Franz Mehring

Karl Marx:
The Story of His Life

Chapter Fourteen: The Decline of the International


7. The Disintegration of the International

As far as the circular of the General Council dealt with the accusations made in Sonvillier and other places on account of alleged violations or even falsification of the Statutes, fanatical intolerance and similar accusations, it conducted a thoroughly victorious polemic and one can only regret that for the greater part it was wasted on quite unimportant matters.

To-day it is necessary to overcome a good deal of reluctance in order to bother one’s head at all about such insignificant affairs. For instance, when the International was founded its Paris members had omitted a phrase from its Statutes in order to avoid trouble with the Bonapartist police. One passage of the Statutes read that all political movements of the working class must subordinate themselves as a means to securing the economic emancipation of the working class. The expression “as a means” had been left out in the French text. The situation was perfectly clear, but again and again the lie was spread to the point of surfeit that the General Council had afterwards interpolated the expression “as a means.” And when the London conference acknowledged that the German workers had done their proletarian duty during the Franco-Prussian War, this was used as an excuse for the accusation of “Pan-Germanism,” which was alleged to dominate the General Council.

The circular tore these ridiculous charges to pieces, and when one considers that they were brought forward in order to undermine the centralization of the International although the maintenance and consolidation of this centralization was the only possibility of saving the tottering organization from succumbing to the attacks of the reaction, it is easy to understand the bitterness of the concluding passages of the circular which accuse the Alliance of playing into the hands of the international police. “It proclaims anarchy in the ranks of the proletariat as the infallible means of breaking the powerful concentration of political and social forces in the hands of the exploiters. Under this pretext and at a moment when the old world is seeking to destroy the International it demands that the latter should replace its organization by anarchy.” The more the International was attacked by its external enemies, the more frivolous appeared the attacks made on it from within, particularly when those attacks were so baseless.

However, the clarity with which the General Council realized this side of the question was set off by its failure to see clearly the other side of the question. As its title indicated, the circular was prepared to admit no more than “alleged disruption” in the International. It put down the whole conflict, as Marx had already done in his Confidential Communication, to the machinations of “certain intriguers,” and in particular Bakunin. It brought forward the old accusations against him in connection with “the equalization of the classes” and in connection with the Basle congress, etc., and accused him of having been responsible together with Netchayeff for betraying innocent people to the Russian police. It also devoted a special passage to the fact that two of his supporters had turned out to be Bonapartist police spies, a fact which was certainly extremely unpleasant for Bakunin, but no more compromising for him than it was for the General Council when, a few months later, it suffered the same misfortune with two of its own supporters. The circular also accused “young Guillaume” of having denounced “the factory workers” of Geneva as hateful “bourgeois,” without taking the least notice of the fact that amongst the fabrique in Geneva there was a section of highly-paid workers in the luxury trades which had concluded more or less deplorable election compromises with the bourgeois parties.

However, by far the weakest point in the circular was its defence of the General Council against the accusation of “orthodoxy.” It appealed to the fact that the London conference had prohibited the adoption of sectarian names by any of the sections. That was certainly justifiable in view of the fact that the International was a highly diverse conglomeration of trade union organizations, co-operatives, and educational and propaganda associations, but the interpretation the circular of the General Council placed upon this decision was highly contestable.

The circular declares: “The first stage in the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie is characterized by the development of sects. These sects have a justifiable existence at a time when the proletariat is not sufficiently developed to act as a class. Individual thinkers begin to criticize social contradictions and seek to overcome them by fantastic solutions which the masses of the workers are expected to accept, spread and carry out. It lies in the nature of the sects which form around such pioneers that they are exclusive and that they hold themselves aloof from all practical activities, from politics, strikes, trade unions, in a word from every form of mass movement. The masses of the workers remain indifferent, or even hostile to their propaganda. The workers of Paris and Lyons wanted no more to do with the St. Simonists, Fourierists and Icarians than the English Chartists and trade unionists with the Owenites. Originally one of the levers of the working-class movement, these sects become reactionary and a hindrance immediately the movement overtakes them. Examples of this are the sects in France and England, and later on the Lassalleans in Germany, who, after having hampered the organization of the proletariat for years, have finally become simply tools in the hands of the police.” And in another passage the circular refers to the Lassalleans as “Bismarck socialists” who wear the white blouse of the Prusso-German Empire outside their police organ, Der Neue Sozialdemokrat.

There is no express proof that Marx drew up this circular. To judge by content and style, Engels may have had a big hand in it, but the passages on the role of sectarianism are certainly from Marx and the same ideas can be found in his contemporary correspondence with party friends, having been developed for the first time in his polemic against Proudhon. On the whole the historic significance of socialist sectarianism is aptly characterized, but Marx made a mistake when he tarred the Bakuninists, not to speak of the Lassalleans, with the same brush as the Fourierists and the Owenites.

One can judge as contemptuously of anarchism as one likes and regard it simply as a disease of the working-class movement wherever it shows itself, but it is impossible – and certainly to-day with the experiences of half a century behind us – to imagine that this disease was communicated from outside. On the contrary, it is obvious that it is a disease to which the working class shows a natural disposition and which develops in favourable, or rather unfavourable circumstances. It is difficult to understand such an error even for 1872. Bakunin was the last man to come forward with a complete and stereotyped system, and expect the workers to accept it and put it into operation without demur. Marx himself never tired of repeating that Bakunin was a cipher in theoretical matters and only in his element when intriguing, and that his program was a hodge-podge of superficial ideas collected right and left.

