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

Chapter Twelve. International Anarchist Congress in London

THE Anarchist International was utterly ruined. Shortly after the Ghent Congress, a considerable number of the more active propagandists of the Jura Federation had to quit their homeland. The last issue of the “Bulletin de la Fédération Jurassienne,” which for six years had been the leading press organ of the Bakuninists, appeared on March 15, 1878. A few weeks later, on May 1st, James Guillaume, who since Bakunin’s death had been the most conspicuous figure in the anarchist camp, left Switzerland for good, and went to Paris. Thenceforward he lived in retirement, playing no part in the working-class movement.[354] Within the next few years other noted anarchist leaders, like Brousse and Costa, repudiated the anarchist faith. Cafiero became insane, and died ere long.

Among the old champions of the Anarchist International, Malatesta and Kropotkin stood to their guns, and so for a considerable time did Schwitzguébel. Kropotkin became the most noted theoretician of the movement. The “Bulletin” having become extinct, he issued at Geneva in its stead a bi-monthly called “Le Révolté, Organe Socialiste.” (He was also the editor of a little periodical, “L'Avant-Garde,"[355] which had only a brief existence.) The links between the various anarchist groups grew continually weaker, and by degrees the very name of the International began to be forgotten. However, some of the federations retained the old name for a time; thus in 1880 there was still a “Spanish Federation of the International Workingmen’s Association.” In August, 1880, there was a congress of the Romand District Federation, and also one of the Tuscan Federation, both of these bodies continuing to style themselves federations of the “International.” In Geneva, the Propaganda Section of the International Workingmen’s Association was still at work, and from time to time summoned meetings in the name of the extinct International Association. A new branch of the International Workingmen’s Association was actually formed at Geneva in the spring of 1881. The Jura Federation called two district congresses in September, 1879 and September, 1880, respectively, and at these, under Kropotkin’s auspices, there was definitively formulated the program of “anarchist communism,” according to which there was not merely to be collective ownership of the means of production, but also complete communism in respect of the utilisation of articles of consumption.[356]

At the 1880 congress, which was held at La Chaux-de-Fonds, Schwitzguébel was rather dubious as to the expediency, in the then state of public opinion, of advocating the full communist-anarchist program. Kropotkin, Elisée Reclus and Cafiero, on the other hand were uncompromising. The word “collectivism,” they said, had had its uses at an earlier day, when it had been applied to distinguish the “anti-authoritarian” from the “authoritarian” communists. Now the term had acquired a new significance; it was tainted with the associations of State socialism; ambiguity would be best avoided by the frank use of the designation “anarchist communism.” The general sense of the congress was on their side, and a resolution embodying their views was adopted. Thenceforward the anti-State socialists became known as “anarchist communists,” and the earlier names “anti-authoritarian collectivists” and “federalists” were dropped. But it must also be noticed that the anarchists began at this date to describe themselves by the alternative name of “socialist revolutionaries.[357]

The reactionary movement grew stronger in Europe, and in view of this fact there began to be talk during the end of 1880 and the beginning of 1881, especially in Belgium, of the need for resuscitating the International. On December 25, 1880, a congress of Belgian anarchists passed a resolution to this effect. The Belgian Federation, a mere remnant, issued a manifesto to the workers insisting upon the fundamental importance of the international unity of the proletariat. In London an organisational committee to arrange for the calling of an international congress was now formed. It was proposed to hold this “socialist revolutionary” (i.e., anarchist) congress on July 14 or 24, 1881. French, Belgian, American, and London groups were associated in the scheme; in addition, the Federal Council of the Belgian International, two Spanish federations, and most of the miners’ organisations in the Borinage basin, were concerned in the affair. Johann Most, who had now cast in his lot with the anarchists, took a very active part in the summoning of the congress. The revival of the International Workingmen’s Association was to be the leading item on the agenda. Two periodicals distinguished themselves by their zeal on behalf of the projected anarchist gathering. The first, of course, was Kropotkin’s organ “Le Révolté.” The second was “La Révolution Sociale,” a Parisian newspaper edited by “Citizen Serreau,” who was a provocative agent and a tool of Andrieux, the Parisian prefect of police. In no. 7 of this anarchist-police gazette, the issue of October 24, 1880, we find the following editorial note: “For information, etc., concerning the International Revolutionary Congress which is to be held next year in London, apply to Citizen Serreau.” A special number, printed on red paper, appeared on March 18, 1881, in memory of the Paris Commune, which had been established ten years earlier. On the first page of this number there was a summons to the international Socialist Revolutionary Congress, and a special reference to France, as follows

