THE CHARTER AND ITS ORIGIN
Movement, which occupied so large a space in English public affairs
during the ten years 1838 to 1848, was a movement whose immediate
object was political reform and whose ultimate purpose was social
regeneration. Its programme of political reform was laid down
in the document known as the "People's
Charter," issued in the spring of 1838. Its social aims
were never defined, but they were sufficiently, though variously,
described by leading men in the movement. It was a purely
working-class movement, originating exclusively and drawing its
whole following from the industrialised and unpropertied working
class which had but recently come into existence. For the most
part it was a revolt of this body against intolerable conditions of
existence. That is why its programme of social amelioration
was vague and negative. It was an attempt on the part of the
less educated portion of the community to legislate for a new and
astounding condition of society whose evils the more enlightened
portion had been either helpless or unwilling to remedy. The
decisive character of the political aims of the Chartists bespeaks
the strength of political tradition in England.
The "People's Charter" is a draft of an Act of Parliament, a
Bill to be presented to the House of Commons.
It is drawn up in a clear and formal but not too technical style,
with preamble, clauses, and penalties, all duly set forth. It
is a lengthy document, occupying some nineteen octavo pages, but
brevity itself in comparison with a fully-drawn Bill for the same
purpose from the hands of a Parliamentary draughtsman. The
preamble is as follows:
Whereas to insure, in as far as it is possible by human
forethought and wisdom, the just government of the people, it is
necessary to subject those who have the power of making the laws to
a wholesome and strict responsibility to those whose duty it is to
obey them when made,
And whereas this responsibility is best enforced through the
instrumentality of a body which emanates directly from, and is
immediately subject to, the whole people, and which completely
represents their feelings and interests,
And whereas the Commons' House of Parliament now exercises in
the name and. on the supposed behalf of the people the power of
making the laws, it ought, in order to fulfil with wisdom and with
honesty the great duties imposed on it, to be made the faithful and
accurate representation of the people's wishes, feelings, and
The definite provisions fall under six heads — the famous
"Six Points" of the Charter. First, every male adult is
entitled to the franchise in his district after a residence of three
voting is by ballot. Third, there will be three hundred
constituencies divided as equally as possible on the basis of the
last census, and rearranged after each census. Fourth,
Parliament is to be summoned and elected annually. Fifth,
there is to be no other qualification for election to Parliament
beyond the approval of the electors — that is, no property
qualification. Sixth, members of Parliament are to be paid for
Besides these fundamentals of a democratic Parliamentary
system, there are minor but highly important provisions. The
Returning Officers are to be elected simultaneously with the members
of Parliament, and they are to be paid officials. All
elections are to be held on one and the same day, and plural voting
is prohibited under severe penalties. There is no pauper
the expenses of elections are to be defrayed out of an equitable
district-rate. Canvassing is illegal, and there are to be no
public meetings on the day of election. A register of
attendance of the members of Parliament is to be kept — a logical
outcome of payment. For the infringement of the purity of
elections, for plural voting, canvassing, and corrupt practices,
imprisonment is the only penalty; for neglect, fines.
As an arrangement for securing the purity of elections and
the adequate representation of public opinion in the House of
Commons, the "People's Charter" is as nearly perfect as could be
desired, and if a sound democratic government could be achieved by
the perfection of political machinery, the Chartist programme would
accomplish this desirable end. The Chartists, like the men of
1789 in France, placed far too great a faith in the beneficent
effects of logically devised democratic machinery. This is the
inevitable symptom of political inexperience. We shall
nevertheless see that there were Chartists, and those the best minds
in the movement, who realised that there were other forces working
against democracy which could not be removed by mechanical
improvements, but must be combated by a patient education of the
mind and a building up of the material welfare of the common people
— the forces of ignorance, vice, feudal and aristocratic tradition.
The political Chartist programme is now largely incorporated
into the British Constitution, though we have wisely rejected that
multiplication of elections which would either exhaust public
interest or put an end to the stability and continuity of
administration and policy. In itself the Chartist Movement on
its political side represents a phase of an agitation for
Parliamentary Reform which dates in a manner from the reign of
agitation began therefore when Parliament itself began to play a
decisive part in public affairs, and increased in vehemence and
scope according as the importance of Parliament waxed.
The abuses of the representative system were already
recognised and turned to advantage by politicians, royal and
popular, during the latter half of the sixteenth and the first half
of the seventeenth century; but beyond a single timid attempt at
reform by James I. nothing was attempted until the great
politico-religious struggle between 1640 and 1660. It is here
that we must look for the origins of modern radical and democratic
ideas. The fundamentals of the representative system came up
for discussion, and in the Instrument of Government, the written
constitution which established the Protectorate in 1653, a drastic
scheme of reform, including the normalisation of the franchise and a
sweeping redistribution of seats, was made. In the
preliminaries to this the question whether true representation was
of persons or of property, which goes to the root of the matter, was
debated long and earnestly by the Army in 1647. In the debate
on the Agreement of the People, the Radical and Whig standpoints are
Mr. Pettus—Wee judge that all inhabitants that
have nott lost their birthright should have an equall voice in
Rainborough—I think its cleare that every man that is to live
under a Government, ought first by his owne consent to putt himself
under that Government.
Ireton—. . . You must fly for refuge to an absolute naturall
right. . . . For my parte I think itt is noe Right att all. I
think that noe person hath a right to an interest or share in the
disposing or determining of the affaires of the kingdome and in
chusing those that shall determine what lawes wee shall bee ruled by
heere, noe person hath a right to this, that hath nott a permanent
fixed interest in this kingdome.
Here obviously the question of manhood or property suffrage
is the issue. Colonel Rich declared that manhood suffrage
would be the end of property.
Those that have node interest in
the kingdom will make itt their interest to choose those that have
noe interest. Itt may happen that the majority may by law,
nott in a confusion, destroy propertie: there may bee a law enacted
that there shall bee an equality of goods and estate.
There was at the same time a demand for short and regular
Parliaments, and that elections should be made "according to some
rule of equality or proportion" based upon "the respective rates
they (the counties and boroughs) bear in the common charges and
burdens of the kingdome . . . to render the House of Commons as
neere as may bee an equall representative of the whole body of the
People that are to elect." Parliament was to be elected
biennially and to sit not more than eight months or less than four.
Here, therefore, is the nucleus of a Radical Programme:
Manhood Suffrage, Short Parliaments, and Equal Representation.
We have even a hint at the doctrine of "absolute naturall right,"
which lies at the base of modern democratic theory since the French
Revolution, and which found an echo in the minds of all Chartists
two hundred years after the famous debates at Putney. With the
downfall of the Commonwealth such conceptions of abstract political
justice were snowed under by the Whig-Tory reaction.
Henceforth both parties stoutly upheld the "stake in the kingdom"
idea of representation. The height of this reaction came in
the High Tory days of Queen Anne, when the legal foundations of the
aristocratic regime were laid. The imposition of a property
qualification upon would-be members of Parliament dates from 1710,
when it was enacted that the candidate for a county must possess
£600 a year and for a borough £300 a year, in both cases derived
from landed property.
This act was passed in the face of some Whig opposition, as the
Whigs would have made exceptions in favour of the wealthy merchants
of their party. Two years later followed the first of the
enactments throwing election expenses upon the candidate.
A further diminution of popular control resulted from the Septennial
Act, though this was a Whig measure.
The Radical tradition, however, was not dead but sleeping.
It lived on amongst the dissenting and nonconformist sections, whose
ancestors had fought and debated in the days of Cromwell and had
been evicted in 1662. The revival of Nonconformity under the
stimulus of Methodism, the growth of political and historical
criticism during the eighteenth century, and the growing
estrangement between the House of Commons and the people at large,
brought about a resurrection of Radicalism. In the second half
of the century the Radical Programme appeared in full vigour.
The first plank of the Radical platform to be brought into
public view was the shortening of the duration of Parliaments.
In 1744 leave to bring in a Bill establishing Annual Parliaments was
refused only by a small majority. In 1758 another Bill was
refused leave by a much more decisive vote. In 1771 Alderman
Drawbridge failed to obtain leave to introduce a similar measure,
although he had the moral support of no less important persons than
Chatham and Junius.
In the same year a Wilkite society recommended that Parliamentary
candidates should pledge themselves to support a Bill to "shorten
the duration of Parliaments and to reduce the number of Placemen and
Pensioners in the House of Commons, and also to obtain a more fair
and equal representation of the people."
By this time the flood of controversy aroused by the Wilkes
cases was in full flow, and the tide of Radical opinion was swelled
by the revolt of the American Colonies. In 1774 Lord Stanhope,
and in 1776 the famous Major John Cartwright, published more
sweeping plans of Parliamentary Reform. Cartwright's scheme is
set forth in the pamphlet, Take your Choice. Annual
Parliaments and the payment of members are defended and advocated on
the ground that they were "the antient practice of the
Constitution," an argument which was a mainstay of the Chartist
leaders. Payment of members was in force down to the
seventeenth century, the oft-cited Andrew Marvell receiving wages
from his Hull constituents as late as 1678. In claiming Annual
Parliaments as a return to ancient ways Cartwright had the
authority, such as it was, of Swift.
Universal suffrage, vote by ballot, and the abolition of plural
voting also found a place in Cartwright's scheme, but he maintained
the property qualification for members of Parliament.
Thus four of the six "points" of the Charter were already admitted
into the Radical programme. It only required a few years to
add equal electoral districts and the abolition of the property
These were added by a committee of reformers under the
guidance of Fox in 1780. The whole programme figured in the
interrupted speech of the Duke of Richmond in the House of Lords in
the same year and in the programme of the Society of the Friends of
the People (1792-95). The Chartists were not unaware of the
long ancestry of their principles.
There was a prophetic succession of Radicals between 1791, when the
first working men's Radical society—the London Corresponding
Society—was founded, and 1838, when the Charter was published.
Down to the outbreak of the French Revolution the Radical faith in
England, as in France, was mainly confessed in middle-class and some
aristocratic circles. Wilkes, Fox, Sawbridge, and the Duke of
Richmond are types of these early Radicals. With the opening
of the States-General and the rapid increase of terrorism in France
the respectable English Radicals began to shelve their beliefs.
On the other hand, the lower classes rallied strongly to the cause
of Radical reform, and the Radical programme fell into their
keeping, remaining their exclusive property for the next forty
years. When the middle class in the days after Waterloo
returned to the pursuit of Parliamentary Reform, it was reform of a
much less ambitious character. The working classes still held
to the six points. During these forty years Radicalism became
a living faith amongst the working class. It had had its
heroes and its prophets and its martyrs, and when the salvation
promised by the Whig reform of 1832 had proved illusory, it was
perfectly natural to raise once more, in the shape of the "People's
Charter," the ancient standard of popular reform.
By this time, however, the six points had acquired a wholly
different significance. In the minds of the early Radicals
they had represented the practical realisation of the vague notions
of natural right. The programme was a purely political one,
and was scarcely connected either with any specific projects of
social or other reforms, or with any particular social theory.
It represented an end in itself, the realisation of democratic
theory. By 1838 the Radical programme was recognised no longer
as an end in itself, but as the means to an end, and the end was the
social and economic regeneration of society.
THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
1815-1840 represent the critical years of the Industrial Revolution.
The inventions and discoveries of the previous century had provided
the framework of a new industrial society, but the real social
development, with the ideas, political and economic, and the new
social relationships which grew out of it, appeared in full force
only in the generation which followed the battle of Waterloo.
