PART TWO. History of The First International by G. M. Stekloff

Chapter Two. The Saint-Imier Congress and the Foundation of the Anarchist International

DESPITE their defeat at the Hague Congress, the anarchists did not look upon themselves as vanquished. They were determined to unite all the elements which were opposed to the policy of the General Council, and, if needs must, to found a separate international organisation.

The first open revolt against the old International had come from the Italian Federation during the Congress of Rimini, which had been held at the beginning of August 1872. The most energetic spirits in the Italian socialist movement of that day were, to a man, followers of Bakunin. We may mention Malatesta, Costa, and Cafiero. The last-named came under Bakunin’s direct influence, and completely succumbed to the fascination of his puissant personality.[291] Without consulting the other Bakuninist federations, the fiery-spirited Italians declared that henceforward they would have nothing to do with the General Council, which, according to them, no longer represented the International; and that they would not send delegates to the Hague Congress. This open breach on the part of the Italians was the result of the London Conference. They held that the conference had tried to impose on the International Workingmen’s Association a special authoritarian doctrine which hailed from the German communists; that the General Council had made use of the most unworthy means in order to force its authoritarian doctrine down the throats of its adherents, and had thus roused the revolutionary ire of the Belgians, the French, the Spanish, the Slavic, the Italian, and a part of the Swiss internationalists against itself. The Italian Federation then proceeded to invite all those branches which were dissatisfied with the authoritarian doctrine of the General Council to send delegates to Neuchâtel in Switzerland to participate in a general anti-authoritarian congress.

As soon as the delegates had dispersed after the Hague Congress, the discomfited anarchists, having determined not to work in conformity with the resolutions accepted by the majority of that congress, foregathered at Zurich in September, 1872. Thither came the Italians, Cafiero, Malatesta, Costa, Pezza, Fanelli,[292] and Nabruzzi; the Spaniards, Alerini, Farga, Marselau, and Morago; and the Swiss, Schwitzguébel. Bakunin had prepared a draft of the rules for an international secret organisation. The draft was discussed at a preliminary conference, and was, it goes without saying, adopted. The delegates then betook themselves to Saint Imier, where it had been decided to convene an international Bakuninist congress.

Before this international congress was opened, the Jura Federation held an extraordinary conference of its own. This conference had been hastily summoned in consequence of the results of the Hague Congress. The conference of the Jura Federation refused to recognise the resolutions adopted at the Hague Congress, considering them unjust, inopportune, and outside the jurisdiction of the congress; the conference further undertook to set to work immediately in forming a federal and free pact between all the federations which were inclined to adopt such a pact; finally, the conference expressed both sympathy and confidence in Bakunin and Guillaume, who “had unwarrantably been expelled from the ranks of the International.”

Within an hour of the closure of the Jura conference, the international congress of Bakuninists was opened in the same town of Saint-Imier, and lasted for two days, September 15 and 16, 1872. This circumstance alone suffices to show the symbolical role and the influence which the Jura Federation was destined to wield in the new anarchist International. As far back as the sixties, the Jurists showed an inclination towards anarchism. This tendency was due to local conditions, such as the system of home industries, the unfitness for independent political action consequent upon the dispersal of the Jura independent artisans among the peasant and petty-bourgeois masses, the spread of political indifferentism, and the aversion to taking part in the electoral struggle, resulting in a series of electoral pacts with the bourgeois parties. But in the year 1872, the effect of these local conditions had been overpowered by important and general considerations. The geographical position of Switzerland, in the very heart of the Latin countries, made it the natural rallying place for the anarchist propagandists of the Romance peoples; Switzerland was likewise, at that date, in all Europe, the land where the greatest political freedom prevailed; finally, precisely because of this political freedom, Switzerland had become the country of adoption for the numerous revolutionary refugees from Italian, Spanish, French, and Russian governmental oppression. Many of the French Communards rallied to the Bakuninists and supported them in their struggle with the General Council. We may mention such men as Benoît Melon, who subsequently became famous as the expounder of the eclectic “integral socialism,” a doctrine of muddle-headed sentimentalism and moderate opportunism (Malon may be regarded as the spiritual father of the “independent” socialists – those who looked for the establishment of socialism by universal consent); Jules Guesde, whom fate predestined to be the founder of the Parti Ouvrier in France, a man who, though professing anarchist principles in the earlier seventies and writing articles against universal (manhood) suffrage which are quoted in anarchist circles to this day, became one of the most convinced adherents of the Marxist doctrine; and, finally, Paul Brousse, who subsequently founded the moderate semi-bourgeois party of the possibilists, though at the epoch we are now dealing with, he was a somewhat blatant demagogue and roused even Guillaume’s disgust. As regards the Russian refugees at that date, most of them rallied to Bakunin, and vigorously supported the anarchist agitation in Switzerland. In addition I may mention Ross (Sazhin), Zhukoffsky, and, in later days, Kropotkin and Stepniak (Kravchinsky).

The Jura Federation having the spiritual and material support of such puissant minds, being free from police persccution, being based anon working-class organisations, which, though small, were stable (the organisations of the workers in the watch-making industry), naturally became the very heart of the anarchist International. The Federation had a decisive influence upon the general outlook and upon the tactics of the new organisation; the “Bulletin” became the central organ of the anarchist International, and the Federation was destined to become one of the causes of decay, for, undoubtedly the disintegration of the Jura Federation, occasioned by the crisis in the watch-making industry towards the end of the seventies, entailed, likewise, the disintegration of the anarchist International.

