“War to the palaces, peace to the cottages” - A rallying call of the Chartists
The need for the whole working class to once again unite for the struggle has again come to the fore so it is pertinent to look back in history.
The Chartists Movement was an organisation of no compromise, their slogan was “The Charter and nothing but the Charter.” It was the first class party of the workers which thrust the issue of class power to the front and it shook the rising capitalist system to its foundations. The temper of the workers was clearly in favour of revolution. Chartism declared a class war.
George Julian Harney wrote:
“As regards the working men swamping all other classes the answer is simple – other classes have no right to exist. To prepare the way for the absolute supremacy of the working class preparatory to the abolition of the system of classes, is the mission of The Red Republican.”
A further example from the writings of Ernest Jones:
"An amalgamation of classes is impossible ... these two portions of the community must be separated distinctly, dividedly and openly, from each other, CLASS AGAINST CLASS. All other mode of procedure is mere moonshine."
The General Strike - Folded Arms
It was in the eighteen-thirties that this idea of the General Strike emerged. It did so partly through the activities of William Benbow’s conception of a general stoppage of work put forward in his pamphlet The Grand National Holiday. He argued that the workers had “only to say we must be free” and “they would be so two days afterwards.” Benbow held that violence was not necessary. He wanted the workers simply to take a month’s holiday. He set about urging the workers to set up local committees to organise the holiday, “the sacred month”. The idea became popular among the workers and unions of the workers increased the support for the “National Holiday.” It was carried a step further forward by those radicals in the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union who declared that the delegate conference of trades was a better form of government than parliament and that it represented the government of the workers as against the government of the employers. The Chartist Association issued a manifesto:
“Englishmen! The blood of your brethren reddens the streets of Preston and Blackburn and the murderers thirst for more. Be firm, be courageous, be men. Peace, law and order have prevailed on our side; let them be revered until your brethren in Scotland, Wales and Ireland are informed of your resolution and when a universal holiday prevails, which will be the case in eight days, then of what use will bayonets be against public opinion?"
The Government, however, far from surrendering its power, turned all its attention to repressive measures; while the factory owners formed themselves into volunteer forces of “specials.” Bayonets and sabres did indeed carry the day in the end and subdued public opinion.
The Chartist “folded arms” theory periodically reappears as a theory for the labour/socialist movement. Syndicalists and Leftists are still under the illusion that the General Strike can achieve the emancipation of the workers. They still promote the General Strike as a weapon in the struggle of the working class. We need not resort to the history of the 19th century for evidence of its failure. The 1926 General Strike provides ample proof that in a fight against the whole capitalist class, the workers industrial muscle is inadequate, and it is political power that will prevail.
However, as one observer after the collapse of Chartism commented, “One might imagine that all is peaceful, that all is motionless; but it is when all is calm that the seed comes up, that republicans and socialists advance their ideas in people’s minds.”