History of The First International by G. M. Stekloff
“THIS is a life-or-death matter for the International,” wrote Marx to Sorge on June 21, 1872, and to Kugelmann on July 29, 1872. He was referring to the Hague Congress. At that congress there was to be a decisive conflict between the champions of the political struggle of the proletariat, and of democratic centralism in the organisation of the International on the one hand, and the champions of anarchism alike on the political field and in matters of organisation, on the other. The decisions of the congress were to determine the fate of the working-class movement for a long time to come, and it was natural that both sides should come fully armed to the fight.
The congress opened on September 2, 1872. There were 65 participants, 21 of whom were members of the General Council. Among the latter we may mention Cournet, Dupont, Ecarrius, Engels, Frankel, Dales, Johannard, Lessner, Charles Longuet, Maltman Barry, Marx, Mottershead, Ranvier, Serraillier, Vaillannt, Wroblewski. Nineteen delegates came from Germany: Becker, Cuno, Dietzgen, Kugelmann, Rittinghausen, Scheu and others. France had three delegates, Lucain, Swarm, and Walter. Belgium was represented by nine delegates, Brismée, Coenen, Van de Abeele, etc. Holland sent four, among whom was Victor Dave. From Switzerland came four delegates: Becker, Duval, Guillaume, Schwitzguébel. There were five delegates from Spain:: Alerini, Farga-Pellicer, Morago, Marselau, and Lafargue. America had three representatives, among whom were Dereure and Sorge. Hungary, Bohemia, and Denmark sent one delegate each. One delegate represented the Melbourne branch of Australia, and two others, from England; had mandates from two French branches. In all, the German Section were represented by thirteen delegates (not counting the German branch in London); the French by eleven delegates (also not counting the French branch in London); the Swiss, by six delegates; the Danish, by two; the British, by four; the American, by seven; two Irish branches (one in Dublin, and one in London) had a joint delegate; and so on. Thus the Hague Congress was the most international gathering of the First International.
The three opening days were occupied in verifying the credentials of the delegates. This task was performed in private sessions. The fight over the credentials was extremely acrimonious for both sides realised that the congress was to have a decisive influence on the future of the working-class movement. This is not the place to examine in detail the reciprocal accusations concerning the validity of the various credentials, nor shall I waste space in describing the further accusations concerning the packing of the congress, and so forth. Such objections are almost invariably voiced by a faction which knows itself to be in the minority. At the time of the congress very lively interest was taken in the matter. The development of the International during the years immediately after the Hague Congress proved the Bakuninist minority to have had a far more considerable following in the ranks of the International than was evident at the time of the congress. Nevertheless, subsequent history was to confirm the Marxist view. The natural course of the development of the working-class movement in the various countries after the Hague Congress showed that the Marxists had really understood the tasks it was necessary to undertake at the moment. After many sad experiences and grievous disappointments, the movement in the different countries began to consolidate around the creation of independent socialist parties, which should lead the workers in the political struggle. And now, in our own day, with the foundation of the Communist International, the movement has created one international Communist Party, compact and centralised in order to bring about the social revolution by means of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
From the very outset, the congress was divided between the Marxist majority and the Bakuninist minority. Naturally, not all the members of the majority faction were, on every issue, supporters of Karl Marx. But they all agreed on two fundamental questions: the need for the workers to fight in the political arena; and the need for solidarity in matters of organisation. It is equally true that some of the members of the minority here not anarchists, either concerning politics or concerning organisation. But they were opposed to the idea that the political struggle must perforce be waged by the proletariat of all lands, they were hostile to dependence upon the General Council, and they supported the notion of autonomy for the branches.
