The International Workingmen's Association, 1872
Written: in French by Emile Aubry, though signed "H.R' -- Henri Richard, Aubry's pen-name for the Belgian newspaper L'Internationale. Aubry, leader of the Rouen section, represented it at all International congresses -- except The Hague Congress, as he was under threat
of arrest for being a member of the Paris Commune;
Translated: by Richard Dixon & Alex Miller, for Progress Publishers, 1976.
Transcribed: by email@example.com.
The terrible events which marked the recent battles of the proletariat since the Basle Congress have imposed silence on the defeated members of the Paris Commune who in their enthusiasm neglected the simplest lessons of history, which teaches us that in order to triumph over the obstacles to its advance humanity is by no means accustomed to revive the old traditions of the past.
Used to thinking only through others, the valiant people of Paris was wrong to trust the defence of its rights, which are those of humanity, to men most of whom were of good faith but too much imbibed with the political prejudices which have caused the abortion of all attempts at revolution since 1789.
The time has not yet come to judge impartially the acts of the short period when socialism was in power.
We can only express regret and sympathy for the memorable struggle of labour against the coalition of those who enjoy the privileges of capital.
The situation in which we have been placed since our defeat deprives us of the possibility to have the Normandy Federation represented directly and to bring you our modest contribution to the eminently civilising work which you are going to continue. Prudence and the very interest of our cause force us to remain on the ground of the revolution until public opinion has done justice to the ignoble calumny so outrageously spread against the principles and the cause which our common Association defends.
Insistently advised by those who place their trust in me not to expose my freedom and the existence of my family uselessly, I have been authorised to choose a representative entrusted with conveying to you in my name and that of the Normandy members of the Association a summary of our desiderata:
The relations I had with Citizen F. [Faillet] during my brief stay in Brussels have determined me to choose him as our representative.
We rely on your devotedness and your kindness to give him a good welcome and to accept from him the following few lines.
Time and circumstances have not allowed us to send you a more detailed exposition of the principles which we have always professed, and which, being already known to you, would probably be superfluous.
Comrade F. will supplement with the energy of his convictions and his devotedness the omissions which our wishes contain owing to the fact that we have been unable to obtain the order of the questions to be discussed at our Congress.
In face of the attacks of which the International Working Men's Association has been the object, above all in France since the events of the Commune, and attacked, if not struck down, by the drastic law [Dufaure's law] voted by the representatives of the bourgeois at Versailles under the influence of hatred and fear, we believe the Congress must try to raise the banner of the proletariat again by affirming the principle of internationality which our adversaries cannot attack without risk for themselves, so that the oppressed may know that they have always the right to join hands across the frontiers.
Our federation would be pleased to see the Congress work out a clear and precise programme of the principles of our Association so as to prove to the ignorant that we are indeed the true representatives of Liberty, Property, Family and Country in accordance with the progress achieved by modern science.
The undersigned has already had the honour, which he would have liked to share also today, to submit to former congresses in the name of the Rouen Federation his opinions on the questions cited above.
We have affirmed, comrades, individual property, communal and national autonomy.
As regards the family, we have always pronounced in favour of its maintenance, without which we cannot conceive civilisation.
Freedom of conscience has always been the supreme law of our line of conduct.
We persist in affirming our principles, and we are convinced that the triumph of the proletariat, which we do not separate from the International, cannot be achieved without recognition of the said principles.
From the purely economic standpoint we continue likewise to deny any allowance for capital, which we regard as the source of all our misery.
We shall only consider the people as emancipated when Capital recognises that it is the fruit of Labour.
As for politics, we continue to affirm that they will not be true and profitable for all until the ballot or some fateful event has placed Labour at the head of the administration of the Commune, that is to say until power is in the hands of the working classes. In practice we are convinced that Labour will triumph only by implementing solidarity on a large scale because it alone is capable of achieving the desideratum of the International, "the emancipation of the working classes by the working classes themselves".
Unfortunately, the obstacles which the bourgeoisie will raise to the development of solidarity will appear to delay the progress of justice and make us fear that the triumph will one day be the result of a brutal clash of interests.
However, after the struggles which socialism maintained under the Empire and for the past two years, it is absolutely necessary that the courageous and enlightened men who are to be found in all the social strata should seek and offer means to overcome ignorance, our ;common enemy, so that the transition should be more certain and less painful.
The ruling classes, as they call themselves, far from striving to make the advancement of the people easy and peaceful as the most elementary moral laws require, declare on the contrary that they will make use of everything to perpetuate modern slavery; never, they declare, will wage labour be abolished: it is indispensable for civilisation! Thus argued the slave-owners of antiquity!
The idea that the proletariat will soon emancipate itself bewilders that section of the people which, it claims, achieved success by the sole power of its intelligence, and makes it advance the movement.
Profoundly ignorant of the causes which are hastening society's ruin, that section of the people persists in accelerating the movement instead of slowing lit down by a few sacrifices.
Supported by the ignorance of a large portion of our class, the bourgeoisie, more prepared to increase its enjoyment than to decrease it, rushes head down to destruction.
Cupidity makes it increase the debt and the power of monopoly to a point where the already considerable disorder in the organisation of its degenerate [economy increases incessantly.
To make matters worse, through the intermediary of him who personifies its hatred of all reforms which could advance the transformation, it has just blindly voted taxes on what it foolishly calls raw materials.
Thus the movement, somewhat suspended by the material victory, will resume with greater intensity, helped by those who have most supported privileges.
That is why we said above that socialism only appears to be delayed in its advance.
