PART TWO. History of The First International by G. M. Stekloff
THE Hague Congress, having decided to transfer the seat of the General Council to New York, elected twelve members to serve on the new council and conceded them the right of co-opting seven additional members. Marx and Engels had in mind the co-option of Sorge, who had come from the States to take part in the congress at the urgent request of Marx and Engels. Sorge had voted against the transfer of the General Council’s headquarters to America, and had refused to stand as a candidate for election to the council. Subsequently he yielded to the pressure of his friends who knew that they would have in Sorge a trusty ally. On his return to New York. Sorge took up his new duties and became general secretary.
Rudolph Meyer, in his celebrated book upon the emancipation of the fourth estate, remarks that “In America, Sorge was for Marx what Johann Philipp Becker had been in Switzerland.” This is how it came about. Marx and Engels had implicit faith in Sorge, and their confidence was well deserved, for Sorge was of a thoroughly trustworthy disposition and was whole-heartedly devoted to socialism. The son of a Saxon clergyman, he went to Baden and took part in the struggle that in 1848 raged around the question of an imperial constitution; he was sentenced to death in Germany, was expelled from Belgium, sought refuge in Switzerland for a time, and then went to the United States. Here he settled down. Despite the vicissitudes of an exile’s life he succeeded in making his way, and acquired a sound knowledge of communist theory. His service to the International consists in the fact that he brought into its ranks the first American unions, and this adhesion procured for the Workingmen’s Association the very thing that organisation was most in need of money! Sorge took upon himself the difficult and thankless task of sustaining the International in its last days and of saving its honour. He accomplished this task at great personal sacrifice, although he was well aware that the life had gone out of the institution he was upholding. The Bakuninists, whose plans he energetically combatted, hated Sorge with their whole hearts and taunted him, not only with being Marx’s “errand boy,” but also his “drill-sergeant.” Sorge paid them back in their own coin, looking upon them as brawlers, intriguers, and disrupters.
In their decision to transfer the General Council to New York, Marx and those of his way of thinking were guided by the following considerations. Above all, they wished to prevent the General Council falling into the hands of the Blanquists; for there was danger that the Blanquists might use the council for their conspiratorial ends. After the overthrow of the Paris Commune, many French refugees of the Blanquist persuasion foregathered in London. As solid supporters of political action, they upheld the theory of the seizure of power, believing that once they had political power they could bring about the social revolution. They therefore supported Marx in his fight with the anarchists. But, though he fully recognised their services in this matter, Marx was loath to allow the Blanquists to make use of the international for their insurrectionist experiments. The disappointment of the Blanquists at the transference of the General Council to New York knew no bounds. In November, 1872, they published in London a pamphlet by Valliant entitled L'Internationale et la revolution, which was a definite attack on the Marxists. The anarchists jubilantly welcomed the pamphlet, exclaiming, “Exeunt the jacobins!” They rightly considered that it betokened a further split in the ranks of the International, which would be advantageous to the anarchist cause. I must add that Valliant subsequently became one of the ablest among the champions of Marxism!
The Marxists had thought that, by transferring the seat of the General Council to New York, they were providing the American workers with an incentive to the creation of socialist organisations. The main lines for the spread of socialist ideas in Europe had already been laid. Now it behoved the internationalists to attract the millions of workers on the farther shores of the Atlantic into the ranks of the International. Furthermore, Engels held that the transfer of headquarters to New York was a good move in view of the threatening aspect of political affairs in Europe. By withdrawing its organisational centre for a time from the hurly-burly of the European arena, the International would be in a better position to face events and would run less risk of being irretrievably smashed up – for the leaders clearly recognised that a rout of the International would set the whole working-class movement back for decades to come. Finally the temporary withdrawal of the General Council from Europe had become a necessity owing to the presence of countless intriguers and adventurers who were only too ready to use the glorious name of the International in order to incite the masses to futile insurrections. By thus removing the General Council to the United States, the Marxists hoped to keep the International out of the arena of national squabbles, which, on the Continent of Europe and in London, it seemed impossible to avoid.
