The Second International

The First Congress(es), 1889

Two International Congresses took place in Paris in 1889 in the week of the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille (14 July). This was originally due to an internal struggle within the French movement between the “Possibilists”, led by Brousse and Allemane, and supported by the British SDF; and the “Marxists,”, led by Guesde and Lafargue, and supported by most of the German socialists and Engels.

The names 'Possibilist' and 'Marxist' were widely used at the time for the two sides in the dispute.


The French Marxists having no paper of their own at this time, much of the debate leading up to the congresses was conducted in the British socialist press. Engels was closely involved from the start, sometimes writing under his colleagues' names (in a letter to Sorge on June 8th 1889, Engels wrote "The first pamphlet, signed by Bernstein, was edited by me, like everything else that appeared in English on the subject".) His own letters provide a very detailed running commentary.

The convocations

Possibilists and Marxists competed to show that they had inherited the right to call the Congress from earlier Congresses and conferences, and later, that they had support from the larger pool of worker organizations.

The Congresses

Both Congresses later published their proceedings, the Possibilists in French and the Marxists in German. The Dutch delegates to the Marxist Congress also published their own (short) proceedings.

The proceedings for the Marxist Congress include speeches by Bebel, Clara Zetkin, Guesde, William Morris, Domela Nieuwenhuis, Lavrov and Plekhanov, and many others.

Individual and Organisational Reports

In addition to the official minutes, a large number of further reports from an individual or personal point of view were published during or shortly after the event.

The Possibilist Congress

The Marxist Congress