The International Workingmen’s Association. Wilhelm Eichhoff 1869

10. Conflicts with Governments

1. Conflict with the French Government

It is commonly known that in France there exists a law that no Society of more than 20 persons may, be constituted without authorisation of the government. To judge front the wording of the law, most of the industrial and commercial companies in France are unlawful and exist oil sufferance only. For by decision of the Court of the authorisation is tacit if the society in question is public and is not dissolved by the government for some length of time. Whether authorised or not, one may assume that the government may at the very most dissolve societies to whose establishment it had tacitly acquiesced, but that it has no right to punish its members.

As for the organisation of the International Working Men’s Association in France, the case is as follows. All branch societies in France exist merely as members of the English society, on whose General Council they are represented by Eugène Dupont. (In addition, there is in London a French group and a German one.) Though they act in common in certain cases, the French sections are not connected with one another, and have intercourse only with the General Council in London. Each of the societies forms a separate body with an executive committee at its head which corresponds with the General Council in London. The establishment of the society in France was initiated by the Paris Administrative Committee of the Paris group. The Committee bad notified the Interior Minister and the Prefect of the Paris police of its inauguration and existence as long ago as 1864. Since that date the Paris Committee, like the committees in the other cities of France, had functioned publicly. Open meetings of members of the Association were held from week to week, and reports about them were published in public newspapers. Indeed, in clear contrast to the secret societies of past decades, the society is by nature a public one, and the meetings of the General Council lit London are reported each week in London newspapers.

The first conflict between the International Working Men’s Association and the French government occurred in September 1867, after the Congress at Lausanne. [Eichhoff is mistaken: the conflict occurred in 1866, after the congress Geneva.] A part of the documents of the Congress had been entrusted to the care of Jules Gottraux, one of the French delegates, who was to despatch them from France to England. [432] The moment he crossed the French border, the papers were seized.[433] The General Secretary of the London General Council’ addressed himself in writing to the French Minister of the Interior” and demanded the return of the confiscated papers because they were British property. He received no reply. Thereupon, the General Council of the Association turned to Lord Stanley, the British Foreign Secretary. The latter instructed Lord Cowley, the British Ambassador in Paris, to demand that the papers be returned, and the French government Complied.

The second conflict occurred at about the same time. No printer in Paris had dared to print a memorandum which the Paris delegates had read out at the Geneva Congress and in which they, set forth their standpoint and defended their were, by the way, one-sidedly Proudhonistic, specifically French, and decidedly not accepted by the Association. For this reason, the Paris Committee bad the memorandum printed in Brussels. But it was seized on the border as it was being brought into France. On March 3, 1867, the Paris Central Committee of the Association wrote to Rouher, the Minister of State and the Emperor’s alter ego, demanding the reasons for the seizure. [Eichhoff is mistaken: the letter was dated March the 9th] In his reply, addressed to the offices of the Par’s Bureau of the Association at Rue de Gravilliers 44, Rouher invited a member of the Committee to an interview. The Committee appointed a delegate, who went to see the Minister. Rouher demanded altering and modifying a few objectionable places. The delegate refused to do so because any modifications would rob the document of its meaning. Thereupon, Rouher made the following characteristic pronouncement: “Still if you would introduce some words of gratitude to the Emperor, who has done so much for the working classes, one might see what could be done.” The delegate replied that the Association did not deal in politics and that neither flattery nor defamation, whether of an individual or a political party, came within its competence. Thereupon Rouher broke off the conversation and left the seizure of the memorandum in force.

The French government imagined that it could use the International Working Men’s Association as a tool. It was in for a disappointment. On the other hand, it was aware of the growing strength and increasing influence of the Society on the occasion of the strikes at Amiens, Roubaix and Paris. Finally, a few weeks after the above conversation, it became aware with the greatest displeasure of the Society’s agitation against imperialist chauvinism. It decided to take action. Whence arose

The third conflict.[434] In the beginning of 1868, one night the Paris police raided the homes of the members of the Paris Central Committee. All letters and papers that they found there were confiscated. The police deduced therefrom that the registered members of the Paris group numbered. some 2,000. (Since then this number has risen considerably.) The charge preferred was participation in a secret society, but it was dropped after two months’ investigation. Instead, charges of breaching police regulations were presented, namely, of forming a society of more than 20 persons in the absence of the government’s authorisation.