At this juncture – owing to the indifference displayed towards the International by such countries as Denmark, Germany, Austria, and German-speaking Switzerland (lands where national socialist parties were beginning to develop), in view of the decay of the French working-class movement after the fall of the Commune, and further, in view of the fact that the International had lost its influence upon the British workers – the Bakuninists were gaining the upper hand in the councils of the proletarians, and the waverers were going over to the anarchist camp. Nevertheless, at first Marx, and Engels (and the latter more especially) lived in hopes that they might still guide the greater part of the socialist forces in the direction they thought best, and thus rescue the International from speedy extinction. Even after the transference of the headquarters to New York, both Marx and Engels continued to keep in close touch with the work of the General Council, and actually, thanks to Sorge’s detailed letters as to the activities of the Council, they were able to keep it in the right path. For the sake of truth it is necessary to add, that, though they and other comrades co-operated with Sorge whole-heartedly and never hesitated to give him the benefit of their advice, they took rather a high hand at times, in their dealings with the General Council. For instance, Sorge was perpetually beseeching them to send him the full minutes of the old General Council. His petition remained unsatisfied, on the pretext that these documents were of the utmost importance to Marx and the others in order to help them to refute the accusations and base calumnies which were being spread by Hales, Eccarius, and the Jura Federationists. “I think,” wrote Engels, “that the defence of the interests of the International is more important than the fulfilment of these formalities.” Thus Marx and Engels were responsible not only for placing Sorge in a false positron, and for hampering him in his work, but also for the appearance in the General Council of a feeling of dissatisfaction with the old council for keeping back official documents, and of annoyance at the repressive measures undertaken against refractory federations. Sorge likewise never succeeded in getting Becker to send him the report of the Geneva Congress of 1873 – but of this anon; suffice it here to say that not until some three months after the congress did the General Council receive a belated packet from Geneva containing an incomplete set of documents in the most hopeless confusion.
With the exception of the United States, where at this date the movement was still very weak and was almost entirely confined to the German refugees who were for ever flying at each other’s throats, there was not a single national federation rallying to the support of the General Council.
In Britain, neither the champions of the General Council nor its opponents were of much account. Those who had differed from the conclusions of the London Conference, and who now adhered to the Bakuninist International, were expelled from the old International on account of their refusal to accept the resolutions passed by the Hague Congress, and because they refused to submit to the decisions of the General Council. But their rupture with the old International did not do them any good. On the contrary, it did them nothing but harm. If the British workers, in the interests of their industrial struggle had found it impossible at that time to work shoulder to shoulder with the great organisation whose centre of activity, the General Council, was ever ready to support them in their strikes and in their fight for an extension of the suffrage, henceforward they certainly could not take seriously the work of the powerless group of dissenters headed by such men as Hales, Rock, and Mottershead. The hymn of victory intoned by the secessionists soon died down and they gradually vanished from the political arena. Their executive committee occupied itself, not only with British affairs, but also with a polemic against the General Council, whose role they themselves endeavoured vainly to fill. Failing to return a single independent candidate to parliament in the elections of 1874, they began to lose interest in British working-class affairs, and slipped back into the swamps of liberalism, where they found themselves in congenial company, seeing that they had always declared it expedient to collaborate with the bourgeois democracy.
But the fate of the sections of the British Federation which remained faithful to the General Council was no better. The trade unions withdrew their support, so that the faithful remnant shared the lot of the dissentients. The widespread growth of the British trade-union movement played an important part in the course of these events, for a political party aiming at the social revolution was not likely to find sympathetic support from a working-class movement which had gone over to the liberal camp. It was in vain that the British internationalists endeavoured to attract the trade unions to their side: the link which had bound the trade unions to the International had been definitively snapped. Between the International and the masses of the organised British workers, stood the trade-union bureaucracy, which was at that time learning the first lessons of collaboration with the bourgeoisie.
The weakness of the British Federation (the Marxist remnant) became amply manifest at its second congress held in Manchester in June, 1873. At the outset this gathering revealed certain petty-bourgeois tendencies in the ranks of the federation. For instance, when the agrarian question was under discussion, there was no clear-cut trend in favour of straightforward socialisation of the land, and a resolution in favour of acquiring the land by purchase with full compensation of the former owners was only rejected by a majority of one vote. Furthermore, and this is very important, the sittings showed that the federation had no serious foundations, and was quite out of touch with the activity of the working masses. Although there was to be a general election within a few months, the congress, when adopting a new resolution concerning the need for founding an independent workers’ party opposed to all other political parties, did not think it worth while to define its position as regarded the imminent election. Thus even this part of the British Federation, emulating the dissentients, abstained from running its own candidates, were it only as a means of agitation. This was a proof of the spiritual bankruptcy of the organisation. The end was inevitable, and was close at hand.
