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Chartism,workingmen's political reform movement in Great Britain, 1838–48. It derived its name from the People's Charter, a document published in May, 1838, that called for voting by ballot, universal male suffrage, annual Parliaments, equal electoral districts, no property qualifications for members of Parliament, and payment of members. The charter was drafted by the London Working Men's Association, an organization founded (1836) by William Lovett and others, but the movement gathered momentum largely because of the fervor and rhetorical talents of Feargus O'ConnorO'Connor, Feargus
, 1794–1855, Irish Chartist leader. Elected to the Parliament of 1832 as a supporter of Daniel O'Connell, he soon quarreled with O'Connell and was forced out of Parliament in 1835. Thereafter he devoted himself chiefly to the English radical movement.
..... Click the link for more information. . He traveled widely, especially in the north, where recurrent economic depressions and the constraints of the new poor lawpoor law,
in English history, legislation relating to public assistance for the poor. Early measures to relieve pauperism were usually designed to suppress vagrancy and begging.
..... Click the link for more information. (1834) had bred especially deep discontent, and recruited support for the charter. In Aug., 1838, the charter was adopted at a national convention of workingmen's organizations in Birmingham. The following February another convention, calling itself the People's Parliament, met in London. A Chartist petition was presented to Parliament (and summarily rejected), but the convention rapidly lost support as the multiplicity of aims among its members and rivalries among its leaders became apparent. Riots in July and a confrontation between Chartist miners and the military at Newport, Wales, in November led to the arrest of most of the Chartist leaders by the end of 1839. In 1840, O'Connor founded the National Charter Association (NCA) in an attempt to centralize the organization of the movement, but most of the other leaders refused to support his efforts. It was the NCA that drafted and presented to Parliament the second Chartist petition in 1842. It too was overwhelmingly rejected. By this time the vitality of Chartism was being undermined by a revival of trade unionism, the growth of the Anti-Corn Law League, and a trend toward improvement in working-class economic conditions. O'Connor began to devote himself to a scheme for settling laborers on the land as small holders. The last burst of Chartism was sparked by an economic crisis in 1847–48. In Apr., 1848, a new convention was summoned to London to draft a petition, and a mass demonstration and procession planned to present the petition to Parliament. The authorities took extensive precautions against trouble, but the demonstration was rained out and the procession, which had been forbidden, did not take place. This fiasco marked the end of Chartism in London, although the movement survived for a while in some other parts of the country.
See A. Briggs, ed., Chartist Studies (1959); M. Hovell, The Chartist Movement (3d ed. 1967); J. T. Ward, Chartism (1973); D. Goodway, London Chartism, 1838–1848 (1982); C. Godfrey, Chartist Lives (1987).
a movement of the workers of Great Britain in the 1830’s, 1840’s, and 1850’s that fought to implement the People’s Charter—hence the name “Chartism.” Engendered by the sharpening class contradictions brought about by the completion of the industrial revolution in Great Britain, Chartism constituted, according to V. I. Lenin, “the first broad, truly mass and politically organised proletarian revolutionary movement” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 38, p. 305).
The Chartist movement was the highest stage in the development of the working-class liberation struggle during the period preceding the rise of Marxism. It was a revolutionary protest by the workers against political disenfranchisement, capitalist oppression, and the monopoly of power by the landlords and the big bourgeoisie. Chartism reflected the profound discontent of the proletarian masses with the limited parliamentary reform of 1832, which had lowered the property qualification only to the extent that members of the bourgeoisie could be elected, and with the anti-working-class policy of the postreform Parliament. The movement demonstrated the revolutionizing effects of the economic crises of the 1830’s and 1840’s and indicated dissatisfaction with the limited aims of earlier proletarian struggles, which had been content to pursue the interests of particular trades.
Chartism, which emerged, for the most part, before scientific communism became an integral part of the proletarian movement, manifested a political incoherence characteristic of the proletarian struggle at that time, whose participants were influenced considerably by nonproletarian views and Utopian socialism. Despite its immaturity, however, Chartism proved that even at this early stage the working class was capable of independent political action, and it revealed an impulse among the working class toward solidarity and organization. As Lenin stated, Chartism “in many respects was something preparatory to Marxism, the ’last word but one’ before Marxism” (ibid., 5th ed., vol. 40, p. 290).
Although Chartism absorbed many traditions of the democratic movement that preceded it, the Chartists brought to the struggle for the democratization of the British governmental system a proletarian opposition to capitalism. F. Engels stressed that in Chartism “the entire working class rose against the bourgeoisie, attacking first of all the letter’s political power, the wall of laws with which it had surrounded itself” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch. , 2nd ed., vol. 2, pp. 451–52).
Chartism emerged as an organized movement with the establishment in 1836 of the London Working Men’s Association, among whose leaders was W. Lovett. The leaders of the LWMA drafted a program that was published in May 1838 as a bill entitled The People’s Charter, it included such demands as universal manhood suffrage and vote by ballot. Agitation for the charter became widespread, especially in central and northwestern England and in the industrial areas of Scotland and Wales, and was accompanied by mass demonstrations and meetings. The notion of exerting outside pressure on Parliament, along with the submitting of a petition, gained widespread popularity. The possibility of using revolutionary force was not ruled out: the Great Northern Alliance, founded in 1838 by F. O’Connor, advocated revolutionary methods. The LWMA’s proletarian wing, which was headed by G. J. Harney and supported resolute action, split from the association, which was dominated by petit bourgeois and artisan elements, and formed the independent London Democratic Association. The Northern Star, published by O’Connor from its inception in 1837, became the central organ of the Chartists.
