History of the First International. PART ONE. 1864-1872

Chapter Two
Harbingers of The International

IN view of the facts recounted in the last chapter, it is not surprising that in its very beginnings the contemporary working-class movement, growing in the soil of large-scale industry, should have had marked internationalist leanings. In especial, the radical movement in Britain during the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century had such a character. At that time, the country was in the throes of economic convulsion, due to the change in the methods of production and the spread of machinofacture. The industrial revolution, leading to the proletarianisation of the small independent artisans, and subjecting the mass of the workers to the capitalists, aroused the first political movement of the workers and gave it a revolutionary trend. Moreover, the intervention of England against the French revolution, against which all the reactionary governments of Europe had declared war under British leadership, aroused strong protest in British democratic circles.

The proletarians, who were in revolt against the slavery of the factories, made common cause with the bourgeois democrats aiming at the reform of the British governmental system, which had at that time an extremely reactionary character. Quite a number of societies for radical reform were founded, and in these the workers rubbed shoulders with democratically inclined members of the professional classes. The adherents of these societies had an ardent sympathy with the most advanced among the French revolutionists, and, above all, with the Jacobins. Great meetings were held; resolutions of sympathy with the Jacobins were passed; the solidarity of all revolutionists against the reaction was proclaimed. At one of these meetings, summoned in order to send an address to the French Convention, thirty thousand persons were present. Such facts indicate that the idea of the international solidarity of all democrats was spreading widely throughout the masses of the British population.

In the middle thirties of the nineteenth century began the Chartist movement, the first attempt to create a mass party of revolutionary workers. It already exhibited strong internationalist leanings. As a movement for the advantage of the workers, Chartism was from the first permeated with the spirit of internationalism – not proletarian, perhaps, but manifestly democratic. The Chartists proclaimed the international solidarity of the workers and of all oppressed peoples. They exposed the grasping policy of the British bourgeoisie; they rallied to the defence of the colonies, such as Canada; they espoused the cause of Ireland. In conjunction with the Continental democrats, they expressed ardent sympathy with the Polish nation, struggling for freedom; and they condemned Palmerston’s policy for its accommodating attitude towards tsarism.

In November, 1844, “The Northern Star,” the leading Chartist organ, had its place of publication transferred to London. Here the Chartist leaders, influenced by the political refugees from the Continent, became interested in European political affairs, and in the international revolutionary movement, which was now more and more tending to assume a socialist and proletarian character. This drawing together of the Chartists and the representatives of the revolutionary workers on the Continent gave the impetus, as we shall shortly learn, to the creation of one of the forerunners of the First International.

The insular position of Britain has always given the British working-class movement a peculiar national stamp. In this respect, the movement of the workers on the Continent, where the various countries are more closely interconnected, outstripped that of the British proletariat. On the mainland of Europe, international sentiment developed earlier and had a more concrete character.

The first secret societies of the workers both in France and in Germany, those founded in the thirties and the forties of the nineteenth century, set before themselves as an aim the emancipation of the whole of labouring mankind. Nor is it surprising that they were permeated – though rather vaguely at first – with the internationalist spirit. The very life of these societies, their structure, the environment in which they had to work, impelled them in this direction. For, first of all, in the initial steps for the foundation of proletarian organisations, it was necessary to realise internationalism in practice. The unions of German handicraftsmen,[8] the Exiles’ League (1834-1836), and the Federation of the Just (1836-1839), were formed in Paris, where they worked hand in hand with the French secret societies. At this period, Paris was full of political refugees who had assembled there after a series of revolutionary movements and outbreaks in Germany, Poland, Italy, parts of Russia, etc. It is true that most of these refugees, and the movements by the failure of which they had been brought to this pass, still exhibited bourgeois-democratic and not strictly proletarian characteristics. Consequently, although the secret societies of that day were international in outlook, the internationalism they professed was bourgeois-democratic; they preached the brotherhood of all “peoples,” the solidarity of all the oppressed against “tyrants,” etc. However, out of this chaos of vague revolutionism, there began to emerge and to gather strength a purely proletarian trend. Workers and handicraftsmen, while quitting the secret societies of the bourgeois democrats and the republicans, brought with them as a legacy the conviction that the oppressed and exploited of all nations had a common task. Thus the matter with which they were concerned was no longer merely the brotherhood of all the nations, but the solidarity of the workers of the whole world in the struggle with the exploiters on behalf of political and economic emancipation.