“Owing to the Dufaure law against the International, we cannot issue a more effective appeal. All correspondence relating to this matter should be addressed to ‘La Resolution Sociale’ in Paris” – in a word, should be sent to a secret department of the police! There were mentioned here as representatives of Russia, Vera Zasulich, L. Hartmann, and a certain Bracquette.[358]

Henceforward there began that mutual interpenetration of anarchism and the secret police which placed so much fanatical enthusiasm at the mercy of provocative agents. In the leading article of No. 19 of “La Révolution Sociale,” we read

“In some countries, above all in Italy, rumours are afoot that the congress will not take place .... We feel it our duty to warn revolutionary groups against this idle chatter; the London Congress will be held whatever happens.” Of course! Andrieux, and the police of other countries, wanted it to be held! This police organ conducted its advocacy of the international anarchist congress in the most extravagant terms. In No. 29 there was an editorial appeal to the workers, containing an invitation to the London Congress, with the exhortation: “Common People, Scum of the Earth,[359] roll up to London!” In No. 37, issued when the congress was sitting, there was an editorial to the following effect

“For the first time since the Paris Commune all sincere socialists have come together upon one practical general platform; they have all agreed that nothing but a forcible revolution will enable the exploited to settle accounts with the exploiters.” Inasmuch as simultaneously with the preparations for the anarchist congress in London, arrangements were being made for an international socialist congress in Switzerland, the anarchist-police periodical hastened to give an editorial expression of opinion adverse to the socialist congress as follows:

“We shall take no part in this congress, for it does not become revolutionists to have anything to do with the masturbators of socialism and revolution.”

On the other hand, “La Revolution Sociale” gave all possible support to the anarchist congress in London. Poor Kropotkin![360] Poor Louise Michel![361]

In the spring of 1887, the organising committee of the London Congress issued the following appeal (reprinted in “Le Révolté” on April 30, 1887):

“To the Revolutionists of the Old and the New World!

“The Holy Alliance of the reactionaries has been formed. Let us promptly oppose to it the great alliance of the revolutionists.

“Ten years after the massacres of Paris and Carthagena, on the morrow of the murder of our brothers in St. Petersburg,[362] and at the moment when Most has just been arrested in London for having testified his sympathy with those who executed the Tsar, in face of the oppressive laws of Gourko, Dufaure, Bismarck, etc., we must no longer hesitate, but must join hands to overturn and destroy the slave-holding society in which we live.

“Brothers of the field, the mine, and the factory, brothers of the school, sublime renegades from the aristocracy and the plutocracy, revolutionists all, whether authoritarian or anarchist, answer our appeal. Rally in London on July 14, at the congress where we shall lay the foundations of a fighting policy which has hitherto always been kept in the background.

“See how our banner is hesitant in its advance. Now is the time to conquer or die. Forward, and Long Live the Revolution!”

This appeal, in whose composition Kropotkin seems to have had a hand, appears at the first glance to be made to the socialists as well as to the anarchists. In reality, however, it was directed only to the latter. Even among the anarchists, certain objections were raised to the program of the London Congress. The Spanish District Federation of the International replied as follows to the invitation to take part in the London Congress:

“In answer to your circular, we think it necessary to point out that if the Federal Bureau of the International Workingmen’s Association is functioning properly, this body would be the most influential one to call an international congress in London, and it would according to the rules [!] be the proper course for the Federal Bureau to act in that capacity. If, on the other hand, the Federal Bureau is not functioning properly, then the duty of calling an international congress devolves upon the federal committees or commissions of the federations of our Association. It is for them to call an international congress, by a joint circular, or else by separate circulars in each locality. Besides, the London Congress ought to be organised as the rules direct (see rules 5, 6, 7, 8, and 11).

