Vol. XLIII No. 05 February 03, 2019

Dissolution of the First International-29

THE final version of the political programme of the First International and the decisive settling of accounts with the Bakuninist anarchists came at the Congress of the International at The Hague in September 1872. Marx had been busy with the preparation of the Congress since the beginning of the year.

His appearance stirred great interest among the Congress delegates. He was also the leading personality in the bourgeois Press, and not least in the reports of police agents who had been sent to Holland to keep watch on the Congress.

Bakunin, who had once tried to cut down Marx at a Congress of the International, now remained away. His followers, however, tried to defend his viewpoint all the more zealously, but their efforts were doomed to failure. The attempt of the Bakuninists to work up a majority through factions and splinter groups failed. Most of the delegates were determined to defend their revolutionary unity.




On September 5, at a public session, Marx delivered the report of the General Council which he had prepared. The hall, in a worker’s district of The Hague, was filled to overflowing.

Marx denounced the acts of violence of the Governments of France, Germany and other countries against the International and flayed the bourgeois Press for its low slanders of the Association. He lauded the courageous internationalist attitude of the German and French workers during the War. One of the greatest successes of the International Workingmen’s Association, Marx said, was the fact that the Paris Commune was “immediately greeted by the cry of jubilation of the workers of all lands”. With great satisfaction he informed the delegates of the progress of the International in Holland, Denmark, Portugal and Ireland, in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina.

The next day, the decision of the London Conference on “the Political effectiveness of the Working Class” and on changes in the statutes stood on the agenda.

Marx was not a man of brilliant rhetoric, but his penetratingly logical arguments, based on the practical experience of the workers’ movement brought a large majority of the Congress delegates to recognise the necessity of the political struggle and the founding of proletarian parties as the most important precondition for a successful Socialist revolution.




The rules and administrative regulations of the International were also revised or expanded along the lines suggested by the General Council. The General Council was given the responsibility of seeing to it that all organisations associated with the International conformed strictly to its principles and statutes. The Council was also granted the right to expel organisations which violated the International’s principles.

With these decisions the Bakuninists were politically defeated. They were also morally defeated when Marx and other participants in subsequent sittings exposed their splitting activities and underhanded activities Bakunin was expelled from the International and from then on played a significant role in the worker’s movement.

Most delegates were surprised when Engels—speaking also in Marx’s name—presented a resolution to transfer the seat of the General Council to New York. Engels based his proposal on the fact that the work of the General Council had in the recent period been made exceptionally difficult in London by the splitting activities of the Bakuninists and the personal difference occasioned by them, as well as the disruptive actions of emigrant groups with petty-bourgeois tendencies.

In addition, London had now been the seat of the Council for eight years, and “this should be changed one day, in order to prevent ossification.” If another location had to be selected, then New York was the right place. “Our documents are safe there. We have a strong new organisation there. Our Party there is truly international as nowhere else in the world.”




There were more compelling reasons, however. One was undoubtedly the rampaging police terror against the workers’ movement that almost completely crippled the work of the International in some countries, especially in France.

In addition, there was the danger in London that the reformist trade union leaders and the French Blanquist émigrés in the General Council could win the upper hand that would have jeopardized everything that had already been achieved.

Obviously, the leadership of the International from New York would bring difficulties, if only for technical reasons. But Marx and Engels had already begun to recognise that with the creation and the first steps of the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party in Germany, and with the Paris Commune which heralded a new epoch in the development of the workers’ movement, the specific features of the movement in the various countries were now becoming ever more significant. As the decision of the London and Hague Congresses emphasized, the building and consolidation of proletarian parties in different countries was now most important. The International had laid the foundation stone for this development by spreading Marxism in the workers’ movement of the more developed countries and had played a decisive role in overcoming utopian Socialist and petty-bourgeois tendencies.

The workers’ parties in various countries had to work out a revolutionary strategy and tactic that expressed the special features of their individual countries, and was based on the proletariat’s overall conceptions and political principles. That, too, called for new forms of international collaboration.                            



WORK OF CONGRESS                                                                

It required all the authority and power of persuasion of Marx in order to get a bare majority to move the seat of the General Council to New York. Most of the delegates who voted for the proposal did so only reluctantly since it would mean that Marx and Engels and other leaders, tested over the years, would no longer belong to the Council.

But for Marx this separation from the Council in no way meant laving the International workers’ movement. To all those who thought he would from then on lead the life of a quiet scholar, he publicly declared in unmistakable terms: “For my part, I will continue my work and will constantly strive to buttress the solidarity among all the workers that is so fruitful. No I am not withdrawing from the International, and the rest of my life, like all my endeavours in the past, will be dedicated to the triumph of the ideas of Socialism, which one day, you can be sure will lead to the world rule of the proletariat.”

After the Congress Marx travelled with most of the other delegates to Amsterdam, where the local section of the International sponsored a workers’ meeting on September 8. Marx, in his speech, praised the work of the Hague Congress, especially its declaration that “the working class” has the “task of combating the old, disintegrating society on the political as well as the social field.” The worker must one day seize power, in order to construct the new organisation of labour. He must defeat the old politics that perpetuate the old institutions, if he does not want to lose paradise on earth like the old Christians, who neglected and despised it.”                                                                           

In the months following the Hague Congress, Marx again devoted much time and energy to the International. In New York, Frederick Adolph Sorge was elected Chairman of the General Council, and from then on, he turned on to Marx and Engels frequently for advice and information. He gave them assignments and exchanged materials with them.




Marx assisted the new General Council to the best of his ability. He worked especially to isolate the spokesmen of reformist ideas among the English members of the International and to win support for the decisions of the Hague Congress. He continued to receive and assemble information on activities of the sections in various countries and sent them on to New York, Mostly through Engels. He also acted to prevent Bakuninist groups and cliques from passing themselves off as representatives of the International.         

Within one year of the Hague Congress, it became increasingly clear that old forms of leading the international workers’ movement through the General Council no longer reflected the needs of the movement. Marx wrote to Sorge:

“…As I view European conditions it is quite useful to let the formal organisation of the International recede into the background for the time being, but if possible not to relinquish control of the central point in New York so that no idiots may seize the leadership and discredit the whole business. Even and the inevitable development and complication of things will of themselves see to it that the International shall rise again improved in form. For the present it suffices not to let the connection with the most capable in the various countries slip altogether out of our hands…”




Sorge followed this advice. Three years later, in mid-1876 the delegates at a conference called in Philadelphia by the General Council disbanded the  International Workingmen’s Association. They addressed an appeal to the proletarians of all countries, in which they said: “We have disbanded the organisation of the International for reasons that grow out of the current political situation in Europe; but at the same time we see that the principles of organisation of the progressive worker in the whole civilised world are being recognised and defended….More suitable conditions will once again bring together the workers of all lands under a common banner of struggle, and then the cry will ring out even more powerfully: ‘Workers of the world, unite!’

In the ranks of the International, the best representatives of the international working class had learnt the principles of scientific Communism, especially the idea of proletarian internationalism, and gathered rich experiences in all vital questions of the class struggle. There in lies the historical contribution of the International Workingmen’s Association and its leaders—Marx and Engels.