The successor of the Exiles’ League and of the Federation of the Just was known as the Communist League (1847-1851). Under the instructions of this body, and in its name, Marx and Engels issued in 1845 the Manifesto of the Communist Party, which expounded the internationalist tendencies of the League, and proclaimed the historic mission of the proletariat, substituting for the old device of the Federation of the Just, “All men are brethren,” the new fighting call of proletarian internationalism, “Proletarians of all lands, unite.” Thus the Communist League was one of the harbingers of the International. Its connection with the First International was substantiated by personalities as well as in point of theory, for one of the principal figures in the Communist League was Karl Marx, subsequently the chief leader of the First International. Another link was formed by Friedrich Engels. There were also Lessner, Eccarius, and others, who played a prominent part in the League, and were destined, in later years, to play a no less prominent part in the foundation of a more comprehensive international federation of the workers.[9]

As early as 1843, Marx and Engels had begun to form ties with the revolutionists and socialists of various lands. To say nothing of the French, they entered into relationships with the Chartists in England, with Polish refugees, with Russian refugees (among whom Bakunin was the most notable), with Italians, Belgian democrats, Hungarians, etc. Even in the end of the year 1847, when the attention of the two had become definitely concentrated upon proletarian communism, Marx took part in the foundation of the Democratic League in Brussels (November, 1847). This body had an international character, and united the Belgian democrats with the political refugees of other nationalities residing in Belgium. Marx was the vice-president of the German section of the League, and Lelevel was vice-president of the Polish section. Necessarily, however, Marx regarded as more important his activities in the German Workers’ Society of Brussels, founded in August, 1847, and subsequently merged in the Communist League.

The Communist League was formed out of the remnants of the Federation of the Just, which had been transferred to London after the break-up of the secret societies in Paris that ensued upon the Blanquist rising in the year 1839. Thenceforward those who were the central figures in the Federation of the Just-Schapper, Moll, Eccarius, Heinrich Bauer, etc. – removed to London, the heart of the capitalism of that day; the League began more and more clearly to be animated with a proletarian and internationalist spirit, being gradually transformed from a German institution into an international one. It became the basis of a workers’ circle, no longer secret, whose members were Germans, Swiss, British, Scandinavians, Dutch, Hungarians, Czechs, Southern Slavs, and even Russians. This circle speedily assumed the name of “communist.” Its device, the Brotherhood of all the Peoples, was inscribed on the membership cards in about twenty languages, and the phrasing (we learn from Engels[10]) was not always free from grammatical errors. The inner group, a secret society, in its turn had among its members representatives of various nationalities. Both practically and theoretically its basis was an assertion that the imminent revolution must have a general European character.

Out of the fusion of the remnants of the Federation of the Just (reconstructed as above described) with the German Workers’ Society of Brussels and with the Parisian groups of German workers, there came into existence the Communist League, which adopted the realist program of proletarian international socialism expounded in the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels. The inaugural Congress of the Communist League was held in London during the summer of 1847. The second congress, at which the body was definitively formed, and at which new rules and constitution and a new program were adopted, took place in London during November and December of the same year, with the participation of Marx and Engels.

The Manifesto of the Communist Party, approved by this congress, foreshadowed in the near future the occurrence of a world-wide political explosion. Furthermore, it advised the international proletariat to concentrate attention on Germany, where there was to be expected a social as well as a political transformation. Herein, of course, is an indication of the fact that the Communist League was, after all, pre-eminently a German organisation. The forecast of the Manifesto was justified sooner than might have been expected. It saw the light in February, 1848. Immediately afterwards there occurred a series of revolutionary outbreaks, beginning in France and spreading all over Europe, so that the members of the League had to turn their attention to practical matters. But the Leaue existed mainly for the general propaganda of the fundamental ideas of socialism. The youthful organisation can hardly be said to have figured in social activities. In the revolutionary movements of 1848 and 1849 in Germany, the society did not participate as such, although its individual members were actively concerned (Marx, Engels, Stephan Born, Moll, Schapper, Becker, Wilhelm Wolff, etc.). As Engels justly remarks, whenever an opportunity arose events showed that the Communist League was an excellent school of revolutionary activities. Its members participated everywhere in the work of the extreme left wing of the revolutionary democracy.

