First International

International founding 1864On 28th September 1864, the International Working Men’s Association, more commonly known as the First International, was born. This first international proletarian organisation paved the way for the growth of working class organisation and spread of Marxism worldwide. In its day, the ruling class trembled before this revolutionary menace.

As its name implies, it was the first time an international organisation of the working class had come into being. The need for such an organisation flowed from the position of the working class internationally. Capitalism is a global system, based upon a world division of labour and the world market. The position of the working class is the same the world over and therefore the struggle of the working class is the same.

— From The First International: 150 years on

Many academics and critics of Marxism attempt to portray Karl Marx as nothing but an armchair theoretician. However, Marx spent his whole life devoted to putting his revolutionary ideas into practice. From his collaboration with the Communist League, who commissioned his writing of the Communist Manifesto; to the founding of the First International: Marx (and his lifelong peer, Friedrich Engels) were dedicated to the task of fighting for international socialism.

On 5 May it will be 200 years since the birth of Karl Marx. Around the world, the capitalist system is in crisis and the working class is moving into action to seize control of its destiny. In establishment circles, no longer do they snidely declare the death of Marx. On the contrary, there is fear and consternation in their ranks. There has, therefore, never been a more urgent time to study Marx’s ideas. We present here an introduction, by Alan Woods, to a new collection of articles on

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One hundred and fifty years ago, on 28th September 1864, the International Working Men’s Association, more commonly known as the First International, was born. This first international proletarian organisation paved the way for the growth of working class organisation and spread of Marxism worldwide. In its day, the ruling class trembled before this revolutionary menace.

Fred Weston, Editor of the 'In Defence of Marxism' website, talks about Karl Marx and the attempt of building the first international Workers' Party. This talk about the early days of the ideas of scientific Socialism highlights invaluable lessons for revolutionaries today.

It is fashionable to portray Marxism as the source of authoritarianism. This accusation is raised repeatedly by anarchists, reformists and all kinds of opportunists. Bakunin was one of the more famous exponents of such accusations. But the truth is concrete and the historical facts reveal that those same elements who raise a hue and cry about authoritarianism are themselves the worst bureaucrats and authoritarians... where they manage to rule the roost.

Much has changed since this document was first produced, and we have continually refined and updated our perspectives and analysis in subsequent books and articles.  However, the historical value of this document, especially those parts concerning the history of the internationals, the rise of proletarian Bonapartism, and the post-WWII period retain their full force and value.

In 1873 Engels gave some sound advice to Bebel on how to approach the Lassalleans within the German labour movement. He advised the German Social Democrats not to be drawn into the clamour for unity at all costs, adding that, “the correct tactic in propaganda is not to draw away a few individuals and members here and there from one's opponent, but to work on the great mass which still remains apathetic.”

A series of short reports by Engels on the activities of the International in Europe. An interesting point is the fact that the sections that supported the General Council, in several places were targeted for arrest and police repression.

“A number of Socialists have latterly launched a regular crusade against what they call the principle of authority. It suffices to tell them that this or that act is authoritarian for it to be condemned. This summary mode of procedure is being abused to such an extent that it has become necessary to look into the matter somewhat more closely.” (Fredrick Engels, 1873)

Here we provide excerpts from the Rules voted at the 1872 congress of the First International which established the powers of the General Council, which sections would be recognized and which not, i.e. expelled. There was a special section on the expulsion of Bakunin and his organization because "the secret Alliance was established with rules entirely opposed to those of the International."

The Franco-German War and the Civil War in France were preceded, accompanied, and followed by a third war - the war against the International Working Men's Association. Following the defeat of the Paris Commune, the International was faced with a concerted onslaught of reaction, aggravated by the internal intrigues by both the anarchists and the agents of the state.

There have been many splits in the history of the Marxist movement. The enemies of Marxism seize upon this fact as proof of an inherent weakness, an intolerant spirit, excessive centralism, bureaucratic and authoritarian tendencies and so on. The same arguments were used in the First International (IWMA), when Marx and Engels were obliged to wage a ferocious struggle against the followers of the anarchist Bakunin. The document that we published in installments, Fictitious Splits in the

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Bakunin wanted the International to be, not an organization for political struggle but a copy of the ideal society of the future, with no leaders and no authority, for authority = state = an absolute evil. The authority of the majority over the minority also ceases. Every individual and every community is autonomous. But as to how is any society to function, unless each gives up some of his, or her, autonomy?