Marx versus Bakunin: Fictitious Splits in the International (Parts I and II)

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 are publishing in installments, Fictitious Splits in the International is a useful reminder of the differences between Marxism and anarchism. We believe it deserves a careful reading for the lessons it has for Marxists today.

Fictitious Splits in the International

Until now, the General Council has completely refrained from any interference in the International's internal squabbles and has never replied publicly to the overt attacks launched against it during more than two years by some members of the Associations.

But if the persistent efforts of certain meddlers to deliberately maintain confusion between the International and a society [the International Alliance of Socialist Democracy] which has been hostile to it since its inception allowed the General Council to maintain this reserve, the support which European reaction finds in the scandals provoked by that society at a time when the International is undergoing the most serious trial since its foundation obliges it to present a historical review of all these intrigues.

Part I.

After the fall of the Paris Commune, the General Council's first act was to publish its Address on the Civil War in France, in which it came out in support of all the Commune's acts which, at the moment, served the bourgeoisie, the press, and all the governments of Europe as an excuse to heap the most vile slander on the vanquished Parisians. Within the working class itself, some still failed to realize that their cause was lost. The Council came to understand the fact, among other things, by the resignation of two of its members, Citizens Odger and Lucraft, who repudiated all support of the Address. It may be said that the unity of views among the working class regarding the Paris events dates from the publication of the Address in all the civilized countries.

On the other hand, the International found a very powerful means of propaganda in the bourgeois press and particularly in the leading English newspapers, which the Address forced to engage in a polemic kept going by the General Council's replies.

The arrival in London of numerous refugees from the Commune made it necessary for the General Council to constitute itself as a relief committee and function as such for more than eight months, besides carrying on its regular duties. It goes without saying that the vanquished and exiles from the Commune had nothing to hope for from the bourgeoisie. As for the working class, the appeals for aid came at a difficult moment. Switzerland and Belgium had already received their contingent of refugees whom they had either to support or send on to London. The funds collected in Germany, Austria, and Spain were sent to Switzerland. In England, the big fight for the nine-hour working day, the decisive battle of which was fought at Newcastle, had exhausted both the workers' individual contributions and the funds set up by the trade unions, which could be used, incidentally, according to the rules, only for labor conflicts. Meanwhile, by working diligently and sending out letters, the Council managed to accumulate, bit by bit, the money which it distributed weekly. The American workers responded more generously to its appeal. It is unfortunate that the Council could not avail itself of the millions which the terrified bourgeoisie believed the International to have amassed in its safes!

After May 1871, some of the Commune's refugees were asked to join the Council, in which, as a result of the war, the French side was no longer represented. Among these new members were some old Internationalists and a minority composed of men known for their revolutionary energy whose election was an act of homage to the Paris Commune.

Along with these preoccupations, the Council had to prepare for the Conference of Delegates that it had just called.

The violent measures taken by the Bonapartist government against the International had prevented the holding of the Congress at Paris, which had been provided for by a resolution of the Basel Congress. Using the right conferred upon it by Article 4 of the Rules, the General Council, in its circular of July 12, 1870, convened the Congress at Mainz. In letters addressed at the same time to the various federations, it proposed that the General Council should transfer its seat from England to another country and asked that delegates be provided with definite mandates to that effect. The federations unanimously insisted that it should remain in London. The Franco-Prussian War, which began a few days latter, made it necessary to abandon any plans for convening the Congress. It was then that the federations which we consulted authorized us to fix the date of the next Congress as may be dictated by the political situation.

As soon as the political situation permitted, the General Council called a private Conference, acting on the precedents of the 1865 Conference and the private administrative meetings of each Congress. A public Congress was impossible and could only have resulted in the continental delegates being denounced at a moment when European reaction was celebrating its orgies; when Jules Favre was demanding from all governments, even the British, the extradition of refugees as common criminals; when Dufaure was proposing to the Rural Assembly a law banning the International, a hypocritical counterfeit of which was later presented by Malou to the Belgians; when in Switzerland a Commune refugee was put under preventive arrest while awaiting the federal government's decision on the extradition order; when hunting down members of the International was the ostensible basis for an alliance between Beust and Bismarck, whose anti-International clause Victor Emmanuel was quite to adopt; when the Spanish Government, putting itself entirely at the disposal of the butchers of Versailles, was forcing the Madrid Federal Council to seek refuge in Portugal; at a time, lastly, when the International's prime duty was to strengthen its organization and to accept the gauntlet thrown down by the governments.

