The International Workingmen's Association, 1872
Written: in French;
Translated: by Richard Dixon & Alex Miller, for Progress Publishers, 1976.
Transcribed: by email@example.com.
[Before the text there is a pencil note in an unknown hand: "Documents", "I" and the stamp: "Cooperative Bakery. Verviers and District."]
At this solemn hour when the Fifth Congress of our great Association is assembling, your Paris brothers, prevented by an iniquitous law from having themselves represented in the regular way in your midst, nevertheless consider it their sacred duty to raise their voices in the name of the socialist principles, in the name of the oppressed class of which we are all the children and the defenders, and to send you an energetic appeal.
Be on your guard against the bourgeois, they are watching you, they are encircling you, they are trying to infiltrate among us! among you.
Nay, they have already infiltrated, and their pernicious influence has already borne its fruit.
Every being obeys its nature, the jackal and the hyena like the bee and the ant. The bourgeois also obeys his nature, which is to live on the sweat and the blood of the workers.
This dangerous family is divided into several species, all maleficent, but some less to be feared than others. If there is the cynical enemy, the industrialist, the merchant, the doctrinarian, who exploit and grind us in broad daylight, as the barons of the Middle Ages formerly oppressed their fathers and ours, there are also hypocritical, liberal and liberalising, republican, democratic, demagogic, anarchist, collectivist and communist and all kinds of other bourgeois! The name is of little importance to them so long as they can perceive at the end of all their confessions of faith the possibility to have their day of power. And when that day comes, if we dare to move, if we dare to demand even peacefully the fulfilment of the promises they made when we were the steps by which they ascended, bang!... rifles and machine guns achieve marvels, and our friends of yesterday shoot us with greater gusto and ferocity than any monarch by divine right.
It is these bourgeois that we call on you to be on your guard against, it is they that we urge you to reject from your midst; for they have already infiltrated your ranks.
This calls for an explanation.
You know, at least in part, the history of the latest events which have taken place in our country; you know how old provokers of revolution treated us when it was a matter of defending their ministerial portfolio or merely their seat as deputy; you learned to your stupor that human blood had flowed in the gutter and that "for eight days and eight nights" they turned "the Paris of the Revolution into an immense human slaughterhouse", and you have been able to see once again what concern the bourgeois show for the demands of the oppressed proletariat when they have come to power.
We must tell you everything; the Versaillais were not the only culprits, they were not the only bourgeois whose dupes and victims we were.
What were the leaders of the Commune? Workers? No! Most of them were only bourgeoisifying bourgeois. The most honest among them many a time denied even the existence of a social question, they defended and rehashed to surfeit the principles of authoritarian Jacobinism. If these men came to place themselves at the head of a movement which was socialist by its origin and federalist by its consequences, it was only to seize a dictatorial power, which, we know full well now, they would have abused very soon to drive back into the deepest social abyss the aspirations of the real working classes.
By their forgetfulness when they had come to supreme power one can judge what would have been their line of action following their triumph.
Did they have any concern for social reforms? Did they decree the slightest socialist measure? Did they begin to lay the foundations of social liquidation? Did they at least declare that in the social state which they wished to establish the worker would be ensured against starvation and being abandoned at the corner of the opulent boulevards of the revolutionary city?
No, they did nothing! They stipulated nothing for those who were dying under their orders. They were in power, that had to suffice. And how many among them had long been the shame of our party? Bar-loungers, guzzlers of absiuth, with no avowable means of subsistence, former agents provocateurs of the Empire, all kinds of infamy had found refuge in this group, for which one quality was sufficient: to be a bourgeois!
The real workers who became members of the revolutionary government of Paris, too ignorant and too weak, and above all too timorous, let themselves be carried away by the loud-mouthed bourgeois, who, far more numerous, incapable of doing anything themselves, would let nothing be done without them.
That is the truth about the Paris Commune, and if anybody dared to try to disprove us, we would reply with names and facts. And yet it is these men that our General Council welcomed with open arms, after the struggle, without any discrimination, approved all their actions, in a word, made common cause with them, thus inconsiderately committing the whole International Working Men's Association!
It did not suit us immediately after the defeat to deprive them, by warning you, of the assistance to which every exile has a right. And then, where were we ourselves! In the cellars of Versailles, at Satory, on the prison-ships.
But today, when sufficient time has passed, today, when after having recovered ourselves and checked our impressions one against the other, we have come to a conviction; today at last, when we see these men, after having struck a terrible blow at the cause of the workers in France, preparing to continue their treacherous work in other countries with the support of their like in every race and every language, today, comrades, we come to say to you: Beware of the bourgeois! Beware of the aristocrats!