The majority was composed as follows: 16 members of the General Council; 6 delegates representing French branches; 10 delegates hailing from Germany; 3 of the Swiss delegates (among whom there was one who had come from Germany); 2 American delegates, Sorge and Dereure; 4 Spanish delegates, Lafargue (whose credentials the anarchists endeavoured to discredit); 1 Bohemian; 1 Danish; 1 Hungarian; in all 40. The minority was made up of 4 Spanish delegates; 2 delegates from the Jura Federation (Guillaume and Schwitzguébel); 7 Belgians; 4 Dutch; 5 delegates from English branches (among whom were 4 members of the General Council who had definitely joined the opposition, Eccarius, Hales, Mottershead, and Roach); 1 French delegate, Cyrille, who represented the French branch in Brussels; 1 American delegate; and one further member of the General Council (George Sexton, a doctor of medicine); in all 24.
The majority faction was not so strong as it looked. The representatives of the French branches had made common cause with the General Council; but, at best, they only represented themselves, living upon past glories, and upon memories of the Paris Commune. The branches they were supposed to represent had no existence in actual fact, or were insignificant underground groups foredoomed to speedy extinction. Lafargue represented that group in Spain which was soon to enter the lists against anarchism. The Bohemian, Danish, and Hungarian delegates merely represented a movement which might arise at some future date, but which for the moment could play no part in the International. The American and Swiss delegates represented comparatively weak working-class organisations in their respective lands; in both these countries the movement was destined to follow the German model, that is to say, independent national parties were to arise which would develop outside the International Workingmen’s Association. Finally, although the working-class movement in Germany was, already in those days, stronger than the movement in any other country, for that very reason it followed its own road earlier than the movement elsewhere, and its link with the International was rather a moral than an organisational bond.
Turning now to consider the composition of the minority faction, we find that in Spain the movement embraced a fairly large portion of the working masses, and at the time of the Hague Congress was still growing rapidly. The members of the Jura Federation, the Belgians, and the Dutch, were full of hope for the future, and were in a condition of revolutionary fervour. The minority was also backed by the Italian internationalists, who had refused to send any delegates to the congress. The question as to which faction could rely on a majority of French supporters had to remain open for the nonce. One thing, however, was certain. Whatever French groups might exist, they considered themselves an integral part of the International Workingmen’s Association, and were ready to work within the framework of that organisation; this willingness on their part may possibly be accounted for by the fact that France was not yet in a position to create a strong national party. However this may be, it was clear that, if the International was destined to continue in being for a few years to come, it would do so, not under Marxist leadership but under the Bakuninist standard. The old international had outlived itself, and the anarchists could succeed merely in prolonging its death agony. True in those countries where the movement had only just been born it spent its early years under the flag of the International (we may mention in this connection such countries as Ireland, the South American states, Australia, Portugal, etc.); but as soon as the movement began to stand more or less securely on its own legs it cut itself loose from the parental apron strings and entered upon its own independent road.
These things speedily became evident as soon as the credentials committee had concluded the work of verifying the mandates, and the congress began to deal with the agenda. Van den Abeele had acted as chairman to the congress during the first three days; he was replaced by Ranvier, who was elected by the congress, together with Sorge and Gerhard who acted as vice-chairmen. On the motion of the General Council, a committee composed of five members was appointed under the chairmanship of Cuno, to investigate the question of the Bakuninist Alliance and to examine the accusations which had been levelled against the General Council by the Jura Federation and the Spanish Federations. These preliminaries having been satisfactorily dealt with, the congress could at last settle down to real business, and, on Thursday afternoon, September 5th, the first public session was held.
Two fundamentally important resolutions were on the agenda: the first concerning the rights and powers of the General Council; and the second dealing with the political activities of the proletariat. The discussion concerning the first resolution teas highly characteristic. Herman, one of the Belgian delegates and himself a member of the General Council, explained that the Belgian branches were of opinion that the General Council should not act as a political centre enforcing a specific doctrinal theory and arrogating to itself the role of guide to the whole Association. The Council should be composed of members chosen by the various federations, and so on. Guillaume, in the name of the Jura Federation, voiced the feeling that neither in the economic nor in the political field could the General Council act as a guiding centre. At the same time, the Jura Federation was not inclined to recommend the total suppression of the General Council, so long as it was content to be no more than a bureau for correspondence and for the collection of statistical data. Morago, one of the Spanish delegates, expressed himself as of much the same way of thinking.
