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

Chapter Eight. The Beginning of the End of the Anarchist International

THERE soon appeared symptoms that foreshadowed the inevitable doom of the anarchist International. New adherents, becoming convinced of its sterility, would often resign, and sometimes, not content with passive withdrawal, would give vent to public criticism. We have already learned how Jules Guesde broke with the anarchists. Malon soon followed his example. Apropos of the dispute concerning the organisation of the public services in the society of the future (a dispute which was the cause of the first irreconcilable divergence of outlooks among the elements of the anti-authoritarian International), Malon sided with the opponents of anarchism. In his letter ad, dressed to the Lausanne meetings of March 78, 1876 (the letter was sighed by Joseph Favre as well as by Benoît Malon), he declared in plain terms that for the realisation of social equality it would be necessary “to take steps lying outside the framework of the anarchist program.”

Even the anarchists realised that the affair was not going very well. Nominally, new branches were being founded in Jura; there was created in France a new secret federation, proclaiming its acceptance of the anarchist program; sections of the anarchist International had been formed in Portugal, Egypt, Mexico, Canada, Uruguay, Greece, etc. On the ideal plane their International was occupying new countries, but the anarchists could not found false hopes on this fictitious growth, seeing that, simultaneously with the opening of sections in far-off lands, there was occurring a steady loss of grouted in the countries of long-established civilisation which must necessarily form the backbone of the Bakuninist organisation. While (nominally) gaining support in Mexico, Egypt, and Uruguay, it was in actual fact being deprived of its footing in Britain, the United States, France, Italy, Holland, Belgium, etc.

In a letter to Zhukoffsky under date September 10, 1875, Guillaume admits that all attempts to induce the proletarian mass organisations to join the anarchist International had been a failure, and that individual adhesions must suffice. Vainly did the Bakuninists have recourse to heroic measures in the hope of winning the sympathy of the masses. Besides stirring up spasmodic outbreaks, they tried to organise great public demonstrations. Thus on March 18, 1877, the anniversary of the Paris Commune, they arranged to march through the streets of Berne, headed by the red flag, and they ended by having a clash with the police. It was all fruitless! Inasmuch as the anarchists deliberately held aloof from every movement in which the working masses were deeply interested, on the pretext that such movements were bourgeois and lukewarm, they were out of touch with the masses and could not enlist the sympathies of the workers. They only hampered working-class movements, and paralysed them as far as they could. In the long run the result was that all the active advances of the working class were achieved, not merely without the aid of the anarchist International, but in spite of that organisation. To no purpose did the anarchists utter loud lamentations, complaining that this was a straying from the right path. The working-class movement developed in accordance with its own laws, regardless of the plaints, the criticisms, and the invectives of the Bakuninists. With the growth of the working-class movement, there naturally came a time when it began to contemplate national, that is to say, political tasks. In Italy, in the year 1876, were seen the first indications of a social-democratic organisation. Upon the initiative of Bignami and others, there was founded the North Italian Federation, the trend being towards socialism of the German type.[334] This was to be expected, for, at the date we are now considering, the German social democracy was the only serious political organisation of the working class, and the incipient labour parties in other countries were all looking towards Germany with hope and sympathy. The detested Marxism was rising from the dead, and of course the anarchists were openly hostile. The members of the new Italian organisation were declared to be “gentlemen in black gloves and tall hats, talking at large about the need for improving the lot of the people by education, co-operation, universal suffrage, and other fustian.” Whereas “Vorwarts” published a sympathetically worded article concerning the new Italian Federation, under the caption “Italian Correspondence,[335] the “Bulletin de la Fédération Jurassienne,” showered abuse upon it. Thereupon the two periodicals ceased to exchange issues. The anarchists were no less hostile in their attitude towards the revival of the French working-class movement, which showed no disposition to walk in anarchist leading-strings. Of course, political questions cropped up directly the movement began to show signs of renewed activity. In July, 1876, there was talk in Paris of calling (for September 2) a congress on the occasion of the return of a working-class delegation which had been sent to the Philadelphia Exhibition. Among the eight questions suggested for the agenda we read, side by side with such topics as trades councils and the like, about a purely political matter: “the direct representation of the proletariat in parliament.” It need hardly be said that this did not please the true-blue Bakuninists, and when Jules Guesde began the issue of his paper, “Egalité” (this marking an epoch in the history of the French socialist movement), the “Bulletin” welcomed its new contemporary with the following venomous article: “The aim of this periodical is to lead the Parisian proletariat into the road of parliamentary politics, by advising the workers to vote for the radicals [!]. Thanks to universal suffrage (such is the theory of the gentlemen who edit “Egalité” and other journals of the same kidney) the French people is now in a position to exercise its sovereignty. It must use this sovereignty: first of all, to maintain the Republic, and for that it will have to vote for radical candidates; secondly to bring about social reforms, and to achieve this it will have to give the candidates it elects an imperative mandate to pass legislation favourable to the workers. We cannot rive a bitter demonstration of the emptiness of all this parliamentary theory, we cannot more effectively expose the humbug of universal suffrage, than by reproducing the criticism passed by Monsieur Jules Guesde himself only five years ago, upon the tactics of those who tried to induce the workers to use their votes as a means of emancipation and propaganda. In the ‘Almanach du Peuple pour 1873,’ he wrote:

