Franz Mehring

Karl Marx:
The Story of His Life

Chapter Thirteen: The International at Its Zenith


4. The Alliance of Socialist Democracy

Marx continued to harbour feelings of friendship for the old revolutionary Bakunin and he opposed various attacks which were made or planned against Bakunin amongst his, Marx’s, immediate circle.

The originator of these attacks was Sigismund Borkheim, an honest democrat to whom Marx was indebted in connection with the Vogt affair and other matters. Borkheim had two weaknesses: first of all he thought himself a brilliant writer, which he was not, and secondly he suffered from an eccentric hatred of the Russians, a hatred which was no less intense than Herzen’s equally eccentric hatred of the Germans.

Herzen was Borkheim’s pet aversion whom he belaboured thoroughly in a series of articles which appeared at the beginning of 1868 in the Demokratisches Wochenblatt shortly after its appearance. Although at that time Bakunin had already broken with Herzen politically, he was attacked by Borkheim as one of Herzen’s “cossacks” and pilloried with him as an “indestructible negation.” Borkheim had read in one of Herzen’s articles that years before Bakunin had made “the peculiar observation” that “active negation is a creative power,” and in his moral indignation Borkheim asked rhetorically whether such an idea had ever occurred to anyone on the European side of the Russian frontier, adding that it would be laughed out of court by thousands of German schoolboys. The worthy Borkheim was unaware that Bakunin’s often quoted declaration, “the lust for destruction is a creative lust” came from an article in the Deutsche Jahrbücher published at a time when Bakunin moved in Young Hegelian circles and co-operated with Marx and Ruge in founding the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher.

It is easy to realize that Marx regarded this and similar efforts with secret horror, and that he opposed Borkheim tooth and nail when the latter proposed to use Engels’ articles against Bakunin in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung as the basis for his own gibberish because he felt that they “suited his own book so splendidly.” Marx insisted that if the articles were used at all they must not be used insultingly, because Engels was an old personal friend of Bakunin, and when Engels supported Marx, Borkheim abandoned his plan. Johann Philipp Becker also wrote to Borkheim asking him not to attack Bakunin, but he received a petulant reply in which Borkheim declared, “with his usual delicacy,” as Marx wrote to Engels, that he was prepared to continue his friendship for Becker and also his financial support (not very considerable, by the way) but that in the future politics must be avoided in their correspondence. With all his friendship for Borkheim Marx found that the former’s “Russophobia” had taken on dangerous dimensions.

Marx’s feelings of friendship for Bakunin were not affected by the fact that the latter took part in the congresses of the League for Peace and Freedom. The first congress of the League had already taken place in Geneva when Marx sent a copy of the first volume of his Capital to Bakunin with a personal dedication. Receiving no word of thanks, he made inquiries of a Russian emigrant in Geneva, to whom he had written on another matter, concerning his “old friend Bakunin,” although he already harboured a faint doubt as to whether Bakunin was still his friend or not. The answer to this indirect inquiry was Bakunin’s letter of the 22nd of December in which he promised to follow along the path which Marx had been pursuing for twenty years.

On the day Bakunin wrote this letter the General Council had already decided to reject the request of the Alliance of Socialist Democracy, forwarded through Becker, for permission to affiliate to the International. Marx was the prime mover in this rejection. He had known of the existence of the Alliance, which had been announced in Der Vorbote, but he had regarded it up to then as a still-born local growth and not of any importance. He knew Becker as an otherwise reliable comrade, but inclined to indulge in organizational dabblings. Becker forwarded the program and the statutes of the Alliance and declared in an accompanying letter to the General Council that the Alliance was anxious to make good the lack of “idealism” in the International.

This unfortunate observation caused “great wrath” amongst the members of the General Council “and particularly amongst the French,” as Marx wrote to Engels, and the rejection of the application of the Alliance was decided on immediately. Marx was instructed by the General Council to write the letter conveying its decision in the matter. The letter which he wrote to Engels “after midnight” on the 18th of December to obtain the latter’s advice indicates that he himself was somewhat indignant about the affair. “Borkheim was right this time,” he added. He was exercised not so much by the program of the Alliance as by its statutes. The program declared above all that the Alliance was atheist. It demanded the abolition of all religions, the replacement of belief by science, and of divine justice by human justice. It then demanded political, economic and social equality for all classes and all individuals of both sexes, and a beginning was to be made with the abolition of the right of inheritance. It further demanded that all children of both sexes should receive equal opportunities for development from birth on, that is to say, material care and education on all fields of science, industry and the arts. And finally the program condemned all forms of political activity which did not aim directly at securing the victory of labour over capital.

Marx’s verdict on this program was not a flattering one. A little while afterwards he referred to it as “an olla podrida of worn-out platitudes, an empty rigmarole, a rosary of pretentious notions to make the flesh creep, a banal improvisation aiming at nothing more than a temporary effect.” In theoretical matters the International was prepared to tolerate much, for its historical task was to develop a joint program for the international proletariat out of its practical activity. For this very reason its organization was of paramount importance as the preliminary condition for all successful practical activity, and the statutes of the Alliance made dangerous encroachments precisely on this field.

The Alliance declared itself a branch of the International and accepted all its general statutes, but it wanted to remain a separate organization. Its founders set themselves up in Geneva as a provisional central committee. National offices were to be opened in each country and to form groups everywhere, which should then be affiliated to the International. At the annual congresses of the International the representatives of the Alliance, as a branch of the International, proposed to hold their own public sessions in a special room.

Engels decided immediately. Acceptance was impossible. The result would be two General Councils and two congresses. At the first opportunity the practical General Council in London would find itself at loggerheads with the “idealist” General Council in Geneva. For the rest, he advised coolness in dealing with the matter. Any violent rejection would excite the very numerous Philistines amongst the workers (particularly in Switzerland) and do the International harm. One should reject the application of the Alliance calmly and firmly, and point out that it had chosen a special field for its activities and that the International would wait and see what success it had. In the meantime there was no reason why the members of the one association should not also be members of the other if they wanted to. His verdict on the program of the Alliance was very much like Marx’s. He had never read anything so miserable in his life. Bakunin must have become a “perfect donkey,” an observation which indicated no particular resentment against Bakunin, or at least no more than when Marx referred to his old and loyal friend Becker as “an old confusionist.” In their private correspondence the two friends made generous use of such hearty invective.

