The International Workingmen's Association, 1868

The Fourth Annual Report of the General Council
Adopted by the General Council on September 1, 1868

Written: by Karl Marx on September 1, 1868;
Source: The General Council of the First International 1866-1868. Minutes; Progress Publishers, Moscow, for the Centenary of the First International in 1964, pp. 324-340;
First published: in French in a special supplement to Le Peuple Belge, September 8, 1868: "Troisième congrès de l'Association Internationale des Travailleurs. Compte rendu official", Bruxelles, 1868; in English in The Times, No. 26225, September 9, 1868 Reproduced from The Times, and checked with the copy of the German manuscript made by Marx's wife, Jenny Marx.

The year 1867-68 will mark an epoch in the history of the Association. After a period of peaceable development it has assumed dimensions powerful enough to provoke the bitter denunciations of the ruling classes and the hostile demonstrations of governments. [1] It has entered upon the phases of strife.

The French Government took, of course, the lead in the reactionary proceedings against the working classes. Already last year we had to signalise some of its underhand manoeuvres. It meddled with our correspondence, seized our Statutes, and the Congress documents. [2] After many fruitless steps to get them back, they were at last given up only under the official pressure of Lord Stanley, the English Minister of Foreign Affairs.

But the Empire has this year thrown off the mask and tried to directly annihilate the International Association by coups de police and judiciary prosecution. Begot by the struggle of classes, of which the days of June, 1848, are the grandest expression, it could not but assume alternately the attitudes of the official saviour of the Bourgeoisie and of the paternal protector of the Proletariat. The growing power of the International having manifested itself in the strikes of Roubaix, Amiens, Paris, Geneva, &c., reduced our would-be patron to the necessity of turning our Society to his own account or of destroying it. In the beginning he was ready enough to strike a bargain on very moderate terms. [3] The manifesto of the Parisians read at the Congress of Geneva [4] having been seized at the French frontier, our Paris Executive demanded of the Minister of the Interior the reasons of this Seizure. [5] M. Rouher then invited one of the members of the Committee [6] to an interview, in the course of which he declared himself ready to authorise the entry of the manifesto on the condition of some modifications being inserted. [7] On the refusal of the delegate of the Paris Executive, he added,

"Still, if you would introduce some words of gratitude to the Emperor, who has done so much for the working classes, one might see what could be done." [8]

M. Rouher's, the sub-Emperor's, insinuation was met by a blank rebuff. From that moment the Imperial Government looked out for a pretext to suppress the Association. Its anger was heightened by the anti-chauvinist agitation on the part of our French members after the German war. Soon after, when the Fenian panic had reached its climax, the General Council addressed to the English Government a petition [9] demanding the commutation of the sentence of the three victims of Manchester, and qualifying their hanging as an act of political revenge. [10] At the same time it held public meetings in London for the defence of the rights of Ireland. The Empire, always anxious to deserve the good graces of the British Government, thought the moment propitious for laying hands upon the International. [11] It caused nocturnal perquisitions to be made, eagerly rummaged the private correspondence, and announced with much noise [12] that it had discovered the centre of the Fenian conspiracy, of which the International was denounced as one of the principal organs. All its laborious researches, however, ended in nothing. [13] The public prosecutor himself threw down his brief in disgust. [14] The attempt at converting the International Association into a secret society of conspirators having miserably broken down, the next best thing was to prosecute our Paris branch as a non-authorised society of more than 20 members. The French judges, trained by the Imperialist discipline, hastened, of course, to order the dissolution of the Association and the imprisonment of its Paris Executive. [15] The tribunal had the naiveté to declare in the preamble of its judgment that the existence of the French Empire was incompatible with [16] a working men's association that dared to proclaim truth, justice, and morality as its leading principles. [17] The consequences of these prosecutions made themselves felt in the departments, where paltry vexations on the part of the Prefects succeeded to the condemnations of Paris. This Governmental chicanery, however, so far from annihilating the Association, has given it a fresh impulse [18] by forcing the Empire to drop its patronising airs to the working classes.

