CHAPTER 1. Bakunin, Marx, and Johann Philipp Becker

      The Alliance ‘request’ by Johann Philipp Becker (November 1868)

      The Alliance joins the International (February–July 1869)

      Becker’s position paper on the question of organisation (July 1869)

    CHAPTER 2. The International in Geneva and in the Jura Region

      The International in Jura (February–May 1869)

    CHAPTER 3. The Basel Congress of the International

      Bakunin’s manuscript ‘To the Citizen Editors of the Réveil’ (October 1869)

      Bakunin’s first strategy: attack not Marx but his associates

    CHAPTER 4. Marx’s ‘communications’ concerning Bakunin

      Bakunin’s defence by Eugène Hins (January 1870)

      The ‘Confidential Communication’ to German social democrats (March 1870)

    CHAPTER 5. The Romance Federation split

      La Chaux-de-Fonds Congress (April 1870)

      Marx’s third ‘communication’ regarding Bakunin (April 1870)

      The General Council’s decision (June 1870)

      The international response and the International’s next congress (April–August 1870)

    CHAPTER 6. Fixing the International’s course

      Bakunin’s second strategy: cautious criticism of Marx

      Paul Robin, the congress question, and the disbanding of the Geneva Alliance section (summer 1871)

      Marx and pluralism within the International

    CHAPTER 7. The London Conference

      The London Conference’s decision on the Swiss conflict (resolutions nos. 16 and 17)

      The Nechaev trial (resolution no. 14 of the London Conference)

      Constitution of the working class into a political party (resolution no. 9 of the London Conference)

    CHAPTER 8. The Sonvillier Circular

      Reaction of the Belgian Federation of the International (November–December 1871)

      Engels’ article about the Sonvillier Circular and the declarations in support of the London Conference from Saxony and Geneva

    CHAPTER 9. The International in Italy

      Reaction of the International in Italy (until January 1872)

      Engels’ letter to Theodor Cuno in Milan of 24 January 1872

      Bakunin’s Italian manuscripts (end of 1871 to beginning of 1872)

    CHAPTER 10. The International in Spain

      The International in Madrid and the founding congress of the Spanish Federation in Barcelona (1869–1870)

      Slow reaction of the Spanish International to the Sonvillier Circular (November 1871–early 1872)

      Paul Lafargue goes to Spain

    CHAPTER 11. Lafargue’s activities in Spain

      Lafargue and the Emancipación’s contact with the Republican Party (January to March 1872)

      The Saragossa Congress (4–11 April 1872) and Lafargue’s reports in the Liberté

      Bakunin’s letters to Mora and Lorenzo (April–May 1872)

    CHAPTER 12. The Belgian rules project and the Fictitious Splits

      Fictitious Splits in the International by Marx and Engels

      Bakunin’s third strategy: open criticism of Marx

      Debate over the Belgian rules project and the second Belgian federal congress (14 July 1872)

      Cafiero’s reckoning with Engels (12–19 June 1872)

    CHAPTER 13. Convening the Congress of The Hague

      Boycott or participation?

    CHAPTER 14. The factional divide in the Spanish International

      The Alianza fracas

      Engels’ attacks against the Alianza (July–August 1872)

      The Spanish delegate elections and the New Madrid Federation before the Congress of The Hague

    CHAPTER 15. The eve of the Congress of The Hague

      The opposition

      Delegate mandates from the United States and Germany

      The French and General Council delegate mandates

    CHAPTER 16. The Congress of The Hague: the mandate commission and the commission to investigate the Alliance

      The verification of the mandates

      The voting procedure and the commission to investigate the Alliance

      The story behind Bakunin’s translation of Capital

    Chapter 17. The revisions to the Rules, the transfer of the General Council and the ‘Minority Declaration’

      The debate concerning the transfer of the General Council and resolution no. 9 of the London Conference

      Constitution of the minority and the final meeting of the Congress of The Hague

    CHAPTER 18. The Congresses of St. Imier, Brussels, and Córdoba

      The downfall of the Congress of The Hague’s majority

      The Brussels Congress (December 1872)

      The Córdoba Congress (December 1872)

      Bakunin and the Congress of The Hague

    CHAPTER 19. The Geneva Congresses and the disastrous New York General Council

      Reactions in Belgium, Spain, and Italy

      The split of the English International

      The congress of the federations (1–6 September 1873)

      The General Council’s congress (8–13 September 1873)

    CHAPTER 20. Politics and historical narratives

      The pamphlet ‘L’Alliance’

      The Mémoire of the Jura Federation



      Archival Collections

      Primary Sources

      Secondary Sources

      Contemporary Periodicals

CHAPTER 1. Bakunin, Marx, and Johann Philipp Becker

IT WOULD HAVE BEEN DIFFICULT TO imagine at first that one day Mikhail Bakunin (1814–1876) and Karl Marx (1818–1883) would face one another as the heads of opposing tendencies of international socialism. They were nearly the same age and both emigrants who had settled in Paris between 1843 and 1844, and were part of the same group of international radicals that had congregated in Paris – a melting pot for European emigrants before 1848 – at the time. There they were introduced to one another in March 1844 and had a friendly relationship until Marx was expelled from France in January 1845. Despite some tribulations – for example, Marx’s Neue Rheinische Zeitung accused Bakunin of being a Russian spy in 1848 – they continued to correspond well into the 1860s.[1] On 3 November 1864, a last personal meeting was arranged by Marx,[2] to which Bakunin was glad to agree for a special reason: ‘I knew that he had played a major part in the foundation of the International.’[3]

The commonly held notion that Marx was ‘the main founder of the International’[4] (the First International or International Working Men’s Association), which Bakunin and many of his contemporaries believed, is a misconception. In reality, Marx had no part in the association of French and English workers that had existed since 1862 and led to the founding meeting of the International in September 1864. Marx was known to English union officials as an immigrant and scholar, and so he was present at the meeting on 28 September 1864 in London’s St. Martin’s Hall, to which he received an invitation at the last minute;[5] however, he only took part in the meeting – as he himself put it two weeks later in a letter to Friedrich Engels – ‘in a non-speaking capacity on the platform’.[6] During the meeting, Marx was elected as one of two German representatives of the 32-person provisional Central Council (later General Council) of the International and wrote the ‘Provisional Rules’[7] and the ‘Inaugural Address’,[8] the International’s founding declaration – which Bakunin later described as ‘a remarkable, serious and profound manifesto, like all those that he writes, when they are not personal polemics’.[9]

Marx sent Bakunin the ‘Inaugural Address’, published a short time after their meeting in London, to Italy (where Bakunin had moved).[10] More than once, in the following years, Marx toyed with the idea of mobilising Bakunin’s support in disputes within the International in Italy. In April 1865 Marx threatened to ‘get Bakunin to lay some counter-mines for Mr Mazzini in Florence’,[11] and on 1 May of the same year he declared that if the Italian immigrants in London ‘don’t appoint new delegates soon, as we have asked them to, Bakunin will have to arrange for some life [sic] Italians’.[12] Finally, in September 1867 Marx praised the Italian paper Libertà e Giustizia and explained ‘I assume that Bakunin is involved’.[13]

The Alliance ‘request’ by Johann Philipp Becker (November 1868)

Bakunin became a member of the Geneva central section of the International in June or July 1868.[14] However, he at first concentrated his activities on the League of Peace and Liberty (Ligue de la Paix et de la Liberté), whose founding congress he had attended a year earlier.[15] At their second congress, from 22 to 26 September 1868 in Berne, Bakunin became completely disillusioned with the political character of the League. He introduced his collectivist ideas during the second item of the agenda at that congress: ‘How does the economic or social question relate to the question of peace through freedom?’[16] They were met with harsh criticism from several speakers. The draft of his resolution on this issue[17] was rejected by the majority of the delegate nations with seven votes against (Spain, Sweden, Mexico, France, Germany, Switzerland, England) and four in favour (Poland, Russia, Italy, USA).[18] On 25 September, Bakunin and 17 other congress participants quit the League after reading a letter of protest.[19]

The International’s congress, which had taken place a few days earlier in Brussels, declared to the League on 12 September 1868 that their existence next to the International was unjustified and suggested that the League’s members should ‘join one section or another of the International’.[20] This is precisely what Bakunin and his friends planned on doing after leaving the League. According to his own account, Bakunin ‘suggested that the social-revolutionary minority, who had left the League, all join the International while at the same time retaining their close relations’.[21] Bakunin was referring to his contacts with various European socialists and the resulting conspiratorial web of relationships, which he had tried to form into an organisational framework between 1864 and 1867.[22] According to Bakunin, his suggestion to join the International was unanimously agreed upon by all those present. There were, however, different opinions related to the question of forming a separate organisation, which the French and Italian participants of the meeting felt should include a secret and an official branch and remain absolutely independent of the International. There was a consensus that they should continue to work together in secret. However, Bakunin was against forming an official organisation because it ‘would compete in a most undesirable way’ with the International. Despite Bakunin’s opposition, an official organisation called the International Alliance of Socialist Democracy (Alliance internationale de la Démocratie Socialiste) was formed and a programme and regulations were developed by the meeting’s participants based on a lengthy draft by Bakunin.[23]

Even though the Alliance claimed to be ‘established entirely within the big International Working Men’s Association’ in their preambles,[24] they still had to apply to the London General Council of the International for official recognition. The German socialist Johann Philipp Becker,[25] who was part of the Central Office (bureau central) of the Alliance, was given this task. Bakunin wrote:

Citizen J. Phillippe Becker, a member of this office, a personal friend of the members of the General Council, and to some extent influential among them, was unanimously entrusted by all the other members of the Office (Brosset, Bakunin, Perron, Guétat, Duval and secretary Zagorski) to write to London. He accepted this mission, certain, he said, of the success of his approach, and added that the General Council, which had no right to refuse us, would necessarily understand, after the explanations which he gave them, the immense utility of the Alliance. We thus relied completely on the promise and assurance of Ph. Becker […]. The fact is that – contrary to all his promises – he had written nothing to London, or that he had written something completely different from what he had told us.[26]

Becker had in fact written a letter to London; however, it was not exactly a request for the Alliance’s admittance to the International. In his letter to the General Council on 29 November 1868, he wrote, more or less matter-of-factly:

In addition, we have been instructed to inform you that an International Alliance of Socialist Democracy has formed within our Association, whose programme is enclosed. Its local section has 145 members to date, and will soon have many hundreds more. As the existing sections and affiliated groups of our Association have almost exclusively been treating symptoms – their consumer establishments, bakery, butcher and chandlery, and the protection of employees’ wage – and have let our primary mission out of their sights, the time has come for an element to arise and rally together to bring some healthy idealism and revolutionary energy into the movement on the continent before it is too late. It had already begun to get boring for energetic natures. And history cannot do without an avant-guard. A few words of encouragement and support in your response to this Alliance would have a positive effect.[27]

Becker’s rather smug letter surprisingly resulted in Marx’s first verbal attack against Bakunin. On the evening that Becker’s letter was received by the London General Council of the International, Marx wrote to Engels:

Mr Bakunin – in the background of this business – is condescending enough to wish to take the workers’ movement under Russian leadership.

This shit has been in existence for 2 months. Only this evening did old Becker inform the General Council about it in writing. […] As old Becker writes, this association should make up for the deficient ‘idealism’ of our Association. L’idéalisme Russe![28]

Marx’s frivolous preoccupation with the conspiracy theory that Bakunin had used Becker as a marionette ‘to take the workers’ movement under Russian leadership’ is almost bizarre. In reality Bakunin had no idea what Becker had written to London.[29] Ignorant of Becker’s letter and the shock waves it had sent through London, Bakunin himself addressed the leading figure of the General Council, his old associate Marx, on 22 December 1868. In a friendly letter, Bakunin again sent the Alliance’s programme and wrote the following: ‘I also send you the programme of the Alliance that we have founded with Becker and many Italian, Polish and French friends. – We shall have much to say on this subject.’[30]

After receiving the letter, Marx commented on it to Engels: Bakunin is ‘still under the pleasant misapprehension that he will be allowed to go his own way’.[31] On the same day as Bakunin sent his letter to London (22 December 1868), Marx had the General Council send a rebuff to the Alliance which he himself formulated. In addition to a series of references to the Rules and Administrative Regulations of the International, the main reason for the rejection of the Alliance was that ‘the presence of a second international body operating within and outside the International Working Men’s Association would be the infallible means of its disorganisation’.[32] And so, Bakunin’s fear at the founding meeting of the Alliance that as an official organisation it would ‘compete in a most unnecessary way’ with the International[33] was quickly confirmed.

The Alliance joins the International (February–July 1869)

The Central Office of the Alliance responded to the rebuttal by the General Council on 26 February 1869 with the suggestion that the Alliance dissolve as an international organisation.[34] The General Council agreed with this at its meeting on 9 March 1869[35] and offered to admit the individual sections of the Alliance into the International. The communiqué concerning this matter from the General Council to the Alliance[36] also included a critique of a phrase in the Alliance’s programme. The second point of the programme said that the Alliance ‘wants above all political, economic and social equalisation of classes and individuals of both sexes’.[37] The General Council’s letter from March 1869, written by Marx, states:

The ‘égalisation des classes’ [equalisation of classes], literally interpreted, comes to the ‘Harmony of Capital and Labour’ (‘l’harmonie du capital et du travail’) so persistently preached by the Bourgeoissocialists [sic]. It is not the logically impossible ‘equalisation of classes’, but the historically necessary superseding ‘abolition of classes’ (abolition of classes) [sic], this true secret of the Prolet. movement, which forms the great aim of the Int. W. Ass. Considering, however, the context, in which that phrase ‘égalisation des classes’ occurs, it seems to be a mere slip of the pen, and the General Council feels confident that you will be anxious to remove from your programme an expression which offers such a dangerous misunderstanding.[38]

Marx also spoke of a ‘slip of the pen’ in a draft of this text that he sent to Engels.[39] The phrase in the Alliance’s programme was meant to address both class and individual. Because individuals could not be abolished, the term ‘equalisation’ was chosen.[40] Three months before the critic from the General Council, Bakunin had already offered Marx an explanation of this phrase in his letter from 22 December 1868 (where he had also sent the Alliance’s programme):

Nonetheless, I must heartily avow, we would have done better expressing ourselves differently if, for example, we had spoken of the radical abolition of the economic causes of the existence of different classes, the equalisation of the economic, social and political environment, and the conditions needed for all individuals to live and develop without distinction of gender, nation and race.[41]

In the speeches at the second congress of the League (also sent to Marx), Bakunin took the following position on this question.

I have demanded, I do demand the economic and social equalisation of classes and individuals. Now I want to say what I mean by these words.

I want the abolition of classes both in an economic and social as well as a political sense. […] The history of the [Great French] Revolution itself and the seventy-five years that have passed since then show us that political equality without economic equality is a lie. However much you proclaim the equality of political rights, as long as the economic organisation of society splits it into different social strata, this equality is nothing but a fiction. To make it a reality, the economic causes of class differences must disappear – we must abolish the right to inheritance, which is the permanent source of all social inequalities. […] Thus, gentlemen, but only thus, shall equality and freedom become a political truth.

Here is what we mean when we speak of ‘the equalisation of classes’. Perhaps it would be better to speak of the abolition of classes, the unification of society by the abolition of economic and social inequality. But we have also demanded the equalisation of individuals, and this is the main thing that draws upon us all the wrath of our adversaries’ indignant eloquence.[42]

It thus seems quite clear, that Bakunin in no way – as Marx feared in the critic he formulated for the General Council in March 1869 – had a ‘harmony of capital and labour’ in mind. In fact, Bakunin himself later referred to this phrase, which was basically of secondary importance, as ‘that unfortunate phrase’[43] and also spoke of a ‘slip of the pen’[44] – while Marx, who had spoken of a ‘slip of the pen’ (see above), in later years repeatedly made a contentious issue out of it.[45]

The justified objections by the General Council were enough for the Alliance to change ‘political, economic and social equalisation of classes and individuals’ to ‘final and total abolition of classes and the political, economic and social equalization of individuals’[46] at their general meeting on 17 April 1869. The following is found in the minutes: ‘Bakunin read the letter from the General Council (from 20 March 1869) regarding the term ‘equalisation of classes’. It was unanimously agreed to make the modifications called for by the G.C.’[47] This ‘modification’ was not considered to be a contentious issue by the meeting’s participants either, but rather a technicality, which was agreed upon without any further discussion.

The General Council had no objections other than the phrase ‘equalisation of classes’; instead, they stressed the pluralism in the International’s programme – with an important limitation:

Since the various sections of workingmen in the same country, and the working classes in different countries, are placed under different circumstances and have attained to different degrees of development, it seems almost necessary that their theoretical notions, which reflect the real movement, should also diverge.

The community of action, however, called into life by the Intern. W. Ass., the exchange of ideas facilitated by the public organs of the different national sections, and the direct debates at the General Congresses are sure by and by to engender a common theoretical programme.[48]

This hypothesis by Marx, that the workers’ movement would by and by develop a common theory, was to weigh heavily on the development of the International.

After correcting the ‘slip of the pen’, the Geneva section of the Alliance on 22 June 1869 once again wrote to the General Council to apply for admission to the International.[49] The General Council unanimously accepted them at their meeting on 27 July 1869.[50]

Becker’s position paper on the question of organisation (July 1869)

A second act by the Alliance member Becker – this time in connection with the socialist movement in Germany – was strangely enough also attributed to Bakunin by Marx and Engels.

In the summer of 1869, the German socialists August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht, who belonged to the Union of German Workers’ Associations (Verband Deutscher Arbeitervereine, VDAV), were able to win over an number of prominent members from the competing General Association of German Workers (Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein, ADAV), founded by Lassalle in 1863. Together they agreed to form a joint organisation of ‘the social democratic workers of Germany’, which was to be founded in August 1869 in Eisenach. Johann Phillip Becker wrote a position paper on the question of organisation for the Eisenach Congress, which stated that ‘unions are the only true form for workers’ associations and indeed future society’ and further that ‘the proposed party organisation should not have a definitive form, but rather one that is transitional and open to change’. According to Becker’s position paper, the organisation being founded in Eisenach was to be a federation of different union organisations, which were to become ‘a part of the International Working Men’s Association’. In addition, each organisation was to have its own international committee: ‘The unions, the basic elements of the party organisation, are to form special central offices by communication with comrades in their field in different countries about the special interests of their profession’.[51]

Becker, who was president of the Central Committee of the Group of German-speaking Sections of the International in Geneva, would have played a key role in such an organisation form with different central offices – a plan that was spotted right away. August Bebel, for instance, wrote Marx on 30 July 1869: ‘I also read Becker’s suggestions in the Vorbote and have to admit that they were discomforting to me, because I see in them Becker’s attempt to gain control of the leadership of the International Working Men’s Association in Germany.’[52]

Becker’s ambitions also got Marx’s attention again – but with the peculiarity that he pinned the blame for Becker’s manoeuvre solely on Bakunin. On 27 July 1869 Marx wrote Engels concerning Becker’s position paper:

Extremely reactionary business, fitting for the pan-Slavists! […] I immediately put a spoke in his wheel when he attempted at the Eisenach Congress to promote himself as centre for Germany. […] Becker himself is not dangerous. But, as we have been informed from Switzerland, his secretary Remy[53] was pressed upon him by Mr Bakunin and is Bakunin’s tool. This Russian obviously wishes to become the dictator of the European workers’ movement. He should be careful. Otherwise he will be officially excommunicated.[54]

For Engels, it was even a matter of fact: ‘It’s quite clear that fat Bakunin is behind it.’[55]

Once again, it’s quite surprising how quickly Marx and Engels resorted to weighty accusations and threats against Bakunin – to this day, there is no evidence that Bakunin even knew about Becker’s position paper at the Eisenach Congress. Marx was apparently obsessed with the idea that Bakunin wanted to seize power in the International[56]but Becker’s behaviour was to blame for this fixation. Bakunin apparently had nothing to do with either of the matters that caused Marx to react so bitterly toward him: Becker’s Alliance ‘request’ on 29 November 1868 and his position paper for the Eisenach Congress. In fact, they can both be chalked up to Becker, who was being indiscreet and letting his ambitions run wild. When the political differences in the International later became apparent, the atmosphere was already highly charged thanks to Becker.

CHAPTER 2. The International in Geneva and in the Jura Region

THE CONFLICTS WHICH WERE TO ENGULF the entire International in 1871/2 had already been acted out to a lesser degree in Francophone western Switzerland.

From 2 to 4 January 1869, delegates from 30 sections of the International from Francophone Switzerland gathered in Geneva to form the Romance Federation (Fédération Romande) of the International. Bakunin, who had been active in the Geneva sections of the International since the summer of 1868, had drafted rules for the Federation, which were accepted by the congress with some modifications.[57] The rules included: Art. 1) The Romance Federation is made up of sections of the International in Francophone Switzerland. Art. 2) However, these are not forced to join. Art. 4) Each section of the Romance Federation is given full autonomy when it comes to its internal affairs and rules, as long as the Federal Committee[58] of the Romance Federation judges that the latter do not break the Federation’s rules.[59]

The congress also decided to establish the Romance Federation’s official organ, the Égalité. An editorial committee was elected which included Bakunin, Johann Philipp Becker, and Charles Perron, an enameller from Geneva and member of the Alliance.[60] Bakunin published many articles that year in the Égalité,[61] especially during the summer months of 1869 when he filled in for the chief editor, Perron.[62]

The Geneva section of the Alliance was unanimously accepted into the International by the London General Council on 27 July 1869, almost seven months after the founding congress of the Romance Federation.[63] They then applied for membership in the International’s Romance Federation with the following letter to the Federal Committee:

We have the honour of presenting You with our statutes, and we are certain that once You have examined them, You shall recognise that, as all are in conformity with the General Rules as well as with those of Romance Switzerland, they demonstrate the sincere will of our section to cooperate fully in the great goal of the International, the final and total emancipation of the working class.

In the name of the section of the Alliance of Socialist Democracy

President – M. Bakunin

Secretary – Heng[64]

This application for admittance was presented to the Federal Committee of the Romance Federation only on 22 September 1869 by Fritz Heng, who was both the secretary of the Alliance and a member of the Federal Committee. In a manuscript, Bakunin described the Federal Committee’s meeting regarding the Alliance’s application for admittance (as Heng had related it to him):

The Federal Council then consisted of seven members: Guétat (president), H. Perret (general secretary), his brother (interior secretary), Martin, Chénaz, Duval and Heng. When this last person presented the request, an expression of considerable uncertainty, not to say confusion, was to be seen on every face. All began by saying that they themselves were members of the Alliance, except Martin. None denied the legitimacy of the Alliance as a section of the International, which moreover would have been impossible in the presence of two original letters, presented by Fritz Heng, written on behalf of the General Council by Eccarius[65] and Jung,[66] and in light of the equally decisive and universally acknowledged fact that the section of the Alliance had sent a delegate to Basel, who had been admitted as such by the congress.[67] The duty of the Federal Council to receive the section of the Alliance into the Romance Federation was thus obvious, staring everyone in the face, as our heretofore friend Philipp Becker had said.[68] […] It was Mr H. Perret, the great diplomat of the Geneva International,[69] who spoke first. He began by recognising that the Alliance was a legitimate section, and recognised as such by both the General Council and the Basel Congress, that it was moreover a most inspired section, very useful […], finally, that the request was perfectly in order, but that the Federal Council, he felt, would have to receive it at a later time, when the passions aroused by the struggles that had taken place had calmed down … etc., etc. – As for Mr Guétat, he declared roundly that he would have accepted the Alliance on its own recognisance if this section did not contain some who displeased him … Martin spoke out openly against it. Chénaz slept. It was decided to postpone acceptance until an indeterminate date.[70]

The Alliance was informed of this resolution in a letter dated 8 October 1869, which cited as grounds for the postponement, among other things:

that your society [the Geneva section of the Alliance] is not of a purely working-class character, that your statutes are moreover those of a political association, whilst agreeing to go along with the principles of the International. […] the Federal Committee cannot admit you without offending a large number of sections, leading to a schism that we wish to avoid in the interests of the Federation. Consequently, the Committee […] has voted by a majority of 5 to 2 for the indefinite deferral of your entry into the Romance Federation.[71]

This deferral, which amounted to a refusal,[72] was in no way covered by the rules of the Romance Federation: as the Geneva Alliance was officially accepted as a section of the International by the General Council, the Federal Committee could only have denied their application on the grounds of a contradiction between the rules of the section and those of the Federation.[73]

The problem of admitting the Alliance into the Romance Federation, which should have been a mere formality, had to do with political differences – which were even of a professional nature. On the one hand, the Geneva International’s membership was made up of construction workers (bâtiment) who were mostly foreigners or Swiss who had immigrated to Geneva from other cantons. They didn’t have municipal voting rights, weren’t involved in the battles between the Geneva’s political parties, and their social situation was pretty precarious when it came to living conditions and employment. A successful strike by Geneva’s construction workers in early 1868 and 1869, which was supported by the International, led many construction workers to join the International where they made up the lion’s share of the 2,000 to 3,000 members (1869–1870).[74]

On the other hand, there were the workers of the so-called fabrique – which included goldsmiths and makers of luxury watches and music boxes.[75] The workers of the fabrique could more than make up for the fact that they were outnumbered – they only had 500 members in the International (1869),[76] – through their high degree of organisation and their privileged social status. Close-knit, highly qualified, and well paid, they were viewed as a labour aristocracy who set the agenda in the executive committees of the Geneva International. As citizens of Geneva, they were also integrated in the politics of their home town and even ran in the election for the Grand Council on 15 November 1868, partly on their own list and partly together with the bourgeois parti radical. On 14 November 1869, the parti radical put the well-known spokesman of the International, Jacques Grosselin, on their list for the State Council elections of the Canton of Geneva; however, the conservatives publicly accused them of collaborating with the ‘subversives’ of the International, the alleged destroyers of property, family, and public order.[77] Thus it was very inopportune for the moderate members of the International in Geneva belonging to the fabrique that at this exact time topics like collectivising private property were being extensively debated and propagated by the Alliance and in the Égalité, whose editors included the Alliance members Perron and Bakunin.[78] Bakunin wrote:

All this has necessarily brought upon us the hatred of the leaders of the fabrique. On the other hand, the openly socialist and revolutionary principles forthrightly expounded by the Égalité could not serve their interests in the least, being diametrically opposed to their goal: the abolition of states, of patriotic and political borders; the abolition of the right of inheritance, the collective organisation of property and labour from the bottom up, through liberty – all this could not serve as a bridge to unite in a single party the radical bourgeois with the bourgeois Internationals of Geneva. – The entire radical party of that city (the Fazys, the Carterets, the Cambessédès) having been thus stirred up against us, and given the direct influence they have since exercised over the leaders of the fabrique in the International (the Grosselins, the Weyermanns, the Perrets, and so many others), they have continued to foment, accumulate and organise their hatred and persecution against us –[79]

Indeed, the engraver François Weyermann – who belonged to the fabrique and ran for election in November 1868 for the parti radical – gave the following reasons for his resentment toward the Alliance: ‘The Alliance preaches atheism and the abolition of the family, and we don’t want that’. Another Genevan concurred, saying ‘The members of the Alliance are men who do not believe in God or morality.’[80]

The lines were so hardened in Geneva that the essentially formal question of admitting the Alliance section into the Romance Federation turned into an ideological conflict over the political direction of the International.

The International in Jura (February–May 1869)

The members of the Alliance were not alone in their convictions. During the founding congress of the Romance Federation in early January 1869, Bakunin got to know the delegates from the sections of the Swiss Jura (Bernese Jura and the Canton of Neuchâtel) – Fritz Heng, Adhémar Schwitzguébel, and James Guillaume – who were to become his closest political allies in coming years. Guillaume lived with Bakunin during the congress. Guillaume later remembered:

Since, having been delegated by the section of Locle, I arrived in Geneva Saturday 2 January 1869, after spending Christmas and New Year’s in Morges with my fiancée’s family, Bakunin, who had a room available, and who had offered to host a delegate, cast his eye on me, and absolutely wished that I should stay with him, I accepted his hospitality with pleasure, happy to have a chance to meet such a famous man, whose warm welcome had won me over instantly. I only stayed two days in Geneva, and already had to leave the following Sunday, 3 January; however, this short length of time was enough to bind us, Bakunin and I, despite our difference in age, in a friendship that would quickly develop into a thoroughgoing intimacy. […]

Naturally, Bakunin and I spoke of the Alliance of Social Democracy; he showed me the programme, the federalist and anti-authoritarian character of which conformed to my own ideas. […] I was able to tell Bakunin, without a second thought, that I felt myself to be in agreement on all the essential points.[81]

Guillaume (1844–1916) was 24 years old at the time.[82] After dropping out of university (1862–1864), he had worked as a teacher for French, literature and history at the industrial school (école industrielle) of Le Locle in the Canton of Neuchâtel. There he had been put under such pressure by the school board because of his political activities that he quit teaching to work in his father’s printing shop. At the industrial school, he organised evening classes for the apprentices and so came into contact with the labour movement, which had taken a special form in the context of the dominant industry in Jura – the export-oriented watchmaker industry. As opposed to the rigid, almost guild-like organisation of the makers of luxury clocks in Geneva’s fabrique, the watchmakers in Jura were by and large free of state or industry regulations. Because they did not produce luxury goods for a small elite (like their Genevese colleagues) but standardised products for the mass market in Europe and America, they were much more vulnerable to the quick succession of international business cycles of the day. The local politicians couldn’t change this situation[83] and enjoyed little respect in Jura. To improve their lot, the workers had to become active themselves: unlike those in Geneva, the watchmakers in Jura met the companies’ attempts to pass on the risk of lower sales to them with unionised resistance, boycotts, industrial action and the establishment of strike funds.[84]

And so the founding of the first section of the International in Le Locle, on the initiative of Guillaume and his friend Constant Meuron (already at the time a 62-year-old ex-Carbonaro) in August 1866, was met with lively interest from the watchmakers. Guillaume was named their delegate to the International’s Congresses in Geneva (1866), Lausanne (1867) and the subsequent founding congress of the League of Peace and Liberty in Geneva. The section in Le Locle created credit and consumer cooperatives and, like other sections in Jura, intently followed the theoretical discussions at the general congresses of the International. An important stage in the development of their political ideas was the debate over the sensational resolution of the Brussels Congress of the International (6–13 September 1868) on common property.[85] Guillaume later remembered:

After the Brussels Congress, the Swiss Francophone sections began to study and debate the question of property, and I distinctly recall how, at that time, we hesitated before this problem, so new to our minds. Under the influence of Ch. Perron, Serno-Solov’evich and Johann Philipp Becker in Geneva, under that of Adhémar Schwitzguébel in the Val de St. Imier, and under that of Constant Meuron and some others in Locle, most of the socialists quickly declared themselves in favour of common property.[86]

When the International once again voted on common property in the following year at the Basel Congress,[87] Bakunin[88] and the Jura delegates Fritz Robert, Heng, Schwitzguébel and Guillaume voted in favour while Geneva’s delegates Perret (the fabrique’s own delegate) and Grosselin (despite an imperative mandate to vote for common property) abstained.[89]

The Jura socialists associated with Guillaume, Schwitzguébel, Heng et al. and the spokesmen of the Geneva International also drew differing conclusions from their experience with local politics. Like the Geneva sections, the section in Le Locle had also tried to gain influence in the politics of the canton by taking part in elections. Their experiences, however, led to an acceleration of the development of their political ideas: in the vote on the revision of the canton’s constitution (15 March 1868), when a member of the International stood for the Grand Council elections of the Canton Neuchâtel on the list of the parti radical (3 May 1868) and finally in connection with the municipal elections (13 December 1868) – the Le Locle Internationalists were the victims of manipulative political tactics, which robbed them of any illusions they had about participating in civic politics.[90] At the electoral meeting for the municipal elections on 13 December 1868, Guillaume gave a speech where he drew the following conclusion from the experience: ‘we shall declare that we believe in progress, that we feel ourselves to be free men, capable of governing ourselves’.[91] As Bakunin only got to know Guillaume in January 1869 (see above), he could not have influenced these words which appeared on 18 December 1868 in the first issue of the Progrès – founded by Guillaume and his political friends. And yet it is precisely the Progrès which Marx would later claim Bakunin had established as a ‘private journal of his own’[92] which was ‘edited by his valet James Guillaume, a Swiss schoolmaster’.[93]

On 20 February 1869, Bakunin made his first visit to Le Locle in the Jura Mountains and found a sophisticated movement, which was drawn to and propagated revolutionary socialism because of its own experiences. Guillaume summed up the self-assertive mood in Jura as follows: Bakunin ‘was an invaluable assistant in this propaganda’.[94] As such, Bakunin was not an organiser or leader of the movement; at most, he spread certain ideas in Jura. He did this with the charm of a likeable revolutionary, whose uncomplicated nature has often been described to have won over everyone he came into contact with. Guillaume later recollected:

If Bakunin’s imposing stature struck the imagination, his warmth captured our hearts; he won over everyone immediately, and Constant Meuron remarked, ‘That’s my man’. We spoke of a thousand different things. Bakunin gave us news of the propaganda excursion his Italian friend Fanelli was undertaking in Spain, where he founded the first section of the International in Madrid with the programme of the Alliance, and he showed us a photograph of Fanelli surrounded by a group of Spanish socialists. […] at eight o’clock, in the great hall of the International Circle, before an audience that included almost as many women as men, Bakunin gave a lecture on the Philosophy of the People, following a second speech on the subject of the history of the bourgeoisie, its development, its rise and its fall. We were spellbound, and the precision of his language, which came directly to the point, unceremoniously and with an audacious frankness, frightened no one, at least among the workers (for there were only workers in the audience, and curiosity had also drawn some adversaries); on the contrary, we were grateful to him for pursuing his thoughts to their end. It was the first time that most of the members of the International had heard such ideas expressed. They left a deep impression.[95]

The extremely friendly reception also made a deep impression on Bakunin. Bakunin left Le Locle on 22 February, stayed overnight in Neuchâtel and wrote the first in a series of articles for the Progrès there the next day, which began as follows:

Before leaving your mountains I feel the need to express to you once more, in writing, my profound gratitude for the fraternal reception that you have given me. Is it not marvelous that a former Russian noble, of whom you previously knew nothing, may set foot in your land for the first time and, having scarcely arrived, find himself surrounded by hundreds of brothers![96]

The close bond was also the result of a political consensus. As opposed to the spokesmen of the Geneva International who mostly belonged to the fabrique and were integrated in the politics of their home town, the members of the International in Le Locle had already turned away from politics due to their experiences. They understood Bakunin’s argument perfectly that participating in politics would result in the labour movement being tied to the state and thus make carrying out their social-revolutionary demands impossible. Bakunin was invoking a traditional social-revolutionary idea here which postulates that participating in existing power structures will not lead to freedom. Freedom can only be obtained by refusing to participate in the existing power structures, destroying those power structures and creating new forms of community.[97] This emancipatory project was what Bakunin meant when he used the term ‘abstention’ (in the sense of non-participation), which he wanted people to see as an act of self-determination and in no way passivity. Bakunin refused the politician’s concept of politics as tied to the state:

And there is the essential point upon which we separate ourselves in an absolute manner from the radical bourgeois socialists and politicians. Their politics consists in the utilisation, reform and transformation of politics and the state, while our politics, the only politics we recognise, is that of the total abolition of the state and the politics that is its necessary manifestation.[98]

Marx and Engels misinterpreted this as a call for ‘total abstinence from all politics’ or a demand ‘that the workers should abstain from political activity’.[99] Bakunin replied:

The Marxians accuse us of intentionally ignoring political struggles, thus representing us falsely as a species of Arcadian, Platonic, pacifistic socialists who are in no way revolutionary. In saying this of us, they lie deliberately, for they know better than anyone that we too urge the proletariat to engage with the political question, but that the politics that we preach, absolutely populist and internationalist, not nationalist and bourgeois, has as its goal not the foundation or transformation of states but their destruction. We say, and all that we witness today in Germany and Switzerland confirms this, that their politics aimed at the transformation of states in the so-called populist sense can only end up in a new subjugation of the proletariat to the profit of the bourgeois.[100]

Because of their experience, the movement in Jura also referred to the term ‘abstention’. At a public meeting on 30 May 1869 in Crêt-du-Locle (between Le Locle and La Chaux-des-Fonds) – where for the first time sections from the Bernese Jura also took part – Bakunin (who was in Jura for the second time on this occasion), Heng, Schwitzguébel, and Robert spoke one after another. In the minutes of the meeting, printed in the Progrès, can be found a typical statement of Guillaume’s concerning the cooperation between the Jura International and Bakunin: ‘Bakunin, from Geneva, studying the matter from another direction, arrives at the same conclusion.’[101] Among others, the meeting made the following resolutions: cooperative work was described as the economic system of the future, but it could not resolve the social question at the moment; the next general congress was to discuss a more powerful organisation of the International, in order to take on the state and bourgeoisie more effectively; a debate was to take place in Geneva’s Égalité about common property and the abolition of inheritance rights. And the meeting ‘declares moreover that the International must completely abstain from participating in bourgeois politics’.[102]

That the sections of the International in Jura were giving voice to a position they developed themselves[103] was apparently unthinkable for Marx – and, in part, Marxist historians don’t go beyond stereotypes like the term ‘Bakuninism’ when describing Jura socialism: for instance, ‘Bakuninism as a petit-bourgeois ideology’, an official communist party account of the First International informs us, ‘spread across Switzerland among bankrupt craftsmen and small-business owners in the clock industry in Francophone Switzerland, especially in the mountainous Jura region’.[104]

CHAPTER 3. The Basel Congress of the International

ON 20 JULY 1869 – A week before the Alliance was admitted into the International – Marx began a first tactical manoeuvre against the Alliance: ‘Cit. Marx’, the Minute Book of the General Council states, ‘opened the discussion on the question [of] the Right to Inheritance. He said the question had been put by the Alliance of Socialist Democrats of Geneva and the Council had accepted it for discussion.’[105] Marx only ostensibly referred to the motion ‘of the Genevese’ – put forward more than three months earlier – that ‘the laws of inheritance be added to the questions to be discussed at the next Congress’.[106] His real target was once again the phrase in the second point of the Alliance’s programme: in the first version of their programme from September/October 1868, the Alliance called for the equalisation of classes and individuals of both sexes, ‘commencing with abolition of the right of inheritance’.[107] The second version of the programme, adopted in April 1869, stated that the Alliance ‘stands for the final and total abolition of classes and the political, economic and social equalization of individuals of either sex, and, to this end, it demands above all the abolition of the right of inheritance’.[108]

Marx summarised this part of the programme for the General Council as follows: ‘The Democratic Alliance was going to commence the social revolution with the abolition of the right to inheritance.’[109] He mixed up the goals named in the Alliance’s programme with the means specified therein. On many occasions Marx gave similarly tendentious summaries of the Alliance’s programme, such as ‘abolition of the right of inheritance as the starting point of the social movement’[110] and a year later he gibed that the Alliance’s programme ‘contains such absurdities as the “equality of classes”, “abolition of the right of inheritance as the first step of the social revolution”, etc.’.[111] What Marx makes look like a quote from the Alliance’s programme – ‘abolition of the right of inheritance as the first step of the social revolution’ – is nowhere to be found there. In reality the abolition of the right of inheritance was never referred to as a means in the Alliance’s programme,[112] but as a vision for the future where equality begins through the abolition of the right of inheritance: ‘I believe’, Bakunin said in a speech at the Berne Congress of the League of Peace and Liberty’, (also sent to Marx in December 1868), ‘that in order to achieve justice and to make possible the social equality of starting conditions for all human individuals, it is necessary to abolish the right to inheritance.’[113]

‘He asked’, the minutes of Marx’s speech at the General Council meeting on 20 July 1869 continue, ‘would it be policy to do so? The proposition was not new. St. Simon had proposed it in 1830.’[114]

The French utopian socialist Claude-Henri de Saint-Simon (1760–1825) had died five years earlier than 1830 – what Marx was referring to here was the summary of his ideas titled The Doctrine of Saint-Simon (Doctrine de Saint-Simon) published by his followers Saint-Amand Bazard and Barthélemy Prosper Enfantin in 1830.[115] This book propagates a social structure where ownership structures and income distribution depend on an individual’s performance in the manufacturing process. The idea of a new social ranking based on the performance and ability of the individual is described as an alternative to the existing system of property ownership. The existing right of inheritance is dismissed because it is based on legal and not performance criteria. The system of property ownership and especially the right of inheritance (‘privileges of birth’) were to be changed for the sake of the manufacturing process: ‘The privileges of birth, which have already received blows in many respects, will disappear completely. The only right to wealth, that is to the disposal of the instruments of work, will be the ability to put them to work.’[116] According to The Doctrine of Saint-Simon, the state should be the only rightful heir who alone can judge the ability and performance of the property owners in the manufacturing process.

It is immediately apparent that Bakunin would never have agreed with the criticism of right of inheritance as justified by the Saint-Simonists. Indeed Bakunin grouped the Saint-Simonists together with authoritarian socialists before 1848, who shared a fervour for regimentation.[117] He also complained that their approach, which put performance and productivity (and not emancipation) at the forefront of socialism, would lead to greater exploitation.[118]

The historian Antje Schrupp pointed out that Bakunin was not evoking the demands of the Saint-Simonist in his criticism of the right of inheritance but those of feminists. In the months before the Alliance was founded, the same demands were being put forward by many, including the Alliance members Virginie Barbet and Marie Richard – they even used a very similar wording as that found in the Alliance’s programme.[119] The connection between the right of inheritance and gender relations was apparent at the time.[120] And Marx and Engels never missed a chance to make fun of the feminist context of the Alliance’s programme in their polemic against Bakunin: Engels and Lafargue joked that Bakunin had called for the equalisation of classes and individuals ‘in order to outdo the ladies of the League who had hitherto only demanded equalisation of the sexes’.[121] Marx was just as disparaging in his notes on a copy of the Alliance’s programme: in the passage ‘It wants above all political, economic and social equalisation of classes and individuals of both sexes, commencing with abolition of the right of inheritance’,[122] Marx underlined the words ‘of both sexes’ and wrote ‘Hermaphrodite man! Just like the Russian Commune!’ next to it. Marx also underlined the words ‘abolition of the right of inheritance’ and commented: ‘The old Saint Simon panacea!’[123]

Later on, Marx continued to repeat the criticism of the right of inheritance in the Alliance’s programme falsely, announcing that ‘the first requirement of the social Revolution was – the abolition of inheritance, old St Simonist rubbish, of which Bakunin, a charlatan and ignoramus, was the responsible publisher’.[124] This tirade, typical of Marx, was wrong in more than one way: Bakunin in no way claimed to have originated the demand for the abolition of the right of inheritance, it was much more related to feminist demands and it differed from Saint-Simonist ideas in key points.

For the International’s Basel Congress (6–11 September 1869), Marx’s attack on the criticism of the right of inheritance in the Alliance’s programme grew into a full-blown ‘Report of the General Council on the right of inheritance’. When one of the General Council members wondered why the report was more of an essay than a draft for a resolution for the Basel Congress, Marx answered that it was better ‘to give the reasons & a resolution’.[125] Privately, Marx later gave a different reason as to why he became so involved in this matter: the General Council responded so thoroughly to the Alliance’s right of inheritance criticism in order to be able to give Bakunin ‘a thump right on his head’.[126]

In his report, Marx explained that inheritance laws were not the cause but rather the effect and juridical consequence of the existing economic organisation of society.[127] The laws would disappear after a social change supplanted private property in the means of production. The call for the abolition of the right of inheritance tended to lead the working class away from the true point of attack, namely the present society; it was ‘false in theory, and reactionary in practise’.[128] Only the following ‘transitory measures’ would be necessary:

(a) Extension of the inheritance duties already existing in many states, and the application of the funds hence derived to purposes of social emancipation.

(b) Limitation of the testamentary right of inheritance, which – as distinguished from the intestate or family right of inheritance – appears an arbitrary and superstitious exaggeration even of the principles of private property themselves.[129]

For his part, Bakunin had proposed a resolution to the commission on the question of the right of inheritance formed by the Geneva sections of the International, which was accepted without any opposition or changes by the general meeting of the Geneva sections (probably on 21 August 1869) and submitted to the Basel Congress of the International in their name.[130] His report ended with the following resolution proposal:

Whereas the right of inheritance is one of the principal causes of the economic, social, and political inequality which governs the world; Whereas, so long as there is no equality, there can be neither freedom nor justice but only oppression and exploitation – slavery and poverty for the proletariat, wealth and domination for the exploiters of their labor; Therefore, the Congress recognizes the need to abolish fully and completely the right of inheritance. This abolition will be accomplished as events require, either by reforms or by revolution.[131]

The ‘Report of the General Council on the right of inheritance’ written by Marx was presented by the General Council’s general secretary Johann Georg Eccarius at the Basel Congress on 10 September 1869 as Marx didn’t attend.[132] Bakunin, a member of the commission on the question of inheritance laws initiated by the congress,[133] criticised the report in a speech as follows:

The report of the General Council says that since the juridical reality is only the result of economic realities, the transformation of the latter suffices to destroy the former. It is indisputable that everything called a juridical or political right in history has only been the expression or the result of an established fact. But it is also indisputable that the right, being an effect of previously established facts or events, becomes in turn the cause of future events, itself a very real, very powerful fact that must be overthrown if we wish to arrive at an order of things different from what now exists.

Thus, the right of inheritance, once the natural result of the violent appropriation of natural and social riches, became the basis of the political State and the juridical family, which guarantee and sanction individual property.[134]

As such, Bakunin tied the idea of abolishing the right of inheritance together with the abolition of all forms of political rule. Bakunin had argued similarly in the previous debate on common property[135] at the congress:

I vote for collectivity, especially of land and in general of all social wealth, in the sense of social liquidation. By social liquidation I mean expropriation de jure of all current property-owners by the abolition of the political and juridical state, which is the protector and sole guarantor of present property and of all so-called juridical law; and expropriation de facto, by the very force of events and circumstances, wherever and to whatever extent possible.[136]

Eccarius, former member of the Communist League and Marx’s confidant at the congress, disagreed with Bakunin’s criticism of the state by expressing the hope ‘that the state can be reformed by the accession of the working class to power’.[137]

Marx’s plan to pick a fight with Bakunin in the right of inheritance discussion in order to give him ‘a thump right on his head’ went astray: the resolutions proposed in the ‘Report of the General Council on the right of inheritance’ were rejected with a vote of 19 to 37, with 6 abstentions and 13 absent delegates.[138] With 32 in favour, 23 against, 13 abstentions, and 7 absent delegates, Bakunin’s resolution proposal – which the congress commission on the question of the right of inheritance had adopted – won a majority of votes; however, it missed the absolute majority required to be accepted. After the results – which constituted a respectable result for Bakunin – were announced, Eccarius apparently said ‘Marx will not be happy at all’.[139] With regards to the stalemate on the right of inheritance vote and the predominantly German and German-speaking Swiss delegates who had supported him, Marx explained a year later that Bakunin ‘would have defeated us at the last congress in Basle, had it not been for the German element in Switzerland’.[140]

Bakunin’s manuscript ‘To the Citizen Editors of the Réveil’ (October 1869)

Bakunin also used the Basel Congress to resolve a personal question. One month before the congress, he had found out that the German socialist Wilhelm Liebknecht – who was in exile in London from 1850 to 1862 and was friends with Marx and Engels since that time – had circulated several rumours about him. A witness to one of these allegations had told Bakunin that Liebknecht (possibly at the end of July 1869 in Vienna[141]) had said that

  • Bakunin was a Russian spy.

  • The Russian government had helped Bakunin escape from Siberia.

  • Because of the founding of the Alliance, Bakunin had maliciously driven a wedge through the International.[142]

In a manuscript called ‘To the Citizen Editors of the Réveil’ (‘Aux citoyens rédacteurs du Réveil’) written a month after the Basel Congress, Bakunin gave an account of his meeting with Liebknecht:

Arriving in Basel for the congress, I did in fact meet him. What I had to do was indicated to me by the very purpose that I wanted to achieve: that of a final and complete explanation before the working-class public. […] Moreover, the International, new as it is, already has a practice for such cases, the courts of honour. […] I accused my opponent of slandering me and demanded that he produce evidence for his accusation against me. He replied that his words had been misrepresented to me. He had never really accused me and had never claimed to possess any articles of evidence against me; he had none, except perhaps one: namely, my silence after Borkheim published articles defaming me[143] in the major organ of Prussian democracy, the Zukunft. In speaking of me to his friends, he had merely given voice to the surprise provoked by this silence. At any rate, he had actually accused me of having harmed the establishment of the International by founding the Alliance of Socialist Democrats.

This issue concerning the ‘Alliance’ was set aside at the request of Eckarius [Eccarius], a member of the General Council, who noted that the Alliance had been recognised as a section of the International, that its programme as well as its statutes had attained the unanimous assent of the General Council in London, and that since its delegate had been received by the congress, there was no occasion for questioning its legitimacy.

As for the main question, the court found unanimously that my opponent had acted with a shameful thoughtlessness, accusing a member of the International on the basis of several defamatory articles published by a bourgeois journal.

This finding was given to me in writing. I must say also that my opponent [Liebknecht] nobly admitted before all that he had been misled concerning me – it was our first meeting – he gave me his hand, and before all present, I burned the statement written and signed by the court.[144]

This account by Bakunin about the court of honour at the Basel Congress has occasionally been doubted: for instance in his article ‘Social Democratic Flag and Anarchist Goods’ (‘Sozialdemokratische Flagge und anarchistische Ware’), the Bolshevik historian N. Ryazanov took great pains to discredit Bakunin’s account and even claimed later that he had proven that the entire story ‘was based on a series of misunderstandings and memory lapses by Bakunin’.[145] The Bolshevik historian Yurii Steklov also didn’t believe Bakunin’s account of the court of honour.[146]

Aside from Bakunin’s account, there is a lot of evidence that the court of honour did take place: in addition to statements by Herzen, Nikolai Utin, James Guillaume, and César De Paepe from 1869 to 1871,[147] there is also a letter from the delegate Friedrich Lessner where he reports directly to Marx from the Basel Congress (7 September 1869) that ‘Bakakunien [sic] chose a commission from among his people and Liebknecht did the same. We have thus come into a very nasty situation and Liebknecht wants our support against Bakunien [sic]’.[148] On the following day, Lessner continued:

Yesterday evening the jury sat on the matter of Bakuniem [sic] and Liebknecht. Letters were submitted by Becker, which he received from Bak. and a certain Werthheimer [sic] which shows that Liebknecht called Bak. a Russian spy etc. Liebknecht refuted this by saying: these weren’t his allegations, but only what was written in public newspapers and that he thus had nothing to deny, nor could he, and thus he did well to save his own neck.

Becker seems to be crazy about Bak.

Because I didn’t stay at the meeting until the end, I only found out today that they had settled their argument.[149]

In his manuscript ‘To the Citizen Editors of the Réveil’, Bakunin continued:

At the request of my former opponent [Liebknecht], I gave him a copy of my Berne speech,[150] as well as a series of articles I had published in 1867 in an Italian newspaper, Liberta e Giustizia, against Pan-Slavism.[151] Two days later, in the hall of congress, he approached me and said: ‘I see that I formed an absolutely false idea of you. You are a Proudhonist, since you wish the abolition of the state. I will fight you in my journal because my opinion is quite contrary to yours – but please do leave me your writings – I will publish them – I owe you that satisfaction’ […].[152]

Liebknecht did publish a translation of Bakunin’s A Few Words to My Young Brothers in Russia (Quelques paroles à mes jeunes frères en Russie) on 5 March 1870 and even had Samuel Spier, member of the Committee (Ausschuß) of the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei, SDAP) founded in Eisenach, ask Bakunin for an original article.[153] Liebknecht published Bakunin’s article ‘Letters About the Revolutionary Movement in Russia’ (‘Briefe über die revolutionäre Bewegung in Rußland’) on 16 and 20 April 1870 in the Volksstaat (the ‘organ of the SDAP’), for which he was fiercely criticised by his SDAP comrades. For example Johann Philipp Becker, who had switched sides in the meantime and joined Bakunin’s opponents in Geneva,[154] demonstrated his new opposition to Bakunin in a letter to Liebknecht: ‘A few lines in great haste to call to your attention that you should be careful with Bakunin’s publications. […] You will also get hints from Marx, who is also well informed about Bakunin’s recent doings.’[155]

Very worried, Liebknecht wrote Marx somewhat sanctimoniously the day he received the letter: ‘Do you suggest I print further letters from Bakunin, nota bene, if he sends more? From the very start I had planned to draw him out so we could get him.’[156] Marx must have sent Liebknecht a very blunt reply[157] because Liebknecht subsequently sent his apologies to London on 7 May 1870: ‘If you had warned me in advance, I naturally wouldn’t have accepted the letter [from Bakunin], which I only published in order to attack Bakunin, whom I couldn’t touch because of his International membership.’[158]

Despite such attempts to clear his name, Liebknecht still stood up for Bakunin right after the Basel Congress in connection with an article by the German journalist Moses Hess (1812–1875). Bakunin knew Hess casually from the time when both were emigrants living in Paris in the mid-1840s. They only met each other again in 1869 at the Basel Congress of the International, where they apparently got into two arguments.[159] In September 1869, Hess – who had worked as a correspondent for German-language newspapers since the 1840s – wrote an article about the Basel Congress for the Demokratisches Wochenblatt published by Wilhelm Liebknecht. In the article, Hess explained that the ‘delegates, correspondents and observers’ were poorly informed about what he called ‘a kind of secret story of the Basel Congress’. Hess said his source for what actually happened in Basel was the General Council member Eccarius, whose disclosures would be printed in the Parisian newspaper Le Réveil shortly. The ‘true issue’ – as Hess gave to understand – was that the majority of the congress was made up of two tendencies (‘nuances’):

Only one of them – which forms a very small minority within the majority –, the Bakuninist, can truly be called communist in the raw sense of the word. This one suggested the abolition of the right of inheritance in a haphazard, dictatorial and anarchist way – a proposition which was evidently turned down by the congress, whose vote on this question […] remained a mystery to most. It is no longer one, when one considers the nuance of Bakunin within the majority.[160]

At that point, the article in the Demokratisches Wochenblatt was interrupted. The editor (Liebknecht) remarked parenthetically: ‘Our correspondent gives some more details that we will not publish in view of party interests. ED.’ Liebknecht, who had just been put in his place in Basel, apparently didn’t want to burn his fingers on Bakunin again in his paper. The eliminated passage of Hess’s article (reconstructed from another article he published in the Wöchentliche Illinois Staats-Zeitung from 19 October 1869) reads as follows:

Bakunin is accused of having Pan-Slavist tendencies and of only supporting anarchist measures in order to provoke a civil war in Europe so that Russia can conquer the West more easily. To me he appears to be more of a dreamer and an obsessively ambitious demagogue who would like to become a labour boss. It is well known that he came to Basel with the plan of moving the seat of General Council from London to Geneva, where he founded sections of the International over the last year and where he has got a few confused heads – like Philipp Briker [Becker] and various French party leaders – involved in his endeavour. However, he didn’t dare to come forward with his plan after he suffered a defeat in the question of inheritance.[161]

Why Bakunin ‘suffered a defeat in the question of inheritance’ – where the resolution he inspired was accepted by a majority and the General Council’s resolution proposal was clearly rejected – is just as inexplicable as the other bizarre details with which Hess peppered his article. However, it is clear, as we will see, that a detail from this incredible account was to become a staple in the polemic against Bakunin in the coming years: namely the claim that he had wanted to move the seat of the General Council to Geneva.

