A United People? Leaders and Followers in a Chartist Locality, 1838-1848. A United People? Leaders and Followers in a Chartist Locality, 1838-1848.

A United People? Leaders and Followers in a Chartist Locality, 1838-1848‪.‬

Journal of Social History 2004, Fall, 38, 1

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Publisher Description

In the first half of the nineteenth century, radicals and later Chartists struggled to make the image of "a united people" a reality and to create a distinctive style of democratic politics and leadership. "We want," argued the National, "not leaders, but representatives. We want, not parliament men to chalk out their own course for their own especial benefit, but men to do our work, under our direction, men who can honestly represent the people's wishes." (1) In trying to achieve this ideal, they encountered again and again the problem of how to define the relationship between leaders and followers in a democratic mass movement. Although historians have devoted a fair amount of time and energy to the study of the complex relationship between "the people" and national leaders, like Feargus O'Connor, they have not really explored the stresses and strains that shaped the relationship between leaders and followers out in the localities; more specifically, historians have not examined how the varying levels of literacy, intellectual and cultural sophistication, and radical commitment affected this crucial relationship. (2) Over the last twenty years, studies of Chartist leadership on the local level have typically displayed one of two tendencies. One tendency has been to assume that Chartist leaders and activists out in the localities were solidly anchored, socially and politically, in the collectivity, "the people," that they claimed to represent; they were, to use Antonio Gramsci's concept, "organic intellectuals." (3) In depicting the organizers and activists of the movement in this way, historians have generally accepted the Chartists' emphasis on the oneness of leaders and followers and their portrayal of local leaders as "the elite" or "the cream of the working classes"; the most significant qualification has been to acknowledge the leadership role of shopkeepers and small tradesmen and professionals. (4) A second tendency has drawn on the work of the philosopher and historian Jacques Ranciere for inspiration. In his study of the French worker-poets and intellectuals of the 1830s, Ranciere has argued that the main motivation behind the politics of this marginalized group of workers was to escape the drudgery and degradation of their laboring lives; they ultimately turned to republican and utopian politics as a way of "seeking intellectual growth, an escape from the worker's world." (5) This way of conceptualizing the plebeian intellectual and activist also existed, in a somewhat different (and cruder) form, in the nineteenth century; contemporary critics often portrayed Chartist leaders as idle or disaffected workers who turned to politics as an easy alternative to earning a living by honest labor. (6)

GENRE
History
RELEASED
2004
22 September
LANGUAGE
EN
English
LENGTH
50
Pages
PUBLISHER
Journal of Social History
SIZE
247.9
KB

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