Lafargue and Sorge spoke in opposition to the above views. They maintained that the rights of the General Council should be upheld, that the International, as such, owed its existence to the Council; if the General Council were to be suppressed, the whole International would perish. Lafargue said of the General Council what Voltaire had once said of God: If it did not exist it would have to be invented. Sorge reminded the assembly of the part played by the General Council in times of strikes, and of the successes for which it had been responsible in this field of activity. “The General Council must be the General Staff of the Association.” ... “The partisans of autonomy say that our Association does not need any head; we think, on the contrary, that the Association is very much in need of a head, and one with plenty of brains inside it.” When Sorge uttered these words, all eyes were fixed on Marx. In conclusion, Sorge declared that there was need for effective centralisation, and that the powers of the General Council should be widened rather than curtailed.
The General Council moved that articles 2 and 6 in part two of the general rules, which had been amended by the London Conference, should be replaced by two new paragraphs which should grant wider powers to the General Council and should strengthen the internal discipline of the International. The resolution on paragraph 2 was adopted by 40 to 4. There were 11 abstentions. Thus the General Council was held responsible for the carrying out of congress resolutions, and was to see that the principles and the rules of the organisation were strictly adhered to in every country. Turning to discuss paragraph 6, which dealt with dissensions within the International, Marx himself took part in the debate. He maintained that the power exercised by the General Council was not a physical power to enforce its decisions, but a moral one, which was undoubtedly a very necessary one to possess. The voting was 36 for the amended paragraph, 6 against, and 15 abstentions. The amended paragraph granted the General Council the power of suspending any branches, sections, federal councils, or entire federations of the International pending the decisions of the next general congress. Nevertheless the General Council was not to exercise this right without having previously consulted the respective federal council. In the case of the exclusion of a federal council, the General Council would have to ask the various branches of the federation to elect a new federal council within thirty days. In the case of the expulsion of an entire federation, the General Council must notify all the other federations, and, if a majority of the federations should demand it, the General Council must call an extraordinary conference, composed of one delegate per nationality, which should assemble within a month and should definitively settle the dispute.
These resolutions, the acceptance of which greatly increased the powers of the General Council, were held to be the “Damocles sword,” ready, when necessary, to fall upon the heads of the anarchist federations if they should attempt to disrupt the International. It was hoped that the passing of the new rules would save the organisational machinery of the International Workingmen’s Association, and that henceforward the movement would continue to develop along the lines it had adopted heretofore, only without any specially violent internal conflicts. This, at least, was the idea in the minds of those who voted in favour of augmenting the powers of the General Council. But a surprise was in store, and was to force light into the darkness. The fact was that the old International had played out its part, and now the essential task was to clear the ground for the upbuilding of a new form of working-class movement.
At the Friday session, the congress discussed where the headquarters of the new General Council should be. By 26 votes to 23, with 9 abstentions, it was decided that the headquarters should no longer be in London . Marx’s group feared that, if the seat of the General Council were to remain in London, there would be a danger of the International falling into the hands of the Blanquists, who counted many sympathisers in that city. Besides, Marx and his supporters also had in mind the duty of saving the International from the influence of anarchist theories in order that it might not become an instrument for “conspiratorial experiments” performed by the Communard refugees. Engels proposed that the headquarters should be transferred to New York. Vaillant entered as energetic protest; he was backed by other Communards who dreaded that through this change the leadership of the International would slip from their hands Some of the minority faction, in the belief that, once the General Council was on the farther side of the Atlantic, it would, as far as they were concerned, cease to exist, and that they would soon be able to prove how well the International could get on without it, voted with the Marxist group. Thus, the voting in favour of Engels’ motion that the seat of the General Council be transferred to New York was 30: for retention in London, 14; for the transference to Barcelona, 1; and for the transference to Brussels, 1. Thirteen delegates abstained from voting.
