The Forerunners of Syndicalism

Robert Owen and the English labour movement; The Grand National Consolidated Trade Union; William Benbow and the idea of the General Strike; The period of reaction; Evolution of the labour organisations in France; The International Workingmen's Association; The new conception of trade unionism; The idea of the labour councils; Labour councils versus dictatorships; Bakunin on the economic organisation of the workers; The introduction of parliamentary politics by Marx and Engels and the end of the International.

The permeation of the labour movement by Socialist ideas early led to tendencies which had an unmistakable relationship to the revolutionary syndicalism of our day. These tendencies developed first in England, the mother country of capitalist big industry, and for a time strongly influenced the advanced sections of the English working class. After the repeal of the Combination Acts, the effort of the workers was directed chiefly to giving a broader character to their trade union organisations, as practical experience had shown them that purely local organisations could not provide the needed support in their struggles for daily bread. Still these efforts were not at first based on any very profound social concepts. The workers, insofar as they were influenced by the political reform movement of that time, had no goal whatever in view outside the immediate betterment of their economic status. Not until the beginning of the 30's did the influence of Socialist ideas on the English labour movement become plainly apparent, and its appearance then is to be ascribed chiefly to the stirring propaganda of Robert Owen and his followers.

A few years before the convening of the so-called Reform Parliament the National Union of the Working Classes was founded, its most important component part being the workers in the textile industries. This combination had summed up its demands in the following four points:

  1. To every worker the full value of his labour.
  2. Protection of the worker against the employers by every appropriate means, which means will develop automatically out of the current conditions.
  3. The reform of parliament and universal suffrage for both men and women.
  4. Education of workers in economic problems.
One recognises in these demands the strong influence of the political reform movement which just at that time held the entire country under its spell: but at the same time one notices expressions which are borrowed from the doctrines of Robert Owen.

The year 1832 brought the Reform Bill, by which the last political illusions for large circles of the English working class were destroyed. When the bill had become law it was seen that the middle class had, indeed, won a great victory over the aristocratic landowners, but the workers recognised that they had been betrayed again, and that they had merely been used by the bourgeoisie to pull its chestnuts out of the fire. The result was a general disillusionment and the steadily sprawling conviction that the working class could find no help in an alliance with the bourgeoisie. If, before then, the class struggle had been an actuality which rose spontaneously out of the conflicting economic interests of the possessing and non-possessing classes, it had now taken shape as a definite conviction in the minds of the workers and gave a determinate course to their activities. This turn in the thinking of the working class is clearly revealed in numerous utterances in labour press during those years. The workers were beginning to understand that their real strength lay in their character as producers. The more keenly aware they became of the fiasco of their participation in the political reform movement, the more firmly rooted became their newly acquired understanding of their own economic importance in society.

They were strengthened in this conviction in high degree by the propaganda of Robert Owen, who at that time was gaining constantly stronger influence in the ranks of organised labour. Owen recognised that the steady growth of trade union organisations furnished a firm basis for his efforts at a fundamental alteration of the capitalist economic order, and this filled him with high hopes. He showed the workers that the existing conflict between capital and labour could never be settled by ordinary battles over wages, though, in fact, he by no means overlooked the great importance of these to the workers. On the other hand he strove to convince the workers that they could expect nothing whatever from legislative bodies, and must take their affairs into their own hands. These ideas found willing ears among the advanced sectors of the English working class, and first manifested themselves strongly among the building trades. The Builders' Union, in which were combined a considerable number of local labour unions, was at that time one of the most advanced and most active of labour organisations, and was a thorn in the flesh of the managers. In the year 1831, Owen had presented his plans for the reconstruction of society before a meeting of delegates of this union in Manchester. The plans amounted to a kind of Guild Socialism and called for the establishment of producer's co-operatives under the control of the trade unions. The proposals were adopted, and shortly after this the Builders' Union was involved in a long serious of severe conflicts, the unhappy outcome of which seriously threatened the existence of the organisation and put a premature end to all efforts in the direction marked out by Owen.