On March 20, 1868, the case came before the penal court of the Seine department. Engraver Tolain, a co-defendant, spoke on behalf of the 15 defendants. The hearing yielded the following picture [435]:

President. Do you admit that the International Working Men’s Association, whose member you and your co-defendants have become, has never been authorised?

Tolain. I think this is not the proper time to reply to this question. In our common plea we intend to prove that the overt activity of our society presupposes a tacit acknowledgment of its existence.

President. But you do admit that the authorisation was never received?

Tolain. It was never even required of us. To what government, indeed, should an international association turn for authorisation? Should it be the French, the Belgian, the British or any of the German governments? It could not have known, and no one could have told it. What would a French authorisation count for in England, for example, or vice versa?

President. Did you discuss political matters at your gatherings?

Tolain. Never, nowhere.

President. A manifesto printed in Brussels in 1866’ has been confiscated from you, whose content consists of politics, even of effusive politics (politique transcendentale).

Tolain. The manifesto is my personal property, and I believe that in France I am the only one to own a copy of it. It was drawn up and published by English workers because, may it be known to the court, every group in every country has the right to set forth its particular opinion without thereby obligating the groups of other nations to solidarity. It is therefore not unusual for an English or German branch society to discuss questions of politics that we ourselves would not venture to touch. I declare that we have always kept our distance from politics at our meetings.

President. How is your Association organised, where is its scat, what are its purposes, and what are the functions of the General Council and the Paris Bureau?

Tolain. The General Council was constituted in London in 1864. No permanent scat was ever fixed for it. The fact that it has had its scat in London for three years is due to difficulties that we have been unable to overcome. To inform you of its purposes I could hardly do better than to read you its Rules. (He reads the Rules).

President. Tell me something about the organisation of the Paris Bureau.

Tolain. The Paris Bureau was formed following art appeal to all workers published in the newspapers. The object of creating the Bureau was to have a centre of activity for the Paris group, to send delegates to international congresses, and to transact other business on behalf of the Society. All this was done in broad daylight and quite openly,. The Statutes of the Paris Bureau were set forth in a printed booklet, h and the weekly dues of every member were fixed at 10 centimes.

President. Has this Bureau engaged in direct propaganda to expand the Society?

Tolain. Now and then we were asked for advice as to how a bureau is formed In most cases we referred to the General Council in London.

President. Has the Paris Bureau interfered in any, strikes, such as that of the Paris bronze-workers, or at Roubaix, Amiens, and elsewhere – ,

Tolain. The Association has indeed taken a most active part in the above-mentioned events in the belief that by studying the causes of the strikes it was doing a good service to the employers as well as the workers.

Public prosecutor Lepelletier’s speech began as follows:

“Gentlemen, the defendants who stand before you are hard-working, intelligent and upright workers. They have never been convicted of anything, nothing has tainted their morality, and in substantiating the charge brought against them I, gentlemen, can say nothing that would prejudice their honour.”

Thereupon the public prosecutor endeavoured to prove that the law had beer, breached and that there were grounds for conviction. Referring to the defendants’ arguments invalidating the charge, he observed:

“What reproaches are being cast upon the prosecution? Gentlemen, if you have read the Siècle, the Opinion nationale, and the Courrier français of the past few days, you will have found expressions of regret in them by that portion of the press which sympathises with the International Association. Their reasoning is as follows For three years, the Association has existed in broad and blessed daylight. It may riot have been allowed by, the authorities, but tolerated. Its aim was the material and moral emancipation of the workers, its means to this end being the study, of economic questions and their solution according to the principles of truth, morality, and justice.... And such long sufferance was suddenly followed by, ruthless criminal prosecution for no reason at all other than the plain arbitrariness of power and a whim of violence. If the members of the Association had at least gone back on their programme and had applied themselves to problems involving clanger to the state, if they had at least engaged in politics! But, on the contrary, they hat] steered clear of them at their sittings. had not touched them at their congresses, and had restricted their activity lo tile narrow limits of their statutes, which were well known to the authorities and, at least indirectly, tacitly, acknowledged by them

“This, gentlemen, is the reproach that is cast upon us. I have neither understated nor exaggerated it. Is it a justified reproach? Is it true that the Association did not engage in politics? Is it true that it confined itself to the study of economic questions as provided for in its programme?”

