International Workingmen’s Association 1867
Record of Speech by Karl Marx

On the Attitude of The International Working Men’s Association To the Congress of the League of Peace and Freedom

Source: MECW, Volume 20, p. 426;
Delivered: August 13, 1867;
First published: in The Bee-Hive Newspaper, and abridged in The Working Man, August 17, 1867.

The Inaugural Congress of the bourgeois-pacifist League of Peace and Freedom was originally to he held in Geneva on September 5, 1867. The League’s Organising Committee, which had enlisted the support of bourgeois-radical and democratic leaders (John Stuart Mill, the Reclus brothers and others), also counted on the participation in the League’s work of representatives of European proletariat and its international organisation. The Committee consequently invited the sections of the International and its leaders, Marx included, to attend the Congress. At the same time it was decided to postpone the opening of the Congress until September 9, so as to enable delegates of the Lausanne Congress of the International (to be held on September 2-8) to take part.

The International’s attitude towards the League of Peace and Freedom was discussed both by the General Council and the local sections. Unlike the advocates of unconditional support of the League’s activity, in particular the leaders of British trade unions, Marx, in his speech on August 13, 1867 and the resolution he proposed, formulated the principles of the International’s tactics as regards this kind of bourgeois-democratic movement. These principles envisaged the joint struggle with the democrats against the war threat on condition that the proletarian organisation preserves its class independence, and, in opposition to bourgeois-pacifist illusions, takes a revolutionary proletarian approach to the problems of war and peace.

In a letter to Engels of September 4, 1867 Marx wrote about the wide response to his speech. He also pointed out the extremely concise record of his speeches (Eccarius’ report of the Council meeting published in The Bee-Hive Newspaper on August 17, 1867 and pasted into the Minute Book). He went on to say that this record gave only approximate idea of his speech, which lasted half an hour.


While the balloting was going on, Citizen Marx called attention to the Peace Congress to be held in Geneva. He said: It was desirable that as many delegates as could make it convenient should attend the Peace Congress in their individual capacity; but that it would be injudicious to take part officially as representatives of the International Association. The International Working Men’s Congress was in itself a peace congress, as the union of the working classes of the different countries must ultimately make international wars impossible. If the promoters of the Geneva Peace Congress really understood the question at issue they ought to have joined the International Association.

The present increase of the large armies in Europe had been brought about by the revolution of 1848; large standing armies were the necessary result of the present state of society. They were not kept up for international warfare, but to keep down the working classes.[330] However, as there were not always barricades to bombard, and working men to shoot, there was sometimes a possibility of international quarrels being fomented to keep the soldiery in trim. The peace-at-any-price party would no doubt muster strong at the Congress. That party would fain leave Russia alone in the possession of the means to make war upon the rest of Europe, while the very existence of such a power as Russia was enough for all the other countries to keep their armies intact.

It was more than probable that some of the French Radicals would avail themselves of the opportunity to make declamatory speeches against their own Government, but such would have more effect if delivered at Paris.

Those who declined putting their shoulders to the wheel to bring about a transformation in the relations of labour and capital ignored the very conditions of universal peace.

[In the minutes here follow the text of the resolution moved by Marx on this point and the report on its adoption by the Council]

Notes from MECW

330 The brief newspaper report of the General Council meeting does not fully express the views of Marx and Engels on the role of the regular standing armies in the nineteenth century. They are given in greater detail in Engels’ work “The Prussian Military Question and the German Workers’ Party”.