The decisive characteristic of all sectarianism is its hostility to all forms of the proletarian mass movement, hostile both in the sense that sectarianism has no use for such a movement and such a movement has no use for sectarianism. Even if it were true that Bakunin wished to obtain control of the International merely in order to serve his own ends, he would still have proved that as a revolutionary he reckoned with the masses. Although his struggle against Marx developed with extraordinary bitterness, he always, practically to the end, counted it Marx’s immortal service that in the International he had created the framework for a proletarian mass movement. The differences between the two referred to the tactics which this mass movement must adopt in order to achieve its aim. No matter how wrong Bakunin’s views may have been, they certainly had nothing in common with sectarianism.

And then the Lassalleans! In 1872 they were certainly not up to the full level of socialist principles, but they were superior to every other contemporary working-class party in Europe both with regard to theoretical insight and organizational strength, not excepting the Eisenach faction, whose chief intellectual resources were still the popular writings of Lassalle. Lassalle built up his agitation on the broad basis of the proletarian class-struggle, thereby excluding any possibility of sectarianism. His successor Schweitzer was so thoroughly convinced of the indissolubility of the political and the social struggle of the proletariat that he earned the reproach of “parliamentarism” from Liebknecht. It is true that Schweitzer ignored the warnings of Marx in the trade-union question, to his own misfortune, but when the circular of the General Council was written he had been out of the movement for years whilst the Lassalleans had already begun to make good their errors in this respect, for instance, in the strikes of the building workers in Berlin. They had overcome the short interruption of their agitation caused by the war and the workers began to stream into their ranks in increasing numbers.

It is not necessary to stress particularly the attacks made by the circular on the Lassalleans, for Marx harboured an invincible dislike for Lassalle and everything Lassallean, but the connection in which these attacks were made gave them a particular significance. They threw a clear light on the real cause for the dissolution of the International, on the indissoluble contradiction which had developed in the great association after the fall of the Paris Commune. After the fall of the Commune the whole reactionary world mobilized its forces against the International, and the only way in which the latter could hope to defend itself was by centralizing its forces still more strongly. However, the fall of the Commune had proved the necessity of the political struggle, and this struggle was impossible without loosening international ties, for it could be carried on only within national frontiers.

In the last resort the demand for political abstinence, no matter how much it may have been exaggerated, arose out of a justifiable mistrust of the traps of bourgeois parliamentarism, a mistrust which was expressed in its sharpest form in Liebknecht’s famous speech in 1869. In the same way the objection to the dictatorship of the General Council which developed in almost all countries after the fall of the Paris Commune arose in the last resort, apart from all exaggerations, from the more or less clear perception that a national working-class party must be guided first of all by the conditions of its existence within the nation of which it formed a part; that it could no more jump over these conditions than a man can jump over his own shadow; and that, in other words, it was not possible to lead the movement from abroad. Although Marx had already pointed out in the Statutes of the International that the political and social struggles of the working class were indissolubly connected, in practice he proceeded always from those social demands of the workers which were common to all countries with a capitalist mode of production, and he touched on political questions only when they resulted from such social demands such as the demand for the legal shortening of the working day. Political questions in the actual and direct sense of the word, for instance, questions relating to the constitution of the State, and therefore different in every country, he preferred to leave until such time as the proletariat had been educated to greater clarity by the International. It was in this sense that he had reproached Lassalle severely because the latter adapted his agitation to one particular country.

It has been suggested that Marx would have maintained this reserve much longer, but for the fact that the fall of the Paris Commune and the agitation of Bakunin forced the political question on him. That is easily possible and even probable, but in accordance with his character Marx took up the struggle immediately he was challenged. However, he failed to recognize that the problem with which he was faced could not be solved within the framework of the Statutes of the International, and that the more the International attempted to centralize its forces for the struggle against its external enemies, the more it would suffer dissolution internally. The fact that the leading brain of the General Council regarded the most highly-developed working-class party, the most highly developed from his own point of view, and at that in his own country, as a venal police tool offered the most striking proof that the historic knell of the International had sounded.

However, this was not the only proof. Wherever national workers’ parties formed, the International began to break up. What violent reproaches Schweitzer had to suffer from Liebknecht on account of his alleged lukewarmness towards the International! But when Liebknecht found himself at the head of the Eisenach faction he had to listen to the same reproaches from Engels, and he answered them as Schweitzer had answered, namely, by appealing to the German combination laws: “I wouldn’t dream of risking the existence of our organization on this question at the moment.” If the unfortunate Schweitzer had ever dared to use such insolent language – he never did – the “King of the Tailors,” as he was called, who insisted on having “his own party,” would have had to put up with much more. The formation of the Eisenach faction had delivered the first blow at the “German language section” in Geneva, and the final blow at this oldest and strongest organization of the International on the continent was given by the formation of a Swiss workers party in 1871. At the end of the year Becker was compelled to discontinue the publication of Der Vorbote.

In 1872, Marx and Engels had not yet recognized the real causes of the situation and they diminished their own services when they contended that the International had collapsed as the result of the machinations of one single demagogue, although in reality it could have retired from the arena in all honour after having fulfilled its share of a great historical task which had now grown beyond it. One must side with our present-day anarchists when they declare that nothing is more un-Marxist than the idea that an unusually malicious individual, a “highly-dangerous intriguer,” could have destroyed a proletarian organization like the International. One cannot take the part of those orthodox believers whose skin begins to creep with horror at the suggestion that Marx and Engels might not always have dotted their i’s and crossed their t’s. If Marx and Engels were alive to-day they would certainly have nothing but biting contempt for the suggestion that the merciless criticism which was their sharpest weapon should never be turned against themselves.

