XIX. THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL
THE decade and a half terminating in 1864 in the end of slavery in the United States had been marked by a great democratic movement on both sides of the world. It amply demonstrated that the petty bourgeoisie, with their ideas of harmony, co-operation, guarantees of security, peaceful democracy, etc., no longer could maintain the lead in progressive movements. Bitterly they could reflect with the Spanish Republican Don Emelio Castelar: “All that we have fought for, the Conservatives have brought into being.” The conservative Deak had realized Kossuth’s ideal of Hungarian autonomy; a Russian Emperor, the republican ideal of liberation of the serfs, a conservative Cavour, Mazzini’s ideal of Italian unity; the Imperialist Bismarck, the ideal of German unity formulated by the republicans at Frankfort, and Thiers, the final establishment of the French Republic. The actual demands of the middle classes had been satisfied peacefully by the ruling groups; the only revolutionary force remaining was the workers’ International.
It is natural that, with democratic movements fresh at hand, the new organized labor movement appearing should be penetrated through and through with the petty bourgeois democratic spirit. The problem became how to extend the democratic revolution so as to secure social reforms for the workers and to drive the revolution forward towards socialism.
In the light of this situation it was impossible for the Marxist to take the view which the proletariat revolutionists had expressed earlier and which was exemplified by the statement of Ernest Jones, “The Trades’ Union has been the greatest upholder (unintentionally) of the present system. It has made working men uphold it and defend it by teaching them to believe that their wages could be kept up without a political change. It has been one of the most anti-democratic institutions of the modern time.” (*1) In the forties and fifties of the nineteenth century, the working man, just awakening to the basic functioning of the capitalist system, dreamed he could initiate the full program of liberation; but while he was intellectually able to comprehend the capitalist system and to foresee its ultimate conclusions, he had no strength to change his material environment, and thus the most revolutionary intellectual statements went hand in hand with the most opportunist practice.
During the sixties, however, the labor movement was growing up. No longer could it be the function of the revolutionists to scold at the limitations of trade unionism. It was absolutely necessary actively to take part in the labor movement and to move it forward in a revolutionary direction. This was, indeed, part of the general necessity of working within democratic formations to revolutionize them, and went hand in hand with the theory of permanent revolution. For that reason, the very same Marx who was responsible for the Communist Manifesto, with its strong declaration for the abolition of private property, could put forth an entirely different inaugural address when, in 1865, he called together an International Workingmen’s Association in London, known as the First International, and Placed on the agenda the questions of the trade union movement, the role of Russian Czarism in Europe, the restoration of Poland, and the question of standing armies.
In this address, Marx elucidated the general law of capitalism to increase the relative misery of the working class in relation to the capitalist, and declared: “And so in every country it has now become a truth demonstrated to be so for every unprejudiced person, denied only by those who have an interest in misleading others by raising false expectations, that no perfecting of machinery, no application of science to industry, no improvement of the means of communication, no new colonies, no emigration, no opening out of new markets, no free trade, and not all these things put together can do away with the misery of the toiling masses, but rather on the contrary that upon the present false basis every new development of the productive power of labor must lead to the widening of the gulf between the classes and to the heightening of the social antagonisms. During this intoxicating epoch of economic progress, death from starvation raises itself almost to the rank of a social institution.” (*2) Marx then proceeded to explain the defeat of the workers in 1848 and pointed out how by their persistence, ameliorative legislation was enacted in England. He praised the rise of the co-operative movement and stressed the need of labor to take up its new task, namely, to capture political power. To do this it was necessary to organize the masses and to give them intelligent lead.
“And when these designs of the ruling class have been brought to nought, the workers must come forward in a united fashion with the simultaneous demand that the simple laws of morality and justice, which are considered right in the relations of private persons, shall be recognized as the supreme law governing the intercourse of nations. The struggle for such a foreign policy is embraced in the universal struggle for the emancipation of the working class.” (*3)
We can see clearly that to Karl Marx the International Workingmen’s Association was really a loosely united front of various elements. Recognizing that, Marx changed his tone from the scientific philosophical one of dialectical and historical materialism to the ethical one emphasizing morality and justice. This approach was a concession to the naive workers who were present at the meeting. Scientific socialism was to be injected carefully as the work progressed.
In the first meeting, there came together representatives of the English, French, German, Polish, and Italian groups. The rules that were proposed by Italian representatives under the influence of Mazzini were soon changed by Marx to be along proletarian lines, but deliberately left very vague. (*4) The result was that the character of the International remained quite unclear. It really had two sides to it: It was at once a powerful trade union body and an international political society. With its defeat on rules, the Italian delegation withdrew, leaving the field more clearly dominated by the trade union elements which remained and which in the beginning of the International formed the chief body. In England, almost all the delegates were from trade unions, only two political sections existing; in France, however, nearly all were from political sections. Sometimes these two categories coalesced, that is, the local union became the section.