Thereupon the public prosecutor endeavoured to prove the Paris Bureau’s involvement in political matters, which was not hard to do considering the Association’s general attitude in the Luxembourg affair[436],and demanded that the defendants be convicted in the interests of the law.

Here defendant Tolain rose to his feet and placed before the court the following petition:

“Considering that the illegality of a society derives from the absence of authorisation front the authorities; that no formal procedure has been established to obtain such authorisation; that the said authorisation can also be dispensed tacitly; that demanding a special form of authorisation means tightening a law which even the legislator himself has recognised as exceptional; that public confidence is shaken thereby; furthermore, that it follows from the discussions concerning the law of 1834 and from utterances of government representatives that the said authorisation may, be granted tacitly; that such tacit permission or sufferance is the form ill which all industrial and commercial companies of more than 20 members exist; that conceding the power to persecute such societies without first revoking t his practice is an infringement upon the public consciousness, since it is self-evident that the government considers them lawfully authorised by virtue of their obvious existence; considering that the tacit authorisation of the Association follows 1) from the continuous publicity of its existence and actions, truly far more pronounced than ill the case of commercial companies; 2) from the two letters of the International Association to the Minister of the Interior and the Prefect of the Police, in which the establishment and existence of the Association were recorded as long ago as 1864; considering that definitive and formal authorisation of the administration is contained in a letter addressed to the Secretary of the Society by the office of the Minister of the Interior, or, more precisely, by the Minister of State who was his temporary deputy; that the legitimacy, of the Association was in no way questioned during an interview with the Minister; that the prosecution cannot demonstrate that the Association has in the interval changed either its, theories or its aims; considering that actually the Secretary of the Association, who had been invited to explain the memorial of the French delegates to the Congress of 1866, set forth the very, same theories and aims which are now being reproved and prosecuted; that at that time even the prosecutor’s office regarded the Society as amply legalised because it had known of its existence and nevertheless stated at the public proceedings of January 4, 1867 that no prosecution was being contemplated; for all these reasons we plead with the court to dismiss the prosecution’s indictment.”

Upon submitting this petition, Tolain took the floor on behalf of the other defendants. His speech was a passionate protest against the lack of rights of the labouring classes. He described the dangers which the workman incurred when he endeavoured to clarify his social status by mutual instruction, by learning the relations that affect his most vital interests, and when he tried to secure improvements. Whatever he may do, whatever caution lie may exercise, however pure and harmless his intentions may be, he was always threatened, persecuted, and subject to prosecution. In the past 20 years countless industrial innovations had created new requirements and completely reconstructed the social economy. Deliberately or riot, the government itself had followed the movement and collaborated assiduously in this, reconstruction.

“We workers”, Tolain went on to say, “were deeply interested to know what was to become of us, and this was the reason for out-uniting in the International Association. Working men wanted to see for themselves, and not through the eyes of the official bourgeois economics. English workers gathered to receive the French workers; they and we were moved by one and the same concern, the social question. The perfection of machines, the English workers said, changed the social situation of working men each passing day, so let us enlighten each other, let us find the means to safeguard our subsistence. We had the same interests and were inspired by, the same ideas. Since then the common slogan says that the workman cannot expect arty, improvement of his social condition unless he achieves it by Ins own efforts. This slogan was proclaimed at a public meeting ill London in 1864.”