“During the last twenty-five years, in which the electoral urns have been used in France – in the France of August 10, 1792, and March 18, 1871 – in which they have been established upon the corpses of the February insurgents, what has been the upshot? The National Assembly of 1848; Cavaignac’s dictatorship; Louis Bonaparte’s presidency; the Second Empire; the Trochu-Favre capitulation; the conservative Republic of 1871 – In the actual social conditions, and in view of the extant economic inequality, it is absurd to talk either of political equality or of civil equality ... For these reasons, universal suffrage is impotent. Far from helping to bring about the material and moral emancipation of the serfs of capital, it has only hindered, and can only hinder their emancipation ... In the old days of a restricted franchise, the bourgeoisie was a general staff without an army. Universal suffrage has supplied it with the electoral army which it needs in order to maintain itself in power.

“Have things changed since those words were written? Is universal suffrage any different from what it was? Have the lessons of history acquired a new meaning? Is it not rather that Monsieur Jules Guesde, who used to be an exile under the ban of the authorities, and has now become a radical journalist in Paris, finds it opportune to change his convictions?”

The Swiss Arbeiterbund (Workers’ League), becoming by degrees more and more closely linked with the masses of the workers, was on the way towards the establishment of Swiss Social Democratic Party. The Jura Federation, while never weary of proclaiming its solidarity with all the manifestation of the working-class movement, was continually trying to put a spoke in the wheel of that movement. It is true that the petty-bourgeois character of Swiss life had its effect upon the socialists of the mountain republic, who at this date were already inclined to compromise with the capitalist parties. But the Jura Federation was opposed, not only to such compromises, but also to the manifestly social-democratic trend of the Arbeiterbund, to its participation in the political life of the country, its campaign on behalf of factory legislation, its promotion of workers’ parliamentary candidates, its desire to get into touch with the German social democrats, and so on. But, despite the best efforts of the anarchists, the Arbeiterbund, at its congress in May, 1877, decided to found a Swiss Social Democratic Party. Indeed, the anarchists never had much hope of making headway among the German-speaking Swiss, and their attempts to organise in Switzerland German-speaking sections of the anarchist International had very little success. But in the following year they lead to admit the bankruptcy of anarchism in French-speaking Switzerland as well, and were forced to concentrate their hopes upon the revival of the socialist movement in France. Here, likewise, the course of history was to frustrate their expectations.

