We have covered in detail the history of the foundation of the International and the writing of its Inaugural Address. We shall now proceed to study the Constitution of the International. It, too, was written by Marx and was composed of two parts; one a statement of principles, the other dealing with organisation problems.
We have seen how skillfully Marx introduced the basic principles of communism into the Inaugural Address of the International. But still more important and incomparably more difficult was the introduction of these principles into the Constitution. The Inaugural Address pursued only one aim -- the elucidation of the motives which impelled the workers to assemble on September 28, 1864, and to found the International. But this was not yet a programme, it was only an introduction to it; it was merely a solemn pronunciamento before the whole world -- and this was particularly brought out in its very name that a new international association, an association of workers, was being founded.
In not a less masterly fashion did Marx succeed in solving the second problem -- the formulation of the general problems confronting the working class in different countries.
"That the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves; that the struggle for the emancipation of the working classes means not a struggle for class privileges and monopolies, but for equal rights and duties, and the abolition of all class rule;
"That the economical subjection of the man of labour to the monopoliser of the means of labour, that is, the sources of life, lies at the bottom of servitude in all its forms, of all social misery, mental degradation, and political dependence;
"That the economical emancipation of the working classes is therefore the great end to which every political movement ought to be subordinate as a means;
"That all efforts aiming at that great end have hitherto failed from the want of solidarity between the manifold divisions of labour in each country, and from the absence of a fraternal bond of union between the working classes of different countries;
"That the emancipation of labour is neither a local nor a national, but a social problem, embracing all countries in which modern society exists, and depending for its solution on the concurrence, practical and theoretical, of the most advanced countries;
"That the present revival of the working classes in the most industrious countries of Europe, while it raises a new hope, gives solemn warning against a relapse into the old errors, and calls for the immediate combination of the still disconnected movements."
A careful perusal of these points reveals how closely the Communist Party of Russia had, in some planks of its programme, followed the theses formulated by Marx. The same is true of the old programmes of the English, French, and German parties. In the French and the Erfurt programmes particularly, there are many points that are actually a literal transcription of the basic premises of the Constitution of the First International.
Of course, not all the members of the provisional committee of the International understood these propositions in the same way. For instance, the English, French, and German members all agreed on the proposition that the emancipation of the working class could be achieved only by the working class itself; but this was interpreted differently by each group. The English trade unionists and the ex-Chartists saw in this proposition a protest against the irksome solicitude bestowed upon the workers by the benign members of the middle class. The Frenchmen, who were strongly incensed against the intelligentsia, understood this proposition in the sense of a warning against the treacherous intelligentsia and an affirmation of the ability of the working class to get on without it. Only the Germans, the former members of the Communist League, really grasped all the implications of this proposition. If the working class could emancipate itself only through its own efforts, then any coalition with the bourgeoisie, any hobnobbing with the capitalists would be in sharp opposition to this principle. It was also emphasised that the aim was not to emancipate this or that group of workers, but the working class as a whole, and that the emancipation could be accomplished not by one or another group of workers but by the entire working class, and that this would presuppose a class organisation of the proletariat. From the proposition that capitalist monopoly of the means of production is the cause of the economic enslavement of the working class, it followed that it would be necessary to destroy this monopoly. And this deduction was further strengthened by the demand for the abolition of any class rule, which, of course, could not be attained without the abolition of the division of society into classes.
The proposition, stated in the Inaugural Address, was not repeated in the Constitution. In it there was no direct assertion that for the realisation of all the aims the proletariat had put before itself, it was necessary for it to obtain political power. Instead of this, we find another statement. The Constitution maintained "That the economic emancipation of the working classes is therefore the great end which every political movement ought to be subordinate as a means."
Since this proposition subsequently became the starting point of most furious disagreements in the First International, we must explain it.
What did this proposition imply? The great goal of the proletarian movement was the economic liberation of the working class. This goal could be reached only by expropriating the monopolists of the means of production, by the abolition of all class rule. But how could this be accomplished? Were the "pure" socialists and anarchists right in their deprecation of political struggle?
No, was the reply contained in the thesis formulated by Marx. The struggle of the working class on the political field is as necessary as it is on the economic field. Political organisation is necessary. The political movement of the proletariat must needs develop. It must not however be regarded, as it is regarded by the bourgeois democrats and the radical intelligentsia, as something independent. These are only interested in the change of political forms, in the establishment of a republic; they want to hear nothing of the fundamental questions. This was why Marx emphasised that for the proletariat, the political movement was only a means for the attainment of their great ends, that it was a subsidiary movement. This statement was, to be sure, not as clear cut as the one given in the Communist Manifesto or even in the Inaugural Address, where it was expressly stated that the cardinal aim of the working class was to gain political power.
True, to the English members of the International the proposition as it, was formulated by Marx was quite clear. The Constitution was written in the English language, and Marx utilised the terms with which the former Chartists and Owenites, who were members of the committee, were thoroughly familiar. Apropos of this we should recall that the Chartists' quarrel with the Owenites had been chiefly on the ground that the latter took cognizance only of the "great end" and insisted on ignoring the political struggle. When the Chartists advanced the Charter with its famous six points, the Owenites accused them of having forgotten socialism completely. Then the Chartists on their part asserted that for them, too, the political struggle was not the chief aim. Thus twenty years before, the Chartists had formulated the proposition which was now repeated by Marx. For them, the Chartists maintained, the political struggle is a means to an end, not an end in itself. We can see then why Marx's thesis did not arouse any opposition in the committee. Only a few years later, when the heated discussions between the Bakuninists and their opponents arose, did this point become the bone of contention. The Bakuninists maintained that originally the words "as a means/index.htm" were not contained in the Constitution and that Marx purposely smuggled them in later to foist his conception of politics on the International. An omission of the words "as a means/index.htm" does no doubt change the whole meaning of this point. In the French translation of the Constitution these words were actually omitted.
A little misunderstanding arose which could have been easily explained but which in the heat of factional conflict led to the absurd accusation against Marx of falsification, of forging the Constitution of the International. When the Constitution had been translated the French official edition did not contain the words "as a means." The French text reads: "The economic emancipation of the working class is the great end, to which the political movement ought to be subordinate." This was deemed necessary in order not to attract the attention of Bonaparte's police which regarded with great suspicion any political movement among the workers. At the beginning the police did actually consider the French Internationalists as interested more in economics than in politics. Precisely on the same grounds did the Blanquists who were "politicians," also attack the poor internationalists as "economists."
The trouble was still more aggravated by the fact that this incorrect French translation of the Constitution was reprinted in the French part of Switzerland and from there it was spread through all the countries where the French language was most familiar -- Italy, Spain, and Belgium. We shall see later, that at the first general congress, which ratified the temporary Constitution of the International, each nation accepted the text which it had before it. The First International was too poor to print its Constitution in three languages. Even the English text was printed only in a thousand copies, all of which were soon gone. Guillaume, one of the most bitter opponents of Marx, and the one who most persistently accused Marx of forgery, assures us in his History of the International that only in 1905 did he see for the first time the English text with the words "as a means/index.htm" included! Had he wanted to, he could have convinced himself long before that Marx was not a falsifier, but this would not materially have changed the course of events. We know full well that on the question of tactics the most violent discords may arise when to all appearances the conflicting parties adhere in principle to the same programme.
The Constitution contained another point against which, it is true, the anarchists did not protest but which from the point of view of Marxism inspires doubts. We have already mentioned that, in order to reach an agreement among the highly diversified elements which entered into the make-up of the committee, Marx was forced to compromise on some points. These were made not in the Inaugural Address, but in the Constitution. We shall soon see what these compromises were.
