Marx versus Bakunin - Part Five

At the Hague congress of the First International Bakunin was finally expelled, provoking the wrath of the anarchists and like-minded people, some of which walked out of the organisation, like the Blanquists. At the same time, the opportunists such as the English trade union leaders lined up with the ultra-left in demanding greater autonomy for the local sections, all of course complaining about the authoritarianism of Marx and the General Council.

The expulsion of Bakunin

Bakunin and his chief lieutenant Guillaume were finally expelled at the Hague Congress. Engels wrote:

“These expulsions constitute an open declaration of war by the International to the ‘Alliance’ and the whole of Mr. Bakunin’s sect. Like every other shade of proletarian socialism Bakunin’s sect was admitted in the International on the general condition of maintaining peace and observing the Rules and the Congress resolutions. Instead of doing so, this sect led by dogmatic members of the bourgeoisie having more ambition than ability tried to impose its own narrow-minded programme on the whole of the International, violated the Rules and the Congress resolutions and finally declared them to be authoritarian trash which no true revolutionary need be bound by.

“The almost incomprehensible patience with which the General Council put up with the intrigues and calumny of the small band of mischief-makers was rewarded only with the reproach of dictatorial behaviour. Now at last the Congress has spoken out, and clearly enough at that. Just as clear will be the language of the documents concerning the Alliance and Mr. Bakunin’s doings in general which the Commission will publish in accordance with the Congress decision. Then people will see what villainies the International was to be misused for.” (Engels, On the Hague Congress of the International, 17th September 1872, MECW, vol. 23, pp. 268-9)

Guillaume had already refused to appear before the committee set up to investigate the activities of the Alliance. When he was called upon by the chairman to defend himself, but declared that he would make no attempt to defend himself as he was unwilling to take part in a “farce”. The attack, he declared, was not directed against individuals, but against the federalist (i.e., anarchist) tendency as a whole. The supporters of this tendency had already drawn up a statement, which was then read to the congress. It was signed by five Belgian, four Spanish and two Jura delegates and also by an American and a Dutch delegate.

Engels later described the scene at the Congress:

"The debate on this question was heated. The members of the ‘Alliance’ did all they could to draw out the matter, for at midnight the lease of the hall expired and the Congress had to be closed. The behaviour of the members of the Alliance could not but dispel all doubt as to the existence and the ultimate aim of their conspiracy. Finally the majority succeeded in having the two main accused who were present – Guillaume and Schwitzguébel – take the floor; immediately after their defence the voting took place. Bakunin and Guillaume were expelled from the International, Schwitzguébel escaped this fate, owing to his personal popularity, by a small majority; then it was decided to amnesty the others.” (Engels, On the Hague Congress of the International, 17th September 1872, MECW, vol. 23, pp. 268-9)

Engels, who spoke in the debate, said:

“The good faith of the General Council and of the whole International, to whom to correspondence had been submitted, was betrayed in a most disgraceful manner. Having once committed such a deception, these men were no longer held back by any scruples from their machinations to subordinate the international, or, if this were unsuccessful, to disorganize it.” (Engels, Report on the Alliance of Socialist Democracy presented in the name of the General Council to the Congress at the Hague, late August 1872, MECW, vol. 23, p. 231)

Seeing that they were in a minority, as usual the Bakuninists resorted to a manoeuvre. Allegedly in order to avoid a split in the International, they declared that they were willing to maintain “administrative relations” with the General Council, but rejected any interference on its part in the internal affairs of the Federations. The signatories of the Bakuninist resolution appealed to all federations and to all sections to prepare themselves for the next congress in order to carry the principle of free association (autonomie fédérative) to victory.

However, the congress was not prepared to be sidetracked by such tricks and sophistry. It voted to expel Bakunin immediately with 27 against 7 votes, 8 votes not being cast. Then Guillaume was expelled with 25 against 9 votes, and 9 votes not being cast. The other expulsion proposals of the committee were rejected, but it was instructed to publish its material on the Alliance.

