The International Workingmen’s Association, 1870

Confidential Communication on Bakunin

Written: March 28, 1870, (in German) by Marx as the IWMA’s corresponding secretary for Germany, and sent confidentially to Dr. Ludwig Kugelmann – who was then to circulate it to leaders in the German Social-Democratic Workers’ party.

The Russian Bakunin (although I have known him since 1843, I pass over everything that is not absolutely necessary for an understanding of the following) had a meeting with Marx in London shortly after the founding of the International. Marx received him in the International, for which Bakunin promised to work to the best of his ability. Bakunin went to Italy, received there the Provisional Statutes and the Address to the Working Classes, which Marx sent him, replied “very enthusiastically,” and did nothing. After years during which one heard nothing from him, he emerged again in Switzerland, There, he joined not the International but the Ligue de la Paix et de la Liberté [The League of Peace and Liberty, founded 1867 – members included Victor Hugo and Giuseppe Garibaldi]. After the congress of this Peace League (Geneva 1867), Bakunin gets himself elected to its executive committee, but in it he finds opponents who not only do not allow him any “dictatorial” influence but also watch him as a “Russian suspect.” Shortly after the Brussels Congress of the International (September 1868), the Peace League held its congress in bern. This time, B. appeared as a firebrand and – it is to be remarked in passing – denounced the Occidental bourgeoisie in the same tone that the Muscovite optimists use to attack Western civilization in order to minimize their own barbarism. He proposed a series of resolutions which, absurd in themselves, were designed to instill fear in the bourgeoisie cretins and to allow Herr Bakunin to leave the Peace League and to enter the International with eclat. It suffices to say that the program he proposed at the Bern Congress contained such absurdities as “equality” of “classes,” “abolition of the right of inheritance as the beginning of the social revolution,” etc. – senseless prattle, a garland of hollow notions which pretended to be chilling; in short, an insipid improvization designed to achieve a certain monetary effect. Bakunin’s friends in Paris (where a Russian [Grigory Vyrubov] is co-publisher of the Revue Positiviste) and in London publicly announced his withdrawl from the Peace League as an evenement [event] and proclaimed his grotesque program – this olla podrida [spiced-up stew] of polished commonplaces – as something strangely fearsome and original.

In the meantime, B. joined the Branche Romande [Romanish Branch] of the International (in Geneva). It took him years before he decided on this step. But it was only a few days before Herr Bakunin decided to overthrow the International and transform it into his instrument.

Behind the back of the London General Council – which was informed only after everything was seemingly ready – he established the so-called Alliance des Democrates Socialistes. The program of this Alliance was none other than the one B. had proposed at the Bern Peace [League] Congress. Thus, from the outset, the Alliance showed itself to be a propaganda organization of specifically Bakuninist private mysticism, and B. himself, one of the most ignorant of men in the field of social theory, suddenly figures here as a sect founder. However, the theoretical program of this Alliance was pure farce. Its serious side lay in its practical organization. For this Alliance was to be an international one, with its central committee in Geneva, that is, under Bakunin’s personal direction. At the same time it was to be an “integral” part of the International Working Men’s Association. Its branches were to be represented at the “next Congress" of the International (in Basel) on the one hand, and to have its own separate sessions alongside the former on the other hand, etc., etc.

The human material chiefly at Bakunin’s disposal consisted of the then-majority of the Federal Romanish Committee of he International in Geneva. J. Ph. Becker, whose propaganda seal occassionally runs away with his head, was pushed forward. In Italy and Spain, Bakunin had some allies.

The General Council in London had been thoroughly informed. But it quietly let Bakunin go on until the moment when he was forced by J. Ph. Becker to submit the statutes (and program) of the Alliance of Socialist Democracy to the General Council for approval. Thereupon followed a far-reaching decision – entirely “judicial” and “objective,” yet in its “basic considerations” full of irony – which concluded as follows:

  1. The General Council does not admit the Alliance as a branch of the International.
  2. All paragraphs of the statutes of the Alliance which deal with the relationship of the International are declared null and void.

In the basic considerations it was demonstrated clearly and strikingly that the Alliance is nothing but a machine for the disorganization of the International.

This came as an unexpected blow. Bakunin had already transformed L’Égalite, the central organ of the French-speaking members of the International in Switzerland, into his organ; in addition, he founded in Locle a little private journal – Progres. Progres still plays that role under the editorship of fanatical Bakunin follower, Guillaume.