Hess went into even more detail in his peculiar analysis of the events in Basel in a two-part article that appeared as promised in the Parisian newspaper Le Réveil at the beginning of October 1869 under the headline ‘Collectivists and Communists at the Basel Congress’ (‘Les collectivistes et les communistes du congrès de Bâle’).[162] Bakunin heard about Hess’s campaign from the big Parisian newspaper and immediately began writing a response. This grew into the extensive manuscript ‘To the Citizen Editors of the Réveil’, which remained unprinted in his lifetime.[163]

Bakunin began this manuscript with an outburst of anti-Jewish resentments, which strangely enough often appear in connection with his anti-German mentality – beginning with his row with Marx, who in his ‘threefold character as communist, German and Jew’[164] had always been just as suspicious to him as Hess and other supporters of Marx’s campaign against Bakunin in the International. In fact, the conflict in the International seems to have set off Bakunin’s anti-Jewish resentments, which emerged for the most part between 1869 and 1874 – i.e. during his feud with Marx.[165] This resentment, which can be seen in various polemics and disparaging remarks, runs contrary to the anarchist ideas for which Bakunin became famous. It has thus been argued that Bakunin’s anti-Jewish gaffes should be considered separately from his political arguments.[166] On the other hand, one must ask oneself how such a passionate advocate of freedom and self-determination like Bakunin could cultivate such crude prejudices?[167] One possible explanation is that Bakunin resorted to deep-seated patterns of reasoning in the heat of the argument, which he learned from his family and during his socialisation in the Russian feudal aristocracy. The outbursts might even represent a commonplace anti-Jewish (and ostensibly anti-capitalist) sentiment, which a wide variety of European socialists – from Fourier, Leroux and Blanqui to Marx – shared in the 19th century. In this respect, it would be interesting to study how much the zeitgeist of the 19th century and family and social-psychological influences were responsible for Bakunin’s anti-Jewish clichés, in order to find out whether these statements are compatible with other more coherent positions – for example when he vehemently called for ‘respect for freedom of conscience’, ‘Absolute freedom of conscience and worship’, and ‘Absolute freedom of religious associations’.[168]

In his manuscript ‘To the Citizen Editors of the Réveil’, Bakunin only reacted to attacks he assumed came from Marx’s associates. Bakunin counted Sigismund Borkheim (1825–1885), a ruthless hater of Russia, among them. After taking part in the Revolution of 1848/49, Borkheim first went into exile in Switzerland and then London where he worked in several commercial professions beginning in 1851.[169] For the founding congress of the League of Peace and Liberty in September 1867, Borkheim had prepared a hawkish speech against Russia, which had to be interrupted because of tumultuous protests in the audience.[170] Bakunin later described Borkheim’s speech as having been ‘inspired, it is said, if not actually dictated, by citizen Karl Marx himself’.[171] Marx had indeed given Borkheim suggestions while he was working on his scandalous Geneva speech and even wrote parts of it: in a letter to Engels from 4 October 1867, Marx described his contribution to the speech as ‘catchwords, which I whispered into his ear’.[172] He was a bit more careful toward the Hanoverian social democrat Ludwig Kugelmann: Marx wrote that ‘he [Borkheim] is a personal friend of mine. There are in his speech, etc., a number of phrases in which he has fatuously garbled certain views of mine.’[173]

From July to November 1869, Borkheim published a four-part series of articles in the Berlin democratic newspaper Die Zukunft titled ‘Michael Bakunin’, which once again came about upon consultation with Marx and Engels. Borkheim sent Engels the rough concept for his text about Bakunin on 10 February 1869, writing: ‘Please read the enclosed passages, which I wrote quickly last night. Send them on to Marx with comments that you deem necessary for my article “Bakunin” to be published in Die Zukunft.’[174] Engels suggested that Borkheim target the ‘Pan-Slav pack’ in his article,[175] and indeed, the article ended up an anti-Russian diatribe, which included the following:

Only if one lacked any understanding of Slavic affairs and mistrusted any movement could one label [Bakunin] a Russian spy in the pay of the Petersburg government. He should not be watched any less closely for this reason […]. The effect on our affairs is always equally damaging, and as every sane Russian is a Pan-Slavist, the older refugee Turgenieff just like the younger Bakunin […], these gentlemen should understand for once and for all that they are suspicious to us for this reason. They should be all the more careful in their public appearances in Europe and should not butt into our party business, much less butt us out. Who do the Russian refugees represent? […] The Russians being considered here are Pan-Slavists who are satisfied with the government or not. The loudest of the aforementioned have to wander across the border from time to time for reasons of state. Thus, all Russian refugees are instinctively enemies of our culture. They can’t help it! May the Tsar save them! Amen![176]

Bakunin heard about the first part of Borkheim’s bizarre article shortly after it was published.[177] In his manuscript ‘To the Citizen Editors of the Réveil’, Bakunin commented on it as follows:

I have wished, Messieurs, that one of you should have the patience to read these three or four articles that have been published in this journal under the title ‘Michael Bakunin’. As for me, I avow that I have never before read anything so confused, so odiously ridiculous and stupid, as this latest tirade by Mr Borkheim, next to which the article by Mr Maurice Hess attacking me could pass for a model of clarity and honesty.[178]

Bakunin was referring to the latest slander against him: the report on the Basel Congress by Hess, where, among other things, he accused Bakunin of planning to move the General Council to Geneva. Hess wrote:

A Russian party[179] did not yet exist at the previous congresses of the International. It is only in the course of the previous year that an attempt to change the organisation and principles of the International, and even to move the seat of the General Council from London to Geneva, was made by Bakunin, a Russian patriot whose revolutionary good faith we doubt not, but who cherishes fanciful projects no less to be condemned than the means of action he employs to achieve them.[180]

In reality, not Bakunin but the General Council members themselves – including Marx – were behind the initiative to move the General Council. On 28 June 1870, for example, Marx suggested to the General Council ‘that the General Council be transferred from London to Brussels. We must not let it crop up as a privilege that the Council sits in London. The Congress may not accept the proposition then we can put conditions.’[181] Marx had already considered a similar tactical manoeuvre on the eve of the Brussels Congress of the International (6–13 September 1868), about which he wrote Engels:

Now, when the Germans will join the ‘International Workingmen’s Association’ en masse, with the Association, for the time being, filling out at least the boundaries of its main territory – though it is still thin on the ground – my plan is that the General Council should move to Geneva for the next year and that we should function here only as the Britannic Council. It appears a shrewd move to me if the proposal comes from us.[182]

Although Engels disagreed because of power politics (‘the more splendidly things go, the more important it is that you should keep them in your hands’), Marx insisted on the option ‘to vote for Geneva’ in order to block a possible move of the General Council to Brussels or Paris and prevent any of the associated Proudhonist influences.[183] The topic became relevant again one year later – before the Basel Congress (6–11 September 1869) – when Marx considered threatening the congress with the transfer of the Council to the Continent because of the bad payment morale in the International and the resulting horrible financial situation of the General Council. In a letter to Engels on 4 August 1869, he describes the financial situation of the General Council as ‘international bankruptcy’ and continued: ‘We shall be forced to declare to the next congress, either in written or spoken form, that we cannot continue to run the General Council in this way; but that they should be so kind, before they give us successors, to pay our debts’.[184] At the last meeting of the General Council before the Basel Congress, their ‘delegates were instructed to press the financial question seriously upon the Congress’.[185]

Apparently the threat shocked the participants at the Basel Congress quite a bit. James Guillaume, who was Le Locle’s congress delegate, later remembered:

the delegates of the General Council at the Basel Congress, Lucraft, Cowell Stepney, Jung, Eccarius and Lessner, proposed, in the name of the Council, that its seat be fixed in Brussels for the year 1869–1870. The proposal for this change surprised and alarmed us: we felt that London was the city where the General Council was safest from governmental and police harassment, and we were afraid to see, in Brussels, the despotism and violence of the Belgian government threaten its freedom of action. Accordingly, we pressed this point most urgently, so that our friends in London should preserve the mandate with which they had been charged since the foundation of the Association. In light of the unanimity of the wishes expressed, they declared that they accepted.[186]

In his Mémoire (memorandum) of the Jura Federation (1873), Guillaume also recalled that the delegates of the General Council ‘had themselves proposed that the General Council be moved to Brussels’.[187] This makes the accusations launched by Moses Hess in the Réveil that Bakunin wanted to move the General Council to Geneva all the more strange. On 16 October 1869 – two weeks after the publication of Hess’s attack – Hess was asked the following by Guillaume in his newspaper the Progrès: ‘What is this prodigious project of moving the General Council to Geneva? Socialists of Romance Switzerland, which of us, we ask you, has dreamed of such a thing?’[188]

Bakunin also defended himself against this bizarre accusation in his manuscript ‘To the Citizen Editors of the Réveil’. According to Bakunin, Hess’s article in the Réveil included

another ridiculous lie concerning attempts I made, according to him, to move the General Council from London to Geneva. No one has said this to him, no one could have said this to him, because I would have been the first to fight with all possible energy against such a measure had anyone proposed it, so fatal would it seem to me for the future of the International.

The Geneva sections have, it is true, made immense progress in a very short time. But a rather narrow spirit still reigns in Geneva, a spirit that is too specifically Genevan, for the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association to be located there. Besides, it is obvious that as long as the present political organisation of Europe lasts, London shall remain the only suitable location for it, and one would have to be crazy or actually an enemy of the International to want to move it anywhere else.[189]

The suspicion that Bakunin speculated on moving the General Council to Geneva doesn’t pan out for another reason: in private letters from 23 July 1869 onward (six weeks before the Basel Congress), Bakunin signalled that he would be leaving Geneva after the congress.[190] On 13 August 1869 (three weeks before the congress), Bakunin told the Committee of the Geneva Alliance about his intention to move.[191] What did Bakunin expect to gain from the General Council’s move to Geneva if he wasn’t going to live there? In fact, Bakunin continued in later years to refer to London as the only possible seat of the General Council.[192]

The rumour started by Hess was dealt with as a matter of fact by Marx and Engels despite the apparent contradictions. It even entered the annals of Marxist history: even in 1978, the publishers of the complete works of Marx and Engels – commissioned by the central committees of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany and Communist Party of the Soviet Union – repeated the accusation in their own special way: ‘After the Bakuninists failed to move the seat of the General Council to Geneva at the Basel Congress in 1869, they continued their divisive activities within the International.’[193]

Bakunin’s first strategy: attack not Marx but his associates

As Bakunin’s standpoint on the dispute with Liebknecht, Borkheim, and Hess in the manuscript ‘To the Citizen Editors of the Réveil’ got bigger and bigger without coming to an end, he sent the half-finished manuscript through an acquaintance to his friend, the veteran emigrant Alexander Herzen (Gertsen) in Paris, and asked him to copyedit it with a view to publishing it as a book.[194] Included was a short reply for the Réveil dated 18 October 1869,[195] which Bakunin asked Herzen to give to the Parisian newspaper. After a fierce argument between Herzen and the chief editor Charles Delescluze,[196] a short reply by Alexander Herzen was finally published in the Réveil on 22 October 1869.[197] The reply was accompanied by an editorial note that said, among other things: ‘The Réveil has fought against Mr Bakunin’s theories, and it will fight them again when need be, while appreciating the energetic convictions of this ardent adversary of Russia’s imperial despotism.’[198]

After Herzen achieved this acceptable result, he must have written Bakunin a letter disapproving of his hesitant strategy with Marx; as mentioned before, Bakunin had not criticised Marx at all in his manuscript ‘To the Citizen Editors of the Réveil’. Bakunin even considered Marx (along with Lassalle) one of the

most eminent socialists of our time […] I have no need to tell you, Messieurs, what these two men have done and what one of them continues to do for the development and propagation of the socialist idea. Marx is rightly considered as one of the principal founders of the International Working Men’s Association.[199]

Instead of attacking Marx directly, Bakunin had at first only set his sight on people like Borkheim who were associates of Marx. He justified his strategy in his reply to Herzen on 26 October 1869 with the following words:

As regards Marx this is my answer: I know as well as you that Marx is as much to blame as all the others and that he was even the instigator and inspirer of all the dirty tricks used against us. Why I pitied and even praised him, called him a great man? For two reasons, Herzen – the first: fairness. Leaving aside the dirty tricks he has used against us we, or, at least I, have to acknowledge that he has enormous merits for the cause of socialism, which he has been serving intelligently, energetically and loyally for almost 25 years now […] undoubtedly more than any of us. He was one of the first and almost the main founder of the Intern. Association – in my view an enormous merit which I will always acknowledge, whatever he has done against us. The second reason is politics and, in my view, very proper tactics. – I know, you consider me a very poor politician. – But, please, don’t call me narcissistic if I tell you that you are mistaken. The matter is that you judged and judge me by my behaviour in the civilized society, in the bourgeois world – and, it’s true, in that world I behave inconsiderately and totally unceremoniously, not caring about my words, with brazen straightforwardness. But do you know why? Because I consider that world not worth a farthing, I don’t consider that world able to produce anything or to act in any way. I know perfectly well that the bourgeoisie has sufficient material means left, sufficient organisation and power to run the state routine, much more than would be desirable. – But we have to fight this force, we have to destroy it […]. – So, I agree with you I’m not a politician or tactician in the bourgeois world and in bourgeois matters and I don’t want to be neither a politician nor a tactician in that world. – But you are very mistaken if you conclude that I behave also inconsiderately or, rather, that I behave in the same way in the workers’ world. […]. – May the way I deal with Marx, who cannot stand me, neither, I think, anybody except himself and those close to him – may my politics and tactics with regard to him serve as proof.

Marx is undoubtedly useful for the Intern. Association. He continues to be one of the toughest, most intelligent and most influential pillars of socialism, – one of the strongest barriers against all attempts to infect socialism with bourgeois tendencies and ideas. And I would never forgive myself if, out of revengefulness, I were to destroy or even to diminish his undoubtedly beneficial influence. – I may and probably will soon start fighting him, not because he has offended me personally but for reasons of principle, because of state communism of which he and the party he leads, the English and the German party, are passionate advocates. – Our fight will be a mortal struggle. However, all things in due course. That time hasn’t come yet.

There was also tactics and personal politics in my pitying and extolling him. How is it possible that you don’t see that all these gentlemen taken together, our enemies, are a phalanx which we ought to split up, to break up, so as to smash it more easily. – You have made more studies than I and, so, know better than I who first said: divide et impera [divide and rule]. – Should I start an open war with Marx now three quarters of the Intern. world would turn against me and I would be in a bad position and lose the only ground on which I want to stand. – If I start with an attack on the rabble that supports him I will have the majority behind me and Marx himself, who, as you know, revels in others’ bad luck, will be very happy that I attacked his friends separately. – If my calculation turns out to be wrong and he defends his friends it’s he who starts the open war – in that case I will step back and come off best. – Why did I attack Hess so vehemently? – Because he wrote an intentionally mean article against me, – but in the first place because he was the first to try to bring nasty slander against us into circulation in the French press.[200]

Herzen answered Bakunin on 28 October 1869:

I don’t like your politics. You will never make a Machiavelli with your ‘divide’ … I absolutely disagree with your following the example of the Russian censorship – that allowed reproving clerks but not generals. You don’t want to attack Marx so as not to spoil your relationship with him? All right, but then leave also Hess and c[ompa]ny alone. That’s my advice and opinion.[201]

In the case of Hess, this tactic would have been correct because there was no evidence at the time of a coordinated action between Marx and Hess. Hess, who had himself been a victim of one of Marx’s destructive campaigns, appears to have sought reconciliation with Marx through his polemic against Bakunin; his effort apparently did not fail completely as Marx seems to have stopped attacking Hess in 1869.[202]

While Bakunin followed his first strategy – repelling only the assaults from Marx’s associates – for more than a year (until the end of 1870), it doesn’t seem as if Marx was following any strategy at all: Marx’s reactions to Bakunin during this time can be described as uncoordinated temper tantrums.

CHAPTER 4. Marx’s ‘communications’ concerning Bakunin

ON 28 OCTOBER 1869, BAKUNIN MOVED to Locarno after his long-planned departure from Geneva.[203] He had previously resigned as a member of the editorial board of the Égalité at the beginning of September before leaving for the Basel Congress of the International.[204] The editorial board had already been strengthened on 11 August through the arrival of Paul Robin. Robin (1837–1912)[205] was born in Toulon and had studied in Paris at the École Normal Supérieure before working as a teacher in Brest and Brussels. He was involved in the Brussels section of the International and was one of the secretaries of the Belgian Federal Council. In July 1869, he moved to Geneva upon receiving a deportation order in Belgium. In Geneva he got to know Bakunin, became a member of the Alliance section and joined the editorial board of the Égalité. His friend James Guillaume later wrote the following about him:

very committed, active, intelligent, […] he has dedicated himself passionately to propagandising for revolutionary socialism. He has his faults: a taste for systematic thinking [l’esprit de système], an overly fastidious and aggressive character […]. But Robin’s qualities outweighed his faults, and his foibles, which made us smile, and sometimes annoyed us a bit, did not prevent me from holding him in high esteem and friendship.[206]

Things took a turn for the worse once Robin became an editor of the Égalité. He published various anonymous attacks and erroneous accusations against the London General Council of the International in November and December 1869; for example, the General Council had failed to publish a regular information bulletin in violation of the Rules and congress resolutions, the General Council had not yet made a decision on the Liebknecht-Schweitzer[207] question, etc.[208] Bakunin described it as ‘an unjust protestation, and at the same time impolitic and absurd’.[209]

The General Council found this series of baseless accusations annoying for obvious reasons.[210] Marx, who didn’t know that Bakunin had left Geneva, once again put the blame for the anonymous attacks squarely on Bakunin and wrote Engels about this on 17 December 1869: ‘From the enclosed Égalité, which I must have back, you’ll see how impudent il Sigñor Bakunin is becoming. […] He believes the moment has come to start an open squabble with us. He is playing himself up as the guardian of real proletarianism. But he’s in for a surprise.’[211]

Marx took advantage of the General Council’s Christmas vacation, which he himself had suggested take place between 14 December 1869 and 4 January 1870,[212] to start a counter attack from within the Subcommittee – the General Council’s executive, which only the secretary, treasurer, and the corresponding secretaries of the General Council for the different countries and groups belonged to.[213] On 17 December 1869, Marx announced to Engels:

Next week (luckily the Central [General] Council has adjourned until the Tuesday after New Year’s Day, so we on the subcommittee are free to work without the cosy intervention of the English) we shall be sending a threatening missive to the Romance Federal Committee in Geneva[214] […]. At this opportunity, blows will fall upon certain intrigants who are usurping undue authority, and who wish to subject the International to their private control.[215]

Who Marx meant by ‘certain intrigants’ becomes clear at the end of the letter: ‘As soon as a Russian gets a foothold, there is the devil to pay.’[216] As such, a further storm was heading toward Bakunin, who once again had nothing to do with the cause of the dispute. The articles being criticised in the Égalité were written by Robin and not Bakunin, who had moved out of Geneva the month before and referred to the articles as a ‘disastrous campaign’.[217]

The next victim of Robin’s manoeuvres was his colleague on the editorial board, Pierre Wæhry. Apparently Wæhry’s protest against an article in the Égalité that complained that the Geneva International’s library had been closed for many months without reason[218] led to a fierce dispute between Wæhry and the majority of the editorial board, whom Robin was able to get on his side. The editors gave the Committee of the Romance Federation an ultimatum: remove Wæhry from the editorial board of the Égalité or they would all quit as editors.

As Wæhry refused to step down from the editorial board, the Federal Committee was pleased to accept the resignation of the editors who had put forward the complaint – happy to get rid of the openly socialist editors of the newspaper so easily. The particularly militant tone struck by Perron and Bakunin in the Égalité had long been a nuisance to the moderate spokesmen of the International who were interested in an arrangement with the parti radical. Because of the autonomy anchored in the statutes of the Égalité,[219] the editors had been able to resist any attempts to gag them – only to hand the paper over to their rivals. On 3 January 1870, the editors once again sent in their resignation in writing,[220] confident that the Égalité would have to be closed. However, the Égalité continued to be published through the determined efforts of the Federal Committee that in no way wanted to see the rebellious editors, who were their political opponents, return to the editorial board. On 4 January 1870, Henri Perret – spokesman of the Geneva fabrique and secretary of the Federal Committee – was pleased to report the successful coup in a letter to Hermann Jung, corresponding secretary for Switzerland in the London General Council:

Latest news – the hotheads of the Alliance have tendered their resignations to the Égalité.[221] Perron, Robin and a few [other] more or less capable men, with their little coup d’état à la Bakunin and à la Robin, thought to force the hand of the Federal Committee so that it would remove from the editorial staff a member who raised opposition and who objected to the attacks made upon the various Committees and on the General Council; we do not want to throw our weight behind these men; we shall continue to wage a silent war against them […].[222]

This happened before the ‘threatening missive’ from the General Council to the Committee of the Romance Federation arrived in Geneva; the Subcommittee of the General Council met on 1 January 1870 and accepted Marx’s lengthy resolution which refuted every detail of the criticised article in the Égalité. However, the wording of the resolution was repeatedly changed before it was finally forwarded to Hermann Jung on 8 January 1870 to be copied and sent to Switzerland.[223] This letter, titled ‘Private Communication’ (‘Communication privée’), began with the words: ‘At its extraordinary meeting on January 1, 1870, the General Council resolved’[224] – in fact, only the Subcommittee had met, where Marx thought he could act freely ‘without the cosy intervention of the English’ because the General Council was on Christmas break. The General Council was presented with a fait accompli when they were informed drily about the extensive letter at their first regular meeting in the new year: ‘Cit. Marx announced that the Subcommittee had replied to the charges of Egalité.’[225]

Marx reported his manoeuvre to Engels on 10 February, erroneously claiming that the resignation of the majority of the editors of the Égalité was the ‘result’ of his ‘Private Communication’:

You will recall that Égalité, inspired by Bakunin, attacked the General Council, made all sorts of interpellations publicly, and threatened more. A communication [the ‘Private Communication’] – which I composed – was, thereupon, sent to the Comité Romand in Geneva, and ditto to all the other Comités of French tongue corresponding with us. Result: The entire Bakunin gang has quit Égalité. Bakunin himself has taken up residence in Tessin, and will continue intriguing in Switzerland, Spain, Italy and France. Now the armistice is at an end between us, since he knows that I attacked him heatedly and inveighed against him on the occasion of the latest Geneva events. The brute really imagines that we are ‘too bourgeois’ and, therefore, incapable of grasping and esteeming his lofty concepts about ‘inheritance right’, ‘equality’ and the replacement of the present state systems by ‘l’Internationale’.[226]

To remark here that the ‘brute’ Bakunin had done nothing to warrant these accusations would be almost superfluous.

Bakunin’s defence by Eugène Hins (January 1870)

As announced the ‘Private Communication’, adopted by the Subcommittee of the General Council on 1 January 1870, was sent to all French-speaking Federal Councils of the International. Marx himself sent it to the Belgian Federal Council in Brussels, and added what he called a ‘full report’ on ‘the theoretical nonsense preached at Geneva’ (i.e. by Bakunin).[227] Apparently Marx took advantage of the opportunity to defame Bakunin behind the scenes. ‘I added’, Marx admitted that year, ‘a denunciation and characterisation of Bakunin in my own name to the circular which the General Council had issued on the Égalité, etc., at the beginning of January’.[228] This lost ‘expostulation about Bakunin’s goings-on’,[229] as Marx described his letter to Brussels, was met with vigorous protest from a member of the Belgian Federal Council: Eugène Hins.

Hins (1839–1923)[230] – a teacher, doctorate in philosophy, and journalist in Brussels – joined the International in June 1867 and was the general secretary of the Belgian Federal Council since its founding in December 1868. He worked for the newspapers the Liberté and the Internationale and took part in the International’s Congresses in Brussels (1868) and Basel (1869) as a delegate for the Belgian Federation. Hins later recalled receiving Marx’s ‘denunciation and characterisation of Bakunin’ in the Belgian Federal Council: ‘After Karl Marx wrote us a letter full of base calumnies levelled against Bakunin, I thought that if he could not be officially taught a lesson on this subject, it would be wise in any case not to let such things pass. I thus wrote a letter in my own name in which I said to him that these calumnies were unworthy of him.’[231]

Hins didn’t write Marx directly but the English member of the General Council Cowell Stepney, who thought that Hins’s criticism was just.[232] In his letter dated 21 January 1870, Hins wrote, among other things:

We have not yet been able to discuss the letter from Karl Marx in the General Council,[233] as we have been occupied with a number of internal affairs. I do not know how the Belgian Council will reply, but for my part, I find Marx’s letter supremely unfair to Bakunin. For example, Marx criticises Bakunin’s proposal on inheritance,[234] forgetting that the General Council itself has presented a proposal on this subject.[235] […]

For my part, I am unable to bow to the great scholars who believe they have judged a man when they say: he has not studied.[236] If this means that a man has not studied the men of the working class and their needs, I shall indeed say that this man is incompetent, but if it means that he has not studied books, I shall say that to me this is a matter of perfect indifference. This is not a movement to be led by a half-dozen scholars from their chambers; it is a movement in which men of action are needed to animate and excite the masses.

The workers we recruit have not studied either, but I believe that when they come together, these workers are more knowledgeable than the greatest scientist there is, because it is only through the gathering of the popular masses that the problem can be solved. […]

Certainly, we have not approved of the Égalité;[237] for my part, I wrote to Robin what I thought of it, and we put it in order amicably. The official letter from Marx[238] filled with joy the timid socialists of Geneva, who are afraid to make a move, and you have managed to provoke a crisis contrary to the common sense, i.e. in the reactionary sense. […] So I do not criticise the letter to the Romance Congress, but Marx’s incrimination of Bakunin: it seems to me unworthy.

I authorise you, if you think it good, to bring my letter before Karl Marx.[239]

Although Marx initially only had second-hand knowledge of Hins’s letter, he began immediately with a counter offensive. Already on 24 January, Marx wrote another member of the Belgian Federal Council, his friend César De Paepe:

My illness has naturally prevented me from attending the General Council in the last weeks. Yesterday evening, the subcommittee (the executive committee) of which I am a member visited me. Among other things, they communicated to me the content of a letter sent by Mr Hins to Stepney. As Stepney believed that I would be able to attend the session of the General Council (on 25 January), he did not communicate to me any extracts from that letter. I do not know any of it except from hearsay. […]

If Mr Hins has not yet communicated my letter (and the resolutions of the General Council) to the Belgian council, it would be better to suppress entirely the paragraph about Bakunin. I have no copy of it, but I know that I wrote it in irritation brought on by physical suffering. Thus I do not doubt that Mr Hins justly blames me for the form of that paragraph. As to the substance and the facts, they are independent both from my bad manner of expression and the good opinion of Mr Hins about Bakunin. The fact is that l’Alliance, of which Bakunin is the creator and which has not been dissolved except nominally, is a danger to the International Association and an element of disorganisation.[240]

De Paepe answered Marx on 1 February 1870:

Hins’s letter to Stepney about your letter is quite personal and written without the knowledge of the Belgian Council which has, moreover, nothing to do with it. As my colleague Vandenhouten must have written citizen Serraillier, the Belgian Council has unanimously approved the letter and the attitude of the General Council regarding the affairs of Romance Switzerland, including the Égalité.

Now it is true that those who know Bakunin personally (such as Brismée, Hins and myself) found you to be a little harsh with this citizen and a bit exaggerated in the motives of personal ambition that you attribute to him; but these are differences of opinion concerning the character of a man whom you seem to hold in mediocre esteem, and whom we respect despite some errors of ideas and a few ill-considered acts he has performed.[241]

Later on Marx was still convinced that Bakunin had ‘in that blatherer Hins a fanatical instrument at his disposal in the Belgian General Council’.[242] After receiving the original of Hins’s letter on 27 January 1870,[243] Marx must have written a rude reply, which Hins later recalled as follows: ‘He responded to me with a letter full of coarse insults’.[244] The reply from Stepney, who Hins had originally addressed, was the exact opposite. Stepney thanked Hins for his letter from 27 January and explained: ‘I entirely share your ideas concerning Bakunin’.[245]

The ‘Confidential Communication’ to German social democrats (March 1870)

A week after the previously mentioned letter in which Marx declared the ‘armistice’ with Bakunin over, Marx wrote Ludwig Kugelmann: ‘I had a big row with Bakunin, that intriguer. But more about that in my next letter.’[246] And on 24 March 1870, Marx declared in a letter to Wilhelm Bracke: ‘I have information for you, which is not uninteresting, about the internal affairs of the International. This will reach you by an indirect route.’[247] Four days later, Marx sent his notorious ‘Confidential Communication’ (‘Confidentielle Mittheilung’) via Kugelmann to the Committee of the SDAP in Brunswick. In an accompanying letter to Kugelmann with the same date (28 March 1870), Marx explained:

Since an abscess on my right thigh makes sitting for any time impossible, I send you, enclosed, a letter for the Brunswick Comité, Bracke and Co., instead of writing twice. It would be best if you delivered it personally, after reading it through, and reminded them again that this information is confidential, not intended for the public.[248]

Marx wrote his ‘Confidential Communication’ concerning Bakunin on three sheets of paper, which all had the stamp of the General Council: International Working Men’s Association. Central Council London.[249] He thereby used his position in the General Council for the second time – after his ‘denunciation’ of Bakunin sent to the Belgian Federal Council – to attack his political rival Bakunin. Marx’s ‘Confidential Communication’ began with the words: ‘The Russian Bakunin (although I have known him since 1843, I shall here ignore everything not absolutely necessary for the understanding of what follows) met Marx in London shortly after the founding of the International (1864). There the latter took him into the Association’.[250]

The claim that Bakunin had already joined the International upon meeting Marx on 3 November 1864 contradicts Bakunin’s account[251] as well as other statements by Marx himself. On 19 April 1870, for example, Marx complained that Bakunin was a newcomer to the International: ‘Bakunine does not belong to the International but for about 1½ years’ (1868).[252]

Marx’s ‘Confidential Communication’ continues:

Shortly after the Brussels Congress of the International (September 1868) the Peace League held its congress at Berne. Here Bakunin acted the firebrand and – be it remarked en passant – denounced the occidental bourgeoisie in the tone in which Muscovite optimists are accustomed to attack Western civilization – to palliate their own barbarism. He proposed a number of resolutions, which, absurd in themselves, were intended to instil fear into the bourgeois cretins and allow Monsieur Bakunin to leave the Peace League and enter the International with éclat.[253] It suffices to note that the programme proposed by Bakunin to the Berne Congress contains such absurdities as the ‘equality of classes’, ‘abolition of the right of inheritance as the first step of the social revolution’, etc. – empty babblings, a garland of ostensibly horrifying hollow fancies; in short an insipid improvisation, calculated purely to make a certain short-lived effect.[254]

As this passage shows, Marx carried out his campaign against Bakunin in a surprisingly superficial and grossly one-sided manner: the details about the term ‘equalisation of classes’ (Marx himself had referred to it as a ‘slip of the pen’) and the criticism of the right of inheritance in the Alliance’s programme have already been mentioned.[255] Typical for the ‘Confidential Communication’ as well as the other polemical attacks from Marx that followed was that Bakunin’s position was distorted while a plethora of presumptions and accusations by Marx were presented as facts. Apparently Marx wasn’t taking the conflict seriously and so didn’t deem it necessary to take a hard look at the substance behind Bakunin’s ideas on federalist socialism. Marx considered the alternative socialist concept that Bakunin was developing in anarchism to be complete nonsense – ‘empty babblings, a garland of ostensibly horrifying hollow fancies’ – because he didn’t want to or wasn’t able to understand the emergence of different currents in international socialism.

If Bakunin’s ideas didn’t mean anything, Marx suggested in his correspondences, then he must be interested in power: ‘For Mr Bakunin the doctrine (the rubbish he has scraped together from Proudhon, St. Simon, etc.) was and is a secondary matter – merely a means to his personal self-assertion. Though a nonentity theoretically, he is in his element as an intriguer.’[256] ‘The theoretical programme of this Alliance was, however, pure farce. The serious aspect of the affair lay in its practical organisation.’[257] As such, Marx’s train of thought continued to be dominated in the ‘Confidential Communication’ by the idea that Bakunin wanted to seize power in the International:[258]

Bakunin now attempted to reach his goal – the transformation of the International into his personal instrument – by other means. Through our Romance Committee at Geneva he proposed to the General Council the inclusion of the ‘inheritance question’ in the agenda of the Basle Congress.[259] The General Council agreed, in order to be able to give Bakunin a thump right on his head. Bakunin’s plan was this: the Basle Congress, in accepting the ‘principles’ (?) put forward by Bakunin at Berne,[260] will show the world that it is not Bakunin who has come over to the International, but the International that has gone over to Bakunin. Obvious result, the London General Council (of whose hostility to the warming up of the Saint-Simonian old rubbish Bakunin was fully aware) would have to resign and the Basle Congress would transfer the General Council to Geneva, that is, the International would come under the dictatorship of Bakunin.[261]

The fact that Bakunin never wanted to move the General Council away from London but had already announced that he would move out of Geneva six weeks before the Basel Congress has already been described in detail above. Marx could not help passing along Moses Hess’s misinformation about the planned move of the General Council.[262]

‘The results of the Basle Congress are well known’, Marx continued. ‘Bakunin’s proposals were not accepted’.[263] As mentioned, the result of the Basel Congress was quite gratifying for Bakunin: his resolution proposal for the abolition of the right of inheritance missed the required absolute majority by only three votes, while Marx’s proposal was pounded.[264] ‘The annoyance which followed this failure[!] – perhaps Bakunin had based all kinds of private speculations on the assumption of success – found expression in the irritable comments of the Égalité and the Progrès.’[265] With these words Marx returned to the ‘Égalité affair’, which he once again blamed on Bakunin even though, as Marx knew full well, Robin was responsible for the campaign.[266] Marx attached to this letter the complete ‘Private Communication’ from the General Council’s Subcommittee from 1 January 1870, which was originally meant only for the French-speaking Federal Councils of the International. Marx then summed up the Égalité affair as follows:

The Geneva [Federal] Committee, however, had long grown tired of Bakunin’s despotism and saw itself with great displeasure being forced by him into opposition to the other German-Swiss Committees, the General Council, etc. It therefore endorsed the attitude of those members of the Égalité editorial board who opposed Bakunin. […] Bakunin thereupon retired from Geneva to Ticino.[267]

Bakunin had actually moved from Geneva to Locarno two months before these events and not ‘thereupon’. How much the despotic Bakunin was able to steer the Égalité from Locarno can be seen from the publication of Robin’s polemical articles about the General Council, which Bakunin disapproved of. Marx took up accusations of ‘despotism’ against Bakunin from a letter from Henri Perret.[268]

The conclusion of the ‘Confidential Communication’ is also made up of accusations against Bakunin that Marx had borrowed from others:

Shortly afterwards [Alexander] Herzen died. Bakunin, who from the time that he decided to set himself up as director of the European workers’ movement had denied his old friend and patron Herzen, hastened to sing his praises immediately after his death. Why? Herzen, though personally wealthy, allowed the pseudo-socialist, Pan-Slavist party in Russia, which was friendly towards him, to pay him 25,000 francs annually for propaganda. By his paean of praise Bakunin directed this stream of money to himself.[269]

Marx heard this bizarre story about Bakunin’s friend Alexander Herzen, who died in January 1870, and the Bakhmet’ev fund,[270] which he had administered, from a letter from Bakunin’s former friend Johann Philipp Becker – who had switched sides during the Égalité affair and was trying to ingratiate himself with Marx with this letter. In the letter dated 13 March 1870, Becker vilified Bakunin as follows:

Bakunin who was very poor in the last while, apparently came into 25,000 francs after Herzen’s death. This situation is as follows: this money was given to Herzen by his friends for his kind of propaganda. Bakunin, who had only recently profanely insulted Herzen, hurried to get into the good book of Herzen’s followers by writing a canonisation of Herzen for the newspapers.[271] The money grab succeeded and so the Kolokol will be published again soon.[272]

Engels commented on this crazy story as follows: ‘The explanation about Bakunin [is] very good.’[273] As was characteristic of Marx in the ‘Confidential Communication’, he exaggerated Becker’s ‘this money was given to Herzen by his friends for his kind of propaganda’ into ‘Herzen […] allowed the pseudo-socialist, Pan-Slavist party [!] in Russia, which was friendly towards him, to pay him 25,000 francs annually [!] for propaganda’.[274]

Marx must have shared the story with his Russophobic friend Borkheim, who made immediately use of it. A letter by Borkheim to the Volksstaat on 30 April 1870 stated: ‘The affluent Herzen apparently received 25,000 francs a year from Pan-Slavist committees in Russia and abroad for his subversive activities in Europe […]. Bakunin wanted to snatch the 25,000-franc-a-year salary for Pan-Slavist subversion upon Herzen’s death.’[275]

And so the story about the Bakhmet’ev fund was embellished and distorted through continuous rumour-mongering. The 20,000 francs that Alexander Herzen received in August 1857 became a yearly salary; the Russian socialist Pavel Bakhmet’ev – who gave Herzen the money in 1857 and then emigrated to New Zealand hoping to form a socialist colony – mutated into ‘Pan-Slavist committees in Russia and abroad’.

Bakunin first heard about this accusation from Borkheim’s article in the Volksstaat and only wrote: ‘One may understand how, in the face of such triumphant deeds, I have had nothing to say.’[276]

In fact it is surprising that Marx based his ‘Confidential Communication’ on such questionable and outlandish stories as those from Hess, Perret, and Becker – upon closer inspection hardly any truth can be found in the ‘Confidential Communication’ at all. The Dutch Bakunin researcher Arthur Lehning once published a part of the ‘Confidential Communication’ for fun with the note that the text ‘does not contain a single accurate fact’.[277] Even the Marxist historian Franz Mehring once wrote the following about the ‘Confidential Communication’: ‘It is hardly necessary to enumerate the many errors the communication contains. Generally speaking, the more incriminating the accusations it makes against Bakunin appear to be, the more baseless they are in reality.’[278]

However obvious the inconsistencies in the text are, the German socialists humbly welcomed the letter from London. After the ‘Confidential Communication’ was sent via Kugelmann to the Committee of the SDAP in Brunswick, it circulated between the party officials Wilhelm Bracke, Leonhard von Bonhorst, Samuel Spier, and Wilhelm Liebknecht. It was accepted at face value by everybody. Bonhorst wrote in a letter on 20 April 1870: ‘The General Council [!] has passed along a very bulky document to us where they prove the Bakuninian swindle. You have to read it yourself; I spent two hours copying it for Leipzig’.[279] Wilhelm Liebknecht, who edited the Volksstaat in Leipzig, sent the following request to Marx on 27 April 1870: ‘Be so kind and let me know right away what I should publish regarding Bakunin?’[280] And Kugelmann enthusiastically wrote Marx: ‘My heartiest thanks for communicating your “Confidential Communication”, which will certainly bring an end to the petty machinations of the short-sighted intriguers within the Internat[ional] and reinvigorate trust in the General Council.’[281]

CHAPTER 5. The Romance Federation split

A KEY ROLE IN THE UPCOMING conflicts would be played by the Russian emigrant Nikolai Utin (1841–1883), who called himself an ‘irreconcilable enemy’ of Bakunin.[282] Bakunin and Utin met in London in 1863 only to grow to hate each other over 1867 and 1868 because of differences in character and political attitude.[283] Utin later became one of Marx’s most important agents in his conflict with Bakunin. However, by the mid-1870s Utin retired from politics, applied for a pardon from the Third Section (secret police in the Russian Empire) in 1877 and returned to Russia the following year with official permission.

On 27 October 1869, Utin made his first appearance at the Geneva International, where he clashed with Bakunin three days before Bakunin was to move to Locarno.[284] In November 1869 Utin’s journal Narodnoe Delo – founded by Bakunin only to be taken over by Utin and his friends – praised Marx and Becker exuberantly, which might have helped Utin get on Becker’s good side.[285] Becker returned the favour in January 1870 by making publicity for a new section Utin had formed, which Becker claimed to have inspired:[286] ‘A Russian section has been established here as well,’ Becker wrote in the Vorbote which he edited, ‘which has given itself the task of fighting Pan-Slavism and bringing Slavic-speaking workers, notably those in Austria, into the international movement.’[287]

Becker helped not only by publicising the Russian section formed by Utin and his compatriots Viktor Bartenev and Anton Trusov in Geneva, but by announcing his parting of ways with Bakunin in two long letters to the General Council members Jung and Marx.[288] Therein, he also made the case for the Russian section’s membership in the International, promising that ‘the Russian section’s paper [Narodnoe Delo] would bring Bakunin into great difficulty’.[289] Becker apparently also talked Utin and his friends into writing letters to the two General Council members and sending all four letters to London together with the statutes of the Russian section.

In their letters to Jung and Marx, the founders of the anti-Bakuninist Russian section tried to give the impression that thanks to their propaganda new sections of the International would soon be formed in Russia.[290] However, no sections of the International were ever formed in Russia. They even stylised the Russian section as the ‘link between the Association and the Russian Branch’.[291] In reality the section broke up two years later. Utin was the only truly active member of the Russian section, and his main motivation in forming the section seemed to be his rivalry with Bakunin. As such, the letters from Utin and his friends to Marx are mostly composed of insults against Bakunin. They were already all too anxious to disassociate themselves from Bakunin in their first letter to Marx (12 March 1870):

so as not to lead you astray nor give you any rude surprises later on, we are also bound to inform you that we have absolutely nothing in common with Mr Bakunin and his kind. Much to the contrary: we shall soon be forced to render a public judgment of the worth of this man, so that the world of workers – whose opinion alone has real value in our eyes – may know that there are individuals who, preaching certain principles in their midst, would fabricate something quite different in their country, Russia – something which well and truly merits the charge of infamy.[292]

Between the end of April and start of May 1870, Marx urged Utin, Bartenev and Trusov to collect information about Bakunin and send it to London.[293] Their reply was full of further put-downs:

In his frivolous egoism, [Bakunin] shall always throw himself into all manner of alliances in which he frankly plays the role of a dictator, and consequently shall always intrigue and conspire, not against the true enemies of the people, but against all those who have dared to do something without him, who have dared to create some institution, some organ, in the interest of the people, but in which he, Bakunin, could not have a part […] nothing is dear to him but his own ambition, and all must be sacrificed to this ambition; all means are to his liking.[294]

‘We never wanted to air this dirty laundry in public’, Utin and his friends concluded – while at the same saying that they might publish a brochure about Bakunin. One can imagine how happy Marx was to have these supporters fall in his lap. Marx’s friend, the Russia-hater Borkheim, triumphed shortly afterward in a letter to the Volksstaat: ‘The “Russian section of the International Association” was formed to counteract Bakunin’s influence, and he is not even a member.’[295]

Engels remained sceptical about the revelations Utin and his friends made: ‘What an idiotic piece of gossip-mongering. Six Russians quarrelling among themselves as if the mastery of the globe depended on the outcome.’[296] But Marx was more than happy to refer to his new friends at the end of his ‘Confidential Communication’:

About two weeks ago they applied to London, sending in their Programme and Statutes, and requesting permission to form a Russian branch [section]. Permission was given.[297]

In a separate letter to Marx they asked him to represent them provisionally on the General Council. That too was done. At the same time they indicated – and apparently wished to excuse themselves to Marx on this account[298] – that in the immediate future they would have to expose Bakunin publicly, since the man spoke in two entirely different tongues, one in Russia, another in Europe.

The game of this very dangerous intriguer – at least in the domain of the International – will soon be played out.[299]

La Chaux-de-Fonds Congress (April 1870)

The political differences between the tendency of the Geneva fabrique, which was integrated in local politics, and the social-revolutionary tendency of the Alliance and Jura[300] abruptly became acute after the Alliance was refused membership in the Romance Federation. Both sides prepared themselves for the anticipated conflict at the next congress of the Romance Federation. On 27 September 1869, the general assembly of the Geneva Alliance decided to appeal the Federal Committee’s refusal at the Federation’s next congress, which a vote at the founding congress had set for the first Monday in April 1870 in La Chaux-de-Fonds in the Canton Neuchâtel.[301] On 2 April 1870, two days before the congress, Bakunin reminded the Alliance’s general assembly about the resolution to protest the Federal Committee’s refusal, which got him into a fierce debate with Becker, who had secretly parted ways with him. In an apparently benign act, Becker warned that the Alliance would be given the boot again if they appealed at the congress. ‘One mustn’t be afraid to get a kick’, Bakunin answered, ‘if one keeps holding one’s flag high’; the reactionary will always defend itself against the revolution, the revolution will always have to fight for its rights.[302] In the vote that followed, the majority of participants voted to send a delegate to the Romance Federation’s congress with following mandate: ‘The delegate for the Alliance asks admission to the congress and to the Romance Federation with the same rights as the delegates of all the other sections.’[303]

In Jura the topics for the upcoming congress of the Romance Federation were being discussed intensely, as well. Probably at the end of January 1870, the central section of the Courtelary District (Val de Saint-Imier) proposed to add a debate about ‘the position of the International regarding governments’ to the agenda.[304] This resulted in a vehement response from a meeting of the Geneva International on 9 March 1870:

Ma… requests clarification on this issue.

H. Perr… believes that the goal of the section that has presented it is to engage in abstention from political affairs; however, no further instructions have been given; it is vague.

Gué… opposes abstention; on the contrary, the worker must involve himself with all things governmental and political, for the governments will not voluntarily tender their resignations.

Rey… urges that we follow G…’s opinion.

Ou…, lamenting that the issue was not better defined, rejects the abstention of members of the International from political affairs; he explains at length that there exist different perspectives on the subject according to country, and that in England, France, or America, one would be laughed at if one preached abstention. He argues that the presence of a worker in a parliament is a huge advantage, if not for the votes he can get, then as an agitational influence, since the eyes of all the workers shall be upon him. A time shall come when workers shall push their representatives to the supreme power, and then capital will revolt, but at that point, the weapons shall have changed hands, and we shall be the strongest.

Cr… rejects abstention, he does not understand how one could make such a proposal, for the workers already abstain too much by virtue of indifference.

Gué… argues that in Switzerland, if the workers wish it, they can gain power through the vote. […]

Ou… adds that politics must serve as our tactic for socialist propaganda.

Cr… undertakes to fight vigorously against abstentionism at the Romance congress.[305]

‘Political action is everything for us’, Utin later summarised what he perceived to be the opinion of the Geneva International’s members.[306]

The Geneva and Jura tendencies met for the last time before the Federation’s congress at a benefit for the International in Lausanne on 27 February 1870. On the topic of politics, Henri Perret – a spokesman for the Geneva fabrique and secretary of the Federal Committee – noted in his speech that he categorically opposed the current government. At the same time he declared: ‘The government that emerges from our midst, that of the workers, in short, shall have all our sympathies, and we shall respect it.’[307] On the other hand Guillaume spoke out ‘against the corrupting influence of parliamentarianism’[308] and warned: ‘Appoint the seven members of your Romance Federation’s Committee, in whom you trust, as heads of State; then voilà! you shall have minted them as brand-new bourgeois.’[309]

The course of the Jura sections was further strengthened by an event that took place in Lyon on 13 March 1870 – an audience of 5,000 to 6,000 witnessed the most important public meeting that the International ever held in France.[310] The gathering was similar to a congress of the International: delegates came from Paris, Rouen, Marseilles, and other French cities; Adhémar Schwitzguébel attended as the delegate for the Jura sections;[311] and César De Paepe, international secretary for the Belgian Federal Council, sent an official address, which included the following:

What should be the position of the proletarian class with regard to political movements that attempt to modify the form of governments, with regard to the radical democrats and bourgeois republicans? […] This bourgeois socialism has nothing in common with the kind we want […]; the artificial mechanism called government shall disappear into the economic organism; politics shall be based upon socialism.[312]

The applause in response to this address told the Jura sections that they had close allies in the socialists in France and Belgium when it came to the central question at the upcoming congress of the Romance Federation regarding its attitude toward governments. Moreover an address from Spain was sent to the Congress in La Chaux-de-Fonds: ‘With respect to the position of the workers regarding governments, we can happily declare that the Spanish workers are more and more convinced that they can expect absolutely nothing from their participation in matters of the state’.[313]

The last issue of the Progrès before the congress of the Federation, edited by Guillaume, pointed out that international opinion favoured the Jura’s social-revolutionary position: ‘it is the opinion, finally, of the vast majority of the International. We hope thus that it shall be that of the Romance congress as well.’[314]

The agenda of the congress of the Romance Federation was announced on 5 March 1870:

1) Verification of mandates.

2) Election of the bureau members.

3) Report of the Federal Committee and nomination of the verification commission.

4) Partial revision of the Rules of the Federation and of the journal.

5) Discussion of the issues on the agenda.

6) Nomination of the Federal Committee and determination of its seat for the year 1870–1871.

7) Determination of the place where the journal is to be published and nomination of the editorial council.

8) Determination of the location for the 1871 congress.[315]

Bakunin wrote his friend Albert Richard in Lyon regarding points 5 to 7 on the agenda:

This congress will be most important for the future of the International in Romance Switzerland. There will be a great battle. It will mainly concern the issue of the workers’ abstention from or participation in local politics. All of us in the sections of the [Jura] Mountains are for abstention. The truly Genevan workers, those of the fabrique, are for participation. […] It is nearly resolved, that either our friends of the Mountain shall triumph, and then that the Federal Council and editorial control of the Égalité shall go over to them[316] – or else, if our friends are defeated, that the sections of the Mountains, and with them perhaps those of Lausanne, Vevey, Neufchatel, and Bienne will separate from Geneva to form a separate federation. The fabrique in Geneva for its part has openly declared that if the congress rejects participation in local politics, it will secede from the sections of the Mountains. […]

In addition to its local significance the battle that shall unfold at La Chauxde-Fonds will have an enormous, universal importance. It shall be the forerunner and precursor to the one we will bring to the next general congress of the International:

Do we want the grand politics of universal socialism or the petty politics of the bourgeois radicals revised and corrected from the standpoint of the bourgeois workers?

Do we want the abolition of bourgeois nations and political states and the advent of the single, universal, socialist state?

Do we want the complete emancipation of the workers or only the amelioration of their lot?

Do we want to create a new world or to plaster over the cracks in the old?

These are the issues which we must study and prepare for the next Congress.[317]

The other side was also fully aware of the essential differences. For example, in a letter to Jung – the General Council’s corresponding secretary for Switzerland – Perret explained: ‘I am in complete agreement with you on the issue of not abstaining from politics; we must continually, energetically demand rights and concessions from our governments, until the day they will be completely abolished.’[318]

Perret went on to call Bakunin and his friends in the Alliance newcomers in the International who were either bourgeois or the sons of bourgeois, and announce that he would lead a ‘merciless war’ against them. He then asked if he was eligible to vote at the upcoming congress of the Romance Federation without a mandate from a section – he was only a delegate of the Federal Committee.

Utin also wrote Jung on 24 March 1870: ‘I am quite afraid that all this intrigue and bombast, all these misinterpretations of the goals and tendencies of the International, may break the unity of the Romance Federation at the Chauxde-Fonds congress’.[319]

Inspired by the letters from Utin and Perret, Jung appears to have positioned himself against Bakunin a bit prematurely and given Utin corresponding orders – as Utin’s reply to him on 1 April 1870 implies: ‘We shall be at the Romance congress in sufficient numbers to follow your instructions if Bakunin meddles in it’.[320] During the congress the Genevan engraver François Weyermann revealed that the Geneva delegates had a mandate to leave the congress immediately if the Alliance was accepted into the Romance Federation.[321]

As such, the proceedings of the second congress of the Romance Federation in La Chaux-de-Fonds on 4 April 1870 were doomed from the start. Along with the 38 representatives of the member sections, whose mandates were checked and accepted without any objections (first agenda item), five more delegates were present. These represented three sections applying for membership in the Romance Federation at the congress: the engravers’ section from the Courtelary District, the Geneva section of the Alliance and the propaganda section from La Chaux-de-Fonds. After forming the congress office (second agenda item), there was a first debate about whether the admission of the three sections should be dealt with first so that they could take part in remainder of the congress. The question of the Courtelary section’s admission was moved and carried unanimously. The ensuing debate about the Alliance section’s membership led to a heated discussion that ended in a new point of order being narrowly approved: the Federal Committee’s report was to be read, following which the question of the Alliance’s membership was to be dealt with.[322]

In their report, the Federal Committee only included a very scant justification for their refusal of the Alliance: the Alliance section’s membership was unjustifiable because it would be a second ‘mixed’ section (i.e. a section without a specific trade) in Geneva next to the central section;[323] the Federal Committee feared that the Alliance section would breed dissent within the Romance Federation, etc.[324] However, none of these reasons were covered by the Federal Rules: as the Alliance was an official section of the International, the Federal Committee could have only based its refusal on a discrepancy between the rules of the section and those of the federation.[325]

The subsequent discussion of the Alliance section’s membership saw tempers rise. After diffuse arguments by the Alliance’s opponents raised objections (for example: ‘Listen, if this intrigue is dangerous for the International, you should denounce it and provide the details’),[326] the Geneva delegates Guétat and especially Utin reacted with fierce attacks against Bakunin. Whereupon Guillaume – who was a delegate of the central section of Neuchâtel – reminded the congress about the court of honour’s verdict on Bakunin at the International’s Basel Congress, which had sided entirely with Bakunin. Utin then threatened to convene a new court of honour at the next congress of the International, warning, ‘and be sure that there shall be no lack of arguments and documents to unmask certain individuals once and for all.’[327]

The vote took place after the debate was closed. By a vote of 21 in favour and 18 against, the Alliance was accepted into the Romance Federation. Tumultuous and chaotic scenes followed the announcement of the result.[328] The majority of the delegates, the representative of the Jura sections, saw no alternative to continuing the congress elsewhere in La Chaux-de-Fonds – the split of the Romance Federation was complete.

After attempts at mediation failed, both sides continued the congress on their own and each passed resolutions on the agenda items. The resolutions passed by the different sides show that the Geneva Alliance section’s membership merely provoked the Romance Federation’s split and that political differences were the real reason behind the conflict. For the agenda item ‘the position of the International regarding governments’, the congress dominated by the Geneva sections stated that they reject ‘political abstention as being fatal in its consequences for our shared work’ and justified this as follows:

When we profess political intervention and worker candidacies, it is well understood that we do not believe in any way that we can come to our emancipation by the road of working-class representation in the legislative and executive councils. We know very well that the present regimes must be abolished; we only wish to use this representation as a means of agitation which must not be neglected by the tactics we must follow in our struggle.[329]

On the other hand, the congress dominated by the Jura sections passed a resolution announcing

That all participation of the working class in bourgeois governmental politics being incapable of having any other result than the consolidation of the existing order of things, which would paralyse the revolutionary socialist action of the proletariat;

The Romance congress recommends to all sections of the International Workers’ Association to renounce all action having for its goal to accomplish social transformation by means of national political reforms and to direct all their activity toward the federative constitution of labour organisations, the sole means of assuring the success of the social revolution. This federation is the true representation of labour, which absolutely must take place outside of the political governments.[330]

At the end of the congresses, each group elected a Federal Committee that it considered the rightful representative of the Romance Federation: the new Federal Committee seated in La Chaux-de-Fonds was elected by the predominantly Jurassian congress, the former Federal Committee in Geneva was re-elected by its supporters.

Marx’s third ‘communication’ regarding Bakunin (April 1870)

After receiving the sensational news of the Romance Federation split, Marx decided to pen a third diatribe against Bakunin. After addressing Belgium[331] and Germany[332] with anti-Bakuninist ‘communications’, Marx turned to France where another key figure of the coming conflict was residing – Marx’s son-in-law Paul Lafargue.