After the expulsion of Bakunin and Guillaume, the Alliance, which had control of the Association in Spain and Italy, unleashed a campaign of vilification against Marx and the General Council everywhere. It joined forces with all the disreputable elements and attempting to force a split into two camps. Marx was undismayed. He wrote to Nikolai Danielson:

“However, its ultimate defeat is assured. Indeed, the Alliance is only helping us to purge the Association of the unsavoury or feeble-minded elements who have pushed their way in here and there.” (Marx To Nikolai Danielson In St Petersburg, 12 December 1872, MECW, Volume 44, p. 455)

After the Hague Congress

Crises and splits put people to the test. The result can have a demoralizing effect on the weaker elements and people who are not theoretically prepared. This was no exception. Writing on the 8th of May, 1873, to Sorge, Engels declared:

“Although the Germans have their own squabbles with the Lassalleans, they were very disappointed with the Hague congress where they expected to find perfect harmony and fraternity in contrast to their own wrangling, and they have become very disinterested.”

The split also had a demoralizing effect on the French émigrés, who were already disoriented by the defeat of the Commune. Writing again to Sorge on the 12th of September, 1874, Engels declared:

“The French emigrants are completely at sixes and sevens. They have quarreled amongst themselves and with everyone else for purely personal reasons, mostly in connection with money, and we shall soon be completely rid of them ... The irregular life during the war, the Commune and in exile has demoralized them frightfully, and only hard times can save a demoralized Frenchman.” (Engels to Frierich Adolph Sorge In Hoboken, MECW, vol. 45, p. 40)

In Italy, the Bakuninists were strong and the Marxists were a small minority. Engels wrote:

“I hope that the outcome of the Hague Congress will make our Italian ‘autonomous’ friends think. They ought to know that wherever there is an organisation, some autonomy is sacrificed for the sake of unity of action. If they do not realise that the International is a society organised for struggle, and not for fine theories, I am very sorry, but one thing is certain: the great International will leave Italy to act on its own until it agrees to accept the conditions common to all.” (Engels, Letters from London – More about the Hague Congress, 5th October 1872, MECW, vol. 23, p. 283.)

The wavering elements naturally raised the banner of unity at all costs. But the loud demands for unity were answered in advance by the Bakuninists, who in their Rimini Conference, held at the beginning of August 1872, publicly announced that they had split from the International and formed a separate organization. By so doing they had placed themselves outside the ranks of the IWA, as Engels pointed out:

“The Bakuninists have now finally placed themselves outside the International. A conference (ostensibly of the International, in reality of the Italian Bakuninists) has been held in Rimini. Of the 21 sections represented, only one, that from Naples, really belonged to the International. The other 20, in order not to endanger their ‘autonomy’, had deliberately neglected to take all the measures on which the Administrative Regulations of the International make admission conditional; they had neither written to the General Council requesting admission, nor sent their subscriptions. And these 21 ‘International’ sections decided unanimously in Rimini on August 6:

“ ‘The Conference solemnly declares to all workers of the world that the Italian Federation of the International Working Men’s Association severs all solidarity with the General Council in London, proclaiming instead, all the louder, its economic solidarity with all workers, and urges all sections that do not share the authoritarian principles of the General Council to send their representatives on September 2, 1872 not to The Hague, but to Neuchâtel in Switzerland in order to open the general anti-authoritarian Congress there on the same day’.” (Engels, On the Rimini Conference, 24th August 1872, MECW, vol. 23, p. 216.)

Engels always spoke with the greatest contempt of the unity-mongers, who went around shouting at the top of their voice that the split was a disaster, that unity must be restored at any price, and all the rest of it. In a letter to Bebel written on 20 June, 1873, he wrote:

“One must not allow oneself to be misled by the cry for ‘unity.’ Those who have this word most often on their lips are those who sow the most dissension, just as at present the Jura Bakuninists in Switzerland, who have provoked all the splits, scream for nothing so much as for unity. Those unity fanatics are either the people of limited intelligence who want to stir everything up together into one nondescript brew, which, the moment it is left to settle, throws up the differences again in much more acute opposition because they are now all together in one pot (you have a fine example of this in Germany with the people who preach the reconciliation of the workers and the petty bourgeoisie) or else they are people who consciously or unconsciously (like Mühlberger, for instance) want to adulterate the movement. For this reason the greatest sectarians and the biggest brawlers and rogues are at certain moments the loudest shouters for unity. Nobody in our lifetime has given us more trouble and been more treacherous than the unity shouters.” (Engels to August Bebel, MECW, vol. 44, p. 512)

The Blanquists split

The subsequent proposal that the permanent residence of the General Council be transferred to New York was dictated in part by purely practical considerations. Given the prevailing wave of counterrevolution, the International lost its base not only in France and Germany, but also in England. But the proposal was bound to meet with vigorous resistance from the German, French and English leaders, and the resistance to it after the Hague Congress was ferocious and embittered.

