Much has been written on the “lessons” to be learned from the efforts to set up an international organisation that would co-ordinate the national straggles of the workers against capitalism.
The first experiment arose out of a visit of Parisian workers to the London International Exhibition of 1862. when during the visitors’ reception the London trades union officials, Odger and Applegarth, proposed that international congresses of workers be regularly held.
Thus was formed the International Working-Men’s Association, whose committee invited Karl Marx to draft their “Inaugural Address,” which was delivered at St. Martin’s Hall, London, in September, 1864. While in the main dealing with the industrial struggles of Europe’s workers who became affiliated to it, the International essayed to shed light on the steps to be taken by the workers towards their emancipation. For instance, the second part of the Geneva resolution, dealing with the trade unions, might be written to-day. It states:
The trade unions hitherto concentrated their attention too exclusively to the local and direct struggle against capital. They ’have not completely realised their power to attack the very system of wage slavery and present-day methods of production. That is why they keep aloof from social and political movements.
Born in the period of the turmoil of the bourgeois revolutions, feared and hated by European governments during its life, the International became the debating ground for the working-class thinkers of the day, the main cleavage being that of Marx and his supporters, who held that the workers must gain political power for Socialism, as against the Anarchist section led by Bakunin, which, while acknowledging the economic theories of Marx, argued that only by the forcible smashing of the state by direct action could the workers get their freedom.
Basically the division was that of the industrial workers whose mission is the remoulding of a complex capitalist society where the franchise can be the instrument to effect the economic change, as opposed to those who still had to fight against a despotic feudalistic state, as in Spain and Russia, where suppression led to assassination, insurrection and minority action.
Theoretically expressing these conditions, the anarchists, though hating capitalism, could only visualise a decentralised agrarian economy of individual owners relieved entirely of state interference.
Torn by these ideological differences, together with the reaction arising from the crushing of the workers of the Paris Commune, the General Council decided to remove to New York, where after some activity in workers’ organisation, the I.W.A. died a quiet death in 1875.
The First International, though providing a valuable apprenticeship for the workers, and in spite of being guided by thinkers as brilliant as Marx and Engels, was premature in face of the political immaturity of the workers themselves. It nevertheless taught the world’s workers how to “walk by themselves” tactically and theoretically in their struggles against capitalism.
With the growth in Europe of parties whose declared intention was the seeking of political power in the name of Socialism, a second International was set up at the Paris Congress in 1880, and by 1907 at Stuttgart 26 nationalities were represented: the British Labour Party joining in 1908.
While without doubt Marx’s Socialism meant the abolition of the wage system and the uncompromising class struggle, these parties very soon abandoned their “Marxism,” or, like the Labour Party and Fabians, initially denied it altogether for reformism and revisionism. A brief survey of the principal parties will make this apparent.
At the German Erfurt Congress of 1891, which ratified the merging of the Marxists and Lassallians, William Liebknecht, who had effected this fusion, held the following view :—
The possessor of the means of production expropriates the man who has none, and must work for him for a wage; he pays in the wage only a part of the work performed; the surplus value, the unpaid performance, becomes in his hand (the hand of the possessor of the means of work) capital, and enables him to draw tighter and firmer the worker’s chains. . . . Nothing in the process can be altered by pious wishes. . . . All attempts to remove the “excrescences” of capitalism, while maintaining its basis, are Utopian. These “excrescences” are the logical results, the inevitable consequence of the capitalistic system; whoever wants to remove them must remove it, their cause. By this demand the social democracy distinguishes itself from all other parties, and stamps itself a revolutionary party, while all other parties, without exception, take their stand upon the private ownership of the means of production. (“Modern Socialism,” A. C. K. Ensor, 1904, p. 7.)
This stand gave place later to the “revisionism” of Bernstein, within the party, and though countered by Kautsky, Germany’s foremost Marxist, opened the door to a huge membership of elements which made it a shade paler than the British Labour Party. It had gathered numbers and votes at the expense of its former concept of Socialism.
While forming a Republican Government after the last war, its ministers Ebert and Noske were responsible for the murder by Government troops of such Marxists as Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg.
M. Beer, in “Fifty Years of International Socialism,” says: “Ebert and Noske saved Germany for the Nazis by exterminating all determined men and women of the Socialist movement! Thousands were killed by their mercenaries, thousands maimed and driven into exile.” (p. 192.)
