Book Review: The International – Part 1
History of the First International by G. M. Stekloff. (Martin Lawrence. 12/6. Trans, by Eden & Cedar Paul.).
The author of this work has written a very interesting and informing account of the International Working Men’s Association, now described as the First International.
He starts out by investigating the earlier bodies such as the Communist League, which had an international character, and proceeds to show that they were the forerunners of the International. Like most of the Bolshevik writers, Stekloff paints too highly the English organisations that existed in the earner part of the nineteenth century.
Of the Chartists he says :—
“In the middle thirties of the nineteenth century began the Chartist movement, the first attempt to create a mass party of revolutionary workers.”
Now this is not correct, for neither in membership nor in their objects were the Chartist’s revolutionary.
The conditions of the early sixties, industrially and politically, led to discussion of the need for international action among the workers, but the immediate occasion of the inauguration of the First International was the bloody suppression of the Polish rising by Russia. The first meeting took place at St. Martin’s Hall on September 28th, 1864. Karl Marx was elected a member of the Committee to draft the rules and constitution, and the draft presented by Major Wolff, Mazzini’s secretary, was rejected as well as that of Weston, the Chartist.
After a long and animated discussion, the draft drawn up by Marx himself was accepted. This address insists upon the importance of political action in these words: “To conquer political power has, therefore, become the great duty of the working class.”
The author of this history shows the very mixed outlook of a large part of the active members of the International. Many of them had distorted ideas of the meaning of the organisation and did not appreciate the truth Marx set out in the Preamble to the Rules stating that the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself.
In the Latin countries the followers of Proudhon advocated peasant holdings and petty enterprise assisted by mutual credit banks. They repudiated political action. The followers of Bakunin (whose numbers were large) held that political activity was treachery. All these schools of Anarchist reform reflected the backward state of capitalism in the countries where their policy was popular. Their individual outlook and objection to State interference was shown at the Geneva Congress in 1866, where the French delegates opposed an eight-hour law on the ground that it was improper to interfere in the relations between employers and employed.
(To be continued.)