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

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 IV.

The men of the Alliance, hidden behind the Neuchatel Federal Committee and determined to make another effort on a vaster scale to disorganize the International, convened a Congress of their sections at Sonvillier on November 12, 1871. Back in July, two letters from maitre Guillaume to his friend Robin had threatened the General Council with an identical campaign if it did not agree to recognize them to be in the right "vis-a-vis the Geneva bandits".

The Sonvillier Congress was composed of 16 delegates claiming to represent nine section in all, including the new "Socialist Revolutionary Propaganda and Action Section" in Geneva.

The Sixteen made their debut by publishing the anarchist decree declaring the Romanish Federation dissolved, and the latter retaliated by restoring to the Alliance members their "autonomy" by driving them out of all sections. However, the Council had to recognize that a stroke of good sense brought them to accept the same Jura Federation, which the London Conference had given them.

The Congress of Sixteen then proceeded to "reorganize" the International by attacking the Conference and the General Council in a "Circular to All Federations of the International Working Men's Association".

Those responsible for the circular accused the General Council primarily of having called a Conference instead of a Congress in 1871. The preceding explanations show that these attacks were made directly against the International as a whole, which had unanimously agreed to convene a Conference, at which, incidentally, the Alliance was conveniently represented by Citizens Robin and Bastelica.

The General Council has had its delegates at every Congress; at the Basel Congress, for example, it had six. The Sixteen claim that "the majority of the Conference was fraudulently assured in advance by the admission of six General Council delegates with a deciding vote".

In actual fact, among the General Council delegates at the Conference, the French refugees were none other than the representatives of the Paris Commune, while its English and Swiss members could take part in the sessions only on rare occassions, as is attested to by the minutes, which will be submitted before the next Congress. One Council delegate had a mandate from a national federation. According to a letter addressed to the Conference, the mandate of another [Marx] was withheld because of the news of his death in the papers. That left one delegate. Thus, the Belgians alone outnumbered the Council by 6-to-1.

The international police, who in the person of Gustave Durand were kept out, complained bitterly about the violation of the General Rules by the convening of a "secret" conference. They were not conversant enough with our General Regulations to know that the administrative sittings of the Congress have to be in private.

Their complaints, nonetheless, found a sympathetic echo with the Sonvillier Sixteen, who cried out:

"And on top of it all, a decision of this Conference declares that the General Council will itself fix the time and place of the next Congress or of the Conference to replace it; thus we are threatened with the suppression of the General Congresses, these great public sessions of the International."

The Sixteen refused to see that this decision was affirmed before the various governments only to show that, despite all the repressive measures, the International was firmly resolved to hold its general meetings one way or another.

At the general assembly of the Geneva sections, held on December 2, 1871, which gave a bad reception to Citizens Malon and Lefrancais, the latter put forward a proposal confirming the decrees passed by the Sonvillier Sixteen and censuring the General Council, as well as disavowing the Conference. The Conference had resolved that

"the Conference resolutions which are not due to be published shall be communicated to the federal councils of the various countries by the corresponding secretaries of the General Council."

This resolution, which was in complete conformity with the General Rules and Regulations, was fraudulently revised by B. Malon and his friends to read as follows:

"Some Conference resolutions shall be communicated only to the federal councils and to the corresponding secretaries."

They further accused the General Council of having "violated the principle of sincerity" in refusing to hand over to the police, by means of "publicity", the resolutions which were aimed exclusively at reorganizing the International in the countries were it is proscribed.

Citizens Malon and Lefrancais complain further that

"the Conference aimed a blow at freedom of thought and its expression... in conferring upon the General Council the right to denounce and disavow any publicity organ of the sections or federations that discussed either the principles on which the Association rests, or the respective interests of the sections and federations, or finally the general interests of the Association as a whole (see L'Egalite of October 21)"

What, then had L'Egalite of October 21 published? It had published a resolution in which the Conference

"gives warning that henceforth the General Council will be bound to publicly denounce and disavow all newspapers calling themselves organs of the International which, following the precedents of Progres and Solidarite, discuss in their columns, before the middle-class public, questions exclusively reserved for the local or federal committees and the General Council, or for the private and administrative sittings of the Federal or General Congresses."

To appreciate properly the spiteful lamentations of B. Malon, we must bear in mind that this resolution puts an end, once and for all, to the the attempts of some journalists who wished to substitute themselves for the main committees of the International and to play therein the role that the journalists' bohemia is playing the the bourgeois world. As a result of one such attempt, the Geneva Federal Committee had seen some members of the Alliance edit L'Egalite, the official organ of the Romanish Federation, in a manner completely hostile to the latter.

