Kropotkin on the First International (newish Kropotkin translation)

First off, happy New Year! I hope 2016 will be a good one – so far, it looks like it will be for me. Big changes are coming and that will probably mean, for a while, fewer articles and blogs. But, then, I’ve not been that prolific recently. I have, however, found the time to get a rare Kropotkin translation revised and which is presented below in full for the first time.

I should note that I have put two articles on-line recently. The first is a review of Russell Brand’s book Revolution – I found it interesting, sometimes funny, sometimes difficult, sometimes right. He has some way to go but, then, no one is born an anarchist. Sadly, he seems to have gone quiet and stopped doing his Trews (which was not too bad). Given the personal attacks he suffered, perhaps this is understandable. Hopefully this was not a passing phase and he will be back.

The second is a write up of the 2015 London Anarchist Bookfair talk, Myths about Anarchism. The meeting was well attended and went well, I think. The article itself is hardly breaking new ground but then you would not expect it to, given the subject.

I have also been busy on a couple of articles which I cannot, yet, publish here. One is for a book being edited by Ben Franks on “ideology” – I was asked to do one on organisation. This expands on themes I recently raised in A Few Thoughts about Anarchismspecifically anarchism as a reaction to both Locke and Rousseau as well as being a product of the French workers movement. Another is an article on Proudhon, Marx and labour notes and is entitled “Proudhon’s constituted value and the myth of labour notes” and will appear in Anarchist Studies next year (2017). Its abstract is:

‘Karl Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy has played a key role in associating Pierre-Joseph Proudhon with the idea of labour-time money. This article challenges this account by demonstrating that Marx not only does not prove his assertion but that he also ignores substantial evidence against it. Proudhon’s “constituted value” is explained and linked to other key ideas in System of Economic Contradictions which Marx ignores.’

I’m currently revising my article The Paris Commune, Marxism and Anarchism for submission to Anarchist Studies. The existing article is, I admit, badly organised but it essentially correct – I will be reorganising it, using newer references (not least, Property is Theft!) and adding material from my Kropotkin anthology Direct Struggle Against Capital. I had forgotten how bad the book it is reviewing is – the account of Proudhon is just shocking, for example – and, as Kropotkin stressed, the lessons of the Paris Commune need to be studied and learned. Leninists, as Gluckstein shows, cannot do this.

I also plan to do a review of Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy based on the work I’ve already done in my reply (see previous blogs like this one) as well as the forthcoming Anarchist Studies article. I also plan a blog on “Proudhon on democracy” based, in part, on the work I did for the chapter on organisation mentioned above. This will take aim at Schapiro’s nonsense – as done, for example, here – and can be considered a follow-up to this blog. I do need to get back to putting Property is Theft! on-line, with appropriate commentary. Also, this year marks 20 years of An Anarchist FAQ (yes, we started it over two decades ago!) so I will need to write a blog for it to sit aside An Anarchist FAQ after ten years. I will have to give that some serious thought as a lot has happened, not least an economic crisis which is still staggering on and, on the positive side, the general improvement in terms texts available on the key anarchist thinkers and anarchist movements. I have until July to get something done, so plenty of time!

In other news, it appears clear that most of the Parliamentary Labour Party hates the membership – particularly the new members who helped elect Corbyn. It is strange to see a party rising in membership be regularly described as being “in crisis” – if an anarchist group went from 5 to 20 people, I would not be calling it that! It is also exposing a deeply grained anti-democratic spirit – the Independent, for example, opined that the root cause of Labour’s woes were due to the membership being allowed to vote for Corbyn. Best, it argued, for Labour if the Parliamentary Labour Party narrows done the option to just two – and then the members can pick! In other words, do what the Tories did… then there is the attempts by Corbyn to extend participation being labelled “Stalinist”… crazy, but obviously it would take guts for Labour MPs to be honest and say the members should be marginalised from their own party.

