Today’s installment concludes The Communist Internional 1864-1873,
our selection 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.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of four thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in The Communist Internional 1864-1873.
Places: Paris, New York (HQ), and Geneva (last Congress)
The relation of the International to the rising of the Commune at Paris in 1871 is often misunderstood. It is clear that the International, as such, had no part in either originating or conducting the Commune. Some of the French members joined it, but only on their individual responsibility. Its complicity after the event is equally clear. After the fall of the Commune, Karl Marx, in the name of the general council, wrote a long and trenchant manifesto commending it as substantially a government of the working class, whose measures tended really to advance the interests of the working class. “The Paris of the workers, with its Commune, will ever be celebrated as the glorious herald of a new society. Its martyrs will be enshrined in the great heart of the working class. History has already nailed its destroyers in the pillory, from which all the prayers of their priests are impotent to deliver them.”
The Commune was undoubtedly a rising for the autonomy of Paris, supported chieﬂy by the lower classes. It was a pro test against excessive centralization, raised by the democracy of Paris, which has always been far in advance of the provinces, and which found itself in possession of arms after the siege of the city by the Germans. But while it was prominently an assertion of local self-government, it was also a revolt against the economic oppression of the moneyed classes. Many of its measures were what we should call social-radical.
In two important points, therefore, the communal rising at Paris had a very close affinity with socialism. In the ﬁrst place, it was a revolutionary assertion of the Commune or local unit of self-government as the cardinal and dominating principle of society over against the state or central government. That is to say, the Commune was a vindication of the political form that is necessary for the development of socialism, the self-governing group of workers. And, in the second place, the Commune was a rising chieﬂy of the proletariat, the class of which socialism declares itself the special champion, which in Paris only partially saw the way of deliverance, but was weary of oppression and full of indignation against the middle-class adventurers that, on the fall of the empire, had seized the central government of France.
It would, however, be a mistake to assume for the Commune a clearness and comprehensiveness of aim which it did not really possess. We should not be justiﬁed in saying that the Commune had any deﬁnite consciousness of such a historical mission as has been claimed for it. The fearful shock caused by the overwhelming events of the Franco-Prussian War had naturally led to widespread confusion and uncertainty in the French mind; and those who undertook to direct it, whether in Paris or elsewhere, had painfully to grope their way toward the renovation of the country. At a time when it could hardly be said that France had a regular government, the Commune seized the opportunity to make a new political departure. The story of its rise and fall was only one phase of a sad series of troubles and disasters, which happily do not often overtake nations in a form so terrible.
From this point the decline and fall of the association must be dated. The English trades-unions, intent on more practical concerns at home, never took a deep interest in its proceedings; the German socialists were disunited among themselves, lacking in funds, and hampered by the police. It found its worst enemies, perhaps, in its own household. In 1869 Bakunin, with a following of anarchists, had joined the International, and from the ﬁrst they found themselves at variance with the majority led by Marx. It can hardly be maintained that Marx favored a very strongly centralizing authority, yet, as his views and methods were repugnant to the anarchists, a breach was inevitable.
The breach came at The Hague congress in September, 1872. Sixty-ﬁve delegates were present, including Marx himself, who, with his followers, after animated discussion, expelled the anarchist party, and then removed the seat of the general council to New York. The congress concluded with a meeting at Amsterdam, of which the chief feature was a remarkable speech from Marx. “In the eighteenth century,” he said, “kings and potentates used to assemble at The Hague to discuss the interests of their dynasties. At the same place we resolved to hold the assize of labor” — a contrast which with world historic force did undoubtedly mark the march of time. “I cannot deny that there are countries like the United States, England, and, as far as I know its institutions, Holland also, where workmen can attain their goal by peaceful means; but in most European countries force must be the lever of revolution, and to force we must appeal when the time comes.”
Thus it was a principle of Marx to prefer peaceful methods where peaceful methods are permitted, but resort to force must be made when necessary. Force also is an economic power. He concluded by expressing his resolve that in the future, as in the past, his life should be consecrated to the triumph of the social cause.
The transfer of the general council of the Marx International from London to New York was the beginning of the end. It survived just long enough to hold another congress at Geneva in 1873, and then quietly expired.
This ends our series of passages on The Communist Internional 1864-1873 by Thomas Kirkup from his book A History of Socialism published in 1892. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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