“In your draft circular you say that ‘it is necessary to reunite the revolutionary forces and to re-establish the International Workingmen’s Association,’ which implies that our Association had been dissolved. The implication is false, for the Association exists in Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Britain, end North and South America. There is consequently no need to re-establish or reconstitute it, and we are utterly opposed to the idea that the main business of the London Congress should be to re-establish an Association which has continued in existence since it was first founded.”

“La Revolution Sociale,” the organ of the provocative agents, hastened to reply to the protest of the Spanish Federation: “Strictly speaking, the contention is accurate, but this congress cannot be organised by the General Council,[363] inasmuch as that body has ceased to exist! But as far as the agenda of the congress is concerned, we have to note that, although in various countries the International has never formally renounced its activities, still it has not for some years past been carrying on any connected and unified work. In this sense, therefore, it is correct to talk about re-establishing the international.”

The question was now mooted whether the London Congress was to be a congress promoted only by groups which regarded themselves as parts of the International, or whether other revolutionary elements were entitled to participate. The secretary of the organising committee which had issued the above-quoted appeal to the Revolutionists of the Old and the New World, wrote a letter to “La Revolution Sociale” protesting against the exclusion of groups which had not existed for more than three months. He wrote:

“Inasmuch as the proposed congress is not a congress of the International,[364] and inasmuch as it may prove a step towards the formation of an entirely new organisation, it would be a mistake to limit the number of the persons who may take part in the discussions.”

Malatesta, also writing in the name of the organising committee, and advocating unrestricted admission to the congress, addressed a letter to the “Cri du peuple,” in which he said:

“The congress summoned for July 14th is not a congress of the International Workingmen’s Association, in the sense that none but members of the Association can take part in it. The idea of holding the congress, originating in many minds, was the outcome of the recognition that the International, as an organisation, does not by any means include among its members all the revolutionists who in various lands are working for the overthrow of the existing order. Substantially it has not been much more than a moral link, and has only had a sort of platonic existence.”

Malatesta went on to speak of the need for organising what would nowadays be spoken of as “shock troops,” a vanguard of those who were to deliver the first assault. When they had made a breach, the people would follow. The decisive moment was at hand, and the fate of a lengthy historical period would be determined by the conduct of the revolutionary party. That was why, not only the groups of the International, but also other revolutionary groups and individuals, must be entitled to participate in the congress.

Thus, according to the admission of the ostensible organisers of the congress, this latter was not a congress of the International, not even of the “International” in the narrower anarchist sense of that term. If the participants in the congress considered it necessary to describe the affair as a congress of the International, and to bring forward resolutions concerning the revival of the International Workingmen’s Association, this was only because they were afraid that the forthcoming international socialist congress in Switzerland might eventuate in the effective rebirth of the International, and thus deprive them of an appellation which they greatly prized, and which still exercised a considerable lure upon the great masses of the workers.

The London Congress sat from July 14 to 20, 1881. The countries represented were: the United States, Britain, Germany, Belgium, Egypt, Spain, Italy, Holland, France, Russia (the Slavic Society in London), Serbia, Switzerland, and Turkey (the Constantinople Federation of the International Workingmen’s Association). Obviously, a number of the federations represented on this occasion had a merely nominal existence as federations of the International Workingmen’s Association. For instance, this applies to the Constantinople Federation and to the Egyptian Federation. The representation of Russia, Serbia, and Germany was mythical. According to the report in “Le Révolté” (No. II, July 23, 1881), there were 45 delegates, representing 60 federations (!) and 59 groups, comprising, in all, not less than 50,000 members. In reality, with the possible exception of the Spanish Federation, not even one solid Organisation was numbered among those participating in the congress. The delegates came from various anarchist circles, some of them in France, Holland, and Belgium, and a great many of them in London.