Notwithstanding Engels’ optimism, Spain was lost to the Marxists. The New Madrid Federation, founded with the active participation of Mesa and Lafargue, did not succeed in freeing the majority of the Spanish internationalists from Bakuninist influence.
In Holland, likewise, Engels’ hopes of a cleavage between the Dutch internationalists and the Bakuninists were not realised.
After the prosecution of the French internationalists in June (during the course of which it transpired than Van Heddeghem, alias Walter, and d'Entraygues, alias Swarm, who had been delegates at the Hague Congress, and had voted with the Marxists, were provocative agents and traitors), the General Council severed all connexion with France. (But relations were no better between the French internationalists and the Bakuninists than they were between the French internationalists and the Marxists!)
Although, thanks to Lafargue’s influence, Portugal had remained faithful to the General Council, the movement could hardly be said to exist there at all.
For some years to come, the Belgians kept up close relationships with the Bakuninists.
In Italy, the Marxist group was extremely weak, and Engels wrote to Sorge urging him to collect a few score of dollars for the three internationalists who had been arrested and for the six others who were in hiding at Lodi. “We must give every possible support to our comrades in Lodi, for this is our stronghold in Italy .... If we lose Lodi and the “Plebe” we shall have no foothold on Italian soil. Denmark maintained an obstinate silence, and Engels suspected that this attitude was due to Swiss intrigues carried on through the intermediation of the Schleswig comrades.
The workers’ movement in Austria was cloven asunder. Led by Scheu, the Bakuninist section rose up against the leadership of the moderate and opportunist Oberwind. The General Council had nothing helpful to expect, therefore, from Austria.
In German Switzerland and in Geneva there were some stalwarts who still remained faithful to the old International, but their minds were for the nonce filled with the idea of setting up a Swiss Workers’ League in preparation for a social democratic party.
As for Germany, where the movement might have served as a basis for the International, there was at this time so fierce a struggle going on between the Lassallists (German Swiss) and the Marxists (Eisenachers) that any hope of carrying out useful work was completely shattered. Out of enmity to the Marxists, the Lassallists (those inveterate authoritarians and centralists) flirted with the anarchist International, sending the Bakuninists a telegram of greeting and assuring them of the warmest sympathy. As far as the Eisenachers were concerned, though they were the natural allies and supporters of the old International, they paid little heed to the Association, displaying towards it the utmost indifference. This extraordinary attitude may be accounted for by the fear of attracting police prosecutions should the German Marxists openly adhere to the old International. But the real reason was, of course, that the Germans did not consider that there was any special need to cling to the old forms, seeing that they (before all others) had conceived the idea of founding a national socialist party. Furthermore, they harboured no hopes for the continued existence of the International after the split which had occurred at the Hague Congress. Liebknecht and Rebel declared that at the Hague “Marx sat on an insulator!”
The last fond hope of the old International lay in the United States of America. Here the youthful working-class movement had virgin soil to cultivate, and the harvest might well be magnificent. I have already had occasion to refer to the National Labor Union, which at one time seemed a possible kernel for the American workers’ party and a possible adherent of the International. As we have seen, the matter did not develop along the hoped-for lines. But in the United States, in addition to the National Labor Union, there existed certain organisations directly linked up to the International and forming an integral part of that body.
The first of these organisations originated in 1868, in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and in the larger manufacturing cities of the central states. They took the name of “sections” of the International. Unfortunately these sections consisted almost exclusively of refugees and immigrants, and especially Germans, and were out of touch with the native working-class masses.
Endeavours had also been made to found a workers’ party. In January, 1868, the New York movement called a mass meeting at which it was decided to form the Social Party of New York and Vicinity. The Social Party nominated an independent ticket at the elections of 1868, but its vote seems to have been insignificant. The party dissolved after the election, but some of the more active spirits organised the General German Labor Association. This was the first strictly Marxist organisation to come into being in America. In February, 1869, the General German Labor Association was admitted to the National Labor Union, and did not withdraw from that body until after the convention of 1870. In the autumn of 1869, the German society joined the International Workingmen’s Association as “Section I of New York,” and all through the subsequent career of the International it remained the strongest and most reliable branch in the United States. It was mainly responsible for the organisation in 1870 of the French section in New York, and, later in the same year, the Bohemian section was born under its aegis, besides a number of other sections in various States.
