Marx versus Bakunin: Fictitious Splits in the International (Part III)

We are continuing the publication of Fictitious Splits in the International, which deals with the struggle of Marx and Engels in the First International (IWMA) against the followers of the anarchist Bakunin.

Part III.

The presence, in Switzerland, of some of the outlawed French who had found refuge there put some life back into the Alliance.

The Geneva members of the International did all they could for the emigrants. They came to their aid right from the beginning, initiated a wide campaign, and prevented the Swiss authorities from serving an extradition order on the refugees as demanded by the Versailles government. Several risked grave danger by going to France to help the refugees reach the frontier. Imagine the surprise of the Geneva workers when they saw several of the ringleaders, such as B. Malon [1], immediately come to an understanding with the Alliance people and with the help of N. Zhukovsky, ex-secretary of the Alliance, try to found at Geneva, outside the ROmanish Federation, the new "Socialist Revolutionary Propaganda and Action Section". In the first article of its rules, it "pledges allegiance to the General Rules of the International Working Men's Association, while reserving for itself the complete freedom of action and initiative to which it is entitled as a logical consequence of the principle of autonomy and federation recognized by the Rules and Congresses of the Association."

In other words, it reserves for itself full freedom to continue the work of the Alliance.

In a letter from Malon of October 20, 1871, this new section for the third time asked the General Council for admission to the International. Confirming to Resolution V of the Basel Congress, the Council consulted the Geneva Federal Committee, which vigorously protested against the Council's recognizing this new "seedbed of intrigues and dissentions". The Council acted, in fact, in a rather "authoritarian" manner, so as not to bind the whole Federation to the will of B. Malon and N. Zhukovsky, the Alliance's ex-secretary.

Solidarite having gone out of business, the new Alliance supporters founded the Revolution Sociale under the supreme management of Madame Andre Leo, who had just said at the Lausanne Peace Congress that Raoul Rigault and Ferre were the two sinister figures of the Commune who, up till then (up till the execution of the hostages), had not stopped calling for bloody measures, albeit in vain.

From its very first issue, the newspaper hastened to put itself on the same level as Figaro, Gaulois, Paris-Journal, and other disreputable sheets which have been throwing mud at the General Council. It thought the moment opportune to fan the flames of national hatred, even within the International. It called the General Council a German Committee led by a Bismarckian brain. [2]

After having definitely established that certain General Council members could not boast of being "Gauls first and foremost", the Revolution Sociale could find nothing better than to take up the second slogan put in circulation by the European police and to denounce the Council's "authoritarianism".

What, then, were the facts on which this childish rubbish rested? The General Council had let the Alliance die a natural death and, in agreement with the Geneva Federal Committee, had prevented it from being resurrected. Moreover, it had suggested to the Chaux-de-Fonds Committee that it take a name which would permit it to live in peace with the great majority of International members in French Switzerland.

Apart from these "authoritarian" acts, what use did the General Council make, between October 1869 and October 1871 of the fairly extensive powers that the Basel Congress had conferred upon it?

1. On February 8, 1870, the Paris "Society of Positivist Proletarians" applied to the General Council for admission. The Council replied that the principles of the Positivists, the part of the society's special rules concerning capital, were in flagrant contradiction with the preamble of the General Rules; that the society had, therefore, to drop them and join the International not as "Positivists" but as "proletarians", while remaining free to reconcile their theoretical ideas with the Association's general principles. Realizing the justness of this decision, the section joined the International.

2. At Lyon, there was a split between the 1865 Section and a recently-formed section in which, amid honest workers, the Alliance was represented by Albert Richard and Gaspard Blanc. As had been done in similar cases, the judgment of a court of arbitration, formed in Switzerland, was turned down. On February 15, 1870, the recently formed section, besides asking the General Council to resolve the conflict by virtue of Resolution VII of the Basel Congress, sent it a ready-made resolution excluding and branding the members of the 1865 Section, which was to be signed and sent back by return mail. The Council condemned this unprecedented procedure and demanded that the necessary documents be produced. In reply to the same request, the 1865 Section said that the accusatory documents against Albert Richard, which had been submitted to the court of arbitration, were in Bakunin's possession and that he refused to give them up. Consequently, it could not completely satisfy the desires of the General Council. The Council's decision on the affair, dated March 8, met with no objection from either side.