Britain’s Social Democratic Federation, like the German, began with a display of “Marxism” by its founder, H. M. Hyndman. in 1881. The movement suffered several splits, William Morris breaking away and forming the Socialist League, an anti-parliamentary sect which was finally captured by the anarchists.
Max Beer, in his “History of British Socialism,” makes clear how the S.D.F. tried to ride two horses, one the advocacy of “Marxism,” the other the more popular one of vote-catching reforms and arrangements with capitalist candidates.
It was on this issue that Scottish members split away and formed the S.L.P., leaning towards syndicalism, while the London secessionists formed the Socialist Party of Great Britain to advocate Socialism in 1904.
The I.L P.. Labour Party and Fabian Societv had all by then been formed with the “practical” policy of reforming capitalism, thus leaving the S.P.G.B. the only party in the field advocating straight Socialism.
The German and British Labour Parties held the largest representation at the Copenhagen Congress of 1910, which confirmed an oft-repeated pledge in a resolution which ran: “If war threatens to break out, it is the duty of the working class to use every effort to prevent war by all means that seem to them appropriate. Should, nevertheless, the war break out, it is their duty to intervene to bring it promptly to an end, and use the political and economic crisis to rouse the masses from their slumbers and hasten the downfall of capitalist domination.” (“Everybody’s Book of Politics,” Odhams Press, Ltd.)
Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik section of the Russian Social Democratic Party, declared that this resolution had been betrayed, and in his “War and the Second International’’ wrote a scathing indictment describing how the “Socialists” had placed themselves behind their capitalist governments, voted for war credits, and made a patriotic case for doing so.
This onslaught on the Second International virtually declared dead by Lenin, together with the apparent success of Bolshevik methods in bringing “Socialism” to Russia, heralded the formation of the Third “Communist” International in 1919. The Leninists built up their organisation on the basis of an elite of professional revolutionaries who were to lead the slow-witted masses to revolution.
Disdaining democratic parliamentary methods as “bourgeois,” and only to be used as a “platform,” their main urge was to civil war, through which in a crisis such as a war the government would be thrust aside, the “Communists” assume the state power and establish the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” as in Russia.
For years the respective national sections disciplined by the “Comintern” talked civil war or supported the Tories in turn, according to the needs of the foreign policy of Russia, even dissolving . completely, as in America. Eventually with Russia’s state capitalistic development and its arrival as a “great power,” the need for international “reds” fell away and was even an embarrassment to Russia’s diplomatic concert with her allies in World War 2, whereby the Third International was formally dissolved by Stalin. Russia’s national leader, in February, 1944.
History had played a cruel trick on Lenin’s international, for it was killed by a capitalist war, as surely as the Second which he himself declared dead—a war which it declared to be imperialistic, only to change to one for freedom when Russia itself was attacked.
There is left to mention the “Trotskyists,” who have declared a Fourth International based on the tactics and doctrines of Lenin. Believing that Socialism would have been established in Russia but for its betrayal by the Stalinists, they perpetuate the illusion that Socialism can yet be won by Bolshevik methods. With a logic all their own, they have demanded “Immediate despatch of arms and material to the Soviet Union,” while at the same time stating the war to be imperialistic. The Trotskyists are but the faint echo of the Third International in its Lenin’s heyday, and while they think that slogans and leadership can take the place of a majority of convinced Socialist workers in ending capitalism, they are on the same road as their predecessors.
The ruins of the “Internationals” testify to the workers’ urge to put into effect Marx’s injunction, “Workers of all lands, unite.” But for what? The S.P.G.B., with its companion parties in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and America, have stood outside the “Internationals” on the grounds that they were non-Socialist bodies, and the failure of Labourism, Fabianism and Sovietism to achieve Socialism is proof of the correctness of our position. We state this in no sectarian spirit, but as a part of the workers’ movement struggling for emancipation. Meanwhile capitalism is still here, with its wage system, its national struggles for trade, armed or “peaceful,” and the workers have but mentally reached the stage of thinking that state control of capitalism by “labour” is Socialism in practice.
That the workers must challenge the basis of capitalism and end this vicious circle is apparent to many, and we make no apologies to the organised workers in asking them to examine our record and fitness to form the nucleus of a true Socialist Workers’ International.