The delegates to the anarchist congress of Saint-Imier were as follows: four (already mentioned above) from the Spanish Federation; six from the Italian Federation, Costa, Cafiero, Bakunin, Malatesta, Nabruzzi, Fanelli; two from the Jura Federation, Guillaume and Schwitzguébel; two from France, Camet and Pindy, who represented several sections, unspecified; and Lefrançais representing sections 3 and 22 of the United States, which had broken away from the Marxists.

The frame of mind of all the delegates was identical, and, of course, no disputes among the congressists took place. The resolutions were adopted unanimously. The main principle voiced was that “the autonomy and independence of the working-class sections and federations constitute the essential condition of the emancipation of the workers.” The congress repudiated the Hague resolutions, and refused to recognise the authority of the General Council which had been elected at the Hague. The congress “categorically denied the legislative right of all congresses, whether general or regional, and recognised that such congresses had no other mission than to show forth the aspirations, the needs, and the ideas of the proletariat in the various localities or countries, so that such ideas may he harmonised and unified ... ; in no case can the majority of a congress ... impose its resolutions upon the minority.” Such a point of view was the natural outcome of anarchist teaching, but it did not prevent the Bakuninists from playing the part of disorganisers. This disintegrating influence was gradually to be revealed in the subsequent history of the anarchist International.

In order to combat the “authoritarian” tendency which had appeared within the old International, the delegates at Saint-Imier concluded a “friendly pact for solidarity and mutual defence among the free federations. “ – “Should the freedom of any of the federations or sections be attacked, either by the majority at a general congress, or by a governing body or General Council created by the said majority, all the other federations or sections shall proclaim their absolute solidarity with the federation or section which is being attacked.”

The third resolution dealt with the question of political action, a problem which had been the crux of the old International. Needless to say, the decisions arrived at concerning this question during the Saint-Imier Congress bore the Bakuninist imprint. But the authors of the resolution obviously hoped to attract to the new International, not only those who were professed anarchists, but, likewise, the anti-Marxist champions of political action (such as the British workers and some of the Belgians). For tactical reasons, therefore, they walked round the question, and avoided, for the time being, imposing their anarchist symbol of faith upon all and sundry. It is interesting to note that at the outset the Bakuninists discouraged the adoption of the name of “anarchists.” They preferred the name of “social revolutionaries” or “anti-authoritarian collectivists.” Sometimes they assumed the title of “social federalists,” and it was not until towards the end of the seventies that the terms “anarchists” or “anarchist communists” became the vogue. They absolutely refused to allow themselves to be called “communists,” without qualification, for this term was inseparable from the conception of Marxist socialism.

The resolution dealing with “the nature of the political action of the proletariat” runs as follows:


“That the wish to force the proletariat to adopt a uniform line of conduct or a political program, as the only means which can achieve working-class emancipation, is an absurd and reactionary claim;

“That no one has the right to deprive the autonomous federations and sections of the incontestable right themselves to decide and follow the line of conduct in political matters, which they shall deem the best, and that any such attempt would inevitably lead us to the most revolting dogmatism;

“That the aspirations of the proletariat can have no other aim than the creation of an absolutely free economic organisation and federation based upon work and equality and wholly independent of any political government, and that such an organisation or federation can only come into being through the spontaneous action of the proletariat itself, through its trade societies, and through self-governing communes;

“That no political organisations can be anything but the organisation of rule in the interests of a class and to the detriment of the masses, and that the proletariat, should it seize power, would become a ruling and exploiting class;

“The Congress of Saint-Imier declares

“1. That the destruction of every kind of political power is the first task of the proletariat;

“2. That the organisation of political power, even though nominally temporary and revolutionary, to farther the aforesaid destruction, can be nothing but deception, and would be as dangerous to the proletariat as any extant government;

“3. That the proletarians of all lands, spurning all compromises in the achievement of the social revolution, must establish, independently of bourgeois politics, the solidarity of revolutionary union.”

We have no difficulty in tracing Bakunin’s pen in the drawing up of this resolution. Anyway these ideas were prevalent at that time among the Jura Federationists, the Spanish, and the Italians. They had a hold upon certain minds among the French and the Belgian workers.

The promoters of the new International journeyed home filled with the determination to attract to the anarchist banner all the active spirits of the contemporary socialist movement. The Marxists, as is evident from Engels’ letter to Sorge under date October 5, 1872,[293] did not attach much importance to the separate Bakuninist organisation, and hoped for its speedy disappearance. Engels even rejoiced that the anarchists had declared open war upon the International, and had thus given the General Council sufficient reason to expel them. “Speedy and energetic action against these arch-wranglers, as soon as you have the relevant documents in your hands, is, we consider, clearly indicated, and doubtless will suffice to burst up the threatening separatist league.”

The “relevant documents” to which Engels here refers were soon afterwards published in the famous pamphlet L'Alliance de la Democratie socialiste et l'Association Internationale des Travailleurs (1873). Engels, together with Lafargue and Utin,[294] was already engaged at the time he wrote the above-quoted letter in assembling the incriminating material. But Engels was unduly sanguine. True, the publication of this pamphlet may have discouraged Bakunin personally, and it is quite possible that the publication had some influence upon his decision, shortly afterwards, to withdraw completely from political activities – but it did not succeed in giving the death-blow to the anarchist International. Within a year, Engels had to admit that the anarchist International was much stronger than the vestige of the old International.