Right after the presentation of the principles, on the basis of which the members of the committee that was elected at the meeting of September 28, 1864, had decided to found the International Workingmen's Association, Marx continued:
"The first International Working Men's Congress declares that this International Association and all societies and individuals adhering to it will acknowledge truth, justice, and morality, as the basis of their conduct towards each other, and towards all men, without regard to colour, creed or nationality;
"This Congress considers it the duty of a man to claim the rights of a man and a citizen, not only for himself but for every man who does his duty, no rights without duties, no duties without rights."
Wherein lay the concessions made by Marx? We observe that concerning this he himself wrote to Engels, "All my suggestions were adopted by the subcommittee. I was compelled to insert into the Constitution some phrases about 'rights' and 'duties,' as well as 'truth, morality, and justice' but all this is so placed that it is not likely to bring any harm."
And it really was not anything catastrophic. There s nothing terrible, per se, in the words Truth, Justice, and Morality, as long as we realise that these concepts are not eternal, unalterable, and independent of social conditions. Marxism does not deny truth, justice, and morality; it merely proves that the evolution of these concepts is determined by historical developments, and that different social classes see in them different contents.
It would have been bad had Marx been compelled to reiterate the declaration of the French and English socialists, had he been forced to say that we must fight for socialism in the name of truth, justice and morality and not because, as he had so marvellously presented in the Inaugural Address, it is inevitable, because it logically follows from the very condition created by capitalism and from the very situation of the working class. As these words were put in by Marx they merely stated that the members of the International Workingmen's Association were obliged to conduct themselves in their relations to each other in the spirit of truth, justice, and morality, that is, not to betray each other or the class to which they belonged, not to deceive each other, to act in a comradely spirit, etc. Instead of the principles upon which the Utopian Socialists had based their demand for socialism, these concepts were now transmuted by Marx into basic rules of conduct within the proletarian organisation itself.
But the point which we are now discussing declares that these principles must serve as a basis for the conduct of the members of the International in their relation to all persons regardless of race, religion, or nationality. And this was not less useful. We must bear in mind that at this time in the United States there raged the Civil War; that shortly before the Polish insurrection had been definitely crushed; that the Czar's armies were bringing to a successful conclusion the conquest of the Caucasus; that religious persecution was still going on throughout most of the civilised countries; that even in England the Jews were given political rights only toward the end of the fifties, and that not only in Russia but in other European states, too, they were not yet enjoying full civil rights.
The bourgeoisie had not yet materialised the "eternal" principles of morality and justice even where members of their own class in their own countries were involved. These principles were most unceremoniously trampled upon where members of other countries or nationalities were concerned.
The point pertaining to Rights and Duties was much more objectionable. There was neither rime nor reason for urging each member to fight for his rights as a man and as a citizen; to fight not only for himself but for others. Here Marx, despite his great diplomatic skill, was forced to make a serious concession to the representatives of the French revolutionary emigrants who were on the committee.
Let us recall now some facts concerning the Great French Revolution. One of the first acts was the declaration of the rights of man and of the rights of citizenship. In its struggle against the landed aristocracy and absolutism which was appropriating all the privileges and was imposing on others all the duties, the revolutionary bourgeoisie brought forward demands for equality, fraternity, and liberty, and demands that every man, every citizen, should be recognised as possessing a number of inalienable rights. Among these the sacred irrefragable right of private property was particularly stressed. This right was being unhesitatingly violated by the aristocracy and by the royal power where the property of the Third Estate was concerned.
The Jacobins introduced only a few corrections into this declaration of rights. The point concerning the sacredness of private property was left intact. The declaration was rendered more radical with respect to politics, for it sanctioned the right of the people to revolt and it emphasised the brotherhood of all nations. In this form it is known as the Declaration of Rights of 1793 or of Robespierre, and it became the programme of the French revolutionists from the beginning of 1830.
On the other hand Mazzini's adherents insisted on the acceptance of his programme.. In his famous book, On the Duties of Man, which was translated into English and which won wide popularity there among the workers, Mazzini, in accord with his slogan, "God and the People," and in contradistinction to the French materialists with their declaration of the rights of man based on reason and nature, advanced the conception of duty, of obligations, instilled by God in man as the fundamental premise of his idealistic ethics.
We now understand the derivation of Marx's formula: There are no rights without duties, there are no duties with out rights. Forced to incorporate the demands from the Declaration of Rights, Marx utilized the controversy between the Frenchmen and the Italians to underline in his formulation the distinction between this demand and the former demand of the bourgeoisie. The proletariat also demands its rights but it declares at the outset that it does not admit the rights of the individual without the individual's corresponding duties to society.
When a few years later, the Constitution was re-examined, Marx suggested that only the words referring to the Declaration of Rights be stricken out. The proposition dealing with Rights and Duties was retained, and was later incorporated into the Erfurt Programme in the form of Equal Rights and Equal Duties.
We shall now pass on to the study of the Constitution itself
"1. This Association is established to afford a central medium of communication and co-operation between Working Men's Societies existing in different countries and aiming at the same end; viz., the protection, advancement, and complete emancipation of the working classes.
"2. The name of the Society shall be The International Working Men's Association.
"3. There shall annually meet a General Working Men's Congress, consisting of delegates of the branches of the Association. The Congress will have to proclaim the common aspirations of the working class, take the measures required for the successful working of the International Association, and appoint the General Council of the Society.
"4. Each Congress appoints the time and place of meeting for the next Congress. The delegates assemble at the appointed time and place without any special invitation. The General Council may, in case of need, change the place, but has no power to postpone the time of meeting. The Congress appoints the seat and elects the members of the General Council annually. The General Council thus elected shall have power to add to the number of its members.
"On its annual meetings, the General Congress shall receive a public account of the annual transactions of the General Council. The latter may, in cases of emergency, convoke the General Congress before the regular yearly term.
"5. The General Council shall consist of working men from the different countries represented in the International Association. It shall from its own members elect the officers necessary for the transaction of business, such as a treasurer, a general secretary, corresponding secretaries for the different countries, etc.
"6. The General Council shall form an international agency between the different national and local groups of the Association, so that the working men in one country be constantly informed of the movements of their class in every other country; that an inquiry into the social state of the different countries of Europe be made simultaneously, and under a common direction; that the questions of general interest mooted in one society be ventilated by all; and that when immediate practical steps should be needed -- as, for instance, in case of international quarrels -- the action of the associated societies be simultaneous and uniform. Whenever it seems opportune, the General Council shall take the initiative of proposals to be laid before the different national or local societies. To facilitate the communications, the General Council shall publish periodical reports.
"7. Since the success of the working men's movement in each country cannot be secured but by the power of union and combination, while, on the other hand, the usefulness of the International General Council must greatly depend on the circumstance whether it has to deal with a few national centres of working men's associations, or with a great number of small and disconnected local societies; the members of the International Association shall use their utmost efforts to combine the disconnected working men's societies of their respective countries into national bodies, represented by central national organs."
The basic principles of this Constitution were later ratified by the Congress. One of the essential changes introduced on Marx's initiative was the abolition of the office of the President of the Central, or as it was later called, the General Council. The experience of the General German Labour Union which had been organised by Lassalle showed all the inconveniences bound up with this utterly useless institution. For conducting its meetings the General Council now elected a chairman. The current affairs were taken care of by a meeting of secretaries from the various national organisations in co-operation with a general secretary.
The Constitution of the International has been utilised more than once in the history of the international labour movement. The scope of this work does not allow a more detailed study of the various changes that were introduced into it during its eight years. In its main features it remained unchanged. Towards the end of the First International, more power was delegated to the General Council.
