Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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INTERNATIONAL, The, or the International Association of Workingmen. This too notorious association owed its origin to the relations which were established at the time of the universal exposition at London, in 1862, between the socialistic French workmen who were sent there at the expense of the government and the English workmen belonging to the trades unions. Up to this time continental socialism had scarcely descended to the ground of realities. It had contented itself with making plans for the organization of labor, of which the essential feature was the substitution of association for wages and the subordination of capital to labor. But in 1862 the contact of the French socialists with the English unionists gave the former an opportunity to become acquainted with the organization and powers of the trades unions, and they determined to import these powerful machines to the continent, and press them into the service of their theories, that is to say, employ them systematically in the war against capital. It was at a meeting in favor of Poland held at St. Martin's Hall, Sept. 28, 1864, that the foundations of the international were laid. A provisional rule was adopted, appointing a committee to draw up the laws of the association, and to summon the affiliated societies to a congress, by which these laws should be definitively adopted. A preamble, purposely expressed in terms rather vague, so that they might be accepted by the different socialistic sects, was placed at the head of the provisional rule and afterward at the head of the laws. In this it was particularly stated "that the subjection of labor to capital is the source of all moral, political and material slavery; that on this account the economic emancipation of the working class is the great end to which all political movement should be subordinated; that thus far all efforts in this direction have failed for want of thorough co-operation among the workmen of different trades in each country, and of fraternal union among the workingmen in different countries," etc., etc. The conclusion was, that the workmen of all nations ought to unite, taking "for the basis of their conduct toward all men, truth, justice and morality, without distinction of color, faith or nationality." The terms of this programme were sufficiently general and elastic to exclude no one; however the association was slow in forming, though the annual assessment had been fixed at one shilling; still, a bureau was established in Paris, rue des Gravilliers, where the first group of internationalists assembled; but, according to the testimony of Mr. Fribourg, "from the outset of the enterprise money was lacking." This was the case also in London. "But for the proceeds of a family tea, with a concert, lecture and ball, which the English members gave to the London public, the want of money would, perhaps, have prevented the work from taking root in England for a long time." (L'Association international des travailleurs, by E. E. Fribourg, p. 23.) It was not until Sept. 3, 1866, that the nascent association held its first congress at Geneva, under the presidency of Yung, a member and delegate of the central committee of London. The number of delegates from the sections already formed or in process of formation in France, Germany, England, Switzerland, Spain and Italy was about sixty. The congress first adopted the manifesto and by-laws of the association which a committee had been ordered to prepare, and then discussed a certain number of social and political questions which were made the order of the day. In the following years the association held three other congresses, one at Lausanne in 1867, at Brussels in 1868, and at Bâsle in 1869. The events which followed compelled it to suspend these international reunions, and they were not resumed until September, 1872, at the Hague, where a division took place, following which an opposition congress was held at London.


—The by-laws adopted by the congress at Geneva consisted of eleven articles, with regulations in the form of an annex containing fifteen articles. The first article of the by-laws was as follows: "This association is established to provide a central point of communication and co-operation for the workingmen of different countries seeking the same end, namely, the mutual co-operation, progress and complete enfranchisement of the working class." The succeeding articles treat of the "general council" which was to be composed of workingmen of different nations. Each year the congress or general assembly of the delegates of the association was to elect the members of the council and determine where the council should sit. As a matter of fact it always met in London. The general council was not invested with any authority over the association, its duty was simply to establish relations among the workingmen's associations of different countries, and endeavor to increase the sections of the association; these associations or sections, however, preserving their autonomy. Each section, whether large or small, had the right to send a delegate to the congress, and when it reached 500 members, one delegate more for such number. Each section or federation of sections managed its own affairs, fixed the amount of its assessments, and disposed of them as it saw fit. Nevertheless, a general assessment was levied upon all the members of the sections or affiliated societies for the benefit of the general council; but this assessment was very small: ten centimes per capita each year. The total of these receipts for the year 1866, presented at the congress at Lausanne, did not exceed sixty-three pounds sterling, and it is doubtful whether it was much higher in the following years. In this respect the writers who have occupied themselves with the international have fallen into very serious exaggerations. For lack of resources the "general council" was compelled to give up the publication of a bulletin of international statistics which was to have furnished the societies affiliated to the international with regular information as to the state of the labor market, the rate of wages, etc., and it was not able even to maintain a special organ. The Belgian, Swiss and other sections had their journals, such as the Egalité of Geneva, the Mirabeau, of Verviers; but the general council had none. In short, the international association formed a vast federation of "sovereign sections," of which the general council was the bond of union, but without exercising any effective authority over them. The regulations annexed to the by-laws were intended to render it entirely subordinate to the congress or general assembly of the delegates of the sections which it was commissioned to organize, and whose resolutions it was obliged to execute, (art. 1), with this express stipulation, that the congress should assemble freely, without special convocation, at the times and places which had been fixed upon the preceding year. It is easy to recognize here the spirit of jealousy and defiance of all authority which has always characterized democracy.