After several weeks of reflection.the Central Committee of the Alliance – under the signature of Perron, a Genevan – finally sent a reply to the General Council. In it, the Alliance, out of zeal for the cause, offered to sacrifice its independent organization, but only on one condition, namely, a declaration by the General Council that it recognizes the Alliance’s “radical” principles.

The General Council replied:

It is not its function to sit in theoretical judgment on the programs of the various sections. Its only task is to see to it that the latter are not in direct contradiction with its Statutes and their spirit. Hence the General Council must insist that the absurd phrase “equality of the classes” be stricken out and replaced by the phrase “abolition of classes” (which was done). For the rest, the members of the Alliance can join the International, after the dissolution of its own independent international organization and after a list of the various branches has been supplied to the General Council (which, let it be noted, was never done).

With this, the incident was closed. The Alliance dissolved itself nominally, but factually continued under the leadership of Bakunin, who at the same time dominated the Geneva Comite Romand Federal of the International. Added to its lists of organs there was the Federacion in Barcelona (and after the Basel Congress, also the Eguaglianza in Naples).

Bakunin then sought to achieve his aim – to transform the International into his private instrument – by other means. Through the Geneva Romanish Committee of the General Council he proposed that the “question of inheritance" be put on the agenda of the Basel Congress. The General Council agreed, in order to be able to hit Bakunin on the head directly. Bakunin’s plan was this: When the Basel Congress accepts the “principles” (?) he proposed in Bern, he will show the world that he has not gone over to the International, but the International has gone over to him. The simple consequence: The London General Council (whose opposition to the rehashing of the St.-Simonist vieillerie [rubbish] was known to Bakunin) must resign and the Basel Congress would move the General Council to Geneva; that is, the International would fall under the dictatorship of Bakunin.

Bakunin put his full conspiracy into motion, in order to assure himself of a majority in the Basel Congress. Even fake mandates were not lacking, such as those of Herr Guillaume for Locle, etc. Bakunin himself importuned mandates from Naples and Lyon. All sorts of calumnies against the General Council were spread. Some were told that it was dominated by the element bourgeois and others that it was the seat of communisme autoritaire.

The result of the Basel Congress is known. Bakunin’s proposal did not go through, and the General Council remained in London.

The anger of this defeat – Bakunin had perhaps tied up a hoped-for success with private speculations in “his heart’s spirit and feeling” – was aired in irritated utterances in L’Égalité and Progres. These papers in the meantime assumed more and more the form of official oracles. Now one and now the other of the Swiss sections [of the International] was put under excommunication because, despite Bakunin’s express instructions, it participated in political movements, etc. Finally the long restrained fury against the General Council broke into the open. Progres and L’Égalité sneered, attacked, declared that the General Council did not fulfill its duties, for example, in connection with the quarterly bulletins; the General Council must rid itself of direct control over England and establish a separate central committee to occupy itself with English affairs; the resolutions of the General Council in regard to the Fenian prisoners were an infringement of its functions, since it is not supposed to concern itself with the local political questions. Furthermore, Progres and L’Égalité took the side of Schweitzer, and the General Council was categorically challenged to declare itself officially and publicly on the Liebknecht-Schweitzer question. The journal Le Travail (in Paris), into which Schweitzer’s Paris friends smuggled articles favorably to him, was praised for this by Progress and L’Égalité, the latter demanding that Le Travail make common cause against the General Council.

Hence the time has come for taking decisive steps. The enclosed is an exact copy of the General Council’s circular to the Romanish Central Committee in Geneva. The document [written in French] is too long to translate into German.

composed around January 1, 1870

In its extraordinary session of January 1, 1870, the General Council resolved:

1. We read in L’Égalité of December 11, 1869:

“It is certain that the General Council is neglecting extremely important matters. We remind the General Council of its obligations under Article I of the Regulations: The General Council is obliged to carry out the decisions of the Congress.... We could put enough questions to the General Council for its replies to make up quite a lengthy document. They will come later.... Meanwhile... etc.”

The General Council does not know of any article, either in the Statutes or in the Rules, which obliges it to enter into correspondence or into polemics with L’Égalité or to provide “answers” to “questions” from any newspapers.

