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The Agitation Outside Parliament

Karl Marx

London, May 16. The resentment of the bourgeois opposition caused by the vote in the House of Lords on the occasion of Ellenborough's motion is a symptom of weakness. On the contrary, they ought to celebrate the rejection of the motion as a victory. To force the House of Lords, the supreme council of the aristocracy, in solemn public debate to declare its satisfaction with the way the war has hitherto been conducted, loudly to acknowledge Palmerston as their champion and representative, and definitely to reject mere pious wishes for administrative reform, for any kind of reform what more favourable results could the enemies of the aristocracy expect from Ellenborough's motion? Above all they had to seek to discredit the House of Lords, the last bastion of the English aristocracy. But they complain that the House of Lords disdains fleeting popularity at the cost not of its privileges but of the existing cabinet. It is in the order of things for The Morning Herald to complain, being the Tory organ, the organ of all the prejudices of "our incomparable constitution"[a]. For The Morning Herald it was a comforting prospect, after the Whig oligarchy performing as the friends of the bourgeoisie and of "liberal progress" for a century and a half, to see the roles change and the Tories now entrusted for another century and a half with the role of "aristocratic" representatives of the bourgeoisie and of "liberal progress". The Morning Herald has a right to complain, a good, solid right. But the bourgeois opposition? Did it perhaps imagine that a moderate demonstration of City merchants would be enough to force the aristocracy into committing suicide, into abdicating? The truth, however, is that the bourgeoisie desires a compromise, that it expects flexibility from the other side to enable it too to be flexible; that it would like, if possible, to avoid a real struggle. As soon as the struggle becomes a real one, the "million", as they call the "lower" classes, too, will rush into the arena, not just as spectators, not just as referees, but as a party. And the bourgeoisie would like to avoid this at all costs. It was a similar reason that kept the Whigs out of the Cabinet from 1808-1830. They wanted to throw out their opponents at any price except the price of real concessions to the bourgeoisie, without whose aid the Tories could not be thrown out, except the price of a parliamentary reform. We have seen the ambiguous, off-hand way and the aloof, ironically non-committal manner in which Ellenborough and Derby set themselves up as supporters of the bourgeois administrative reform, while doing everything to ward off their supposed allies. We now see, on the other hand, how timidly and perfidiously the reforming businessmen of the City first tried to forestall any opposition from the Chartists and temporarily secure their silence, so as to juggle them out of the positions they had voluntarily granted them. In the case of the City merchants no less than in that of the Tories; fear and dislike of the supposed ally outweighs hostility towards the supposed enemy. The course of events was briefly this.

The "Administrative Reform Association" feared opposition from the Chartists, who, as the reader will remember, had got the better of the "National and Constitutional Association" at two large meetings in St. Martins Hall and 'Southwark, forcing it to retreat from the territory it had chosen itself[b]. On April 26 they sent Mr. James Acland (a former Anti-Corn Law lecturer[c]) to the rooms of Ernest Jones, where he announced himself as an "envoy" of the Administrative Reform Association, which was counting on the support of the Chartists, it being its wish to abolish the "class legislation" and install a popular government. Ile invited Ernest Jones to a meeting the next day with the committee of the said administration[d]. Jones declared that he was not entitled to reply in the name of the Chartist party. He had to decline to attend the meeting until he had consulted the London executive committee of the Chartists[156], which was to meet the following Sunday.

On Sunday evening, April 29, Jones informed the Chartist committee of the whole affair. He was authorised to proceed with the negotiations. The following morning Jones had a meeting with Mr. Ingraham Travers, the leader of the City movement, who personally accredited Mr. James Acland as the authorised agent and representative of his party. Mr. I. Travers assured Jones that their intention was to form a popular government. The resolutions as printed in The Times[e] were only provisional; the means of achieving their goal had to be decided first by the executive committee to be elected at the London Tavern meeting. As evidence of their sympathy for the cause of administrative reform the Chartists should appoint a speaker to represent them at the meeting. He would be called upon by the chairman to support one of the resolutions. Further, the Chartists should appoint a representative who, at the suggestion of the provisional committee of the City merchants, would be appointed a permanent member of the executive committee of the Reform Association at the Tavern meeting. Finally it was agreed that, admittance being by ticket only, the Chartists would receive their due share of these tickets. Jones declined to let the matter be left to a purely verbal agreement and informed Mr. Ingraham [Travers] that he would have to put forward all the points mentioned in a letter to the Chartists' executive committee.