After the collapse of the revolutionary movement, the executive committee of the League was reconstructed in the autumn of 1849 by the refugees who assembled in London, among whom were many of the old members of the Communist League. The executive committee took action in March, 1850 by organising a mission to the groups of the Communist League. The delegates propounded the theory of “permanent revolution” until the establishment of communist society. Discounting the experience of the revolutions of 1848, they looked to France for revolutionary socialist initiative. The emissaries of the executive committee formed ties with various groups in Germany and Switzerland. But the reaction which was dominant throughout Europe from 1848 onwards condemned all these efforts to sterility, and day by day the hopes of the immediate outbreak of a new revolution grew fainter. In these circumstances there now ensued within the League sharp differences of opinion between the realist and constructive elements that grouped themselves round Marx, and the insurrectionist and utopist elements led by Schapper and Willich.[11] The outcome of these dissensions was the break-up of the League into two rival organisations, which disappeared from the scene in the year 1851.

Thus the germ of the workers’ international movement perished in the atmosphere of political reaction.

As another of the harbingers of the International may be regarded an extraordinarily interesting organisation which was at work in England during the forties and fifties.[12]

It was on British soil that the First International came into being, and this was no chance matter. In the first half of the nineteenth century, capitalist development was more advanced in Britain then anywhere else in the world. It was in England that there occurred the most vigorous development of the working-class movement of those days, a movement which in the form of Chartism was the precursor of the future international social democracy. “Till far on into the seventies,” writes Rothstein (p.2), “England, where modern class contrasts had first made their appearance, remained the land where these contrasts were most marked. In England, therefore, all the most important forms of the proletarian class-struggle first broke out. England was the first country to offer history a political movement of the proletariat as a class. The working class was organised into trade unions in England before anywhere else in the world. It was in the consciousness of the British proletariat that first took place the elaboration of a clear conception of the class war as a historical factor and as a tactical principle. Moreover, last but not least, it was precisely in England that the proletariat did not merely develop the keenest sense of its solidarity with its foreign brethren, but also became aware how essential to success in the struggle with bourgeois society was a co-ordination of effort based upon this solidarity.”

The beginnings of internationalist sentiment and the awareness of the international solidarity of the workers developed in Britain, simultaneously with the development of class consciousness in general, during the thirties, at the time of the heroic struggle of the British proletariat for democratic electoral rights. The champions of the People’s Charter, who soon became known as the Chartists, did not merely evoke the sympathies of the revolutionary democrats of all lands but were themselves keenly interested in the struggle for freedom that was going on beyond the boundaries of Great Britain. Founded in 1838 by Julian Harney the Democratic Association maintained close relationships with the political refugees living is London; and “The Northern Star,” which was then the chief organ of the Chartists, in its foreign department kept in close touch with events abroad. Marx, Engels, Moll, Schapper, and Weitling, French, Polish, and Italian exiles, were all more or less connected with the Chartist movement, and rendered it active assistance.[13]

In the later forties there were increasing signs of the growth of internationalist interests among the Chartists. In London, towards the end of 1847, a meeting was held to commemorate the Polish revolution of 1831, and also the rising at Cracow in 1846. In the early months of 1848, there were organised in London other large meetings in memory of the Cracow rising. Poles (as well as Germans) were regular attendants at Chartist meetings, and were sometimes numbered among the speakers. The February revolution of the year 1848 in France gave a fresh impetus to the internationalist tendency of the British workers, just like that which had been given by the great French revolution towards the close of the eighteenth century. At a meeting held in Lambeth, on March 2, 1848, where a Pole was one of the speakers, a resolution was adopted protesting against the interference of the British Government in the affairs of the French Republic; an address was issued to the French people; and a delegation was appointed to deliver this address to the Provisional Government.