Their real greatness does not consist in the fact that they never made a mistake, but in the fact that they never attempted to persist in a mistake for one moment after they had recognized it as such. In 1874, Engels admitted that the International had outlived its time. “A general defeat of the working-class movement such as was suffered in the period from 1849 to 1864 will be necessary before a new international, an alliance of all proletarian parties in all countries, along the lines of the old one can come into being. At present the proletarian world is too big and too diffuse.” He consoled himself with the fact that for ten years the International had dominated European history in the interests of the future and that it could look back with pride on its work.

In 1878, Marx, in an English journal, attacked the contention that the International had been a failure and was now dead: “In reality the social-democratic workers’ parties in Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Holland and North America, organized more or less within national frontiers, represent just as many international groups. They no longer represent isolated sections, sparsely distributed over various countries and held together by a General Council on the periphery, but the working class itself in constant, active and direct connection, held together by the exchange of ideas, mutual assistance and joint aims ... Thus, far from dying out, the International has developed from one stage to another and higher one in which many of its original tendencies have already been fulfilled. During the course of this constant development it will experience many changes before the final chapter in its history can be written.” In these lines Marx once again demonstrated his prophetic vision. At a time when the national working-class parties were only just developing, and more than a decade before the new International was formed, he foresaw its historical character, but he granted even this second form no final permanence, certain of one thing only, that new life would spring continually from the ashes of the old until the spirit of the age had fulfilled itself.



>8. The Hague Congress

The circular of the General Council issued on the 5th of March had announced the calling of the annual congress for the beginning of September, and in the meantime Marx and Engels had decided to propose that the seat of the General Council should be moved to New York.

Many disputes have taken place around the necessity and the utility of this proposal and the reasons which caused it to be made. It has been considered as a sort of first-class funeral for the International. Marx had sought to cloak the fact that the International was hopelessly lost. However, this idea is in opposition to the fact that both Marx and Engels continued to support the International with all possible energy and did their utmost to keep it alive even after the General Council had moved to New York. It has also been said that Marx had grown tired of his activities on behalf of the International and wished to devote himself undisturbed to his scientific work, and this idea has received a certain amount of support from a letter written by Engels to Liebknecht on the 27th of May, 1872. He refers to a Belgian proposal to abolish the General Council altogether and adds: “As far as we are concerned we have no objection. Neither Marx nor myself will be members of it again in any case. As the situation is now we have no time for our work, and that must stop.” However, this was no more than a passing remark made in a moment of annoyance. Even if Marx and Engels had refused to be re-elected to the General Council, that was no reason for moving it to New York, whilst Marx had repeatedly refused to neglect the International in favour of his scientific work until such time as it should be securely on the right lines. It is therefore extremely unlikely that for this reason Marx had the idea of abandoning the International to its own devices during the most serious crisis of its whole existence.

We come probably nearer the truth in a letter he wrote to Kugelmann on the 29th of July: “The international congress (Hague, opens on the 2nd of September) will be a matter of life or death for the International and before I withdraw I want at least to protect it from the forces of dissolution.” Part of Marx’s plan to protect the International from “the forces of dissolution” was the moving of the General Council from London, where it was becoming more and more involved in dissensions, to New York. The Bakuninist tendencies were not represented at all in the General Council, or at the most they were so weakly represented that no danger threatened from them, but there was such confusion amongst its German, English and French members that it had been compelled to form a special subcommittee to deal with the constant disputes.

An estrangement had even taken place between Marx and two members of the General Council who had been his most loyal and capable assistants for years, Eccarius and Jung. Indeed, in May, 1872, a definite breach occurred between Marx and Eccarius. Eccarius, living in very straitened circumstances, gave notice that he was leaving his position as General Secretary of the International, for he considered himself indispensable and wished to secure the doubling of his modest weekly salary of fifteen shillings. However, the Englishman John Hales was elected in his stead and Eccarius unjustly blamed Marx for this, although in fact Marx had always supported him against the English. On the other hand, Marx had often rebuked Eccarius for hawking information about the internal affairs of the International around the bourgeois press, and in particular information concerning the private conference of the International in London. Jung blamed Engels and the latter’s autocratic manner for the estrangement between him and Marx and there may have been some truth in this, for, since Marx now had the opportunity of daily contact with Engels, it is possible that, without any bad intentions, he no longer turned to Eccarius and Jung as much as he had done formerly. On the other hand, “the General,” as Engels was nicknamed in the circle, cultivated, even according to the evidence of his best friends, an abrupt military tone, and, when it was his turn to take the chair at the meetings of the General Council, its members were usually prepared for squalls.

When Hales was elected General Secretary, a deadly enmity arose between him and Eccarius, in which the latter enjoyed the support of a section of the English members. Marx received little support from the new General Secretary. On the contrary, when an English Federation, founded in accordance with the decisions of the London conference, held its first congress in Nottingham on the 21st and 22nd of July, Hales proposed to the 21 delegates who were present that the Federation should establish contact with the other Federations not through the General Council, but direct, and that at the coming congress of the International the new Federation should support an alteration of the Statutes of the International with a view to curtailing the authority of the General Council. All this was in accordance with the Bakuninist slogan of the “endangered autonomy of the Federations.” Hales withdrew the second proposal, but the first was adopted. The congress showed no inclination towards the Bakuninist program, but it certainly did towards English radicalism. For instance, it was in favour of the common ownership of the land, but not of all the means of production, which Hales also supported. Hales intrigued quite openly against the General Council and in August it was compelled to remove him from his post.