The General German Labor Association (or Section I) kept up a lively correspondence with the other sections in the United States and likewise with the sections in other lands such as England (where Marx himself was their correspondent), Germany, France (Varlin acting as medium) Switzerland (where matters were in Becker’s hands). At the outbreak of the Franco-German War, Section 1 launched an international agitation, and fought strenuously against the tide of German jingoism.
In December, 1870, the three New York sections, under the guidance of the General Council, which was represented by Dupont, set up a provisional Central Committee for the United States. Henceforward the movement made rapid progress. A warm welcome was given by the Central Committee to the Fenian leader O'Donovan Rossa upon his arrival in New York. This reception made a very good impression upon the Irish, and won their sympathies for the cause of the International. A number of fresh sections sprang into being, and sent in their affiliations to the Central Committee. A powerful impetus to the whole movement was gives by the Franco-German War, and by the rise and fall of the Paris Commune. Finally, the International reached the very heart of the American workers during the crisis of 1873 by the active support it was able to give during the strikes of that year.
Everything seemed to combine to favour the spread of the International in the United States. The number of sections grew within a year from six to over thirty, and the total of enrolled members was something like 5,000. Many nationalities were represented besides Americans: there were Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen, Bohemians, and Scandinavians, rubbing shoulders in the same sections. The International had “become the fashion,” as Sorge observed. But this sudden popularity had its seamy side. A host of undesirables invaded the ranks. There were reformers of all shades, champions of every conceivable utopian fantasy, even charlatans. Especially troublesome in this respect was one of the New York sections, known as Section XII. It was dominated by two wealthy sisters, who centred their activities in the propaganda of woman’s rights, free love, and a universal language. This section, and later, Section IX, set up of separate so-called American movement in opposition to what their deemed the “alien” movement. This “American movement” finally issued an appeal to all English-speaking citizens of the United States to affiliate to the International. The crown of Section XII’s achievements was the calling of a convention of all “male and female beings of America” to meet in the Apollo Theatre, New York, on May 11th, 1872.
Several sections had by now grouped themselves round Section XII, two German sections, and the majority of the French sections. As a result the International was split into two contending factions. Their grievances were submitted to the General Council in London, and the Council gave its decision in March, 1872. By this decision, Section XII was suspended, and the two administrative committees of the disputants were told to unite into a single provisional committee which should act until the next national congress.
The first national congress of the American section of the International was held in New York on July 6, 1872. It took the name of North American Federation of the International Workingmen’s Association, and, for the purpose of carrying on the executive functions of the federation, it elected a committee of nine. This committee was named the Federal Council, and was composed of three Germans, two Frenchmen, two Irishmen, one Swede, and one Italian. The rules provided that at least three-fourths of every section should consist of wage-workers, and the sections were urged “to entertain good relations with the trade unions and to promote their formation.”
Soon after this congress, the seat of the General Council was transferred from London to New York, in which city the council found able support in the newly-formed organisation. In every way, therefore, the future looked rosy.
The General Council was quite cut off from the working-class and socialist movements in every other country but the United States. It hardly received any communications or reports from abroad, and was mainly kept informed by Marx and Engels, who were still more or less in touch with various countries. The lack of adequate funds was a special handicap to the council’s work. The General Council was in constant need of money; it was never in a position to pay those who worked for it, said more than once it was obliged to put off indefinitely the printing of its reports. Sorge tells us that the Germans came forward with the utmost generosity, and paid the huge sum of twenty-five thalers in a single instalment; and the Austrians sent one hundred gulden; in addition, Holland and the United States paid their dues; but from other countries never a cent appeared, either from Italy, or Spain, Belgium or Great Britain or Denmark. And yet some of these very countries, Italy and Switzerland, for instance, were for ever turning to the General Council for help, in which the council did not fail them.
The General Council no longer functioned as the central organising body of the International. Apart from an occasional protest against the Jura Federation and its champions, protests which called forth nothing but contumely seeing that all the power was really in the hands of the secessionists, the General Council did no more than send out appeals to the international proletariat urging the need to organise trade unions on an international scale. The members of the International could not but feel that they were fighting in the void. It was evident that the historical epoch was not propitious to any serious activity in the internationalist sense.
