First International

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The International Working Men's Association has been founded. It declares: That all societies and individuals adhering to it will acknowledge truth, justice, and morality as the basis of their conduct toward each other and toward all men, without regard to color, creed, or nationality; That it acknowledges no rights without dutiesno duties without rights;"

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

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

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