History of the First International


Chapter One

SINCE the days of the formation of the great empires of antiquity, the idea of the unity and solidarity of the whole human race has never been completely in abeyance. The international Roman Empire, comprising within its frontiers the Old World known at that day, gave a fresh impetus to the idea, which underwent further development when embodied in the medieval Catholic Church. Although subsequently the idea of the universal solidarity of mankind was obscured by the formation of national States, shaping themselves through a process of perpetual warfare, the notion of internationalism continued to live in the teachings of philosophers and of various sects. Indeed, the governing classes, in spite of their mutual struggles, continued to practise a form of international solidarity directed against the revolutionary movements of the oppressed masses of the people.

Let us recall the mediaeval risings of the peasants and craftsmen, against which all the ruling castes of that epoch took up arms. Promptly forgetting their national and sectional disputes in the face of this revolt of the masses, the governing classes made common cause against the rebels. A united front against the poorer sections of the community was formed by emperors, kings, princes, noblemen, and the wealthier burghers. The pope, who was the international chief of the ruling classes at that date, declared a holy war against the heretics, and knights from all countries took part in the campaign. Such a crusade was declared against the peasants of northern Italy, who rose in the beginning of the fourteenth century under the leadership of Dolcino of Novara; and against the Hussites there were no less than five crusades. In Germany, during the days of the Peasants’ War (1525), the ruling classes displayed a like solidarity. In the struggle against the insurgents, who were peasants and urban craftsmen fighting under the banner of communism, Catholics united with Protestants, emperors with princes, nobles with rich burghers, and bishops of the Roman Church with Martin Luther, the leader of the Reformers. When countered by his outburst of solidarity on the part of the governing classes, the first attempts at a general rising of the oppressed came to nothing. Nevertheless, even at this early date there had already been conceived the idea of the international solidarity of all the oppressed, and the need had been recognised for a world-wide movement that should transcend the barriers of nationality. The Taborites[1] are a case in point.

The revival of the idea of international solidarity is associated with the epoch of the great French revolution at the close of the eighteenth century. Exposed to the savage attacks of the reactionary forces of feudal society in all the countries of Europe, the revolutionary bourgeoisie of France contraposed to the league of reactionaries (who were striving to realise against the revolution the solidarity of all the landlords and absolutists of Europe) the solidarity of the revolutionary forces of the new society. Thus it was that the idea of “revolutionary propaganda” sprang to life. The revolutionary bourgeoisie, having made an end of despotism in France, proclaimed “War to the Palaces, Peace to the Huts” throughout the world, summoning all the living forces of Europe to come to the aid of free France and to dethrone the tyrants in all lands.

But the idea of the revolutionary solidarity of the peoples did not long maintain itself in bourgeois circles. Whereas, on the one hand, capitalism, through the creation of a world market, breaks down the barriers between the nations and paves the way for the spread of an international spirit, on the other hand this same capitalism, by the very fact that it creates a world market, promotes the strengthening of national exclusiveness, by means of international conflicts and wars to secure that world market. The capitalist method of production draws all the nations of the globe together, and simultaneously frustrates its own ends by intensifying traditional national enmities and by systematically bringing the various peoples into conflict. That is why the ideas of universal brotherhood and universal peace could not take lasting root in bourgeois society, in which the conflicting trends towards universal economic clashes and wars of all against all speedily gained the upper hand.

For all that, however, the notion of international brotherhood found a supporter and an active champion in the proletariat, which has been created by the development of bourgeois society, and is impelled by all its interests towards the struggle for the rebuilding of that society upon socialist foundations.

Socialism is international, just like capitalism. But whereas the internationalism of the bourgeoisie is continually frustrated by the mutual competition of national capitalisms, the internationalism of the proletariat is nourished and perpetually strengthened by the active solidarity of the interests of all the workers, regardless of their dwelling-place or nationality. The situation of the workers is identical in its essential features throughout all capitalist countries. Whilst the interests of the bourgeoisies of different lands unceasingly conflict one with another, the interests of proletarians coincide. The proletariat comes to realise this in the course of its daily struggles. For example, in their attempts to secure higher wages, a reduction of hours, and other measures for the protection of labour, the workers continually encounter obstacles, which are brought into existence by the competition between the capitalists of various nations. An increase in wages or a reduction of the working day in any particular country is rendered difficult or almost impossible by the competition of other countries in which these reforms have not yet been achieved. Furthermore, during strikes entered into by the workers for the improvement of their condition, the capitalists of the more advanced countries have recourse to the importation of workers from lands where the standard of life is lower. All these things have convinced the workers of the solidarity of their interests and of the necessity for joining forces in the struggle fur the improvement of their condition.