The all-absorbing problem of the temporary Council was the calling together of an International Congress. This was the cause of heated discussions. Marx maintained that all the preliminary work be completed first so that the different countries should first have the opportunity of acquainting themselves with the problems confronting the International and of organisation a bit. The Englishmen, on the contrary, putting the interests of their trade-union movement above everything else, demanded the immediate convocation of a Congress. The French emigrants in the Central Council were allied with them.
The whole affair terminated in a compromise. In 1865 there was convened not a congress but a conference. It took mace in London and it was chiefly preoccupied with the examination of reports and the arranging of the order of business for the next congress. Switzerland, England, Belgium, and France were represented. Things did not look very promising, It was decided to call a congress for May, 1866.
In Germany, despite the existence of the General Labour Union, affairs were in an even worse state. Lassalle was killed in a duel on August 30, 1864. In accordance with the constitution of the Union. Bernhard Becker, a man of small capabilities and little influence, became president. A much greater influence was wielded by J. B. Schweitzer (1833-1875), the editor of the central organ of the Union, The Social-Democrat. Very soon, however, serious disagreements on questions of internal politics arose between him and Wilhelm Liebknecht who had shortly before become a member of the editorial staff. Marx and Engels who had agreed to contribute to the paper, were soon driven publicly to disclaim all connections with it. The late Mehring attempted to defend Schweitzer; he asserted that in this case Marx and Engels had been wrong. But Mehring was in error. All the facts speak against him.
We have already seen that there had been serious flaws in Lassalle's tactics, that he had allowed himself inadmissible stratagems with respect to the ruling clique. Schweitzer went even further. He printed a series of articles which, Mehring himself admits, created a very unpleasant impression by their sycophantic cringing before Bismarck. Mehring endeavoured to justify it, claiming that such methods were needed in view of the prevailing legal conditions. Liebknecht, the veteran revolutionist, could not, it was claimed, adapt himself and so he set his old friends and teachers upon Schweitzer. Schweitzer and Liebknecht separated. The latter was supported by Marx and Engels, and even by their old opponents, such as Hess, who, too, could not reconcile themselves with Schweitzer's methods. The old revolutionists nicknamed Schweitzer's party "Bismarck's Party."
When the London conference met, Marx's friends in Germany had neither a publication nor real organisation. The Lassalleans refused to have anything to do with the International. As a result of the schism, the Germans were represented in the International only by the old German emigrants who were then domiciled in England and Switzerland.
At the London conference it became clear that the finances of the International were in a most deplorable state. It appeared that for a whole year only about one hundred and fifty dollars were collected. The whole turnover amounted to about thirty-three pounds sterling. With such an income it was difficult to carry on activity on a large scale. It was hardly enough for meeting the most necessary expenses.
During the discussions of the order of business, other disagreements came to light, that arose between the Frenchmen who lived in London and the Frenchmen who represented the Paris organisation. The latter were against taking up the question of Polish independence for they regarded it as purely political. On their part, the French emigrants, supported by some Englishmen, demanded that the question of religion be placed on the order of the day; they clamoured for an unflinching war upon religious prejudice. Marx declared himself against this. He based his opposition on the sound belief that in view of the still weak ties that were holding the labour movement of the different countries together, the injection of the religious question would generate unnecessary friction. He, however, remained in the minority.
Another year elapsed before the first Congress was called. During the interval there occurred a number of important events. In England this was a year of intensive political conflict. The English trade unions, led by the workers who were members of the General Council, were carrying on a stubborn struggle for a wider suffrage. This struggle, we repeat, was developing under the direction of the International. Marx tried his utmost to prevent the English workers from repeating their old mistakes. He wanted them to fight independently without entering into entangling alliances with the radicals. But in the beginning of 1866 the old tendency manifested itself -- the tendency that had caused such harm to the English labour movement during the era of Chartism, and that is still having its deleterious effects on it. Since universal suffrage was the object, the proletarian leaders, partly because of financial considerations, entered into an agreement with the most radical section of the bourgeois democracy which had universal suffrage on their programme. To conduct this fight a joint committee was organised, made up of the most variegated elements. Here, there were such highly respectable democrats as Professor Beesly; here, too, were representatives of the so-called free professions -- lawyers, judges, representatives of the petty, the middle, and particularly the commercial bourgeoisie who, from the very beginning were inclining toward compromise. The struggle was carried on in the English manner. Meetings and demonstrations were arranged. In July, 1866, London witnessed a demonstration, the size of which it had not seen even in the time of Chartism. The government was finally convinced that concessions were unavoidable.
We shall now recall that after the July Revolution of 1830 a strong movement for parliamentary reforms had taken place in England. It had all culminated in a compromise, the workers were cheated in the most unpardonable fashion, and the right to vote was won only by the industrial bourgeoisie. So it happened now. When the government saw that its retreat was inevitable, and that the city workers were in a threatening mood, it proposed a compromise -- the broadening of the suffrage right to include the city proletariat.
We should specify that universal suffrage meant universal male suffrage. The granting of this right to the women was not even thought of. The compromise was immediately accepted by the bourgeois members of the committee of electoral reforms. Suffrage was granted to workers who had a definite abode, even if it consisted of one room, for which they paid a specific minimum rental. Thus the right to vote was won by almost all the urban workers, with the exception of the very indigent ones of whom there were at the time a considerable number in the English cities. The rural proletariat still remained without the right to vote. This clever trick was invented b y Disraeli, the leader of the English conservatives, and was subscribed to by the bourgeois reformers who persuaded the workers to accept the concessions with the view to a further struggle for an extension of the suffrage. But the rural workers had to wait another twenty years, while the workers without permanent homes were given suffrage only after the liberalising influence of the Revolution of 1905 in Russia.
Events not less important took place in Germany in the years 1865-1866. A furious conflict broke out between Prussia and Austria. The mooted question was hegemony within Germany. Bismarck's objective was the final exclusion of Austria from the German Confederation, and the elevation of Prussia to a dominant place among the remaining German states. This controversy developed into an armed conflict between Austria and Prussia. In two or three weeks Prussia, which had no scruples about entering into an alliance with Italy against another German state, smashed Austria to pieces and annexed several petty German states which had been helping Austria -- the Kingdom of Hanover, the free city of Frankfort, the Hesse principality, etc. Austria was definitely thrown out of the German Confederation. The North-German Confederation headed by Prussia was organized. To win the sympathies of the workers, Bismarck introduced universal suffrage.
In France, Napoleon was forced to make some concessions. A few laws dealing with combinations of workers were eliminated from the criminal code. The persecution of economic organisations, particularly co-operatives and societies for mutual aid, was weakened. The moderate wing among the workers, with its emphasis on legal means, was gaining strength. On the other hand Blanquist organisations were growing. These fought the Internationalists tooth and nail, accusing them of abandoning revolutionary action and of coquetting with Bonaparte's government.
In Switzerland, the workers were engaged in their local affairs and only the emigrants from other countries took an interest in the International. The German section, headed by Becker, which published the Vorbote, played the role of a centre for that portion of the workers in Germany who, unlike the Lassalleans, adhered to the International.
The Congress convened in Geneva in September, 1866, shortly after Prussia had defeated Austria, and the English workers had won what had then appeared to them as a great political victory over the bourgeoisie. The Congress was opened with a scandal. Besides the Proudhonists, there came from France the Blanquists, who also insisted on participating in the work of the Congress. These were mostly students of very revolutionary tendencies. They acted most pertinaciously, although they had no mandate. They were finally quite indecorously thrown out; it was even rumoured that there was an attempt to drown them in the Lake Geneva, but this is a fairy tale. But the denouement did not come off without the application of fistic and pedal energy, this being the usual thing when Frenchmen are embroiled in a factional fight.
