Franz Mehring

Karl Marx:
The Story of His Life

Chapter Thirteen: The International at Its Zenith


1. England, France and Belgium

THE second congress of the International took place in Lausanne from the 2nd to the 8th of September, 1867, shortly after the appearance of the first volume of Capital. Its level was not as high as that of the first congress in Geneva.

Even the appeal issued by the General Council in July, calling for the sending of strong delegations to the congress, was noticeably less interesting in its survey of the third year of the existence and activity of the International. Only Switzerland and Belgium, where a massacre of striking workers in Marchienne had roused the feelings of the proletariat, were able to report steady progress, and for the rest the document complains of obstacles placed in the way of propaganda in various countries by various circumstances. Prior to 1848 Germany had shown a deep interest in social questions, but now it was fully occupied with the question of national unity. Despite the energetic support it had given to the strikes of the French workers, the International had not made the expected progress in France owing to the prevailing lack of freedom. The reference here is to the great lockout of the bronze workers in Paris in the spring of 1867, which had developed into a fight for the right to organize and had ended in a victory for the workers.

England also received a mild rebuke, the appeal pointing out that it was so taken up with the movement for the reform of the franchise that for the moment it had lost sight of economic questions. However, under the pressure of the masses Disraeli had been compelled to grant an even wider franchise than Gladstone had originally intended and now every tenant of a town house received the vote no matter what its annual rental might be. The General Council then expressed the hope that the time had now arrived for the English workers to realize the usefulness of the International. In conclusion it referred to the United States where the workers had won the eight-hour day in a number of States.

Every section of the International, irrespective of its size, was entitled to send a delegate to the congress. Larger sections were entitled to send a delegate for the first five hundred members and a further delegate for every subsequent five hundred. The tasks before the congress were drawn up as follows: I. What practical steps must be taken by the International to create a joint centre for the working class in its struggle for emancipation? and 2. How can the credit given by the working class to the bourgeoisie and the government be used in the interests of the proletarian struggle for emancipation?

This program was very general, and to make matters worse it was not accompanied by any memorandum which might have provided it with a detailed basis. Dupont, a music instrument maker, and Eccarius went to Lausanne as the representatives of the General Council. Dupont was the corresponding secretary for France and a very capable man. In the absence of Jung he took the chair at the congress at which 71 delegates were present. Amongst the German delegates were Kugelmann, F.A. Lange, Louis Buchner and Ladendorff, a good bourgeois democrat but a violent opponent of communism. The Franco-Italian group far outnumbered the Teutonic group and, apart from a few Belgians and Italians, it was composed chiefly of French and Swiss-French delegates.

This time the Proudhonists had prepared themselves more thoroughly and more rapidly than the General Council, and three months before the latter issued its congress appeal they drew up an agenda for the congress containing such points as: mutuality as the basis of social relations, equal compensation for social services rendered, credit and people’s banks, mutual insurance associations, the position of man and woman in society, collective and individual interests, the State as guardian and dispenser of justice, the right to punish, and a dozen similar questions. The result was unholy confusion, but it is not necessary to go into details, because Marx had nothing to do with it all and in any case the decisions, many of them mutually contradictory, adopted by the congress existed on paper only.

The practical work of the congress was more fruitful than its theoretical deliberations. It confirmed the General Council with headquarters in London and decided on an annual contribution of ten centimes per member, determining that the prompt payment of this sum for all members should be an essential condition of the right to send delegates to the annual congresses. It also decided that the social emancipation of the working class was indivisible from political action, and that the fight for political freedom was a preliminary and absolute necessity. It attached such importance to this statement that it decided to repeat it solemnly at every subsequent congress. It also adopted a correct attitude to the bourgeois League for Peace and Freedom, which had recently sprung from the loins of the radical bourgeoisie and shortly afterwards held its first congress in Geneva. All the attempts of the League to secure the support of the workers were answered with the simple statement: we shall support you gladly whenever our own interests can be advanced thereby.

Strangely, this less important congress of the International attracted more attention in the bourgeois world than its predecessor, although it must not be forgotten that the first congress had taken place whilst the reverberations of the Austro-Prussian War were still disturbing Europe. The English press in particular, and above all The Times, for which Eccarius reported, showed a lively interest in the Lausanne congress, although it had completely ignored its predecessor. Naturally, there was no lack of mockery, but nevertheless the bourgeoisie began to take the International seriously. In a letter to Der Vorbote Frau Marx wrote: “When our congress was compared with its step-brother, the Peace Congress, the comparison was always in favour of the elder brother, for the latter was regarded as a serious threat whilst the former was treated as a farce and a burlesque.” Marx consoled himself in a similar fashion, for of course it was impossible for him to feel any satisfaction with the Lausanne debates: “Things are on the move. And without funds! And with the intrigues of the Proudhonists in Paris and of Mazzini in Italy. With the jealous Odger, Cremer and Potter in London, and Schulze-Delitzsch and the Lassalleans in Germany. We are entitled to be very satisfied.” And Engels declared that it was immaterial what the congress decided in Lausanne so long as the General Council remained in London. This was very true, for with the third year of its existence the period of peaceful development ceased and a time of fierce struggles began for the International.