Owen did not let himself be discouraged by this, but carried on his activities with renewed zeal. In 1833 there convened in London a conference of trade unions and co-operative organisations, at which Owen explained exhaustively his plan for social reconstruction by the workers themselves. From the reports of the delegates one can see plainly what an influence these ideas has already gained and what a creative spirit then animated the advanced circles of the English working class.The Poor Man's Guardian very justly summed up its report of the conference in these words:

"But far different from the paltry objects of all former combinations is that now aimed at by the congress of delegates. Their reports show that an entire change in society--a change amounting to a complete subversion of the existing order of the world--is contemplated by the working classes. They aspire to be at the top instead of the bottom of society--or rather that there should be no bottom or top at all."

The immediate result of this conference was the founding of the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union of Great Britain and Ireland at the beginning of 1834. These were stirring times. The whole country was shaken by innumerable strikes and lock-outs, and the number of workers organised in trade unions rapidly soared to 800,000. The founding of the G.N.C. arose from the effort to gather the scattered organisations into one great federation, which would give greater effective force to the actions of the workers. But what distinguished this alliance from all the efforts in this direction which had been made previously was that it stood, neither for pure trade unionism, not for collaboration of the workers with the political reformers. The G.N.C. was conceived as a fighting organisation to lend all possible aid to the needed betterment of their condition, but it had at the same time set itself the goal of overthrowing capitalist economy as a whole and replacing it with the co-operative labour of all producers, which should no longer have in view profits for all individuals, but the satisfaction of the needs of all. The G.N.C. was, then, to be the framework within which these aspirations would find expression and be transformed into reality.

The organisers wanted to combine in these federations the workers in all industrial and agricultural pursuits and group them according to their special branches of production. Each industry would constitute a special division which would concern itself with the special conditions of their productive activity and the related administrative functions. Wherever this was possible the workers in the various branches were to proceed to the establishment of co-operative plants, which should sell their produce to consumers at actual cost, including the expense of administration. Universal organisation would serve to bind the separate industries together organically, and to regulate their mutual interests. the exchange of products of the co-operative plants was to be effected through so-called labour bazaars and the use of special exchange-money or labour tickets. By the steady spread of these institutions they hoped to drive capitalist competition from the field and thus to achieve a complete reorganisation of society.

At the same time these co-operative agricultural and industrial undertakings were to serve to make the day-to-day struggles of the workers in the capitalist world easier. This is shown particularly in three of the seven points in which the G.N.C. had framed its demands:

"As land is the source of the first necessaries of life, and as, without the possession of it, the producing classes will ever remain in a greater or less degree subservient to the money capitalists, and subsequent upon the fluctuations of trade and commerce, this committee advises that a great effort should be made by the unions to secure such portions of it on lease as their funds will permit, in order that in all turn-outs the men may be employed in rearing the greater part, if not the whole, of their subsistence under the direction of practical agricultural superintendents, which arrangements would not have the effect of lowering the price of labour in any trade, but on the contrary would rather tend to increase it by drawing off the at present superfluous supply in manufactures.

"The committees would, nevertheless, earnestly recommend in all cases of strikes and turn-outs, where it is practicable, that the men be employed in the making or producing of commodities as would be in demand among their brother unionists; and that to effect this, each lodge should be provided with a workroom or shop in which these commodities may be manufactured on account of such lodge, which shall make proper arrangements for the supply of the necessary materials.

"That in all cases where it is practicable, each district or branch should establish one or more depots of provisions and articles in general domestic use: by which means the working man may be supplied with the bast commodities at little above wholesale prices."