The immediate effect was that the Blanquists walked out of the International. They were furious at the decision to move the Council to New York because they had hoped to get control of it. They split from the International as a result. The proposal of Marx and Engels to move the General Council to New York had been taken in order to prevent the Blanquists from using the Council to promote their adventurist tactics. But by splitting from the International they consigned themselves to oblivion.

On the two chief questions at issue, the question of political activity and the question of strict centralization, the Blanquists were in agreement with Marx, but their political adventurism and advocacy of revolutionary coups made them an even greater danger than the reformists in the prevailing conditions of European reaction. It was presumed that the transfer of the International would be a temporary move, to be reversed when conditions permitted. However, as it turned out, the Hague Congress was the last of any significance in the history of the International.

Eccarius, Jung and Hales

It frequently happens in politics, as in other aspects of life, that the most trivial personal considerations (jealousy, ambition, spite etc.) can play a disproportionate role in shaping events. Of course, in the revolutionary movement, such factors play the role of a catalyst for far more deep-seated political differences, which are not immediately obvious, but become clearer ex post facto. To use the celebrated expression of Hegel, necessity expresses itself through accident.

This was the case with Eccarius and Jung, two members of the General Council who had been Marx’s most loyal comrades for years. But in May, 1872, a definite breach occurred between Marx and Eccarius. The immediate cause was quite trivial. Eccarius announced that he was leaving his position as General Secretary of the International, as he was unable to live on his weekly salary of fifteen shillings.

Unfortunately, he was replaced by the Englishman John Hales and Eccarius unjustly blamed Marx for this. On the other hand, Marx was annoyed by the fact that Eccarius published information about the internal affairs of the International in the bourgeois press in return for payment, in particular information concerning the private conference of the International in London.

To give an indication of the problems Marx and Engels had to put up from Eccarius on the General Council, the following extract from the meeting of 11 May 1872 will suffice. When questioned about his making public the internal affairs of the General Council, Eccarius refused to show the incriminating correspondence, taking refuge behind legalistic arguments:

“Citizen Eccarius said he was in the same position as Hales; he kept no copies and should decline to answer; he should stand on the principle of English law, which was that those who prosecute should prove. […]

“Citizen Marx considered Hales had been guilty of grave indiscretion, as he had compromised the Council.

“Citizen Engels agreed with the remarks of Citizen Marx. With respect to the defence of Citizen Eccarius, the Council has nothing to do with British law. It had a right to know: had Eccarius written the letter he was charged with writing? Yes or no?

“Citizen Eccarius thought when the charge was made the proofs would be forthcoming, but instead of the proofs being produced he was asked to acknowledge his guilt. He should refuse to give any answer until the letter was in his hand. It had all along been assumed that he had been guilty of criminal correspondence, and he should let those who made the charge prove it.

“Citizen Marx said he said nothing about criminal correspondence, but he did say it was a crime if Eccarius wrote the letter which had the damaging character – of destroying the influence of the Council.

“With regard to the demand that the charge should be proved, he would point out that this was not an ordinary tribunal where there was a defendant and a prosecutor. It was a question of the conservation of the influence of the Council. […]

“Citizen Engels said that the sentimentality of the previous sitting, when it was said it was cruel to let charges hang over a man’s head etc., only made the cry for delay more comical.” (Documents of the First International, vol. 5, pp. 191-2)

It is not the last time we have heard the demand that, in dealing with disciplinary cases, the International must follow the strict procedures of bourgeois law – an argument, which, as we see from the above, was indignantly rejected by Marx and Engels, who also had no time for appeals to sentimentality, hurt feelings and so on. The overriding consideration was to defend the revolutionary organization. By releasing internal information and spreading gossip, Eccarius had damaged the influence of the General Council, and Marx considered this to be a crime.