In Belgium, the International Association has made immense strides. The coal lords of the basin of Charleroi, having driven their miners to riots by incessant exactions, let loose upon those unarmed men the armed force which massacred many of them. [19] It was in [the] midst of the panic thus created that our Belgian branch took up the cause of the miners, disclosed their miserable economical condition, [20] rushed to the rescue of the families of the dead and wounded, and procured legal counsel for the prisoners, who were finally all of them acquitted by the jury. After the affair of Charleroi the success of the International in Belgium was assured. The Belgian Minister of Justice, Jules Bara, denounced the International Association in the Chamber of Deputies and made of its existence the principal pretext for the renewal of the law against foreigners. He even dared to threaten he should prevent the Brussels Congress from being held. [21] The Belgian Government ought at last to understand that petty States have no longer any raison d'être in Europe except they be the asylums of liberty.

In Italy, the progress of the Association has been impeded by the reaction following close upon the ambuscade of Mentana; one of the first consequences was the restriction put upon the right of association and public meeting. But the numerous letters which have come to our hands fully prove that the Italian working class is more and more asserting its individuality quite independently of the old parties.

In Prussia, the International cannot exist legally, on account of a law which forbids all relations with foreign societies. Moreover in regard to the General Union of the German Working Men, the Prussian Government has imitated Bonapartism on a shabby scale. Always ready to fall foul of each other, the military Governments are cheek by jowl when entering upon a crusade against their common enemy, the working classes. In spite, however, of all these petty tribulations, small groups spread over the whole surface of Germany had long since rallied round our Geneva centre. The General Union of the German Working Men, whose branches are mostly confined to Northern Germany, have in their recent Congress held at Hamburg decided to act in concert with the International Working Men's Association 23 although debarred from joining it officially. [22] In the programme of the Nuremberg Congress, representing upwards of 100 working men's societies which mostly belong to Middle and Southern Germany, the direct adhesion to the International has been put on the order of the day. [23] At the request of their leading committee we have sent a delegate to Nuremberg.

In Austria, the working-class movement assumes a more and more revolutionary aspect. [24] In the beginning of September a congress was to meet at Vienna, aiming at the fraternisation of the working men of the different races of the Empire. They had also sent an address to the English and French working men, in which they declared for the principles of the International. [25] Your General Council had already appointed a delegate ~ to Vienna [26] when the Liberal Government of Austria, on the very point of succumbing to the blows of the feudal reaction, had the shrewdness to stir the anger of the working men by prohibiting their congress.

In the struggle maintained by the building trades of Geneva the very existence of the International in Switzerland was put on its trial. The employers made it a preliminary condition of coming to any terms with their workmen that the latter should forsake the International. The working men indignantly refused to comply with this dictate. Thanks to the aid received [27] from France, England, Germany, &c., through the medium of the International, they have finally obtained a diminution of one hour [28] of labour and 10 per cent [29] increase of wages. Already deeply rooted in Switzerland, the International has witnessed since that event a rapid increase in the number of its members. In the month of August last the German working men residing in Switzerland (about 50 societies) passed at their Congress in Neuenburg a unanimous vote of adhesion to the International.

In England, the unsettled state of politics, [30] the dissolution of the old parties, and the preparations for the coming electoral campaign have absorbed many of our most active members, and, to some degree, retarded our propaganda. Nevertheless, we have entered into correspondence with numerous provincial trades' unions, many of which have sent in their adhesion. Among the more recent London affiliations those of the Curriers' Society and the City Men's Shoemakers are the most considerable as regards numbers.

Your General Council is in constant communication with the National Labour Union of the United States. On its last Congress of August, 1867, the American Union had resolved to send a delegate to the Brussels congress, [31] but, pressed for time, was unable to take the special measures necessary for carrying out the vote.

