Marx versus Bakunin
For the rest, old Hegel has already said: A party proves itself a victorious party by the fact that it splits and can stand the split. (‘Engels to Bebel’, 20 June, 1873.)
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. In fact, periodic crises and splits are an inevitable consequence of development. Crises are a fact of human existence: birth is a crisis, as is adolescence, old age and death. Weak individuals will allow a crisis to drag them under. Men and women of stronger character will overcome the crisis and emerge stronger and more confident than before.
It is the same with a revolutionary tendency. The movement must constantly strive to rid itself of sectarian and opportunist tendencies, which partly reflect the pressures of alien classes, partly the inability of a layer of the organisation to advance to a higher stage of development. This was the case in the First International, or International Workingmen’s Association (IWA), when Marx and Engels were obliged to wage a ferocious struggle against the followers of the anarchist Bakunin.
The document that we recently published in instalments, Fictitious Splits in the International,1 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.
Bakunin’s intrigues against the General Council began in 1871, although he was in contact with Marx before that. In 1864 he met Marx in London, from whom he learned of the founding of the International. He promised to cooperate. However, Bakunin held the view that Marx exaggerated the importance of the working class, while he held that the intelligentsia, the students, the lumpenproletariat, and the middle classes – representatives of bourgeois democracy – were more likely agents of revolution.
For this reason, Bakunin began his activity, not in the workers’ movement, but in a bourgeois organisation in Switzerland called The League for Peace and Freedom (Ligue de la Paix et de la Liberté). He was actually elected to its central committee. He thought he could take over the League and use it as a vehicle for advancing his anarchist doctrines. But at the League’s Berne Congress he failed to make any impact, and split away with an insignificant minority.
It was only at this point, having fallen out with and split from the bourgeois League, that he entered the Romande Section of the IWA in Geneva. That was at the end of 1868. Bakunin hit on the idea of forming inside the IWA an anarchist faction with himself as leader. For this purpose, he established the International Alliance of Socialist Democracy. His aim was to get control of the IWA and foist his anarchist ideas upon it.
But he had a serious problem: the IWA was led by the General Council in London, where Marx had considerable influence. In order to achieve his aim, therefore, Bakunin had to undermine the General Council and blacken the name of Marx. This he did with no regards to the democratic rules of the International by factional intrigues and personal attacks. These intrigues, directed ostensibly against the General Council, were in reality directed against the International itself, the ideas, methods and programme of which Bakunin was fundamentally opposed to.
Marxism and anarchism are completely opposed and mutually exclusive ideologies. The first is a scientific theory and a revolutionary policy reflecting the class interests of the proletariat. Anarchism is a confused and unscientific doctrine that finds its class base in the petty bourgeoisie and the lumpenproletariat. This is not the place to deal in detail with the ideas of Bakunin, although we may return to this topic in the future. His programme (insofar as it existed) was a superficial mishmash of ideas taken from Proudhon, Saint-Simon and other utopian socialists. Above all, he preached abstention from the political movement – an idea that he also took from Proudhon.
As far as the rejection of political action and organisation is concerned, Marx wrote:
N.B. as to political movement: the political movement of the working class has as its object, of course, the conquest of political power for the working class, and for this it is naturally necessary that a previous organisation of the working class, itself arising from their economic struggles, should have been developed up to a certain point.
On the other hand, however, every movement in which the working class comes out as a class against the ruling classes and attempts to force them by pressure from without is a political movement. For instance, the attempt in a particular factory or even a particular industry to force a shorter working day out of the capitalists by strikes, etc., is a purely economic movement. On the other hand, the movement to force an eight-hour day, etc., law is a political movement. And in this way, out of the separate economic movements of the workers there grows up everywhere a political movement, that is to say a movement of the class, with the object of achieving its interests in a general form, in a form possessing a general social force of compulsion. If these movements presuppose a certain degree of previous organisation, they are themselves equally a means of the development of this organisation.
Where the working class is not yet far enough advanced in its organisation to undertake a decisive campaign against the collective power, i.e., the political power of the ruling classes, it must at any rate be trained for this by continual agitation against and a hostile attitude towards the policy of the ruling classes. Otherwise it will remain a plaything in their hands, as the September revolution in France showed, and as is also proved up to a certain point by the game Messrs. Gladstone & Co. are bringing off in England even up to the present time. (‘Marx to Bolte’, 23 November, 1871, published in Marx and Engels Correspondence, 1968.)
The confused ideas of Bakunin got a certain echo in Italy and Spain, where capitalism was still in an embryonic state and the workers’ movement still poorly developed, and to some extent in French Switzerland and Belgium. In countries like Britain and Germany it made little progress. In the ranks of the First International the supporters of Bakunin were a small minority. The prevailing influence in the leadership of the International Workingmen’s Association (the General Council, based in London) was that of Marx and Engels.
Anarchism or democracy?
To this very day there are people who repeat the arguments of Bakunin as if they were good coin. In particular, the arguments that Marxism is ‘authoritarian’ and dictatorial, and that a centralised revolutionary organisation crushes the freedom of the individual, stifles all creative thought and prepares the way for totalitarian dictatorship, are frequently repeated by the critics of Marxism, although they were answered long ago by Marx and Engels.
It was Bakunin, not Marx, who engaged in dictatorial Machiavellian politics, intriguing behind the backs of the International in order to discredit its leaders, disorganise it and set up a rival organisation. It was Bakunin, not Marx, who associated with the likes of Sergei Nechayev. Together with the latter he wrote pamphlets on a new social order, to be created “by concentrating all the means of social existence in the hands of Our Committee, and the proclamation of compulsory physical labour for everyone.”
In this anti-authoritarian paradise, there would be compulsory residence in communal dormitories, rules for hours of work, feeding of children, etc., on which Marx commented ironically:
What a beautiful model of barrack-room communism! Here you have it all: communal eating, communal sleeping, assessors and offices regulating education, production, consumption, in a word, all social activity, and to crown all, Our Committee, anonymous and unknown to anyone, as the supreme dictator. This indeed is the purest anti-authoritarianism…
For Bakunin and his followers, the word ‘authoritarian’ just meant anything they didn’t like. But it is an undeniable fact that in certain situations authority is necessary and unavoidable. As Engels says:
A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets, and cannon – authoritarian means, if such there be at all. (F. Engels, On Authority.)
Should the revolutionary party mirror the future society?
Another oft-repeated argument of the anti-authoritarians is that a centralised, disciplined party cannot lead to genuine socialism and must lead to totalitarian dictatorship. How many times have we heard this? How many times have we been told that Stalinism is the inevitable product of Leninist centralism?
Some kind of decision-making structure is necessary at any level of human cooperation or organisation. In any community I must necessarily sacrifice part of my freedom to others. Even in the future classless society, people will still have to make decisions, which will be the decisions of the majority. And under capitalism, the workers must organise collectively to fight to defend their interests. How is this to be done, unless the minority submits to the will of the majority?
It is a regrettable fact that sometimes people do not agree. What are we to do in such circumstances? History has never produced any better instrument for expressing the popular will than democracy. True, even the most perfect democracy has its limitations, but to date nobody has ever proposed anything more perfect. What is the alternative? ‘Consensus’? But that only means the law of the lowest common denominator. Or perhaps the solution is that all decisions must be unanimous? That is the most undemocratic method of all, since the opposition of just one individual can paralyse the will of the majority: in other words, it is the right of veto – the dictatorship of a single individual!
The middle classes are used to individualistic methods and have an individualistic mentality. An assembly of students can debate for hours, days and weeks without ever coming to a conclusion. They have plenty of time and are accustomed to that kind of thing. But a factory mass meeting is an entirely different affair. Before a strike, the workers discuss, debate, listen to different opinions. But at the end of the day, the issue must be decided. It is put to the vote and the majority decides. This is clear and obvious to any worker. And nine times out of ten the minority will voluntarily accept the decision of the majority.
The best example of an anti-authoritarian is a strike breaker, who declares that, no matter what his workmates decide, he or she demands the right to express his or her free individuality – by breaking the strike. We know these arguments in favour of the absolute freedom of the individual, which are proclaimed during every strike by the bourgeois press in defence of the scabs. And we also know how the workers on strike regard the latter and how they see ‘the absolute freedom of the individual.’
In reality, anarchist organisations (surely a contradiction in terms?) always suffer from the most extreme bureaucracy, because someone has to make decisions. Who are they? In practice, decisions are made ‘spontaneously’ by self-appointed groups that are elected by nobody and responsible to nobody – that is to say, government by cliques. That was the method of the Bakuninists in the IWA. Behind the backs of the membership, they organised an intrigue under the slogan of combating the ‘authoritarian’ General Council.
One might add that the same people who were allegedly waging a struggle for democracy and against authoritarianism, were elected by nobody and responsible to nobody. The General Council was the elected leadership of the International. The Bakuninist Alliance was self-appointed and functioned outside the democratic structures of the International. Its members represented only themselves, although their activities were organised and orchestrated by the man referred to as ‘Citizen B’ (Bakunin), who in reality decided everything.
The International Alliance of Socialist Democracy
Bakunin was an unprincipled adventurer who was constantly scheming and intriguing to boost his own position and prestige. For him, theory was always a secondary consideration: merely a means of his personal self-assertion. There have been many such people in the movement both before and since.
Marx wrote to Friedrich Bolte about Bakunin:
He – a man devoid of theoretical knowledge – put forward the pretension that this separate body was to represent the scientific propaganda of the International, which was to be made the special function of this second International within the International.
…If he is a non-entity as a theoretician, he is in his element as an intriguer. (‘Letter to Friedrich Bolte’, 3 November 1871).
The Alliance was characterised by radical-sounding verbiage. It declared war upon God and the state and demanded that all its members be atheists. Its economic programme was confused and ambiguous. Instead of fighting for the abolition of class society, it demanded the equality of all classes. Instead of the expropriation of the means of production, it limited itself to a demand for the abolition of the right of inheritance. And in order not to frighten away the middle class and liberal bourgeois, it was careful not to clearly define its class character.
The new organisation approached the General Council with the request that it be taken into the International as a separate organisation, with its own constitution and programme. Bakunin wrote an ingratiating letter to Marx, full of false flattery. He wrote:
Since taking leave solemnly and publicly from the bourgeoisie at the Berne Congress, I no longer know any other society, any other environment, than the world of the workers. My country is now the International, of which you are one of the most important founders. So, you see, my dear friend, that I am your disciple, and proud of my title.
