Work in the First International-26
WHEN the first volume of Capital appeared, the Second Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association had just finished its work in Lausanne.
While drafting the documents of the International, Marx believed that the forces that unite the working class—the forces of proletarian internationalism—would prevail in the labour movement. The international character of the working class, the need for joint action to attain its aims, international proletarian ideology were to ensure, in the course of the development of the working class movement the complete triumph of proletarian internationalism over the ideology of bourgeois nationalism, over the capitalist governments’ policy of pitting the workers of different countries against one another.
At the same time, Marx realized that the ideas of proletarian internationalism did not evolve and spread by themselves, without any struggle or effort. The ideology of proletarian internationalism, based on a scientific knowledge of the general laws governing the development of the working class movement, can reach the masses only as a result of the persistent political educational work among them, of struggle against the influence of bourgeois and petty bourgeois ideology.
These conclusions drawn by Marx form the basis of his doctrine on proletarian internationalism, which became the ideological banner of the International Workingmen’s Association.
Every Tuesday Marx took part in the meetings of the General Council. He strove to call its attention to the most important problems concerning the working class and liberation movement and world political developments which had a direct bearing on the interests of the mass of working people. The Council regularly discussed measures to help striking workers and questions of enlisting new contingents of the working class into the International. Its agenda often included theoretical discussions of such problems as the role of economic struggle and combined economic and political struggle, the importance of political freedoms, problems of land-ownership etc.
The activity of the International made many workers change their views. Their fear of competition for jobs with other workers gave way to a realization of the identity of their tasks and interests, to an awareness of the strength of the working class. When a worker resisted single-handed the organized system of capitalists, his protest was an expression of desperation; he expected reprisals from his employer and feared competition on the part of the army of unemployed.
As a result of the International’s activity, in the strike movement of the 1860s workers began to say proudly that there were millions of them, not competitors, but comrades in struggle. It was Marx who provided a theoretical basis for the internationalist world outlook and who educated the masses on its principles.
Expressing the capitalist’s fear of organised labour, the bourgeois Press started fabricating legends about the International’s “fabulous wealth”, about its having millions of members organized as a military force and ready to destroy the civilized world on orders of the General Council.
Repelling the slanderous attacks of the bourgeois Press, Marx noted that “to speak of secret instructions from London, as of faith and morality emanating from some centre of papal dominion and intrigue, means to betray a complete failure to understand the essence of the International.” As for its financial means, they constituted in reality a constantly growing negative quantity. The membership dues were minimal (one penny per annum per member) and were paid irregularly, while receipts from the sale of the International’s published documents, written for the most part by Marx, were also insignificant.
Marx devoted much effort to developing the class consciousness of the proletariat of England, to overcoming the influence of the Rightwing leaders of the English labour movement and to directing it along the road of political struggle. He sought to turn the English trade unions into militant workers’ organizations to make their policy genuinely proletarian, independent of bourgeoisie.
Marx regarded it as important that the International should take part in the struggle for universal suffrage in England. He pointed out that “the working class is sufficiently advanced and organized to be able to utilize the universal right to vote in its own interests”. On the General Council’s initiative a Reform League was set up to provide guidance to the electoral reform campaign. The campaign developed into a mass movement in which the working class of England took a notable part.
The General Council’s first foreign policy act was to send an address to Abraham Lincoln following his re election as President of the USA. In it Marx wrote that the slaveholder’s rebellion in the United States was an expression of the staving of the ruling classes to turn back the wheels of history, to rob the working people of the rights they had already won. In its reply printed in the English bourgeois newspaper, The Times, the U.S. Government said that the United States derived fresh strength in its struggle against the slaveholders from the support and sympathy of the European workers.
The address of the General Council to Lincoln was convincing evidence that the International pursued a policy that was free of sectarianism and consistently democratic and that it supported progressive and democratic movements everywhere.