In the meantime Marx had calmed down and he drew up the decision of the General Council refusing permission for the Alliance to affiliate to the International in a form to which no objection could be taken. An indirect sally at Becker was contained in the statement that actually a number of the founders of the Alliance had already settled the question by their co-operation as members of the International in the adoption of the decision of the Brussels congress not to amalgamate with the League for Peace and Freedom. The main reason given for the negative decision of the General Council was that to accept the affiliation of a second international body existing both inside and outside the International would be the best means of destroying the organization.

It is very unlikely that Becker fell into a great rage when he received the decision of the General Council. More credible is the statement of Bakunin that he was opposed from the beginning to the formation of the Alliance, but was out-voted by the members of his secret society. He had wished to maintain this secret society, whose members were to work within the International for the aims of the society, and he had wished for the immediate affiliation of the organization to the International in order to prevent all rivalries. In any case the central committee of the Alliance in Geneva answered the refusal of the General Council with an offer to turn the sections of the Alliance into sections of the International, if the General Council would recognize the theoretical program of the Alliance.

In the meantime Marx had received Bakunin’s friendly letter of the 22nd of December, but by this time his suspicions had been so aroused that he disregarded this “sentimental entree.” The new proposal of the Alliance also aroused his mistrust; nevertheless he did not permit himself to answer it in any but a thoroughly objective fashion. At his proposal the General Council decided on the 9th of March, 1869, that it was not within its province to examine the theoretical programs of the various workers’ organizations affiliated to the International. The working class in various countries was at various stages of development and in consequence their practical activity found theoretical expression in varying forms. Joint action, which was the aim of the international, the exchange of ideas between the various sections of the International and finally the direct discussions at the annual congresses, would gradually result in the development of a joint theoretical program for the whole of the working-class movement, but for the moment the task of the General Council was to determine only whether the general tendency of the various programs was in accordance with the general tendency of the International, that is to say, the struggle for the complete emancipation of the working class.

In this connection, the decision pointed out, the program of the Alliance contained a phrase which was open to dangerous misunderstanding: political, economic and social equality for all classes when taken literally meant nothing but harmony between capital and labour such as was preached by bourgeois socialists. The real secret of the proletarian movement and the great aim of the International was rather the destruction of all classes. However, as the context indicated, the phrase concerning “the equality of the classes” was probably due to a slip of the pen, and the General Council had no doubt that the Alliance would be prepared to abandon this dangerous phrase and then there would be no obstacle to the transformation of its sections into sections of the International. When this was finally done the General Council, according to the Statutes of the International, should be informed of the place and the membership figures of all new sections.

The Alliance then altered the phrase objected to by the General Council and announced on the 22nd of June that it had dissolved itself and called upon its sections to transform themselves into sections of the International. The Geneva section of the Alliance, which was led by Bakunin, was accepted into the International by a unanimous vote of the General Council. Allegedly Bakunin’s secret society had also dissolved itself, but it continued to exist in a more or less loose form and Bakunin himself continued to work for the program which the Alliance had set itself. From the autumn of 1867 to the autumn of 1869 he lived on the shores of the Lake of Geneva, sometimes in Geneva and at others in Vevey or Clarens, and won considerable influence amongst the Franco-Italian Swiss workers.

He was supported in his activity by the peculiar circumstances in which these workers lived. In order to understand the situation it is necessary to remember that the International was not an organization with a definite theoretical program, but one which tolerated all sorts of tendencies within its fold, as the General Council had pointed out in its letter to the Alliance. A glance through the columns of Der Vorbote will show that even such a zealous and meritorious pioneer of the International as Becker never bothered himself unduly about theoretical questions. And in fact there were two very different tendencies in the Geneva sections of the International. On the one hand there was the fabrique, as the highly-skilled and well-paid workers of the jewelry and watchmaking industries were called in the Geneva dialect. These workers were almost exclusively of local origin. And on the other hand there was the gros metiers, which consisted chiefly of building workers, almost exclusively foreign-born, mostly German, which were forced to fight one strike after another to maintain tolerably decent working conditions. The former possessed the franchise and the latter did not, but the numbers of the fabrique were not sufficient for them to hope for electoral successes on their own and in consequence they were very much inclined to make electoral compromises with the bourgeois radicals. The workers of the gros metiers were subjected to no such temptation and they were much more in favour of direct revolutionary action of the kind propagated by Bakunin.

Bakunin found an even more favourable recruiting field amongst the watchmakers of the Jura. These workers were not highly-skilled men engaged in the luxury trades, but chiefly domestic workers whose already miserable conditions of life were being threatened by American mass production. They were scattered in little villages all over the mountains and little suited to a mass movement with political aims. In addition they had been made shy of politics by a number of unfavourable experiences. The first man to agitate amongst them for the cause of the International was a doctor named Coullery, an honest man of humanitarian instincts, but politically hopelessly confused. He had led these workers into electoral alliances not only with the bourgeois radicals, but even with the monarchist liberals in Neuchâtel, in which the workers had invariably got the worst of the bargain. After Coullery had been completely discredited in their eyes, the workers of the Jura found a new leader in James Guillaume, a young teacher in the industrial centre of Locle, who had thoroughly assimilated their ideas, issued a little paper entitled Le Progres and preached an ideal anarchist society in which all men would be free and equal. When Bakunin went into the Jura for the first time he found the ground thoroughly prepared for his seed, but the poor devils there probably had a greater effect on him than he had on them, for from that time onward his condemnation of all forms of political activity became stronger than ever.

For the moment, however, peace reigned in the Franco-Italian Swiss sections of the International and in January. 1869, chiefly at Bakunin’s instance, they formed a joint federal council and issued a fairly influential weekly newspaper entitled l’Egalite, to which Bakunin, Becker, Eccarius, Varlin and other prominent members of the International contributed. It was Bakunin who persuaded the federal council to put forward the question of the right of inheritance for discussion at the next congress of the International in Basle. He was perfectly within his rights in doing so, for it was one of the chief tasks of the congress to discuss such questions and the General Council immediately agreed.

Marx, however, regarded the action as a challenge from Bakunin and as such he welcomed it.



5. The Basle Congress

The fourth congress of the International took place on the 5th and 6th of September in Basle and the International reviewed the fifth year of its existence.

It had proved the most lively year of all and had been shaken by “the guerrilla fights between capital and labour,” strikes which the ruling classes of Europe began to explain more and more not as the result of the misery of the proletariat or the despotism of capital, but as the result of the secret machinations of the International.