While it is good to see “the left” rise, it is a concern that so many radical people have (re-)entered the Labour Party (and SNP) – it suggests that many have illusions in reformism and no appreciation of the lessons of history. This seems to apply to much of the left – even those who you think should know better like Paul Mason:

‘If we consider what social democracy originally signified, it comes closer still: the workers’ parties that emerged in the 1890s chose the word sozialdemokrat, knowing it was a term of insult for Marxists. It meant relegating revolution, and the abolition of capitalism, to the status of a distant “maximum” goal, while being prepared to run capitalism in a more socially just way, according to a “minimum” programme of reforms.’

This is so wrong it is hard to know where to start! Social Democratic parties were originally founded by Marxists and the likes of Kaul Kautsky and Edward Bernstein – leading Social Democratic thinkers of the 1890s in Germany – considered themselves Marxists and were actually close to Engels. It did, of course, become reformist – as Bakunin predicted! – but that was because the applied the ideas of Marx and Engels in terms of standing for parliament, etc. After all, the 1893 conference of the Second International passed a resolution limiting membership to only those socialists who accepted the need to win power using political (electoral) means or sought to win those rights. The 1891 congress started this process much to the joy of Engels:

“The Congress proved a brilliant success for us… And, best of all, the anarchists have been shown the door, just as they were at the Hague Congress. The new, incomparably larger and avowedly Marxist International is beginning again at the precise spot where its predecessor ended.” (Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol. 49, p. 238)

This, of course, is relevant to the Kropotkin article below. Anyway, we need to work with those wishing to change things and convince them of the need for a labour movement rather than a labour party (as suggested here). We also need to avoid this kind of nonsense:

“But this contract is not the problem, it is a symptom of a much larger problem, one that threatens the very existence of the NHS, and that problem is this government’s overriding desire to privatise our health service. This is what we should be striking over.” (My junior doctor colleagues are striking for the wrong reasons)

Yes, indeed, the privatisation of the NHS is important but this does not exclude striking over specific attacks. And I should also note that Tory anti-union laws restrict what unions can strike over – so any such strike would, almost certainly, be illegal. Yes, unofficial action should be taken but it has to be built – and a way of doing that is taking part in strikes over specific attacks.

And talking of Tories, there is this wonderfully unaware article How Tories like me learned to love the interfering state by Ian Birrell. This is driven by a myth -- one apparently shared by many on the left -- that the Tories are anti-statist. Far from it -- they just wish to restrict what the state does to its core function, namely defending the wealth and power of the few. The Tories are currently seeking to expand the current anti-union laws, making it even hard to strike – so they clearly “love the interfering state” for many decades.

This is, of course, state intervention in the Labour Market against workers and for bosses in order to lower wages and increase profits (as Adam Smith would have recognised). Unsurprisingly, regulation of the labour market by attacking the trade unions has failed to give the results which were used to justify it (see The Neo-liberal Medicine is still not working) – precisely because labour is the source of value and making it harder for workers to strike makes it harder for us to keep our hands on the value we create but do not own (see Pay Inequality: Where it comes from and what to do about it). Power has shifted towards property as a result of Tory state intervention and, unsurprisingly, the theft associated with it has increased.

But let us quote a few passages from Birrell:

“I developed a fierce individualism, combined with contempt for state authority.”

What about contempt for the authority which comes from property? Why does freedom end at the workplace door?

While Proudhon will forever be linked with “property is theft” this was just one part of his answer to the question What is Property?, the other being that “property is despotism”. It “violates equality by the rights of exclusion and increase, and freedom by despotism.” It has “perfect identity with theft” and the worker “has sold and surrendered his liberty” to the proprietor who exploits the workers by appropriating their “collective force.” Anarchy was “the absence of a master, of a sovereign,” while the proprietor was “synonymous” with the “sovereign,” for he “imposes his will as law, and suffers neither contradiction nor control” and “each proprietor is sovereign lord within the sphere of his property”. (Property is Theft!, 133, 132, 117, 134, 135, 133, 135) Echoing Rousseau, Proudhon laid down his position clearly:

“Liberty is inviolable. I can neither sell nor alienate my liberty; every contract, every condition of a contract, which has in view the alienation or suspension of liberty, is null: the slave, when he plants his foot upon the soil of liberty, at that moment becomes a free man. [...] Liberty is the original condition of man; to renounce liberty is to renounce the nature of man: after that, how could we perform the acts of man?” (Property is Theft!, 92)

And, of course, “state authority” is needed to ensure the violation of individual liberty associated with property continues. Hence the awkward fact that the “fierce individualism” of the right always supports “state authority” rather holding it in “contempt”.