When, however, the work was started, a battle royal occurred between the Proudhonists and the delegation of the General Council which consisted of Eccarius and some English workers. Marx himself could not come, he was busy putting the finishing touches to the first volume of Capital. Furthermore, for a sick man who was also under the vigilant surveillance of French and German spies such a journey would have been difficult. But Marx wrote a very detailed report for the delegation concerning all the points to be taken up at the Congress.
The French delegation presented a very painstaking report which was an exposition of the economic ideas of Proudhon. They declared themselves to be vigorously opposed to woman labour, claiming that nature itself designated woman for a place near the family hearth, and that woman's place is in the home and not the factory. Declaring themselves definitely opposed to strikes and to trade unions, they propounded the ideas of co-operation and particularly the organisation of exchange on the principles of mutualism. The first conditions were agreements entered into by separate co-operatives, and the establishment of free credit. They even insisted that the Congress ratify an organisation for international credit, but all they succeeded in doing was to have a resolution adopted which advised all the sections of the International to take up the study of the question of credit and the consolidation of all the workers' loan associations. They even objected to legislative interference with the length of the workday.
They met with the opposition of the English and the German delegates. Point by point they brought forward in the form of resolutions the corresponding parts of Marx's report.
This report insisted that the chief function of the International was the unification and co-ordination of the divers efforts of the working class fighting for its interests. It was necessary to weave such ties so that the labourers of the different countries should not merely feel themselves comrades in battle but that they should also work as members of one army of liberation. It was necessary to organise international aid in cases of strikes and to interfere with the free movement of strikebreakers from one country into another.
As one of the most important problems, Marx stressed scientific research into the conditions of the working class which should be instituted on the initiative of the working class itself. All the collected materials should be directed to the General Council to be worked over. Marx even indicated briefly the chief points of this working-class inquiry.
The question of trade unions provoked most vehement debates. The Frenchmen objected to strikes and to any organised resistance to the employers. The workers must seek their salvation through co-operatives only. The London delegates pressed as a counter-proposal that section of Marx's report which dealt with trade unions. This was adopted by the Congress; but the same misunderstanding occurred here as had with regard to the other regulations of the First International. The exact text was not known for a long time. The Germans knew it through a very unsatisfactory translation published in Becker's Vorbote; the French knew it through an even worse translation.
All that had been said by Marx in the Poverty of Philosophy and in the Communist Manifesto concerning trade unions as the basic nuclei of the class organisation of the proletariat was restated by him in the resolution in a still more definite form. There were also pointed out the contemporary problems of the trade unions and the defects that were typical of them when they where transformed into narrow guild organisations Let us examine this a little more closely.
How did trade unions originate? How have they developed? They are the result of the struggle between capital and wage labour. In this struggle, the workers find themselves in very unfavourable circumstances. Capital is a social force concentrated and focused in the hands of the capitalists. The worker has only his labour power at his disposal. Thus all talk of a free agreement between the capitalist and the labourer is mere cant and nonsense. When the followers of Proudhon prated of a free and a just agreement, they simply betrayed their ignorance of the mechanism of the capitalist process of production. An agreement between capital and labour can never be concluded on a just basis, even according to the moral standards of a society which places the material means necessary for life and labour on one side and the living productive energy on the other. Behind the individual capitalist there is a social force. The only thing the workers have with which to counteract this force is numbers. But this power of numbers, the mass, is destroyed by a division among the workers, which is created and maintained by the competition for jobs. Thus the first problem that confronted the working class was the elimination of competition. Thus trade unions arose from the voluntary attempts of the workers themselves to set aside, or at least to modify, this competition and to achieve conditions for an agreement which would enable them to rise above the status of mere slaves. Their immediate problem was limited to ordinary needs, to the discovery of ways to stall the ceaseless usurpation of capital, to questions of wages and the number of working hours. Contrary to the assertions of the Proudhonists, this activity is not only thoroughly just, it is also indispensable. It is unavoidable while the present system of production continues to exist. It has to go further, and become more general And this can only be accomplished through education and international combinations of workers.
But they play another and not less important rare, which the followers of Proudhon understood as little in 1866 as their teacher had understood it in 1847. Unconsciously, the trade unions served and still serve as points around which workers' organisations were and are crystallised. Their function is reminiscent of the function of the municipalities and the communes in the development of the bourgeoisie. And if they are indispensable for the guerrilla war between capital and labour, they are even more important as organized factors in the abolition of the very system of wage labour.
Unfortunately, the trade unions have not yet clearly grasped the full significance of this aspect of their role in social evolution. Too exclusively absorbed in their local and immediate struggles with capital, the trade unions have not yet fully realised the force of their activity against the system of wage slavery. This is why they kept and still keep aloof from general and political movements.
Marx pointed out certain signs which indicated that the trade unions were apparently beginning to wake up to some understanding of their historic mission. These signs he saw in the participation of the English trade unions in the struggle for universal suffrage as well as in the resolutions adopted at their conference in Sheffield recommending that all the trade unions join the International.
In conclusion, Marx, who until now was directing his artillery at the followers of Proudhon, addressed himself to the pure-and-simple trade unionists, criticising them for their tendency to limit themselves to questions of wages and hours. Besides their primary problems, Marx insisted, the unions must learn to act as conscious organising centres of the working class in the interests of its complete emancipation. They must assist any social or political movement which aspires to this goal. They must regard themselves as fighters and representatives of the entire working class and must act accordingly; they should attract into their ranks all the workers. They must be indefatigably solicitous about the interests of the workers in the most poorly paid branches of industry, as, for instance, the farm labourers who, owing to the peculiarity of the conditions under which they work, are condemned to impotence. The trade unions must convince the entire world, that not only are they not narrow and selfish, but that, on the contrary, their objective is the setting free of oppressed millions.
Altogether, the debates at the Geneva Congress concerning trade unions were of great interest. The London delegates defended their position very ably. To them the resolution was a mere deduction from Marx's exhaustive report which, unfortunately, was known only to them. Even when the questions that were to be brought before the Congress had been discussed by the General Council, there sprang up serious disagreements. Marx, therefore, proceeded to deliver before the Council the detailed report in which he had clarified the significance of trade unions in the capitalist process of production. He took advantage of this opportunity to present to his audience, in a very popular form, his new theory of value and surplus value, to explain to them the interrelation of wages, profits, and prices. The minutes of these meetings of the General Council impress one with their profound seriousness of which many a learned bourgeois institution might be envious. The weight of all this scholarship and science was being offered in the service of the working class.
Not less skillfully did the London delegates defend Marx's resolution concerning the eight-hour day. In contradistinction to the French delegates, they maintained together with Marx that a condition precedent to any further efforts to improve and liberate the working class and without which all efforts would be futile was a legislative limitation of the length of the working day. It was essential to restore the health and the physical energy of the working class -- the vast majority of each nation -- and also to insure them the possibility of intellectual development, social communion, and political activity. The Congress, on the recommendation of the General Council, declared the eight-hour day as the legislative maximum. This limiting of the workday to eight hours was one of the demands of the workers in the United States. The Geneva Congress incorporated this demand into the platform of the working class of the whole world. Night work was allowed only in exceptional cases, in branches of industry and certain professions definitely specified by the law. The ideal was the elimination of all night work.
It is regrettable that Marx did not expatiate upon the question of woman labour in his report. He deemed it sufficient to say that the entire paragraph dealing with a shorter workday applied to all mature workers, women as well as men, with the additional provision that women were not to be admitted to any night work, or to any other work which would be ruinous for the female organism, or which would subject it to the action of poisonous or generally harmful substances. And since the majority of the French and Swiss delegates had declared themselves against any female labour, the Congress found it easy to accept Marx's thesis and to pass the resolution proposed by the Frenchmen. Thus the result was that it would be best to prohibit woman labour, but since it was still in use, it was necessary to keep it within the limits suggested by Marx.