The International is divided, the International is in danger of dislocation, if not of death; germs of discord have appeared in the midst of our fraternal Association. On whom must we lay the responsibility? Is it the workers who felt the need to resurrect the antagonism of races? Is it the workers who, burning with the desire to create a pontificate for themselves, did not fear to provoke violent enmities? Are they workers, those who, always mouthing such words as the emancipation of the proletariat, wax fat on the labour of slaves, white or black, flaunt before the world their bourgeois leisures? No, they are not workers!
And yet there are men of that condition among us, their names are on all your lips. But there is worse still: by our weakness we have allowed such bourgeois, their coteries, their henchmen, their cliques, to incarnate in some way our great Association and to be regarded by the whole world as the grand masters of the International.
We protest with the most violent indignation in the name of those who died in defence of social ideas, against this sacrilege and this usurpation.
You will not allow this state of affairs to persist.
How can we achieve this?
By a return to principles.
This situation is the natural consequence of a fault, a violation of the principles of the basic agreement. This fault and this violation were committed at the Geneva Congress in 1866 by the adoption of Article 8 of the Rules, which is worded as follows:
"Everybody who acknowledges and defends the principles of the Association is eligible to become a member."
True, the article adds:
"but on the responsibility of the section which admits him".
This responsibility is illusory, as facts have well proved, since it is owing to this Article 8 that the enemy has infiltrated our ranks, that he has seized the direction of our army and tried to turn it to the profit of his ambitions, his ideas, and his bourgeois and aristocratic rancour.
Another fault has been not to have regulated the composition of sections, which could have been done without prejudice to the autonomy of these constituent groups of our society, an autonomy which is as dear to us as to anybody else.
The character of the bourgeois, like that of every decadent class, is individualistic, egoistic; once it has attained its aims, the bourgeoisie can understand only one thing: enjoyment!
The worker's nature, on the contrary, inclines him to group, to the Association.
But the Association is not an arbitrary fact taking place at the caprice of hazard; on the contrary, it is subject like everything else to the laws of nature. The first of these laws is community of interests, the prime source of the feeling of solidarity.
Under the influence of this feeling workers of the same trade group and associate for the purpose of collective defence; they later unite with those who, in the same town, practise other trades; then they league up with their brothers in other towns; then, there finally comes the great International Working Men's Association, which extends its emancipatory action to the whole world.
But it is not absolutely like this, as we know, that things happened. It was necessary, at a certain moment, to found the International Association, although there were as yet only very few corporative societies founded. The oppressed, too much inclined to despair, had to be inspired with courage and confidence. But that could not destroy the natural law of which we have spoken, according to which the great Association represents the general interest, and the small associations represent the particular interests of groups. And the natural groups in our society are the corporative groups.
That, comrades, is what has brought us to the opinion, henceforth firmly rooted in our minds, that in not making the corporative group the basis of the International Working Men's Association the Geneva Congress committed a grave error.
Comrades, This error must be corrected as soon as possible.
Consequently, after due deliberation, the Paris Section of Workers' Rights voted the following resolutions to be conveyed to the General Congress being held at The Hague on September 2:
that the International Association constituted in London on September 28, 1864 has as its purpose "the emancipation of the working classes by the working classes themselves";
that in keeping with this declaration no person who is not a worker should be able to be admitted to the said Association to cooperate in the aim it pursues;
that consequently Article 8 of the General Rules voted at the Geneva Congress contradicts the first declaration of principles;
it is important, when the germs of dissolution are felt within the Association, that the latter should return to the principles on which it is based and which make its strength;
The Section of Workers' Rights is of the opinion that Article 8 must be annulled and replaced by another which could be formulated as follows:
"No person shall be able to become a member of the Association or be admitted as such by a section if he is not a real worker practising a trade and living on the product of his work."
that the International Association has as its purpose the defence of the material and moral interests of the workers;
that these interests are subdivided not only territorially according to the countries, provinces, communes inhabited by the workers, but also according to the corporative groups;
the Paris Section of Workers' Rights thinks it appropriate to introduce into the General Rules a new article which could be formulated as follows:
"It will be obligatory for sections to be composed of workers of one and the same trade, actually practising that trade and living on the product of that practice.
"Nobody will be allowed, if he is not an active member of a section, to be called to any function within that section, or to be delegated by it to any congress, local, national or general."
By adopting this project, and by it alone, you will put an end to the evils threatening our society, for you will root out the infamous and ignoble bourgeois spirit from our midst for ever.
Greetings and labour for all!
The Paris Section of the Workers' Rights
Chairman: Voyez, 15, Rue de Puebla, gilder
Vice-Chairman: Werner, 47, Rue de Charenton, cabinet-maker
Vice-Chairman: Dupuis, Aubervilliers, leather-dresser
Secretary: J.Caron, 8, Rue Larrey, bookbinder.
Submitted to the Congress at the ninth sitting,
September 5, 1872