A few days after the conclusion of the Lausanne congress an incident occurred which had far-reaching consequences. On the 18th of September, 1867, armed Fenians held up a prison wagon in which two Fenian prisoners were being transported. They made their attack in broad daylight, broke open the doors of the wagon and released their comrades after having shot dead one of the police escort. The men actually engaged in the coup were never captured, but a number of men were chosen from amongst the masses arrested afterwards and brought before the courts on a charge of murder. The trial was prejudiced from the beginning and no real evidence was produced against the accused, but for all that they were sentenced to death and hanged. The affair caused a great sensation in England, and a “Fenian panic” took place when in December the wall of the prison in Clerkenwell, a London district inhabited almost exclusively by workers and members of the lower middle class, was blown up by Fenians, causing the death of twelve people and wounding over a hundred others.

The International of course had nothing whatever to do with the Fenian conspiracy, and both Marx and Engels condemned the Clerkenwell outrage as a piece of folly which would do the Fenians more harm than anyone else, because it would cool off or perhaps entirely destroy the sympathies of the English workers for the Irish cause, but the way in which the English government treated the Fenians as common criminals, although they were political rebels against shameless and century-old oppression, roused indignation in all revolutionary breasts. Even in June, 1867, Marx had written to Engels: “These revolting swine boast of their English humanity because they do not treat their political prisoners any worse than murderers, footpads, forgers and sodomists.” And Engels was influenced by the additional factor that Elizabeth Burns, to whom he had transferred his affection for her dead sister Mary, was a staunch Irish patriot.

However, the lively interest which Marx showed for the Irish question was caused by something even deeper than sympathy for an oppressed people. His studies had led him to the conclusion that the freedom of the Irish people was a necessary condition for the emancipation of the English working class, on which, in its turn, the emancipation of the European proletariat depended. He felt that the overthrow of the English landed oligarchy would be impossible so long as it held such a strongly entrenched position in Ireland. Immediately the Irish people took charge of its own destiny, elected its legislators, appointed its government and became autonomous, the destruction of the landed artistocracy, which consisted for the most part of English landlords, would be much easier than in England, because in Ireland it was not merely an economic, but a national question. In England the landlords were the traditional dignitaries, but in Ireland they were the bitterly hated representatives of national oppression. With the disappearance of the English troops and the English police from Ireland an agrarian revolution would take place.

As far as the English bourgeoisie was concerned, it had a common interest with the English aristocracy in turning Ireland into a mere pasture-land to provide the English market with meat and wool at the lowest possible prices. But apart from that it had still more important reasons for desiring the continuation of the existing Irish regime. Owing to the steadily increasing concentration of tenant farming, Ireland provided a steady surplus of its population for the English labour market, thus depressing wages and the material and moral position of the English working class. In all the industrial and commercial centres of England the working class was divided into two hostile camps: the English workers on the one hand and their Irish fellow workers on the other. The ordinary English worker hated the Irish worker as a competitor, and felt himself superior as a member of a dominant race, thus becoming a tool of the aristocrats and capitalists against Ireland and at the same time strengthening the dominance of those classes over himself. The English worker harboured religious, social and national prejudices against the Irish worker and regarded him much in the same way as the “poor whites” regarded the “Nigger” in the former slave States of the Union. On the other hand, the Irish worker paid him back in his own coin and with interest. He regarded the English worker at once as the accomplice and the stupid tool of English dominance in Ireland. The Impotence of the working class in England, despite its organization, was rooted in this antagonism, which was artificially kept alive by the press, the pulpit and the comic papers, in short by every means at the disposal of the ruling classes.

Further, the evil was kept alive on the other side of the Atlantic where the antagonism between the English and Irish prevented any honest and effective co-operation between the working classes of England and America. The most important task of the International was to accelerate the development of the social revolution in England, the metropolis of capital, and the only means to this end was to secure the independence of Ireland. The International must come out openly on the side of Ireland on every possible occasion and the General Council must make it its special task to convince the English workers that the national independence of Ireland was not merely a question of abstract justice and human sympathy, but the preliminary condition for their own social emancipation.

In the years that followed Marx devoted all his energies to this task. Just as he regarded the Polish question (which had disappeared from the agenda of the International since the Geneva congress) as a lever for the overthrow of Russian dominance, so he regarded the Irish question as a lever for the overthrow of English world dominance. His attitude was not affected by the fact that it offered the “intriguers” in the working-class movement who were anxious to become members of the next Parliament (he counted even Odger, the President of the General Council, amongst them) an excuse for joining the bourgeois Liberals; for, in the hope of securing office again, Gladstone was exploiting the Irish question as an election slogan and it had become one of the burning questions of the day. The General Council organized a petition to the English government against the execution of the three convicted Manchester Fenians, naturally without success, and condemned the executions as legal murder, and it also organized public meetings in London in support of the Irish cause.

This activity gave offence to the English government and it was seized upon by the French government for an attack upon the International. For three years Bonaparte had watched the development of the International without interfering with it, hoping thereby to frighten the refractory bourgeoisie. When the French members of the International opened a bureau in Paris, they informed the Prefect of Police and the Minister of the Interior, but these two dignatories did not even acknowledge the receipt of the letters. However, there had been minor pieces of sharp practice and trickery on the part of the authorities. The Geneva congress of the International sent its minutes to the General Council in the hands of a born Swiss who had become a naturalized Englishman, it being unwilling to trust its documents to the tender mercies of Bonaparte’s cabinet noir, but on the French frontier they were pilfered by the police, and the French government remained deaf to all protests. However, the Foreign Office in London took up the case and the thieves were then compelled to disgorge their booty.