On May 30th, the General Council passed a resolution to the effect that the dissentient federations, having voluntarily severed their connection with the International Workingmen’s Association, could no longer be accounted members of the organisation.
A last hope remained, as far as the survival of the movement was concerned. The hope was concentrated on the next general congress of the International. It was decided to convene the congress in Geneva on September 8, 1873. The General Council devoted a great deal of time to the summoning of this gathering, and to the elaboration of its agenda. Above all, it took enormous pains concerning the personnel of the congress. The General Council had absolutely no funds and was, therefore, not in a position to send any of its own members as delegates. It had to look to London to fill the gap. This fact alone was enough to prove the weakness of the General Council, and to show that the whole organisation was on its last legs.
Marx was right when he said: “The fiasco of the Geneva Congress was inevitable. From the moment it became clear that not a single delegate from New York would be able to attend, we realised that the game was up.” Portugal, Spain (or rather the New Madrid Federation), and Italy were represented at the gathering, but they too, in the circumstances, found it impossible to send delegates from their respective countries. Similar bad news was received from Germany, Austria, and Hungary; as for France, any representation from this land was out of the question. It was obvious, therefore, that the congress would be mainly composed of Swiss delegates; and that, among the Swiss, the Genevese would greatly predominate.
As arranged, the congress opened in Geneva on September 8, 1873. Regarding what he did as essential to the success of the congress, and “in order to ensure a majority for the right side,” Becker “conjured up, out of the ground, as it were, thirteen delegates.” The words are quoted from Becker’s letter to Sorge, under date September 22, 1873, and their full meaning will become plain in the next paragraph. Becker actually goes on to say that the results of the congress exceeded his expectations. In that case, his expectations must have been modest indeed. Speaking generally, the congress was a pitiful failure.
There were present twelve French-speaking delegates from Geneva, one delegate from the Moutier section in the Jura, one German delegate, four delegates from German-speaking Switzerland; nine delegates were German residents in Geneva; and Oberwinder, an Austrian, who was passing by the name of Schwarz, concluded the list. This man, discredited and in difficulties for reasons which do not now concern us, hoped to rehabilitate himself at the Geneva Congress. He arrived with a baker’s dozen of Austrian blank mandates (Guillaume says they were of Oberwinder’s own manufacture), and Becker hastened to fill them in with the names of trusty persons in order to have a majority against the Perret faction, which advocated a conciliatory attitude towards the Bakuninists. This group, moreover, aimed at the transfer of the General Council to Geneva, hoping thereby to get control over that body. Thanks to Oberwinder’s mandates, Becker was able to avert the danger, and to secure the passing of a resolution in favour of the General Council’s remaining in New York. It was also agreed that two years were to elapse before the next congress, which was to be convened in 1875.
Two questions of vital importance to the working-class movement were discussed at the congress, that of the trade-union struggle and that of the political struggle. As if recognising that in the political field the international working-class movement was being disrupted rather than consolidated, the participants in the congress endeavoured to provide the International with a new foundation, which was to be established in the industrial field. It was agreed that trade unions must be organised everywhere; that they must be amalgamated into national federations; and that out of these there must be constituted international alliances for each trade or industry. Thus there would arise an international organisation of the proletariat upon the industrial field, an organisation which would be substantially unified throughout the capitalist world.
But this was the music of the future. At the moment, a more pressing question was that of the political struggle of the working class, which, in quite a number of countries, was taking the form of attempts to found proletarian political parties. As far as the political organisation of the working class was concerned, there was a sharp conflict of opinion at the congress. Some of the delegates, in view of the general indifference of the masses, regarded a detailed discussion of the subject as futile, and were inclined to shelve it. In their view, the matter should be referred to the branches, which would consider it with an eye to local conditions; but, they said, the International as a whole certainly had no right to summon the workers into the political arena. The opposing view was voiced by those who held that the industrial struggle could not be decided apart from the political struggle, seeing that the two were inseparable. It was, they declared, absolutely indispensable to urge political activity upon the workers. Among other arguments they brought forward the following point. If, they said, at the beginning of the war of 1870, the International had been stronger in France and in Germany, if the workers had been riper in political matters, they would have been able to prevent the war. At length, the following resolution, proposed by Becker, was adopted by a very small majority: “The congress, while it recommends the working class to take an active part in every political movement which aims at its emancipation, advises the comrades in the various lands to be guided by circumstances.” This can hardly be regarded as a step in advance when compared with the resolutions passed at the London Conference and at the Hague Congress.