The discussions and resolutions of the London Congress were declamatory and bombastic; they carried no weight whatever. There was much wild talk about the economic terror. It was obvious that the congress was nowise an expression of the mass movement of the working class. The congressists were isolated desperadoes, lone wolves, infuriated by persecution, and out of touch with the masses.

Thus, the Italian delegate Number Twenty-Five,[365] spoke in the familiar Bakuninist strain, as follows:

“In Italy, the workers, the urban operatives, are, on the whole, conservative or apathetic. The revolutionary section of the Italian population is made up out of the peasantry, the petty bourgeoisie, and those who have been miscalled by the nickname of Lumpenproletariat.[366] These elements are not easy to organise, but in time of revolution the idea of expropriating the landowners makes a powerful appeal to them. A proof of this is furnished by the fact that among them there occur from two to three hundred revolutionary outbreaks every year. Of course, the revolutionary Youth, the younger members of the Intelligentsia, have their part to play here. Participation in the political struggle can only injure the socialist cause, and the establishment of a bourgeois republic is likely to postpone the social revolution for half a century.”

The Italian delegate Number Twenty-Six, supporting his colleague, declared that Italy was permeated with the anarcho-revolutionist spirit.

The Mexican delegate informed the congress that in Mexico there were two socialist and two anarchist periodicals. The Mexican Socialist Federation comprised eighteen branches with, in all, more than a thousand subscribing members. The Mexican workers would have nothing to do with “the exotic growth of ‘scientific socialism,’ characterised by its centralism, its labour cards, and its compensation of present owners for future expropriation.” What appealed to them was the idea of dividing up. As to the question of the organisation of society after the division had taken place, this did not interest them at all.[367]

The assertions of the U.S. delegate were no less extraordinary. Among the revolutionary elements in the States, he gave a leading place to the Hoodlums or Bears’ Cubs of California, an organisation of men who were alternately tramps and workers, mostly of Irish extraction. One of their chief slogans was: “Expel the Chinese!” He declared that at the last election they had got control of California and had modified the State constitution; “but they had found that this had not improved their position in any way, and they were determined henceforward to rely on bombs instead of the ballot box.” [Such was the calibre of one of those who had arrogated to themselves the name of the International!] Still more important was the society of the Sea Rebels. It had its emissaries in the steerage of the emigrant ships crossing the Atlantic, their mission being to foster a spirit of revolt in those who were on their way to start life afresh in the United States. The tramps, he said, were another and most important revolutionary element; they were, in fact, “the most fully developed of all the revolutionists in the States.” Of course, such fellows were adepts at snapping up unconsidered trifles, but this propensity towards private ownership was regarded by the anarchist orator as a peculiar merit.

In the further course of the discussions (the Germans were prudent enough to declare that they would not take part in the discussion of matters of principle, or in the discussion of programs), all the congressists expressed themselves as being very strongly in favour of the revival of the International. The Italian delegate Number Twenty-Five favoured the formation of “groups of action” which were to be secretly organised and were to function within the International. (Here was resuscitated the old idea of Bakunin). According to the delegate of the Spanish Federation, matters were going on very satisfactorily in Spain. Besides the trade unions, there were local groups consisting of persons following various occupations. Within the framework of these, the fighting elements were secretly organised. The Italian delegate Number Twenty-Six, laying stress on the important part played in the Italian movement by persons belonging to the declassed intelligentsia, proposed that the International Workingmen’s Association should change its name, and should become the International Socialist Revolutionary Association. It was a mistake, he said, to make the labour organisations the foundation of the revolutionary movement, the contemporary working man was apt to be a source of weakness rather than a source of strength. Only those who accepted the principle of propaganda by deed ought to be admitted to membership of the proposed revolutionary association.[368] “The general foundation of our activities must be insurrectionist,” said one delegate. Another (No.11) declared that there had been enough talking and writing, and that it was time to substitute actions for words. Delegate Number Thirteen, recognising that it was impossible to make a revolution without the support of the masses, said that the question was, How can we gain the support of the masses? This answer was that there was only one way, that of the economic terror; it was necessary, he said, to blow up the factories, hang the owners, and so on.

