International Workingmen’s Association 1870

The General Council to the
Federal Council of French Switzerland

Written: about 1 January 1870;
First published: in part in the pamphlet Les prétrendus scissons dans L'Internationale, 1872;
Source: The First International and After. Marx. Penguin 1974;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

This circular, sometimes known as the ‘Confidential Communication’, was written by Marx in French after the General Council’s meeting of 1 January 1870, and distributed privately in hand-written copies. Marx’s original text is not extant, and it is translated here from a manuscript copy made by Marx’s wife and corrected by Marx himself, as reproduced in IWMA III, pp. 354-63.

At its extraordinary meeting of 1 January 1870 the General Council resolved:

1. We read in Égalité,[60] 11 December 1869:

It is certain that the General Council is. neglecting matters of great importance. We would remind it of its obligations under Regulation II/2[61]: ‘The General Council is bound to execute the Congress resolutions, etc We could ask the General Council enough questions for its answers to make a somewhat lengthy document. These will come later ... Meanwhile, etc. etc. ...

The General Council knows of no article, either in the Rules or in the Regulations, which would oblige it to enter into correspondence or debate with Égalité, or provide any ‘answers to questions’ from newspapers. Only the Federal Committee in Geneva represents the branches of French Switzerland to the General Council. Whenever the Federal Committee addresses requests or objections to us by the one and only legitimate channel, i.e. through its secretary, the General Council will always be ready to reply. But the Federal Committee has no right either to hand over its functions to the editors of Égalité and Progrès,[62] or to permit those journals to usurp its functions.

Generally speaking, administrative correspondence between the General Council and the national and local committees cannot be made public without doing considerable damage to the general interests of the Association. Therefore, if other organs of the International were to imitate Progrès and Égalité, the General Council would be forced either to remain silent and thus earn the discredit of the public, or to violate its obligations by making a public reply. Égalité has combined with Progrès in urging Le Travail’ (a Paris newspaper) also to attack the General Council. This is virtually a ligue du bien public.

2. Accepting that the questions posed by Égalité originate from the French-Swiss Federal Council, we shall reply to them, on condition that in future such questions do not reach us by the same route.

3. Question of the Bulletin

According to the resolutions of the Geneva Congress, inserted into the Administrative Regulations, the national committees are supposed to send the General Council documents relating to the proletarian movement, and ‘as often as its means permit, the General Council shall publish a report, etc.’ [65] in the various languages.

The General Council’s obligation is thus dependent on conditions which have never been fulfilled; even the statistical inquiry, provided for in the Rules, decided on by successive General Congresses, annually requested by the General Council, has never been carried out. No document has been sent to the General Council. As for means, the General Council would have long since ceased to exist without the English ‘regional’ contributions and the personal sacrifice of its own members.

Thus the regulation in question adopted at the Geneva Congress has remained a dead letter.

The Brussels Congress, for its part, never discussed the execution of this regulation; it discussed the possibility of a bulletin in due time but it adopted no resolution. (See the German report printed at Basle under the eyes of the Congress.)[66]

For the rest, the General Council believes that the original aim of the bulletin is at the moment perfectly well served by the different organs of the International published in the various languages and mutually exchanged. It would be absurd to produce costly bulletins to do what is already done without expense. On the other hand, a bulletin which published things which are not said in the International’s organs would only serve to admit our enemies behind the scenes.

4. Question of the Separation of the General Council and the Regional Council for England[67]

Long before the founding of Égalité this proposal arose from time to time in the General Council itself, put forward by one or two of its English members. It was always rejected almost unanimously.

Although the revolutionary initiative will probably start from France, only England can act as a lever in any seriously economic revolution. It is the only country where there are no longer any peasants, and where land ownership is concentrated in very few hands. It is the only country where almost all production has been taken over by the capitalist form, in other words with work combined on a vast scale under capitalist bosses. It is the only country where the large majority of the population consists of wage-labourers. It is the only country where the class struggle and the organization of the working class into trade unions have actually reached a considerable degree of maturity and universality. Because of its domination of the world market, it is the only country where any revolution in the economic system will have immediate repercussions on the rest of the world. Though landlordism and capitalism are most traditionally established in this country, on the other hand the material conditions for getting rid of them are also most ripe here. Given that the General Council is now in the happy position of having its hand directly upon this tremendous lever for proletarian revolution, what lunacy, we would almost say what a crime, to let it fall into purely English hands!