Thereupon Tolain described the establishment, organisation and activity of the General Council in London and the Paris Bureau. Having again declared that the government had granted them tacit authorisation, he said that they, on the other hand, had not applied for official authorisation out of principle because they would not concede to the government the power to permit or forbid rights that were the natural endowment of workers and all citizens. And lie concluded with the following significant declaration:

“I must add that the position ill which we have been put should be properly considered. Whatever your sentence may be, we shall do the same tomorrow as we did the day before; this is neither hatred nor pigheadedness on our part; it is the consciousness of our right. From now on we lay claim to dealing ourselves with all matters of concern to its; we have only v one means of putting an end to out. present situation, and that is to overstep the law ill order to show how bad it is. So far, we have riot wished to breach the law because, let me repeat, the police, the government, the municipal authorities and the public ill large, have known everything, seen everything, and accepted everything oil sufferance.”

The sentence of the court read :

“Considering that, as follows front the investigations and proceedings, the defendants hake for three years been Paris members of a society known by the name of the International Working Men’s Association, that the aforenamed society consisted of more than 20 persons, and that it was not authorised;

“considering that the associated workers were bound among themselves by the purposes of the Association and worked together for the achievement of these purposes, that the said purposes were to improve the situation of the workers b) cooperation, production and credit, and that they gathered at regular intervals and constituted themselves into a permanent corporation;

“considering that Articles 291 and 292 of the Code penal arid the Law of April 10, 1834b are police and general security laws applicable to anyone who breaches them on French territory, that it is irrelevant that the scat of the Society is located in London, and that it is perfectly sufficient to establish that the Paris Bureau has committed a breach of the aforenamed laws;

“considering that notice of the existence of the aforenamed Society in newspapers or its sufferance by the authorities does not relieve it of the need for an explicit authorisation of the government;

“considering that the defendants, by acting in this have committed offences covered by, and punishable under Articles 291 and 292 of the Code penal and § 2 of the Law of April 10, 1834;

“the Court hereby dissolves the International Working Men’s Association established in Paris under the name of Paris Bureau, and sentences each of the defendants to a fine of 100 francs which, in the event of insolvency, shall be replaced by 30 days’ imprisonment.

The convicted filed an appeal against this sentence. In the meantime, the Paris group acted precisely as Tolain had told the court. In place of the prosecuted 15, a new Bureau, consisting of nine members of the Association, was elected. Their election was announced in the newspapers.’ In a signed appeal they called publicly on the Paris workmen to contribute funds in support of the strike in Geneva.

The case of the 15 was heard in the second instance on April 22, 1868.

The main points of the indictment were the Bureau’s open refusal to abide by the imperial penal law banning societies of more than 20 persons; the political nature of the Society, which subjected all pillars of the existing order to criticism; the power of the Society, which no government could withstand if it were allowed to embrace all countries as it has been doing so far; by now, it was alleged, it has become a sort of universal intermediary for workers’ strikes.

As in all other cases, the accused defended themselves on their own, without legal counsel. Referring to the lack of an official authorisation, they declared:

“If we, the Paris correspondents of the London General Council, had been notified, after informing the police and the competent authorities of the constitution of our Bureau, that an explicit authorisation was required, we would have thought of some other organisation for we are making it quite clear that it would never have occurred to us to submit to the humiliation of seeking authorisation. The very, first principle of our Rules would have forbidden us to do so. For it says that emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves. Those, however, who accept authorisation also accept submission, subordination and the right of patronage or, in short, serfdom, from which, indeed, in all its forms, the International Association aims to liberate the working classes.”

The Court of Appeal confirmed the sentence of the penal court and, besides, sentenced the appellants to paying the costs of the hearing. The grounds of the sentence were in substance the same as those of the sentence of the first instance; only the following phrase was new:

“That the danger was aggravated by the enormous power of the organisation and by the broad expansion of its activity.”

In the meantime legal proceedings were also instituted against the nine members of the new Bureau elected in March, and the latter appeared before the penal court on May 22, 1868.