Next, the proletariat, standing as a class upon the lowest rung of the social ladder, has a lively sense of all the abuse and wrong inflicted by the ruling class upon the oppressed stratum of the population, and for this reason it reacts against this abuse and wrong in lively fashion. To a considerable extent, capitalist society finds it impossible to get along without the international organisation of its forces and without the oppression of the weak nations by the strong. As soon as the proletariat becomes class-conscious, it begins to protest vigorously, and to struggle against national oppression and the inequality of national rights. Here is the second source from which the stream of proletarian internationalism is fed.

Thirdly, the clashes of war, periodically recurrent in capitalist society, impinge with especial violence upon the working class. The crushing burden of war costs; forcible removal from the family to a life in barracks and in camps; the immense material sacrifices, the unemployment, hunger, and poverty, resulting from war – all these things arouse among proletarians a protest which is barely conscious at first but which grows increasingly conscious, a protest against war, a struggle against militarism, in the name of the international solidarity of the workers.

Finally, the internationalism of the proletariat is intimately connected with its socialist aspirations. In view of the indissoluble economic and political ties uniting the various capitalist countries, the social revolution cannot count upon success unless at the outset it involves, if not all, then at least the leading capitalist lands. For this reason, from the moment when the workers begin to become aware that their complete emancipation is unthinkable without the socialist reconstruction of contemporary bourgeois society, they take as their watchword the union of the workers of the whole world in a common struggle for emancipation. From that moment the instinctive internationalism of the proletariat is transformed into a conscious internationalism.

In the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx and Engels describe the internationalisation of contemporary life under the influence of the bourgeois method of production. I quote a vigorous and picturesque passage:

“By the exploitation of the world market, the bourgeoisie has given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every land. To the despair of the reactionaries, it has deprived industry of its national foundation. Of the old-established national industries, some have already been destroyed, and others are day by day undergoing destruction. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction is becoming a matter of life and death for all civilised nations: by industries which no longer depend upon the homeland for their raw materials, but draw these from the remotest spots; and by industries whose products are consumed, not only in the country of manufacture, but in every quarter of the globe. Instead of the old wants, satisfied by the products of native industry, new wants appear, wants which can only be satisfied by the products of distant and unfamiliar climes. The old local and national self-sufficiency and isolation are replaced by a system of universal intercourse, of all-round interdependence of the nations. We see this in intellectual production no less than in material. The intellectual products of each nation are now the common property of all. National exclusiveness and particularism are fast becoming impossible. Out of the manifold national and local literatures, a world literature arises.

“By rapidly improving the means of production and by enormously facilitating communication, the bourgeoisie drags all the nations, even the most barbarian, into the orbit of civilisation. Cheap wares form the heavy artillery with which it batters down Chinese walls, and constrains the most obstinate of foreign-hating barbarians to capitulate. It forces all the nations, under pain of extinction, to adopt the capitalist method of production; it compels them to accept what is called civilisation, to become bourgeois themselves. In short, it creates a world after its own image."[2]

However, as the Manifesto itself points out, the proletariat develops concurrently with the bourgeoisie. In its struggle with the bourgeoisie it traverses various phases of development. At first this struggle is purely individual; then it becomes local; then, national; and, finally, it assumes an international character.

“The proletariat passes through various stages of evolution. Its struggle against the bourgeoisie dates from its birth.

“To begin with, the workers fight individually, then the workers in a single factory make common cause, then the workers at one trade combine throughout a whole locality against the particular bourgeois who exploits them...

“At this stage the workers form a disunited mass, scattered throughout the country, and severed into fragments by mutual competition. Such aggregation as occurs among them is not, so far, the outcome of their own inclination to unite, but is a consequence of the union of the bourgeoisie, which, for its own political purposes, must set the whole proletariat in motion, and can still do so at times... “But as industry develops, the proletariat does not merely increase in numbers : it is compacted into larger masses; its strength grows; and it becomes more aware of that strength. Within the proletariat, interests and conditions become ever more equalised; for machinery obliterates more and more the distinctions between the various crafts, and forces wages down almost everywhere to the same low level. As a result of increasing competition among the bourgeois themselves, and of the consequent commercial crises, the workers’ wages fluctuate more and more. The steadily accelerating improvement in machinery makes their livelihood increasingly precarious; and, more and more the collisions between individual workers and individual bourgeois tend to assume the character of collisions between the respective classes. Thereupon the workers begin to form coalitions against the bourgeois, closing their ranks in order to maintain the rate of wages. They found durable associations which will be able to give them support whenever the struggle grows acute. Here and there, this struggle takes the form of riots.