By 1865, propaganda groups existed in Switzerland, Belgium, and France; Spain, Italy, and Germany were still relatively untouched. To the conference called in that year the chief delegations were from the first three countries, plus Great Britain; the last three sent unimportant representations. Even so, already the whole character of the body had changed. There were now sixty -delegates who were not mere refugees but who were regularly elected. Forty-six of them came from sections; fourteen from trade unions. At this Conference the rule seemed to be established that trade unions as such were not regarded as members, but only as affiliated “adhering” organizations.
The first real congress came in 1866, in Geneva, when the statutes and fundamental principles of the program were ratified. From then on the membership grew rapidly, jumping from seventy thousand to three hundred thousand. It was decided to hold congresses annually. By the time of the Lausanne Congress, held in 1867, a marked step forward had been taken. At this congress, the function of the State, the political tasks of the proletariat, the question of war, and the question of the international policy of the proletariat were dealt with.
In France the bronze workers had carried on a militant strike. To aid them, the International collected over five thousand dollars in London alone, thus demonstrating dramatically the new international solidarity of the working class. Increasingly, English and French unions began to adhere to the International. In Switzerland, the strike of the building trades workers, adherents of the International, had also established the organization firmly on its feet. In the same year the massacre at Charleroi in Belgium secured the affiliation of the Belgium workers. Now German groups also joined, and the International began to have influence even in Austria. It was in this year that the National Labor Union in the United States, with its President, Sylvis, also joined the International. (*5) The Lausanne Congress was the last one in which the Proudhonists carried the day with their resolutions decrying strikes and pressing Proudhonist schemes for co-operatives and people’s banks.
With the victory in 1868 of Marxist ideology, an immense advance was made by the International. Bitter persecutions now took place in Paris. The movement became far more revolutionary, and, at the congress held in Brussels, the Proudhonist bank idea was shelved and the workers came out for nationalization of communications with workers’ control. The Congress approved Marx’s Capital. It rejected a proposal to affiliate itself to the bourgeois League of Peace and Freedom. It advocated the general strike in case of war. Activity was reported as having been begun in Spain, Italy, Holland and Hungary.
The year 1868 was thus the definite turning point in the International. From then on it was not the reformist trade unions, but the revolutionary communists and political sections that carried on the brunt of the work. At this point the First International became the most important labor power of the century. “Under the power and enlightened leadership of Marx it united and drilled the workers. It taught them to march together. It raised socialism to the status of an international program. Socialism became the aim of the whole labour movement instead of the secret doctrine of a Blanquist conspiracy. The First International is, more than any other single agency, responsible for the foundations of the Trade Union organizations of Spain, Denmark, France, and Austria-Hungary.” (*6)
By this time the International Workingmen’s Association had become powerful enough to attract to itself a group of trade unionists and political revolutionists headed by Bakunin. So long as the movement was on the rise, Bakunin could not dominate the situation. By 1869, in England, the official trade union Congress had urged all trade unions to join the International. The large National Labor Union of the United States sent its delegate to the Basel Congress, which reported many sections and union affiliations throughout the industrial world. In Italy even Garibaldi broke with Mazzini to defend the International, while in the Latin countries generally, many trade unions joined as a whole to affiliate as sections to the International. Thus, around 1870, the membership was estimated as close to four hundred and fifty thousand.
The peak of the International came with the Paris Commune. Then the International developed into a revolutionary communist body in essence. During the Franco-Prussian War, the French trade unions had disappeared but had been replaced by forty-six militant sections of the International. At the time of the Commune, a considerable minority were adherents to the International, even if not quite Marxists, although the majority of the leading Committee were partially Blanquists and partially of the group known as Radicals of 1848. None the less, it was the International that mobilized all its forces to support the Paris Commune and was considered the chief international agency responsible for the workers’ uprising.
Upon the declaration of war, the International Workingmen’s Association had taken its stand against French chauvinism and its German adherents, while joining in the general scheme of national defense; had emphasized the difference between German national and dynastic Prussian interests; and had stood resolutely opposed to any annexation of Alsace and Lorraine and for immediate peace as soon as a republican government should be established in Paris. At the same time, the First International had brought the French and German workers together for joint action to stop war.
As soon, however, as French defeat diverted the current of chauvinism and as Bismarck began to press home his own imperialist principles, the First International threw all its forces behind the French working classes’ desire for peace. Before the Paris Commune appeared, the International, under Marx, did its best not only to point out that such action would be premature and to warn against it, but also to lay down certain basic rules which the insurrectionists would have to follow once the fighting began. When civil war started, the First International stood by the workers in revolt in Paris, regardless of their errors and defects, and issued a call for international working class solidarity behind the Commune.
The Paris Commune broke the First International to pieces. It became apparent that within the framework of one organization there could not exist differences as wide apart as those, for example, that separated the skilled trade unionists of England from the pauperized masses of Paris. The violence of the Paris Commune, which brought the question of communism directly to a head, led the English trade unions to withdraw from the International. At the same time, the reaction in France, following the defeat of the Commune, destroyed the workers’ forces there. Thus the international was left a mere shell. As the movement declined, the Bakuninist influence within the International became more threatening, and the struggle between the Marxists and the Anarchists rose to the point of split.