3. The French section in London, which had admitted people of a more than dubious character, had been gradually transformed into a concern virtually controlled by Mr. Felix Pyat. He used it to organize damaging demonstrations calling for the assassination of Louis Bonaparte, etc., and to spread his absurd manifestos in France under cover of the International. The General Council confined itself to declaring, in the Association's organs, that Mr. Pyat was not a member of the International and it could not be responsible for his actions. The French branch then declared that it no longer recognized either the General Council or the Congresses; it plastered the walls of London with handbills proclaiming that, with the exception of itself, the International was an anti-revolutionary society. The arrest of French members of the International on the eve of the plebiscite, on the pretext of a conspiracy — plotted in reality by the police and to which Pyat's manifestos gave an air of credibility — forced the General Council to publish in La Marseillaise and Reveil its resolution of May 10, 1870, declaring that the so-called French branch had not belonged to the International for over two years, and that its agitation was the work of police agents. The need for this demarche was proved by the declaration of the Paris Federal Committee, published in the same newspapers, and by that of the Paris members of the International during their trial, both declarations referring to the Council's resolution. The French branch disappeared at the outbreak of the war, but, like the Alliance in Switzerland, it was to reappear in London with new allies and under other names.

During the last days of the Conference, a French section of 1871, about 35 members strong, was formed in London among the Commune refugees. The first "authoritarian" act of the General Council was to publicly denounce the secretary of this section, Gustave Durand, as a French police spy. The documents in our possession prove the intention of the police first to assist Durand to attend the Conference and then to secure for him membership in the General Council. Since the rules of the new section directed its members not to accept any delegation to the General Council other than from its section, Citizen Theisz and Bastelica withdrew from the Council.

On October 17, the section delegated to the Council two of its members, holding imperative mandates; one was none other than Mr. Chautard, ex-member of the artillery committee. The Council refused to admit them prior to an examination of the rules of the 1871 Section. [3] Suffice it to recall here the principal point of the debate to which these rules gave rise. Article 2 states:

"To be admitted as member of the section, a person must provide information as to his means of sustenance, present guarantees of morality, etc."

In its resolution of October 17, 1871, the Council proposed deleting the words "provide information as to his means of sustenance".

"In dubious cases," said the Council, "a section may well take information about means of sustenance as a 'guarantee of morality', while in other cases, like those of refugees, workers on strike, etc., absence of means of sustenance may well be a guarantee of morality. But to ask candidates to provide information as to their means of sustenance as a general condition to be admitted to the International would be a bourgeois innovation contrary to the spirit and letter of the General Rules."

The section replied:

"The General Rules make the sections responsible for the morality of their members and, as a consequence, recognize their right to demand such guarantees as they deem necessary."

To this, the General Council replied, November 7:

"On this argument, a section of the International founded by teetotalers could include in its own rules this type of article: To be admitted as a member of the section, a person must swear to abstain from all alcoholic drinks. In other words, the most absurd and most incongruous conditions of admittance into the International could be imposed by sections' rules, always on the pretext that they intend, in this way, to be assured of the morality of their members....

'The means of sustenance of strikers', adds the French Section of 1871, 'consist of the strike fund'. This might be answered by saying, first, that this 'fund' is often fictitious....

Moreover, official English questionnaires have proved that the majority of English workers... are forced — by strikes or unemployment, by insufficient wages or terms of payment, as well as many other causes — to resort incessantly to pawnshops or to borrowing money. These are means of sustenance about which one cannot demand information without interfering in an unqualified manner in a person's private life. There are thus two alternatives:

— either the section is only to seek guarantees of morality through means of sustenance, in which case the General Council's proposal serves the purpose....

— Or the section, in Article 2 of its rules, intentionally says that the members have to provide information as to their means of sustenance as a condition of admission, over and above the guarantees of morality, in which case the Council affirms that it is a bourgeois innovation contrary to the spirit and letter of the General Rules."

Article 11 of their rules states:

"One or several delegates shall be sent to the General Council."

The Council asked for this article to be deleted

"because the International's General Rules do not recognize any right of the sections to send delegates to the General Council."

"The General Rules," it added, "recognize only two ways of election for General Council members: either their election by the Congress, or their co-option by the General Council...."

It is quite true that the different sections in London had been invited to send delegates to the General Council, which, so as not to violate the General Rules, has always proceeded in the following manner: It has first determined the number of delegates to be sent by each section, reserving itself the right to accept or refuse them depending on whether it considered them able to fulfill the general functions assigned to them. These delegates became members of the General Council not by virtue that the Rules accord the Council to co-opt new members. Having operated up to the decision taken by the last Conference both as the International Association's General Council and as the Central Council for England, the London Council thought it expedient to admit, besides the members that it co-opted directly, also members nominated initially by their respective sections. It would be a serious mistake to identify the General Council's electoral procedure with the of the Paris Federal Council, which was not even a national Council nominated by a national Congress like, for example, the Brussels Federal Council or that of Madrid. The Paris Federal Council was only a delegation of the Paris sections.... The General Council's electoral procedure if defined in the General Rules... and its member would not know how to accept any other imperative mandate than that of the Rules and General Regulations.... If we take into consideration the article that precedes it, Article 11 means nothing else but a complete change of the General Council's composition, turning it, contrary to Article 3 of the General Rules, into a delegation of the London sections, in which the influence of local groups would be substituted for that of the whole International Working Men's Association. Lastly, the General Council, whose first duty is to carry out the Congress resolutions (see Article 1 of the Geneva Congress' Administrative Regulations), said that it

"Considers that the ideas expressed by the French section of 1871 about a radical change to be made in the articles of the General Rules concerning the constitution of the General Council have no bearing on the question...."