“Yet it feels like an emerging post-Thatcherite Conservatism that accepts the need for state action to assist the vulnerable alongside protection against the failures of unfettered capitalism.”

Someone should tell the Tories: The Tory landlord MPs who don’t care if rented homes aren’t fit to live in. Similarly, the notion that the Tories are bulldozing so-called “sink” estates in the interests of those who live there have not been paying attention – these estates are on prime London land which should be sold to private developers. And so on…

“Another cabinet minister told me he was attracted to the Conservative party by its libertarianism and love of freedom, only to see that when used judiciously, government is a force for good.”

Never seen the Tory party proclaim “Property is theft!” Oh, he means propertarianism – and “love of freedom” seems compatible to ensuring the serfdom of workers to their boss:

“Thus, property, which should make us free, makes us prisoners. What am I saying? It degrades us, by making us servants and tyrants to one another.

“Do you know what it is to be a wage-worker? To work under a master, watchful [jaloux] of his prejudices even more than of his orders; whose dignity consists above all in demanding, sic volo, sic jubeo [“Thus I wish. Thus I command.”], and never explaining; often you have a low opinion of him, and you mock him! Not to have any thought of your own, to study without ceasing the thought of others, to know no stimulus except your daily bread, and the fear of losing your job!

“The wage-worker is a man to whom the proprietor who hires his services gives this speech: What you have to do does not concern you at all: you do not control it, you do not answer for it. Every observation is forbidden to you; there is no profit for you to hope for except from your wage, no risk to run, no blame to fear.” (Property is Theft!, 248-9)

As for “government [being] a force for good”, well, commons don’t enclose themselves and trade unionists – unlike bankers and finance markets – cannot be left to regulate themselves…

“the right is still sceptical over the state, supportive of the private sector and an enthusiast for capitalism.”

Co-operatives are, presumably, part of “the private sector” as are trade unions – yet they are hardly supportive of them. Attempts by the some Tories back in 2010 to pay lip-service to mutuals were as short lived as you would expect. As Kropotkin suggested:

Political Economy — that pseudo-science of the bourgeoisie — does not cease to give praise in every way to the benefits of individual property… [yet] the economists do not conclude, “The land to him who cultivates it.” On the contrary, they hasten to deduce from the situation, “The land to the lord who will get it cultivated by wage earners!” (Kropotkin, “Expropriation,” Words of a Rebel, 209–10)

How very true of the Tories, too – it is not surprising, then, that the Thatcherite selling off of council housing has seen many of them end up in the hands of landlords nor is it surprising that the lack of council housing has seen landlords becoming very wealthy indeed.

“Yet ironically it was Ed Miliband who pushed the concept of responsible capitalism, identifying the broken housing market and low pay. Now these have been taken up by the Tories.”

But the (false) narrative from the election result was because Miliband was “too left wing” – but this is a myth. In fact, as previously noted, Labour increased its share of the vote in England and Wales by 3 times that of the Tories – the Tory victory was down to the rise of the SNP in Scotland (hardly due to Labour being “too left wing”) and the predicted implosion of the LibDems favouring the Tories (again, as this is down to working with the Tories it is hardly a ringing endorsement of the right). As for policies:

“The study also found that leftwing policies – such as the energy price freeze, and greater potential to bring railways back into public ownership – were some of the most popular put forward by Miliband, but that there was a lack of a coherent overall narrative.” (Beckett report: Labour lost election over economy, immigration and benefits)

So – as with most Tory claims – there is a distinct contradiction here. But, then, the notion that a radical right-wing Tory government is claiming the “centre-ground” is so at odds with reality that contradiction is inevitable.