In consequence the brutal lust to smash the International by force of arms grew rapidly. Even in England bloody collisions took place between striking miners and the military. In the mining district of the Loire drunken soldiery staged a blood-bath near Ricamarie and twenty people were shot down, including two women and a child. Once again Belgium distinguished itself most horribly, “the model State of continental constitutionalism, the comfortable, carefully-fenced paradise of landowners, capitalists and priests,” as it was called in a powerful appeal drawn up by Marx and issued by the General Council to the workers of Europe and the United States on behalf of the victims shot down in Seraing and in the Borinage by the ruthless fury of the profit-hunters. “The earth completes its annual revolution no more certainly than the Belgian government its annual slaughter of the workers,” declared Marx.

The bloody seed ripened into the harvest of the International. In the autumn of 1868 the first elections took place in England on the basis of the reformed franchise, but the results confirmed the warnings which Marx had given the workers against the one-sided policy of the Reform League. Not a single workers’ representative was elected. The “big money-bags” were victorious and Gladstone again came to the helm, but he had no intention of bringing about a thorough settlement of the Irish question or redressing the just complaints of the trade unions, and as a result the New Unionism caught fresh wind in its sails.

At the annual congress of the trade unions which took place in Birmingham in 1869 an urgent appeal was issued to all working-class organizations in the United Kingdom to affiliate to the International, not only because the interests of the working class were everywhere the same, but because the principles of the International were calculated to secure permanent peace amongst the peoples of the world. In the summer of 1869 war had threatened between England and the United States, and an address was drawn up by Marx to the National Labour Union in the United States declaring: “It is now your turn to prevent a war whose inevitable result would be to throw back the advancing working-class movements on both sides of the Atlantic.” The address met with a lively echo in the United States.

In France also the cause of the working class was making good progress and the police persecutions had the usual result of recruiting new supporters for the International. The helpful intervention of the General Council in numerous strikes led to the formation of trade unions which could not be suppressed, no matter how obviously the spirit of the International lived in them. The workers took no part in the elections of 1869 by putting forward candidates of their own, but they supported the candidates of the extreme bourgeois left, which came forward with a very radical election program. In this way the workers contributed at least indirectly to the heavy defeat which Bonaparte suffered, particularly in the big towns, although the fruits of their efforts fell for the moment into the lap of bourgeois democracy. The Second Empire began to creak ominously and from outside it received a heavy blow as the result of the revolution which took place in Spain in the autumn of 1868 and drove Queen Isabella from the country.

The course of development in Germany was somewhat different, for there Bonapartism was still advancing and not yet on the decline. The national question split the German working class and this split represented a great obstacle to the progress of the developing trade union movement. Thanks to his wrong policy in the trade union agitation Schweitzer had slithered into a situation which he could no longer control. The baseless attacks which were continuously directed against his personal honesty caused even some of his own followers to doubt him and he was ill-advised enough to endanger his reputation, which had not been seriously damaged, by a little coup d’etat.

A minority in the Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein therefore turned its back on the organization and amalgamated with the Nuremberg associations into a new Social Democratic Party, whose members became known as the Eisenachers, owing to the fact that their inaugural congress took place in Eisenach. In the beginning both factions fought each other violently, but they took up more or less the same attitude towards the International. They were in agreement in principle, but disagreed in form as long as the German combination laws existed. Marx and Engels were very much annoyed when Liebknecht played off the General Council of the International against Schweitzer, a thing he had no right to do. Although they welcomed “the dissolution of the Lassallean Church,” they could not do much with the other group until it had separated itself definitely from the German People’s Party, or, at least, maintained only a loose cartel arrangement with the latter. For the rest, they were still of the opinion that as a debater Schweitzer was superior to all his opponents.

The progress of the Austro-Hungarian working-class movement, which had begun to develop only since the defeats of 1866, was more harmonious. Lassallean tendencies found no foothold and the masses of the workers began to rally to the standard of the International, as the General Council pointed out in its report to the Basle congress.

The congress thus met under favourable circumstances. Only 78 delegates were present, but the congress was much more “international” than the previous congresses had been. Nine countries were represented. The General Council was represented as usual by Eccarius and Jung, and apart from them by two of the most prominent English trade union leaders, Applegarth and Lucraft. France sent 26 delegates, Belgium 5, Germany 12, Austria 2, Switzerland 23, Italy 3, Spain 4 and the United States, one delegate. Liebknecht represented the Eisenach faction and Moses Hess the Berlin section. Bakunin had both a French and an Italian mandate and Guillaume had been delegated from Locle. The chair at the congress was again taken by Jung.

In the beginning the congress dealt with organizational questions. At the proposal of the General Council, it unanimously decided to recommend all its sections and affiliated bodies to abolish the office of President, an action which the General Council had taken on its own account several years previously, on the ground that it was not in accordance with the dignity of a working-class organization to maintain a monarchical and authoritarian principle within its ranks, for even where the presidency was only an honorary office it represented a violation of the democratic principle. On the other hand, the General Council proposed that its own executive powers should be extended and that it should have the right to suspend from membership any section acting against the spirit of the International, pending the decision of the next congress. The proposal was adopted with the amendment that where federal councils existed, they should be consulted before the General Council took any such action. Both Bakunin and Liebknecht vigorously supported the proposal. Liebknecht’s support was natural, but not that of Bakunin, who thereby violated his own anarchist principle, whatever his opportunist motives for so doing may have been. It is probable that he sought to drive out the devil with Beelzebub and counted on the assistance of the General Council against all parliamentary-political activity, which he considered purely opportunist. Perhaps he was supported in this idea by Liebknecht’s well-known attack on the participation of Schweitzer and Bebel in the work of the North German Reichstag. However, Marx disapproved of Liebknecht’s speech and Bakunin, who had reckoned without his host, was soon to learn that violations of principle always revenge themselves.

The most important theoretical problems on the agenda of the congress were the question of common ownership of the land and the question of the right of inheritance. The former question had actually already been settled at the Brussels congress, and this time it was disposed of summarily. With 54 votes the congress decided that society had the right to establish common ownership of the land, and with 53 votes that such an action was necessary in the interests of society as a whole. For the most part the minority abstained from voting. Eight delegates voted against the second decision, and four against the first. A variety of opinions resulted as to the practical measures for putting the decisions into effect and it was left to the next congress in Paris to discuss the question thoroughly.

