Minutes of the General Council of the First International 1872

Council Meeting
May 14th, 1872

Source: Marx and Engels on Ireland, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1971;
First Published: in The General Council of the First International. 1871-1872. Minutes;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

The excerpt is taken from pp 448-453 of the Minute Book and are in Hales’s hand.

Citizen Serraillier in the chair.

Members present: Citizens Boon, Barry, Cournet, Delahaye, Eccarius, Engels, Arnaud, Frankel, Hales, Jung, Lessner, Mayo, Martin, McDonnell, Milner, Mottershead, Murray, Le Moussu, Rühl, Serraillier, Townshend, Vaillant and Yarrow.

The Minutes of the preceding meeting having been read and confirmed, the Secretary [Hales] read a declaration from Citizen Weston, to the effect that his name had been appended to the document, purporting to be the rules of the Universal Federalist Council of the International,[390] without his knowledge. This document was signed by Weston in the presence of Eccarius, Roach and himself, and he told them that he visited one of the meetings of the dissentients, but he went upon invitation, unofficially, and knew nothing of any intention to publish. He disagreed with the publication, though he did consider a competent tribunal had a right to arraign the General Council; what he meant by a competent tribunal was a body of men still within the International. He had a complaint against the Council himself, and that was that his name had been used without letting him know of any intention to publish. He knew the Council had a right to use the name of the members, but he thought that out of courtesy information ought to be sent to all, so as to give them an opportunity to be present if they wished. He felt very strongly upon the point because when he did attend the Council he was treated very cavalierly by certain members if he happened to disagree with them. He did write a letter in answer to the second one, but found he was too late for post when he had finished. No slight whatever was intended.

A motion was carried accepting the reply as satisfactory and it was ordered to be sent for publication in the report.

Citizen Engels reported that the seat of the new Federal Council of Spain had been fixed at Valencia; he had received the first letter; Lorenzo was the new secretary. He asked for the addresses of all the other Federal Councils.

Citizen McDonnell reported that the movement was progressing in Cork and Dublin. He read a letter from a correspondent in Dublin, which expressed a hope that the journals of the Association would avoid any articles expressing atheistical opinions, or condemnation of Catholicism, as anything of the kind would do great damage in Ireland, which opinion Citizen McDonnell endorsed.

Citizen Yarrow announced that the Alliance Cabinet-Makers (who were members) had formed an amalgamation with the East (End) London Cabinet-Makers, and it had been resolved that all fresh jobs should be taken as daywork and the prices based upon time.

Citizen Hales reported that Messrs. Shaen and Roscoe had sent a letter informing the Council that Mr. Wilkinson of St. George’s Hall had consented to pay the damages asked for, upon production of receipts.

A suggestion was made by Citizen Barry that the Council should celebrate the fall of the Commune; but as no proposition was made, the matter fell through.

Citizen Hales proposed “That in the opinion of the Council the formation of Irish nationalist branches in England is opposed to the General Rules and principles of the Association.” He said he brought forward the motion in no antagonism to the Irish members, but he thought the policy being pursued (is) fraught with the greatest danger to the Association, besides being in antagonism to the Rules and principles. The fundamental principle of the Association was to destroy all semblance of the nationalist doctrine, and remove all barriers that separated man from man, and the formation of either Irish or English branches could only retard the movement instead of helping it on. The formation of Irish branches in England could only keep alive that national antagonism which had unfortunately so long existed between the people of the two countries. Misunderstandings would arise — nay, had arisen, and there was almost certain to be conflicts between the different sections upon important matters of policy. The Secretary for Liverpool [George Gilroy] wrote and said he understood an Irish section had been formed in Liverpool, but he didn’t know where it was, nor what it was doing; did that savour of international harmony? A section had been formed in Middlesbrough based upon the section which previously existed in that town — and it had decided that it should not be called an Irish section but simply the Middlesbrough section. Yet when Citizen Roach wrote and asked the section to correspond with the Federal Council, he received an answer telling him virtually to mind his own business and informing him that if he wanted to know anything about the section he could apply to Citizen McDonnell. So that jealousy had already arisen. No one knew what the Irish branches were doing, and in their rules they stated that they were republican, and their first object was to liberate Ireland from a foreign domination. Now he contended that the International had nothing to do with liberating Ireland, nor with the setting up of any particular form of government, either in England or Ireland, and it was the duty of the Council to prevent any mistake upon the subject by passing the resolution he proposed. If such was not done they would have splits which perhaps could not be healed.

Citizen Mayo seconded.

Citizen Mottershead could not escape from the logic of the motion, but he deprecated the spirit in which it was made The speech of Citizen Hales showed the animus with which he was actuated, and, seeing that, he could not vote for the motion. He would rather vote for a motion recommending our English members to cultivate a spirit of fraternity with the Irish members. He unfortunately knew too well the domineering spirit with which Englishmen of the ignorant class treated their Irish brethren. They had been treated as aliens in a foreign land, and were looked down upon by the English workers much the same as the mean Whites of the South looked down upon Negroes. He objected to the style and manner of the Secretary’s speech and he hoped the Council would show its feeling upon the matter by rejecting the motion.