The G.N.C. was, therefore, conceived by its founders as an alliance of trade unions and co-operatives. By his practical participation in co-operative undertakings the worker was to gain the understanding necessary for the administration of the industry and thus be fitted to bring ever wider circles of social production under their control, until at last the whole economic life should be conducted by the producers themselves and an end put to all exploitation. These ideas found surprisingly clear expression in worker's meetings and, more particularly, in the labour press. If, for example, one reads The Pioneer, the organ of the G.N.C. managed by James Morrison, one frequently encounters arguments that sound thoroughly modern. This is revealed especially in the discussions with the political reformers, who had inscribed on their banner the democratic reconstruction of the House of Commons. They were told in reply that the workers had no interest whatever in efforts of that sort, since an economic transformation of society in the Socialist sense would render the House of Commons superfluous. Its place would be taken by the labour boards and the industrial federations, which would concern themselves with merely with the problems of production and consumption in the interest of the people. These organisations were destined to take over the functions of the present entrepreneurs; with common ownership of all social wealth there would no longer be any need for political institutions. The wealth of the nation would no longer be determined by the quantity of goods produced, but by the personal advantage that every individual derived from them. The House of Commons would in the future be merely a House of Trades.

The G.N.C. met with an extraordinary response from the workers. In a few months it embraced much over half a million members, and even though its actual aims were clearly understood at first only by the most intellectually active elements among the workers, still the great masses recognised, at least, that an organisation of such dimensions could lend much greater weight to their demands than could local groups. The agitation for the ten-hour day had then taken firm hold on all sections of the English working class, and the G.N.C. set itself with all its energy to enforce this demand. Owen himself, and his close friends Doherty, Fielden and Grant took a prominent part in this movement. However, the militants in the G.N.C. placed little hope in legislation, but tried to convince the workers that the ten-hour day could only be won by the united economic action of the whole body of workers. "The adults in factories must by unions among themselves make a Short Time Bill for themselves." This was their slogan.

The idea of the general strike met with undivided sympathy from the organised English workers. At the beginning of 1832, William Benbow, one of the most active champions of the new movement, had published a pamphlet entitled Grand National Holiday and Congress of the Productive Classes, which had a tremendous circulation, and in which the idea of the general strike and its importance to the working class was for the first time treated in its full compass. Benbow told the workers that if the enforced sale of their labour power was the cause of their slavery, then their organised refusal to work must be the means of their liberation. Such an instrument of warfare dispensed with any use of physical force and could achieve incomparably greater effects that the best army. All that was needed to bring about the downfall of the system of organised injustice was that the workers should grasp the importance of this powerful weapon and learn to use it with intelligence. Benbow advance a lot of proposals, such as preparation for the general strike in the whole country by the establishment of local committees, so that the eruption might burst with elemental force, and his ideas at that time met with the heartiest response from the workers.

The rapid growth of the G.N.C. and, even more, the spirit that emanated from it, filled the employers with secret fear and blind hatred of the new combination. They felt that the movement must be stifled at the very outset before it had time to be spread farther and build up and consolidate its local groups. The entire bourgeois press denounced the "criminal purposes" of the G.N.C., and unanimously proclaimed that it was leading the country toward a catastrophe. The factory owners in every industry besieged parliament with petitions urging measures against "unlawful combinations," and in particular against the collaboration of workers in different categories in industrial disputes. Many employers laid before their workers the so-called "document," and offered them the alternative of withdrawing from their unions or being thrown on the street by a lock-out.

Parliament did not, it is true, re-enact the old Combination Acts, but the government encouraged the judges to deal with the "excesses" of the workers as severely as they could within the framework of the existing laws. And they did so in generous measure, being often able to use as a handle the fact that many unions had retained from the days of their underground activity before the repeal of the Combination Acts the formula of the oath and other ceremonial forms, and that this was contrary to the letter of the law. hundreds of workers were sentenced to horrible punishments for the most trivial offences. Among the terrorist sentences of that time that imposed on six field hands in Dorchester aroused the bitterest indignation. Through the initiative of the G.N.C. the field workers in Tolpuddle, a little village near Dorchester, had formed a union and demanded an increase of wages from seven shillings to eight shillings a week. Shortly afterward six field hands were arrested and sentenced to the frightful penalty of transportation for seven years to the penal colonies in Australia. Their sole crime consisted in belonging to a union.