In the question of the right of inheritance the General Council had drawn up a report which summed up the most important points in a few words in the masterly fashion typical of Marx. Like all other bourgeois legislation, the inheritance laws were not the cause, but the effect, the legal consequence of the economic organization of a society based on private property in the means of production. The right to inherit slaves had not been the cause of slavery. On the contrary, slavery had been the cause of the right to inherit slaves. If the means of production were turned into common property, then the right of inheritance would disappear as far as it was of social importance, because a man could leave to his heirs only that which he had possessed during his life. The great aim of the working class was, therefore, to abolish those institutions which gave a few people the economic power to appropriate the fruits of the labour of the many. To proclaim the abolition of the laws of inheritance as the starting point of a social revolution would, therefore, be just as absurd as to proclaim the abolition of the laws of contract between buyers and sellers so long as the present system of commodity exchange prevailed. It would prove false in theory and reactionary in practice. The right of inheritance could be altered only in a period of transition when on the one hand the existing economic basis of society had not yet been altered whilst on the other hand the working class already possessed sufficient power to carry through measures preparatory to a thorough transformation of society. As such transitional measures the General Council recommended the extension of death duties and the limitation of testamentary inheritance rights, which, as distinct from the right of family inheritance, exaggerated the principles of private property in a superstitious and arbitrary fashion.

However, the commission to which the question had been delegated for discussion proposed that the abolition of the right of inheritance should be proclaimed as one of the fundamental demands of the working class, although it could produce nothing in support of its proposal apart from a few ideological phrases about “privileges,” political and economic justice” and “social order.” In the comparatively brief discussion which followed, Eccarius, the Belgian delegate de Paepe and the French delegate Varlin spoke in favour of the report of the General Council, whilst Bakunin spoke on behalf of the commission’s proposal, whose spiritual father he was. He recommended the adoption of the proposal for reasons which were allegedly practical, but which were in reality quite illusory. It would be quite impossible to establish common property without first abolishing the right of inheritance. If one tried to take the land away from the peasants they would resist, but they would not feel themselves directly affected by the abolition of the right of inheritance, and thus private property would gradually die out. When a vote was taken, it was then that there were 32 in favour of the proposal of the commission, 23 against, 13 abstentions and 7 delegates absent. The report of the General Council received 19 votes, 37 against, 6 abstentions and 13 delegates absent. Thus neither the report of the General Council nor the proposal of the commission received a clear majority so that the discussion remained without any tangible result.

The Basle congress produced a louder echo than any of its predecessors both in the bourgeois and in the proletarian world. The most learned representatives of the bourgeoisie observed, half with horror and half with malicious satisfaction, that at last the communist character of the International had been revealed, whilst in the proletarian world the decisions in favour of the common ownership of the land were welcomed with joy. In Geneva the German-language section published a manifesto to the agricultural population which was translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Polish and Russian and widely distributed. In Barcelona and in Naples the first sections of agricultural workers arose. In London the Land and Labour League was formed at a big public meeting with the slogan, “The Land for the People!” Ten members of the General Council of the International were also members of its committee.

In Germany the worthy gentlemen of the German People’s Party were furious at the decisions of the Basle congress and at first Liebknecht permitted himself to be intimidated by their fury, even issuing a declaration to the effect that the Eisenach faction was not bound by the decisions of the congress. Fortunately, however, the indignant and highly respectable leaders of the German People’s Party were not content with this and demanded that the decisions of the congress should be expressly disavowed, whereupon Liebknecht finally broke off relations with them, a step to which Marx and Engels had urged him long before. However, his initial hesitation had brought grist to Schweitzer’s mill, for Schweitzer had “preached” the common ownership of the land in the Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein for years and had not just adopted it in order to ridicule his opponents, as was assumed by Marx, who found this “a piece of insolence.” Engels controlled his anger over the “blackguard” sufficiently to recognize that it was “very clever” of Schweitzer always to maintain a correct theoretical attitude, well knowing that his opponents were hopelessly lost immediately any question of theory arose.

For the moment, therefore, the Lassalleans remained not only the most firmly organized, but theoretically the most advanced of all the German working-class parties.



6. Confusion in Geneva

In so far as the discussion at the Basle congress on the right of inheritance had been a sort of intellectual duel between Bakunin and Marx, it had brought no final decision, but had been unfavourable rather than favourable for the latter. However, the contention that Marx was heavily hit and now prepared for a powerful counterblast against Bakunin would not be in accordance with the facts.

Marx was quite satisfied with the result of the Basle congress. At the time he was with his daughter Jenny on a journey through Germany for the benefit of his health and on the 25th of September he wrote to his daughter Laura from Hanover: “I am glad that the Basle congress is now over and that its results were comparatively good. Such open displays of the party with all its sores always worry me. None of the actors was up to the level of his principles, but the idiocy of the upper class repairs the errors of the working class. Even the obscurest sheets in the smallest German towns through which we have passed were full of the deeds of this ‘terrible congress.’” Bakunin was no more disappointed with the results of the Basle congress than was Marx. It has been said that Bakunin, with his proposal concerning the right of inheritance, wished to defeat Marx and obtain the removal of the General Council from London to Geneva as the fruit of his theoretical victory, and that when he did not succeed in this he attacked the General Council with increased violence in l’Egalité. These statements have been made so often that they have crystallized into a sort of legend, but nevertheless there is not a word of truth in them. After the Basle congress Bakunin did not write a line for l’Egalité; before the Basle congress he was its chief editor, but one will look in vain through the long series of articles he published in it for any trace of hostility towards the General Council or towards Marx. Four articles in particular, written on The Principles of the International, were completely in the spirit in which the International was founded. It is true that in these articles he expresses misgivings concerning the disastrous influences of what Marx termed “parliamentary cretinism” on the parliamentary representatives of the workers, but first of all such misgivings have been justified again and again since, and secondly his remarks were quite harmless compared with the violent attacks which Liebknecht was then making on the participation of the working class in bourgeois parliamentarism.