Incidentally, the general Council had no need of the London Conference to "publicly denounce and disavow" the improper use of the press, for the Basel Congress had decided (Resolution II) that:

"All newspapers countenancing attacks on the Association must be immediately sent by the sections to the General Council."

"It is evident," says the Romanish Federal Committee in its December 20, 1871, declaration (L'Egalite, December 24), "that this article was adopted not in order that the General Council might keep in its files newspapers which attack the Association, but to enable it to reply, and to nullify in case of need, the pernicious effect of slander and malevolent denigrations. It is also evident that this article refers in general to all newspapers, and that if we do not want to leave the attacks of the bourgeois papers without retaliation, it is all the more necessary to disavow, through our main representative body — i.e., the General Council — those newspapers whose attacks against us are made under cover of the name of our Association."

Let us not in passing that the Times, that Leviathan of the capitalist press, Progres (of Lyon), a publication of the liberal bourgeoisie, and the Journal de Geneve, an ultra-reactionary paper, have brought the same charges against the Conference and used virtually the same terms as Citizens Malon and Lefrancais.

After having challenged the convocation of the Conference and, later, its composition and its allegedly secret character, the Sixteen's circular challenged the Conference resolutions.

Stating first that the Basel Congress had surrendered its rights "having authorized the General Council to grant or refuse admission to, or to suspend, the sections of the International," it accuses the Conference, farther on, of the following sin:

"This Conference has... taken resolutions... which tend to turn the International, which is a free federation of autonomous sections, into a hierarchical and authoritarian organization of disciplined sections placed entirely under the control of a General Council which may, at will, refuse their admission or suspend their activity"!

Still farther on, the circular once more takes up the question of the Basel Congress having allegedly "distorted the nature of the General Council's functions".

The contradictions contained in the circular of the Sixteen may be summed up as follows: the 1871 Conference is responsible for the resolutions of the 1869 Basel Congress, and the General Council is guilty of having observed the Rules which require it to carry out Congress resolutions.

Actually, however, the real reason for all these attacks against the Conference is of a more profound nature. In the first place, it thwarted, by its resolutions, the intrigues of the Alliance men in Switzerland. In the second place, the promoters of the Alliance had, in Italy, Spain, and part of Switzerland and Belgium, created and upheld with amazing persistence a calculated confusion between the program of the International Working Men's Associatoin and Bakunin's makeshift program.

The Conference drew attention to this deliberate misunderstanding in its two resolutions on proletarian policy and sectarian sections. The motivation of the first resolution, which makes short work of the political abstention preached by Bakunin's program, is given fully in its recitals, which are based on the General Rules, the Lausanne Congress resolution, and other precedents. [4]


We now pass on to the sectarian sections:

The first phase of the proletariat's struggle against the bourgeoisie is marked by a sectarian movement. That is logical at a time when the proletariat has not yet developed sufficiently to act as a class. Certain thinkers criticize social antagonisms and suggest fantastic solutions thereof, which the mass of workers is left to accept, preach, and put into practice. The sects formed by these initiators are abstentionist by their very nature — i.e., alien to all real action, politics, strikes, coalitions, or, in a word, to any united movement. The mass of the proletariat always remains indifferent or even hostile to their propaganda. The Paris and Lyon workers did not want the St.-Simonists, the Fourierists, the Icarians, any more than the Chartists and the English trade unionists wanted the Owenites. These sects act as levers of the movement in the beginning, but become an obstruction as soon as the movement outgrows them; after which they became reactionary. Witness the sects in France and England, and lately the Lassalleans in Germany, who after having hindered the proletariat's organization for several years ended up becoming simple instruments of the police. To sum up, we have here the infancy of the proletarian movement, just as astrology and alchemy are the infancy of science. If the International were to be founded, it was necessary that the proletariat go through this phase.

Contrary to the sectarian organization, with their vagaries nd rivalries, the International is a genuine and militant organization of the proletarian class of all countries, united in their common struggle against the capitalists and the landowners, against their class power organized in the state. The International's Rules, therefore, speak of only simple "workers' societies", all aiming for the same goal and accepting the same program, which presents a general outline of the proletarian movement, while having its theoretical elaboration to be guided by the needs of the practical struggle and the exchange of ideas in the sections, unrestrictedly admitting all shades of socialist convictions in their organs and Congresses.