The Emperor’s confidant, Rouher, was snubbed by the International when he declared that he would allow the publication of a manifesto drawn up by the French delegates to the Geneva congress only on condition that “a few words of thanks to the Emperor, who had done so much for the workers, should be inserted.” This was refused, although the general policy of the French members of the International was to avoid as far as possible giving any offence to the lurking beast, knowing full well that it was only biding its time, an attitude which caused the bourgeois radicals to suspect them of being camouflaged Bonapartists.

Some French writers assert that they permitted this suspicion to provoke them into giving their support to one or two tame proclamations which the radical bourgeoisie issued against the Empire, hut this is unimportant, for the reasons which caused Bonaparte to break openly with the working class lay much deeper. The strike movement which followed on the devastating crisis of 1866 developed to an extent which seriously disturbed him, and then, in the spring of 1867, when war with the North German League threatened on account of the Luxemburg dispute, the workers, under the influence of the International, exchanged peace addresses with the workers of Berlin, and finally, the French bourgeoisie was making such an ear-splitting noise with its demand for “Vengeance for Sadowa” that the denizens of the Tuileries conceived the brilliant notion of stopping the noise with “liberal” concessions.

In these circumstances Bonaparte imagined that he would be killing two birds with one stone when he prepared a blow against the Paris bureau of the International under the pretext that it was the centre of a Fenian conspiracy: The homes of the members of the bureau were raided without warning and in the dead of night, but naturally, not the faintest vestige of any conspiracy was found, and in order to prevent Bonaparte’s discomfiture from covering him with public ridicule nothing remained but to take proceedings against the arrested men for being members of an unauthorized society of more than twenty members. On the 6th and 20th of March 15 members of the International were tried and found guilty. They were fined 100 francs each and the bureau was declared dissolved. An appeal against the verdict proved fruitless.

However, before the appeal had been heard new proceedings had been commenced. The public prosecutor and the court itself had treated the accused with unusual consideration whilst Tolain had defended them and himself with great moderation, but two days after the opening of the trial a new bureau had been formed and this defiant and open mockery robbed Bonaparte of his last illusions. On the 22nd of May nine members of this bureau were hauled before the courts and after a brilliant and caustic defence by Varlin they were sentenced to three months’ imprisonment each. With this the real relations between the Empire and the International were clearly revealed and the French section of the latter won new strength from this final and open breach with the December butcher.

The International also came to grips with the Belgian government. The mine-owners in the Charleroi Basin goaded their miserably paid workers into revolt by persistent chicanery and then let loose the armed forces of the State against them. In the panic-stricken reign of terror which followed the International championed the cause of the brutally maltreated workers. It made their case known to the general public in the press and at public meetings; it supported the dependents of the killed and wounded workers, and provided the arrested men with legal assistance which subsequently secured their acquittal.

The Belgian Minister of Justice, de Bara, launched a flood of fierce abuse against the International in the Belgian Chamber and threatened repressive measures, including the prohibition of the next congress of the International, which had been arranged to take place in Brussels. However, these threats did not intimidate the Belgian members of the International and they answered the Minister in a defiant open letter which concluded with the assurance that the next congress of the International would take place in Brussels whether the Minister of Justice liked it or not.



2. Switzerland and Germany

The most effective lever of the great forward movement made by the International in these years was the general wave of strikes which swept over all the more or less developed capitalist countries as a result of the economic crash in 1866.

The General Council was in no way responsible for the outbreak of these strikes, but it supported the strikers with advice and assistance, and it mobilized the international solidarity of the proletariat in their favour. In this way the International deprived the capitalist class of a very effective weapon, and employers were no longer able to check the militancy of their workers by importing cheap foreign labour. Still further, the International recruited self-sacrificing allies from amongst the unconscious auxiliaries of the common enemy. Wherever its influence was felt it sought to convince the workers that their own interests demanded that they should support the wage struggles of their foreign comrades.

This activity of the International proved to be of permanent value and won it a European reputation far in excess of the real increase in its power. The bourgeois world either would not or could not realize that the origin of the strike wave must be looked for in the miserable situation of the workers, and it therefore sought to explain the strikes as the result of the secret machinations of the International. In consequence the latter developed into a demoniacal monster which the bourgeoisie sallied out to destroy in every strike struggle. Each big strike quickly became a struggle around the International, and from each strike the International emerged with increased power.

Typical struggles of this kind were the strike of the building workers in the spring of 1868 in Geneva and the strike of the ribbon weavers and silk dyers which broke out in the autumn of the same year in Basle and continued until the following spring. The strike of the building workers in Geneva began with a demand for higher wages and a shorter working day, but the employers soon altered its character by demanding that the workers should sever all connections with the International as the preliminary condition to the conclusion of any agreement. The striking workers immediately rejected this piece of insolence, and thanks to the assistance which the General Council secured on their behalf in England, France and other countries they were able to carry through their original demands. In Basle capitalist arrogance played a still more brutal game. The ribbon weavers of a factory in the town were informed that this year they would not be granted the few hours holiday which they had enjoyed traditionally for many years on the last day of the autumn fair, and that any workers who took time off despite the warning would be instantly dismissed. A section of the workers insisted on their traditional rights, and the next day they were turned away from the factory gates by the police, despite the fact that they were entitled to fourteen days’ notice. This piece of capitalist brutality and insolence aroused the workers of Basle, and a struggle began which lasted many months and culminated in an attempt on the part of the Cantonal government to intimidate the workers with military measures, including the imposition of regulations amounting practically to martial law.