It was then that the victory of machine production became an
acknowledged fact, and with it the supremacy of large-scale
production and large-scale organisation over domestic production and
organisation. The rapid growth of production for the foreign
market gave to industry a more speculative and competitive
character, whilst the lack of real knowledge and experience gave
rise to rash and ill-considered ventures which helped to give so
alarming a character to the crises of 1816, 1826, and 1836.
Though fluctuation in trade was not the creation of the Industrial
Revolution, it seems clear that the increase of large-scale
production for distant markets, with a demand which was seldom
gauged with any exactitude, caused these fluctuations to be
enormously emphasised, so that the crises above mentioned (with the
last of which the Chartist Movement is closely connected) were
proportionately far more destructive than depressions in trade now
are. The rapid accumulation of capital and the development of
credit facilities aided in the rise of a class of employers who were
not the owners of the capital which they controlled. Thus the
social distance which separated employers and employed was widened
as capital seemed to become more and more impersonal. Under
the old domestic system the employer resided as a rule in the
neighbourhood of his work-people, but the new captains of industry,
whose fathers had perhaps been content to follow the example of the
domestic master by living next to their workshops and factories,
built themselves country houses farther away from the town, whilst
their employees festered amidst the appallingly insanitary streets
and alleys which had grown up around the factories. This
separation was emphasised when, with the rise of joint-stock
companies, the employer became practically the agent for a number of
persons who had no other connection with or interest in industry
than those arising out of the due payment of dividends. Such
conditions arouse no particular feelings of discontent at the
present day, but at a time when organisations for mutual protection
against oppression were very infrequent and seldom very effective,
it was felt that the personal and social contact of the employer and
his workmen was the only guarantee of sympathetic treatment.
This divorce of classes in industrial society was making headway
everywhere, even in those industries which were still under domestic
arrangements, as the industry fell more and more into the hands of
large wholesale houses. Crude ideas of class war were making
their presence felt amongst the working people, whilst employers,
who were influenced by the equally one-sided political economy of
the period, tended to regard the interests of their class as
paramount and essential to the development of national prosperity.
The bane of the industrial system was the encouragement it gave to
the rise of a brood of small capitalists but little removed in
culture and education from the working people themselves, slender of
resources, precarious in position, and therefore unable to abate one
jot of the advantage which their position gave them over their
workmen, often unscrupulous and fraudulent, and generally hated by
those who came under their sway. There was as yet no healthy
public opinion such as at present reacts with some effect upon
industrial relationships, though such an opinion was growing up by
the year 1840. Ignorance allowed many abuses to flourish, such
as the hideous exploitation of women and children in mines and
collieries as well as in other non-regulated industries.
Working men might with reason feel that they were isolated,
neglected, and exposed to the oppression of a social system which
was not of their own making or choosing, but which, as they thought,
was not beyond the control of their united power.
The transformation of industrial organisation from the
domestic to the large-scale system of production was by no means
completed in the year 1840. It is even doubtful whether the
large-scale system was as yet the predominant one. The weaving
trade, the hosiery trade, and the hardware industry as a whole were
carried on under systems which were either domestics or at least
occupied a transitional position between the old and the new
systems. Even in the mining industry the influence of large
capitalists was by no means universal, as an examination of the
Reports of the inquiries into the Truck System and into the
employment of children in 1842 and 1843 will show.
It was in these as yet unrevolutionised or only partially
revolutionised industries that the worst abuses and the most
oppressive conditions prevailed — abuses which are erroneously
supposed to be the outcome of the developed "capitalistic" system.
By the eighteenth century domestic industry was in general
under capitalistic control. Whilst maintaining outwardly the
organisation as it flourished in the heyday of the gilds, the system
had really undergone a radical change. The small, independent,
but associated producers of the Middle Ages had been able to
maintain themselves because they had only to satisfy the demands of
a fairly well known and only slowly developing market. Custom
was strong and regulated largely the relations between producer and
consumer, and between master, journeymen, and apprentices.
Rates of pay, prices, hours of labour, qualities, and kinds of
output were all fixed by custom and tradition which often received
the sanction of the law of the land. Gradually the market grew
and demand became less easy to gauge. This caused a new factor
to enter the organisation — the merchant manufacturer, whose
function it was to attend to the marketing of goods produced in each
one particular industry. The wider the distance in point of
time and place between producers and consumers, the more important
did the functions of the merchant manufacturer become, until he, in
fact, controlled the industry by virtue of his possession of
capital. Without capital the gap between producer and consumer
could not be bridged. Goods might now be produced many months
before they were consumed, and sold long before the purchase money
was handed over. Furthermore, the exhaustion of local supplies
of raw material in some industries and the introduction of
industries dependent upon foreign supplies — such as silk and cotton
— rendered the co-operation of accumulated capital essential.
Thus the master manufacturers lost their independence and became
mere links between the merchant capitalist and a hierarchy of
employees. The journeymen and apprentices sank one step lower
in consequence. So far the influence of the capitalist
merchant left the organisation of labour untouched. Gradually,
however, the desire to extend operations, the growth of capital, and
the natural development of the markets for goods induced a desire to
cheapen production. Forthwith came a greater specialisation
and division of labour. Apprenticeship ceased to be essential
to good workmanship, because an all-round knowledge of the processes
of production was no longer requisite, but only special skill in one
branch. The Act of Apprentices of 1562 fell into oblivion in
many trades, and there grew up a generation of mere journeymen who
would remain journeymen to the end of the chapter. The master
workman became a mere agent, often for a distant, seldom seen,
employer. Where apprenticeship still lingered, it was often a
means of exploiting the labour of children. The customary
relationships which had governed wages and regulated disputes lost
all meaning, and competitive notions were substituted for them.
In some industries this development went on faster and
farther than in others. In the spinning trade specialisation
had early on caused a series of mechanical inventions which by 1790
culminated in the application of steam-power and brought into being
the factory system of production. In this the lot of the
worker, though bad, was better than that of the domestic
industrialist of the succeeding generation. In the weaving
trade technical difficulties delayed the introduction of efficient
machinery till after the battle of Waterloo, whilst in some cases
where machinery was available prejudice and conservatism delayed its
introduction. Whilst therefore in the spinning trade the
transformation was quick and merciful, in the weaving trades it was
slow and terribly destructive. The Government Reports of the
time give a very vivid picture of the forces of disintegration and
reorganisation at work, and show how efficient an engine of
oppression the domestic system could be when the domestic spirit and
atmosphere had gone out of it, and an eager, competitive, and
commercial spirit had come into it.
In the Coventry silk trade, of which we have an admirable
account, control of
the industry was at the beginning of the nineteenth century in the
hands of merchant manufacturers of the type above described.
Labour was organised under the master weaver who owned looms at
which he employed journeymen and apprentices, although
apprenticeship was already going out of fashion. When,
however, the boom in trade, which was caused by the temporary
disappearance of foreign competition during the war, came to an end
in 1815, it brought about great changes in the trade. Control
had passed to the large wholesale houses of London and Manchester.
The large profits had caused many master weavers to become
independent traders, backed by the credit of the London houses.
When the crash came they were unable to hold out and became either
agents for the London houses to which they supplied goods on
contract, or they fell back into the ranks of journeymen. In
any case the London houses came to be the direct employers of labour
and the master weavers were mere middlemen. Regular
apprenticeship ceased altogether in many branches during the trade
boom, and a new system of apprenticeship was introduced which was in
fact a means of obtaining cheap child labour. Prices and wages
fell, owing to the competition of machine-made goods from Manchester
and Macclesfield, owing to the substitution of cotton for silk
goods, and owing to the easier access to the trade.
Competitive rates of wages were substituted for the customary rates
which had obtained under the old system. Collective bargaining
and attempts to get Parliamentary sanction for fixed wage-rates were
from time to time resorted to. The latter course was uniformly
unsuccessful, but the success of the attempts at collective
bargaining depended upon the facilities which the weavers had for
combined action. In the town of Coventry, where the labour was
concentrated and the old traditions still survived,
the recognition of the weavers' standard of life was still
effective, but in the country villages the weavers were dispersed,
ignorant, and wholly at the mercy of unscrupulous employers.
In these districts where the worst-paid work was done, and wages
were incredibly low — four or five shillings a week — there seems to
have been a total absence of any civilising medium. Education
was almost unknown, and the parishes were served by clergy who were
non-resident and scarcely ever visited them. In Coventry
itself wages stood in 1838 much where they had been in the latter
years of the eighteenth century, but the extraordinary complexity of
the organisation in 1838 
makes it impossible to say more than the Government Commissioner —
that the Coventry weavers were relatively worse off, compared with
other classes, than
they had formerly been. Others had prospered; they had stood
still. Besides, a weaver, who was middle-aged in 1838, could
easily remember the time when he earned twice as much for the same
memories, in the absence of real knowledge as to the causes of such
changes, were likely to be anything but soothing, and to cause men
to give a ready belief to the easy explanations of the socialistic
orators and pamphleteers of the time.
In fact the only persons who thought at all upon political questions
were frankly socialist.
The Coventry trade suffered, as did all others to a greater
or less degree, from enormous fluctuations. In December 1831
two thirds of all the looms in the town were idle,
whilst in November 1838 scarcely any were unemployed. It was
calculated that on the whole there were four persons doing work
which could be accomplished by three working full time. This
state of affairs was encouraged previous to 1834 by the abuses of
poor relief, which, as the Commissioner remarks, merely subsidised
labour for the distant London houses and helped to keep down wages
by creating a swollen reserve of labour.
In 1830 the poor rates were used to bribe electors (as all weavers
who had served a regular apprenticeship were enfranchised), and were
more than trebled in consequence.
In spite of these drawbacks the Coventry weavers were perhaps
the most fortunate survivors of the old state of affairs.
Their neighbours of the immediate vicinity were far worse off.
They pursued, as the Commissioner thought, almost an animal
existence. There were perhaps twenty thousand individuals in a
state of extreme destitution, filth, and degradation, in the town of
Nuneaton and its neighbourhood. It is pleasing to read that
things had once been worse.
The silk-weavers were, of all those engaged in the trade of
handloom-weaving, much the best situated. The worst off were
the cotton-weavers. It is not easy to say exactly how many
handloom cotton-weavers there were in 1835 or 1838. It was
estimated that there were in the Glasgow area in 1838 36,000
handlooms devoted mainly to cotton,
but in a small percentage of cases to a mixed silk and cotton
fabric. In Carlisle there were nearly 2000; in the Manchester
district from 8000 to 10,000. In Bolton there were 3000.
Looms were very numerous also in the Blackburn-Colne area, and in
the Accrington-Todmorden district.
Perhaps there were more than 25,000 handlooms in Lancashire, which
number, added to the figures above given, will give over 60,000
handlooms in all devoted to cotton-weaving, inclusive of the number
in which mixed fabrics were woven. An estimate made at
Carlisle gave an average of two persons to each loom; in Manchester
of two and one-third,
which suggests that between 120,000 and 150,000 individuals were in
1838 still dependent upon the precarious trade of handloom
cotton-weaving. As the Committee of 1834-35 estimated the
total number of handloom weavers in all four branches (cotton,
linen, wool, silk) as 840,000, this estimate is perhaps not
exaggerated. The cotton-weavers did not form any very
considerable proportion of the population of Lancashire — perhaps
60,000 or 70,000 out of a million and a quarter in 1838; but as they
were concentrated in a comparatively small area, and as there were
amongst them old men, who in the halcyon days of handloom-weaving
had acquired knowledge and culture and could make their influence
felt by other people, they attracted considerable attention.
