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

Chapter Three. The forces of the Anarchist International

THE most important adherent of the anarchist International was the Jura Federation. One branch only of this Federation refused to join the new body. This was the Moutier branch, which declared that as far as concerned the political question its members would remain loyal to the resolution of the Hague Congress.

The Belgian Federation threw in its lot with the anarchist International at its Brussels Congress, held in December, 1872. At that time the socialist movement in Belgium was dominated by the Walloon element of the population, in which the metallurgical workers of the Borinage district constituted the most revolutionary portion. The lack of stable organisation, the frequency of strikes, the use of troops against the strikers, conflicts attended by bloodshed – such were the main features of the movement in whose soil anarchist ideas found an admirably prepared field of propaganda.[295]

On the other hand, those taking part in the socialist movement of the Belgian intelligentsia were inspired by Proudhonist ideas which naturally led them to oppose the Marxist outlook. The Flemish population of Belgium had as yet taken hardly any part in the movement; but when the Flemings at last began to be converted to socialist ideas, they adopted the social-democratic standpoint, and at long last they even succeeded in weaning the Walloons from their allegiance to anarchism.

The adhesion of the Belgian Federation to the anarchist International had a notable effect upon that organisation. In the first place, if we exclude from consideration certain parts of Spain, Belgium was at that time the only country where a mass movement of the workers existed (though as yet that movement was in the first stages of development, i.e., the insurrectionist stage). In the second place, the Belgian Federation provided the anarchist International with a number of experienced veterans and first-rate theoreticians, such as Steens, Brismée, and in especial De Paepe. They played an outstanding part in the International, and furnished the international congresses with important reports. Fate decreed, however, that these men, including de Paepe, whose adhesion had caused the anarchists so much joy, were to deal the new International the first serious blow. Of this, in the sequel. In addition, the Belgians possessed some well-established periodicals, among which I may mention “Mirabeau,” issued at Verviers, which continued publication until 1880.

Close upon the heels of the Belgian Federation came the Spanish Federation to join up with the anarchist International. Thanks to an almost chronic state of revolution in Spain, the Spanish Federation was one of the strongest sections of the International. Kropotkin, visiting Spain in 1876, wrote as follows concerning the Spanish Federation in that year:

“In Catalonia alone there were over one hundred thousand workers organised in trade unions. More than eighty thousand Spaniards belonged to the International. These Spaniards were diligent in attending congresses, and paid in their contributions with traditional Spanish punctilio ... The organisations were ready to proclaim a Spanish federal republic;[296] to grant independence to the Spanish colonies; and, in those localities which were capable of more advanced measures, to introduce experiments along the lines of collectivism. The perpetual fear of a rising restrained the monarchist Government from pouncing upon the workers’ and peasants’ organisations and destroying them, and from allowing full rein to the clerical reaction.”

Despite some slight exaggeration, Kropotkin is right in stating that in the seventies the Spanish Federation disposed of considerable forces. It was reported at the Cordova Congress (December 25 to 30, 1872) that there were 101 local federations consisting of 66 mixed branches and 332 trade union branches; in addition there were 10 localities having an individual membership. Thus, in eight months, the International had doubled its membership in Spain. The congress unanimously adopted the resolutions of the Saint-Imier Congress, and, carrying consistency to the pitch of mania, made the first step towards disorganisation by reducing its Federal Council to a mere correspondence bureau. This was precisely the fate the Bakuninists held in store for the General Council, and, as we shall see, they were soon to achieve their aim.

A split took place in the British Federal Council. This had been threatening for some time, but matters were brought to a head by the Hague Congress, in consequence of the resolution in favour of transferring the headquarters of the General Council to New York. The whilom British members of the General Council, to whom the decision came as a shock, openly attacked the International. The tone was set by the sometime collaborators of Marx, such men as Hales, Jung, and Eccarius.[297] They had worked for many years hand in hand with Marx on the General Council, and at all the international congresses had come forward as champions of Marxist views. Their differences with Marx concerning activities in the British movement, concerning the introduction of the Blanquists into the General Council After the defeat of the Paris Commune, concerning the way in which the Hague Congress had been organised, and, in especial, concerning the transference of the General Council to New York; were complicated by personal antagonisms.