The aim of this fierce attack soon proved to be an attempt to destroy the International. The capitalists did everything possible to crush the workers, from brutalities such as the eviction of strikers’ families from their homes and the stopping of credit at the shops, to such ludicrous measures as the despatch of an emissary to London to investigate the financial sources of the International. “If these good and orthodox Christians had lived in the early days of Christianity they would have instituted inquiries concerning the banking account of the apostle Paul in Rome,” jested Marx, following up a comparison made by The Times between the sections of the International and the early Christian communities. Despite all the efforts of the capitalists, the workers of Basle remained staunch to the International, and when they finally won the victory, they celebrated it with a great procession through the town and a mass meeting on the market square. They received generous support from the workers in other countries, and the effects of their struggle were felt even in the United States, where the International was beginning to establish a firm footing; F.A. Sorge, one of the fugitives of 1848 and a teacher of music in New York, obtained a position in this city similar to that of Johann P. Becker in Geneva.

Above all, the strike opened the way for the International in Germany, where it had possessed only isolated groups. After difficult struggles and much confusion the Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein had developed into a solid organization and it continued to make very satisfactory progress, particularly after Schweitzer had been elected its leader. Schweitzer was a member of the North German Reichstag for Elberfeld-Barmen whilst his old opponent Liebknecht was a member for Stollberg-Schneeberg. Thanks to their opposing attitudes on the national question, they very quickly came to grips in the Reichstag. Like Marx and Engels, Schweitzer accepted the situation which had been irrevocably created by the Battle of Königgrätz, whilst Liebknecht obstinately opposed the North German League as a product of lawless and infamous violence, and as a creation to be destroyed ruthlessly even if it were necessary to abandon for the moment the social aims of the working class in the process. In the autumn of 1866, Liebknecht helped to found the Saxon People’s Party which adopted a radical-democratic, but not a socialist program, and in 1868 he issued the Demokratisches Wochenblatt in Leipzig as the organ of this party, which recruited its members chiefly from the ranks of the workers, differing happily in this respect from the German People’s Party, which, apart from a handful of honest intellectuals like Johann Jacoby, consisted chiefly of Frankfort stock-exchange democrats, Swabian particularist republicans and those elements whose moral indignation had been aroused at the wanton violation of legality committed by Bismarck when he brusquely dismissed a few of the pocket princes. A more agreeable neighbour was the Association of German Workers Organizations, which had been founded by the progressive bourgeoisie immediately after Lassalle began his agitation and as a counterblast to it. However, the very fact that it fought against the Lassalleans forced it to the left, and this tendency was strengthened by the election to the chairmanship of the association of August Bebel, in whom Liebknecht found a loyal ally.

In the very first number of the Demokratisches Wochenblatt Liebknecht referred to Schweitzer as a man who had been disavowed by all the pioneers of the social democratic cause, but on the whole this attack was rather stale and ineffective because Schweitzer had not let himself be disturbed for one moment by the rebuff he had received three years before from Marx and Engels, but had steadfastly pursued his aim of leading the German working-class movement in the spirit of Lassalle whilst not permitting it to degenerate into an orthodox sect slavishly subject to the literal word of the master. Schweitzer had done his best to make the first volume of Marx’s Capital known to the German workers, and he had done so earlier and more thoroughly than Liebknecht. In April, 1868, he even approached Marx for advice concerning the reduction of import duties on iron which the Prussian government was planning.

The mere fact that Marx was the corresponding secretary of the General Council for Germany would have been sufficient to compel him to answer any questions put to him by the parliamentary representative of the workers of a big industrial constituency, but in addition he had in the meantime come to quite another conclusion concerning Schweitzer’s activities. Although Marx could see things only from a distance, he did not fail to recognize “the intelligence and energy” with which Schweitzer led the working-class movement, and at the meetings of the General Council he invariably referred to him as a man of the party and never mentioned their differences.

Even now there were still enough differences between them. Neither Marx nor Engels had fully abandoned their personal mistrust of Schweitzer, and although they no longer suspected him of intriguing with Bismarck they did suspect that his approaches to Marx were chiefly intended to oust Liebknecht. Above all, neither of them could quite get rid of the idea that the Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein was a “sect” and that Schweitzer wanted “his own working-class movement,” but for all that, they always recognized that Schweitzer’s policy was far better than that of Liebknecht.

Marx declared that Schweitzer was undoubtedly the most intelligent and the most energetic of all the workers’ leaders in Germany and that only through Schweitzer was Liebknecht compelled to remember the existence of a working-class movement independent of the petty-bourgeois democrats. Engels was of a very similar opinion and declared that the “fellow” understood and could explain the general political situation and the attitude of the workers to other parties much better than anyone else. “He declared that compared with us all other parties represented a reactionary mass whose differences were hardly of any weight for us! He recognizes, it is true, that 1866 and its consequences ruined the princelets, undermined the principle of legitimacy, shook the reaction to the core and brought the people into movement, but – now – he is attacking the other consequences, tax impositions, etc., and he conducts himself far more correctly,’ as the Berliners say, towards Bismarck than does Liebknecht towards the ex-princes.” Referring to Liebknecht’s tactics on another occasion, Engels declared that he was sick and tired of being told again and again, “we must not make any revolution until the Federal Diet, the blind Guelph and the worthy Elector of Hesse have been restored, and just but merciless vengeance wrought on the Godless Bismarck.” Engels was guilty of a certain amount of impatient exaggeration here, but at the same time there was a great deal of truth in what he said.

