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Second International 1889-1914 - Early Years

After the collapse of the original " International Working Men's Association," known as the First International, there were successive attempts to form a united International of the various socialist and labour movements, the two chief attempts being the Second International, which was formed in 1889 and broke down on the outbreak of the World War in I9r4, but was afterwards revived in a mutilated form, and the Third International, which was formed in 1919 on a more exclusively revolutionary basis. In 1921 there was no single International for all the labour and socialist organizations, and the movement as a whole was in flux.

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. These were summoned by various convening bodies, on one occasion (1888) by the British Trades Union Congress. The list of these intervening conferences is given as follows in the official record ef the International Socialist Bureau: 1876, Berne; 1877, Ghent; 1881, Coire; 1883, Paris; 1886, Paris; 1888, London.

In 1889 a new step was taken by the decision of the Paris International Congress to arrange for the periodic holding of International congresses in future. The Paris Congress really consisted of two separately convened conferences, one being Marxian and the other Possibilist or moderate. Subsequent united congresses were held at Brussels in 1891; at Zurich in 1S93, and at London in 1896. The starting point of the Second or "New International" is commonly taken as the year 1889.

It was not, however, until 1900, at the Paris Congress of that year, that a definite constitution was set up for the new International. The 1900 Congress established an International Socialist Bureau of representatives from each affiliated national section, together with an executive, a paid secretary, and a central office. The bureau met once a year, or more often in the case of emergency. The central office was stationed at Brussels; and the chairman, secretary and executive, who were entrusted with the task of carrying on the continuous work of the International, were composed of members of the Belgian section.

At the same Congress of Paris in 1900 were laid down the final conditions of membership of the International. By these conditions affiliation-was open to all associations which adhere to the essential principles of socialism: socialization of the means of production and exchange; international union and action of the workers; conquest of public powers by the proletariat organized as a class party, and to all the constituted organizations which accept the principle of the class struggle and recognize the necessity for political action {legislative and parliamentary), but do not participate directly in the political movement.

Subsequent congresses under the new regulations were held at Amsterdam in 1904, at Stuttgart in 1907, and at Copenhagen in 1910. A special conference was held at Basel in 1912 to protest against the danger of participation by the Great Powers in the Balkan war. The next regular congress was to have been held at Vienna in Aug. 1914, but was abandoned owing to the outbreak of war. The last full congress of the Second International prior to the Great War was, in consequence, the Copenhagen Congress of 1910. That congress was attended by 896 delegates representing 23 nationalities. The total number of nationalities affiliated with the bureau at the outbreak of war was 28; and the membership was given as 12 millions.

The pre-war International was a larger organization than had so far been achieved; but its real strength lay in the national sections, and as a whole it lacked effective adhesion or unity. The compromise which gave it birth in the original fusion of the two Paris conferences of 1889 stamped its proceedings throughout. Two leading controversies occupied its attention in the years before the war. One was the question of socialist participation in non-socialist governments. The other was the question of the action of the International in the event of war. On neither of these questions was a clear answer given, although on both elaborate resolutions were passed, couched in revolutionary but vague phraseology.

The decision regarding ministerial collaboration by socialists was reached at the Amsterdam Congress of 1904, and laid down that "The Social Democracy can accept no participation in the Government under bourgeois society, this decision being in accordance with the Kautsky resolution passed at the International Congress of Paris in 1900." This decision would in itself appear definite; but the addition at the end introduces a covert reservation, the terms of the 1000 resolution having sanctioned the exceptional entry of a socialist into the Ministry as a "forced expedient of a temporary and extraordinary character."

The decision on the question of war is even more important for latter-day controversies. The decision was reached at the Stuttgart Congress of 1007 and reaffirmed at the Copenhagen Congress of 1910. It made the following declaration: "If war threatens to break out, it it the duty of the working class in the countries concerned and of their parliamentary representatives, with the help of the International Uureau as a means of coordinating their action, to use every effort to prevent war by all the means which seem to them most appropriate, having regard to the sharpness of the class war and to the general political situation.... Should war none the less break out, their duty is to intervene to bring it promptly to an end and with all their energies to use the political and economic crisis created by the war to rouse the masses of the people from their slumbers and to hasten the fall of capitalist domination."

This decision would again appear definite: but a proposal at the Copenhagen Congress in favour of a general strike in the event of war was referred back by 131 votes to 51, with instructions to the International Bureau to remit it to the national sections for report. The Trade Union International had already refused discussion of the same proposal on the ground that it was a political question falling within the scope of the Socialist International. The subsequent fate of the proposal is worth observing as evidence of the pre-war position. The International Bureau, in accordance with instructions, circularized the national sections in Iqio with a request to report. By 1912 four replies had been received in all, from (1) the Armenian Revolutionary Federation; (2) the Commission of-Resolutions of the Seine; (3) the Central Unions and Socialist Party of Denmark; (4) the Socialist Party of Finland. In 1912 the International secretary again circularized the national sections, pointing out the urgency of the subject, as August 1914 (the Vienna Congress) was approaching. This was the position, reached before the war.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:44:46 ZULU