This was done. The letter arrived, overflowing with assurances. However, when the time came for the delivery of the admission tickets, only 12 tickets arrived. When the Chartist committee complained about this breach of promise, the others apologised saying there were no more tickets left. However, if the Chartist committee would station two of its members at the. door of the Tavern, they would be authorised to admit whoever they pleased, even without a ticket. Messrs. Slocombe and Workman were elected by the Chartists for this purpose and received Mr. Travers's authorisation. To eliminate all suspicion the Administrative Reform Association sent a special messenger with a letter for Jones on the day of the meeting[f], a few hours before its commencement, to remind him that the chairman would request him to speak in favour of resolution 4, and that he would be proposed to the meeting as a member of the executive committee, in his status as representative of the Chartists.

About an hour before the meeting large numbers of Chartists assembled outside the Tavern. As soon as the doors were opened, Messrs. Slocombe and Workman were forbidden to admit anyone without a ticket. Eight tickets were reluctantly distributed in order to gain time at a moment when the pressure from outside seemed to be getting serious. This time was used to bring along a unit of police waiting in readiness in a sidestreet. From this moment on nobody else was admitted except "well-known merchants and bankers". Indeed, people in working-class dress, in the familiar corduroy jackets, were turned away even if they had entrance tickets. To deceive the crowd of workers waiting in the street, the doors were suddenly locked and notices put up saying, "The hall is full. Nobody else will be admitted". At the time, however, the hall was not even half full, and "gentlemen" arriving in their carriages were admitted through the windows and by way of a back-door through the kitchen. The crowd of workers dispersed calmly, since they did not suspect any treachery. Although Ernest Jones showed his "platform ticket" at the meeting, he was not allowed up on the platform, much less permitted to speak of course. The Association had achieved two aims—to prevent any opposition from the Chartists, and to be able to point to the crowd in the street as their supporters. But these were only supposed to appear as extras in the street.

Ernest Jones, in an appeal to the workers of England, relates this comedy of intrigues and on behalf of the Chartists throws down the gauntlet to the Administrative Reform Association.[g]

Written on May 16, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 229, May 19, 1855
Marked with the sign x


[a] This refers to an article on the debate in the House of Lords on May 14, 1855, published by The Morning Herald, No. 22432, May 16, 1855.—Ed.

[b] Probably a reference to Marx's article "A Meeting" (see this volume, pp. 98-100).—Ed.

[c] Marx uses the English words "Anti-Corn Law lecturer".—Ed.

[d] See this volume, pp. 166-69.—Ed.

[e] "Administrative Reform", The Times, No. 22040, April 28, 1855.—Ed.

[f] May 5, 1855.—Ed.

[g] E. Jones, "Political Felony. Infamous Chicanery and Fraud of Administrative Reform Association", The People's Paper, No. 158, May 12, 1855.—Ed.

[156] A reference to the London Chartist Organising Committee set up in February 1855 as a successor to the Welcome and Protest Committee. The latter had been formed by Ernest Jones in October 1854 to arrange a festive welcome to London for Armand Barbès, a participant in the 1848 revolution in France who had been released from prison, and to organise a demonstration of protest against the proposed visit to London of Napoleon III, who was expected to come at about the same time. Together with the Executive of the National Charter Association the London Organising Committee worked for the revival of the Chartist movement in London and for closer international co-operation of democratic forces. The Committee included Ernest Jones, George Harrison, James Taylor and other noted Chartists. It set up a seven-man commission charged with the task of establishing international ties. Together with representatives of French, German and other refugees in London the commission formed an International Committee. At the end of 1855 the London Organising Committee was disbanded, and the International Commit-tee was set up as an independent organisation. Renamed the International Association in 1856, it operated until-1859.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.194-197), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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