Lafargue (1842–1911)[333] was born in Santiago de Cuba, came to France when he was nine and visited secondary school in Bordeaux and Toulouse before beginning his studies in medicine at the University of Paris. After he was barred from studying at university because of his political activities as a co-organiser of the International Students’ Congress in Liège (October/November 1865), he moved to London where he was able to complete his studies in medicine. On 6 March 1866 he was accepted into the General Council of the International.[334] There he got to know Marx and fell in love with his daughter Laura. They married in April 1868 and soon moved to Paris where Lafargue hoped to complete his degree while earning a living as a journalist. In the meantime he attended the International’s meetings in Paris and kept his father-in-law up to date on events. On 18 April 1870, for example, he enthusiastically described the founding meeting of the Federation of Paris Sections of the International, which was attended by around 1,200 people.[335] When Marx found out that Paul Robin was a member of the newly formed Paris Federal Council, he immediately warned Lafargue:

I call your attention to the presence in your committee of Robin, Bakunine’s agent who, at Geneva, did all in his power to discredit the General Council (he attacked it publicly in the Égalité) and to prepare Bakunin’s dictatorship in the International Association. He has been expressly sent to Paris there to act in the same sense. Hence this fellow must be closely watched without becoming aware of having a surveillant at his side.[336]

Marx used the chance to bring up the Bakunin affair for the third time in a few months – this time with Lafargue. It isn’t surprising that Marx used almost the exact same material for his attack against Bakunin on this occasion as in the other ‘communications’. The following was once again presented as fact to Lafargue:

  • Bakunin had attempted to move the General Council from London to Geneva (misinformation from Moses Hess).[337]

  • Bakunin had tricked his way into a yearly salary from Russian Pan-Slavists as Alexander Herzen’s successor (misinformation from Johann Philipp Becker).[338]

  • Bakunin had attacked the General Council in the Égalité (misinformation from Henri Perret).[339]

  • Bakunin was advocating the continued existence of classes through his phrase ‘equalisation of classes’ (Marx and Bakunin had both referred to the wording as a ‘slip of the pen’).[340]

  • Bakunin thought that the abolition of the right of inheritance was the ‘first requirement’ of the social revolution (a distortion of the second point in the Alliance programme).[341]

Marx even magnified the last two points into ‘Bakunine’s programme’, which was made up of three points in total. Only in the third point did Marx’s polemic touch on a new and relevant topic: the debate between political-parliamentary and social-revolutionary socialism – which only recently led to the split in the Romance Federation. Marx described Bakunin’s standpoint as follows:

3) The working class must not occupy itself with politics. They must only organise themselves by trades-unions. One fine day, by means of the Internationale they will supplant the place of all existing states. You see what a caricature he has made of my doctrines! […] The ass has not even seen that every class movement as a class movement, is necessarily and was always a political movement.[342]

In fact, Marx was the one making a caricature of Bakunin’s ideas. Of course Bakunin had always been involved in politics and political movements – he was only against the formation of parties and the conquest of political power. At the first congress of the League of Peace and Liberty, for example, Bakunin explained his position in a speech, which he had sent to Marx:[343]

Gentlemen, for anyone who can see, it is evident that by this time that the workers of Europe are uniting more and more, across the artificial boundaries of states, by means of this great International Workers’ Association, which, just born, is already a real power – it is evident, I say, that the workers of Europe are determined to take politics into their own hands, to make their own politics, that is to say, the politics of the emancipation of labour from the heavy and odious yoke of capital. Any other politics is foreign to them from now on; moreover, and with good reason, they see as hostile and contrary to their interests any politics that would pose any goal other than this radical, total economic emancipation of the workers.[344]

Marx did not choose to include a critical analysis of any of Bakunin’s ideas in his ‘communication’ to Lafargue; instead, Marx summarised his problem with Bakunin as follows:

Thus this damned Muscovite has succeeded to call forth a great public scandal within our ranks, to make his personality a watchword, to infect our Working men’s Association with the poison of sectarianism, and to paralyse our action by secret intrigue. […] You are now sufficiently informed to counteract Bakounine’s movements within our Paris branches.[345]

After receiving Marx’s letter, Lafargue sounded out members of the Paris International about Bakunin only to have to bring Marx down to earth in his reply:

I have spoken with several people and tried to discover their opinion of him [Bakunin] without telling them mine; unfortunately, I saw that all favoured him. An open attack on him is impossible, and here is why: for all those who know him, he represents radical ideas, while his Swiss opponents are reactionaries, and the last scene that played out at the Romance congress, as recounted in the Solidarité,[346] Bakunin’s newspaper, which is now distributed throughout Paris, is made to confirm this idea; for twice Bakunin has asserted that his expulsion was sought because he stood for atheism […].[347]

And so Marx must have realised that the ‘communication’ concerning Bakunin that he had sent to France had not damaged Bakunin’s reputation either – despite all the effort put into the polemic. Only the ‘Confidential Communication’ that Marx sent to Germany had resulted in a euphoric reaction; whereas, the ‘denunciation and characterisation of Bakunin’ he sent to Belgium even resulted in a harsh criticism.[348] After this experience Marx did not send any more extensive ‘communications’ concerning Bakunin.

The General Council’s decision (June 1870)

As things stood, there could no longer be any doubt about the Alliance’s membership in the Romance Federation: the minutes of the Congress in La Chauxde-Fonds published by both sides showed that all the mandates of the Romance Federation member sections had been checked and accepted at the beginning of the congress. The result of the vote, 21 to 18 in favour of accepting the Alliance, was also not questioned by either group.[349]

In the Égalité, now edited by Utin and the mouthpiece of the Geneva sections, the argument was nevertheless put forward that the Alliance’s opponents should have received four more votes: Jean-Baptiste Dupleix (the meeting’s president) didn’t vote, two Geneva delegates were not present and a fourth had forgotten his mandate. In addition the 18 delegates that had voted against the Alliance represented 2,000 members while the 21 delegates who vote for the Alliance only represented 600 members.[350] This argument contradicted the Rules of the Romance Federation: Art. 47 stated that each member section (regardless of its size) had the right to send two delegates to the congress; a section that did not make use of its rights could not protest against decisions made by the majority of the congress.[351] Moreover the doubts about whether the congress was quorate would have been more convincing if they were expressed at the beginning of the congress and not after an undesirable outcome of a vote.

A letter on 7 April 1870 from the delegates of the predominantly Genevan congress appealed to the London General Council of the International to take their side. In this letter, they also said that political differences were at the root of the conflict:

even though we would have allowed the admission of the Alliance, the split was inevitable: no question on the programme of the congress had been addressed or resolved, and we knew well in advance, as the documents attest, that the rupture would take place anyway […].

We therefore await […] your word on the dispute, your approval of the decisions made at the congress by the delegates representing sections whose members number two thousand, and at the same time the repudiation, by the authority of your voice, of the conduct of those delegates who together do not represent more than 600 members for having sought disunity and for having tried to lead the Association away from its true principles and aspirations for the benefit of a few ambitious types, unworthy of being part of our great family.[352]

This letter was sent to Jung who related it to the General Council on 12 April 1870. Its members decided to call on both sides to clarify their positions.[353] Jung sent this request to Perret and Guillaume. Guillaume answered on 21 April 1870 in a private letter:

For a long time, there has been dissent between ourselves and the coterie leading the Geneva watchmakers. […] What divides us is our opinion on cooperation and bourgeois politics. […] As for politics, in Switzerland, there is only one thing for us to do – to boycott the elections. Instead, the leadership in Geneva would like us to elect Grosselin or Coullery to the State Council. A lot of good that will do! […]

To test the waters, to take stock of the situation, they made a prelude of the case of the Alliance, which the Federal Committee arbitrarily rejected from the Federation. – The stage was cleverly selected by the Geneva coterie: instead of separating on the basis of principles, they separated on the basis of personal affairs. They put forward the personality of Bakunin, they attacked him, in order to represent us, the majority, as his creatures. – The delegate from the Alliance not being allowed to give explanations, it was necessary that Schwitzguébel and myself – the only ones who are even a little familiar with the Alliance – should bear the entire burden of the discussion. I did not even have on hand the rules of the Alliance, which I had to defend. Mr Utin, instead of making arguments, insulted Bakunin; Dupleix and Weyermann accused us of being atheists.[354] I responded as well as I could. The vote found us to be 21 against 18.[355]

The Federal Committee of La Chaux-de-Fonds, which for the most part represented sections from Jura, had already sent a similar account of the events to the General Council on 7 April 1870.

A personal enemy of Bakunin, as he calls himself, the Russian journalist Utin saw fit to place the question [of the Alliance’s membership] on a purely personal terrain. The delegates of the sections refused to join in Mr Utin’s hatred and thought they had to assess the rules of a section, not the merit or demerit of a man; 21 delegates voted to accept the Alliance, 18 to refuse it. The majority represented the delegates from Locle, from Neuchâtel, from all the sections of the Courtelary district, the Bernese Jura, Biel, Moutiers, and finally Vevey and Granges (Solothurn). Following this vote, the delegates of the minority spoke in turn, declaring their withdrawal from the Romance congress. The President himself, Dupleix of Geneva, gave his resignation immediately. A violent tumult ensued […].

Finally, seeing that it was impossible to bring the minority back into the congress, we continued our work without them. Resolutions were made on all the questions on the agenda […] the Federal Committee was moved to La Chauxde-Fonds, the newspaper to Neuchâtel under the title ‘Solidarité’.[356]

In his report to the General Council, Perret once again made the case that the Geneva delegates should have represented the majority:

we urged the sections of Geneva to represent themselves by a respectable number of delegates; unfortunately, many could not do it, lacking funds; finally there were 15 of us, representing 21 sections; we hoped that the Vaudois would be represented, only two from Vevey who had passed over to the enemy, having been with us a month before […] [T]he Alliance of Geneva had sent a delegate before being admitted, Joukovsky, one of Bakunin’s damned souls; Guillaume’s coterie scarcely noticed us the morning just before the assembly of these gentlemen opened at a café in town, and they arrived at the congress as a bloc; during the first meeting, Guillaume led and commanded these men. I shall let the Égalité describe all these things to you in detail; it is shameful to see our congress take the shapes of the bourgeois Assemblies, the entire morning taken up with strife and useless quarrels; they didn’t want to allow the report of the Federal Committee be read, until finally it was read in the afternoon; it was after this that the debate started on the Alliance of Geneva, but unfortunately for us, three of us were missing at the roll-call; one had forgotten his mandate, and we did not want to let him be seated, and two others had not yet arrived.[357]

Perret insisted that the Federal Committee remain in Geneva because ‘We remain the most numerous.’[358]

Once these letters arrived in London, the General Council had enough details from both sides to reach its decision. However, at the meeting of the General Council on 19 April 1870, Jung didn’t want to commit himself. He merely informed the meeting that statements had arrived from both sides and that ‘There were some discrepancies between the statements of the two parties’. He made a preliminary decision by highlighting the figures in the Geneva statement: ‘The constituency of the new committee numbered about 600, that of the Geneva committee about 2,000 members.’[359]

Doubt would soon be cast over the membership figures as the numbers given by Geneva proved insupportable: the ‘more than two thousand members’[360] the opponents of the Alliance at the Congress in La Chaux-de-Fonds claimed to represent on 16 April 1870 turned into 1,459 members two weeks later[361] only to sink to 1,394 in the official report of the Geneva Federal Committee to the London Conference.[362] The Swiss historian Erich Gruner pointed out that in this context one can hardly rely on exact figures ‘because of the high turnover rate of members and notoriously inexact accounting’.[363]

In a fix, Jung nevertheless fell back on the Geneva argument that their small number of delegates was not in line with the large number of members they represented. However, this point of view did not accord with the history of the International: the votes of the delegates at the congresses of the International were never weighted according to how many members they represented. One delegate, one vote was the maxim in the General Rules of the International,[364] regardless of how many members the delegate represented. Giving a Geneva section delegate’s vote more weight than a Jura section delegate’s would have been in violation of the statutes. Such a procedure had never been practised in the International.

Although the guidelines of the International were clear on this matter, the General Council’s decision was nevertheless fraught with difficulties: Marx and Jung were apparently sympathetic to the political-parliamentary Genevans,[365] which caused both to hesitate in recognising the legitimacy of the victory of the Alliance and Bakunin’s friends in Jura. In an awkward position, Marx had his colleague Jung give him both sides’ statements on the evening of the General Council’s meeting on 19 April: the letter from Perret dated 15 April and the letter from the new Federal Committee (in La Chaux-de-Fonds) signed by Fritz Robert and dated 7 April 1870. Marx sent both documents along with an accompanying letter on the same evening to Engels:

From the enclosed letter from Perret, ex-secretary of the Fédéral Comité in Geneva – which I must have back by Friday – you will see how the Muscovite beast [Bakunin] is acting. He was naturally forced to appeal also – which he did – to the Central Council through his sécrétaire général Robert. I also enclose this letter. What do you think we should do about these fellows?[366]

Engels responded two days later:

Enclosed, returned, the Swiss letters. The Genevans are, at all events, rather sluggish, otherwise they would not have got into this unfortunate position with the Bakuninists formally having the rules on their side with regard to them. This does not, of course, alter the fact that the Genevans must remain in the right […]. Whereas, if the business in Switzerland continues to develop, the result will be either that it [the Alliance] leaves the International completely, or can be thrown out. But it must be impressed on the Messrs Genevans that they cannot be helped unless they help themselves. If Bakunin were to get a majority of the workers of the Suisse Romande on his side, what could the General Council do? The only conceivable point is that of the total abstinence from all politics, but even this action would not be so certain.[367]

Marx, Engels and Jung let the matter drop for the time being because it proved too difficult to side with the Geneva sections. As time went by, however, it became more and more difficult for the Geneva Federal Committee to prove its legitimacy. An alarmed Perret sent the following message to Jung on 13 May 1870: ‘We are very disturbed to see that some organs [of the International] are against us, we who have upheld the principles of the Association’.[368] And on 20 June 1870, he sent the following call for help to Jung:

we look like a parade committee; we cannot correspond with anyone; Robin has written to tell the Local Committee [Comité Cantonal] of Geneva that he cannot correspond with us; it is the same for all the sections with which we were in relation before our conflict; this does considerable harm to our relations, while Guillaume and his people are in very close relations with the outside; the newspapers of Spain, Igualdad and Federación, do not favour us; the Belgians are waiting for the judgment [of the General Council] to enter into relations as before; we also have some sections that have not yet declared themselves in favour of us, awaiting the decision of the General Council; all of these facts prevent us from building our federation on a solid basis: in short, we are isolated […].[369]

And so Jung once again brought the matter up at the General Council meeting on 28 June 1870. The decision-making process of the General Council was documented in the minutes as follows:

A letter from Geneva asked the Council to come to a decision as soon as possible.

Cit. Marx thought the only thing the Council could do was to leave the Geneva Committee that had helped from the foundation of the Association as it was. It had fulfilled its duty in every respect & had had a larger constituency though fewer delegates than [the] other party at the Swiss Congress. The vote admitting the Alliance should also be communicated. The New Committee could choose some local name.

Cit. Weston said if they advised abstention from politics & acted upon that [it] would disqualify them from acting as administrators. The Alliance was only tolerated on condition of conforming to the Rules.

The proposition was seconded by Applegarth & carried unanimously.[370]

The General Council’s remarkably nonchalant decision was then reported to the competing Federal Committees of the Romance Federation by Jung, who included a PS in the letter sent to Jura:


That although a majority of delegates at the Chaux-de-Fonds Congress elected a new Romance Federal Committee, this majority was only nominal;

That the Romance Federal Committee in Geneva, having always fulfilled its obligations to the General Council and to the International Working Men’s Association’s Rules, the General Council does not have the right to relieve it of its title,

The General Council, at its meeting of June 28, 1870, unanimously resolved that the Romance Federal Committee residing in Geneva shall retain its title, and that the Federal Committee residing in Chaux-de-Fonds shall select another, local title of its own choosing.

In the name and by order of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association,

H. Jung,

secretary for Switzerland

London, June 29, 1870.

P.S. We wish to amicably remind you that our General Rules state that every political movement must be subordinated, as a means, to the economical movement.[371]

The international response and the International’s next congress (April–August 1870)

As could have been predicted, the response to the General Council’s decision on the split in the Romance Federation was varied: Perret sent his warm thanks to London in the name of the Geneva Federal Committee,[372] while Guillaume used the Solidarité to respond to what appeared to be an unfair decision by the General Council. Guillaume first questioned the General Council’s line of argumentation that the majority at the Congress in La Chaux-de-Fonds was ‘only nominal’:

But can this manner of reasoning be serious? Has anyone ever, in a general congress, invoked this strange argument to overturn a vote? And yet has it not very often been the case that the majorities in the general congresses were also nominal? If such a principle were to prevail, here is what might happen in such a congress: Z comes as a delegate of 800,000 Americans, Y as a delegate of a million Englishmen, and all other delegates together account for only one million five hundred thousand internationalists, whereupon Y and Z declare themselves to form the real majority, and nothing remains for the other delegates, crushed in advance, than to go to bed and let Y and Z write and vote on the resolutions of Congress.

The absurdity of these con[se]quences is enough to point out the absurdity of the principle. […]

The General Council, in a postscript, recalls us to the Rules which say that ‘every political movement must be subordinated, as a means, to the economical movement.’

We believe ourselves to be in perfect conformity with this, in the sense that we have thoroughly subordinated the political movement to the economical movement, that we have resolved not to occupy ourselves with national politics at all. This is also what the Belgians, French, Spaniards, Italians, Austrians, and Russians are doing.

It seems that the General Council would do better to send a reprimand to Geneva, which seems to us, on the contrary, to subordinate the economical movement in the political movement. This is a blatant violation of our Rules, and this is an opportunity for the General Council to intervene without risking anyone’s disapproval.[373]

A letter by the Belgian Federal Council also voiced misgivings about the General Council’s decision on the split of the Romance Federation. In view of the next general congress of the International, they signalised ‘that the Belgian delegates will ask at the Congress why the Council has interfered in Switzerland’.[374]

The fundamental importance of the clash between the political-parliamentary and the social-revolutionary tendencies of the Romance Federation was also noticed in Germany. Liebknecht, who was preparing for the elections of the Reichstag of the North German Confederation and editing the Volksstaat, immediately aligned himself with the parliamentary line of the ‘political socialists’ in Geneva: The political question, Liebknecht erroneously claimed in an article on 16 April 1870, had led to ‘an intense battle at the last congress of the Romance sections of the International Working Men’s Association, but ended with a victory for the political socialists’.[375] Two weeks later, Liebknecht went on the offensive in a letter to Marx urging him to make an issue out of the political question. He proposed that the ‘political position of the socialist workers’ party or rather the relationship between socialism and politics be discussed’ at next congress of the International. ‘This question must be addressed’, he continued, ‘as it led to a split in Germany and is leading to one in the International Working Men’s Association’.[376]

In a follow-up letter, Liebknecht tried to encourage Marx: ‘Bakunin isn’t dangerous – in Germany (Spain and Italy, where he is still afloat, are not very important)’, and promptly suggested that the next congress of the International take place in Germany.[377]

Initially the next congress was to be held in Paris according to a resolution of the Basel Congress.[378] The intensification of repression of the International in France starting in April 1870 brought an end to this plan.[379] Thus the way was clear for the official offer to host the congress in Germany made by the Committee of the SDAP to the General Council and sent two days after Liebknecht’s letter.[380] ‘The business would be a good thing’, Marx told Engels after receiving the letter, ‘insofar as Mr Bakunin et Co. would be totally powerless in Germany’.[381] And so Marx presented the German social democrats’ invitation to the General Council meeting on 17 May 1870 where it was unanimously agreed that the next congress should take place in Mainz.[382] In a letter to Engels the following day, Marx rejoiced that ‘The transfer of the congress to Mainz – unanimously voted yesterday – will give Bakunin a fit’.[383] The other congress locations suggested to the General Council – Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Verviers – were not even considered.[384] Marx even thought some of the suggestions were part of a conspiracy: the Belgian Federation’s suggestion, for example, to have the congress take place in Amsterdam, was curiously branded a ‘plan of Mr Bakunin. The congress would consist chiefly of his tools.’[385]

The political question propagated by Liebknecht was suggested as the second point on the congress agenda by Marx (‘On the connection between the political action & the social movement of the working class’) and approved by the General Council.[386] As such all of the preparations for the defeat of Bakunin and social-revolutionary socialism were in place by the summer of 1870: Marx succeeded in having the congress take place in the location of his choosing; as many loyal, ‘energetic representatives’ as possible would attend; by way of the confrontational agenda, the International would assume a political position to Marx’s liking. At the same time, Utin was to discredit Bakunin at Marx’s behest in the spring and summer of 1870.[387] All of these arrangements were to be repeated two years later ahead of the Congress of The Hague and were designed to lead to a preliminary decision against Bakunin and social-revolutionary socialism.

Already in early 1870, Bakunin noticed the actions Marx was taking against him but hoped for a debate on ideas at the next congress of the International.[388] He wrote his friends Walerian Mroczkowski and Zoya Obolenskaya on 1 August 1870 that he was preparing a brochure in French at the moment that was to be a response to all his enemies within the International.

A propos, have you ever met with Marx, the secret leader of all my public enemies – do You know that last winter he started corresponding with Utin through Becker, who betrayed me and the Alliance when I was away [from Geneva] and that Utin & Comp. are collecting documents against me for him to destroy me? – Doesn’t matter, let’s measure our forces – the Spaniards, the Italians, the French and the Belgians are on our side (not personally but in principle), – the Mountains [i.e. the Jura sections] led by our bright and loyal friend Guillaume defend us like a wall.[389]

But the expected all-out clash in the International didn’t occur in 1870 due to a historic event that temporarily overshadowed everything else: the start of the Franco-German War. After France declared war on 19 July 1870, three German armies attacked France, putting French forces in the defensive in early August.[390] The war rocked the countries in Central Europe so severely, that by mid-August the planned congress of the International – where the conflict within the organisation was to be decided – was unimaginable. On 23 August, the General Council cancelled the congress for 1870.[391]

CHAPTER 6. Fixing the International’s course

GLOBAL ATTENTION WAS NOW FOCUSSED ON the war in France instead of the internal crisis within the International, which had reached a peak in the summer of 1870. Bakunin wrote his friend Nikolai Ogarev (1813–1877) on 11 August 1870 that the war had given him a ‘real fever’: ‘In three days I wrote exactly 23 big letters, this small one is the twenty-fourth. I’ve worked out a whole plan’.[392] Bakunin expected the war to create an unstable situation in France where armed rebellions in the provinces could trigger a general revolution. He left for Lyon in September 1870 for this reason, but the revolution he and his political friends tried to start lacked the necessary support and failed. He was forced to secretly leave France through Marseilles in October 1870.

Bakunin’s second strategy: cautious criticism of Marx

Bakunin returned to Switzerland disappointed and began writing an extensive manuscript, which he called a ‘pathological study of present-day France and Europe’ in a letter dated 19 November 1870.[393] A first part of this manuscript was printed the following year under the title The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution (L’Empire knouto-germanique et la Révolution sociale).[394] In the manuscript, Bakunin first developed his idea of counteracting the invasion by German troops with a revolutionary uprising, then described the effects of the long-standing German-Russian alliance on the political events of the day, following which he attempted to outline the history of German liberalism and concluded with a discussion of a variety of philosophical topics.[395]

In the various drafts of the manuscript, Bakunin for the first time took his conflict with Marx out into the open, abandoning his old strategy of not attacking Marx but his associates. Bakunin followed this first strategy[396] from autumn 1869 to the end of 1870. In September 1870 he still honoured Marx in a manuscript that remained unpublished at the time as

the incontestable leader of the socialist party in Germany, a great intellect armed with deep knowledge, whose entire life, or at least the last thirty years of it, one can say without flattery, have been exclusively devoted to the greatest cause existing today, that of the emancipation of labour and of the labourers […].[397]

When Bakunin started describing the Marxist manoeuvres against him in the same manuscript, he refrained from naming Marx by name: ‘I do not wish to name him yet, but he shall be well and truly compelled to name himself. And then I shall have it out with him directly and publicly.’[398]

Bakunin only changed this strategy while writing The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution.[399] He had already sent pages 1–80 of his manuscript to Geneva in the first half of November 1870 to be proofread and typeset.[400] The second instalment of the manuscript (from page 81 onward) took a lot longer as Bakunin revised the text repeatedly. In the first version of the second instalment, likely written at the end of November 1870, Bakunin praised Marx as the author of Capital.[401] Later on while describing the effects of the German-Russian alliance, which united the two reactionary centres of Europe, Bakunin brought up a letter Marx had sent on 24 March 1870 to the members of the anti-Bakuninist Russian section of the International in Geneva.[402] In this letter, which was immediately printed in the Russian section’s organ Narodnoe Delo, Marx claimed ‘that Russia’s violent conquest of Poland provides a pernicious support and real reason for the existence of a military regime in Germany, and, as a consequence, on the whole Continent’.[403]

Bakunin referred to this letter in the second version of the second instalment of the manuscript in a passage titled ‘4. State-France-Germany. Marx-Russia’, written in around mid-January 1871:

In a letter sent some months ago to the editors of a little paper published in the Russian language in Geneva, the recognised leader of the German communists, Mr Karl Marx, has pronounced an historical sophism which truly astonished me, coming from such an intelligent and erudite man as him. He claims that if Germany finds itself still subject to the absolute rule of its princes, this must be attributed mainly to the fatal influence of Russia. He is singularly mistaken about the history of his own country when he advances a notion that is, moreover, in flagrant contradiction with the experience of all times and of all nations. Has anyone ever seen a nation inferior in civilisation impose its principles upon and inject them into an incomparably more civilised country, unless it be by way of conquest? But Germany, to the best of my knowledge, has never been conquered by Russia. […]

Unless he is ignorant of history or in denial of it, Mr Karl Marx must recognise that the people, or at least the Russian peoples – for there are at least two principal peoples, those of Great Russia and those of Little Russia, speaking two languages and having, at least in many respects, two different histories – that these peoples, I say, have in no way contributed to the rise of this Empire […].[404]

In another draft of the manuscript, apparently written at the same time, Bakunin came to the following conclusion: ‘Mr Karl Marx thus has no need to seek in Russia the seeds of the princely despotism, the aristocratic arrogance, and the bourgeois servility that constitute the political life of his own country. If he really wants to find them, he should look for them in the history of Germany itself’.[405]

In his third, definitive version of the second instalment of the manuscript, Bakunin wrote (probably between 26 and 28 January 1871):[406]

I confess that this reproach [that Russia is the true cause of despotism in Germany] has always seemed excessively ridiculous to me, inspired by bad faith and unworthy of a great people; the dignity of every nation, as of each individual, consisting, in my opinion, mainly in this, that everyone accepts full responsibility for his actions, without miserably seeking to shift the blame to others. […]

I confess that I was deeply surprised to find the same complaint in a letter, sent last year, by Mr. Karl Marx, the famous leader of the German communists, to the editors of a little Russian paper published in the Russian language in Geneva. He claims that if Germany is not yet organised democratically, the fault lies only in Russia. He is singularly mistaken about the history of his own country when he advances such a notion whose impossibility, even leaving aside the historical facts, is easily demonstrated by the experience of all times and all nations. Has anyone ever seen a nation inferior in civilization impose its principles upon or inject them into a much more civilized country, unless it be by way of conquest? But Germany, to the best of my knowledge, has never been conquered by Russia. […]

It would really be an act more worthy of a great German patriot and a genuine democratic socialist, such as Mr Karl Marx undoubtedly is, and above all more profitable for the German people, if, instead of trying to console the national vanity by falsely attributing the sins, crimes and shame of Germany to foreign influence, he would use his immense erudition to prove, according to justice and historical truth, that Germany itself has produced, refined, and historically developed all the elements of its present-day slavery. Having already bowed before the astonishing erudition of his brain and his pen, I would have gladly left to him the task of performing such useful work, especially necessary in view of the emancipation of the German people; in his hands, it would naturally be far more complete. But since I fear he shall never find it acceptable and necessary to tell the whole truth on this point, I have taken up this task myself […].[407]

Bakunin considered the third version of the second instalment of his manuscript (with the aforementioned passage) to be the final version and sent it in February 1871 to his friend Guillaume for proofreading.[408] Guillaume then sent the manuscript to the printers in Geneva where it was published (together with other parts of the manuscript) at the end of April 1871 as the first part of the book The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution – the first publication in which Bakunin openly opposed Marx.[409]

In further instalments of the manuscript, Bakunin intensified his look at Marx and wrote a separate section titled ‘Historical Sophisms of the German Communists’ Doctrinaire School’ (‘Sophismes historiques de l’École doctrinaire des communistes allemands’)[410] that was conceived as the opening of a planned second part of The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution. In this section Bakunin first acknowledged the accomplishments of ‘the socialists or rather the authoritarian communists of Germany’ and called Marx their ‘principal leader’. Bakunin then told the story of his personal conflict with the ‘leaders of German communism’ in another long footnote: the conflict surrounding Herwegh’s Legion (April 1848); the defamation of Bakunin as an ‘agent of Russia’ in Marx’s Neue Rheinische Zeitung (July 1848); the press campaign against Bakunin by the English publicist David Urquhart (1853, 1856, and 1862), in whose publications Marx printed several texts;[411] and finally the articles by Marx’s Russophobic friend Sigismund Borkheim, which aggressively attacked Bakunin and were partly written in consultation with Marx and Engels.[412] The section ‘Historical Sophisms of the German Communists’ Doctrinaire School’ was typeset in Geneva along with other instalments of the manuscript as a second part of The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution but not published in Bakunin’s time.[413]

The caution with which Bakunin openly confronted Marx was typical of Bakunin’s second strategy, which he followed for more than a year (until spring 1872). He only seemed to name him reluctantly and did not bring their political conflict into the open even though he was well aware of the underlying differences in their ideas – i.e. ‘for reasons of principle, because of state communism’.[414] Bakunin hinted at this fundamental conflict in The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution without naming any names. In connection with the development of the German labour movement, for example, he wrote:

perhaps the time is not far off when they [the German workers] can form themselves into a true power. Their tendency, it is true, does not seem to me the best to achieve this goal. Instead of trying to form a truly revolutionary, negative power, destructive of the state, which alone, according to my conviction, could have resulted in the full and universal emancipation of the labourers and of labour, they want, or rather they allow their leaders to lure them into dreaming of creating a positive power, the establishment of a new workers’ state that would be popular (a Volksstaat), necessarily national, patriotic and pan-Germanic, which puts them in direct contradiction with the basic principles of the International Association, and in a very ambiguous position vis-à-vis the aristocratic and bourgeois Prusso-Germanic Empire that Bismarck is in the process of shaping. Doubtless they hope that first, perhaps by way of a legal agitation that is later to be followed by a more profound and decisive revolutionary movement, they shall manage to seize it and turn it into a purely popular government. This politics, which I regard as unrealistic and disastrous, stamps their movement first and foremost with a reformist rather than a revolutionary character, which indeed is perhaps somewhat owing to the particular nature of the German people, who are more willing to make a series of slow reforms than a revolution.[415]

While Marx and Engels were not named in this passage, they were intended – and the message was received: in a surviving copy of The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution from Engels’ library, one can see that this passage is marked with a pencil.[416] However, he apparently ignored the long footnote analysing Marx’s letter to the Russian section.

Paul Robin, the congress question, and the disbanding of the Geneva Alliance section (summer 1871)

After the war in France, the founding of the German Reich in January 1871, and the assault on the Paris Commune in May 1871, the simmering conflict surrounding the International’s political direction slowly returned. The General Council was forced to deal with this subject in the summer of 1871 upon Paul Robin’s initiative. Robin’s role in the Égalité’s editorial board, where he launched a disastrous attack against the General Council in November/December 1869, has already been described.[417] After leaving the editorial board, he went to Paris in January/February 1870, became involved in the newly formed Paris Local Federation of the International, came into the crosshairs of the police again and was implicated in a sensational trial in June/July 1870 against 38 members of the International in Paris. He moved to London in October 1870 where, as a prominent member of the French International, he was accepted into the General Council upon Marx’s recommendation.[418]

The political differences between the Swiss sections of the International and the split in the Romance Federation had taken a back seat for Robin in these months, as well – both because of the war and his difficult living conditions as an exile in England.

After the war [Robin later wrote], I received no letters, no newspapers from that country [Switzerland]. However, I had vaguely spoken once or twice with Marx as of an incident that was closed, and although he had prejudices against some people that I did not share, I saw no cause for quarrel in this, and I even counted on his influence to help me ease the conflict if it should revive. This is so true that when my friendly relations with Guillaume (of Neuchâtel), interrupted by events, resumed in late January [of 1871], I naively shared several letters from this friend with Marx.[419] It was then, on receiving several equivocal responses, that I began to sense a systematic hostility, but full of an extreme confidence in Marx’s spirit of justice and good faith, I refused to pay heed to the most obvious clues.[420]

The first major conflict between Robin and Marx in the General Council took place in March 1871 because of the congress question: the planned congress in Paris in September 1870 was postponed ‘till the earliest opportunity’ by the General Council on 23 August 1870 because of the war in France.[421] In the debate proceeding that resolution, Marx had suggested calling a conference of delegates instead of the congress;[422] however, the matter was not pursued. Half a year later, in March 1871, Robin revived the idea of convening a conference of delegates as soon as possible in London to make up for the lost congress. Robin justified his suggestion by calling to mind unresolved administrative questions[423] – he was alluding to the continued split in the Romance Federation. After the English General Council member George Milner spoke out in favour of Robin’s suggestion at the meeting on 14 March 1871, Marx announced his opposition – even though he himself had made the same suggestion six months earlier. Engels backed Marx’s opposition by saying ‘that the time might come when a conference would have to be called but it had not come yet. Cit. Robin had not shown what the administrative questions were that required a conference.’[424] Robin replied

that it did not rest with the Council to judge its own acts & that now was the time for a conference. […] the Association had a right to control the acts of the Council & the Council ought not to shirk an investigation. There was a difference of opinion in different places the members acted differently in every country & therefore a conference ought to meet to settle the mode of action.[425]

After clarifying that the conference should be convened ‘to control the acts of the Council’, the General Council members voted 10 to 2 against Robin’s suggestion.[426]

In the meantime the conflict between the sections of the International in Romandy grew. In early 1871, the Geneva Federal Committee accused the Geneva section of the Alliance – whose membership bid had led to the split in the Romance Federation at the Congress of La Chaux-de-Fonds – of never having been accepted into the International by the General Council.[427] The membership confirmation from the General Council dated 28 July and 25 August 1869[428] presented by the secretary of the Alliance section were dismissed as forgeries. After consulting with Robin, Guillaume sent him a copy of both membership confirmations to London on 4 July 1871 so that their authenticity could be verified by the General Council.[429]

Robin then sent the following letter to Marx on 8 July 1871:

I have again received a letter from my friend Guillaume who has asked me to act as his intermediary to the General Council in order to reach a final settlement. This letter contains copies of two letters [from 28 July and 25 August 1869; see above] […]. If the Alliance has breached any of its commitments as a section, it must be suspended (art. 6 of the Basel decision)[430] but this must be by means of a new judgment of the Council. Otherwise it is incontestably a section of the International […]. I do not know what decision the G[eneral] C[ouncil] will make about this year’s congress; I’m afraid it will still be impossible to meet. The matter of two Swiss federations will certainly be resolved. […] Do you want me to visit you Monday morning before noon so that it would be possible to make a definitive answer to Guillaume afterward? Or would it be much better to get the Swiss secretary [Jung] to address a joint letter to the two warring parties?[431]

Robin’s letter must have made quite an impact on Marx because it brought together all of the present conflicts: the Alliance section’s membership in the International, the affair surrounding the split of the Romance Federation and the congress question. Shortly after receiving Robin’s letter, Marx also got word of the Belgian Federal Council’s position: ‘We consider it entirely necessary that this year should not go by without a congress.’[432]

Apparently because of these comments, Marx and Engels finally decided to take the initiative on the congress issue after procrastinating as long as they could. At the next meeting of the General Council, Robin proposed that ‘the Council take into consideration the disputes existing in the Swiss Section’. Strangely enough, Engels then suggested organising ‘a Conference preparatory to the holding of a Congress’.[433] As the General Council then returned to the agenda, the unexpected exchange didn’t bear any fruit. A week later, the same topic was addressed, but it was once again deferred ‘owing to the pressure of other business’.[434] One week later on 25 July 1871, Robin made a last attempt:

Citizen Robin called attention to the state of affairs in Switzerland, and asked if two letters [from 28 July and 25 August 1869; see above] […] to the ‘Alliance Socialiste’ of Geneva in 1869 announcing its acceptance as a section of the International – were genuine. Citizen Jung said the one which had his signature attached was written by him. Citizen Robin then asked if any resolution had been passed by the General Council since the date of that letter, suspending l’Alliance Socialiste Démocratie from its rights as a section. The Chairman [Jung] answered No. No resolution of the kind had been passed.

Citizen Engels said it was a question if a section admitted under certain conditions, and not afterwards fulfilling those conditions ever had the rights of a section.

Citizen Marx said ‘l’Alliance Socialiste Démocratie’ had not paid any contributions for two years, and it might be said therefore to have forfeited its membership.[435]

Citizen Serraillier endorsed the remarks of Citizen Marx – contribution was a condition of membership.

Citizen Hales thought the questions raised were subjects for the Congress to decide and not for the Council.

Citizen Robin said he only asked for information, and he should like the Chairman’s statement signed. This was agreed to, and it was signed and countersigned by the Secretary.[436]

The same events took place as follows according to Robin’s recollection:

Finally, pressed with questions, he [Jung] ends up admitting that indeed he wrote the second letter (which at the same time proves the authenticity of the first). Engels mumbles a few words as well, but after a quarter of an hour of rambling, it is impossible to deny the two letters.

In response to the first question [whether the General Council’s letters from 28 July and 25 August 1869 were genuine], I write: yes.

As for the second [whether the Alliance’s membership had been suspended since], Engels again mumbles: You prejudge the question, we must await the conference, etc. – No, I said, what I am asking is simple: is the Alliance suspended or not? – But, says Marx, enraged at being trapped, it is not in good standing with respect to the [General] Council. – I will write in response to the second question: no, but it is suspended de facto as not being in good standing with respect to the General Council (now, it is known that out of twenty sections, the same is true of at least nineteen). – No, says Marx. – What should I write down, then? – Write ‘no’; but all this will be resolved at the conference (sic).

I write, and I pass the paper to the secretary to countersign it and add seal of the Council.

‘Let me see it,’ Marx says, ‘this is another new machination against our friends, and there is a Russian Section in Geneva that I want to inform (!!!)’.

What to add to that? The document was duplicated: one for the Alliance, the other for the Federal Committee based in Geneva, both advised that the other had received a copy of it. Marx was not accustomed to this way of acting fairly. The great man, usually so safe among his courtiers, was stunned. He was caught in the act of lying, and his act had been authentically established. My heart was raised to see the socialist philosopher brought so low.[437]

The General Council meeting continued as follows according to the minutes:

Citizen Robin said there was another matter that he should like to ask, there was a serious split in the French part of Switzerland. There were two Federal Councils acting independently of each other, one continued to have relationship with the General Council, the other did not. Could not something be done to heal the breach and bring them both into unison.

It was decided that it was a matter that must be left for the next Congress or Conference to decide upon.

Citizen Engels proposed ‘That a private Conference of the Association be called in London to meet on the third Sunday in September’. He said that last year the Sections gave the General Council power to postpone the Annual Congress – because of the circumstances created by the war – and things were not much better now. […] The position too was such, that if a Congress was summoned scarcely any of the sections could send delegates, at the same time it was necessary for the General Council to take counsel with the sections, as to the future policy, and to get its powers ratified, and such could only be done by holding a private Conference as he proposed.

Citizen Robin seconded the proposition, he agreed with the remarks of Citizen Engels, it was also necessary to try and heal the schisms.

The proposition was carried, and the sub committee was instructed to draw up a programme to be submitted to the Council.[438]

It is only at first surprising that Marx and Engels fought against a conference in March 1871 only so Engels could call for one a few months later. The difference between both proposals was obvious: Robin suggested a conference in March to make up for the congress called off in 1870 – Engels suggested a private conference so that the congress of 1871 could also be called off.[439]

Robin later remembered the ‘painful reflections’ bothering him after leaving the meeting.[440] The conflict in the General Council had apparently been very demanding on him so that he lashed out at both sides afterward. Two days after the General Council meeting, Robin sent the Alliance section’s verified membership confirmation to Guillaume along with an irate note: ‘It was damned difficult. Here is what I was able to do, to the best of my ability, and I believe that it was a master stroke, considering the mood that exists here concerning you.’[441] Robin described the gaudy details of the General Council member’s bias against the Alliance and Jura sections,[442] which were considered the same. He complained that the question of the Alliance’s membership in the Romance Federation had led to the split at the Congress of La Chaux-de-Fonds. If the decisive question at the congress had been the political differences, Robin argued, then the Jura sections would have an easy time of it; whereas, the question of the Alliance’s membership was none too popular. ‘This section, already so detested, is not even in good standing with the G[eneral] C[ouncil]. It has not sent subscriptions for two years’, Robin railed – the memory apparently fresh of the General Council meeting where Marx and Serraillier had made this unjustified claim.[443] Robin even went so far as to suggest that the Alliance be disbanded in order to calm things down. He also signalled that a conference of delegates of the International would soon be convened where, he warned, the Jura sections’ membership status might be threatened. He urged the Jura sections to send a delegate to the conference. This delegate was to bring along a copy of their statutes, a list of the member sections and their yearly membership payments to the General Council. In addition, the delegate was to have a resolution in hand passed unanimously by the Jura sections and stating that they intend to settle all past differences.[444]

Robin’s conflict-prevention tactic was obviously the result of the pressure he was put under in the London General Council – pressure that was now being relayed to his friends in Switzerland. Guillaume sent Robin’s letter and the enclosed verification of the Alliance section’s membership to the Alliance secretary Nicolas Joukovsky (Nikolai Zhukovskii). In an accompanying letter, Guillaume agreed with Robin’s proposal to disband the Alliance section in order to prevent the imminent expulsion of the Federation of Jura sections from the International.[445] Guillaume examined the idea carefully

whether, now that it had obtained the General Council’s recognition of the regularity of its situation, it would be wise for the section of the Alliance, taking into consideration the greater interests of the International, to forgo prolonging an existence that had long had outlived its usefulness. […] The dissolution of the section of the Alliance, I added, would at the same time snatch away from the Marxist coterie of the General Council the pretext it already thought it had to take fatal measures against us, to be approved by the forthcoming conference, that could hinder the free organisation of our sections.[446]

At the same time, Guillaume asked his friends in Geneva to consult with Bakunin in Locarno on this question and send him Robin’s letter – which they never did.[447] Guillaume also informed Bakunin personally about the Federation of Jura sections’ supposed imminent expulsion at the upcoming conference. Bakunin answered Guillaume on 6 August[448] in a long letter (which is lost). He also penned a letter ‘To the friends of the section of the Alliance of Geneva’ in the night between 6 to 7 August 1871, which included the following:

Our friend James [Guillaume] has just written me that he sent you a letter from Robin (a letter I beg you to send me quickly, as I think he recommended you do) warning that a terrible storm, long prepared by our dirty enemies from Geneva, together with the authoritarian communists of Germany, threatens to break not only upon the Alliance, but the whole Federation of the [Jura] Mountains, and this means nothing less than the exclusion of the Federation, the only one that represents the true spirit of the International in Switzerland, the international communion of the workers.

Rightly worried by this news, my friend James, who sent you at the same time the act of the General Council recognising the legitimacy of our section, has counselled you to take advantage of this new declaration of the G[eneral] C[ouncil] to make what he calls a master stroke, which would seem to me to be a clumsy act of weakness. He advises you to voluntarily dissolve yourselves […].

Let none say to me that I must make a sacrifice for peace, for the good of the International. Never can any good be achieved by cowardice. We do not have the right to abase ourselves before them, because in abasing ourselves we would debase our cause and our principle, and to save appearances, the lie of the International, we would sacrifice the truth and reality.

I think in general it is not through a policy of cowardly concessions and Christian humility, but only by firmly and frankly upholding our rights that we can triumph over our enemies, even for the good of the International. Are our rights not clear enough? Have we not, for over a year, suffered all the attacks, all the calumnies, all the intrigues, without defending ourselves and without even replying? Our silence was a great mistake;[449] our dissolution would be a shameful suicide.

[…] What is to be done? There is but one course: to renew our struggle in the open. Let us not be afraid to kill the International thereby – if something can be killed, it is precisely diplomacy and intrigue – it is the underground practice which now constitutes the entire strategy of our enemies not only in Geneva but also in London – Struggle in broad [daylight] shall restore life and strength to the International; moreover, fought in broad daylight, it cannot be a struggle between persons, but will necessarily become a great struggle between two principles: that of authoritarian communism and that of revolutionary socialism.

[…] Finally, since a sneaky Conference – a kind of anonymous and small scale congress – is scheduled to meet in London, the [Jura] Mountain sections absolutely must send a delegate and that delegate, in my opinion, should be none other than James Guillaume […] He would pass through Brussels where he would meet beforehand with the Belgians. Well, my dear friends, I am convinced myself that if Guillaume comes to London, he will win, and he will win a striking victory for our [Jura] Mountains organisation as well as for the Alliance.[450]

Bakunin’s suggestion – to send a delegate to the London Conference and wait at least until then before disbanding the Alliance – was not taken into consideration. Without so much as consulting Bakunin as Guillaume had suggested, the Alliance section disbanded on 6 August 1871 – the very day that Bakunin wrote his rabble-rousing letter to its members.[451] The section’s secretary, Joukovsky, informed the General Council that the Alliance section was no more in a letter dated 10 August 1871, enclosing a statement on the dissolution based on a suggestion by Robin and ratified by the meeting of the Alliance section on 6 August 1871, which declared:

Considering that this declaration [the General Council’s confirmation that the Alliance section was a member of the International, dated 25 July 1871; see above] annihilates the calumnies and intrigues for which the section of the Alliance has been the pretext;

In order to render these impossible in the future,

The section of the International Working Men’s Association called the Alliance of Socialist Democracy declares itself dissolved.[452]

Bakunin’s suggestion to send a delegate to the London Conference was also dismissed – Guillaume downright refused to go:

my situation, as a representative of the [Jura] Mountain Sections [he later wrote] was that of an accused appearing before judges whom he recognises as competent and whose verdict he accepts: would it not be better, since we were condemned in advance, not to insist on whatever simulacrum of a vain defence might have been sketched by a defender of our cause, but to acknowledge, on the contrary, that we had been condemned without a hearing?[453]

As the London Conference would show, an informed and courageous delegate who could represent the interests of the Jura sections in the struggle over the political direction of the International was lacking. Instead of sending a delegate to London, the Federal Committee of the Jura sections made do with corresponding with the General Council for the first time since April 1870. On 6 August 1871, the corresponding secretary Adhémar Schwitzguébel wrote Jung – the General Council’s corresponding secretary for Switzerland – about the makeup of Federal Committee of the Jura sections and expressed the hope that he would be in touch with the General Council on a regular basis until the next congress of the International where the conflict could be resolved.[454] Jung did not pass the letter on to the General Council nor did he answer. As the start of the London Conference was fast approaching, the Federal Committee in Jura decided to address the conference’s participants directly with a letter, which included the following:

Today we learned indirectly that a special conference is to be convened in London on September 17. It was the duty of the General Council to notify all regional groups, we do not know why it kept silent with respect to us.[455] […] as we may not doubt the spirit of equity that should animate any international meeting, we do not want to miss this solemn occasion to make an appeal to justice.

For eighteen months, we have been as outcasts from the International for the simple reason that a regional congress of the sections we represent has held an opinion different from those professed by another group of sections. The General Council has thrown its weight behind one party, and since then, the whole of western Switzerland has been deprived of all communication with the General Council. We understand that the conference will be convened to pronounce concerning the conflict; we allow ourselves to advise it of the following:

1) It would be contrary to the most basic fairness to rule against a Federation which has not been provided the means to defend itself;

2) A decision revoking the rights of our Federation would have most fatal results for the existence of the International in our country;

3) A general congress, convened regularly, can alone be competent to decide a case as serious as that of the split in the Romance Federation. […]

We therefore request that the conference decide simply to instruct the General Council to open a serious investigation into the conflict occurred in the Romance Federation. This investigation, made with impartiality, will enable the next general congress to judge, with knowledge of the cause, concerning an affair which, if were to be judged at present, without one party having been heard, might have the most unfortunate results.

It is an act of equity that we demand from the conference; we strongly believe that we shall not be denied by it. We attest to our ardent hope that its deliberations shall contribute powerfully to the progress of the International.

Accept, comrades, our fraternal greetings.

Adopted at the meeting of September 4, 1871.

On behalf of the Romance Federal Committee (federal seat: Val de Saint-Imier)

The corresponding secretary:

Adhémar Schwitzguébel,

engraver, in Sonvillier (Bernese Jura, Switzerland)[456]

Marx and pluralism within the International

The conflict between the Jura sections and the General Council would never have gotten out of hand had it only been about the interpretation of a vote at a federal congress of the International; the conflict in Switzerland was sparked when the majority of delegates at the Romance Federation’s Congress in La Chaux-de-Fonds (April 1870) voted to admit the Geneva section of the Alliance. This rather insignificant event had far reaching consequences: the congress was split in two and two federations were formed that both claimed the title Romance Federation and elected their own Federal Committee. The rush to form factions exposed deep-seated political differences that went beyond the immediate cause of the strife (the Alliance section’s membership). In turn a conflict about political direction was played out in Switzerland which was to engulf the entire International: the conflict between political-parliamentary and social-revolutionary socialism.[457]

This conflict must have seemed manageable at first in the International because the coexistence of various positions and tendencies had been characteristic of the First International since its beginning. The question as to whether the International was revolutionary or reformist, political or unpolitical, a party or union, authoritarian or free, was superfluous; it was all of these things at once.[458] Far-reaching theoretical differences had already been played out at the organisation’s congresses without any threats of expulsion. Debates on theory proved to be a motor for the intense development of political ideas among members,[459] while also turning the International into an open forum for the different socialist tendencies of the day. Within this context, the refusal to accept the Alliance section as a member of the Romance Federation because of political reasons must have seemed like a step backward – an attempt to inhibit the pluralism that had existed in the International so far.

It was not only the debates on theory that fostered the emergence of a broad spectrum of ideas: the federalist internal organisation of the International enshrined in the Administrative Regulations gave each section the autonomy to define its own programme.[460] As the founders of the International consciously refrained from formulating a specific political programme in the General Rules,[461] its openness had a similar positive effect. Bakunin highlighted this while he was an editor of the Égalité:

We think that the founders of the International were very wise to eliminate all political and religious questions from its program. To be sure, they lacked neither political views nor well-defined anti-religious views. But they refrained from expressing those views in their program because their main purpose before all else, was to unite the working masses of the civilized world in a common movement.[462]

Bakunin considered it impossible to formulate a uniform programme for all countries in which the International existed.

To hope to establish a perfect theoretical solidarity among all the sections of the International today would be to subscribe to a singular illusion. Indeed, has this solidarity ever existed in the world? Could it even be achieved solely within the Catholic Church that boasts of its unity? How could one think that millions of workers born in different countries and under different climates, subjected to such different economic and political conditions, should achieve it today, unless it was to be imposed from above in an authoritarian manner, which would bring us back to the Catholic lie?

However, an ever greater and more complete unification of theoretical ideas shall not fail to occur in the future under the double influence of progressive science, on the one hand, and the gradual unification of interests and social positions on the other. But this can only be the work of centuries, and if we wished to found the emancipation of the proletariat on the basis of this perfect theoretical solidarity, it would be long in arriving.

It is the eternal honour of the first founders of the International and, we willingly admit, of comrade Karl Marx in particular, to have understood this, and to have sought and found, not in any economic or philosophical system, but in the universal consciousness of today’s proletariat, certain practical ideas resulting from their own historical traditions and everyday experience, which one shall find in the feelings or instincts if not always in the conscious thought of the workers of all countries in the civilised world, which constitute the true catechism of the modern proletariat.[463]

As the author of the International’s founding documents (Inaugural Address and Provisional Rules),[464] Marx at first professed the pluralism in the International’s programme – in public at any rate – even though this openness was literally imposed on him.[465] ‘It is the business of the International Working Men’s Association’, he wrote in 1867, ‘to combine and generalize the spontaneous movements of the working classes, but not to dictate or impose any doctrinary system whatever.’[466] In January 1871, Marx explained the caution of the General Council: ‘according to our Rules the General Council can only intervene with a veto in the event of open violations of the Rules and principles of the International. Apart from that, however, it is our invariable policy to let the sections have their head and conduct their own affairs.’[467] At the beginning of July 1871 Marx still insisted in an interview that the International was a pluralist and not a centralist organisation like that of the Pope:

to talk of secret instruction from London, as of decrees in the matter of faith and morals from some centre of Papal domination and intrigue is wholly to misconceive the nature of the International. This would imply a centralized form of government for the International, whereas the real form is designedly that which gives the greatest play to local energy and independence. […] The association does not dictate the form of political movements; it only requires a pledge as to their end.[468] It is a network of affiliated societies spreading all over the world of labor. In each part of the world some special aspect of the problem presents itself, and the workmen there address themselves to its consideration in their own way.[469]

In private, Marx and Engels did not view pluralism as the definitive organisational form within the International but rather as a temporary concession, something provisional, which would one day have to be replaced with a uniform political programme.[470] On 28 July 1871, three days after the General Council meeting described above where the London Conference was called to life, Engels wrote to Carlo Cafiero: ‘as regards discussions of theoretical points, the Council desires nothing more ardently than this. From discussions of this sort the Council hopes to arrive at a general theoretical programme acceptable to the European proletariat.’[471] Engels was reaffirming a viewpoint that Marx had expressed in March 1869 in the General Council’s reply to the Geneva Alliance: ‘The community of action, however, called into life by the Intern. W. Ass., the exchange of ideas facilitated by the public organs of the different national sections, and the direct debates at the General Congresses, are sure by and by to engender a common theoretical programme.’[472]

As we have seen, Bakunin had already declared this impossible in the article for the Égalité, explaining that there is ‘still too great a difference in the level of industrial, political, intellectual, and moral development among the working masses in various countries for it to be possible today to unite them around a single political, anti-religious program’. Bakunin warned that trying to impose such a uniform and specific political programme on all of the members ‘would destroy the International’.[473]

The logic behind Marx’s way of thinking was striking: in Marx’s opinion the responsibility for drafting and enforcing a common theoretical programme – compulsory for all – lay with the General Council where he set the agenda and which, unlike all the deviant tendencies (‘sects’), was the true representative of the real movement of the working class. Thus, Marx did not see the discussions on theory within the International as a normal manifestation of pluralism and a motor for the development of ideas but as ‘a continual struggle of the General Council against the sects and attempts by amateurs to assert themselves within the International itself against the real movement of the working class’, as he wrote in a letter in November 1871.[474]

Incidentally the terms ‘real movement’ and ‘sect’ have their own history within the context of Marx/Engels terminology: Marx liked to refer to his own position as real while other directions in his opinion existed only in theory. Already in the German ideology (Die deutsche Ideologie) (1845/46), ‘true socialists’ were criticised for trying to ‘detach the communist systems […] from the real movement, of which they are but the expression’ – communism as advocated by Marx and Engels of course represented ‘the real movement’.[475] In a similar vein, the followers of ‘utopian’ socialism were called ‘reactionary sects’ in the Communist Manifesto (1848) because they proposed the ‘realisation of their social Utopias’ despite the ‘progressive historical development of the proletariat’;[476] it is clear, Engels added three years later, that the ‘German Communist School [is] entirely different from this sect’.[477] The word ‘sect’ was used to describe almost all rival tendencies of international socialism by Engels and Marx in the years that followed: in his ‘The Housing Question’ (‘Zur Wohnungsfrage’) (1872) Engels wrote in all seriousness ‘that in France the Proudhonists form a numerically rather insignificant sect’, only to admit a couple of sentences later that they were ‘strongly represented’ in the Paris Commune.[478] Marx also accused his rival Ferdinand Lassalle of not orienting himself to ‘the real elements of the class movement’, of being ‘the founder of a sect’ and of following ‘a certain doctrinaire recipe’.[479] According to Marx the ADAV – founded by Lassalle in 1863 – and its large membership was also ‘purely a sectarian organisation and, as such, hostile to the organisation of the real workers’ movement’,[480] which Marx obviously identified himself with. It is not surprising that Marx and Engels would also refer to directions within the International that diverged from their own as sects: whether the Alliance ‘sect’[481] or the Jura Federation which Engels was referring to on 11 March 1872 when he wrote ‘We must now make an end of this sect’.[482]

So when Marx states in the aforementioned letter that he considered the discussions on theory within the International as ‘a continual struggle of the General Council against the sects and attempts by amateurs to assert themselves within the International itself against the real movement of the working class’, this can be seen as part of a long line of attempts to isolate and marginalise others in order to establish his own programme.

Implementing his own political programme in the International would mean turning the General Council into a governing body and bringing an end to the pluralistic internal organisation of the International. This would pit Marx up against the majority of sections and federations as they supported the pluralism that had reigned in the International thus far. By setting the groundwork in the lead up to the London Conference, Marx was nevertheless able to steer the International in his direction – at least temporarily.

