Minutes of The General Council of the First International. 1866-1868


This volume presents, for the first time in the language of the original, the Minutes of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association-the First International-for the period between September 18, 1866 and September 1, 1868. These continue the Minutes for the period between October 5, 1864 and August 21, 1866, published in the book The General Council of the First International. 1864-1866. The London Conference, 1865. Minutes, Foreign Languages Publishing House (now Progress Publishers), Moscow.

The first general Congress of the International, held in Geneva between September 3 and 8, 1866, consummated the formative period of the International as a mass international organisation of the proletariat. It approved the activities of the Council as a provisional guiding body, re-elected it for another term in its previous composition, and approved the first programme documents: the Inaugural Address and the Provisional Rules of the International Working Men’s Association. In these two documents, which were drawn up by Marx in October 1864, the aims and paths of the proletariat’s struggle for liberation were formulated in the most general terms acceptable to representatives of the various trends then predominating in the working class. In drawing up these documents, Marx proceeded from the assumption that the community of action established by the International Working Men’s Association, the exchange of ideas which was facilitated by the press of the different national sections, and the discussions at general congresses should gradually lead to the creation of a common theoretical programme, based on the principles of scientific socialism.

In guiding the activities of the General Council and drawing up its documents and the congress resolutions, Marx strove first and foremost to link up the workers’ separate demands, and the various forms of their struggle, with the chief aim of the proletarian movement-the overthrow of the capitalist system and the construction of a new, communist society. It was in this spirit that, in the “Instructions for the Delegates of the Provisional General Council” (1866), Marx formulated the drafts of the basic resolutions, adopted by the Geneva Congress, on the cooperative movement and the trade unions.

However, neither the first programme documents nor the resolutions of the Geneva Congress dealt with the cardinal problem of the socialist reconstruction of society, namely, the problem of property relations. It was only the Brussels Congress (September 6-13, 1868), which passed a resolution on the economic necessity of converting the land, mines, railways, etc., into collective property, that openly proclaimed socialist principles in the International. However, before that could become possible, Marx, Engels, and their comrades had to work very hard to rally all socialistically minded elements in the International. Of particular importance for the success of this work was the further consolidation of the proletarian-revolutionary nucleus that already held the views of scientific socialism and, with the publication of Vol. I of Capital in the autumn of 1867, received a powerful theoretical weapon for the struggle against reformism and bourgeois ideology. The propaganda of the economic doctrine of Marxism in the working-class press, and in the first place Engels’s popular writings on Capital, played a decisive part in this progress. This is testified to by the mention of Capital in the

Minutes of the General Council and in other documents o the International for those years.

The documents, published in this volume in the language of the original, are a valuable source for the study of this period in the history of the international working class movement. They throw light on the efforts made by the founders of Marxism to evolve a socialist programme for the proletariat’s first mass organisation; they show how great programmatic principles took shape in. the course of struggle, principles which have been preserved and are being enriched by the new historical experience of the C.P.S.U. and the other Marxist-Leninist parties.

During this period, the General Council carried on its activities in conditions of a further upsurge of the strike movement in connection with the economic crisis that set in in the autumn of 1866, and the general growth of the world working-class movement. The numerical increase of the International and its mounting influence in an ever greater number of countries confronted the General Council-and Marx and Engels as the actual leaders of the International Working Men’s Association-with the important task of educating new members in the spirit of proletarian internationalism.

The years 1867 and 1868 were marked by serious, economic disputes, lock-outs, and strikes. For the workers, who were taking their first steps along the road of struggle against the capitalist system, their participation in the strike movement, under the guidance of the International, was an excellent school of international solidarity. The General Council’s direct help to various detachments of the working class in their day-by-day struggle for better working conditions greatly enhanced the prestige of the International Working Men’s Association. The General Council was the headquarters to which workers of different countries were constantly applying for advice and help.

Characteristic in this connection was the arrival in London of delegates of the Paris and Geneva workers (see pp. 99 and 202 of the present volume) to meet the leaders of the International. The General Council’s active and fruitful intervention in the strikes produced panic among the factory owners, who now demanded that their workers, should leave the International, and attempted to bring about the banning and disbandment of its organisations.