These speeches will not surprise us when we remember, on the one hand, that the anarchists had already at that date succeeded in transforming themselves into a sect completely detached from the genuine working-class movement; and, on the other, that such gentlemen as Citizen Serreau, the agent of the Parisian prefect of police, had played an active part in the calling of the London Congress.

Of the two most important resolutions passed by the congress, one was a reiteration of the “federative pact” adopted by the Geneva Congress of 1866, with the changes introduced into it in 1873, and with the addition (after the words “no duties without rights, no rights without duties”) of, among others, the following words: “The representatives of the socialist revolutionaries of the Old and the New World, meeting in London on July 14, 1881, and all in favour of the complete and forcible destruction of the existing political and economic institutions, have accepted the following declaration of principles: They declare, in conformity with the view that has always been taken by the International that the word ‘moral'[369] in the Preamble to the General Rules is not to be understood in the sense given to that word by the bourgeoisie; but in the sense that, inasmuch as extant society is founded upon immorality, the abolition of extant society, by any means that are possible, will inaugurate morality. Considering that it is time to pass from the period of affirmation to the period of action, and to supplement spoken and written propaganda, the futility of which has been proved by propaganda by deed and insurrectionist activity, the congressists submit to the affiliated groups the following resolutions: The International Workingmen’s Association declares itself opposed to parliamentary policy...”[370]

The other resolution is prefaced in the “Révolté” report by the statement that it is manifestly impossible for revolutionists to make as explicit public declaration of their intentions. Still, some of their aims and methods were embodied in the following resolution:

“Considering that the International Workingmen’s Association has regarded it as necessary to supplement spoken and written propaganda by propaganda by deed:

“Considering, farther, that the epoch of a general revolution is not distant, and that the revolutionary elements will ere long be called upon to show their devotion to the proletarian cause and to manifest their strength in action;

“The congress desires the organisations that are affiliated to the International Workingmen’s Association to note the following propositions:

“It is absolutely essential that we should do all that we possibly can, by way of action, to diffuse the revolutionary idea and the spirit of revolt in that great section of the masses which does not yet participate actively in the movement, and is still a prey to illusions as to the morality and efficacy of legal [constitutional] methods.

“When abandoning the platform of legality [constitutional methods], to which up to now activity has in our days generally been confined, in order to develop our activities upon the platform of illegality unconstitutional methods, which is the only way to bring about the revolution, we must have recourse to means that are appropriate to this aim.

“In view of the persecutions to which the revolutionary press is everywhere exposed, we must henceforward organise secret periodicals.

“Since most of the rural workers are still outside the framework of the socialist revolutionary movement, it is essential that we should turn our attention in this direction, bearing in mind that the very simplest onslaught on existing institutions has more effect on the masses than thousands of leaflets and a flux of oratory, and that propaganda by deed is even more important in the countryside than in the towns.

“Inasmuch as the technical and chemical sciences have already been of service to the revolutionary cause, and are capable of being even more serviceable in the future, the congress recommends organisations and individuals belonging to the International Workingmen’s Association to pay special attention to the theory and practice of these sciences both for defensive and offensive purposes.”

No doubt Comrade Andrieux and other police agents had had a finger in the drafting of this resolution. At the time of the London Congress, anarchism had become “revolutionary chemistry.” How terribly the anarchists had degraded the banner of the International, to which they still obstinately clung! How far, in this respect, they had departed from the teachings of their master, Bakunin! With all his faults, he had to the last continued to put his main trust in the mass movement of the workers; and we can hardly suppose that he would have voted for the resolution of the London Congress.