The Blanquist tendency was dominant amongst the French members of the General Council. In the two chief questions at issue, the question of political activity and the question of strict centralization, the Blanquists were perfectly reliable, but an account of their fundamental preference for revolutionary coups they threatened to become a still greater danger in the given situation, with the European reaction only waiting for a pretext to let loose all its overwhelming power against the International. In fact, Marx’s anxiety that the Blanquists might gain control of the General Council was probably the strongest motive for his proposal that the council should be moved from London to New York where its international composition would be made possible and the safety of its archives guaranteed, a thing which was impossible anywhere on the continent.

Thanks to the strong representation of the Germans and the French amongst the 61 delegates at the Hague congress (which sat from the 2nd to the 7th of September) Marx had a certain majority. His opponents have accused him of having manufactured this majority artificially, but this accusation is absolutely without foundation as far as the authenticity of the mandates of the delegates is concerned. Although the congress spent about half its time examining mandates, all of them were accepted with one exception. It is true, however, that in June, Marx had written to America asking for mandates to be sent for French and German members. Some of the delegates represented sections in countries other than their own. Others used false names at the congress in order not to fall into the hands of the police, or for the same reason concealed the names of the sections they represented. This explains the fairly large discrepancies in the figures given by various reports on the congress concerning the representation of the various countries.

Strictly speaking, only eight delegates were present representing German organizations: Bernhard Becker (Brunswick), Cuno (Stuttgart), Dietzgen (Dresden), Kugelmann (Celle), Milke (Berlin), Rittinghausen (Munich), Scheu (Württemberg) and Schuhmacher (Solingen). Marx, who was a representative of the General Council, also had one mandate each for New York, Leipzig and Mayence, whilst Engels had a mandate each from New York and Breslau. Hepner from Leipzig also had a mandate from New York, whilst Friedländer of Berlin had a mandate from Zurich. Two other delegates with German names, Walter and Swann, were in fact Frenchmen and their real names were Heddeghem and Dentraggues. Both of them were very doubtful characters and at the Hague congress Heddeghem was already a Bonapartist spy. Those of the French delegates who were Commune fugitives appeared at the congress under their own names. Frankel and Longuet supported Marx, although Ranvier, Vaillant and others were Blanquists, but the origin of their mandates was necessarily kept more or less in the dark. The General Council was represented by two Englishmen (Roach and Sexton), a Pole (Vroblevski), three Frenchmen (Serraillier, Cournet and Dupont) and Marx himself. The Communist Workers Association in London was represented by Lessner. The British Federal Council sent four delegates, including Eccarius and Hales, who began to flirt with the Bakuninists in the Hague.

The Italian Bakuninists sent no representatives to the congress. At a conference held in Rimini in August they had broken off all relations with the General Council. The five Spanish delegates, with the exception of Lafargue, were Bakuninists, as also were the eight Belgian and the four Dutch representatives. The Jura Federation sent Guillaume and Schwitzguebel, whilst Geneva remained loyal to Becker. Four delegates came from America: Serge, like Becker, was one of the most loyal supporters of Marx, Dereure, a former member of the Commune, was a Blanquist, and the third delegate was a Bakuninist, whilst the fourth mandate was the only one which was refused recognition by the congress. Denmark, Austria, Hungary and Australia were each represented by one delegate.

Stormy scenes took place even during the preliminary examination of the mandates, which lasted three days. Lafargue’s Spanish mandate was vigorously opposed, but finally recognized against a few abstentions. During the discussion on a mandate which one of the sections in Chicago had given to a member living in London, one of the representatives of the English Federal Council objected that the member was not a recognized leader of the workers, whereupon Marx replied that it was rather an honour than the contrary not to be an English workers’ leader, for the majority of them had sold themselves to the liberals. The mandate was confirmed, but this observation created bad blood and it was zealously exploited against Marx by Hales and his friends after the congress. Marx invariable stood by his own actions and he neither regretted the observation nor did he withdraw it. After the mandates had been scrutinized a number of communications referring to Bakunin were handed over to a committee of five for preliminary sifting. Delegates were elected to this committee who had been as little concerned as possible with the dispute about the Alliance. The German Cuno was the chairman and its other members were the Frenchmen Lucain, Vichard and Waiter-Heddeghem, and the Belgian Splingard.

The actual business of the congress began only on the fourth day with the reading of the report of the General Council. It was drawn up by Marx and read to the congress by him in German, by Sexton in English, by Longuet in French and by Abeele in Flemish. The report scourged all the acts of violence which had been committed against the International since the Bonapartist plebiscite, the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune, the villainies of Thiers and Favre, the infamies of the French chamber, and the high treason trials in Germany; even the English government was taken to task on account of its terrorism against the Irish sections and on account of the inquiries it had caused to be made through its embassies concerning the branches of the association. The fierce campaign of the governments had been accompanied by an intense campaign of lies conducted with the full powers of the civilized world; the International had been bombarded with slanders, sensational telegrams and the insolent falsification of public documents, such as the masterpiece of infernal slander, the despatch which had described the great fire in Chicago as the work of the International. It was a wonder, declared the report, that the hurricane which had devastated the West Indies had not also been put down to the same account. As against this wild and reckless campaign the report of the General Council summed up the steady progress made by the International: its penetration into Holland, Denmark, Portugal, Ireland and Scotland, and its growth in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Buenos Aires. The report was adopted with acclaim, and at the motion of a Belgian delegate the congress placed on record its admiration for and sympathy with all the victims of the proletarian struggle for emancipation.