The group of dissentients came definitely into the open at the London Congress of the British Federation held towards the end of January, 1873. Although this congress did not avowedly reject the Hague resolution concerning political action, nevertheless, the speeches show that the British Federation was hostile to the Hague Congress and its decisions. Thus, Eccarius reminded his hearers that the International had always held that the members of each national section should themselves determine the nature of their political activity. He further declared that in certain countries the primary task of the working-class movement was to get workers elected to the various legislative bodies, and that, in order to achieve this, it was necessary, at the outset, to enter into alliances with advanced members of the bourgeois parties. Hales declared that the rift in the International was not so much due to disputes concerning the political struggle (on this point agreement might be possible), but was due to the dispute concerning the dictatorship of the General Council which Marx was endeavouring to establish. It was clear that these British dissentients had not grasped the nature of the question which was rending the International in twain. They had not grasped the need for the creation of national independent working-class parties, which should combat all existing bourgeois parties; nor the need for founding an international working-class party with a regulating and administrative centre such as the General Council.

The congress declared itself to be the only true federation of the International in Great Britain, and proceeded to elect nine of its delegates to act as an executive committee. Among the nine were Hales, Jung, Mottershead, Foster and Weston. Finally, resolutions declaring that the Hague Congress had been illegally constituted, that the resolutions adopted by that congress conflicted with the rules of the Association, and that the British Federation intended to enter into relations with all the federations adhering to the Association, were unanimously adopted.

The adhesion of the British Federation was gratifying to the anarchists for two reasons. First, because the decisions of Marx’s erstwhile friends seemed to confirm the charge that Marx had “dictatorial ways,” an undue “love of power,” a “penchant for intrigues,” and so on; secondly, the British Federation, while throwing in its lot with the anarchist International, expressly declared that on the question of the political action of the proletariat, it adhered to its original view, and the anarchists, while appearing broad-minded and tolerant, were able to defer until an opportune moment laying all their cards on the table. By admitting into their International persons who recognised the need for political action, the anarchists seemed to give a guarantee that their breaking away from the International had not been due to theoretical differences, but to a difference of conception concerning methods of organisation; and that, in the actual circumstances of the dispute, it was a protest against the alleged dictatorship of the General Council and an endeavour to set up national and local autonomous federations. The leaders of the anarchist International for some time endeavoured to carry on their activities along these lines; but soon it became apparent that the accord between such irreconcilable elements was a very superficial one, and was lacking in any basic solidarity of purpose.

The Dutch Federation of the International soon followed the Belgian example. Its decision was influenced by the doings of the General Council in New York. The latter, having learned of the resolution adopted by the Saint-Imier Congress which rejected the decisions of the Hague Congress, suggested that the Jura workers should alter the offending resolution, and added that the alteration should be agreed to within forty days. Pending the expiry of the term of grace, the General Council at its meeting of January 5, 1873, passed a resolution ordering a temporary stoppage of the activities of the Jura Federation. In answer to this resolution (the logical outcome of a strict interpretation of the fundamental rules of the International), the Belgian, Dutch, Spanish, and Italian federations declared that they no longer recognised the authority of the General Council, but, as heretofore, supported the Jura Federation, with which they pronounced themselves to be in whole-hearted agreement. Then the General Council declared that the sections which refused to accept the decisions of the Hague Congress were, by this fact alone, excluded from the International Workingmen’s Association. In such wise was the decisive split brought about; and the once united International, which, in its prime, had played so mighty a part, and to whose call both workers and governments had paid heed, was cut in twain. Henceforward the section representing the old International exercised no influence, and it speedily fell into complete decay.

On the other hand, the anarchist International continued in existence, and displayed far more energy than the Marxist International. Nearly all the federations of the old International rallied to the new body, which, doing its utmost to defy the reactionary forces of these years that followed the fall of the Commune of Paris, endeavoured to protract its inevitable decline, nourishing itself upon the vestiges of power and influence attaching to the old International Workingmen’s Association. The Marxists did not devote any special energy to the maintenance and development of the International, for, as political realists, they quickly came to recognise that the old organisation had played its part, and must now make way for the new form of activity. They understood that the period of doctrinal propaganda, the period devoted to the hammering out of the fundamental elements of socialist theory, was over and done with. The next task must be the building of the foundations of the future International, that is to say, the creation of national workers’ parties. Moreover, in proportion as the anarchists came to the same conclusion, they were continually breaking away from the Bakuninist International and taking up social democratic work within a national orbit, thus paving the way for the actual reconstruction of the international unity of the proletariat.