CHAPTER 7. The London Conference

ROBIN WAS NOT THE ONLY ONE to inform his political friends about the London Conference after the crucial meeting of General Council on 25 July 1871, which was described above. Marx also notified his correspondents: on 27 July 1871 – the same date as Robin wrote the aforementioned letter to Guillaume – Marx recorded that he wrote letters to Utin, the New York Central Committee of the International’s sections in the United States, and Wilhelm Liebknecht informing them that the London Conference would take place on 17 September 1871.[483] Only a draft of the letter to Utin survives in which Marx wrote:

The convocation of this Conference must not be published in the press. Its meetings will not be public ones. The Conference will be required to concern itself, not with theoretical questions, but exclusively with questions of organisation. It will also deal with disputes between the different sections of a particular country.[484]

At the General Council meeting on 15 August 1871, Engels reinforced the notion that the London Conference would not deal ‘with theoretical questions’: ‘Theoretical discussions were of no value except for publication, and this Conference was to be private.’[485] As such the nine resolutions proposed a short time later by the General Council for the London Conference did not deal with any theoretical questions.[486] However, these paled in comparison to ten resolutions put forward during the Conference that dealt extensively with ‘theoretical questions’. Divulging the Conference’s crucial and controversial questions not before but during the Conference[487] flew in the face of the established procedure for preparing congresses.[488] This time the sections and federations of the International had not been involved in drawing up the agenda nor were they informed about the Conference’s programme beforehand.

The debate about the General Council members’ participation at the London Conference was equally vexing. Marx put forward a motion at the General Council meeting on 5 September 1871 to give all the members of the General Council the right to speak at the Conference but only a certain number of votes. This number – he shrewdly suggested – should ‘be fixed when it is known how many delegates come from the different sections’.[489] The French General Council members Auguste Serraillier and especially André Bastelica said that it would be better to let the Conference decide on this delicate matter. In contrast, the General Council member John Weston called for the right to speak and vote for all of the General Council’s 40 members[490] on the grounds that the General Council should not give up its powers to a smaller body (namely the Conference), ‘which might not represent the whole Association’.[491] Marx agreed with this peculiar statement because he considered the General Council ‘a governing body’, which was ‘distinct from its Constituents’ and had its own collective policy.[492] Édouard Vaillant even declared that the General Council could call a conference to merely advise upon the position of the Association that it deemed necessary without ‘giving the delegates the right to vote’.[493] These differences in opinion marked the beginning of the aforementioned conflict about the internal organisation of the International: whether the International should be organised in a pluralistic fashion with a democratic leadership or whether the General Council – leaders charged with enforcing a common theoretical programme – should be considered a governing body with its own collective policy and independent from the sections and federations. According to the logic of the second interpretation, the General Council is superior to the International’s conferences and congresses.

Engels did not consider the London Conference particularly legitimate, either. The entire Conference, he explained to his fellow General Council members, ‘was a compromise and was not provided for in the rules’.[494] In a letter to Liebknecht from 18 January 1872, he even described the Conference as ‘an illegal mechanism, justified only by the gravity of the situation’.[495] At the General Council meeting, Engels used this grey area in the Rules to ask that the General Council be given an unlimited number of delegates with the right to vote at the Conference.[496] Such pretensions finally provoked an objection from Johann Georg Eccarius, a founding member of the International, who said that the Council didn’t have the right ‘to swamp all the other delegates’. He scoffed that the General Council ‘might just as well pass certain decrees and call upon the sections to register them, and not call the Conference at all’.[497]

This appeal was perhaps decisive in forming the General Council’s opinion: at the end of the meeting on 5 September, the members voted nine to three – with a number of abstentions – in favour of only giving delegates elected by the General Council the right to speak and vote at the London Conference. At a special meeting of the General Council on 16 September 1871, the eve of the London Conference, the number of delegates was set a six.[498]

At the same meeting, when John Hales suggested that the French members of the General Council choose three additional delegates from their ranks because of the lack of delegates from France, Marx objected, since Italy, Germany, and the United States did not have any delegates either. The following motion by Engels, which was carried, makes plain that he and Marx were much more interested in having the respective corresponding secretaries in the General Council represent these countries. This made Marx (secretary for Germany), Engels (secretary for Italy), as well as their confidants Joseph Patrick McDonnell (secretary for Ireland) and Eugène Dupont (secretary for France) delegates with the right to vote.[499] This meant that the General Council had six more delegates for the countries that had not sent delegates[500] in addition to the six official delegates it already had.[501]

The London Conference’s decision on the Swiss conflict (resolutions nos. 16 and 17)

The London Conference was attended by six delegates with mandates from Belgium,[502] the Spaniard Anselmo Lorenzo Asperilla with a mandate from the conference of the Spanish Federation in Valencia,[503] and two delegates from Switzerland – the anti-Bakuninists Utin[504] and Henri Perret.[505] These nine delegates from the sections and federations of the International must have felt lost among the twenty-one members of the General Council present, of which twelve had voting rights. So much so that the Spanish delegate Lorenzo later referred to the Conference as ‘an extension of the General Council’.[506]

Oddly enough, no information about the duties and agenda of the London Conference had been provided beforehand (see above). So, at the opening meeting on 17 September 1871, the Belgian delegate César De Paepe demanded ‘explanations concerning the goal of the conference’. Marx replied as follows:

The General Council has called a conference to consult the delegates of the various countries about the measures to be taken to guard against the risks which the Association is running in a large number of countries, and to set up a new organisation to meet the needs of the situation.

Secondly, to draw up a response to the various governments that are working unceasingly to destroy the Association by every means at their disposal.

And finally to reach a definite solution to the Swiss conflict. […]

Citizen Marx adds that it will be necessary to make a public declaration to the Russian government, which is trying to implicate the Association in a certain affair relating to a secret society whose main leaders are completely unconnected with or hostile to the Association.[507]

After establishing the speaking rules, the Geneva delegate Perret requested that an agenda be set and suggested ‘that the first item that must be subjected to discussion is the matter of the disputes in Switzerland’.[508] Marx then suggested that a five-person commission be formed to deal with the Swiss conflict where – in accordance with a proposal by Perret – only people ‘who were not directly engaged in the conflict’ would take part. Utin suggested the following people: ‘1 Belgian and Eccarius, McDonnell, Vaillant, Marx, Verrijcken’.[509] However, Marx could hardly be considered impartial as he weighed in heavily on the General Council’s decision on the Swiss conflict.[510] His nomination led to the objection from Robin – who was taking part in the meeting without voting rights – ‘that only men who have no relations with the parties involved should be named’. This sparked the following bizarre exchange:

Utin is astonished that certain citizens who know the details of this affair, by being excluded, somehow have an unfair suspicion of prejudice cast upon them. […]

Marx replies that there had never been any divisions concerning it at the General Council; all the resolutions taken on this subject were taken by the majority.

Robin says that he never had any intention of making a person[al] [attack] against Citizen Marx –

After this incident, Marx refuses to accept a place on the commission […].[511]

Robin later remembered the incident as follows:

When it is time to appoint the commission to study this issue, right away, this man [Utin] cheekily proposes his partner, Marx; I dare to observe that the commission must be composed of completely impartial men. Utin waxes indignant; Marx waxes satirical […] the sycophants join in, and Marx is forced to accept.[512]

Despite making a show of turning down the nomination, Marx was elected into the commission on the Swiss conflict along with Eccarius, McDonnell, Vaillant and Verrijcken.[513] Marx then invited the commission members and witnesses to meet at his home on the following day (18 September 1871).[514] Robin recalled:

The impartial commission chose for its meeting place … Marx’s living room. Summoned there as a witness at eight o’clock in the evening, I presented myself to them with the greatest reluctance but punctually. Marx’s daughters, who had also attended the last gathering of the secret conference, were present at this meeting, which was at least equally secret. With two hours’ journey home ahead of me, I declared in advance that I would leave at ten o’clock. They passed round refreshments to reinforce the air of impartiality and began at half past nine. The one presiding [Verrijcken] was appointed for the sake of form; his partner, Engels, took the minutes, even though he was not a member of the commission.[515]

According to Engels’ minutes,[516] the to and fro surrounding the membership of the Alliance in the International, the Geneva Égalité affair,[517] the split of the Romance Federation, etc., immediately led to a heated discussion. Marx began the polemic with a long speech, which Robin then tried to rebuke. Robin took a defensive position in line with the conflict-prevention tactic he had already developed in his letter to Guillaume:[518]

In coming here, I still believed possible a fusion of the two sides; I now see that this is impossible […]. If no reconciliation is possible, I believe that the two sides could yet live peaceably side by side, but I do not think that the Council or the Conference has the right to exclude the sections without having given them a hearing, and I have no mandate to represent them. At any rate, the Alliance has been dissolved, and the basis for the dispute has disappeared with it.[519]

Nobody else was ready to accept this compromise. Perret and especially Utin hoped to take advantage of the situation to openly attack their opponents, whereupon Robin immediately got ready to leave. He later recalled:

I get up then, but they want to keep me there; I refuse, saying that I have said all that I have to say. Mr Utin exclaims that he declares to me that he accuses me directly … – To which I reply, withdrawing, that I throw his accusation back at him with the utmost contempt. One can see that it would have been unworthy for me to continue to play any role in this comedy, to appear in any capacity before this so-called tribunal in which the most common conventions from which bourgeois justice itself shall never vary are outrageously violated.[520]

Marx considered the scene Robin made ‘most shabby and cowardly’.[521] The Spanish delegate Lorenzo also later complained about ‘the cowardly silence and, worse still, certain timid excuses of someone from the Alliance who was present’ at the Conference.[522] As such, the actual reason for the conflict – the vote by the majority of delegates at the La Chaux-de-Fonds Congress of the Romance Federation to accept the Geneva Alliance section and the General Council siding with the losers of the vote – never came up. Because of Robin’s retreat, Perret and Utin had free rein to demonise Bakunin and his political friends in any way they saw fit without the other participants (except for Marx, Engels and Jung) knowing any better. Marx was the only member of the commission to say a word. Lorenzo found the entire scene positively disgusting:

One can safely reduce the substance of that Conference to the affirmation of the dominance of one man present, Karl Marx, against the supposed dominance of another, Miguel Bakunin, who was absent.

This affirmation was propelled by a list of charges against Bakunin and the Alliance of Socialist Democracy. Nobody was convinced of the truth or authenticity of the documents, declarations and facts which upheld the charges and which were supported by the testimony of some delegate present like the Russian Utin, for example. What is bad is that they were left unchallenged because of the cowardly silence and, worse still, certain timid excuses of someone from the Alliance who was present. But if all of this, quite aside from being repugnant in itself, was carried out in the Conference sessions with a semblance of regularity, within the commissions a hatred was manifested with cruel shamelessness. I was present at the home of Marx for a meeting charged with deciding the question of the Alliance and there I saw this man [Marx] descend from the pedestal on which my respect and admiration had him positioned, to a level most vulgar. Afterwards various supporters of his would descend further still, practising their adulation as if they were vile courtiers before their master.[523]

Robin sent a desperate letter to the participants of the London Conference the next day, which included the following:

Called as a witness with regard to the Swiss dispute to the commission that had been appointed to examine it, I presented myself with the hope of contributing to a reconciliation. Having been directly accused, I formally declare that I do not accept the part of the accused, and I shall abstain from attending the meetings of the Conference at which the Swiss question shall be discussed […].[524]

Robin did not take part in any more meetings of the London Conference and the other conference participants kept quiet on the Swiss question. So there was no opposition during the reading of the report on the Swiss conflict at the meeting on 21 September 1871. Marx proposed three resolutions[525] that were adopted by the delegates and which repudiated the question of the Alliance and the letter of protest from the Jura sections.[526] The following resolutions were passed:

  • The question of the Alliance’s membership in the International was considered settled as it had declared itself dissolved. No more ‘separatist bodies’ such as the Alliance, sections of propaganda, etc., ‘pretending to accomplish special missions’ would be allowed to join the International in the future.[527]

  • The exceptions taken by the Jura sections as to the authority of the London Conference were held to be inadmissible.[528]

  • The General Council resolution of 28 June that pronounced in favour of the Geneva sections was reconfirmed; furthermore, that the Jura sections should join the Geneva Federal Committee – in case this was impossible, the Conference ‘decreed’ that they should form their own group under the name Jura Federation.[529]

The Nechaev trial (resolution no. 14 of the London Conference)

The eighth meeting of the London Conference on 22 September 1871 dealt with the organisational situation of the International in different countries. With regards to Russia, Utin explained: ‘One might think that in Russia, it is absolutely necessary to form secret societies – we have no need of them – Bakunin has abused the name of the International’.[530] This was the first time that Utin brought up Bakunin at the London Conference. However, he did not specify how Bakunin had abused the name of the International. At the meeting that evening, there was even an item on the agenda titled ‘the abuse of the name of the International Association in a famous political trial in Russia’. Marx and Utin had apparently agreed to bring up this topic: Marx had added the item, which was aimed at Bakunin, to the agenda at the opening meeting of the Conference (see above). As such Utin was able to launch an extensive attack on Bakunin during the evening meeting on 22 September.

The impetus for Utin’s arguments was the court case that had recently taken place in St. Petersburg against the secret Russian organisation The People’s Judgment (Narodnaya rasprava) founded by Sergei Nechaev. Nechaev (1847– 1882)[531] was born in Ivanovo (Vladimir province) to serf parents. He began work as a teacher in October 1866 in St. Petersburg. In autumn 1869 he came into contact with students interested in politics, took part in their discussions and helped form the so-called Committee at the beginning of 1869, whose members tried to radicalise student groups in Moscow and St. Petersburg. On 16 (4) March 1869, he left Russia to establish contact with Russian emigrants: presumably from Brussels, his first stop abroad, he got in touch with Alexander Herzen. Herzen was asked by Nechaev to print an appeal to the St. Petersburg students that he had written.[532] In this appeal, Nechaev told of his escape from imprisonment in the Peter and Paul Fortress – a rumour he had already tried to spread in Russia to make a legend of himself. Nechaev and Bakunin got to know each other through Ogarev on 6 April 1869 in Geneva. Nechaev introduced himself as ‘an envoy of an existing and fairly powerful organization’ as Bakunin later recollected.[533] Nechaev, who must have had exceptional charisma and power of suggestion, was able to win over Bakunin and Ogarev completely[534] and worked closely with them from that point on. The cooperation resulted in two dozen proclamations, which cannot easily be attributed to any of the three. In addition, Bakunin issued Nechaev an identity card (‘No. 2771’) on 12 May 1869 appointing him an agent of the Russian section of the European Revolutionary Alliance (Alliance Révolutionnaire Européenne).[535]

On 5 August 1869 Nechaev left Switzerland and returned to Russia through Bulgaria. The secret society The People’s Judgment was founded by Nechaev in Moscow by September 1869. Members were expected to follow him blindly and submit to his will. When one of the members – the student Ivan Ivanov – questioned Nechaev’s conduct and wanted to leave the organisation, Nechaev accused him of treason and arranged for his murder on 3 December (21 November) 1869. Nechaev escaped the ensuing repressions by fleeing to Switzerland, where he resumed his cooperation with Bakunin. Bakunin finally severed their relationship after he found out about Nechaev’s ruthless ways in May/June 1870.[536]

After the murder of Ivanov, 152 people were arrested in Russia – four of them died in prison and another went mad. One and a half years after the wave of arrests, 64 people were tried as members of Nechaev’s organisation in the first public political trial in Czarist Russia (13 (1) July to 8 September (27 August) 1871). Sentences included long prison terms, hard labour and banishment to Siberia. The Russian government hoped that the trial’s publicity would result in public contempt for the revolutionaries; however, the news coverage of the trials caused the revolutionary ideas to spread. The trial not only attracted a good deal of attention in Russia but also in Western Europe. Public sympathy for the mostly young defendants was often mixed with disdain for Nechaev: ‘what a scoundrel!’ Bakunin wrote about Nechaev in his diary after first reading the reports from the trials on 1 August 1871.[537]

At the evening meeting of the London Conference on 22 September 1871, Utin lumped this ‘famous political trial in Russia’ – as was typical of him – together with his polemic against Bakunin. Charles Rochat soon had trouble keeping up with Utin’s shameless remarks about Bakunin in his minutes – for example, ‘Bakunin was an unknown person but one who was already consumed by a great desire to get himself talked about’.[538] He thus struck out the three paragraphs of Utin’s insults he had recorded and instead wrote: ‘Utin must reconstruct in writing the record of the speech which he gave’.[539] Utin also reported about the development of the student movement in Russia and was just about to label Bakunin a Pan-Slavist when he was interrupted by the Belgian delegate De Paepe:

It is not the first time that he has heard excessively grave charges levelled against Bakunin – He has even taken part in a commission arbitrating a dispute between Liebknecht and Bakunin; it must be recognised, however, that Liebknecht was forced to make a retraction.[540] – He regrets that Bakunin is not here to defend himself, or that he has no advocate to defend him. In any case, the matter to be settled is that of the Russian trial in which the Association has been implicated – he asks that to this end, we immediately make a formal declaration that the Association has absolutely nothing to do with it, and this is all the easier to do in that the ringleader of this trial, the agent Nechaev, doesn’t belong to the Association […].[541]

‘[As to] the story of the assassination [of Ivanov]’, De Paepe emphasised, ‘Bakunin was not involved in it.’[542] Utin then tried to dispel the notion that he was biased and referred to the accusations against Bakunin in the reports of the trial in Russian: ‘Nechaev carried a card bearing the name of the International Working Men’s Association.’[543] This was not true: the identity card from Bakunin bore the stamp Alliance Révolutionnaire Européenne, Comité Général.[544] The International was not mentioned on it or any of the other seized papers.

As Utin’s attempts to pin Nechaev’s acts in Russia on Bakunin weren’t impressing the delegates, Marx proposed a compromise: Utin was to be commissioned with translating the Russian trial report. This proposal was adopted by the delegates.[545] De Paepe suggested that it would suffice to declare that Nechaev had nothing to do with the International. This was also agreed upon by almost all the delegates.[546] Only the Spanish delegate Lorenzo abstained and added the following written statement to the minutes: ‘I abstain by reason of my absolute ignorance of the subject prior to the discussion and because the arguments made in the course of it did not seem clear enough for me to form an opinion.’[547] This may well have been true for the great majority of delegates at the London Conference; however, most voted in favour of the proposed resolutions, anyway.

The instruction to Utin was later released as resolution no. 14 as follows: ‘Citizen Outine is invited to publish in the journal l’Egalité a succinct report, from the Russian papers, of the Netschayeff trial. Before publication, his report will be submitted to the General Council.’[548] Marx had high hopes for this resolution: in a letter two months after the Conference he wrote that the resolution ‘is especially distasteful to Bakunin because it would reveal to the whole of Europe the turpitudes for which he was responsible in Russia’.[549] In reality neither Utin nor Marx could demonstrate, at the London Conference or afterward, that Bakunin was responsible for Nechaev’s acts in Russia.[550] Utin later included excerpts of the Russian trial report in a manuscript that he sent to Marx with the remark ‘confidential’.[551] The translated excerpts, however, were never published in the Égalité or elsewhere.

Constitution of the working class into a political party (resolution no. 9 of the London Conference)

The London Conference had not yet adopted any decisive ideological resolutions. Resolutions nos. 2 and 6 spoke out against ‘separatist bodies’ – however, the question of the Alliance itself was considered settled. Resolution no. 17 reaffirmed the General Council’s resolution from 28 June 1870 siding with the Geneva sections in the split of the Romance Federation. Other than that, the Jura sections were merely obliged to take on the name Jura Federation instead of Romance Federation – nobody threatened to throw the Jura sections out of the International as Robin had feared. An attempt to damage Bakunin’s reputation in the form of a resolution regarding the Nechaev trial was snubbed at the Conference, and the ensuing resolution no. 14 failed completely to this end.

However, a proposed resolution about the political action of the working class and the conquest of political power had the potential for an ideological conflict. Marx and Engels were leading proponents of this proposal, which in their opinion amounted to the political-parliamentary activities as practised – for example – by the SDAP in Germany by way of participation in elections and parliamentarianism. Engels paid the following compliment to Wilhelm Bracke on 28 April 1870:

The German workers have got half a dozen of their people into parliament; the French and the English not a single one. Allow me to remark, in this connection, that all of us here regard it as of the greatest importance that as many worker candidates stand as possible in the coming elections, and that as many are elected as possible.[552]

Engels also wrote the Danish socialist Louis Pio: ‘we think it of very great importance that workers from the International should sit in all the parliaments’.[553]

This political-parliamentary position was opposed by many sections and federations in the International with emancipatory tendencies, who advocated labour struggles and not participation in parliaments dominated by bourgeois politics. They were invoking the traditional social-revolutionary idea that participating in existing power structures will not lead to freedom.[554] The differences in opinion on this question first became apparent after the Congress of La Chaux-de-Fonds (April 1870) split when both sides passed diametrically opposite resolutions on ‘the position of the International regarding governments’.[555] Marx and Engels’ preferences at this fork in international socialism’s road were obvious: after the spokesmen of the Geneva section of the International – who were involved in local politics – asked the General Council for help, Marx and Engels wholly endorsed the political-parliamentary line in Switzerland.[556]

This essential difference soon became the main order of business for the entire International. The different positions could at first be grouped as follows: the advocates of the conquest of political power through parliament (position 1) were pitted against the supporters of social-revolutionary ideas who favoured labour struggles and rejected any participation in parliamentarianism (position 2). The supporters of both positions were present at the London Conference, where the debate was greatly enlivened by the French member of the General Council, Vaillant (1840–1915), an engineer and doctor who had been a member of the executive commission of the Paris Commune. It had been Vaillant who suggested in the lead up to the London Conference that the Conference should only be used to announce the changes to the organisation that the General Council considered necessary and that the delegates of the federations and sections should not be given a right to vote.[557] As a participant in the Blanquist movement, which envisioned capitalism being overthrown by a disciplined and centralist organisation that would take power through an armed rebellion and establish a ‘revolutionary’ minority dictatorship in order to implement its communist goals, Vaillant advocated the CONQUEST OF POLITICAL POWER WHILE REJECTING PARLIAMENTARIANISM AND LABOUR STRUGGLES (position 3).

At the afternoon meeting of the London Conference on 20 September 1871, Vaillant proposed the following resolution:

In the face of an unbridled reaction, victorious for the moment, that forcibly suppresses all demands for socialist democracy and that intends to maintain the distinction of classes by force, the Conference reminds the members of the International Association that the political question and the social question are indissolubly united; that they are but the two faces of a single, identical question that the International has proposed to resolve – that of the abolition of classes. The workers must recognise, no less than economic solidarity, the political solidarity that unites them and combine their forces, no less on the terrain of politics than on that of economics, for the final triumph of their cause.[558]

This put the question of the political action of the working class and the conquest of political power on the agenda. To many delegates this must have been a surprise with incalculable ramifications; the Spanish delegate Lorenzo immediately interjected

that this is a question of principles which could not be discussed by the Conference, which moreover is not qualified to do so – This question must be raised at a congress and voted upon by the delegates as instructed by their mandates – he asks that [the proposal] be rejected – Bastelica seconds[559]

Utin responded ‘that Lorenzo’s objection is completely mistaken – The proposition does not contain a new principle, but only formulates more formally that which is contained in the Rules’.[560] Utin was referring to the fourth point of the General Rules’ preamble: the ‘economical emancipation’ is the ‘great ends to which every political movement ought to be subordinate as a means’.[561] A reference to this passage in the Rules had already caused a storm in the summer of 1870 when Guillaume objected to an interpretation of this passage by the General Council which seemed one-sided.[562] Bakunin, who also read it in a social-revolutionary manner, later complained that the German social democrats suggest

to the workers who have the misfortune to hear them, that they adopt as the immediate goal of their association legal agitation for the conquest of political rights first of all; by the same token, they subordinate the movement for economic emancipation to what is first an exclusively political movement, and by this ostensible reversal of the entire programme of the International, they have instantly bridged the gulf that it [the International] had opened up between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.[563]

The ‘political movement, which should have been a means, becomes an end’, is how an Italian organ of the International later summarised the opposition’s criticism.[564] During the debate at the London Conference, Bastelica added: ‘what is called politics means wasting the workers’ energy trying to appoint a worker to the municipal council or chamber – this politics of puerile agitation seems significant to them’, revealing that he was a follower of position 2. Vaillant agreed with Bastelica on this point: ‘he [Vaillant] does not understand, by this word, politics, making this meagre agitation that consists in sending a worker to parliament, since these parliaments must also be destroyed’ (position 3).[565] The Geneva delegate Perret on the other hand lent his support to position 1 by saying that he wanted to

put an end, once and for all, to this false interpretation of the Rules – in Switzerland, the Romance Section [Federation] that he represents is of the opinion that the Association must engage in politics […]. He would like for the workers, animated by this principle that the political struggle is a duty, to penetrate into parliaments and chambers everywhere to gnaw away at this old society and precipitate its downfall.[566]

The Belgian delegate De Paepe – who had already put a stop to the debate on the Nechaev trial where a lot was being taken for granted – stepped in once again by noting that setting an ideology in stone, as Perret had proposed (i.e. position 1), would lead to new conflicts without solving the question at hand: ‘he does not believe that one can impose one single political line upon all nations’.[567]

he is convinced that, despite the rigorous clarity of Vaillant’s declaration, certain sections will continue to refuse to follow this line of conduct and thus will create new conflicts – […] even if the Belgian workers should gain the right to vote and could send one or two socialist deputies to the chamber, he does not think that this would give any advantage to the socialist camp […].[568]

Here Marx took the floor. He tried to rebut the objection made by Lorenzo and Bastelica, which questioned the authority of the Conference in such an important question when the sections had not even been given a chance to form an opinion beforehand:

Citizen Lorenzo has called on us to observe the Regulations, and Citizen Bastelica has followed him in this course. – I take the original Rules and the Inaugural Address, and I read in the two that the General Council will be responsible for presenting a programme for discussion at the congresses. The programme which the General Council is presenting to the Conference for discussion comprises – the organisation of the Association; and the Vaillant motion relates to this point – the claim of Lorenzo and Bastelica is therefore unfounded […].[569]

This was a flimsy argument for more than one reason: according to the International’s Administrative Regulations, the General Council was not only supposed to notify the Conference about the programme it was to ratify but to bring it ‘to the knowledge of all the branches’ – which they did not do.[570] Moreover, Vaillant’s proposed resolution did not involve a simple organisational matter, it represented an ideological convention of considerable proportion – even though the Conference was not supposed to deal ‘with theoretical questions’ as Marx and Engels had said.[571]

Marx continued with a summary of the forms of political action in the different countries and concluded by substantiating his political line with the following words: ‘To engage in politics is always a good thing’.[572]

it must not be thought that it is of minor importance to have workers in parliament. […] The governments are hostile to us. We must answer them by using every possible means at our disposal, getting workers into parliament is a victory over them, but we must choose the right men […].[573]

Marx, who was expressing the views of position 1 with these words, called for Vaillant’s resolution proposal to be adopted with one amendment ‘explaining the reason for this declaration, that is stating that it is not just today that the Association asks the workers to engage in politics, but all the time’.[574]

Referring to the General Rules, the French General Council member Albert Theisz argued against treating economic and political forms of struggle equally: ‘Cit. Vaillant’, he explained, ‘seems to put politics and socialism on the same footing – politics must be considered as nothing more than a means’.[575] In a written statement added to the minutes, Theisz explained further: ‘Vaillant’s proposition does not explain our Rules but changes them, a right that belongs only to the congress’. Rochat, who was keeping minutes, added the question: ‘In what way?’ To which Theisz responded: ‘It speaks of two terrains, political and economic, while the Rules speak of Politics but as a means.’[576] Because of the great difference in opinion, the delegates voted 9 to 8 in favour of deferring the question to the next day’s meeting.[577]

Engels started the debate on Vaillant’s resolution the following day with an address that further confused the matter. He accused the advocates of an abstention from parliamentarianism (position 2) of taking part in politics: ‘the abstentionist camp is always engaging in politics’.[578] ‘All abstentionists call themselves revolutionaries […]. But revolution is the supreme act of politics’[579] Apparently Engels had overlooked the fact that the ‘abstentionist camp’ was not criticising politics per se[580] but the founding of parties and conquest of political power. While Engels’ peculiar argument missed the point of the previous days debate for and against parliamentary activities, he did make his and Marx’s political-parliamentary line more concrete by insisting on the constitution of the working class into a political party. There was already talk of the ‘organisation of the proletarians into a class, and consequently into a political party’ in the Communist Manifesto (1848);[581] at the London Conference, Engels called for the ‘political domination of the proletariat’ by way of a ‘worker’s party […] with its own objective, its own politics’.[582]

Bastelica eventually proposed a resolution stating that the London Conference did not have the right to decide on this matter of principle[583] – a view that he and Lorenzo had expressed at the beginning of the debate. In response to the argument that Vaillant’s proposed resolution could be adopted because it merely accentuated the wording of the International’s General Rules, Bastelica countered that the Rules ‘say not that the [political] question is indissoluble but that [it] is subordinate to the econ[omic] question.[584] He proposes that the question be postponed until the next congress.’[585]

In order to give credence to Vaillant’s resolution, Marx quoted from the ‘Inaugural Address’, which states that ‘To conquer political power has therefore become the great duty of the working classes’.[586] Marx saw the ‘Inaugural Address’, which he himself wrote, as a binding document of the International and explained that it was necessary ‘to read the Rules and the Inaugural Address together’.[587] In a letter to Italy, Engels went so far as to refer to the ‘Inaugural Address’ as an ‘official and essential commentary on the Rules’.[588] While the ‘Inaugural Address’ was adopted by the General Council, it was never put to a vote at a congress of the International – unlike the General Rules – and could thus not be considered binding.[589]

After a short break, a proposal was put forward by Utin, Perret, and four more delegates that spoke out for ‘the necessity of political action for the proletarian party’ in general and suggested that the General Council be left to work out the details of Vaillant’s resolution.[590] This amounted to an admission of failure in that the delegates would pass the buck on this important question. As the author of most of the General Council’s documents, Marx was of course in favour of this suggestion because it more or less meant that he could elaborate Vaillant’s resolution. At the same time Marx once again addressed those who called for an abstention from parliamentarianism (position 2) and branded them with a word whose history has already been explained above: Marx ‘combats the abstentionists, saying that they are sectarians – these are sincere men but their tendencies are retrograde. However, one would be led to be suspicious of their loyalty’;[591] ‘he believes that changes must be made in the framing of Vaillant’s motion – which is why he is supporting Utin’s motion’.[592]

Half a year later, Marx clarified that he was particularly supportive of this resolution because it ‘makes short work of the political abstention preached by Bakunin’s programme’.[593]

As there were calls to end the debate, Vaillant spoke once again in order to call for his proposed resolution to be adopted without changes. The Belgian delegate Verrijcken spoke out for Bastelica’s resolution proposal:

Verrijcken contests the right of the Conference to discuss this proposition [Vaillant’s] – the Sections have not been consulted on this matter – he cites a paragraph of the Rules and says that their action must remain free[594] – that one must be able to get involved in politics or not according to the country in which one finds oneself.[595]

‘He asks that [the proposition] be postponed until the next congress.’[596] The resolution proposed by Verrijcken and Bastelica – which stated that the London Conference did not have the right to pass resolutions on questions of principle – was defeated soundly by a majority of delegates, including Utin and Perret as well as all but two of the members of the General Council.[597] The subsequent vote on Utin and Perret’s resolution – the details of Vaillant’s proposed resolution would be revised by the General Council – was easily passed by a majority of delegates, including Utin and Perret as well as all but two of the members of the General Council.[598] And so the members of the General Council made use of their majority to task the General Council with revising Vaillant’s resolution proposal – an unheard-of practice at a meeting of the International.

Two weeks later the General Council did indeed form a commission – with Engels, Martin and Le Moussu as members – to revise Vaillant’s proposed resolution.[599] And at a special meeting of the General Council on 16 October 1871, Engels put forward the reformulated resolution, which was adopted despite an objection that the text could be misunderstood.[600] Marx then again changed the wording of the resolution even though it had already been adopted: while preparing the conference resolutions for publication, he made a number of changes to the text and sent the resolutions to Vaillant for proofreading on 22 October with the following note:

As I am having my pamphlet printed next Monday, please make your corrections as soon as possible. As to the resolution on political action, the form initially produced by the Committee (Engels, [Martin], Le Moussu) and the amendments subsequently adopted by vote of the General Council have created such an imbroglio that I have been compelled to alter the arrangement.[601]

Thus the resolution Vaillant had proposed (see above, p. 95) had been modified a number of times before the conference resolutions were finally printed in the first half of November 1871 in English, French and German. Conference resolution no. 9 on the ‘political action of the working class’ exalted the prospects of the conquest of political power and declared

that against this collective power of the propertied classes the working class cannot act, as a class, except by constituting itself into a political party […]; That this constitution of the working class into a political party is indispensable in order to insure the triumph of the social Revolution […]; That the combination of forces which the working class has already effected by its economical struggles ought at the same time to serve as a lever for its struggles against the political power of landlords and capitalists – The conference recalls to the members of the International: That in the militant state of the working class, its economical movement and its political action are indissolubly united.[602]

The calls for the constitution of the working class into a political party and conquest of political power signified central points of Marx and Engels’ programme that had hardly been discussed at the Conference. This landmark decision would put an end to the pluralism that had existed in the International up to this point.

CHAPTER 8. The Sonvillier Circular

A CASE COULD BE MADE THAT resolution no. 9 was the result of a concerted effort between Marx and his friend Vaillant[603] just as Marx obviously worked together with Perret on the items related to the Alliance and Jura sections (resolutions nos. 16 and 17) and with Utin during the discussion about the Nechaev trial (resolution no. 14). Marx must have been completely satisfied with the outcome of the London Conference as his tactics led to the desired results: on the last day of meetings, he wrote his wife that ‘more was done than at all the previous Congresses put together’ at the Conference.[604] Marx let Friedrich Bolte, member of the International in New York, know that ‘at last’ – by means of resolution no. 2 (ban on separatist bodies), no. 9 (the political action of the working class, i.e. their constitution into a political party and the conquest of political power), no. 16 (Alliance), and no. 17 (Jura) – the General Council had ‘delivered its long-prepared blow’.[605]

Other conference participants were not so happy about the results. The Spanish delegate Lorenzo later complained that most of the delegates

were above all concerned with the question of leadership. By that time it was not a question of how to support a revolutionary force giving it organisation and maintaining a strict course of action towards its objective, rather how to put a grand meeting of men in the service of a leader. In my thoughts and feelings I saw myself as being alone, I thought […] that I was the only international present […].[606]

In a last letter to Marx written on 28 September 1871, Robin reproached Marx: ‘giving in to personal enmities, you have brought forth or supported unjust accusations against members of the International who are either the objects of these enmities or whose sole crime is not sharing them.’[607] He specified his criticism of the London Conference in a letter to his former colleagues in the Belgian Federal Council dated 9 October 1871:

Because the General Council, irregularly constituted,[608] improperly convened a conference at which nine members (doubtless fewer) had serious mandates,[609] and because it has been invested with rights by this conference that tend to introduce into the International the authoritarian principle against which I protest.

3rd Because the leaders of the General Council, by means of unfair intrigues, inspired by personal hatred, have urged the conference to condemn sections that have not been formally indicted nor even informed about the convening of a conference.

4th Because among the rights given to the General Council is that of commenting, in an address, on the political role of the International, and because the General Council wishes to act according to entirely personal ideas which are contrary to the theory and practice of Belgium, Spain, and the Swiss Jura, the countries where the organisation of the International is the most serious, the most democratic, and the most free from any contamination, and contrary to the majority of the sections of the International in France during their brief formal lifespan.[610]

Robin again informed his friends in Jura about what happened.[611] Likewise, the French delegate André Bastelica – who had tried in vain to stop the London Conference from adopting sweeping changes to the International’s programme – wrote Joukovsky, the former secretary of the Alliance section:

I took away a sad impression from these sessions. If I am not mistaken, there is a plot at work in the midst of the International Association, skilfully, cleverly, patiently designed and led, which, if it is successful, will one day lead to the dictatorship of a few that we shall never be able to break. This is not the least of all the dangers that threaten the existence of the International. […] If some force or event does not fatefully intervene to check the virulent tendencies of these minds, they will cause a split within the International. Aided by favourable circumstances, some members of the G[eneral] C[ouncil] – more concerned with their doctrines than with the constitution of a universal proletarian exegesis based on natural law and applied according to the historical and ethnographic environment, etc., – are seeking or unconsciously drifting toward an abstract, uniform, simplistic conception, inconsistent with the character of all peoples of the south. To be more specific I should simply say that we are on the verge […] of witnessing the absolutist triumph of what is unquestionably the least revolutionary element in our Association – I shall leave you to guess which. – The schisms already exist; the desire to launch a few bulls of excommunication is already present: these will come in due time.[612]

Already in a letter dated 3 October 1871, Guillaume started talking about plans for a protest congress of the Jura sections ‘when we have had official word of the decision taken by the London Conference of which we still only know by private correspondence’.[613]

Crucial support for the counter-manoeuvre the Jura sections were preparing came from the Commune refugees living in Switzerland. After the Paris Commune was crushed, thousands of Communards narrowly escaped abroad. A few hundred of them fled to Switzerland with the help of the Jura sections, among others. On 3 July 1871, Schwitzguébel smuggled a number of Swiss passports and documents of Swiss citizenship into Paris in a knapsack with a secret compartment. Several members of the Commune who had gone into hiding were able to flee abroad thanks to these papers: for example, the author Léodile Champseix (1824–1900) – famous under the pseudonym André Léo – arrived in Switzerland a half month later.[614] Some Communards settled in Lausanne, Berne or Jura but most in Geneva.[615] There they were soon confronted with the simmering conflict surrounding the split in the Romance Federation and the underlying debate about political-parliamentary or social-revolutionary socialism, which they were unable to keep out of for long. It is not surprising that very few Communards – with the memories of the greatest revolution of the century still fresh – would be sympathetic to the tame line of the Geneva fabrique, which was integrated in local politics. Just as Bakunin and his friends in the Alliance had two years before,[616] the Commune refugees soon came to realise that the spokesmen of the fabrique – who set the agenda of the Geneva International – were primarily following their political ambitions (electoral alliance with the bourgeois parti radical, Grand Council elections of 12 November 1871, etc.). The work of organising the sections was left by the wayside.[617] Even the Geneva central section was much too involved in local politics to organise educational initiatives or the exchange of ideas between workers in the different trades as was its duty. The Communards thus began toying with the idea in July 1871 of forming their own section in order to create propaganda for France.[618] It took until 6 September 1871 for the Geneva Communards to form the Propaganda and Socialist Revolutionary Action Section (Section de propagande et d’action révolutionnaire-socialiste) – section of propaganda in short. On 8 September, their Administrative Committee (Comité d’Administration) sent an application for membership along with their programme and section rules to the General Council.[619]

The spokesmen of the Geneva fabrique quickly saw the section of propaganda as unwelcome political competition and thwarted their admission in the International: two weeks after the membership application was sent, Perret – secretary of Committee of the Romance Federation in Geneva – proposed a resolution at the London Conference ‘in order to avoid new conflicts’: it called to mind art. 5 of the Basel administrative resolutions which states that the General Council must consult with the corresponding Federal Council before it decides on the membership application of a section.[620] The message was received – the minutes state: ‘The General Council takes note of this recommendation.[621] And so the section of propaganda didn’t even receive a reply even though it applied to the General Council a second time on 4 October and third time of 20 October 1871.[622] Perret was perhaps also responsible for the General Council’s continued silence: he sent a perturbing letter to Marx on 8 October 1871 saying that the members of the then dissolved Alliance section were supposedly behind this new section; according to Perret, the section of propaganda was ‘the rebirth of this sect under another name’.[623] In reality there were only two or three former members of the Alliance among the 62 members of the section of propaganda.[624]

So the situation was already quite tense when the Égalité published an authorised advanced copy of various resolutions of the London Conference on 21 October 1871. The Communards finally found out that effective immediately it was ‘no longer allowed […] to form separatist bodies under the names of sections of propaganda, Alliance de la Démocratie socialiste, etc.’ in the International according to resolution no. 16.[625] By being lumped together with the dissolved Alliance and defamed as a separatist body, the section of propaganda was confronted with resentment that they had never before thought possible. It became immediately apparent that the General Council had been purposely delaying accepting the Communards’ section because of political reservation. For the Communard André Léo, these reservations flew in the face of the established mores of the International. On 2 November 1871, she wrote the following in the Révolution Sociale, the newspaper of the Commune refugees in Geneva:

And I, who have until now believed that the International Association was the most democratic, the broadest, the most fraternal association one could dream of; the great mother, with immense breasts, of whom every worker of good will is the son. […] may the goddess Liberty help us! For we have violated the last papal bull in divulging these things to the Gentiles[626] and in debating the infallibility of the supreme council. Now, we too are threatened with excommunication, and we have no other course than to yield our soul to the demon of Anarchy for what remains for us to say.[627]

In the week after the advanced copy of the conference resolution appeared in the Égalité, the section of propaganda held a meeting where the decision was made to publicly protest against the resolutions of the London Conference and to invite other sections and federations to join this protest. Joukovsky was given the mandate to go to Jura to inform the sections there of this initiative. The meeting in Neuchâtel held upon his arrival on 29 October 1871 called for a joint letter of protest to be adopted at the next congress of the Jura sections and circulated internationally.[628] A circular on 31 October announced that a federal congress would be held on 12 November 1871 in Sonvillier.[629]

The need for public protest became more apparent after all of the resolutions of the London Conference were released the week before the federal congress.[630] In a further article for the Révolution Sociale, André Léo wrote:

From the beginning of the International Association to this day, when we heard the good bourgeois refer to it as a secret society, constructed after their manner, i.e. hierarchically, with a watchword, a secret council, the old pyramid, finally, with God the Father, an Old Man of the Mountain or a Council of Ten[631] at its summit, we shrugged our shoulders and told them, not without pride: – all of this is a bunch of old tales! You know nothing of the new spirit; your worn molds cannot contain it. We who want to destroy your hierarchies are not about to establish another. Each section is sovereign, as are the individuals who compose it, and what binds them all is the profound belief in equality, the desire to establish it, and the practice of our Rules: the emancipation of the workers by the workers themselves; no rights without duties, no duties without rights. Everything is done in the broad daylight of freedom, which alone is honest and fruitful; we have no leaders, for we do not recognise any, only an administrative council.

But now, alas! – now we bow our heads before the accusations of Mr Prudhomme,[632] or rather, we deserve his admiration; we suffer this supreme insult, because the resolutions published here construct the old pyramid in the International as elsewhere: ‘It is forbidden,’ ‘it will not be allowed,’ ‘the General Council has the right to admit or to refuse the affiliation of any new section or group’, ‘the General Council has the right of suspending, till the meeting of next Congress, any section of the International’. I beg your pardon; are we mistaken, here, as to the code? This is an article of the law on the general councils of France, made by the Assembly of Versailles: ‘The executive power shall be entitled to suspend the council that …’ – No, that’s right, but the article is the same in both laws, – ‘henceforth the General Council will be bound to publicly denounce and disavow all newspapers …’ – By our holy father the Pope, where are we? Bismarck has turned the heads of everyone from the Rhine to the Oder, and at the same time that Wilhelm I made himself emperor, Karl Marx consecrated himself Pontiff of the International Association.[633]

The strong words shocked Guillaume and his friends,[634] however, the manner in which Léo concluded her article was irreproachable:

We have just begun to understand that true unity does not consist in the absorption of all into one, that strange equation, that fatal delusion which has mystified humanity for so many centuries! And if asked how else to establish unity, most of us would hesitate to answer, because it is not only a matter of finding new means but of changing the ideal itself. – The new unity is not uniformity, but its opposite, which consists in expanding all initiatives, all freedoms, all conceptions, bound only by the fact of a common nature that gives them a common interest, upon which – on their own, and by different routes, however winding they may be – free forces converge. This is natural and universal harmony in place of the narrowness, the vicious unfairness of the personal plan. It is this autonomy of the citizen, achieved through the autonomy of the primary social group, the commune, that France has just tentatively sketched out with a hand wounded by the sword of despotic unity. This is the second act of the great Revolution that is beginning, the realisation after the revelation, the performance after the promise. And the International Association, a natural agent for this task, would, following these mad and narrow minds, repeat the experiments that were made, and made so badly, between 1802 and 1871! This cannot be. Let all the old world’s politics go that way; socialism has nothing to do with it, for it must take the opposite path, that of the freedom of all in equality.[635]

Guillaume also tried to come to grips with the fundamental questions that had been raised through the split in the Romance Federation and the conflict with the General Council. He drafted a lengthy protest resolution against the General Council and the resolutions of the London Conference for the federal congress of the Jura sections.[636] Delegates from eight sections in Jura were gathered for the opening of the congress on the morning of 12 November 1871 in Sonvillier. Joukovsky and Jules Guesde also participated as delegates with mandates from the Geneva section of propaganda, which wanted to join the federation. For the agenda item ‘reorganisation of the Federation and revision of the Rules’, the commission responsible for this matter proposed the following resolution, which was adopted by the congress:

Considering that the Romance Federation, of which the congress is the sole legitimate representative, has lost its original character due to the withdrawal of a part of the sections constituting it,

We believe that it is time to dissolve this federation and hereby declare it dissolved.

Considering that, moreover, a congress of the Romance sections, having met at St. Imier in 1870, discussed a proposal to constitute a new federation under the name of the Jura Federation [Fédération jurassienne], a proposal that was then abandoned as premature,[637] but which today is again represented by several sections;

The congress hereby declares that a new federation under the name of the Jura Federation shall be constituted by the sections represented at the congress and those which shall join it.[638]

This resolution, which is the Jura Federation’s birth certificate, offered a way out of the dilemma surrounding the split in the Romance Federation: the Jura sections combined an apparent concession to the General Council – which had repeatedly demanded a regional name[639] – with a reassertion of the vote by the majority of delegates at the Congress of La Chaux-de-Fonds, the disbanding of the Romance Federation and a reference to a proposal of their own from 1870 to call themselves Jura Federation.[640]

The second agenda item, ‘The General Council and the London Conference’, resulted in a commission being formed – made up of Joukovsky, Guillaume, and Christian Hofer, the delegate from Moutier. They spoke out in favour of the protest resolution Guillaume had drafted and proposed it at the afternoon meeting.[641] The resolution was passed unanimously by the delegates who all signed the text called Circular to all the federations of the International Working Men’s Association (Circulaire à toutes les Fédérations de l’Association internationale des travailleurs). They also decided to have 500 copies printed as a leaflet, which were to be sent to all countries that had a section of the International.[642]

The text, which became known as the Sonvillier Circular (Circulaire de Sonvillier), summed up the previously described question regarding the internal organisation of the International: was the International organised in a pluralistic fashion with a democratic leadership or was the General Council – leaders charged with enforcing a common programme – a governing body with its own collective policy and independent from the sections and federations. In particular, the Sonvillier Circular stated:

Gradually, these men [in the General Council], who are merely our proxies – and most of them are not even our regular officers, not having been elected by a congress,[643] – these men, we say, accustomed to walking at the head of the march and speaking in our name, by the natural flow of things and by the very force of this situation, began to wish for their special program, their own teachings, to dominate over the International. Having become, in their own eyes, a kind of government, it was natural that their particular ideas should appear to them to be the official theory that alone held a rightful place in the Association, while competing ideas, issuing from other groups, no longer appeared to them the legitimate expression of an opinion with rights equal to theirs, but a real heresy. […]

The general congress of the Association not having been convened since the Basel Congress in 1869, the General Council has been left to its own devices during the last two years. The Franco-German War was the reason given for the absence of a congress in 1870; in 1871, the congress was replaced by a secret conference, convened by the General Council without the Rules authorising them to act in anything like this way.[644] This secret conference, which certainly did not provide a complete representation of the International, as many sections, ours especially, had not been convened there; this conference, at which the majority had been falsified in advance by the fact that the General Council had assumed the right to seat six delegates appointed by itself with voting powers;[645] this conference, which could not possibly be regarded as vested with the rights of a congress, but which made resolutions that seriously undermine the General Rules, and which tend to make the International, a free federation of autonomous sections, into a hierarchical and authoritarian organisation of disciplined sections placed entirely under the hand of a General Council which may, at its own discretion, refuse admission to them or suspend their activity. […]

Faced with this situation, what can we do?

We do not cast aspersions on the intentions of the General Council. The personalities that it comprises have been the victims of a fatal necessity: they wanted, in good faith and for the triumph of their particular doctrine, to introduce the principle of authority into the International: the circumstances seemed to encourage this tendency, and it seems natural that this school, whose ideal is the conquest of political power by the working class, believed that the International, as a result of recent events, had to leave behind its original organisation and transform itself into a hierarchical organisation, directed and governed by a Committee.

But while these tendencies and events are explainable, we feel no less obliged to fight against them in the name of the Social Revolution that we pursue, of which the program is ‘the emancipation of the working classes by the working classes themselves’,[646] without the direction of any authority, even an authority elected by and consented to by the workers.

We demand that the International hold fast to that principle of the autonomy of the sections which has hitherto been the foundation of our Association; we demand that the General Council, whose functions have been distorted by the administrative resolutions of the Basel Congress,[647] return to its normal role, which is that of a simple correspondence and statistics bureau;[648] – and we wish to achieve unity, which others want to establish by means of centralisation and dictatorship, through the free federation of autonomous groups.

The future society must be nothing other than the universalisation of the organisation that the International shall make for itself. Therefore, we must take care to bring this organisation as close as possible to our ideal. How could a free and egalitarian society arise from an authoritarian organisation? Such a thing is impossible. As the embryo of the future human society, the International is obliged to present a faithful image of our principles of freedom and federation here and now, and to expel from its midst any principle tending towards authority or dictatorship.[649]

As opposed to the resolutions of the London Conference, where the political differences were largely masked by quibbles and arguments about legal formalities, the Sonvillier Circular very effectively focussed on the essence of the conflict. All of the sections and federations of the International were invited to join the protest against the General Council’s leadership grab and to collectively push for a general congress to be held as soon as possible ‘to prevent our great Association from being unwittingly pushed down a fatal slope, at the bottom of which it shall meet with its dissolution’.[650]

Reaction of the Belgian Federation of the International (November–December 1871)

While the Commune refugees in Geneva and the Jura Federation launched their protest against the resolutions of the London Conference, Bakunin was far from the epicentre of the conflict at his home in Locarno where he kept in touch with his political friends through regular correspondence. He does not seem to have had much influence on the conflict as his unsuccessful calls in early August 1871 for the Geneva section of the Alliance to stay together indicate. He had written two manuscripts (‘Protest of the Alliance’ [‘Protestation de l’Alliance’] and ‘Report on the Alliance’ [‘Rapport sur l’Alliance’]) in July/August 1871 in their defence, which he sent to Guillaume because he thought they could provide useful material and contribute to the planned memorandum on the conflict with the General Council.[651] Between 25 and 28 July as well as from the end of August until December 1871, Bakunin concentrated on defending the Paris Commune and the International in Italy that were being attacked by Giuseppe Mazzini.[652] It seems that he only remained at the disposal of his friends in Jura during this time – the initial phase of their protests against the London Conference – through correspondence. He later wrote of the Sonvillier Circular that he played absolutely no part in its formulation, ‘neither directly, nor even indirectly, not having attended the Sonvillier Congress, but having endorsed it as soon as I had read it’.[653]

Bakunin also hardly had any contact with the Geneva section of propaganda.[654] Marx on the other hand claimed in a grim letter sent 23 November 1871 that Bakunin ‘is making every possible effort to get protests started against the Conference among the remnants of his following. For this purpose he has got into contact with the riff-raff among the French refugees in Geneva and London (a numerically weak component, anyway).’[655] A short while later in a letter to Paul and Laura Lafargue, he wrote:

All this [protest against the London Conference] emanated from Bakunin (acting through the Russian N. Zhukovsky [Joukovsky], Secretary of the Alliance in Geneva, Guillaume, etc.) whose clique (far from numerous in Switzerland by the by) had coalesced with Madame André Léo, Malon, Razoua and a small group of other French refugees who were not satisfied with playing second fiddle or no part whatever.[656]

The nervousness evident in these remarks can also be seen in his reaction toward Belgium. In the Internationale, the organ of the Belgian Federation, the Federal Council member Eugène Steens’ editorial quoted a couple of sentences from issue no. 2 of the Révolution Sociale, which he called a ‘socialist journal of Geneva’.[657] That issue of the Révolution Sociale also included André Léo’s first criticism of the resolutions of the London Conference (see above). The resolutions themselves were not printed in Belgium in the Internationale on 12 November or 19 November. Marx’s confidant Rochat, the General Council’s corresponding secretary for Belgium, called on the Belgian Federal Council to explain why the conference resolutions had not yet been printed and why the passages from the Révolution Sociale had not only been printed but lauded.[658] At the meeting of the Federal Council on 24 November 1871, Rochat’s letter provoked a protest by Laurent Verrijcken ‘against the right of censorship’ the General Council was unduly claiming.[659] César De Paepe, corresponding secretary of the Federal Council, relayed the following comment by Steens in his reply to Rochat: the sentences quoted from the Révolution Sociale (which refer to France) ‘are excellent; why shouldn’t I reproduce them? This does not at all imply approval of the following article (which could, at any rate, be the work of another collaborator), nor even the approval of other passages from the same article which are not quoted.’[660]

Steens also wrote an editorial on the internal organisation of the International in the Internationale on 19 November 1871. He did not directly address the General Council or the London Conference but attacked the insinuations of the reactionary press and their

eternal accusation that the International blindly obeys the suggestions of a dictatorial committee in London. This is an absurdity, contradicted by our General Rules, which are freely available, and contradicted by the facts. The International is, in the most anarchic sense of the word, a confederation of workers’ associations grouped by nationality. Moreover, each of these associations and national branches reserves for itself the most complete autonomy and the most absolute independence.[661]

Steens’ statement may have further irritated Marx and led him to write to Belgium personally. Marx wrote De Paepe privately on 24 November 1871 and fiercely attacked his Federal Council colleagues Steens and Eugène Hins, the general secretary of the Belgian Federal Council. Marx had already had a conflict with Hins almost two years earlier: in January 1870, Hins had quipped that Marx’s attack on Bakunin was ‘unworthy’. Since then, Marx thought that Bakunin had ‘in that blatherer Hins a fanatical instrument at his disposal’ in the Belgian Federal Council.[662] Marx’s resentment toward Hins was solidified after he married the Russian cashier of the Paris Federation (Fédération parisienne) Maria Yatskevich whom he met in the summer of 1870. Engels also now seemed convinced that Hins ‘is a tool of Bakunin both by virtue of a spiritual affinity and because of his Russian wife’.[663] In his letter to De Paepe, Marx summarised:

The conduct of the Belgian Federal Council vis-à-vis the General council strikes me as suspect. Mr Hins and his wife – I am speaking frankly – are Bakuninists and Mr Steens has doubtless discovered that his eloquence is insufficiently admired. In Geneva it is even being said, as Utin wrote and told me (he doesn’t believe it, needless to say), that you have sided with the Alliancists who are in league with André Léo, Malon, Razoua, etc.[664]

It seems clear that such rude attacks by Rochat and Marx were not going to win over the Belgian Federal Council members who had always tried to calm things down. Of course, Hins was not Bakunin’s ‘fanatical instrument’, but a proponent of an autonomous and deeply rooted anti-parliamentary movement in Belgium; in the question of parliamentary participation or abstention, the majority in the International in Belgium – just like most of the sections in other countries – had social-revolutionary tendencies. On 28 November 1871 – only a few days after Marx had christened Hins and Yatskevich Bakuninists – the Belgian Federal Council dispatched a circular, in reaction to domestic political controversies, that reaffirmed the abstention of Belgian workers from parliamentarianism for the following reasons:

Thus, your abstention is not motivated by indifference; it is because you separate yourselves completely from the aristocratic-financial caste that has arrogated the government to itself.

