Red Letter
Daily Left Theory. 15 Minutes or Less. Refreshes at Midnight.
The People's Charter
by William Lovett
Estimated Reading Time: 12 min

Let's have Ralph Fox (1900-1937, died fighting the fascists in Spain) introduce who the Chartists were before reading some Frederick Engels in his own words on the Chartists as part of our look into the working class and utopian socialist ferment that Marxism grew out of. This is Fox writing in 1931:

We speak loosely of the Chartist “movement,” but few of us look on Chartism as a movement; that is, as a developing class struggle having definite origins, having relations to the changing class conditions of the England of that day, having definite aims. Yet this was precisely how Marx and Engels regarded Chartism.

They themselves were “Chartists.” Their own political tactics they based largely on the experience of the Chartists. They studied every development of Chartism, had opinions on every Chartist leader. Yet no one has ever troubled to find out what were the ideas of the founders of revolutionary Communism upon revolutionary Chartism and its leaders. Indeed, in our press, in our literature we find ideas which are absolutely the opposite of those of Marx and Engels on Chartism.

Engels, who from the end of 1842 was closely connected with the Chartists, saw the movement in its beginning as a revolutionary democratic movement, the natural development of the Radical movement of 1793 to 1799, which developed on a mass scale at the close of the war with France in 1815.

The English working class was the best organized, the most advanced in Europe. If the six demands of its Charter were those of the democratic revolution and not of the social revolution, the workers were not long in making it clear that they were fighting for the democratic revolution, not in order to pull chestnuts out of the fire for a cowardly bourgeoisie, but in order to establish themselves, the workers, as the ruling class in order to start the social revolution. The day had passed when the democratic revolution could be realized in England without leading directly to the emancipation of the proletariat.

...(Here Fox goes on to briefly quote Engels, but we're going to excerpt a larger bit from the same quote below)...

A little earlier Marx had written that in the Chartists the workers had formed a political party whose fighting slogan could in no case merely be “monarchy or republic?” but “the rule of the working class or the rule of the bourgeoisie?”

At this time all the political efforts of the bourgeoisie were concentrated on winning free trade through the repeal of the Corn Laws. The Chartists, the real banner-bearers of the democratic revolution, were never for a moment deceived by the efforts of their class enemies to draw them into this “fight for freedom.” They fought equally hard on two fronts against both the free trade exploiters and the protectionist exploiters. The Chartists forced the Corn Law Leaguers to hold their meetings by ticket in guarded halls, drove them off the streets and out of their press. They ironically compared their liberal words with their reactionary practice. “Everyone knows,” Marx said, “that in England the struggle between Liberals and Democrats takes the name of the struggle between Free Traders and Chartists.”

That was Ralph Fox writing in 1931 and this is Engels in 1848 describing a "social civil war":

England has the most numerous, the most concentrated, the most classic proletariat, a proletariat which every five or six years is decimated by the crushing misery of a commercial crisis, by hunger and typhus; a proletariat which for half its life is redundant to industry and unemployed. One man in every ten in England is a pauper, and one pauper in every three is an inmate in one of the Poor Law Bastilles. 2. Under the Poor Law of 1834 the only relief available to the poor was to become an inmate in one of the workhouses, known as Poor Law Bastilles. 2 The annual cost of poor-relief in England almost equals the entire expenditure of the Prussian state. Poverty and pauperism have been openly declared in England to be necessary elements of the present industrial system and the national wealth. Yet, despite this, where in England is there any trace of hatred against the bourgeoisie?

There is no other country in the world where, with the huge growth of the proletariat, the contradiction between proletariat and bourgeoisie has reached such a high level as in England; no other country presents such glaring contrasts between extreme poverty and immense wealth – yet where is there any trace of hatred against the bourgeoisie?

Obviously, the associations of workers, set up secretly before 1825 and openly after 1825, associations not for just a day against any single manufacturer, but permanent associations directed against entire groups of manufacturers, workers’ associations of entire industries, entire towns, finally associations uniting large numbers of workers throughout England, all these associations and their numerous fights against the manufacturers, the strikes, which led to acts of violence, revengeful destructions, arson, armed attacks and assassinations – all these actions just prove the love of the proletariat for the bourgeoisie.

The entire struggle of the workers against the manufacturers over the last 80 years, a struggle which, beginning with machine wrecking, has developed through associations, through isolated attacks on the person and property of the manufacturers and on the few workers who were loyal to them, through bigger and smaller rebellions, through the insurrections of 1839 and 1842 3. The Chartist movement began in the 1830s and lasted till the 1850s. 3, has become the most advanced class struggle the world has seen. The class war of the Chartists, the organised party of the proletariat, against the organised political power of the bourgeoisie, has not yet led to those terrible bloody clashes which took place during the June uprising in Paris, but it is waged by a far larger number of people with much greater tenacity and on a much larger territory.

National Petition

Unto the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled, the Petition of the undersigned, their suffering countrymen.


That we, your petitioners, dwell in a land whose merchants are noted for enterprise, whose manufacturers are very skilful, and whose workmen are proverbial for their industry.

The land itself is goodly, the soil rich, and the temperature wholesome; it is abundantly furnished with the materials of commerce and trade; it has numerous and convenient harbours; in facility of internal communication it exceeds all others.

For three­ and ­twenty years we have enjoyed a profound peace.

Yet, with all these elements of national prosperity, and with every disposition and capacity to take advantage of them, we find ourselves overwhelmed with public and private suffering.

We are bowed down under a load of taxes; which, notwithstanding, fall greatly short of the wants of our rulers; our traders are trembling on the verge of bankruptcy; our workmen are starving; capital brings no profit, and labour no remuneration; the home of the artificer is desolate, and the warehouse of the pawnbroker is full; the workhouse is crowded, and the manufactory is deserted.