The discussion on the General Council then began. Lafargue and Serge justified its existence on the basis of the class struggle: the daily struggle of the working class against capitalism could not be conducted effectively without a central body. If no General Council existed it would be necessary to create one. The chief speaker for the opposition was Guillaume, who denied the necessity for a General Council except as a central office for correspondence and statistics and without any authority. The International was not the invention of a clever man in possession of an infallible political and social theory, but in the opinion of the Jura representatives it had grown out of the conditions of working-class existence and these conditions offered sufficient guarantee of the unity of working-class efforts.

The discussion ended on the fifth day of the congress behind closed doors just as the discussion on the mandates had, by the way, also taken place behind closed doors. In a long speech Marx demanded not only that the previous powers of the General Council should be maintained, but even increased. The General Council should be given the right to suspend, under certain conditions, not only individual sections, but whole federations pending the decisions of the next congress. It had neither police nor soldiers at its disposal, but it could not permit its moral power to decay. Rather than degrade it to a letter-box it would be better to abolish the General Council altogether. Marx’s viewpoint was carried with 36 votes against 6, 15 votes being withheld.

Engels then proposed that the General Council should be moved from London to New York. He pointed out that the removal of the council from London to Brussels had been considered on several occasions, but that Brussels had always refused, whilst the prevailing circumstances made it urgently necessary that London should be replaced by New York. The decision must be taken to move the General Council from London to New York for at least a year. The proposal caused general and for the most part unpleasant surprise. The French delegates protested against it with particular vigour, and they succeeded in securing a separate vote first on whether the seat of the General Council should be moved at all, and secondly whether it should be moved to New York. The motion that the seat of the General Council should be moved was carried with a small majority; 26 against 23 votes with g abstentions, whilst 30 votes then decided on New York. Twelve members of the new General Council were then elected and given the right to co-opt seven other members.

The discussion on political action was opened in the same session. Vaillant brought in a resolution in the spirit of the decision of the London conference, declaring that the working class must constitute itself its own political party independent of and hostile to all bourgeois political parties. Vaillant, and after him Longuet, appealed to the lessons of the Paris Commune, which had collapsed for want of a political program. A German delegate who supported the resolution was far less convincing when he declared that owing to his abstention from the political struggle Schweitzer had become a spy, the same Schweitzer who three years previously at the Basle congress had been denounced by the German delegates as a spy precisely on account of his “parliamentarism.” Guillaume, on the other hand, pointed to the happenings in Switzerland, where at the elections the workers had concluded election alliances with Tom, Dick and Harry, sometimes with the radicals and sometimes with the reactionaries. The Jura sections wanted to have nothing to do with such trickery. They also were politicians, but negative politicians. They wanted to destroy political power, not to conquer it.

The discussion lasted until the next day, the sixth and last day of the congress, which began with a surprise. Ranvier, Vaillant and the other Blanquists had already left the congress on account of the decision to remove the General Council to New York, and in a leaflet which they issued shortly afterwards they declared: “Called upon to do its duty, the International collapsed. It fled from the revolution over the Atlantic Ocean.” Serge took the chair in place of Ranvier. Vaillant’s proposal was then adopted with 35 against 6 votes, 8 votes being withheld. A section of the delegates had already left for home, but most of them had left written declarations that they were in favour of the resolution.

The last hours of the last day of the congress were taken up with the report of the committee of five on Bakunin and the Alliance. It declared with four votes against one (that of the Belgian member) that it considered it as proved that a secret Alliance had existed with statutes directly contrary to the statutes of the International, but that there was not sufficient evidence to prove that the Alliance still existed. Secondly, it was proved by a draft of the statutes and by letters of Bakunin that he had attempted to form, and had perhaps succeeded in forming, a secret society within the International with statutes differing fundamentally from the statutes of the International both politically and socially. Thirdly, Bakunin had adopted fraudulent practices in order to obtain possession of the property of others, and in order to release himself from his just obligations, either he or his agents had used intimidation. Upon these grounds the majority of the committee then demanded the expulsion of Bakunin, Guillaume and a number of their supporters from the International. Cuno, who gave the report on behalf of the committee, did not put forward any material evidence, but declared instead that the majority of the committee had reached the moral certainty that their conclusions were correct, and asked for a vote of confidence from the congress.

Called upon by the chairman to defend himself, Guillaume, who had already refused to appear before the committee, declared that he would make no attempt to defend himself as he was unwilling to take part in a farce. The attack, he declared, was not directed against a number of individuals, but against the federalist tendencies as a whole. The representatives of those tendencies, as far as they were still present at the congress, had been prepared for this and had already drawn up an agreement of solidarity. This agreement was then read to the congress by a Dutch delegate. It was signed by five Belgian, four Spanish and two Jura delegates and by an American and a Dutch delegate. In order to avoid any split in the International the signatories declared themselves willing to maintain all administrative relations with the General Council, whilst rejecting any interference on its part in the internal affairs of the Federations, providing such interference did not refer to violations of the general Statutes of the International. In the meantime the signatories appealed to all federations and to all sections to prepare themselves for the next congress in order to carry the principle of free association (autonomie fédérative) to victory. The congress was not prepared to negotiate on the point, but expelled Bakunin immediately with 27 against 7 votes, 8 votes being withheld, and then Guillaume with 25 against 9 votes, 9 votes being withheld. The further expulsion proposals of the committee were rejected, but it was instructed to publish its material on the Alliance.