Marx's propositions pertaining to child and adolescent labour were adopted in toto without any Proudhonist additions or modifications. Here it was suggested that the tendency of modern industry to attract children and adolescents of both sexes into a participation in the great tasks of social production was progressive, wholesome, and legitimate, despite the fact that under capitalism it degenerated into a horrible evil. In a rationally organised society, Marx thought, every child from the age of nine upward must engage in productive labour, just as no physically able adult can be released from a submission to the law of nature which demands physical and mental work from those who want to live. In connection with this question Marx proposed an elaborate programme to combine physical and mental labour. Spiritual and physical development plus a technical education which would give the children a grasp of the scientific principles involved in modern production -- all this entered into his plan.
In his report Marx also touched upon the problem of cooperatives. He here took occasion not merely to destroy the illusions concerning pure co-operatives, but to point out the conditions antecedent to a successful co-operative movement. As in the Inaugural Address, here too he preferred producers' to consumers' co-operatives.
"Restricted, however, to the dwarfish forms into which individual wage slaves can elaborate it by their private efforts, the co-operative system will never transform capitalistic society. To convert social production into one large and harmonious system of free and co-operative labour, general social changes are wanted, changes of the general conditions of society, never to be realised save by the transfer of the organised forces of society, viz: the state power from capitalists and landlords to the producers themselves."
We see that here too Marx was emphasising the necessity for the working class to win political power for itself. The project of the Constitution, with which we have already become acquainted, was accepted without any modifications. The efforts of the French delegates, who had already raised this question at the London conference, to interpret the word "work" to mean only physical work and thus to exclude the representatives of intellectual labour, met with a strong opposition. The English delegates declared that should such a proposition be adopted, Marx, who had done so much for the International, would be among the first ones to be shut out.
The Geneva Congress effected a colossal propaganda weapon. All the resolutions passed by this Congress which formulated the basic demands of the proletariat and which were almost exclusively written by Marx, entered into the practical minimum programmes of all working-class parties. The Congress met with warm response from all countries, including Russia. It was immediately after the Geneva Congress, which had given such a powerful stimulus to the development of the international labour movement, that the International won great popularity for itself. Some bourgeois-democratic organisations directed their attention to the International, intending to utilise it for their own purposes.
At the next Congress, in Lausanne (1867), a struggle broke out as to whether the new international society, the League for Peace and Freedom, should be permitted to participate in the next Congress. Those who were for participation won. Only at the following Congress, at Brussels (1868), did the point of view of the General Council triumph. It was decided to suggest to the League that it join the International, and that its members enter as a section of the International.
Marx was not present at these two Congresses either. Before the Lausanne Congress completed its work, the first volume of Capital was published. The Brussels Congress, at the suggestion of the German delegation, passed a resolution which urged the workers of the different countries to study Capital. The resolution pointed out that to Marx belonged the honour of being "the first economist who subjected capital to a scientific analysis and who reduced it to its basic elements."
The Brussels Congress also took up the question dealing with the influence of machinery on the conditions of the working class, strikes, and private ownership of land. Resolutions were adopted in a spirit of compromise. Nevertheless it was here that the point of view of socialism, or collectivism as it was then called, won over the French delegates. The necessity for a transition to collective ownership of the means of transportation and communication as well as of land was now clearly recognised. In its final form this resolution was adopted by the Congress at Basle (1869).
Since the Lausanne Congress the central political question in the International was war and its prevention. After the war of 1866, after Prussia's victory over Austria, the opinion was current that the inevitable consequence would be an armed conflict between France and Prussia. In 1867 the relations between these two countries reached a crucial stage. Napoleon's position became very insecure as a result of the unsuccessful colonial adventures into which he plunged in the hope of raising his prestige. At the instigation of several powerful financiers he contrived an expedition into Mexico. This provoked great irritation in the United States, which guarded most jealously against any infringement of the Monroe Doctrine. Napoleon's project came to a disgraceful end. Things had to be patched up in Europe. But there, too, failure haunted him. Having been compelled to make concessions in internal politics, he was hoping that a successful annexation in Europe which would round out the dominions of France would doubtless strengthen his position. Thus in 1867 there arose the Luxembourg Affair. After various unsuccessful attempts to lay hands on some territory on the left bank of the Rhine, Napoleon tried to buy from Holland the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Up to 1866 it had belonged to the German Union, but it was ruled by the King of Holland. A Prussian garrison which had formerly been stationed there was forced to leave. News of the bargain between Napoleon and Holland created great commotion among the German patriots. There were rumours of war. Napoleon, calculating that he was not yet fully ready for it, turned back. His prestige suffered a crucial blow. He again had to recede before the rising wave of opposition.
Toward the time of the Brussels Congress the situation in Europe became so acute that war seemed imminent. The feeling prevailed that it would break out as soon as France and Prussia completed their preparations and found a convenient pretext. The perplexing problem of how to prevent the war, which, it was well understood, would seriously injure the interests of the French and the German workers, was uppermost in the minds of the proletariat. The proletarian movement was growing rapidly, particularly on the continent. Therefore the International, which by 1868 had developed into a redoubtable force at the head of the international workers' movement, could not help becoming greatly involved in the question. After a series of heated debates in which some insisted that in case of war, it would be necessary to call a general strike, while others maintained that only socialism could bring an end to all war, the Brussels Congress adopted a rather absurd resolution which was the result of a compromise.
But since, toward the summer of 1869, the phantom of war had temporarily disappeared, economic and social problems rose to the top at the Basle Congress. The question concerning the co-operate ownership of all of the means of production which had already been superficially discussed by the Brussels Congress, was now for the first time put squarely before the delegates. Those who were opposed to private ownership of land won a sweeping victory. The followers of Proudhon were irrevocably swamped. New dissensions, however, arose at the Congress. It was at Basle that the famous Bakunin first made his appearance as the representative of a separate movement.
Where did he come from? We have already met him in Berlin at the beginning of the forties. We know that he had been influenced by the same philosophic currents which had influenced Marx and Engels. In 1848 he was connected with those of the German emigrants in Paris who had organised a revolutionary legion in order to invade Germany. During the revolution itself he was in Bohemia where he was trying to unite the Slav revolutionists. He later took a part in the insurrection of the Saxon revolutionists at Dresden, was arrested, condemned to death, but handed over to Nicholas I, who incarcerated him in the Schlusselburg fortress. A few years later, in the reign of Alexander II, he was exiled to Siberia from which he escaped, making his way through Japan and America back to Europe. This happened in 1862. At first he plunged into Russian affairs, joined Alexander Herzen (1812-1870) wrote a few pamphlets dealing with Slav and Russian questions and in which he again insisted upon the necessity of a revolutionary alliance of the Slavs, and made an unsuccessful attempt to join the Polish insurrection. In 1864 he met Marx in London, from whom he learned of the founding of the International and to whom he promised his co-operation. He left for Italy, however, where he became engrossed in something entirely different. Bakunin now held the same view that he had in 1848, that is that Marx exaggerated the importance of the working class. According to him, the intelligentsia, the student class, the representatives of the bourgeois democracy, particularly from among the middle classes, were a much stronger revolutionary element. While the International was struggling with the difficulties it was at first encountering and was gradually becoming the most influential international organisation, Bakunin was trying to organise his own revolutionary society in Italy. He then migrated to Switzerland, and there joined the bourgeois League for Peace and Freedom, and was even elected to the central committee of that organisation. In 1868 he left the League, but instead of joining the International, he and his friends founded a new society, the International Social-Democratic Alliance, which came to be generally known as the Alliance.