The comparative slowness with which machinery was applied to
weaving was due to several causes. There was the technical
difficulty; there was the very heavy cost of the machines, and there
was the period of abnormally high prices at the beginning of the
nineteenth century which encouraged manufacturers to produce on the
old lines so as to reap the immediate profits with as little capital
outlay as possible. A great boom in handloom-weaving marked
the years 1795-1805. Wages were high owing to the abnormal
demand for weavers as compared with spinners. The industry was
swamped by an influx of unskilled hands who quickly learned
sufficient to enable them to earn vastly more than they had earned
elsewhere. Irish labourers poured into Lancashire and Glasgow.
A flood of small masters appeared and for a while prospered.
The end of the war brought on a terrible collapse, as the figures
given will show. A cambric weaver, who earned from twenty to
twenty-four shillings a week in the years 1798-1803, was earning
from twelve to sixteen shillings during the years 1804-1816, after
which he could earn no more than six or seven shillings.
Prices for weaving in some cases fell as much as 80 per cent during
the same period.
This collapse was rendered more destructive by the more rapid
introduction of power-looms after the period of abnormal trade was
over. Thus in 1803 there were but 2400 such looms; in 1820,
12,150; in 1829 there were 45,000; in 1835 nearly 100,000, of which
90,000 were used in the cotton trade alone.
The lot of the weavers was not improved by the subterfuges of the
small employers, who cut and abated wages without mercy in their
efforts to avoid bankruptcy. Though the number of
handloom-weavers constantly decreased, the process was delayed by
the influx of still poorer labourers from Ireland, and by the
practice of the weavers, in many cases compelled by poverty, of
bringing up their children to the loom, a practice which was
encouraged by the evil state of the conditions of labour in the
factories, which were often the only alternative.
By 1835 the handloom cotton-weavers were mostly employed by
large manufacturers, who in many cases had power-loom factories as
well. Thus the handloom-weavers fell into two classes — those
who competed with power and those who did not. The former were
the worse off. They formed a kind of fringe around the
factory, a reserve of labour to be utilised when the factory was
overworked. Thus they were employed only casually, but helped,
with the aid of doles out of the poor rates, to keep down the
general level of wages for weaving in and out of the factory.
Terrible are the descriptions of the privations of these men.
The weavers of Manchester made a return in 1838 of 856 families of
4563 individuals whose average earnings amounted to two shillings
and a penny per head per week. Of this amount one-half was
devoted to food and clothing. Exactly half of these poor souls
lived on only one-half of these amounts — or one penny per day for
food and clothing.
Such reports are confirmed from other towns such as Carlisle, where
the average earnings were somewhat, but little, larger.
A much smaller average was reported by the weavers of
Without relying wholly on these ex parte statements, it is
clear from the general consensus of reports that wages of one penny
an hour for a seventy hours' week were frequent, and even general.
The Commissioner said that it was unwise to tell the whole truth on
this point, as it was either discredited or gave the impression that
such evils were beyond remedy.
It is not to be supposed that the case of the handloom
weavers was a case of exploitation of industrious and honest men by
unscrupulous employers. The reports make it abundantly clear
that the trade had become the refuge for cast-offs from other
trades. There were, however, cases of real hardship,
especially where old weavers were concerned. Their lot was
exceedingly hard, as they could remember days of prosperity, and
often possessed knowledge and education which only served to
embitter those memories. The case of some of the Irish
immigrants was also hard, because they had been enticed into England
by manufacturers for the purpose of reducing wages and breaking
Against bad masters these poor men had little protection.
Combined action was impossible; there were no funds to support a
strike; and the least threat of such proceedings brought into use
more power-looms. In the distressful days of 1836-42 labour
was a drug in the market, and to transfer to another industry was
therefore possible to very few. The reformed Parliament was
it inquired twice, in 1834 and 1838-40, but could not devise a
remedy, though it could and did understand the nature of the evil.
To relieve such a body of men out of poor rates in such a way as to
raise them in the scale of citizenship was impossible in a
generation which applauded the deterrent poor law of 1834. To
men who had for years besought Parliament to remedy their ills, the
Poor Law Amendment Act must have come as a piece of cruel and
calculated tyranny, and have completed the alienation of the weavers
and similarly situated classes from the established order of things.
The system under which wages were paid in the weaving trade
was a source of immense irritation and oppression. Wages were
always subject to deductions. Some of these abatements were
payments for the preparation of the beam ready for weaving, which
was an operation which no weaver could perform for himself.
These were sanctioned by custom, but others were not.
Wholesale deductions were made for faults in weaving. The
weaver had legal aid against unjust abatements of this sort, but as
he received no pay till the question had been submitted to
arbitration, poverty usually compelled him to submit at once to the
this means nominal wages could be largely reduced by tyrannical
masters. In one case arbitration was precluded by withdrawing
a percentage of the market price beforehand, and in another no wages
were stated at all when work was given to weavers.
No wonder the experience of the weavers seemed to give point to the
teachings of writers like Hall and Thompson, to whom wealth
represented a power given to the rich to oppress the poor, and
capital a means whereby the employer might extract from the labour
of his men so much surplus value as would leave them no more than
enough to support a precarious and miserable existence.
The situation of those weavers who were employed in the wool
trade was much better than that of the unfortunate cotton-weavers.
Some of the old conservatism of the trade still remained, and
machinery had not yet made any great headway in it.
It was still, both in the West Riding and in Gloucestershire, a
domestic industry largely in the hands of small masters, but these
were themselves in the control of large wholesale houses.
The trade of master weaver was in the southern district annihilated
by a strike in 1825 which induced the large employers to set up
handloom factories and employ the journeymen direct.
The master weavers were compelled to accept work in the factories on
the same terms as their own journeymen — a situation which was
hardly likely to produce amiable feelings amongst them.
The manufacturers, being in the power of the London houses, for
which they really worked on contract, seem to have sweated their
employees. They were men of little capital and eager to
acquire profits. They were unable to do this otherwise than by
cutting wages. Strikes were frequent, but it was quite
impossible for the weavers to compel the masters to stick to the
agreed lists. They practised truck on occasion also.
The introduction of the hated factory system, 
combined with the other grievances, gave rise to a feeling of
intense bitterness between masters and men. Wages were low,
but not so low as in the cotton trade. Factory weavers earned
in 1838 nearly twelve shillings a week; outdoor master weavers
eight, and outdoor journeymen six.
These wages were much lower than those of 1825 
and of 1808, and the Assistant Commissioner estimated that seven
weavers out of ten had to seek occasional relief from the poor
The hosiery trade affords another example of the abuses to
which the domestic organisation of production may lead when the
domestic, semi-paternal motive has gone out of it and given place to
a purely commercial and competitive spirit. This change seems
to have begun in the hosiery trade about the middle of the
eighteenth century when the old Chartered Company lost its
privileges. The trade then fell largely into the hands of
large hosiers of Derby, Nottingham, and Leicester. The two
former localities produced both silk and cotton hosiery, but
Leicester specialised in worsted goods. The raw material, that
is spun yarn, was of course purchased from Lancashire, Yorkshire,
and Derbyshire. At the time of the Government inquiry in
1844-45  these large
houses were both merchants, purchasing goods from outside makers,
and manufacturers on their own account, employing knitters in their
own factories. But the bulk of the labour was still performed
in domestic workshops, scattered all over the three counties.
The knitting was done by a frame which was a complicated piece of
machinery, costly to purchase when new, and costly also to maintain
in repair. Thus it was rarer than in the handloom-weaving
trade for the knitter to own a frame, and the custom had obtained
throughout a century for frames to be hired by the worker at a fixed
rent which was deducted from wages.
In 1844, therefore, employment in the hosiery trade could be
obtained from two sources. The first was the hosier himself,
either in his factory or as direct employer at home. The
hosier supplied frame and yarn, and the price of labour was usually
stated on a "ticket." In the second case, which was the more
common, the work was obtained from a middleman or "bagman" who
received yarn from the wholesale dealer, distributed it to knitters,
and deducted from the market price of labour certain expenses which
represented the wages of his own labour and responsibility.
Obviously the wages of the knitter were less when employed by a
bagman than when employed directly by the hosier.
It was upon the bagman system that attention was concentrated in the
inquiry of 1844 45.
The bagman was, as a rule, a man of small capital who had
induced hosiers to entrust their yarn to his keeping. He was
the sole intermediary between the hosier and many scattered
knitters. He alone knew the price of goods and the margin
between prices and wages. He could not make profit on raw
material, nor increase the margin by extending his sphere of
operations as a large capitalist employer might. He depended
entirely upon his deductions from wages and upon the rent he
obtained from frames. The Report of 1845 is a chorus of
denunciation of his doings in these two respects.
The rent of frames was a fixed one and bore no relation to
the amount or value of work done, nor to the capital value of the
frame itself. It was an old customary payment sanctioned by a
century of usage. It was open to any one to make frames and
hire them to the various workers in the industry.
A class of people was thus called into existence whose sole
connection with the industry was the income from rents,
which were paid week by week without abatement for slack time, so
that the rent became a first charge upon the produce of the
industry. Frames could be hired to hosiers, bagmen, or
knitters themselves. In practice the last never happened,
because the knitters were too poor to guarantee the rent. The
bagmen paid higher rents than the hosiers, as there too there was an
element of risk. Consequently the bagman had to recoup himself
from the wages of the knitters, as he had no margin for economies on
the side of the hosier.
Thus force of circumstances drove the bagman to exploit the
knitters. Framework-knitting had largely ceased to be a
skilled trade since the introduction of an inferior make of
stockings about 1819.
Access to the trade was therefore easy, apprenticeship being a thing
of naught. Trade was always fluctuating owing to the changes
of fashion. New goods were continually being introduced.
Thereupon a new influx of hands, attracted by the good pay in the
special branch, took place. Very soon the fashion changed, and
the new hands went to swell the ranks of those employed upon the
All this was bad for the poor "stockinger," but the Report of
1844-45 makes it clear that his weakness was ruthlessly exploited by
unscrupulous and grasping "bagmen." Not content with deducting
the 30 or 40 per cent from wages, allowed by custom for his normal
labour and trouble of fetching and carrying yarn and goods, the
bagman resorted to underhand tricks. He understated the
warehouse prices and pocketed the margin; he exacted rent for frames
when the price of the goods was scarcely sufficient to pay it.
In slack times he would give one week's work for one knitter to two
or even three and draw full rents for two or three frames instead of
he resorted to truck.
The Report of 1845 is full of bitter and violent
denunciations of the bagmen. None of them is so eloquent as
that quoted by Mr. Podmore,
but a few are worth quotation: Samuel Jennings was employed by T. P.
of Hinckley, who paid all his wages in truck and even charged him
rent upon his (Jennings') own frame.
One knitter sued his employer in court. "On Saturday the 23rd
of December I settled with C. (defendant), and then had one pound of
candles on credit, and he also lent me sixpence in money. On
the 6th of January I reckoned with him for five dozen stocking feet
which I had made during the week. I was in his warehouse and
his son was present. My work came to 3s. 6½d. He
deducted for frame rent 2s. 0½d., candles 5½d., money borrowed
6d., leaving 6½d. to be paid to me."
