The International Workingmen’s Association. Wilhelm Eichhoff 1869
Sixty-four delegates came to this Congress, among whom the German element was represented by 25 members.
All opening ceremonies were dispensed with, and the Congress proceeded at once to elect the Presidium and the Bureau. Eugène Dupont, member of the General Council and delegate of the French section in London, was elected to the chair, and coped smartly with his none too simple duties. He was fortified in his task by the magnificent behaviour of the assembly. No unfriendly words had to be smoothed over, no improper pronouncements had to be rebutted, no tactless motions had to be registered. This time, too, the difficulty of conducting the discussion in three languages (English, German, and French) was happily overcome, as it had been at the first congress.
The most important at this Congress were the reports of the individual sections and affiliated societies on the actual successes and the growth of the Association. It would take us too far afield if we were to reproduce the content of these most interesting reports if only in outline, and we may dispense with it here all the more because the present expansion of the Association will be taken up In a later section. The official proceedings of the Congress of 1867 have been published in French by Chaux-de-Fonds, Imprimerie de la Voix de l'Avenir.
Indicative of the spirit of the Congress was the following:
Gaspare Stampa from Milan, delegate of the Central Council of Italian working men’s associations, which embraces 600 workers’ societies and has its seat in Naples, announced at the sitting of the 4th of September that Garibaldi would be passing through Lausanne on his way to the Peace Congress In Geneva; he moved that the Congress should appoint a deputation to go to Villeneuve to greet Garibaldi on behalf of the Congress, and to invite him to visit the Congress in his capacity as honorary president of the above-mentioned Italian working men’s associations. Other delegates opposed this motion. However popular Garibaldi may be, a Congress representing the working class could not pay homage to any single individual. If, however, Garibaldi wished to assume his seat at the Congress as honorary president of the Italian working men’s associations, he would be as heartily received as any other delegate. Having done with Stampa’s motion, the Congress passed on to the agenda.
The nearly simultaneous holding of the international Peace Congress in Geneva (9 to 12 September), lit which many members of the Working Men’s Congress intended to take part in a private capacity, compelled the latter to define its position in relation to the Peace League in Geneva. This was done in the following heartily applauded resolution:
“Considering that the pressure of war weighs more heavily, on the working class than on any other class of society, because it is not only robbed by it of its means of subsistence but is also the class that is made to shed most blood in it;
“Considering that the pressure of so-called armed peace weighs as heavily on the working man as that of war by consuming the best energies of the people in unproductive and destructive labour;
“Finally, considering that any radical remedy of this evil necessitates altering the prevailing social conditions which repose on the exploitation of one part of society by another,
“The Congress of the International Working Men’s Association declares its complete and emphatic allegiance to the Peace League constituted in Geneva or) the 7th of September, and to its efforts in the interest and for the maintenance of peace, and demands not only that war be abolished but also that standing armies be disbanded, and that a universal and free alliance of the peoples be constituted in their place on the basis of reciprocity and justice, but with the proviso that the working classes be emancipated from their unfree and oppressed condition and social discrimination, and that an end be put to the mutual struggle of classes through the rectification of the obtaining contradictions.”
The Geneva Working Men’s Congress of 1866 had been an object of lively debate in the French press, especially that of Paris and Lyons. The big London papers, however, had passed it over in dead silence. Not so the Congress in Lausanne a year later. The Times had its own correspondent there. Furthermore, it published editorial articles about the International Working Men’s Association, and its example was followed by the dailies and weeklies of all England. After The ‘rimes had set the tone, the other papers, too, no longer considered it beneath their dignity to devote not only notices but even long editorials to the labour question. All of them discussed the Working Men’s Congress. It was only natural that many papers treated the subject in a superior and ironic vein. For every undertaking has its funny side apart front the sublime, and how could the Working Men’s Congress with its loquacious Frenchmen be completely free of it? But for all that, the English press has on the whole treated the Congress very decently. Even The Manchester Examiner, which is in fact the organ of John Bright and the Manchester School, portrayed it in a pertinent editorial as an important and epoch-making event. Where it was compared with its. step-brother, the Peace Congress, the comparison was always in favour of the elder brother. In the Working Men’s Congress they discerned a threatening and fateful tragedy, whereas nothing but farce and burlesque was seen in the other.