International Working Men’s Association 1865

Report of the Soirée September 28, 1865

Source: Minutes of the General Council of the International Workingmen’s Association, 1864-1886, Progress Publishers, 1964;
First Published: The Workman’s Advocate, No. 135, October 7, 1865;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

The soirée was held in St. Martin’s Hall, September 28, 1865, to celebrate the foundation of the International Working Men’s Association.

The Conference (a full report of which appeared in our last issue) terminated its proceedings by a most successful soirée on Thursday evening, in St. Martin’s Hall.

The hall was most appropriately decorated with flags of the different nationalities, the place of honour being assigned to the Stars and Stripes of America. The soirée served a threefold purpose — first, to celebrate the anniversary of the Association; secondly, to welcome the Continental delegates; and, thirdly, to adopt an address to the people of America congratulating them on the success of the Federal arms and the extinction of slavery. Over 300 sat down to tea, the social qualities of which seemed equally to be appreciated by the Continental delegates and their English friends.

Tea being over Citizen Odger (the President) was called to the chair. He explained that the Association originated in a desire, that was felt by the working classes in this country, and different parts of Europe, to unite for the purpose of effecting a combination of the peoples, with a view to put an end to the tyranny that prevailed in reference to Poland and other oppressed nations. From its humble origin by a few working men, it had now grown into a great organisation, and included amongst its members French, German, Belgian, Swiss, Italian, and Polish representatives, and had enrolled a large number of members in these countries. The Association had issued an Address, which was extensively circulated, and the principles embodied in it had received the concurrence of a large number of the thinking portion of the industrious classes. One of the prominent objects of the Association was to create such a fraternal feeling amongst the peoples, to get rid of national antipathies, so as to lessen the chances of Governments engaging in wars which only served their nefarious designs and bred discord among nations and peoples whose interests it was to be united. If that union had long since been effected, would the liberties of Poland and Hungary have been trampled out, or would the French Government have interfered in Italy and crushed the Roman Republic, the purest form of government ever established in that country. (Applause.) He concluded by an earnest appeal to the meeting, and to the country through the press, to forward the progress of the Association, whose object was the enfranchisement of all nations, and the elevation of our common humanity. (Cheers.)

The President then called on Citizen Cremer to propose the adoption of the Address to the People of America, which we are compelled, from the pressure on our space, to postpone the publication of till next week.

After having read the address, which was much applauded, Citizen Cremer said, twelve months ago today, under this very roof, but in a very much smaller hall than the noble one in which we are now assembled, the International Working Men’s Association was ushered into existence, and we were here today to congratulate each other on the glorious results which had been achieved in the short space of twelve months — then we were quite unknown, now we were known all over Europe, and had many friends in America; then we were units now we were thousands; then we had no well-defined public principles, now we have a common platform accepted throughout Europe; then we were isolated from each other, now we are united, and he believed the Association had a bright and happy future. At one soirée which he had attended at that hall, and which purported to be a working men’s demonstration, there were none but the middle and upper classes to address the meeting, but at this the order of things was reversed, and none but working men were to address the meeting; this was in fact the secret of the success; they had no need for patronage, but had determined to do their own work themselves. (Cheers.) They had given the American flag the place of honour that evening, as they had done on a former occasion, because it represented the land of liberty and the home of the free. There the exile and the oppressed toiler could find a haven of rest. The Association whose anniversary they celebrated that evening had a peculiar right to congratulate the American people. They had addressed them before; when interest and a hatred of free institutions in this country had reviled their government and insulted their people, then the members of that Association, true to their principles, had addressed words of sympathy to their transatlantic brethren, and received their grateful acknowledgments in return. America was now free from the pollution of slavery. The South had appealed from the ballot to the bullet, and are now beaten at both. The men who took a prominent part in this Association, had never, in the darkest hour of the republic, despaired of its ultimate triumph — and when told that ‘democratic institutions were on their trial’, they accepted the challenge, and abided the issue, which had now arrived. Democracy had triumphed, slavery had perished, the republic was saved; and the flag, which had for four years been so often insulted by the privileged classes of Europe, will yet proudly wave throughout the world, the emblem of liberty, and the hope of the oppressed. He echoed every sentiment of congratulation contained in the address which he had the pleasure to propose for their adoption. He would conclude with the beautiful lines so forcibly realised in the late American contest:

Freedom’s battle, once begun,
Bequeathed from bleeding sire to son,
Though baffled oft, is ever won. (Cheers.)

