International Workingmen’s Association 1866
Source: Documents of the First International. The General Council of the First International, 1864-1866. The London Conference 1865. Minutes, published by the Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, for the Centenary of the First International in 1964, pp. 355-356;
Written: for the Central Council of the International, and signed by H. Jung.
First published: in L'Echo de Verviers, February 20, 1866.
Translated: from the French.
On December 16 and 18, 1865 the Belgian democratic newspaper L'Echo de Verviers, Nos. 293 and 294, published an anonymous article which gave a distorted picture of the Central Council’s activities and the work of the London Conference of 1865. Its author was the French petty-bourgeois republican Pierre Vesinier, a refugee in Belgium and the spokesman for petty-bourgeois elements in the French branch in London who opposed Marx and the Central Council. This branch was founded in the autumn of 1865 and included, besides petty-bourgeois refugees (Le Lubez, FéIix Pyat and others), proletarian elements (Eugène Dupont, Hermann Jung and Paul Lafargue) who later broke away from its petty-bourgeois wing.
Vésinier’s article was discussed in the Central Council on December 26, 1865 and on January 2 and 9, 1866. On the instructions of the Council, Vesinier’s slanderous attacks were refuted by Hermann Jung, who was helped by Marx to write a letter to the editor of L'Echo de Verviers.
We count upon your sense of justice and your desire “to spread the truth and the light among the working classes” in asking you to publish the following letter, a copy of which has been sent to Citizen V. [Pierre Vésinier]
L'Echo de Verviers published an article, in its issue No. 293 of December 16, 1865, ostensibly aimed at explaining to working men the spirit that animates the members of the Central Council of the International Working Men’s Association. Citizen Le Lubez, who presented it to the Council (as he had been instructed to do), recognised that the article, although anonymous, was from your pen.
After long discussion, the Central Council at its meeting on January 9, 1866, adopted the following resolution:
“Citizen V. is expected to provide evidence for the facts he has cited; if he refuses or is incapable of doing so, he shall be expelled from the International Working Men’s Association”
Since your article departs completely from the truth, the Central Council regards it as its duty to restore the full facts. The Central Council is aware of its mission, and of the mandate entrusted to it; it will not refute slander with slander, nor lies with lies. It will not stoop to personal accusations but will let the accused vindicate themselves. It will not be deterred by any obstacles, and despite false friends, it will leave no spot or blemish on its reputation.
Particularly noteworthy are the following passages:
“Before long all the French and Italian members resigned on account of the presence of Messrs. Tolain and Fribourg in the Committee, and their intrigues” (Echo de Verviers, No. 293).
Of the nine French members, only two withdrew, namely, Messrs. Denoual and Le Lubez, the latter returning shortly afterwards. As for the Italians, one of them (Citizen Wolff) gave as the reason for his resignation, not “the presence of Messrs. Tolain and Fribourg in the Committee, and their intrigues”, but a Central Council resolution concerning Citizen Lefort’ proposed by the Sub-Committee, for which he himself had voted, a few hours earlier, as a member of the Sub-Committee.
“The Committee continued to function without them, and has done so to this day” (Echo de Verviers, No. 293).
Of the two French members who withdrew, Citizen Le Lubez, former secretary for France, returned shortly afterwards as the delegate from the Deptford section; consequently, the Committee did not function without him for long.
“It (the Committee) published an Address and Provisional Rules, the former being from the pen of an eminent publicist of Latin race, etc.” (Echo de Verviers, No. 293).
The Address and the Rules were published prior to the withdrawal of the two French members and the Italian members. The Address is not from the pen of an eminent publicist of Latin race, but of a writer of Teutonic race [Giuseppe Mazzini and Karl Marx]. The Address was adopted unanimously by all the members of the Central Council, including the French and the Italians, even before the publicist of Latin race had acquainted himself with it. So far from being its author, had he acquainted himself with it, he would have urged the Italian members to oppose it because of its anti-bourgeois character. But, having arrived too late, all he could do was to prevent the Italian Members from translating it into Italian. It is evident that you have never read this Address, and the eminent publicist of Latin race will not thank you for attributing it to his pen.
Has it (the Committee) pursued the aim it has set itself – the complete emancipation of the working people?
“No. Instead, it has wasted a precious year to call a conference and work out the programme of the congress that is to take place in Geneva, etc.” (Echo de Verviers, No. 293).
The Central Council hardly began to function till around 1865. This means that nine months passed before the conference was held. It spent these “precious” nine months to establish international relations and extend its contacts in Britain. Every week, for a period of several months, deputations composed of Council members were sent to various working men’s societies to induce them to join the Association. Here is the result: at the time of the conference the International Working Men’s Association numbered 14,000 members in Britain; among the affiliated societies were such important organisations as the Shoemakers’ and Operative Bricklayers’ societies; the most influential and noted men of these large working men’s organisations (trades unions) were members of the Central Council; a newspaper had been founded whose very title (The Workman’s Advocate) indicates its mission, a newspaper which always and everywhere defends the interests of the working class.