The English have all that is needed materially for social revolution. What they lack is the sense of generalization and revolutionary passion. These are things that only the General Council can supply, and it can thus speed up the genuinely revolutionary movement in this country, and consequently everywhere else. The tremendous results we have already achieved in this direction are attested to by the most intelligent and authoritative newspapers of the ruling class — as for instance the Pall Mall Gazette, the Saturday Review, the Spectator and the Fortnightly Review — to say nothing of the so-called Radical members of both Houses of Parliament who, not long ago, still exercised enormous influence over the English workers’ leaders. They are publicly accusing us of having poisoned and almost extinguished the English spirit of the working class, and having thrust the workers into revolutionary socialism.

The only way we could have produced this change was to act as the General Council of the International Association. As the General Council we can initiate moves (such as the foundation of the Land and Labour League)18 which as they develop further appear to the public to be spontaneous movements of the English working class.

If a Regional Council were to be formed as distinct from the General Council, what would be the immediate effects?

Caught between the General Council and the TUC, the Regional Council would lack authority. On the other hand, the General Council of the International would lose its present control of the great lever 1 have described. If we wanted to replace our important underground activity with the publicity of the theatre, then we would perhaps have made the mistake of publicly answering the question put in Égalité as to why the General Council submits to fulfilling such an inconvenient plurality of functions!

England can not be considered simply as one country among many others. It must be treated as the metropolis of capital.

5. Question of the General Council’s Resolutions on the Irish Amnesty

If England is the bulwark of European landlordism and capitalism, the only point at which one can strike a major blow against official England is Ireland.

In the first place, Ireland is the bulwark of English landlordism. If it collapsed in Ireland, it would collapse in England. The whole operation is a hundred times easier in Ireland, because there the economic struggle is concentrated exclusively on landed property, because that struggle is at the same time a national one, and because the people have reached a more revolutionary and exasperated pitch there than in England. Landlordism in Ireland is kept in being solely by the English army. If the enforced union between the two countries were to cease, a social revolution would immediately break out in Ireland — even if of a somewhat backward kind. English landlordism would lose not only a major source of its wealth, but also its greatest moral force — the fact of representing England’s domination over Ireland. On the other hand, by preserving the power of its landlords in Ireland, the English proletariat makes them invulnerable in England itself.

In the second place, in dragging down the working class in England still further by the forced immigration of poor Irish people, the English bourgeoisie has not merely exploited Irish poverty. It has also divided the proletariat into two hostile camps. The fiery rebelliousness of the Celtic worker does not mingle well with the steady slow nature of the Anglo-Saxon; in fact in all the major industrial centres of England there is a profound antagonism between the Irish and the English proletarians. The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who brings down his wages and standard of living. He also feels national and religious antipathies for him; it is rather the same attitude that the poor whites of the Southern states of North America had for the Negro slaves. This antagonism between the two groups of proletarians within England itself is artificially kept in being and fostered by the bourgeoisie, who know well that this split is the real secret of preserving their own power.

This antagonism is reproduced once again on the other side of the Atlantic. The Irish, driven from their native soil by cattle and sheep, have landed in North America where they form a considerable, and increasing, proportion of the population. Their sole thought, their sole passion, is their hatred for England. The English and American governments (in other words, the classes they represent) nourish that passion so as to keep permanently alive the underground struggle between the United States and England ; in that way they can prevent the sincere and worthwhile alliance between the working Classes on the two sides of the Atlantic which would lead to their emancipation.

Furthermore, Ireland is the only excuse the English government has for keeping up a large regular army which can, as we have seen, in case of need attack the English workers after having done its basic training in Ireland.

Finally, what ancient Rome demonstrated on a gigantic scale can be seen — in the England of today. A people which subjugates another people forges its own chains.

Therefore the International Association’s attitude to the Irish question is absolutely clear. Its first need is to press on with the social revolution in England, and to that end, the major blow must be struck in Ireland.

The General Council’s resolutions on the Irish Amnesty[69] are designed simply to lead into other resolutions which win declare that, quite apart from the demands of international justice, it is an essential precondition for the emancipation of the English working class to transform the present enforced union (in other words, the enslavement of Ireland) into a free and equal confederation, if possible, and into a total separation, if necessary.

In any case, the hyper-naive pronouncements of Égalité and Progrès as to the connection, or rather lack of connection, between the social movement and the political movement have never, as far as we know, been approved by any of our International Congresses. They are in fact contrary to our Rules, which state: ‘The economical emancipation of the working classes is therefore the great end to which every political movement ought to be subordinate as a means’.[70]

The phrase ‘as a means’ was left out in the French translation made by the Paris Committee in 1864.[71] When taxed with this by the General Council, the Paris Committee gave as its excuse the wretchedness of its political situation.

There are other distortions of the text. The first consideration of the Rules is framed thus: ‘The struggle for the emancipation of the working classes means ... a struggle ... for equal rights and duties, and the abolition of all class rule.