Citizen McDonnell quite agreed with Mottershead that it was desirable that Englishmen should cultivate a fraternal feeling with the Irish, and he thought such speeches as that delivered by Citizen Hales were the most injurious it was possible to conceive. Why, the speech he made when he gave notice of motion, had it been reported, would have prevented the establishment of the Association in Ireland and would have destroyed all hopes of doing so. It seemed very strange that the General Secretary should, at the moment when there were dangers and difficulties attending the work of propaganda in Ireland, come forward with a motion which would virtually destroy the work that had been done. It looked suspicious. Why, to ask Irishmen to give up their nationality was to insult them. He was proud to say that he had worked for the redemption of Ireland and would continue to do so; it was impossible to crush out the aspirations of the Irish people. The only effect of the passing of the resolution proposed would be to prevent Irishmen joining. He would ask what had been done before he joined the Council to extend the Association among Irishmen. Nothing! And now [that) he had done something it was proposed to undo it.

Citizen Boon was sorry that the motion should have been brought on, though he was not surprised that the Secretary should have done so. The Normans conquered Ireland and held her in subjection by the aid of their Saxon serfs, and the motion made meant that the rule of the Saxon should still continue. The same spirit of domination was still rampant in the minds of some of the English working men. He approved of the nationalist character of the Irish people’s organisations and he hoped they would still continue and not be coerced into giving up their rights either by the English Government or the English working class. He was strongly of an opinion that Hales did not understand the Irish character; he would protest against the passage of the motion.

Citizen Engels said the real purpose of the motion, stripped of all hypocrisy, was to bring the Irish sections into subjection to the British Federal Council, a thing to which the Irish sections would never consent, and which the Council had neither the right nor the power to impose upon them. According to the Rules and Regulations, the Council had no power to compel any section or branch to acknowledge the supremacy of any Federal Council. It was certainly bound, before admitting or rejecting any new branch within the jurisdiction of a Federal Council, to consult that Council, but he maintained that the Irish sections in England were no more under the jurisdiction of the British Federal Council than the French, German, Italian or Polish sections in this country. The Irish formed a distinct nationality of their own, and the fact that (they) used the English language could not deprive them of their rights. Citizen Hales had spoken of the relations of England and Ireland being of the most idyllic nature — breathing nothing but harmony. But the case was quite different. There was the fact of seven centuries of English conquest and oppression of Ireland, and so long as that oppression existed, it would be an insult to Irish working men to ask them to submit to a British Federal Council. The position of Ireland with regard to England was not that of an equal, but that of Poland with regard to Russia. What would be said if the Council called upon Polish sections to acknowledge the supremacy of a Council sitting in Petersburg, or the North Schleswig and Alsatian sections to submit to a Federal Council in Berlin? Yet that was asked by the motion. It was asking the conquered people to forget their nationality and submit to their conquerors. It was not Internationalism, but simply prating submission. If the promoters of the motion were so brimful of the truly international spirit, let them prove it by removing the seat of the British Federal Council to Dublin and submit to a Council of Irishmen. In a case like that of the Irish, true Internationalism must necessarily be based upon a distinct national organisation, and they were under the necessity to state in the preamble to their rules that their first and most pressing duty as Irishmen was to establish their own national independence. The antagonism. ... [The record breaks off here; 15 lines are left blank in the Minute Book. See the full text of Engels’s speech]

Citizen Murray didn’t regret the discussion though it had all been on one side. Citizen Hales seemed to imagine that unity could be obtained by putting down the Irish branches. He thought that a mistake. The Irish could not forget all at once 700 years of English misrule and it must be remembered that the English workmen had not treated the Irish as they ought to have done. It was only yesterday that the columns of the newspapers used to contain the stereotyped advertisement “That no Irish need apply” and the passage of the resolution would be virtually saying no Irish need apply.

Citizen Hales said all the speeches made in opposition really proved his case. It was admitted that the Irish did not understand the principles of the International, for all the speakers urged that if the word “Irish” was struck out of the names of the branches, the Irish would not join, which was only saying that they were national and not international. He had been told he didn’t understand the Irish character — well, he thought he did, and that was the reason he brought on his motion. He believed the majority of the members of the Irish branches did not understand the principles of the Association; as the correspondent of the Standard said: They were only Fenians under another name, and they became members of the International because they saw that it would be a convenient cloak under which to prosecute their special designs — and he objected to that not because he had any objection to Fenianism, but because he wanted the Association [to bel free from special sects or cliques. He had advocated Fenianism for he held that the Irish like other people had a right to govern themselves; the right of self-government was inalienable, and no people could be deprived of that right; he should like to see Ireland ruling herself tomorrow for he was convinced that the Irish themselves would then wake from their enchantment and find that nationalism was no remedy for the ills of society.

He asked them to pass the motion and thus prevent future mischief.

The motion was put and lost, only one voting in favour.

A short discussion then took place on the advisability of reporting the discussion and it was decided that Citizen Hales should draw up a report to be submitted on Saturday.

The Council adjourned at 11.30.



390. The Universal Federalist Council was formed early in 1872 of representatives of the 1871 French section which had not been accepted into the International, of various bourgeois and petty-bourgeois organisations, Lassalleans, who had been expelled from the London German Workers’ Educational Association, and other elements. This body pretended to the leadership of the international working-class movement, including the International. The organisers of the Universal Council claimed, in particular, that the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association was not a legitimate body.