Regarding the expulsion of Bakunin, Engels could write: “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.’ The movement of the proletariat necessarily passes through different stages of development; at every stage one section of people lags behind and does not join in the further advance; and this alone explains why it is that actually the ‘solidarity of the proletariat’ is everywhere realized in different party groupings which carry on life and death feuds with one another, as the Christian sects in the Roman Empire did amidst the worst persecutions.” (*7)
In 1872, a Hague Congress was called to consider the Anarchists’ theories. (*8) Strange to say, the English and Dutch delegations were for Bakunin, not because of his anarchism, but because of his theory of trade union decentralization which they believed to be the key issue at the Congress. Thus, the revolutionary Bakunin received support from the most conservative trade union elements. In spite of that, however, Bakunin and Guillaume were expelled because of their secret organization and destructive and disruptive methods. The Hague Conference was really, the last effective one of the First International.
In 1873, both sides held separate congresses in Geneva. (*9) The First International was then moved to New York and F. A. Sorge made Secretary. At the General Council meeting in Philadelphia in 1876, the First International was formally dissolved. (*10)
The First International was an excellent illustration of the method of work of the Marxist at a time when the working class was only beginning to articulate its interests and when proletarian revolution could not have been the order of the day. As Marx wrote: “The International was founded in order to replace the Socialist or semi-Socialist sects by a real organization of the working class for struggle.” (*11)
Marx understood very well that the First International could be but a sounding board for the widespread penetration of the scientific socialist program into the ranks of the workers, while it also helped to organize them for their day-to-day demands. Seizure of power could be experimental only. The basic achievements of the First International were the spread of a scientific socialist program and the first workers’ Commune ever erected.
As for the organization of the workers, it was clear that the only workers who could express their needs were the mechanics who could not at that time have carried forward any sustained international or revolutionary action. For this reason, too, Marx was willing to move the International to New York, although he knew that such a step would mean its end. Rather have the International die a natural death than have it utilized by the Bakuninists in hair-brained adventures that would disgrace its history! The First International, in taking responsibility for the Paris Commune and in popularizing the views of Marx, had carried forward the work of the Communist League and laid the basis for the international organization of the workers in the future.
The conclusion of the First International by no means meant the end of the separate socialist labor movements. Far from it. It simply signified that the working class as yet was not capable of a powerful, solid, international organization that could accomplish the double job of organizing the workers into unions and at the same time mobilizing them for world revolutionary struggle. The task had to be continued on a national and local scale.
It was Marx who pointed out: “Bourgeois revolutions, like those of the eighteenth century, rush onward rapidly from success to success, their stage effects outbid one another, men and things seem to be set in flaming brilliants, ecstasy is the prevailing spirit; but they are short-lived, they reach their climax speedily, then society relapses into a long fit of nervous reaction before it learns how to appropriate the fruits of its period of feverish excitement. Proletarian revolutions, on the contrary, such as those of the nineteenth century, criticize themselves constantly; constantly interrupt themselves in their own course; come back to what seems to have been accomplished in order to start over anew; scorn with cruel thoroughness the half-measures, weaknesses and meannesses of their first attempts, seem to throw down their adversary only in order to enable him to draw fresh strength from the earth, and again to rise up against them in more gigantic stature; constantly recoil in fear before the undefined monster magnitude of their own objects—until finally that situation is created which renders all retreat impossible, and the conditions themselves cry out: “Hic Rhodus, Hic Salta!”’ (*12)
In Germany the active working class movement started in 1844 with the insurrection of the Silesian weavers and the struggle of the Bohemian factory operatives. With the revolution of 1848, the workers in Germany, under the leadership of one Born, called together in Berlin a Labor League Congress. “The resolutions of the Congress dealt with the political, trade union and the co-operative organization of the German proletariat; the establishment of credit banks to aid the productive associations; the right to work; universal, equal suffrage in State and municipality; reduction of military service to one year; abolition of indirect taxation; establishment of a ten-hour working day; restriction of the number of apprentices; prohibition of the labor of children under fourteen; general compulsory education, compulsory continuation schools for apprentices, consultation of workers in selection and appointment of foremen in factories and workshops.” (*13)
Closely in touch with Marx, Born also organized a “Brotherhood of Labor” and took the lead in the insurrection in Dresden, as did other Marxists like Engels in Baden and Schapper in Wiesbaden. Marx believed the workers could not assume a pre-eminent revolutionary role in Germany but would have to confine themselves to secondary democratic aspects that would, however, allow the proletariat to grow with maximum speed. Thus Marx had to fight against Karl Schapper, who advocated the immediate establishment of a workers’ rule.