Thomas Revil declares "our middlemen walk the streets like
gentlemen, and we are slaves to them." This latter was
literally true, as the knitter was always in debt to truck masters,
and was consequently unable to quit his employment for fear of
imprisonment. The fortunes made by hosiers and bagmen were
another source of indignation. Bagmen were often ignorant
people of obscure origin, and the rapid rise to fortune of
exceptional bagmen, who were more able or more unscrupulous than
their fellows, was a source of extreme bitterness. One case
was quoted where a shop-boy had in a few years acquired sixty or
seventy frames and never paid a penny in coin as wages.
It is to be expected that wages were low. Indeed with hosiers,
bagmen, and frame-owners to satisfy out of the produce of the
industry, and considering the bad situation of the knitters as
regards collective action, the wonder is that wages were not lower.
Wages had been artificially reduced by the action of the old
poor-law administration in paying out-relief as subsidies to wages. That had of course ceased when the inquiry was made, but a prolonged
depression during 1839-42 had reduced thousands of stockingers to
destitution. The whole industry was stagnating, so that there
seemed little prospect of improvement in the condition of the poor
knitters. At the time of the inquiry thousands of them were earning
for sixty or seventy hours' labour five or six shillings a week. At
the same time it must be remarked that extreme lowness of wages was
apparently chronic in the trade, and it is probable that the
distress of the 'forties was not exceptional. It was, however,
unaccompanied by the extended out-relief of former days since the
introduction of the New Poor Law, and the operatives who had
formerly borne privation with some resignation were now, through the
agency of Chartist and Syndicalist orators, furnished with
explanations of their evil situation. The district had been a hotbed
of Owenism in 1833-31 and of Chartism ever since 1839, facts which
show that the spirit of resignation had given way to a spirit of
It is necessary to dwell at some length upon the situation of the
handloom-weavers and the "stockingers." These two classes of workers
were the most ardent of Chartist recruits. They graduated for the
most part through the school of Anti-Poor Law Agitation, and
furnished many "physical force" men. Furthermore it is clear from
the Chartist speeches that the weavers and stockingers were regarded
as the martyrs of the economic system and as an indication of the
inevitable tendency of the system — an awful example to the workers
as a whole.
A modern reader may ask why these workers persisted in an occupation
so ill requited. Apart from the natural inertia which makes man of
all baggage the least easy to move, there were special causes
operating at the time under survey. One was that occupation in other
trades was not easy to get owing to trade depression. This was
especially the case with the one occupation for which stockingers
and weavers were suitable — factory labour. There were sufficient
and good reasons too, as every one knows, for avoiding factories in
those days. Further, men brought up to the frame and loom were as a
rule totally unfitted for other occupations when they reached middle
age. Poverty prevented them from apprenticing their children in
better-paid trades, and compelled them to employ their families at
the earliest possible age, long before they reached their teens. To
be sure, the coal and iron mines and the railways took more and more
of the young men and, sad to say, young women and children. Thus
these industries were recruited largely from the families of those
actually employed in them, but a natural elimination, especially in
the weaving trade, caused those who were young, hardy, and
enterprising to leave it, whilst the old, worn-out, the shiftless,
and the young children remained. These, either from discontent
engendered by memories of more prosperous days, or by reason of
their ignorance, or through hopelessness of improvement, were a
ready prey for the revolutionary literature which was freely
circulated amongst them.
The case of these industries is not the only one which gave support
to those Klassenkampf theories which form so conspicuous a
part of the Chartist philosophy. Amongst all classes of society the
evils of the factory system were held in abhorrence. That those
evils were great is sufficiently clear from any impartial account of
the early factories. That they attracted universal attention is
testified by the immense literature upon the subject. The popularity
of the agitation which was led by Sadler and Oastler during the
'thirties is a sign of a developing public conscience. Amongst the
working people, however, the agitation was also a part of the
general campaign against Capitalism. In other industries, indeed,
the exploitation of child-labour was the work not of the capitalist
employer, but of the workers themselves. It was done even where
there was no excuse on the score of poverty. There employment by
the master was a welcome reform. One of the leaders of the
Lancashire operatives in the ten hours' campaign was John Doherty, a
Trade Union leader of renown and a prominent Chartist. In fact,
factory agitation was the one form of Trade Union action which was
both safe from legal attack and popular amongst other classes than
the operatives themselves. The factory masters were denounced not
merely because they did on a large scale what many small employers
were doing on a small scale, but also because they represented that
developed Capitalism which the working classes were being taught by
many writers — of whom in this respect James O'Brien was not the
least virulent — to hate with their whole souls.
Turning now to other industries, the same transitional state of
organisation is to be found in such industries as mining and
quarrying, which are at the present day almost exclusively under the
control of large capitalists. The Reports of 1812-44 dealing with
these industries reveal a variety of industrial structure. In the
Portland stone quarries, gangs of quarrymen prospected on their own
account. In colliery districts custom varied considerably. In
Staffordshire the men were employed by sub-contractors called by the
euphonious name of "butties." In Northumberland and Durham the work
was controlled by large owners, as is generally the case nowadays.
The gang system seems to have prevailed in Leicestershire, parts of
the West Riding, the Lothians district and North Wales; the "butty"
system in Stafford, Shropshire, Warwick, and Derby; the proprietor
system in the two great northern fields, Lancashire, South Wales and
Monmouth, and in Lanarkshire. Where the gang system prevailed the
miners contracted, through the agency of their own elected or
selected heads, with the owners of the minerals, to procure the coal
or iron at specified prices. The owner furnished machinery and
the shaft; the miners did the rest. The butty system was the same
except that the contract or charter was procured by one or two small
capitalists who owned the tools and hired the miners. Under the
third system the whole personnel, machinery, and tools were
controlled by the proprietors.
Where the workmen were largely independent contractors under the
gang system, they could hardly complain of the conditions of their
labour, but under the other systems complaint was loud and
continuous. The butties occupied much the same position in the
mining industry as the bagmen in the framework-knitting. They were
bound to supply coal or iron ore at a fixed price. They hoped to
recoup themselves out of the profits of labour. Being men of small
capital, they were always in a precarious situation, as each
coal-getting venture entailed a large element of risk. If the price
fixed by the "charter" proved unremunerative, they were compelled to
grind profits or avoid losses out of wages. They resorted to all
sorts of practices: compelled miners to work at certain jobs without
pay; increased their daily tasks surreptitiously; abused the
labour of children, especially pauper apprentices, in a perfectly
inhuman fashion; and finally and inevitably, paid in "truck."
[Ed. ― "truck" being payment by masters of their men's
wages wholly or in part with goods ― a system open to various
abuse ― when workmen were forced to take goods at their
master's valuation. See also 'debt bondage' and 'bond slaves']. When butties existed, accidents were frightfully frequent. Lack of
capital induced slipshod and wasteful systems of propping. Naked
lights were used. Dangerous places were worked as a common thing. One thing, however, butties did not do: they did not employ girls
and women down the shafts. That appalling iniquity was perpetrated
by the miners themselves, but never where butties had control. Wages were not low, as wages went in 1840. In Staffordshire daily
wages were 4s. previous to the strike of 1842, when a reduction to
3s. 6d. was attempted. In the iron mines wages were rather lower
6d. to 3s. a day. These wages were of course far from princely, and
they were materially reduced by the system of paying in truck or "tommy."
 In some, perhaps many cases, the system of paying wages in goods
was at first productive of much advantage, especially where the
collieries were remotely situated, and the purchase of goods from
the nearest market-town was inconvenient. But it was so easy to
abuse the practice that few who adopted it avoided the temptation. The practice was all but universal in the mining industry, whatever
the organisation. It was widespread in other trades too; and this in
spite of the act of 1831 against it. As that act, however,
required the workman's evidence, actual or anticipated intimidation
was sufficient to make it a dead letter.
These abuses were not the only ones connected with the mining
industry. The revelations made in 1842-43 by Government inquiries
show that the industry was being carried on everywhere with as
complete a disregard for humanity and decency as could be found in
the society of heathen savages. Children were being employed at an
incredibly early age. Five, six, and seven years was a frequent
age for commencing work in the mines; exceptional cases of four, and
even three years were found. Monotonous beyond measure was the
labour of these mites who sat in the dark for a dozen hours a day to
open and shut doors. A boy of seven smoked his pipe to keep him
awake. The children employed were of both sexes, and girls of
tender age were condemned to labour like beasts of burden, harnessed
to trucks of coal. Pauper apprentices were practically sold into
slavery, and treated occasionally with the utmost ferocity. The
employment of adolescent girls and women was not unknown, especially
in Lancashire and Yorkshire, where, one may suspect, they were
driven from the handloom-weaving, the decay of which was no doubt
responsible also for the exceptionally early employment of children
in those districts. At the same time it must be noted that the
employment of girls and women, where it prevailed, was not a recent
introduction. Lancashire witnesses declared that it had existed
The consequences of this employment of workers of both sexes
underground, considering the extreme ignorance and semi-barbarism of
the colliery population, is better imagined than described. In
fact the reports reveal a state of filth, barbarism, and
demoralisation which both beggars description and defies belief.
Clearly Lancashire, Yorkshire, South Wales and Monmouthshire, and
the Lothians of Scotland were the worst districts, but all were bad
enough. The prevalence of so appalling a state of affairs is to be
explained only by considering the general isolation of the mining
districts. Some, as in Monmouth, Durham, the Pennine districts, were
situated amongst remote moorlands. In every case the opening of
mines had gathered together a promiscuous population into districts
hitherto unpopulated. Houses were built for the accommodation of the
employees by the colliery masters themselves. Beyond that little
care seems to have been exercised over the population so
concentrated. Churches were seldom built. The want of religious
ministrations was occasionally supplied by Chartist preachers. The
only source of social life was the demoralising atmosphere of the
pit or the equally insidious delights of the public-house, usually
the property of the butty or the colliery masters. The Newport
rising of November 1839 was engineered wholly in such public-houses
in the remote hill districts.
Respectable people in the neighbourhood seem to have considered the
collier population as utterly hopeless and irredeemable and took
little steps to ameliorate or improve their lot. The masters, we are
assured, never entered the pits to see what was going on, and abuses
went unchecked. Parents were allowed to bring their children into
the pit almost at any age. Women were even allowed to become hewers
of coal. The dress of both sexes was so alike as to be practically
indistinguishable, even in the light of day. Thus the blame for
the horrific condition of the mining population seems to be
distributed amongst all the classes concerned — masters, butties,
parents, and the public generally. There was a fearful awakening of
the public conscience when the Report of 1842 was published, and the
exclusion of women and children from the mines was voted in
Parliament without a murmur.
The task of those who had previously sought to make an impression
upon this population was hard but not hopeless. They met with no
great sympathy from those who had the means to help. The Rural Dean
of Birmingham  was quite unable to persuade a landowner to give a
quarter of an acre of land to build a church, although his land was
annually increasing enormously in value. Another wealthy owner, who
drew £7000 a year without ever seeing one of his employees, openly
boasted of the fact. The vicar of Wolverhampton applied to a man
who was supposed to have £50,000 a year from mines for funds to
build a church, but the man of wealth said his mines would be worked
out in seventy years and the church would then be of no use. But
though the task of reformers was hard, it was occasionally
successful, as at Oldham where, owing apparently to the development
of education, mainly in Sunday schools, a public opinion had grown
up which made the mining population there an honourable exception to
the general state of semi-savagery. On the whole it is the isolation, geographical and social, of the mining population which forces
itself most upon one's attention in reading the dismal reports. The
colliers had occasionally a dialect which was totally unintelligible
to educated ears. They were almost a foreign people. In fact, the
inhabitants of Monmouthshire spoke of the colliery districts, where
the outbreak of 1839 was brewing, in the language of people who
lived on the frontiers of a hostile territory.