The Minutes reveal the General Council’s highly important role during the Paris bronze-workers’ strike in February and March 1867. The General Council published an appeal to British *Working men for material aid to the strikers. Thanks to help’ from the General Council the Paris workers received considerable monetary aid from the British trade unions, this determining the successful outcome of the strike.

In connection with the shooting down of Belgian miners and iron-workers at Marchienne (see the Minutes of the Council meeting of February 26, 1867), the General Council published an appeal to the miners and iron-workers of Great Britain (pp. 280-82), urging them to give every support to the victims, whose families received aid in money.

In the spring of 1868, the General Council again gave firm support to the struggle of the workers of the Charleroi coalfield in Belgium. Besides moral support, the General Council also organised material aid for the striking miners. Similar aid was given to the building workers of Geneva in March-April 1868. The General Council urged all workers to help the Geneva builders and, thanks to support from the proletariat of Britain, Switzerland, France, and Germany, the building workers of Geneva won their strike.

The resolution on the economic struggle, as passed by the Geneva Congress, was the basis of the General Council’s guidance of this aspect of the International’s activities. As Lenin wrote: “The resolution adopted at that Congress spoke explicitly Of the importance of the economic struggle and warned the socialists and the workers, on the one hand, against exaggerating its importance (which the British workers. were inclined to do at that time) and, on the other, against underestimating its importance (which the French and the Germans, particularly the Lassalleans, were inclined to do)” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 4, Moscow, 1960, p. 176).

The International’s rapid growth and the formation of sections, which drew into their ranks ever new numbers of the working class, greatly increased the responsibilities of the General Council, and called for constant activity on its part. The duties of the corresponding secretaries for the different countries included perusal of the workers’ newspapers published in the respective countries. These secretaries kept the newspapers informed of the Council’s activities and the movement in other countries, and systematically reported to the Council on their contents. Thus, all newspapers and journals that dealt with the International’s activities were always within the purview of the General Council, at whose meetings members informed their colleagues of the new working-class newspapers that had come into existence in the various countries.

This information, like the numerous letters and reports from local sections, dealt with at the Council’s weekly meetings, testified, on the one hand, to the growth of class consciousness in newly recruited working men, but, on the other hand, sometimes also indicated the immaturity and utopian nature of their views. Against that back ground, the great significance stands out of the guidance provided by Marx and Engels as leaders of the first mass organisation of the international proletariat. The Minutes reveal Marx’s unflagging and patient day-by-day struggle against sectarianism in all its varieties, and his efforts to rally all detachments of the international proletariat around common demands reflecting the basic interests of the working class and ensuring the conditions for its complete emancipation from wage slavery.

In the General Council, Dupont, Lafargue, and Jung-Marx and Engels’s disciples and followers-waged a stubborn and systematic struggle against the influence of the petty-bourgeois ideology of Proudhonism on members of the International in France, Belgium, and Romance part of Switzerland. An important part in this struggle was played by the publication of the official report of the Geneva Congress, whose work was being distorted by the Proudhonist and bourgeois press. The Minutes of the General Council meetings in the final months of 1866 reveal the efforts made by Council members to get published the documents of the Geneva Congress, which were of tremendous importance for the propaganda of the ideas of the International. With the direct participation of Marx, the General Council was able to publish the official report in English and French.

The prosecution of the International’s Paris section by the government of Napoleon Ill was important in helping the French workers outgrow the Proudhonist practice of standing aside in the political struggle. The sentence passed on the members of the Paris section was an excellent refutation of the slanderous accusation, levelled by the bourgeois republicans against the International in France, alleging that they were aiding and abetting Bonapartism. The materials of the trial, which were extensively dealt with in the press and then brought out by the section as a booklet, were a source of propaganda of the International’s ideas in France, and helped give shape to the Left Proudhonist trend, whose representatives, Varlin and others, gradually adopted a stand close to scientific socialism.