The hearings of the case were similar to those of March the 20th.[437]

The defence was presented by co-defendant bookbinder Varlin. After this workman, too, had dismissed the legal arguments of the prosecution with a logic and insight that would have done credit to any jurist, he went on to portray the moral-political and social-economic side of the case, and here rose to such power of expression and conviction as could only have conic front someone who knew the rightness of the cause and its profound moral justice. He said:

“In our eyes a strike is only a crude means to establish the wage; we use it much against our will for it subjects the workman and his family, to weeks and months of most severe privations without the assurance of finally winning a fan. wage. The International Association has set itself the task of gaining a peaceful settlement to the labour question by studying the economic conditions; but as obstacles are being raised to our studies and the solution of the social question is thereby delayed, we shall frequently have to resort to strikes so as to protect our livelihood.

“But I must touch on yet another point.

“Before the law you are the judges and we are the accused; but before the principles we are two parties – you the party of order at any price, the party, of stability, and we the party of reform, the party of socialism. Let us take all impartial look: what is the social order whose perfections it has been our crime to question? It is eroded to the marrow by inequality, its life is menaced by selfishness, it is being strangled by the iron claws of anti-social prejudices. Despite the declaration of human rights and the short-lived victories of the people’s will, it depends on a handful of rulers whether or not streams of the people’s blood shall be shed in fratricidal battles of nation against nation, of people who languish under the same burdens and who long for the same emancipation.

“Enjoyments exist for but a small minority, which, indeed, indulges in them to the fullest measure and in the most refined manner. The great mass of the people, on the other hand, suffer in misery and ignorance – here groaning under unbearable burdens, there racked by hunger, and languishing everywhere ill the darkness of prejudices and in the superstitious belief that their slaver y can never end.

“If you want particulars, see how the gambling on the stock exchange plays havoc and mischief, how both abundance and hunger are at the will of powerful financiers beside whose mountains of gold there abide ruin and malicious bankruptcy. In industry, unbridled competition holds down the working man and destroys any sensible relationship between production and consumption. A shortage of hands for the necessary, but an abundance of the unnecessary; while millions of poor children go about without a stitch to cover their bodies, shawls of a preposterous price, costing more than 10,000 working days, are displayed at world exhibitions. The working man does not earn enough even for the bare necessities, while the world teems with over-satiated idlers.

“The old world went under because the thorn of slavery stuck in its flesh; if the modern age cares as little for the suffering of the masses, if it forces them to work without respite, to suffer, if it denies them [he necessities so that a few may live in luxury and pleasure, if the modern age refuses to see that such a state of society is altogether outrageous, its end, too, will not be far distant.

W. Palley, from Oxford University, says in the newspaper, La Cooperation, of this May:

“Think of a flock of pigeons in a cornfield. Instead of picking away, ninety-nine of them consume nothing but the straw and chaff, while gathering the corn in a large heap expressly for just one pigeon, often the weakest and the most pitiful of all; this one struts clucking, gorging itself, stamping and spoiling, while the hard-working ones stand in a ring and look on good-naturedly; suddenly one of their number, possibly braver or perhaps hungrier than its brethren, ventures to snap away a grain; now all the rest throw themselves upon the malefactor out of blind submissiveness to pull it about, to recover the plunder, to drive it out of their community.'

“Glance at this picture. You will, of course, find that this cannot occur ill nature, but is repeated a hundredfold every day among human beings who are endowed with reason. The conclusion, however, is twofold. You will conclude therefrom that man stands above animals by virtue of his reason. I say to you, however, that despite his reason man can learn a thing or two fruit] animals!

“Does he not belong to those 99, the creature who is born in misery, who hardly ever sees his mother because she must go to her work, who suffers hunger and cold, is exposed to every possible harm, who grows up in filth and from early childhood contracts the germ of the disease that follows him to his grave? He Is barely eight, has barely gained a minimum of strength, and off he goes to work – to work in thin, unhealthy air, mistreated, doomed to ignorance, and laid open by bad examples to every possible vice. So it proceeds until the child is older. Now, at 20, the lad must leave his parents, who need him, so as to be robbed of his humanity in some soldiers’ barracks or to be shot dead on some battlefield. If he escapes with his life, he may marry (provided he is allowed to do so by the English philanthropist Malthus or the French minister Duchâtel, who happen to think that a workman needs neither wife nor family, that no one forces him to stay alive if he cannot provide for himself). So he marries, and soon poverty, privation, unemployment, disease, and children move into his house. And when now, seeing the misery of his own, he ventures to demand a fair wage, he is tied hand and foot by hunger as ill Preston, shot down as in Charleroi, put behind bars as in Bologna, subjected to a state of siege as in Catalonia, or bundled before a court as in Paris....