The latent power of the working classes of the United States has recently manifested itself in the legal establishment of a working day of eight hours in all the workshops of the Federal Government, and in the passing [of] laws to the same effect by many State Legislatures. However, at this very moment the working men of New York, for example, are engaged in a fierce struggle for enforcing the eight hours' law, against the resistance of rebellious capital. This fact proves that even under the most favourable political conditions all serious success of the proletariat depends upon an organisation that unites and concentrates its forces; and even its national organisation is still exposed to split on the disorganisation of the working classes in other countries, which one and all compete in the market of the world, acting and reacting the one upon the other. Nothing but an international bond of the working classes can ever ensure their definitive triumph. This want has given birth to the International Working Men's Association. That Association has not been hatched by a sect or a theory. It is the spontaneous growth of the proletarian movement, which itself is the offspring of the natural and irrepressible tendencies of modern society. Profoundly convinced of the greatness of its mission, the International Working Men's Association will allow itself neither to be intimidated nor misled. Its destiny, henceforward, coalesces with the historical progress of the class that bear in their hands the regeneration of mankind. [32]

London, September 1

All Ed. notes from Marx Engels Collected Works.

1 The German text has "and persecutions by governments".

2 The German text has "and the Geneva Congress documents on the French frontier".

3 The German text has: "In the beginning not much was demanded."

4 The German text further has: "(1866) and published in Brussels in the following year".

5 "A M. le ministre de l'intérieur. Vendredi. 9 mars 1867". In Le Courrier français, No. 112, May 1, 1868.

6 Antoine Marie Bourdon, the section's archivist.

7 Instead of "to an interview ... being inserted" the German has: "to an interview. In the course of the meeting that followed he first demanded that certain passages in the Manifesto should be moderated and altered".

8 Le Courrier français, No. 112, May 1, 1868. The quotation gives the general meaning of Rouher's speech.

9 See

10 After the word "petition" the German has the following text: "in which the forthcoming execution of the three Manchester martyrs was described as a judicial murder (the reference is to William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin and Michael O'Brien).

11 The German further has "on both sides of the Channel".

12 The German has "in the English press".

13 In the German text this sentence reads: "Much ado about nothing."

14 In the German text this sentence reads: "The legal investigation found not a shadow of a corpus delicti despite its zeal."

15 Instead of "and the imprisonment of its Paris Executive" the German text has "and fined the Committee members and sentenced them to imprisonment".

16 In the German text the beginning of this sentence reads as follows: "Yet the tribunal had the naïvete to state two things, in the preamble of its judgement: on the one hand that the power of the I.W.A. was growing and, on the other, that the December Empire was incompatible with...."

17 See the tribunal's sentences of March 20 and May 22, 1868 in Procès de l'Association Internationale des Travailleurs. Bureau de Paris, Paris, 1868, pp. 59-40 and 128.

18 In the German text then follows a separate sentence: "Nothing has enhanced its influence in France more strongly than the fact that it finally forced the December government to break clearly with the working class."

19 In the German text the words "which massacred many of them" are omitted.

20 The German text has "in the press and at public meetings".

21 Marx refers to Jules Bara's speech in the Chamber of Deputies on May 16 1868, published in La Liberté, No. 47, May 17, 1868.

22 In the German text the end of the sentence reads: "although by law it is unable to join the I.W.A. officially".

23 See Demokratisches Wochenblatt, No. 35, August 29, 1868, pp. 275-76.

24 The German text has "distinct character".

25 "Die Arbeiter Wien's an die französischen und englischen Arbeiter", Der Vorbote, No. 8, August 1868, pp. 120-22.

26 Peter Fox.

27 The German text has "by them in Switzerland itself as well as".

28 The words "one hour" are omitted in the German text.

29 "10 per cent" omitted in the German text.

30 The German text has "the political movement" instead of "the unsettled state of politics".

31 Richard Trevellick.

32 In the manuscript there follows: "For the General Council: Robert Shaw, Chairman J. George Eccarius, General Secretary."