Marx was not impressed. Up to the end of 1868, his attitude toward Bakunin was that of extreme tolerance. He had welcomed Bakunin as a collaborator in 1862. Now he was suspicious of the latter’s motives – and he was not wrong. Let us remember that only four years earlier Bakunin had written from Italy promising to work for the International. Not only did he not keep his promise, but he devoted all his energies into promoting a rival bourgeois movement, the League for Peace and Freedom. Only after his efforts to take over that organisation had failed did he turn his attention to the International, which was now obviously growing in strength and influence.
The General Council refused the Alliance’s request, and Bakunin resorted to a manoeuvre. He announced that the Alliance would disband and transform its sections (which would continue to hold to their own programme) into sections of the International. After these assurances, the General Council agreed to admit the sections of the former Alliance into the IWA.
The Alliance claimed to have dissolved on 6 August and informed the General Council of this. But a few weeks later it reappeared in the guise of a new ‘Section of Revolutionary Socialist Propaganda and Action,’ which declared itself in agreement with the general principles of the International but reserved itself the right to make full use of the freedom which the statutes and the congresses of the International afforded.
It did not take Marx long to conclude that Bakunin had deceived the General Council. Despite having officially disbanded his society, he maintained its central organisation intact for the purpose of taking over the International. Subsequent events proved that the Alliance continued to exist. It conducted a continuous guerrilla war against the International under the guise of fighting the ‘authoritarianism’ of the General Council. For this purpose, Bakunin and his followers did not hesitate to resort to any means, even the basest slanders and the most dishonest intrigues.
How intriguers work
It is not difficult for professional intriguers to influence honest party activists. When dealing with this kind of individual, naive honesty is a definite disadvantage, since honest people cannot recognise an intrigue. They take things at face value and believe what is said to them, since they have no reason to suspect the other person’s motives, believing them to be honest party workers themselves.
Bakunin hatched the plan of a secret faction, L’Alliance Internationale de la Démocratte Socialiste, which, while formally a branch of the IWA, in reality formed a parallel International Association “with the special mission to elaborate the higher philosophical etc. principles” of the proletarian movement. He “would, by a clever trick, have placed our society under the guidance and supreme initiative of the Russian Bakunin.”
Bakunin was a skilful intriguer and soon convinced the veteran German revolutionary and friend of Karl Marx and Engels, Johann Philipp Becker, who lived in Switzerland, to put his name to his programme. Marx wrote with regret:
Brave old Becker, always anxious for action, for something stirring, but of no very critical cast of mind, an enthusiast like Garibaldi, easily led away. (‘Marx To Paul and Laura Lafargue’, 15 February 1869.)
The way in which they set to business was characteristically dishonest. They sent their new programme, placing Becker’s name at the head of the signatures, thus hiding behind the moral authority of a veteran of unquestionable honesty. Then, behind the backs of the General Council, they sent emissaries to Paris, Brussels, etc. (In those days they did not possess the Internet, which would have saved them a lot of time and effort). Only in the last moment did they communicate the documents to the London General Council.
The General Council took action to stop these factional intrigues. On 22 December, 1868, a unanimous decision of the General Council declared the rules of the Alliance laying down its relations with the International Working Men’s Association null and void and refused the Alliance admittance as a branch of the International Working Men’s Association. All the branches of the IWA approved the decision.
Becker was resentful towards Marx for this, but, as Marx wrote to the Lafargues: “with all my personal friendship for Becker I could not allow this first attempt at disorganising our society to succeed.” (‘Marx to Paul and Laura Lafargue’, 15 February 1869.) Bakunin reacted by declaring that the Alliance was ‘dissolved,’ when in fact it remained in being as a secret organisation working behind the backs of the International.
The Nechayev affair
An indication of Bakunin’s adventurism was his association with the notorious Russian terrorist Nechayev, who was tried for the murder of a young student member of his group in Russia and ended his life in a tsarist prison, having seriously compromised the revolutionary cause. It was partly to divert attention away from this scandal that Bakunin intensified his attacks on Marx and the General Council.
There were profound differences between the ideas advocated by Bakunin and those of Marx. Bakunin utterly rejected the idea of the proletariat seizing power. He denied any form of political struggle insofar as it had to be conducted within bourgeois society, which had to be destroyed. Ryazanov sums up the essence of Bakunin’s creed:
First destroy, and then everything will take care of itself. Destroy – the sooner, the better. It would be sufficient to stir up the revolutionary intelligentsia and the workers embittered through want. The only thing needed would be a group composed of determined people with the demon of revolution in their souls. (D. Ryazanov, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, p. 185.)
This is a completely false conception of the class struggle. The working class can only learn through struggle. Without the day-to-day struggle for advance under capitalism, the socialist revolution would be impossible. The struggle for reforms, higher wages, better conditions, a reduction of working hours, etc. creates more favourable conditions for the class organisation of the proletariat. At a certain historical stage, the economic struggles of the working class necessarily become political, as in the fight for democratic rights, freedom of speech and assembly, the right to strike, the right to vote, etc. It is unthinkable that the working class could remain indifferent to such questions.
The slogan of political abstentionism merely means that the working class would remain politically subordinate to the parties of the liberal bourgeoisie, as the example of England already showed clearly. In order to achieve independence from the bourgeoisie in the political sphere, the proletariat must fight for its own independent political party. That was why Marx considered the political struggle and the political organisation of the proletariat for the conquest of political power indispensable. But for the Bakuninists this was a book sealed by seven seals.
As we have seen, Bakunin’s adventurism was completely exposed by the Nechayev affair. Nechayev was a young fanatic, a revolutionary adventurer who turned up in Geneva in the spring of 1869, claiming to have escaped from the fortress of St. Peter-Paul. He also claimed to represent an all-powerful committee that would overthrow tsarist Russia. This was a pure invention. He had never been in St. Peter-Paul and the committee never existed.
Nevertheless, Bakunin was impressed by “the young savage,” “the young tiger,” as he used to call Nechayev. Nechayev was a devoted disciple of Bakunin. But unlike his master, Nechayev was always characterised by an iron consistency. Bakunin had preached that the lumpenproletariat were the real carriers of the social revolution. He regarded criminals as desirable elements to be recruited into the revolutionary movement. So, it was logical that his loyal disciple Nechayev should conclude that it was necessary to organise a group of lumpens for the purpose of ‘expropriation’ in Switzerland.
In the autumn of 1869 Nechayev returned to Russia with a plan to set up a Bakuninist group there. There is no doubt that he went with Bakunin’s full support. He carried with him a written authorisation from Bakunin which declared that he was the “accredited representative” of a so-called European Revolutionary Alliance – another invention of Bakunin. He even issued an appeal to the officers of the tsarist army, calling on them to place themselves unconditionally at the disposal of the “committee,” although it did not exist.
When a member of Nechayev’s group, a student called Ivanov, began to doubt the existence of the secret committee, Nechayev murdered him. This led to numerous arrests, but Nechayev himself managed to avoid arrest. The Nechayev trial opened in St. Petersburg in July 1871, and the whole ghastly affair was publicly exposed. There were over eighty accused, mostly students, Nechayev himself having conveniently escaped to Geneva.
The Nechayev affair did a lot of damage to the movement in Russia and internationally. It affected the IWA because Nechayev let people believe that he was acting in the name of the International, whereas in fact he was an agent of Bakunin. Later, in order to explain away this wretched affair and absolve Bakunin from his personal responsibility for it, it had been claimed that Bakunin fell under the influence of Nechayev who tricked him and used him for his own purposes.
However, it was Bakunin who provided him with fake documents that purported to be from the International and were signed by him. It was Bakunin who wrote most, if not all, the proclamations and manifestos of the non-existing ‘committee,’ and it was Bakunin who defended Nechayev after he had fled from the scene of his crime, describing the murder of the unfortunate Ivanov as “a political act.” Meanwhile, the majority of the students that were put on trial were sentenced to long terms in prison or to a living death in the Siberian mines.
The Basel Congress
It was at Basel that Bakunin first made his appearance, and his faction was well represented there. But as he was still feeling his way, he was cautious about putting forward his real programme. Ironically, the same Bakunin who had always been violently opposed to opportunism, confined himself to demanding the immediate abolition, not of private property, but of the right of inheritance.
As usual, Bakunin stood everything on its head. It is not the right of inheritance that is responsible for private property, but the existence of private property that gives rise to the right of inheritance. After the seizure of power, the proletariat will deal with this question, along with many other related secondary issues. But the main task is the expropriation of large-scale private property through the nationalisation of the land, the banks and private monopolies. But this is a political act, and therefore anathema to the anarchists.
To propose the abolition of the right of inheritance in general, apart from its clearly utopian character, leaves out of account the fact that a large part of the middle class, peasants and even a section of the working class would be affected. A workers’ state would not expropriate the small property owners, but only large-scale private property. In the meantime, it would be sufficient to impose a heavily graduated tax on wealth and limit the right of inheritance.
For Bakunin, however, these concrete circumstances were irrelevant. His scheme of social revolution was a pure abstraction, outside of time and space. As usual, his empty demagogy only served to sow the maximum confusion. When the question was put to the vote, neither of the resolutions won a sufficient majority, and the whole affair was left in a confused state, which was the inevitable result of the anarchists’ ‘theoretical’ interventions. Having made a big mess, Bakunin then forgot about the right of inheritance and passed onto something else. This was absolutely typical conduct on his part: a) beat the drum loudly on some issue or other; b) cause the maximum confusion; c) move on to some other matter. The disorganising results of this conduct are self-evident.
It is interesting to note that the ‘authoritarian’ structures of the International that Bakunin protested against so vehemently in 1871 and 1872 were introduced to the International on the motion of Bakunin’s supporters, with Bakunin’s support. That was at a time when he was aiming to gain control of the International. Only when this plan failed did Bakunin suddenly discovered the ‘authoritarian’ character of the International’s structure and rules. Bakunin always ruled his own faction, the Alliance, with a rod of iron. Certainly, the charge of authoritarianism and dictatorial tendencies can with far greater justice be directed against Bakunin than against Marx.
About this time Wilhelm Liebknecht and August Bebel, after a sharp factional struggle with the Lassallean Schweitzer, had succeeded in establishing a separate party at the Eisenach convention (1869), based on the programme of the International. Bakunin’s activity in the League for Peace and Freedom were discussed and rejected by this party congress. The next Congress was supposed to take place in Germany, but it could not be convened. Immediately after the Basel Congress, tensions between France and Prussia were deteriorating fast, and the outbreak of war was imminent.