The moral disorder reigning everywhere confirms the imminence of our triumph, because it is the harbinger of transformation and because the crassest ignorance dominates all the economic measures our adversaries will take; they seem to have made a pact with contradiction to hasten the disintegration of the social atoms.
Observation of historical facts shows that humanity is moving incessantly towards the implementation of an ideal which ensures a greater sum of moral and material well-being.
This same observation teaches us that the classes which guide humanity towards these conquests disappear when they no longer grasp the moral significance of the upward movement.
According to the study of social science and of history in recent years, everything proves that the bourgeoisie has not only ceased to understand the moral significance of the human movement, but that moreover it has become an obstacle to the development of the discoveries humanity has made by science, which it seeks to apply only for the purpose of its own exclusive enjoyment.
And again according to these same observations, it is an incontestable fact that the castes which have become decrepit must disappear to be superseded by classes which have greater respect for morality and for justice.
The dissolution of morals in the class which achieved emancipation before us has reached such a degree that it is high time to put an end to it, and as labour alone is capable of infusing morality, because it demands an application of intelligence and a sustained occupation which diverts the mind from the material sensualism inherent in sloth, it is labour which must take the helm.
The only objection is this: does the worker possess the qualities necessary to administer society? We believe, after the short period of his activity in the Commune, that the worker can today, without fear of creating chaos, take the place of those who really constitute the disorder in all branches of society; to become convinced of this it is sufficient to consider the votes of the Versailles Assembly. We know that it will be further objected that the fact that we have been defeated is proof that we have not the requisite qualities to direct a society such as we understand it.
To this we shall reply that labour is the antipode of war, it defends itself only in producing, and if it was defeated the reason was that it was naive enough to entrust its battalions to those who said that, being specialists in defence, they ensured its future victory, and because labour, with its habitual trust, believed what these men said to ingratiate themselves with its rising power.
And then, does not the future belong to production? After the great clash, will destruction be anything else than the consumption of the products feeding exchange?
No, our adversaries' argument is inadmissible, and they admit this themselves: they affirm that the workers today possess all that is necessary to administer themselves, for what makes us different from our predecessors is that we lay no claim to governing others.
We only take care of our own affairs, that is the whole solution.
Our federation relies on you, comrades, to assert the political and economic ability of our class by a clear and definitive programme declaring to the whole world that it is we who want order, the family and property.
We ask you in the name of liberty and justice, the fruit of our immortal year 89, to proclaim loudly to everybody that the proletariat will consider itself emancipated only on condition:
1. That the individual ownership of the product is available to all those who work, and is not a privilege granted to those who produce nothing.
2. That property which cannot be divided without violating social harmony is placed under the control of the corporation, commune, canton, the departments or zone and of the national administration.
By collective property we mean the railways, roads and waterways linking the commune with the canton and the zone, and all the territorial divisions.
The post, telegraph and all public services as well as the equipment, on condition, of course, that each of these properties is under the control of the respective authorities.
For example, the equipment which plays the biggest role in social organisation must belong to the corporations or working-class companies which use it to work up materials.
3. That all private and collective interests are protected by the application of federative principles.
4. That authority based on centralisation is mercilessly eliminated as the most brutal and shameless expression of the communism against which the Revolution in France has been fighting for 80 years.
5. That all the monopolies without exception are abolished, including that on education.
6. That the working-class associations are charged everywhere with carrying out public works according to corporate tariffs sanctioned by the trade federations sitting in the capitals of states or nations.
7. That the greatest liberty is granted to all religions except when they are an impediment to science.
8. That the inviolability of the family is formally declared and respected for the civil emancipation of woman.
9. Finally the proletariat will be emancipated only when labour can determine freely the relative value of its products according to a standard adopted by the national federations and when capital is truly only the accumulation of savings or products without any allowances under any pretext whatever.
10. As the synthesis of its emancipation the proletariat declares that it bases the equality of producers, without distinction of race, on mutuality in the etymological meaning, that is, reciprocity of loans, synonymous with the noble motto of the International Association:
No duties without rights, no rights without duties.
If, as we do not doubt, the Congress draws up the programme of the organic principles of society's economic transformation, we hope that it will present it in the sense which our federation has just had the honour to submit to it.
We are convinced that this programme, perhaps with a clearer exposition, will contribute to refute the calumnies which our enemies heap on us and will facilitate an increase in the number of those who adhere to our principles.
It will also have the immense advantage of destroying the drastic law made to frighten the timid by destroying entirely the considerations which led to the law and which attribute to us ideas the majority of the members of the International have never had.
From the point of view of the general administration of the Association, we desire that the General Council should only be, as it is said in our Rules, the executor of the will of the Congress, and that the principle of authority should be eliminated more and more from its midst.
Let the regional federal committees have control over the activities of the sections so that these will not violate the federal pact, and let them equally have the right to suspend a delinquent section pending the assembly of the Congress, which will take the final decision.
The spirit of conciliation which will inspire the members of the Congress is for us a certain guarantee that all difficulties will be smoothed out and that the Congress will have at heart to devote the greater part of its sittings to working out a programme which will make all honest men who are still hesitant to give us their enlightened cooperation energetic and devoted adherents.
We leave to Comrade Faillet the defence of our interests in the discussion of unforeseen issues.
Penetrated with the importance of this Congress, we send all the members our sincere sympathy and remain their devoted comrades.
On behalf of the Normandy Federation
[Henri Richard, pseudonym of Emile Aubry]
Submitted to the Congress at the fifteenth sitting,
September 7, 1872