For his part, Jung was jealous of Marx’s closeness to Engels, with whom he was in daily contact since he moved to London from Manchester. Jung and Eccarius felt offended by this and complained that “the General,” as Engels was nicknamed in the circle, had an abrupt military tone. Whenever he took the chair at the meetings of the General Council, there was usually a row, they said.

It is fairly typical of mediocre individuals to make such complaints about the “tone” of a discussion, and the alleged “arrogance” of people more able than themselves. Trotsky pointed out that it was unworthy of a revolutionary to take offense because he or she has suffered a “flip on the nose.” In revolutionary politics what is important is not form but content, not the tone with which something is said but what is said.

Sometimes, however, such secondary considerations can give rise to friction and enmities that can later be filled with a political content. That was the case with Jung and Eccarius. They were not necessarily bad people, but they had a limited political understanding and allowed their personal feelings and hurt pride to cloud their political judgment. With Hales things were very different. When he was elected General Secretary, a sharp personal conflict arose between him and Eccarius. On the part of the latter it was mainly a question of jealous resentment. But Hales was an opportunist and a reformist to the marrow of his bones and he had always distrusted the revolutionary ideas of Marx.

The London conference decided to set up an English Federation, and it held its first congress in Nottingham on the 21st and 22nd of July. This was Hales’ opportunity to build a counterweight to the General Council and cancel out the influence of Marx. He proposed to the 21 delegates who were present that the Federation should establish contact with the other Federations not through the General Council, but directly, and that at the coming congress of the International the new Federation should support a change in the Statutes of the International with a view to reducing the authority of the General Council.

This was music to the ears of the Bakuninists, fitting in well with their slogan of the “endangered autonomy of the Federations.” In fact, the English trade unionists had absolutely nothing in common with the ideas of the Bakuninists, being inclined to towards English Liberalism. But none of this mattered. They were all agreed on one thing: implacable opposition to Marx and the “authoritarian” General Council. In this way an unholy alliance was formed between Hales, Eccarius and Jung.

Although, as we have seen, the reformist Hales had nothing in common with the ideas of the anarchists, he had secretly entered into close the relations with the Jura Federation at the Hague. This unprincipled bloc was based on the well-known idea: “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” For these people, any weapon or ally was useful if it gave one a stick to beat Marx and the General Council!

On the 6th of November 1874, writing in the name of the English Federal Council, Hales declared that the “hypocrisy of the old General Council” had now been exposed. Previous to this, on the 18th of September Hales moved a vote of censure against Marx in the British Federal Council, using as an excuse Marx’s comments at the Hague concerning the corrupt nature of some English working-class leaders. The vote of censure was adopted. Hales then gave notice that he intended to present a resolution for the expulsion of Marx from the International, whilst another member gave notice for a resolution rejecting the decisions of the Hague congress.

The theory of “two rival bureaucracies”

Hales developed an original and peculiar theory: Marx and Bakunin were really... the same. According to Hales, Marx had attempted to organize a secret society within the International on the pretext of destroying another secret society which it had invented to suit its aims. It was only a matter of one authoritarian bureaucracy fighting against another authoritarian bureaucracy to get control of the International!

At the same time, however, Hales pointed out that the English were not in agreement with the Jura Federation politically. They (the English) were convinced of the usefulness of political action. Here he spoke the unvarnished truth, since the English trade union leaders were trying to get into parliament, and for this purpose they needed the help of the Liberals. However, they were quite prepared to grant complete autonomy to all other federations as demanded by the different conditions in the various countries – and the different interests of the leaders.

Politics knows strange bedfellows. Although Hales and Eccarius had previously entertained a violent dislike for each other, they now became the most zealous allies, and Jung finally became one of the most violent opponents of Marx and Engels. In the cases of both Eccarius and Jung, they permitted their political judgment to be clouded by personal jealousies and resentments. As Lenin once remarked, spite in politics always plays the most destructive role.

In the past, Eccarius and Jung had become known to the whole International as the most faithful defenders of the opinions of Marx. Now they did a 180 degree somersault and appealed for support for the Jura Federation against the “intolerance” of the Hague decision and the “dictatorial tendencies” of Marx and Engels. However, the two men met with vigorous resistance in the English sections, and in particular the Irish. Even in the Federal Council they encountered opposition. So, as befits such committed advocates of democracy and toleration, they carried out a coup d’etat in the English branch of the International. They issued an appeal to all sections and all members, declaring that the British Federal Council was so divided against itself that further co-operation was impossible. They demanded the calling of a congress to reverse the decisions taken at the Hague.