Mr. Charles Bradlaugh, in seconding the adoption of the address, said, — It did not merely represent that meeting, but the working men of Europe. They were assembled that night in their representative character, and spoke in the name and by the authority of thousands of earnest toilers throughout Europe. He deeply sympathised with the sentiments of the address, and with the objects of the Association generally. Not only had they the American flag over their heads, but he could see one mutely expressing their deepest and most earnest longings — the freedom of Venice and Rome. (Loud and long continued cheering.) To effect universal liberty, men must know their duties and take their rights. There must be something higher in our aspirations than mere nationality. To live on the banks of the Po, the Seine, or the Thames does not confer the right to greatness or freedom. No; it must be honesty, integrity, and ability. We must not suffer crowned heads to use us as tools for their own purpose and the oppression of other peoples. Yet so they have used us in the past: let it never return. (Cheers.) The gilded thing called a crown could in a moment be pulverised by the strong, stern arm; yet in its hesitation its strength is lost, and the bauble resumes its power over the weak, the superstitious, and the ignorant, and by the aid of the self-interest of court parasites, again oppresses the people. (Cheers.) Let them be true to their principles, and these things will become a thing of the past, and truth and justice will triumph. (Applause.)

The address was then adopted by acclamation.

M. Tolain, one of the French delegates, then addressed the meeting in French, and was very enthusiastically received. He assured the Association that their efforts were duly appreciated in France, where their movements were watched with the greatest interest.

Philipp Becker, a tried champion of democracy, spoke in German. He said, — For the first time in history, delegates have assembled in the name of the working men of the world. The aim of the International Working Men’s Association was the emancipation of the labouring poor. Under emancipation he understood no piecemeal reform, but the entire liberation from all forms of oppression, social, political, and religious. The emancipation of the working class meant peace between labour :and capital; it meant that the men of labour should also be the men of capital — not in their individual capacity, but as co-operative bodies working for themselves. He farther gave a brief sketch of the wrongs of Poland, and spoke of the paramount interest Europe had to put a stop to Russian aggression by a restoration of the independence of Poland.

Citizen De Paepe, the delegate from Belgium, next addressed the meeting. He said that the Association would leave its mark on the nineteenth century. Its influence, even up to the present, has been such that it can never be effaced. The lot of the workman has been to sweat, to pay, and to die a premature death. Whereas, before eternal justice, the fruits of labour belong to the producer alone. He alone ought to possess wealth, as he alone produces it. Now the things were precisely the reverse. Numbers of workers were condemned to starve, in order that a few non-producers may die with plethora. In Belgium, the Catholic clergy were very bad; he did not [know] how the Protestants were; he had been told they were even more intolerant, that he did not know, but he knew they were all partizans, as bodies, to the present state of things. After a very eloquent speech, he concluded by expressing a wish: — ‘That this Association may become the link by which all men of heart may be united, and by their union cause pauperism, misery, ignorance, vice, and crime to disappear, as well as all class distinctions, and that all men may become honourable workers.’ (Loud cheers.)

Citizen Bobczynski, delegate from the Polish Association, also addressed the meeting in a brief but eloquent speech.

At the conclusion of the speeches a very large and handsome tri-coloured flag was hung over the end gallery with the following names — Italy, Poland, Hungary, Mazzini, Garibaldi, which created an immense burst of cheering, which was again and again repeated.

The speaking was interspersed with music and singing by the Garibaldian Band and the German Working Men’s Choir, which gave the Marseillaise and other pieces with much effect.

The hall was then cleared for dancing, which amusement was followed up with much spirit for some hours.

At two o’clock the Committee and delegates assembled in the Committee room, where Citizen Cremer was most warmly received, and the thanks of the delegates accorded to him for the able manner in which the soirée had been got up and the splendid success they had that night witnessed.