The total mining population in 1840 was about three-quarters of a
million, the actual number of persons employed being about one-third
that number. The census return of 1831 enumerates trades and
handicrafts, but omits this large industry entirely.
It will not be necessary to enter into detailed descriptions of
other branches of industry. It will be sufficient to say that other
industries, such as the pottery and metal trades of the Midlands,
were being carried on under conditions which, if not so flagrantly
bad as those above described, were yet sufficiently demoralising.
Wolverhampton, Bilston, and Willenhall seem to have been the home of
the most appalling degradation — a perfect inferno where children were
brutalised by severe labour and savage treatment, and grew up into
stunted, stupid, and brutal men and women. Hard by was the
nail-making district of Dudley where the population is said to have
been more degraded even than the miners.
It is necessary to keep clearly in mind this social and economic
background of the Chartist Movement. A politico-social movement
which was engineered amongst such men (and it is clear that the more
prosperous and intelligent organised workers kept aloof from it)
could scarcely be compared with the working-class movements of the
present day, organised as the latter are by men of clear and shrewd,
though perhaps limited outlook, of uncommon ability, backed by three
generations of experience and a solid organisation.
THE RISE OF ANTI-CAPITALISTIC ECONOMICS AND SOCIAL
DURING the first
three decades of the nineteenth century English political and social
ideas underwent a profound change. This mental revolution may
be attributed to two main causes, the French Revolution and the
Industrial Revolution. Both of these produced different
effects upon the different classes of the community. The
French Revolution commenced by arousing the traditional political
radicalism of the English middle class, but the violence of the
Revolution itself, together with the teachings of the Economists,
who apparently demonstrated the incompatibility of the interests of
the employing and employed classes, drove the middle class to resist
even moderate measures of political change. At the same time
the theories and presuppositions of the Revolution, based as they
were on the doctrine of the Rights of Man, took a great hold upon
the imagination of the working classes and produced levelling
theories whose justice seemed all the stronger, as the actual course
of events seemed to demonstrate the evils which flowed from social
and economic inequality.
The Industrial Revolution, especially during the years
1800-1840, was largely on the social side an instrument of social
dislocation. Down to the middle of the eighteenth century
English agricultural society was still largely feudal in spirit.
The internationalism of feudalism, which had given Western Europe a
superficially homogeneous society, was gone, but otherwise feudal
conceptions still held sway. The landowner was still the head
of a local social system — Mr. Wells's "Blades-over" — which
comprised household, farm tenants, labourers, officials.
Social relationships consisted largely, on the part of the lower
orders, of feelings of more or less contented dependence upon the
great man at the top — feelings which were religiously inculcated on
the basis of "the station of life in which it has pleased God to
place you." On the other hand the landowner repaid such
sentiments with some real degree of personal interest in the welfare
of his subjects, and maintained a certain amount of security and
stability, which enabled them to live with some expectation that
their lot would never be worse, though it might not be better.
Stability, security, and dependence were the essentials of this
social system. In industry relations were otherwise but not
essentially different. The merchant manufacturer played the
part of the landowner. He was often in personal touch with
those he employed, living usually in the neighbourhood. The
family system of manufacture kept alive feelings of associated
enterprise and mutual dependence. The market was known; prices
were fixed by custom and not merely by competition. Steady
trade rather than speculative enterprise was the rule and the ideal.
Under the influence of that commercial and speculative spirit
which prepared the way for the great changes both in agriculture and
industry, these social relationships broke down. They were
unsuited to a period when movement and enterprise replaced solid
security as the basis of economic life. The unlimited unknown
of commerce was preferred to the limited known, and Captain Cook's
voyages into the distant Pacific were paralleled by many a
commercial speculator in the realms of economic enterprise.
Acquisition of wealth, which opened up to many the prospects of
social advancement, destroyed the old feeling of contented
acceptance of that station of life in which they were born.
Hence came the increasing specialisation in agriculture and
industry, the enclosures which alone made possible the improvement
of agricultural methods, and the machinery which superseded men.
Employers employed no longer men but hands, no longer human beings
but labour, and the relation between the two gradually developed
into the payment of cash which was held to cover all the obligations
of the one to the other. Payment for labour, conditions of
housing, help in bad times, education, all these were now commuted
in the payment of a weekly wage. In industry this process was
encouraged by the rapid rise to fortune of poor men who had never
been influenced by the ancient semi-feudal traditions or by the
surviving gild spirit.
The consequence was the formation of a large class of
wage-earners who were thrown back upon the earnings of their own
hands, and had little claim, besides their labour, to the
consideration of society. The natural tendency to association,
which under not dissimilar circumstances had appeared so strongly in
the early days of the French Revolution, i.e. the Fédérés,
and was the most significant manifestation of national as
distinguished from feudal ideas, was in England checked, if not
suppressed, by the ferocious Combination Laws. It was not
until 1833, with the passing of the first important Factory Act,
that public opinion admitted the industrial employees to a claim
upon society and public attention. The Factory Acts and
cognate legislation substituted a public guarantee, based on the
authority of the State, for that private and traditional guarantee
of the conditions of life which semi-feudal society had maintained.
But between the disappearance of the one and the establishment of
the other lies a full generation, during which the working classes,
often ignorant, unled, ill-advised, sought refuge in their isolation
and helplessness against economic and governmental oppression.
In a world of injustice and inequality, the working men found
hope and a call to action in those theories of natural rights and
justice which the French Revolution had popularised. The
rights of man were contrasted with the wrongs inflicted by the new
state of society, and out of the conflict were developed political
and social theories of a social-democratic character. It is
not maintained that English Socialism developed out of the ideas of
the Revolution. It was, on the other hand, largely a native
growth, deriving its strength from its criticism of the developing
English industrial society, and its economics from the writings of
Ricardo. At the same time its constructive side, which of
course was its weakest, was based upon theories of abstract justice,
and these notions had received a great impetus from the French
Revolution. Through Paine and Godwin they had been introduced
in a complete form to the English public. Yet, as has been
pointed out previously, such ideas were prevalent within a limited
circle during the Puritan Revolution, and may even be traced in the
famous Utopia of More and the equally famous couplet of John Ball.
The pre-revolutionary ferment in France did produce its socialistic
writers ― Morelly, Mably, and to a degree Rousseau himself.
Though the teaching of Morelly as to the beneficent influence of
suitable environment upon human character is in many cases akin to
that of Robert Owen, there is little doubt that the latter founded
his theory largely upon his own experience at New Lanark. In
any case the socialistic theory of the Revolution was of little
practical importance in the events of that stormy period. The
futile conspiracy of Babeuf was the only serious attempt to give the
Revolution a socialist character. It was, however, recalled to
the minds of the English Chartists by James O'Brien, who translated
Buonarotti's account of it.
Early English Socialist teaching falls into three classes.
The first and least thoroughgoing, and the one which appeared first
in order, was mainly a revolt against the enclosures. It was
predominantly agrarian in character. It is represented by
William Ogilvie, Thomas Spence, and Thomas Paine. These are
mainly advocates of land reform of some sort or other, but similar
ideas form part of the schemes of the more thoroughgoing writers.
The second class is mainly a criticism of the classical economists,
and is rather anti-capitalist than constructively socialist.
It is represented by Charles Hall, Thomas Hodgkin, Charles Gray,
Percy Ravenstone, and William Godwin. Finally there is a large
and important body of communist doctrine associated with the great
names of Robert Owen, Thompson, and J. F. Bray. These writers
were mainly concerned with the problem of distribution, but Bray and
Thompson preface their constructive schemes by a masterly criticism
of the dominant "bourgeois" economics, which, taken with the ideas
of Hall and his fellows, in all essentials anticipates that of Marx.
There is one quality which is common to nearly all this body
of socialistic and kindred doctrines. That is the reaction
towards agriculture and the land, the tendency to regard the growth
of large-scale industry as abnormal, unnatural, and dangerous.
This is not to be wondered at. The process of enclosure was
far from complete even as late as 1800, and it did not seem too late
to put a stop to it. In any case agriculture was still
considered the natural avocation of the majority of the nation.
The growing abuses of the early factory system recalled to many, by
way of contrast, the fresh air and green fields of their youth.
It is significant that Hall, one of the most conspicuous opponents
of manufactures, was a medical man. Apart from these
considerations it was held, with some degree of justice, that only
by applying his labour to land could a man attain the ideal of
socialist theory — the full produce of his labour. It was
supposed that a nation working exclusively upon the land might thus
solve the problem of distribution.
This is not the place for a detailed analysis of this mass of
socialistic literature, which is to be found in the excellent works
of Beer, Menger, and Podmore. But as
these socialistic notions formed a large part of the mental
equipment of Chartists, a general sketch of their tendency is
essential to a proper understanding of the Chartist Movement.
The relation of the Chartist Movement to the evolution of socialist
ideas is somewhat complex. The Chartist Movement was not a
homogeneous thing. It was a general protest against industrial
and political oppression, and as the protest swelled the movement
swallowed up a variety of agitations of a special and local
character, some of which bore little relation to socialist
propagandism. It is true that some of the leaders of Chartism
were downright Socialists — as we should call them to-day.
James O'Brien (commonly known as Bronterre O'Brien) was the
unremitting advocate of land nationalisation and collective control
of the means of exchange.
William Lovett, the noblest of
them all, was persuaded that individual ownership of industrial
capital was the prime evil of society.
was a disciple of Owen and Thompson. In spite of this,
however, the Chartist Movement was carefully distinguished by its
more prominent adherents from the Socialist Movement of the period,
which was a communist movement guided by Robert Owen, Lloyd Jones,
and William Pare. Feargus O'Connor's Land Scheme was the very
antithesis of Socialism, but it was also not a real Chartist scheme.
The Land Reformers, Spence, Ogilvie, and Paine (the ex-member
of the Revolutionary Convention and the author of the Rights of
Man), are one and all under the influence of Natural Rights.
They belong to the period which preceded the birth of economic
analysis, and therefore detailed criticism of the existing social
and industrial system plays little part in their discussions.
They proceed by the deductive method, commencing with a statement of
the natural and inherent rights of mankind. Clearly the right
to subsist upon the land of his birth is the most obvious of these
rights. Hence the deduction that the land is the common
possession of mankind, a proposition to which Locke gave the seal of
his authority, but which is probably as old as mankind itself.
Spence declares indignantly that "Men may not live in any part of
this world, not even where they were born, but as strangers and by
the permission of the pretender to the property thereof."
Paine suggests that God had not set up an Estate Office in Heaven
where title-deeds to perpetual rights over land could be acquired.
Ogilvie, a much soberer and more scientific writer, contents himself
with the statement that land in its uncultivated state was the
common property of mankind.
Naturally the particular conclusions to be drawn from these
very wide premises vary immensely. Spence arrives at the
absolute prohibition of private property in land; Ogilvie allows a
system of private property with taxation of unearned increment and
the parcelling of large estates — a remarkable foreshadowing of the
modern policy, and based, like it, upon a more scientific
consideration of the question; Paine aims at paying, out of heavy
succession duties upon landed property, an old-age pension to every
person as compensation for the loss of his rights in land.