The minority immediately replied to these manoeuvres with a counter-appeal, probably written by Engels, which condemned the proposed congress as illegal. Nevertheless, the congress took place on the 26th of January, 1873. Hales delivered violent attacks on the old General Council and on the Hague Congress, and was actively supported by Jung and Eccarius. The congress unanimously condemned the Hague decisions and refused to recognize the new General Council in New York, and declared itself in favour of a new international congress. Hales intrigued quite openly against the General Council and in August he was removed from his post. But the split in the British Federation was by now an accomplished fact.

The end of the International

The history of the First International really ends with the Hague congress. The leading figure of the new General Council in New York was Sorge, who was well acquainted with American conditions and a loyal supporter of Marx. But still the moving of the new General Council to New York failed to save the IWA. The movement in America lacked the experience and material means to prosper there.

The sixth congress of the International was called by the General Council in New York for the 8th of September in Geneva. But its only purpose was to sign the death certificate of the International. The Bakuninists organized their counter-congress in Geneva on the 1st of September. It was attended by two English delegates – the old arch-enemies Hales and Eccarius, five delegates each from Belgium, France and Spain, four delegates from Italy, one delegate from Holland and six delegates from the Jura.

Marx frankly admitted that the congress had been “a fiasco” and advised the General Council not to emphasize the formal organizational side of the International for the moment, but, if possible, to keep the centre point in New York going, to prevent it from falling into the hands of adventurers and others who might compromise the cause. Events would assure the recreation of the International on a higher level in the future. History was to prove Marx correct.

In 1876 the General Council in New York published the notice that the First International had ceased to exist. For ten years the International had dominated one part of European history. But now it faced an uncertain future because of objective difficulties and internal problems. In 1874, Engels wrote. “A general defeat of the working-class movement such as was suffered in the period from 1849 to 1864 will be necessary before a new international, an alliance of all proletarian parties in all countries, along the lines of the old one can come into being. At present the proletarian world is too big and too diffuse.”

Unlike its successors, the Second (Socialist) and Third (Communist) Internationals, the First International was never a mass organization. Moreover, in its beginnings it was politically confused, being made up of all kinds of different elements: English reformist trade unionists, French Proudhonists, followers of Mazzini, the Italian nationalist, Blanquists, Bakuninists and others. But thanks to the patient and tireless work of Marx and Engels, the ideas of scientific socialism eventually triumphed.

In the building of a genuine International, the importance of ideas is as fundamental as are strong foundations in the building of a house. The International Workingman’s Association was the first real attempt to establish an international organization of the working class. It was the equivalent of laying down the foundations of a house. If a house is to withstand the battering of the elements, it must have strong foundations.

The great merit of Marx’s work in the IWA was that it established a firm theoretical base for the movement, without which the future development of the International would have been impossible. The First International laid the basis for the creation of the mass social-democratic workers’ parties in Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Holland and North America. It had established the theoretical foundations for the future development of socialism on a world scale.

An important role in this was the fierce ideological battle with other trends, especially Bakuninist anarchism. In the end, the combination of an extremely unfavourable objective situation following the defeat of the Paris Commune and the destructive factional intrigues of the Bakuninists undermined the International. Marx and Engels transferred the centre to New York, partly to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Bakuninists and other intriguers, but partly because they hoped that the workers’ movement in North America would come to the rescue.

In the end, these hopes did not materialize, and they were compelled to recognize that the IWA had played out its historical role. The International, as an organized force, ceased to exist. But the tradition of the International lived on. It survived as an idea and a programme, to re-emerge about a decade later on a higher level. The emergence of mass workers’ parties and trade unions towards the end of the 19th century provided the basis for the founding of a new International – the Second International.

In July 1889 the International Socialist Congress opened its doors in Paris, attended by delegates from 20 countries. They founded the new Socialist International and declared May Day an international working-class holiday. And they adopted the principles of the International Workingmen's Association founded a quarter of a century before. The International, like the phoenix of ancient legend, had risen from the ashes to spread its mighty wings.

London, 9 March, 2010

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