All sections in regular contact with the General Council were invited in good time to the Conference, which, even though it was not to be a public meeting, nevertheless faced serious difficulties. In view of the internal situation, France was, of course, unable to elect any delegates. In Italy, the only organized section at the time was that of Naples; but just as it was about to nominate a delegate it was broken up by the army. In Austria and Hungary, the most active members were imprisoned. In Germany, some of the more well-known members were prosecuted for the crime of high treason, others landed in jail, and the party's funds were spent on aid to their families. The Americans, though they sent the Conference a detailed memorandum on the situation of the International there, employed the delegation's money for maintaining the refugees. All federations, in fact, recognized the necessity of substituting the private Conference for a public Congress.

After meeting in London from September 17 to 23, 1871, the Conference authorized the General Council to publish its resolutions; to codify the Administrative Regulations and publish them with the General Rules, as reviewed and corrected, in three languages; to carry out the resolution to replace membership cards with stamps; to reorganize the International in England; and, lastly, to provide the necessary money for these various purposes.

Following the publication of the Conference proceedings, the reactionary press of Paris and Moscow, of London and New York, denounced the resolution on working-class policy as containing such dangerous designs — the Times accused it "of coolly calculated audacity" — that it would outlaw the International with all possible speed. On the other hand, the resolution that dealt a blow at the fraudulent sectarian sections gave the international police a long-awaited excuse to start a noisy campaign ostensibly for the unrestricted autonomy of the workers whom it professed to protect against the despicable despotism of the General Council and the Conference. The working class felt itself so "heavily oppressed", indeed, that the General Council received from Europe, America, Australia, and even the East Indies reports about the admission of new members and the formation of new sections.

Part II.

Mikhail BakuninMikhail Bakunin The denunciations in the bourgeois press, like the lamentations of the international police, found a sympathetic echo even in our Association. Some intrigues, directed ostensibly against the General Council but in reality against the Association, were hatched in its midst. At the bottom of these intrigues was the inevitable International Alliance of Socialist Democracy, fathered by the Russian Michael Bakunin. On his return from Siberia, the latter began to write in Herzen's Kolokol, preaching the idea of Pan-Slavism and racial war, conceived out of his long experience. Later, during his stay in Switzerland, he was nominated to head the steering committee of the League of Peace and Freedom, founded in opposition to the International. When this bourgeois society's affairs went from bad to worse, its president, Mr. G. Vogt, acting on Bakunin's advice, proposed to the International's Congress which met at Brussels in September 1868, that it make an alliance with the League. The Congress unanimously proposed two alternatives: either the League should follow the same goal as the International, in which case it would have no reason for existing; or else its goal should be different, in which case an alliance would be impossible. At the League's congress, held in Bern a few days later, Bakunin made an about-face. He proposed a makeshift program whose scientific value may be judged by this single phrase: "economic and social equalization of classes". Backed by an insignificant minority, he broke with the League in order to join the International, determined to replace the International's General Rules by the makeshift program, which had been rejected by the League, and to replace the General Council by his personal dictatorship. To this end, he created a special instrument, the International Alliance of Socialist Democracy, intended to become an International within the International.

Bakunin found the necessary elements for the formation of this society in the relationships he had formed during his stay in Italy, and in a small group of Russian emigrants, serving him as emissaries and recruiting officers among members of the International in Switzerland, France, and Spain. Yet it was only after repeated refusals of the Belgian and Paris federal councils to recognize the Alliance that he decided to submit for the General Council's approval his new society's rules, which were nothing but a faithful reproduction of the "misunderstood" Bern program. The Council replied with the following circular dated December 22, 1868.

The International Working Men's Association and
Bakunin's International Alliance of Socialist Democracy

approved by IWMA General Council December 22, 1868
[written in French]

Just about a month ago, a certain number of citizens formed in Geneva the Central Initiating Committee of a new international society named the International Alliance of Socialist Democracy, stating that it was their "special mission to study political and philosophical questions on the basis of the grand principles of... equality, etc." the program and rules printed by this Initiating Committee were only communicated to the General Council of the International Working Men's Association at its meeting on December 15. According to these documents, the said International Alliance is "established entirely within the... International Working Men's Association", at the same time as it is established entirely outside of the Association.

