Vol. XLII No. 49 December 09, 2018

In the Leadership of the International- 21

NEWSPAPER reports of the election of the leading committee, which later became the General Council, of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA) carried Marx’s name at the end of the list. Soon, however, Marx’s name was the first in the elected committee, “the soul of this as of all subsequent General Councils” of the International, as Engels described him. A decade later Engels wrote, “To describe Marx’s activity in the International, would necessitate writing the history of the Association itself.”

From Marx’s pen came practically all the programmatic documents approved by the General Council, and all the  decisions of the Congress of the IWA that had any permanence were also filled with Marx’s spirit,



For many years, Marx had dedicated all his energies to his scientific work, especially to his study of political economy, and stayed clear of the playing about with organisations of the primarily petty bourgeois German emigrees. But what was involved now was not the game of utopian conspiracies engaged in by ambitious individuals; it was rather, as Marx wrote to Engels, “a question of real ‘powers’ both on the London and Paris sides,” a question of the “revival of the working classes.”

During the period after 1849, when European reaction stamped out the flames of revolutions, and when the “spectre of Communism” seemed to have been wiped out after the Cologne Communist trials, Marx has never for a moment doubted that the proletariat would again awaken to political action. Now the awakening had come. The founding of the International strengthened Marx’s confidence and confirmed his view of the historical mission of the working class. It was at the same time a product of his tireless labours.

At the beginning, however, in the first years of the IWA, the Marxist viewpoint was not yet “preached from the housetops.” It had to establish itself first in hard battles inside as well as outside the International. Differences of opinion already arose in the working out of the programme and the general rules.

Due to illness Marx had not been able to attend the meetings, except the first one, of the commission authorised to draft a programme and provisional rules. When the draft documents came up for discussion, he found himself forced to speak out against them, because, on the one hand, they described the tasks of the working class too hazily, and on the other, they would have turned the new organisation into a conspiratorial society which had long been rendered obsolete by history. After one more meeting, which produced only minimal results, Marx was entrusted with all the documents which he clearly saw to be wholly inadequate, which could not be simply improved but had to be entirely rewritten.

For the next eight days Marx devoted himself entirely to this task and worked out the Provisional Rules and the Inaugural Address, the two founding documents of the IWA. The great problem was to set out the principles of scientific Communism in a form that was suitable for the stage the workers’ movement was then in, that was acceptable to all the extraordinarily varied tendencies in it, and that nevertheless unmistakably announced the revolutionary goal of the proletariat.



The trade union leaders in England, where the largest workers’ organisations existed, did not consider the overthrow of capitalism to be the aim of their fight, they contented themselves with the improvement of the social position of workers and broadening their rights within capitalism.

The majority of the French workingmen’s organisations were under the influence of Proudhonism, and the rest were followers of Blanqui. Proudhon denied the necessity of a struggle for the political rule of the working class and also rejected the economic struggle of the trade unions, he believed that the proletariat can emancipate itself from exploitation by all the workers becoming small commodity producers.

The Blanquists, on the contrary, concentrated all their attention on the political revolution with which they wanted to overthrow capitalism, but they believed they could “make” this revolution at any selected moment with a handful of fearless fights. Their putschist aims diverted them from the economic struggle. More than that, they made it more difficult to win the masses of the proletariat for Socialist ideas.

Marx had already refuted the conclusions of Proudhon and Blanqui two decades earlier, but their views were tenacious, they kept recurring in the working class, and were nourished by the ideology of the petty bourgeoisie which was strong in numbers.

In Italy where the industrial revolution was still in its infancy, the proletariat was weak in numbers and was closely connected with the petty bourgeoisie. The mutual benefit and educational associations in which the Italian workers first joined together, were still very much influenced by the bourgeois-democratic revolutionary, Giuseppi Mazzini, who sought to win the workingmen for the general democratic movement to complete the unification of Italy, but who repudiated the class struggle of the proletariat.