As for “low pay”, why not empower workers by freeing their trade unions so that we can improve our own pay by our own efforts? No, sorry, instead of self-help we must be paternalistically looked after by our masters – whom we are surely expected to vote for in gratitude (good luck with that… as one guy in Easterhouse said in relation to Ian Duncan Smith’s becoming aware of the poverty his party created, “we may be poor but we’re no stupid”… and was correct, as can be seen from Smith’s welfare regime). And best not mention that the people who broke “the broken housing market” were the Tories under Thatcher…

Both these evils were created by means of increased state centralisation. The so-called “free” schools, to use another example, actually increase central state control of education – and who doubts that for most of them the internal regime will be far from free – while reducing local council influence.

The paradox of neo-liberalism – in fact no paradox at all if you pay attention – is that it destroys intermediate bodies between the individual and the state and market – like unions, local democracy, etc. – and so “forces them to be free” (to use Rousseau’s term). That this strengthens the position of those with power – whether derived from state bureaucracy, capital, etc. – at the expense of the many goes without saying.

“Jeremy Corbyn is an old-fashioned socialist intent on driving private providers out of the NHS, renationalising railways and restricting tax breaks for business. The right is learning to love the state again. When will the left rekindle an understanding of the market?”

Interesting. Renationalising railways… so “the market” involves the state handing out public money to subsidise private railway companies? Hand-out more public money, in fact, than was spent on the nationalised railways? This is not even value for money…. And even most Tory voters recognise the failure of the privatisation of the railways – for passengers and society, if not for the shareholders and executives!

Needless to say, our Tory suffers from binary-thinking:

“there are three ways in which public utilities can be operated; by the State, like the mail today; by capitalist companies, as all the railways are at present; or, finally, by workers’ associations.” (Proudhon, Property is Theft!, 606)

Why the blindness to genuine socialism rather than the false choice between private and state capitalism? Because of the threat of a good example:

We do not want expropriation by the State of the mines, canals and railways: it is still monarchical, still wage-labour. We want the mines, canals, railways handed over to democratically organised workers’ associations operating under State supervision, in conditions laid down by the State, and under their own responsibility. We want these associations to be models for agriculture, industry and trade, the pioneering core of that vast federation of companies and societies woven into the common cloth of the democratic and social Republic.” (Proudhon, Property is Theft!, 177-8)

As for “driving private providers out of the NHS”, why should taxpayers have to pay for the profits these companies must seek? And as for “restricting tax breaks for business”, why should companies get preferential treatment?

Ultimately, the Tories only think they are against state intervention because what they support is what they think the state should do – defend property and its owners. They take a different view when the state acts in ways they object to. However, we need to affirm that state defence of property, capitalist property rights, employer power, and so on are just as much state intervention as, say, nationalising railways.  As Kropotkin suggested:

We cannot either go on saying, as superficial critics of present society often say when they require the State management of industries, that modern Capitalism has its origin in an “anarchy of production” due to the “non intervention of the State” and to the Liberal doctrine of “let things alone” (laissez faire, laissez passer). This would amount to saying, that the State has practised this doctrine, while in reality it never has practised it. We know, on the contrary, that while all Governments have given the capitalists and monopolists full liberty to enrich themselves with the underpaid labour of working men reduced to misery, they have never, nowhere given the working men the liberty of opposing that exploitation. Never has any Government applied the “leave things alone” principle to the exploited masses. It reserved it for the exploiters only.


In short, nowhere has the system of “non-intervention of the State” ever existed. Everywhere the State has been, and is, the main pillar and the creator, direct and indirect, of Capitalism and its powers over the masses. Nowhere, since States have grown up, have the masses had the freedom of resisting the oppression by capitalists. The few rights they have now they have gained only by determination and endless sacrifice.

