International Workingmen’s Association 1868

Connections between the International Working Men’s Association and English Working Men’s Organisations

Source: MECW Volume 21, p. 25;
Written: by Karl Marx on October 4, 1868;
First published: in Demokratisches Wochenblatt, October 17, 1868.

At its meeting of September 29, 1868 the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association discussed, among other things, Hirsch’s statement that all the principal trade unions of England had withdrawn from the Association. To refute this slander Marx wrote this item for the Demokratisches Wochenblatt (see his letter to Engels of October 4, 1868). The editors presumably made changes in the first paragraph.

This item was first published in English in The General Council of the first International. 1868-1870, Moscow, 1966.

The unusual seriousness with which the English and particularly the London press treats the International Working Men’s Association and its Brussels Congress (The Times alone devoted four leading articles to it) has stirred up a real devil’s sabbath in the German bourgeois press. It, the German press, takes the English press to task for its error in believing that such importance is attached to the International Working Men’s Association in England! It has discovered that the English trades unions, which, through the International Working Men’s Association, have given considerable financial support to the Paris, Geneva and Belgian workers in their fight against capital, [37] have absolutely no connection with that very same International Working Men’s Association!

“Apparently all this is based,” we have in writing from London, “on the assertion of a certain M. Hirsch [reference is to Dr. Max Hirsch, the “famous” economist of the Duncker Volks-Zeitung. Until his voyage of discovery into the English unknown, apparently no one in London had any idea of the existence of this new saviour of society] whom Schulze-Delitzsch sent specially to London to kick up such a fuss. M. Hirsch says so, and M. Hirsch is an honourable man! The honourable Hirsch aroused the suspicions of London trade unionists because [he] bore no letters of recommendation from the International Working Men’s Association. They simply made a fool of him. No wonder then that Hirsch got it all wrong. If he had been taken seriously, he could have been told, without being entrusted with anything really confidential, what the whole of London knows that the General Council of trades unions in London[38] consists of six or seven people, of whom three, Odger (Secretary of the General Trades Council and shoemakers’ delegate), R. Applegarth (delegate of the Amalgamated Carpenters and Joiners) and Howell (delegate of the bricklayers and Secretary of the Reform League[39]), are at the same time members of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association. He would have discovered further that the rest of the affiliated trades unions (there are about 50 in London alone, not counting the provincial trades unions) are represented on the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association by another five members, namely, R. Shaw, Buckley, Colin, Hales and Maurice; furthermore every union has the right and makes a practice of sending delegates to the General Council for special purposes. Further, the following English organisations are represented on the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association:

co-operative societies, which sent three delegates [Frederick Dean, a smith, John Foster Sr, a carpenter, and John Foster Jr mechanic — all members of co-operative societies in Hull] to the Brussels Congress, by Wlm. [John] Weston and Williams;

“the Reform League, by Dell, Cowell Stepney and Lucraft, all three are also on the Executive Committee of the Reform League;

“the National Reform Association,[40] set up by the late agitator Bronterre O'Brien, by its President A. A. Walton and Milner;

“lastly, the atheist popular movement by its famous orator Mrs. Harriet Law and Mr. Copeland.

“It is clear that not one significant organisation of the British proletariat exists which is not directly, by its own leaders, represented on the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association. Finally, there is The Bee-Hive, under George Potter’s management, the official organ of the English trades unions, which is at the same time the official organ of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association, on whose meetings it reports weekly.

“The discoveries of the honourable Hirsch and the subsequent jubilation in the German bourgeois press have provided just the right fodder for the London correspondent of the Weser-Zeitung and the London correspondent of the Augsburgerin, who signs himself D. This person — for one and the same person writes for the two papers — lives, for reasons best known to himself, in a remote corner a few hours away from London. There he coyly culls his extracts from The Times, The Morning Star and The Saturday Review, and serves them up with an aesthetic fish sauce to suit the taste of his public. From time to time, as is the case here, he also digs up the gossip of German papers and has it reprinted under a false date in the Weser-Zeitung and the Augsburgerin. The said correspondent of the Weser-Zeitung and the Augsburgerin is none other than the notorious literary lumpen proletarian Elard Biscamp. Long rejected by any decent society, this unfortunate seeks consolation in the bottle for the broken heart caused him by Prussia annexing his native Hesse-Cassel as well as his friend Edgar Bauer.”[41]

37 The General Council of the International Working Men’s Association jointly with the English trade unions organised financial support for the workers on strike.

