First International

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

As its name implies, it was the first time an international organisation of the working class had come into being. The need for such an organisation flowed from the position of the working class internationally. Capitalism is a global system, based upon a world division of labour and the world market. The position of the working class is the same the world over and therefore the struggle of the working class is the same.

Here we provide excerpts from the Rules voted at the 1872 congress of the First International which established the powers of the General Council, which sections would be recognized and which not, i.e. expelled. There was a special section on the expulsion of Bakunin and his organization because "the secret Alliance was established with rules entirely opposed to those of the International."

The Franco-German War and the Civil War in France were preceded, accompanied, and followed by a third war - the war against the International Working Men's Association. Following the defeat of the Paris Commune, the International was faced with a concerted onslaught of reaction, aggravated by the internal intrigues by both the anarchists and the agents of the state.

There have been many splits in the history of the Marxist movement. The enemies of Marxism seize upon this fact as proof of an inherent weakness, an intolerant spirit, excessive centralism, bureaucratic and authoritarian tendencies and so on. The same arguments were used in the First International (IWMA), when Marx and Engels were obliged to wage a ferocious struggle against the followers of the anarchist Bakunin. The document that we published in installments, Fictitious Splits in the International is a useful reminder of the differences between Marxism and anarchism. We believe it deserves a careful reading for the lessons it has for Marxists today.

Bakunin wanted the International to be, not an organization for political struggle but a copy of the ideal society of the future, with no leaders and no authority, for authority = state = an absolute evil. The authority of the majority over the minority also ceases. Every individual and every community is autonomous. But as to how is any society to function, unless each gives up some of his, or her, autonomy?

"Upon the whole, the Provisional Central Council recommend the plan of organisation as traced in the Provisional Statutes. Its soundness and facilities of adaptation to different countries without prejudice to unity of action have been proved by two years' experience. For the next year we recommend London as the seat of the Central Council, the Continental situation looking unfavourable for change."

Marx was asked in the summer of 1851 by Charles Anderson Dana, managing editor of the New York Tribune, to write a series of articles on the German Revolution. Founded in 1842 by Horace Greeley, the Tribune was the most influential paper in the United States at the time. These articles were written by Engels at the request of Marx, who was then busy with his economic studies and felt, besides, that he had not yet attained fluency in English. 

"This work was Marx's first attempt, with the aid of his materialist conception, to explain a section of contemporary history from the given economic situation. Here the question was to demonstrate the inner causal connection in the course of a development which extended over some years, a development as critical, for the whole of Europe, as it was typical; that is, in accordance with the conception of the author, to trace political events back to the effects of what are, in the last resort, economic causes." (introduction by Engels)

"In the two revolutionary years of 1848-49 the League proved itself in two ways. First, its members everywhere involved themselves energetically in the movement and stood in the front ranks of the only decisively revolutionary class, the proletariat, in the press, on the barricades and on the battlefields. The League further proved itself in that its understanding of the movement, as expressed in the circulars issued by the Congresses and the Central Committee of 1847 and in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, has been shown to be the only correct one, and the expectations expressed in these documents have been completely fulfilled."