Further, Bakunin’s ideas on the inheritance question may have been eccentric, but it was nevertheless his right to put them forward for discussion at the congress and in fact the congresses of the International have discussed much more eccentric ideas without those who put them forward being credited with any ulterior motives. The accusation that he had planned to secure the removal of the General Council from London to Geneva was answered briefly and strikingly by Bakunin immediately it was uttered publicly: “If such a proposal had been put forward, I should have been the first to oppose it and with all possible energy, because it would have seemed to me to be fatal for the future of the International. It is true that the Geneva sections have made tremendous progress in a very short space of time, but the atmosphere of Geneva is still too specifically local for it to be a good spot for the General Council. Apart from that, it is clear that so long as the present political organization of Europe exists, London will remain the only place suitable for the seat of the General Council and one would be a fool or an enemy of the International to propose to move it anywhere else.”

There are people who consider that Bakunin was a liar from the very beginning and that his reply to the accusation against him was a subsequent excuse, but this theory collapses immediately in face of the fact that prior to the Basle congress Bakunin had arranged to move after the congress from Geneva to Locarno. His decision was taken for reasons over which he had no control. He was in urgent financial straits and his wife was expecting a child. He wished to settle down in Locarno and translate the first volume of Marx’s Capital into Russian. A young admirer named Liubavin had persuaded a Russian publisher to pay 1,200 roubles for the translation and of this sum Bakunin received an advance of 300 roubles.

Although in the light of these facts all the intrigues which Bakunin is alleged to have set on foot before and after the Basle congress are seen to be non-existent, nevertheless the congress left a bitter taste in his mouth because, under the influence of Borkheim’s incitement, Liebknecht had declared in the presence of third parties that he held proofs showing that Bakunin was an agent of the Russian government. Bakunin demanded that Liebknecht should support his accusations before a party court of honour and this he was unable to do, with the result that the court sternly reprimanded him. After the Cologne communist trial and his experiences in exile, Liebknecht was rather inclined to suspect spies everywhere, but he accepted the verdict of the court and offered Bakunin his hand as a sign of reconciliation, and the latter accepted it.

Bakunin was all the more embittered when a few weeks later, on the 2nd of October, Moses Hess revived the old slanders in the Paris Reveil. Hess, who was present at the Basle congress as a German delegate, was giving the secret history of the congress, and in this connection he dealt with Bakunin’s “intrigues” with a view to undermining the fundamental basis of the International and securing the removal of the General Council from London to Geneva. He declared that Bakunin’s plans had come to nothing at the congress and concluded with the baseless insinuation that he, Hess, did not want to impugn Bakunin’s revolutionary honesty, but that the Russian was closely related to Schweitzer, who had been accused by the German delegates at the Basle congress of being an agent of the German government. The malicious intent of this denunciation was made all the clearer by the fact that it was quite impossible to establish any “close relation” between the agitation of Schweitzer and the agitation of Bakunin, and that personally the two men had never had anything whatever to do with each other.

It would certainly have been wiser for Bakunin to have ignored this article which was ignoble enough in all conscience, but it is easy to understand that he was provoked to anger by the repeated attacks on his political honesty, particularly when the attacks were underhanded and malicious. He therefore wrote a reply, but in his initial anger the reply grew so long that he realized himself that the Reveil could not possibly publish it. He attacked the “German Jews” with particular violence, but expressly excepted “giants” like Lassalle and Marx from the race of pygmies à la Borkheim and Hess. He then decided to use this long reply as an introduction to a book on his revolutionary beliefs and sent it to Herzen in Paris with the request that the latter should try to find a publisher, adding a shorter reply for the Reveil. However, Herzen feared that even this would not be published and he himself wrote a defence of Bakunin against Hess, and this defence was published by the Reveil together with an editorial comment which completely pacified Bakunin.

Herzen was not at all satisfied with the longer reply. He disapproved of the attacks on the “German Jews,” and was surprised that Bakunin attacked little known people like Borkheim and Hess instead of challenging Marx. Bakunin answered on the 28th of October, declaring that although he considered Marx responsible for the attacks made on him he had refrained from attacking Marx for two reasons and had even called him a “giant.” The first reason was one of justice. “Apart from all the nasty tricks he has played us, we, or at least I, cannot ignore his tremendous services to the cause of socialism, which he has served for almost twenty-five years with insight, energy and disinterestedness, and in which he has undoubtedly excelled us all. He was one of the founders, the chief founder in fact, of the International and in my eyes that is a tremendous service and one which I shall always recognize no matter what he may have done against us.”

And then he was guided by political and tactical considerations towards Marx, “who cannot stand me and loves no one but himself and perhaps those who are nearest to him. Marx’s influence in the International is undoubtedly very useful. He has exercised a wise influence on his party down to the present day and he is the strongest support of socialism and the firmest bulwark against the invasion of bourgeois ideas and intentions. I should never forgive myself if I had ever tried to destroy or even weaken his beneficial influence merely in order to revenge myself on him. However, a situation may arise, and shortly at that, in which I shall take up the struggle against him, though certainly not in order to attack him personally, but on a question of principle, on account of the State communism which he, and the English and Germans he leads, support so enthusiastically. That would be a life and death struggle, but everything comes in its own good time and the hour of conflict has not yet arrived.”

And finally Bakunin mentions a tactical reason which prevented him from attacking Marx. If he attacked Marx openly, then three-quarters of the International would be against him, but on the other hand, if he attacked the ragtag and bobtail that crowded around Marx, the majority of the International would be on his side and Marx himself would find a certain amount of malicious pleasure in it. Schadenfreude is the German word which Bakunin uses in his letter to Herzen, otherwise written in French.

Immediately after writing this letter Bakunin moved to Locarno. He was so occupied with his personal affairs that during the last few weeks he spent in Geneva after the Basle congress he took no part at all in the working-class movement and did not write a line for l’Egalité. His successor on the editorial board was Robin, a Belgian teacher who had moved to Geneva about a year previously, and together with him Perron, the enameller who had edited the paper before Bakunin. Both were supporters of Bakunin, but they did not act on his instructions. Bakunin’s aim was to enlighten the workers of the gros metiers, in whom the revolutionary proletarian spirit was much more alive than in the workers of the fabrique, and to encourage them to undertake independent action. In this he found himself in opposition to their own committees – and what he has to say about the objective dangers of such a “departmental policy,” as we should call it nowadays, is well worth reading even now – not to speak of the fabrique, which had supported the workers of the gros métiers in their strikes and drew from this undeniable service the false conclusion that the workers of the gros métiers should follow faithfully every step of their colleagues of the fabrique. Bakunin had fought against these tendencies, particularly in view of the incurable leanings of the fabrique towards alliances with bourgeois radicalism. However, Robin and Perron thought that they could whitewash and patch up the differences between the gros métiers and the fabrique, differences which had not been created by Bakunin, but which had their basis in a social antagonism. As a result they slithered into a see-saw system which satisfied neither the gros métiers nor the fabrique and opened the door to all sorts of intrigues.