“So the wretch trudges on along the road of suffering and humiliation. At a mature age, without a comforting memory of his youth, he is startled to find that old age is creeping up; should he have no family or only a poor one, he will finally die like an evil-doer in an institution for beggars.

“Yet the man produced four times as much as he consumed. What has society done with the surplus? Ask the hundredth pigeon – the one that does nothing at all and lives off the labour of the other 99.

“History shows us that any nation or social organisation that strays off the path of strict justice and follows that of injustice, falls prey. to decay and dissolution; and precisely this is the solace we can derive with certainty, from the lessons of the past at this time of luxury and misery, coercion and slavery, ignorance and stultification, demoralisation and degeneracy, for so long as a human being can starve to death on the threshold of a palace crammed with treasure, the state institutions remain unstable.

“Feel the pulse of our time: you will discover a muted resentment between the class that wants to hang on to everything and the class that wants to regain the fruit of its industry. The crass superstitions which, we thought, had been erased by the 18th century, are coming back to the surface; wanton egoism and dissolution everywhere. Those are signs of decay. The ground is reeling and slipping from under your feet: Beware!

“The class that has so far only appeared on and off on the world stage to perform some great act of justice, suppressed at all times and under all governments, the class of labour, now offers you a means of revival. Be wise and acknowledge its legitimacy; do not interfere with its cause, which is beneficial for all. Only the breath of absolute freedom can clear the an. and drive away the clouds that threaten us....

“Once a class forfeits the moral superiority that put it in power, it must step off the stage if it wants to avoid the atrocities that are the last resort of all perishing regimes. Let the bourgeoisie comprehend that its strivings are not great enough to meet all the needs of the times and that. it can therefore do nothing but dissolve itself in the younger class that is ringing in a powerful political rebirth, equality, and solidarity through freedom.”

The sentence of the court for each of the nine accused was 3 months in prison and a fine of 100 francs; the convicted filed an appeal, which was eventually dismissed.

Apart from its social significance, the French government’s persecution of the International Working Men’s Association has political implications, too. For the first time since the coup d'état of 1852[438] a society existing in France has dared to offer resistance under civil law to criminal prosecution and to claim civil rights for itself which the one who was elected by universal suffrage could not very well deny it through his organs without bringing his many years of flirting with the working class to a sudden end. It is safe to assume that the prosecution originated with Minister of State Rouher. But so great was his embarrassment over the imaginary need for action on political grounds that, while prosecuting the Paris Bureau, he has not dared to dissolve groups of the Association in Lyons, Rouen, Roubaix, Bordeaux, Marseilles, and so on.

The Paris newspaper Le Réveil, organ of Ledru Rollin’s party, refers most approvingly to the behaviour of the members of the Paris Committee.’ It contrasts the political insight and moral superiority of the working class to the intrigues and narrowmindedness of the ruling classes. It makes the following noteworthy observation:

“It is to the union of ideas and sentiments that prevails amongst the working men of the different countries of Europe that we trust for the maintenance of peace. In a few day’s the Congress of the International Association is going to assemble. All the countries of Europe will be represented there, perhaps with the exception of France, and will it be. too much to say that by the wisdom of its resolution,.; this assembly of all the European delegates of labour may become the Amphitryonite council of Europe Yes; if to-morrow, by, mastering the immortal principles of the French revolution, and taking in hand the sacred interests of labour, which comprehend order, security, and liberty, this Congress decreed peace, the word would be received with enthusiasm by all Europe.”