It is interesting to give the arguments of Marx against these “Leftists": “The minority substitutes dogmatism for the standpoint of criticism, and idealism for materialism. It treats pure will as the motive power of revolution instead of actual conditions. While we say to the workers: ‘You have got to go through fifteen, twenty, fifty years of civil wars and national wars not merely in order to change your conditions but in order to change yourselves and become qualified for political power’ you on the contrary tell them, ‘We must achieve power immediately, otherwise we may as well lie down and go to sleep.’ While we especially point out the undeveloped nature of the German proletariat to the German workers, you flatter the national feelings and craft prejudices of the German handicraftsman in the crudest way, which is of course more popular. Just as the democrats turned the word ’people’ into a sacred being, so you have done with the word ’proletariat.’ Like the Democrats, you substitute revolutionary phrases for revolutionary development, etc.” (*14)
After the revolution of 1848, the organized labor movement broke up only to revive again in the Democratic Party of the 1860’s. In 1863, Ferdinand Lassalle spoke before the workers of the Schulze-Delitzsch group of the Liberal co-operative movement. Lassalle, who had been strongly influenced by Marxism, launched into a fervid polemic against the leaders of the Liberal co-operative movement. In his open letter to the workmen, Lassalle pointed out that the workingmen should form their own political party which should keep as its core a full social program. The co-operative measures of Schulze-Delitzsch were mere palliatives. The workers were bound by an “iron law of wages” which prevented them from improving materially their condition under competitive capitalism. Lassalle believed the State should help the workers. This State, founded on universal suffrage, should see to it that the protective associations formed by workingmen should secure the full product of their labor. (*15)
With this program of State Socialism, Lassalle was able to win over the workers of the co-operative group and to launch his Universal German Workingmen’s Association for Full and Equal Suffrage which by 1864 had approximately five thousand members. Lassalle’s state socialism was an exceedingly dangerous matter for the German workman, since it made the laborer simply the tool of Bismarck’s Prussian policy. Believing that “the State shall be the institution in which the whole virtue of mankind shall realize itself,” (*16) Lassalle was making a cult of the State which fitted in very well with the plans of the reactionary Junkers supporting the monarchy. Lassalle believed that with his help Germany could be transformed into a social empire. The first step was to grant suffrage to all.
Of course, such a program caused the Marxists to break violently from Lassalle and to denounce him as having borrowed his program from French-Catholic socialism to which he had simply added the Chartist cry of universal suffrage. Marx accused Lassalle of flirting with Bismarck, although at the time he could not have known of Lassalle’s secret conferences with Bismarck nor of the labor leader’s betrayal of the party in accepting subsidies from the State. (*17)
In spite of all his defects, however, the brilliant agitation of Lassalle was able to lead to the building up, for the first time in German history, of a powerful labor organization. Thus he performed a great historical service, for he converted the working class from the appendage of the petty bourgeoisie into an independent political party. This the German working class has always remembered gratefully.
Against the Lassalleans, the Marxists began to build their own organization. In 1867 a Marxist League was formed which the following year joined the First International. By 1869 there was a Socialist Democratic Workingmen’s Party created in a Congress at Eisenach. The differences between the Lassalleans and the Marxists were: first, that the former wanted to use the State and to continue the existence of the North German Confederation; the second group, at the head of which was now August Bebet and Wilhelm Liebknecht, was opposed to collaboration with the State and against the North German Confederation, but for a centralized unified Germany. They went so far as to declare that a parliamentary platform should be used by workingmen only for revolutionary purposes. This position they were later to change.
During the Franco-Prussian War, the Marxists, unlike the Lassalleans, did not vote for war credits in 1870. After the battle of Sedan, both parties came out against war credits. Unity between them now could be effected more easily. This was done at the Congress at Gotha in 1875, on the basis of a compromise program. The membership of both organizations was now about twenty-five thousand.
Marx castigated Liebknecht for having made too many compromises with the opportunists, the Lassalleans, in order to secure unity. Marx was by no means for “unity-at-any-price” and while he could declare that every real advance step of the movement was worth more than a dozen platforms, yet it was not necessary to write muddled platforms, to yield principles, in order to secure this advance step. There could have been created a united front between both groups rather than an organic unity.
Indeed, the Gotha program did yield to Lassalle on essential principles. It took over the idea of the “iron law of wages.” It tended to throw the proletariat against the peasantry for the benefit of the German Junkers. It formulated the slogan: All those who are not with us are against us and they who are not workers compose one reactionary mass. It contained definite nationalist provisions rather than clear-cut expressions of international solidarity of the working class. Finally, and what was most important, it called for the aid of the State under the democratic control of the working population to build producers’ co-operative associations in order to establish socialism. The basic concept of the class struggle was here avoided; there was launched instead the slogan for the establishment of a “Free” State or “People’s” State. This last showed clearly that the German working men were by no means emancipated from the doctrines of state socialism. (*18)
Marx railed against these state socialist theories. He declared that this program played right into the hands of the Anarchists who had always accused the Marxists of advocating a State in perpetuity, and pointed out that, as early as his book against Proudhon in 1847 and later in the Communist Manifesto in 1848, he had shown that under a socialist society the State would dissolve of itself and disappear. The State could never be used in the same sentence with the term “Freedom.” A “Free” State was an impossibility. “As, therefore, the ‘state’ is only a transitional institution which is used in the struggle, in the revolution, in order to hold down one’s adversaries by force, it is pure nonsense to talk of a ‘free people’s state’; so long as the, proletariat still uses the state, it does not use it in the interests of freedom but in order to hold down [niederzuhalten] its adversaries, and as soon as it becomes possible to speak of freedom, the state as such ceases to exist.’’ (*19) Instead of the State, Marx would use the word community (Gemeinwesen), similar to the word commune.
