An Echo of the Past
In the year 1840 Thomas Cooper, the Chartist agitator and poet, whilst acting as a newspaper reporter, was sent to take notes at a Chartist meeting in the Midlands.
At this meeting one John Mason made a speech to the crowd. So much of the speech as has come down to us makes such curiously familiar reading in the light of our present-day knowledge, that we feel we owe our readers no apology for reproducing it here.
It shows that some Chartists, although working in a fog, and unable to see further than the ends of their noses, were at least conscious of one thing—that in order to gain their ends it was necessarily for them to stand by their own class and steadfastly eschew alliances on the political field. Of how many so-called Socialists can the same be said to-day ?
Labour members and all who are “pro-Budget,” please note John Mason’s remarks :
“Not that Corn Law repeal is wrong. When we get the Charter we will repeal the Corn Laws and all the other bad laws. But if you give up your agitation for the Charter to help the Free-Traders, they will not help you to get the Charter. Don’t be deceived by the middle class again. You helped them to get their votes—you swelled their cry of ‘The Bill, the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill!’ (*)
“But where are the fine promises they made you ? Gone to the winds ! They said when they had gotten their votes they would help you to get yours. But they and the rotten Whigs have never remembered you. Municipal Reform (+) has been for their benefit—not for yours.
“All other reforms the Whigs boast to have effected have been for the benefit of the middle-classes—not for yours. And now they want to get the Corn Laws repealed—not for your benefit—but for their own.
” ‘Cheap Bread’ they cry ! But they mean ‘Low Wages.’ Do not listen to their cant and humbug. Stick to your Charter. You are Veritable slaves without your votes ! ”
Shade of brave John Mason, we of the Socialist Party of Great Britain salute you !
(*) When Lord John Russell’s Reform Bill was thrown out by the Lords on Oct. 8th 1831, riots broke out all over the country. At Birmingham a local Radical named Attwood formed an association of 200,000 members, who swore to march on London and use force if their cry of “The Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill,” was denied.
The Reform Bill carried in 1832 did away with the boroughs and gave the franchise to the shop-keeping class in the towns, and in the rural districts to the farmers and yeomen.
(+) “Municipal Reform.” The Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 substituted an elective constitution in place of the old unrepresentative bodies, which co-opted each other and were worked by small and corrupt party or family rings.
(Socialist Standard, April 1910)