To the degree that the members of the International became aware of the disorganising conduct of Bakunin and his followers, they reacted against. Marx wrote to Engels on 30 October, 1869:
Apropos. The secretary of our French Genevan committee is utterly fed up with being saddled with Bakunin and complains that he disorganises everything with his ‘tyranny’. In the Égalite, Monsieur Bakunin indicates that the German and English workers have no desire for individuality, so accept our communisme autoritaire. In opposition to this, Bakunin represents le collectivisme anarchique. The anarchism is, however, in his head, which contains only one clear idea – that Bakunin should play first fiddle. (Marx and Engels Collected Works, vol. 43, p. 363.)
Bakunin and the Franco-Prussian War
In the middle of all this, stormy events were being prepared. The thunderclouds of war that hung over Europe erupted in the Franco-Prussian War. The defeat of the French armies at Sedan led to the collapse of the Bonapartist regime and to the Paris Commune. France was once more in the throes of revolution. Here the adventurist character of Bakunin was exposed in practice.
During the war Bakunin supported France, fearing that it would become a German colony, “and then instead of living socialism we will have the doctrinaire socialism of the Germans.” (J. Joll, The Anarchists, p. 90.)
When on 19 July, 1870, the war erupted, it took Europe by surprise. A few days after the outbreak of hostilities the General Council published a proclamation written by Marx, which began with a quotation from the Inaugural Address of the International on war: “a foreign policy in pursuit of criminal designs, playing upon national prejudices and squandering in piratical wars the people’s blood and treasure.”
Marx fiercely denounced Napoleon III, pointing out that whichever side won, the last hour of the Second Empire had struck. This was a prophetic prediction. In about six weeks the regular French army was smashed at Sedan. On 2 September, Napoleon had already surrendered to the Prussians. Two days later a republic was declared in Paris, but the war continued. It passed into the second phase, in which Prussia was no longer fighting a defensive war against the Empire, but a predatory war against the French people to seize Alsace-Lorraine and plunder France.
On 9 September, 1870, immediately after the proclamation of a Republic in France, the General Council issued its second Manifesto on the war, also written by Marx. It contains one of the most profound analyses in all of Marx’s writings. Long before the fall of Sedan, the Prussian general staff declared itself in favour of a policy of conquest. Marx opposed any annexations or indemnities, and prophetically predicted that such a predatory peace would create a state of permanent war in Europe. France would fight to regain what she had lost and would enter into an alliance with tsarist Russia against Germany. This was exactly what happened in 1914.
The Manifesto urged the German workers to demand an honourable peace and the recognition of the French Republic. It also advised the French workers to keep a watchful eye on the bourgeois republicans and make use of the Republic for the purpose of strengthening their class organisation to fight for their emancipation. However, Marx warned the French workers not to try to take power under present circumstances.
While Marx was trying to restrain the French workers from entering into an untimely battle against overwhelming forces, Bakunin was doing his best to stir them to revolt at all costs. As soon as he heard of a local uprising in Lyons, Bakunin went to that city on 28 September, where he installed himself in the Town Hall. He declared the “administrative and governmental machinery of the State” abolished and the “Revolutionary Federation of the Commune” proclaimed in its place.
Bakunin carried his rejection of authority to the point that he neglected to post guards on the door of the Town Hall, so that when the state finally appeared in the form of the National Guard, it was able to enter the premises without difficulty and arrest everyone inside. Marx wrote about this episode with heavy but justified irony:
London, 19 October, 1870
As to Lyons, I have received letters not fit for publication. At first everything went well. Under the pressure of the ‘International’ section, the Republic was proclaimed before Paris had taken that step. A revolutionary government was at once established – La Commune – composed partly of workmen belonging to the ‘International,’ partly of Radical middle-class Republicans. The octrois [internal customs dues] were at once abolished, and rightly so. The Bonapartist and Clerical intriguers were intimidated. Energetic means were taken to arm the whole people. The middle class began if not really to sympathise with, at least to quietly undergo, the new order of things. The action of Lyons was at once felt at Marseilles and Toulouse, where the ‘International’ sections are strong.
But the asses, Bakunin and Cluseret, arrived at Lyons and spoiled everything. Belonging both to the ‘International,’ they had, unfortunately, influence enough to mislead our friends. The Hotel de Ville was seized for a short time – a most foolish decree on the abolition de l’état [abolition of the state] and similar nonsense were issued. You understand that the very fact of a Russian – represented by the middle-class papers as an agent of Bismarck – pretending to impose himself as the leader of a Comité de Salut de la France [Committee for the Safety of France] was quite sufficient to turn the balance of public opinion. As to Cluseret, he behaved both as a fool and a coward. These two men have left Lyons after their failure.
At Rouen, as in most industrial towns of France, the sections of the International, following the example of Lyons, have enforced the official admission into the ‘committees of defence’ of the working-class element.
Still, I must tell you that according to all information I receive from France, the middle class on the whole prefers Prussian conquest to the victory of a Republic with Socialist tendencies. (‘Marx to Edward Beesly’, Marx and Engels Correspondence.)
His attempt to proclaim anarchism having ended in farce, ‘Citizen B’ was compelled to return to Switzerland empty-handed. Now he turned his attention once more to the IWA. Unable to overthrow the bourgeois state, he intensified his efforts to overthrow the General Council, which, on the eve of the Paris Commune, had to take up precious time with Bakunin’s constant intrigues.
The Paris Commune
Just as Marx thought, the French republicans immediately showed their cowardice and their readiness to enter into an agreement with Bismarck against the working class, who were prepared to fight against the Prussian forces. The attempt of the French bourgeois to disarm the workers of Paris was the spark that lit the flame of the Paris Commune.
The Commune lasted three months (18 March to 29 May, 1871), but finally succumbed to overwhelming force. A few days after the defeat of the Commune, Marx wrote the famous address we now know as The Civil War in France. At a time when the Communards were being systematically maligned by the bourgeois press, Marx defended them. He pointed out that the Paris Commune was the prototype of a future workers’ state, a concrete expression of the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”
Basing himself on the experience of the Revolution of 1848, Marx had come to the conclusion that the working class, after having seized power, could not simply lay hold of the bourgeois apparatus of the state and use it for its own purposes, but that it would have to demolish this military-bureaucratic machine and erect in its place a new state, a state that would not be a replica of the old state of the oppressor class, but a workers’ state, democratically run by the working class, a transitional state dedicated to its own eventual dissolution. The Paris Commune was just such a state.
Bakunin and his followers arrived at diametrically opposite conclusions. Their opposition to politics and the state became even more insistent, advocating the creation of communes in separate towns as soon as possible, with the idea that these communes would inspire other towns to follow their example. But one of the reasons the Commune failed was precisely that it remained isolated in Paris. What was required, as Marx explained, was to march on Versailles, where the counter-revolution was based, and crush the enemy before the enemy crushed the Commune, which was unfortunately what occurred.
Sometime later, Garibaldi replied to the Bakuninists that the Paris Commune was defeated because it was not centralised and disciplined enough:
“You intend, in your paper, to make war upon untruth and slavery. That is a very fine programme, but I believe that the International, in fighting against the principle of authority, makes a mistake and obstructs its own progress. The Paris Commune fell because there was in Paris no authority but only anarchy. Spain and France are suffering from the same evil.” (Quoted in F. Engels, ‘Comment upon Giuseppe Garibaldi’s letter to Prospero Crescio’, 7 July 1873, MECW, vol. 23, p. 453.)
After the Commune
The defeat of the Commune inevitably created a very difficult situation for the International, which faced the attacks of enemies on all sides. There were the slanderous attacks by the bourgeois press of all countries. But the General Council was able to reply to such attacks openly, and for a while they actually served to strengthen the International.
In France, however, the raging counter-revolution meant that for a few years the French workers’ movement was paralysed and links with the International were broken. As a consequence of the defeat and the White Terror that followed it, an army of Communards refugees flooded into London, virtually the only place in Europe that would receive them. At a time when almost all governments now began to mobilise their forces against the International, it was overwhelmed by the necessity of assisting the many refugees from the Communards, most of whom ended up in London. The collection of the necessary funds to assist them absorbed a lot of the time of Marx and other members of the General Council.
Worse was to come. As so often happens in exile circles following the defeat of a revolution, the French refugees were demoralised and disoriented by events, and bitter factional strife was continually breaking out among them. This affected the General Council, which had co-opted a number of refugees to make up for the loss of contacts in France itself. It was later exposed that a number of French police agents and provocateurs had penetrated the ranks of the French exiles and infiltrated the ranks of the International.
The International was besieged by enemies on all sides. Bakunin launched an attack on Marx and ‘State communism’:
“We shall fight to the hilt against their false authoritarian theories, against their dictatorial presumption and against their methods of underground intrigues and vainglorious machinations, their introduction of mean personalities, their foul insults and infamous slanders, methods which characterise the political struggles of almost all Germans and which they have unfortunately introduced into the International.” (Quoted in F. Mehring, Karl Marx.)
Meanwhile, Mazzini published violent attacks on the Commune and on the International in a weekly publication which he published in Lugano, but Garibaldi, who was a genuine revolutionary and a national hero, saw in the International ‘the rising sun of the future.’ The German labour movement also suffered the attacks of the state. Bebel and Liebknecht, who had protested against the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine and declared their solidarity with the Paris Commune, were arrested and sentenced to confinement in a fortress. Bismarck came down hard on the German working-class movement and particularly the supporters of the International.
Ultra-leftism and opportunism
Marx was forced to fight on different fronts. On the one hand there were the ultra-left anarchists, but on the other there were all kinds of confused, reformist elements who had joined the International as a means of furthering their trade union activity but were by no means revolutionaries. These people were frightened by the Paris Commune and the ferocity of the repression that followed. More than one of them deserted the International on one pretext or another.
A typical representative of this trend was the English trade unionist John Hales, who was at the time the General Secretary of the IWA. Hales was a reformist with nationalist prejudices. Marx said that in his dealings with the English reformist workers’ leaders he had to be very patient: “mild in manner but bold in content.” He must have had the patience of Job!
On reading the minutes of the General Council, one gets a clear impression of what Marx and Engels had to put up with from such people. The English members of the Council displayed a narrow-minded parochial attitude to most questions, indulging in petty quarrels over trivial organisational matters, which often detracted from far more important work.
Needless to say, men like Hales were deeply suspicious of genuine revolutionaries and had an ambivalent attitude to the Paris Commune. They were hostile to Republicanism and inclined to seek accommodation with liberal elements, as Hales showed in his attitude to the Irish question. He demanded that the Irish members of the IWA should come under the control of the British Federal Council – a demand that was rejected by the General Council with only one vote in favour – that of Hales.