In the year 1849, when the European reaction was imminent, the interest of the vanguard of the British workers in international questions continued to grow. The occupation of Rome by French troops and the ruthless suppression of the Hungarian revolution by the Austrian soldiery were followed in England by an outburst of sympathy with the victims. At a meeting in Marylebone, organised by the liberals, Julian Harney, the Chartist, advocated armed intervention to put an end to the savage reprisals upon the Hungarian rebels. Subsequently, resolutions of sympathy with the Hungarians were passed at meetings in a number of other manufacturing centres, such as Sheffield, Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester, etc. The abolition of universal suffrage in France by the reactionary Legislative Assembly was the occasion for the holding of a huge meeting in London on July 3, 1850, in which the Chartist leaders participated. The workers’ hatred for the triumphant reaction sometimes manifested itself in an extremely practical form. For instance, the Austrian general Haynau, noted for his cruelties, and nicknamed the Hyena of Brescia, was in London in 1850, and paid a visit to Barclay and Perkins’ brewery. The draymen seized him, cut off his moustache, rolled him in the dustbin, and then flogged him through the streets to the delight of the assembled crowds. For some time afterwards it was the fashion at London meetings to vote congratulations to the valiant draymen for the way in which they had settled accounts with the bloodthirsty tool of Austrian despotism. Any reference to this incident in a working-class assembly was sure to be greeted with a veritable storm of applause.

A great demonstration was also organised by the London workers in honour of the Hungarian leader Kossuth on his arrival in England.

An important part in these international demonstrations of the British proletariat was played by an organisation with which the Chartists were connected, an organisation known as the Fraternal Democrats. To its activities we must now turn.

In September, 1844, the Fraternal Democrats was founded in London by German, Polish, and Italian refugees. As far as its animating ideas were concerned, it was the first international organisation of the working class, and in this sense may be regarded as a harbinger of the International.

Upon the initiative of Schapper and the Polish refugee Oborski, in the year 1845 William Lovett issued an appeal to the Chartists, urging them to join the Fraternal Democrats. Ernest Jones, Cooper, Harney, etc., became members, and Harney was especially active in its councils.[14] Not desiring to have any fixed form of organisation, the society had no executive; but for the signing of documents intended for publication six secretaries were appointed – English, German, French, Slav, Scandinavian, and Swiss. In December, 1847, the society of Fraternal Democrats, henceforward often spoken of as the “Association,” adopted fixed rules, in accordance with which each nationality joining it had to elect a general secretary and (as far as means would permit) to appoint one or more corresponding secretaries. The general secretaries, together with the other national representatives (one for each nation) formed the executive. Schapper was general secretary for Germany, Harney for England, Oborski for Poland, and so on. Among the members of the executive was the famous Ernest Jones.

“There can be no doubt whatever,” writes Rothstein, “that this form of organisation, which was repeated in all subsequent similar organisations, served as the prototype of the International. Only seventeen years elapsed before the foundation of the latter, and throughout this period the traditions of the Fraternal Democrats remained in force.”

In the program of the society, its aims were stated in the following terms: “The mutual enlightenment of its members, and the propaganda of the great principle embodied in the society’s motto, ‘All men are brethren.’” In the political part of the program we read: “We renounce, repudiate, and condemn all political hereditary inequalities and distinctions of caste.” In the social part we read:

“We declare that the earth with all its natural productions is the common property of all; we therefore denounce all infractions of this evidently just and natural law, as robbery and usurpation. We declare that the present state of society, which permits idlers and schemers to monopolise the fruits of the earth and the productions of industry, and compels the working classes to labour for inadequate rewards, and even condemns them to social slavery, destitution, and degradation, is essentially unjust.” Next comes a declaration of internationalism: “Convinced that national prejudices have been, in all ages, taken advantage of by the people’s oppressors to set them tearing the throats of each other, when they should have been working together for their common good, this society repudiates the term ‘Foreigner,’ no matter by, or to whom applied. Our moral creed is to receive our fellow men, without regard to ‘country,’ as members of one family, the human race; and citizens of one commonwealth – the world.”

From this it is clear that the Fraternal Democrats were animated by democratic and communistic ideas[15] closely resembling those characteristic of other working-class organisations of that date. Like the Communist League, it was not a party of action (such as was at the same period the Chartist organisation, of which the Fraternal Democrats must be reckoned an offshoot), but a society of propaganda and agitation. It organised meetings and demonstrations to commemorate revolutionary events, both of earlier days (a festival in honour of the French revolution) and of recent date. Particular attention was paid to the Polish question, in which European democrats were greatly interested at this time. Among other things, in September, 1847, the Association issued a call to the European democracy, in which the idea was mooted of summoning an international congress of the revolutionary democracy as a counterblast to the international congress of free-traders in Brussels. This idea was hailed with acclamation in Brussels, and Marx came to London in person to attend the festival organised by the Fraternal Democrats in honour of the Polish rebellion of 1830 – came to deliver the address and to support the notion of an international democratic congress of the workers.[16]This congress was actually summoned. It was to have been held in Brussels on October 25, 1848, the anniversary of the Belgian revolution. The stormy events of the annus mirabilis (wonderful year) frustrated the execution of this bold plan.