We have looked on every side, we have searched diligently in order to find out the causes of a distress so sore and so long continued

We can discover none in nature, or in Providence.

Heaven has dealt graciously by the people; but the foolishness of our rulers has made the goodness of God of none effect.

The energies of a mighty kingdom have been wasted in building up the power of selfish and ignorant men, and its resources squandered for their aggrandisement.

The good of a party has been advanced to the sacrifice of the good of the nation; the few have governed for the interest of the few, while the interest of the many has been neglected, or insolently and tyrannously trampled upon.

It was the fond expectation of the people that a remedy for the greater part, if not for the whole, of their grievances, would be found in the Reform Act of 1832.

They were taught to regard that Act as a wise means to a worthy end; as the machinery of an improved legislation, when the will of the masses would be at length potential.

They have been bitterly and basely deceived.

The fruit which looked so fair to the eye has turned to dust and ashes when gathered.

The Reform Act has effected a transfer of power from one domineering faction to another, and left the people as helpless as before.

Our slavery has been exchanged for an apprenticeship to liberty, which has aggravated the painful feeling of our social degradation, by adding to it the sickening of still deferred hope.

We come before your Honourable House to tell you, with all humility, that this state of things must not be permitted to continue; that it cannot long continue without very seriously endangering the stability of the throne and the peace of the kingdom; and that if by God's help and all lawful and constitutional appliances, an end can be put to it, we are fully resolved that it shall speedily come to an end.

We tell your Honourable House that the capital of the master must no longer be deprived of its due reward; that the laws which make food dear, and those which by making money scarce, make labour cheap, must be abolished; that taxation must be made to fall on property, not on industry; that the good of the many, as it is the only legitimate end, so must it be the sole study of the Government.

As a preliminary essential to these and other requisite changes; as means by which alone the interests of the people can be effectually vindicated and secured, we demand that those interests be confided to the keeping of the people.

When the State calls for defenders, when it calls for money, no consideration of poverty or ignorance can be pleaded in refusal or delay of the call.

Required as we are, universally, to support and obey the laws, nature and reason entitle us to demand, that in the making of the laws, the universal voice shall be implicitly listened to.

We perform the duties of freemen; we must have the privileges of freemen.

Suffrage was finally delivered in the Representation of the People Act 1918, which extended the vote to all men over the age of 21 and to women over 30. However, it took another decade before the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 gave the vote to women on the same basis.

The secret ballot came about after the Ballot Act in 1872.

The suffrage to be exempt from the corruption of the wealthy, and the violence of the powerful, must be secret.

The assertion of our right necessarily involves the­power of its uncontrolled exercise.


The connection between the representatives and the people, to be beneficial must be intimate.

The legislative and constituent powers, for correction and for instruction, ought to be brought into frequent contact.

Errors, which are comparatively light when susceptible of a speedy popular remedy, may produce the most disastrous effects when permitted to grow inveterate through years of compulsory endurance.

To public safety as well as public confidence, frequent elections are essential.


With power to choose, and freedom in choosing, the range of our choice must be unrestricted.

We are compelled, by the existing laws, to take for our representatives, men who are incapable of appreciating our difficulties, or who have little sympathy with them; merchants who have retired from trade, and no longer feel its harassings; proprietors of land who are alike ignorant of its evils and their cure; lawyers, by whom the honours of the senate are sought after only as means of obtaining notice in the courts.

The labours of a representative, who is sedulous in the discharge of his duty, are numerous and burdensome.

It is neither just, nor reasonable, nor safe, that they should continue to be gratuitously rendered.

The Property Qualification for Members of Parliament Act 1858 repealed the requirement for the MP to own property after the MP for Beverley in Yorkshire was unseated and imprisoned for lying about his situation.

The Parliament Act of 1911 introduced a salary of £400 a year.

We demand that in the future election of members of your Honourable House, the approbation of the constituency shall be the sole qualification; and that to every representative so chosen shall be assigned, out of the public taxes, a fair and adequate remuneration for the time which he is called upon to devote to the public service.

Finally, we would most earnestly impress on your Honourable House, that this petition has not been dictated by any idle love of change; that it springs out of no inconsiderate attachment to fanciful theories; but that it is the result of much and long deliberation, and of convictions, which the events of each succeeding year tend more and more to strengthen.

The management of this mighty kingdom has hitherto been a subject for contending factions to try their selfish experiments upon.

We have felt the consequences in our sorrowful experience-short glimmerings of uncertain enjoyment swallowed up by long and dark seasons of suffering.

A fifth demand for "Equal Representation: the division of the United Kingdom into equal electoral districts" was met through the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885.

A final sixth demand for annual Parliamentry votes was never met.

If the self­government of the people should not remove their distresses, it will at least remove their repinings.

Universal suffrage will, and it alone can, bring true and lasting peace to the nation; we firmly believe that it will also bring prosperity.

May it therefore please your Honourable House to take this our petition into your most serious consideration; and to use your utmost endeavours, by all constitutional means, to have a law passed, granting to every male of lawful age, sane mind, and unconvicted of crime, the right of voting for members of Parliament; and directing all future elections of members of Parliament to be in the way of secret ballot; and ordaining that the duration of Parliaments so chosen shall in no case exceed one year; and abolishing all property qualifications in the members; and providing for their due remuneration while in attendance on their Parliamentary duties.

The People's Charter
Communism Is How We Forcibly Break Apart the Organized Power of the Capitalist Class
   To tell us what needs to be guarded in the van, write to   ?s    YTD All the available strength of the old order faced the unorganised power of the new, the unknown