At first sight, it may seem that there could be no common ground between English reformists like Hales and Co. and the Bakuninists. But in politics we can find all sorts of strange bedfellows. The Alliance’s demand for autonomy for the national sections found a sympathetic hearing from some of the English. To the degree that Hales felt that his position as General Secretary of the IWA was being threatened, to establish his position he manoeuvred the British Federal Council as a counterweight to the General Council.
And that was not all. Bakunin’s demand that the workers must abstain from politics also chimed well with the class collaboration politics of the trade union leaders who were stuck firmly to the apron strings of the Liberal Party and had no desire to take the initiative of setting up an independent Labour party. All this was sufficient grounds for the English reformists to make common cause with the Spanish and Italian anarchists – and always against Marx and the General Council.
Barrage of letters
Anarchism is the communism of the petty bourgeois and the lumpenproletariat. In both cases, the central consideration is always the same: extreme individualism, a total rejection of any rules, discipline and centralisation. In the course of the dispute with the Bakuninists, the latter ignored all the democratic structures of the International. They refused to recognise the General Council, although it had been elected by the World Congress and repeatedly re-elected.
The Bakuninists were small in numbers but made a lot of noise. On 28 July, 1871, Engels wrote to Carlo Cafiero:
The Bakuninists are a tiny minority within the Association and they are the only ones who have at all times brought about dissension. I am referring mainly to the Swiss, because we had little or nothing to do with the others. We have always allowed them to have their principles and to promote them as they thought best, so long as they renounced all attempts at undermining the Association or imposing their programme on us. (MECW, vol. 44, p. 183.)
The limited resources of the General Council were put under severe strain by the problems that flowed from the defeat of the Commune. The constant attacks by the enemies of the International, the intrigues of the Bakuninists, and the need to assist the ever-increasing numbers of starving and destitute refugees from France, took up a colossal amount of time. For weeks on end Marx was unable to dedicate any time to Capital and other important theoretical work. He wrote in desperation to Kugelmann:
Remember, mon cher, that if the day had 48 hours, I would still not have finished my day’s work for months now.
The work for the International is immense, and in addition London is overrun with refugees, whom we have to look after. Moreover, I am overrun by other people – newspaper men and others of every description – who want to see the ‘monster’ with their own eyes.
Up till now it has been thought that the emergence of the Christian myths during the Roman Empire was possible only because printing had not yet been invented. Precisely the contrary. The daily press and the telegraph, which in a moment spreads its inventions over the whole earth, fabricate more myths in one day (and the bourgeois cattle believe and propagate them still further), than could have previously been produced in a century. (‘Marx to Ludwig Kugelmann’, 27 July 1871, MECW, vol. 44, pp. 176-77.)
One way of sabotaging the work of an organisation is by overloading it with tasks that surpass its real ability to cope. The Bakuninists adopted the tactic of bombarding the sections and individual members with a barrage of letters, circulars, etc., defaming Marx and the General Council. Commenting on this tactic, Engels wrote:
As private correspondents these men are assiduous beyond belief; and if he [were] a member of the Alliance they would certainly have bombarded him with letters and blandishments. (‘Engels to Paul Lafargue’, 19 January, 1872, MECW, vol. 44, p. 301.)
Engels fortunately did not live in the age of emails, or he would have had a lot more to complain about.
The Sonvillier circular accused the London Conference of the deadliest of all deadly sins – authoritarianism:
This Conference has… taken resolutions… which tend to turn the International, which is a free federation of autonomous sections, into a hierarchical and authoritarian organisation of disciplined sections placed entirely under the control of a General Council which may, at will, refuse their admission or suspend their activity [!]
The circular claimed that the very fact that some people were members of the General Council had a “corrupting effect,” 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.” This is just another way of expressing the common prejudice of backward workers that “all leaders are corrupt.” If that were really the case, the outlook for socialism would be very poor indeed.
Yet another complaint of the ‘anti-authoritarians’ is that the same members of the General Council were re-elected every year. The same leadership was sitting in the same place (London). The General Council has been “composed for five years running of the same persons, continually re-elected.” To this complaint Marx gave the obvious answer: “The re-election 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.” (Ibid.)
It is clear that the Congress would only re-elect a leadership if it considered that its work was generally satisfactory. The Sixteen, on the contrary, interpreted 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 favour of the General Council.” In their opinion, the Council’s “normal role” should be “that of a simple correspondence and statistical bureau.”
The idea that the International should have no guiding centre, and that its leading bodies should only coordinate the work of the national sections, was later put into practice by the Second International, which, as Lenin remarked, was not an International but only a post office. This played a big part in bringing about the national-reformist degeneration of the Second International.
Moreover, this argument is not confined to the International. It equally applies to national and local organisations. The logic of it would be to dissolve the organisation altogether – which suits the anarchist point of view admirably. Unfortunately, the workers are involved in the class struggle and cannot do without strong centralised organisation to fight the bosses. The workers’ organisations are very democratic and willing to discuss different opinions as to whether to call a strike or not. But at the end of the day, the issue is put to the vote and the majority decides.
The question is: what is the real character of a revolutionary leadership? Is it to provide political leadership, or merely to act in an administrative (i.e. bureaucratic) character? Is it to organise and centralise the work or merely to pass on information and coordinate the work of the constituent bodies that will function with complete autonomy? Is the revolutionary organisation a school without any definite ideas, which discusses endlessly the views of every comrade in order for an idea to ‘emerge’ of its own accord? Or is it an organisation that is formed on the basis of very definite ideas, theories, and principles that are regularly re-discussed, concretised, and voted on in democratic congresses with elected delegates?
Marx answered the anarchists as follows:
First, the General Council should be nominally a simple correspondence and statistical bureau. Once it has been relieved of its administrative functions, its correspondence would be concerned only with reproducing the information already published in the Association’s newspapers. The correspondence bureau would thus become needless.
As for statistics, that function is possible only if a strong organisation, and especially, as the original Rules expressly say, a common direction are provided. Since all that smacks very much of ‘authoritarianism,’ however, there might perhaps be a bureau, but certainly no statistics. In a word, the General Council would disappear. The federal councils, the local committees, and other ‘authoritarian’ centres, would go by the same token. Only the autonomous sections would remain.
What, one may ask, will be the purpose of these “autonomous sections,” freely federated and happily rid of all superior bodies, “even of the superior body elected and constituted by the workers”?
Here, it becomes necessary to supplement the circular by the report of the Jura Federal Committee submitted to the Congress of the Sixteen:
“In order to make the working class the real representative of humanity’s new interests,” its organisation must be “guided by the idea that will triumph. To evolve this idea from the needs of our epoch, from mankind’s vital aspirations, by a consistent study of the phenomena of social life, to then carry this idea to our workers’ organisations – such should be our aim,” etc. Lastly, there must be created “amid our working population a real revolutionary socialist school.”
Thus, the autonomous workers’ sections are in a trice converted into schools, of which these gentlemen of the Alliance will be the masters. They “evolve” the idea by “consistent” studies which leave no trace behind. They then “carry this idea to our workers’ organisations.” To them, the working class is so much raw material, a chaos into which they must breathe their Holy Spirit before it acquires a shape. (K. Marx and F. Engels, Fictitious Splits in the International, MECW, vol. 23, p. 114.)
As the elected leadership of the International, the General Council could not allow itself to be bullied and blackmailed by self-appointed individuals and groups. In a letter to Carmelo Palladino, dated 23 November, 1871, Marx explained his attitude to all this:
Whatever your fears in regard to the great responsibility the General Council has taken upon itself, that Council will remain ever loyal to the flag entrusted to its care seven years ago by the faith of the working men of the civilised world. It will respect individual opinions, it is prepared to transfer its powers to the hands of its mandators, but as long as it is charged with the supreme direction of the Association, it will see to it that nothing is done to vitiate the character of the movement which has made the International what it now is, and will abide by the resolutions of the Conference until such time as a congress has decided otherwise. (MECW, vol. 44, pp. 261-62.)
Marx pointed out that the only sin the General Council was guilty of was carrying out Congress decisions. The Congress consists of elected delegates who, after participating freely in democratic debate, decide by a majority what ideas and methods the International has to follow. The International elected a leadership composed of the most capable and experienced people to do precisely this. And democracy has always consisted of the fact that the majority decides. The minority has the right to express its views within the organisation, but if you are in a minority you have to accept it, not shout about ‘authoritarianism’.
The problem here – and in general with the ‘anti-authoritarians’ – is that they do not respect the rights of the majority. Their real complaint is that they are a minority, and not the majority. They believe that the tail ought to wag the dog. Marx remarked ironically:
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? (Fictitious Splits in the International, MECW, vol. 23, p. 114.)
Factional use of private correspondence
As part of their ‘anti-authoritarian’ campaign, the Bakuninists did not hesitate to make unscrupulous use of private correspondence for factional purposes, and even demanded that the General Council should debate with them in public. When the Bakuninist paper Égalité joined the Progrès in inviting the Travail (a Paris paper) to denounce the General Council, Marx wrote:
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 Égalité or to provide ‘replies to questions’ from newspapers. The Federal Committee of Geneva alone represents the branches of Romance Switzerland vis-à-vis the General Council. When the Romance Federal Committee addresses requests of reprimands to us through the only legitimate 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 Égalité and Progrès, 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 interests. Consequently, if the other organs of the International were to follow the example of the Progrès and the Égalité, the General Council would be faced with the alternative of either discrediting itself publicly by its silence or violating its obligations by replying publicly. (Fictitious Splits in the International, MECW, vol. 23, p. 90 – my emphasis, AW.)
This is quite clear: the leadership of the International is not under any obligation to enter into public polemics with anybody. On the contrary, to do so would represent a violation of its obligations. Internal correspondence cannot be published without greatly prejudicing the Association’s general interests. Such correspondence must be conducted through the normal channels that exist for that purpose. To suggest anything else would be tantamount to proposing the dissolution of the International, eradicating the difference between members and non-members, and abolishing any element of internal democracy, congress decisions, elections, etc. In other words, it would represent the triumph of anarchy over democratic centralism – which is precisely what Bakunin wanted.
The Sonvillier circular complained bitterly that:
…the [London] 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’Égalité of 21st October).
What had L’Égalité of 21 October 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 Progrès and Solidarité, 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 which Marx replied:
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 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 to the bourgeois world. As a result of one such attempt, the Geneva Federal Committee had seen some members of the Alliance edit L’Égalité, the official organ of the Romanish Federation, in a manner completely hostile to the latter. (Fictitious Splits in the International, MECW, vol. 23, p. 104.)