The leaders of the Fraternal Democrats were free from bourgeois ideology. They taught that nationality was necessary for the more effective guidance of the class war, but that internationalism would result from the triumph of the proletarian movement in all lands. Furthermore, they proclaimed the international solidarity of the workers as an essential preliminary to the victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie. For example, at the meeting held by the Fraternal Democrats in the summer of 1847 on the occasion of the Portuguese rising, Harney said:

“The people are beginning to understand that foreign as well as domestic questions do affect them; that a blow struck at Liberty on the Tagus is an injury to the friends of Freedom on the Thames; that the success of Republicanism in France would be the doom of Tyranny in every other land; and the triumph of England’s democratic Charter would be the salvation of the millions throughout Europe.” (“The Northern Star,” June 19, 1847.)

And in a speech delivered early in 1848 at the festival in honour of the second anniversary of the Cracow rising, Harney exclaimed

“But let the working men of Europe advance together and strike for their rights at one and the same time, and it will be seen – that every tyrannical government and usurping class will have enough to do at home without attempting to assist other oppressors. The age of Democratic ascendancy has commenced .... the rule of the bourgeoisie is doomed.” (“The Northern Star,” February 26, 1848.)

Such was the democratic and internationalist standpoint from which the Fraternal Democrats regarded war.

In this connection, Rothstein observes:

“Of course their views are not always expressed with the precision which is possible to us after the discipline of seventy years, but they are permeated by a genuinely proletarian and internationalist spirit ... Harney and Jones were unquestionably internationalist social democrats in the modern sense of the term; Schapper, M'Grath, and a number of other refugees and Chartists, seconded then, ably in this respect.” [17]

At the time of the revolution of 1848, the Fraternal Democrats were at the climax of their development.[18] On the very day when the revolution began in Paris, the Fraternal Democrats were holding a meeting to commemorate the Cracow rising, and at this Harney spoke of the need for the conquest of political power by the proletariat, in order to effect the expropriation of the bourgeoisie. The events in France aroused a febrile excitement among the British workers. At all the Chartist meetings the revolution was preached. But the defection of the middle-class adherents, satisfied by the repeal of the corn laws, in conjunction with the repressive measures adopted by the authorities, weakened the forces of the British proletariat. Attempts to initiate a revolution on April 10th were abortive, and ended in the collapse of the Chartist movement. The defeat of the June rising of the Parisian workers was the final blow to the hopes of the socialists. Everywhere the working class became apathetic. The collapse could not fail to read upon the Fraternal Democrats, whose organisation, although it continued in existence for another four years, no longer received widespread support, so that it gradually flickered out.

In October, 1849, the reorganisation of the society was undertaken, and a new program was drawn up, containing, among others, the following points: the brotherhood of the nations, and especially the fraternal community of the proletariats of all lands; the freedom of the press; the granting of the political rights that had been demanded in the Charter (universal suffrage, etc.); the preparation of the working class for its emancipation from the oppression of capital and from the usurpations of feudalism. In a manifesto issued shortly afterwards, the Fraternal Democrats expressed themselves as follows: “Means will be taken to render your society a veritable link of union between the Democratic and Social Reformers of this country and those of Continental Europe and America.” (“The Northern Star,” November 3, 1849). But all attempts to resuscitate the Fraternal Democrats were foredoomed to failure in consequence of the arrest of the mass movement of the British workers.[19]

“The collapse of the revolutionary movement alike in England and on the Continent,” writes Rothstein, “made it impossible for the Association to become the centre of an international proletarian-democratic organisation. Even its modest role in England was circumscribed more and more on account of the growing political inertia of the British working class throughout the ensuing decades. Of course for an International such as was founded twelve years after the collapse of the Fraternal Democrats, something more was requisite than a mere international proletarian organisation. It may, however, be confidently asserted that the Fraternal Democrats, and not an entirely new body, would have undertaken the historic mission of the International, had not the former society come to an untimely end in consequence of the reaction that followed 1848. This is proved by the lively interest which Marx and Engels took in the Fraternal Democrats in the early days of that society. Besides, the International itself, at the time of its first formation, was not what it subsequently became![20]

The idea of the international solidarity of the proletariat did not perish when the Fraternal Democrats ceased to exist. A fresh attempt was made to construct an international Organisation, on lines which even more closely resembled carat were to be those of the future International.

