The Leap in the Dark
Palmerston died in December 1865, shortly after his Liberal Party won the general election of that year. The way was now clear for a second Reform Bill to further extend the franchise, which it was widely agreed was necessary even if there was disagreement about how this should be done and how far it should go. The new Prime Minister, Lord John Russell, lost no time in having one drafted and presented to Parliament, in March 1866.
Agitation for the extension of the franchise had begun some years previously, both among the capitalist class and the working class. A Trades Unionists’ Manhood Suffrage and Vote by Ballot Association had been established in 1862 (with which Ernest Jones who, after the disappearance of the People’s Paper had resumed his profession as a lawyer in Manchester, was associated). Its chairman was George Odger, a shoemaker who was also the part-time secretary of the London Trades Council that had been established as a direct result of the London building workers’ strike and lockout of 1859 60. Odger was one of the new generation of working class militants which this strike had brought to the fore. Among the others were Robert Applegarth, who became the secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Builders in 1862. and three other building workers: William Randal Cremer, George Howell and George Potter. Potter, who had been appointed manager of the Bee-Hive, an influential trade union weekly, when it had been started in 1862, was the most militant of this group on trade union matters and soon fell out with the others and so was not to be associated with their political initiatives.
But it was John Bright, with his National Reform Union, who got the renewed suffrage agitation off the ground. Although the National Reform Union campaigned for a ratepayers suffrage (those who paid the local property tax) and not the traditional working class demand for universal suffrage, its campaign enjoyed considerable trade union and working class support. Links between Bright and the new generation of trade union leaders had been made during their joint campaign in favour of a Northern Victory in the American Civil War.  Marx, who was an enthusiastic supporter of the North, had himself attended one such meeting in March 1863 addressed by Bright and also by Odger, Cremer and Howell.
With his break with Ernest Jones in 1857 Marx lost his link with the English working class movement (though he remained in contact with the German workers’ movement in Britain through the German Workers’ Educational Association (Deutscher Arbeiterbildungsverein). This link was restored in 1864 when in September Marx accepted an invitation to be present on the platform at a meeting organised with a group of French workers from Paris by Odger, Cremer. Howell and others to discuss international co-operation. In the past Marx had always refused such invitations since he had a generally low opinion of his fellow political refugees from the Continent in London. But he accepted this time because he realised that those involved, on both the French and British sides, were of a different calibre from the Continental refugees whose posturings he knew only too well.
The September 1864 meeting led to the formation of the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA). Odger became its first President and Cremer its Secretary. Marx was one of those appointed to draw up a manifesto and rules for the new association. He ended up doing both, virtually on his own. Besides the trade union leaders, the English members of the IWMA also included old Chartists like Benjamin Lucraft (also a trade unionist) and Owenites like John Weston. In 1867 the O’Brienite organisation — the National Reform League (O’Brien himself had died earlier in 1864) affiliated to the IWMA. So there was a direct link with earlier British working class movements and theories.
In April 1865 the formation of a Reform League,  under the presidency of a reformer, Edmond Beales, was announced. The League stood for universal manhood suffrage and was dominated by members of the General Council of the IWMA with Howell, a Council member, as its secretary. Marx was very pleased with this development, seeing the Reform League as a sort of revival of Chartism, especially as its demand for universal suffrage made it a rival of Bright’s National Reform Union.
But, as on so many other occasions, Marx’s confidence was to be misplaced. When the Liberal government published its Reform Bill in March 1866, the Reform League decided to support it on the grounds that it was a step in the right direction, even though it did not even provide for a ratepayers’ suffrage, let alone universal suffrage. What it did propose was a reduction of the property qualification, to a level low enough to enfranchise a considerable number of workers. Marx was very disappointed and wrote to Engels on 2 April 1866 about “the cursed traditional character of all English movements” having appeared, according to which a measure is hailed as a victory merely “because the Tories cry: guard”.
The Liberal Bill, however, was defeated, not by the Tories alone but as a result of a defection of a number of Liberal MPs. The government thereupon resigned and Queen Victoria asked Lord Derby to form yet another minority Tory government. Following the defeat of the Liberal Bill, agitation for Reform broke out with renewed vigour. The Reform League called a mass rally in Hyde Park for 23 July; the government responded with an order banning the rally. The League refused to accept this ban and on 23 July marchers from all over London converged on Hyde Park. Refused admittance, most of them went on to Trafalgar Square where a short meeting was held. Some, however, stayed at Hyde Park, pushed the railings down and entered. This “riot” was a clear warning to the new Tory government as to what was likely to happen if they tried to resist Reform. They got the message and the following year Disraeli presented the Conservative government’s own Reform Bill, which was considerably expanded during its passage through the House of Commons.
The 1867 Reform Act, and the corresponding measures the following year for Scotland and Ireland, introduced household suffrage (for male heads of household) in the towns, increasing the electorate by over a million from 1,350,000 to 2,470,000. Most of the new voters were members of the working class, even though most workers were still left voteless. But a situation had been created — a working class majority among the electorate in most urban areas — which led Marx to later conclude could permit a peaceful capture of political power in Britain by the working class once it had become socialist-minded.