But the congressists were so simple-minded as to imagine that they were continuing the work of the Old International. This is plain from the tenor of their speeches, and from that of the leading article in “Le Révolté” of July 23, 1881. There are numerous indications that the anarchists took quite a serious view of the determination of the London Congress to revive the International. For instance, in October, at a meeting called by British and French groups in London, a pressing invitation was issued to the workers of all lands, asking them to join the International Workingmen’s Association, which had been resuscitated on July 14, 1881. The Spanish Federation was especially zealous in this work of revival. Under its auspices, in October; 1881, there was held a Workers’ Conference at Barcelona. It was attended by 136 delegates, representing, it was said, about 200 branches. In the report sent by the Spanish Federal Commission to the “Révolté” (issue of October 29 1881), eight of the delegates were qualified as “authoritarians,” but all the others were “anarchist-collectivists.” The Spanish report was headed “International Workingmen’s Association, Spanish District Federation, Year Twelve, Circular No. 2.” From the 21st to 23rd of October in the same years, a congress sat in Chicago, and at this there was founded a Social Revolutionary Party which adopted the resolutions passed at the London Congress.

All this, however, was a case of “much cry and little wool.” In fact, there was no wool at all, for the Anarchist International which was to have been reborn at the London Congress was stillborn. Within a year Kropotkin, who was then the most noted exponent of anarchist theory, was constrained to admit that the anarchists were almost entirely inactive. In a letter sent to the congress of the Jura Federation in June, 1882, he said:

“Our inactivity is not the outcome (as the social democrats declare) either of our principles or of our program; it depends upon our indolence. So long as this indolence persists, no change of program will bring about any change in our conduct.” Nevertheless this “indolence” and this “inactivity” were dependent upon the essential nature of anarchist propaganda and tactics, thanks to which the anarchists became, as it were, detached observers, and sometimes hostile critics, of those who were engaged in genuine activities.

The members of the Jura Federation did, indeed, discuss the advisability of a change of program. That was why Kropotkin, faithful guardian of doctrine, thought it necessary to indite a long letter to the congress in which he expressed himself as strongly opposed to any change of program. Thanks to his obstinacy, anarchism held aloof from real life, and cut any living ties that might have connected it with the true Workers’ International. When the International was re-established at the International Socialist Congress held in Paris in the year 1889, the question of the anarchists soon cropped up anew. But by the decisions of the Brussels, Zurich, and London Congresses (1891, 1893, and 1896), the Second International decided against the admission of anarchists, on the ground that there was nothing in common between socialism and anarchism, and that it would be fruitless to revive the old disputes concerning the workers’ State, political action, and so on.

Subsequently there were held international anarchist conferences in Paris (1889), Chicago (1893), Zurich (1893), and London (1896); and there was an international anarchist congress in Amsterdam (1907); but the anarchists were only able to form sects, and never succeeded in establishing any kind of durable international organisation. In France, Spain, and Italy, revolutionary chemistry degenerated into a succession of isolated acts of violence. The healthier elements abandoned the pure faith of anarchism in favour of “revolutionary syndicalism,” which was at any rate a mass movement. Under the revolutionary syndicalist banner, the sometime anarchists could continue their customary onslaughts on the socialists, and, above all, could go on fighting their chief enemy – communism![371]

(Addendum by Translators concerning the Further History of the Anarchist International in the United States. – For a fairly detailed and substantially unbiassed account of this matter, see John R. Commons and Associates, History of Labour in the United States, two vols., Macmillan Co., New York, 1918, vol. II. pp.290-300. There were two distinct “Internationals” formed in the United States as a sequel of the London Conference of 1881. One of these, The International Working People’s Association (familiarly known as the Black International) was organised at the Pittsburgh Convention in the end of October, 1883. Its main strength was in Chicago, and for about two years it was a “Black Spectre” in the U.S. It collapsed shortly after the bomb outrage in Chicago (May 3, 1886) and the police reprisals that followed this affair. The other organisation, the International Workingmen’s Association, called the Red International, claimed to be socialist rather than anarchist in its principles, but was fundamentally anarchist in its type of organisation. It was a secret society founded at San Francisco in 1881; it reached its highest point in 1886; in 1887 it amalgamated with the Socialist Labour Party. Both these Internationals must be regarded as offshoots of the Anarchist International. They had no serious international relationships, but were international enough as far as membership was concerned. The majority of their members were of Continental European extraction.