The Crimean War revived interest in the question of an international policy for the working masses of Europe. This revival was especially conspicuous in England. In 1853, Ernest Jones attempted to resuscitate the Chartist movement. In March, 1854, a Chartist “Labour Parliament” met in Manchester, and elaborated a new program.[21] In this connection, the idea naturally came to the front that the time was once more ripe for contraposing a proletarian conception of internationalism to the bourgeois conception.

In the autumn of 1854 there was founded upon Jones’ initiative a “committee for the Reception of Barbès in England.” Barbès had just been liberated “from the dungeons of Napoleon.” Incidentally, the formation of the Committee was a protest against the expected visit of Napoleon III to London. (“The People’s Paper,” October 21, 1854)

Delegates of various foreign societies joined the Committee. It now assumed the name of the Welcome and Protest Committee, and declared that its principal aims were: “The demonstration of welcome to the exiles of France and fraternisation with the Democracy of the Continent, in opposition to the league of kings.” (“The People’s Paper,” December 16, 1854)

This committee was soon transformed into a kind of International which, although it never acquired an influence equal to that of the Fraternal Democrats, nevertheless championed the idea of the international solidarity of the proletariat down to the eve of the foundation of the First International. Yet more interesting is the fact that it anticipated the forms of organisation adopted by that body. To avoid alienating the veteran Chartists, the committee took the name of the London Organisation Committee of the Chartists. (“The People’s Paper,” January 27, 1855.) Its international affairs were, however, entrusted to a sub-committee of seven members, which kept in touch with the French exiles, and in conjunction with them and with other refugee circles (each of which sent five delegates), constituted what was known as the Committee. The Organisation Committee soon ceased to exist, and the International Committee became an independent body; Ernest Jones was president; James Finlen (who soon resigned) was treasurer; and each nation elected its own secretary. The secretaries were: for the English, Chapman; for the French, Talandier; for the Germans, Bley; for the Poles, Dembinski; for the Italians, Pezzi; and for the Spaniards, Salvatello. This was the form of organisation which had been adopted by the Fraternal Democrats, and we shall find it again in the First International.

The International Committee made its debut by organising a meeting held in St. Martin’s Hall on February 27, 1855, to commemorate the French revolution of 1848. Apropos of this demonstration, Ernest Jones wrote as follows in “The People’s Paper” of February 17th:

“Is there a poor and oppressed man in England? Is there a robbed and ruined artisan in France? Well, then, they appertain to one race, one country, one creed, one past, one present, and one future. The same with every nation, every colour, every section of the toiling world. Let them unite. The oppressors of humanity are united, even when they make war. They are united on one point that of keeping the peoples in misery and subjection ... Each democracy, singly, may not be strong enough to break its own yoke; but together they give a moral weight, an added strength, that nothing can resist. The alliance of peoples is the more vital now, because their disunion, the rekindling of national antipathies, can alone save tottering royalty from its doom. Kings and oligarchs are playing their last card: we can prevent their game. No movement of modern times has therefore been of such importance, as that international alliance about to be proclaimed at a great gathering in St. Martin’s Hall.”

It is true that this international alliance took the form chiefly of a league of democrats against monarchs, but none the less there was talk of the unity of the workers. At this very meeting, Ernest Jones, explaining its significance, frankly declared

“Let none misunderstand the tenor of our meeting: we begin to-night no mere crusade against an aristocracy. We are not here to pull one tyranny down, only that another may live the stronger. We are against the tyranny of capital as well. The human race is divided between slaves and masters ... Until labour commands capital, instead of capital commanding labour, I care not what political laws you make, what Republic or Monarchy you own – man is a slave.” (“The People’s Paper,” March 3, 1855.)[22]

During the end of the year 1855, the International Committee organised meetings of protest against the persecution of foreign political refugees by the British authorities. (One of these took place in the month of November at St. Martin’s Hall.) As a part of this movement, an international soirée was held just before the New Year in honour of the exiles, and among the speakers on this occasion was the German refugee Ruge, a friend of Marx’s youth. A manifesto upon the question of nationalities was adopted. Substantially, though not precisely in the terms a similar manifesto would employ to-day, this document emphasised the right of all peoples to self-determination, and also affirmed the principle of the nationalisation of land, money, and the means of exchange. It closed with the adjuration, in French, “Vive la Republique Democratique et Sociale.” (“The People’s Paper,” January 5, 1856). As a result of this agitation, the persecution of the foreign refugees was discontinued.