“From time to time the workers are victorious, but their victory is fleeting. The real fruit of their battles is not the immediate success, but their own continually increasing unification. Unity is furthered by the improvement in the means of communication which is effected by large-scale industry and brings the workers of different localities into closer contact. Nothing more is needed to centralise the manifold local contests, which are all of the same type, into a national contest, a class struggle. But every class struggle is a political struggle. The medieval burghers, whose best means of communication were but rough roads, took centuries to achieve unity. Thanks to railways, the modern proletarians can join forces within a few years.

“This organisation of the proletarians to form a class, and therewith to form a political party, is perpetually being disintegrated by competition among the workers themselves. Yet it is incessantly reformed, becoming stronger, firmer, mightier ....

“For the proletarian nothing is left of the social conditions that prevailed in the old society ... Modern industrial labour, the modern enslavement by capital (the same in England as in France, in America as in Germany), has despoiled the worker of national characteristics ...

In form, though not in substance, the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie is primarily notional. Of course, in any country, the proletariat has first of all to settle accounts with its own bourgeoisie.

“The workers have no country. No one can take from them what they have not got ...

“National differences and contrasts are already tending to disappear more and more as the bourgeoisie develops, as free trade becomes more general, as the world market grows in sire and importance, as manufacturing conditions and the resulting conditions of life become more uniform.

“The rule of the proletariat will efface these distinctions and contrasts even more. United action, among civilised countries at least, is one o f the first conditions requisite for the emancipation of the workers.

In proportion as the exploitation of one individual by another comes to an end, the exploitation of one nation by another will come to an end.

“The ending of class oppositions within the nations will end the mutual hostilities of the nations."[3]

Thus the Manifesto of the Communist Party gives an irrefutable demonstration of the fait that the class war, and therewith the struggle for proletarian internationalism, are natural outcomes of the conditions created by the development of bourgeois society.

Bourgeois students of the social problem are well aware of this fact. For example, the conservative German writer, Rudolf Meyer, author of the well-known book The Fourth Estate’s Struggle for Emancipation, showed that the International made its appearance as the natural result of the development of capitalism. He wrote as follows:

“Liberalism is international. The factors of the modern world economy are international, mobile capital above all. I have already referred to the ‘Golden International’ – large-scale capital internationally associated. This cosmopolitan capital, knowing no ties of country, holds sway over labour in accordance with almost identical rules in almost every land. How could we expect any other result than that labour should exhibit everywhere an identical reaction?

“The International is the expression of the interests and demands common to the wage-earning class throughout the civilised lands which practise a system of free trade. It is the organisation of the social democracy extending all over these lands.

“Inasmuch as everywhere the same preconditions of the International existed, inasmuch as everywhere the same discontent and the same aspiration towards better things manifested themselves in the fourth estate, a man of genius was needed to give this movement its direction. This man appeared in due time. His name is Karl Marx."[4]

Next let us turn to the Belgian liberal economist, Emile de Laveleve. In The Socialism of To-day, he writes:

“‘Internationalism’ is the natural consequence of the great process of assimilation which is taking place throughout the world. Nations are becoming more and more like each other, and their mutual relations more and more close. The same economic and religious problems, the same commercial and industrial crises, the same class antagonisms, the same struggles between capitalists and labourers, arise in all civilised countries, whether their form of government be republican or monarchical. The ‘solidarity’ of nations is no longer an empty phrase. So real is it, especially in economic matters, that a purely local occurrence may have a far-reaching result in both hemispheres ... As different nations tend to become one single family, all forms of social activity must consequently take an international character.[5]

Again, Werner Sombart, the radical sociologist, the best of the other bourgeois writers that have understood the essence of the modern working class movement, shows that “the socialist movement has a decided tendency towards unity to the fullest extent”; and he recognises that the centralist trend of the socialist movement “issues from the uniformity of capitalist development, and consequently from a single complex of causes, so that socialism aspires towards homogeneity of form.” This uniformity of the contemporary working class movement finds expression in internationalism. What is this “spirit of internationalism”? enquires Sombart, and answers:

