PART TWO. History of The First International by G. M. Stekloff
The First International contained the rudiments of all three of the fundamental trends of the contemporary international working-class movement: revolutionary communism; the moderate socialism of the class-collaborationists; and anarchism. These three trends obviously arise out of the actual conditions of existence and development of tile proletariat in contemporary capitalist society, and are inseparately associated with the struggle of the proletariat for its emancipation as a class. They can already be traced before the foundation of the First International, though in a yet more rudimentary form. In the First International they existed side by side, worrying along somehow under the one roof but in the end they broke away from one another and took separate paths.
The First International represented a union of all three trends. The Second International embodied only two of the trends, the revolutionary communist and the moderate socialist or class-collaborationist; for the anarchists were quite outside the framework of this new body. Being thus cut loose from the Socialist International, anarchism became disintegrated into various sub-sections. One of these, a shoot wanting a support, secured this support in certain trade unions. Through an amalgamation of anarchist ideology with the industrial aims of these working-class organisations, there eras now engendered a new and peculiar doctrine known as “revolutionary syndicalism. This developed outside the Second International, being designed, in some sort to act as a counterpoise to that body. Indeed, some of the revolutionary syndicalists even wished to found a special Revolutionary Syndicalist or Anarchist International. By the time of the Third International, the position had radically changed. Whereas the Second International aimed at uniting the moderate wing and the communist wing of the working-class movement, apart from the anarchist and the revolutionary syndicalist elements, the Third or Communist International represents a union of the communist elements with some of the anarchist elements of the working-class movement. Outside the framework of this union there still remains a hard-shelled, doctrinally irreconcilable group of anarchists, who are infected with a persistent petty-bourgeois ideology, and who are strongly averse to proletarian discipline and to organised proletarian activity. The members of this group, whose influence and numerical strength diminish from day to day, are trying to create at Fourth International, an Anarchist International, disguised as a “purely syndicalist” organisation. As yet, however, they have had but poor success in their schismatic endeavours. As for the “moderates,” they now have an organisation peculiar to themselves in the form of the resuscitated Second International, buttressed by the International Federation of Trade Unions or “Amsterdam International” in which the moderate trade unionists are internationally organised. Thus, in the form in which it has been revived, the Second International has become a perfect medium for the pure culture of the bacillus of class collaboration. Whereas in the days of the First International, and to some extent in the days of the Second International, the moderate section of the international working-class movement could still at times play a revolutionary part, it is obvious that nowadays the moderates have acquired a definitely counter-revolutionary significance, and function as the last reserves of the capitalist army. Although from a structural outlook these moderates and reformists constitute the right wing of the international working-class movement, in the light of their historic role to-day they comprise nothing other than the left wing of bourgeois democracy.
We see, then, that a characteristic feature of the First International was that it was a necessary, an inevitable attempt to unite the three trends we have mentioned, to organise them within the framework of one International. Another characteristic feature was that the First International included within the compass of a single comprehensive body, both the political and the industrial organisations of the proletariat. This was partly true of the Second International as well, for there participated in the international sittings of that body representatives of the trade unions as well as representatives of the socialist parties. To some extent it is even true of the Third International, for, at any rate at its early congresses, there were present revolutionary syndicalists in addition to representatives of the communist parties. But whereas in the days of the First International there did not yet exist any Trade Union International independent of the International Workingmen’s Association, in the later days of the Second International there came into existence a Trade-Union International independent of the International of the Socialist parties.
The trade-anion organisation of the proletariat develops in accordance with the same laws as those which have been characteristic of the development of the political organisation of the proletariat. The Second International, as we have seen, was a union of the moderate and the communist trends of the international working-class movement. In like manner, the Trade-Union International of that period was an amalgamation of both trends, the moderate or reformist, and the revolutionary syndicalist, whereas the anarchist unions as a general rule kept aloof, although there were exceptions. To-day, however, when the communists and the moderates are separately organised on the political field in the Third International and the Second International respectively, we find that there has been a corresponding cleavage in the international trade-union organisations. Side by side with the International Federation of Trade Unions, the so-called Amsterdam International (which, though built up upon the class-collaborationist foundation of the Second International, contains quite a number of revolutionary-minded and even communist trade unionists among its adherents), there has come into existence the Profintern or Red International of Labour Unions. The Profintern, like the Communist International (to which it is allied both by program and by community of work), has a membership comprising both communists and revolutionary syndicalists. Outside the framework of both these organisations there is an insignificant proportion of “pure syndicalists” and anarchists, who have vainly tried to found a third trade-union international, on a “pure syndicalist” (read “anarchist”) foundation.
The First International comprised three trends, the communist, the moderate, and the anarchist. The Second International cut off its anarchist tail, but, while ridding itself of a good many worthless elements, it undoubtedly excluded at the same time quite a number of revolutionary-minded and class-conscious sections of the international proletariat. The Third International, conversely, while attracting these valuable revolutionary syndicalist elements, repelled the opportunist and class-collaborationist sections of the international working-class movement. In a formal sense, the Second International is indeed entitled to regard itself as having been, in its time, the successor of the First International. But today, when the Second International has definitively assumed a class-collaborationist role in this matter of the international struggle of the workers, only the Third International, which has marshalled all the healthy elements that contributed to the foundation of the First international, and has purged itself of all the moderate and class-collaborationist elements which hindered the development of the International Workingmen’s Association – only the Third International can be regarded as the rightful heir of the First International, and it alone can be regarded as the organisation which is realising the great design of the leader of the First International, Karl Marx.
If we are asked whether the First International was socialist or communist (using the term “socialist,” in this antithesis, in the sense of “opportunist”), it is not easy to answer briefly and dogmatically. We must not forget that the First International came into being through a union of French Proudhonists and British trade unionists, both parties to the union being “moderates.” Nevertheless, in so far as it is possible to give a succinct characterisation of the trend of the Old International as soon as it had consolidated its forces and defined its program, we cannot but regard it as a communist organisation, inasmuch as the members of the communist or Marxist group were its effective leaders. When formulating its principles, it would sometimes deviate to the right, and would sometimes concede a point to the anarchist wing. Thus, the resolution concerning the socialisation of landed property was drafted in such a way as to secure the support of the anarchist elements, the Bakuninist faction, in order to defeat the French and Belgian Proudhonists. In other matters, where the specifically working class items in the program of the International had to be defended (strikes, the curtailment of working hours, and the like), the Marxist group looked for support to those elements which, though moderates merely, were rooted in the real working class, and therefore, upon such questions, made common cause with the communists. The British trade unionists, for instance, were prepared to do this. The communists could not, unaided, secure a majority in the councils of the International. When it was no longer possible for the communists to play off the anarchists and the moderates against one another, and when each of these groups wanted to take its own course in the endeavour to secure the emancipation of the workers, then the fate of the First International was sealed – for the anarchists broke away from it, on the one hand, and the moderates or class collaborationists on the other.
But if we contemplate the history of the First International as an integral whole, we shall see clearly that the tone was set by the Marxist group, and that the Marxists gave the organisation a persistently communist orientation. And although its work was forcibly disrupted by the split at the Hague Congress and was arrested by the world-wide reaction after the Franco-German war and the suppression of the Paris Commune, nevertheless it bequeathed to history something which has become a permanent and precious asset of the international proletariat, something which has now become incorporated in and has been realised by the Third International – the rightful heir of the First.