The association for universal suffrage (the Reform League) was founded in Britain, an association which has thousands of members and whose secretary [George Howell], as well as most of the members of its Executive Council, have been elected from our midst.
In France we have several thousand supporters.
In Paris there is a strong, active and irreproachable Administration with over two thousand members; there are branches in Lyons, Rouen, Nantes, Caen, Neufchâteau, Pont-I'Eveque, Pantin, St. Denis, Lisieux, Puteaux, Belleville, etc., etc., etc.
In Switzerland – an administration in Geneva, made up of the finest people, with 500 members, and branches in Lausanne, Vevey, Montreux and the Neuchâtel canton.
In Belgium the movement was taking shape under the most auspicious circumstances, and the Central Committee had reason to believe that it would not be long before Spain followed suit.
“No, it (the Committee) did not invite to its conference in September 1865 even a single delegate from Germany, where there are so many working men’s societies, nor from the numerous British societies, nor from the Italian societies, which are so well organised, nor from those existing in France, for Tolain, Fribourg & Co. are not delegates of any society of French working men – they delegated themselves; they did not provide any proof of being invested with any mandate. Far from being delegates of French working men’s associations, their very presence was the sole reason why the latter did not send delegates to the London Conference. We could name several associations which refused for this reason to attend, etc., etc.” (Echo de Verviers, No. 293).
In principle, representation at the conference was restricted to the sections of the International Working Men’s Association and to the societies which had subscribed to its principles; moreover, the state of our finances impelled us to limit the number of delegates to the barest minimum.
In the case of Germany, “where there are so many working men’s societies”, the only ones that could have been represented were the consumers’ societies, founded by Schulze-Delitzsch, and the Lassallean societies, the General Association of German Workers. The former – whose membership is unaware of the fact – are merely a tool of the Prussian liberal bourgeoisie, with Schulze-Delitzsch as one of its matadors; the Lassallean societies were, and still are, in a state of complete disintegration, one group having entered into a coalition with Bismarck, while the other, which had not yet reconstituted itself, recognised as its leader J. Ph. Becker, the Swiss delegate to the conference. While the conference was in session, he received a mandate from the workers of the Solingen factories, – and he also represented the German Society in Geneva – the German Workers’ Educational Society. The German Society in London (German Workers’ Educational Society) was represented by its delegates to the Central Council.
Apart from the obstacles which working men encounter in forming societies in Germany, the law also prohibits them from joining foreign societies. Nevertheless, several sections have been formed in the North and South of Germany.
In view of all these difficulties, is it so very surprising that Germany was not represented as well as the Central Council would have liked?
The British societies were very well represented by the British members of the Central Council: Odger, the President, is Secretary of the Trades Council (supreme council of all the British trades unions); Cremer, the General Secretary, is a member of the Carpenters’ Executive Committee; Howell, Secretary of the Reform League and a member of the Operative Bricklayers’ Executive Committee, and Coulson, Secretary of the latter society, are both delegates from it to the Central Council; Wheeler, general manager of a mutual life insurance company, is a member of the Central Council.
The shoemakers (5,500 members) were represented by Odger, Morgan and Cope, while Shaw represented the house-painters, etc., etc.
Citizen Wolff, who attended the Italian working men’s congress at Naples in 1865, and the other Italian members of the Council, did not succeed in winning a single supporter in Italy, although they took a very active part in the work of the Central Council. The Central Council deplores the fact that the Italian members did not, even before they withdrew, enjoy sufficient confidence with “the Italian societies, which are so well organised”, to persuade at least one of them to join the International Association.
“Not a single delegate from those [societies] existing in France, for Tolain, Fribourg & Co. are not delegates of any French society – they delegated themselves”.
The members of the Lyons section regretted that the lack of funds had prevented them from sending delegates, but like those of the Caen and Neufchâteau sections, they sent a manifesto, thereby taking part in the work of the Central Council.
Tolain, Fribourg, Limousin and Varlin had been elected by general vote in the Paris section; this section is composed of workers of all trades as well as several hundred members of the Crédit au Travail association. Beluze, who heads the association, is also a member of the section. All of them took, or could have taken, part in the election of the delegates. Limousin, one of the four Paris delegates, is secretary of the Board of the newspaper l'Association, international organ of the co-operative societies.
Mr. Clariol was delegated by the Printers’ Society of Paris. On the invitation of the Central Council, Messrs. Schily, Dumesnil-Marigny and others came from Paris to attend the conference, in which they took a very active part.