At a later date Marx declared that at one time it had been supposed that the development of Christian mythology under the Roman Empire had been possible only because of the absence of the printing press, but to-day exactly the contrary was true. The daily papers and the telegraph spread their inventions over the whole world in a trice and invented more myths in a single day (myths which the bourgeois donkeys believed and passed on) than would have been possible previously in a century. A particularly striking confirmation of this observation is the fact that for decades credence was attached (and not only by “bourgeois donkeys”) to the myth that Schweitzer had tried to sell the German working class to Bismarck, and that it had been saved thanks only to the intervention of Liebknecht and Bebel.

The exact contrary is true. Schweitzer championed a fundamental socialist standpoint, whilst the Demokratisches Wochenblatt flirted with the particularist supporters of the “ex-princes” and with the liberal corruptionist regime in Vienna in a fashion which it was impossible to justify on socialist grounds. In his memoirs Rebel declares that the victory of Austria over Prussia would have been desirable because the revolution could have more easily disposed of an internally weak State like Austria than of an internally strong State like Prussia, but this is an afterthought and, quite apart from the value of this idea, not a trace of any such standpoint can be found in the literature of the day.

Despite his personal friendship with Liebknecht and his personal mistrust of Schweitzer, Marx did not fail to realize the true state of affairs. His answer to Schweitzer on the question of the iron import duties is marked with cautious reserve in the form, but it is exhaustive and objective in content. Schweitzer then did a thing he had suggested three years before. At the General Meeting of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein which took place in Hamburg at the end of August, 1868, he proposed affiliation to the International. In view of the anti-combination laws the affiliation was to take the form of a declaration of sympathy with the aims of the International and not to be a formal organizational tie. Marx was invited to attend the General Meeting to receive the thanks of the German workers for his scientific services to the working-class cause, and a preliminary inquiry made by Schweitzer was answered in a friendly spirit by Marx who, however, did not attend the meeting in the end despite Schweitzer’s urgent invitation.

In a letter of thanks for the “honour” done him he excused himself on the ground that the preparations of the General Council for the forthcoming congress of the International in Brussels prevented his leaving London, and at the same time he observed “with pleasure” that the agenda of the General Meeting contained those items which were essential as the starting point of any serious workingclass movement: agitation for full political rights, the legal regulation of the working day, and systematic international working-class co-operation. Writing afterwards to Engels Marx declared that in this letter he had really congratulated the Lassalleans on having abandoned Lassalle’s program, but frankly, it is difficult to see what possible objection Lassalle could have had to the three points mentioned.

The real breach with the traditions of Lassalle was made by Schweitzer himself at the General Meeting, when in the teeth of violent opposition and only by threatening to resign he succeeded in obtaining a mandate for himself and his Reichstag colleague Fritzsche to call a general congress of the working class in Berlin at the end of September with a view to forming an all-embracing working-class organization for the purpose of conducting strikes. Schweitzer had learned from the European strike movement. He did not over-estimate its importance, but he realized that a working-class party which wished to remain worthy of its tasks could not possibly let the strikes which were breaking out everywhere with elementary violence degenerate into unorganized confusion. He therefore did not hesitate to found trade unions, though he failed to realize the particular conditions of their existence and wished to organize them as strictly as the Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein itself and more or less as mere auxiliary organizations of the latter.

Marx warned him in vain against committing this serious error. All the letters written by Schweitzer to Marx are still available, but only one from Marx to Schweitzer, though it is probably the most important, namely the letter of the 13th of October, 1868. This letter shows a friendly consideration for Schweitzer’s point of view, and its form is irreproachable. It marshals the most important objections to Schweitzer’s scheme of trade union organization, but it weakens its own case by referring to the organization founded by Lassalle as a “sect” which must finally decide to merge itself into the general working-class movement. In his answer, the last letter he wrote to Marx, Schweitzer replied with justice that he had always done his best to keep pace with the general working-class movement in Europe.

A few days after the General Meeting of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein in Hamburg, the Association of German Workers Organizations held its congress in Nuremberg. This congress also proved able to read the signs of the times and its majority adopted the main passages from the Rules of the International as a political program and the Demokratisches Wochenblatt as its organ, whereupon the minority withdrew and disappeared forever. After this the majority rejected a proposal for old age pensions on an insurance basis under State control in favour of one for the establishment of trade associations, on the ground that experience had shown that such associations were best suited to administer old age pensions, health benefits and support for travelling journeymen. This argumentation in favour of the founding of trade unions was not so vigorous as the appeal made by the Hamburg congress to the class struggle between capital and labour which was expressing itself in a wave of strikes. The Hamburg congress justified its affiliation to the International on the grounds that all working-class parties had joint interests, whereas the Nuremberg congress was much less clear and energetic in its attitude. A few weeks later the Demokratisches Wochenblatt announced in heavy print that the congress of the German People’s Party in Stuttgart had decided to adopt the Nuremberg program.

However, the Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein and the Association of German Workers Organizations had come closer to each other, and Marx did his best as a neutral mediator between Liebknecht and Schweitzer to bring about the unification of the German working-class movement, though he did not succeed. With an empty pretext the Nuremberg Association refused to send delegates to the trade union congress called by Schweitzer and Fritzsche in Berlin, but the congress was well attended and led to the formation of numerous “workers’ clubs” which were co-ordinated in a “Workers’ Union” led by Schweitzer.