Just as in every new historical phase old mistakes reappear momentarily only to disappear forthwith, so within the International there followed a resurrection of sectarian sections, though in a less obvious form.

The Alliance, which considers the resurrection of the sects a great step forward, is in itself conclusive proof that their time is over: for if initially they contained elements of progress, the program of the Alliance, in the tow of a "Mohammed without the Koran", is nothing but a heap of pompously worded ideas long since dead and capable only of frightening bourgeois idiots or serving as evidence to be used by the Bonapartist or other prosecutors against members of the International. [5]

The Conference, at which all shades of socialism were represented, unanimously acclaimed the resolution against sectarian sections, fully convinced that this resolution, stressing once again the International's true character, would mark a new stage of its development. The Alliance supporters, whom this resolution dealt a fatal blow, construed it only as the General Council's victory over the International, through which, as their circular pointed out, the General Council assured "the domination of the special program" of some of its members, "their personal doctrine", "the orthodox doctrine", "the official theory, and only one permissible within the Association". Incidently, this was not the fault of those few members, but the necessary consequence, "the corrupting effect", of the fact that they were members of the General Council, for "it is absolutely impossible for a person who has power" (!) "over his fellows to remain a moral person. The General Council is becoming a hotbed of intrigue".

According to the opinion of the Sixteen, the General Rules of the International should be censured for the grave mistakes of authorizing the General Council to co-opt new members. Thus authorized, they claim, "the Council could, whenever it saw fit, co-opt a group numerous enough to completely change the nature of its majority and its tendencies".

They seem to think that the mere fact of belonging to the General Council is sufficient to destroy not only a person's morality, but also his common sense. How else can we suppose that a majority will transform itself into a minority by voluntary co-options?

At any rate, the Sixteen themselves do not appear to be very sure of all this, for they complain farther on that the General Council has been "composed for five years running of the same persons, continually reelected", and immediately afterwards they repeat: "Most of them are not regular mandatories, not having been elected by a Congress."

The fact is that the body of the General Council is constantly changing, though some of the founding members remain, as in the federal councils in Belgium, French Switzerland, etc.

The General Council must fulfill three essential conditions if it is to carry out its mandate. In the first place, it must have a numerically adequate membership to carry on its diverse functions; second, a membership of "workingmen belonging to the different nations represented in the International Association"; and, lastly, laborers must be the pre-dominant element therein. Since the exigencies of the worker's job incessantly cause changes in the membership of the General Council, how can it fulfill all these indispensable conditions without the right of co-option? The Council nonetheless considers a more precise definition of this right necessary, as it indicated at the recent Conference.

The reelection of the General Council's original membership, at successive Congresses at which England was definitely under-represented, would seem to prove that it has done its duty within the limits of the means at its disposal. The Sixteen, on the contrary, view this only as a proof of the "blind confidence of the Congresses", carried at Basel to the point of "a sort of voluntary abdication in favor of the General Council".

In their opinion, the Council's "normal role" should be "that of a simple correspondence and statistical bureau". They justify this definition by adducing several articles extracted from an incorrect translation of the Rules.

Contrary to the rules of all bourgeois societies, the International's General Rules touch only lightly on its administrative organization. They leave its development to practice, and its regularization to future Congresses. Nevertheless, inasmuch as only the unity and joint action of the sections of the various countries could give them a genuinely international character, the Rules pay more attention to the Council than to the other bodies of the organization.

Article 6 of the original Rules states: "The General Council shall form an international agency between the different national and local groups", and proceeds to give some examples of the manner in which it is to function. Among these examples is a request to the Council to see that "when immediate practical steps should be needed — as, for instance, in case of international quarrels — the action of the associated societies be simultaneous and uniform."

The article continues:

"Whenever it seems opportune, the General Council shall take the initiative of proposals to be laid before the different national or local societies."

In addition, the Rules define the COuncil's role in convening and arranging Congresses, and charge it with the preparation of certain reports to be submitted thereto. In the original Rules, so little distinction is made between the independent action of various groups and unity of action of the Association as a whole, that Article 6 states:

"Since the success of the workingmen's movement in each country cannot be secured but by the power of union and combination, while, on the other hand, the activity of the General Council will be more effective... the members of the International Association shall use their utmost efforts to combine the disconnected workingmen's societies of their respective countries into national bodies, represented by central national organs."

