History of The First International by G. M. Stekloff

Translators’ Preface

The present work is by far the most comprehensive history of the First International hitherto published. We do not say “the most scholarly,” for that would be an injustice to Raymond W., Postgate’s admirable little manual, The Workers’ International (Swarthmore Press, 1920; now published by George Allen and Unwin). As regards scholarship, it is sufficient tribute to Stekloff to say that in this respect he is not outdone by Postgate. But by the latter, only 83 pages are devoted to the First International in a small volume of 125 pages. In comprehensiveness, therefore, Postgate obviously cannot vie with Stekloff.

R. Palme Dutt’s The Two Internationals (Labour Research Department and George Allen and Unwin, 1920), is not concerned with the First International at all, but with the Second and the Third. Guillaume’s book (see Bibliography) is detailed enough in all conscience, but it is “bulky” rather than “comprehensive” in the finer sense of the latter term. What Stekloff has to say about rival historians may be quoted from the preface to the first edition, dated January, 1918, and penned, therefore, long before the publication of Postgate’s book.

“Hitherto there has not been written a general sketch of the history of the International, either in Russian or in any other language. We have, at most, histories of the First International from 1864 to 1872 (the year of the Hague Congress) – histories which ignore both what preceded and what followed that epoch. Take, for example, the popular work of Gustav Jaeckh. This book has not a word to say concerning the activities of the First International after the year 1872. It is not surprising that the author should completely ignore the history of the anarchist wing of the International, seeing that the main development of this faction did not take place until after the Hague Congress.

“The most extensive work upon the subject is that of James Guillaume, in four volumes. In the first place, however, the book has a strong Bakuninist bias. In the second place, it is not strictly speaking a historical study, but must rather be regarded as a memoir and as a collection of ill-digested materials. In the third place, Guillaume brings his exposition only down to the year 1878, so that, although he deals with the history of the Anarchist International, he does not write that history to the end. For example, he has nothing to say concerning the work of the Jura Federation during 1879 and 1880, nor does he deal with the London Conference of 1881.”

Stekloff had originally planned a complete history of the Workers’ International or Internationals, and will perhaps supplement the present work some day by writing a history of later developments. But the present work is integral; and though the author does not succeed in avoiding (does not try to avoid) controversial topics, it is as unbiased an account (the working-class outlook being taken for granted) as can be given of the thought-trends that prevailed in the international working-class movement prior to the foundation of the Second International. All these thought-trends were represented in the First International.

Part One is devoted to the forerunners of the International, and to the history of the International Workingmen’s Association down to and including the Hague Congress, that is to say, to the end of the year 1872.

Part Two deals with the history of the Bakuninist or Anarchist International, which, after the split at the Hague Congress and the demise of the Marxist International, continued, down to its own death in 1881 or thereabout, to call itself the International Workingmen’s Association.

It must be remembered that there never existed any body calling itself the First International! That name, naturally, was the coinage of a subsequent generation. But it is a convenient and distinctive term, and has been chosen by Stekloff for the title of the present work.

The author’s main sources of information will be found in the Bibliography at the close of the volume. Postgate refers to some valuable additional sources in the bibliographical appendix to The Workers’ International. In the United States there is a mine of documents relating to the International in the American Bureau of Industrial Research, at Madison, Wisconsin, and in the Crerar Library of Chicago. To these Stekloff has not had access. Some account of them will be found in the History of Labour in the United States, by John R. Commons and others, Vol. II, pp. 548 and 544. The same volume, pp. 204-222, contains an excellent account of the history of the International in the States. But, in all essential respects, we think that G. M. Stekloff’s book, here presented in English, may be regarded as the definitive history of the First International.

Eden and Cedar Paul
London, October, 1927,

To my Wife
Sophia Yakoffleffna Steklova
Organiser of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Clubs