To speak therefore of non-intervention of the State may be all right for middle-class economists, who try to persuade the workers that their misery is “a law of Nature.” But—how can Socialists use such language? The State has always interfered in the economic life in favour of the capitalist exploiter. It has always granted him protection in robbery, given aid and support for further enrichment. And it could not be otherwise. To do so was one of the functions—the chief mission—of the State.

The State was established for the precise purpose of imposing the rule of the landowners, the employers of industry, the warrior class, and the clergy upon the peasants on the land and the artisans in the city. And the rich perfectly well know that if the machinery of the State ceased to protect them, their power over the labouring classes would be gone immediately.” (Direct Struggle Against Capitalism, 192-3)

Which brings me to the title of this blog, a newish translation of a Kropotkin article. Below is a rare English translation of an article by Kropotkin written after the July 1896 London Congress of the Second International. Kropotkin had joined in the call for anarchists to attend the congress (see “The Workers’ Congress of 1896”, Direct Struggle Against Capital) and after it banned anarchists from the International he produced five articles for Les Temps Nouveaux entitled “Les Congrès internationaux et le Congrès de Londres” (Second Year, issues 16, 18, 20, 21 and 24).

This is the second article of the series and appeared in Les Temps Nouveaux on the 29th of August 1896 (No. 18). It was originally translated for the Vanguard: A Libertarian Communist Journal (Vol. II, No. 6, January-February 1936) under the title “The First International”. It is slightly abridged and has, to my knowledge, never been reprinted – this should be appearing in the next issue of Anarcho-Syndicalist Review along with an article by Davide Turcato (author of the excellent book Making Sense of Anarchism: Errico Malatesta's Experiments with Revolution, 1889–1900 and editor of the recommended The Method of Freedom: An Errico Malatesta Reader) about the anarchist activities in the run up to the London Congress. I should say, I found the article only because someone put the issues of Vanguard on-line at libcom.

However, the article below is not that abridged version but rather a full – and fully revised – version. I have added the bits missed (including about 5 paragraph) as well as correcting some bits of the translation to be more in line with Kropotkin’s exact words. I have also added a few bibliographical notes.

I have done so to mark the 120th anniversary of the anarchist attempt to reclaim their rightful place in the international workers movement (as regular readers will know, I am one for marking anniversaries in the movement) and because is a good account of what Kropotkin considered a genuine workers’ international should be like. Talking of which, when I asked Davide Turcato to write a popular account of Malatesta’s activities in the run-up to the congress, I did ask about Malatesta’s interpretation of why Kropotkin did not attend as a delegate. Turcato, after all, reports Malatesta’s opinion that Kropotkin did not attend because he was against voting (also see Davide Turcato, “The 1896 London Congress: Epilogue or Prologue?,” New Perspectives on Anarchism, Labour and Syndicalism, pp. 110–25). This seems odd, I must admit, given what I have read of Kropotkin’s on anarchist involvement in the labour movement and his vision of what a real workers’ movement should be like.

Obviously, Malatesta knew Kropotkin and so his opinion has to be taken seriously but it really does chime against what I’ve read of his position on the labour movement – a position he shared with Malatesta. I think that an alternative explanation may come from his vision of what an International should be, as seem by his somewhat idealised account of the First International below (and elsewhere). I say idealised because the First International was not just an organisation of workers – Bakunin was a member and attended congresses as a delegate – but the key thing is that here, as elsewhere, Kropotkin is suggesting it should have been for workers only. To quote from the biographical sketch in Direct Struggle Against Capital:

‘While not attending himself, he took part in the protest meeting after the anarchists were expelled, stating that “we are all delighted to see that such an enormous mass of workers, by sending delegates to the Congress, expressed their determination to fight against Capital and to take property out of the hands of the monopolists and exploiters of labour.” However, he hoped “that only workers’ associations will be admitted at future congresses: we want delegates not as Social Democrats nor as Anarchists, but as men who have won the confidence of a workers’ association, whatever be their personal opinion.” He also denounced “voting by nationalities in an assembly purporting to be a really international one.”’ (Report, Freedom, August–September, 1896)

So perhaps he rejected getting a mandate simply because he was not a worker? This is speculation on my part – informed by reading a lot of his writings! – but it seems more likely than an opposition to voting.