The decision brought about a division in the camp of the majority faction. The Blanquists passionately opposed the transference of the General Council to New York, and on the Saturday morning the congress learned that, with the exception of Dereure, they refused to attend any more sessions. Ranvier, chairman of the congress, was among the Blanquist malcontents, and he declared that the International was lost. Sorge replaced him as chairman. The congress new proceeded to elect the new General Council, the members of which had necessarily to be residents in the United States. Twelve were elected, among whom were Bolte and Dereure. Two of the twelve, David and Ward, when they learned that they had been nominated refused to stand. The new Council had the right to co-opt three members. This decision was taken in order than Sorge might subsequently become a member of the Council. He had shown himself averse to the transference of headquarters, to New York and had refused to stand for nomination to the General Council. Ultimately he succeeded in overcoming his own feelings in the matter, and was brought to see the affair from the point of view of the common good. He was then chosen as general secretary to the Council.
At the public session on the Friday, the question of political action was discussed. A certain number of the majority faction, who hoped to dispose of this question once and for all, had presented a resolution suggesting the introduction into the rules of resolution 9, which had been passed at the London Conference. The resolution, slightly amended, ran as follows:
“In its fight against the collective forces of the possessing classes, the proletariat can only act as a class by organising its forces into an independent political party, working in opposition to all the old parties formed by the possessing classes. Such an organisation of the proletariat as a political party is indispensable in order to achieve the triumph of the social revolution, and, above all, to attain its ultimate goal, the abolition of classes. The coalition of working-class forces, already achieved in the industrial field, must serve as a lever in the hands of the working class in its fight against the political power of the exploiters. The lords of land and capital invariably make use of their political privileges in order to perpetuate and to defend their economic monopolies, and in order to enslave Labour: conquest of political power thus becomes the prime duty of the proletariat.
The Blanquists had presented an amendment which, among other things, declared: “If the strike is one weapon in our revolutionary fight, the barricade is another, and is the most powerful weapon of all.” They urged the congress to declare that the question of “the military organisation of the revolutionary forces of the proletariat,” should be placed on the agenda for the next International congress.
In the debate which followed, Valliant spoke in praise of force and of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and insisted upon the necessity that all members of the International should take up the fight in the political arena. Hepner, the German social democrat, declared that those who refused to register their vote in political elections were, willy-nilly, playing into the hands of the reactionary governments. Guillaume came forward as the protagonist of the anarchist point of view. He gave a general exposition of the “federalist and revolutionary theory,” which he contrasted with the doctrine elaborated in the Communist Manifesto. According to him, the resolution of the London Conference was a first step in the thrusting of the theories of German communism upon the whole International. He maintained that the term “abstentionist” applied to the Belgian, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, and Jura internationalists was open to an equivocal interpretation. What his colleagues were aiming at was, not political indifferentism, but a special form of politics which should negate bourgeois politics and which they would like to call “working-class politics.” The difference between the positive politics of the majority faction and the negative politics of the minority faction was set forth in the following two axioms: the majority aims at the conquest of political power; the minority aims at the destruction of political power. Charles Longuet, the sometime Proudhonist, who had changed his views after his experiences during the Paris Commune, spoke in support of the political activity of the working class, and declared that, if, at the time of the Paris Commune, the French proletariat had been organised in a political party, events would have taken a different turn.
The resolution was adopted by 29 votes to 5, with 9 abstentions. This was the second blow the congress dealt the Bakunists.
But a third blow awaited them. The committee of enquiry into the question of the Bakuninist Alliance had been elected, and was composed of Marx, Engels, Wroblewski, Dupont, Serraillier, and Swarm, representing the Marxist faction; and of Guillaume, Schwitzguébel, Zhukoffsky, Alerini, Morago, Marselau, and Farga-Pellicer for the Bakuninists. The commission, after examining various documents and questioning witnesses, presented a report to the congress. This document declared that the secret Alliance, founded on rules which were absolutely contrary to the spirit of those adopted by the International Workingmen’s Association, had existed, but that its present existence had not been satisfactorily proved; that the Alliance had been founded by Bakunin; that Citizen Bakunin had resorted to fraudulent manoeuvres in order to possess himself of other people’s property, and that, in order to escape fulfilling his engagements, he or his agents had had recourse to intimidation. For these reasons the members of the committee urged the congress, (1) to expel Citizen Bakunin from the International Workingmen’s Association; (2) likewise to expel Citizens Guillaume and Schwitzguébel, since the committee is convinced that they are still members of the Alliance (3) to expel Malon, Bousquet, and Louis Marchand, who have been proved guilty of intrigues designed to effect the disorganisation of the International; (4) as concerns Morago, Farga-Pellicer, Marselau, Alerini, and Zhukoffsky, in view of their solemn assurance that they have severed their connexion with the Alliance, no further action is to be taken.