Marx and Engels did not regard the party press as an open forum where anyone could air their views in public. On 9 August, 1871, Der Volksstaat published a statement by Amand Goegg addressed to the editors of the Schwäbischer Merkur, in which he declared himself an advocate of anarchist individualism. On 12 August Der Volksstaat published a letter by Bernhard Becker referring to the time of his expulsion from the General Association of German Workers in 1865.
When Engels found out, he was furious and wrote to the German social-democratic leader Wilhelm Liebknecht: “Why bother to rehabilitate that good-for-nothing B. Becker? And allow that jackass Goegg to parade his own idiocies before the public?” (MECW, vol. 44, p. 199.) Even the publication of a letter by an undesirable element was considered to be unacceptable. This shows how far Marx and Engels were from the idea of the party press as a free-for-all.
Another issue was the public distribution of private and internal correspondence for factional purposes. On this we can cite Marx’s numerous comments on the subject. Marx wrote a letter to Nikolai Danielson, 12 December, 1872, in which he says:
From the enclosed you can see the results of the Hague Congress. I read out the letter to Lyubavin to the Commission d’enquête on the Alliance in the strictest confidence and without divulging the name of the addressee. Nevertheless, the secret was not kept, firstly because the Commission included Splingard, the Belgian lawyer, among its numbers, and he was in reality no more than an agent of the Alliancists; secondly, because Zhuhovsky, Guillaume and Co. had already earlier – as a preventive measure – recounted the story all over the place in their own way and with apologist interpretations. This was how it came about that, in its report to the Congress, the Commission was compelled to pass on the facts relative to Bakunin that were contained in the letter to Lyubavin (of course, I had not revealed his name, but Bakunin’s friends had already been informed on that score by Geneva). The question that presents itself now is whether the Commission appointed by the Congress to publish the minutes (of which I am a member) may make public use of that letter or not? That is for Lyubavin to decide. However, I may note that – ever since the Congress – the facts have been doing the rounds of the European press, and this was none of our doing. I found the whole business all the more distasteful since I had reckoned on the strictest discretion and solemnly demanded it. (‘Marx to Nikolai Danielson’, MECW, vol. 44, pp. 455-56 – last sentence my emphasis, AW.)
We see here that Marx considered the public use of private and internal party correspondence as something absolutely unacceptable, in fact, distasteful. It amounts to a breach of trust between comrades and an unscrupulous misuse of information. It goes without saying that one does not necessarily speak in the same terms about a subject in a private conversation as one would in a public meeting. If I believe that any chance remark I make in a private communication (either spoken or written) will the next day be broadcast to the four winds, I will be very careful about what I say, and a frank and honest interchange of ideas will be impossible.
This is particularly true in the course of a factional dispute, where tempers can flare up and even the most reasonable comrades may make comments that they may later regret. If one wishes to solve a dispute in the best (i.e. political) way, it is necessary to shrug one’s shoulders at such things, which constitute the small change of politics, trivial details that represent nothing serious. But if one wishes, not to solve a dispute, but to inflame it, to poison the atmosphere, increase tension, create personal clashes and carry matters to the point of a split, then the correct tactic is to spread all kinds of gossip, reveal in public what has been said (or written) to you in private, and violate every norm of comradely behaviour.
When Engels discovered that the Italian Bakuninists had got hold of a letter he had written to a comrade in Italy, and were using it for factional purposes, he was indignant. This is what he wrote:
Having rebelled against the whole organisation of the International and knowing that it will have great difficulty in justifying itself at the Congress next September, the Jura Committee is now looking for letters and mandates from the General Council in order to fabricate false accusations against us. I, like all of us, willingly consent to all letters being read to the Congress, but we do not find it agreeable to learn that the same letters, written for this or that section, have been put at the disposal of these gentlemen. (‘Engels to Cesare Bert’, 7 June 1872, MECW, vol. 44, p. 392.)
Problems in England
The triumphant reaction in Europe rained blows down on the International. The correspondence of Marx and Engels reflect the increasingly desperate position:
In Spain many people have been imprisoned and others are in hiding. In Belgium the government is trying with all its might to give free rein to the law and even more against us. In Germany the followers of Bismarck are even starting to play this game too. (‘Engels to Carlo Cafiero’, 16 July 1871, MECW, vol. 44, p. 171.)
There were internal problems everywhere, including in England. The war between France and Germany had benefited the English capitalists, who were able to give a part of their enormous profits to a section of the working class. As a sign of the confidence of the English bourgeoisie, several of the old anti-union laws were abolished. The idea of class collaboration began to take firm root among trade union leaders, including some who were members of the General Council.
As the International was becoming more radical, many of the union leaders were becoming increasingly moderate. To tell the truth, the alliance of these reformist union leaders with the revolutionary socialists was never very firm or wholehearted. Now it was put under extreme pressure by the Paris Commune. Some of the trade union leaders were alarmed by the Commune and the ferocious reaction that followed the defeat frightened them even more.
The intensity of the attacks on the International in the bourgeois press made them uneasy. It threatened their good relations with the bourgeois liberals, and they were anxious to put some distance between the General Council and themselves. Marx’s address, The Civil War in France, was the last straw. Although it had been written by Marx at the request of the General Council, two English Council members, Lucraft and Odger, disassociated themselves from it and resigned in protest. Engels wrote to Carlo Cafiero on 28 July, 1871:
If Mazzini calls our friend Marx a “man of corrosive…intellect, of domineering temper,” etc., etc., I can only say that Marx’s corrosive domination and his jealous nature have kept our Association together for seven years, and that he has done more than anyone else to bring it to its present proud position. As for the break-up of the Association, which is said to have begun already here in England, the fact is that two English members of the Council, who had been getting on too close terms with the bourgeoisie, found our address on the civil war too strong and they withdrew. In their place we have four new English members and one Irishman, and we reckon ourselves to be much stronger here in England than we were before the two renegades left. (MECW, vol. 44, p. 186.)
The fact is that the trade union leaders were already beginning to seek a rapprochement with the Liberals in order to win seats in Parliament. Even in 1868 Marx had complained of these “intriguers,” naming Odger, who stood for Parliament on several occasions, as one of them. After they split, Marx accused them of having sold themselves to the Liberal Ministry.
This caused a split in the English section of the International. However, not all the English trade union leaders broke away. Applegarth signed the Address of the General Council on The Civil War in France and remained a member of the Council to the end. But now there were serious problems with John Hale. He was pushing strongly for the establishment of a special Federal Council to be formed for England. Marx opposed the proposal, fearing, rightly, that it would become a tool in the hands of radical bourgeois members of Parliament.
Conflicts in the American section
Marx placed great hopes in the prospects for the International in the USA, where a young and fresh proletariat was developing rapidly with the growth of industry. But even in the New World there were problems. They were the exact opposite of the problems the IWA faced in Europe, where after the Paris Commune the bourgeois and middle class were ferociously hostile to the International. In America on the contrary, socialism was becoming quite fashionable among the cultured middle classes.
Here the International was seen, not as a threat, but rather as an interesting novelty. It attracted the attention of all sorts of middle class ‘progressives’: liberals, pacifists, feminists, temperance societies and even religious preachers. In New York, Section 12 of the IWA was taken over by a wealthy bourgeois feminist by the name of Victoria Woodhull, who Marx described as “a banker’s woman, free-lover, and general humbug [hypocrite],” and Tennessee Claflin, her sister.
Section 9 was founded by her sister and was of the same kind. Woodhull was the first woman, along with her sister, to operate a brokerage firm in Wall Street, and then open a weekly newspaper called modestly Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly, advocating among a hodgepodge of demands: sex education, free love, women’s suffrage, short skirts, spiritualism, vegetarianism, and licensed prostitution. But its main purpose for the sisters was advertising themselves and their bourgeois-liberal ideas.
Marx referred to Section No. 12 as a group “founded by Woodhull, and almost exclusively consisting of middle-class humbugs and worn-out Yankee swindlers in the reform business.” On 30 August, 1871, the journal published ‘An Appeal of Section No. 12’ (to the English-speaking citizens of the United States) signed by W. West, secretary of Section 12. The following excerpts are from this appeal:
The object of the International is simply to emancipate the labourer, male and female, by the conquest of political power. (…) It involves, first, the Political Equality and Social Freedom of men and women alike.
Political Equality means the personal participation of each in the preparation, administration, and execution of the laws by which all are governed. (…) Social Freedom means absolute immunity from impertinent intrusion in all affairs of exclusively personal concernment, such as religious belief, the sexual relation, habits of dress, etc.
The proposition involves, secondly, the establishment of a Universal Government… Of course, the abolition of… even differences of language are embraced in the programme.
These extracts are sufficient to give an accurate idea of the class content and ideas of these people.
The most militant, class conscious and revolutionary sections of the young American proletariat were refugees from Europe: Germans, Poles, Russians, Irish, Jews, etc. Many did not speak English. By contrast, Section 12 was dominated by middle-class English-speaking Americans with political ambitions. Section No. 12 invited the formation of “English-speaking sections” in the United States on the basis of this programme. In practice, this was an attempt by bourgeois careerists to use the name of the International for place hunting and electoral purposes:
If practicable, for the convenience of political action, there should be a section formed in every primary election district.
There must ultimately be instituted in every town a municipal committee or council corresponding with the common councils; in every state, a state committee or council corresponding with the state legislature; and in the nation, a national committee or council corresponding with the United States National Congress.
The work of the International includes nothing less than the institution, within existing forms, of another form of government, which shall supersede them all.
This Appeal led to the formation of “all sorts of middle-class humbug sections, free-lovers, spiritists, spiritist Shakers, etc.” It caused a split in the American section, when Section 1 (composed mainly of German-speakers) of the old Council demanded 1) that Section 12 be expelled, and 2) that no section be admitted to membership unless it consisted of at least two-thirds workers.
Marx considered it imperative that the IWA should purge its ranks of these elements. He wrote to Bolte:
Obviously, the General Council does not support in America what it combats in Europe. Resolutions I (2) and (3) and IX [I, II, III, and IX – ed.] now give the New York committee legal weapons with which to put an end to all sectarian formations and amateur groups and if necessary to expel them.
This was what was done: five dissidents formed a separate Council on 19 November, 1871, which consisted of English-speaking Americans as well as Frenchmen, and Germans.
On 19 November, 1871 Woodhull’s journal protested against Section 1 and declared, among other things:
The simple truth is that Political Equality and Social Freedom for all alike, of all races, both sexes, and every condition, are necessary precursors of the more radical reforms demanded by the International. (our emphasis.)