Anyway, suffice to say more research is needed here – presumably he wrote about the events in his letters or perhaps in an article. Talking of which, the last article of this series on the London Congress looks like it would be a good one to translate… but, then, there are so many interesting pieces which we could do with being translated in English (just look at the list in my article “Kropotkin, Woodcock and Les Temps Nouveaux) – not only for Kropotkin, but Proudhon and Bakunin, too.

So while we are getting a better – fuller – picture of the ideas of these people (and so showing up the nonsense produced by Marxists from Marx onwards) by the efforts of many people (Shawn Wilbur at the fore) there is still a long way to go. While, of course, finding the time to change the world… hopefully 2016 will see the anarchist movement suffer the same sort of “crisis” that the British Labour Party is suffering from, namely a massive influx of new people!

Finally, I was thinking over Xmas why I quote dead anarchists so much. After a while, I concluded it was because, first, you give credit where credit is due; second, often they express themselves very nicely; and, third, because many people – thanks to secondary authors who get things wrong or deliberately distort – won’t believe that these people actually held the positions they did. Hence the use of quotes to show the facts of the matter. I do, however, think I need to cutback – now that is a new year’s resolution that may be hard to keep.

Until I blog again, be seeing you!

International Congresses and the Congress of London

(Les Temps Nouveaux, 29th of August 1896)


A Page from History

Things happen so quickly nowadays that we very easily forget events which are of the greatest importance in contemporary history.

Among these events there is one which stands out above all the others. I am referring to the great achievements of the International Working Men’s Association [The First International] in its early years and the tremendous scope of its first four Congresses from 1866 to 1869.

What made these Congresses so successful? What gave them their historic scope, a scope so great that in spite of what those who boast that they are “scientific socialists” may have to say on this question, the fact remains that the minutes of these four Congresses constitute the epitome of all modern socialism? It is there, in reality, and not in the obscure writings of Marx and Engels that we have learned the socialism of modern times, the socialism to which we adhere.

The answer is simple. The first Congresses of the International did not seek to control the socialist movement: they sought rather to find its expression. They did not pose as “Parliaments of Labour”, this absurd name was invented later. They were simply places where the workers of the two worlds could exchange ideas.


The founders of modern socialism – of the “fourth awakening of the proletariat” to quote Malon[1] – did not try to make themselves the masters of the young movement. They tried to learn; learn from some, and teach others. The great masses of workers, they said, are being stirred by new currents. It is not the com­munism of Fourier, or Cabet, of Robert Owen or of Pierre Leroux, nor the “gov­ernmentarianism” of Louis Blanc nor the mutualism of Proudhon, nor the neo-christianism of Lamennais. Contemporary ideas hold on, undoubtedly; but they differ essentially [from the new ones]. It is necessary, therefore, that these [new] currents of ideas grow, that they are affirmed, that they find their expression.

It is not to the bourgeoisie – not even the most highly inspired – to whom we must turn for this concrete expression. The whole mental set of the bourgeoisie is warped by its science, by its education, by the fact that it lives at the expense of the working class. It is the workers themselves – the most active and most intelligent of them, who re­main in the ranks of the toiling masses, who partake of its life, of its joys and its sorrows, whom we must ask to express these aspirations. And they must do so, not by placing themselves on the field of political struggles where they surely will be swallowed up by the bourgeois gentlemen, but by remaining on the field of economic struggles – the day by day struggles against capitalist domination.

The watchword of that epoch was, “the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself.” And this formula was taken literally. Later on it was replaced by the deceitful formula that the task of the emancipation of the working classes should be left to a few, chosen in the electoral lottery.

No. At that time it was understood that for the achievement of the social revolution it was necessary that the popular spirit find new forms of social organisation – forms which could not be representative government, nor a State such as was elaborated for the triumph of the Roman and Christian idea, nor the governmental Jacobinism of Louis Blanc – but something completely new arising from the needs of modern production and distribution.