Thus from the very beginning the G.N.C. was involved in a long series of important wage wars and was subjected besides to constant and bitter prosecutions, so that it hardly found time to begin in earnest its great work of educating the masses. Perhaps, in any case, the time for that was not yet ripe. Many of its members turned to the awakening Chartism, which accepted many of its immediate demands, and along with other matters kept up the propaganda for the general strike, culminating in 1842 in that great movement which tied up all the industries of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Staffordshire, the Potteries, Wales and the coal districts of Scotland. But the original significance of the movement had worn off, and Owen had been right when he accused Chartism of laying too much weight of political reform and showing too little understanding of the great economic problems. The unhappy revolutions of 1848-49 on the continent led also to the decline of the Chartist movement, and pure trade unionism came once more to dominate the field for years in the English labour movement.

In France also the alliance of Socialism with the labour movement quickly led to attempts on the part of the workers to overthrow the capitalist economic order and pave the way for a new social development. The antagonism between the working class and the bourgeoisie that had just acquired mastery had already shown itself clearly during the storms of the Great Revolution. Before the Revolution the workers had been united in the so-called Compagnonnages, whose origin can be traced back to the fifteenth century. These were associations of journeymen craftsmen which had their particular ceremonials transmitted from the middle ages, whose members were pledges to mutual assistance, and which busied themselves with the concerns of their calling, but also resorted often to strikes and boycotts to protect their immediate economic interests. With the abolition of the guilds and the development of modern industry these bodies gradually lost their importance and gave way to new forms of proletarian organisation.

By the law of August 21, 1790, all citizens were conceded the right of free combination within the framework of the existing laws, and the workers availed themselves of this right by organising themselves in trade unions for the safeguarding of their interests against the employers. A lot of local strike movements ensued, especially in the building industry, and caused the employers a great deal of worry, as the organisations of workers grew constantly stronger, counting 80,000 members in Paris alone.

In a memorial to the government the employers denounced these combinations of workers and demanded the protection of the state against this "new tyranny" which presumed to interfere with the right of free contract between employer and employee. The government responded graciously to this demand and forbade all combinations for the purpose of effecting alterations in the existing conditions of labour, assigning as a reason that it could not permit the existence of a state within the state. This prohibition continued in force until 1864. But here also it was early shown that circumstances are stronger than the law. Just as had the English, so also the French workers resorted to secret association, since the law denied them the right to urge their demands openly.

The so-called mutualités, harmless mutual benefit societies, often served in this connection as a cover, spreading the mantle of legality as over the secret organisations for resistance (sociétés de resistance ). These had, it is true, often to endure harsh prosecutions, and to make many sacrifices, but no law was able to crush their resistance. Under the law of Louis Phillipe the laws against the combination of workers were strengthened still further, but even that could not prevent the steady growth of the sociétés de resistance, nor the development of a long series of great strike movements as a result of their underground activities. Of these the fight of the weavers in Lyons in 1831 grew into an event of European importance. Bitter need had spurred these workers to a desperate resistance to the rapacity of the employers, and owing to the interference of the militia this had developed into an outright revolt, into which the workers carried their banner inscribed with the significant words: "Live working or die fighting!"

As early as the 30's a lot of these workers' associations had become acquainted with Socialist ideas, and after the February Revolution of 1848 the acquaintance afforded the basis for the movement of the French Workingmens' Association, a co-operative movement with a trade union trend, which worked for a reshaping of society by constructive effort. In his history of the movement S. Englander puts the number of these associations at about two thousand. But the coup d'état of Louis Bonaparte put an abrupt end to this hopeful beginning, as to so many others.

Only with the founding of the International Workingmen's Association was there a revival of the doctrines of a militant and constructive Socialism, but after that they spread internationally. The International, which exercise such a powerful influence on the intellectual development of the body of European workers, and which even today has not lost its magnetic attraction in the Latin countries, was brought into being by the collaboration of the English and French workers in 1864. It was the first great attempt to unite the workers of all countries in an international alliance which should open the path for the social and economic liberation of the working class. It was from the beginning distinguished from all the political forms of organisation of bourgeois radicalism by pointing out that the economic subservience of the workers to the owners of the raw materials and the tools of production was the source of the slavery which revealed itself in social misery, intellectual degradation, and political oppression. For this reason it proclaimed in its statutes the economic liberation of the working class as the great purpose to which every political movement must be subordinate.