The new society took a highly revolutionary stand. It declared implacable war upon God and the State. It demanded of its members that they be atheists. The economic programme was not distinguished by any particular clarity. It demanded the economic and social levelling of all classes. Despite its revolutionary character, the new organisation did not even propose a consistent socialist programme; it confined itself to a demand for the abolition of the right of inheritance. Anxious not to frighten away members of other classes, it was careful not to stress its definite class character. The new society applied to the General Council that it be taken into the International as a separate organisation, with its own constitution and its own programme.
We are now approaching the most embarrassing point. Since Marx wielded a great influence in the General Council, he is usually held responsible for all the decisions that were made by the Council. Although this is not always correct, in this case Marx was chiefly responsible. Thus, if we should believe not only Bakunin's partisans but even those Marxists who are inclined to defend the great bungler, though very sincere revolutionist, Bakunin, Marx acted too precipitously when he insisted upon a decisive refusal. We, of course, are not so soft-hearted as to feel that the refusal to admit into the International a group that was guilty of hobnobbing with the bourgeoisie was too peremptory.
Let us recall another circumstance. Bakunin sent the programme of the new Alliance to Marx; he also mailed a personal letter under separate cover. This was about four years after Bakunin had written from Italy promising to work for the International. It was now disclosed that not only did he not keep his promise, but that he even exerted all his strength in favour of a bourgeois movement. True, he wrote that he now understood better than he ever had before how right Marx was in having chosen the broad highway of economic revolution; he ridiculed those who wandered astray along the path of purely national and political enterprises. He added with pathos:
"Since taking leave solemnly and publicly from the bourgeoisie at the Berne Congress, I no longer know any other society, any other environment, than the world of the workers. My country is now the International, of which you are one of the most important founders. So you see, my dear friend, that I am your disciple, and proud of my title."
This letter always evokes from Bakunin's friends tears of tenderness and a feeling of indignation against the heartless Marx who so relentlessly pushed away the hand that was stretched out to him. Even Mehring remarked that there were no reasons to doubt the sincerity of these assurances.
We do not wish to doubt Bakunin's sincerity. But let us try to place ourselves in Marx's predicament. He was, to be sure, a hard man, but even Mehring would have to admit that up to the end of 1868 his attitude toward Bakunin was that of extreme tolerance. The mere reading of it should make it plain why this sentimental letter should have appeared very unconvincing to Marx. It was written not by a youngster, but by a man who was in his fifties, who once joined the "proletarian world" only to desert it in favour of the "bourgeois world." Now, after having bothered with it for four years, and after having become completely disenchanted, he wished to stride "along the broad highway" again by joining the International, and advanced the most incongruous claims. Marx, who had accepted Bakunin too trustingly in 1864, was now more careful. He was proved to have been right.
When the General Council categorically refused Bakunin's request, the latter announced that his society resolved to disband and to transform its sections, which would continue to hold to their own theoretical programme, into sections of the International. The General Council agreed to admit the sections of the former Alliance only on a common basis.
It would seem that everything turned out well. But no; very soon Marx developed well-founded suspicions that Bakunin had simply deceived the General Council, that having officially disbanded his society, in reality he left its central organisation intact for the purpose of subsequently capturing the International. This is the crux of the whole controversy. We might admit that Marx was not a good-natured man, and that Bakunin was very good, even angelic. This is beside the point. We have known for a long time that Bakunin was guilty of sundry little sins. All men are sinful. Bakunin's defenders have to answer definitely: Was there or was there not such a secret organisation in existence? Did or did not Bakunin permit himself to deceive the General Council when he assured it that he had disbanded his organisation?
Notwithstanding our love for Marx, we would agree with Bakunin's friends in their assertion that Bakunin was maliciously slandered, had his friend, the historian of the International, the late Guillaume, proved that all this was mere fiction. Unfortunately, the Alliance continued to exist and to conduct a stubborn battle with the International. The lovable and good Bakunin did not hesitate to resort to any means which he deemed necessary for the accomplishment of his ends. We shall not hold it against him. Yet it appears ridiculous to see his admirers endeavour to make of him a man who never had recourse to questionable means and who, as one of his admirers assures us, was never guilty of any insincerity.
What then was the end which Bakunin felt would justify all the means? The destruction of bourgeois society, the social revolution -- this was what Bakunin aspired to. But Marx's goal was precisely the same. The discrepancy must have arisen in a different domain. In reality this sharp divergence between Marx and Bakunin involves the methodology of revolution.
First destroy, and then everything will take care of itself. Destroy -- the sooner, the better. It would be sufficient to stir up the revolutionary intelligentsia and the workers embittered through want. The only thing needed would be a group composed of determined people with the demon of revolution in their souls. This was essentially the whole of Bakunin's teachings. On the surface it resembled Weitling's teachings. But the resemblance was only superficial, as was its resemblance with Blanqui's teachings. The crux of the matter was that Bakunin did not want even to hear of the proletarian seizure of power. He denied any form of political struggle insofar as it had to be conducted on the ground of the existing bourgeois society and was concerned with the creation of more favourable conditions for the class organisation of the proletariat. That was why Marx and all the others who deemed the political struggle and the organisation of the proletariat for the conquest of political power indispensable, appeared to Bakunin and his disciples as wretched opportunists who hindered the coming of the social revolution. That was also why the Bakuninists were so ready to seize the opportunity of representing Marx as a man who in order to materialise his ideas would not hesitate to forge the Constitution of the International. Publicly, in circulars and letters, the Bakuninists abused Marx in the most vile language; they did not disdain anti-semitic acts, or even such absurd charges as, for instance, Marx's being the agent of Bismarck.
Bakunin had connections in Italy and Switzerland. In the French region of Switzerland particularly he had many followers. We cannot at this point go into a detailed study of the causes of this phenomenon. His propaganda was particularly successful among the imported labourers and the skilled watchmakers who were beginning to suffer from the competition of the developing industries.
Bakunin came to the Basle Congress backed by a considerable group. As often happens in such cases, the first skirmish broke out on entirely different grounds. Bakunin, who had always been vehemently opposed to any opportunism, was especially pertinacious in demanding the immediate abolition of the inheritance right. The delegates from the General Council insisted that such a measure was, as had been indicated in the Communist Manifesto, important merely as a transition measure which the proletariat would realise on seizing political power. Meanwhile it would be sufficient to attain a greater tax on wealth and a limited right of inheritance. Bakunin, however, took neither logic nor circumstances into consideration. For him this demand was important from the propaganda point of view. When it came to a vote neither of the resolutions had enough of a majority. Another conflict arose between Bakunin and Liebknecht. It happened that at the Basle Congress a new and significant German group made its appearance for the first time. About this time Wilhelm Liebknecht and August Bebel, after a furious factional struggle with Schweitzer, had succeeded in organising a separate party which had adopted at its constituent convention at Eisenach (1869) the programme of the International. Bakunin's activity in the League for Peace and Freedom and his old Pan-Slavic views were thoroughly thrashed out and unfavourably criticised in the central organ of this party. Mehring points out that Marx personally expressed himself against this severe criticism, but, as we have seen in the Vogt episode, he was always held responsible for any act of the Marxists. Bakunin utilised the Congress to avenge himself on Liebknecht. The whole affair ended in a temporary reconciliation.
The next Congress was supposed to take place in Germany. It never convened. Immediately after the Basle Congress the political atmosphere became so dense, that an outbreak of war could be expected at any moment. Bismarck, one of the greatest tricksters in the history of the world, cleverly duped his former teacher, Napoleon. Having thoroughly prepared Germany for war, he so turned the tables that in view of the whole world, France appeared the aggressor.