Thomas Spence (1750-1814) was the most outspoken and extreme of the
three writers. He probably did as much as any other reforming
zealot to popularise that fanatical and unreasoning hatred of the
landed aristocracy which characterised English radical and
revolutionary opinion during the early part of the nineteenth
century, and which formed so large a part of the oratorical
stock-in-trade of Vincent, O'Connor, O'Brien, and the like, in the
Chartist Movement. A sturdy, stiff-necked, fluent Radical,
with much of the rebel in his nature, Spence made many zealous
disciples and a powerful enemy — the "panic-stricken Toryism" of the
Government. He passed a stormy forty years of political
agitation, between 1775 and 1814, and died in poverty, as many other
good men did at that time. A sample of Spence ought to be
given. One of his pamphlets, the Rights of Infants
(1797), is in the form of a dialogue between a mother and a member
of the aristocracy. The mother asks who receives the rents:
Aristocrat ― We, to be
Woman ― You, to be sure! Who the
Devil are you? Who gave you a right to receive the rent of our
Aristocrat ― Woman, our ancestors either
fought for or purchased our estates.
Woman ― Well confessed, villains!
Now out of your own mouths will I condemn you, you wicked Molochs.
And so you have the impudence to own yourselves the cursed brood of
ruffians who by slaughter and oppression usurped the lordship and
dominion of the earth to the exclusion and starvation of weeping
infants and their poor mothers? Or at the best the purchasers
of those ill-got domains? O worse than Molochs, now let the
blood of millions of innocent babes who have perished by your vile
usurpations be upon your murderous heads. . . . Yes, villains! you
have treasured up the tears and groans of dumb, helpless, perishing,
dying infants. O you bloody landed interest! you band of
robbers! Why do you call yourselves ladies and gentlemen?
Why do you assume soft names, you beasts of prey? Too well do
your emblazoned arms and escutcheons witness the ferocity of your
bloody and barbarous origin! But soon shall those audacious
Gothic emblems of rapine cease to offend the eyes of an enlightened
people, and no more make an odious distinction between the spoilers
and the spoiled. But, ladies and gentlemen, is it necessary,
in order that we eat bread and mutton, that the rents should be
received by you? Might not the farmers as well pay their rents
to us, who are the natural and rightful proprietors? . . .
Hear me, ye oppressors, ye who live sumptuously every day, ye
for whom the sun seems to shine and the seasons change, ye for whom
alone all human and brute creatures toil, sighing, but in vain, for
the crumbs which fall from your overcharged tables. . . . Your
horrid tyranny, your infanticide is at an end!
And did you really think, my good gentlefolk, that you were
the pillars that upheld the universe? Did you think that we
should never have the wit to do without you? . . .
Then comes Spence's panacea:
We women (as our men are not to be
depended on) will appoint in every parish a committee of our own sex
(which we presume our gallant lock-jawed spouses will at least for
their own interests not oppose) to receive the rents of the houses
and lands already tenanted, and also let to the best bidders, on
seven years' leases, such farms and tenements as may from time to
time become vacant.
Out of the funds so obtained the expenses of the parish and
the taxes will be paid, an allowance be given for each child born
and each person buried, and the surplus divided equally amongst the
inhabitants of the parish. The famous Newcastle Lecture of
1775, Spence's first utterance upon the question of the land,
contains substantially similar proposals, but also suggests certain
political reforms — the abolition of the standing army and the
formation of a militia, universal manhood suffrage and vote by
ballot. Spence left many disciples who were not without
influence during the succeeding decades.
William Ogilvie (1736-1819) comes chronologically next after
Spence. His work, An Essay on the Right of Property in Land,
was published in 1782. He stands, however, far above Spence
both in depth of thought and in his influence upon later
generations. He was a Professor of Humanity at Aberdeen, an
excellent scholar and a man of intellectual eminence. He was
also a Scottish laird and well versed in agriculture and estate
management. Ogilvie conceived agriculture to be the most
suitable and profitable occupation for mankind. The higher
virtues would inevitably fail amongst a people who lived wholly by
manufacture and industry. Ogilvie was thus the earliest foe of
the modern industrial society.
Starting, like Spence, with a declaration of the common right
of mankind to the land, Ogilvie plunges into an analysis of the
greatest importance. Land, he declares, has three values, the
original value, the improved value, and the improvable value,
corresponding to the value of the land in its natural uncultivated
state, the value of the improvement due to cultivation, and the
value of the possible improvement of which it is capable. This
statement at once puts the discussion upon a higher plane than
Spence's dogmatic assertion of natural rights to land, and the
analysis is worthy of a countryman of Adam Smith and David Hume.
Probably Ogilvie was stimulated by the reading of Smith's great
work. In an estate worth £1500 a year Ogilvie suggests £200,
£800, and £500 as the original, improved, and improvable value.
The first and third cannot belong to the landowner, but the second
is undoubtedly private property, as it arises from the labour
already applied to it. Ogilvie would recover the original
value by a tax upon land, and the improvable or accessory value by a
tax upon unearned increment or "the augmentation of rents."
Apart from this he is the enemy of large estates, which he desires
to break up. He calculates that there is sufficient land in
Great Britain to give 10 acres to every citizen. Every
landowner who has more than that quantity of land must surrender the
surplus. Of the 10 acres remaining the landowner will have a
right to all the three values. From the surplus fund of land a
parcel of 40 acres will be granted to every adult male who applies.
He will cultivate it for his lifetime and be subject to quasi-feudal
obligations. Failing such measures Ogilvie advocates a Board
of Land Purchase to multiply small holdings. Measures ought to
be taken to discourage the growth of manufactures until agriculture
is developed to the highest possible degree.
Ogilvie's scheme is not so much a scheme for the recovery of
the lost rights to land as the purely utilitarian one of maintaining
the ascendancy of agriculture. The agricultural society of the
later Middle Ages is his ideal, a society of small landholders held
in the bonds of mutual dependence and mutual obligations.
The veteran Thomas Paine (1737-1809) has an equally
utilitarian purpose. The title of his work, published in 1797,
is a résumé of its contents: "Agrarian Justice, opposed to
Agrarian Law and Agrarian Monopoly, being a plan for Meliorating the
Condition of Man by creating in every Nation a National Fund, to pay
to every Person, when arrived at the Age of 21 Years, the Sum of £15
Sterling, to enable him or her to begin the World; and also £10
Sterling per annum during life to every Person now living of the Age
of 50 years and to all others when they shall attain that Age."
The gist of Paine's argument was that the majority of mankind
had lost its rights in the land. It was impolitic to try to
recover the land itself, but the owners of land could be compelled
to compensate the dispossessed out of their revenues. This
compensation fund would be raised out of a succession duty of 10 per
cent upon inheritances passing in the direct line, and of twice as
much upon those passing to collateral heirs. A fund of 5¾
millions would thus be raised annually, which would be sufficient
for the purposes indicated. Similar proposals had already
found a place in Paine's Rights of Man. Paine's
underlying idea — that the landowners ought to compensate the common
folk for the loss of their rights in the land — was seized upon by
Cobbett as the basis of his opposition to the Poor Law of 1834.
Cobbett regarded the Poor Rate as the compensation fund, and taught
that the receipt of relief was a right and not charity.
Closely allied with these three agrarian reformers, and
standing, too, under the influence of Rousseau and the Rights of
Man, is Charles Hall. Hall's book, however, by its greater economic
insight, as well as the incisive attack upon the developing
industrial system, forms a transition between the criticism of the
agrarian system and the anti-capitalistic teachings which followed
the publication of Ricardo's work in 1819. It was published in 1805
under the title Effects of Civilisation on the People in European
States. Hall was a doctor of
medicine of considerable attainments who, soon after he gave to the
world his famous book, was consigned to the Fleet Prison for debt,
and died there about 1820 at the age of eighty. It was natural
that a man so circumstanced should take the pessimistic view of
civilisation made current by Rousseau's famous Discourse.
Hall's work is a terrific denunciation of the oppression of the poor
which seems to be the inevitable consequence of the existing state
of society. As a doctor of medicine Hall was acquainted to the
full with the terrible effects of extreme poverty and overwork
undertaken in pestilential factories. These evils are the
result of two great faults in the organism of society — Private
Property and Manufactures. The latter is even worse in its
consequences than the former. By their means Civilisation
divides mankind into Rich and Poor, and gives the former power to
oppress the latter. Riches is a power directed to oppression.
No despotism is worse than that of Capital. Capital is the
means whereby the Rich rob the Poor of the larger part of their
produce. It is not Nature, as Malthus declares, who condemns
the Poor to poverty, starvation, and death, but Capital.
Capital is given in the form of wages and material to the labourer
that he may produce more goods, but even the goods given as capital
were originally taken from the labourer. The latter is
powerless to keep more than a very small share of his produce
because he is at the mercy of the Rich, and the law will not allow
him to combine with his fellows for better protection. The
development of manufactures has not, as Adam Smith declared, freed
the workers from dependence, but has plunged them into a worse
slavery than ever. It is a slavery which propagates disease,
vice, ignorance, and revolution. Manufactures are withdrawing
labour from agriculture and so increasing the cost of food.
Hunger is added to other evils. The more manufactures develop,
the greater the gulf between rich and poor. Such a tendency
will end in social anarchy and revolt, out of which, as in France, a
military despotism will assuredly arise. But the rich may
prevent this by declaring a war. The war against France is a
case in point.
Hall's furious analysis ought logically to lead to sweeping
proposals of remedy, but these are of the most modest description,
amounting to no more than the abolition of primogeniture and the
restriction of manufacture of articles of luxury. This logical
anti-climax is a feature of nearly all the earlier writings of this
school. It results partly from a want of sound economic
teaching — a want which the yet indeterminate state of the science
could not supply. It is due partly no doubt to a typically
English unwillingness to push the arguments based upon natural
rights to a logical conclusion. Later Socialist writers worked
with better materials than Hall. They used the theoretical
groundwork furnished by David Ricardo (1772-1823) and the practical
experiments of Robert Owen (1771-1858).
The second decade of the nineteenth century saw an important
advance in socialistic theory. The violent fluctuations in
trade, the advance of factory production, the dismal conditions
which followed the end of the great war, the panic-stricken measures
of the Government to repress popular movement, and the increasing
unrest of the manufacturing population, all seemed to attest the
truth of Hall's most pessimistic prophecies. On the other
hand, socialist thought received important reinforcements. In
1813 appeared Robert Owen's New View of Society, which came
as a gospel of hope and happiness to many who desired the welfare of
their fellows. It held out a promise of infallible success in
the improvement of the lot of the poor and the oppressed. In
1817 appeared Ricardo's Principles of Political Economy and
Taxation, the indirect source of nearly all socialist economics.
Owen, it is true, remained almost untouched by the
development of economic theory. He was an empiric from first
to last. His first work, the New View, contained the
essence of all his teaching — that any character, from the best to
the worst, may be given to any community by the application of the
proper means, which means are generally under the control of those
who have influence in human affairs. In itself this doctrine,
that human character was the creation of environment, was by no
means new. It had been almost a commonplace in
pre-revolutionary France. But backed as it was by the evidence
of the marvellous work accomplished at New Lanark by Owen himself,
"by the application of suitable means," Owen's teaching at once
acquired commanding authority. It at once became the
theoretical and practical stand-by of the Factory Reformers.
It taught others to see in a properly constituted government the
means of social regeneration. It was therefore a chief source
of Chartist theory. Many leading Chartists, Lovett, O'Brien,
Hetherington, Watson, Dr.
Wade, and others, began their public career under Owen's auspices.
Owen himself was hostile to extensive political action and
distrustful of popular control, so that he and his special
followers, who took the name Socialists, kept steadfastly apart from
all political movements and propagated their teachings in the form
of Communism. Owen was neither a politician nor a demagogue.