In Germany, the General German Workers’ Association was an independent political organisation of the workers, but its programme, imbued with Lassalleanism, prevented it from consistently defending the class interests of the German workers and to develop further into a genuine proletarian party. The other workers’ organisations still remained completely under the influence of the liberal bourgeoisie.



The various sections of the international workers’ movement were thus not a unit either in the ideological or organisational sense. Their theoretical level was very uneven. Many workers who were ready to take up the struggle not only lacked a knowledge of scientific Communism; they were not infrequently still bourgeois in outlook. Nevertheless, Marx spared no effort to bring about the unity of the working class through a joint programme. Two decades of class struggle had taught him that the proletariat needed unity if it was to gather round it all the others who worked for a living to fulfill its historic mission.

In elaborating the Provisional Rules and Inaugural Address, Marx therefore threw out everything that was narrow and sectarian as well as everything that dodged the unavoidable confrontation with opportunistic views. His guiding line was the necessity of hammering out the unity of the proletariat in joint actions and discussions.

He, therefore, based himself on the community of interests of the various proletarian organisations and tendencies, in short, on what united the workingmen of all lands. That was, above all, the knowledge that the workers of a single land were powerless without the solidarity of the workers of other land were powerless without the solidarity of the workers of other lands, that the working class needs an independent proletarian organisation for success in its struggle, and that the emancipation of the workers can only be the work of the working class itself.



In the Inaugural Address, Marx showed, on the basis of the official documents of the English Government, “that no development of machines, no chemical discovery, no application of science to production ….has been able to set aside the misery of the working masses; on the contrary. On has basis; on the contrary, on the basis of the present false foundation, every new development of the productive forces must have the effect of deepening the social contrasts and sharpening the social antagonisms.” Here Marx laid to rest the deliberate lie already then spread by the bourgeoisie that technical progress would overcome class antagonism and abolish exploitation. This way he opened the eyes of the workers to the awareness that the interests of the bourgeoisie and the interests of the proletariat are irreconcilable.

Marx then praised that successes that the workers’ movement had won in the previous years. The first of these was the introduction of the ten-hour day. Bourgeois economists had loudly declared that every legal reduction of the working day in England would sound the death-knell of English industry. Marx wrote, “not only a great practical achievement, it was the victory of a principle. For the first time the political economy of the middle class was defeated in broad daylight by the political economy of the working class”

The second great victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie was the success of the cooperative movement, the foundation of workers’ production cooperatives.

Marx showed however, that individual cooperatives could not overcome capitalist monopolies or appreciably lighten the poverty of the masses. To free the working masses, the cooperative formula would have to be developed in a national framework and furthered by national facilities. But since the owners of the land and the capitalists would at all times use their political power to defend and perpetuate their economic domination, their political privileges would first have to the abolished. “To conquer political power is now the great duty of the working class.”

Marx assessed the reawakening of the proletarian movement at the beginning of the 1860s. An important factor for the success of the working class was is numerical strength. “But numbers weigh in the scales only when combined in unity and led by knowledge.” By unity Marx meant not only organisation in an association on a national scale, but also the close fraternity between the workers of all lands. By knowledge he meant insight into the laws of social development, the mastering of the scientific teachings of the working class’ emancipation struggle. The political organisation that he proposed, which had to be guided by scientific Communism, was the party of the working class.



Finally, Marx also outlined in the Inaugural Address a proletarian foreign policy. Since the liberation of the working class in the various countries demanded mutual and fraternal assistance, this goal could never be achieved “with a foreign policy that pursues aggressive aims, that plays with national prejudices, and wastes the blood and treasure of the people in piratical wars.”

The proletariat, therefore, had to get behind the secrets of international-politics to organise resistance to the intrigues of various Government, and to fight for its own foreign policy. But this foreign policy had to make “the simple laws of the morality and justice which should regulate relations between private persons the supreme law of relations between nations.” Here Marx showed the road to the final abolition of war among the people.

The Inaugural Address ended with the battle-cry: “workers of the world, unite!” it symbolised the continuity of the Communist League and was evidence of the great progress of the international workers’ movement.