MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Events

Congresses of Social Democracy

Second International Congress of Brussels, 1891

Representatives of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, the Belgian Worker’s Party, the Social Democratic Federation, the Legal Eight Hours League, along with many other delegates from sixteen countries convened at Brussels.

The main issues up for discussion were resolutions and clarifications on the conditions of membership to the International, international labour legislation and its future, the resolution of the ‘Jewish question’, the rights of women and the International’s position towards militarism and strikes. It also, rather more iconically, officially declared May 1st to be International Worker’s Day. May Day had previously been merely an unofficial worker’s holiday; the congress made it concrete. The importance of the need for an eight hour day was also stressed; this went on to become one of the International’s most significant policies.

The most important resolution made by this congress was arguably the perhaps anti-Semitic resolution made on the position of Jews within the proletarian movement. It was said by two representatives from France (Regnard and Argyriades) that many Jewish bankers were “great oppressors of labour” and this, to the Justice newspaper, betrayed some anti-Semitism in the congress:

There appears to be a strong feeling against the Jews in the Congress” (22.8.1891).”

This is a slight change from the International’s previous resolution on the position of Jews in society, as before they were just ‘against anti-Semitism’, and now adopted a position ‘against philo-semitic tyranny’ as well. This phrase needs to be clarified; it does appear that the International was taking a somewhat dim view of the Jews, as it believed that there were a disproportionate number of Jews who were high up within the capitalist system. Although there is nothing to suggest that the representatives were neglecting the Jewish proletariat entirely, it does seem that they were placing less emphasis on supporting its struggle because of the religion’s supposed links with capitalism.

The fact that some of the most famous and influential communists of the time were Jewish, does seem to suggest that digging for anti-Semitism in this particular resolution of the Congress is a little tenuous. However, it does show that there was still some anti-Jewish prejudice even in the top ranks of the Second International in 1891.