The first administrative resolution of the Geneva Congress (Article I) says:

"The General Council is commissioned to carry the resolution of the Congress into effect."

This resolution legalized the position that the General Council has held ever since its origin: that of the Association's executive delegation. It would be difficult to carry out orders without enjoying moral "authority" in the absence of any other "freely recognized authority". The Geneva Congress at the same time charged the General COuncil with publishing "the official and obligatory text of the Rules".

The same Congress resolved (Administrative Resolution of Geneva, Article 14):

"Every section has the right to draw up its own rules and regulations adapted to local conditions and to the laws of its own country, but they must not contain anything contrary to the General Rules and Regulations."

Let us note, first of all, that these is not the least allusion either to any special declarations of principles or to any special tasks which this or that section should set itself apart from the common goal pursued by all the groups of the International. The issue simply concerns the right of sections to adapt the General Rules and Regulations to local conditions and to the laws of their country.

In the second place, who is to establish whether or not the particular rules conform to the General Rules? Evidently, if there were no "authority" charged with this function, the resolution would be null and void. Not only could police and hostile sections be formed, but also the intrusion of declassed sectarians and bourgeois philanthropists into the Association could warp its character and, by force of numbers at Congresses, crush the workers.

Since their origin, the national and local federations have exercised in their respective countries the right to admit or reject new sections, according to whether or not their rules conformed to the General Rules. The exercise of the same function by the General Council is provided for in Article 6 of the General Rules, which allows local independent societies — i.e., societies formed outside the federal body in the country concerned — the right to establish direct contacts with the General Council. The Alliance did not hesitate to exercise this right in order to fulfill the conditions set for the admission of delegates to the Basel Congress.

Article 6 of the Rules deals further with legal obstacles to the formation of national federations in certain countries where, consequently, the General Council is asked to function as a Federal Council (see Minutes of the Lausanne Congress, etc., 1867, p.13).

Since the fall of the Commune, these legal obstacles have been multiplying in the various countries, making action by the General Council therein, designed to keep doubtful elements out of the Association, more necessary than ever. That is why the French committees recently demanded the General Council's intervention to rid themselves of informers, and why in another great country [Austria] members of the International requested it not to recognize any section which had not been formed by its direct mandates or by themselves. Their request was motivated by the necessity to rid themselves of agents-provocateurs, whose burning zeal manifested itself in the rapid formation of sections of unparalleled radicalism. On the other hand, the so-called anti-authoritarian sections do not hesitate to appeal to the Council the moment a conflict arises in their midst, or even to ask it to deal severely with their adversaries, as in the case of the Lyons conflict. More recently, since the Conference, the Turin "Workers' Federation" decided to declare itself a section of the International. As the result of the split that followed, the minority formed the Emancipation of the Proletariat Society. It joined the International and began by passing a resolution in favor of the Jura people. Its newspaper, Il Proletario, is filled with outbursts against all authoritarianism. When sending in the society's subscriptions, the secretary [Carlo Terzaghi] warned the General Council that the old federation would probably also send its subscriptions.

Then he continues:

"As you will have read in Il Proletario, the Emancipation of the Proletariat Society... has declared... its rejection of all solidarity with the bourgeoisie who, under the mask of workers, are organizing the Workers' Federation," and begs the Council to "communicate this resolution to all sections and to refuse the 10 centimes in subscriptions in the event of their being sent." [6]

Like all the International's groups, the General Council is required to carry on propaganda. This it has accomplished through its manifestos and its agents, who laid the basis for the first organizations of the International in North America, in Germany, and in many French towns.

Another function of the General Council is to aid strikers and organize their support by the entire International (see General Council reports to the various Congresses). The following fact, inter alia, indicates the importance of its intervention in the strike movement. The Resistance Society of the English Foundrymen is in itself an international trade union with branches in other countries, notably in the United States. Nonetheless, during a strike of American foundrymen, the latter found it necessary to invoke the intercession of the General Council to prevent English foundrymen being brought into America.

The growth of the International obliged the General Council and all federal councils to assume the role of arbiter.

The Brussels Congress resolved that:

"The federal councils are obliged to send a report every quarter to the General Council on their administration and financial states" (Administrative Resolution No.3).

Lastly, the Basel Congress, which provokes the bilious wrath of the Sixteen, occupied itself solely with regulating the administrative relations engendered by the Association's continuing development. If it extended unduly the limits of the General Council's powers, whose fault was it if not that of Bakunin, Schwitzgeubel, F. Robert, Guillaume, and other delegates of the Alliance, who were so anxious to achieve just that? Or will they accuse themselves of "blind confidence" in the London General Council?