The special indictment of Bakunin was founded upon the following facts. Towards the end of the year 1869, he undertook to translate into Russian the first volume of Marx’s Capital. The translation was to have been published by Pollyakoff, from whom Bakunin had received an advance payment of 300 roubles. Nechaeff (who in January, 1870, had returned to Switzerland from Russia as the representative of the Russian Revolutionary Committee) advised Bakunin to discontinue the work of translation for a while, and to devote all his energies to “Russian affairs,” which, being interpreted, meant “revolutionary propaganda within the Russian borders.” Nechaeff undertook to square matters with the prospective publisher, and this promise he carried out by sending Polyakoff a threatening letter demanding that the latter should leave Bakunin in peace. Bakunin was, in all probability, quite innocent of this affair, though undoubtedly he acted in an irresponsible manner. The student Lyubavin, who had undertaken to do the work of translation in place of Bakunin, and Danielson (generally known as Nikolai On, a well-known writer who was in correspondence with Marx), were instrumental in bringing these facts to Marx’s notice, and through Marx they were communicated to the committee.
Cuno, the president of the Committee, declared that, though the committee had received no material proof of the guilt of the accused, it had, nevertheless, acquired a moral conviction of his guilt.
Roch Splingard, who had heard the evidence put before the committee, insisted that all this evidence could prove was that Bakunin had made an attempt to organise a secret society within the International. Guillaume, when asked to exculpate himself, refused to do so, on the ground that this was treating the attack too seriously. It was, he said, an attack against the whole federalist party, though apparently levelled against some of its members only. Schwitzguébel was content to say: “We have been condemned beforehand, but the workers will condemn the decision of your majority.” Dave then read the minority declaration. Herein it was declared that the members of the minority faction were supporters of the idea of autonomy and of federation among the groups of workers. The report proceeded as follows
“1. We will continue administrative relations with the General Council, relations concerning the payment of dues, correspondence, and statistics of labour; 2. the federations for which we are acting as delegates shall establish direct and continuous relationships between themselves and all the other branches of the International that shall have been constitutionally formed (this signifying that such relationships were to be independent of the General Council; 3. should the General Council wish to interfere in the internal affairs of the federations, the federations, represented by the undersigned, are resolutely determined to maintain their autonomy, without in any way infringing the rules of the International that were approved by the Geneva Congress” [thus rejecting the changes made in the rules by the London Conference and by the Hague Congress].
Out of the 65 delegates who had been admitted to the congress, there were now no more than 43 present, 10 delegates of the minority faction, and 12 of the majority faction having left ere this. When the motion for Bakunin’s expulsion from the International was put, 27 voted in favour of the resolution, 7 against, and 8 abstained from voting. For the expulsion of Guillaume 25 voted for, 9 against, and 9 abstained; the vote for Schwitzguébel’s expulsion was 15 for, 17 against, and 9 abstentions. Thus Schwitzguébel was not expelled, but he immediately entered a protest, and declared that, seeing that his expulsion was proposed on the same grounds as Guillaume’s, it would be absurd to expel one and not the other. Guillaume declared that he would still continue to look upon himself as a member of the International.
Switzerland was chosen as the country where the next international congress was to be held.