When war actually did break out (July 19, 1870), it was quite unexpected. Neither the French nor the German workers found themselves able to prevent it. A few days after the declaration of war (July 23) the General Council published the proclamation written by Marx.
It began with a quotation from the Inaugural Address of the International in which was condemned
"a foreign policy in pursuit of criminal designs, playing upon national prejudices and squandering in piratical wars the people's blood and treasure."
Then followed a scathing indictment of Napoleon. Marx presented a compact picture of his fight against the International which became even more vehement after the French Internationalists had increased the scope of their violent agitation against Napoleon. Whichever side wins, added Marx, the last hour of the Second Empire had struck. The end of the Empire like its beginning will be a parody.
But was the guilt only Napoleon's? Not in the least. We must bear in mind that the various governments and the ruling classes of Europe had for eighteen years aided Bonaparte in playing the comedy of a reconstructed Empire.
Marx, a German himself, severely attacked his own country. From the German point of view this was a war of defence. But who had placed Germany in a situation which would require defence? Who evoked in Napoleon the temptation to attack Germany? Prussia. She had entered into an agreement with Napoleon against Austria. Should Prussia be defeated, France would flood Germany with French soldiers. But what had Prussia herself done after her victory over Austria? Instead of opposing enslaved France with a liberated Germany, she not only preserved all the charms of the old Prussian regime, but she even grafted onto it all the characteristic features of the Bonaparte regime.
The first decisive phase of the war terminated with amazing rapidity. The French army proved to be entirely unprepared. Contrary to the boastful declaration of the French Minister of War that everything was ready to the last button, it became evident that if there really were buttons there was nothing to which these buttons could be attached. In about six weeks the regular French army was defeated. On September 2, Napoleon had already given up both himself and the great fortress of Sedan. On September 4, a republic was declared in Paris. Notwithstanding Prussia's declaration that she was fighting the Empire, the war continued. It passed into the second, more prolonged and more stubborn phase.
Immediately upon the proclamation of a Republic in France, the General Council issued its second Manifesto concerning the war (September 9, 1870). It was again written by Marx, and by its profound analysis of the historic moment, and its veritable prophetic insight, it represented one of the most inspired pieces of Marx's writings.
We shall recall now that Marx had prognosticated even in the first Manifesto that this war would lead to the destruction of the Second Empire. The second Manifesto started out with a reference to this forecast. Not less correct was the criticism he had previously made of Prussian foreign policy. The so-called defensive war degenerated into a war on the French people. Long before the fall of Sedan and the capture of Napoleon, as soon as the incredible disintegration of Bonaparte's army had become a known fact, the Prussian military camarilla declared itself in favour of a policy of conquest. Marx exposed the hypocritical behaviour of the liberal German bourgeoisie. Utilising the information supplied by Engels, who as a specialist had been assiduously following up the development of the war and had foretold the fall of Sedan, Marx exposed the fallacious military arguments advanced by Bismarck and the Prussian generals in justification of the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine.
Being opposed to any annexations or indemnities, he maintained that such a forced peace would lead to another war.
France would want to regain what she had lost and would seek an alliance with Russia. Tsarist Russia which had lost its hegemony after the Crimean War would again become the arbiter of the destinies of Europe. This inspired prophecy, this foresight of the direction European history would take, is a striking and practical proof of the essential truth of the materialist conception of history, It is concluded in the following words:
"Do the Teuton patriots really believe that liberty and peace will be guaranteed to Germany by forcing France into the arms of Russia? If the fortune of her arms, the arrogance of success, and dynastic intrigue lead Germany to a dismemberment of France, there will then only remain two courses open to her. She must at all risks become the avowed tool of Russian aggrandisement, or, after some short respite, make again ready for another 'defensive' war, not one of those new-fangled 'localised' wars, but a war of races -- a war with the combined Slavonian and Roman races."
Our contemporary German patriots were fated to see this prophecy come true to the last letter.
The Manifesto was concluded with an exposition of the practical problems that were then confronting the working-class. The German workers were urged to demand an honourable peace and the recognition of the French Republic. The French workers, who were in even more difficult straits, were advised to watch the bourgeois republicans vigilantly and to utilise the Republic for the purpose of rapidly developing their class organisation and achieving their emancipation.
Immediate events fully justified Marx's distrust of the French republicans. Their contemptible conduct and their readiness to enter into an agreement with Bismarck rather than make the slightest concession to the working class, brought about the Paris Commune (March 18 to May 29, 1871). After a heroic struggle that lasted three months, this first experiment in the dictatorship of the proletariat under most unfavourable conditions, failed. The General Council was not in a position to give the Frenchmen the necessary help. The French and German armies cut Paris from the rest of France and the rest of the world. The Commune, indeed, awakened universal sympathy. There were revolutionary responses even in remote Russia.
During the existence of the Commune Marx tried to keep up communication with Internationalists in Paris. A few days after the defeat of the Commune Marx wrote at the request of the General Council the now famous Address 8 He stepped forth in defence of the Paris communards who were maligned by the entire bourgeois press. He showed that the Paris Commune was a colossal step forward in the evolution of the proletarian movement, that it was the prototype of the proletarian state which would undertake the realisation of communism. Long before, as a result of the experience of the Revolution of 1848, Marx had come to the conclusion that the working class, after having seized power, could not simply lay hold of the bourgeois apparatus of the state, but that it would first have to demolish this bureaucratic machine and the police force upon which it rested. The experience of the Commune proved to him the soundness of his conviction. It proved that having seized power, the proletariat was forced to create its own machinery of state adapted to its own needs. The same experience of the Commune also showed that the proletarian state cannot exist within the limits of even a central city. The power of the proletariat must embrace the whole country for it to have any chances of becoming strengthened; it must sweep over a number of capitalist countries in order to be assured of a final victory.
Bakunin and his followers arrived at entirely different conclusions. Their opposition to politics and the state became even more fervent. They urged the creation of communes in separate towns as soon as possible; these communes would inspire other towns to follow suit.
The defeat of the Commune brought about very unfavourable consequences upon the International itself. The French labour movement was paralysed for a few years. It was represented in the International by a host of communard refugees amongst whom bitter factional strife was raging. This strife was carried over into the General Council.
The German labour movement also suffered a serious setback. Bebel and Liebknecht, who protested against the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, and who had declared their solidarity with the Paris Commune, were arrested and condemned to confinement in a fortress. Schweitzer who had lost the confidence of the party was forced to leave it. The followers of Liebknecht and Bebel, the so-called Eisenachers, continued to work independently of the Lassalleans. These began to draw nearer to each other only after the government had swooped down with equal ferocity upon the two conflicting factions. The International thus lost support from the two greatest countries on the continent.
Moreover, there was a break in the English labour movement too. The war between the two most industrialised continental countries had benefited the English bourgeoisie not less than the last European war benefited the American. It was able now to give some share of its enormous profits to numerous workers in the chief industries. The trade unions gained a greater freedom of action. Several of the old laws that had aimed against the unions were abolished. All this had its effect on a few of the members of the General Council, which had been playing an important part in the trade-union movement. To the extent with which the International was becoming more radical, to the same extent were many of the unions growing more and more moderate. Utilising their position for personal advantages, they continued to be members of the General Council only in form. The Commune and the bitter attacks it caused to be brought upon the International frightened them. Although the Manifesto dealing with the Paris Commune had been written by Marx at the request of the General Council, these members hastened to renounce their association with it. This caused a schism in the English section of the International.