2. Conflict with the Belgian Government

Spurred by the newspapers of the Belgian bourgeoisie, with Indépendance belge at their head, the Belgian government tried to portray the International Working Men’s Association as the instigator of the disturbances in the district of Charleroi.’ The court investigation of the Belgian workers arrested in March soon showed, however, that this charge was groundless and that from the outset it had been nothing but a deliberate and malicious lie.

Nevertheless, in May 1868, Jules Bara, the Belgian Minister of justice and Police, took advantage of the debate concerning the renewal of the law on the expulsion of foreigners[439] in the Belgian Chamber of Deputies viciously to attack the International Working Men’s Association to make of its existence the principal pretext for the proposed renewal of the foreigners’ law, and to go so far as to declare that he would not tolerate the convocation of the next general congress of the Association, which had at its congress in Lausanne appointed it for Brussels on September 7, 1868.

Thereupon, the administrative committees of the Brussels and all the other groups of the International Association in Belgium wrote a joint letter to M. le Ministre, dated May the 22nd, which was printed and made public.’ The letter made clear to the Minister that he had absolutely no say in the matter, and that the Congress would be held in Brussels. The opening passages of this irreverent letter read:

“M. le Ministre, the undersigned send you their thanks for the gr cat service you have rendered their cause by taking it up at a sitting of the Chamber and thereby allowing the parliamentary records to be used for the dissemination of our principles.

“It appears that you scorn us no longer. For a long time your newspapers glossed over in silence the successes of the Association in this country; like the ostrich, you shut your eyes to escape the danger. Yet today you have to consider its a power. You have given us official consecration, and recognise by your attitude that we oppose you as a power ...

“But you are reluctant to admit that you and your like are unpopular in Belgium, and when a foreigner comes to assist our Association you hasten to lay the blame for everything done here at his door.”

Then, having firmly denied the Minister’s insinuations that the movement of the Belgian workers was inspired and led front abroad, the letter went on to say:

“You should be aware, M. le Ministre, that we will not be run by a man any more than by a cask of gin. We are perfectly capable of acting on our own, and our activity is guided exclusively by the striving for justice, which exists in every honourable consciousness. Having barely come into the world, our league already numbers thousands of followers in our country; all of us are of the same opinion, and all of us are firmly determined to go forward to the common goal – the emancipation of labour.

These ideas seem incredible to you, M. le Ministre; listen to a few others.”

Here the Minister was informed in detail of the aspirations of the International Working Men’s Association, and advised to obtain further particulars from the documents of its Congresses. Then the transgressions of the government were put before him; he was reminded of the workers needlessly killed in the Charleroi district, who were dealt death instead of bread. It was recognised that strikes were an insufficient means of improving the working men’s situation; but they were the only legitimate means labour still had to protest against the abuses of capital. In conclusion, the letter said:

“Yes, M. le Ministre of ‘justice’, we want to achieve the triumph of justice which you have betrayed. Yes, we will do so without you, despite you, and against you....

“You have said you would not tolerate our Congress. Surely, you must have been most aroused, M. le Ministre, when you spoke those absurd words.... For example, you have proclaimed the ‘right of assembly’, and we are eager to see what measures you will employ to breach it with impunity.... Despite all your big talk, the Congress is going to take place in Brussels in September.... One last word: you speak of the flash of lightning that we loosen upon Belgium. But it is you yourself who have called it forth by your rigid authoritarian government. The real thunderstorm is there beside you, yet you fail to notice it. –

At its meeting on June 16, 1868, the General Council of the International Association in London confirmed the decision of the Belgian Committee to hold the Congress in Brussels at the appointed time despite the announced opposition of the government. [440]

The administrative committees in France have also sent messages of agreement, declaring their determination to take part in the Congress at Brussels and to defy the consequences.

The Courrier français of Paris commented as follows on the simultaneous attacks on the International Working Men’s Association in Switzerland, France, and Belgium:

“These happenings are very interesting because at this moment the Association is gaining ground on a remarkable scale on the whole of the European continent. Everywhere, reaction is using it as a bit of a scapegoat, and this proves that everywhere it is considered the vanguard of social reformation.