The congress was followed by a public meeting convened in Amsterdam by the Amsterdam branch of the International. It was addressed by Becker, Sorge, Marx, and others. I reproduce most of Marx’s speech, in which he made clear the historical tasks of the working class, and outlined the future tactics of the workers’ movement:
“During the eighteenth century, kings and potentates were wont to assemble at the Hague in order to discuss the interests of dynasts. In the same city we ventured to hold the Assize of Labour, regardless of the attempts to frighten us away. In the midst of a most reactionary population, we have reaffirmed the existence and the expansion of our great association, and have declared our hope in its future.
“When our decision to hold this congress was made known, we were accused of having sent emissaries to prepare the ground. We do not deny that we have emissaries wherever we go, but most of these are personally unknown to us. Our emissaries in the Hague were the workers, who have to toil there just as they have to toil in Amsterdam, whose working day is one of sixteen hours. These are our emissaries. We have no others; but these we find wherever we go, always ready to show their sympathy with us, for they are quick to realise that our aim is to better their lot.
“The Hague Congress has done important work. It has proclaimed the necessity that the working class shall attack the old and crumbling society both on the political and on the social field. We may congratulate ourselves upon the fact that the resolution of the London Conference has now been incorporated into the rules of the International, for a group had formed within the organisation composed of persons who demanded that the workers should hold aloof from the political struggle. It was our task to explain how dangerous to our cause the adoption of such a principle would be.
“Some day, the workers must conquer political supremacy, in, order to establish the new organisation of labour; they must overthrow the old political system whereby the old institutions are sustained. If they fail to do this, they will suffer the fate of the early Christians, who neglected to overthrow the old system, and who, for that reason, never had a kingdom in this world. Of course, I must not be supposed to imply that the means to this end will be everywhere the same. We know that special regard must be paid to the institutions, customs, and traditions of various lands; and we do not deny that there are certain countries, such as the United States and England, in which the workers may hope to secure their ends by peaceful means. If I mistake not, Holland belongs to the same category. Even so, we have to recognise that in most Continental countries, force will have to be the lever of the revolution. It is to force that in due time the workers will have to appeal if the domination of labour is at long last to be established.
“The Hague Congress gave the General Council new and more extensive powers. At the moment when the kings are gathering in Berlin, and when, by this meeting of the mighty representatives of feudalism and of an outworn past, new and more vigorous oppressive measures are being devised against us, at the moment when persecution is being organised, the Hague Congress has thought it wise and essential to increase the powers of the General Council, and to centralise its forces for the struggle that is about to begin, seeing that we should be powerless if we were to remain isolated. Besides, who but our enemies have any reason to feel suspicious of the powers of the General Council? Does it possess a bureaucracy? Does it command the services of an armed police force whereby it can enforce obedience? Is not its authority purely moral? When it comes to any decisions, does it not communicate these to the federations, and is it not the federations that are charged with carrying them out? Kings in such a position, kings without soldiers, policemen, or officials, would be able to offer little resistance to the progress of the revolution, had they to rely solely upon moral influence and moral authority.
“Finally, the Hague congress has removed the seat of the General Council from London to New York. Many, even over friends, are not best pleased at this decision. They forget that the United States is pre-eminently becoming the land of the workers; that, year by year, half-a-million workers migrate to this new world, and that the International must perforce strike deep roots in this soil upon which the workers are supreme. Besides, the decision of the congress gives the General Council the right to co-opt members. We may hope that in its wisdom the Council will co-opt suitable persons, persons who will know how to keen the banner of our Association waving lustily throughout Europe.
“Fellow Citizens! Let us think of the fundamental principle of the International Solidarity. We shall attain our great goal if we can establish this life-giving principle firmly among all the workers of all lands. The revolution must be the work of solidarised efforts. We can learn this from the great example of the Commune of Paris. Why did the Commune fall? It fell because there did not simultaneously occur in all the capitals, in Berlin, in Madrid, and the rest, a great revolutionary movement linked with the mighty upheaval of the Parisian proletariat.
“For my own part, I shall continue to work at my chief task at promoting the Solidarity of the workers, which I regard as so momentous for the future. Rest assured that I shall not cease to work for the International; and that the years that remain to me, like the years I have already lived, will be consecrated to the triumph of the socialist idea, which, we doubt not, will one day lead to the dominion of the proletariat."