This concluding scene of the Hague congress was certainly unworthy of it. Naturally, the congress could not know that the decisions of the majority of the committee were invalid because one member was a police spy. It would at least have been understandable if Bakunin had been expelled for political reasons, as a result of the moral conviction that he was an incorrigible mischief-maker and without being able to prove all his machinations in black and white; but that the congress attempted to rob him of his good name in questions of meum et tuum was inexcusable and, unfortunately, Marx was responsible for this.

Marx had obtained the alleged decision of an alleged “revolutionary committee” threatening Liubavin with death should he insist on the re-payment of the advance of 300 roubles paid through his good offices to Bakunin by a Russian publisher for the translation of the first volume of Capital. The actual text of this precious document has never become known, but when Liubavin, now himself a bitter enemy of Bakunin, sent it to Marx he wrote: “At the time it seemed to me that Bakunin’s share in the despatch of the letter was undeniable, but to-day, on cooler consideration of the whole affair, I realize that the letter proves nothing against Bakunin, for it might have been written by Netchayeff without his knowledge.” This was in fact the truth, but merely on the basis of this letter, whose addressee himself considered it not sufficiently incriminating as far as Bakunin was concerned, the latter was accused by the Hague congress of a contemptible piece of roguery.

Although Bakunin repeatedly recognized his obligation in connection with the advance and promised to pay it back in one way or the other, it would appear that his constant financial troubles never permitted him to do so. In the whole dismal affair nothing was heard from the only injured party, namely the publisher, who appears to have accepted his fate with philosophic resignation as one which is only too common in his profession. How many authors, including many of the most famous, have not at some time or other found themselves in the position of having spent their advance and unable to perform the promised work? That is certainly far from praiseworthy, but for all that it is an exaggeration to demand the culprit’s head on a charger.



9. Valedictory Twinges

Despite the efforts of Marx and Engels to keep it alive, the history of the First International closed with the Hague congress. They did their utmost to facilitate the task of the new General Council in New York, but it failed to secure a firm footing on American territory. Numerous dissensions between the various sections existed in America also and the movement lacked experience and connections, intellectual forces and material means. The life and soul of the new General Council was Sorge, who was well acquainted with American conditions and had opposed the removal of the Council to New York. After first refusing he had then accepted his election as General Secretary, for he was much too conscientious and loyal to fail the International when his services were required.

It is always a disagreeable matter to use diplomatic methods in proletarian affairs. Marx and Engels had feared with good reason that their proposal to move the General Council from London to New York would meet with vigorous resistance from the German, French and English workers, and they had concealed their intentions as long as possible in order not to add to the already numerous points of contention. However, the fact that they were successful in surprising the Hague congress nevertheless had evil consequences. The resistance they had feared was not diminished thereby, but rather intensified and embittered.

The Germans offered, comparatively speaking, the least violent resistance. Liebknecht was against the moving of the General Council and he always declared it to have been a mistake, but at the time he was in prison with Bebel in the Hubertusburg. His interest in the International had greatly diminished and this was still more the case with regard to the majority of the Eisenach faction. And the impression brought back from the Hague congress by the delegates of this faction rather increased the general lack of interest. Writing on the 8th of May, 1873, to Sorge, Engels declared: “Although the Germans have their own squabbles with the Lassalleans, they were very disappointed with the Hague congress where they expected to find perfect harmony and fraternity in contrast to their own wranglings, and they have become very disinterested.” This is probably the rather unsatisfactory reason why the German members of the International did not offer any very energetic resistance to the moving of the General Council.

Much more serious was the secession of the Blanquists, upon whom, next to and with the Germans, Marx and Engels reckoned in the decisive questions at issue, in particular for support against the Proudhonists, the other French faction, whose whole attitude made them tend towards the Bakuninists. The bitterness of the Blanquists was intensified by their realization that the decision to move the General Council to New York had been taken in order to prevent them obtaining control of it in support of their putsch tactics. However, they cut off their noses to spite their faces, for since France was closed to their agitation they soon fell victim to the usual fate of emigrants after they had parted company with the International. Writing to Serge on the 12th of September, 1874, Engels declared: “The French emigrants are completely at sixes and sevens. They have quarrelled amongst themselves and with everyone else for purely personal reasons, mostly in connection with money, and we shall soon be completely rid of them ... The irregular life during the war, the Commune and in exile has demoralized them frightfully, and only hard times can save a demoralized Frenchman.” But that was very small consolation.

The removal of the General Council to New York exercised the worst effect on the movement in England. On the 18th of September Hales moved a vote of censure against Marx in the British Federal Council on account of his statement concerning the venality of the English working-class leaders. The vote of censure was adopted, whilst an amendment to the effect that Marx had not believed the accusation himself but had made it merely to serve his own ends, was rejected, the vote being tied. Hales also gave notice that he intended to present a resolution for the expulsion of Marx from the International, whilst another member gave notice for a resolution rejecting the decisions of the Hague congress. Hales then openly continued the relations with the Jura Federation which he had secretly established at the Hague. Writing in the name of the Federal Council on the 6th of November he declared that the hypocrisy of the old General Council had now been exposed. It had attempted to organize a secret society within the International on the pretext of destroying another secret society which it had invented to suit its aims. At the same time, however, he pointed out that the English were not in agreement with the Jura Federation politically. They were convinced of the usefulness of political action, but were naturally prepared to grant complete autonomy to all other federations as demanded by the differing conditions in the various countries.