Despite the excellent traditions of proletarian internationalism established by the activities of Marx and Engels as leaders of the Communist League, and in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in 1848-49, the spread of the ideas of the International in Germany was hampered by the sectarian character of the Lassallean General Union of German Workers. A constant struggle against Lassalleanist influence on the German proletariat was waged by Marx and Engels and by their disciples and followers Wilhelm Liebknecht and August Bebel, who headed the movement for the unification of the German workers’ societies. As Corresponding Secretary for Germany, Marx used all his influence to spread the ideas of the International in Germany, kept the General Council systematically informed of the successes scored by the movement, and was able to get a representative of the General Council sent to the Nuremberg Congress of the League of German Workers’ Unions in September 1868. The Congress came out in favour of Joining the International and played an important part in the formation of a revolutionary proletarian party in Germany.

A significant contribution to propagation of the International’s ideas in Germany was made by Johann Philipp Becker and the Central Committee of the German-speaking Geneva sections. This Committee was, until 1869, the actual organising centre of the sections that existed illegally in Germany. Besides, the growth of the International in Germany was the result of an influx of new individual members.

The activities of Becker, who constantly corresponded with Marx and other Council members, were also of tremendous importance in spreading the International’s ideas in Switzerland. Becker, who held a proletarian-revolutionary stand, waged a ceaseless struggle against Proudhonist ideas, which were exerting a considerable influence on International members in Romance part of Switzerland. He was active in the co-operative movement which became widespread in the late sixties, and worked hard to implement the principles of workers’ co-operatives as set forth in Marx’s “Instructions” to the Geneva Congress. The rules for workers’ production co-operatives, which Becker published, were widespread among Swiss and German workers, and were used. by many sections of the International in Switzerland.

The middle of 1867 saw systematic links established between the General Council and the U.S.A., through William Sylvis and the National Labour Union, as well as through Friedrich Adolf Sorge, the German Communist, who represented the proletarian elements among German political emigrants in the U.S.A. Marx corresponded with Sorge paying a good deal of attention to his activities that helped the ideas of scientific communism penetrate into the American working class.

While continuing to perform for Britain the functions of a Federal Council, the General Council directed its efforts towards drawing the masses of British workers into the International. It strove to get into the International, not only numerous local trade unions, but also the London Trades Council itself, as a British section. The question of the London Trades Council’s adherence to the International was discussed for several months, and the General Council Minutes show convincingly that, against the will of the working masses, the trade-union leaders did everything possible to protract consideration of this question, and finally achieved its solution in a negative sense (pp. 48, 90-91 and elsewhere). Adopted under the influence of the reformist leaders, this decision testified to the growth of the liberal-bourgeois trend in the British trade-union leadership. Nevertheless, Marx continued to do his utmost to get individual trade unions to join the International, since he considered that this form of organisation would give the International a broad basis in the British working class. That was why John Hales’s motion that the structure of the International in England should follow the territorial principle (pp. 61 and 65) was rejected. At the same time, Marx welcomed the affiliation to the International of the National Reform League founded in 1849 by the Chartist O'Brien. This organisation, which included many former Chartists, brought into the General Council a number of British working-class leaders, who, unlike the majority of trade unionists, were convinced socialists.

With the aim of gradually isolating the opportunist trade-union leaders, Marx secured the adoption of a decision to abolish the post of President of the General Council, which had been continuously held from 1864 onwards by Odger, one of the leaders of the London Trades Council. Marx demanded a resolution of censure on Odger who, at a Reform League meeting, had praised Bismarck’s domestic policies (p. 111).

Marx’s struggle against the reformism of the trade-union leaders and their bourgeois-liberal ideology found special expression during the discussion on the Irish question. Marx pressed for the British workers’ effective support of the national-liberation movement of the oppressed Irish. In this, Marx had to overcome the inertness of the British members of the General Council and to expose the opportunist stand taken by the trade-Union leaders, with their bourgeois jingoism. Marx was the principal organiser of the General Council’s discussion on the Irish question (see the meetings of November 19, 20, and 26, 1867). He came out energetically in defence of the Irish Fenians, who were being persecuted by the British Government. The General Council commissioned him to draw up, on behalf of the International, an appeal which was presented to the Home Secretary and which called the death sentence passed on four Fenians imprisoned in Manchester an act of “political revenge” on the part of the British Government (pp. 312-13). This document exposed the trumped-up charges which had served as the grounds for the death sentence.