Which are the other societies that you say were prevented by the presence of Tolain, Fribourg & Co. from sending delegates to the conference? Are you referring to the Society of December 10,300 the only one permitted by the present French regime?
The report on the conference appeared in all the liberal newspapers of Paris without giving rise to a single complaint or a single objection on the part of the members of the International Association or the French co-operative societies. The mandate given to the delegates had been verified and approved by the Sub-Committee of the Central Council.
At the very beginning of the conference the Paris delegates presented a detailed and faithful report on the activities of their Administration and the state of their finances, and corroborated it by putting their books and the whole of their correspondence at the disposal of the Central Council. The Central Council may congratulate itself on the effective steps taken by the Paris Administration to establish and propagate the International Association in France.
“Belgium sent a very able delegate, Citizen De Paepe, but he was the only representative from that country, which numbers many associations” (Echo de Verviers, No. 293).
It is regrettable that Belgium sent only one delegate and that this delegate was the one to represent the least number of electors. Nevertheless, that country was fittingly represented in the person of César De Paepe.
“Switzerland, or rather Geneva, sent two delegates who are not Swiss, namely, a French refugee and another from Baden, who arrived for the conference together with the two supposedly French delegates mentioned above – altogether five or six persons of the same brand, and one real and serious delegate, the Belgian” (Echo de Verviers, No. 293).
The Swiss delegates [F. Dupleix and J. P. Becker] had been elected by general vote by all the members of the various sections of the International Association in Switzerland, the Grütli Society,’ which is entirely Swiss, and the German Society.
The German Workers’ Educational Society, too, participated in the election through its representatives in the International Association’s organisation in Switzerland. By the choice of their delegates, the Association’s Swiss members have won an honourable place in the history of the International Association.
The Swiss delegates arrived at the conference, not “together with the two supposedly French delegates”, but with the four Paris delegates.
Citizen Becker, one of the conference delegates, has been a naturalised Swiss for more than twenty years. He was made a citizen of the town of Bienne in recognition of his services to the cause of world democracy. A working man himself, he became distinguished as an agitator, soldier, organiser and writer. He has always used his manifold talents for the cause of the working people. It is ridiculous to see pygmies assailing such giants, whose merits, clearly, may be judged only by men who are themselves known for their probity and disinterested attitude.
“We ask: is that a satisfactory result?” (Echo de Verviers, No. 293).
The Central Council is composed almost exclusively of workmen who are used to handling hammers and files, and it is only at the price of personal sacrifice that they can change them for the pen. Whenever they turn to the pen, they do so to defend or promote a noble cause, and not to sell themselves to Bonapartism. If the result is not as satisfactory as workers in general would have liked it to be, we are convinced that they will take into account the evenings spent working after a long and exhausting day of labour, and the anxiety which their brothers had to experience before they achieved the present state of affairs.
“Yielding to pernicious influences, questions such as the abolition of Russian influence in Europe that bear no relation to the aims of the Association, were included in the programme of the Geneva Congress” (Echo de Verviers, No. 294).
What are the pernicious influences to which the Central Council yielded by including in its programme the question of the need to do away with Muscovite influence in Europe (not Russian influence, which means an entirely different thing)? The need to “do away with Muscovite influence in Europe” is recognised in principle by our Inaugural Address, which was certainly not published under anyone’s pernicious influence.
What are the other questions included in the programme as a result of pernicious influences?
“This enormous mistake has already had fatal consequences; the Poles have demanded en masse to be admitted into the Committee, and they will soon command a vast majority on it – (Echo de Verviers, No. 294).
The Poles did not demand en masse to be admitted into the Central Council, and far from commanding a vast majority on it, they form less than one-twentieth of it.
How can one reason with a writer who says:
“The Committee drew up and put to the vote a programme of twelve points covering nearly all the more general problems of political economy, but did not pose a single scientific question”,
and who, a few lines further down, recognises, without even pausing for breath, “the scientific importance” of the very same questions?
The Central Council, far from being exclusive, has always sought to benefit by the knowledge and culture of all sincere friends of the working people’s cause; it has been doing all in its power to promote its great principles and to unite the workers of all countries. To this end, it has founded three newspapers in Switzerland: Journal de l'Association Internationale des Travailleurs and La Voix de l'Avenir, published in French, and The Forerunner (Vorbote), published in German; and one in Britain, The Workman’s Advocate, the only English newspaper which, proceeding from the right of the peoples to self-determination, recognises that the Irish have the right to throw off the English yoke.
The Central Council cannot pass Judgement on its own actions. The Geneva Congress will decide whether the Council is worthy of the trust placed in it, or whether it has abandoned lightly the noble goal set before it.
I remain, Sir, your faithful servant,
For the Central Council of
the International Working Men’s Association
February 15, 1866