Something as different from that which exists at present as the communes of the twelfth century, described by Thierry and Sismondi, were dif­ferent from the feudal world against which they revolted. Something that will emerge from the struggle of the workers against capital, from their national and inter­national unions, from the [common] interests which exist amongst the workers of the two worlds, outside of the present political forms, from the ideas germinating in their midst.

That is what the International was seeking when its work was interrupted by the war of 1870.


All the workers, however, do not think in the same fashion. The great majority, on the contrary, sees nothing outside of reforms or political revolutions. Many dream of dictatorship; a large number adore Jacobin terror. The great mass puts its faith in universal suffrage and believes in worker [parliamentary] candidates. Others do not see how much economic serfdom dominates political liberties. Lodged in the tradition of 1793 and 1848, they fail to see that the industrial worker and the peasant will remain the serfs of the rich and the nobility, whatever their political rights, so long as they themselves are not masters of the land, the factories and all the social wealth.

Consequently the International had to pursue a twofold aim.

In its daily life it would establish unions among men of various trades in each city, region and nation, and among all the trades internationally.

And through its Congresses it would carry on propaganda work – far beyond the confines of its own ranks, It would speak to the whole world and disseminate its ideas among all peoples –  especially those not as yet influenced by the revolutionary vanguard of the working class.


In its Congresses the workers – the workers only – in the various trades and from various nations would learn to know each other. They would dev­elop mutual understanding for the purpose of insuring the success of their strikes by means of regional and international solidarity. They would learn to paralyse, to stun the capitalist monster by the power of international attack. They would know how to put it in its death throes, to make it yield to the united forces of the workers.

They would study in the meantime how to produce and distribute the products of their labour by themselves. From those understandings, renewed each year by means of international exchanges of ideas, would develop the plans for the new forms of economic organisation which should eventually replace capitalist production and distribution.

At the same time the regional and international Congresses would serve as a powerful medium for the propagation of the socialist idea as well as for the elaboration of new ideas.


Each Congress would decide upon two or three important problems to be studied in preparation for the following Congress. These questions would be posed and discussed, in the period between the two Congresses, at first in the local workers groups, then in small regional or national Congresses and finally in the annual international Congress.

Men of good will would come together and prepare elaborate reports summarising the local and regional discussion; these reports would be used as the basis for discussion at the next Congress. After being published in the minutes they would be used as material for discussion and for propaganda in newspapers.

No scientific congress was ever better organised in this respect than the Congresses of the International – for this organisation was not the work of a single individual but the fruit of the practical collective spirit.


That is why, in the realm of everyday practical life, each Congress marked a step in advance in the establishment of mutual understanding among the various trades. One saw trades which formerly were at odds with each other – for example, the Swiss clockmakers and building workers – now united for common action; one saw nations, formerly enemies, now united to hold common council in a strike.

Likewise, each Congress marked a step in advance in the realm of ideas. The International shattered many old prejudices. Lefrançais[2] presented his splendid thesis against dictatorship; Liebknecht[3] (in 1869) launched his formidable attack upon parliamentary action and against the political fakers who attempted to drag the proletariat into electoral struggles. In the sphere of economics there was, at the Lausanne Congress, in 1867, a free discussion of the public utilities and on the role of the State, on the land question at Brussels (1868), and on property in general at Basle (1869) – each of these marked a new step in the evolution of ideas, each report being a major piece of work rising from the heart of the International.


The Basle Congress was the last of this kind.

In 1870 there came the war. France raised the flag of the Commune and was bled under the heels of the French murderers as well as under the heel of Bismarck. The Germans, inflamed by their military successes which they attributed to the “governmental organisation” of Moltke[4] and Bismarck, to “discipline”, to the political State, devoted themselves body and soul to governmentalism, to politicalism. From being “socialist” they turned into “socialist democrats”, into Jacobins, into ultra-Statists.

Germany had conquered France; was that not sufficient evidence of the value of “strong government”? Socialism, therefore, required a strong gov­ernment.

