Marx and Engels had no misapprehension whatsoever as to the fact that the first International could only be the means of carrying and spreading a knowledge of Socialism among the wage-workers throughout the world. Such a task, in face of the great apathy and ignorance of the toilers, was a tremendous one, as the history of the first International has demonstrated. Yet it cannot be gainsaid that the International from 1863 till 1872 was a far greater educational power among the proletariat than the present International, which was inaugurated in 1889. This comparison becomes more significant still when it is asserted by prominent writers and speakers of the present labour movement that the first International was only a roof without the house, while the second, the present International, is a house with a roof. Marx and Engels never claimed any more for the first International than that it was an awning under which the toilers of the world were to be gathered in order to acquire a sound knowledge of capitalist society and of their position therein. And during the nine years of its existence it was indeed a powerful factor in the class struggle throughout the civilised world. The present International, however, is a house without a roof for all the good it is to the proletariat. Look back at that old International and you must feel astounded at the terror it drove into the hearts of the possessing class and their satellites; and why? Simply because it breathed revolution through and through; and Marx and Engels did their utmost to maintain the flame of the revolution.
With the tremendous advantages the present International possesses and has since it was inaugurated, as compared with the great difficulties of the first International, it is evident that the present International has by no means made the most of its opportunities. When in 1863 the first International saw the light there were practically only Marx, Engels, and a few other stalwarts to take up the gigantic task. Marx and Engels were then in the midst of their analysis of the capitalist system, which later on became the basis of the scientific Socialist movement. At the beginning of the first International there was only the Communist Manifesto, a work excellent in its way, but lacking the detailed exposition that followed in Das Capital. The Franco-German War, the Paris Commune, the many great fights and skirmishes of the workers with the capitalist class in every country from that period until 1889, when the second International was inaugurated, were certainly historic events from which splendid lessons ought to have been drawn by the international proletariat; but that was not to be.
The first International shines in the history of the international working-class movement as an epoch of revolutionary propaganda among the proletariat that is not in the least degree approached by the newer movement.
The first International Congress in connection with the first International was held at Geneva in 1866, followed by similar Congresses in 1867 at Lausanne, in 1868 at Brussels, 1869 at Basle, and in 1872 at The Hague. No Congresses were held in 1870 and 1871. During these two years the young international was sorely tried and proved too weak to withstand the exceptionally heavy onslaught made upon it. The Franco-German War and the subsequent Paris Commune were the primary causes of the collapse of the International in 1872, while the hostile position taken up by the bulk of the English Trade Unions against the brave and noble Communards, together with the fact that anarchist tactics were introduced and insisted upon by Bakounin and others were certainly most effective contributory factors to the ultimate fall of the first International. It has been frequently asserted by bourgeois writers and speakers and occasionally repeated by so-called Socialists that Marx was mainly responsible for the Paris Commune. Nothing is more erroneous. Marx knew the extent, power and possibilities of the first International too well to have advocated a sectional trial of strength between the practically unorganised proletariat and the capitalist class.
Marx and Engels, who had throughout the first International aided and advised it in person and by correspondence, continued to be helpers and guides in the different countries even after the first International had collapsed in 1872. When in 1883 Marx died, Engels remained in personal touch with the working-class organisations until his death in 1894, paying them visits in the summer and corresponding with them during the winter.
But although the Socialist movement in the different countries had since the fall of the first International nominally accepted the Socialist teachings of Marx and Engels and the principles of the class-struggle underlying them, the development of the political action of the respective Socialist parties almost in every country tended more and more towards opportunism, so that when the second International was inaugurated in 1889 the opportunist Parliamentarism of the German, Austrian and French parties and the reform tendency of the English, American, Belgian, Dutch, Italian, Swiss and other national parties, that had not yet entered upon a Parliamentary career, naturally found their reflection in the first and following assemblies of the present International. At each of these re-unions the opportunists and reformers were to the fore and easily overpowered the few valiant revolutionaries to whom the policy and tactics of negotiating with the capitalist class for “dirty patches on the wage-slavery garden” were treachery and abomination. And just in the proportion in which in the different countries the Socialist parties attached ever more importance to catching votes for Parliamentary and Municipal candidates running on reform programmes, the revolutionary propaganda was more and more relegated to the rear, till to-day we have a so-called International Socialist movement embracing organisations and individuals that are beyond a doubt purely bourgeois-radical in composition and action. As long as such conditions prevail the working-class movement will make no headway.