The extension of equal citizenship to women, the world over, must precede any general change in the subsisting relations of capital and labour.
Section 12 would also remonstrate against the vain assumption, running all through the Protest (of Section 1) under review, that the International Working Men’s Association is an organisation of the working classes… (K. Marx, ‘Notes on the American Split’, The General Council of the First International 1871-1872, Minutes, p. 324.)
In these few lines the bourgeois-liberal character of this trend stands out clearly. Here we have very similar ideas to that of the ‘trendy lefts’ today: feminists, pacifists, ecologists and all the other petty-bourgeois movements that have infiltrated the labour movement in a period when the class struggle was at a low ebb. These elements tend to be highly eloquent and assertive in pushing their particular views. They elbow the workers to one side and seize positions, which they use for their own advantage.
For these people, the struggle for socialism is always subordinate to their particular hobby, in this case, feminism. Although they were very far removed from anarchism, like Bakunin, they were very keen to assert their ‘autonomy’ against the General Council, and their absolute right to ‘do their own thing.’ This is very characteristic of middle-class tendencies at all times – the assertion of ‘my’ rights as an absolute and inviolable principle as against the rights of the majority. In the pages of Woodhull’s journal, 21 October, 1871, Section 12 asserted:
The independent right of each section to have, hold, and give expression to its own constructions of said proceedings of the several Congresses, and the Rules and Regulations [!] of said General Council, each section being alone responsible for its own action.
This is how these people understood the role of the proletariat. In Woodhull’s journal, 25 November, 1871, we read the following:
It is not true that the ‘common understanding or agreement’ of the workingmen of all countries, of itself, standing alone, constitutes the Association… The statement that the emancipation of the working classes can only be conquered by themselves cannot be denied, yet it is true so far as it described the fact that the working classes cannot be emancipated against their will [!].
This is the authentic voice of the bourgeois socialist, loud and clear!
On 3 December, 1871, the new Federal Council for North America was formally founded. The very next day it denounced the bourgeois swindlers in a circular to all sections of the International in the United States. It states, among other things:
In the Committee [of the old Central Committee] which was to be a defence against all reform swindles, the majority finally consisted of practically forgotten reformers and panacea-mongers…
Thus, it came about that the people who preached the evangels of free love sat fraternally beside those who wanted to bring to the whole world the blessing of a single common language – land co-operativists, spiritualists, atheists, and deists – each striving to ride his own hobby-horse. Particularly Section 12, Woodhull… The first step that has to be taken here to further the movement is to organise and at the same time arouse the revolutionary element to be found in the opposing interests of capitalists and workers…
The delegates of Sections 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 11, 16, 21, 23, 24, 25, and others, having seen that all efforts to control this mischief were in vain, decided, after the adjournment of the old Central Council sine die (3 December, 1871), to establish a new one, which would consist of real workers and which would exclude all those who would only confuse the question. (New Yorker Democrat, 9 December, 1871.)
The break with Section 12
The two rival Councils appealed to the General Council for recognition. This obviously caused some confusion. Various sections, for example, the French Section No. 10 (New York), and several Irish sections, withdrew their delegates from both councils until the General Council made its decision.
The Woodhull journal (West, etc.) lied unashamedly when it asserted that it was sure of the support of the General Council. An article of 2 December carried the headline: ‘Section 12 Sustained. The Decision of the General Council’. This was a direct fabrication. On the contrary, the decision of the General Council, 5 November, 1871, sustained the Central Committee against the claims of Section 12, which tried to replace it.
The fate of the International in the United States depended on carrying out a complete break with Woodhull and Co. As soon as the resolutions reached New York, they began to follow their old tactics. First, they had discussed the original split in the most notorious New York bourgeois papers. Now they did the same against the General Council (presenting the matter as a conflict between Frenchmen and Germans, between socialism and communism), to the joy of all the enemies of the International.
The middle-class elements particularly resented the proposal of the General Council that two-thirds of the members of any section should be made up of workers. Very characteristic were the marginal comments in Woodhull’s journal on 15 December, 1871:
No new test of membership, as that two-thirds or any part of a section shall be wage slaves, as if it were a crime to be free, was required.
The journal dated 4 May, 1872, commented on the resolution of the General Council:
…In this decree of the General Council its authors presume to recommend that in future no American section be admitted of which two-thirds at least are not wage slaves. Must they be politically slaves also? As well one thing as the other…
To these complaints of the petty-bourgeois elements, Marx replied:
The intrusion into the International Working Men’s Association of bogus reformers, middle-class quacks, and trading politicians is mostly to be feared from that class of citizens who have nothing better to depend upon than the proceeds of wage slavery.
Ignoring the clear repudiation by the General Council, Woodhull and her supporters continued to organise a ceremony of confusion, arguing, without the slightest justification, that the International had accepted her feminist views. In an article signed W. West, in Woodhull’s, etc., journal, 2 March, 1872, one reads:
The issue of the ‘Appeal’ of Section 12 to the English-speaking citizens of the United States in August last was a new departure in the history of the International and has resulted in the recognition by the General Council of Political Equality and Social Freedom of both sexes alike, and of the essential political character of the work before us.
Meanwhile, as the Presidential elections approached, the cloven hoof showed itself – namely, that the International should serve in the election of – Madame Woodhull! She decided to run as the first woman for the United States Presidency in 1872, but it turned out to be a farce. In order to get support for her campaign, she flirted with the bourgeois Liberals. On 2 March, 1872, under the title, ‘The Coming Combination Convention’, we read the statement:
There is a proposition under consideration by the representatives of the various reformatory elements of the country looking to a grand consolidated convention to be held in this city in May next, during Anniversary week… Indeed, if this convention in May acts wisely, who can say that the fragments of the defunct Democratic party will come out from them and take part in the proposed convention… Everybody of radical [mind] everywhere in the United States should, as soon as the call is made public, take immediate steps to be represented in it.
The Appeal was headed by the signature: Victoria C. Woodhull, followed by Theodore H. Banks (one of the founders of the Counter Council) and R.W. Hume. In this Appeal: the convention will consider “nominations for President and Vice-President of the United States.” Specially invited were:
Labour, land, peace, and temperance reformers, and Internationals and Women Suffrages – including all the various suffrage associations – as well as all others who believe the time has come when the principles of eternal justice and human equality should be carried into our halls of legislation.
The whole affair was the laughing stock of New York and United States. Section 2 of the IWA stated:
Recognising the principle of women’s right to vote, in view of the insinuations of Citizeness Woodhull, at the meeting in Apollo Hall, leading the public to believe that the International supports her candidacy.
That for the present the International cannot and should not be taken in tow by any American political party; for none of them represents the workers’ aspirations; none of them has for its objective the economic emancipation of the workers.
Section 2 had thought:
That our sole objective ought to be, for the present, the organisation and the solidarity of the working class in America.
Under the title ‘Internationals, watch out!’, the same issue of Socialiste states, among other things:
The International is not, and cannot be, persecuted in America; the politicians, far from aiming at its destruction, think only of using it as a lever and supporting point for the triumph of their personal views. Should the International let itself be dragged into this path, it would cease to be the Association of Workers and become a ring of politicians.
For a long time now, there have been cries of alarm; but the convention in Apollo Hall, nominating, in the name of the International, Madame Woodhull as candidate for the Presidency, should henceforth open the eyes of the less perceptive. Internationals of America, watch out!
Ms. Woodhull tried to use her money to buy herself an International, but it proved to be too expensive. The bourgeois policies advocated by Section 12 were sufficient grounds for the expulsion of the Woodhull group and its supporters from the First International. The Hague Congress ratified the expulsion of these middle-class interlopers and recognised the new, proletarian Council.
The London Conference
The congress in Basel in 1869 had decided that the next congress should take place in Paris, and was now (1871) due, but under conditions of ferocious state repression, the General Council decided to hold a closed conference in London, similar to the one which had taken place in 1865. Under the general conditions of reaction, the Conference had to have a secret character. Marx wrote to the Russian Utin on 27 July, 1871:
Last Tuesday the General Council resolved that there would not be a Congress this year (in view of extraordinary circumstances) but that, as in 1865, there should be a private conference in London to which different sections would be invited to send their delegates. The convocation of this Conference must not be published in the press. Its meetings will not be public ones. The Conference will be required to concern itself, not with theoretical questions, but exclusively with questions of organisation. (‘Marx to Nikolai Utin’, MECW, vol. 44, p. 178.)
The London conference took place from 17 to 23 September with only 23 delegates present, including six from Belgium, two from Switzerland and one from Spain. Thirteen members of the General Council were also present, but six of them had only a consultative vote.
It approved a resolution that the emancipation of the working class could be achieved only by constituting itself into a special political party against the bourgeois parties. The conference also declared that the German workers had fulfilled their proletarian duty during the Franco-Prussian War. And it rejected all responsibility for the so-called Nechayev affair. The resolution adopted on the question of the political struggle represented a total defeat for the Bakuninists, as we see from the concluding paragraphs:
In presence of an unbridled reaction which violently crushes 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…
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 powers 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. (The General Council of the First International 1870-1871: Minutes, pp. 444-45.)
The General Council was convinced that, despite Bakunin’s protestations, his secret society continued to exist. The conference adopted a resolution prohibiting any organisation with an independent programme to function within the body of the International.
The conference declared that the question of the Alliance was settled now that the Geneva section had voluntarily dissolved itself. With regard to the Jura sections, the conference ratified the decision of the General Council, recognising the Federal Council in Geneva as the only representative body for the Latin Swiss members. It advised the workers of the Jura sections to affiliate once again to the Federal Council in Geneva. Alternatively, they should call themselves the Jura Federation.
The conference further declared categorically that the International had nothing to do with the Nechayev affair, and that Nechayev had falsely appropriated and utilised the name of the International. This was directed at Bakunin, who was well known to have been connected with Nechayev for a long time. Finally, the Conference left it to the discretion of the General Council to decide the time and place of the next congress or conference.
Marx regarded the results of the Conference as positive. He wrote to Jenny Marx on 23 September, 1871, with a tone of palpable relief:
The conference is at last coming to an end today. It was hard work. Morning and evening sessions, commission sessions in between, hearing of witnesses, reports to be drawn up and so forth. But more was done than at all the previous Congresses put together, because there was no audience in front of which to stage rhetorical comedies. (‘Marx to Jenny Marx’, MECW, vol. 44, p. 220.)