Only the Swiss Romanish Federal Council represents the branch societies in the General Council. When the Federal Council directs questions or reprimands to us, and does it by the only legitimate means – that is, through its secretary – the General Council will always be ready to reply. But the Romanish Federal Council has the right neither to abdicate its functions to L’Égalité and Progres not to permit them to be usurped by these newspapers.

Generally, speaking, the General Council’s correspondence with national and local committees cannot be published without doing great harm to the general interests of the International.

Hence if other organs of the International were to follow the example of Progres and L’Égalité, the General Council would be faced with the alternative of either discrediting itself publicly by its silence or violating its obligations by replying publicly.

L’Égalité joined Progres (a paper which has not hitherto declared itself an organ of the International, and which is also note sent to the General Council) to demand explanations from the General Council. that is almost a League of Public Welfare! [The latter was a feudal association from 1464 France, founded to oppose policies of Louis XI.]

2. Assuming that the questions put by L’Égalité come from the Romanish Federal Council, we are going to answer them, but only on condition that such questions are never put to us again in such a manner.

3. The Question of a Bulletin.

In the Resolutions of the Geneva Congress, which are inserted in the Rules, it is laid down that the national committees shall send the General Council document dealing with the proletarian movement and that the General Council shall thereupon publish them as bulletins in the different languages as often as its means permit. (“As often as its means permit, the General Council shall publish a report, etc.”)

The General Council’s obligation was thus made dependent on conditions which have never been fulfilled. Even the statistical inquiry provided for in the Rules, decided on by conservative general congresses, and requested by the General Council year after year, has never been made. As for means, the General Council would long ago have ceased to exist without the regional contributions from England and the personal sacrifices of its members.

Thus the Rule adopted by the Geneva Congress has remained a dead letter.

In regard to the Basel Congress, it did not discuss fulfillment of these existing Rules, but only the opportunity of issuing a bulletin in good time, and it did not make any resolutions on this. (See German account, published in Basel under the eyes of the congress.)

For the rest, the General Council believes that the basic purpose of the bulletin is at the moment perfectly fulfilled by the various organs of the International published in various languages and exchanged among them. It would be absurd to do by expensive reports what is being done already without cost. Moreover, a bulletin which published what is not printed in the organs of the International would only help our enemies to see behind the scenes.

4. The Question of the Separation of the General Council from the Federal Council of England.

Long before the founding of L’Égalité, this proposal used to be made repeatedly in the General Council by two of its English members. It was always rejected almost unanimously.

Although revolutionary initiative will probably come from France, England alone can serve as the lever for a serious economic revolution. It is the only country where there are no longer any peasants and where landed property is concentrated in a few hands. It is the only country where the capitalist form – that is, labor combined on a large scale under capitalist entrepreneurs – has taken over practically the whole of production. It is the only country where the great majority of the population consists of wage laborers. It is the only country where the class struggle and organization of the working class by the trade unions have attained a certain degree of maturity and universality. It is the only country where, thanks to its domination of the world market, ever revolution in economic relationships must directly affect the whole world. While on the one hand landlordism and capitalism have their classic seat in this country, the material conditions for their destruction are on the other hand the most mature here. The General Council is now in the fortunate position of having its hand directly on this great lever of proletarian revolution, what folly, yea, one might almost say what crime, it would be to let this lever fall into purely English hands!

The English have at their disposal all necessary material preconditions for a social revolution. What they lack is the spirit of generalization and revolutionary passion. Only the General Council can provide them with this, and thus accelerate a truly revolutionary movement here and, in consequence, everywhere. The great successes we have already achieved in this respect are attested by the most intelligent and most eminent newspapers of the ruling classes, such as, for example, the Pall Mall Gazette, the Saturday Review, the Spectator, and the Fortnightly Review, not to mention the so-called radicals in the House of Commons and the House of Lords who until recently still exerted a great influence on the leaders of the English workers. They accuse us publicly of having poisoned and practically stifled the “English spirit” of the working class and of having driven it to revolutionary socialism.

The only way of bringing about this change is to do what the General Council of the International Association is doing. As the General Council, we are able to initiate measures (for example, the founding of the Land and Labor League) which later, after their execution, appear to the public as spontaneous movements of the English working class.