He appeared only once as a popular leader. That was during
1829 to 1834, when he inspired the Co-operative Labour Exchange and
Syndicalist movements, which will be dealt with later.
It was Ricardo's fate, whilst writing what was intended to be
at once an explanation and a defence of the capitalistic system of
production, to furnish the enemies of capitalism with their most
deadly weapons. Modern economists have felt it incumbent upon
them to modify or reject the Ricardian premises which led to such
astounding and subversive conclusions.
The discussion as to what Ricardo actually did mean, or what he took
for granted, may safely be left to experts. It is sufficient
to indicate those points upon which anti-capitalistic theory seized.
These relate of course to the claims of Labour. Ricardo says,
for instance, that "the comparative quantity of labour" is "the
foundation of the exchangeable value of all things," and that this
doctrine is "of the utmost importance in political economy."
Further, he speaks of the "relative quantity of labour as almost
exclusively determining the relative values of commodities."
Though he introduces reservations allowing that labour applied to
making of tools, implements, and buildings, that the elements of
time, risk, rate of profits, and quality of labour also influence
value, he keeps these reservations in water-tight compartments and
permits the superficial reader to assume that they are of no
importance in comparison with the great fact of Labour. The
rough-and-ready conclusion was drawn — Labour is the source and
measure of Value. In the hands of an
ingenious writer like Hodgskin the reservations are indeed noted,
but only to be swept away. As tools, implements, and buildings
are created by labour, their value too depends upon the labour
expended upon them, and the claim of the capitalist to a reward for
their use is without foundation. The quality of labour is of
no account, as all labour is equally necessary.
The "natural price of labour is that price which is necessary
to enable the labourers one with another to subsist and to
perpetuate their race without either increase or diminution."
"The market price for labour is the price which is really paid for
it. . . . However much the market price may deviate from its natural
price it has, like commodities, a tendency to conform to it."
It is pretty clear that Ricardo did not mean the absolute and
indispensable minimum of necessaries of life when he referred to
"subsisting," but spoke of the "comforts which custom renders
absolute necessaries." That is, not mere subsistence level,
but the customary standard of life was the basis on which the
natural price of labour was to be calculated. But such
qualifications could hardly hold their own against such language as,
"It is only after their privations have reduced their number, or the
demand for labour has increased, that the market price of labour
will rise to its natural price."
The question naturally suggested itself, What proportion did
the reward of labour bear to the value created by labour? This
question was solved to the great satisfaction of Socialists by a
reference to the statistics of Patrick Colquhoun. Colquhoun
demonstrated, apparently on insufficient evidence, that the national
income in 1812-13 was 430 millions. Of this the working
classes, including the army, navy, and paupers, received somewhere
about one quarter. Clearly,
therefore, the labourer, so far from receiving the value his labour
created, received only one quarter, the remainder being distributed
amongst capitalists, landlords, and Government in the shape of
profits, rents, and taxes. This statement of the case was
improved upon by later writers who assumed that the proportion
received by the labourer was decreasing. Hodgskin speaks of
the labourer's having to make six loaves before he can eat one.
Here, then, was capitalistic economy convicted out of the
mouth of its greatest champion, and a host of writers seized upon
the damning evidence and hammered it at white heat into a terrific
indictment of the greed and rapacity of capitalists, landlords, and
"tax-eaters." Socialists, like James O'Brien, and Radicals,
like Cobbett, argued themselves into tempestuous incoherence, whilst
lesser men, like certain of the Chartist leaders, decorated their
speeches with phrases culled from the writings of their betters, and
perorated in pæans of praise upon the virtues of the producers of
all wealth, and in torrents of vituperation upon the robbers who
stole it from them.
Thomas Hodgskin was the first of the popular writers to take
advantage of Ricardo's work. Ricardian economics had been the
stand-by of the employers in the Trade Union controversy of 1824-25.
Their argument, put briefly, was: high wages, low profits; low
profits, slow accumulation of capital; slower accumulation, less
capital; less capital, diminished demand for labour; diminished
demand for labour, collapse of wages; hence poverty, distress,
privation at work to redress the balance upset by high wages and
large families. Therefore all depended upon keeping up rate of
profits. This constituted the claim of capital to a share of
the produce of industry. It was this claim which Hodgskin
proceeded to refute in his famous little pamphlet, called Labour
Defended against the Claims of Capital, or the Unproductiveness of
Capital Proved (1825).
The argument commences with a statement of Ricardo's
definitions. Commodities are produced by the united
application of Labour, Capital, and Land, and are divided between
the owners of these. The share of the landlord is rent, but as
rent is merely a surplus of the fertile over the less fertile land,
it cannot keep the labourer poor. The share of the labourer is
that quantity necessary to enable the labourers one with another to
subsist and perpetuate their race without either increase or
diminution. The share of capital is all that remains after the
landlord's surplus and this bare subsistence of the labourer have
been deducted. On what grounds does Capital claim this large
share? M'Culloch replies that Capital enables us to execute
work that could not otherwise be performed: it saves labour and it
enables us to produce things better and more expeditiously.
Mill says that Capital supplies the labourer with tools and raw
materials. For this the owner expects a reward. Capital
is also an agent combining with labour to produce commodities.
Further, the capitalist saves and accumulates more capital upon
which Labour depends. For all this Capital deserves reward.
Hodgskin proceeds to examine these ideas.
The goods which are given to the labourer to maintain him
until his wares are brought to market are not the result of
accumulation or saving but of concurrent production by other
labourers. The labourer has indeed no stock of food and
clothing, but neither has the capitalist. The capitalists do
not possess one week's stock of food and clothing for the labourers
they employ. These goods are being concurrently produced by
other groups of labourers. Food at least cannot be stored up.
In fact, the only thing which can safely be said to be stored up is
the skill of the labourer. If this were not so, the various
commodities could never be produced at all. Each set of
labourers relies upon the due performance by the other sets of their
stipulated social tasks. This is clearly true where industrial
operations are not completed within the year and there can be no
exchange of products. It is not capital which stores up this
skilled labour, but wages and parental care. In fact the
reason why capital is able to support and employ labour is that
capital implies already the command of some labour and not the
accumulation of goods.
It is true that Fixed Capital does increase the productivity
of labour to an immense degree. But obviously these
instruments of production are themselves the produce of labour.
The economists say that they are stored up labour and as such
entitled to payment. But they are not stored up but used.
They derive their utility from present labour and not because they
are the result of past labour. Everything depends upon the use
made of these machines, and peculiar skill is required of the
labourer in using them. In the creation of fixed capital three
things are required: knowledge and inventive genius; manual
dexterity to make the machines; skill to use them. The great
services of fixed capital are due to these qualities and not to the
dead machines. And when did an inventor receive the due reward
of his genius?
Circulating capital does not, like fixed capital, add to the
productivity of labour, but the capitalist claims the same rate of
profit on both. In either case the profit is derived from the
power capital gives over labour. This power is of old
standing, and is derived in the first instance from the monopoly of
land and the state of slavery which consequently ensued.
The position of the capitalist is as follows. One set
of labourers is making food; another is making clothing.
Between them steps in the capitalist and appropriates in the process
of exchange the larger part of the produce of both. He
separates the two groups so that both believe that they depend upon
him for their subsistence. The result is that the labourer
must give at least six times as much labour to acquire a particular
commodity as that commodity would require to make. For one
loaf the labourer must give the labour of six. The capitalist
therefore imposes an infinitely worse tax upon labour than the Corn
Laws, but he is sufficiently influential to make it appear that the
latter alone are the cause of all the evils under which the labourer
Under the present system Mr. Ricardo is perfectly correct in
stating that the labourer will only obtain from the capitalist as
much as will enable him to maintain his kind without increase or
decrease. The exactions of capital are the cause of poverty.
In the concluding part of his argument Hodgkin displays the
characteristic moderation of the earlier writers. Capital
being unproductive, it follows that the labourer ought to receive
the whole produce of his labour. But how is this to be
determined, seeing that no labourer produces any commodity
independently? It can only be determined by the judgment of
the labourers themselves as to the value of their labour.
Hence the labourers ought to be free to bargain and, if necessary,
to combine for the purpose.
Hodgskin allows that the capitalist who directs labour
deserves a reward as a working man; but the idle capitalist has no
claim at all upon the produce of labour. Trade union action
will be good so far as it deprives the idle capitalist of his
profits, and bad if it puts the industrious employer out of action.
Thus the whole of the elaborate argument ends in a
justification of Trade Unionism. It has an atmosphere of
artificiality and sophistry which would rob it of all value for a
modern reader. It depends too much for its effect upon the
exploitation of the false and verbal distinctions which marred
contemporary economic theory. It is clever rather than
convincing. It is weak at the one point where it ought to have
been strong, namely, the explanation of capital as power over
labour. He takes refuge in remote historical theory.
Whilst he acknowledges the services which management of industry
confers, he justifies a refusal to pay higher wages to the master
than to the labourer on the ground that all labour is equally
necessary in society — a manifestly false conception.
From the "wrong twist," which Ricardo unconsciously and
Hodgskin consciously had given to economic theory, developed several
divergent lines of radical and socialist doctrine. On the one
hand there was the revolutionary pessimistic school, represented by
James O'Brien, who pushed the apparent admissions of Ricardo (with
whose views Malthus was associated) to a terrifying conclusion, and
prophesied a revolutionary termination to the oppression of capital.
The present system condemned the poor to eternal and undiminished
poverty, whilst the rich throve on the surplus value extracted from
the labour of the poor. The right of the labourer to the whole
produce of his labour became an axiom. But the gulf between
the practical wrongs of labour and its theoretical rights would grow
until it was filled with the debris of the shattered capitalistic
system. Then would militant labour march across and take
possession of its true and undiminished heritage.
The other school, represented by William Thompson and J. F.
Bray, was more scientific in its methods,
more positive in its conclusions, and less militant in its language.
Thompson and Bray devoted themselves to further analysis of the
conception of surplus value — the five loaves which Hodgskin's
labourer produces but does not receive; they also examined the
mechanism of exchange, through which, as Hodgskin suggests, the
extraction of surplus value is accomplished. In both respects
they left very little for later thinkers to add to the results of
their inquiry. Both writers were much under the influence of
Robert Owen, and saw in Owen's co-operative communities the solution
of the problem. The labourer could only obtain the full
produce of his labour in communities in which co-operative
production, voluntary exchange, and co-operative distribution were
the basis of industrial organisation. They were therefore
enthusiastic advocates of the Owenite schemes. They were not
popular writers in the sense that Hodgskin was. Their works
were excellently written, but they were without popular appeal.
They wrote with the serene tranquillity of men who awaited with sure
and certain hope the accomplishment of their highest desires.
They wrote for a small circle, and their task was to give a
scientific foundation to the purely empiric notions of Owen.
But the mass of working people whom the teachings of Owen reached
interpreted them in the light of bitter experience, and had little
patience with the ideal schemes of Thompson and his friends.
Manifold was the influence of this body of doctrine upon the
mind of the working class. Various truths had been
established. The industrial system was flagrantly unjust.
The power of capital was founded upon robbery perpetrated
generations ago. It was exercised to rob the labourer of
three-quarters, nay, five-sixths, of the wealth he created, and to
keep him, his fellows, and his posterity, down to the uttermost
minimum of subsistence, leaving him a prey to the competing demons
of high wages with over-population, and low wages with privations.
The monopoly of capital was the great social evil; the destruction
of it was the basis of future happiness. The source of all the
ills under which the labouring class suffered was revealed.