Marx, realising the utter bankruptcy of the Geneva Congress, came to the conclusion that the International was practically defunct. Writing to Sorge under date September 27, 1873, he said:
“According to my reading of the European situation, it will be a very good thing that the formal organisation of the International shall, for the time being, be allowed to retire into the background – though it may be just as well that we should keep our hands upon the nucleus in New York, lest idiots like Perret or adventurers like Cluseret might get hold of it and compromise the affair. The course of events and the inevitable development and interlacement of things will spontaneously ensure the uprising of the International in an improved form. For the nonce, however, it will suffice that we avoid allowing ourselves to get quite out of touch with the really efficient workers in the movement in various lands. As far as the Genevese resolutions are concerned, we need pay no heed to them whatever – we can simply ignore them. This course of action will be facilitated by the one good resolution passed at Geneva, by the decision that no further congress is to be held until two years have elapsed. Furthermore, we shall upset the calculations of the European governments (which want to use the Red Spectre of the International as part of their imminent campaign of reaction), if all the good bourgeois believe that this bogey has been decently buried.”
Marx’s words sounded the death-knell of the old International. In actual fact, its decease took place at the Geneva Congress; or, at best, its continued existence was barely perceptible to an outsider, and was nothing more than a longdrawn-out death agony.
We can realise in what a hopelessly false position the General Council was when we learn that it was not sent any report of the Geneva Congress, not even a memorandum of the decisions. The chairman of the congress merely notified the General Council that New York was to continue to be its headquarters until the ensuing congress. As a climax of misfortune there now began a split in the United States.
We saw above that at the outset the organisation made considerable strides in that country. Then there ensued a period of comparative quietude. But the industrial and financial crisis of the year 1873, a worse crisis than young American capitalism had ever encountered before, gave a new shock to the International. A lively agitation for the relief of the unemployed was inaugurated. In New York this movement was headed by the internationalists, and especially by the German socialists, whose periodical, the “Arbeiter Zeitung,” was the official organ of the International. In conjunction with the trade unions, the sections of the International organised mass meetings and public demonstrations in New York, Chicago, and other towns. In some of these, and especially in New York on January 13, 1874, there were sanguinary conflicts between the unemployed processions and the police.
It was now that the split in the American division of the International began. The essence of the divergence of opinion concerned the question of widening the basis of the International. Many of its members were becoming aware that the organisation was not expanding, that its membership was mainly recruited from among the immigrants, that the native-born American workers did not come under its political influence. Thus the sections were stewing in their own juice, were foredoomed to decay. The opposition began to demand that more attention should be paid to American affairs and to the American movement; and, on the other hand, it showed a disposition to repudiate some of the principles of the International, and to modify its program to suit local inclinations. The old members of the International protested vigorously against these tendencies, insisting that the principles and methods of the International must be maintained in their pristine purity. In various localities, labour parties distinct from the International now came into existence. For instance, in Chicago there was founded the Labor Party of Illinois, with a membership of 2,000. In New York, several sections withdrew from the International, and a few months later organised the Social Democratic Working Men’s Party of North America. In a word, here, as in Europe, the movement was entering a new path, was proceeding to the formation of a national labour party, or parties, not fitting into the framework of the old International.
On April 11, 1874, the second national convention of the American sections of the International was held in Philadelphia. It proved no less impotent than the British Federation had proved to adapt the organisation to local conditions. The general feeling was that, as far as the United States were concerned, the International had played out its part. After prolonged discussion, the congress decided to do away with the Federal Council, and to transfer its functions to the General Council. A new council was promptly elected, and, to prevent any abuse of power on its part, a Control Committee was appointed. Recognising the inadequacy of its information concerning the Geneva Congress, the convention approved the activities of the retiring General Council, and passed a resolution defining the attitude of the International towards political action in the United States. The resolution repudiated all co-operation and connection with the political parties formed by the possessing classes, of whatever political complexion, and forbade American members of the International to join such parties. The political activity of the organisation was, speaking generally, to be restricted to the attempt to secure the passing of legislation in the interests of the working class. The organisation would “not enter into a truly political campaign or election movement before being strong enough to exercise a perceptible influence.” Such wording was, of course, an acknowledgment of weakness.
