The First International: The Anarchist Background

Founding Congress of the International, September 28, 1864

Founding Congress of the International, September 28, 1864

September 28, 2014 marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of the International Workingmen’s Association (Association Internationale des Travailleurs–IWMA/AIT). Contrary to popular belief, Karl Marx was not one of the founders of the International. He was only invited to attend its founding Congress shortly before it began, and then was able to insinuate himself onto the committee that was created to draft its provisional statutes. Here I reproduce an excerpt from my forthcoming book, We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement, to be published by AK Press. In this excerpt, I describe the role the earlier “International Association” played in setting the stage for the creation of the International in September 1864. As with the International, of which it was a precursor, the International Association had republican, centralist and anarchist tendencies which eventually led to a split in the organization. In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included several selections regarding the First International and the emergence of European anarchist movements, including excerpts from its original statutes. I also discuss the relationship between the First International and the development of European anarchism in the Anarchist Current, the Afterword to Volume Three of my Anarchism anthology, in which I survey the origins and development of anarchist ideas from ancient China to the present day.

iwa-poster

The International Association and the First International

The workers who created the International in 1864 did so on their own initiative, without ideological guidance from any particular political faction. Although Marx was eventually delegated the task of drafting the Inaugural Address and founding Statutes of the International, he had only been formally invited to attend the Inaugural Meeting in September 1864 hours before it began (Mins, 1937: 57). As Benoît Malon (1841-1893) later put it, the International had no founders: rather “it came into existence, with a bright future, out of the social necessities of our epoch and out of the growing sufferings of the working class” (Katz, 1992: 2).

The founding of the International had been years in the making. In the mid-1850s, a delegation of French workers travelled to England to meet with English workers and European exiles for the purpose of establishing a “Universal League of Workers” (Stekloff, 1928: 29). The French delegates were followers of Proudhon, and sought in effect to create an international mutualist association, with the aim of establishing a transnational network of workers’ productive and consumer cooperatives that would eventually displace the capitalist economic regime. They denounced capitalism as a system “in which riches are only for those who do nothing to produce or earn them, and crushing poverty is the lot of the producers of the riches!” (Lehning, 1970: 233). They therefore sought “the emancipation of workmen from the tyranny of employers” (Lehning, 1970: 234). Although an “executive committee was elected,” and it was “resolved to issue an appeal to the trade unions,” the League never became a functioning organization (Stekloff, 1928: 29).

In England there already existed an “International Committee” with English, French, German, Polish, Italian and Spanish representatives. Although its main purpose was to champion democracy in Europe, one of the Committee members, Ernest Jones (1819-1869), made clear his view that the Committee was “no mere crusade against 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” (Stekloff, 1928: 28). Jones, a former Chartist who had earlier been imprisoned for his labour agitation, later joined the International, but focused his activities on achieving universal male suffrage in England.

After the April 1856 meeting with the French delegates to establish the Universal League of Workers, the International Committee issued a manifesto “To all Nations,” which, among other things, proclaimed that “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” (Stekloff, 1928: 29-30). The Committee therefore called for the establishment of an “International Association” of “socialist and revolutionary national societies” that would coordinate their propaganda “and so prepare the success of the future revolution” (Stekloff, 1928: 31). Several branches of the International Association were established, representing various countries, including sections in the United States, where Joseph Déjacque became a member (Lehning, 1951).