The Nuremberg Association then began to form what it rather pompously called “International Trade Co-operatives,” on the basis of statutes drawn up by Bebel which were far more in accordance with the needs of trade union life than Schweitzer’s proposals, and afterwards it offered to negotiate with the other organizations with a view to securing unity, but this offer was brusquely rejected. The Nurembergers were informed that they were responsible for the disunion and that they could save themselves the trouble of establishing the unity they had prevented. If they were really serious in their desire for unity they could affiliate to the Workers’ Union and work within its ranks for any changes they might think desirable.

Marx was unable to prevent the disruption of the German working-class movement, but still, the support given by both tendencies to the International represented a gain. The International was now beginning to mark down the spheres of its influence everywhere, though here and there its limits were still hazy. Marx considered moving the headquarters of the General Council from London to Geneva. The annoyance caused by the French section in London had something to do with his attitude. This section was not numerically very strong, but it made a lot of noise and caused the International particular embarrassment by its loud applause of the pitiful clown Pyat, who was advocating the assassination of Louis Bonaparte. Naturally the General Council did its best to curb this folly, and its “dictatorship” was dramatically denounced by the section, which also began to prepare an attack on the Council at the coming congress of the International in Brussels.

Fortunately Engels strongly advised Marx against taking such a dangerous step, declaring that after all, merely because a pack of fools were making themselves a nuisance, it was not possible to hand over the leadership of the movement to men who, for all their goodwill and natural instinct, were not cut out for the role of leadership. The bigger the movement became, and particularly now that it was making progress in Germany, the more important it was that Marx should keep the reins in his hands. And it was not long before it was demonstrated, precisely in Geneva, that good-will and mere instinct were certainly not sufficient in themselves.



3. Bakunin’s Agitation

The third congress of the International took place in Brussels from the 6th to the 13th of September, 1868.

It was better attended than any other congress either before or afterwards, but it was strongly local in character, more than half of those present being from Belgium. About one-fifth of the delegates came from France. Eleven delegates represented England, six of them being members of the General Council, including Eccarius, Jung, Lessner and the trade unionist Lucraft. Eight delegates were present from Switzerland but from Germany only three, including Moses Hess of the Cologne section. Schweitzer had received an official invitation but was unable to attend owing to the fact that legal business required his presence in Germany. Instead he sent a message declaring the agreement of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein with the aims of the International and explaining that formal affiliation was prevented only by the anti-combination laws of Germany. Italy and Spain sent one representative each.

The more vigorous life of the International in the fourth year of its existence made itself very definitely felt in the proceedings of the congress. The resistance which the Proudhonists had offered to trade unionism and strikes at the Geneva and Lausanne congresses had almost turned into its contrary; yet they still clung to their old ideas of “free credit” and the “exchange bank,” and succeeded in securing the adoption of an academic resolution in their favour although Eccarius demonstrated the practical impossibility of these Proudhonist remedies on the basis of English experience, whilst Hess demonstrated their theoretical untenableness on the basis of Marx’s reply to Proudhon twenty years earlier.

In the “property question” the French delegates suffered complete eclipse. At the proposal of de Paepe a long resolution on the subject was adopted demanding that a well-organized system of society should take over and administer the mines and the railways in the interests of the whole of society, i.e., a new State based on canons of justice, and that until that time they should be run by companies of workers affording the necessary guarantees to society as a whole. The land and the forests were also to be taken over by the State and entrusted to similar companies of workers offering the same guarantees. And finally, all canals, roads, telegraphs, and in short all the means of transport and communication were to become the common property of society as a whole. The French delegates protested violently against this “primitive communism,” but all they could secure 6 was an agreement that the next congress, which it was decided should take place in Basle, should discuss the question anew.

We have Marx’s word that he had no part in drawing up the resolutions of the Brussels congress, but he was not dissatisfied with the proceedings. First of all the congress followed the example of the Hamburg and Nuremberg congresses and thanked him in the name of the international proletariat for his scientific work on its behalf, a fact which afforded him both personal and political satisfaction, and secondly the attack launched by the French section in London against the General Council was repulsed. However, a resolution proposed by the Geneva section and adopted by the congress to the effect that threatening wars should be warded off by general strikes, by a general strike of the peoples, he described as “nonsense,” but he approved of a decision to break off relations with the League for Peace and Freedom, which held its second congress a little while later in Berne. The League proposed an alliance to the International, but it received the terse answer from Brussels that there seemed no obvious reason for its continued existence and that the best thing it could do would be to liquidate itself and advise its members to join the various sections of the International.

The idea of this alliance was supported chiefly by Michael Bakunin, who had been present at the first congress of the League for Peace and Freedom in Geneva and had joined the International a few months before the Brussels congress. When the International rejected his proposal for an alliance between the two organizations he did his best to persuade the Berne congress of the League for Peace and Freedom to advocate the destruction of all States and the establishment on the ruins of a federation of free productive cooperatives of all countries. However, he was in the minority at the congress of the League also, together with Johann Philipp Becker and others, and with this minority he then founded the International Alliance of Socialist Democracy. This body was to join the International without reservation in order to work within it to further the study of all political and philosophic questions on the basis of the great principle of the general and moral equality of all human beings throughout the world.

