrible, for their women and children, have not been able to change, and cannot change, the situation of the working-class, rendered more and more precarious by the concentration of capital and the incessant application of new machines to the work of production. The marvellous discoveries of science which enrich the capitalists, result only in intensifying labour in the workshop and increasing the number of unemployed in the streets. The trade unions at last understand that their ideal, “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” recedes in proportion to the development of capitalist production. They understand at last that in order to ameliorate their lot and to benefit by the wealth which they alone produce, the workers must form themselves into a class political party, for the purpose of expropriating the capitalist class from political and economic power. It is a revolution which is beginning.

Certainly the movement is confused, uncertain, unconscious. There will be hesitation, difficulties and collisions. But it is by tottering, by knocking against obstacles, and with occasional tumbles, that the child learns to walk. But we Continentals, we have confidence in the cool energy of the British working-class. We know that no effort will weary it, that no defeat will discourage it; that every step it takes forward is ground conquered for ever.

International Socialism counts another army in course of formation. The success that it will achieve will shake the world and precipitate the hour of the emancipation of Labour. On the First of May, international Socialists, in celebrating tin electoral victory of the British working-class, will render homage to the courageous and tenacious perseverance of the comrades who, for 25 years, have carried on the propaganda of Socialism in England amid the most discouraging indifference.


Paul Lafargue


Last updated on 23.6.2004