Since the most important object was to unite the different factions of the social movement in Europe for this purpose, the organisational structure of the vast workers' alliance was based on the principles of Federalism, which guaranteed to each particular school the possibility of working for this common goal in accordance with their own convictions and on the basis of the particular conditions of each country. The International did not stand for any defined social system; it was rather the expression of a movement whose theoretical principles slowly matured in the practical struggles of everyday life and took clearer form at every stage of its vigorous growth. the first need was to bring the workers of the different countries closer to one another, to make them understand that their economic and social enslavement was everywhere traceable to the same causes, and that consequently the manifestation of their solidarity must reach beyond the artificial boundaries of the states, since it is not tied up with the alleged interests of the nation, but with the lot of their class.

The practical efforts of its sections to end the importation of foreign strike-breakers in times of industrial warfare, and to furnish material and moral assistance to militant workers in every country by international collections, contributed more to the development of an international consciousness among the workers than the loveliest theories could have done. They gave the workers practical education in social philosophy. It was a fact that after every considerable strike the membership of the International soared mightily, and the conviction of its national coherence and homogeneity was constantly strengthened.

Thus the International became the great school mistress of the socialist labour movement and confronted the capitalist world with the world of international labour, which was being ever more firmly welded together in the bonds of proletarian solidarity. The first two congresses of the International, at Geneva in 1866, and at Lausanne in 1867, were characterised by a spirit of comparative moderation. They were the first tentative efforts of a movement which was only slowly becoming clear as to its task, and was seeking for a definite expression. But the great strike movements in France, Belgium, Switzerland and other countries gave the International a powerful forward impetus and revolutionised the minds of the workers, a change to which the powerful revival during that period of the democratic ideas, which had suffered a severe setback after the collapse of the revolutions of 1848-49, contributed not a little.

The congress at Brussels, in 1868, was animated by a totally different spirit from that of its two predecessors. It was felt that the workers everywhere were awakening to new life and were becoming constantly surer of the subject of their endeavours. The congress, by a large majority, declared itself for the collectivising of the land and other means of production, and called upon the sections in the different countries to go exhaustively into this question, so that at the next congress a clear decision could be reached. With this the international took on an outspokenly Socialistic character, which was most happily complemented by the outstandingly libertarian tendency of the workers in the Latin countries. The resolution to prepare the workers for a general strike to meet the danger of a threatened war, because they were the only class that could by energetic intervention prevent the organised mass murder, also testified to the spirit by which the International was permeated at that time.

At the congress in Basel in 1869 the ideational development of the great workers' alliance reached its zenith. The congress concerned itself only with questions which had an immediate concern with the economic and social problems of the working class. It ratified the resolutions which the Brussels congress had adopted concerning the collective ownership of the means of production, leaving the question of the organisation of labour open. But the interesting debates at the Basel congress show very plainly that the advanced sections of the International had already been giving attention to this question, and had, moreover, come to very clear conclusions about it. The was revealed particularly in the utterances concerning the importance of trade union organisations of the working class. In the report upon the question which Eugène Hins laid before the congress in the name of the Belgian Federation there was presented for the first time a wholly new point of view, which had an unmistakable resemblance to certain ideas of Owen and the English labour movement of the 30's.

In order to make a correct estimate of this one must remember that the various schools of state-socialism of that time attributed to the trade unions either no importance at all or at best only a subordinate one. The French Blanquists saw in the trade unions merely a reform movement, with which they wished to have nothing to do, as their immediate aim was a socialist dictatorship. Ferdinand Lassalle directed all his activities toward wielding the workers into a political party and was an outspoken opponent of all trade union endeavours, in which he saw only a hindrance to the political evolution of the working class. Marx, and more especially his friends of that period in Germany, recognised, it is true, the necessity of the trade unions for the achievement of certain betterments within the capitalist social system, but they believed that their role would be exhausted with this, and that they would disappear along with capitalism, since the transition to Socialism could be guided only by a proletarian dictatorship.