It is because the day when the workers shall occupy themselves with public affairs, it shall not be in order to bring about the advent of one party in place of another; it shall be to sweep both away, to replace the reign of organised fraud with the reign of Justice.[665]

Guillaume wrote a letter of support on 4 December 1871 to the Brussels newspaper the Liberté, which was edited by members of the International and had published the Federal Council’s circular:

Like ourselves, you are anti-authoritarians, adversaries of the political state; and we are persuaded that, as has often occurred to us before, we find ourselves animated by the same feelings at the same moment, even without having conferred with one another. Reading your current issue and the proclamation of the Belgian council, I am confirmed in this sense of things once again.[666]

That the members of the International in Belgium, just as those in Jura,[667] could develop and express their own ideas and not act as Bakunin, Hins, or Steens’ marionettes seems never to have occurred to Marx. While hardly a critical word was heard from the Belgian delegates at the London Conference, the criticism in Belgium of the General Council’s quest for power finally became louder in the question of the internal organisation of the International. The following letter that De Paepe wrote on 8 December 1871 in reply to Rochat illustrates the development of ideas in the Belgian Federation of the International:

we shall discuss the position that we must take with regard to the split taking place in Switzerland and London; do not imagine, for this reason, that we think to join those who favour secession, or even that we so much as hesitate to remain on the side of the General Council. […] However, I must say that there are among us a few members who, while rejecting the split, think that there are grounds for some small complaints, to some extent against the General Council, but also against the organisation given to the International by successive Congresses, and most recently by the London Conference.[668]

Despite Rochat’s reprimand, there was more news to be read in the Internationale that did not strictly follow the rules set out by the resolutions of the London Conference. For example, the issue on 17 December 1871 casually reported on the following flagrant contradiction to resolution no. 9 regarding the ‘political action of the working class’:

Political attitude of the Spanish workers. – The Spanish workers continue to maintain their policy of abstention from political affairs, which has served them rather well so far, as it hastens the decomposition of the bourgeois parties. Concerning the municipal elections in Madrid, the Emancipación, journal of the International’s federation in this city, publishes an article, the title of which suffices to indicate its direction: ‘Workers, Do Not Go to the Polls’ [‘Trabajadores, no vayamos á las urnas’].[669]

The next congress of the Belgian Federation held on 24 and 25 December 1871 in Brussels revealed the mood among the rank and file. A lively discussion took place regarding the London Conference and its resolutions, in which first the Belgian delegates were criticised and then Marx was. Edouard Glaser de Willebrord, Marx’s correspondent in Belgium, reported that the Belgian delegates of the London Conference had to defend themselves

that they were only consulted [at the Conference] as a formality, that the General Council had arranged to pass all the resolutions, and that their protests would have been ignored since, in short, they were forced to bow to the majority vote. […] I attended the meetings of the Belgian congress, and it seems to me that you were personally accused of having drawn the Association into politics when, according to the Rules, it must restrict itself to issues within the domain of social economy.[670]

The Belgian federal congress passed several resolutions that spoke out against all authoritarian forms of organisation within the International: Alfred Herman was elected the Belgian Federation’s delegate to the London General Council and given an imperative mandate. He was the only member of the General Council to be made a delegate by a federation in this manner. The Belgian Federal Council was bound more strongly to the sections as the local federations were given the power to send delegates with voting rights to the monthly special meetings of the Federal Council.[671] The report on the congress in the Liberté explained that the goal was ‘to avoid any appearance of an authoritarian regime’.[672]

Finally, the congress passed a resolution that obviously was directed against the London Conference. Like the above-quoted article by Steens in the Internationale, the Belgian federal congress didn’t speak out against the General Council but against the reactionary press which had made allegations of a leadership grab:

In light of the absurd calumnies daily spread by the reactionary press, which wants to depict the International as a despotic association subject to a discipline and orders given from on high and reaching all members by hierarchical means;

Considering that, on the contrary, the International, wishing to react against despotism and centralisation, has always felt obliged to make its organisation conform to its principles;

[The Congress] declares, once and for all, that the International is only and has always been a group of completely autonomous federations;

That the General Council is only and has always been merely a correspondence and information centre. […]

Considering, on the other hand,

That the Rules of the International, established at the birth of the Association, and supplemented, a bit randomly, at each congress, do not clearly define the rights of the federations and do not correspond to existing practice,

[The Congress] declares that it is necessary to undertake a serious revision of the Rules;


The Belgian federation instructs the Belgian Council to make a project of new Rules and to publish it in order that it should be discussed in the sections and then at the next Belgian congress. Once adopted by the Belgian federation, the project should be submitted to the next international congress.[673]

‘As one can see’, the report on the congress in the Liberté concluded, ‘it shall be difficult, after the foregoing, to continue to speak of an authoritarian regime in the International’.[674] Without naming the General Council or the London Conference, the Belgian federal congress had in essence joined the Jura Federation’s protest, except that they did not call for a general congress to be convened immediately. The rest of the resolution was amazingly similar to the Sonvillier Circular all the way down to the wording:[675]

  • The General Council’s power:

Belgium: The General Council is merely a ‘correspondence and information centre’

Jura: ‘a simple correspondence and statistics bureau’

  • Internal organisation of the International:

Belgium: ‘a group of completely autonomous federations’

Jura: ‘a free federation of autonomous sections’

  • Relationship between goal and means:

Belgium: The International is aimed ‘against despotism and centralisation’ and always strives ‘to make its organisation conform to its principles’

Jura: The International ‘is obliged to present a faithful image of our principles of freedom and federation here and now, and to expel from its midst any principle tending towards authority or dictatorship’

The Belgian federal congress even went further than the Sonvillier Circular by calling for a revision of the Rules in order to prevent any ‘authoritarian regime’ in the International. A week after the congress, Marx angrily reported to the General Council ‘that the Belgian Congress had voted against the Congress [Conference] resolutions, not directly, but indirectly’.[676] Engels noted in a letter written on the same day that ‘Hins, Steens and Co., in Belgium, have played us a fine trick’. He cockily added that the Belgians ‘would have their day of reckoning, too’.[677]

Engels’ article about the Sonvillier Circular and the declarations in support of the London Conference from Saxony and Geneva

Engels was so alarmed by the Belgian federal congress’s critical vote that he decided to immediately go public – only he did not target the Belgian congress’s insinuative resolutions but the Sonvillier Circular. On 3 January 1872, he sent Liebknecht a text to be printed in the Volksstaat (the organ of the SDAP) with the note that ‘the immediate printing of the enclosed article is very necessary’. He also announced that it would be circulated to ‘every corner of Belgium, Italy and Spain’.[678]

In his article, which appeared in the Volksstaat on 10 January 1872 under the title ‘The Congress of Sonvillier and the International’, Engels wrote about the criticism the Sonvillier Circular had directed at the General Council:

To our German readers, who know only too well the value of an organisation that is able to defend itself, all this will seem very strange. And this is quite natural, for Mr Bakunin’s theories, which appear here in their full splendour, have not yet penetrated into Germany. A workers’ association which has inscribed upon its banner the motto of struggle for the emancipation of the working class is to be headed, not by an executive committee, but merely by a statistical and correspondence bureau![679]

Apparently Engels could not imagine the proletariat emancipating itself without a leadership. He lashed out sharply at the circular’s call for a relationship between goal and means, namely that the ‘principles of freedom and federation’ should be mirrored in the internal organisation of the International. Bakunin had already elucidated this idea in July 1871:

Since the organisation of the International aims not at the creation of new states or despotisms but at the radical destruction of every form of domination, it must have a character essentially different from the organisation of states. As the latter is authoritarian, artificial, and violent, alien and hostile to the interests of natural development and popular instincts, so the organisation of the International must be free, natural, and fully in conformity with these interests and these instincts.[680]

Engels on the other hand argued the authoritarian form of the struggle for emancipation was a fact of nature, objectively an inherent necessity at a moment of danger: ‘Just now, when we have to defend ourselves with all the means at our disposal, the proletariat is told to organise not in accordance with requirements of the struggle it is daily and hourly compelled to wage, but according to the vague notions of a future society entertained by some dreamers.’[681] In his article ‘On Authority’ (‘Dell’Autorità’), Engels later followed up on this argument: ‘A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; […] and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionaries.’[682] Only in the reactionaries?

In his article for the Volksstaat, Engels painted an oddly horrific picture of an impotent and degenerative federalist organisation that attempts to live up to its ideals:

Instead of fighting the government and the bourgeoisie, it would meditate on whether each paragraph of our General Rules and each resolution passed by the Congress presented a true image of the future society. […] And above all, there should be no disciplined sections! Indeed, no party discipline, no centralisation of forces at a particular point, no weapons of struggle! But what, then, would happen to the model of the future society? In short, where would this new organisation get us? To the cowardly, servile organisation of the early Christians […].[683]

Engels summed up his criticism of the federalist organisational concept with the words ‘pray and hope instead of fighting’.[684] After reading the article, Bakunin commented that Engels ‘has naturally levelled all his habitual calumnies against us’.[685] What other members of federally organised (and definitely militant) sections had to say about this criticism is unknown because Engels’ article – despite his promise to spread it to ‘every corner of Belgium, Italy and Spain’ – only ever appeared in the Volksstaat.

For Liebknecht on the other hand, Engels’ article was a godsend. He even wanted another instalment and was able to return the favour in the form of a declaration of loyalty to the General Council. On 10 January 1872, Liebknecht reported to Engels about a regional meeting of social democrats in Saxony, which took place on 6 and 7 January in Chemnitz: ‘The regional meeting was splendid: resolutions in today’s Volksstaat. During a private discussion delegates unanimously decided to side with you in the fight against the Bakuninists, and I’ve been expressly instructed to inform you of this’.[686] There is no evidence of this decision in the resolutions of the Saxon regional meeting printed in the Volksstaat, nor does the report about the events and negotiations at the meeting give any hints on this matter.[687] Liebknecht also let Engels know exactly how he was to pass on the information about the mysterious resolution:

When you or M[arx] mention the thing about the regional meeting at the General Council, do it so that everything comes across as private remarks and statements by individual members. Something like this: the regional meeting gave the representatives of social democracy in Saxony the chance to privately – because the matter could not appear publicly on the agenda – express their opinion on the status of the General Council. They were unanimously in favour of etc. (We were not able to put the matter on the agenda as otherwise the regional meeting would not have been allowed, and the police in the audience threatened to break up the meeting immediately if the agenda was not strictly adhered to! We have a quite nice state of affairs! I will also make you an official report, which will also appear in the Volksstaat.)[688]

Despite Liebknecht’s promise, he never mentioned the matter again in his correspondences and no report ever appeared in the Volksstaat.

In the same letter Liebknecht announced the membership of certain individuals in the International: ‘You will be receiving many letters from Germany in the next while because of this’.[689] This also didn’t happen.[690] Liebknecht’s words were possibly meant to pacify Marx and Engels who had repeatedly admonished the German social democrats’ disinterest in the International.[691] Apparently in order to make amends, Liebknecht signalised that ideological support was on the way along with new members – who, however, remained fictitious. Nevertheless, the somewhat fishy vote of the social democrats in Saxony served its purpose and was well appreciated: ‘The news about the Saxons’ resolution gave us great pleasure.’[692] Marx brought it up in the General Council and Engels spread the word through letters.[693]

The support of the German section in Geneva – whose leading figure was Johann Philipp Becker – for the London Conference’s resolutions lent these more credence than the resolution Liebknecht claimed had been passed by the regional meeting of Saxony. Becker had cooperated with Bakunin from 1868 to 1869 in the Alliance only to part ways with him in 1870. He then sought to regain his prestige in London by getting on Marx and the General Council’s good side.[694] Repeatedly changing sides had, however, tarnished his reputation. The Group of German-speaking Sections of the International, formed by Becker in 1866 and whose ‘mother section’ was the German section in Geneva, was also well past its zenith[695] and its organ the Vorbote had been discontinued after six years in December 1871.

The Group of German-speaking Sections had its own delegate, Utin, at the London Conference. Utin had departed for London with a mandate that Becker had given him personally. Three days before the London Conference, Becker suggested at the general meeting of the German section in Geneva that Utin should be elected a delegate retroactively and be sent a proper mandate with detailed instructions. Becker spoke out in favour of Utin by saying that everyone knew he was a very enthusiastic and capable member, and that he had been willing to ‘take the journey at his own expense’. Despite the ‘somewhat unusual procedure of the election’, Utin was eventually given the mandate.[696]

After Utin’s return from London, his report about the Conference was put on the agenda of the general meeting on 10 October 1871, which was ‘not well enough attended’ to deal with this important issue as Becker pointed out.[697] A German translation of Utin’s report was read at the special meeting held four days later for this purpose – there was so much to be discussed that it was unanimously decided to hold a further meeting to continue the debate.[698] This suggestion came from Carl Boruttau, who had voiced a number of concerns.

Boruttau, who came to Geneva in March/April 1871, had worked as a doctor in Leipzig and was a member of the SDAP and friends with Liebknecht.[699] His views became radical during his stay in Geneva because of his contacts with the socialist milieu (sections of the International, refugees of the Commune, etc.). He belonged to the founders of the Section of Socialist Atheists (Section des Athées Socialistes) who had unsuccessfully applied to the General Council for membership in the International on 15 September 1871 with an anarchist declaration of principles.[700] He also opposed the Russophobic hostility toward Bakunin prevalent in Liebknecht’s Volksstaat: we have, he wrote in a letter to the editor of the Volksstaat on 26 October 1871, ‘every reason to treat Russian social democracy with respect and, in just honour of its undeniable merit, to carefully avoid any petty grumbling that is based on personal misunderstandings or hate’.[701] In a two-part article, which to Marx’s horror was printed in the Volksstaat, he criticised the General Council.[702] This led Marx to issue the following command to Liebknecht:

You may rest assured that I am better informed than you about the intrigues within the International. So when I write to you that letters from Boruttau with any bearing at all on the International […] should not be printed in the Volksstaat, you have simply to make up your mind whether you wish to act against us or with us. If the latter is the case, then my instructions, which are based on a thorough knowledge of the circumstances, should be followed to the letter.[703]

Six weeks after passing the aforementioned resolution to continue the debate on the London Conference, the general meeting of the German section in Geneva finally convened again. Boruttau again voiced his concerns and Becker and Utin had to resort to manipulation in order to refute them:

Cit. Becker notes that the purpose of the debate could not be to change the resolutions [of the London Conference], but that the issue at hand was the discussion of all that which requires clarification. Cit. Dr Boruttau proposes to first discuss the Conference’s authority. Cit. Becker: every conference has the same significance as a congress. Moreover no resolutions were passed that had not been dealt with at earlier congresses. Cit. Utin says that the invitation was just as legal as to all the congresses and that the Conference thus had the same authority as a congress. Cit. Kannenberg seconds Boruttau’s proposal. This is passed. Cit. Boruttau continues that Italy, Austria, Russia, Germany and America were not properly represented. As an example of the selective invitations by the General Council, a letter from Yor[c]k in Hamburg is read, which claims that the social-democratic party did not know about the Conference.[704] Even if we agreed whole-heartedly with every resolution, the General Council has to be sternly criticised from a democratic point-of-view because we would otherwise be guilty of that which our opponent accuses us of (reference to the International’s Popes). The same also puts forward a motion that a public congress be convened as soon as possible.[705]

Becker and Utin must have been very alarmed by Boruttau’s position as he was repeating the arguments in the Sonvillier Circular (no decision-making authority for the London Conference, unilateral course of action by the General Council, general congress should be convened immediately). In response to the accusations of ‘selective invitations by the General Council’, Becker countered that

the General Council knew all too well about the political situation in Germany and thus had to refrain from any official invitation, and thus did refrain. Cit. Holzwarth noted the same for Austria, which was nevertheless, if not directly then indirectly, represented by Cit. Fränkel. Cit. Utin noted that Russia could not be represented because it did not have a social-democratic party or section of the International, but that all other countries that were not represented directly by delegates were represented by their corresponding secretaries who were entitled to do this in this case. Cit. Gutsmann puts forward the motion: the section recognises the authority of the Conference and the legality of its resolutions. After several speakers talked about Boruttau’s motion (about holding a congress soon), this came to a vote where it was defeated 17 to 4. In contrast, Gutsmann’s motion was passed in a vote by 14 to 4.[706]

A similar resolution was passed by the French-speaking sections of the International in Geneva, who were part of the Romance Federation. The spokesmen of the federation must have been very happy about the resolutions of the London Conference because resolution no. 17 had sided with them in their conflict with the Jura sections and resolution no. 9 reaffirmed their political-parliamentary line. Objections were nevertheless raised on 23 November 1871 at a general meetings regarding the London Conference after the Geneva delegate Perret gave his report: some of the Commune refugees present criticised the London General Council and the resolutions of the Conference. This led to a long debate and the meeting had to be adjourned just like that of the German section.[707] The Communards Benoît Malon, Gustave Lefrançais, and Charles Ostyn – ‘Members of the [Geneva] central section and of the Jura Federation’ – prepared a resolution for the follow-up meeting, which was to take place nine days later: aside from various points of criticism and demands that had already been brought up in the Sonvillier Circular, there was also the declaration ‘that the essential principle on which the Association stands is that of the autonomy of the member within the group or section, of the group or section within the federation, and of the federation within the International, so that the initiative should reside with each individual and each collectivity composing the great Association’. The resolution concluded with a call to reject the London Conference’s resolutions.[708]

The spokesmen of the Geneva sections also prepared a resolution for the follow-up meeting that amounted to a declaration of incompatibility with the Communards who were called upon ‘to choose, from now on, between the right of belonging to one of our sections [in Geneva] or that of remaining in the separatist faction [the section of propaganda belonging to the Jura Federation]’.[709] Two days before the meeting, Becker angrily wrote in a letter:

The Parisian refugees are causing one scandal after another here; there are only a few older members of the International and even fewer, in fact, almost no workers among them – instead, a heap of status-seeking loudmouths and crazed chauvinists. That’s why there will be a serious meeting of all involved sections the day after tomorrow and it could very well be the case that a number of gentlemen will be thrown out of the Association, perhaps even with physical force.[710]

Becker also wrote in a letter to the General Council that ‘the authority of the Conference, the legality and the implementation of its resolutions (as had occurred this last Tuesday in the German mother section, where Dr Boruttau tried to fool us) will be recognised and declared at this meeting’.[711]

Even before the discussion about the London Conference’s resolutions could be continued, the aforementioned declaration of incompatibility was put up for debate at the general meeting on 2 December 1871 and adopted by a large majority. The Commune refugees, who were thus expelled from the section, left the hall in protest; the resolutions of the London Conference were then accepted ‘enthusiastically and without discussion’.[712]

Two and a half weeks later, on 20 December 1871, the Committee of the Romance Federation approved a manifesto to counter the Sonvillier Circular, which stoked the conflict once again. It claimed that the Sonvillier Circular was written by a small group of individuals who wanted to spread dissent, suspicion, and resentment; the criticism of the London Conference put forward in the circular was unjustified, and its only motive was to find an excuse to disorganise the International; while resolution no. 9 of the London Conference on the ‘political action of the working class’ called – in unison with the entire working class – for political power to be conquered in order to achieve the social revolution, the Sonvillier Circular preached chaos and so on.[713] It is hard to imagine how such a bizarre reply could convince anyone. Unsurprisingly though, Engels found the counter manifesto to be ‘excellent’.[714]

CHAPTER 9. The International in Italy

THE INTERNATIONAL GREW QUICKLY IN ITALY after its first official section was formed in Naples on 31 January 1869.[715] The Neapolitan section, which was declared a provisional central section for Italy, was quickly joined by a number of trade sections so that there were 3,000 members by the beginning of 1870.[716] On the evening of 5 February 1870, police in Naples put an early end to this development when they broke up a meeting of 150 members of the International, confiscated the section’s documents, and arrested three people described as ringleaders including Bakunin’s friend Carlo Gambuzzi.[717] Gambuzzi (1837–1902) was a lawyer from Naples. In his youth, he took part in a conspiracy against the rule of the Bourbons in Southern Italy. He was arrested for the first time when he was 22 years old for printing an illegal paper. He joined Garibaldi’s troops in 1862 and got to know Bakunin in Naples in June 1865. He was one of Bakunin’s closest friends in Italy.

In addition to Gambuzzi, Bakunin made the acquaintance of a variety of people during his three-year stay in Italy (1864–1867) who would later become members of Italian sections of the International. Marx and Engels didn’t have any contacts in Italy during this time – in light of the looming conflict in the International, Engels wrote with resignation to Marx on 11 February 1870 that ‘Italy will have to be left’ to Bakunin and his friends, ‘at least for the time being’.[718] And so Marx and Engels must have been very pleased to get to know and win over Carlo Cafiero between the end of 1870 and early 1871. Cafiero (1846–1892) had a law degree and was the son of a big landowner in Apulia.[719] He was apparently travelling through Europe at the time to broaden his horizons and had taken a lively interest in the socialist movement and the International. Before Cafiero left London to return to Italy in May 1871, Engels assigned him the task to reorganise the Italian International to the General Council’s liking and gave him a letter of reference for Gambuzzi.[720] However, when he arrived in Naples in June 1871, he was given the cold shoulder by the local section because he was seen as an agent of the General Council.[721] A year earlier the same section had barred its own president Stefano Caporusso, who had always referred to his special relationship with the General Council when justifying his arbitrary decisions and dictatorial affectations.[722]

Bakunin’s political allies Gambuzzi, the member of parliament Giuseppe Fanelli,[723] and the 28-year-old lawyer Carmelo Palladino were members of the Neapolitan section as well as International members of the Geneva section of the Alliance.[724] The Neapolitan section’s members also included the 17-year-old medical student Errico Malatesta (1853–1932) and his friends, who had joined the International in May 1871 and breathed new life into it. By the time Cafiero arrived from London to reform the section that had been deemed lost, it was already back on solid ground and had almost 300 registered members.[725] Cafiero sent the following report to London on 28 June 1871:

We need to start over again properly in Naples. A section which already had several thousand members and for which 13 days’ imprisonment for two or three of its leaders [in February 1870] was enough to disorganise it completely, is something which is anything but well built. […] Here in Naples I found a Genevan tendency,[726] I mean amongst our people; this is bad, as it fragments our forces. Would it not be wise to make our Genevan friends understand that they are not helping our Association by having certain currents diverge onto Geneva, groups whose normal course should lead them only to the constituted General Council in London, which is unanimously recognised as the centre of our social movement?[727]

Engels then suggested to Cafiero, ‘if you can find people in Naples or in some other town who are not connected to this current in Geneva it will be so much the better’.[728]

Engels had already used his first letter to Cafiero in Italy for a crude description of his ideological differences with Bakunin. Upon Cafiero’s inquiry about Caporusso,[729] the expelled former president of the Neapolitan section, Engels gave the following odd reply at the beginning of July 1871:

Now, as regards Naples and Caporusso, the latter attended one of our Congresses[730] although he never kept a regular correspondence with the Council. To explain this I need to go into certain historical details. – Caporusso and his friends were members of the sect of the Russian Bakunin. Bakunin has a theory peculiar to himself, which is really a mixture of communism and Proudhonism; the fact that he wants to unite these two theories in one shows that he understands absolutely nothing about political economy. Among other phrases he has borrowed from Proudhon is the one about anarchy being the final state of society; he is nevertheless opposed to all political action by the working classes, on the grounds that it would be a recognition of the political state of things; also all political acts are in his opinion ‘authoritarian’.[731]

Of course, Bakunin was not ‘opposed to all political action by the working classes’ but against the formation of parties and the conquest of political power. Bakunin professed to the ‘international politics of the proletariat’, which

contrary to the bourgeois radicalism that only dreams of reconstituting states anew, i.e. new prisons and new houses of correction and forced labour for the people, tends to the abolition of borders, of political fatherlands, of states, along with the abolition of class differences, of the very existence of different classes, of all legal, economic and social privileges […].[732]

Later on in his letter to Cafiero, Engels made a rare admission that Bakunin’s ideas were in tune with principles of the International as expressed in art. 1 of the General Rules (the protection, advancement and complete emancipation of the working classes)[733] and that therefore the differences between them could not weaken the International:

Since the particular theories of Bakunin and his friends come under this rule, there can be no objection to accepting them as members and allowing them to do what they can to propagate their ideas by every appropriate means. We have people of all sorts in our Association – communists, Proudhonists, unionists, commercial[trade]-unionists, cooperators, Bakuninists, etc. […] Our power lies in the liberality with which the first rule is interpreted, namely that all men who are admitted aim for the complete emancipation of the working classes.[734]

Astonishingly, it was Engels who helped pass the resolutions of the London Conference a few months later, which – by way of ideological codes – restricted the ‘liberality’ that he said represented the power of the International. Because of the commitment to the ‘political action of the working class’, i.e. constituting them in political parties and conquering political power (resolution no. 9), the communists were the only of those tendencies mentioned that continued to have the right to exist in the International. Engels understood the ramifications of ideological constraints all too well: ‘The moment the Association were to become a sect it would be finished.’[735] But the others were always the sect:

Unfortunately the Bakuninists, with the narrowness of mentality common to all sects, were not satisfied with this. In their view the General Council consisted of reactionaries, the programme of the Association was too vague. Atheism and materialism (which Bakunin himself learnt from us Germans) had to become compulsory, the abolition of inheritance and the state, etc., had to be part of our programme.[736]

In reality, Bakunin stood for the opposite: ‘But are we to believe that if one had written this simple word, “atheism”, on the banner of the International, this association would have been able to unite in its bosom only a few hundred thousand members? Everyone knows otherwise’; the working masses ‘would refuse to join the International if one had written on its flag, as official doctrine, this word atheism’.[737] Bakunin always advocated pluralism in the programme of the International and opposed any ideology becoming an obligatory part of it – not even his own. He wrote his political friends in Italy in January 1872 that the International’s goal – the emancipation of the proletariat – meant in his opinion

the radical and ruthless destruction of the present social world, both from the standpoint of economics and from the religious, metaphysical, political, legal and civil standpoints, to replace all existing institutions with an order of things created by the dual action of positive science, on the one hand, and the spontaneous and absolutely free movement of autonomous associations on the other – these ideas are certainly, and we are all deeply convinced, the latest, most accurate, most consistent and highest expression and explanation of the program of the International, but they are in no way mandatory, neither for members, nor for sections, nor for the federations of the International.

Be convinced of it, dear friend: the International has no obligatory doctrine whatsoever, as Mazzini’s Alleanza Repubblicana has one, for example; each member, in order to join this Alleanza, had to adhere absolutely to the master’s religious, metaphysical, political and bourgeois socialist program. With respect to theories as well as to practical organisation, the International leaves the greatest freedom to all of its sections. The Mazzinians, who are authoritarian from head to toe and do not understand how people can think, live, or organise without a single thought and regime imposed from above, have criticised the lack of an official theory as a great crime or at least as a madness unworthy of the International, and they will not understand that with theories imposed from above one shall only create sects stricken with impotence and sterility, like Mazzini’s Alleanza Repubblicana, but not a huge Association of the proletariat of all countries, like the International.

Suppose that we should wish to impose our ideas on all sections of the International; to what end would this lead us? To the creation of a sect even smaller and more helpless than Mazzini’s. Therefore, the International opens the door wide to the propagation of all ideas: of our own as well as those of our opponents […].[738]

Curiously it was not Bakunin but Marx and Engels who wanted to make their ideology an obligatory part of the International’s programme: at the Congress of The Hague, they tried to establish their programme – ‘constitution of the proletariat into a political party’ and the ‘conquest of political power has therefore become the great duty of the working class’ – in the General Rules of the International even though it was opposed by the majority of the International.[739]

In his reply, Cafiero – who was apparently better able to orient himself in Naples – tried to correct what he saw as insinuations and false accusations by Engels. With regard to Caporusso, whom Engels had branded a member of Bakunin’s sect, Cafiero wrote:

I can assure you that he has not been, is not, nor ever will be a Bakuninist, a Proudhonist or anything else definite. […] Caporusso was without doubt the sole cause of the break-up of this section [in Naples], which [in the early 1870s] had around 3,000 members, and he has now returned to nothing, from where – you can rest assured – our friends will not be trying to bring him out.[740]

‘With regard to Bakunin’, Cafiero continued,

I can assure you that he has several friends here in Naples who share many of his principles and have a similar point of view as him, but to go so far as to say that he has a sect, a party that clashes with the principles of the Gen[eral] Coun[cil], that I can justifiably deny.

[…] the Gen[eral] Coun[cil] should allow sections the fullest freedom and independence in everything that concerns their own particular way of acting with the means that each may have. No member of the International with whom I have spoken in Italy expects those principles of atheism, materialism, the abolition of hereditary rights, common property, and so on, to be written into articles of our society’s pact; on the contrary, they would oppose this with all their strength; but on the other hand they are quite tenacious in wanting to lead all the members of their branch into sharing those ideas. […] In conclusion, I can assure you that without belonging to any particular sect, our men in Italy firmly desire an end to all the current disorder of things and the principle of social order which must have equality as its basis if it is to be such. It is pointless to tempt them again with abstractions, they demand something more concrete and have already had enough abstractions from bourgeois Gentlemen who have taken their blood in return.[741]

Engels answered on 28 July 1871: ‘We are pleased to hear that there is no sign of the Bakuninist sect over there [in Naples].’[742] As opposed to Engels’ first letter where he pretended to stand for pluralism in the internal organisation of the International, Engels allowed his true motives to shine through this time:

You say that our friends in Naples are not content with mere abstraction, that they want something concrete, that they are not satisfied with anything except equality, social order instead of disorder. Good; we are willing to go further. There is not a single man in the General Council who does not support the total abolition of social classes and there is not a single document of the General Council which is not in accordance with this aim. We must free ourselves from landowners and capitalists, and for this end promote the development of the associated classes of agricultural and industrial workers and all the means of production, land, tools, machines, raw materials and whatever means exist to support life during the time necessary for production. In this way inequality must cease. And to bring this about we need the political supremacy of the proletariat. I think that is concrete enough for our friends in Naples.[743]

Reaction of the International in Italy (until January 1872)

Like Engels and Cafiero, Bakunin exchanged letters with his Italian friends during this time: according to his diary, he corresponded with Gambuzzi, Giuseppe Fanelli, Achille Bizzoni, Giuseppe Berti-Calura, and Gaspardo Stampa in June and July 1871.[744] On 24 July 1871, Bakunin received a copy of the weekly Roma del Popolo of 13 July 1871 (apparently along with a letter from Stampa of the same day) in which Mazzini attacked the Paris Commune once again and the International for the first time. In his article ‘To the Italian Workers’ (‘Agli operai italiani’), Mazzini denounced the International by claiming that it wanted to replace the nation with a commune, thereby disowning the fatherland, and had declared the negation of God and property to be its principles.[745] Within four days, Bakunin wrote his brochure Response of a Member of the International to Mazzini (Réponse d’un international à Mazzini), which on 16 August 1871 was included as a supplement to the Milanese newspaper Gazzettino Rosa edited by Bizzoni.[746] The brochure included the following:

Mazzini reproaches us for not believing in God. We reproach him, however, for believing, or rather, we do not even reproach him, we merely regret that he is a believer. We profoundly regret that this intrusion of mystical feelings and ideas into his conscience, his activity, his life, forced him to take sides against us with all the enemies of the emancipation of the masses. […] at the moment when the terrible coalition of all the filthy reactions now celebrating their triumphant orgy at Versailles, not content with killing and imprisoning en masse our brothers and sisters of the Paris Commune, pours upon them all the calumnies that only a boundless turpitude can imagine, Mazzini, the great and pure democrat Mazzini, turns his back on the cause of the proletariat, and remembering only his prophetic and priestly mission, hurls his insults against them as well![747]

Bakunin followed up his brochure with series of articles and long manuscript fragments relating to his conflict with Mazzini. A substantial part of this was published as a book called The Political Theology of Mazzini and the International (La Théologie politique de Mazzini et l’Internationale) in December 1871.[748] Bakunin’s defence of the International and the Paris Commune caused a stir in Italy and provoked many renunciations of Mazzini and declarations of support for the International in the press. It also led to the first nationwide increase in membership in the organisation: ‘Mazzini is alone’, Antonio Riggio, the editor of the newspaper the Eguaglianza, wrote London. ‘New sections are continually appearing and we have a large number of newspapers’.[749] The International first came to life in Italy, an Italian delegate to the congress of the federations of the International on 1 September 1873 remembered, ‘when Mazzini insulted the Parisian workers’.[750] Because of his conflict with Mazzini, Bakunin gained the respect of many Italians who got in touch with him in the subsequent period through letters or visited him in Locarno.[751]

After reading Mazzini’s appeal to the congress of Italian workers’ associations that he had initiated and which was to take place in Rome on 1 November 1871,[752] Bakunin started to pen a comprehensive response titled ‘To My Friends in Italy’ (‘A miei amici d’Italia’) on 19 October. Here he once again criticised Mazzini and urged his friends to defend the principles of the International at the congress in Rome. He sent his appeal to Italy piece by piece between 22 and 28 October as there was little time until 1 November. When the text arrived in Naples at the end of the month, Gambuzzi, Palladino, Malatesta, Cafiero and company still hadn’t decided whether they would go to the congress. But Bakunin’s text apparently electrified them: they decided to take part in the congress and within only one night translated the first quarter of Bakunin’s 100-page appeal and printed it as a 15-page brochure with the title To the Worker Delegates at the Congress of Rome (Agli Operai delegati al Congresso di Roma) and signed ‘A group of Internationalists’. They were at the congress’s opening on 1 November to distribute the brochure to the delegates.[753]

Cafiero, who went to Rome as a delegate, sent Engels a copy of the brochure. After Engels praised the brochure in his reply as ‘an excellent production’ that he ‘would undersign in all its parts’, Cafiero wrote back: ‘But it is Bakunin that you should congratulate, not me.’[754]

The resolutions of the London Conference caused further irritation after they became known in Italy in November. Palladino wrote to Engels on 13 November 1871:

I have read some of the decisions taken at the last Conference; and I must tell you frankly that I simply do not accept them; both for the way that the Conference itself was convened, which was certainly not in compliance with our General Rules; and for the paucity of delegates, who arrogated the rights of a general congress; and finally for the very tenor of those decisions, which in my opinion openly contradict the principles of our Association as established by our General Rules.

I really do not know how the General Council could have taken upon itself the responsibility for publishing them, urging them on the various federations of the International as legitimate regulations, legitimately approved by the Association. It seems to me that it has taken upon itself a very grave task. As soon as I have finished reading them, and as soon as I have read the other particulars,[755] I shall perhaps write more about them, providing you with all the appropriate observations I have to make on them.

I regret that, from the very first letter that I send you, I hold a different opinion to that of the General Council; but since there must be no misunderstanding between us, I have wanted to open my mind frankly to you, in the belief that no one can object to free discussion.[756]

Engels sent Palladino a condescending reply ten days later:

I am sorry you think yourself duty-bound to tell me that you in no way accept the resolutions of the last Conference. Since it is evident from your letter that an organised section of the International no longer exists in Naples,[757] I can only assume that the above declaration expresses your individual opinion and not that of the Naples Section, now forcibly dissolved.[758]

Engels nevertheless set about answering Palladino’s criticism point by point in the same letter: Engels used the repressions against the International in the various nations to justify holding a secret conference instead of a public one. He claimed the General Council had suggested to the sections that because of the current situation ‘the impracticable Congress be temporarily replaced by a practicable Conference […]. The sections gave their assent, none protested, and the Council is prepared to answer to the future Congress for its actions.’[759] In reality, not a single section or federation was asked whether they approved of a conference – the Jura section was not even informed that it was being convened. The theory about the practicable conference and the impracticable congress begs the question: how could a public congress take place in 1872 despite the continued repressions?

Engels continued: ‘Furthermore, if any observations on the legality or the method of convening the Conference were to be made, this should have been done before or during the Conference. None were made.’[760] In reality, the authority of the Conference was called into question both before[761] and during the London Conference.[762] Even Engels privately referred to the London Conference as ‘an illegal mechanism, justified only by the gravity of the situation’.[763] Engels continued:

You complain of the ‘small number of delegates’. For that, the General Council is not to blame. Nonetheless, Belgium, Spain, Holland, England, Germany, Switzerland and Russia were directly represented. As to France, it was represented by practically all the members of the Paris Commune then in London, and I hardly suppose you would dispute the validity of their mandate.[764]

In reality, only Belgium, Spain, and Switzerland were ‘directly represented’. Holland and Russia were not represented at all. The other nations were only indirectly represented by their corresponding secretaries in the General Council. For example, Engels conveniently fails to mention that he represented Italy. The validity of the Communards’ mandates for France cannot be contested because there were no such mandates: the Communards taking part in the London Conference were delegates of the General Council.

Palladino’s objections that the Conference had usurped the rights of a congress and adopted resolutions that were in violation of the statutes were countered by Engels by claiming that the resolutions were of a ‘purely administrative nature’ and were no more than an affirmation of previous resolutions made at congresses.[765] In reality, especially resolution no. 9 on the ‘political action of the working class’ – i.e. their constitution into a political party and the conquest of political power – was not covered by the General Rules nor any previous congress resolutions and was thus not of a ‘purely administrative nature’. As has already been explained, it instead represented a controversial ideological code.

The many falsities and distortions in the letter seem to show that Engels was hoping a distant observer like Palladino in Naples would not be able to refute his claims. Just in case Palladino proved otherwise, Engels already let him know:

The founders of the International, those who drafted the Rules and the resolutions of our Association’s Congresses, were very well represented at the Conference, and you will forgive me if, in the first instance, I lend credence to their interpretation of those Rules and to the interpretation given by successive Congresses ever since.[766]

On 17 November 1871 – together with Palladino’s letter – Cafiero for the first time reported concerns to Engels and informed him about the mood in Naples:

There has been a little agitation here because of that blessed Conference, which I shall not repeat as Palladino already speaks of it in his letter. That resolution no. 9 has been understood as a concession on the 3rd recital[767] of our Rules. The idea of a political party, even one opposed to all the other bourgeois parties, caused scandal and there were cries of treason about bourgeois elements having joined the International and made their way as far as the Conference. I love to see how our founding pact is watched over so that it not be violated but rather scrupulously fulfilled. But I always like to keep quarrels and splits at bay. Please give us more information about this matter, though I believe that by this stage other complaints of the same nature will have reached you.[768]

On 28 November 1871, Cafiero added:

Let me return again to the Conference, to tell you that this resolution no. 9 is creating embarrassment of all sorts for us, as it confuses a position that had been quite distinctly defined in the General Rules. […] In other words, if that resolution remains, either my hands will be tied as far as my propaganda work, etc. is concerned and I shall be unable in any way to do what I do, or I shall have to stand unequivocally alongside those who reject it […].[769]

As such, even Engels’ confidant and correspondent Cafiero was criticising the resolutions of the London Conference before the Sonvillier Circular even became known in Italy.

Bakunin was only informed about the Sonvillier Circular in a letter from Guillaume on 20 November 1871.[770] Bakunin enthusiastically distributed the circular to acquaintances old and new in Italy after it was printed at the end of November 1871 in Geneva.[771] He wrote his friend Joukovsky about this on 18 December 1871:

I had to write a lot of letters to all parts of Italy in order to explain the true meaning of our conflict with London to friends and to win over our half and quarter friends. I completed this task as completely and conscientiously as possible by, one might say, flooding all of Italy with your circulars through friends, of course, and not personally. I am really behind the scenes and am doing everything possible that people don’t remember me;[772] through my friends I suggested that all sections [who agreed with the Sonvillier Circular] do the following:

(1) Declare their support through a direct reply to the Jura Federation’s Committee via Schwitzguébel’s address.

(2) Notification of all Italian sections of this and generally all workers’ associations in Italy while inviting them to do the same.

(3) Announcements to all more or less sympathetic newspapers.

In this way, I hope – if one helps the other, naturally with the support of friends – a fierce fire will ignite.[773]

Bakunin’s diary also bears witness to his campaign of support. A number of letters to Italy, some of them comprehensive, are mentioned and 15 recipients are listed from 9 to 16 December.[774] A letter Bakunin recorded sending to Lucca (to Celso Ceretti in Mirandola) on 15 December 1871 is the only one from this campaign to survive. It includes the following:

I will directly send you a written circular and a printed circular,[775] the first from the Committee of the Jura Federation and having no other object than to recommend to labour organisations belonging to the International or sympathetic to the International the circular just adopted by the Jura sections and the communalist section of French refugees in Geneva, meeting in congress. –

It is a solemn protestation on behalf of freedom, the true principle of the International, against the dogmatic and governmental pretensions of the London General Council, whose entire mission, according to the letter and spirit of our General Rules, is limited to that of a simple central bureau of statistics and correspondence.

The International admits neither orthodox dogma, nor official theory, nor central government. It is all based on autonomy, on spontaneous development, freedom of opinion and the free federation of workers’ associations – which should reassure those who fear the imposition of any philosophical, political, or socialist opinions whatsoever, or of a foreign government, a direction from outside. –

Since opinions are absolutely free, every section and every individual can profess their own – with the right to propagate them, but not to impose them on anyone – Mazzini himself, with his Good Lord and all his guardian angels, could, if he wished it, become a member of the International, on condition that he would accept, with all its consequences, the supreme law, the only binding law of the International: that of the practice of international solidarity.

The unity of the International is not based on uniformity of an official theory or of a dogma that would be declared orthodox, as in the Church of Mazzini. It is based solely on the identity of the poverty, the economic servitude, the immediate needs, instincts and aspirations of the proletariat of all countries, on the one hand, and on the other, on the perfectly free organisation, from the bottom up, not from the top down, through a spontaneous federation, across boundaries of municipalities, regions, states, of that practice of international solidarity.

Any worker in any country whatsoever, as long as he fulfils the duty of solidarity with the international workers of all countries, is a brother. – If the workers of another trade, another city, another region, or of a foreign country go on strike, all the members of the International should aid them to the extent of their abilities. If they make a revolution, then all the more so, they owe them, more than their sympathy, their support – and they can support the revolution of their brothers in a foreign country no better than by an indigenous revolution – all genuinely popular revolutions being sisters, as are all the reactions, both the bourgeois and the governmental.

These are the foundations of the International – everything else must be the work of freedom.

The resolutions of the general congresses themselves are not binding on the sections, for which nothing is mandatory other than this solidarity. – But any breach of solidarity is considered a crime.

If the congresses themselves have no right to impose an opinion passed by a majority upon the free conscience of autonomous sections, then such a right could never belong to an irregularly composed secret conference, arbitrarily selected and arbitrarily convened by the General Council, last September, in London – […] The circular of the Sonvillier Congress will tell you the rest.[776]

While Bakunin was disseminating the Sonvillier Circular in Italy, Mazzini continued his attacks against the International. In the first instalment of a three-part series of articles titled ‘Documents About the International’ (‘Documenti sull’Internazionale’), again published in the Roma del Popolo, the congress of Italian workers’ associations that Mazzini initiated was defended against the International.[777] In a footnote at the end of the article, Mazzini included an alleged quote from a speech Bakunin gave at the congress of the League of Peace and Liberty in 1868. Engels – since 1 August 1871 corresponding secretary for Italy in the General Council – leaped at the chance to write an open letter to the Roma del Popolo in response to Mazzini’s article.[778] His letter, however, didn’t defend the growing International in Italy in their conflict with Mazzini, which would have improved the General Council’s reputation, nor did it even go into Mazzini’s criticism of the International. Engels’ astonishing letter instead stated the following:

In number 38 of La Roma del Popolo Citizen Giuseppe Mazzini publishes the first of a series of articles entitled ‘Documents about the International’. Mazzini notifies the public:

‘I … have gathered from all the sources I was able to refer to all its resolutions, all the spoken and written declarations of its influential members.’

And these are the documents he intends publishing. […]

‘In a speech at the Berne Congress of the League of Peace and Freedom in 1868, Bakunin said:[779] ‘I want the equalisation of individuals and classes: without this an idea of justice is impossible and peace will not be established. The worker must no longer be deceived with lengthy speeches. He must be told what he ought to want, if he doesn’t know himself. I’m a collectivist, not a communist, and if I demand the abolition of inheritance rights, I do so to arrive at social equality more quickly.’

Whether Citizen Bakunin pronounced these words or not is quite immaterial for us. What is important for the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association to establish is:

1) that these words, as Mazzini himself asserts, were spoken at a congress not of the International but of the bourgeois League of Peace and Freedom;

2) that the International congress, which met at Brussels in September 1868, disavowed this same congress of the League of Peace and Freedom by a special vote;[780]

3) that when Citizen Bakunin pronounced these words, he was not even a member of the International;[781]

4) that the General Council has always opposed the repeated attempts to substitute for the broad programme of the International Working Men’s Association (which has made membership open to Bakunin’s followers) Bakunin’s narrow and sectarian programme, the adoption of which would automatically entail the exclusion of the vast majority of members of the International;

5) that the International can therefore in no way accept responsibility for the acts and declarations of Citizen Bakunin.[782]

The historian Aldo Romano noted that Engels’ curious letter marked ‘the end of the General Council’s influence in Italy’[783] – before it ever really got on its feet. The letter, which Engels thought very astute,[784] was a flop for more than one reason: since Marx and Engels never told anyone in Italy (except for Cafiero) about their conflict with Bakunin, the branding of his ideas as ‘narrow and sectarian’ must have seemed absurd and disconcerting to even the most ardent follower of the General Council. Why an open letter to Mazzini was used at all for such an elaborate attack on Bakunin – who was only mentioned in a footnote by Mazzini – is thus doubly puzzling. Engels’ accusations must have seemed completely outlandish to those who – like Celso Ceretti – had received Bakunin’s genuine messages regarding his ideas on a free internal organisation and pluralism within the International (see above). It was not Bakunin’s ‘narrow and sectarian programme’ that was constricting the pluralism of the International but compulsory ideological codes like resolution no. 9 of the London Conference. Engels made this all the more noticeable by using his authority on 30 November 1871 to make the admission of new members in the International in Italy dependant on their recognition of the London Conference resolutions ‘as obligatory’.[785] It was this decree that would actually ‘automatically entail the exclusion of the vast majority of members of the International’ in Italy when one considers that the resolutions of the London Conference were overwhelmingly rejected there.

Cafiero felt obliged to inform Engels about the bad impression his open letter to Mazzini had made, even coming to Bakunin’s defence:

Bakunin has many personal friends in Italy, having lived in this country, and he corresponds with some of them. While, both because of his past and because of the continual work he does for our cause, he is also loved by many who do not know him personally. Bakunin’s various replies to Mazzini which have appeared in the Gazzettino Rosa and in pamphlet form, the text that he sent for the congress in Rome, and a work that he is currently completing on the ‘Mazzinian theology, and a complete exposition of the Inter[national]’,[786] could only be of the greatest interest to Italian Internationalists. […] With regard to your declaration in reply to Mazzini, I must confess that if it had depended on me, I would have done everything possible to avoid its publication. I feel it is my duty to set out my opinion of this document clearly to you. I believe that declaration to be an eminently misguided act, […] I believe that it was a mistake to pick an argument over a note [about Bakunin] lost at the foot of an article in the Roma del Popolo in order to fire the first shot of a battle whose outcome could not be calculated. With that document you have broken the eggs in my hand, as they say in Italy. With the help of the last clarifications[787] on res[olution no.] 9, I was in quite a strong position and I was all set to write to you saying that I was delighted that you had given me the means with which I could ward off a terrible crisis in Italy, warmly entreating you not to insist on publication of the reply to Mazzini. And now I receive the Gazzettino Rosa[788] with the fatal document there, black on white […].[789]

Cafiero emphasised his objectivity as follows:

As for me, and I do not know if you have realized it, I am nothing but a materialist rationalist; but my materialism, socialism, revolutionarism, anarchism, and all that the continued development of thought may give us in the future, that may be rationally accepted by me, can only be for me eminently subjective means to rational development.[790]

It must have pained Engels to read Cafiero’s corrections and his profession to revolutionarism and anarchism.

This wasn’t the only unpleasant mail that Engels had to deal with. Carlo Terzaghi, editor of the Torinese newspaper the Proletario Italiano, informed the General Council on 10 October 1871 that a Workers’ Federation (Federazione Operai) had been formed two days earlier as a section of International in Turin.[791] In the aftermath of the conflict between Mazzini and the members of the International in Italy and the ensuing factional division, the majority of the 800–900 members of the Federazione Operai sympathised with Mazzini’s programme instead of the socialism of the International. As a result Terzaghi was barred from the federation in mid-December 1871. However, he and about 270 followers formed the group Emancipation of the Proletarian (Emancipazione del Proletario),[792] which was set up as a section of the International and sent 20 francs in union dues to the London General Council.[793] Terzaghi asked Engels whether there was a way that his paper the Proletario Italiano could receive financial support. Engels first wrote that he would offer Terzaghi five pounds sterling in exchange for stock in the Proletario Italiano.[794]

Bakunin was also in touch with Turin in the second half of December 1871[795] as part of his campaign supporting the Sonvillier Circular, and appears to have been successful: according to a report in the Gazzettino Rosa, Terzaghi’s section Emancipation of the Proletarian decided to send a delegate to the extraordinary congress of the International called for in the Sonvillier Circular.[796] After getting wind of this resolution, Engels rewrote his letter to Terzaghi (which he had not yet sent) on 6 January 1872 and replaced his offer of money with the following irate lines:

We would have voted 150 frs for you in spite of our penury, but the Gazzettino Rosa arrived with the news, etc. This changed everything. If you had simply decided to send people to the future Congress, fine. But what you had in mind was a Congress called for in a circular full of lies and false accusations against the General Council! And if you had only waited for the General Council’s reply to this circular! The Council could not but see in your resolution the proof that you had taken the side of the accusers, and without having waited for the Council’s defence, – and the authorisation to send you the money in question was withdrawn from me.[797]

Incidentally, the General Council’s ‘reply’ to the criticism made in the Sonvillier Circular was only published at the end of May 1872[798]four and a half months after Engels insisted that Terzaghi wait for the General Council’s rebuke. In all probability Engels never had a mandate to offer the money nor was that mandate ever retracted – he was obviously offering his own money, which he now withdrew for political reasons.

To the further chagrin of Engels, a letter arrived from Pisa that followed the lead of the Sonvillier Circular and zeroed in on the Basel administrative resolutions:

Considering that, with the decisions made at the Basel Congress, the General Council was – to the detriment of the autonomy of the various sections – given a power which is incompatible with the very temperament of the Association, which excludes any principle of authority whatsoever, [the Pisa section] hereby decides to adhere completely to the Circular released by the Jura sections, and requests that a general congress be convened as soon as possible.[799]

Critical letters of the sort from Italy increasingly annoyed Engels: ‘These damned Italians’, he cursed in a letter dated 16 February 1872,

make more work for me than the entire rest of the International put together makes for the General Council. And it is all the more infuriating as in all probability little will come of it as long as the Italian workers are content to allow a few doctrinaire journalists and lawyers to call the tune on their behalf.[800]

He wrote a testy reply to Pisa two days later:

I am sorry that these Congress resolutions weigh so heavily upon the sense of autonomy of the self-styled Pisa section, which despite being only recently formed and not yet admitted, naturally knows the ‘temperament of the Association’ much better than those who have belonged to it since its inception and who drafted its Rules. […] As for the demand for an extraordinary Congress, I cannot submit it to the General Council unless your section is regularly admitted.[801]

It is hard to believe that Engels could have aroused sympathy in anyone with such letters. But apparently the new sections in Italy weren’t particularly interested in hearing from the General Council anyway: ‘A great number of sections’, a report from Bologna in mid-January 1872 states, ‘have expressed support for the circular of the Jura Federation which insists on the full and total autonomy of each section or group of the International and fights against the autocratic principle’.[802] According to Terzaghi’s paper the Proletario, more than 20 sections in Italy had by mid-January backed the call in the Sonvillier Circular for an extraordinary general congress.[803] A declaration of support for the Sonvillier Circular also came from Sicily. The section in Girgenti (today Agrigento) publicly associated itself with the Sonvillier Circular in the 7 January 1872 issue of its organ the Eguaglianza:

The sections of the Jura, in Switzerland, gathered for their Federal Congress, have made an appeal to all the federations of the International to prevent – with an early general congress of workers – the London [General] Council, which has been its own boss for the past two years, from running down the slope of authoritarianism and threatening the freedom and autonomy of the sections. The International, based on the most absolute liberty, is the uncompromising enemy of hierarchy, dogma and authority. It wants the civil society of the future to model itself on its current organisation; it is therefore necessary that we firmly insist that no central power should arise, that sections be inspired only by the aspirations and general interests of the workers, and that the London General Council return to being simply a central bureau for correspondence and statistics.

By placing themselves at the head of a great revolutionary ferment within the International itself, the Jura sections have done great a service to the workers and to humanity. May they hold firm, may every federation respond to their noble appeal and our enemies will once again understand how unshakable the workers are in the broad, clear and unyielding way they understand freedom.

Having considered the letter and circular by the Jura Federation[804] for the early convening of a general congress, acclaiming the widest possible principles of freedom and the sentiment that demands respect for the autonomy of the sections, the Girgenti section unanimously declared at its last meeting it would adhere to the circular by the Jura Federation.[805]

In the following issue of the Eguaglianza, the Sciacca (Sicily) section also backed the Jura Federation’s call for a general congress to take place immediately and protested ‘against the authoritarianism of the General Council’.[806] Saverio Friscia was probably behind this as he was a close friend of Bakunin and member of the Geneva section of the Alliance.[807] Friscia (1813–1886) was a doctor from Sciacca who had been involved in revolutionary groups since the 1830s and was one of the most influential members of the International in Southern Italy. A week after the protest of the Sciacca section, Friscia sent a letter to the Campana, the newly launched organ of the Neapolitan section of the International:

I was greatly pleased to see that in the disputes that have regrettably broken out within the International, the Italian sections have already declared themselves for liberty and for the independence of sections and federations against every tendency towards authoritarianism, which would attack the essence and life of the great Association itself.

The news which has reached us here from Belgium and Spain on the same subject has consoled all true friends of freedom, who are hoping that the new congress can establish the bases of independence and federalism for the sections of the International more solidly.[808]

As the Campana had avoided making a statement about the Sonvillier Circular until this point, Friscia’s letter seems to be an appeal to finally take a position. The paper’s hesitation probably mirrored differences within the Neapolitan section where Cafiero continued to act as Engels’ confidant and correspondent. In the meanwhile, Cafiero had his doubts and had yet to receive a reply to his critical letter to Engels – who increasingly viewed his correspondence with Italy as a burden. Cafiero’s distress led him to include the following message to Engels in the same issue of the Campana in which Friscia’s letter appeared:

London – I.W.A. – G.C. – F.E.

Waiting for answer


[London – International Workingmen’s Association – General Council –

Friedrich Engels

Waiting for answer

Yours Sincerely Cafiero]

The editors published a reply – possibly written by Cafiero – to Friscia in the next issue of the Campana. Its call for patience was analogous to Engels’ plea to give the General Council a chance to reply:

Convinced that our organisation is independent of the General Council and of any one or more sections, simply because it is based on the rights and needs of the entire proletariat, we view the movement started by the Jura Federation with interest, but without concern, and we shall contribute a civil, fraternal word to the peaceful conflict. We have not yet made any decision on the various questions, nor shall we do so now, since it is our intention to examine calmly the manifesto that we are awaiting from the General Council, in the same way as we calmly studied the protest and appeal by the Jura Federation.[810]

Friscia was naturally not satisfied with this. He wrote a bold reply to the editors of the Campana on 30 January 1872:

Regardless of the way it was convened and composed, the London Conference undeniably transcended the limits of its mandate and, with its decisions, threatened the autonomy of groups and the independence of federations, which go to make up the essence and greatness of the International.

The Congress of Sonvillier, in protest against the decisions of the Conference which attributed the Grand Council with authority that no one had delegated it and that everyone had not so much the right as the duty to protest against, and by appealing strictly to the spirit and letter of the General Rules, requested the early convening of a general congress of the great Association, which alone would be able to terminate and resolve the dispute that had broken out.

Could the friends of liberty and the International have hesitated at all about joining those who were calling for the quarrel to be judged by free discussion at a free general congress, at which the Grand Council could present its justification for the events of the Conference […]. Having made these personal and most comradely points, there remains only for me to wait for the Campana, which has formally declared itself as far as principles are concerned, to declare itself equally explicitly on this simple, objective matter as I have set it out and as it truly is in itself, without waiting any longer for the manifesto promised by the General Council, which at most could only be the object of discussion and comment by the General Assembly, which can and must collectively judge it.