This was tantamount to the disappearance of any organisation on which the General Council could depend. Shortly after the Philadelphia Convention, a dispute arose concerning the editorial management of the Arbeiter Zeitung, which was still the official organ of the International. There was a strong divergence of views between Sorge and his adherents, on the one hand, and Carl, the editor of the paper, on the other. Section One of New York, the strongest organisation in the International, sided with Carl, and the Council thereupon expelled the offending section. A lawsuit followed. The Arbeiter Zeitung suspended publication, and the split in the American division of the International became general. Thus the last standing-ground was cut from under the feet of the International.
Attempts to revive the corpse were fruitless. The organisations remaining faithful to the old International practically ceased to exist. According to Marx’s own admission, by the spring of 1874, the International was defunct in Britain. In the beginning of August in that year, Sorge brought before the General Council a proposal to suspend the council for an indefinite period, and to entrust its archives to a committee of three persons. Soon afterwards, Sorge resigned the secretaryship, his place being taken by Speyer. Henceforward it was but the shade of its former self; it had neither money, nor ties, nor influence; it had not even confidence in itself.
Marx and Engels looked upon Sorge’s resignation as the final blow to the International Workingmen’s Association. At the close of the long letter to Sorge part of which has already been quoted, Engels wrote:
“For ten years, the International Workingmen’s Association dominated European history in one of its aspects (the aspect that looks towards the future). It can be proud of its achievements. But, in the old form, its life is over ... I think that the next International, after Marx’s writings have exercised their influence for a few years more, will be directly communist, and will be definitely devoted to the diffusion of our principles.”
Nominally, however, the General Council continued to exist for two years more. Intercourse with Europe had almost completely ceased, and the council was weary of continuing to act as leader of an organisation which was practically non-existent. It therefore issued a circular to all the federations and sections, explaining the situation, convening a conference at Philadelphia in July, 1876, and declaring that its responsibility would end as soon as the conference met.
On July 15, 1876, the last convention of the International Workingmen’s Association was held in Philadelphia, attended by ten members of the General Council and fourteen delegates from the North American Federation. No one was sent from Europe, but the German social democrats empowered Walster, a recent immigrant to the United States, to represent their party. From Zurich and Geneva mandates were sent to Greulich and Becker, but these arrived too late. The secretary of the General Council presented a report, which conveyed a gloomy picture of the position of the International. The view of the council was that the organisation had better be regarded as non-existent until it could be revived in France, and until the German socialists should become able to take an active part in it. The report added that no subscriptions had been paid for a very long time, and that this was further proof that the career of the International was at an end. Concluding its report, the council proposed that the International Workingmen’s Association should be dissolved for an indefinite period, the possibility of its revival being subject to changes in the European political situation. The resolution was unanimously adopted, and thereby the life of the old International was formally closed.
Before adjourning, the convention agreed to issue the following proclamation, which may be regarded as a sort of last will and testament:
“Fellow Working Men:
“The International Convention at Philadelphia has abolished the General Council of the International Workingmen’s Association, and the external bond of the organisation exists no more.
“‘the International is dead!’ the bourgeoisie of all countries will again exclaim, and with ridicule and joy it will point to the proceedings of this convention as documentary proof of the defeat of the labour movement of the world. Let us not be influenced by the cry of our enemies! We have abandoned the organisation of the International for reasons arising from the present political situation of Europe, but as a compensation for it we see the principles of the organisation recognised and defended by the progressive working men of the entire civilised world. Let us give our fellow-workers in Europe a little time to strengthen their national affairs, and they will surely soon be in a position to remove the barriers between themselves and the working men of other parts of the world.
“Comrades, you have embraced the principle of the International with heart and love; you will find means to extend the circle of its adherents even without an organisation. You will win new champions who will work for the realisation of the aims of our association. The comrades in America promise you that they will faithfully guard and cherish the acquisitions of the International in this country until more favourable conditions will again bring together the working men of all countries to common struggle, and the cry will resound again louder than ever:
“'Proletarians of all countries, unite!'"
But Time’s revenges were imminent. At the very moment when the old International was being dissolved, in the anarchist International decomposition was setting in, and it was becoming obvious that a considerable proportion of the adherents of the organisation was beginning, as far as the political struggle was concerned, to adopt the views of the Hague Congress.