Initially, Chartism was tied to the bourgeois democratic movement. The bourgeois radicals, notably such leaders of the Birmingham Political Union as T. Attwood, sought to restrict the movement to a campaign for further parliamentary reform. The moderates and bourgeois fellow travelers, committed to the principle of “moral force,” hoped to limit the struggle to peaceful propaganda. Some of the proponents of “physical force,” such as O’Connor and J. O’Brien, considered revolutionary struggle a means of self-defense. The left wing believed that the workers would have to use revolutionary force in order to win; this view was maintained by Harney, who was subsequently joined by such figures as E. Jones.
Bitter disputes flared up at the Chartist National Convention, which met in London in February 1839. Attempts by the revolutionary wing to turn the convention into a center of revolutionary struggle frightened many bourgeois radicals, whose representatives quit the convention. The remaining delegates failed to work out a genuine program for mass action.
On July 12, 1839, Parliament rejected the Chartist petition, which bore 1,280,000 signatures. The convention and the movement’s supporters were unprepared to carry out contingency measures, which included the organization of a general strike; nevertheless, the convention’s call for a strike to begin on August 12 was answered by workers in Manchester, Bolton, Macclesfield, and numerous other localities. On November 4, Welsh miners staged the Newport uprising, which was put down by troops.
In the 1840’s, the Chartist movement entered a new phase. On July 20, 1840, the National Charter Association was founded in Manchester; it reached a membership of 50,000 in 1842. The association was the first mass working-class party in history. Although it was unable to clearly define goals and tactics and suffered from a certain lack of organization, the National Charter Association waged a struggle to enable the working class to assume political power and use that power to transform society. The line was drawn between the Chartists and the bourgeois radicals. The convention that met in April 1842 reflected the desire of most Chartists to create an independent class movement. Several social demands were included in the new petition, notably the abrogation of the Poor Law of 1834, whose only provision providing relief to the poor was the workhouse. The petition also demanded a reduction in taxes, a shortened workday, and higher wages. For the first time, British workers demanded the dissolution of the union of Britain and Ireland that had been imposed in 1801.
More than 3.3 million signatures were gathered for the new petition, which was nevertheless rejected by Parliament. In response, miners, textile workers, and pottery workers in Staffordshire, Worcestershire, and Scotland went on strike in August 1842. From August 9 to August 16 the strike engulfed Lancashire and part of Cheshire and Yorkshire, assuming the character of a general strike in these areas. Uprisings broke out spontaneously in several places, and bloody clashes took place in Preston, Blackburn, and Halifax, with workers fighting police and troops.
In late 1842 the Chartist movement temporarily went into decline owing to the failure of the strike, to internal separatist tendencies, and to the immature social and political views of its members. Many Chartist leaders believed, with O’Brien, that a crucial means of solving social problems lay in land nationalization. Others saw the solution in the workers’ returning to the land; to accomplish this goal, O’Connor helped found the National Land Company in 1845.
The revolutionary trend nevertheless gained strength as the Chartist leaders tended toward proletarian socialism and internationalism. Left-wing Chartists, notably Harney, established close ties with K. Marx and F. Engels. In 1845 left-wing Chartists and revolutionary exiles from Germany and other countries founded the Fraternal Democrats, an international society, in London. Harney and Jones, the most progressive Chartist leaders, joined the Communist League.
In 1847 and 1848 the Chartist movement took on a wider scope under the influence of the economic crisis and disturbances in Ireland and revolutionary events on the Continent. In response to the upsurge in the proletarian struggle, Parliament in 1847 was compelled to pass a bill establishing a ten-hour workday. O’Connor was elected to the House of Commons. Harney and Jones were unable, however, to persuade the convention that met in April 1848 to plan an armed struggle. A peaceful demonstration by the Chartists on April 10 was broken up by the government, and a third Chartist petition met with the same response as its predecessors. An attempt by the left wing to prepare an armed uprising proved unsuccessful. Most of the Chartist leaders, including Jones, were arrested, and on Aug. 14, 1848, a Chartist uprising in Ashton-under-Lyne was put down.
After 1848 the Chartist movement declined, and the adherents of O’Brien and O’Connor split into two mutually hostile sects. In response, the left-wing Chartists, supported by Marx and Engels, sought to revive Chartism on a socialist basis. The first English translation of The Communist Manifesto was published in the Chartist press. A new Chartist program was adopted in 1851. In it the movement proclaimed socialist goals for the first time; they included the establishment of the political hegemony of the working class through the implementation of the demands of the People’s Charter, the nationalization of land and banks, and the cooperation of labor.
The Chartists sought to take part in the strike movement and to combine economic struggle with political agitation. On their initiative the Labour Parliament convened in March 1854; it was attended by representatives from the trade unions and nonorganized workers. The Chartists failed to create, however, a mass organization. Using Great Britain’s worldwide industrial and colonial monopoly, the bourgeoisie, by creating a privileged stratum, the labor aristocracy, were able to divide the working class and thereby temporarily weaken its revolutionary energy. As reformist tendencies in Great Britain’s working-class movement became dominant, Chartism steadily lost its influence among the working class, and at the end of the 1850’s it finally disappeared from the historical stage.
Chartism, which Lenin described as “the revolutionary period of the English labour movement” (Poln. sobr. soch. , 5th ed., vol. 16, p. 25), strongly influenced Great Britain’s social development. The ruling classes were compelled to implement in one form or another the main democratic demands of the Chartist program. Great Britain’s working-class movement, despite the malign influence of reformism, preserved the traditions of Chartism. Chartism and its lessons were of international importance.
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L. I. GOLMAN