“In the first place it is the expression of common interests ... Since capitalism is the prevailing power in all modern civilised States, and since the proletariat is everywhere forced to oppose capital, it is only natural that proletarians in different lands should support each other in the common struggle. They can do this by informing each other of their experiences; by presenting similar demands to different governments on questions affecting all workers alike (Workmen’s Compensation and Protection Acts); by mutual monetary help in case of strikes, and by much more to the same effect. This particular aspect of internationalism the proletarian movement has in common with many other movements, from the thousand and one scientific congresses to the International Labour Office in Basle and the International Agricultural Institute in Rome.

“There is, however, something quite special about the internationalism of the labour movement. It does not appeal to the intellect alone; it appeals also to the heart. Socialists become enthusiastic about it because it stands for a noble idea, for the idea of the brotherhood of man. The visitor to a socialist congress cannot help being moved at the sight; it Suggests to him millions of people taking hands ... The favourite song is the French “L'Internationale” ... There is a deep meaning in this singing in unison; it is the expression of the fact that, even though the heads may now and again sway apart, the hearts after all beat in common ... The songs the proletariat sings are songs of war, full of wrath and vengeance against the State as it is to-day. In a word, proletarian internationalism is anti-national, ... and in this also it is very different from the ordinary bourgeois internationalism.

“It is anti-national in that it is opposed to everything which comes under the head of chauvinism, jingoism, and imperialism – to all national expansion, to all national pride, to every attempt at making bad blood between nations, to any kind of colonial policy – and also to that which is regarded both as cause and effect of all these – to military systems and to war. The peoples ask for peace."[6]

The intimate organic nexus, on the one hand between socialism and internationalism, and on the other hand between proletarian internationalism and bourgeois internationalism, has made itself so plain in our days that even in popular works dealing with this question it is regarded as indisputable and self-evident. For example, in A. Yashchenko’s pamphlet Socialism and Internationalism, we read:

“Socialism, both in respect of the foundation upon which it has arisen and in respect of the goal towards which it strives, is connected by an internal and necessary bond with internationalism (understood in the sense of the idea of the universal solidarity and the international organisation of mankind) ...

“This bond necessarily and above all depends upon the form assumed by the economic life of contemporary society. Industry and commerce have lost their national character, and a world-wide economy has been established. From this unification of economic life there ensue two consequences which could not fail to give socialism an international character. In the first place, we have the community of interests of the proletarians of all lands, whence arises the idea of the need for joint activities and for the international unification of the proletariat. Secondly, we have a unity of economic relationships, and this presupposes a unity of organisation.

“From the economic point of view, the characteristic feature of socialist organisation is unity in economic relationships. In place of the extant system of production – devoid of order, plan, and method, entirely subordinated to chance, competition, and the struggle of interests – socialism will create order and stability. The work of production will then be in the hands of the whole community, as a unified economy; and it will be directed by the central authority ... The nearest thing to such a collectivity can only be the State, although even the establishment of an isolated socialist State does not of itself imply the introduction of complete order and harmony into economic life. In that case competition and the economic struggle between the various States will continue, and this competition will perpetually disturb the internal harmony of their relationships, for under the present conditions of the life of mankind it is impossible to conceive of a State as economically isolated and independent. In fact, it is impossible to imagine the existence of a national socialist State amid States organised upon the individualist system ...

“There is an insuperable contradiction between the socialist ideal and the fact of the existence of distinct sovereign States. Socialism is in conflict with the State as it exists to-day, with the State that is founded upon the dominion of one class over others in virtue of the organisation of military force. For this dominion, Socialism desires to substitute a classless society, one in which there will be no need to maintain by force the rule of the one over the many... But, apart from this incompatibility of the socialist ideal with the actual existence of national States, it is necessary to point out that at the present time the interests of the working class conflict with the division of mankind into a number of sovereign States. Conquests bring advantage (and even this is in many cases fictitious) as a rule only to privileged persons – to army contractors, to those who receive munificent gifts after a successful war, and to those who enrich themselves by the direct seizure of land in the conquered country. The people of the conquering nation expend thousands of millions in order to win a few millions – not for themselves, but for a small number of the elect ...

“For the reasons enumerated above, socialist thought was, from the very first, confronted with the international problem."[7]