—Thus constituted, the association had before it, from the beginning, a double end: one purely theoretic, which consisted in discussing, in its congresses, its journals and its special publications, all questions of interest to the working class, and fusing together, if possible, the different socialistic doctrines; the other object, of a practical character, consisted in multiplying its sections so as to include within its pale, in time, all the working masses, thus forming an innumerable army, acting principally by means of coalitions and strikes, for the overthrow of capital. At each congress a great number of "questions" were submitted to the sections, among which, as in most other congresses, the work to be done was divided. Those which were discussed were made the subject of a report which was further debated in the general assembly. Finally, they voted on "resolutions" summing up the opinion of the majority on these questions. Among the subjects which gave rise to the most important discussions may be mentioned property in general, landed property, property in railroads and mines, the laws of inheritance, interest on capital and mutual credit, machines, the reduction of the hours of labor, strikes and societies for resistance, co-operation, education and war. It is needless to say that opinions hostile to property predominated. Thus at Bâsle, in 1869, the congress declared by a vote within four of being unanimous, "that society has the right to abolish individual property in the land, and restore the land to the community." But, by a singular inconsistency, in the same congress, the abolition of the right of inheritance did not receive the necessary majority, (32 of the delegates voting for the abolition, 23 against it, and 17 not voting at all). On the other hand, there was almost perfect unanimity for restoring railroads, mines and forests to the domain of the community, and organizing mutual credit for the purpose of suppressing interest and "releasing labor from the domination of capital by restoring the latter to its natural and legitimate rôle, which is that of the agent of labor." (Resolutions of the congress of Brussels, 1868.) The co operative societies which retained interest were condemned as "transferring that egoism which is the bane of modern society from the individual to the community." As to strikes, while declaring "that strikes are not a means to the complete freeing of workingmen, the association was of opinion that they might be considered as a necessity in the actual situation," and that it was desirable to multiply societies for resistance in order to sustain them. In regard to the introduction of machinery, the association was of opinion that it ought not to take place without guarantees and compensation to the workmen. It finally pronounced for the legal limitation of the hours of labor, and the establishment of "complete education." Very energetic and radical resolutions against war were voted in each congress. As to the future political constitution of society we note the following resolution adopted at the congress of Bâsle: "The groups (trades unions) will constitute the commune of the future, and government will be replaced by councils of bodies of tradesmen." However, there was a difference of opinion as to whether the international ought to occupy itself with purely political questions; in 1869 the question was decided in the affirmative. The congress of the friends of peace, composed of a group of republicans, met at Lausanne, while the congress of the international was sitting at Bâsle. The two congresses, between which could be perceived the old antagonism of politicians or Jacobins and socialists, made peace, under the auspices of M. Victor Hugo, who proclaimed "the union of the republic and socialism."