Here are two resolutions of the Basel Congress:

"No.IV. Each new section or society which is formed and wishes to be part of the International must immediately announce its adhesion to the General Council,"


"No.V. The General Council has the right to admit or reject the affiliation of any new society or group, subject to appeal at the next Congress."

As for the local independent societies formed outside the federal body, these articles only confirm the practice observed since the International's origin, maintenance of which is a matter of life or death for the Association. But extending this practice and applying it indiscriminately to every section or society in the process of formation is going too far. These articles do authorize the General Council to intervene in the internal affairs of the federations; but they have never been applied in this sense by the General Council. It defies the Sixteen to cite a single case where it has intervened in the affairs of new sections desirous of affiliating themselves with existing groups or federations.

The resolutions cited above refer to sections in the process of formation, while the resolutions given below refer to sections already recognized:

"VI. The General Council has equally the right to suspend until the next Congress any section of the International.

"VII. When conflicts arise between the societies or branches of a national group, or between groups of different nationalities, the General Council shall have the right to decide the conflict, subject to appeal at the next Congress, which will decide definitely."

These two articles are necessary for extreme cases, although up to the present the General Council has never had recourse to them. The review presented above shows that the Council has never suspended any section, and in cases of conflict has only acted as arbiter at the request of the two parties.

We arrive, at last, at a function imposed on the General Council by the needs of the struggle. However shocking this may be for supporters of the Alliance, it is the very persistence of the attacks to which the General Council is subjected by all the enemies of the proletarian movement that has placed it in the vanguard of the defenders of the International Working Men's Association.


« Part III Parts V - VII »


Courtesy of Marxists Internet Archive.



[4] The Conference resolution on political action of the working class reads as follows:

"Considering the following passage of the Preamble to the Rules:

'The economical emancipation of the working classes is the great end to which every political movement ought to be subordinate as a means';

"That the Inaugural Address of the International Working Men's Association (1864) states:

'The lords of land and the lords of capital will always use their political privileges for the defense and perpetuation of their economical monopolies. So far from promoting, they will continue to lay every possible impediment in the way of the emancipation of labor.... To conquer political power has therefore become the great duty of the working classes';

"That the Congress of Lausanne (1867) has passed this resolution:

'The social emancipation of the workmen is inseparable from their political emancipation';

"That the declaration of the General Council relative to the pretended plot of the French Internationals on the eve of the plebiscite (1870) says:

'Certainly by the tenor of our Statutes, all our branches in England, on the Continent, and in America, have the special mission not only to serve as centres for the militant organization of the working class, but also to support, in their respective countries, every political movement tending toward the accomplishment of our ultimate end — the economical emancipation of the working class.';

"That false translations of the original Statutes have given rise to various interpretations which were mischievous to the development and action of the International Working Men's Association;

"In presence of an unbridled reaction which violently crushed every effort at emancipation on the part of the working men, and pretends to maintain by brute force the distinction of classes and the political domination of the propertied classes resulting from it;

"Considering that against this collective power of the propertied classes the working class cannot act, as a class, except by constituting itself into a political party, distinct from, and opposed to, all old parties formed by the propertied classes;

"That this constitution of the working class into a political party is indispensable in order to ensure the triumph of the Social Revolution and its ultimate end — the abolition of classes;

"That the combination of forces which the working class has already effected by its economical struggles ought at the same time to serve as a lever for its struggles against the political power of landlords and capitalists —

"The Conference recalls to the members of the International:

"That in the militant state of the working class, its economical movement and its political action are indissolubly united."

[5] Recent police publications on the International, including the Jules Favre circular to foreign powers and the report of Sacaze, a deputy in the rural assembly, on the Dufaure project, are full of quotations from the Alliance's pompous manifestos. The phraseology of these sectarians, whose radicalism is wholly restricted to verbiage, is extremely useful for promoting the aims of the reactionaries.

[6] At this time, these were the apparent ideas of the Emancipation of the Proletariat Society, as represented by its corresponding secretary, a friend of Bakunin. Actually, however, this section's tendencies were quite different. After expelling this double-dealing traitor for embezzlement and for his friendly relations with the Turin police chief, the society set forth in explanation, which cleared up all misunderstanding between it and the General Council.