This series has four easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Karl Marx Takes Charge.
No concerted movement of men in various countries has been more distinctly modern in spirit and method than that out of which came the organization of the International Workingmen’s Association, commonly called “The lnternational,” and sometimes “The Red International,” on account of its sympathy with the “Reds” or Communists. This was a union designed to embrace the workingmen of all countries, with the object of advancing industrial and social reform through political action. The movement may be said to have originated with certain thinkers and writers representing the socialistic theory of civil polity. This “scientiﬁc socialism,” as its advocates call it, is the direct outcome of modern views on the practical solidarity of human society and its interests; and in its specializations it has taken many forms of endeavor, independent or co-operative, to readjust the relations and improve the condition of what are called the “working classes.”
It is said by socialistic writers that this movement has its historical antecedents in the special international sympathy that has always existed among nations participating in the inheritance of Greek and Roman culture, and of the spirit of Christianity, breaking down the walls of national exclusiveness. Feudalism, chivalry, and the crusades, we are told, were mediums of the same fraternal inﬂuences. The spread of the Protestant movement and of revolutionary ideas of the eighteenth century led to a further growth of the spirit that heralded the coming internationalism. Modern inventions — the steam-engine, the telegraph, etc. and the new agencies of commerce and industry have become the bearers of a still more widening international movement.
Yet in spite of this growing community of mankind, labor and capital, the great industrial partners, are brought into frequent antagonism. This and various economic questions that equally concern capital and labor have led to organizations representing each interest, and such organization on the side of labor has its earliest example on a large scale in the International. Of this organization a small prototype existed in Paris in 1836, when a group of German exiles formed themselves into a secret communistic society called the “League of the Just.” In 1839 its members removed to London, and the League began to spread through Northern Europe. Adopting the principles of the German socialist leader, Karl Marx (1818-1883), these men entered upon a propaganda for the ‘ social revolution.” In 1847 they reorganized under the name of the “Communist League.” The principles of this organization were set forth by Karl Marx and his associate, Friedrich Engels (1820-1896), sometimes called the founder of scientiﬁc socialism. It was held by them that “human society more and more divides itself into two great conﬂicting classes, bourgeoisie and proletariat,” and the league aimed to deliver the proletariat from the exploiting rule of the bourgeoisie, to abolish the old society resting on class antagonisms, and to found “a new society without classes and without private property.”
With the ending of the Communist League, and a survey of the conditions preparatory to the rise of its famous successor, begins this narrative of the birth and career of the International, by Thomas Kirkup, the historian of socialism.
This selection is from A History of Socialism by Thomas Kirkup published in 1892. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Thomas Kirkup (1866-1928) wrote about socialism.
The Revolution of 1848 was a rising of the people in France, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Hungary against antiquated political arrangements and institutions. It was partly an interruption to the operations of the Communist League, as it was far too weak to exercise any great inﬂuence on the course of events; but it was also an opportunity, as its members found access to the land of their birth, and in many parts of Germany formed the most resolute and advanced wing of the struggling democracy during that troubled period.
After the triumph of the reaction it became clear that the hope of effective revolutionary activity had again for a time passed away. A period of unexampled industrial prosperity set in. Capitalism was about to enter a far wider phase of development than it had yet seen, a fact which abundantly showed that the time was not favorable for an active propaganda in the interests of the proletariat. When capitalism has become a hindrance to progressive social development, when it is obviously too weak and narrow a framework for further evolution, only then is there hope of successful effort against it. So reasoned Marx and his associates. He withdrew, therefore, from the scene of action to his study in London. In 1852 the ﬁrst international combination of workingmen came to a close, and observers who could not reasonably be considered superﬁcial thought that the movement had died without hope of resurrection.
But the triumph of reactionary governments in 1849 was not a settlement of the great questions that had been raised during that period of revolution; it was only a postponement of them. Before many years had passed, the peoples of Europe again began to move uneasily under the yoke of antiquated political forms. The rising of Italy against Austria in 1859; the struggle of Prussian Liberals against the ministry; the resolve of Bismarck and his sovereign to have the Prussian army ready for action in the way of reconstituting a united Germany on the ruins of the old federation—these were only different symptoms of a fresh advance. They were ere long to be followed by similar activity in France, Spain, and Eastern Europe, all proving that the history of European communities is an organic movement, the reach and potency of which often disturb the forecast of the politician. In the generation after 1848 the governments were everywhere constrained to carry out the political program that the people had drawn for them during the revolution.
The social question may appear to have only a remote connection with the political movements just mentioned, and yet the revival of the social question was but another sign of the new life in Europe, which could not be repressed. The founding of the social-democracy of Germany by Ferdinand Lassalle, and the appearance of the International on a wider and worthier scale under the auspices of Marx, were a clear proof that the working classes of the most advanced countries of Europe now meant to claim a better share in the moral and material inheritance of the human race.
Appropriately enough, the event that gave the ﬁrst occasion for the founding of the International Workingmen’s Association was the International Exhibition of London in 1862. The workmen of France sent a deputation to visit the exhibition. This visit had the approval and even pecuniary support of the Emperor, Napoleon III, and it was warmly commended by some of the Parisian journals as a means not only of acquainting the workmen with the industrial treasures of the exhibition, but of removing from the relations of the two countries the old leaven of international discord and jealousy. In the course of their visit the French delegates were entertained by some of their English brethren at the Freemasons’ Tavern, where views as to the identity of the interests of labor, and the necessity for common action in promoting them, were interchanged.
In the following year a second deputation of French work men crossed the Channel. Napoleon was interested in the Polish insurrection of 1863, and it was part of his policy to encourage the expression of opinion in favor of an intervention in Poland by the Western Powers. At this visit wishes for the restoration of Poland and for general congresses in the interest of labor against capital were expressed. Nothing decisive, however, was done till 1864, when on September 28th a great public meeting of workingmen of all nations was held in St. Martin’s Hall, London. Professor Beesly presided, and Karl Marx was present. The meeting resulted in the appointment of a provisional committee to draw up the constitution of the new association. This committee consisted of ﬁfty representatives of different nations, the English forming about half of its number.
The work of writing the constitution was ﬁrst of all under taken by Mazzini, but the ideas and methods of the Italian patriot were not suited to the task of founding an international association of labor. The statutes he drew up were adapted to the political conspiracy, conducted by a strong central authority, in which he had spent his life; he was strongly opposed to the antagonism of classes, and his economic ideas were vague. Marx, on the other hand, was in entire sympathy with the most advanced labor movement; indeed, he had already done much to mould and direct it; to him, therefore, the duty of drawing up a constitution was transferred, and the inaugural address and the statutes drawn up by him were adopted by the committee.
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