At Basel this idea underwent for the first time a thorough critical examination. In the Belgian report Hins laid before the Congress, the views expressed in which were expressed by the delegates from Spain, the Swiss Jura, and a considerable part of the French sections, it was clearly set forth that the trade union organisations of the workers not only had a right to existence within the present society, but they were even more to be regarded as the social cells of a coming Socialist order, and it was, therefore, the task of the International to educate them for this service. In accordance with this the congress adopted the following resolution:

"The Congress declares that all workers should strive to establish associations for resistance in their various trades. As soon as a trade union is formed the unions on the same trade are to be notified so that the formation of national alliances in the industries may be begun. These alliances shall be charged with the duty of collecting all material relating to their industry, of advising about measures to be executed in common, and of seeing that they are carried out, to the end, that the present wage system be replaced by the federation of free producers. The Congress directs the General Council to provide for the alliance of the trade unions of all countries."

In his argument for the resolution proposed by the committee Hins explained that "by this double form of organisation of local workers' associations and general alliances for each industry on the one hand the political administration of the committees, and on the other, the general representation of labour, regional, national and international will be provided for.The councils of the trade and industrial organisations will take the place of the present government, and this representation of labour will do away, once and forever, with the governments of the past. "

This new and fruitful idea grew out of the recognition that every new economic form must be accompanied by a new political form of the social organism and could only attain political expression in this. Therefore, Socialism also had to have a special political form of expression, within which it may become a living thing, and they thought they had found this form in a system of labour councils. The workers in the Latin countries, in which the International found its principal support, developed their movement on the basis of economic fighting organisations and Socialist propaganda groups, and worked in the spirit of the Basel resolutions.

As they recognised in the state the political agent and defender of the possessing classes, they did not strive at all for the conquest of political power, but for the overthrow of the state and of every form of political power, in which with sure instinct they saw the requisite preliminary conditions for all tyranny and all exploitation. They did, therefore, not choose to imitate the bourgeois classes and set up a political party, thus preparing the way for a new class of professional politicians, whose goal was the conquest of the political power. They understood that, along with the monopoly of property, the monopoly of power must also be destroyed if complete reshaping of social life was to be achieved. Proceeding from their recognition that the lordship of man over man had had its day, they sought to familiarise themselves with the administration of things. So to the state politics of the parties they opposed the economic policy of the workers. They understood that the reorganisation of society on a Socialist pattern must be carried out in the various branches of industry and in the departments of agrarian production; of this understanding was born the idea of a system of labour councils.

It was this same idea which inspired large sections of the Russian workers and peasants at the outbreak of the revolution, even if the idea had never been thought out so clearly and systematically in Russia as in the sections of the First International. Under tsarism the Russian workers lacked the requisite intellectual preparation for this. But Bolshevism put an abrupt end to this fruitful idea. For the despotism of dictatorship stands in irreconcilable contradiction to the constructive idea of the council system, that is, to a Socialist reconstruction of society by the producers themselves. The attempt to combine the two by force could only lead to that soulless bureaucracy which has been so disastrous for the Russian Revolution. The council system brooks no dictatorships as it proceeds from totally different assumptions. In it is embodied the will from below, the creative energy of the toiling masses. In dictatorship, however, only lives barren compulsion from above, which will suffer no creative activity and proclaims blind submission as the highest laws for all. The two cannot exist together. In Russia dictatorship proved victorious. Hence there are no more soviets there. All that is left of them is the name and a gruesome caricature of its original meaning.

The council system for labour embraces large part of the economic forms employed by a constructive Socialism which of its own accord operates and produces to meet all natural requirements. It was the direct result of a fruitful development of ideas growing out of the Socialist labour movement. This particular idea rose from the effort to provide a concrete basis for the realisation of Socialism. This basis was seen to lie in the constructive employment of every efficient human being. But dictatorship in an inheritance from bourgeois society, the traditional precipitate of French Jacobinism which was dragged into the proletarian movement by the so-called Babouvists and later taken over by Marx and his followers. The idea of the council system is intimately intergrown with Socialism and is unthinkable without it; dictatorship, however, has nothing whatever in common with Socialism, and at best can only lead to the most barren of state capitalism.

