Today marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWMA), better known as the First International. In the following excerpt from my forthcoming book, ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke it': The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement, I discuss the founding congress of the First International in London, England on September 28, 1864. I dealt with the anarchist background to the founding of the International in a previous post. I included the original statutes of the First International in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, together with several other selections that provide contemporaneous anarchist perspectives on the structure and purpose of the International, which I summarize in the Afterword to Volume Three of my Anarchism anthology, “The Anarchist Current.”
The Founding of the First International
At the beginning of September 1864, English workers announced that a congress of European workers would be held on September 28, 1864 at St. Martin’s Hall in London (Mins, 1937: 54).
Prior to the meeting, the French exile, Le Lubez, asked Karl Marx if he could, in Marx’s own words, “supply a German worker to speak at the meeting” (Mins, 1937: 46). Marx nominated his friend, Johann Georg Eccarius (1818-1889), a German tailor and former member of the Communist League, to attend as a representative of the German workers. It was only on the day of the meeting that the English trade unionist, Cremer, asked Marx himself to attend (Mins, 1937: 57). Marx sat on the main platform but did not speak at the meeting. He did manage to get himself appointed to the newly constituted General Committee of the International (later the General Council), with Eccarius as the Vice President, and later persuaded its members to entrust him with writing the Inaugural Address and provisional Statutes of the Association.
The meeting at St. Martin’s Hall was packed. There was standing room only, with some 2,000 people in attendance, (Archer, 1997: 19). Odger read out the address from the English workers welcoming the French delegation. Tolain responded on behalf of the French workers, calling for “the people’s voice” to “make itself heard on all the great political and social questions, thus letting the despots know that the end of their tyrannical tutelage has arrived” (Mins, 1937: 8).
Tolain decried how, under capitalism, “the division of labour tends to make of each workman a machine in the hands of the high lords of industry,” with the workers being “reduced to starvation” (Mins, 1937: 9-10). He urged “labourers of all countries” to unite against the division of “humanity into two classes—an ignorant common people, and plethoric and big-bellied mandarins,” for the only way for the workers to save themselves was “through solidarity” (Mins, 1937: 11)
Le Lubez, on behalf of the French delegation, then proposed that workers’ commissions be established throughout Europe, with a central commission in London to “suggest questions for discussion” (Mins, 1937: 11). George Wheeler, on behalf of the English workers, endorsed the proposal to create an international workers’ association, and a resolution was passed to create a committee (which became the General Council), “to draw up the rules and regulations for such an association” and to organize a congress for the following year in Brussels (Mins, 1937: 16).
Marx regarded the International as a useful vehicle for spreading his ideas, particularly among the English workers, whom he regarded as the most advanced proletariat in Europe. He had little respect for anyone else’s ideas, describing a draft “declaration of principles” that Le Lubez prepared based on the statutes of the Mazzinian Italian Workers’ Societies as “appallingly wordy, badly written and utterly undigested… crusted over with the vaguest tags of French socialism” (Mins, 1937: 48). Marx “was firmly determined that if possible not one single line of the stuff should be allowed to stand” (Mins, 1937: 49).
Marx ensured that he was appointed to the subcommittee responsible for drafting the provisional statutes of the International, and persuaded the subcommittee to have him prepare, in addition to the provisional statutes, an “Address to the Working Classes,” which became known as the Inaugural Address of the International Workingmen’s Association, despite the fact that it was written several weeks after the actual inauguration of the International (Mins, 1937: 49). He was careful to couch the Address in terms that would not alienate the English trade unionists, avoiding “the old boldness of speech” found in his earlier writings, such as the Manifesto of the Communist Party, at least for the time being (Mins, 1937: 50).
Nevertheless, the Address was carefully crafted by Marx to incorporate, among other things, elements of his thought antithetical to Proudhonism and anarchism. Immediately after extolling “co-operative factories” as a “victory of the political economy of labour over the political economy of property,” something with which Proudhon and his followers would agree, Marx then argued that “cooperative labour,” without the assistance of the state, “will never be able to arrest the growth in geometrical progression of monopoly, to free the masses, nor even to perceptibly lighten the burden of their miseries” (Mins, 1937: 36).
Contrary to Proudhon’s mutualist schemes, Marx argued that cooperatives, dependent on what he somewhat dismissively referred to as “the casual efforts of private workmen,” could never displace capitalism (Mins, 1937: 36). To develop “co-operative labour” on a scale capable of supplanting capitalism required “national,” i.e. governmental, “means.” Consequently, Marx claimed, to “conquer political power has… become the great duty of the working classes.” This, in turn, would require “the political reorganisation of the working men’s party” (Mins, 1937: 37). Thus, the seeds of the conflict in the International between Marx, the Proudhonists and later, the anarchists, were planted by Marx himself in the Inaugural Address.
True to his word, Marx was able to “throw out” Le Lubez’s “declaration of principles,” despite the fact that the subcommittee had endorsed the “sentiments” contained within it (Mins, 1937: 49-50). All that remained were two phrases from the statutes of the Italian Workers’ Societies which Marx “was obliged” to include in the preamble to the provisional statutes of the International: the acknowledgment of “truth, justice and morality” as the standard of conduct for the International and its members, and the Mazzinian slogan, “no rights without duties, no duties without rights” (Mins, 1937: 40 & 50).
Marx also managed to repeat in the preamble to the provisional statutes, albeit more ambiguously, the commitment to political action, writing that “the economical emancipation of the working classes is… the great end to which every political movement ought to be subordinate as a means” (Mins, 1937: 39). But this was far too subtle for the French members of the International, who often translated this part of the preamble simply to read: “the great end to which every political movement ought to be subordinate.” The French language version of the Statutes of the International adopted at the 1866 Geneva Congress used this wording, which was later relied upon by the anarchist tendencies in the International in support of their rejection of the Marxist insistence on the need for working class political parties (Anarchism, Vol. 1: 78).