S. Friscia.[811]

These arguments apparently won over the remaining sceptics among the editors of the Campana: the editors made a statement affirming they were ‘against all centralisation and all authority’ and reprinted the Sonvillier Circular and the resolution of the Belgian federal congress below Friscia’s letter.[812]

Engels’ letter to Theodor Cuno in Milan of 24 January 1872

Engels also failed in his attempts in Milan to gain sympathy for the London Conference resolutions and to prevent the printing of the Sonvillier Circular – despite receiving unexpected help from Theodor Cuno (1847–1934). Cuno was a member of the SDAP who had worked in Chemnitz and Vienna as a mechanical engineer. He fled to Italy because of police repression and settled in Milan where he found a job. From there he contacted Engels on 1 November 1871 asking him if there were members of the International in Milan.[813] As Engels could not help him for the lack of contacts,[814] Cuno visited the meeting of the local chapter of Mazzini’s workers’ association in November where Vincenzo Pezza and Vincenzo Testini, both Bakunin correspondents, were already making propaganda for the International. As in Turin, Mazzini’s organisation lost some of its members in Milan on 24 December 1871 because of his attacks on the International and the ensuing factional division. Two weeks later the former members established a section of the International and Pezza and Cuno were among those voted into its committee.[815]

Bakunin also sent copies of the Sonvillier Circular to Milan. Only one of the many letters he wrote to Milan during this time has survived.[816] In this letter dated 23 December 1871, Bakunin reacted to a misleading article in the Milanese newspaper Gazzettino Rosa:[817]

By the way, this is a rather remarkable article, with which I would have agreed with pleasure, except for one sentence:

‘Letters from the General Council assure us that this declaration by the Spaniards is in perfect harmony with its views’, as if the view of the General Council had a dogmatic or governmental significance, which would necessarily imply the existence of a single and absolute dogma in the International, and the supposition that the General Council would be the official and binding expression of it; two things we absolutely deny, for then the International would no longer be a free federation but a unitary Church, and the General Council a kind of collective Pope, whose speech, when he speaks ex cathedra, would become law for the entire Association. The General Council has the right to hold all the opinions it pleases to accept, i.e. to be precise, it has every right to be the platform for Marx’s opinions, but obviously, these opinions have no more official value than those of any section.[818]

[…] There is no doubt that the intelligent cooperation of scientists who are sympathetic and sincerely devoted to the cause of the proletariat can greatly aid in the birth of popular thought. But one condition is that they never impose their own ideas and are content just to offer them.

It is obvious that given the natural diversity of men and especially the enormous difference between the various strata of the proletariat in various countries, relative to the economic and political situation, relative also to their different degrees of education and of their intellectual and moral development, popular thought can never become uniform, absolutely identical in all countries or even in one country, as Mazzini would have it, at least for Italy. But uniformity is not unity at all; it is the abstraction of it, its caput mortuum,[819] its death. Unity is only real and living amid the greatest diversity.[820]

Bakunin’s arguments in this and other letters apparently hit a nerve among the International’s sympathisers in Milan. In a letter to the editors of the Gazzettino Rosa dated 27 December 1871, ‘A group of members of the International’ from Milan made the following statement:

Convinced that the principle of the autonomy of sections and regional and national federations constitutes the true strength of the International; that the development of the great Association especially in Latin [i.e. French-speaking] countries is due to this life-giving principle which is found in the spirit and in the letter of its founding statutes; confident more than ever of the future of the International, which cannot be subjected to the will and authority of a few individuals, but must be the work of collective activity and freedom; [the undersigned] accept the invitation of the Jura Federation for the convening of a general congress with the intention of halting the authoritarian tendencies manifested within the General Council and of returning it within the limits of its attributes.[821]

In the context of this statement, the editors of the Gazzettino Rosa congratulated all ‘Italian sections that have already accepted the invitation of the Jura Federation’ and subsequently published an Italian translation of the Sonvillier Circular.[822]

Cuno, who apparently had no idea what was going on, wrote a cross letter to Engels about this: ‘Bakunin, who corresponds with Pezza, sent us an appeal from the Jura Federation a short time ago in which the arbitrary manner etc. etc. of the General Council is egregiously complained about and a congress is being readied. Be so kind as to enlighten me about this.’[823] In the same letter, Cuno also ordered an Italian edition of the General Rules. Engels replied to this request:

I would gladly send you the Rules if only I had them. They have been printed in French and English; a German version is due out any day, the Italian translation is lying in my desk ready for printing, but 1. we have no money to have them printed on our own account, and 2. in view of the general rebellion against the Conference and the General Council instigated by Bakunin among the Italians, it is highly questionable whether they would in fact recognise an edition revised by the General Council in accordance with the Conference resolutions.[824]

In reply to Cuno’s question regarding the Sonvillier Circular, Engels repeated Marx’s aforementioned false accusations against Bakunin regarding the founding of the Alliance, the term ‘abstention’, the alleged plans to move the General Council from London to Geneva, etc.[825] Here he added the following contentious piece of criticism:

Bakunin has a singular theory, a potpourri of Proudhonism and communism, the chief point of which is first of all, that he does not regard capital, and hence the class antagonism between capitalists and wage workers which has arisen through the development of society, as the main evil to be abolished, but instead the state. While the great mass of the Social-Democratic workers hold our view that state power is nothing more than the organisation with which the ruling classes – landowners and capitalists – have provided themselves in order to protect their social privileges, Bakunin maintains that the state has created capital, that the capitalist has his capital only by the grace of the state. And since the state is the chief evil, the state above all must be abolished; then capital will go to hell of itself.[826]

Engels was insinuating just as wildly about the nature of Bakunin’s ‘theories’ as Marx had in his three ‘communications’ concerning Bakunin in 1870.[827] Engels’ characterisation of Bakunin in this letter – him wanting to spare ‘capital’ so to speak and only go after the state – is of course pure fiction. Bakunin always called for a militant organisation of the workers’ struggle against their exploiters and saw the state ‘with all its repressive and coercive power, and in whatever form it may exist’ as a consequence of this exploitation.[828] He criticised political revolutions, like the French revolution of 1789, because they ignored economic oppression:

It boldly overturned all political barriers and tyrannies, but it left intact – it even declared sacred and inviolable – the economic foundations of society […]. It proclaimed the freedom of each and all, or rather it proclaimed the right of each and all to be free. But it had really given the means to achieve this freedom and enjoyment to the proprietors, the capitalists, the rich.[829]

Invoking a traditional social-revolutionary idea, Bakunin thus called for the abolition of state and economic oppression – i.e. for all power structures to be overcome by a ‘universal revolution that is social, philosophical, economic and political all at once’[830] and by the destruction of class rule ‘not only politically but also economically’.[831]

In his letter to Cuno, Engels on the other hand supported taking over the state in order to take action against capital – after which the state would die off on its own: ‘Abolish capital, the appropriation of all the means of production by the few, and the state will fall of itself.’[832] This fit in with Marx and Engels’ earlier argumentation in the Communist Manifesto, for example, where they postulated that the conquest of political power and the modification of the relations of production would almost automatically result in the abolition of political power.[833] In 1850 Marx wrote that for him socialism meant ‘the class dictatorship of the proletariat as the necessary transit point to the abolition of class distinctions generally’.[834] Engels also later argued that ‘the proletarian class will first have to possess itself of the organised political force of the State and with its aid stamp out the resistance of the Capitalist class and re-organise society’; with the disappearance of the capitalists ‘the necessity for an armed repressive State-force disappears also’.[835] Bakunin later pointed out the irony in this dialectic link between the conquest and disappearance of the state: ‘They say that this state yoke, this dictatorship, is a necessary transitional device for achieving the total liberation of the people: anarchy, or freedom, is the goal, and the state, or dictatorship, the means. Thus, for the masses to be liberated they must first be enslaved.’[836]

In a letter to Spain, Bakunin wrote that he had always called for the abolition of all

that is called domination, tutelage and power, including of course the so-called revolutionary and provisional kind, which the Jacobins of the International, disciples of Marx or otherwise, recommend to us as a means of transition absolutely necessary, they argue, to consolidate and organise the victory of the proletariat. I have always thought, and I now think more than ever, that this dictatorship, a resurrection of the state in disguise, will never produce any effect other than to paralyse and kill what is the very vitality and power of the popular revolution.[837]

‘For us,’ Bakunin summarised, ‘the revolution is the unshackling of the popular masses, and dictatorship, on the contrary, is their shackling.’[838] And in a letter to Italy, Bakunin wrote:

nothing is more opposed to social revolution than dictatorship. […] Dictatorship is good, it is necessary, for political revolutions that overthrow states in order to create others, and that destroy one domination in order to immediately establish a new one. It is impossible for the social revolution, which wants to end all dominations once and for all, along with all states.[839]

Engels continued in his letter to Cuno:

Now as, according to Bakunin, the International was not formed for political struggle but in order that it might at once replace the old machinery of state when social liquidation occurs, it follows that it must come as near as possible to the Bakuninist ideal of future society. In this society there will above all be no authority, for authority = state = evil in the absolute. (How these people propose to operate a factory, run a railway or steer a ship without one will that decides in the last resort, without unified direction, they do not, of course, tell us.)[840]

The same attempt to legitimise power by ways of inherent necessities was later used by Engels in ‘On Authority’:

Let us take by way of example a cotton spinning mill. The cotton must pass through at least six successive operations before it is reduced to the state of thread, and these operations take place for the most part in different rooms. Furthermore, keeping the machines going requires an engineer to look after the steam engine, mechanics to make the current repairs, and many other labourers whose business it is to transfer the products from one room to another, and so forth. All these workers, men, women and children, are obliged to begin and finish their work at the hours fixed by the authority of the steam.[841]

‘I should very much like to know’, Engels railed in a letter to Paul Lafargue on 30 December 1871, ‘whether the good Bakunin would entrust his portly frame to a railway carriage if that railway were administered on the principle that no one need be at his post unless he chose to submit to the authority of the regulations’.[842] Friedrich Engels let the manufacturer in him shine through here by revealing how little he thought of workers’ self-management.

Engels refined his arguments in the aforementioned article by saying that reoccurring detailed questions related to production

must be settled at once on pain of seeing all production immediately stopped; whether they are settled by decision of a delegate placed at the head of each branch of labour or, if possible, by a majority vote, the will of the single individual will always have to subordinate itself, which means that questions are settled in an authoritarian way.[843]

According to this line of reasoning an order enforced with brutal force is the same as a decision reached through a discussion among concerned parties because in both cases the individual who disagrees will have to relent. Engels probably left other forms of decision-making processes out his line of reasoning because he presumed that authority meant the ‘imposition of the will of another upon ours’: ‘on the other hand, authority presupposes subordination.’[844]

Bakunin attempted a more nuanced definition by juxtaposing authority and power. And he used decision-making processes within society to illustrate the difference between the two. In reply to the question whether he rejected authority, Bakunin answered:

Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or engineer. For such or such special knowledge I apply to such or such a savant. But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect nor the savant to impose his authority upon me. […] I receive and I give – such is human life. Each directs and is directed in his turn. Therefore there is no fixed and constant authority, but a continual exchange of mutual, temporary, and, above all, voluntary authority and subordination. […] In general, we ask nothing better than to see men endowed with great knowledge, great experience, great minds, and, above all, great hearts, exercise over us a natural and legitimate influence, freely accepted, and never imposed in the name of any official authority whatsoever, celestial or terrestrial. We accept all natural authorities and all influences of fact, but none of right; for every authority or every influence of right, officially imposed as such, becoming directly an oppression and a falsehood, would inevitably impose upon us, as I believe I have sufficiently shown, slavery and absurdity.[845]

A further feature that distinguishes the two positions becomes clear when the emancipatory content of the respective perspectives is examined. Engels says: ‘If man, by dint of his knowledge and inventive genius, has subdued the forces of nature, the latter avenge themselves upon him by subjecting him, in so far as he employs them, to a veritable despotism independent of all social organisation.’[846] With reference to Dante’s vision of hell, Engels would thus write upon the portals of the factories: Abandon all autonomy, ye who enter here!

The question is what does Engels actually mean by socialism if according to him the world of work is an untameable inferno independent of all social organisation and authority will ‘only have changed its form’?[847] Engels’ socialism apparently does not draw its inspiration from an emancipatory vision but from a technocratic one. This seems to fit in with calls in the Communist Manifesto for the ‘Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan’ and for the ‘Equal liability of all to labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture’, etc.[848] This vision is based on the conviction that a functional organisation can only have an authoritarian structure – even though systems of order can obviously be both coercive or voluntary. There can be no life outside of freedom, Bakunin postulates, ‘and a socialism that would expel it from its bosom or that would not accept it as its sole creative principle and foundation would lead us directly to slavery and bestiality’.[849]

Most members of the International in Italy sympathised with Bakunin and Engels knew it: ‘At any rate the situation in Italy is such’, he wrote Cuno, ‘that, for the present, the International there is dominated by Bakuninist intrigues’.[850] Engels explained this to the General Council on 12 March 1872:

Hitherto, all accounts received from the country, both by the correspondence of the Council and the newspapers of the Italian International, had represented the latter as unanimous in upholding the doctrine of complete abstention from political action, and in repelling the Conference resolution upon that subject.[851]

And Cuno, by now Engels’ most important supporter in Italy, was arrested on 28 February 1872 and deported to Germany.[852]

Bakunin’s Italian manuscripts (end of 1871 to beginning of 1872)

Bakunin also used his correspondence with Italy to outline his political vision and to tell the story of his conflict with the General Council from his point of view to his new acquaintances: ‘Until September 1871’, Bakunin explained in December 1871 in a letter to members of the International in Bologna,

the action of the General Council, from the standpoint of the International as such, was completely null, so null that it did not even fulfil the very obligations that each Congress had imposed on it in turn; for example, the circular it was to publish every month on the general situation of the International,[853] which it never published. – There were many reasons for this. First, the General Council was still very poor. Those of us who know all too well the finances of the International laughed about it a lot, and we still laugh when we read, in the official and unofficial newspapers of various countries, fables of immense sums sent from London to all corners to foment revolution. – The fact is that the General Council still found itself in exceedingly poor financial condition. It would not have had to be so if all the sections established under the banner of the International in every country had regularly sent it the 10 centimes per member prescribed by the Rules. Up to this point, the majority of the sections haven’t done so. […] Yet it was precisely during this period of its enforced idleness that the International underwent a tremendous expansion in most of these countries – Brussels, Paris, Lyon and, at that time (but not now), Geneva formed so many centres of propaganda, sections of all countries fraternised and federated themselves spontaneously, inspired by the same thought […]. The very remoteness of the General Council, its real impotence, now as then, to intervene effectively in the affairs of the sections, the regional federations, and the national groups, were still blessings. Unable to interfere in the everyday discussions of the sections, it was all the more respected, and yet it did not prevent the sections from living and developing in complete freedom.[854]

Bakunin elaborated on this idea in a letter ‘to Rubicone [Ludovico Nabruzzi in Ravenna] and friends’ at the end of January 1872:

Until the Basel Congress (September 1869), the direct, effective action of the General Council, properly speaking, was exercised only on these two countries [England and the USA], as well as on Germany. It was absolutely null in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Italy and Spain. And things were none the worse for that. On the contrary, this total freedom, the absence of official intervention, so to speak, spurred the self-development, the spontaneous birth and federation of sections and groups, both regional and national. […] The enforced idleness of the General Council – doubly forced, both because we did not grant it any right to intervene more fully and because it did not have sufficient financial resources to do so – this inaction, I say, far from astonishing and distressing the Latin sections, was considered rather as quite a regular, legitimate and useful thing. The General Council was, in everyone’s conception of it, no more than a kind of flag, reminding all the sections of their international character and as a sort of dot on the i. No one recognised it as a government invested with powers of any kind. […]

We all thought that the General Council, hovering high above all the national and local disputes and disinterested in all the matters that might divide local sections and national groups, would best represent, above all conflicts, the great principle of international justice. We were all wrong.[855]

Bakunin had to admit in the same letter exactly where he and his friends had deluded themselves. Before the Basel Congress, Bakunin thought he had the support of the General Council in the conflict between the Geneva section of the Alliance and the Committee of the Romance Federation in Geneva:[856]

Thus I arrived at the Basel Congress in September 1869 with the impression that a regional federation [in Geneva], led by a reactionary and conspiratorial faction, might commit an abuse of power, and I sought a remedy in the authority of the General Council. – The Belgians, on the contrary, who moreover knew better than us the secret and very authoritarian dispositions of certain persons who composed the General Council – particularly those of Marx, the dominant figure of this Council, a very remarkable character, very intelligent, and very well educated, who has rendered great services to the International, but who makes the mistake of wanting to become a dictator and whose friends, whose followers, make the even greater mistake of wanting to make him a sort of Pope of the International – the Belgians had arrived at the Basel Congress with contrary dispositions. They absolutely denied any power to the General Council. Hins, the Belgian delegate, fought fiercely with me. We were charged with reaching an understanding and collaborate on writing a draft of some resolutions. We drafted it, and it was adopted.[857]

Indeed the new resolutions, which came to be known as the Basel administrative resolutions, provided the General Council with considerably more power. Among other things, it stated:

IV. – Every new section or society intending to join the International, is bound immediately to announce its adhesion to the General Council.

V. – The General Council has the right to admit or to refuse the affiliation of any new section or group, subject to appeal to the next Congress.

Nevertheless, wherever there exist Federal Councils or Committees, the General Council is bound to consult them before admitting or rejecting the affiliation of a new section or society within their jurisdiction; without prejudice, however, to its right of provisional decision.

VI. – The General Council has also the right of suspending, till the meeting of next Congress, any section of the International.

Any Federation may refuse to admit or may exclude from its midst societies or sections. It is, however, not empowered to deprive them of their International character, but it may propose their suspension to the General Council.

VII. – In case of differences arising between societies or sections of the same national group, or between groups of different nationalities, the General Council shall have the right of deciding such differences, subject to appeal to the next Congress, whose decision shall be final.[858]

‘These are the articles’, Bakunin continued,

to which I contributed at least three quarters’ worth, and I can only repeat again the cry: Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

But I add once again that neither I, who had proposed these items, nor the Basel Congress that voted on them, could have imagined that the General Council, which had been hitherto been so thoroughly moderate and sagacious, would ever conceive the crazy idea of becoming a government. This fear was so far from the minds of everyone, it was so widely understood that the General Council was the servant of the International, not its director and master, its mere bureau, not its government, that for three consecutive years (1867–1869), the congresses that followed the first, those of Lausanne, Brussels, and Basel, had not been afraid to leave the same men, the same staff, on the General Council.[859]

It must have been a rude awakening for the Jura sections to be the first group of sections to bear the consequences of the Basel administrative resolutions. After the split of the Romance Federation at the Congress of La Chaux-de-Fonds (April 1870), the General Council was able to decide in the Geneva Federal Committee’s favour because of art. 7 of the administrative resolutions.[860] And in autumn 1871, the Geneva Federal Committee stopped the General Council from accepting the new section of the Commune refugees in Geneva based on art. 5.[861]

After Marx and Engels acquired even more ideological and administrative power for the General Council at the London Conference, it became apparent that the Basel administrative resolutions were a step in the wrong direction, which required urgent correction. In the discussion surrounding the Sonvillier Circular, Engels couldn’t help but gloat that the power given to the General Council by Basel administrative resolutions had the support of Bakunin and the Jura delegates Guillaume, Schwitzguébel, etc. at the Basel Congress: ‘do you know’, Engels asked in a letter to Terzaghi,

who the authors and advocates of these authoritarian resolutions were? The delegates of the General Council? Not at all. These authoritarian measures were put forward by the Belgian delegates, and the Schwitzguébels, the Guillaumes, the Bakunins were their most ardent advocates. That’s the truth of the matter.[862]

And on 24 January 1872, Engels wrote triumphantly to Cuno: ‘But who were the authors of the Basle resolutions? The same Mr Bakunin and Co.!’[863]

On the other hand, the Belgian member of the International, Pierre Fluse – like Bakunin – highlighted the historical context of the Basel administrative resolutions and criticised art. 6 in particular, which gave the General Council the right to suspend sections:

This formidable right, which in a moment of blind confidence and social inexperience, if we may say so, we granted to the Council, placed it above the whole of the Federation to which the excommunicated section belonged. We bitterly regretted our error, but we could entertain the hope that this resolution would never be applied.[864]

James Guillaume confirmed this with the words:

we were all inspired with the most comprehensive benevolence towards the men of London; their confirmation as members of the General Council was passed unanimously […]. And our confidence was so blind that we contributed more than anyone to push through those famous administrative resolutions, which would give the General Council an authority of which it made such an unfortunate use. A profitable lesson, and one that opened our eyes to the true principles of federative organisation.[865]

While the Sonvillier Circular and the Belgian congress resolutions concentrated on the call for the preservation of the federalist internal organisation of the International in their protest against the expanded authority of the General Council, Bakunin further developed the arguments of the General Council’s critics by applying his criticism of the state to the International:

The General Council, relying on resolutions passed by an irregular and secret conference [in London], arbitrarily convened and arbitrarily composed, which cannot be recognised as having the character of a general congress, claims to govern and to impose its authority, henceforth official, upon all of the International Working Men’s Association, which it has transformed into an enormous state. […]

As soon as it wants to become a real government, it necessarily becomes a monstrosity, an absolute impossibility. Imagine a kind of universal, collective monarch, imposing its own law, its own thought, its own movement, its own life, upon the proletarians of all countries, who would be reduced to the condition of a machine! But such would be a ridiculous parody of the ambitious dream of the Caesars, of Charles V, of Napoleon, in the form of a universal socialist and republican dictatorship. – It would be a death blow to the spontaneous life of all the other sections – the death of the International.

These doctrinaires and authoritarians, Mazzini as well as Marx, always confuse uniformity with unity – formal, governmental, and dogmatic unity with real, living unity, which can only result from the freest development of all individuals and all communities and from the federative and absolutely free alliance, on the basis of their own interests and their own needs, of the workers’ associations within the municipalities and beyond them; of the municipalities within the regions, the regions within the nations, and the nations within the great and fraternal, international human union, organised in federal form by freedom alone, on the basis of the labour of all in solidarity and the most comprehensive economic and social equality.

That is the program, the real programme of the International, which we oppose to the new dictatorial programme of London. […]

The socialism of the International wants the emancipation of the proletariat, which, among other things, means that it wants to end the domination of tutors, directors, benefactors, instructors, revelators, politicians, doctrinaire intellects, patented scholars, prophets, and apostles, or to sum it all up in one word, the exploiters of the masses. It wants to put an end to all official directions and influences. The International admits of no government, no organisation from the top down, in her midst.

This is the meaning, I think, of the beautiful and entirely legitimate protest of the Franco-Jura Congress that you have published in your journal.[866] The General Council of London, the majority of which have undoubtedly rendered great services to the International, has forgotten that it is an agent and come to believe itself a government. The Jura Federation, together with the section of the Communards and other socialist-revolutionary French refugees in Geneva, fraternally reminds it of its much more modest mission. This is a point well taken, for from the moment there would be a government, a dictatorship, authority in the International, the purpose of the latter would no longer be the emancipation of everyone but the domination of a few over all, and the International, entirely losing its rationale, would cease to exist.[867]

Apparently in reply to an inquiry by an Italian correspondent about how the conflict with Marx had begun, Bakunin wrote:

Fortunately for the International, there was in London a very dedicated group of men in this great Association, of which, strictly speaking, they were the real founders and initiators: I mean this little German group, including Karl Marx at their head.

These honourable citizens consider me, and treat me wherever and whenever they can, as an enemy. They are quite wrong. I am not their enemy, and I am deeply satisfied, on the contrary, when I can do them justice. For me the opportunity arises often, because they are really remarkable men, worthy of respect, in point both of intelligence and learning, as well as in point of their passionate devotion and unswerving loyalty to the cause of the proletariat – a dedication and loyalty proven by twenty years of service.

Marx is the first socialist scholar of economics of our day. I have met many scholars in my life, but I do not know of one as wise nor as profound as him. Engels, currently the secretary for Italy and Spain, disciple and friend of Marx, is also a very remarkable intelligence. […] As you see, my dear friend, these are truly great and beautiful services, and it would be great ingratitude on our part if we did not appreciate their importance.

How is it, then, that my friends and I have broken from Marx and his friends?

There are two reasons for this:

The first is that our theories are different, one might even say diametrically opposed.

Marx is an authoritarian and centralist communist. He wants what we want: the complete triumph of economic and social equality, but within the state and through the power of the state, through the dictatorship of a strong and almost despotic provisional government, that is to say, through the negation of freedom. His economic ideal is for the state to become the sole owner of the land and of all capital, cultivating the former via well-paid agricultural associations run by its civil engineers, and financing all other industrial and commercial associations by means of the latter.

We want to achieve the same triumph of economic and social equality through the abolition of the state and of all that is called juridical right, which we believe is the permanent negation of human right. We want the reconstitution of society and the constitution of human unity, not from the top down, by means of some authority, through the agency of socialist functionaries, engineers, and other official intellectuals, but from the bottom up, by means of the free federation of workers’ associations of all kinds, emancipated from the yoke of the state …

You can see that it would be hard to find two theories more thoroughly opposed than ours, but there is another difference between us, this time entirely personal. We are not at all surprised, appalled, or offended by the fact that Marx and his friends profess a doctrine different from our own. Enemies of all absolutism, in doctrine as well as in practice, we will bow our heads with respect, not before theories that we cannot accept as true, but before the right of everyone to follow and propagate his own. We eagerly read everything Marx publishes, for there are always many excellent things to be learned from them.

Such is not Marx’s temper. He is as absolute in theory as he is, whenever possible, in practice. A truly outstanding intellect, he joins two odious faults: he is vain and jealous. He holds Proudhon in horror, only because he takes umbrage at that great name and the legitimate reputation attached to it. There are no calumnies he has not written against him.[868] Marx is egotistical to the point of dementia. He says: my ideas, not wanting to understand that ideas belong to no one,[869] and that if one looks hard enough, one will find that precisely the best, the greatest ideas have always been the product of the instinctual labour of everyone; what belongs to the individual is only the expression, the form. Marx will not understand that as soon as an idea, even if expressed by him, has been understood and accepted by others, [it] becomes the property of those others as well as his own.[870]

He added in a letter to Nabruzzi:

The work of the social revolution in general, and of the International in particular, is not an individual labour; it is essentially collective. Where we are concerned, individuals – all individuals – are submerged in the community, and we hate pretentious, vain, ambitious, and dominatory individuals. We are the sworn enemies of all rule, whether collective or individual. We welcome all individuals of good will, provided that this will be sincere, they shall find among us [discretion] to freely deploy all their power to act and all their faculties, but only on one condition: that they do not want to play-act and that they do not dream of domination. We do not want leaders and we shall never tolerate them. An idea, even emanating from a single individual, if it is good, if it is accepted, becomes collective property, so that our ideas never wear personal labels. This is our custom, our law.

I beg you to apply this in my case. It is especially necessary to do so from an Italian point of view, so that it is not said that a Russian, a barbarian, a Kalmyk dreams of creating a party in your country, which would certainly harm our propaganda tremendously. […] I whole-heartedly tell you all that I think, all I feel, all I wish and all I am. It is up to you to accept what suits you and reject what does not suit you, – and once an idea is accepted by you, it ceases to be my idea; it is your idea.[871]

Just how much Bakunin’s Italian correspondence partners internalised his position can be seen in Vincenzo Pezza’s postscript to this letter (which Bakunin signed with his pseudonym Sylvio): ‘What do you think about Sylvio’s programme? Tell me frankly what you think. – Sylvio is a revolutionary phenomenon, but individual doctrines must not be our dogma.’[872]

CHAPTER 10. The International in Spain

AFTER YEARS OF ECONOMIC DOWNTURN, REPRESSION, and domestic political crisis, a group of conspirators headed by Admiral Juan Bautista Topete organised a coup in Spain against Queen Isabella II and her government on 18 September 1868. The military revolt (pronunciamiento) was immediately backed by the people. The revolutionary committees (juntas), with the strong support of republicans, repelled the ruling forces from large parts of the country and proclaimed the nation sovereign, overthrowing the Spanish Bourbon dynasty. The workers in Seville and other cities joined the rebellion and farmers took up arms in many places. On 30 September 1868, Isabella II and her court fled to France. The successful political revolution was followed by a provisional government headed by General Francisco Serrano Domínguez, which introduced a series of domestic reforms – freedom of assembly, universal suffrage, etc.

The September revolution in Spain resonated among socialists and republicans in various countries throughout Europe. On 21 October 1868, the Central Committee of the Geneva Sections of the International approved an appeal to the workers of Spain, which had been penned by Charles Perron (1837–1909) and Bakunin, both of whom belonged to the Central Office of the International Alliance formed some days earlier. Alliance member Giuseppe Fanelli even volunteered to travel to Spain to rally the workers at his friend Bakunin’s suggestion. Bakunin, who considered the September revolution in Spain unfinished, was hoping for an intensification of the revolutionary process and the emancipation of the Spanish workers from the republicans, who had taken a leading role in the September revolution. Perron and Bakunin’s appeal to the workers of Spain included the following:

The freedom attained by an exclusively political revolution is insufficient to lift the people out of the material and moral inferiority in which it has been systematically maintained by the privileged in every era. […] Brothers, do not allow yourselves to be disarmed or deceived; beware of your priests, your generals, your so-called bourgeois democrats who all have an interest in deceiving you, enslaving you, since the existence of all of these is more or less entirely based on the exploitation of the people’s labour. People of the countryside and of the cities, find your power within yourselves, in your union.[873]

On his trip to Spain, Fanelli took along the General Rules of the International, the rules of several Swiss workers’ associations, the Alliance programme from September/October 1868, various newspapers of the International, and Bakunin’s speeches to the League printed in the Kolokol.[874] Upon arrival in Madrid on 24 November 1868,[875] Fanelli contacted the brothers José and Julio Rubau Donadeu. In Julio Rubau Donadeu’s home, Fanelli gave his first speech about the International and social-revolutionary socialism to a group of young militant workers and craftspersons: the true revolution – he explained in keeping with the aforementioned appeal to the workers of Spain – must do away with the republicans just as it has done away with the monarchists.[876] One of those present later recalled the enthusiastic reception to Fanelli’s words:

The strange thing is that he could not speak Spanish, so by speaking French – that we understood through some of those present – or Italian, that we could only understand a little by comparison, some more, some less, we not only identified with his thoughts, but also, thanks to his expressive gesture, all came to feel possessed by a great enthusiasm. […] Fanelli delivered three or four propaganda sessions, interspersed with private conversations in alleys or in cafes […].[877]

On 21 December 1868, Fanelli was able to establish a first group in Madrid (Núcleo provisional), which adopted the Rules of the International on 24 January 1869 and declared itself the provisional central section for Spain (Núcleo provisional de la Asociación internacional, central de Trabajadores de España, sección de Madrid).[878]

In January 1869, Fanelli went to Barcelona where another group of 20 to 25 people formed around him. Barcelona had a decade-old union tradition, which was picking up steam after the September revolution; because of the new freedoms, many new workers’ associations formed in October 1868 and a congress was held on 13 December 1868 where 61 workers’ associations from across Catalonia took part.[879] In addition to being the secretary of the Federal Centre for Worker’s Societies (Centro federal de las Sociedades obreras) established in 1869, the printer Rafael Farga Pellicer (1840–1890) was also the secretary of Fanelli’s group, which formed the first section of the International in Barcelona on 2 May 1869.[880]

The situation in Spain became complicated because Fanelli was making propaganda for both the International and the Geneva Alliance. Fanelli was propagating this problematic mix of organisations because the Alliance initially considered itself an independent international organisation on the one hand and an integral part of the International on the other,[881] and Fanelli thought that being a member of the Alliance made him part of the International. However, this didn’t dampen the militant Spaniards’ spirits: Nicolás Alonso Marselau, founding member of the Seville Local Federation, explained that he was always convinced that the Alliance ‘would synthesise the aims and objectives of the International’.[882]

By mid-February 1869, Fanelli had returned to Geneva and gave a report about his trip to the general meeting of the Alliance on 27 February.[883] Fanelli’s confusion with regards to the organisations caused irritation at the meeting of the Alliance’s Committee that followed on 5 March: the meeting’s minutes state ‘that the report concerning the founding of the Alliance in Spain must be clarified at the next meeting, for we do not really know if cit. Fanelli was speaking of the Alliance or of the International Working Men’s Association’.[884] After the Alliance had to cease being an independent international organisation because of the intervention of the London General Council, which accepted only the local Geneva section of the Alliance into the International in July 1869,[885] the organisation mix made up of the Alliance and International that Fanelli had propagated in Spain became obsolete.

The Geneva Alliance tried to adapt to the new situation through a series of structural changes: by virtue of a change to the rules made in April 1869, the Alliance declared itself a local Geneva section ‘without any organisation, bureaus, committees, or congresses other than those of the International Working Men’s Association’.[886] All of the members were called upon to sign a membership form (carte d’adhésion) in order to join the reconstituted Alliance section; specially printed members’ booklets (livrets) proved their membership.[887]

The members outside Switzerland of the defunct International Alliance were invited to join the Geneva section of the Alliance by signing the carte d’adhésion. For this purpose, Albert Richard in Lyon was sent 20 membership forms and booklets in July 1869, for example. In an accompanying letter to Richard, Bakunin stated that he had sent information related to the organisational change in the Alliance to Naples, Sicily, and Spain.[888] In July 1869, Bakunin also sent an Alliance section membership form and booklet to Farga Pellicer in Barcelona and called on other militant members of the International in Barcelona to join the Geneva section of the Alliance. Farga Pellicer replied to Bakunin on 1 August 1869: ‘At the next session on Sunday, I will communicate to my friends from the International (the Barcelona section) your letter and your wish that the most democratic, socialist and radical affiliate with the Alliance. As for me, I fully accept everything that is stated in the booklet you have sent to me.’[889]

Bakunin also reminded his political friends in France, Italy, and Spain about the International’s upcoming Basel Congress, called on them to become delegates and suggested a meeting on the opening day of the congress. Bakunin wrote Albert Richard: ‘I wrote to all our friends everywhere to meet on 6 September’.[890] Farga Pellicer responded on 1 August 1869 to Bakunin’s reminder about the Basel Congress:

As general secretary I read it [Bakunin’s letter] at once to the Federal Centre of Worker’s Societies and when familiar with the content it was agreed to send to Basel one or more (the number is not yet decided) representatives of the worker’s societies of Catalonia. […] Let us distinguish ourselves: I am also the secretary of the Barcelona section of the International Working Men’s Association, which was founded with the direction and encouragement of your dear friend Fanelli.

Our ongoing political concerns have prevented us from further propagating the Association; but soon we will meet together with fellow members of the International (three or four of whom were presidents of the federal societies in the Federal Centre) to deal with your letter, but I doubt that we will send somebody to Basel, as we are poor and few. We will clarify this as soon as possible. Either way as members of the International we will send to London our dues of 1/10 fr. per member which we have not done yet.[891]

A short time later, the delegates for the Basel Congress were chosen: Farga Pellicer for the Federal Centre and the doctor Gaspar Sentiñón Cerdaña for the Barcelona section.[892] Sentiñón (1835–1902) was born in Barcelona but lived for several years in Vienna and thus spoke German fluently. He wanted to return to Spain in June 1869 after a long absence and tried to contact the section of the International in Barcelona.[893] The section’s secretary Farga Pellicer appears to have suggested that they meet in Geneva and then travel together to the Basel Congress, for which he would bring along Sentiñón delegate’s mandate.

They met in Geneva at the end of August 1869 and got to know Bakunin. Farga Pellicer had already bonded with Bakunin politically and personally through correspondence.[894] Bakunin and Sentiñón also became friends[895] based on their agreement on political issues: on 28 August 1869, Sentiñón joined the Alliance via its Committee and was unanimously elected their delegate to the Basel Congress on the following day,[896] giving him a second mandate in addition to the one from Barcelona.

As Guillaume’s memoirs and Bakunin’s correspondence in the following months show,[897] Farga Pellicer and Sentiñón were welcomed into Bakunin’s inner circle during their stay in Geneva and Basel. Bakunin had been trying to mould his conspiratorial web of relationships – varyingly called Fraternité internationale, Société de la Révolution internationale, Société internationale secrète de l’émancipation de l’humanité, etc. – into an organisation since his stay in Italy from 1864 to 1867.[898] He considered a clandestine cooperation necessary because revolutions

are never made either by individuals or even by secret societies. They come about of themselves, produced by the force of things, by the movement of events and facts. They develop for a long time in the depths of the instinctive consciousness of the masses – and then they erupt, often provoked by seemingly trivial causes. All that a well-organised secret society can do is primarily to assist in the birth of a revolution […].[899]

Bakunin wrote the following to Celso Ceretti, one of the aforementioned activists from Romagna:

if you succeed, by dint of skilful and energetic struggle, in protecting the existence of your public sections [of the International], I think sooner or later you will come to understand the need to found within them nuclei composed of the most reliable, dedicated, intelligent and energetic members, in a word, those of them who are the closest with one another. These nuclei, intimately linked with one another and with similar nuclei that have organised or will organise themselves in other regions of Italy and abroad, have a dual mission: first, they will form the soul inspiring and invigorating this immense body called the International Working Men’s Association in Italy and elsewhere, and then they will address issues that cannot be dealt with publicly. They will form the necessary bridge between the propaganda of socialist theories and revolutionary practice. For men as intelligent as you and your friends, I think I have said enough.[900]

Farga Pellicer and Sentiñón’s subsequent actions were in line with that idea. After the Basel Congress, Sentiñón travelled to Liège and German cities ‘to gather information on various technical questions with regard to an eventual armed uprising by the workers of Catalonia’.[901] The first ‘nuclei’, formed in Spain around April 1870,[902] intensified the propaganda for the International in accordance with the aforementioned plan and sought to organise its most active members for this purpose. The founders chose the name Alianza de la Democracia Socialista in honour of Fanelli’s mission. A memorandum about the Alianza at the end of 1872 described it as follows: ‘We gave it this name for it came from the section [in Geneva] from whose programme and propaganda we had learned to be revolutionaries.’[903] According to the memorandum, the main reason for forming the Alianza groups was the need for propaganda; after the first sections of the International were established in Madrid and Barcelona

the men – who with more devotion and consciousness had consecrated themselves to the grand cause for the emancipation of the proletariat – understood that given the limited knowledge the Spanish working people have of the social question and given their engrained religious concerns and the political fanaticism that has seized them, it was necessary – so that the propaganda for the revolutionary ideas of the International Working Men’s Association would be faster and more efficient and that it would be created and developed pure – that they came to agreement to do it in a way that coordinated these efforts so as to multiply the effect.[904]

The Alianza’s programme was largely based on that of the Geneva Alliance section while its statutes were new and described the Alianza’s goal as being ‘propaganda, the development of the principles of its [the International’s] programme and the study and practice of all proper means in achieving the direct and immediate emancipation of the working class’.[905] The statutes only allowed for local groups of the Alianza: ‘there was not even a regional committee, but all sections communicated and consulted with each other’.[906] The members of the Alianza seemed above all interested in working together within the sections of the International. They seemed just as uninterested in institutionalising their work as in contact to Bakunin, who only had a very superficial idea of what they were up to. When Bakunin took part in the Commune uprising in Lyon and called for his Spanish friends to participate, he apparently asked Sentiñón to come to Lyon with a stamped mandate from the Alianza. Sentiñón sent an irate reply: ‘I absolutely can’t understand what you mean when you speak to me of authorisation. We have no stamp because we are not constituted as an association or section.’[907]

In summary, the following organisations existed in Spain: a militant member of the International could belong to

  • a local section of the International in Spain (organisation 1);

  • the Geneva section of the Alliance (organisation 2), which was officially accepted into the International in July 1869 by the General Council; individuals from different countries were members, for example Richard, Gambuzzi, etc. The following eight Spaniards were listed as members of the Alliance section in the summer of 1869: Farga Pellicer, Francisco Córdova y Lopez, José Rubau Donadeu, Cenagorta, Tomás Gonzalez Morago, Sentiñón, José Louis Pellicer, Celso Gomis;[908]

  • the Alianza (organisation 3), which was established in Barcelona as a secret society;

  • Bakunin’s inner circle (organisation 4).

Each of these networks was partly independent and partly overlapping and had its own cohesion and actors.

The International in Madrid and the founding congress of the Spanish Federation in Barcelona (1869–1870)

The engraver Tomás Gonzalez Morago (?–1885) belonged to the most active members of the International in Madrid; he had already helped Fanelli organise his first meeting in Madrid. Like Farga Pellicer in Barcelona, he received a member’s booklet from the reconstituted Geneva Alliance[909] and declared his ‘enthusiastic membership’ by sending them his membership form in a letter dated 24 October 1869 (organisation 2).[910]

As was typical, the programme of the Alliance provided a basis for Morago’s work in the International: he and his friend took ‘the essence of their propaganda from the programme of that very Alliance’.[911] Accordingly his propaganda for the International soon took on new dimensions: a manifesto by Morago to the Spanish workers dated 24 December 1869[912] described the social and political situation of the workers, called for their emancipation from political parties, introduced the International and announced the publication of its organ the newspaper Solidaridad, first printed on 15 January 1870. The mass circulation of the manifesto resulted in a boom for the International, which was spreading so quickly in Spain that a general meeting of the Madrid members of the International on 14 February 1870 decided to call a congress to form the Spanish Federation (Federación Regional Española) of the International.[913] This initiative by the Madrilenians – who did not consult with the other Spanish sections beforehand – was greeted in principle by the Barcelonans, who nevertheless criticised the suggestion that the congress take place in Madrid.[914] In a vote to decide the congress city organised by the three newspapers of the International in Spain (Federación in Barcelona, Solidaridad in Madrid, and Obrero in Palma de Mallorca), 15,215 ballots were cast by 153 sections in 26 districts by mid-May 1870 and Barcelona was chosen as the location for the next congress with 10,030 votes.[915]

At the founding meeting of the Spanish Federation, which was held between 19 and 25 June 1870 in the Teatro del Circo in Barcelona, 90 delegates from more than 150 sections and workers’ associations representing 40,000 members took part.[916] In addition to opening speeches by various delegates, official greetings from the Belgian Federal Council and the Committee of the Romance Federation in Jura were read at the opening meeting.[917] Farga Pellicer expressed his convictions at the opening with the following words: ‘we want justice and therefore we want that empire of capital, the church and the state to cease to exist, in order to build upon their ruins the government of all – anarchy, the free federation of free associations of workers.’[918]

Delegates voiced similar social-revolutionary positions during the debate about the International’s position on politics – the fifth item on the congress’s agenda. The commission report prepared on this question, which contained a harsh criticism of the state from a social-revolutionary perspective, ended by proposing the following resolution:


That the people’s aspirations towards their welfare, aspirations based on the conservation of the state, have not only not been realised, but, moreover, the power of the state has been the very cause of their death.

That authority and privilege are the most stable columns supporting this society of slaves, and the reconstitution of this society as a society based on equality and liberty is entrusted to us as our right.

That the organisation of the exploitation of capital, favoured by the government or the political state, is none other than an evergrowing and perennial slavery, and its forced submission to free bourgeois competition is called legal or judicial, and therefore obligatory right.

That all participation of the working class in the governmental politics of the middle class can only produce results that consolidate the existing order which paralyses the revolutionary action of the proletariat.

The congress recommends that all sections of the International Working Men’s Association renounce all corporative action that has as its aim social transformation through national political reform, and the congress invites them to employ all of their activity in the constitution of federalist trade organisations – the only way to secure the success of the social revolution.

This federation is the true representation of labour, and should substantiate itself outside of political governments.[919]

The discussion about the commission report gives an impression of the mood among the delegates. Ignacio Tapias, the representative of the weavers from Granollers (near Barcelona), opposed the commission report saying that all of the delegates took part in politics:

if all of us are acting politically and we accept and defend by all lawful means individual rights – our rights and the rights of all –, then why can we not declare that society should support the form of government that guarantees the most protection for the working class? […] I believe that to gradually win protection from the state, it is necessary, that we workers take part in the municipal elections, the provisional council elections and most of all in parliamentary elections, electing workers or people who are known as protectors of the working class; for it is clear, citizens, that if the capitalists and the privileged make the laws, they will always have them in their favour, but to the extent to which the workers take part in the formation of these laws, they will certainly make them in our favour. That is why I believe that workers should take a more active part in said elections.[920]

Morago replied emphatically: ‘we do not need the help of the government to undertake our work, because every government is the result, not more, not less, of the aspirations and factional struggles of the privileged classes’.[921] José Roca y Galés, a veteran of the cooperative movement, responded to Morago’s words:

how many means and vicissitudes must we overcome to arrive at the aspiration of obtaining a democratic state in which the working class has direct participation and could one day be in the majority? Well, I wish that we could act politically so we could eventually arrive at the end our society is proposing; that is to achieve anarchy, a non-governance; but it is my understanding that it is first necessary that a democratic principle prevails which provides the people with the means to educate themselves, and in this way, when anarchy arrives, it can rule well. Do you know what anarchy means, citizens? It means that the conscience of man alone must be enough to move as he likes; in no way lawless, disorderly or socially disruptive, it is the absence of government because government is no longer necessary, and to achieve this requires education and morality, which by themselves are not sufficient; a level of education is necessary, that is so high that we are fully aware of our duties, at the end of which everyone meets their duties and knows that reciprocal rights rely on mutual self respect for each other […].[922]

Enrique Borrel Mateo, one of the five delegates from Madrid, then highlighted the anarchist principles of the International:

As for those who come in defence of the state, it surprises me that they recognise the International, because now, knowing already its principles and declaring themselves in compliance with them, they come declaring their acknowledgement of the state as necessary for the emancipation of the worker […]. Now I wonder if the emancipation of the worker necessarily tends towards the destruction of the current organisation of society? Is it possible that the state, which is based upon this social organisation that brings it to life, can grant the means to arrive at this emancipation? No. Today the state is constituted by the privileged classes, who directly maintain it (while we indirectly maintain it) and directly bring it to life. So is it possible to hope that the state – which guarantees the exploitation by the middle class and the oppression practised today – will grant us social emancipation if we establish ourselves politically? I believe it is vain and useless to think about this. […]

However, supposing that a political party appeared in the political arena needing to present a motive, a very radical aim, but when it comes to power, which is its true aim, we will see it impose itself upon the masses again. This demonstrates that the working class suffers an incessant illness that will not be cured through politics […]. I should say to this individual[923] that, effectively, we have all been acting politically, but, at least for my part, I refuse to do it now […]. So we should not deal with politics but with revolution. We may not deal with politics, because politics cannot carry us towards anything good; and therefore, if we defend the government, whichever form it may take and whether it is in the hands of the privileged classes, the hands of the upper classes, the hands of the middle class, or in the hands of the workers, it will nevertheless, never cease to be a government; what happens now is what will always happen, and although it could pass into the hands of the workers, the same thing will happen, because the government cannot cease to be what it is, that is to say, a weapon directed against freedom which – wielded in certain hands or in others – will always produce victims, and it is this that I wish to avoid. […]

They believe that we should take part in the municipal elections, the provincial council elections and the parliamentary elections, adding that we should pursue a worker’s politics. What candour! You know what will happen in the councils? Either the workers win a minority representation in the national congress, or they win a majority. If the workers achieve a minority representation then their representation is worth nothing, because – as the representatives of the privileged classes are intelligent, and possess all of the privileges of the social sciences and wealth – if they do not buy these representatives of the working class (because they don’t sell themselves), they have a grand intelligence and will trick them and it therefore comes to pass that like today we have a tiny labour representation. Very well: if the representation that you manage to win is a majority, it will also be useless, because we already have the means to bring about the triumph of our principles, without having to leave the house, and without, above all, the necessity of going with the government. (Bravo, Bravo.)[924]

Ramón Solá, representative of the ‘pintadores a la mano’ from Barcelona, subsequently objected:

having a government that guarantees what I have just said – the freedom of association, of meeting, of propaganda – is a necessity that we have. Can we propagate the International idea if the government that we have does not allow meetings? […] it is necessary to support the government that gives us more space for meetings, for making propaganda and for associating. We may bear in mind that we could use our resources to support a government that could give us these guarantees or, if we remain indifferent, we may see how a power that is more reactionary rises and carries us to tyranny – I ask you: what benefits could the workers achieve with this if it depends on all of us to bring about the former and avoid the latter? I believe that we would commit a crime if we would not support a government which agrees with our ideas […].[925]

Antonio Illa, delegate for the fine weavers from Manresa and Barcelona, replied:

Do you believe that regardless of what happens the government will protect us? No, you do not think so. Hence, who do we ask for protection? The government has been asked a thousand times, but they have not answered. […] It seems clear that the deputies of the minority – these men whom we delegate to represent us – should have informed themselves of our misfortunes and asked how to remedy our ailments; but yet, it is clear that they have completely forgotten us, in such a way that we feel the need for protection, and we asked for it and continue to ask for it but we were never ever noticed. In such a situation, when all of our petitions are useless and nobody listens to us – how can we continue to ask?

Delegates, we must try to attend to social propaganda in every sphere of the world – to install associations and form grand bodies and robust worker’s centres, and the day will arrive when there will be enough people, or more than enough people, to topple and crush the forces of our enemies; only in this manner, bundled together and forming a strong and resistant column, will we be heard […].[926]

The debate concluded with a word from Francisco Tomás Oliver[927] from Palma de Mallorca:

Do those from the International know what they are required to do when they go to the municipality? The duty they have is to destroy the municipality; hence, a member of the International who accepts a political post ceases to be a member. When a member of the International occupies a military post, for example, he ceases to be a member if he does not seek to destroy militarism, because as socialists we do not want a permanent army or any sort of militia. And when he is occupying a post in the parliament, do you believe that he can still be a member of the International? If we declare the complete abolition of all states, do you believe a member of the International could become an instrument of authority? No, but the state must be abolished, and if one cannot abolish it, one cannot nor should not go to the parliament. If we do not accept the current order of things and wish to destroy it, then how is it possible to occupy a post in the house that we wish to destroy?[928]

After a very lively discussion lasting over four meetings, there was finally a vote on the commission report calling on the International to abstain from parliamentarianism. The report was accepted by a large majority (55 in favour out of 74 votes).[929]

The congress subsequently adopted statutes for the federation and elected Morago, Borrel, Lorenzo and the brothers Angel and Francisco Mora Méndez to the Federal Council (consejo federal), which was to have its headquarters in Madrid. All five Federal Council members had taken part in Fanelli’s meetings in December 1868 and January 1869. Now, one and a half years later, the Spanish Federation already belonged to the biggest federations in the International.

Slow reaction of the Spanish International to the Sonvillier Circular (November 1871–early 1872)

For a long time, the General Council did not pay very close attention to the Southern European countries. In a letter to Engels in 1869, Marx even scoffed at the need ‘to print idiotic addresses to the Spaniards’.[930] He was probably referring to the appeal to workers in Spain that Perron and Bakunin wrote in the Geneva sections’ name. Marx procrastinated when it came to writing his own address to Spain – a task with which the General Council had charged him and for which he himself had voted.[931] In March 1869, the newly formed section in Madrid sent a reply to the Geneva section in which they gave their warm thanks for the appeal and made the following request: ‘We also wish to enter into relations with the London centre; in short, we count on your friendship to apprise us of the general duties of members of the Association, and we ask you, if you think it will help, to forward this letter to London.’[932]

The letter from Madrid was discussed at the General Council meeting on 23 March 1869: ‘a section had been formed & wished to correspond with London.’[933] But it was apparently left unanswered: ‘there was nothing now in Spain upon which the working class could be congratulated’, Marx explained a few minutes later at the same meeting, thus washing his hands of his promise to write an address to the Spaniards.[934] Finally a year later, after receiving news of the founding congress of the Spanish Federation, the General Council decided to send a letter to the Madrid section – in order to remind them of their union dues.[935]

Upon receiving a few copies of the three Spanish newspapers of the International (the Federación, the Solidaridad, and the Obrero) that Marx sent him a month later, Engels immediately took offence to the social-revolutionary sentiments being spread by the Spanish papers: ‘You can see’, he warned Marx, ‘how Bakunin’s phraseology shines through’.[936] Marx also had his suspicions about the Spanish papers: during the General Council meeting on 31 January 1871, he mentioned the first issue of the Palma de Mallorca paper Revolución Social ‘in which were some very foolish observations’; specifically, it spoke of ‘the complete destruction of the political and judicial states to create a world of free federations of agricultural and industrial worker’s sections’.[937] The publishers of this paper, Marx cautioned the General Council, ‘were reproducing some of the things that had been objected to with the Alliance Democratique’.[938] So the General Council decided to send their resolutions related to the Alliance to faraway Palma de Mallorca and Engels was named the provisional corresponding secretary to Spain.[939]

Thus, the unpleasant task of replying to a number of unanswered letters fell on Engels. The Spanish Federal Council had also written to the General Council on 30 July 1870 after their election at the Barcelona Congress.[940] Even though this letter was mentioned at the meeting of the General Council on 9 August,[941] it was also never answered. On 14 December 1870, the Spanish Federal Council wrote another letter to London[942] that was also mentioned at a General Council meeting: ‘The instruction for a reply’, the minutes reveal, ‘was postponed till the next meeting’.[943] It was not mentioned again. Two weeks after Engels was elected the corresponding secretary for Spain in the General Council on 13 February 1871, he finally got around to replying to this letter – only to blame the late response on his predecessor Serraillier:

The General Council was very pleased to receive your letter of December 14. Your previous letter dated 30 July also reached us; it was passed to Citizen Serraillier, the Secretary for Spain, with the instruction to forward our answer to you. But soon Citizen Serraillier went to France to fight for the Republic, and then he was confined in Paris. If, therefore, you have not received any answer to your letter of 30 July, which is still in his hands, it is due to these circumstances. Now, the General Council, at its meeting of the 7th inst. has charged the undersigned F. E. to handle correspondence with Spain in the interim and has passed on your last letter to him.[944]

Just like in Italy, Engels abused the power bestowed on him to propagate the political-parliamentary line that he and Marx advocated:

Everywhere experience has shown that the best means of freeing the workers from this domination by the old parties is to found in each country a proletarian party with a political programme of its own, a political programme that is very clearly distinguished from those of the other parties since it must express the conditions for the emancipation of the working class. The details of this political programme might vary according to the special circumstances in each country; but the fundamental relations between labour and capital being everywhere the same, and the fact of political domination by the propertied classes over the exploited classes existing everywhere, the principles and the goal of the proletarian political programme will be identical, at least in all the western countries. The propertied classes, landed aristocracy and bourgeoisie, hold the working people in thraldom, not only by virtue of their wealth, by the simple exploitation of labour by capital, but also through the coercive power of the state, the army, the bureaucracy, the courts. To refrain from fighting our enemies in the political arena would be to abandon one of the most powerful means of action, and particularly of organisation and propaganda. Universal suffrage gives us an excellent means of action.[945]

But like in Italy, Engels was unable to garner any sympathy for parliamentarianism; the aforementioned discussion at the congress regarding the International’s position on politics had made the social-revolutionary sentiments in Spain clear enough. So the Spanish Federal Council ignored Engels’ instructions[946] and the latter decided to keep his opinion to himself in later letters. Sentiñón went so far as to reassert the Spaniards’ social-revolutionary position in his letter from Barcelona to the General Council on 15 April 1871: ‘Our attitude related to politics, which you don’t or didn’t agree with at all, is starting to bear fruits.’[947]

The Valencia Conference of the Spanish Federation, which met from 10 to 18 September 1871, also picked up on the Barcelona Congress resolutions related to the International’s position on politics and resolved the following: ‘That the real Federal Democratic Republic is common property, anarchy and economic federation, or in other words the free worldwide federation of free agricultural and industrial worker’s associations, a formula that is accepted in its entirety.’[948] Furthermore Anselmo Lorenzo was elected the delegate to the London Conference by the Valencia Conference. He was given a memorandum by the Spanish Federation on the organisation of the International[949] and a report to the London Conference describing the development of ideas within the Spanish Federation:

In the midst of this great worker’s movement, what is admirable and worthy of more attention is the spontaneity of thought, purism of principles and elevation of vision manifested in the working class of this region. In breaking with all kinds of concern whether it be religious, political or social, it renounces resolutely the idea of God, denies the miserable idea of nationality and fatherland, and breaks en masse from the bourgeois parties that rely solely upon political revolutions as the solution for all problems. Their [the movement’s] plan of action is already mapped out and it consists of the transformation of property and the abolition of the political, judicial and religious state as their ends, collective organisation and war against capital as the means to lead us to the emancipation of the proletariat and the realisation of justice in the world.[950]

Inspired by the militant mood in Spain and armed with their energetic declarations to the London Conference, Lorenzo was very enthusiastic when he left for London. However, his excitement soon turned into disappointment and resignation in light of the conference organisers’ overt manoeuvres (see above, pp. 87–100):

I have sad memories of the week I spent in that Conference. The effect it caused upon my mind was disastrous; expecting to see great thinkers, heroic defenders of the worker, enthusiastic harbingers of new ideas and precursors of that society transformed by the revolution in which happiness will be enjoyed and justice practised, I found instead serious quarrels and tremendous animosities amongst those who should be united in a willingness to achieve a same goal. […] that meeting amounted to nothing more than an extension of the General Council, a sanction of its plans that was strengthened by the vote attributed to the Association through its delegates, and as such parodying parliamentary politics. In all that I could not see anything great, anything salvational or even corresponding harmoniously with the language used in the propaganda. […]

I had the grand honour of presenting to that Conference the only thing that was genuinely working-class in character and purely emancipatory: the memorandum concerning the organisation formed at the Conference in Valencia.