During the strike of the Paris bronze-workers in February-March 1867, the General Council published in The International Courier, March 13, 1867, an address to the English workers calling on them to give material help to the strikers. The trade unions of shoemakers, tailors, cabinet-makers and others sent several hundred pounds sterling to France through the General Council.

In connection with the shooting of the Belgian miners and iron-workers of Marchienne (February 1867), the General Council published an appeal “To all Miners and Iron-Workers of Great Britain” (The International Courier, March 13, 1867) urging them to support the victims of this brutal action. The bereaved families received financial assistance.

During the strike and lock-out of the Geneva building workers in March-April 1868. General Council guaranteed monthly aid from England amounting to 40,000 francs. The money was sent to Geneva by trade unions of carpenters and joiners, weavers, book-binders and others.

38 This refers to the London Trades Council elected at a conference of trade union delegates held in London in May 1860. The Council headed the London trade unions numbering many thousand members,. and was fairly influential among the British workers.

In the first half of the 1860s it headed the British workers’ campaign against intervention in the USA, in defence of Poland and Italy, and later for the legalisation of the trade unions. The leaders of the following large trade unions played a major role in the Council: the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners (Robert Applegarth), the Shoemakers’ Society (George Odger), the Operative Bricklayers’ Society, (Edwin Coulson and George Howell) and the Amalgamated Engineers (William Allan). All of them, except Affair, were members of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association.

The General Council did its best to draw into the International the broad mass of British workers and endeavoured, on the one hand, to get the local trade union organisations affiliated to it and, on the other, to induce the London Trades Council to join the International as a British section. “The London Council of the English Trade Unions (its secretary is our president, Odger) is deliberating at the present moment as to whether it should declare itself to be the British Section of the International Association. If it does so, government of the working-class here will in a certain sense pass into our hands, and we shall be able to give the movement a good ‘push on’,” wrote Marx to Ludwig Kugelmann on October 13, 1866.

On the initiative of the English members of the General Council, the London Trades Council discussed the question of joining the International at its meetings in the autumn of 1866.

After the repeated deferment of the question, which was due to the struggle between the reformist leaders of the London Council who opposed affiliation and local trade unionists, it was finally, decided at the Council meetings of January 9 and 14, 1867, to co-operate with the International Association “for the furtherance of all questions affecting the interests of labour; at the same time continuing the London Trades Council as a distinct and independent body as before” (The Times, January 15, 1867). This decision was discussed by the General Council of the International on January 15, 1867, after which the London Trades Council continued to maintain its contact with the International through those of its members who were also members of the General Council.

39 In the spring of 1865 the Central (General) Council of the International initiated, and participated in, the setting up of a Reform League in London as a political centre of the mass movement for the second election reform. The League’s leading bodies — the Council and Executive Committee — included the General Council members, mainly trade union leaders. The League’s programme was drafted under Marx’s influence. Unlike the bourgeois parties, which confined their demands to household suffrage, the League advanced the demand for manhood suffrage. This revived Chartist slogan won it the support of the trade unions, hitherto indifferent to politics. The League had branches in all big industrial cities. The vacillations of the radicals in its leadership, however, and the conciliation of the trade union leaders prevented the League from following the line charted by the General Council of the International. The British bourgeoisie succeeded in splitting the movement, and a moderate reform was carried out in 1867 which granted franchise only to the petty bourgeoisie and the upper layers of the working class.

40 The National Reform League was founded in London in 1849 by Bronterre O'Brien and other Chartist leaders. Its objective was to campaign for universal suffrage and social reforms. In 1866 the League became affiliated to the International. Its leaders Alfred Walton and George Milner became members of the General Council and took part in several congresses of the International.

41 In 1863 Edgar Bauer, a German journalist and former Young Hegelian, began working for the Prussian Press Department.