A master of such intrigues was a Russian fugitive named Nikolas Utin, who lived in Geneva at the time. He had taken part in the Russian student disturbances at the beginning of the sixties, and when the country grew too hot for him he fled abroad where he lived comfortably on a considerable income – from twelve to fifteen thousand francs have been mentioned – which he derived from the trade of his father in spirits. This fact won him a position which the intellectual capacities of the vain and garrulous fellow could never have obtained for him. His successes were exclusively on the field of tittle-tattle where, as Engels once said, “the man with something serious to do can never compete with those who have all day to gossip in.” In the beginning Utin had made up to Bakunin, only to be thoroughly snubbed by him, and when Bakunin left Geneva, Utin seized the opportunity to revenge himself for his wounded vanity by pursuing him with underhand slander. His efforts to this edifying end were not without result and afterwards he cast himself humbly at the feet of the Tsar and begged for mercy. The Tsar proved he was not adamant and during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877, Utin became a contractor to the Tsarist army, in which capacity he no doubt worshipped Mammon even more successfully than he had done through the paternal spirits business.

People like Robin and Perron were easy game for Utin, for although their personal honesty was above reproach they were almost incredibly clumsy, and to make matters worse they began a squabble with the General Council on questions which were certainly not of any urgent interest to the France-Swiss workers. L’Egalité complained bitterly that the General Council paid far too much attention to the Irish question, that it failed to set up a Federal Council for the English sections, that it did not arbitrate in the conflict between Liebknecht and Schweitzer, etc. Bakunin had nothing to do with all this, and the wrong impression that he approved of these attacks on the General Council or even instigated them was caused exclusively by the fact that Robin and Perron were his supporters and that Guillaume’s paper took up the same attitude.

The General Council replied to Robin’s attacks in a private circular dated the 1st of January, 1870, and addressed, apart from Geneva, only to the French-speaking Federal Councils. Although this circular was sharp in its tone it remained well within the limits of objective argument. The reasons which the General Council gave for not forming a Federal Council in England are interesting still. It declared that although the revolutionary initiative would probably come from France, nevertheless only England could serve as the lever for any serious economic revolution. It was the only country where there were no longer any peasants and where the ownership of the land was concentrated in the hands of a few landowners. It was the only country where the capitalist mode of production had established itself in almost the whole of production and where the great mass of the population consisted of wage-workers. It was the only country where the class struggle and the organization of the workers had reached a certain degree of universality and maturity. And finally, thanks to the dominant position of England on the world market, any revolution in its economic conditions would immediately react on the whole world.

Although, therefore, all the necessary material conditions for a social revolution existed in England, nevertheless the English workers did not possess either a capacity for generalization or revolutionary ardour. The task of the General Council was to give the English workers this spirit and this ardour, and the fact that it was performing its task successfully could be seen from the complaints of the big bourgeois newspapers in London that the General Council was poisoning the English spirit of the workers and driving them towards revolutionary socialism. An English Federal Council would come between the General Council of the International and the General Council of the trade unions. It would enjoy no prestige, and the General Council of the International would lose its influence on the great lever of the proletarian revolution. It therefore refused to commit the folly of placing this lever in English hands and contenting itself with bombastic mouthings in the place of serious and unseen work.

Before this circular arrived at its destination the trouble came to a head in Geneva itself. Seven members of the editorial board of l’Egalité were supporters of Bakunin and only two were his opponents. Arising out of a subordinate and politically unimportant incident, the majority raised the question of confidence, and it was then seen that with their vacillating policy Robin and Perron had sat down between two stools. The minority was supported by the Federal Council and the seven members of the majority had to resign, including Becker who had been very friendly with Bakunin whilst the latter lived in Geneva, but who had found many things to object to in the policy of Robin and Perron. The control of l’Egalité then went over into the hands of Utin.



7. “The Confidential Communication”

In the meantime Borkheim continued his incitement against Bakunin. On the 18th of February he complained to Marx that Die Zukunft, the organ of Johann Jacoby, had refused to publish what Marx described in a letter to Engels as, “a monster epistle on Russian affairs, an indescribable hodge-podge of minute details all tumbling one over the other.” At the same time Borkheim cast suspicion on Bakunin “in connection with certain financial transactions,” on the authority of Katkov, who in his youth had been a follower of Bakunin but later went over to the reaction. Marx paid little attention to this accusation and Engels remarked philosophically: “Borrowing money is too typical a Russian means of existence for one Russian to be able to reproach another about it.”

After informing Engels about Borkheim’s continued incitement against Bakunin, Marx declared that the General Council had been called upon to decide whether a certain Richard (who later really turned out to be a bad lot) had been expelled from the International in Lyons with justification, and added that as far as he could see the man could be accused of nothing more than a slavish support of Bakunin and an accompanying self-conceit. “It appears that our last circular made a sensation and that in France and Switzerland a regular hunt against the Bakuninists has begun. However, there must be moderation in all things and I shall see to it that no injustice is done.”

A confidential communication which Marx directed a few weeks later, on the 28th of March, through the mediation of Kugelmann to the Brunswick committee of the Eisenachers was in strong contrast with the good intentions with which he had concluded his letter to Engels. The basis of this confidential communication was the circular of the General Council, intended only for Geneva and for the French-speaking Federal Councils. This had long since served its purpose and had in fact let loose the “regular hunt” against the Bakuninists of which Marx had expressed his disapproval. It is difficult to see why Marx communicated the contents of this circular to Germany in face of the unpleasant result it had already had elsewhere, particularly as Bakunin had no supporters in Germany at all.