Before the delegates from industrial nations such as England, Germany and Belgium – nations seasoned, especially the first, in economic struggles – the memorandum caused great effect with its mechanisms of societies and federations of all trades, of similar trades and of single trades, and with their commissions for propaganda and correspondence, their statistics, their congresses, their funds for resistance and all that intellectual life and action. All of which when well practised and carried out can not only bring us to the social revolution in short steps, but are also the organisational means of the future society. All for nought – the General Council and the majority of the delegates were not there for this: the thing that concerned them most was the question of leadership. […] I returned to Spain possessed by the idea that the ideal was further away than I believed, and that many of its propagandists were its enemies.[951]

Lorenzo seems to mainly have coped with his discontent on his own in Spain; for example, he only told his close friends about what he described as the dishonourable behaviour of the members of the General Council during the London Conference: he had ‘been ashamed to see the servile compliance and stupid deference to M. Marx, who governed [the Conference] at his will’. He privately referred to the General Council as ‘court of Karl Marx’ or ‘court of the great pontiff’.[952] However, Lorenzo did not make any public statements – which soon resulted in criticism from various sides.[953] The Spanish Federal Council at first also remained neutral: it left the London Conference uncommented, and confined itself to publishing its resolutions along with those of the Valencia Conference – just as it later sent the Sonvillier Circular to all the local federations for publication.[954]

The London Conference resolutions were initially not seen as important in Spain and criticism of them became relevant a lot later than, for example, in Belgium, Italy, and Switzerland. This state of affairs may have been due to Lorenzo sidestepping the matter or due to threats of state repression[955] that engrossed the Spanish members of the International at the time, and had led them to start preparing for illegality. A member of the Geneva Communards’ section of propaganda who contacted the members of the International in Barcelona was welcomed warmly but his staunch criticism of the General Council was met with initial incomprehension.[956] This may have been because the General Council had only been conspicuous in its passivity (and sloppiness when it came to correspondence) until this point and had not yet tried to assert its leadership. Only a few Spanish members of the International even knew about the conflict in Switzerland that led to the split in the Romance Federation. Thus, the criticism by the Geneva section of propaganda – who were the first to take a clear position against the General Council and the London Conference resolutions in their paper the Révolution Sociale, for example – initially fell on deaf ears in Barcelona. Just how little the Spaniards knew about the conflict at first can be seen in a letter by Charles Alerini,[957] a French refugee living in Barcelona, written on 14 November 1871 in the name of the ‘members of the International active in Barcelona’ to his compatriot André Bastelica, a refugee in Jura. The letter – written before the wording of the resolutions of the London Conference and the Sonvillier Circular became known – suggested that the conflict could be resolved as follows:

We believe that part of our duty is to tell the General Council how much it pains us to see it behave in such an illiberal manner, and so contrary to our principles, expressing the displeasure that its conduct towards you causes us, and to specify our desire to see it reverse the decision taken against you. As for the other part, we urge you to be a little more conciliatory, and we call on you to demonstrate the selflessness that commands the sacrifice of a good in order to ward off a disaster more costly than the good is profitable. In assessing the conduct of both parties, we must judge harshly the untimeliness of your plan to assert your justifiable demands against the G[eneral] C[ouncil]’s arrogation of despotic rights. If an agreement is made impossible by the obstinacy of either side, which we would witness with the most extreme displeasure, we would not think it fitting, in the interest of the cause, to follow you down the path you indicate, and you should rely on neither our support nor our assistance.

The current General Council cannot last beyond next year’s Congress and its harmful effect can only be temporary. At any rate, if we judge it by its influence on our region, it cannot do much harm. A public split, on the contrary, would deliver a blow to our cause from which it would recover with difficulty, if indeed it could. Therefore, in the current dispute, even if we might otherwise agree with you, we can in no way encourage your separatist tendencies, whatever sympathies we might have for you.

We must also inform you, without it being our general view, of the doubts that have arisen among some of us. They have wondered if, beyond questions of principle, there might be underneath all this, or apart from them, personal issues, issues such as a rivalry between our friend Mikhail and Karl Marx, between members of the erstwhile A[lliance] and the General Council. We dare not assume that this is so, but to restore our shaken confidence, or at least to remove any suspicion, you must consult with us further on this subject (lest this leave the intimate circle of those who have the duty to take counsel from one another in the critical circumstances of our cause) and reassure those that are sceptical.

It has been with pain that we have witnessed attacks against the General Council and Karl Marx in the Révolution Sociale.[958] (As it is said, we should not wash our dirty laundry in public.) Just as much, we deplore the slanders Utin directs against Mikhail. In short, we must rise above all personal issues and personalities.

Such is, put a little too bluntly, perhaps, but frankly, honestly, and straightforwardly, all our thought on the subject. Thus we would have you provide us with yours.

Once we know the opinion of our friends on the peninsula who are active in the local councils, [we shall] modify our stance in accord with the general decision, with which we shall comply in every respect, accepting the vote taken once and for all, uniting behind it.

Greetings and solidarity

on behalf of the Barcelona group


A few months later, however, Alerini no longer spared any criticism for the General Council.[960] But as this letter dated 14 November 1871 shows, the Spanish Federation still had not taken a position on the London Conference resolutions at that point in time. After discussing the matter with friends in Jura, Bastelica – whom Alerini had addressed his thoughts to – forwarded the letter on 20 November to Joukovsky, a member of the Geneva section of propaganda. Bastelica noted: ‘The Geneva comrades must also confer and an agreement must be made before action is taken.’[961] Joukovsky then sent the following response to Alerini in Barcelona:

1) You see a ‘mortal danger’ in a split with the General Council. Let us say, first, that we never sought this; secondly, that it is the G[eneral] C[ouncil] that has caused it; and finally, we will tell you that a break with an element contrary to the spirit of the Int[ernational] presents no danger to us. As for the ‘mortal danger’, it lies in an alliance with bourgeois elements, particularly with authoritarians, when they have the right to issue bulls and orders of exclusion on behalf of the Association.

2) You say that you wish to express to the G.C. ‘how much it pains us to see it behave in such an illiberal manner’ toward us, the Jurassians. But with that letter you would give the G.C. a governmental prestige, which we do not want at any price. When a committee of the section performs its duties badly or purports to be a protector, a director – it is replaced by another, we do the same with the Federal Committee; why should the G.C. be an exception to the rule? Is it meant to serve the Association, or was the Association founded in order for some ambitious centralisers to dispense, according to their pleasure, benedictions to Geneva, maledictions to the Jura, benevolence toward Germany, etc.?

The matters of the Jura and of the two sections of propaganda[962] who had the misfortune to displease the permanent members of the G.C. are merely accidental. It is no more a question of personalities, whoever they may be: as grand as Marx or Bakunin, or as petty as Utin; men come and go, the International remains. You should look at the matter from a more serious perspective, dear friends. The secret conference may, according to resolution no. 15, replace our Congress forever,[963] and it will still be the permanent members of London who will convene it. Then the resolutions remain partly secret for the sections; only the committees shall know them.[964] Thus, they have a government in London which retains for itself what it pleases, which tells its sub-governments what it wishes to tell, and the rest for the populace, i.e. for the section.

We believe, dear friends, that doubt is no longer possible. We must act, we must put a stop to this as soon as possible, for therein, perhaps, lies the true ‘mortal danger’ for the International. […] Awaiting your prompt reply, we send you, dear friends, our greetings and solidarity.[965]

In his reply, Alerini noted that an opinion was still being formed in Spain, and that the matter was already being discussed.[966] For example, the Federación had printed the London Conference resolutions on 26 November 1871 without comment; but the adjacent article ‘Workers, Do Not Go to the Polls’ (‘Trabajadores, no vayamos á las urnas’) supported a position very different from the political-parliamentary line:

Only now, that we know the game that is parliamentarianism are we to know how inefficient are all the rights that arise from the institutions, [institutions] that we try to destroy in order to win the freedom that we lost the moment the first slave was born […] Workers: do not go to the polls, because justice will never come from them, it is necessary to seek it by other means, the means which we undertake, to arrive at the freedom that we long for! Do you believe that they would concede elections if it represented the slightest risk to bourgeois interests? No, workers; and the proof is that they have taken from us the right to associate, because it is the only thing that can instil some respect in them, because it is the only thing that runs the risk of capsising their privileges.[967]

The London Conference resolutions and the article ‘Workers, Do Not Go to the Polls’ were reprinted in the Emancipación, the organ of the International in Madrid established in June 1871 and the follow-up to the Solidaridad. An article titled ‘The Politics of the International’ (‘La Política de la Internacional’), which proceeded the resolutions, tried to explain away the contradictions between the social-revolutionary position prevalent in Spain and the London Conference resolutions:

Some people believed to have discovered contradictions between the attitude that we have been recommending to our comrades, the workers, regarding the political question and the resolutions of the London Conference on the same question. We should focus on this point, because it is of supreme importance for the future of the dispossessed classes and because clarification of this point is necessary in order to stop our eternal exploiters from using us as instruments in their political plots and as steps upon which they can climb to the heights of power.

We have never said that the working class, nor the International Association, which represents its highest inspiration, should do without any political idea; on the contrary, what we have maintained and what we continue to maintain is that the working class should have its own politics, a politics that is in harmony with its class interests and responds to its legitimate aspirations; a politics that can never in any way be that of the bourgeois parties, as they are all interested in the continuation of the existent institutions. […] Our mission is greater, more revolutionary. It consists of the ‘organisation of universal suffrage’ by the means of the bonding and federation of the worker’s societies, without whose organisation suffrage would always be a bloody joke for us.[968]

The author of this article, José Mesa y Leompart,[969] only opposed parliamentarianism as long as only bourgeois parties took part in elections and thus totally agreed with the resolutions of the London Conference. It wouldn’t take long for opposing viewpoints to be heard.

Paul Lafargue goes to Spain

Paul Lafargue’s activities in Spain provoked fierce disputes within the Spanish International in the coming months. Lafargue had already acted as his father-in-law Marx’s go-between in Paris in 1870.[970] Following the repression of the International’s members in France, he fled over its southern border on 4 August 1871.[971] In Spain, he represented the interests of the General Council – ‘it is most fortunate that you should be there at the moment’, Engels wrote enthusiastically.[972]

Lafargue immediately became aware of the social-revolutionary sentiments in Spain and the aftereffect of Fanelli’s propaganda for an organisational mix between the Alliance and the International. During his first stay in Madrid, Lafargue seems to have met Tomás Gonzalez Morago and Celso Gomis – members of the Alliance’s Geneva section (organisation 1) – and others. His displeasure is evident in his report of those meetings: ‘Spain is where you can appraise Bakunin’s influence […]. I have met several people here who came from Switzerland and were affiliated to the Alliance and who were convinced that it was Bakunin who had introduced communism into the Int[ernational] under the name of collectivism.’[973] News like this was bound to increase Marx and Engels’ nervousness in the tense months following the London Conference. Their contemptuous letters to the Belgian Federation of the International had already raised tempers there.[974] Now, sabre-rattling in Spain was about to jeopardise further sympathies for the General Council. In reply to Lafargue’s offer of help – ‘I could also act on the Federal Council of Madrid, but I need instructions’[975] – Marx wrote in a letter of 24/25 November 1871 that the position of the Federal Council

is highly suspect. Since Lorenzo’s departure [from the London Conference] Engels has received no reply whatever to his many letters.[976] They are imbued with the doctrine of abstention in politics. Engels has written and told them today that, if they persist in their silence, steps will be taken. In any case Toole [i.e. Paul Lafargue] must act.[977]

In a postscript to Marx’s message, Engels – since 2 October 1871 the official corresponding secretary for Spain in the General Council[978] – drew up a master plan for Spain for Lafargue, which assumed the Spanish International would split, called on Lafargue to form sections and promised that the General Council would give him full power ‘for the whole of Spain’:

My ultimatum to the Federal Council in Madrid goes off today, by registered mail; I tell them that, if they persist in their silence, we shall have to take such steps as the interests of the International dictate. If they fail to reply, or do so in an unsatisfactory manner, we shall at once appoint you plenipotentiary for the whole of Spain. In the meantime, our Rules confer on you, as on any other member, the right to form new sections. It is important that, in the event of a split, we should continue to have a pied-à-terre in Spain, even if the whole of the present organisation were to go over, lock, stock and barrel, to the Bakuninist camp; and you will be the only person we shall then be able to count upon.[979]

Engels wrote the following threatening letter to the Spanish Federal Council on the same day:

Since the return of Citizen Lorenzo from the last conference we have not had any news from you. I have written two letters to you;[980] the last one, dated the eighth of this November, which was registered, asked you to write to us immediately to explain this long silence. We have not yet received any answer but we have heard that a small minority of members of the International, seeking to sow divisions in the ranks of the association, is conspiring against the resolutions of the [London] Conference and the General Council, spreading calumnies of all sorts. We have no doubt that your mysterious silence is caused by your having received letters of this type. If this is the case, we want you to inform us of the accusations and insinuations expressed against us, as is your duty, so that we can refute them.

In any case, you cannot prolong this silence which is contrary to our General Rules which instruct you to send us regular reports.[981] We ask for an immediate reply to this letter; if you do not reply to it, we shall have to conclude that your silence is deliberate and that you believe the calumnies which we have mentioned, without having the courage to inform us of them. And we shall have to proceed in that case in the manner which the interest of the International will dictate.[982]

In a letter laced with irony, Mora, secretary of the Spanish Federal Council, fearlessly replied:

Since when do you believe it justified to suppose that our silence is complicit with plans directed against the Association? Our silence arises only and exclusively from the little free time afforded to us by our many activities. Put simply, you should have understood that the abnormal situation that the Association faces in our region has left us with much to do.

I do not know what defamatory communications you refer to and as for your last paragraph, which is a veiled insult and a threat that I will ignore, I believe that you have written it in a moment of good humour perhaps whilst celebrating the appearance of the sun after three consecutive days of that fog you are having in London.

Friends, be more fair with us […].[983]

Engels was just as exuberant upon hearing that the London Conference resolution had been printed alongside Mesa’s aforementioned article ‘The Politics of the International’ as he had been hostile toward the Spaniards for their supposed insubordination. Engels conveniently ignored the article ‘Workers, Do Not Go to the Polls’ which followed the conference resolutions. ‘There must have been internal struggles within the Spanish International’, Engels fantasised in a letter to Lafargue, ‘struggles that were finally decided in our favour. […] the decision of the Spaniards to come over to our side will decide the matter – upon the whole – all along the line.’[984] Naturally Mesa’s article was only that and did not represent a ‘decision of the Spaniards’; Engels didn’t let that deter him from making a big deal about the article and declared his ‘victory’ to all who would listen. ‘In Spain we are in the clear’, Engels crowed prematurely on 15 December 1871; ‘we have gained a resounding victory. The relevant Conference resolution [resolution no. 9] has been recognised.’[985] And in a letter to Italy, he bragged:

With regard to the Conference’s resolution on politics, I am pleased to announce that the Spanish federation has fully accepted it [!], as can be seen from the latest issues of the Emancipacion of Madrid and [the reprint of Mesa’s article in] the Federacion of Barcelona (December 3). The transformation of the International in Spain into a distinct and independent political party is now secure.[986]

Engels’ remarks at the General Council meeting on 19 December 1871 were just as exaggerated.[987] But the published version of the minutes of that General Council meeting was the most preposterous of all:

A Congress of delegates from all the sections [!] of the Association had been held in Madrid, at which the whole of the resolutions of the London conference were adopted. It was also decided that the Spanish members should no longer abstain from politics, but that a new party should be formed, a Labour party, which should be distinct from all existing parties.[988]

Pure fiction. Despite being forced to publish a half-hearted retraction on 30 December 1871, Engels still firmly believed that Mesa’s article was proof ‘that the Spanish section thoroughly approved of the resolutions of the London conference, and had determined to act in accordance with the resolution relative to the union of political and social action’.[989]

In reality, an opinion had not even really started to form in Spain. The Madrid Federal Council remained strictly neutral and at its meeting on 23 December 1871 decided to send the Sonvillier Circular to all of the local federations for publication.[990] Lafargue reported to London that ‘it was too late to stop the publication of this document’ on 23 December, the same day he moved from San Sebastián to Madrid.[991] Lafargue wrote the following about how the Federal Council arrived at its decision:

since they had received 150 printed copies of the [Sonvillier] circular from Barcelona, they believed there was no means of hiding the light of Master Bakunin’s illustrious chef-d’œuvre under a bushel and that, should they attempt to conceal it, the reactionary papers would be certain to publish it themselves; and as, on his return from the [London] Conference, Lorenzo told only his most intimate friends about these filthy intrigues, the Madrid and Spanish sections were furious with him for keeping silent as soon as they learnt of the exposure of this internal dissension from the bourgeois press: the Federal Council did not want to incur further blame on this score.[992]

Lafargue, who must have sensed that the discussion about the London Conference resolutions would not go his way, got himself worked up about the Sonvillier Circular: ‘I believe the time has come for the [General] Council to finish off the Jurassians and the Bakunists.’[993] Galaxies away from Engels’ dream of a transformation of the International in Spain into a political party, the first voices critical of the General Council were now heard in Spain. On 31 December 1871, the Federación printed the Sonvillier Circular, which it supported in a preface with the following words:

We received the circular that we publish below, directed by the congress of the worker’s federation of Bernese Jura (Switzerland) towards all the federations of the International Working Men’s Association.

The content of the circular is of great importance. And we do not doubt that the local Spanish federations will study, with due care, a question so momentous for our beloved Association.

The idea to convene a general congress – the only body that can and should clarify everything and determine perfectly the functions of the General Council – in the shortest time possible seems to us very opportune.

We do not doubt that the Congress will resolve satisfactorily this question.

The enemies of the International should not clap hands thinking they can benefit from our split. All institutions and every association in their life and in their development come up against such questions to resolve.

The International has, above all others, the great advantage of its essentially free organisation and its anarchist constitution. An enemy of authoritative powers and the resolute defender of freedom – it possesses an organisation of pure democratic shape knowing on a given day the will of the majority of the proletarians; and when whichever question arises (this one for example) a general congress made up of delegates, who are given a mandate to follow by the electorate and are representatives of the will, the aspirations and the ideas of the International in every country, will clarify and perfectly resolve it satisfactorily however serious, deep and momentous the question may be.

Therefore we should study the question, and we should prepare to give an imperative mandate to our delegates; and we await the resolution of the universal congress, that will, undoubtedly and as always, conform with justice and liberty.[994]

The Spanish sections of the International were even more motivated to reach a decision after the Federación reported two weeks later about the support of various Italian sections for the Sonvillier Circular.[995] The Seville section contacted Madrid saying they wanted a discussion on the ‘the question of the Jura Federation, a question that appears very important to us’.[996] The Palma de Mallorca Local Federation became the first group of sections in Spain to support the Sonvillier Circular on 14 January 1872. They explained their support by referring to the congruence between the resolutions of the Spanish International and the line of reasoning in the circular:

last year in September, the Valencia Conference of delegates of the Spanish federation accepted unanimously the definition of the republic conceived in these three grand ideas: common property, anarchy and economic federation;[997] a formula that sees the future social organisation of society as a free universal federation of free producers in free associations. This definition was accepted by all sections of our regional federation without the slightest protest from within. Said definition implies the complete abolition of all authoritarian power, even in the sections themselves, giving them the most complete autonomy, so that through the free federation of autonomous groups the revolutionary action of the proletariat obtains that unity, which authority and centralisation try to realise.

For these reasons the Assembly accepts the idea of a general congress and unites with the Jura Federation, for said aims, in the hope that all of the federations of our great Association will unite with us so the congress can be held as soon as possible.[998]

The conflict in Switzerland that had led to the split in the Romance Federation was also examined in the Federación. A letter from Geneva published in the issue of 21 January 1872 focussed on the main issues of the conflict – pluralism, the internal organisation of the International and the role of the General Council:

All of the discussions converge upon the same theme: while the principles of the International are accepted, should it change the basis of its organisation or not? Two opinions exist between the supporters of the current organisation of our Association. One tends to transform the General Council of London into a type of government that is more or less authoritarian, more or less constitutional but in any case, a government. The other tends towards the idea that the General Council of London would be simply a correspondence and statistics bureau. The Romance Federation belongs to the former, the Jura Federation to the latter. […] it is an important question that should be well studied and all opinions should be heard, in order to better shape the mandate to be given to the delegates at the next congress, which has to resolve all of these questions.[999]

On 24 February 1872, the Barcelona section also declared its support for the Sonvillier Circular announcing the following in its own circular:

The Jura Question

1) It is the opinion of the Barcelona section, that given the imperfection of the organisation of the International in some regions, it is desirable that an international congress be held as soon as possible to reform said organisation.

2) That the secretaries of the different regions in the General Council should be elected by their respective regions.

3) That the function of the General Council should not be anything other than a central office for correspondence, statistics and information.

4) That the admission of sections is effected by the local federations or by regional federations when the former do not exist.

5) That otherwise, the Barcelona section is in compliance with the resolutions of the last Belgian Federal Congress on this question.[1000]

In an accompanying letter, Rafar [i.e. Rafael Farga Pellicer], explained: ‘We believe that a revision of the Rules and a reorganisation of our Association are needed to stifle the reactionary influences and authoritarian tendencies of the General Council.’[1001]

CHAPTER 11. Lafargue’s activities in Spain

BY FEBRUARY 1872, A NUMBER OF sections of the International in Spain and Italy had cast their weight behind the Sonvillier Circular – while the Belgian federal congress (December 1871) agreed with the circular in principle.[1002] The Jura sections could not dispute the logic behind the Belgian demand for a revision of the Rules and so supported the Belgian resolutions in January 1872, giving up their own demand for an immediate extraordinary congress.[1003]

While the General Council’s critics prevailed in Jura, Belgium, Italy and Spain, there were four groups who declared their absolute support for the resolutions of the London Conference in the months that followed it:

  • The regional meeting of Saxon social democrats (resolution of 6/7 January 1872 according to Liebknecht’s claim).[1004]

  • The general meeting of the German section in Geneva attended by about two dozen people (resolution of 28 November 1871).[1005]

  • The general meeting of Geneva sections (resolution of 2 December 1871).[1006]

  • The British Federal Council approved the resolutions on 8 February 1872.[1007] This council was only established because of a London Conference resolution.[1008]

In addition, Marx and Engels asked several of the General Council’s correspondents for their opinion. Because of the lack of resolutions, it is unclear whether these are personal opinions or represent a general mood in the countries. Engels told his Danish correspondent Louis Pio on 7 March 1872 ‘that the Danish Federal Council should recognise the Conference resolutions’.[1009] Even though a corresponding resolution had in all likelihood not been adopted, Pio replied: ‘It goes without saying that we absolutely don’t concur with the Bakuninist hotheads, who basically don’t know what they want. Therefore we can calmly declare that so far we have agreed in everything with the General Council, with its decisions as well as with its conduct.’[1010]

Pio had obviously formed his opinion without having detailed knowledge about the position of both sides – despite travelling to Switzerland in early 1872 to learn more about the International and getting to know Liebknecht on his way back through Leipzig. Liebknecht wrote about their meeting to Engels on 15 February 1872:

Luckily his [Pio’s] lack of French forced him to socialise with Becker and the German members of the International for the most part, so that he steered clear of the Bakuninistic temptations. I talked to him about everything in great detail and I think that the Copenhageners will get rid of the unclean elements who also have been smuggled in and have smuggled themselves in there.[1011]

A further statement regarding the London Conference resolutions came from Friedrich Sorge (1828–1906), the General Council’s correspondent in New York. In November/December 1871, there had also been a split among the sections of the International in the United States, which led to the formation of two competing Federal Councils (the Spring Street Council and the Tenth Ward Hotel Council) – unlike Europe, the conflict was not rooted in the debate between political-parliamentarian or social-revolutionary socialism. Sorge tried to gain recognition from the General Council for his Tenth Ward Hotel Council in New York, despite in fact representing only eight sections – seven of them German-speaking. Thanks to Marx and Engels’ efforts, the General Council lent its support to Sorge in March 1872.[1012] Before this happened, Sorge had hurriedly announced his complete approval of the London Conference resolutions: ‘The resolutions of the “International Conference” at London’, he wrote on 17 December 1871 in his monthly report to the General Council, ‘have been received & find general approbation in our Sections’.[1013]

In addition to these messages, some groups partially approved of the resolutions. The uncertainty of the members may have been why the issue was resolved with a compromise. The organ of the German-speaking Swiss sections the Tagwacht, for example, supported constructive debate and pluralism within the International by pointing out that

the most diverse political views are represented in the International from the staunch centralism of Austrian workers to the anarchist federalism of our Spanish comrades. The latter call for non-participation in elections, and our German comrades exercise their right to vote in every election. In one country our comrades support other progressive parties, in other countries they always take part as their own party. Only monarchists don’t exist in the International.

It’s the same with respect to socio-economics. Communists and individualists work side by side and one can very well say: there is no socio-economic ideology that is not represented in the International. Of course, the like-minded and similarly minded groups stick together. The different ideologies also fight each other, of course in a brotherly manner. Regardless of this, the International has always stood united against the enemy without and the different ideologies unite and understand one another when necessary. […]

Why then does the bourgeois press babble on about a split in the International? Is it because some groups have a different opinion than others on the question of organisation? Or because some groups protested against the authority of the recent London Conference?

It is woeful self-deception when the hostile press for one minute gives in to the sweet delusion: ‘Now the International is breaking apart and then we will be rid of the red menace.’ One only has to read the protest circular by the Jura Federation that ends with the cry:

‘Long live the International Working Men’s Association!’

Does that sound like a split? No! Esteemed gentlemen! To your great dismay, the International will not split […].[1014]

The remarkable similarities with the line of reasoning in the Belgian resolution of December 1871 – emphasis on a pluralist internal organisation of the International, position expressed as part of a criticism of the reactionary press – were not a coincident as it turns out. The Zurich section reached a compromise at its meetings on 20 and 27 January 1872, rejecting the initial demand of the Sonvillier Circular that a general congress be called immediately, responding both negatively and positively to the contentious issues brought up in the circular, and backing the Belgian call for revision of the Rules.[1015]

The Dutch Federal Council reacted to the London Conference resolutions with similar ambivalence: in a statement dated 27 December 1871, the Federal Council only supported ‘the general tenor of the decisions mentioned before’ and explained its position regarding resolution no. 9 (constitution of the working class into a political party, conquest of political power), which was the subject of controversial discussion in many places:

As regards the phrase ‘To conquer political power has therefore become the great duty of the working classes’ appearing in art. IX, the Council holds the view that people might wrongly conclude that we aim to take the place of the party now in power excluding it from the power altogether. For this reason the Council would rather like this phrase to read: the great duty of the working class is to secure a part of the political power in proportion to its numbers.[1016]

The members of the General Council were unaware of this ambivalence – at the General Council meeting on 2 January 1872, Rochat merely stated ‘that the Dutch Federal Council gave in its adherence to the Conference resolutions’.[1017]

Lafargue and the Emancipación’s contact with the Republican Party (January to March 1872)

In keeping with Engels’ master plan, according to which Lafargue was to establish a base in Spain in case of a split,[1018] Lafargue did his best to set a factional divide in motion within the Spanish Federation. In late January 1872, he pushed the Madrid Federal Council into directing a declaration at the Republican Party (Partido Republicano Federal): ‘The main points in it will be’, he told Engels in advance, ‘report on the situation – report on the political parties now in the forefront and what our attitude towards them should be, ending with a programme setting out the general aspirations of the Int[ernational]. As you see, it is an affirmation of the workers’ party.’[1019] Already in mid-February, Lafargue disclosed that the Federal Council had changed its mind on politics:

As you can see, the Int. has taken a new position here, establishing itself as a workers’ party, determined to take up arms in order to accomplish its programme. […] In the [Federal] Council here you have two rather superior men, Mesa and Mora, […] who have guided the Council and have led it to take this new position, which all the other sections welcomed enthusiastically […].[1020]

As Lafargue himself explained in the letter, the proposed contact with the Republican Party meant a ‘new position’ for the International in Spain, if not a radical change of course. In the previous summer, the Spanish Federal Council brushed off the advances of the Republican Party by saying the Federal Council ‘considers the projects of reform carried out in the form proposed to us to be harmful and inefficient.’[1021] The newspapers the Federación and the Emancipación also emphatically rejected the party (‘Why We Fight the Republican Party’ [‘De por que combatimos al partido republicano’]).[1022] The republicans also urged the Saragossa Local Federation to form a coalition with them in November/December 1871. The Council of the Local Federation, however, rejected this initiative saying that, in accordance with the General Rules of the International, they would never ‘compromise on politics’. The Federal Council in Madrid approved of this response wholeheartedly and wrote to the Saragossa Local Federation ‘that they had done good’.[1023]

It must have been very alienating to see the editors of the Emancipación – apparently inspired by Lafargue – send an appeal to the party meeting of the republicans in Madrid only eleven weeks later on 25 February 1872. In the appeal, the Republican Party was posed a number of questions, told the authors’ positions and invited to do the following: ‘The republican papers have kept a disdainful silence regarding our programme, […] we ask that you formulate a clear and explicit opinion on the topic.’[1024] Mora and Lafargue later justified their contact to the Republican Party by saying it was meant to ‘quench people’s illusions surrounding the republican’s pseudo-socialist phraseology’.[1025] They also had the intention ‘of forming a big working men’s party in Spain. To achieve this aim, the working class would first have to be completely isolated from all the bourgeois parties’.[1026]

Lafargue’s above-cited fantasy – all the other sections welcomed the new position enthusiastically – was far from the truth, as the overwhelming majority of the International in Spain did not support making contact with the Republican Party or the plan to form a big working men’s party. Hence, the members of the Madrid Local Federation of the International decided to dispel the misleading notion that the editors of the Emancipación were speaking in the name of the International and according to its instructions. After the editors of the Emancipación turned down a request for a correction,[1027] the council of the Madrid Local Federation decided to send their own message to the Republican Party on 7 March 1872. In it, they explained that the appeal from the editors of the Emancipación ‘did not only not come from the International’, but that it also contradicted the Federal Council’s above-cited message from the previous summer, which declared the political projects of the Republican Party to be ‘harmful and inefficient’.[1028]

The Emancipación editor and Federal Council member Mesa exacerbated the situation by first brusquely refusing to print this statement in the Emancipación[1029] and instead bringing the matter up in the Federal Council. As six of the nine Federal Council members were editors of the Emancipación, it is not surprising that the Federal Council sided with it and supported its appeal to the Republican Party.[1030] Mesa himself – in his position as interim general secretary of the Federal Council – even drew up a corresponding declaration,[1031] bringing the antagonism between the Madrid Federal Council and the Madrid sections of the International to a head. As a result, the six editors of the Emancipación and Federal Council members Mesa, Mora, Lorenzo, Paulino Iglesias, Hipólito Pauly and Víctor Pagés were kicked out of the Madrid Federation of the International on 27 March 1872.[1032]

The Saragossa Congress (4–11 April 1872) and Lafargue’s reports in the Liberté

In spite of the fact that first voices critical of the General Council were being heard in Spain,[1033] Paul and Laura Lafargue created the impression in their letters to London that Spain was entirely on the General Council’s side.[1034] Blinded by these positive signals, Marx and Engels once again believed that the International in Spain agreed with them in the spring of 1872: ‘this attempted rebellion has come to an ignominious end’, an excited Engels wrote of his supposed success in Spain, ‘and we can proclaim a victory all along the line’.[1035] Marx also fell for this illusion – he seriously described the mood in the International in a letter to Lafargue as follows:

In Italy the only serious sections, in Milan and Turin, are ours;[1036] the others are led by lawyers, journalists and other bourgeois doctrinaires.[1037] (Apropos, one of Bakunin’s personal grounds for complaint against me is that he has lost all influence in Russia where the revolutionary youth tread the same path as myself.)[1038]

The Resolutions of the London Conference have already been recognised by France, America, England, Ireland, Denmark, Holland, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland (minus the Jurassians), the genuine working men’s sections in Italy and, finally, the Russians and Poles. Those who fail to recognise them will do nothing to alter this fact, but will be forced to part company with the vast majority of the International.[1039]

Of the countries in this curious list, only the British Federal Council, the Geneva sections and the social democrats of Saxony had really issued more or less well documented declarations of support for the London Conference resolutions. The Dutch Federal Council and Zurich sections had agreed, with reservations. Pio and Sorge – the correspondents to the General Council from Denmark and one of the American factions – had pledged their support without a corresponding resolution from their country. No decisions had been reached in Ireland, Austria, Hungary, France, Russia, and Poland. Marx was obviously relying on the opinion of the General Council’s corresponding secretaries for these countries – the same arrangement as during the London Conference. The corresponding secretaries were namely Marx himself (Russia) and his confidants Joseph Patrick McDonnell (Ireland), Walery Wróblewski (Poland), Leo Frankel (Austria-Hungary)[1040], and Auguste Serraillier (France).[1041]

In reality, together with the General Council’s critics who dominated in Jura, Belgium, Italy and Spain, a wide spectrum of more or less ambivalent views had been expressed within the International regarding the London Conference resolutions by March 1872. In view of this unresolved situation, the congress of the Spanish Federation in April 1872 was of great importance – its resolutions were sure to attract international attention. Engels, who absurdly thought he had a chance because ‘the workers will predominate at this congress’,[1042] confidently called on the Spanish Federal Council on 27 March 1872 to ‘submit the resolutions of the London Conference to the Regional Congress for their approval’.[1043]

In view of the persecution that the International faced in Spain, the Madrid Federal Council summoned the delegates to Saragossa on 4 April 1872 – four days before the official opening of the federal congress – in order to deal with the pressing questions of the federation before the state authorities intervened.[1044] One of the most important items on the agenda was the conflict regarding the six editors of the Emancipación and Federal Council members who were kicked out of the Madrid Local Federation. The congress delegates took eight hours to debate this issue.[1045] They reached a compromise that was not destined to last long as the contentious issues had been set aside. The following resolution was passed:

That the editors of the Emancipación withdraw everything that led to their expulsion and that the Madrid Local Federation also withdraw everything offensive in character to said editors and their resolution to expel them.

It was also agreed to exclude all doctrinaire issues which were brought up in said periodical under the title ‘The Organisation of Work’ [‘Organización del trabajo’] and which should be dealt with in a friendly manner between the delegates.[1046]

As such, the attempt to contact the Republican Party by the editors of the Emancipación was not judged for the time being. However, the congress delegates decided to move the Federal Council from Madrid to Valencia and only two of its previous nine members were nominated for re-election: Francisco Mora and Anselmo Lorenzo.[1047] As Mora turned down his nomination, Lafargue – the delegate for the Alcalá de Henares section at the Saragossa Congress – saw almost all of his political allies neutralised at once.

The Federal Council had entrusted Lafargue and Lorenzo with drafting resolution proposals for the agenda items organisation[1048] and property.[1049] Lafargue prepared most of the report on property on his own.[1050] However, two weeks before the opening of the congress he pleaded for Marx and Engels’ help in drawing up an organisational plan for the International.[1051] Lafargue presented the congress’s commission on this matter with an organisational plan that pretended to be grassroots. It was really centralist though as each body was responsible for the acts of its members: the section committees were responsible for the section members, the councils of the local federations for all of the sections and the federal council for all of the local federations.[1052] A second organisational plan was proposed by the Alianza member Morago: it promised greater autonomy for the sections and strengthened the regions at the expense of central bodies, which would only be entrusted with correspondence and statistics.[1053] The congress didn’t agree with either proposal, but instead adopted the Alianza member Francisco Tomás’ proposal to keep the status quo (introduced at the Valencia Conference) – and Lafargue ended up agreeing with this.[1054] Regarding the question of international organisation, which had become urgent because of the Sonvillier Circular, Morago proposed a resolution whereby the Spanish Federation would completely support the resolutions of the Belgian federal congress of December 1871 – i.e. referring to the General Council as a ‘correspondence and information centre’, characterising the International as a ‘group of completely autonomous federations’ with regard to its internal structure and calling for a revision of the Rules. Morago’s suggestion was passed unanimously.[1055]

Considering the positive signals Lafargue was sending to London, the results of the Saragossa Congress were pretty devastating: Lafargue abruptly lost his influence in the Spanish Federal Council through the election of new members and the move to Valencia; the very opposite of Engels’ wish that the congress endorse the London Conference resolutions came true as the delegates instead supported the Belgian resolutions. Nevertheless, Lafargue wrote the following to Engels after the congress:

Before going further I must let you know that the result of the Congress is excellent, not only by reason of the impression it has produced in Spain, but also because the Bakunists have been vanquished [!]. I will not enter into the details of their rout, since you will find it reported in La Emancipación, to which I contributed a report from Saragossa.[1056] I had to observe some degree of moderation in La Emancipación, but I shall let myself go in a report that I am sending to the Brussels Liberté; yesterday I sent them a first completely innocuous instalment, but in canela venenosa [the sting is in the tail].

It is some time now since the Bakunist mystery was revealed to me, I did not want to make my discovery known to you for tactical reasons which may well prevent me from making public what I have learnt here. The Alliance has always existed in Spain and continues to exist at the present time, but it loses its influence with every day that passes. The Alliance here was a secret body, which set out to recruit from amongst the best elements in the International and whose function it was to supervise the Int[ernational], to preserve the purity of such principles as atheism, rights of inheritance, etc. A real Council of Ten, but spreading to every town in Spain.[1057]

As promised Lafargue wrote his report for the Liberté with great zeal and ‘denounced’ the secret Alianza to the European public:

The two questions that most drew the attention of the congress were that of the organisation of the working class and that of property.[1058] Today, I shall occupy myself only with the first. The Jura circular, threatening the International with a schism and with the creation of two centres, only had any significance in Italy, where the proletarian movement is quite young and in the hands of idealist doctrinaires. In Spain, however, it has furnished some members of the Alianza with a pretext to agitate and disturb the International. The Alianza constituted itself here as a secret society, recruiting the most energetic and superior members of the movement, giving itself the mission of leading the International and guarding the purity of its principles; in a word, the Alianza was an aristocracy within the International. The members of the Alianza in Madrid went so far as to have six members of the Spanish Federal Council expelled from the Association by the Federation of Madrid.[1059]

Lafargue’s report contains a number of inconsistencies:

  • The Bulletin of the Jura Federation countered the claim that the Sonvillier Circular threatens ‘the International with a schism and with the creation of two centres’ by saying:

the Jura circular never had the goal of producing a split in the International or creating a second centre, but of reorganising the International and returning it to the principles of the General Rules; […] the Jura Federation proceeds in this way together with the Belgian Federation – whose resolutions it has adopted – along with the existing French sections, with the Spanish Federation, and with the Italian sections.[1060]

  • A delegate of the Saragossa Congress denied Lafargue’s account of the Federal Council members’ expulsion: ‘it was not the members of the Spanish Federal Council who were as such expelled by the Madrid Local Federation, but rather certain editors of the periodical the Emancipación.’[1061] In point of fact, Lafargue kept silent on the reason for the expulsion of the Emancipación in his report for the Liberté in view of the deep-seated anti-parliamentarian sentiments in Belgium.

  • Lafargue actually understood the Alianza – which he referred to as an ‘aristocracy’ in the Liberté – better than he let on. He personally told Engels what the Alianza members were really up to: ‘they wanted to form a body of the most intelligent, most active people who were to be the propagators and defenders of the Int[ernational] etc. and who, in the event of dissolution, would always stick together and re-establish it.’[1062]

Lafargue sent further ‘revelations’ about the Alianza to Engels, who was naturally overjoyed about the news, if not obsessed. Engels added new spins to Lafargue’s disclosures before spreading them further; all the while refusing to listen to reason – even from friends. In a letter to Cuno, Engels reached the bizarre conclusion that in fact the Alianza was ‘aimed, not against the government, but against the mass of the workers! I have every reason to suspect that the same thing is going on in Italy. What information do you have on this subject?’[1063] Cuno responded:

I have heard little about the Bakuninists’ secret association: I have read a few letters from Locarno and Barcelona, but they spoke rather generally and not about an actual organisation at any rate. I fear you are taking a dark view on things […].[1064]

However, Engels didn’t feel like lightening up: ‘I do not doubt for an instant that the same secret society exists in Italy, though, perhaps, not in as rigid a form as in formalistic Spain.’[1065]

Engels wrote triumphantly to Wilhelm Liebknecht, editor of the Volksstaat in Leipzig, on 7 May 1872:

Lafargue is doing a terrific amount of work in Spain and very skilfully too. The report from the Liberté on the congress in Saragossa was also by him. Incidentally, do not forget to publish the second report, the one in the previous issue of the ‘Liberté’, in which he unmasks the secret intrigues of the Bakuninists and describes the spectacular victory gained over them by our supporters [!] there. This was the decisive defeat for that pig-headed Bakunin.[1066]

The Alianza member Tomás, whose resolution proposal on the organisation question was adopted by the congress, would have been quite surprised to see Engels refer to him as one of his supporters.

Engels also told the General Council about Lafargue’s reports of victory. According to a published version of the minutes of the General Council meeting on 7 May 1872 that appeared in the Eastern Post, Engels described the reactions to the appeal by the editors of the Emancipación to the Republican Party as follows: ‘Those amongst its members who really had the interest of the International more at heart than that of a petty sectarian clique [i.e. the Alianza], were attacked by the fanatics and intriguers of the sect’.[1067]

The adoption of the organisation resolution put forward by the Alianza member Tomás prompted Engels to make the following lofty claim to his General Council colleagues:

The Congress unanimously, only two or three delegates abstaining, declared that the rules, as voted at Valencia, were to remain in full effect,[1068] and thus the attempt to annihilate [!] the International in Spain, under pretext of more perfectly organising it, signally failed. This result is of great importance for the whole of our Association. It proves again that the strong good sense of the working class, in Spain as well as elsewhere, need only be appealed to, in order to put down the tricks and the sectarian crotchets of bogus reorganisers and would-be prophets. Bakunin and his followers considered Spain as their stronghold, because for a few years they had directed the propaganda in that country. But no sooner had the proletarian movement become general in Spain, than the Spanish working men refused to be fettered by the narrow tenets of a sect [i.e. the Alianza], and to sacrifice the organisation they themselves had erected and perfected to the private ends of a few intriguers, who, having been foiled in their oft-repeated attempts to make the International their instrument, now do everything they can to practically dissolve it.[1069]

Considering how far Engels had gone out on a limb, he must have been quite shocked when he read the real resolutions of the Saragossa Congress a short time later. For example, the Bulletin of the Jura Federation published them according to an official communication from the newly elected Spanish Federal Council.[1070] Engels complained to Liebknecht on 15 May 1872: ‘Lafargue forgot to tell us that at the same time a resolution had been passed recognising and adopting the resolutions of the Belgian Congress (of 25 December 1871). So that the victory was by no means as complete as he described it to us.’[1071] And on 22 May 1872, he wrote Liebknecht about the above-cited General Council meeting minutes printed in the Eastern Post:

Please do not publish it. It was based on Lafargue’s letters, but since the Jurassians are interpreting another resolution of the Congress in their own favour, and since Lafargue’s initial reports of victory were somewhat exaggerated in any event, it would be desirable for them not to circulate with a seal of approval from the General Council. I am not sending it to Italy or Spain either.[1072]

Lafargue’s Liberté report had quite another effect in Spain where it caused an outburst of hostilities. After a first letter of protest from Seville, the editors of the Liberté distanced themselves from Lafargue:

We have received a letter from one of our friends in Seville who is quite upset by the correspondence that we have published on the Saragossa Congress. In Seville it seems to be thought that our correspondent has undertaken the task of sowing division in Spain and that we would like to help him do so. We are thoroughly convinced that such could never be the intent of our correspondent, and it certainly is not ours; however, since we are unable to control the acts that he has reported, we can only recommend to our Spanish readers to judge for themselves the credibility of our correspondent’s assertions. While having confidence in his good faith, we cannot align ourselves with all of his opinions.[1073]

As the protests from Spain about Lafargue’s report did not stop, the editors of the Liberté felt obliged to make the following explanation, which links the controversial report and the continuing conflict about internal organisation and pluralism in the International.

We willingly acknowledge the declarations of our friends from Spain, while continuing to insist, on our side, that malign intentions have inspired neither our correspondent nor ourselves.

Nonetheless, what this conflict makes evident is that the organisation of the International is conceived in two different, even opposite manners, although the end to be attained is the same for both sides. Our correspondent inclines towards greater centralisation of the workers’ forces; he tends to favour the authority of the General Council; the comrades who protest against his letter are inclined toward a more complete autonomy of the local and national groups. Here, once again, is the opposition between the unitary principle and the federative principle, but a less radical opposition, which cannot become violent.

For our part, our sympathies are clearly in favour of the federative principle, but we will restrain ourselves to developing in the near future our ideas on this serious matter, which is tied to other discussions arising within the International […].[1074]

The Federación took satisfaction in noting this correction: ‘Effectively, like it [the Liberté], we think that the foundation, the aspiration and the lasting tendency of the organisation of the International Working Men’s Association has been essentially federalist’.[1075] This made Lafargue’s revelations seem all the more ideologically motivated. Gabriel Albajés, a Saragossa Congress delegate from Barcelona, wrote an open letter to Lafargue:

Your letter to Brussels’ Liberté is a well constructed set of lies. Its intention is not, as you put it, to expose the men who are part of a secret society aspiring to control the destiny of the International. No, this is of little importance to you and furthermore you are convinced of the opposite. Instead, you would rather destroy – through the media that offer you assistance – any fruitful propaganda that is in favour of ideas that are not yours and that belong to the Alianza de la Democracia Socialista.[1076]

Because of the conflict surrounding Lafargue’s Liberté report, the compromise reached between the Madrid sections of the International and the editors of the Emancipación at the Saragossa Congress didn’t stand a chance. In accordance with the reconciliation resolution of the congress, the editors were accepted back into the Madrid Local Federation on 5 May 1872.[1077] However, neither Lafargue nor the Emancipación acted with restraint. After the uproar regarding Lafargue’s Liberté report, an article titled ‘Revolutionary Information’ (‘Información revolucionaria’) that appeared in the Emancipación on 1 June 1872 was the last straw. The article’s anonymous author argued against what in his opinion was useless criticism of the corruption of the Spanish political class which was public knowledge and against demands to make them directly accountable. Instead it called for a registry to be created, listing the financial situation of the politicians according to data from government land registry offices. After the revolution this registry could be used ‘in the hands of revolutionary power […] to enact confiscation or rather restitution’ of the politician’s wealth.[1078] This idea did not correspond to the emancipatory sentiments held by the radical majority of the International in Spain, who called for the direct ‘social liquidation’ (instead of studying data at the land registry office), demanded the creation of common property (instead of regulating private property through laws), and advocated anarchy (and not the creation of a ‘revolutionary power’).[1079]

The members of the Section of Various Trades (Sección de oficios varios) in Madrid, who had helped the Emancipación get on its feet financially more than anyone else,[1080] saw the paper drifting off for good toward Lafargue and Mesa’s small group, who were considered responsible for all of the recent conflicts. Two days after the article was published, the editors of the Emancipación Mesa, Mora, Iglesias, Pauly, and Pagés were kicked out of the Section of Various Trades for a second time, ‘and were declared traitors because of their published writings and for propagating ideas that contradicted the aspirations of the section that they belonged to’.[1081]

Bakunin’s letters to Mora and Lorenzo (April–May 1872)

Lafargue continued his successful strategy of provoking a factional divide by further fuelling the conflict over the next while. On 27 June 1872, he published the brochure To the members of the International in Spain (A los internacionales de la región española) in which he again justified his report in the Liberté and began a new attack on Bakunin and the Alianza. He was very proud of the brochure: it ‘will do all that is necessary to finish off the Alliance here’, he bragged on 1 July 1872 to Engels.[1082] But the reaction in Spain was limited. The Federación, for example, only took note ‘with a profound disgust’ and declared: ‘We believe that the individuals who are attacked will answer, not because those who write such things and operate in such a way deserve a reply, but rather to lend a clarity to the facts and so that people paying attention to such fanfare will not be caught unawares.’[1083]

Lafargue invented close ties between Bakunin and the Spanish International because Bakunin was the real target behind his denunciation of the Alianza – as he revealed to Engels.[1084] For example, the protests of the Spanish sections against Lafargue were described by him in a letter to the editor of the Liberté dated 12 July 1872 as ‘calumnies following the slogan emanating from Switzerland’.[1085] He also brashly claimed that the Alianza’s headquarters ‘is in Switzerland, and that is the source of the membership cards, the slogans, and the Monita secreta [secret instructions] coming entirely from the pen of the mysterious Pope of Locarno’.[1086]

The Jura Federation’s Bulletin wrote the following with regards to Lafargue’s attempt to lump the Geneva Alliance (organisation 2) together with the Alianza (organisation 3):

In fact, the Alliance, in Switzerland, was simply a section of the International with its seat and members in Geneva; this section was recognised by the General Council in London and had sent a delegate to the Congress of Basel; all of its actions were public; and as it has been dissolved for almost a year now, it can have absolutely no influence on the Congress of Saragossa.[1087]

In reality, Lafargue knew very well that the Geneva section of the Alliance and the Alianza were two different entities. He wrote Engels – albeit privately: ‘Since B[akunin] is very lazy, what went on here in Spain is in no wise connected with what went on in Geneva. Mora, Tomás of Palma, Lorenzo, Farga of Barcelona, etc., in forming this secret society here, had had a sound if slightly mystical aim’.[1088] In public though, Lafargue continued to show his disgust with the Alianza, which was supposedly controlled from the outside and whose ‘obscured manoeuvres […] disturb and divide the International’.[1089] Despite knowing better, Engels made the following bizarre statement at the General Council meeting on 7 May 1872:

The Congress of the Spanish Internationals at Saragossa, which took place in the beginning of April, but the proceedings of which are only now published, has ended in the total defeat of that small but active faction, which, under the leadership of Bakunin, had for the last four years never ceased to promote discord in the ranks of our association. This faction, united in an international society calling itself the Alliance of Socialist Democracy, had, on its admittance into the International Working Men’s Association, solemnly pledged itself to dissolve its separate organisation and to become entirely fused in the International. But in spite of this solemn pledge, the Alliance continued to exist, as a secret society, within the International; the first example of a secret society directed, not against the ruling classes and their governments, but against that very same proletarian organisation in which it had professed to disappear.[1090]

Engels both embellished Lafargue’s bluff and exaggerated it to the extreme: the Alianza was now directed against the International and even against the workers, as well as being under the leadership of Bakunin, etc.

In reality, the Alianza (as explained above) developed autonomously in Spain – political dispatches like the one Alerini wrote on 14 November 1871 in the name of the ‘members of the International active in Barcelona’ clearly illustrate the independence of the Alianza members.[1091] Contrary to Lafargue and Engels’ conspiracy theories, Bakunin hardly communicated with Spain at all: since the summer of 1871, he was only regularly in touch with Sentiñón – thus, it appears their letters were mostly of a private nature as Sentiñón had stopped being active in the movement by then.[1092] Other than that, Bakunin only sent three letters to Spain in the very busy five months following the London Conference.[1093] Bakunin shared what little information he had on Spain with his friend Joukovsky in a letter dated 14 February 1872: ‘About Spain I don’t know much, [but] according to the letters I’ve received and in all probability, judging by [the principles] loudly proclaimed at the Congresses, it cannot but take our side’.[1094]

Six weeks later, beginning in April 1872, Bakunin began to intensify his contact with Spain by corresponding with Alerini. It was from Alerini that Bakunin likely received his first insider information about the International in Spain as well as the (ill-conceived) tip to contact Mora in Madrid. While Mora was a member of the Alianza in Madrid,[1095] he was also part of Lafargue and Mesa’s inner circle and was involved in the scandal surrounding the editors of the Emancipación and their contact to the Republican Party on 25 February 1872.[1096] Bakunin didn’t know about any of this when he naively wrote a letter to Mora on 5 April 1872:

Dear Ally and Comrade,

As our friends at Barcelona have invited me to write to you, I do so with all the more pleasure since I have learned that I also, like my friends, our allies of the Jura Federation, have become, in Spain as much as in other countries, the target for the calumnies of the London General Council. […]

To give you a fair idea of the line which we are taking, I have only one thing to tell you. Our programme is yours; it is the very one which you proclaimed at your Congress last year,[1097] and if you stay faithful to it, you are with us for the simple reason that we are with you. We detest the principle of dictatorship, governmentalism and authority, just as you detest them; we are convinced that all political power is an infallible source of depravity for those who govern, and a cause of servitude for those who are governed. – The state signifies domination, and human nature is so made that all domination becomes exploitation. As enemies of the state in all its manifestations anyway, we certainly do not wish to tolerate it within the International. We regard the London Conference and the resolutions which it passed as an ambitious intrigue and a coup d’état, and that is why we have protested, and shall continue protesting to the end. […]

It is good and it is necessary that the Allies in Spain should enter into direct relations with those in Italy. Are you receiving the Italian socialist newspapers? I recommend above all: the Eguaglianza of Girgenti, Sicily; the Campana of Naples; the Fascio Operaio of Bologna; the Gazzettino Rosa, above all the Martello, of Milan – unfortunately the latter has been banned and all the editors imprisoned. In Switzerland, I recommend to you two Allies: James Guillaume (Switzerland, Neuchâtel, 5, rue de la Place d’Armes) and Adhémar Schwitzguébel, engraver (member and corresponding secretary of the Committee of the Jura Federation), Switzerland, Jura Bernois, Sonvillier […] Please convey my greetings to brother Morago, and ask him to send me his newspaper [the Condenado]. Are you receiving the bulletin of the Jura Federation? Please burn this letter, as it contains names.[1098]

Mora must have been aghast upon reading Bakunin’s social-revolutionary ideas and the greetings to his estranged brother and enemy Morago, etc.[1099] With little to go on in Spain, Bakunin was blindly trying to make contacts according to Alerini’s suggestion and to connect activists from different countries.

Bakunin apparently found another piece of information from Alerini particularly interesting: the Spanish delegate Lorenzo’s hesitant and fragmented statements regarding the London Conference. As described above, Lorenzo had mostly dealt with his disappointment about what happened at the Conference on his own and only hinted at it to close friends.[1100] Incidentally, Lafargue also knew about Lorenzo’s confusion following the London Conference: ‘Poor Lorenzo was dumbfounded’, Lafargue wrote Engels, ‘he said that “if what they say of B[akunin] is true, he is the greatest scoundrel alive” – but he did not believe it’.[1101] Lorenzo had also written to his friends in Barcelona about his feelings,[1102] and Alerini informed Bakunin about this.

In the days before, Bakunin had considered trying to reach an understanding with the General Council in view of escalating conflicts in more and more federations. In a letter written in March 1872, Bakunin explained:

since it is only a matter of personalities and not of principles, I would like to try one last means of reconciliation. I wish first of all to address to the General Council a private letter, of which I shall send you a copy. And if they do not give me a satisfactory response, I shall force them to explain themselves in public.[1103]

As a matter of fact, Bakunin did mention a letter to the General Council in his diary on 13 and 20 April 1872.[1104] Electrified by what Alerini had told him about Lorenzo,[1105] Bakunin changed his plan and worked for several days on a letter to Lorenzo. In a surviving first draft dated 24 April 1872, he wrote:

Dear Citizen – Our friends from Barcelona have just informed me that following your return from London, where you attended the September conference as a delegate, these friends asked you about your thoughts and impressions concerning me, and that you replied: ‘If Utin spoke truthfully in London, Bakunin is a wretch, and if not, then Utin is a vile slanderer’. Let me express my astonishment and my regret, Citizen, that being the friend of my friend Fanelli, who was the first to tell you about me, you did not see fit to write these words to him and to ask him for explanations on my account immediately after your return from London […].[1106]

Bakunin posed Lorenzo eight questions on the matter, asked him to answer as soon as possible and signalled that he wanted to make the reply public as part of a counter-offensive. However, Bakunin did not send this letter and instead expanded it two weeks later to a seemingly endless description of the personal conflicts and contentious issues within the International. On page 20 of the ever-growing manuscript, he finally arrived at the point of the letter:

Having what is basically only a rather simple thing to ask you, I have written you such a long letter, Citizen, because it seemed useful and fitting to me that after hearing all the lies that our enemies hawked against us everywhere, you and your friends should hear from our own mouth a complete and truthful presentation of our sentiments, our beliefs, and our intentions.[1107]

The three questions in the definitive version of Bakunin’s letter to Lorenzo were as follows:

1) What are the facts that Utin, H. Perret, Marx or some other individual of the same circle have formulated either against me or against my friends Guillaume and Schwitzguébel, and what evidence has been presented to you in support of their accusations against us?