Low wages, fluctuations, insecurity, bad houses, disease, poverty,
pauperism, ignorance, and vice all this was the work of the twin
monopolies of land and capital.
The decade 1825-1835 was a very critical period in the
history of the working classes of this country. A multitude of
hopes and fears, of excitements both internal and external in
origin, played upon the minds of the industrious masses. The
Industrial Revolution was extending its sway; the improved
power-loom of 1825 and the locomotives of 1830 represented its
latest triumphs. The commercial crisis of 1826 was a
threatening omen, whilst the emancipation acts of 1828 and 1829
inspired hopes of political freedom which rose sky-high with the
death of George IV., the return of a reform ministry, and the news
of the July Revolution in France. The agitation of 1830-32 for
the Reform Bill was mainly political in character, and suspended
temporarily agitations of a very different nature. Among these
was the Trade Union movement which had taken a new lease of life
since 1825, when it had been relieved from the worst of its legal
The new Unionism derived its economics from Hodgskin, and its
inspiration from Robert Owen. Owen's chief merit was that he
filled the working classes with renewed hope at a time when the
pessimism, both of orthodox economists and of their unorthodox
opponents, had condemned labour to be an appendage of machinery, a
mere commodity whose value, like that of all commodities, was
determined by the bare cost of keeping up the necessary supply.
Owen laid Stress upon the human side of economics. The object
of industry was to produce happier and more contented men and women.
It had not done so hitherto because of the bad system of
distribution and exchange. To cure this, Owen made two
proposals. The first was a co-operative system of production
and distribution which took form in the co-operative communities set
up under his auspices. The other was the restoration of the
natural standard of exchange, namely, the labour standard, which had
been superseded by the introduction of money. Owen had that
incomparable and serene self-confidence which made his Utopian
proposals ring like a revelation in the minds of those who listened.
They were led to believe that there was an infallible short-cut out
of the Slough of Despond to the Celestial City. There was
consequently a tremendous outburst of Owenite literature and a rapid
growth of Owenite societies between 1825 and 1830. It was
during this period that Hodgskin, Gray, and Thompson added their
quota to the mass of criticism directed against existing society and
its economic theory. Co-operative trading societies, societies
for the spread of co-operative (that is, Owenite) education,
exchange bazaars based upon labour value, and attempts to set up
co-operative or communistic colonies, all flowed from the
inspiration of Owen. But the greatest Owenite triumph of these
years was the capture of the Trade Union movement in 1832-34.
Since the revival of 1825 Trade Unionism had developed in the
direction of action upon a large scale. The constant defeat of
local unions produced the belief that successful action was only
possible when the whole of the workers in an industry were brought
into line. This belief was applied first in Lancashire, which
county, by reason of the greater concentration of workers and
factories, offered the most favourable theatre for industrial
warfare. A great general union or federation, in which all
parts of the United Kingdom were represented, was attempted in the
cotton industry in 1830. It was followed by a still larger
union including other trades and calling itself "National." In
1832 this was followed by the Builders' Union, which in its turn was
superseded by the largest scheme of all in 1834 — the Grand National
Consolidated Trades Union. This last was a purely Owenite
scheme. It included a vast variety of trades — agricultural
workers, both skilled and unskilled, bonnet-makers, tailors, hosiers
and framework knitters, gas-workers, builders, textile workers of
all sorts, engineers, and cabinet-makers.
Owen's idea was that of a glorified Exchange Bazaar, with
which he had been experimenting in London in 1832. The
producers in each branch of industry were to be organised into
National Companies. Production would be regulated by a central
organisation, and exchange would be carried out on the basis,
presumably, of labour value, or perhaps exchange would be dispensed
with and the distribution of goods be performed by the central body
on some equitable plan. To organise such a scheme would have
taxed the resources of a modern state to the uttermost, and to
control hundreds of thousands of harassed and oppressed workers,
brimming with renewed hopes, burning with zeal and fired with
indignation against their old enemy, Capital, was a task from which
the boldest modern Labour leader would shrink. But the serene
optimism of Owen saw only the promised land, the perils of the way
being ignored. The members of the Union pressed recklessly on.
The first step was to acquire the means of production, and to
achieve this a series of strikes on a hitherto unheard-of scale was
instituted. Weapons of terrorism were not eschewed. But
the assault failed: the organisation was too weak, Government came
to the aid of capital, the law was invoked, and the movement
There were clearly many aspects of the activity of Owen, and
each was represented by a different group of disciples. There
was first the little group which drank the pure water of Communism —
Gray, Thompson, Bray, Pare, Lloyd Jones, and their followers, who
took the name of Socialists. This was a select body and came
comparatively little into the light of publicity. There were
also groups of factory reformers, such as those who formed the
Society for Social Regeneration — a typically Owenite designation.
This was led by Fielden of Todmorden, and was connected with local
societies throughout the North of England. Educationalists in
plenty derived inspiration from Owen. They, however, concern
us little. There were also the half-converted Trade Unionists
whose movement collapsed in 1834. Not the least important of
the Owenite converts, however, was the little group of London
artisans whose story is related by
William Lovett the Chartist,
and to whose activities the Chartist Movement owes its origin.
Socially and politically London differed considerably from
the manufacturing towns of the North and Midlands in 1830, and this
difference was then greater than it is now, when the more general
diffusion of wealth and learning has considerably lessened the
supremacy of London in these respects. London was then
probably the only English city in which there was a considerable
body of highly skilled artisans, for there alone was there a large
wealthy and leisured class whose wants could find employment for
skilled handicraft. The manufacturers of the north, even when
wealthy, did not always adopt a style of living commensurate with
their earnings, for they often lacked the tastes which accompany
hereditary riches. But London was alike the centre of society,
fashion, politics, affairs, law, medicine and letters. It was
the home, for part of the year at least, of an enormous proportion
of the wealthy and leisured class. To meet their needs arose
vast numbers of superior craftsmen, employed upon the better-class
wares which found their best market in Westminster and the City.
The political and commercial life of the metropolis furnished the
most important of these artisans, from the political point of view.
These were the compositors, employed upon the various newspapers and
in the printing and publishing houses. These were necessarily
men of fair education, keen intelligence, and of some acquaintance
with the affairs of the world.
Apart from their superior rates of pay, these artisans of the
capital had various other advantages over the mass of working people
elsewhere. They had strong trade societies in which they were able
to maintain apprenticeship regulations and high rates of wages, and
as experts in trade union methods they were well acquainted with the
problems of agitation and Organisation.
Living as they did in the centre of affairs, these men enjoyed
opportunities of education and of intercourse which were far beyond
what the "provincial" centres could provide. The districts of
London were not then so specialised nor the different social classes
so segregated as they have since become, under the influence of
improved communications. The central districts, Charing Cross,
Soho, Seven Dials, Holborn, Fleet Street and the City, contained a
very mixed population in which Francis Place the tailor kept shop a
few doors away from the Duke of Northumberland's town house.
Seven Dials and Spitalfields, and parts of Holborn contained
festering rookeries in which pauperised silk-weavers, labourers, and
criminals found a refuge. The excellent little group of men
who founded the London Working Men's Association lived in the
district between Tottenham Court Road, Gray's Inn Lane, Charing
Cross, and Fleet Street. Here during the late 'twenties and
the early 'thirties flourished political and social discussion of
every description. Dr. Birkbeck had started the London
Mechanics' Institution, which still exists as the Birkbeck College,
where in 1827 Thomas Hodgskin was appointed lecturer in political
economy. Place's shop at Charing Cross was the focus of
middle-class radicalism. Richard Carlisle's shop in Fleet
Street, his sometime shopman
James Watson's shop in Bunhill Fields, disseminated radical and
anti-Christian literature and kept alive the radical traditions of
1816-1822, associated with the names of Wade, Wooler, Carlile
himself, Henry Hunt, and William Benbow. Carlile ran the
Rotunda, a building not far from the southern end of Blackfriars
Bridge, in which working men radicals met frequently in eager and
heated debate. John Gale Jones, a hero of the London
Corresponding Society, was a favourite speaker there. Various
coffee-houses, such as Lovett's, were equally well known centres of
radical intercourse. The debates in the House of Commons, the
latest scandal which threw light upon the degenerate character of
the aristocracy, the astounding events in France, the latest Owenite
idea, Cobbett's speeches, the vices of the Established Church, and
the evil consequences of priestcraft, Hodgskin's economics, the
reputation of Malthus and Ricardo, all these in their infinite
variety were subjects of general discussion in these rendezvous of
the London artisans. Ever since the days of Pitt and Fox,
Westminster had been the scene of exciting political life. It
was one of the largest constituencies, with ten thousand electors,
and its franchise was wide. Westminster was, needless to say,
therefore a radical constituency, and its radical vote had been
organised on a system which anticipated Chamberlain's Birmingham
caucus, by Francis Place, amongst whose followers many of the
better-class artisans must be reckoned.
Amongst these London artisans the radical tradition had
always been strong. The London Corresponding Society had risen
from amongst London artisans, and two of its greatest members, Gale
Jones and Francis Place, were still active in political affair down
to 1838, by which time the radical tide had mingled with the
socialist torrent. The struggles of Carlile, Wade, and Wooler
for freedom of press and conscience had preserved the radical idea
in those days after 1819, when organised agitation was an offence
punishable by transportation. After 1825, however, the younger
generation of working men in London began to drift over to the new
doctrines of social rights promulgated by Hall, Thompson, Hodgkin,
Gray, and above all Robert Owen. Hodgskin lectured at the
London Mechanics' Institution on political economy from, 1827.
Whilst Hodgkin provided the weapons for the attack upon the existing
system, it was Owen who provided the ideal of the Dew.
Owen, however, never commanded the entire allegiance of the
mass of London working men, owing to his dislike of political
methods, and his condemnation of the radical reformers. They
therefore took up his ideas in a form which, though acceptable to
themselves, cut them away from the thoroughgoing disciples who
believed in the communistic idea. Thus they formed in the
spring of 1829, whilst Owen was away in America, the First London
Co-operative Trading Association and a sister society, the British
Association for Promoting Co-operative Knowledge. The first
was an experiment in retail trading, which, it was hoped, would lead
to the accumulation of capital in the hands of associations of
working men, and ultimately to the capture of all national trade and
industry by such associations. This was perhaps the first
working-class experiment in Owenism, and illustrates the sanguine
optimism which the Owenite teachings produced. The second was
a propagandist body and was instrumental in setting up a number of
other societies throughout London, which led to the conversion of
very many working men to socialistic ideas. Although Owen, on
his return, laughed in a benevolent fashion at these puny efforts,
be did not hesitate to use the material thus provided to set up his
Labour Exchange scheme in 1832. Its failure no doubt confirmed
the leaders of the working men in their view that the regeneration
of society could not be accomplished without the aid of political
power, and that democracy was the necessary preliminary to social
These views were specially represented by the National Union
of the Working Classes and Others which grew out of the British
Association for the Promotion of Co-operative Knowledge on the
latter's decease early in 1831. The
hopes of political radicals ran high in these days, and the National
Union took a great part in fomenting the general excitement.
The members were bitterly opposed to the Reform Bill of 1832, which
was in truth but a very small instalment of democracy, and their
conduct and language increased in violence as the prospects of a
middle-class victory in the reform campaign became brighter.
With the passing of the Bill the combination of political
disappointment with anti-capitalist notions caused vague ideas of
class war to take clearer shape and become as unquestioned truths in
the minds of the working men. These views are already
prevalent in the debates of the National Union as reported in the
Poor Man's Guardian.