The promise held out in this speech was fulfilled in a somewhat different way than Marx had led his hearers to expect. It is true that to the end of his days he worked for the international working-class movement, helping it by his knowledge and his talents. But the movement was no longer developing within the framework of the old International. Henceforward it was to find expression in independent national socialist parties. Both Marx and Engels rendered great assistance to the new General Council which was functioning in New York under the leadership of Sorge; but the new body was not comparable to the erstwhile General Council, it was no longer the powerful organisation which gave the impetus for awakening and rousing the proletariat, and in which the theories of international socialism were hammered out.
Already, before the Hague Congress, Marx and Engels had decided to take no further direct part in the International. This decision had been influenced by many considerations, some personal and some general. Above all, Marx felt that his strength was waning, and that he must concentrate all his forces for the completion of his great work, Capital. This task alone was sufficient to prevent him from taking a very active part in the labours of the General Council. In addition there no longer existed the same unity of outlook as of yore. Many members of the Council, especially those who were working in the British working-class movement, such as Hales, Eccarius, and Jung, had never been true-hearted comrades-in-arms of Marx; these members were beginning to play, within the Council, the opposition game, and were paralysing the fighting spirits by entering into disruptive intrigues with the Bakuninists. The main reason for the decision was, however, that Marx and Engels realised that the old International had accomplished its task as awakener and as propagator of socialist ideas among the masses, and that henceforward the movement was to take a fresh turn. Instead of the formless and, as it were, fluid or loose unification of the dispersed forces of the proletariat, there must arise a stable solidarity among the workers of the respective nations, in order to accomplish this preliminary process of the creation of socialist parties in the different lands. In due course there would become necessary the creation of a new International, based upon the working class parties that had been nationally consolidated, and utilising all the experience of these parties.
In actual fact, the Hague Congress was the last congress of the First International. In the sequel we shall see that the two parts into which the First International split, continued for some time to lead independent lives. The Marxist section held one more session at Geneva in the year 1873, and the Bakuninist section organised several congresses. But these activities were far from being an effective expression of that International Workingmen’s Association which had proudly taken its place upon the stage in the year 1864 with the design of summoning the workers to transform contemporary society into a socialist commonwealth.
With the Hague Congress the old International may be said to have died. Nevertheless, from a historical point of view, the Association was not a fruitless endeavour. If it did not succeed in achieving any decisive victories, or directly bring about the social revolution as its founders had hoped, it nevertheless succeeded in popularising among the broad masses of the workers the ideas underlying socialism and in arousing the slumbering forces of the proletariat. And these ideas never ceased henceforward to work towards the unification of the proletariat, organising its forces in every land alike in the political, the industrial, and the cultural field. Moreover, these ideas were to lay an important part in preparing the workers for a fresh assault upon the citadel of capitalism.
In this connexion it is interesting to read a liberal’s appraisement of the First International. In quoting the following passage from Laveleye, it goes without saying that the reasons he gives for the fall of the International are far from agreeing in all points with the actual facts.
“Let us sum up this sketch of the rise and fall of the International. As one of its leaders, Eccarius, said, it was born from the union of two trends: that of the trade unions in Great Britain, which were fighting for higher wages by means of combinations and of strikes on the practical field of industrial life; and that of French and German socialism, which aimed at a radical change in the existing social order. The first of these trends predominated until 1869. Since then, and especially after the Paris Commune, the revolutionary outlook has secured the upper hand. The International owed its rapid and apparently alarming success to the way in which it was able to respond to the feeling of discontent and revolt which was gradually spreading throughout the working class of all civilised countries. It was not difficult to establish bonds among those who suffered the same irritations and who were inspired with the same aspirations. Nevertheless, the power at the disposal of the Association was insignificant. The International never knew, even approximately, the number of its adherents. Monsieur Fribourg, one of its former members, justly remarks: “One gets affiliated to the international in much the same way as one tosses off a glass of wine.” From 1866 to 1870, the greater number of working men’s societies and of individual socialists declared their adhesion, and that was all. Thus it was that Cameron, the delegate representing the United States at the Basle Congress, reported... the adhesion, in a body, of 800,000 workers; such adhesions were, however wholly platonic. They brought neither authority nor money to the Association.