Dictatorship is a definite form of state power: the state in state of siege. Like all other advocates of the state idea, so also the advocates of dictatorship proceed from the assumption that any alleged advance and every temporal necessity must be forced on the people from above. This assumption alone makes dictatorship the greatest obstacle to any social revolution, the proper element of which is the free initiative and constructive activity of the people. Dictatorship is the negation of organic development, of natural building from below upwards, it is the proclamation of the wardship of the toiling people, a guardianship forced upon the masses by a tiny minority. Even if its supporters are animated by the very best intentions, the iron logic of the facts will always drive them into the camp of extremest despotism. Russia had given us the most instructive example of this. And the pretence that the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat is something different, because we have here to do with the dictatorship of a class, not the dictatorship of individuals, deceives no earnest critic; it is only a sophisticated trick to fool simpletons. Such a thing as the dictatorship of a class is utterly unthinkable, since there will always be involved merely the dictatorship of a particular party which takes upon itself to speak in the name of a class, just as the bourgeoisie justified any despotic proceeding in the name of a people.

The idea of a council system for labour was the practical overthrow of the state idea as a whole; it stands, therefore, in frank antagonism to any form of dictatorship, which must always have in view the highest development the power of the state. The pioneers of this idea in the First International recognised that economic equality without social and political liberty is unthinkable; for this reason they were firmly convinced that the liquidation of all institutions of political power must be the first task of the social revolution, so as to make any new form of exploitation impossible. They believed that the workers' International was destined gradually to gather all effective workers into its ranks, and at the proper time to overthrow the economic despotism of the possessing classes, and along with this all the political coercive institutions of the capitalist state, and to replace these by a new order of things. This conviction was held by all libertarian sections of the international. Bakunin expressed it in the following words:

"Sine the organisation of the International has as its goal, not the setting up of new states or despots, but the radical destruction of every separate sovereignty, it must have an essentially different character from the organisation of the state. To just the degree that the latter is authoritarian, artificial and violent, alien and hostile to the natural development and the interests of the people, to that same degree must the International be free, natural and in every respect in accord with these interests and instincts. But what is the natural organisation of the masses? It is one based on the different occupations of their actual daily life, on their various kinds of work, organisations according to their occupations, trade organisations. When all industries, including the various branches of agriculture, are represented in the International, its organisation, the organisation of the masses of the people, will be finished."

From this line of thought arose likewise the idea of opposing to the bourgeois parliaments a Chamber of Labour, which proceeded from the ranks of the Belgian Internationalists. Theses labour chambers were to represent the organised labour of every trade and Industry, and were to concern themselves with all questions of social economy and economic organisation on a Socialist basis, in order to prepare practically for the taking over by the organised workers of the means of production, and in this spirit to provide for the intellectual training of the producers. In addition these bodies were to pass judgement from the workers' point of view on all questions brought up in the bourgeois parliaments which were of interest to the workers, so as to contrast the policies of bourgeois society with the views of the workers. Max Nettlau has given to the public in his bookDer Anarchismus von Proudhon zu Kropotkin, a hitherto unknown passage from one of Bakunin's manuscripts that is highly indicative of Bakunin's views on this question:

"...All this practical and vital study of social science by the workers themselves in their trade sections and in these chambers will, and already has, engendered in them the unanimous, well-considered, theoretically and practically demonstrable conviction that the serious, final, complete liberation of the workers is possible only upon one condition, that of the appropriation of capital, that is, of raw material and all the tools of labour, including land by the whole body of workers. . . . The organisation of the trade sections, their federation in the International, and their representation by the Chambers of Labour, not only create a great academy, in which the workers of the International, combining theory and practice, can and must study economic science, they also bear in themselves the living germs of the new social order, which is to replace the bourgeois world. They are creating not only the ideas but also the facts of the future itself"