These were the circumstances under which in September, 1871, a conference of the International was called in London. Two chief questions were taken up at this conference, one of which was the perplexing question concerning the struggle on the political field. In connection with this, the question of Marx's forging the Constitution of the International, which was pressed by the Bakuninists, was again taken up. The answer given by the resolution adopted, left not a shadow of a doubt. It indicated the complete defeat of the Bakuninists. As it is not widely known, we shall cite the concluding paragraphs:
"In presence of an unbridled reaction which violently crushes every effort at emancipation on the part of the working men, and pretends to maintain by brute force the distinction of classes and the political domination of the propertied classes resulting from it; ...
"That this constitution of the working class into a political party is indispensable in order to insure the triumph of the social Revolution and its ultimate end -- the abolition of classes;
"That the combination of forces which the working class has already effected by its economical struggles ought at the same time to serve as a lever for its struggles against the political powers of landlords and capitalists --
"The Conference recalls to the members of the International:
"That in the militant state of the working class, its economical movement and its political action are indissolubly united."
The conference had to encounter the Bakuninists on another score. The conviction that, despite Bakunin's protestations, his secret society continued to exist became firmly established in the General Council. The conference therefore adopted a resolution which prohibited any organisation with an independent programme to function within the body of the International. In connection with this the conference again took cognisance of the Bakuninists' declaration that the Alliance was disbanded and announced that the incident was closed.
But there was still another regulation which was intended to cause the discomfiture of Bakunin and his Russian followers. The conference resolved to declare in the most categorical manner that the International had nothing to do with the Nietchayev affair, that Nietchayev had falsely appropriated and utilised the name of the International.
This decision was directed exclusively at Bakunin, who, as was well known, had been for a long time connected with Nietchayev, the Russian revolutionist who had fled from Russia in March, 1869. In the Fall of the same year Nietchayev returned to Russia and with Bakunin's authority organised a special Bakuninist group. Suspecting a certain student, Ivanov, of being a government spy, Nietchayev, aided by some of his comrades, murdered him and again fled to Europe. Those arrested in connection with this affair were put on trial in the summer of 1871. At the trial the prosecution made public many documents in which there was hopeless confusion as to the relation of Bakunin's society and its Russian branch with the International. It is enough to compare these documents with Bakunin's writings definitely to establish their authorship. These documents differed from his proclamations addressed to his European comrades by their greater frankness. The passages corrected and added by Nietchayev could be easily distinguished by the greater coarseness and carelessness of presentation.
This affair has been generally interpreted in the following way. Bakunin, it had been claimed, fell under the influence of Nietchayev who tricked him and used him for his own purposes.
Indeed, Nietchayev, a poorly educated man, who rejected all theory as sterile, was endowed with extraordinary energy, an iron will, and an unshakable devotion to the revolution. At the trial and in prison he showed his staunch manliness and his unquenchable hatred for the oppressors and the ex plotters of the people. Ready to do anything, regarding any means good if he thought they would help him reach the goal to which he had dedicated his life, he never stooped to baseness for personal reasons. In this respect he was incomparably superior to Bakunin, the latter never having hesitated to enter into any deals if they furthered his personal aims. Nietchayev's moral superiority is beyond doubt. Everything points to the fact that Bakunin himself was fully conscious of this, else how could Bakunin respect and value so highly a man who was his intellectual inferior.
Yet it would have been naive to deduce from all this that Nietchayev had imposed his revolutionary views on Bakunin. The converse is more nearly the truth; he was a disciple of Bakunin. But while our apostle of ruin proved himself to be an inconsistent character and an unstable revolutionist, Nietchayev was distinguished by his iron consistency; he made all the practical deductions from the theoretical propositions of his master. When Bakunin told him that he, Bakunin, could not refuse to do the work he had undertaken (a translation of Capital) because he had received money in advance, Nietchayev offered to free him of this obligation. This he accomplished in a very simple fashion. He wrote to the intermediary between Bakunin and the publisher demanding in the name of the revolutionary committee, "The People's Revenge," that the gentleman leave Bakunin alone if he did not wish to be killed.
Since, instead of the workers engaged in large industries, he had always stressed the lumpenproletariat as the real carriers of the social revolution, since he had regarded criminals and robbers as the most desirable elements to be attracted into the revolutionary ranks, his disciple, Nietchayev, quite consistently arrived at the conclusion that it was necessary to organise a group of desperadoes in Switzerland for the purposes of expropriation. Bakunin finally parted with his disciple, not because of a dfference in principles, but because he was awed by Nietchayev's directness. Bakunin never dared to make this separation public; Nietchayev was in possession of too many compromising documents.
Immediately after the London Conference a still more savage battle broke out. The Bakuninists declared open war against the General Council. They accused it of shuffling the conference and of foisting upon the International the dogma of the necessity of organising the proletariat into a special party for the purpose of gaining political power. They demanded another Congress where this question would be definitely settled.
This Congress for which both parties had been preparing most feverishly, convened in September, 1872. For the first time Marx was present in person. Bakunin was absent. The resolution of the Conference dealing with political action was ratified. There was one small addition which was lifted verbatim from the Inaugural Address of the International. It read:
"Since the owners of land and capital are always using their political privileges to protect and perpetuate their economic monopolies and to enslave labour, the great duty of the proletariat is to conquer the political power."
A special commission which examined all the documents pertaining to the Alliance came to the conclusion that this society had been existing as a secret organisation within the International, and proposed Bakunin's and Guillaume's expulsion. The proposal was accepted.
The resolution dealing with Bakunin's expulsion declared that besides the above-mentioned grounds Bakunin was expelled for a "personal reason." This referred to the Nietchayev incident. It seems that the Congress had ample reasons for excluding Bakunin on purely political grounds. It is ludicrous, however, to turn this sad episode in which Bakunin was the victim of his own lack of character into a cause for terrible accusations against Marx. It is still more ludicrous when the whole affair is construed in the following manner. Bakunin, it is asserted, had done what many other literary men are doing -- he had failed to perform the work for which the publisher had paid him. Was this swindling? Of course not. But when Bakunin's defenders insist that Marx should not have blamed Bakunin, then it seems that either they do not understand or they forget, that the question was not at all as to whether Bakunin did or did not return to the publisher the money he had received in advance. The question was much more serious. Where Bakunin and his friends saw merely a fickle yet pardonable transgression which resulted only in a loss to the publisher, the members of the commission who had all the documents at their disposal felt that it was a criminal misuse of the name of a revolutionary organisation which had been in the minds of most people connected with the International; a misuse for personal reasons, for the purpose of freeing himself from meeting his pecuniary obligations. Had the document which was in the hands of the commission been made public at that time, it would have afforded the greatest satisfaction to the bourgeois world. It was written by Nietchayev; its contents, however, were not only not contrary to Bakunin's principles, they were in fact in full harmony with them. We must add that Bakunin parted with Nietchayev not because of this affair but because it appeared to him that Nietchayev was ready to regard even him as an instrument for the attainment of revolutionary aims. Bakunin's letters to his friends illustrate adequately how unceremoniously Bakunin would hurl not only political but also personal accusations at his opponents, among whom Marx was included. We know now that it was Bakunin who was the author of the notorious guide for revolutionists which was attributed to Nietchayev and which, when made public at the trial, evoked general indignation in the ranks of the revolutionists. Bakunin's friends obstinately denied his authorship; they piled it all up against Nietchayev.
The Hague Congress was ended with Engels' proposal that the permanent residence of the General Council be transferred to New York. We have already seen that at this time the International lost its moorings not only in France, where since 1872 the mere belonging to the International was held to be a crime, and not only in Germany, but also in England. It was presumed that the transfer of the International would be a temporary one. It turned out, however, that the Hague Congress was the last one that had any significance in the history of the International. In 1876 the General Council in New York published the notice that the First International ceased to exist.
|On to chapter 7
|On to chapter 9