It is still more difficult to understand why he provided the circular with an introduction and a close which were even more calculated to let loose a “regular hunt,” particularly against Bakunin. The introduction began with bitter reproaches against Bakunin who had first of all attempted to smuggle himself into the League for Peace and Freedom, only to be closely observed in its executive committee as a “suspected Russian.” After having failed to secure the adoption of his programmatic absurdities in the League, he had then turned his attention to the International in order to make it into his private instrument. To this end he had founded the Alliance of Socialist Democracy. After the General Council had refused to recognize the Alliance the latter had nominally been dissolved, but in fact it had continued to exist under Bakunin’s leadership, who had then sought to attain his ends with other means. He had put forward the question of the right of inheritance at the Basle congress in the hope of defeating the General Council on the theoretical field and causing its removal from London to Geneva. He had organized “a downright conspiracy” in order to secure a majority of the Basle congress. However, he had not been successful and the General Council had remained in London. “Bakunin’s anger at the failure of his plan – perhaps he had attached all sorts of private speculations to its success – “ had then expressed itself in the attacks of l’Egalité on the General Council, attacks which had been answered in the circular of the 1st of January.

Marx then inserted the full text of the circular in his confidential communication and continued: Even before the arrival of the circular the crisis had come to a head in Geneva. The Franco-Italian Swiss Federal Council had disapproved of the attacks made by l’Egalité on the General Council and decided to keep a close control over the paper for the future. Bakunin had then retired the canton of Ticino.” Soon afterwards Herzen died. Bakunin, who had disavowed his old friend and patron from the moment he wished to put himself forward as the leader of the European working-class movement, then immediately began to sound a fanfare in Herzen’s praise. Why? Despite his own wealth, Herzen had been in receipt of an annual sum of 25,000 francs for propaganda from the pseudo-socialist Pan-Slavist party in Russia, with which he was friendly. Thanks to his lavish praise, Bakunin succeeded in obtaining this money himself and then accepted ‘Herzen’s heritage’ gladly much as he hated inheritance. In the meantime a colony of young Russian fugitives had established itself in Geneva, students who were really honest in their endeavours and who had made the struggle against Pan-Slavism the chief point in their program. They had asked to be admitted as a section of the International, proposing that Marx should be their provisional representative on the General Council, and both these requests had been granted. They had also declared that they were about to tear the mask from Bakunin’s face publicly. In this way, the confidential communication concluded, the game of this highly dangerous intriguer would be up, at least as far as the International was concerned.

It is hardly necessary to enumerate the many errors the communication contains. Generally speaking, the more incriminating the accusations it makes against Bakunin appear to be, the more baseless they are in reality. This is true in particular of the accusation of legacy-hunting. No pseudo-socialist Pan-Slavist party in Russia ever paid Herzen 25,000 francs annually for propaganda. The unsubstantial basis of this fairy tale was that in the revolutionary years a young Russian named Batmetiev had given 25,000 francs to start a revolutionary fund and that Herzen had administered this fund. There is no reason whatever to believe that Bakunin ever showed any inclination to pocket this fund on his own behalf and certainly the warm obituary he wrote for Rochefort’s Marseillaise on a political opponent who had been a friend of his youth cannot be quoted in support of such a statement. At the utmost the obituary might offer an opportunity for an accusation of sentimentality, just as all the errors and weaknesses of Bakunin, no matter how numerous they may have been, were due to characteristics which were, generally speaking, the opposite of those going into the make-up of a “highly dangerous intriguer.

The concluding passages of the confidential communication show how Marx came to fall into these errors concerning Bakunin. His information was obtained from the Russian fugitives’ committee in Geneva, in other words, from Utin, or through him from Becker. At least, a letter from Marx to Engels seems to indicate that he obtained the most serious of the accusations, that of legacy-hunting, from Becker. However, this does not rhyme with a contemporary letter from the latter to Jung, which is still extant, in which Becker complains about the confusion prevailing in Geneva, about the antagonism between the fabrique and the gros metiers, about weak-nerved illusionists like Robin and obstinate cranks like Bakunin,” but ends up by praising Bakunin and declaring that he was much better and more useful than he had been. The letters of Becker and the Russian fugitives’ committee in Geneva to Marx are no longer extant, and in both his official and private answers to this new section of the International, Marx apparently thought it better to say nothing about Bakunin at all. He advised the Russian section to work chiefly for Poland, that is to say, to free Europe from its own proximity, and he did not fail to see the humour of being the representative of young Russia, declaring that a man could never know in what strange company he might fall.

Although he treated the matter with a certain amount of humour, it was obviously a great satisfaction to him to observe that the International was beginning to find a foothold amongst the Russian revolutionaries, and otherwise it would be impossible to understand why he was prepared to believe accusations against Bakunin made by Utin, who was completely unknown to him, when he had refused to credit them from his old friend Borkheim. By a peculiar coincidence Bakunin fell victim just at that time to an error of judgment with regard to a Russian fugitive, whom he regarded as the first swallow of the coming Russian revolutionary summer, and even let himself be drawn into an adventure which was to do his reputation more harm than any other incident in his whole adventurous life.

A few days after the confidential communication had been written, on the 4th of April, the second annual congress of the Franco-Italian Swiss Federation took place in La Chaux-de-Fonds, and an open breach occurred. The Geneva section of the Alliance, which had already been accepted into the International by the General Council, demanded that it should also be accepted into the Federation and that its two delegates should be given representation at the congress. Utin opposed this and made violent attacks on Bakunin, denouncing the Geneva section as his instrument of intrigue, but he was vigorously opposed by Guillaume, a narrow-minded fanatic who in later years treated Marx as badly as Utin treated Bakunin, but a man whose education and capacity put him in a different class altogether from that of his pitiful opponent. Guillaume was victorious with a majority of 21 against 18 votes. However, the minority refused to recognize the decision of the majority and split the congress. Two congresses then met simultaneously. The majority congress decided to move the seat of the Federal Council from Geneva to La Chaux-de-Fonds and to make Solidarité, which Guillaume issued in Neuchatel, the organ of the Federal Council.

The minority justified its attitude by declaring that the majority was a purely accidental one, because only 15 sections had been represented at La Chaux-de-Fonds whilst Geneva alone had thirty sections which all or almost all opposed the acceptance of the Alliance into the Franco-Italian Swiss action. The majority, on the other hand, insisted that a section which had been admitted by the General Council could not be rejected by a Federal Council. Becker declared in Der Vorbote that the whole affair was much objectionable ado about nothing and had been possible only by a lack of fraternal feelings on both sides. The section of the Alliance was chiefly interested in the propaganda of theoretical principles and could therefore not attach much importance to being accepted into a national organization, all the more so as it was regarded in Geneva as the plotting tool of Bakunin, who had long been unpopular there. On the other hand, if the Alliance really wanted to be accepted, it was narrow-minded and childish to refuse or to make its acceptance the reason for a split.