The Paris translation mentions the ‘equal rights and duties’, in other words, the general phrase which exists in nearly all the democratic manifestoes of the past hundred years, and which means something quite different to different classes; but it leaves out the concrete phrase, ‘the abolition of all class rule’.

Again, in the second consideration of the Rules we read: ‘... the economical subjection of the man of labour to the monopolizer of the means of labour, that is, the sources of life, etc.’

The Paris translation has ‘capital’ instead of ‘the means of labour, that is, the sources of life’, an expression which includes the land as well as the other means of labour.

However, the original and authentic text has been restored in the French translation published in Brussels by La Rive gauche (in 1866), and printed in pamphlet form.[72]

6. The Liebknecht-Schweitzer Problem

Égalité says: ‘These two groups belong to the International.’

That is not true. The Eisenach group[73] (which Progrès and Égalité are trying to turn into ‘citizen Liebknecht’s group’) belongs to the International. Schweitzer’s group[74] does not belong to it.

Schweitzer has even explained at length in his newspaper (Social-Demokrat) why the Lassallean organization could not be united with the International without destroying itself ;[75] unknowingly, he was speaking the truth. His artificial and sectarian organization is wholly opposed to the historic and spontaneous organization of the working class.

Progrès and Égalité have demanded that the General Council give a public statement of ‘opinion’ as to the personal differences between Liebknecht and Schweitzer. Since citizen Johann Philipp Becker (who is slandered along with Liebknecht in Schweitzer’s paper) is one of the editorial committee of Égalité, it seems curious that its editors are not better informed as to the facts. They should know that Liebknecht, in the Demokratisches Wochenblatt,[76] publicly invited Schweitzer to accept the General Council as arbiter of their differences, and that Schweitzer equally publicly rejected the General Council’s authority. [77]

On its side, the General Council has done everything in its power to bring this scandal to an end. It asked its secretary for Germany[78] to correspond with Schweitzer, which he did for two years, but all the Council’s attempts have failed, thanks to Schweitzer’s firm resolution to preserve at all costs his autocratic power over his own sectarian organization. It is for the General Council to decide at what moment its public intervention in the dispute will be of more value than harm.

7. Since Égalité’s accusations have been public, and might be thought to come from the Geneva (French-Swiss) Committee, the General Council will communicate this reply to all the committees with which it is in correspondence.

By Order of the General Council


60. L'Égalité was the official organ of the French-Swiss (Romand) Federal Council or Committee of the International, which was taken over by Bakunin’s faction in autumn 1869. Marx replies to the allegations in question point by point in the present circular.

61. The Administrative Regulations of the International, adopted by the Geneva Congress of 1866 as a supplement to the Rules, and modified by subsequent Congress decisions. This reference is to the 1871 English edition, printed in IWMA IV, pp. 451-69.

62. Le Progrès was a Bakuninist paper, edited by James Guillaume in Le Locle, Switzerland.

63. Le Travail was the newspaper of the Paris sections of the International.

64. The original Ligue du Bien Public (League of Public Welfare) was an association of French barons founded in 1464 to resist Louis XI’s centralizing policy.

65. Documents of the IWMA Volume II, p. 269.

66. The corresponding English account is Report of the Fourth Annual Congress of the International Working Men’s Association, London [1869].

67. From the foundation of the International the General Council also fulfilled the role of the leading body for Britain, until an English Federal Council was set up by decision of the London Conference of 1871.

68. Land and Labour League formed in November 1869 by Left-wing English members of the General Council.

69. These resolutions, adopted by the General Council on 16 November 1869, are reproduced by Marx in his letter to Engels of 18 November; below, p. 163.

70. Above, p. 82.

71. Congrès Ouvrier. Association Internationale des Travailleurs. Réglement Provisoire [Paris. 1864] (printed in Freymond, op. cit., vol. I).

72. This translation (Manifeste de l'Association Internationale des Travailleurs suivi du Réglement Provisoire) was made by Charles Longuet.

73. The Social-Democratic Workers’ Party (SDAP).

74. The General Association of German Workers (ADAV), founded by Lassalle.

75. On 16 July 1869. After nominally moving closer to the International in 1868, Schweitzer swung the ADAV onto an ultra-sectarian course in June 1869, effecting a reconciliation with Countess Hatzfeld’s splinter group (see below, p. 148, n. 29). This led to a large section of the ADAV breaking away,, and uniting with Liebknecht and Bebel’s group in September 1869 to form the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party.

76. On 20 February 1869. The Demokratisches Wochenblatt had been the organ of Liebknecht’s Union of German Workers’ Societies. Marx erroneously referred here to the Volksstaat, the organ of the S DA P, which Liebknecht edited at the time of Marx’s writing.

77. Social-Demokrat, 24 February 1869.

78. i.e. Marx.