If a Federal Council were to be established outside the General Council, what would be the immediate effects? The Federal Council would find itself placed between the General Council of the International and the General Council of the Trade Unions, and would have no authority. Furthermore, the General Council of the International would have its great lever taken out of its hands. If we preferred noisy quackery to serious action behind the scenes, we would perhaps commit the mistake of replying publicly to L’Égalité’s question why “the General Council permits such a burdensome accumulation of functions".

England should not simply be compared to other countries. It must be considered as the metropolis of capital.

5. The Question of the General Council’s Resolution on the Irish Amnesty.

While England is the bulwark of landlordism and capitalism, Ireland is the only point where the great blow against official England can really be struck.

First, Ireland is the bulwark of English landlordism. If it fell in Ireland, it would also fall in England. In Ireland this is a hundred times easier, because the economic struggle there is concentrated exclusively in landed property, because the struggle there is at the same time a national one, and because the people there are more revolutionary and more embittered than in England. In Ireland, landlordism is maintained solely by the English army. The moment the forced union between the two countries ends, a social revolution will break out in Ireland, even if in outmoded form. English landlordism would not only lose a substantial source of its wealth, but also its greatest moral force – that of representing the domination of England over Ireland. On the other hand, by maintaining the power of their landlords in Ireland, the English proletariat makes them invulnerable in England itself.

Second, the English bourgeoisie has not only exploited the Irish misery to keep down the working class in England by forced immigration of poor Irishmen, it has also divided the proletariat into two hostile camps. The revolutionary ardor of the Celtic worker does not go well with the solid but slow nature of the Anglo-Saxon worker. On the contrary, in all the big industrial centres in England, there is a profound antagonism between the Irish and English proletarians. The average English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers wages and the standard of life. He feels national and religious antipathies for him.

He regards him practically in the same way the the poor whites in the southern states of North America regard the black slaves. This antagonism between the proletarians in England is artificially nourished and kept alive by the bourgeoisie. It knows that this split is the true secret of maintaining its power.

This antagonism is reproduced also on the other side of the Atlantic. The Irish, driven from their native soil by the oxen and the sheep, reassemble in North America, where they constitute a conspicuous and ever-growing section of the population. Their only thought, their only passion, is hatred for England. The English and American governments (that is, the classes they represent) nourish these passions in order to perpetuate the covert struggle between the United States and England, and thereby prevent a sincere and serious alliance between the working classes on both sides of the Atlantic, and, consequently, their emancipation.

Furthermore, Ireland is the only pretext the English Government has for maintaining a large standing army, which in case of necessity, as has happened before, can be loosed against the English workers after getting its military training in Ireland.

Finally, England today is seeing a repetition of what happened on a gigantic scale in ancient Rome. A nation that enslaves another forges its own chains.

The position of the International on the Irish Question is thus clear. Its first task is to hasten the social revolution in England. To this end, the decisive blow must be struck in Ireland.

The General Council’s resolution on the Irish amnesty serves only as an introduction to other resolutions which will affirm that, apart from ordinary international justice, it is a precondition for the emancipation of the English working class to transform the present forced union (that is, the enslavement of Ireland) into an equal and free confederation, if possible, or complete separation, if need be.