The coming of the Alliance was announced by Becker in the September number of Der Vorbote and its aim was declared to be the formation of sections of the International in France, Italy and Spain and wherever it had influence, but it was three months later, on the 15th of December, 1868, that Becker formally requested the General Council to accept the Alliance into the International, and in the meantime this request had been made to and rejected by the French and Belgian Federal Councils. A week later, on the 22nd of December, Bakunin wrote to Marx from Geneva: “My dear friend, I understand more clearly than ever now how right you were to follow the great path of economic revolution, inviting us to go with you and condemning those of us who frittered away our energies in the by-paths of partly national and occasionally wholly political ventures. I am now doing what you have been doing for the last twenty years. Since my solemn and public breach with the bourgeoisie at the Berne congress I know no other society and no other environment than the world of the workers. My Fatherland is now the International, to whose prominent founders you belong. Yell see therefore, my dear friend, that I am your pupil, and I am proud of it. So much for my attitude and my personal opinions.” There is no reason to doubt the honesty of these assurances.

A rapid and fundamental grasp of the relations between the two men can be gained from a comparison between Marx and Proudhon made several years later by Bakunin at a time when he was already in violent opposition to Marx: “Marx is a serious and profound economic thinker and he has the tremendous advantage over Proudhon of really being a materialist. Despite all his efforts to free himself from the traditions of classical idealism, Proudhon remained an incorrigible idealist all his life, swayed at one moment by the Bible and the next by Roman law (as I told him two months before he died) and always a metaphysician to his fingertips. His great misfortune was that he had never studied natural science and never adopted its methods. He possessed sound instincts and they fleetingly showed him the correct path, but, misled by the bad or idealist habits of his intellect, he fell back again and again into his old errors. Thus Proudhon became a permanent contradiction, a powerful genius and a revolutionary thinker who fought ceaselessly against the illusions of idealism but never succeeded in defeating them for good.” Thus Bakunin on Proudhon.

He then proceeded to describe the character of Marx as it appeared to him: “As a thinker Marx is on the right path. He has set up the principle that all religious, political and legal developments in history are not the cause but the effects of economic developments. That is a great and fruitful idea, but not all the credit for it is due to him. Many others before him had an inkling of it and even expressed it in part, but in the last resort credit is due to him for having developed the idea scientifically and having made it the basis of his whole economic teachings. On the other hand, Proudhon understood and appreciated the idea of freedom better than Marx. When not engaged in inventing doctrines and fantasies, Proudhon possessed the authentic instinct of the revolutionary; he respected Satan and proclaimed anarchy. It is quite possible that Marx will develop an even more reasonable system of freedom than did Proudhon, but he lacks Proudhon’s instinct. As a German and a Jew, he is authoritarian from head to heels.” So much for Bakunin on Marx.

The conclusion which he drew for himself from this comparison was that he incorporated the higher unity of both these systems. He thought he had developed the anarchist system of Proudhon, freed it from all doctrinaire, idealist and metaphysical dress, and given it a basis of materialism in science and of social economics in history, but he was sadly deceiving himself. He developed far beyond Proudhon, possessing a far wider European education and understanding Marx far better, but unlike Marx he had neither gone through the school of German philosophy thoroughly, nor closely studied the class struggles of the Western European peoples. And above all, his ignorance of economics was even more damaging to him than ignorance of natural science had been to Proudhon. This deficiency in Bakunin’s education was due to the fact that his revolutionary activities had caused him to spend many of the best years of his life in Saxon, Austrian and Russian prisons and in the icy wastes of Siberia, but as honourable as this explanation is, it did not make the deficiency any the less serious.

The “Inner Satan” was at once his strength and weakness, and what he meant with this favourite expression of his has been explained aptly and in noble words by the famous Russian critic Bielinsky: “Michael is often guilty and sinful, but there is something in him which outweighs all his deficiencies – that is the eternally active principle which lives deep within his spirit.” Bakunin was a thoroughly revolutionary character and like Marx and Lassalle he possessed the gift which caused men to listen to his voice. It was no mean achievement for a penniless fugitive with nothing but his indomitable will to have laid the basis of the international working-class movement in a number of European countries, in Spain, Italy and Russia. However, it is only necessary to mention these countries in order to realize the difference between him and Marx. Both men observed the approaching revolution, but whereas Marx realized that the industrial proletariat, which he had studied in Germany, France and England, was the backbone of the revolution, Bakunin thought to snatch the victory with the masses of the declassed youth, the peasantry and even the slum proletariat. Although he recognized Marx’s superiority as a scientific thinker, in his own actions he fell back again and again into errors which were typical of “the revolutionaries of past generations.” He accepted his fate and consoled himself with the reflection that although science might be the compass of life, it was not life itself and only life could create real things and beings.

It would be folly and at the same time an injustice both to Marx and Bakunin to judge their relations solely on the basis of the irreconcilable quarrel in which these ended. It is of far more value politically, and particularly psychologically, to trace how they were drawn to each other again and again only to fall asunder throughout the course of thirty years. Both began their revolutionary careers as Young Hegelians and Bakunin was also one of the founders of the Deutsch-Franzosische Jahrbücher. When the breach took place between Marx and Ruge, Bakunin supported Marx against his old patron, but later on when he was able to see at first hand in Brussels what Marx meant by communist propaganda he was horrified, and a few months later he enthusiastically supported Herwegh’s adventurous volunteer crusade into Germany only to realize the folly of the venture and acknowledge his error openly.

Soon afterwards, in the summer of 1848, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung accused him of being a tool of the Russian government, but its subsequent reparation for an error into which it had been led by two independent sources was magnanimous enough to satisfy Bakunin completely. Marx and Bakunin met again in Berlin and renewed their old friendship, and when Bakunin was expelled from Prussia the Neue Rheinische Zeitung championed his cause energetically. His subsequent Pan-Slav agitation came in for severe criticism, but an introductory remark declared, “Bakunin is our friend,” pointed out that he was acting from democratic motives and granted that his self-deception in the Slav question was very understandable. And for the rest, Engels, who was the author of this article, was wrong in his chief objection to Bakunin’s propaganda, for the Slav peoples then under Austrian domination have since proved that they did in fact possess the historical future which Engels denied them. Bakunin’s revolutionary participation in the Dresden insurrection was appreciated by Marx and Engels sooner and more enthusiastically than by anyone else.