The crowning blow was the loss of Belgium and Holland. In Belgium, the Walloon branches, which had strong anarchist leanings, showed a dwindling membership; while in the Flemish part of the country many of the branches were inclined to undertake vigorous propaganda in favour of factory legislation and universal (manhood) suffrage. In Brussels the branches of the International had become mere educational circles. The working-class organisations, which had never been enthusiastic adherents, gradually withdrew their affiliation, as they became convinced that no good was likely to come out of the International. Soon these organisations united to form a Chamber of Labour. The organiser of this movement was Louis Bertrand, the compositor, who subsequently played a very important part in the development of Belgian socialism. In Belgium there now began among the workers a trend in favour of participation in the political struggle. The first conspicuous manifestation of this was the starting of a campaign in favour of the legislative prohibition of child labour, the agitation being initiated by Ghent and Antwerp groups, and supported by the Brussels Chamber of Labour. De Paepe’s report to the Berne Congress (see next chapter), from which I have drawn these details, refers in the following terms to the new aspirations of the Belgian workers: “In the early days of the International, ... after the workers had devoted themselves to political agitation for a time (in favour of universal suffrage, the abolition of conscription and standing armies, and so on), they grew weary of it, saying that they had nothing to expect from the stupid and corrupt bourgeoisie which rules our charming country. That was the origin of political abstentionism, which has since then been our attitude. Nor was this all. Many of the Belgian socialists had been greatly influenced by Proudhon’s ideas concerning non-interference by the State, and concerning anarchism. Proudhonist ideas were spread among the better educated workers by means of “Liberté,” an excellently produced and admirably written journal. In conjunction with our abstentionist policy, these ideas gradually became dominant among our French-speaking branches and among the Walloons. They were adopted with special alacrity by the Federation of the Valley of the Vesdre (Verviers). Our anti-political attitude has been greatly modified by the influx of young blood into the branches, and by the increasing Influence of the Flemish groups in the Belgian Federation. The petitions to parliament sent in by the Ghent branches as the sequel of a spontaneous movement taking its rise in this industrial town where tiny children are mercilessly exploited, nay often mutilated and killed, by the machinery; a manifesto issued by these same people of Ghent, demanding political rights, and giving expression to ideas akin to those of the German socialists; meetings in Antwerp and Brussels in favour of factory legislation; an exchange of ideas between the Flemish comrades and the German and British workers through the instrumentality of the Antwerp “Werker” – all these things make us believe that ere long the Belgian workers will enter the path of political agitation. Still, we do not think they will forget that this agitation must not be regarded as an end in itself, but simply as one among various ways of hastening the economic and social emancipation of the proletariat .... While making this declaration regarding the spirit which seems at the present time to animate most of the Belgian branches, it is proper to add that the branches in the Vesdre Valley retain their abstentionist attitude.” After declaring that the Belgian workers, in addition to organising trade unions, were voicing a claim for electoral rights, and were protesting against laws which pressed with especial hardship upon the working class, the report concludes by saying that in the struggle with the capitalist system the Belgian operatives were beginning to organise themselves on three fronts, the industrial, the religious, and the political.[336]

A similar movement was taking place in Holland. Reporting for this country as well as for Belgium, De Paepe said:

“There used to be branches of the International in the chief Dutch towns, ... and a good many of the working-class organisations marched shoulder to shoulder with the International .... All this movement has gradually subsided. There only remain a few small branches, whose press organ is ‘De Werkman.’ .... But it would be a mistake to infer from this that there is no longer a working-class or socialist movement in Holland. Far from it, there exists a workers’ Federation known as the Nederlandsche Arbeidersbond, .... with ramifications throughout the country .... Furthermore, the Dutch workers, who have already secured the passing of factory legislation, are now engaged in political agitation in favour of universal (manhood) suffrage ...Thus, alike upon the political, the industrial, and the intellectual field, Holland contributes its quota to social progress. But all this is done outside the framework of the International .... To conclude with a comparison, we may say that ... the Belgian movement comes more and more to resemble the German movement (although the Belgians, not having the vote, cannot follow the example of the Germans in the practical field of politics), whereas the Dutch working-class movement is more akin to the British labour movement.”[337]