Marx resolutely pursued in the International a policy of support for national liberation movements, stressing the need for pooling the efforts of the working class of the colonial Powers and the people of the colonies.
For instance, Marx denounced the English bourgeoisie’s policy of inciting national and religious strike between English and Irish workers. He pointed out that in the split of the proletariat resided the abiding might of capital. “…England today is seeing a repetition of what happened on a monstrous scale in ancient Rome, Any nation that oppresses another forges its own chains.” Marx wrote.
On Marx’s initiative the International boldly came out in defence of the Irish revolutionaries. Its members attended meetings of solidarity with them, contributed articles to the Press and took part in discussions at General Council meetings; all this helped expose the bourgeois Press campaign of slander against the Irish liberation movement. The Irish liberation failed then but in supporting it the International furthered the growth of political consciousness among the English workers.
Marx and Engels constantly propagated in the International the principles of the proletarian foreign policy outlined in the Inaugural Address of the International Workingmen’s Association. Marx regarded the international duty of the working class as a powerful obstacle to wars of aggression.
During the period of the International’s activity (1864-72), two Conferences (In London) and five Congresses took place. Marx took a direct part in the London Conferences (1865 and 1871) and in the Hague Congress (1872).
The General Council delegates who were to take part in the first, Geneva Congress (September 1866) received from Marx his “Instructions for the Delegates of the Provisional General Council on Different Questions’ which outlined a concrete programme for the International’s activity in the immediate future.
Guided by this document the Congress adopted a resolution on the need to work for the introduction of legislation on an eight-hour working day and protection of child, juvenile and female labour, as well as resolutions on trade unions, cooperatives, etc. In the Congress resolutions the trade unions were spoken of as mass fighting organizations of the proletariat which must set as their supreme goal the complete emancipation of the working class. The Congress pointed out the importance of economic struggle, called for a merger of political and economic struggle.
In the 1860’s the International concentrated especially on the solution of two tasks. On the one hand, it endeavoured to show the workers the close connection between the economic and political struggle; on the other hand, it endeavoured to orientate them on the democratic and national tasks of the working class, and to make them aware of how the struggle for democracy was bound up with the struggle for Socialism.
Marx rejected and combated every attitude that disdained the struggle for the improvement of the living conditions of the working people. He pointed out that such a sectarian approach could only drive the workers into the arms of their enemies. On the other hand, he spared no effort to show the proletariat, on the basis of its own experience that the improvement it was able to win in its living conditions, no matter how useful and necessary they might be, in no way changed the essence of capitalist exploitation.
Step by step, support developed for the Marxist view that trade unions must not only fight for the improvement of the economic situation of the workers but are themselves “much more important as the organized force for the abolition of the system of wage-labour and the rule of capital.” The unions proved their value as schools of solidarity, as schools of Socialism. Marx noted with satisfaction how followers of Proudhon or Lassalle, under the influence of their own experiences, increasingly abandoned their anti union prejudices.
In the course of the International’s activity it became increasingly clear that it was necessary to formulate guiding principles for the future development of the working class movement. The Third Congress of the International at Brussels (1868) was largely devoted to this task.
The class battles of 1866-68 had lent a special urgency to the question of the proletariat’s attitude to capitalist properly. There were heated debates on capitalist private ownership of the instruments and means of production, on landownership, and on forms of property in the future society in sections of the International and at General Council meetings
Questions of the form of property under Socialism and Communism have always been in the focus of Marxist theory, for therein lies the essence of the relations of production. The Manifesto states: “the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: abolition of private property.”
The resolution of the Brussels Congress on converting the instruments and means of production into collective property initiated a new stage in the spread of the ideas of Marxism in the International. Its Socialist platform was given more concrete form and thus strengthened. A resolution, drafted by Marx, said that the development of machine production was creating the material conditions necessary for the replacement of the system of wage-labour by a truly Socialist system of production. The Brussels Congress of the International showed that the ideas of scientific Communism were gradually winning over the advance workers.