Besides the General Council of the International Association, elected at the Geneva, Lausanne, and Brussels workingmen's congresses, there is to be, in line with the initiating rules, another Central Council in Geneva, which is self-appointed. Besides the local groups of the International Association, there are to be local groups of the International Alliance, which "through their... national bureaus", operating outside the national bureaus of the International Association, "will ask the Central Bureau of the Alliance to admit them into the International Working Men's Association"; the Alliance Central Committee thereby takes upon itself the right of admittance to the International Association. Lastly, the General Congress of the International Association will have its parallel in the General Congress of the International Alliance, for, as the initiating rules say, "At the annual Working Men's Congress, the delegation of the Alliance of Socialist Democracy, as a branch of the International Working Men's Association, will hold public meetings in a separate building."


That the presence of a second international body operating within and outside the International Working Men's Association will be the most infallible means of its disorganization;

That every other group of individuals, anywhere at all, will have the right to imitate the Geneva initiating group and, under more or less plausible excuses, to bring into the International Working Men's Association other international associations with other "special missions";

That the International Working Men's Association will thereby soon become a plaything for intriguers of every race and nationality;

That the Rules of the International Working Men's Association anyway admit only local and national branches into the Association (see Article 1 and Article 6 of the Rules);

That sections of the International Association are forbidden to give themselves rules or administrative regulations contrary to the General Rules and Administrative Regulations of the International Association (see Article 12 of the Administrative Regulations);

That the Rules and Administrative Regulations of the International Association can only be revised by the General Congress in the event of two-thirds of the delegates present voting in favor of such a revision (see Article 13 of the Administrative Regulations).

The General Council of the International Working Men's Association unanimously agreed at its meeting of December 22, 1868, that:

1. All articles of the Rules of the International Alliance of Socialist Democracy, defining its relations with the International Working Men's Association, are declared null and void;

2.The International Alliance of Socialist Democracy may not be admitted as a branch of the International Working Men's Association;

3.These resolutions be published in all countries where the International Working Men's Association exists.

G. Odger, Chairman of the meeting
R. Shaw, General Secretary

By order of the General Council
of the International Working Men's Association

A few months later, the Alliance again appealed to the General Council and asked whether, yes or no, it accepted its principles. If yes, the Alliance was ready to dissolve itself into the International's sections. It received a reply in the following circular of March 9, 1869.

Letter of the General Council to The Alliance of Socialist Democracy

March 9, 1869
[written in French and English
issued to all International section]


According to Article I of its Statutes, the International Working Men's Association admits "all working men's societies aiming at the same end, viz., the protection, advancement, and complete emancipation of the working classes".

Since the various sections of workingmen in the same country, and the working classes in different countries, are placed under different circumstances and have attained to different degrees of development, it seems almost necessary that the theoretical notions which reflect the real movement should also diverge.

The community of action, however, called into life by the the International Working Men's Association, the exchange of ideas facilitated by the public organs of different national section, and the direct debates at the General Congresses are sure by and by to engender a common theoretical program.

Consequently, it belongs not to the function of the General Council to subject the program of the Alliance to a critical examination. We have not to inquire whether, yes or no, it be a true scientific expression of the working-class movement. All we have to ask is whether its general tendency does not run against the general tendency of the International Working Men's Association, viz., the complete emancipation of the working class?

One phrase in your program lies open to this objection. It occurs [in] Article 2:

"Elle (l'Alliance) veut vant tout l'egalisation politique, economique, et sociale des classes."

["The Alliance wants above all political, economic, and social equalization... of classes."]

The "egalisation des classes", literally interpreted, comes to the "harmony of capital and labor" ("l'harmonie du capital et du travail") so persistently preached by the bourgeois socialists. It is not the logically impossible "equalization of classes", but the historically necessary, superseding "abolition of classes" (abolition des classes), this true secret of the proletarian movement, which forms the great aim of the International Working Men's Association.

Considering, however, the context in which that phrase "egalisation des classes" occurs, it seems to be a mere slip of the pen, and the General Council feels confident that you will be anxious to remove from your program an expression which offers such a dangerous misunderstanding.

It suits the principles of the International Working Men's Association to let every section freely shape its own theoretical program, except the single case of an infringement upon its general tendency. There exists, therefore, no obstacle to the transformation of the sections of the Alliance into sections of the International Working Men's Association.

The dissolution of the Alliance and the entrance of its sections into the International Working Men's Association once settled, it would, according to our Regulations, become necessary to inform the General Council of the residence and the numerical strength of each new section.