—To sum up, although the economic and political doctrines represented by the international present singular inconsistencies, they were generally agreed on these different points, to wit, that there must be a breaking up of existing society; a transforming of property or its suppression; the abolition of wages by transferring existing enterprises to the hands of associations or companies of workingmen, in which work alone would be remunerated, capital, for the future, furnishing its services gratis; and finally, that the government should be only a sort of delegation of the federated communities of workingmen. Such were the doctrines that the international strove to popularize and finally to realize. As to the way in which they were to be realized, opinions differed: some favored political means, otherwise called revolutionary; others favored the economic procedure of strikes. While the British trades unions regarded coalitions and strikes simply as a means of raising wages or shortening the hours of labor, the international saw in them a power destined to make the war against capital general and finally to bring under subjection that tyrant of labor. With this object, the international strove to extend its thread of local sections and federations over the entire civilized world; the general council, which served as a medium of communication, was to enable them to render each other mutual aid, so that each strike, if regarded as opportune, should be sustained by subsidies from all the sections or federations. Thus was created an instrument which in time might acquire irresistible power, and the international would end, at least so it flattered itself, by controlling the labor market and dictating the conditions of wages to capitalist employers. If it found them too hard, its intention was to purchase their enterprises and hand them over to associations or communities of workingmen, and thus put an end to the odious régime of wages and the tyranny of capital. This is why from 1867 the international took a part more or less direct in numerous strikes in France, Belgium and Switzerland. We read, for example, in the report on strikes presented to the council of Brussels, in 1868, by César de Paepe, that "the house builders in Geneva saw their strike succeed because the workingmen of France, Italy, England and Germany came to their aid. The sections of the international organized a vast subscription, and the bureau of Paris alone procured the sum of 10,000 francs." Besides the assistance collected usually by way of subscriptions in the sections, the international undertook to transmit all the advice and information which might aid the cause of the strikers. Thus, during another strike of the same house builders at Geneva, the journals of the international induced masons, stonecutters, etc., to refrain from going to Geneva until further orders. At Lyons, the strike of the female silk spinners (June, 1869) was encouraged by the international, which sent them a small sum of money (1,323 fr. 30 c.) collected from the sections. (Oscar Testut, L' Internationale, p. 72.) At Paris, the strike of the leather-dressers and bronzers was sustained by similar support. The bronzers, an exception which Mr. Fribourg points out, afterward paid it back. The international interfered in an equally active manner, in the strikes at Creuzot and Fourchambault (April, 1870), in the strike at Seraing (Belgium), etc., etc. But, following the example of the trades unions, it interfered only when the circumstances seemed favorable. In the strike at Renaix, it even attempted to exert a pacifying influence. A proclamation from the bureau of Paris, signed by Messrs. Tolsin, Fribourg and Varlin, condemned the destruction of machinery. But the international did not often hold such moderate language; the workmen themselves have accused it, at different times, of having encouraged strikes without giving them any assistance beyond proclamations and the exhortations of its agents. However, it acquired such an influence that the imperial government, after trying to negotiate with it, became alarmed. The bureau of Paris had to stand three law suits, (March and May, 1868, and July, 1870), several members of the bureau were condemned, first to pay a small fine, afterward to a year in prison. These sentences do not seem to have arrested the progress of the international. The events of 1870 exercised a decisive influence over the destinies of the international. It is only justice to it to say that at first it protested vigorously against the war. In this spirit, the Parisian members published a "manifesto to the workingmen of all countries." On the 23d of July the general council published a similar manifesto. "We declare if the working classes of Germany permit the present war to lose its strictly defensive character and degenerate into an offensive war against the French people, victory or defeat will be equally disastrous" According to Mr. Fribourg, the international, as a corporate body, took little part in the revolution of September 4th; nor do we find it much more active in the defense of Paris. (L' Internationale, p. 143.) At this time the place of its meetings had been transferred to rue de la Corderie-du-Temple, and in the room of the Cour-des-Miracles, near the passage of the Caire, its members had a club, very meagrely attended (club of the Cour-des-Miracles). The international gave few signs of life until the eve of the commune. What part did it take in the insurrection of the 18th of March? It is difficult to say. Only two of its members, Varlin and Avoine fils, figured among the thirty-six members who composed the "central committee of the national guard." On the other hand, among the seventy-nine members of the commune, twenty belonged to the international; a few, Ch. Beslay, Theisz and Longuet, were among the moderates; others, on the contrary, such as Vésinier, Pindy and Varlin, figured among the promoters of violent resolutions and measures. On the 23d of March, a circular emanating from the "federal council of the provisional sections," and from the "federal chamber of the workingmen's societies," urged the people of Paris to vote for the commune, which was to be elected three days later (March 26th). This is the only thing emanating from the association which we find in the collection of documents of this epoch. (Le Gouvernement du 4 Septembre et la Commune de Paris, by Émile Andréoli, p. 215.) But immediately after the repression of the insurrection (May 30, 1871), the general council at London published a long manifesto addressed "to all the members of the association in Europe and the United States," in which the insurrection of the 18th of March was justified and the commune glorified. (This document will be found in the Histoire de l' Internationale, by Edmond Vélletard, appendix, p. 327.)