The constitution of the International Congress is, as we know so well, a purely theoretic one. Any working-class organisations avowing recognition of the class-struggle at the time of claiming admission have no difficulty whatever in being accepted. They may immediately before and after each Congress repudiate or grossly violate the principles of the class struggle; they may, in fact, be Liberal or Radical organisations at home; but so long as they pretend to be in accord with the class-war attitude, they are heartily welcome at these triennial gatherings.
And what is the composition of these Congresses in consequence? Let us briefly analyse it for our readers’ benefit. The English delegation undoubtedly carries off the palm.
First and foremost comes the Labour Party with a constitution supposing independence on pronouncedly non-Socialist lines. In Parliament they are represented by 30 members, who were elected mainly by open or secret compromise with the Liberal Party and on Radical programmes. In Parliament and out of it they have over and over again assured the Liberal Party that they would be perfectly friendly with them so long as that friendliness was reciprocated.
Next comes the bourgeois Fabian Society with its four members, who were at the last General Election returned as official Liberal representatives, and with a host of official progressive Municipal councillors. The Fabians want a state of Society where “Fabian intellect” shall dominate the masses on the “economic” basis of the “rent of ability”.
A further composite of the English section is the I.L.P., who deny and violate the principles of the class war all the time they are at home. Their members of Parliament were returned by the help of the Labour and Liberal parties. They spend all their efforts in propagating hopeless palliatives and reforms and in the real class struggle continually compromise with the capitalist class.
The S.D.F. support capitalist cat’s paws of the anti-Socialist labour type, and pursue a propaganda of palliatives and reforms, which finds its highest expression in waiting upon capitalist Cabinet Ministers and bourgeois Members of Parliament, to beg of them to push forward “Healthy Legislation for the Suffering Proletariat, etc.”
Besides this array of “sound revolutionary” organisations there are a few “craft-unions” that keep up their membership by their “starvation pension schemes and coffin clubs” mingled with the hope of being able to do something “very soon” for the unemployed with the most valuable aid of the Right Honourable John Burns, whom they support during his election, and then denounce as traitor if the hoped-for reforms are not forthcoming.
But this confusion and opportunism is not, as pointed out previously, only rampant among the organisations that form the British Section of this unhappy International. Take Germany for instance. Here you have the much-boasted of three and a quarter million votes at the last general election, yet the membership of the Socialist Party comprises about 600,000 only, scarcely 18 per cent of the number of voters. It is true that the number of trade unionists has risen to nearly two millions; but a third of these are members of Liberal or religious trade unions, that are entirely under the sway of the capitalist class; and other trade unions are so-called “neutral” ones, that is to say, they are craft unions, independent of the Socialist Party. In the political arena the German Party is dominated by the Reformers and the Revisionists, and in their Parliamentary and Municipal actions they are steeped to the eyebrows in bourgeois reforms and palliatives, while the revolutionary propaganda is left to the very much despised “Rickers”.
In France there was until the International Congress in 1904 at Amsterdam, a body of real revolutionaries – the Guesdists. But in consequence of the “unity” craze these revolutionary fighters fused with the Reformers, the followers of Jaurès, about two years ago on the following terms:
“The United Party is a party of the class struggle, which, even if for the benefit of the workers it takes advantage of minor conflicts among the possessing class or joins in action with a political party for the purpose of defending the rights and interests of the proletariat, remains nevertheless an opposition party, which in principle irreconcilably faces the bourgeois class and their tool – the State.”
The Reformers have, at least temporarily, bamboozled the Guesdists; but judging from the proceedings at the last Congress of the Party, some few weeks ago, there are already many bad sores, which can only lead to a split in the near future. The trade union question, the anti-militarist agitation and the Revisionist tendencies of the followers of Jaurès must bring matters to a head very soon. The United Party during the last general election obtained nearly 900,000 votes, 52 of their candidates having been elected. Yet the members of the United Party number only about 52,000. There are about one and a half million trade unionists in France. Half of these are either Nationalists or Radicals, or do not believe in political action at all. The remaining half are composed of men, most of whom consider it detrimental to the cause of Labour for the trade unions to work in co-operation with the Socialist Party. This question is the great bone of contention between the Guesdists and the followers of Jaurès, who insist upon the trade unions remaining “neutral”, whatever that may mean. it is probable that mainly through the difference the Guesdists will leave the United Party very shortly.
A similar state of things is reflected in the delegations of almost every country, and the truth forces itself upon us that the International Socialist Congress is, as far as the majority is concerned, Socialist in name only, many indeed repudiating even the name.
For the triumph of Socialism, national and international, organisation is essential, but the organisation must be for Socialism and based on Socialist principles or such organisation can be nothing to the workers but a delusion and a snare,
(Socialist Standard, December 1907)