Having accepted these conditions, the Alliance was admitted to the International by the General Council, misled by certain signatures affixed to Bakunin's program, and supposing it recognized by the Romanish Federal Committee in Geneva, which on the contrary had always refused to have any dealings with it. Thus it had achieved its immediate goal: to be represented at the Basel Congress. Despite the dishonest means employed by his supporters, means used solely on this occassion in an International Congress, Bakunin was deceived in his expectation of seeing the Congress transfer the seat of the General Council to Geneva and give an official sanction to the old St. Simon rubbish, the immediate abolition of hereditary rights which he had made the practical point of departure of socialism. This was the signal for the open and incessant war which the Alliance waged not only against the General Council, but also against all International sections that refused to adopt this sectarian clique's program and particularly the doctrine of total abstention from politics.

Even before the Basel Congress, when Nechayev came to Geneva, Bakunin got together with him and founded, in Russia, a secret society among students. Always hiding his true identity under the name of various "revolutionary committees", he sought autocratic powers based on all the tricks and mystifications of the time of Cagliostro. The main means of propaganda used by this society consisted in compromising innocent people in the eyes of the Russian police by sending them communications from Geneva in yellow envelopes stamped in Russian on the outside "secret revolutionary committee". The published accounts of the Nechayev trial bear witness to the infamous abuse of the International's name.

The Alliance commenced at this time a public polemic directed against the General Council, first in the Locle Progres, then in the Geneva Egalite, the official newspaper of the Romanish Federation, where several members of the Alliance had followed Bakunin. The General Council, which had scorned the attacks published in Progres, Bakunin's personal organ, could not ignore those from Egalite, which it was bound to believe were approved by the Romanish Federal Committee. It, therefore, published the circular of January 1, 1870.

"We read in the Egalite of December 11, 1869:

'It is certain that the General Council is neglecting extremely important matters. We remind it of its obligations under Article I of the Regulations: The General Council is commissioned to carry the resolutions of the Congress into effect, etc. We could put enough questions ot the General Council for its replies to make up quite a long report. They will come later... Meanwhile, etc. ...'

"The General Council does not know of any article, either in the Rules, or the Regulations, which would oblige it to enter into correspondence or into polemic with the Egalite or to provide 'replies to questions' from newspapers. The Federal Committee of Geneva alone represents the branches of Romance Switzerland via-a-vis the General Council. When the Romance Federal Committee addresses requests of reprimands to us through the only legitmiate channel, that is to say through its secretary, the General Council will always be ready to reply. But the Romance Federal Committee has no right either to abdicate its functions in favour of the Egalite and Progres, or to let these newspapers usurp its functions. Generally speaking, the General Council's administrative correspondence with national and local committees cannot be published without greatly prejudicing the Association's general tnerests. Consequently, if the other organs of the Internatinoal were to follow the example of the Progres and the Egalite, the General Council would be faced with the alternative of either discrediting itself publicly by its silence or violating its obligations by replying publicly. The Egalite joins the Progres in inviting the Travail (Paris paper) to denounce, on its part, the General Council. That is almost a League of Public Welfare."

Meanwhile, before having read this circular, the Romanish Federal Committee had already expelled supporters of the Alliance from the editorial board of L'Egalite.

The January 1, 1870, circular, like those of December 22, 1868, and March 9, 1869, was approved by all International societies.

It goes without saying that none of the conditions accepted by the Alliance have ever been fulfilled. Its sham sections have remained a mystery to the General Council. Bakunin sought to retain under his personal direction the few groups scattered in Spain and Italy and the Naples section which he had detached from the International. In the other Italian towns, he corresponded with small cliques composed not of workers but of lawyers, journalists, and other bourgeois doctrinaires. At Barcelona, some of his friends maintained his influence. In some towns in the South of France, the Alliance made an effort to found separatist sections under the direction of Albert Richard and Gaspard Blanc, of Lyon, about whom we shall have more to say later. In a word, the International within the International continued to operate.

The big blow — the attempt to take over the leadership of French Switzerland — was to have been executed by the Alliance at the Chaux-de-Fonds Congress, opened on April 4, 1870.

The battle began over the right to admit the Alliance delegates, which was contested by the delegates of the Geneva Federation and the Chaux-de-Fonds sections.

Although, on their own calculation, the Alliance supporters represented no more than a fifth of the Federation members, they succeeded, thanks to repetition of the Basel maneuvers, in procuring a fictitious majority of one or two votes, a majority which, in the words of their own organ (see Solidarite of May 7, 1870), represented no more than 15 sections, while in Geneva alone there were 30! On this vote, the French-Switzerland Congress split into two groups which continued their meetings independently. The Alliance supporters, considering themselves the legal representatives of the whole of the Federation, transferred the Federal Committee's seat to Chaux-de-Fonds and founded at Neuchatel their official organ, Solidarite, edited by Citizen Guillaume. This young writer had the special job of decrying the Geneva "factory workers", those odious "bourgeois", of waging war of L'Egalite, the Federation newspaper, and of preaching total abstention from politics. The authors of the most important articles on this theme were Bastelica in Marseilles and Albert Richard and Gaspard Blanc in Lyon, the two big pillars of the Alliance.