—A general outcry was then raised against the international, and there was even a question of a convention between governments to prohibit it. This project did not amount to anything, but in France a law was passed, under date of March 14, 1872, forbidding, under heavy penalties, all affiliation with the international, and even the giving publicity to its documents. Whether the international thought it prudent to let the storm pass over, or whether it was weakened by the internal dissensions which broke out a little later, little was heard of it for more than a year. The congress did not assemble in 1871; there was only at London a simple "conference" whose deliberations were not made public. The following year the general council of London, of which the celebrated socialist, Karl Maix, had been made president, took courage and convened a congress at the Hague. But in the meantime the centralizing tendencies of the general council had roused intense opposition, and Karl Marx was accused of aspiring to the dictatorship. On the eve of the congress at the Hague, Aug. 4, 1872, at the congress at Rimini, the Italian federation formally broke with the general council. On the other side, the Jura federation sent a delegate, Guillaume, to the Hague, expressly commissioned to demand "the abolition of the general council and the suppression of all authority in the international." This burning question was made the order of the day at the opening of the congress, and called forth the most stormy debates.


—Thanks to the gathering of a certain number of the old members of the commune, Ranvier. Dereure, Vaillant, etc., the majority pronounced in favor of maintaining the general council. The federalist minority then withdrew from the congress. But it was not long before the majority was itself divided; it embraced two very distinct elements: those who wished to confine themselves to the economic struggle, at the head of whom was Karl Marx; and those who demanded that the international should take upon itself, in the first place, to organize the proletariat as a political party. The old members of the commune, who formed the party called the "Blanquists," especially sustained this opinion; but Karl Marx and his friends refusing to agree to it, the politicians, in turn, quitted the congress, thus leaving the field open to the partisans of the economic struggle. The latter resolved to transfer the seat of the general council from London to New York, and after taking this resolution, the congress adjourned. Some days later, on the 15th of September, the dissenters, to the number of twenty-five, assembled in the Science Hall, Old street, London, to protest against the decisions of the congress of the Hague, accusing that congress of having "compromised and betrayed" the cause of the international. This opposition congress, led by the two communists, Vésinier and Landeck, pronounced the dissolution of the international, and decided that it should be replaced by a "universal federal association."


—The history of the international ends here. Created under the influence of the false idea which has been at the bottom of all socialistic ideas for the last half century, that labor is necessarily defrauded (exploité) by capital under the wages system, the object of the international was to suppress wages and substitute associations in which capital would be subordinate to labor for the existing enterprises of production and exchange. To attain this end, it employed sometimes the novel mode of procedure of the trades unions whose forms of organization it had borrowed, and sometimes the old revolutionary methods. Neither of them has succeeded, and it may be hoped that the association will never recover from the blow dealt it by the dark events of 1870-71; but it is less certain that it will not have successors.


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