The most radical members of the International Association were French refugees in London and the United States, many of whom, including Déjacque, were anarchists. Déjacque published articles in Le Libertaire setting forth their position. They believed that the workers could achieve their liberation only by adopting a revolutionary socialist program that clearly separated them from the bourgeois republicans who had betrayed them in June 1848 (Lehning, 1970: 200).

liberte

Under the influence of the French anarchists, the Association itself began moving toward an anarchist position, publishing an appeal “To the Republicans, Democrats and Socialists of Europe” in December 1858. From their perspective, there was “no difference between an absolute monarchy and a bourgeois republic: where there are classes and privileged castes, there is slavery and despotism” (Lehning, 1970: 201-202). The Association criticized the Italian revolutionary, Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872), for calling on the workers to support the bourgeois republicans who would simply replace Europe’s monarchies with “oligarchic” regimes where the workers would continue to be “robbed of the fruits of their toil” (Lehning, 1970: 202). They were skeptical of the republican trinity of “liberty, equality and fraternity” as long as one “social class is forced to sell its labour” and “one man is master and others slaves” (Lehning, 1970: 202).

Ultimately, divisions arose within the Association between the anarchists, the republicans and those who favoured centralized organization. The anarchists persuaded other members of the Association to replace its “Central Council” with a “secretariat” that would serve only as a correspondence bureau coordinating communications between the various branches (Lehning, 1970: 203-204). Women were to have equal status in the Association, a position long championed by Déjacque and his associates. The purpose of the revamped Association was “to propagate the principles of the social revolution,” by which was meant: “Absolute negation of all privileges; absolute negation of all authority; liberation of the proletariat” (Lehning, 1970: 203). Existing forms of government were to be replaced by “an administration nominated by the people, submitted to their control, and at any time revocable” (Lehning, 1970: 203).

The members of the International Association who favoured more centralized organization reconstituted the Association’s Central Committee under the old rules of the Association. However, both the anarchist and centralist Associations petered out after many of the French refugees returned to France when they were amnestied in August 1859 (Lehning, 1970: 205). By “the beginning of the sixties both the International Committee and the International Association had disappeared from the political arena” (Stekloff, 1928: 32).

The French anarchists who did not immediately return to France formed the “Club of Free Discussion” in London. Déjacque published reports of their meetings in Le Libertaire until he himself returned to France in 1861 (Lehning, 1970: 206). At their meetings they continued not only to denounce the bourgeois republicans but also state socialists, such as Louis Blanc, for vainly seeking reforms through government institutions. The Club adopted a revolutionary socialist stance, remaining “faithful to its conviction that everything that is evil in civil society is the fatal consequence of established authority” (Lehning, 1970: 329). They would close their meetings with cries of “Vive l’Anarchie!” (Lehning, 1970: 330).

Several “former members of the International Association” later joined the International Workingmen’s Association (Lehning, 1970: 209). Among them were Alfred Talandier (1822-1890), an advocate of producers’ cooperatives who regarded them, as did Proudhon and later Bakunin, “as a means of substituting the political organization of society by the industrial organization of labour, which would ultimately result in the liquidation of the national state” (Lehning, 1970: 174 & 190). At one time Talandier also became a member of Bakunin’s “revolutionary brotherhood,” for which Bakunin prepared an anarchist program in 1866 (Lehning, 1970: 174; Bakunin, 1974: 64-93).

Robert Graham

Déjacque's Le Libertaire

Déjacque’s Le Libertaire

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Is this the Katz and book you cite:http://www.cqpress.com/product/Revolution-International-Dimensions.html

    If the Left is ever to unite, as opposed to one faction eliminating the rest, I believe it will be along Integralist lines suggested by Malon.

    • The Katz book I cited is The Emancipation of Labour, by Henryk Katz, not Mark. Malon became quite a reformist in his later years.

      • Thx. Don’t know what we’d do without you.

      • And it only cost $100: http://www.amazon.com/The-Emancipation-Labor-International-Contributions/dp/0313274479

        How does a book get that expensive!

      • When it’s published by a corporate “academic” press that still thinks there are enough libraries out there to make these academic monographs profitable (it’s not even that long a book). I think I can safely predict mine will be cheaper!

  2. Is Lehning’s book available in English?

    • Not sure if it’s available anywhere other than a library, but it’s called From Buonarotti to Bakunin, and Lehning’s essay on the International Association is in English.


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