“It is generally supposed that the international played an important part in the strikes which have become so numerous in recent years. This is a mistake. Very often, no doubt, the strikers belonged nominally to the Association. But, in the first place, the leaders of the International looked upon the strike merely as a means to an end; in the second place, they shrank from advising a strike lest the workers should suffer a defeat, and discredit be thrown upon the International; finally, the Association had no financial resources. .... It was not the International which fomented the strikes; it was the strikes which fostered the growth of the International.
“The causes of the rapid decline of this ‘terrible’ Association are not far to seek, and they are instructive. First of all, as an organiser of strikes, its principal and most practical aim, it proved itself to be timid and impotent. The organised workers were not slow to perceive this, and consequently they gave the International the go by. Further, it had adopted as its slogan: ‘Emancipation of the workers by the workers themselves.’ The internationalists, then, meant to do without the bourgeois radicals, ‘phrasemongers,’ ‘intriguers,’ who, once the revolution had been accomplished, would seize the reins of power and would leave the workers as they were before ... The workers will no longer follow the bourgeois radicals, for the workers realise that political liberties, the republic, and even universal suffrage, which the radicals claim as rights or decree as laws, do not change the relations of capital and labour. On the other hand, the worker is obviously incapable of guiding a revolutionary movement competent to solve the thousand difficulties entailed by every change in the economic system. Thus, revolutionary socialism leads into a blind alley, and is powerless in actual practice.
“But there was another cause for the rapid decline in the international. It was disrupted by personal rivalries ....
“The International has not been killed by the strictness of laws or the persecution of rulers; it has died a natural death. Still, its career, though short, has left deep traces upon contemporary life. It has given a vigorous impulse to militant socialism, especially in the Latin countries. The hostility of the workers against their masters has been aggravated to become a chronic disease, for the workers have been persuaded that they form a class which is foredoomed to poverty owing to the iniquitous privileges of capital.
The conservative historian of the International, Rudolph Meyer holds forth in much the same strain:
“Marx’s International had accomplished its task; it had awakened the spirit of class hatred among the workers of all lands, had pointed out a goal for the working-class movement, and had taught the workers how to organise."
Of course, it is absurd to say that the International had awakened the spirit of hatred against the bourgeoisie for this class antagonism is an outcome of the relationship between the two classes which is inherent in the very nature of capitalist society, and is in no way dependent upon the good or the bad will of individuals. What the International really did show to the workers was their historical task and their aims; it aroused their class consciousness; it worked out the fundamental principles of the socialist program and tactics; and, finally, it led the workers to organise themselves as a class. All this could be accounted to the credit of the International, and herein we find the immemorial service rendered to the working class by the International Workingmen’s Association.
That veteran fighter, Wilhelm Liebknecht, was absolutely right when, at the inaugural congress of the Second International held in Paris in the year 1889, he characterised the historical significance of the International Workingmen’s Association in the following picturesque terms:
“As in days of old, in times of battle and siege, soldiers of the vanguard had to throw their spears far into the ranks of the foe, and over the walls of the enemy forts, in order to incite the masses to redeem the spears, so the International Workingmen’s Association hurled the spear of the international fight for freedom, far in advance, nay into the very midst of the opposing army, into the very heart of the capitalist stronghold; and the proletariat pressed forward in order to redeem the spear, in order to destroy the enemy’s army, to take the citadel by storm. The International Workingmen’s Association pointed out to the workers the general aim, made clear to them the need for a solid front and for fighting shoulder to shoulder like brothers; the First International fulfilled its mission. It did not die, but passed into the mighty working-class movement in many lands, and it continues to live in this movement. It continues to live in us who are here present. This congress is indeed the offspring of the International Workingmen’s Association.”