Attacks on the General Council
The London Conference brought the conflict with the Bakuninists to a head. For years the General Council had to fight against this conspiracy. Unable to prove what was going on behind the backs of the members of the International, Marx and Engels had to put up with the campaign of insults and attacks for almost a year. At last, by means of Conference resolutions I, II, III, IX, XVI, and XVII, it delivered its long-prepared blow.
The Bakuninists now declared open war against the General Council. They accused it of rigging the conference and of forcing upon the International the dogma of the necessity of organising the proletariat into a special party for the purpose of winning political power. The Bakuninists accused Marx and his followers as opportunists who were hindering the social revolution. They demanded another Congress where this question would be definitely settled.
In a barrage of circulars and letters, the Bakuninists publicly abused Marx in the most foul and disgusting language. In this furious campaign to discredit Marx and the General Council, they did not hesitate to accuse Marx of being an agent of Bismarck. They were even prepared to make use of anti-Semitism.
Bakunin felt threatened by Resolution XIV and made strenuous efforts to get a protest started against the Conference decision. For this purpose, he made use of some demoralised elements among the French political refugees in Geneva and London. Playing unscrupulously on the anti-German sentiments of the French, Bakunin compared Marx to Bismarck. He put out the slogan that the Geneva Council was dominated by Pan-Germanism.
Bakunin used national prejudice without scruples. He argued that all Germans held authoritarian views, and repeatedly compared Marx to Bismarck. He also repeatedly accused Marx of advocating a universal dictatorship, and a socialism “decreed from the top down.” This accusation had not the slightest basis in fact. All his life Marx insisted that “the emancipation of the working classes can only be the work of the working classes themselves.” But as the hack journalists say: why let the facts spoil a good story? Lies and slanders are the stock-in-trade of all intriguers. And if a lie is repeated with sufficient insistence, some people are sure to believe it.
In slandering Marx, Bakunin did not even stop at racist and anti-Semitic smears, which he raised on more than one occasion. For example, he wrote in 1872:
Proudhon understood and felt liberty much better than Marx; Proudhon, when he was not dealing with doctrine and metaphysics, had the true instinct of the revolutionary – he worshipped Satan and proclaimed anarchy. It is possible that Marx might theoretically reach an even more rational system of liberty than that of Proudhon – but he lacks Proudhon’s instinct. As a German and a Jew, he is authoritarian from head to foot. Hence come the two systems: the anarchist system of Proudhon broadened and developed by us and freed from all its metaphysical, idealist and doctrinaire baggage, accepting matter and social economy as the basis of all development in science and history. And the system of Marx, head of the German school of authoritarian communism. (J. Joll, The Anarchists, p. 90.)
Marx refers to all this as “the intrigues of this bunch of scoundrels,” a description that, as we see, was fully justified.
Bakunin had a base in Italy and the French region of Switzerland. His main base was among the skilled watchmakers of the Jura region of Switzerland who were beginning to suffer from the competition of the developing industries.
The London Conference had given the General Council authority to disown all alleged organs of the International which, like the Progrès and the Solidarité in the Jura, discussed internal questions of the International in public. The Bakuninists changed the name of Solidarité to La Révolution Sociale, which immediately began a ferocious attack on the General Council of the International, which it described as the “German Committee led by a brain à la Bismarck.”
This was a scandalous attempt to play on the anti-German prejudices of the French. Marx wrote to an American friend:
It refers to the unpardonable fact that I was born a German and that I do in fact exercise a decisive intellectual influence on the General Council. Nota bene: the German element in the General Council is numerically two-thirds weaker than the English and the French. The crime is, therefore, that the English and French elements are dominated (!) in matters of theory by the German element and find this dominance, i.e., German science, useful and even indispensable. (K. Marx, ‘Letter to Bolte’.)
The Bakuninists then tried the trick of changing their name. On 20 October the new Section for Revolutionary Socialist Propaganda and Action appeared in Geneva and approached the General Council with a request for affiliation. After the General Council had consulted the Federal Council in Geneva, the request was rejected. In the end the Bakuninists set themselves up as the Jura Federation. Marx wrote to the Belgian César de Paepe on 24 November, 1871:
On the other hand, there will be the Jura Federation in Switzerland (in other words the men of the Alliance who hide behind this name), Naples, possibly Spain, part of Belgium and certain groups of French refugees (who, by the by, to judge by the correspondence we have had from France, would not appear to exert any serious influence there), and these will form the opposing camp. Such a split, in itself no great danger, would be highly inopportune at a time when we must march shoulder to shoulder against the common foe. Our adversaries harbour no illusions whatever about their weakness, but they count on acquiring much moral support from the accession of the Belgian Federal Council. (MECW, vol. 44, p. 264.)
The Jura sections organised a congress on 12 November in Sonvillier, although only 9 out of 22 sections were represented, by only 16 delegates. However, to make up for their small numbers, they made more noise than ever. They expressed resentment at the fact that the London Conference had forced a name on them, but for tactical reasons they decided to call themselves in the future the Jura Federation.
In Switzerland many members of the International supported the London Conference. On 21-22 December, Marx’s daughter Jenny wrote to Kugelmann as follows:
In Geneva, that hotbed of intrigants, a congress representing thirty sections of the International has declared itself for the General Council, has passed a resolution to the effect that the separatist factions cannot henceforth be considered to form parts of the International, their acts having clearly shown that their object is to disorganise the Association; that these sections, who, under another name, are only a fraction of the old Alliance faction, by continuing to sow dissentions, are opposed to the interests of the Federation. This resolution was voted unanimously in an assembly of 500 members. The Bakuninists, who had come all the way from Neuchatel to be present, would have been seriously ill-used had it not been for the men whom they style ‘des Bismarckians’ – Outine, Perret, etc. – who rescued them and begged the assembly to allow them to speak. (Outine of course was well aware that the best means of killing them altogether was to allow them to make their speeches.) (Documents of the First International, p. 530, notes.)
However, in revenge, the Sonvillier congress sent out a circular to all the Federations of the International attacking the validity of the London Conference and appealing against its decisions to a general congress to be called as quickly as possible. They began to spread the rumour that the International was in a mortal crisis and on a downward path. In their view, the IWA had been formed as “a tremendous protest against any kind of authority,” and that every section had been guaranteed complete independence. They argued that the General Council was only an executive organ, but now the members had come to place a blind confidence in it. As a result, the Basel Congress had given the General Council authority to accept, reject or dissolve sections, pending the approval of the next congress.
What the author of the circular (Guillaume) did not mention was that this decision had been adopted after Bakunin had spoken enthusiastically in its favour, and that Guillaume had been in complete agreement with it. The reason was quite simple: the Bakuninists, who were strongly represented at Basel, believed that the General Council was going to be moved to Geneva, and they could control it. It is usually the case that the ‘anti-authoritarian’ tendency is only against authority when they are in a minority. When they are in the majority, they are invariably despots and bullies.
The Congress of Sixteen proceeded to ‘reorganise’ the International by attacking the Conference and the General Council in a ‘Circular to All Federations of the International Working Men’s Association.’ The Sonvillier circular used demagogic arguments to ‘prove’ the dictatorial nature of the General Council, which had consisted of the same men and met in the same place for five years. This was cited as proof that the General Council now regarded itself as the (Bismarckian) ‘brains’ of the International. Why were the ideas of the General Council regarded as the official theory of the International? Why were they considered to be the only ones permissible? Why did the General Council regard the different opinions of other groups and individuals as heresy?
A stifling orthodoxy had developed in the International and in the members of the General Council, they argued, which prevented creative thinking and oppressed the free spirits of everybody else. The omnipotence of the General Council necessarily had a corrupting effect. It was impossible that a man like Marx who held such power could retain a moral character. This was a recipe for tyranny, and so on and so forth.
The decisions taken at Basel were bad enough, they said. But now the London Conference had taken further steps to transform the International from a free association of independent sections into an authoritarian and hierarchical organisation in the hands of the General Council. It had decided that the General Council should have power to determine the time and place of the next congress, or of a conference to replace it. Thus, the General Council had the power to replace the congresses with secret conferences.
They demanded that the powers of the General Council be reduced to those of a simple bureau for correspondence and the collection of statistics, and dictatorship and centralisation be replaced by a free association of independent groups “without any directing authority, even if set up by voluntary agreement.”
The General Council was to be no more than a “simple statistical and corresponding bureau.” The International must be the very image of the future communist society:
The future society should be nothing but a universalisation of the organisation which the International will establish for itself. We must therefore try to bring this organisation as close as possible to our ideal… The International, embryo of the future human society, must henceforth be the faithful image of our principles of liberty and federation, and must reject any principle leading to authoritarianism, to dictatorship.
This whole line of argument (which is still repeated today, even by people who think they are Marxists) is false from start to finish. The revolutionary party is a necessary tool for overthrowing capitalism. Must a tool resemble what it produces? In order to make a chair, a saw is required. But a saw that resembled a chair would never produce a chair or anything else.
This is not only nonsense but dangerous nonsense, and particularly so at the time we are considering, when, following the defeat of the Commune, the International was under attack from the bourgeois state, its members in many countries facing arrest and imprisonment or deportation.
As Marx remarked:
The Paris Communards would not have failed if they had understood that the Commune was ‘the embryo of the future human society’ and had cast away all discipline and all arms – that is, the things which must disappear when there are no more wars! (MECW, vol. 23, p. 115.)
The real attitude of the ‘anti-authoritarians’ was shown by the following incident. When the IWA representative, the Russian Utin, went to Zurich, he was attacked and beaten by eight men, who would have killed him if it was not for the fact that four German students happened to appear and saved him. It seems that this attack was organised by Slav supporters of Bakunin, whose activities were to be investigated by Utin. This kind of conduct was not only considered acceptable by Bakunin. He actively encouraged it, as we see in the case of Nechayev.
The Jura circular did not achieve its aim. The demand for the calling of a congress met with no support. Only in Belgium was it decided to call for a change in the Statutes of the International, to turn it into an association of independent federations and make the General Council ‘a Centre for Correspondence and Information.’
The Sonvillier circular provided welcome ammunition to the enemies of the International and was widely publicised by the bourgeois press, which, particularly since the fall of the Paris Commune, had been assiduously spreading lies about the sinister power of the General Council. These fairy stories were now confirmed from within the ranks of the International. The Bulletin Jurassien, which now took the place of the Révolution Sociale, reprinted the articles of approval of the bourgeois newspapers.
It was the noisy campaign of slander and disinformation initiated by the Sonvillier circular that caused the General Council to issue an answer to it, also in the form of a circular, entitled Fictitious Splits in the International (Les prétendues Scissions dans l’Internationale). In this circular the General Council answered all the lies and distortions of the Bakuninists.