Hales won zealous allies in Eccarius and Jung, particularly in Jung, who, after some hesitation, finally became one of the most violent opponents of Marx and Engels. Both Eccarius and Jung sinned deeply, first of all because they permitted their political judgment to be determined by personal considerations, jealousy and touchiness based on the fact that Marx paid, or appeared to pay, more attention to Engels than to them, and secondly, by the abandonment of the honourable and influential position which they had won as old members of the General Council. Unfortunately the damage they did was intensified as a result of their former position. At a number of congresses they had become known to the whole world as the most zealous and reliable interpreters of the opinions which Marx held, and when they now appealed to the toleration of the Jura Federation for these same opinions against the intolerance of the Hague decisions the dictatorial hankerings of Marx and Engels seemed to be proved beyond all doubt.

In this case also it was cold consolation to observe that the two chiefly damaged themselves. They met with vigorous resistance in the English and in particular in the Irish sections, and even in the Federal Council itself, and they then carried out a sort of coup d’etat in the English branch of the International by issuing an appeal to all sections and all members, declaring that the British Federal Council was so divided against itself that further co-operation was impossible. They also demanded the calling of a congress to deal with the validity of the Hague decisions, which the appeal interpreted as meaning, not that political action was obligatory for all sections of the International – for that, declared the appeal, was the majority opinion in any case – but that the General Council should determine the policy to be pursued by each federation in its own particular country. The minority immediately replied to these machinations in a counter-appeal which seems to have been drawn up by Engels. This appeal condemned the proposed congress as illegal, but it took place nevertheless on the 26th of January, 1873. The majority of the sections decided in favour of it and they alone were represented at it.

Hales opened this congress by delivering violent attacks on the old General Council and on the Hague Congress, and he was actively supported by Jung and Eccarius. The congress unanimously condemned the Hague decisions and refused to recognize the new General Council in New York. It also declared itself in favour of a new international congress whenever a majority of the federations should declare in favour of it. Thus the split in the British Federation was complete and both remnants proved themselves powerless to take any really effective part in the general elections of 1874 which overthrew the Gladstone Ministry. Their impotence was enhanced by the intervention of the trade unions which put forward a number of candidates and succeeded for the first time in securing the election of two of them.

The sixth congress of the International which the General Council in New York called for the 8th of September in Geneva drew up, so to speak, the death certificate of the International. The Bakuninist counter-congress which took place in Geneva on the 1st of September was attended by two English delegates (Hales and Eccarius), five delegates each from Belgium, France and Spain, four delegates from Italy, one delegate from Holland and six delegates from the Jura, whilst the Marxist congress consisted for the most part of Swiss, and most of those lived in Geneva. Not even the General Council was able to send a delegate and there were no English, French, Spaniards, Belgians or Italians and only one German and one Austrian present. Becker boasted that he had produced thirteen of the not quite thirty delegates more or less by magic in order to increase the prestige of the congress by larger numbers and to ensure that the majority should be secure. Marx was naturally not to be had for such self-deception and he frankly admitted that the congress had been “a fiasco” and advised the General Council not to stress the formal organizational side of the International for the moment, but to retain control of the centre point in New York if possible in order that it should not fall into the hands of idiots and adventurers who might compromise the cause. Events themselves and the inevitable development and complexity of things would assure the resurrection of the International in an improved form.

It was the cleverest and most dignified decision which it was possible to take under the circumstances, but unfortunately its effects were tarnished by the final blow which Marx and Engels felt it necessary to deliver at Bakunin. The Hague congress had instructed the committee of five which had proposed the expulsion of Bakunin to publish the result of its inquiries, but the committee did not do so. Whether the real reason was that “the separation of its members over various countries” prevented it, or whether it felt that its authority was not strong enough on account of the fact that one of its members had declared Bakunin not guilty whilst another had in the meantime been exposed as a police spy, can no longer be settled. The protocol commission of the Hague congress, consisting of Dupont, Engels, Frankel, le Moussu, Marx and Seraillier, therefore took over the task and a few weeks before the Geneva congress it issued a memorandum entitled: The Alliance of Socialist Democracy and the International Workingmen’s Association. This memorandum was drawn up by Engels and Lafargue whilst Marx’s share in the work was no more than the editing of one or two of the concluding pages, though naturally he is no less responsible for the whole than its actual authors.

Any critical examination of the Alliance pamphlet, as it came to be called for the sake of brevity, with a view to determining the correctness or otherwise of its detailed charges would demand at least as much space as the original document. However, very little is lost by the fact that this is impossible for reasons of space. In such disputes hard blows and knocks are delivered by both sides, and the quality of the Bakuninist attacks on the Marxists was not such as to entitle them to complain all too bitterly when they themselves were attacked severely and occasionally unjustly.

It is quite another consideration which places this pamphlet below anything else Marx and Engels ever published. The positive side of the new knowledge, released by negative criticism, is what gives their other polemical writings their own peculiar attraction and lasting value, but the Alliance pamphlet shows nothing of this. It does not deal at all with the internal causes responsible for the decline of the International, but merely continues the line adopted in the Confidential Communication and in the circular of the General Council on the alleged disruption in the International: Bakunin and his secret Alliance had destroyed the International by their intrigues and machinations. The Alliance pamphlet is not a historical document, but a one-sided indictment whose tendentious character is apparent on every page of it. However, the German translator thought it necessary to go one better and, in the best traditions of the Attorney General, he entitled his effort: A Complot against the International Workingmen’s Association.