The Minutes published herein show the practical steps taken by the General Council in support of the national liberation movement of the Polish people. Marx inculcated in members of the General Council an irreconcilable stand towards the policy of national oppression, and made use of all opportunities to illustrate the position of consistent proletarian internationalism. He took part in a meeting held in London on January 22, 1867 to mark the anniversary of the Polish insurrection of 1863-64. At this meeting Marx spoke in support of the resolution, which stated: “That liberty cannot be established in Europe without the independence of Poland.” Marx’s role in organising this meeting and his address there were mentioned with gratitude by the Polish revolutionary emigrants in a special resolution (p. 103). When the tsar’s Paris visit evoked mass demonstrations in the French capital, in sympathy with the Polish national-liberation movement, the General Council publicly confirmed its stand on the Polish question by expressing, in the newspapers, approval of the Paris demonstrations (pp. 129-30). Oil July 14, 1868, the General Council came out with a declaration, on a motion by Marx, branding the British Government’s policy of subserviency to tsarism (p. 226). The enhanced prestige of the International Working Men’s Association, a fact recognised even in the bourgeois press, led bourgeois and petty-bourgeois leaders to heighten their efforts to subject the working-class movement in their personal or class interests. The Minutes of the General Council reflect the unyielding struggle waged by Marx and his followers Dupont and Jung against provocative acts by Felix Pyat’s entourage who represented the French petty-bourgeois emigrants and systematically slandered the General Council and the Paris members of the International. As proposed by Marx, the General Council meeting of July 7, 1868 dissociated the Council from the provocative and adventurist behaviour of Pyat, who was acting on behalf of the French branch in London (p. 224).

The Minutes published in this volume contain, besides frequent mention of Marx’s statements on various occasions, detailed records of four of his important speeches. The speech Marx made on August 13, 1867 on the International Association’s attitude towards the bourgeois-democratic League of Peace and Freedom-this while the Lausanne Congress of the International was in preparation -was partly published in the press, and, as Marx wrote to Engels on September 4, 1867, produced quite a sensation. Alarmed by Marx’s speeches, the League’s organisers made certain amendments in their original programme, though these were merely declarations on democracy and “the harmonising of economic interests with liberty.”

Of particular interest are the records of two speeches Marx made in the discussion on the agenda of the Brussels Congress. One of them dealt with “the influence of machinery in the hands of capitalists” (pp. 231-33), and the other, with the reduction of the hours of labour (pp. 243-44). The entries made by Eccarius show that Marx linked these two questions with that of the socialist reconstruction of society, pointing out that “the development of machinery creates the material conditions necessary for the superseding of the wages-system by a truly social system of production” (p. 240). In defending the demand for -an eight-hour day, Marx emphasised that this was “the first step towards the mental and physical elevation and the ultimate emancipation of the working classes” (p. 244). These two speeches, like the Minutes of the corresponding meetings of the General Council, reflect the thorough preparatory work Marx and his comrades carried out for the Brussels Congress, which played such an important part in establishing socialist principles in the world working-class movement.

The Section “From the Manuscripts of Karl Marx” contains “Notes for an Undelivered Speech on Ireland.” Marx prepared this speech for the General Council meeting of November 26, 1867. At the meeting, however, Marx decided not to speak, considering that it was politically more advisable, after the execution of the Fenians, that the protest against the British Government’s policies should come from the Englishman Fox (see Marx’s letter to Engels of November 30, 1867). The nature of the manuscript, its wealth of factual material, and its sweeping theoretical generalisations show how seriously Marx prepared for any speech he made to workers, members of the General Council.

The Section “Documents of the General Council” contains the most important documents issued by the Council between September 18, 1866 and September 1, 1868. Of these, two were written by Marx himself, namely, “The Fenian Prisoners at Manchester and the International Working Men’s Association,” and “The Fourth Annual Report of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association” as presented to the Brussels Congress of 1868. The General Council’s address regarding the Lausanne Congress, “To Members and Affiliated Societies and to All Working Men” (the French version was drawn up by Lafargue), was edited by Marx; the French version of the “Third Annual Report of the International Working Men’s Association” sent to the Lausanne Congress of 1867 was signed by Marx among other members of the Council. This section also contains the Rules and Administrative Regulations of the International Working Men’s Association, which were approved by the Geneva Congress of 1866. These Rules were based on the text of the Provisional Rules, which Marx drew up in October 1864. As for the Administrative Regulations, these were drawn up during the Geneva Congress by a committee which included, besides other Congress delegates, Eccarius, a member of the General Council. In the present volume, the Rules and Administrative Regulations are in accordance with the text of the English edition of 1867, with whose publication Marx was directly concerned (p. 182).