The Germans were never able to overcome their tendencies towards nationalism, towards close collaboration with the Emperor, and towards reverence for the State. During this whole period, up to the war, German socialism was to prove congenitally and fatally defective in all its revolutionary activities. Even after the revision of the Gotha program in 1891 at the Erfurt Congress, Marx’s criticisms were proved to the fullest extent. In the Erfurt program, while the Lassallean demand for State aid was finally rejected, no attack was made against the monarchy; rather, the attack was centered on the capitalists who were not directly in charge of the State. The program limited itself in the main to demands for democracy and for social reform. The German Socialists could never reach the status of being Marxist, that is, communist.
The unification of the Socialists, coinciding with the tremendous industrial advance of Germany after the Franco-Prussian War, rapidly increased their strength so that, two years later, they were able to poll a half million votes and to seat twelve members in the Reichstag. The ruling class now became alarmed. The two attempts at the assassination of the Emperor in 1878 were now used by Bismarck as an excuse to declare socialism illegal The Socialist Party was driven underground. Yet it flourished exceedingly under the persecution. By 1890 the vote had increased 300 per cent, and so threatening had the Socialists become that Bismarck was forced to retreat and to abolish the anti-Socialist laws. In 1890 the Socialist Party of Germany became the greatest Socialist Party in the world.
The anti-Socialist laws benefitted the German Socialist Party exceedingly. It drove out of its ranks the old artisan and petty bourgeois hangers- on. It tested and hardened large numbers of German workers in illegal revolutionary struggle. It gave to the German Socialist movement an immense prestige which allowed it to take the leadership in the Second International. It was this tradition of struggle, too, that prevented the open opportunist Right Wing in the Socialist Party from capturing it. However, all this was not sufficient to make the Socialist Party a genuine revolutionary article by the time the World War broke out.
During the same period, socialism made rapid headway in other countries. In England several different groups appeared. In 1883 there was founded the Fabian Society, made up of intellectuals who were sympathetic to labor and who had evolved from liberalism to socialism. “… Fabian socialism regarded the transition from capitalism to socialism as a gradual process; looked forward to the socialization of industry by the peaceful economic and political agencies already at hand; saw in the middle class ,a group that could be utilized… .” (*20)
In 1881 there had been organized under the leadership of H. M. Hyndman and J. Burns a Social-Democratic Federation which tried to enunciate the doctrines of Marx but felt it necessary to open up a bitter attack against trade union leaders for their conservatism. In 1883 a split occurred in the organization, William Morris and E. Belfort Bax founding the Socialist League which differed from its parent organization in insisting “strongly upon the necessity of this [social] control being exercised by free communal groups, only loosely and voluntarily associated in larger aggregates." (*21) The Socialist League was also against parliamentary action, not in order to advocate violent insurrection, but in order to concentrate upon pure education.
This was the period in England when Henry George’s Radicalism, embodied in his book, Progress and Poverty, and in the Single Tax movement had created great discussion. The socialism of these groups was heavily tinged with liberal individualism. It seemed to be imperative for each one to answer the attacks of Herbert Spencer that civilization was entering into a period of social slavery by pointing out that socialism, far from crushing individualism, meant its maximum efflorescence. This was the theme song of the Fabian Society. It could induce such people as Oscar Wilde to write his book, The Soul of Man Under Socialism. While not everyone took the position of this epicene esthete, that property meant so much care and effort as to tire one out and that the individual’s energies would be tremendously released once the obligations of property were dropped, nevertheless the approach of Oscar Wilde was typical of those writing about socialism in England during this period.
In 1893 the Independent Labor Party was organized and began to participate in parliamentary activity, under the leadership of Keir Hardie. The aim of the I.L.P. was the collective ownership and control of the means of production to be achieved through parliamentary action, social reform, protection of labor, and democracy in local and central government. The I.L.P. did not differ in its general program from the Social Democratic Federation, but, because it did not launch a bitter attack against the trade union officials, it was able to penetrate the trade unions with its propaganda more than the former organization had done. The I.L.P. took the initiative to induce the trade unions to form a Labor Party, a step finally achieved in 1900.
None of the British organizations could be termed communist or genuinely Marxist. They were all heavily diluted with bourgeois liberalism, theories of individualism, illusions about parliamentary factors. Their sole campaign was either one of education or of petty electioneering activity for social reform. Very few of them could realize a revolutionary practice in the heavily bourgeoisified atmosphere prevailing in England at the twentieth century.