However, the situation was not quite so simple as Becker described it. The decisions which the two separate congresses adopted were similar in many respects, but they differed just in the cardinal question – the antagonism out of which the whole confusion in Geneva had developed. The majority congress completely adopted the standpoint of the gros métiers. It condemned all forms of politics which aimed merely at social changes through national reforms, declaring that every politically organized State was nothing but a means of capitalist exploitation on the basis of bourgeois law, and therefore any participation of the proletariat in bourgeois politics consolidated the existing system and paralyzed revolutionary proletarian action. The minority congress, on the other hand, adopted the standpoint of the fabrique. It condemned political abstinence as damaging to the cause of the working class, and recommended participation in the elections, not because it would be possible to secure the emancipation of the workers in this way, but because the parliamentary representation of the workers was a means of agitation and propaganda which it would not be tactical to ignore.

The newly-formed Federal Council in La Chaux-de-Fonds demanded recognition from the General Council as the leader of the Federation. However, the General Council refused to give this recognition and on the 28th of June it declared that the Federal Council in Geneva, which was supported by the majority of the Geneva sections, should continue to exercise its old functions, whilst the new Federal Council should adopt a local name. Although this decision was fair enough and had been provoked by the new Federal Council, the latter refused to submit to it and protested vigorously against the dictatorial tendencies, against the “authoritarianism” of the General Council, thus giving the opposition within the International the second plank in its platform – the first being political abstinence. The General Council then severed all relations with La Chaux-de-Fonds.



8. The Irish Amnesty and the French Pleblscite

The winter of 1869-70 was again a period of numerous physical ailments for Marx, but at least he had got rid of his constant money troubles. On the 30th of June, 1869, Engels had finally freed himself from his “damned business” and six months before he had asked Marx whether the latter thought he could get along on 350 pounds a year. Engels wanted to liquidate his affairs with his partner in such a fashion that this sum would be available for Marx for a period of five or six years. The correspondence between the two friends does not show what arrangements were made in the end, but in any case, Engels banished Marx’s financial troubles not only for a period of five or six years, but up to the latter’s death.

In this period both of them occupied themselves very much with the Irish question. Engels conducted detailed studies into the historical development of the movement – unfortunately the fruits of his studies were never published – whilst Marx urged the General Council to support the Irish movement, which demanded an amnesty for the irregularly condemned Fenians, who were being infamously treated in prison. The General Council expressed its admiration for the firm, great-hearted and courageous fashion in which the Irish people fought for its rights, and it condemned the policy of Gladstone, who despite all the promises he had made at the elections refused to grant an amnesty or made its granting subject to conditions which were an insult to the victims of English misgovernment and to the Irish people. The Prime Minister was reproached in the sharpest terms for preaching the doctrine of subjugation to the English people after he had expressed his enthusiastic approval of the revolt of the American slave-owners despite his responsible position, and the General Council declared that his whole attitude in the question of the Irish amnesty was an authentic product of that “policy of conquest” whose flaming denunciation by Gladstone had driven his Tory rivals from office. In a letter to Kugelmann Marx declared that he was now attacking Gladstone as he had once attacked Palmerston, and added: “The democratic fugitives here love to attack continental despots from a safe distance. I like to attack only when I can see my enemy face to face.”

Marx was particularly delighted by the fact that his eldest daughter won a signal success in the Irish campaign. The English press obstinately remained silent about the barbarities committed against the imprisoned Fenians, so Jenny Marx sent a number of articles to Rochefort’s Marseillaise under the pseudonym of Williams, a name which her father had used quite a lot in the fifties. In these articles she described passionately how democratic England treated its political prisoners, and these revelations in a paper which was probably more read than any other on the continent were too much for Gladstone. A few weeks later most of the imprisoned Fenians were free and on their way to America.

The Marseillaise had won its European reputation as the result of its intrepid attacks on the fake Bonaparte whose regime was by this time cracking at all its joints. At the beginning of 1870, Bonaparte made a last desperate attempt to save his bloody and shabby regime by making concessions to the bourgeoisie, and he appointed the garrulous liberal Ollivier Prime Minister. Ollivier did his best by means of so-called reforms, but, as the leopard cannot change its spots at will, Bonaparte demanded that these “reforms” should receive the typically Bonapartist blessing of a plebiscite. Ollivier was weak enough to give way and even recommended the Prefects to do their utmost to make the plebiscite a success, but the Bonapartist police knew better than the vain chatterer how to secure the success of a plebiscite, and on the eve of the voting it discovered an alleged bomb plot on the part of members of the International against the life of Napoleon. Ollivier was cowardly enough to submit to the police, particularly as the action was chiefly directed against workers, and everywhere in France the “leaders” of the International, as far as they were known to the police, were surprised by searches and arrests.

The General Council lost no time in parrying the blow, and a protest was published on the 3rd of May declaring: “Our statutes make it the duty of all sections of our association to act openly, and even if the statutes were not clear on the point, the character of an association which identifies itself with the working class excludes any possibility of such an association taking on the form of a secret society. If the working class, which forms the great majority of any nation and produces all riches and in whose name even the usurping powers allegedly rule, conspires, then it conspires publicly in the same way as the sun conspires against darkness, and in the full consciousness that no legitimate power exists outside its own orbit ... The loud and violent: measures taken against our French sections have been calculated exclusively to serve one purpose, as a manipulation to support the plebiscite.” This was the plain truth, but the contemptible means once again served their contemptible end, and the “liberal empire” was ushered in with seven million votes against one and a half million.

After that, however, the authorities had to let their bomb plot swindle drop. The police declared that they had found a code dictionary in the possession of the members of the International, but all they could make out of it was one or two names like Napoleon and one or two chemical expressions such as nitroglycerine, and this was rather too much to ask even the Bonapartist courts to swallow. The indictment therefore shrunk to the same alleged offence for which French members of the International had twice been tried and convicted previously: membership in a secret or unlawful society.

After a brilliant defence conducted this time by the coppersmith Chatain, who was later a member of the Paris Commune, a number of convictions were secured by the prosecution on the 9th of July, the maximum sentence being one year’s imprisonment and one year’s loss of all civil rights, but simultaneously the storm broke which was to sweep the Second Empire off the face of the earth.


Last updated on 27.2.2004