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International Working Men's Association
The International
First International

To the organized international socialist movement must be granted the right to determine what is and what is not socialism, just as would be granted to the Pope and the College of Cardinals the right to declare what is true Catholicism, and to a Republican national convention the right to declare what is Republicanism. The famous utterance of Sir William Vernon Harcourt, "We are all Socialists now!" is merely an instance of a too common looseness of thinking and speaking. Socialism, tho informed and inspired by a spirit common to many men in all ages, holds to a definite doctrine, a definite program, and incarnates itself in a definite movement, international and revolutionary.

As a doctrine, modern socialism is founded upon the materialist conception of history, or, as it might better be called, the economic interpretation of history. This economic interpretation of history sees the superstructure of society in all times, with all its institutions, its codes of morals and of laws, as a reflex of the prevailing system of production and distribution. It does not, as is often maintained, see in man's every action the spur of an economic impulse. As a part of this economic interpretation of history, we have also the theory of a class struggle. Thus, history resolves itself into a series of struggles between possessing classes and non-possessing classes, attended by varying fortunes and carried on with but slight intermission through all the changes in modes of production.

The organized Socialist movement, which is an embodiment of this spirit, of this doctrine, and this program. This movement, in its modern form, has but a brief history. It would be difficult to state the exact date or incident which might be called its beginning. The Communist League was created in London in June 1847 out of a merger of the League of the Just and of the fifteen-man Communist Correspondence Committee of Bruxelles, headed by Karl Marx. This movement may be dated, if you will, from the publication of the Communist Manifesto in February, 1848; or the organization of Ferdinand Lassalle's Universal German Working Men's Association, in May, 1863; or the organization of the International Working Men's Association in September, 1864. But of many materials, heterogeneous, scattered, it had been aggregated and welded into a compact political body, reaching out into all the civilized parts of the globe.

The International Working Men's Association, which came to be generally known by the abbreviated title of "The International," was founded in 1864. Its origin was very different from its ultimate development. It was suggested by some representatives of English working men in an address presented to some French workmen who had come over on the instance of the Third Napoleon to visit the London exhibition of 1862. It was suggested as a means of interchange of thought and opinion on the solution of the labour problem, among other economic questions affecting the welfare and condition of society. It was suggested as a means of creating an union of interest and feeling between the working men of different countries. It had apparently in its origin no definitely socialistic aims, it even held that the socialist schemes, which had been professedly put forward as solutions of the labour problem, were idle chimeras and magnificent dreams.

But, as soon as the suggestion took practical shape, the committee which was formed requested Karl Marx, the author of Das Kapttal, to draw up the programme and to prepare the statutes of the association. He impressed upon it from the outset the stamp of his own socialistic views ; and, although throughout its history he never held any higher office than that of corresponding secretary for Germany, he seems to have exercised a predominant influence over its deliberations and acts.

The statutes, which were adopted at the congress held at Geneva in 1866, declared, in the characteristic language of modern scientific Socialism that the "economic subjection of the laborer to the possessor of the means of production is the first cause of his political, moral, and material servitude, and that the emancipation of labour is consequently the great aim to which every political movement ought to be subordinated." This phrase of the "emancipation of labor" was conveniently ambiguous, and was interpreted differently by the workingmen members of different countries. The English trade-unionists saw in it far less than the Russian nihilist Bakounin, who merged his more violent "Alliance of Socialist Democracy" in the larger organisation of the International ; but for some years a working basis of agreement was found by cherishing a distant ideal of a revolutionary nature at the same time as immediate practical ends of so comparatively moderate a character as free education, gratuitous justice, and a normal working day of eight hours, were sought to be accomplished.

The association held periodical congresses in various towns, and gained a footing in different countries. In Belgium it had as many as eight federations of associations, and several journals ; in Holland it possessed a branch in almost every town in 1869, and in Spain its organisation extended throughout the length and breadth of the country and comprised a membership of more than 300,000. It did not spread in Norway or Sweden, nor yet in Switzerland, although its congresses were not unfrequently held in the last-mentioned country. It exercised little real influence in Germany or in England, but in the latter country it obtained the nominal adhesion of 30,000 trades-unionists represented at the Trades Union Congress of 1867.

From the first there were discordant elements in the association, and after the revolution of the Commune of Paris, which followed the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and met with the approval of the leaders of the International, the English members dropped off. At the first congress, which was subsequently held, at the Hague in 1872, the association broke up into two rival factions on the questions of the nature of the political constitution of the society of the future, and of the means by which that new society was to be substituted for the present rigime. The centralist democratic socialists, led by Marx, were in favor of centralised authority, the anarchic socialists, led by Bakounin, disliked central government and favored the old communal system. The former advocated legal and peaceful organisation, and a gradual though inevitable evolution from the old order to the new ; the latter urged revolution. Bakounin was expelled from the association; and for a time two separate organisations maintained a lingering existence and then died away.

The connection of the English trade unions with the International had never been very close, although the first president was Odger, a noted unionist leader, and the first secretary, Cremer, another unionist leader of repute. There can indeed be little doubt that generally the International possessed far less power in reality than that with which it was commonly credited. But it certainly inspired wide-spread alarm. It was joined for a short tune by the Italian Mazzini. It was suspected of being the real author of the Paris Commune. It was the subject of a parallel between itself as the Red and the Roman Catholic church as the Black International. Its first manifesto concluded with the words " Proletarians of all countries, unite," and from its outset it aroused the repressive hostility of the governments of France, Italy, Austria, and Spain.

In the period following the collapse of the First International, the national labor and socialist movements grew up separately in each country with only a slight international connexion. For the 13 years between 1876 and 1880 there was no permanent international bond, but only occasional ad hoc international conferences of labor.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:37:50 ZULU