In France, too, the socialist movement was advancing after a period of recuperation from the defeat of the Paris Commune. Here, five groups soon made themselves known, which, leaving aside the Blanquists (*22) who somewhat approximated Communist conceptions, were headed by Guesde, Brousse, and Allemane. Besides these, there existed a Society for Social Economy, led by Malon, jaur’es, Millerand and Viviani, which was formed for the purpose of formulating legislation with a program urging the gradual socialization of industry and extension of democracy. It was this last group that adopted the policy of co-operating with the government and which obtained membership in the French Ministry.
The Guesdist group at first refused to take any part in the struggle for immediate reforms and insisted it was necessary to seize the political power of the State in a revolutionary fashion. “The entrance of the socialists into politics is not, therefore, to carve out seats of councillors or deputies, but because the political campaign gives to the socialists a remarkable opportunity for reaching the masses with the party’s educational propaganda. The main object of the Parti Ouvrier is to be ‘a kind of recruiting and instructing sergeant preparing the masses for the final assault upon the state, which is the citadel of capitalist society: Only a revolution … would permit the working class to seize the political power and socialize industry.” (*23) Nevertheless, since it was not yet the time for revolution, the Guesdists’ activity was to center on education, especially in the trade unions under their control. Later, the Guesdists were to turn parliamentarian and to participate in the election campaigns.
In 1893 the Socialists were able to obtain six hundred thousand votes and to elect over fifty Deputies. It was after this event that Millerand was called to enter the cabinet of Waldeck-Rousseau, this action splitting the French socialist movement into two parts—the Guesdists and Blanquists forming the Socialist Party of France, definitely opposed to such participation in capitalist governments, the Broussists, and Allemanists and Independents creating the French Socialist Party supporting Millerand. In 1905 both groups united to establish the United Socialist Party.
In Eastern Europe, where the socialist movement was compelled to overcome enormous difficulties, it assumed a more revolutionary character. In Austria the Socialist Party was organized in 1867 and was more militant than the German in proportion as it suffered far more from persecutions. By about 1888, the Anarchist influence was defeated and the various socialist groups united together to form their Socialist Party. In Italy, too, about 1893, a militant Socialist Party was evolved. In the beginning, the socialist movement there had been dominated by Bakunin’s influence, but by the twentieth century a great majority of the trade unions were under the guidance of socialists who maintained a militant program of action.
Both in Austria and in Italy, as elsewhere in East Central Europe, the Socialist Parties were largely penetrated by the petty bourgeois influence of agrarian life. While their programs called for the establishment of a republic by social reforms and laid down the general program of socialism, the Socialist Parties were, generally, no more proletarian in outlook than those which formed the movements in the more advanced countries.
Only in Russia was the socialist movement able to advance to approximate a communist position under the special conditions that existed in that country: on the one hand, the rapid growth of large-scale modern trustified industry, thoroughly controlled by the State; on the other hand, the terribly oppressive and anachronistic regime of Czarist absolutism. While the Russian regime threw thousands of intellectuals into the ranks of the discontented and rebellious, it also herded together millions of workers in barracks under barbarous conditions. Soon both of these movements were to fuse and to take organized shape in the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party.
In the early days of the nineteenth century, the revolutionary Dekabrists had vaguely agitated for a liberalized regime mixed with theories of early French utopians. By the middle of the century, Hertzen had combined the struggle against the Czar with the struggle for socialism, and the paper Kolokol (The Bell) began to introduce not only the question of political democracy, but that of social reform as well. In 1869 Bakunin succeeded Hertzen as editor, and, with Lavrov, put forth the doctrine of “going to the people,” which meant that the student should enter into the life of the peasant in order to combine peculiar Russian conditions with Western ideas of social reform. By 1876, however, this program was proved a failure, both in the sense of spreading propaganda and in building mass organizations. From 1873 to 1876 alone, over two thousand of these advocates had been arrested. In 1874, all the Russian students studying abroad were forced to return to Russia.
Against this repressive regime of the Czar, the Russian revolutionary Socialists formed Terrorist organizations. Vera Zasulich killed the tyrannical police agent, Trepoff; the Czar, Alexander II, was assassinated in 1881 by Sophia Perovskaia. This period of terror transformed the previous lax organizations into extremely disciplined, illegal, and conspiratorial ones made up of professional revolutionists. Even these heroic groups, however, could not withstand the terrifically intensified attack of the government. The old Terrorist groups of “Land and Freedom” and “People’s Freedom” were destroyed completely. Intellectual revolutionaries now turned to Marxism.
The enthusiasm of this war of the intellectuals against the State was in part shared by Friedrich Engels, who, understanding that Russia could not long avoid her democratic revolution, correctly estimated the importance of even such blows as the intelligentsia could give in breaking the dam of Czarism to let loose the floods of democracy and social reform. He wrote: “What I know or believe about the situation in Russia impels me to the opinion that the Russians are approaching their 1789. The revolution must break out there in a given time; it may break out there any day. In these circumstances the country is like a charged mine which only needs a fuse to be laid to it, especially since March 13. This is one of the exceptional cases where it is possible for a handful of people to make a revolution, i.e., with one small push to cause a whole system … to come crashing down and thus by one action in itself insignificant, to release uncontrollable explosive forces. Well now, if ever Blanquism-the phantasy of overturning an entire society through the action of a small conspiracy-had a certain justification for its existence, that is certainly in Petersburg….
