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

Chapter Ten. The Last Congress of the Anarchist International

AFTER the Berne Congress, the decay of the Anarchist International continued its tedious course. In Spain, the insurrectionists, incapacitated by their abstentionist tactic from turning the epoch of revolutionary convulsions to account, became more and more hopelessly sectarian. It gave itself up to the dream of expropriations[342] which would, so they fancied, keep them in funds, and would at the same time “interfere with the establishment of a bourgeois-democratic regime, one that tended to paralyse the true revolutionary movement.” In Italy, anarchism was killed, not by police prohibition, but by the mistakes of “par-le-faitisme” (propaganda by deed). In France, attempts to reconstruct an anarchist federation based upon the principle of propaganda by deed and upon the forcible seizure of the means of production had no tangible results; although at this very time a mass movement of the workers was making great headway, largely under Marxist auspices, and was soon to lead to the foundation of the French Parti Ouvrier (Workers’ Party). Even in Jura, the old nest of anarchism, the movement was on the wane: partly owing to a crisis in the watch-making industry, which had forced many of the most active propagandists to emigrate; and partly owing to the sterility of anarchist tactics, which prevented the anarchists from securing mass adhesions, and condemned them to remain in the hopeless isolation of a sect.

On the other hand, there was an object lesson in favour of methods which were the very opposite of those adopted by the anarchists, an object lesson that soon became irresistibly convincing. This was the steady growth of the German Social Democratic Party, which was fighting in the political arena, and carrying on an incessant struggle against the capitalist parties and the feudal-bourgeois regime. Day by day the number of its adherents increased, and the party organisation became ever stronger. At the elections of January 10, 1877, twelve social democrats were sent to the German Reichstag, the votes cast for the party candidates being about 490,000 (150,000 more than in 1874). This could not fail to strike the imagination of all socialists, and it had a great effect upon the waverers. The example of the German movement was quite free from ambiguity. In a great many places where the workers, disappointed with anarchism, were groping for new methods, there was now a sudden trend in favour of social democracy. In Belgium there was an irresistible movement in favour of forming a workers’ party inspired with social democratic principles. The Flemings, the Ghenters, and the Antwerpers were definitely in favour of adopting the program of the German Social Democratic Party; most of the Brussels workers took the same view; and only some of the Walloons were opposed to the general current of opinion, continuing to disapprove of political agitation, and persisting in the demand for universal suffrage. De Paepe now definitely espoused the Marxist cause, recognising the importance of the struggle for reforms and the value of mass campaigns (by way of petition, etc.), and disavowing political abstentionism, which, he now declared, was “essentially nothing more than a declaration of indifference, apathy, and sluggishness.”

On April 1, 1877, a workers’ congress met in Ghent to discuss the need for participation in the political struggle. Vainly did the anarchist delegates from Berne try to discredit the importance of political agitation, on the pretext that, in countries where manhood suffrage existed, bread was dearer than in countries where the workers had no votes. The congress, although it rejected Van Beveren’s proposal to make participation in the political struggle obligatory upon all working-class organisations (not wishing to come into conflict with those organisations which were still under anarchist influence), passed Bertrand’s resolution declaring the necessity of working-class agitation in the political arena, and expressing the hope that all working-class organisations would act accordingly. The Flemings held a congress at Mechlen, on May 20, and decided to found a workers’ party with a political program. Soon afterwards De Paepe, whose personal development was an exact reflection of that of the Belgian labour movement, in a letter from the Brussels branch to the German Social Democratic Congress in the end of May, 1877, declared that he and his comrades were in perfect agreement with the program, tactics, and aims of the German social democracy. The Belgian anarchists could do nothing to keep their organisation alive. In Belgium the last flicker of life in the anti-authoritarian International was the congress of the Belgian Federation in Brussels on December 25 and 26, 1877. This was the end of the Bakuninist split as far as Belgium was concerned. Henceforward the Belgian movement remained in the orbit of Marxist socialism.

It was under such conditions that the last congress of the Anarchist International sat at Verviers from September 6 to 8, 1877. The date had been so fixed that the delegates would be able to go straight from Verviers to the Universal Socialist Congress at Ghent. The anarchists spoke of the Verviers Congress as the Ninth Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association.[343] Anyhow, fate had decreed that it was to be the last.

In all there were present twenty delegates, among whom were Soriano (passing by the name of Rodriguez) and Morago (passing by the name of Mendoza), as delegates for the Spanish Federation; Costa and Martini, from Italy; Brousse and Montels, from France;[344] Guillaume, from Jura; Rinke and Werner, representing German and Swiss branches; seven delegates representing the various branches that comprised the Federation of the Vesdre valley. There were three delegates with only a consultative voice, and among these was Kropotkin (passing by the name of Levachoff). The congressists were able to congratulate themselves upon the adhesion of two new federations (those of France and Monte Video), and could thus delude themselves with the fancy that their International was still gaining strength; but the failure of De Paepe to put in an appearance was a plain indication of the way the wind was blowing, and a foreshadowing of the imminence of dissolution.