The London conference’s acknowledgement that the German workers had done their proletarian duty during the Franco-Prussian War was used as an excuse for the accusation of ‘Pan-Germanism,’ which was said to dominate the General Council.
These ridiculous accusations were brought forward in order to undermine the centralisation of the International, which, in practice, would have meant its complete dissolution. Particularly in the prevailing conditions of counter-revolution, state repression and the systematic infiltration of workers’ organisations by police spies, centralisation was the only possibility of saving the organisation, as Marx explained:
It [the Alliance] proclaims anarchy in the ranks of the proletariat as the infallible means of breaking the powerful concentration of political and social forces in the hands of the exploiters. Under this pretext and at a moment when the old world is seeking to destroy the International it demands that the latter should replace its organisation by anarchy.
But such considerations made no difference to the anarchists, whose unprincipled and baseless attacks on the International leadership from within served to reinforce the attacks of the bourgeois state from without. Marx systematically exposed the machinations of the intriguers, and in particular Bakunin.
The Hague Congress
This Congress was convened in September 1872. For the first time Marx was present in person, but Bakunin stayed away, probably because he knew he would be heavily defeated. The resolution of the London Conference on political action was ratified. There was one small addition which was copied verbatim from the Inaugural Address of the International. It reads:
Since the owners of land and capital are always using their political privileges to protect and perpetuate their economic monopolies and to enslave labour, the great duty of the proletariat is to conquer the political power.
On 5 March, 1872, the General Council had announced the calling of the annual congress for the beginning of September. In a letter to Kugelmann on 29 July, Marx wrote:
The international congress (Hague, opens on 2 September) will be a matter of life or death for the International and before I withdraw2 I want at least to protect it from the forces of dissolution.
Part of Marx’s plan to protect the International from the destructive activities of the Bakuninists was the proposal to move the General Council from London, where it was becoming increasingly bogged down in rows and conflicts, to New York. The Bakuninists were not represented on the General Council, but they had succeeded in causing such confusion among the German, English and French members that the Council was obliged to form a special sub-committee to deal with the constant disputes.
The Hague Congress met from 2 to 7 September. There were 61 delegates, and Marx had a certain majority. With the exception of Lafargue, all five Spanish delegates were Bakuninists, as also were the eight Belgian and the four Dutch representatives. But the Italian Bakuninists sent no representatives to the congress, since their Rimini conference in August had broken off all relations with the General Council. The Jura Federation sent Guillaume and Schwitzguébel.
The rows began immediately, with the preliminary examination of the mandates, which lasted three days, so that the actual business of the congress began only on the fourth day with the reading of the report of the General Council, which was drawn up by Marx. The report detailed all the acts of repression against the International, the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune, the terrorism of the English government against the Irish sections. It also reported on the steady progress made by the International in Holland, Denmark, Portugal, Ireland and Scotland, and its growth in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Buenos Aires. The report was adopted with acclaim.
It is interesting to note the attitude of Marx and Engels to the question of imperative mandates: that is, the practice of mandating delegates to vote in a particular way. This is an essentially undemocratic practice, which prevents delegates from arriving at their own conclusion as a result of participating in a debate and listening to the arguments of all sides. Engels wrote on the subject:
We shall only note that if all electors gave their delegates imperative mandates concerning all points on the agenda, meetings and debates of the delegates would be superfluous. It would be sufficient to send the mandates to a central counting office which would count up the votes and announce the results. This would be much cheaper. (F. Engels, ‘Imperative mandates at the Hague Congress’, 17 September 1872, MECW, vol. 23, p. 277.)
Nowadays, when it has become fashionable in certain quarters to revive anarchist theories on organisation, using the pretext of modern technology and particularly the Internet, these lines have a great relevance. If all that is required is the click of a mouse; congresses, conferences, debates and so on, are quite unnecessary. They can be replaced by emails. How Engels would have enjoyed that idea!
There followed the discussion on the General Council. Lafargue explained that the daily struggle of the working class against capitalism could not be conducted effectively without a central leadership. Opposing this, Guillaume denied the necessity for a General Council except as a central office for correspondence and statistics and without any authority. The International was not the property of one clever man, and so on and so forth.
The discussion ended on the fifth day of the congress in a closed session. In a long speech Marx demanded that the previous powers of the General Council should not only be maintained, but increased. It should be given the right to suspend, not only individual sections, but whole federations, under certain conditions, pending the decisions of the next congress. It had neither police nor soldiers at its disposal, but it could not permit its moral power to decay. Rather than degrade it to a letter-box it would be better to abolish the General Council altogether. Marx’s viewpoint was carried with 36 votes against 6, with 15 not voting.
Engels then moved that the General Council should be moved from London to New York for at least a year. The proposal caused consternation, particularly from the French delegates, who succeeded in getting a separate vote first on whether the seat of the General Council should be moved at all, and secondly whether it should be moved to New York. In the end, the motion that the seat of the General Council should be moved was carried with a small majority. Twelve members of the new General Council were then elected and given the right to co-opt seven other members.
In the same session the discussion on political action was opened. Vaillant brought in a resolution in the spirit of the decision of the London conference, declaring that the working class must constitute itself its own political party independent of, and in opposition to, all bourgeois political parties. He pointed to the lessons of the Paris Commune, which had collapsed for the lack of a political programme. Guillaume, on the other hand, wanted to have nothing to do with this. The anarchists wanted to destroy political power, not to conquer it.
The Blanquists Ranvier, Vaillant and the others left the congress in protest at the decision to remove the General Council to New York. Serge took the chair in place of Ranvier and Vaillant’s proposal was then adopted with 35 against 6 votes, and 8 votes not cast. Some of the delegates had already left for home, but most of them had left written declarations in favour of the resolution.
The last hours of the last day of the congress were taken up with the report on Bakunin and the Alliance. The problem had been hanging round the neck of the International like a heavy millstone. It is one thing to engage in internal discussions about political differences, something that can be highly educational, but it is another thing to be involved in the kind of constant wrangles with intriguers whose aim is not to fight for ideas but to confuse, disorient and disrupt because they cannot convince the majority.
Such a phenomenon does not educate or raise the level, but spreads demoralisation. Marx already pointed to the destructive effects the Bakuninists were having in Switzerland, when he wrote in Fictitious Splits in the International that “the Geneva Federal Committee… was exhausted after its two years of struggle against the sectarian sections.” (MECW, vol. 23, p. 93.) It was not the only case.
A committee of five declared with four votes against one (a Belgian) that it considered a secret Alliance had existed with statutes directly contrary to the statutes of the International, although there was not sufficient evidence to prove that the Alliance still existed.
Additionally, it was proved by a draft of the statutes and by letters of Bakunin that he had attempted to form a secret society within the International with statutes differing fundamentally from the statutes of the International. Bakunin had also adopted fraudulent practices in order to obtain possession of the property of others, and either he or his agents had used intimidation. On these grounds, the majority of the committee then demanded the expulsion of Bakunin, Guillaume and a number of their supporters from the International.
This was accepted. The Congress had ample reasons for expelling Bakunin on purely political grounds, but there is one final point to make: in addition to the above-mentioned grounds Bakunin was expelled also for a ‘personal reason’.
This ‘personal reason’ refers to matters related to the Nechayev affair. While in Switzerland, Nechayev had been involved in an act of blatant blackmail. In order to earn some money, Bakunin had promised to undertake the translation of Das Kapital for a Russian publisher, who paid him an advance of three hundred roubles. The translation was never done, but Bakunin agreed that Nechayev should arrange to release him from his contract. Nechayev then wrote a letter to Lyubavin, the publisher’s agent in Switzerland, threatening him with “the vengeance of the People’s Justice” (i.e., death) if he continued to bother Bakunin.
Marx alludes to this in a letter to Nikolai Danielson, dated 15 August, 1872:
Bakunin has worked secretly for years to undermine the International and has now been pushed by us so far as to throw away the mask and secede openly with the foolish people led by him – the same man who was the manager in the Nechayev affair. Now this Bakunin was once charged with the Russian translation of my book [Volume I of Capital], received the money for it in advance and, instead of giving work, sent or had sent to Lubanin (I think) who transacted for the publisher with him the affair, a most infamous and compromising letter. It would be of the highest utility for me, if this letter was sent me immediately. As this is a mere commercial affair and as in the use to be made of the letter no names will be used, I hope you will procure me that letter. But no time is to be lost. If it is sent, it ought to be sent at once as I shall leave London for the Haag Congress at the end of this month. (MECW, vol. 44, p. 422.)
The Hague Congress settled this question once and for all.
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. (F. Engels, ‘On the Hague Congress of the International’, 17 September, 1872, MECW, vol. 23, pp. 268-69.)
Guillaume had already refused to appear before the committee set up to investigate the activities of the Alliance. He was called upon by the chairman to defend himself but declared that he would make no attempt to do so 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. (Ibid., p. 268.)
Engels, who spoke in the debate, said:
The good faith of the General Council and of the whole International, to whom the 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 disorganise it. (F. 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 side-tracked 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 not dismayed. 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, 12 December, 1872, MECW, vol. 44, p. 455.)
After the Hague Congress
Crises and splits put people to the test. The result can have a demoralising effect on the weaker elements and people who are not theoretically prepared. This was no exception. Writing on 8 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 demoralising effect on the French émigrés, who were already disoriented by the defeat of the Commune. Writing again to Sorge on 12 September, 1874, Engels declared:
The French emigrants are completely at sixes and sevens. They have quarrelled 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 demoralised them frightfully, and only hard times can save a demoralised Frenchman. (‘Engels to Friedrich 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. (F. Engels, Letters from London – More about the Hague Congress, 5 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 organisation. 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 6 August:
“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 2 September, 1872, not to The Hague, but to Neuchâtel in Switzerland in order to open the general anti-authoritarian Congress there on the same day.” (F. Engels, ‘On the Rimini Conference’, 24 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 counter-revolution, 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 centralisation, 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. Marx, on the other hand, 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 with 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. 191-92.)
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 organisation. 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 21 and 22 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 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 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 6 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 18 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, while 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 organise 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’état 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 cooperation 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 26 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 recognise 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 8 September in Geneva. But its only purpose was to sign the death certificate of the International. The Bakuninists organised their counter-congress in Geneva on 1 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 emphasise the formal organisational 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 organisation. 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 Workingmen’s Association was the first real attempt to establish an international organisation 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 materialise, and they were compelled to recognise that the IWA had played out its historical role. The International, as an organised 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 nineteenth 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.
2 Marx and Engels had both decided not to stand for re-election to the General Council – ed.