“Supposing these people imagine they can seize power, what does it matter? Provided they make the hole which will shatter the dyke, the flood itself will soon rob them of their illusions. But if by chance these illusions resulted in giving them a superior force of will, why complain of that?..
“To me the most important thing is that the impulse should be given in Russia, that the revolution should break out. Whether this fraction or that fraction gives the signal, whether it happens under this flag or that flag, matters little to me. If it were a palace conspiracy it would be swept away tomorrow. There where the position is so strained, where the revolutionary elements are accumulated to such a degree, where the economic situation of the enormous mass of the people becomes daily more impossible, where every stage of social development is represented, from the primitive commune to modern large-scale industry and high finance, and where all these contradictions are violently held together by an unexampled despotism, a despotism which is becoming more and more unbearable to the youth in whom the national worth and intelligence are united-there, when 1789 has once been launched, 1793 will not be long in following.” (*24)
Under the influence of Marxism, in 1883, Plechanoff broke away from the old Narodniki groups and organized his Society for the Liberation of Labor. In 1895, Lenin and Martov founded in St. Petersburg a League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class. In 1898 an attempt was made to organize a congress for the formation of a Social-Democratic Labor Party. The Congress was broken up by the police. It was only in 1903 that a program could be worked out in the course of which the socialists split. In 1901 the Socialist Revolutionary Party was formed which worked among the peasants, maintaining the traditions of the old Populists, the Narodniki, with their connection to methods of violence.
The split in the Social-Democratic Labor Party of Russia divided the ranks of that organization into two sections, one under Martov called Mensheviks, and the other under Lenin called Bolsheviks. Both groups temporarily came together in the Revolution of 1905 only to break apart again immediately afterwards. The Czarist repression grew fiercer than ever. In 1907 alone, 627 political prisoners were executed; in 1908 the total rose to 702, while 70,000 were banished, making the total number in exile over 180,000. In such a crucible, the Bolsheviks were able to fuse their ranks to the hardness needed by genuine Communists.
Not even the United States was excepted from the rapid growth of the socialist movement spreading throughout the world. For one thing, the German emigration, between 1830 and 1848, brought with it many of the artisans and social revolutionaries, participants in movements at home, who at once began their propaganda in their new abodes.
William Weitling, for example, arriving in 1849, issued a paper in 1850, The Republic of the Workingman, and organized a Central Committee of united trades in New York. So widespread did his ideas become that “in March, 1850, a mass meeting of Negroes in New York declared itself in accord with Weitling’s ideas of a ‘labor-exchange-bank’ … (*25) In 1852, Weydemeyer launched a magazine called Revolution.
The Civil War threw many of these German elements into the conflict on the side of the North, forty to fifty per cent of all the Turn Vexein members connected with the socialist groups taking part in the Civil War. However, others of the socialist sects were quick to notice that the freedom of the Negro slaves did not mean the end of wage slavery, but only intensified it.
After the Civil War, there rapidly sprouted the National Labor Union led by Sylvis, who was the first real native worker socialist. It soon embraced six hundred and forty thousand members and connected itself with the First International. At the same time, in 1867, a Social Party was formed, giving way in 1871 to the United States section of the International Workingmen’s Association. Simultaneously other groups appeared, all of which combined together in 1876 to form the Workingmen’s Party of the United States, and in the next year became the Socialist Labor Party. Of the membership of the Socialist Labor Party only 10 per cent were native American workers.
The great panic of 1873 imposed upon the workers extremely miserable conditions. “In the large cities cases of death from starvation, not only of single individuals, but of entire families, were reported. During the winter of 1877, police stations were filled every night with crowds of workingmen and their families … Police courts were besieged by men, women, and children, imploring to be committed to the workhouse. The number of the unemployed in the United States was estimated at no less than 3,000,000.” (*26)
As the country emerged from the depression, tremendous strikes broke out, such as the railway strike of 1877, which was marked by a great deal of violence. In Pittsburgh, the workers took over the city and burned in one day 1,600 railroad cars and 120 locomotives. In Maryland, the militia killed ten rioters, but was then forced to retreat because of overpowering forces. In Reading, Pennsylvania, the militia killed thirteen; the workers immediately mobilized and took command of the city. In St. Louis for a week the city was controlled by “an executive committee” which in a way might really be called the first Soviet formed in the United States. In Chicago, the strike agitation was under the direction of the National Committee of the S.L.P. under whom the militant Parsons of Haymarket fame was especially active.
The agitation of the times affected even the leadership of the Knights of Labor, so that “In the year 1880 Mr. Powderly, now the chief of the Knights of Labour, thus expressed himself about strikes: ‘I am anxious that each of our lodges should be provided with powder and shot, bullets and Winchester rifles, when we intend to strike. If you strike, the troops are called out to put you down. You cannot fight with bare hands. You must consider the matter very seriously, and if we anticipate strikes we must prepare to fight and to use arms against the forces brought against us.’ “ (*27)
Thus it was that about 1879 the membership of the S.L.P. had grown to ten thousand. Between 1876 and 1877 there existed twenty-four papers directly or indirectly supported by the S.L.P.: Eight of these papers were English, one daily paper in St. Louis and seven weeklies elsewhere; fourteen of the papers were German, of which seven were dailies.