On their return, the Geneva delegates convened their sections in a general assembly which, despite opposition from Bakunin and his friends, approved their actions at the Chaux-de-Fonds Congress. A little later, Bakunin and the more active of his accomplices were expelled from the old Romanish Federation.

Hardly had the Congress closed when the new Chaux-de-Fonds Committee called for the intervention of the General Council in a latter signed by F. Robert, secretary, and by Henri Chevalley, president, who was denounced two months later as a thief by the Committee's organ, Solidarite, on July 9. After examining the case of both sides, the General Council decided on June 28, 1870, to keep the Geneva Federal Committee in its old functions and invite the new Chaux-de-Fonds Federal Committee to take a local name. In the face of this decision which foiled its plans, the Chaux-de-Fonds Committee denounced the General Council's authoritarianism, forgetting that it had been the first to ask for its intervention. The trouble that the persistent attempts of the Chaux-de-Fonds Committee to usurp the name of the Romanish Federal Committee caused the Swiss Federation, obliged the General Council to suspend all official relations with the former.

Louis Bonaparte had just surrendered his army at Sedan. From all sides arose protests from International members against the war's continuation. In its address of September 9, the General Council, denouncing Prussia's plans of conquest, indicated the danger of her triumph for the proletarian cause and warned the German workers that they would themselves be the first victims. In England, the General Council organized meetings which condemned the pro-Prussian tendencies of the court. In Germany, the International workers organized demonstrations demanding recognition of the Republic and "an honorable peace for France"....

Meanwhile, his bellicose nature gave the hotheaded Guillaume (of Neuchatel) the brilliant idea of publishing an anonymous manifesto as a supplement, and under cover, of the official newspaper Solidarite, calling for the formation of a Swiss volunteer corps to fight the Prussians, something which he had doubtless always been prevented from doing by his abstentionist convictions.

Then came the Lyon uprising. Bakunin rushed there and, supported by Albert Richard, Gaspard Blanc, and Bastelica, installed himself on September 28 in the town hall — where he refrained from posting a guard, however, lest it be viewed as a political act. He was driven out in shame by some of the National Guard at the moment when, after a difficult accouchement, his decree on the abolition of the state had just seen the light of day.

In October 1870, the General Council, in the absence of its French members, coopted Citizen Paul Robin, a refugee from Brest, one of the best-known supporters of the Alliance, and, what is more, the instigator of several attacks on the General Council in L'Egalite, where, since that moment, he has acted constantly as official correspondent of the Chaux-de-Fonds Committee. On March 14, 1871, he suggested the calling of a private Conference of the International to sift out the Swiss trouble. Foreseeing that important events were in the making in Paris, the Council flatly refused. Robin returned to the question on several occassions and even suggested that the Council take a definite decision on the conflict. On July 25, the General Council decided that this affair would be one of the questions for the COnference due to be convened in September 1871.

On August 10, the Alliance, hardly eager to see its activities looked into by a Conference, declared itself dissolved as from August 6. But, on September 15, it reappeared and requested admission to the Council under the name of the Atheist Socialist Section. According to Administrative Resolution No. V. of the Basel Congress, the Council could not admit it without consulting the Geneva Federal Committee, which was exhausted after its two years of struggle against the sectarian sections. Moreover, the Council had already told the Young Men's Christian Association that the International did not recognize theological sections.

On August 6, the date of the dissolution of the Alliance, the Chaux-de-Fonds Federal Committee renewed its request to enter into official relations with the Council and said that it would continue to ignore the June 28 resignation and to regard itself, in relation to Geneva, as the Romanish Federal Committee, and that it was "up to the General Congress to judge this affair". On September 4, the same Committee challenged the Conference's competence, even though it had been the first to call for its convocation. The Conference could have replied by questioning the competence of the Paris Federal Committee, which the Chaux-de-Fonds Committee had, before the siege of Paris, asked to deliberate on the Swiss conflict. But it confined itself to the General Council decision of June 28, 1870 (see the reasons given in L'Egalite of Geneva, October 21, 1871).


Part III »


Courtesy of Marxists Internet Archive.