The decline of the International was caused by quite different matters than the existence of a secret Alliance within its ranks, but even so, the Alliance pamphlet does not even offer proof of the very existence of such an Alliance. Even the committee of inquiry set up by the Hague congress had to content itself with possibilities and probabilities in this connection. No matter how strongly one may condemn a man in Bakunin’s position for intoxicating himself with fantastic statutes and blood and thunder proclamations, one must, in the absence of any tangible evidence to the contrary, assume that it was his lively imagination which played the,chief role in the whole affair. However, the Alliance pamphlet made up for the lack of evidence by filling its second section with revelations provided by the worthy Utin on the Netchayeff process and on Bakunin’s Siberian exile, during which the latter was declared to have made his first efforts as a common blackmailer and footpad. No evidence at all was offered in support of these accusations, and for the rest the evidence was limited to putting down without any further examination everything Netchayeff had said and done to Bakunin’s account.

The Siberian chapter in particular is sheer cheap sensationalism. The Governor of Siberia at the time when Bakunin was living there in banishment was said to be a relative of the latter, and thanks to this connection and to the other services which he had rendered to the Tsarist government, the banished Bakunin had become a sort of “secret regent” and misused his power, in consideration for “moderate bribes,” to favour capitalist undertakings. This greed for money, however, had occasionally been curbed by Bakunin’s “hatred of science,” as for instance when he prevented Siberian merchants from founding a university in their country, for which purpose they needed the permission of the Tsar.

Utin embroidered and embellished the story of Bakunin’s attempt to borrow money from Katkoff with particular artistry. This was the same story with which Borkheim had tried to influence Marx and Engels years before without success. According to Borkheim Bakunin had written from Siberia to Katkoff in order to borrow a few thousand roubles for his flight. According to Utin, however, Bakunin had tried to borrow this money only after his safe arrival in London, his intention being to salve his troubled conscience by paying back the bribes he had received during the Siberian banishment from a manufacturer of spirits there. In the last resort, of course, that was a feeling of remorse, but to Utin’s horror Bakunin could give expression to this, so-to-speak, human emotion only by borrowing from a man whom he knew to be “an informer and literary bushranger in the pay of the Russian government.” This was the dizzy height to which Utin’s fantasy rose, but it was by no means exhausted thereby.

At the end of October, 1873, he went to London to report “still more astonishing things” about Bakunin, and on the 25th of November Engels wrote to Sorge: “The fellow (Bakunin) has made good practical use of his precious Catechism. For years he and his Alliance have been living exclusively from blackmail, relying on the fact that nothing can be published without compromising people who are entitled to consideration. You have no idea what a despicable pack of scoundrels they are.” Fortunately by the time Utin arrived in London the Alliance pamphlet had already seen the light of day for several weeks so that the “still more astonishing things” were kept locked up in his truth-loving bosom and he then proceeded to throw himself penitently at the feet of the Little Father, as a result of which he increased his income from the spirits trade by war-profiteering.

It is the Russian section in which the Alliance pamphlet culminates which did most to destroy its political effects. Even those Russian revolutionaries whose relations to Bakunin were strained were repulsed by the pamphlet. Whilst Bakunin’s influence on the Russian movement in the seventies remained unimpaired, Marx lost much of the sympathy which he had won in Russia. The one success which the pamphlet achieved proved to be a blow in the air, for although it caused Bakunin to withdraw from the struggle it did not touch the movement which bore his name.

Bakunin answered the Alliance pamphlet first of all in a declaration sent to Le Journal de Geneve. It revealed the deep bitterness which the attacks of the pamphlet had caused in him, and he demonstrated their baselessness by pointing out that two police spies had been members of the Hague committee which had drawn up the charges. In reality only one member had been a police spy. He then pointed out that he was already sixty years old and that heart disease was making it more and more difficult for him to take part in public life: “Let the younger ones go forward. As far as I am concerned I have no longer the strength, and perhaps no longer the necessary confidence, to continue rolling the stone of Sisyphus against the everywhere triumphant reaction. I am therefore withdrawing from the conflict, and from my worthy contemporaries I demand only one thing: oblivion. From now on I shall disturb no one; let no one disturb me.” Whilst he accused Marx of having turned the International into the instrument of his personal revenge, he nevertheless still gave him credit for having been one of the founders of “a great and fine association.”

In a letter of farewell which he addressed to the workers of the Jura, Bakunin spoke more severely against Marx, but more objectively. He declared that the socialism of Marx no less than the diplomacy of Bismarck represented the centre of the reaction against which the workers must carry on a terrible struggle. In this letter also he explained his retirement from the struggle by declaring that his age and sickness would make his efforts more of a hindrance than a help to the workers, and he justified his retirement with the fact that the two congresses in Geneva had demonstrated the victory of his cause and the defeat of that of his enemies.

Naturally, the reasons of health advanced by Bakunin for his retirement were mocked at as excuses, but the few years which he still lived in bitter poverty and great suffering showed that his strength had really been broken. The confidential letters to his intimate friends show that he had “perhaps” lost confidence in the speedy victory of the revolution. He died on the 1st of July, 1876 in Berne. He deserved a happier death and a better obituary than he received in numerous working-class circles, though not in all, for he fought bravely and suffered much for the cause of the working class.

With all his mistakes and weaknesses, history will give him a place of honour amongst the pioneers of the international proletariat, though that place may be contested so long as there are Philistines in the world, whether they conceal their long ears under the nightcap of petty-bourgeois respectability or don the lion’s skin of a Marx to cloak their trembling limbs.


Last updated on 27.2.2004