However, the Socialist Labor Party was not able to hold its gains. By 1881 revolutionary clubs were emerging within it which organized themselves into a Left Wing, splitting away from the S.L.P. and creating in their convention in Chicago a new “Revolutionary” S.L.P. This new party soon disappeared. In the next decade the Communist Anarchists under Johan Most dominated the scene, dramatized by the Haymarket riots and the May Day general strike in 1886. In 1885 the International Anarchists could count seven thousand members.
By the last decade of the century it had become clear that conditions in America were not yet ripe for the formation of a solid revolutionary socialist organization. The trade unions, dominated by the skilled workers, were rapidly moving to a position of close class collaboration with the imperialists. The Socialist Labor Party could not work even within the Knights of Labor, and in 1895 DeLeon was forced to leave the Knights of Labor and to form his own Socialist Trades and Labor Alliance made up of unions that adhered to the position of the Socialist Labor Party.
At first, the Socialist Trades and Labor Alliance was able to secure the endorsement of the Labor Federation of New York and of the United Hebrew Trades. At its peak it had approximately twenty thousand members. But it soon disintegrated under the pressure of economic conditions and the sterile policy of the Socialist Labor Party which made of its unions merely instruments for its own political ambitions.
The Socialist Labor Party could not work inside the A. F. of L., which rapidly began to dominate the organized labor movement. On the other hand, the Socialist Trades and Labor Alliance was unable itself to organize any such movement and thus it dwindled until its remnants joined with other elements, in 1905, to form the I.W.W.
On the political field, too, the Socialist Labor Party was not able to adopt a consistent policy. In 1880 it supported the Greenback party. In 1884 it abstained from voting. In 1886 it supported Henry George. Later on, it indorsed the position that under no circumstances must it agitate for immediate demands which were merely palliatives, but rather must educate for the unconditional surrender of capitalism only. With such policies, the Socialist Labor Party could not grow in America.
In 1898 there split away another organization calling itself the Social Democratic Party. This united with the remnants of the American Railway Union which had struck in 1893, under the leadership of Debs, and became in 1901 the Socialist Party. Thus, from 1901 on, two Socialist political organizations were in the field—the Socialist Party and the Socialist Labor Party ---which have continued with various vicissitudes to eke out an existence in the United States to the present day.
1. Cited in P. W. Slosson: Work cited, p. 195.
2. K. Marx: “Inaugural Address,” given in pamphlet, Outline of Two Speeches, published by Historical Research Bureau, Vancouver, B. C., pp. 12-13; also listed as Address and Provisional Rules of the International Workingmen’s Association (1924, Labour and Socialist International). In this latter pamphlet the text is somewhat different.
3. “The same pamphlet, p. 15.
4. For the Preamble and Provisional Rules, see G. M. Steklov: History of the First International, Appendix.
5. It seems that Wendell Phillips and Charles Sumner, American Abolitionists, had also become members of the International. See, R. W. Postgate: The Workers’ International, p. 35.
6. Postgate: Work cited, p. 16.
7. Marx and Engels: Correspondence, Letter of Engels to Bebel, p. 327.
8. The Marxists aimed at the conquest of political power; the Anarchists at its immediate destruction.
9. “Within a year Engels had to admit that the Anarchist International was much stronger than the vestige of the old International.” (G. M. Steklov: History of the First International, p. 261.)
10. The Bakuninists, however, never recognized this dissolution, but steadily considered themselves the genuine International Workingmen’s Association.
11. See, Marx and Engels: Correspondence, Letter of Marx to Bolte, p. 315.
12. K. Marx: Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis- Bonaparte (Kerr ed.), pp. 14-15.
13. M. Beer: Social Struggles and Modern Socialism, p. 113.
14. Marx and Engels: Correspondence, p. 92, footnote.
15. See, Kirkup: A History of Socialism, p. 84.
16. E. Bernstein: Ferdinand Lassalle, p. 105.
17. See, Marx and Engels; Correspondence, Letter of Marx to Kugelmann, pp. 193-197.
18. See, K. Marx: The Gotha Program, pamphlet.
19. Marx and Engels: Correspondence, Letter of Engels to Bebel, p. 337.
20. H. W. Laidler: A History of Socialist Thought, p. 229.
21. S. Webb: Socialism in England, pp. 24, 25.
22. The Blanquists operated legally through the “Comit’e R’evolutionaire Central.”
23. H. W. Laidler: .A History of Socialist Thought, p. 358.
24. Marx and Engels: Correspondence, Letter of Engels to Vera Zasulich, pp. 437-438.
25. M. Hillquit: History of Socialism in the United States, p. 147.
26. M. Hillquit: work cited, p. 199.
27. H. M. Hyndman: The Chicago Riots, pamphlet, p. 3.