This section also includes three balance-sheets of the General Council, as well as several other documents written by Fox, Eccarius, Lafargue, Shaw, and other members of the General Council.

Other General Council documents of less importance in content and volume and referring to the same period have been made use of in the editorial notes.

The complete text of the General Council Minutes for the period between September 18, 1866 and September 1, 1868 is published herein for the first time in the original, in accordance with photo-copies in the Central Party Archives of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism of the C.C., C.P.S.U. in Moscow; the photo-copies have been made from the original Minute Book which !sat the London Bishopsgate Institute. The Minutes were first published in Russian by the Institute of Marxism-Leninism in a book entitled The General Council of the First International, 1866-1868. Minutes, Moscow, 1963.

The Minutes of General Council meetings between September 18, 1866 and August 29, 1867, 48 in number, are on 108 foolscap pages. In the original Minute Book ‘these are followed by the English text of the annual report made by Fox, Corresponding Secretary for America. In this volume Fox’s report has been included in the Section “Documents of the General Council.” The report is on 13 pages, followed by two pages with a later entry containing an unfinished letter, dated July 13, 1868, by an unknown writer on the eight-hour working day and addressed to the newspaper Standard. Then come the Minutes of General Council meetings held between September 17, 1867 and September 1, 1868, these on 63 pages and totalling 46 in number. Between September 25 and December 11, 1866, Peter Fox was the Council’s General Secretary. He was succeeded by Robert Shaw, who held the post until July 9, 1867. Up to the summer of 1867, most of the Minutes are in the handwriting of Shaw or Eccarius. As from June 9, 1867 Eccarius .was elected General Secretary, and most of the Minutes until September 1, 1868 are in his hand. Quite frequently the Minute Book contains, instead of a written entry, a newspaper clipping with the printed text of the Minutes. Sometimes part of the Minutes are also entered in handwriting, as a result of which one and the same fact is mentioned twice, once in print and again in handwriting. Prior to October 1867, the Minutes are usually unsigned, many of them having no titles, or with incomplete titles. In several cases the date given in the heading does not fall on a Tuesday, though Council meetings are known to have been held regularly on Tuesdays. Whenever confirmation is provided by other sources, the date has been corrected, this being mentioned in the footnotes.

The footnotes also show the condition of the manuscript, its specific features and other textological remarks; these footnotes also give the names of persons not mentioned in the text itself, references to other pages in the text, etc.

The notes at the end of the volume contain more extensive explanations, which reveal in greater detail the facts mentioned in the manuscript published. In the compilation of the notes, use has first and foremost been made of the Marx-Engels correspondence, their letters to third persons, and the correspondence between other members of the General Council and leaders of the International, all this material being kept at the Central Party Archives and the Library of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism. Wide use has been made of matter from the First International press, particularly newspaper reports of General Council meetings as published at the time in the Council’s London press organs-The Commonwealth, The Bee-Hive, The International Courier, and others. Excerpts from these reports are given whenever the facts they contain supplement the contents of the Minutes manuscripts.

This volume contains a name index, an index of periodicals, and an index of addresses and geographical names.

The contents and arrangement of the present volume correspond to those of the above-mentioned Russian edition of 1963 prepared for publication by Irene Bach, Maria Marinicheva, and Nadezhda Meshcheryakova, of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism of the C.C., C.P.S.U., under the general editorship of Irene Bach.

The originals for the English edition have been deciphered by Nina Nepomnyashchaya, of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism, and the volume has been prepared for publication by our editor, Lydia Belyakova.

No alterations have been made in the text, apart from corrections of obvious slips of the pen, misspelt words, and biographical and geographical names. Almost all abbreviations have been written out, and in some places supplementary words in square brackets have been inserted to render the text clearer to the reader.