After formal business, the congress went on to discuss a topic placed on the agenda by the New Castile Federation: the best and speediest means of realising socialist revolutionary action. Upon this obscure point, no decision was arrived at, and a motion of “next business” was soon put and carried.

The next item on the agenda, introduced by the Aragon Federation ran thus: wherever the proletariat may secure a triumph, it is absolutely essential that this triumph shall be extended to all other lands. Upon this matter there was a remarkable divergence of outlooks. Brousse and Costa, who were already meditating a desertion to the opportunist camp, were in the meantime rivalling one another in the vigour of their revolutionary declamations. Guillaume, on the other hand, much disheartened by the manifest decay of the anarchist organisation, would take no part in this verbal revolutionism. The congress, however, adopted a resolution drafted by Costa and Brousse, to the effect that when the revolutionary movement was successful anywhere, revolutionists in other lands must give this movement all possible support, both material and moral, and must do their utmost to extend the area of the revolution. Guillaume alone voted against this resolution.

A resolution of fraternal solidarity with the comrades who had suffered in connection with various revolutionary manifestations during the past year (at Benevento, in St. Petersburg, at Berne, and in the United States) was then carried nem. con.

Now the Verviers Congress turned to the discussion of the agenda of the forthcoming universal socialist congress at Ghent. The first item was “the tendencies of modern production from the point of view of property.” The congress decided that it was necessary to realise collectivity of property, “that is to say the taking possession of social capital by groups of workers” – this being obviously an anarchist move, and not a socialist one at all. The resolution adopted at Verviers went on to declare that:

“A socialist party worthy of the name must do homage to the principle of collective property, not as a distant ideal, but as something that figured in its current programs and everyday manifestations.” The second item for the Ghent Congress was the question: “What should be the attitude of the proletariat towards political parties?” Here, after several hours’ discussion, the Verviers Congress voted a resolution based upon the consideration that “in actual fact, contemporary society is divided, not into political parties, but into economic castes; exploited and exploiters, workers and masters, wage earners and capitalists,” and went on to declare that there was “no reason to draw a distinction between the various political parties, whether styled socialist or not, for all of them combine to form a single reactionary mass, and it is our duty to fight them one and all.”

Since then the anarchists have never been weary of repeating these portentous assertions, varying the phraseology from time to time. And this resolution was passed by persons who had in season and out of season proclaimed their solidarity with all forms of the working-class movement, and had complained of being systematically vilified by the social democrats (as Kropotkin, for instance subsequently complained in his Memoirs of a Revolutionist, Kropotkin who was one of those to vote for the resolution just quoted!).

The third item on the Ghent agenda concerned “trade-union organisation.” The resolution adopted at Verviers in this connection stressed the inadequacy of trade-union activities so long as they were only directed towards such trifles as increasing wages or reducing hours. The unions should aim at the destruction of the wage system, and at the seizure of the means of production by expropriating the present owners. In this resolution, which is a corollary of the foregoing, is formulated the idea of replacing the socialist parties by the trade unions – an idea which is typical of the contemporary “revolutionary syndicalist” movement, and to some extent of the French General Confederation of Labour (Confederation Generale du Travail, generally known for short by the initials, C.G.T.)[345]

The fourth item on the agenda of the Ghent Congress concerned the question of “the solidarity to be established among the various working-class and social organisations.” The Verviers Congress decided that no solidarity could be established between the “International” and organisations differing from it (this meaning, from the anarchists) upon essential points.

As regarded “the foundation of a central correspondence and statistical bureau,” the Verviers Congress was of opinion that the Federal Bureau of the International could fulfil this function perfectly well, and that there was no need to establish a new institution. This meant that the world-wide labour movement, and in especial the German social democracy (one 1ocal branch of which was stronger than the whole army of anarchist schismatics), were to be made subsidiary to a circle of sectaries who had usurped the great name of “International”! It was characteristic that the very congress which was arrogant enough to pass the foregoing resolution should have been one which furnished ample evidence that the anarchist International was moribund. Notable in this respect was the disclosure that the decision taken at the Berne Congress to inaugurate uniform compulsory subscriptions had been void of effect. The Verviers congressists, much disheartened, had to content themselves with a resolution charging the separate Federations to decide for themselves the amounts they would find it convenient to contribute to the central propaganda fund.

It was agreed that the Belgian Federation (or, rather, its pitiful remnants) should function for the ensuing year as the Federal Bureau, and a proposal that the next congress should take place in Switzerland was carried unanimously.

But the proposed “next congress” was never held. After six years of a strong existence, the anarchist International died a natural death from exhaustion. It had long survived its possible usefulness, and could now only hinder the development of the socialist movement in those countries where it possessed any influence.