From then on all the Congresses, including the current fiasco in London, had as their aim establishment of a socialist government.

Those who believe that we are exaggerating need only to read the invectives in the social-democratic press against the anarchists who place obstacles in the way of the formation of such a government. The establishment of an international socialist government became, from that time on, the goal of all the international Congresses.

At the Conference of 1871, held in London, the Marxists of London, supported by the infamous Utin[5], promulgated the doctrine of “the conquest of political power” while laying down the bases of an international government.

At the Hague, in 1872, the Marxists, supported by the French Blanquists, preferred to exclude the Jura Federation and Bakunin, to split the International in two and to send the General Council to New York to die an ignominious death – “to kill the International” – rather than to see an International which (in France, Belgium, Spain, Italy and in Switzerland) did not recognise the authority of the Marxist General Council.

In Ghent, in 1878, [there was the] same attempt to establish the international socialist government – an attempt that fails again, thanks to the resistance of the embryonic federation of France (represented by [Paul] Brousse), of Spain, of Italy, of Switzerland and, partly, of Belgium – failure that Vorwärts [Forward], the organ of the German social-democrats, always blames, with reason, the nine anarchist delegates for.

Finally, in Paris and Zurich, the whole struggle against the anarchists was just a struggle to oust from the international labour movement those who do not want an international socialist government.

Everything was sacrificed in this struggle. All forces were exhausted by this fight.


And what is the result?

While the anarchists worked continually on the development of their conceptions of a society without government, while they were working out the problems and questions of production, distribution, cooperation, of the aims of production, of morality, or philosophy – the other party remained absolute­ly stationary.

Since the Basle Congress – that is to say, since twenty-eight years ago – not a single idea, not a single thought which might indicate a forward step in socialist evolution, has issued from the International Congress. For to say: “Let us be numerous in Parliament and vote for an eight-hour law” is not to express an idea. This is not a contribution to the immense social problem. It is merely a pious wish, a pious fancy.

And while international Congresses of various trades are being held (such as the international Congress of glass-workers which has just ended), while international conferences (conducted without ballyhoo) of American and British dockers together with Belgian workers, are preparing for large-scale international action which shall reduce working hours and may perhaps lead to the expropriation of the docks – while all this is taking place the international socialist worker Congresses [Second International] have been for the past twenty-eight years precisely what the last Congress was: the arena for the dis­play of personal feuds and ambitions.

That is where we are.

As for the London Congress and the end which was pursued by parliamentarians; we discuss that in a forthcoming issue, with all the necessary details.

End Notes

[1] Benoît Malon (1841-1893) was a French Socialist, trade unionist and member of the Paris Commune. Malon became interested in radical politics through the writings of Proudhon and sided with the 'anti-authoritarian' section against the Marxists. After the amnesty of 1880, he returned to France and joined the reformist 'possibilists' led by Paul Brousse. (editor)

[2] Gustave Adolphe Lefrançais (1826-1901) was a revolutionary anarchist militant who took part in the 1848 revolution before becoming a member of International Workingmen's Association (IWMA), the Paris Commune, and the Jura Federation. (editor)

[3] Wilhelm Martin Philipp Christian Ludwig Liebknecht (1826-1900) was a founder of the Social Democratic Party which, under his leadership, grew from a tiny sect to become Germany’s largest political party. (editor)

[4] Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke (1800-1891) was a German Field Marshal and the chief of staff of the Prussian Army for thirty years. He planned and led the Prussian armies in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) which paved the way for the creation of the Prussian-led German Empire in 1871. He is often viewed as the creator of a new, more modern, method of directing armies in the field. (editor)

[5] Nikolai Isaakovich Utin (1841-1883) was the son of a millionaire merchant who became a revolutionary Marxist. When based in Geneva he helped organise the Russian Section of the First International and worked with Marx against Bakunin. As part of this, he helped engineer a split in the Swiss section of the International into two factions, one backed by the London General Council in favour of electoral action and another, the Jura Federation, around Bakunin standing for revolutionary and economic struggle. (editor)


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