These ideas were at that time generally disseminated in the sections of the International in Belgium, Holland, the Swiss Jura, France and Spain, and gave to the Socialism of the great workers' alliance a peculiar social character, which with the development of political labour parties in Europe was for a considerable time almost completely forgotten, and only in Spain never exhausted its power to win converts, as recent events in that country have so clearly shown. They found active advocates in men like James Guillaume, Adhémar Schwitzguébel, Eugène Varlin, Louis Pindy, César De Paepe, Eugène Hins, Hector Denis, Guillaume De Greef, Victor Arnould, R. Farga Pellicer, G. Sentiñon, Anselmo Lorenzo, to mention here only the best-known names, all men of excellent reputation in the International. The fact is that the whole intellectual development of the International is to be ascribed to the enthusiasm of these libertarian elements in it, and received no stimulus from either the state Socialist factions in Germany and Switzerland or pure Trades Unionism in England.

So long as the International pursued these general lines, and for the best respected the right of decision of the separate federations, as was provided in its statutes, it exercised an irresistible influence over the organised workers. But that changed at once when Marx and Engels began to use their position in the London General Council to commit the separate national federations to parliamentary action. This occurred first at the unhappy London Conference of 1871. This behaviour was in sharp violation not only of the spirit but also of the statutes of the International. It could but encounter the united resistance of all the libertarian elements in the International, the more so as the question had never previously been brought before a congress for consideration.

Shortly after the London Conference the Jura Federation published the historic circular on Sonvillier, which protested in determined and unequivocal words against the arrogant presumption of the London General Council. But the congress at The Hague in 1872, in which a majority had been artificially created by the employment of the dirtiest and most reprehensible methods, crowned the work begun by the London Conference of transforming the International into an electoral machine. In order to obviate any misunderstanding the Blanquist, Edwouard Vaillant, in his argument for the resolution proposed by the General Council advocating the conquest of political power by the working class, explained that "as soon as this resolution has been adopted by the Congress and so incorporated into the Bible of the International, it will be the duty of every member to follow it under penalty of expulsion." By this Marx and his followers directly provoked the open split in the International with all its disastrous consequences for the development of the labour movement, and inaugurated the period of parliamentary politics which of natural necessity led to that intellectual stagnation and moral degeneration of the Socialist movement which we can observe today in most countries.

Soon after the Hague Congress the delegates of the most important energetic federations of the International met in the anti-authoritarian congress in St. Immier, which declared all the resolutions adopted at the Hague null and void. From then on dates the split in the Socialist camp between the advocates of direct revolutionary action and the spokesmen for parliamentary politics, which with the lapse of time has grown constantly wider and more unbridgeable. Marx and Bakunin were merely the most prominent representatives of the opposed factions in this struggle between two different conceptions of the fundamental principles of Socialism. But it would be a big mistake to try to explain this struggle as merely a conflict between two personalities; it was the antagonism between two sets of ideas which gave to this struggle its real importance and still gives it today. That Marx and Engels gave such a spiteful and personal character to the dissension was a disaster. The International had room for every faction, and a continuous discussion of the different views could only have contributed to their clarification. But the effort to make all schools of thought subservient to one particular school, one which, moreover, represented only a minority in the International, could but lead to a cleavage and to the decline of the great alliance of workers, could but destroy those promising germs which were of such great importance to the labour movement in every land.

The Franco-Prussian War, by which the focal point of the Socialist movement was transferred to Germany, whose workers had neither revolutionary traditions not that rich experience possessed by Socialists in the countries to the west, contributed greatly to this decline. The defeat of the Paris Commune and the incipient reaction in France, which in a few years spread over Spain and Italy as well, pushed the fruitful idea of a council system for labour far into the background. The sections of the International in those countries were for a long time able to carry on only an underground existence and were obliged to concentrate all their strength on repelling the reaction. Only with the awakening of revolutionary Syndicalism in France were the creative ideas of the First International rescued from oblivion, once more to vitalise the Socialist labour movement.

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