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Chartism Test Questions: 16

Your speculations as to the speedy coming of a revolution in England I doubt. Revolutionary changes in Germany I think certain and likely to ensue soon after the death of that old scoundrel Louis-Philippe, but I confess I cannot see the likelihood of such changes in England at least until England is moved from without as well as within. Your prediction that we will get the Charter in the course of the present year, and the abolition of private property within three years will certainly not be realized; indeed as regards the latter, although it may and I hope will come, it is my belief that neither you nor I will see it. As to what O'C[onnor] has been saying lately about "physical force," I think nothing of it. The English people will not adopt [Thomas] Cooper's slavish notions about peace and non-resistance but neither would they act upon the opposite doctrine. They applaud it at public meetings, but that is all. Notwithstanding all the talk in 1839 about 'arming,' the people did not arm, and they will not arm. A long immunity from the presence of war in their own country and the long suspension of the militia has created a general distaste for arms, which year by year is becoming more extensive and more intense. The body of the English people, without becoming slavish people, are becoming an eminently pacific people..... To attempt a 'physical-force' agitation at the present time would be productive of no good but on the contrary of some evil - the evil of exciting suspicion against the agitators. I do not suppose that the great changes which will come in this country will come altogether without violence, but organized combats such as we may look for in France, Germany, Italy and Spain, cannot take place in this country. To organize, to conspire a revolution in this country would be a vain and foolish project and the men who with their eyes open could take part in so absurd an attempt would be worse than foolish, would be highly culpable.

I must next notice what you say about my 'leadership'. First let me remark that you are too hard upon O'Connor.... I must do O'C. the justice to say that he never interferes with what I write in the paper nor does he know what I write until he sees the paper. You have thought proper in the letter I am now commenting on to credit me with all the revolutionary virtues. You say I am 'international', 'revolutionary', 'energetical', 'proletarian', 'more of a Frenchman than an Englishman', 'Atheistical, Republican and Communist'. I am too old a soldier to blush at this accumulation of virtues credited to my account, but supposing it to be even as you say, it does not follow that I am qualified for 'leadership'. A popular chief should be possessed of a magnificent bodily appearance, an iron frame, eloquence, or at least a ready fluency of tongue. I have none of these. O'C. has them all - at least in degree. A popular leader should possess great animal courage, contempt of pain and death, and be not altogether ignorant of arms and military science. No chief or leader that has hitherto appeared in the English movement has these qualifications.... In these qualifications I am decidedly deficient. I know nothing of arms, have no stomach for fighting, and would rather die after some other fashion than by bullet or rope. From a knowledge of myself and all the men who live, and do figure in the Chartist movement, I am convinced that even in this respect, was O'C. thrown overboard, we might go further and fare worse....

George Julian Harney to Freidrich  Engels, 30 March 1846.


  1. What evidence is there in the source to suggest that Engels had already developed ideas about a proletarian revolution in England?
  2. What indications are there in the source to suggest that Harney was becoming more of a realist?
  3. What qualities did O'Connor have, according to Harney?
  4. What qualities did Harney believe a popular leader should have?
  5. Why did Harney believe that 'physical force' Chartism would fail in England?
  6. How reliable are Engels' writings as historical sources?
  7. Why did Engels' prediction of a workers' revolution in England prove to be unfounded?
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