In April, 1856, there arrived from Paris a deputation of Proudhonist workers whose aim it was to bring about the foundation of a Universal League of Workers. The object of the League was the social emancipation of the working class, which, it was held, could only be achieved by a union of the workers of all lands against international capital. Since the deputation was one of Proudhonists, of course this emancipation was to be secured, not by political methods, but purely by economic means, through the foundation of productive and distributive co-operatives. There were about twenty millions of workmen in the five leading European States. If each of these workmen was to make a small contribution, a large amount of capital would be secured, and with this a number of bakeries, slaughterhouses, and similar enterprises could be established. Thus by degrees capitalism would be painlessly superseded! A great meeting was summoned, and by this, with the active participation of Pyat[23] and Talandier, the plan was approved. An executive committee was elected, and the meeting resolved to issue an appeal to the trade unions. It was the Owenist utopia, resuscitated by the Proudhonists. Of course, the project was stillborn. Nevertheless, the affair had a stimulating influence on the International Committee.

In May, 1856, the Committee issued a remarkable manifesto, addressed “To all Nations.” It ran as follows

“The device of all in democracy is not only Universal Republic, it is Universal Democratic and Social Republic; and it is around this device in its entirety, in its strength, in its unity and its indivisibility, that the International Committee has met ... The alliance of the peoples in peace, liberty, and justice – depends as much on the internal constitution of the people as on their mode of external activity. It is even right to say that the internal constitution determines the external policy ... Monarchy, empire and aristocracy are war. Republic, liberty, equality, are alone able to say: we are peace. But monarchy is not only in the Government, it is in the workshop, in property, in the family, in religion, in the economy, the manners, the blood of the people. It is from everywhere that we must turn it away: and everywhere, for all the people, the social problem is the same; to substitute labour for birth and wealth as origin and warranty of and right in society. The International Committee has recognised, from the first day of its formation, that there is no solution whatever, in conformity with the equality of conditions between peoples, to the problem of international relations, so long as the solution of the social problem of the equality of conditions between men is not found.”

So far we have merely the old and futile phrases with which the exiles of 1848 were so fond of deluding themselves. But now the manifesto takes a new tone:

“We shall not finish without submitting to you a plan the realisation of which we look to as essential to the continuance of the work of alliance we have begun. This plan consists in enlarging the International Committee, nearly fatally condemned to impotency by the small number and the poverty of its members, into an International Association, open to men of all countries, and which ought not to count one International Committee only in one of the towns of Europe, but International Committees in as many of the towns of the world as possible. We cannot for the present speak at length on the means of constituting in the greatest number of countries the International Association, of centralising its resources and its works. We shall merely say that if you approve of the plan, we think of issuing cards of membership, the possession of which, bought by a payment of 6d. per quarter, will constitute you a member of the International Association and grant you the right of ballot in the assemblies of the nation you belong to and in the International Assemblies. Thus we shall be able to organise a numerous, rich, and powerful body.[24]

In August, 1856, steps were taken to carry the plan into effect. The International Committee, in conjunction with the Revolutionary Commune,[25] held a meeting in honour of the revolution of 1792. A resolution was adopted recommending the International Committee, the “Revolutionary Commune,” the Society of the German Communists, the Society of the English Chartists, the Society of the Polish Socialists, and “all those who, without belonging to any one of these societies, were eligible members of the International Association” to enter into an alliance in order to help each other in all the works that should aim at the triumph of the universal democratic and social republic. The further wording of the resolution was as follows:

“The said societies engage themselves, in fine, to use all their power to induce the citizens of all countries to organise socialist and revolutionary national societies, to bind them together by means of the general association, in order to make the international propaganda profit by the strength of the association of all the individuals, and the various national propaganda profit by the strength of the association of all the people, and so prepare the success of the future revolution – success which the past revolutions could not achieve, for not having known and practised the law of solidarity, without which there is no salvation either for the individuals or for the peoples.” (“Reynolds Newspaper,” August 17, 1856.) This idea recurs in the Provisional Rules and Constitution of the International.