Moreover, the Council declared that it would admit two delegates from the section on the same conditions as those of the other London sections.

The 1871 Section, far form being satisfied with this reply, published on December 14 a "declaration" signed by all its members, including the new secretary, who was shortly expelled as a scoundrel from the refugee society. According to this declaration, the General Council, by refusing to usurp the legislative functions, was accused of "a gross distortion of the social idea".

Here are some sample of the good faith displayed in the drawing up of this document:

The London Conference approved the conduct of the German workers during the [Franco-Prussian] war. It was apparent that this resolution, proposed by a Swiss delegate [Outine], seconded by a Belgian delegate, and approved unanimously, referred only to the German members of the International, who paid and are still paying for their anti-chauvinist behavior during the war by imprisonment. Furthermore, in order to avoid any possible misinterpretation, the Secretary of the General Council for France [Serraillier] had just explained the true sense of the resolution in a letter published by the journals Qui Vive!, Constitution, Radical, Emancipation, Europe, etc. Nonetheless, eight days later, on November 23, 1871, 15 members of the 'French Section of 1871' inserted in Qui Vive! a "protest" full of abuse against the German workers and denouncing the Conference resolution as irrefutable proof of the General Councils's "pan-Germanic idea". On the other hand, the entire feudal, liberal, and police press of Germany seized avidly upon this incident to demonstrate to the German workers how their international dreams had come to naught. In the end, the November 29 protest was endorsed by the entire 1871 Section in its December 14 declaration.

To show "the dangerous slope of authoritarianism down which the General Council [was] slipping", the declaration cited "the publication by the very same General Council of an official edition of the General Rules as revised by it."

One glance at the new edition of the Rules is enough to see that each new article has, in the appendix, reference to the original sources establishing its authenticity! As for the words "official edition", the 1st Congress of the International decided that "the official and obligatory text of the Rules and Regulation" would be published by the General Council (see "Working Congress of the International Working Men's Association held at Geneva from September 3 to 8, 1866", page 27, note).

Naturally enough, the 1871 Section was in continuous contact with the dissident of Geneva and Neuchatel. One Chalain, a member who has shown more energy in attacking the General Council than he had ever shown in defending the Commune, was unexpectedly rehabilitated by B. Malon, who had earlier leveled very grave charges against him in a letter in to a Council member. The French Section of 1871, however, had scarcely launched its declaration when civil war exploded in its ranks. First Theisz, Avrial, and Camelinat withdrew. Thereafter, the section broke up into several small groups, one of which was led by Mr. Pierre Vesinier, expelled by the General Council for his slander against Varlin and others, and then expelled for the International by the Belgian Commission appoint by the Brussels Congress of 1868. Another of these groups was founded by B. Landeck, who had been relieved by the sudden flight of police prefect Pierri, on September 4, of his obligation, "scrupulously fulfilled, not to engage any more in political affairs, nor in the International in France" (see Third Trial of the International Working Men's Association in Paris, 1870", p.4).

On the other hand, the mass of French refugees in London have formed a section which is in complete harmony with the General Council.


« Parts I and II Part IV »


Courtesy of Marxists Internet Archive.



[1] B. MALON — Do the friends of B. Malon, who have been advertising him in a stereotyped way for the last three months as the founder of the International, who have called his book the only independent work on the Commune, know the attitude taken by this assistant to the Mayor of Batignolles on the eve of the February elections? At that time, B. Malon, who did not yet foresee the Commune and saw nothing more than the success of his election to the Assembly, plotted to get himself put on the list of the four committees as a member of the International. To these ends, he insolently denied the existence of the Paris Federal Council and submitted to the committees the list of a section founded by himself at Batignolles as coming from the entire Association. Later, on March 19, he insulted in a public document the leaders of the great Revolution on the eve of their consummating it. Today, this anarchist from top-to-toe prints, or has printed, what he was saying a year ago to the four committees: I am the International! B. Malon has hit on a way of parodying Louis XIV and Perron the chocolate manufacturer at one and the same time. It was Perron who declared that his chocolate was the only edible chocolate!

[2] Here is the national composition of the Council:

— 20 Englishmen, — 15 French, — 7 Germans (of whom 5 are founding members of the International), — 2 Swiss, — 2 Hungarians, — 1 Pole, — 1 Belgian, — 1 Irishman, — 1 Dane, and — 1 Italian.

[3] A little later, this Chautard whom they had wanted to put on the General Council was expelled from the section as an agent of Thiers' police. He was accused by the same people who had judged him worthy among all others of representing them on the General Council.