Bakunin was taken prisoner during the retreat from Dresden and twice sentenced to death, first by a Saxon and then by an Austrian court-martial. In both cases the sentence was commuted to lifelong hard labour and in the end he was extradited to Russia where he spent many terrible years in the fortress of St. Peter-Paul. During his incarceration an idiotic Urquhartite again brought forward the exploded accusation that Bakunin was an agent of the Russian government and declared in an article in The Morning Advertiser that he was in fact not in prison at all. The same paper was then compelled to publish letters of protest from Herzen, Mazzini, Ruge and Marx. An unfortunate coincidence was the fact that Bakunin’s slanderer was also called Marx and this became known to a few people although he obstinately refused to abandon his public anonymity. This coincidence was later exploited by the sham revolutionary Herzen to launch a shameful intrigue. In 1857 Bakunin was sent from the St. Peter-Paul fortress to Siberia and in 1861 he succeeded in making his escape over Japan and the United States to London where Herzen persuaded him that Marx had denounced him in the English press as a Russian spy during his imprisonment. This was the beginning of that infamous scandal-mongering which caused much of the trouble between the two men.

Bakunin had been completely isolated from European life for over a decade and it is therefore understandable that on his arrival in London he first sought contact with Russian fugitives of the Herzen type, though fundamentally he had little in common with them. Even in his Pan-Slavism, as far as it is possible to give his aims such a name, Bakunin always remained a revolutionary, whereas Herzen was in reality playing the game of Tsarism under a mildly liberalist mask with his attacks on the “degenerate West” and his mystic cult of the Russian village community. it is nothing against Bakunin that he maintained friendly personal relations with Herzen up to the latter’s death, for Herzen had been of assistance to him in his youthful troubles. The political breach between the two was brought about by Bakunin in 1866 in a letter to~Herzen reproaching him for wanting a social transformation without a political one and for being prepared to forgive the State everything provided it left the Russian village community intact, because this was the basis of Herzen’s hopes for the regeneration not only of Russia and the Slav countries, but of the whole world. Bakunin subjected this fantasy to annihilating criticism.

However, after his successful Eight from Siberia he stayed in Herzen’s house and was thus kept from any contact with Marx. Despite this fact he translated The Communist Manifesto into Russian and secured its publication in Herzen’s Kolokol. This was typical of him.

During Bakunin’s second stay in London, at the time when the International was founded, Marx broke the ice and visited him. He was able to assure Bakunin truthfully that far from having been the originator of the slander, he had expressly opposed it. After this explanation the two parted as friends. Bakunin was enthusiastically in favour of the plan for an international working-class organization, and on the 4th of November Marx wrote to Engels: “Bakunin sends you his greetings. He left for Italy to-day, where he is now living (Florence). I must say that he impressed me favourably, more so than formerly ... On the whole he is one of the few people I have met during the past sixteen years who have progressed and not retrogressed.”

The enthusiasm which Bakunin felt for the cause of the International did not last very long and his stay in Italy soon awakened “the revolutionary of a past generation” in him. He had chosen Italy to live in on account of its agreeable climate and its cheapness, but also for political reasons and because both France and Germany were closed to him. He regarded the Italians as the natural allies of the Slavs in the struggle against Austrian oppression, and whilst he was still in Siberia the exploits of Garibaldi had stirred his imagination. His first conclusion from these exploits was that the revolutionary movement was once again resurgent. In Italy he found numerous political secret societies, a declassed intelligentsia prepared to plunge at a moment’s notice into all sorts of conspiratorial adventures, a mass of peasants always on the verge of starvation, and finally an eternally seething slum proletariat. This latter was particularly strongly represented by the Lazzaroni of Naples, where Bakunin went to live after a short stay in Florence. These classes appeared to him as the real driving forces of the revolution and he regarded Italy as the country in which the social revolution was probably nearest, though he was soon compelled to recognize his error. Mazzini’s propaganda was still the dominant factor in Italy and Mazzini was an opponent of socialism. The sole aim of his vague religious battle-cries and of his strictly centralized movement was to secure a united bourgeois republic.

During the years he spent in Italy Bakunin’s revolutionary agitation took on a more definite form. Owing to his lack of theoretical knowledge, his surplus of intellectual agility and his impetuous desire for action, he was always very strongly under the influence of his environment. The politico-religious dogmatism of Mazzini drove Bakunin to stress his own atheism and anarchism and his denial of all State authority. And on the other hand, the revolutionary traditions of those classes which he regarded as the pioneers of the general transformation of society greatly influenced his own inclination to indulge in secret conspiracies and local insurrections. Bakunin therefore founded a revolutionary socialist secret society which was composed chiefly of Italians in the beginning and aimed at combating “the disgusting bourgeois rhetoric of Mazzini and Garibaldi,” but which soon extended its influence internationally.

In the autumn of 1867 he moved to Geneva, where he first tried to influence the League for Peace and Freedom in favour of his secret society, and when he failed to do so he did his best to secure the acceptance of its affiliation to the International, an organization about which he had not bothered his head for four years.


Last updated on 27.2.2004