This was the end of the activities of the International Committee. Manifestly the soil was not yet prepared for the foundation of the International Workingmen’s Association. It is true that early in 1857 the International Committee was still in existence, and that, in conjunction with the Revolutionary Commune, it organised a demonstration in commemoration of the French revolution of February, 1848. This demonstration took place in St. Martin’s Hall, and among the speakers were Schapper, Pyat, Talandier, Nadaud, and other old acquaintances. Nearly two years later (November, 1858) a meeting was held in the same hall on the anniversary of the Polish rising of the year 1830, but we have no information as to whether the International Committee was concerned in the affair. Nevertheless, we gather from certain data collected by Wilhelm Liebknecht (see Rothstein) that by this time the projected International Association had come into existence. We learn that early in 1859 the International Association wished to issue a manifesto against Mazzini,[26] and that it took part in the organisation of a number of meetings on June 24th in commemoration of “the June days” (Paris, 1848); on September 29th in commemoration of the Polish insurrection of 1830; etc. On September 9, 1859, a meeting was held in memory of Robert Blum.[27] Presumably the initiative came from the Society of German Communists, and not from the International Association; but a summons to all those present to join the Association was adopted by acclamation. By this time, it would seem that the Germans had already come to the front. Appended to all the manifestoes are the names of Schapper, Lessner, and Wilhelm Liebknecht, whereas French signatures are rare. We have information to the effect that branches of the International Association existed in other countries, and especially in the United States. They were known as Decuriae, and were in touch by correspondence with the executive committee in London. Here our information ceases. Judging from the subsequent foundation of various organisations to deal with special emergencies (as for a reception to Garibaldi in the year 1862, and in connection with the Polish revolt of 1863), and in view of the fact that a body called the Universal League was in existence at the time when the First International was founded, we may assume that by the beginning of the sixties both the International Committee and the International Association had disappeared from the political arena.

“On September 28, 1864,” writes Rothstein at the close of his interesting pamphlet (op. cit. pp.43-4), “another great meeting was held in St. Martin’s Hall at the conclusion of a demonstration to commemorate the Polish revolt. The French workers came forward once more with a ‘Plan for the Promotion of a Mutual Understanding between the Nations'; and once again was a resolution to found an International Association adopted with enthusiasm. When we read about the incident in such histories of the International as have been hitherto available, it seems both strange and new. But the foregoing account will have shown, that it was both old and natural. Numerous meetings had already been held in St. Martin’s Hall; again and again had the British workers and the British democracy espoused the cause of the Poles, and had made their support the occasion for demanding the establishment of an international Association; even the visit of a deputation of French workers voicing an eager demand for ‘fraternity’ did not now occur for the first time in history. If, moreover, we bear in mind that between the death of the old International and the birth of the new, no more than a few years had elapsed, and that the memories of the former organisation were still green ... we shall realise that as far as its type of organisation was concerned the new International must be regarded as a revival of the old. Nay, more, in the eyes of the founders of the new International, this body could not but seem to be the direct continuation of the old. Since, furthermore, through the intermediation of the international Committee, the old International was a reincarnation of the Association of Fraternal Democrats, and inasmuch as the Fraternal Democrats had dreamed of founding an international party embracing all lands in its scope, we see that from 1847 to 1864 there existed an unbroken chain of thoughts and efforts which tended ever in the same direction, and which culminated in the foundation of the International Workingmen’s Association or First International ... But historical science, if it is to remain a science, must realise in this connection, as in others, that even the greatest of human beings do not create out of the void. Their activities as the demiurges of history are conditioned by the way in which the extant must be taken by them as the foundation laid by previous history upon which they can erect their new buildings. As in all their activities, whether in the field of thought or in the field of action, so here in the development and leadership of the International, Marx and Engels[28] were, upon a higher level, continuers of the work of others. Those others did not possess the creative faculties of Marx and Engels, but they must nevertheless be regarded as forerunners of the great masters in this field of activity. Above all, as such harbingers, we must honour George Julian Harney with his Association of Fraternal Democrats, and Ernest Jones with his International Committee. “[29]