For the rest, the naive doctrines of L’Égalité and Progres about the connection, or rather the nonexistence of any connection, between the social and political movements have never, to the best of our knowledge, been recognized by any of our International congresses. They run counter to our Statutes, which state: “That the economical emancipation of the working classes is therefore the great end to which every political movement ought to be subordinate as a means.” The words “as a means” were left out in the French translation made in 1864 by the Paris Committee. When questioned by the General Council, the Paris Committee excused itself by the difficulties of its political position. There are other mutilations of the original text of the Statutes. The first clause of the Statutes reads as follows: “... The struggle for the emancipation of the working classes means... a struggle... for equal rights nd duties, and the abolition of all class rule.” The Paris translation speaks of “equal rights and duties;” that is, it reproduces general phrases found virtually in all democratic manifestoes of the hundred years and differently interpreted by different classes, but omits the concrete demand: The abolition of all class rule. Further, in the second clause of the Statutes one reads: “That the economical subjection of the man of labor to the monopolizer of the means of labor – that is, the sources of life,” etc. The Paris translation substitutes the word “capital” for “the means of labor – that is, the sources of life,” although the latter expression included the land as well as the other means of labor. The original and authentic text was restored in the French translation published as a pamphlet in Brussels by La Rive Gauche in 1866. 6. The Question of Liebknecht-Schweitzer. L’Égalité writes: “Both of these groups belong to the International.” This is false. The Eisenach group (which Proges and L’Égalité would like to transform into Citizen Liebknecht’s group) belongs to the International. The Schweitzer group does not belong to it. Schweitzer even explained at length in his newspaper, Social-Demokrat, why the Lassallean organization could not join the International without destroying itself. He spoke the truth without realizing it. His artificial, sectarian organization stands in opposition to the historical and spontaneous organization of the working class. Progres and L’Égalité have summoned the General Council to declare publicly its “opinion” on the personal differences between Liebknecht and Schweitzer. Since Citizen Johann Phillip Becker (who is slandered as much as Liebknecht in Schweitzer’s paper) is a member of L’Égalité’s editorial board, it seems truly strange that its editors are not better informed about the facts. The should have known Liebknecht, in the Demokratisches Wochenblatt, publicly invited Schweitzer to accept the General Council as arbiter over their differences, and that Schweitzer has no less publicly refused to recognize the authority of the General Council. For its part, the General Council has left no stone unturned to put an end to this scandal. It instructed its secretary for Germany to enter into correspondence with Schweitzer; this has been done for two years, but all efforts by the Council have broken down in the face of Schweitzer’s firm resolve to preserve his autocratic power, together with his sectarian organization, at all costs. It is up to the General Council to determine the favorable moment when its public intervention in this conflict will do more good than harm. 7. Since L’Égalité’s accusations are public and could be considered as emanating from the Romanish Federal Council in Geneva, the General Council is to communication this reply to all committees corresponding with it. By Order of the General CouncilThe French Committee (despite the fact that Bakunin has intrigued mightily in Lyon and Marseilles and has won over a few young hotheads), as well as the Conseil General Belge (Brussels), have declared themselves in entire agreement with the General Council rescript.

The copy for Geneva (because the secretary for Switzerland, Jung, was very busy) has been somewhat delayed. hence it crossed an official statement which Perret, the secretary of the Geneva Romanish Central Committee, sent to the General Council.

For the crisis broke out in Geneva before the arrival of our letter there. Some of the editors of L’Égalité rebelled against the Bakuninist-dictated direction. Bakunin and his followers (among them six Egalite editors) wanted to force the Geneva Committee to dismiss the recalcitrants. But the Geneva Committee had long been tired of Bakunin’s despotism and was reluctant to be dragged in against the General Council, in opposition to the German Swiss Committee. Hence it endorsed the Egalite editors who had displeased Bakunin. Whereupon the six other editors submitted their resignation from the editorial board, hoping thereby to bring the paper to a standstill.

In reply to our communication the Geneva Central Committee stated that Egalite’s attack took place against its wishes, that is had never approved the policy it preached, that the paper would henceforth be edited under strict supervision, etc.

Thereupon Bakunin withdrew from Geneva to Tessin. Now he has control – at least as afar as Switzerland is concerned – only over Progres (Locle).

Soon thereafter, Herzen died. Bakunin, who from the time when he began to pose as the leader of the European labor movement slandered his old friend and patron Herzen, upon the latter’s death immediately began to trumpet his eulogies. Why? Because Herzen, despite his personal wealth, received from the pseudo socialist Pan-Slavic party, which was friendly to him, 25,000 francs annually for propaganda. Through his loud eulogies, Bakunin managed to have this money directed to him and thereby entered into “Herzen’s inheritance” – malgre sa haine de l’heritage [despite his hatred of the right of inheritance] – pecuniarily and morally sine beneficio inventarii [without legal permission of the estate].

At the same time, a young Russian refugee colony settled in Geneva, consisting of students, who were really honest and who showed their honesty by adopting opposition to Pan-Slavism as the main point of their program.

They are publishing a journal, La Voix du Peuple, in Geneva.

About two weeks ago they applied to London, sending in their program and asking approval for the establishment of a Russian branch. The approval was granted.

In a separate letter to Marx, they requested him to represent them provisionally in the General Council. This, too, was accepted. At the same time they indicated – and seemed thereby to want to apologize to Marx – that their next step must be to tear off Bakunin’s mask publicly, because that man speaks two entirely different languages, one in Russia and another in Europe.

Thus the game of this highly dangerous intrigant – at least on the terrain of the International – will soon be played out.