Frederick Engels

The English View of the Internal Crises [179]

Written: on November 29, 1842;
First published: in the Rheinische Zeitung No. 342, December 8, 1842;
Marked with the sign ‘x’;
Source: MECW Volume 2;
Transcribed: in 2000 for by Andy Blunden.

London, November 29. If one engages for a time in a quiet study of English conditions, if one comes to understand clearly the weak foundation on which the entire artificial edifice of England’s social and political well-being rests, and then suddenly finds oneself amidst the hustle and bustle of English life, one is astonished at the remarkable calm and confidence with which everyone here looks to the future. The ruling classes, whether middle class or aristocracy, whether Whigs or Tories, have now ruled the country for so long that the emergence of any other party seems to them an impossibility. No matter how much one may point out to them their sins, their inconsistency, their vacillating policy, their blindness and obduracy, and the precarious state of the country which is the outcome of their principles, they remain unshaken in their assurance and confident in their ability to lead the country to a better position. And if a revolution in England is impossible, as they at least assert, they have indeed little to fear for their rule. If Chartism has the patience to wait until it has won a majority in the House of Commons, it will have to go on for many a year to come holding meetings and demanding the six points of the People’s Charter [180]; the middle class will never renounce its occupation of the House of Commons by agreeing to universal suffrage, since it would immediately be outvoted by the huge number of the unpropertied as the inevitable consequence of giving way on this point. Therefore Chartism has not yet been able to gain any hold among educated people in England and will remain unable to do so for some time yet. When people here speak of Chartists and radicals, they almost always have in mind the lower strata of society, the mass of proletarians, and it is true that the party’s few educated spokesmen are lost among the masses.

Moreover, irrespective of political interests, the middle class can only be Whig or Tory, never Chartist. Its principle is the preservation of the status quo; in England’s present condition, “legal progress” and universal suffrage would inevitably result in a revolution. It is therefore quite natural that the practical Englishman, for whom politics is a matter of arithmetic or even a commercial affair, pays no attention at all to the power of Chartism, which is quietly growing to formidable proportions, since it cannot be expressed in numbers, except perhaps in such as, in relation to the government and Parliament, would be noughts after the decimal point. But there are things which are beyond numerical calculation, and it is here that the super-cleverness of English Whiggery and Toryism will suffer a debacle, when the time comes.