2) To whom and in what circumstances were these charges brought against us? In private conversations, or before the whole Conference?

3) Did the London Conference concern itself with this officially? And if so, what are the resolutions it has taken with regard to us?

I think I should tell you, Citizen, that we will send copies of this letter, which you shall receive from the hands of our friends in Barcelona, to a few close friends in different countries, and that I shall do the same with the reply that I hope to receive from you soon, whatever it may be. Must I add that in the absence of your sympathy, I shall rely on your loyalty and fairness?[1108]

After working on the letter from 6 to 15 May 1872, Bakunin had it delivered to Jura on 16 May, apparently to have it copied.[1109] From there it was sent to Alerini who was to pass it on Lorenzo.

Lorenzo, who was the only member re-elected to the Federal Council at the Saragossa Congress, came under increasing pressure because of his indecisive position. As the conflict between his colleagues in the previous Federal Council – who also edited the Emancipación – and the Madrid Local Federation intensified, he felt like he was ‘caught between the hammer and the anvil’ as both parties were trying to win him over.[1110] Depressed, he finally resigned from the Federal Council on 20 June 1872,[1111] left Valencia and emigrated to France a few months later for several years. In this state, while visiting his friend Manuel Cano in Vitoria shortly after resigning from the Federal Council, he met Alerini who finally gave him Bakunin’s letter on 15 August 1872.

The passionate letter brought Lorenzo back into the middle of the fray that he thought he had left behind him by resigning from the Federal Council. As such, he reacted coolly. In his reply to Bakunin on 24 August 1872, he wrote:

after so much time passed and without any type of document now at hand I can’t specify any of the accusations made about you by Utin. […] [In addition, there is no] necessity that I accuse anybody of what he said – with or without reason I can’t assess – against you or against any others. Thus, I avoid acting as an informer, for even if there would be a reason to do so, there would be no less reason to inform all others that you describe so harshly in your letter.[1112]

In his memoirs, Lorenzo also criticised the anti-Jewish sentiments in Bakunin’s letter.[1113] Strangely enough these were often a byproduct of his anti-German attitude and thus mostly came up in connection with his polemic against Marx.[1114] In various drafts of his letter to Lorenzo, Bakunin thus lashed out against the ‘essentially pan-Germanic’ theories of the ‘grand leader of the synagogue’, etc.[1115] Branding the political opponent with religious monikers had a long tradition among radicals in Europe – Lafargue for example attacked the ‘fat Pope of Locarno’ and the ‘Cardinals of Sonvillier’.[1116] However, such remarks are not in keeping with the anarchist ideas which Bakunin became famous for.

Lorenzo later regretted that his reply to Bakunin’s letter had been so harsh because of his personal problems: he honoured Bakunin with passionate praise in 1899.[1117] And, after James Guillaume wrote him a few years later while doing historical research, Lorenzo reread his reply to Bakunin’s letter and noted the following:

the reading of it [the letter] had caused me pain because the shock of the special circumstances I was entangled in meant I wrote with a certain harshness that was very far from the admiration and respect that Bakunin always inspired in me. I tried to express this in a biography about him I wrote which was published in the Revista Blanca, volume 1 (1899). After my resignation from the Valencia Federal Council I felt myself victim of the hostilities and hatred that conflicts produce – while I always avoided these personal struggles and was in love with the ideas and incapable of putting my passions or temper in front of them (what seemingly many people have done) – and therefore saw myself as isolated and sad and I wrote in a tone which today I recognise as being unjustified […].[1118]

CHAPTER 12. The Belgian rules project and the Fictitious Splits

EVER SINCE THE BELGIAN FEDERAL CONGRESS passed resolutions critical of the General Council in December 1871, Marx and Engels only spoke of the members of the International in Belgium disparagingly in their correspondence. ‘Apart from De Paepe’, Engels was suddenly convinced, ‘the Belgians were never anything much’.[1119] ‘De Paepe is the only one who is worth anything, but he is not very active. Steens is a jackass, a schemer and perhaps worse, and Hins is a Proudhonist who by that very fact, but even more because of his Russian wife,[1120] has leanings towards Bakunin. The others are puppets.’[1121]

Marx expressed his anger in the General Council on 13 February 1872 by saying ‘that the Belgians were more strongly represented on the London Conference than any other section, and that it could not therefore escape its liability with respect to the Conference and its resolutions’. Marx then moved to send an official enquiry to the Belgian Federal Council ‘if the Liberté is considered to be the official organ of the Belgian Federal Council. The latter was necessary inasmuch as the matters relating to the General Council were not fairly noted in that journal, while prominence was given to every little affair concerning the Swiss dissentients.’[1122] In reality, not a single remark had been made in favour of the Jura Federation or against the General Council in the Liberté since the report about the Belgian federal congress. Apparently Marx was expressing his general disapproval of the Belgian Federal Council members Steens and Hins, who belonged to the editors of the Liberté and whom Marx considered critics of the General Council.

On 23 April 1872, Engels again voiced his opinion about the Belgian members of the International: ‘the fellows have never been worth much and are now worth less than ever. We have sent someone over there who will let us have a detailed report shortly’.[1123] Marx and Engels sent their confidant Charles Rochat, until then the corresponding secretary for Belgium in the General Council. In a first report from Belgium written on 1 May 1872, Rochat confirmed that some of the Belgian Federal Council members were critical of the General Council, of which they do not ‘recognise the utility, which they consider harmful to the development of the assoc[iation]; for being disposed by its very position to act in an authoritarian manner, it creates conflicts’.[1124]

This critical position was also expressed in Belgium during the debate about the revision of the International’s General Rules. Because the Belgian federal congress of December 1871 had instructed the Federal Council ‘to make a project of new Rules and to publish it in order that it should be discussed in the sections and then at the next Belgian congress’,[1125] Hins initiated the formation of a committee for this purpose in the Federal Council on 6 January 1872.[1126] A draft of the rules was then submitted to the federal congress convened in Brussels on 19 and 20 May 1872. A preamble to the rules project stated:

Charged by the Belgian Congress of 25 and 26 December 1871 to draw up a project of General Rules to submit first to the Belgian Congress and then to the International Congress, today we publish the result of our labours. We believe we should preface this project with a brief explanation.

The most important innovation is the abolition of the General Council. None have more respect than ourselves for the eminent qualities and dedication of the men who compose that body, but it seems to us that the General Council, indispensable at the outset, has lost its reason for existence today. National federations have been formed everywhere or are in the process of formation, and they can correspond with one another without an intermediary from now on.[1127]

Not surprisingly, the rules project didn’t mention a body called the General Council. This sensational project, apparently penned by Hins and approved by the majority of the Belgian Federal Council, provoked lively debate at the federal congress.[1128] The following was recorded in the minutes:

From all sides, the best arguments converge either in abolishing the General Council and replacing it with correspondence between the federations or in maintaining it only to reform its attributes such that it is really an executive commission, the expression of the congress, and cannot degenerate into any form of power at all.

Some maintain that, while it was indispensable at the outset, its mediation has become useless, all the more so now that the national federations have been formed or are in the process of formation, and that they can dispense with the intermediary of the General Council[1129] in order to correspond among themselves from now on. Others highlight the real services rendered by the General Council from the foundation of the International to the present, its loyalty in respecting the decisions of the congress and complying with it in all respects; for them, in the end, it is impossible to abolish this administrative institution without dislocating the Association, and to strip the International of its symbol of economic unity would be purely and simply to destroy it.[1130]

Delegates also complained that the rules project was not submitted to the sections for discussion beforehand as stipulated by the Belgian federal congress in December 1871. Because two days of debate had not resulted in a resolution, a motion was passed close to the end of the congress to adjourn the decision until an extraordinary federal congress eight weeks later.[1131]

The news regarding the lively discussion about abolishing the General Council alarmed Marx, Engels, and their correspondents: ‘The idea must emanate from Bakunin’, Lafargue declared on 1 June 1872, referring to the Belgian rules project.[1132] Marx was unable to see the suspected author of the rules project, Hins, as anything but Bakunin’s marionette and couldn’t help once again alluding to the dangerous Mrs Hins: ‘You will already know of the beautiful Belgian project to revise the Rules’, Marx wrote Sorge on 21 June 1872. ‘It stems from Hins, an ambitious nonentity, who, together with his Russian wife, takes orders from Bakounine.’[1133] As usual Engels went a step further: ‘Through his Russian wife Hins is in direct [!] contact with Bakunin and on the latter’s instructions [!] he has devised a salubrious project to abolish the General Council’.[1134] In the General Council, Marx unceremoniously dubbed the Belgian rules project ‘the proposition of Bakunin’.[1135] All we know from documents from that period is that Bakunin had absolutely no contact with Belgium throughout this period. Apparently, Bakunin didn’t even know Hins’s wife, Maria Yatskevich, existed.

Irritated by the events in Brussels, Marx did not pass up on the chance to snub the Belgian Federal Council twice. On 4 June 1872, a letter from Brussels was read in the General Council announcing the formation of an independent section of Communards.

The letter asked that the section might be recognised as an independent section and there were several reasons why they could not enter the Belgian Federation. Some of the members of the Belgian Federal Council had advised them not to do so, saying that they would be liable to be denounced to the police and would possibly be expelled from the country; besides, the [Federal] Council refused to recognise the ninth resolution of the Congress resolutions[1136] which the section adhered to without reserve. It believed in the maintenance of discipline, and asked to be recognised as an independent section.[1137]

Art. 5 of the administrative resolutions adopted at the Basel Congress settled this question: ‘wherever there exist Federal Councils or Committees, the General Council is bound to consult them before admitting or rejecting the affiliation of a new section or society within their jurisdiction; without prejudice, however, to its right of provisional decision.’[1138] This regulation was observed a half year earlier with respect to the newly formed section of the Geneva Communards: the refugees of the Commune in Geneva wanted to form their section of propaganda outside of the pre-existing federation (Romance Federation), as well. At its meeting on 24 October 1871, the General Council decided to wait for the Romance Federation Committee’s decision on the membership of the section.[1139] The repeated objections by the Geneva Federal Committee and Marx and Engels’ political reservations led the General Council to dismiss the membership bid of their critics, the Geneva Communards – they did not even see fit to answer the Communards’ many enquiries.

Unsurprisingly, there was a different reaction to the General-Council-friendly membership bid of the Brussels Communards – who were apparently all too eager to point out their approval of resolution no. 9.[1140] The minutes of the General Council meeting on 4 June 1872 recount the proceedings:

Citizen Marx said it must be remembered that the Belgian Federal Council had repudiated the resolution of the Conference upon the political action of the working class, though Belgium had a greater representation upon the Conference than any other country. The Council ought not to stultify itself.

Citizen Dupont thought the French were in an exceptional position: the refugees represented the spirit of the French revolution, and that rendered the circumstances exceptional; he believed it would be in accordance with the Rules to accept the section.[1141]

Even though the Geneva Communards – who certainly also ‘represent the spirit of the French revolution’ – were not accepted, the General Council adopted the following resolution with regard to the Brussels Communards: ‘That the French section of Brussels be admitted without first referring to the Belgian Federal Council, in conformity with the advice given to that section by members of the Belgian Federal Council themselves, and in order not to unnecessarily endanger the safety of the French refugees in Belgium.’[1142] Of course, no mention was made of the ideological motivations. The demands to reduce the General Council’s authority certainly gained steam in Belgium after this provocation.[1143]

Marx also took advantage of another opportunity to snub the Federal Council in Brussels. On 20 June 1872, Octave Van Suetendael – a mechanic from Brussels – wrote a letter to Marx in which he made various accusations against the heads of the central section in Brussels; for example, the rules of the section had not been printed despite a resolution calling for this and the accounts were not kept properly. In reality the rules had been printed in 1868[1144] and the books appear to have been in good order between 1870 and 1873.[1145] Van Suetendael concluded:

[These are] all the small troubles which go to make up our greatest evil in Belgium. If it were possible to have a new section recognised by the [General] Council it would soon be done, for a workers’ federation is in the process of formation in Brussels, it is making serious progress and on a good basis. Most of the societies which it comprises withdrew from the International because of the despotism reigning in it […].[1146]

Van Suetendael also complained that there were only six unimportant workers’ associations represented in the Belgian Federal Council, and recommended organising the marble workers. In reality, 17 workers’ associations were represented in the Federal Council,[1147] and the federation of marble workers had long been a member of the International.[1148] In spite of these discrepancies, Marx was thankful for Van Suetendael’s letter and tried to exploit the criticism it contained regarding the Belgian Federal Council. He replied immediately, informing Van Suetendael of the following:

the new section now forming in Brussels has only to write to the General Council (and it may use my address, the Belgian secretary being away) and state that it wishes to form ‘an independent society’, in direct relation with the General Council. […] The Federation of Working Men’s Societies of which you speak would be well-advised, when nominally constituting several sections (say 3 or 4), to request the Council to admit them all at the same time. Their very number would make it easier for the General Council to act. For the fact that several societies in Brussels desired to constitute themselves independently of the Belgian Federal Council would of itself provide serious presumptive evidence against the latter. Once admitted by the General Council, the said societies will have the right to send delegates to the next Congress – either a common delegate or one delegate per society.[1149]

Fictitious Splits in the International by Marx and Engels

Marx and Engels seem to have agreed to write a pamphlet to counter the Sonvillier Circular shortly after its release: ‘As to the cantankerous Jurassians, we shall soon indict them’, Engels wrote Lafargue on 9 December 1871.[1150] The composition and publication of the controversial pamphlet was delayed for a number of reasons. In December 1871, Engels promised ‘a circular embracing all phases of the dispute from its inception; […] it will be lengthy and will take us some time’.[1151] On 24 January 1872, Engels expressed the hope that the General Council ‘will soon issue its own circular on this question’.[1152] But he and Marx still seem to have been busy writing at the end of February 1872. Late in the evening and toward the end of the General Council’s meeting on 5 March 1872, Marx introduced the extensive document:

Citizen Marx brought up the manifesto which had been drawn up relative to the Swiss disputes. It was in French but he gave an explanation of the salient points and stated that the great value of the document consisted in the historical development of the principles and policy of the Association, which was traced most distinctly […].[1153]

Thus the controversial pamphlet was presented to the General Council’s members, who for the most part did not understand French, as a historical study of the ‘principles and policy’ of the International. In a private letter written earlier, Marx had highlighted the ideological nature of the pamphlet, which ‘will give a clear account of the intrigues of Bakunin and his comrades, etc.’[1154] Apparently Marx assumed that no one would get behind the true nature of the extensive document in the few minutes at the end of a General Council meeting. Marx even moved that the General Council approve the text and commission its printing, so that the pamphlet could be published in the General Council’s name with the signature of all its members. Marx’s scheme irritated the English General Council member Maltman Barry:

Citizen Barry asked for an explanation with reference to the disputes which necessitated the manifesto.

Citizen Engels entered into a lengthy explanation.

Citizen Barry hoped the Council would excuse him, but as the document was in French and [he] had not a thorough knowledge of it he wished to withhold his name – he did not wish his name to be appended to anything he did not understand.[1155]

Although Barry’s objection rang true for the most of his General Council colleagues and despite the fact that most General Council members – regardless of their language skills – were not aware of the pamphlet’s content, it was approved without any further discussion and cleared for printing.

By now three and a half months had passed since the Sonvillier Circular was released. Yet there were further delays during the printing of the controversial pamphlet in Geneva, which was organised by Utin – who also suggested corrections and additions.[1156] The sheer extent of the text was one of the problems: the pamphlet was supposed to respond to the Sonvillier Circular, which fits on a double-sided piece of paper; Marx bragged in a letter written three days after the General Council meeting on 5 March that the pamphlet would be as long as ‘The Civil War in France’, the General Council’s address regarding the Paris Commune.[1157]

Technical difficulties incurred by the Cooperative Printers (Imprimerie coopérative) in Geneva and coordination difficulties with London delayed the printing.[1158] This upset Marx, who already felt ‘that the crucial moment had passed’.[1159] An annoyed Engels wrote: ‘Our reply to the Jurassians is still in the press. The devil take all these co-operative printers.’[1160]

By the time the pamphlet was finally released by the General Council at the end of May 1872 as a ‘private circular’,[1161] its subject matter and title – Fictitious Splits in the International (Les Prétendues Scissions dans l’Internationale) – no longer had a big effect. This was largely due to the pamphlet’s polemic approach, which dealt with the conflict as a personality issue. The objective debate about the internal organisation and pluralism within the International could no longer be silenced by defaming alleged ‘intriguers’, as very real political differences had long since come to the forefront: ‘today, there are two currents in the International’, the French refugee Jules Guesde wrote, criticising the Fictitious Splits; ‘to deny this antagonism exists is to deny that the sun is in the sky’.[1162]

Engels and Marx seem to have made the fateful decision early on to carry out the conflict personally and not objectively, i.e. by addressing the diverging ideologies inherent in political-parliamentary and social-revolutionary socialism. ‘They would like to personalise the issue in order to be able to suppress it more easily’, Bakunin noted.[1163] Even Lafargue warned emphatically: ‘Avoid giving a personal twist to your reply’.[1164] But Engels insisted ‘that these men [Bakunin and the members of the Jura Federation] will be very roughly handled by us’.[1165]

As such, Marx did not have to break new literary ground in writing the Fictitious Splits. He was able to fall back on his three ‘communications’ to Belgium, France and Germany regarding Bakunin from 1870 where he had already aggressively attacked Bakunin.[1166] Thus it was not surprising that the aforementioned wrongful accusations against Bakunin were reused and given a prominent role. The Fictitious Splits again

  • asserted that Bakunin attempted to move the General Council from London to Geneva (misinformation from Moses Hess)[1167]

  • accused Bakunin of wanting to make the abolition of the right of inheritance the ‘practical point of departure of socialism’ (corruption of the second point in the Alliance programme)[1168]

  • harped on the phrase ‘equalisation of classes’ instead of ‘abolition of classes’ (Marx and Bakunin had both referred to the wording as a ‘slip of the pen’)[1169]

  • blamed Bakunin for Nechaev’s deeds in Russia (an accusation the London Conference had already judged baseless)[1170]

Fictitious Splits again did not lack in contemptuous remarks about Bakunin: the ‘Mohammed without the Koran’, ‘who has taken nothing from the socialist systems except a set of labels’, etc.[1171] Likewise, other critics of the General Council in various countries were summarily accused of really being directed against the International and manipulated by the bourgeois press, the international police and Bakunin’s Alliance[1172] – an unrestrained and bizarre attack on all those in the International whose opinions diverged from those of the General Council. Furthermore, Bakunin was accused of wanting to replace the International’s General Rules with the Alliance programme ‘and to replace the General Council by his personal dictatorship’.[1173] What’s more, the pamphlet claimed that the Naples section was ‘detached from the International’ by Bakunin, etc.[1174] The text also dealt with the to and fro regarding the membership of the Alliance in the International and the General Council’s conflict with a section of London Communards[1175] who were accused of having ties with the Jura sections – even though they were barely in touch. The Geneva Communards were attacked viciously: according to the pamphlet, their newspaper the Révolution Sociale had – among other things – adopted the ‘slogan put in circulation by the European police’ in denouncing ‘the [General] Council’s authoritarianism’.[1176] It is hard to believe that an uncommitted member of the International would subscribe to the General Council’s opinion based on such ferocious attacks.

Long passages also condemned the Sonvillier Circular – for its criticism regarding the composition and authority of the London Conference, for example. In response to this criticism, the odd theory was put forward that the General Council only had one delegate at the London Conference:

In actual fact, among the General Council delegates at the Conference, the French refugees were none other than the representatives of the Paris Commune, while its English and Swiss members could only take part in the sessions on rare occasions, as is attested to by the Minutes which will be submitted before the next Congress. One Council delegate had a mandate from a national federation [Alfred Herman]. According to a letter addressed to the Conference, the mandate of another was withheld because of the news of his death in the papers. That left one delegate [!]. Thus, the Belgians alone outnumbered the Council by 6 to 1.[1177]

In reality, the minutes which survive to this day attest to the fact that twenty-one members of the General Council attended the London Conference (not including Herman) and that twelve of them had the right to vote: six represented the General Council and six more were the General Council’s corresponding secretaries for countries that did not send delegates.[1178]

The criticism in the Fictitious Splits was particularly weak when it came to the proposal in the Sonvillier Circular for a relationship between goal and means within the internal organisation of the International. The Sonvillier Circular stated the following on this subject:

Therefore, we must take care to bring this organisation as close as possible to our ideal. How could a free and egalitarian society arise from an authoritarian organisation? Such a thing is impossible. As the embryo of the future human society, the International is obliged to present a faithful image of our principles of freedom and federation here and now, and to expel from its midst any principle tending towards authority or dictatorship.[1179]

In the Fictitious Splits, Marx and Engels dismissed this position as follows:

In other words, just as the medieval convents presented an image of celestial life, so the International must be the image of the New Jerusalem, whose ‘embryo’ the Alliance bears in its womb. The Paris Communards would not have failed if they had understood that the Commune was ‘the embryo of the future human society’ and had cast away all discipline and all arms […].[1180]

An analysis of the different presuppositions inherent to the conflict – for example, the conviction expressed here that a functioning organisation can only be authoritarian – would have been fruitful and forward-looking; however, such an analysis was not undertaken.

The text further attempted to defend the London Conference resolutions – above all resolution no. 9 (constitution of the working class into a political party, conquest of political power), which the authors confidently claimed ‘makes short work of the political abstention preached by Bakunin’s programme’.[1181] It went on to once again attempt to juxtapose the sectarian movement with the real movement.[1182] What’s more, the text tried to legitimise the General Council and its activities through the General Rules and congress resolutions.[1183] The second last chapter paid meticulous attention to the organisational difficulties of the Jura sections over the last year – without taking the Franco-German War into account, which caused the Geneva sections just as many problems.[1184] The last chapter involved a detailed description of how Bakunin’s former political friends Albert Richard and Gaspard Blanc had shifted their allegiance. They broke with their revolutionary past in 1871 and openly declared their support for Napoleon III.[1185] This sparked widespread outrage: both the Jura Federation’s Bulletin and Bakunin (in a letter to the editor in the Tagwacht on 14 February 1872) distanced themselves from the two. Bakunin wrote that already by autumn 1870 he had

seen Richard as a coward and traitor, and the tomfoolery that he had just committed with his accomplice Kasp. Blanc has proven to me that he is an imbecile on top. We should congratulate ourselves that both scoundrels have gone over to the empire. I myself only wish one thing: that all false brothers in the International take a position just as overt as these two have taken, and that all two-faced characters show themselves in their true colours.[1186]

The anti-Bakuninist Égalité, edited by Utin, made a point of using Richard’s shift in allegiance to damage Bakunin’s reputation: ‘Albert Richard was the golden boy, the prophet of Bakunin and his crowd’.[1187] Marx also gleefully declared to the General Council: ‘These men had belonged to the party in the International who preached abstention from politics, and that abstention had borne its fruits in making them imperialists.’[1188]

Carlo Cafiero in Naples later wrote about this to Engels:

And what about the Richard-Blanc affair? With what right does Marx, in relating that affair to the General Council, insinuate against all the individuals of a party, who do not share his opinions: ‘They had belonged to that party who had always preached abstention from politics’? Here, then, is revolutionary socialism in Europe in its entirety, transfigured by Marx into a hotbed of traitors![1189]

Just as Cafiero resented such attacks, many members of the International must have been displeased reading all of the abuse in the Fictitious Splits. It must have been quite surprising that the final passage of the pamphlet, virtually at the last moment, attempted to make a statement on a contentious issue after all:

All Socialists see anarchy as the following programme: once the aim of the proletarian movement, i.e., abolition of classes, is attained,[1190] the power of the State, which serves to keep the great majority of producers in bondage to a very small exploiter minority, disappears, and the functions of government become simple administrative functions. The Alliance reverses the whole process. It proclaims anarchy in proletarian ranks as the most infallible means of breaking the powerful concentration of social and political forces in the hands of the exploiters. Under this pretext, it asks the International, at a time when the old world is seeking a way of crushing it, to replace its organisation with anarchy.[1191]

This passage also insinuates wildly about the nature of the Alliance’s goals – which again is assumed to represent all of the General Council’s critics. In reality, the critics of the General Council – who dominated in Jura, Belgium, Italy and Spain – all wanted a return to pluralism and a federalist internal organisation within the International and not ‘to replace its organisation with anarchy’. It would have nevertheless been interesting to see the contemporaries discuss about how government and state power disappear on their own in socialism. However, hidden beneath vast layers of hostilities and polemics, this last passage of the pamphlet was unable to stimulate a fruitful debate on principles.[1192]

Engels’ wish that the polemic efforts put into the Fictitious Splits would ‘produce a terrific row’[1193] did not come true because the resolutions of the Belgian federal congresses in December 1871 and May 1872 had long before shifted the focus of the debate to the contentious issues (internal organisation and pluralism within the International), which were left unmentioned in the Fictitious Splits. The widely held anxiety that the General Council was becoming authoritarian seemed to be confirmed by the pamphlet, whose ‘message’ fizzled out against this backdrop. The Federación reported from Italy, for example, that ‘the private circular from the [General] Council, in which active and conscientious men like citizen Bakunin were slandered so much, bore results that ran markedly contrary to those intended by its author, the German Karl Marx.’[1194] And a text by Pezza or Cafiero dated 20 July 1872 complained:

The General Council sought to hide an important question of principles under a heap of gossip and personal hostility which it had no shame in recounting, presenting it to the international public as a document of great importance. Men to whom most of the facts narrated were unknown, and who thus could not be competent judges, did not hold back from putting their names to that mass of lies and malicious insinuations with their eyes closed,[1195] blindly obeying the beck of Marx. And this is the probity, the dignity of a Council which aspires to the absolute government of the International so as to make it an instrument of political struggle […].[1196]

Even people who had endeavoured to remain neutral like Peter Lavrov,[1197] a Russian emigrant living in London, and a General Council supporter like Theodor Remy in Zurich were ill at ease with the Fictitious Splits. Remy was first a member of the Alliance, but like Becker he turned his back on them and joined the section in Zurich, which was oriented toward social democracy and headed by Hermann Greulich. Two and a half months after the publication of the Fictitious Splits, Remy wrote Jung, the corresponding secretary for Switzerland in the General Council:

As for the pamphlet, permit me to tell you that I have never understood its necessity or suitability. Bakunin had almost destroyed himself in Geneva; with your pamphlet you gave life back to him. I pass over the indirect accusations that you level against Bakunin himself; but you attack more or less all the former members of the Alliance. It would take too long to start a discussion here on the Alliance; only allow me to assure you that many devoted and tested men have been members of it, and that in the circumstances in which the International found itself in Geneva, there was a reason for the existence of a society of energetic and resolute socialists. But according to your pamphlet all those men were – for anybody who can read between the lines – only fools and dupes of Bakunin or else traitors of the type of Alb. Richard and Co. Such an insinuation is neither fair nor apt. I do not wish to go so far as to say that your pamphlet raised an army for Bakunin, but it hardly increased the number of the General Council’s friends, while it hurt the feelings of many sincere men.[1198]

Bakunin’s third strategy: open criticism of Marx

If the General Council’s own supporters like Remy were ill at ease with the Fictitious Splits, one can imagine how indignant the Communards, the Jura Federation’s members and Bakunin were after such a ferocious attack. Shortly before the Fictitious Splits was released, the conflict was fuelled further by reports about the ‘Confidential Communication’ – Marx’s anti-Bakuninist diatribe written in March 1870 and addressed to the committee of the SDAP in Brunswick.[1199] The Prussian police authorities had learned about the ‘Confidential Communication’ regarding Bakunin in September 1870: After the Manifesto of the Committee of the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party (Manifest des Ausschusses der social-demokratischen Arbeiterpartei)[1200] was released in opposition to the continuation of the Franco-German War, the five members of the committee (Bracke, von Bonhorst, Spier, Gralle and Kühn) and the manifesto’s printer (Sievers) were arrested and taken away in chains to the Boyen fortress in East Prussia near what is now Giżycko, Poland. While Samuel Spier was being arrested, the Prussian authorities found a copy of the ‘Confidential Communication’, which was mentioned at Bonhorst, Bracke, Kühn and Spier’s trial on charges of ‘breaching the public order’ 14 months later.[1201]

Spier’s copy of the ‘Confidential Communication’ also played a role in Bebel and Liebknecht’s trial which took place the following year in Leipzig.[1202] There the communication became general knowledge. The Volksstaat reported the following about the sixth day of the high treason trial on 16 March 1872:

Hereafter a confidential communication of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association from London dated 28 March 1870 is read REGARDING A RUSSIAN BAKUNIN AND HIS MACHINATIONS WITHIN THE INTERNATIONAL. This document written in German is accompanied by another in French, whose translation is also read. […] Three points in this communication by the General Council are highlighted by the President as particularly serious: 1. It apparently states that ‘the General Council has its hand directly on the great LEVER OF THE PROLETARIAN REVOLUTION,’ whereby the President assumes that the General Council deems itself a SUPREME REVOLUTIONARY COMMITTEE AND THE BODIES BENEATH IT AS SUB REVOLUTIONARY COMMITTEES. 2. The document written in French mentions the General Council’s ‘serious underground work’, i.e., a course of action that, as the President believes, has every reason to HIDE ITSELF FROM THE EYES OF THE LAW.[1203] […]

Liebknecht answers to this: indeed I was sent this confidential communication during its time […]. The passage regarding the General Council’s serious UNDERGROUND work is part of the French document, which was probably written by a Frenchman and definitely not Carl Marx. One has to bear in mind that this expression is used as a contrast to Bakunin’s charlatan mongering […]. As for the passage ‘lever of the revolution’, Liebknecht says, I wish to establish that ‘the economic lever’ was said. Bakunin wanted to see the General Council’s headquarters moved from London to Switzerland, and the General Council countered: England is the centre of all economic movements, the lever for all economic upheaval is here, it would be folly to leave this land where, for example, the trade crises also originate. […] [The ‘Confidential Communication’] was mainly intended to lay bare Bakunin’s position with regard to the International Working Men’s Association, by which – in opposition to critical-scientific socialism, which aims for an organisation of the state and society that corresponds to the interests of mankind – he advocates a rude communism that aims to eliminate the state and society.[1204]

The outrage about this sneaky rhetorical attack soon spread. In addition to Bakunin’s close friends Mikhail Sazhin[1205] (pseudonym: Arman Ross) and James Guillaume,[1206] Charles Alerini in Barcelona also voiced his criticism. Four and a half months earlier Alerini had still blamed the conflict about pluralism and the internal organisation of the International on separatism and rivalries.[1207] In response to a message from Engels about the General Council’s new address, Alerini sent an official complaint to the General Council on 29 March 1872 where he tried to impart on Engels

the grievous impression that I received, and I can say without temerity that we received, on various occasions, when reading (most recently in connection with the case of the Volksstaat) personal attacks by members of the General Council against one of the most ardent propagators of our principles and one of the most zealous defenders of our Association among us, Mikhail Bakunin.

I would like to testify to you as to our displeasure, as I have not failed to express it in Geneva, Neuchâtel and Locarno when we read injurious innuendoes against Karl Marx issuing from there.

These personality issues, which are very distressing besides, are most harmful to our cause and support our enemies perfectly. We are therefore pledged to place our moral opprobrium upon anyone, from whatever quarter he may come, who shall retard or jeopardize the success of the social revolution by ill-considered and excessive attacks. Surely it is profoundly harmful to our cause if men whose zeal and intelligence, activity and selflessness are precious to us in hastening its triumph are discredited by unfounded accusations of which clear evidence cannot be provided.[1208]

Bakunin also expressed his outrage in his aforementioned letter to Lorenzo:

As early as 1870, at that time in the name of the General Council, Marx sent to all the regional councils or committees of the International a confidential circular, written simultaneously in German and in French, full of what seemed to be injurious invective and slander against myself (this is a fact of which I have only had knowledge for a few weeks, thanks to the last Liebknecht trial) […].[1209]

Despite this provocative situation, Bakunin stuck to his second strategy regarding Marx – which he had been pursuing since 1871 – and did not address his political differences with Marx in public.[1210] In view of this strategy, Bakunin wrote the following to Ceretti in March 1872:

Until now I had disdained to reply to them. They seem determined to force me to break this silence. I shall do so, although very reluctantly, because it disgusts me to bring personal issues into our great cause, and nothing so disgusts me as to occupy the public with my own person. I did everything I could to ensure that my name did not intervene in the controversy about the International in the Italian newspapers.[1211] That is why I stopped publishing my writings against the Mazzinians, and when Mr Engels indirectly attacked me in the response to Mazzini, I still kept silent …[1212]

Also in keeping with his second strategy, Bakunin wanted to write the General Council in order to reach an understanding in mid-April 1872.[1213] In case this failed, Bakunin then wanted to publish ‘a written challenge addressed to the schemers in the General Council’ in Italian newspapers.[1214] In April/May 1872 Bakunin ultimately tried to talk Lorenzo into commenting publicly about what happened at the London Conference, with the aim of using this as the basis for a counteroffensive.[1215] All of these initiatives were thrown out the window, though, after Bakunin received the Fictitious Splits on 1 June 1872.[1216] All hope was lost of reaching an understanding or at the very least clarifying the differences with the General Council, which Marx dominated. Bakunin thus adopted his third strategy in June 1872 and for the first time answered the challenge in public: according to his diary, he began writing an ‘article or letter against the Marxian circular’ on 6 June and sent it on 7 June to James Guillaume, who was preparing to print numerous replies and viewpoints opposing the Fictitious Splits. Already on 8 June, Guillaume had added a note at the end of the Jura Federation’s Bulletin which illustrates the first impression that the Fictitious Splits made on those it berated:

The author of this circular can only be Mr Karl Marx,[1217] whose hand can be recognised unmistakably in certain heavy-handed jests and in a clownish style of a very particular scent. We do not send him our compliments on this new work, which will only bring the disgust of all honest people upon him. We shall return to this point […].[1218]

In a private letter, Guillaume expressed his bewilderment: ‘This obviously comes from Marx’s pen. How can a man of talent debase himself to the point of writing such despicable things? It is a mystery to me.’[1219] The special edition of the Jura Federation’s Bulletin published 15 June 1872 included several replies to the Fictitious Splits. The anger of the authors is evident: ‘I confess this is not what I was expecting’, the Communard Ernest Teulière declared. ‘Petty personalities, feeble invective, little grudges, perfidious little lies – such form the substance of this document. […] The General Council’s circular is a declaration of war on all the groups not inclined to bow their heads before the rod of the grand pontiff.’[1220] And the Communard Benoît Malon wrote:

If the inhabitant of the villa Modena [Marx][1221] had known what it is to have days without bread and nights without shelter, to see his family starving and desolate, if he had sometimes collapsed from fatigue, if he had grown up with hardships, if he had bristled at the gross insults of a foreman, if he had actually fought and suffered in the ranks of the workers, then he would certainly show more respect for the holy league of the exploited, and he would not jeopardise it in order to defend his ego.[1222]

Aristide Claris, editor of the Geneva Communards’ newspaper the Révolution Sociale, dismissed the accusations in the Fictitious Splits that his newspaper from ‘its very first issue’ put itself on the same level as conservative Parisian newspapers ‘and other disreputable sheets, reproducing the mud they were throwing at the General Council’.[1223] Claris wrote:

This is at once unacceptable and absurd. You have not read a single issue [of that journal] of which you speak, gentlemen of the circular. Otherwise I would be forced to acknowledge that you have a conscience blacker and a head squarer than I thought. But no, you place tendencies on trial, you make epilogues, you quibble, you pervert the acknowledged facts at whim, and you answer with ridiculous slanders the accusations of authoritarianism and ambition that we had the right and duty to address to you.[1224]

Guillaume also defended himself against the various attacks in the Fictitious Splits. Guillaume replied to the allegation that the Progrès, which he published, was Bakunin’s personal mouthpiece:[1225]

When Bakunin became one of our collaborators, his articles, just like the others, went to the editorial committee, which often subjected them to considerable revision to adapt them to the requirements of the journal. Citizen Bakunin, for whom we have great esteem and amity, has always been treated by us with on a frankly equal basis, and if this seems peculiar to Karl Marx, it is because in his contempt for men, in whom he sees only more or less docile instruments, in his pronounced taste for Jesuitical dictatorship, he cannot imagine an organisation in which no one commands and no one obeys.[1226]

Bakunin’s article – his first open criticism of Marx – wasn’t in the least bit discreet, either:

Dear companions of disgrace!

The sword of Damocles with which we have so long been threatened has finally fallen on our heads. This is not strictly speaking a sword, but Mr Marx’s usual weapon: a heap of garbage.

Indeed, in the new private circular issued by the London General Council, dated 5 March 1872, but having come to public attention, it seems, only in recent days, nothing is lacking: ridiculous inventions, falsification of facts and principles, odious insinuations, cynical lies, infamous slander, in short, all the martial paraphernalia of Mr Marx’s on a campaign. It is a collection, hodgepodge as much as systematic, of all the absurd and filthy tales that the malice (more perverse than spiritual) of the German and Russian Jews, his friends, his agents, his followers and at the same time, his henchmen, has peddled and propagated against us all, but especially against me, for almost three years, and especially since the unfortunate Basel Congress, in which we have dared to vote with the majority, against the Marxian policy.[1227] […]

For two and a half years we have endured this foul aggression in silence. […] I had reasons to remain silent far more important than the natural repulsion one feels for fighting in the mud. I did not want to provide a pretext for these worthy citizens, who obviously were looking for one, to shrink a great debate of principles down to their own size, turning it into a wretched personal issue. I have not wanted to take upon myself any part of the terrible blame that must fall on those who were not afraid to introduce into this International Working Men’s Association, from which the proletariat of so many countries now awaits its salvation, through the scandal of personal ambitions, the seeds of discord and dissolution. I have not wanted to offer the bourgeois public the spectacle, so lamentable for us, so delightful for them, of our internal dissensions.

Finally, I felt compelled to refrain from attacking, before the same audience, a coterie in which, as I have been happy to acknowledge, there are men who have rendered undeniable services to the International.

Of course, these men now dishonour and do great harm to the International by using slander against opponents, having probably concluded that they shall not subdue them with the power of their arguments. […] Besides, I have always held out the possibility of summoning all of my slanderers before a jury of honour, which the next General Congress would doubtlessly not refuse me. And as long as the jury would give me all the guarantees of an impartial and serious judgment, I could expose before it all of the political and personal facts, in all the detail necessary, without fear of the disadvantages and dangers of indiscreet disclosure. […]

Let me end this letter with one last observation. Nothing better proves the disastrous dominance of Mr Marx in the General Council than this circular. Browse the names of the forty-seven signatories and you will find only seven or eight who could pronounce on this case with some knowledge. All the others, blind and complacent tools of Marxian politics and rancour, signed off on an ignominious sentence against us, without ever having seen or heard us, trying and executing us without even deigning to ask us a question!

Is this how the London General Council understands Justice, Truth, Morality, which, according to the preamble of our General Rules, must serve as the basis for all relations, both collective and individual, in the International Working Men’s Association?[1228] Ah! Mr Karl Marx, it is easier to put them at the head of a programme than to carry them out!

One might say that at this moment, as the Belgian Federation puts the continued existence of the General Council to the question, all the members of this Council were anxious to prove not only that the institution has become useless, but that it is now no longer anything but noxious.

Greetings and solidarity.

Mikhail Bakunin[1229]

Just like in his letter to Lorenzo, Bakunin diminished the effect of this article by expressing his anti-Jewish sentiments (for example, the Fictitious Splits show the ‘malice (more perverse than spiritual) of the German and Russian Jews’, the ‘furious synagogue’ has made him the scapegoat, etc.). As such, Engels had an easy time of discrediting Bakunin’s article. Engels wrote Cuno on 5 July 1872: ‘Bakunin has issued a furious, but very weak, abusive letter in reply to the Scissions […] he declares that he is the victim of a conspiracy of all the European – Jews![1230]

In his aforementioned letter to Jung, Theodor Remy on the other hand held the General Council in part responsible for lowering the bar in the discussion with the rhetorical low blows in the Fictitious Splits: for example, the Alliance of the ‘Russian Mikhail Bakunin’ who was ‘preaching the ideas of Pan-Slavism’ was behind the international criticism of the General Council, etc.[1231] ‘Bakunin pays you back with German Jews for the Russian that you inflict on him’, Remy wrote Jung. ‘I was not the only one to regret that the General Council let itself be carried away so far as to use such language.’[1232]

Guillaume announced in an editorial note in the Bulletin’s special edition that he wanted to get back to the contentious issues since the ‘personal responses’ to the Fictitious Splits had now been made. Furthermore, he mentioned the Mémoire the Jura Federation was working on, which would make do without any personal attacks.[1233]

Debate over the Belgian rules project and the second Belgian federal congress (14 July 1872)

Regardless of the polemic in Fictitious Splits, the debate about the internal organisation and pluralism of the International grew as the Belgian rules project, which suggested the abolition of the General Council, gathered steam. At first, it was mainly the General Council’s supporters who expressed their reservations regarding the Belgian rules project by claiming that a weakened central body would damage the entire organisation. For example, the Romance Federation, whose Geneva Federal Committee had always agreed with the General Council on political issues, adopted a resolution at their congress from 2 to 3 June 1872, which included the following line of reasoning:


1.[1234] In abolishing the General Council, this most powerful and essential expression of our Union;

In wanting to replace the functions of the General Council with direct relations between all the national federations by themselves;

And in imposing such heavy burdens (both materially and morally) upon the national federations, which it would be impossible to fulfil in a manner adequate to the cause;

– One would gradually see a weaking of the international bonds between the various branches, reduced to the condition of isolated national associations;

2. That as a result of this: the emancipation of labour, which, according to the fundamental principles of our Association, ‘is neither a local nor a national, but a social problem, embracing all countries in which modern society exists, and depending for its solution on the concurrence, practical and theoretical, of the most advanced countries’ (6th consideration of the General Rules), – this emancipation, lacking a centre for such a concurrence, would recede, and all the efforts made to this point would be rendered sterile by a fatal error on the part of the workers themselves;

For these reasons:

1. The Romance Congress makes a brotherly appeal to all branches, urgently inviting them to save our beautiful Association from a corrosive tendency;

2. The Congress believes that if there are revisions to be made to our constitution and our Rules, these should be in the direction of introducing a more solid and robust organisation to the local sections and federations, keeping intact the current federative system of international relations in the Association […].[1235]

In Germany Bernhard Becker, editor of the social democrats’ organ, the Braunschweiger Volksfreund, addressed the issue. Becker (1826–1882) was a publicist from Thuringia who fled to London after the Baden Revolution (1849). At the beginning of the 1860s he returned to Germany, where he affiliated himself with Ferdinand Lassalle. He had been a member of the board of Lassalle’s ADAV since 1864 and succeeded Lassalle after his death as its president only to resign from this position in November 1865. In 1870 he had become a member of the ADAV’s rival, the SDAP, and had worked as an editor for the social democratic party’s press since 1871. Engels was puzzled about Becker’s employment: ‘Why bother to rehabilitate that good-for-nothing B. Becker?’[1236] Liebknecht replied that he gave Becker the position as editor after he repented.[1237] Engels responded: ‘as for the newspaper, better none at all than one of his sort! If Mr B. Becker has not betrayed the Party (which I do not know for certain), it can hardly be his fault. The man […] is capable of everything.’[1238] However, for a while Becker did act in the interest of the party – Becker, who was influenced by Lassalle and his ultra-centralist ideas, could agree with opponents of Lassalle like Liebknecht on one very important point: the dismissal of federalist forms of organisation. Becker wrote in the Braunschweiger Volksfreund: if the members of the International adopt the ideas in the Belgian rules project,

then the ‘International Association’ will waste away, if not into nothing, then in very unpleasant shenanigans regarding the Rules and into anarchy. It will then be far away from ever being able to become a vigorous association. The mystical equality of the foolish sovereign then takes the place of the intellectual leadership and the universal workers’ party collapses in on itself. But the federation keeps dividing itself down to its smallest part, until every single worker forms their own federation […].[1239]

Eleven days later, Becker again came up with a similarly clever line of reasoning with regards to this issue – this time with reference to the persecution of the International by Continental Europe’s great powers.

Our friends in Belgium can gather from this that it would be very unwise if one were to do away with the socialist centre of the Continental socialist network. If we sink down to a nationalist level […] then we can be struck lethally in the individual nations by the reactionary powers. If we on the other hand stay European by maintaining our London centre: then we are invulnerable. Our General Council and general staff in London cannot be touched by any reaction: unless the government agents manage to incite a strong mutiny against them at the national level in the individual countries namely among the socialist party members themselves.[1240]

In Spain, the Belgian rules project infuriated Lafargue: ‘The Belgians are certainly puffed up: abolish the General Council indeed! What next! And the Belgian Federal Council to become the General Council for France – that’s going even further than the Jurassians.’[1241] As for the rules project, Lafargue promised ‘We shall attack it’.[1242] And so the following critical appraisal appeared in the Emancipación on 8 June 1872:

The main reason they had for abolishing the General Council, say the project’s authors, is that ‘there are national federations formed (or in the process of being formed) everywhere and they can doubtless correspond without an intermediary’. This is not true, and the members of the International who are properly aware of the Association’s true state would without doubt agree with us. Consequently, this destroys the basic reasoning of those that want the General Council to cease its existence.[1243] On the other hand, following on from that logic, the federal councils, the local councils and the trade sections’ committees should also be abolished as they share the same reason to exist as the General Council. But let us dispense with this and move forward.

While the men must deal with general issues between themselves, they will also need to meet all together (or by delegation) to take decisions regarding the same issues and entrust someone with the execution of decisions. The more general issues are and the more separated those dealing with them are, the greater is the need for an executor of the agreed-upon decisions.

This is such a simple idea that, as of yet, no collective has ceased to practise it. And so we see that the sections have their committees and the federations have their councils, which are entrusted with putting the agreed-upon decisions into practice, and at the same time they are the guardians of the ideas they maintain and the rules governing them.

Fine, abolish the General Council. Then who will provide for and carry out the execution of decisions of the congress? Who will pay the costs incurred by the congress and the general expenses? The project does not address these questions; questions which are really quite serious because whether the general organisation develops in a good or bad way depends on them.[1244]

According to the article’s author, Francisco Mora,[1245] the General Council was also necessary in case ‘traitors’ or ‘bourgeois’ took over the International in some country and because of the future development of the International, as growth generates more need. Lafargue was so delighted with the article that he translated it into French and sent it to Belgium for publication.[1246] The article also excited Marx: ‘The whole plan’, he wrote on 21 June 1872 to Sorge, ‘has been deservedly hauled over the coals in La Emancipación’.[1247] On the same day, Marx wrote triumphantly to Van Suetendael, who had asked for material to use against the Belgian rules project:[1248] ‘As for the Hins draft (Hins and his wife [!] are correspondents and agents of Bakunin), this has had a very bad reception in all the countries from which we have heard so far, France, Germany, England, etc.’[1249] In the letter, he referred to the aforementioned statements from the Romance Federation’s congress, the Braunschweiger Volksfreund and the Emancipación as well as letters from France.[1250]

On the other hand, the Brussels newspaper Liberté took the following position: the rules project

spontaneously accomplishes a universal movement that attempts to make of the International what it must be in reality, the absolutely free federation of all tradecrafts and industries, and that attempts to eliminate from the organisation as it exists today all that retains a more or less false character. It is from this perspective that we shall study the utility of retaining the London General Council and the permanent Federal Councils. These councils, however, render great services which strongly counterbalance their tendency toward authority; yet it is only after a deeper study that we shall permit ourselves to express an opinion on this point.[1251]

In marked contrast to the signals given in Mora’s aforementioned Emancipación article, a Liberté article on 30 June 1872 highlighted the general anti-authoritarian mood in Spain:

It is the Spanish members of the International who are, along with the Belgians, the most steadfast partisans in Europe of abstention from governmental affairs.[1252] They have no intention of being governed, but they also do not want to govern anyone. Like us, they push the fecund principle of federation, as well as that of the autonomy of groups, to its ultimate consequences. In recent times, the contrary tendency has wished to implant itself, and we ourselves have published, for the edification of the reader, communications relative to this new tendency; however, until now, the great majority of sections all seem to have decided to persevere in the old way. The International owes its organisation to this, and it is above all to this radical attitude that must be attributed the strong hold that socialism has taken in Europe, in opposition to the coalition of all the bourgeois parties. It is by abstaining from having anything to do with the programmes of all the political parties that socialism has succeeded in coming to awareness of its own destiny and its own interests.[1253]

As if to do justice to this description, the organ of the International in Barcelona, the Federación, printed the following statement by its editors on 30 June 1872:

Our aspirations culminate in this sublime revolutionary trinity:



Peace unto men, war unto the institutions, is our battle cry.

No more duties without rights, no more rights without duties, is our end. May the redemptive International Working Men’s Association realise this aim.

Long live the International![1254]

The leading article in this issue dealt with the Belgian rules project:

When we examine the Belgian project in the light of the principles that are actually being discussed, we see that the spirit of it is not to combat the existence of a General Council in principle, but rather the Anglo-German Council as it exists today. There are serious charges against this current Council for not limiting its activities (as it should) to that of a centre for mere correspondence and statistics and for adopting authoritarian functions harmonious with the tendencies of its [the Council’s] men – tendencies that are detrimental to the anti-authoritarian spirit (the safeguard of our beloved Association). This is the General Council that, amid the persecution of the International in France, Italy, Austria, Germany and Spain and earlier because of the war, failed to convene an international congress in 1870 and 1871, using the time won to destroy the most fervent revolutionary men by discrediting and slandering them.[1255]

Another part of the article, which might have been based on a letter from Bakunin,[1256] stated the following:

Some time ago the Jura Federation spoke with clarity, stating the conclusive truths of the question, which until now nobody has deigned to undertake and examine. This indifference cannot be legitimated by a fear of creating a split, for such cowardice may cost us face before the current machinations, which have been set in motion so that one of the conflicting tendencies or principles can prevail at the expense of the other.

We all share a responsibility for this indifference and imprudent fear. Because we have such similar doctrines and identical anti-authoritarian principles we should do our best to repair the fault and reach out to the radicals from the Jura. They have the honour of being the first to alert to the danger that threatens us all.

This danger is the crushing of the anarchist spirit and the triumph of authority in the International Working Men’s Association. This danger is none other than the dominance of Pan-Germanism in our Association, which tends towards the construction of a vast authoritarian communist state. It is in opposition to the true and good tendency to unite humanity – through the destruction of all states and the annihilation of authority – in the vast and free association of free producers.[1257]

The reprint of this article in the Liberté noted here: ‘on this last point we are completely in agreement with the Federación’.[1258] On the opening day of the extraordinary congress of the Belgian Federation convened to vote on the rules project on 14 July 1872, the Liberté published a leading article titled ‘Progressive Organisation of the International’ (‘Organisation progressive de l’Internationale’), which included the following:

The publication of a draft revision of the General Rules by the Belgian [Federal] Council and the discussions following it, together with other recent events, have revealed, in the bosom of the International, not two tendencies, two divergent goals, but two different ways to consider socialist action in the present circumstances. Some, struck with the increasingly hostile attitude of the European bourgeoisie, think it good to centralise the forces of the proletariat all the more, as the guarantee of its approaching emancipation seems increasingly precarious; others, whom we find to be in the right, react against any centralisation, on the contrary, and believe that resistance will be more effective to the extent that groups are more independent, without fear of causing the dissolution of the International Association. […] too much passion and acrimony has been poured into this debate; this dissent over ways and means, which may, it is true, lead to formidable deviations, was taken by many for a fundamental difference in principles; it was no great leap from thence to predict a split in the International, and if one factors in the diversity of races, national temperaments and traditions, the imagination quickly tears asunder this great Association which shall be the wonder of history and the glory of our age, to substitute a dualism, Latino-Germanic or of some other sort, reproducing in a new form the eternal antagonism between authority and freedom. One even went so far as to see in the important personalities of the International the incarnation of the spirits of good and evil; Bakunin well nigh became the Judas Iscariot of our Association, the Alliance that he founded merely a secret agent of dissolution, and for some, too, Karl Marx well nigh became the dogmatic and intolerant St. Paul of a new Christianity. […] The Belgian Council showed itself to be in the true spirit of the Revolution – and here is the essence of its work – in opposing the national federations to the General Council which it considered authoritarian; it recalled that the solidarity of groups can suffice for the existence of the International […] How, then, could the Emancipación of Madrid have believed that the very abolition of the General Council could be the signal for the dissolution of the International? […] In denying that the unity of the International depended upon an authority external to the autonomous groups, that it should be anything other than the principle of solidarity itself, therefore, the Belgian Council was completely in the right. […] But it is not for that reason that the International, regardless of its indestructible moral bond, must cease to express its unity through a permanent institution such as the General Council; reflecting on the matter impartially, we find that the General Council has as much of a reason to exist as do the Federal and Local Councils, and this reason is the utility, even the necessity of permanent delegations responsible for implementing the decisions of groups of various orders and taking such interim measures as are not within the inalienable powers of the groups themselves. Here, the only danger to be feared from the General Council is, above all, the usurpation of authority.[1259]

In view of the importance of the question to the entire International and the big international response in the run-up, the Belgian federal congress was assured the public’s attention. At the opening, an official address from the Barcelona Local Federation dated 10 July 1872 was read:


We would not believe that we are doing our duty if in the presence of such a grave question (that you are calling upon to resolve) we remained silent.

We are genuinely satisfied with the rules project, that you will discuss. It shows how truly revolutionary the spirit that animates our Belgian brothers is. We can only sincerely hope that you can resolve this transcendental question in a manner that converges with the interests of the proletariat.

What pleases us most about your rules project is that the dominant tendency of it is to destroy all authority and every tyranny.

We are with you and we believe we are not wrong in saying that so are all of our brothers in this region.[1260]

‘The reading of this thoroughly revolutionary address’, the minutes of the Brussels Congress state, ‘was greeted with warm applause.’[1261] As all 13 delegates had imperative mandates which obligated them to vote according to their section’s orders, the vote on the main point of rules project was held without any discussion:

By a vote of 10 in favour to 3 against, the congress decided to maintain the institution of the General Council. Delegates called upon to justify the opinions of the sections briefly took turns speaking. All of the opinions in favour of maintaining the Council can be summarized in three points which were fully explained by the delegate from the Brussels section.

The abolition of the General Council is 1st neither necessary, 2nd nor useful, 3rd nor timely. It is not necessary because all the accusations against the Council, even admitting that they have foundation, apply to the current composition of this body and would be dispelled either by changing its composition or changing assignments to the Council. This abolition is not useful, because in effectuating it, we would lose a centre of action which, if it has yet to render all the services expected of it, is destined, thanks to a wise reorganisation, to become of the utmost importance. Finally and most importantly, the abolition is untimely, for certainly, at a moment when all the governments are banding together against us, we should not help them by decapitating our own powerful Association.[1262]

Afterward, the delegates dealt with the remaining provisions of the rules project and adopted – in agreement with the suggestion of changing its composition or changing assignments to the General Council – a series of revisions to the Rules which substantially reduced the General Council’s authority. The following resolutions were particularly important:[1263]

  • Every country was to nominate their own three members of the General Council.

  • The General Council can only temporarily suspend a member; only the country which nominated the respective member has the right to relieve them of their duty.

  • The General Council members do not have the right to vote on administrative questions at the International’s congresses.

Furthermore, the following resolution did away with two of the main Basel administrative resolutions:

Contrary to the vote that took place in Basel, conferring upon the General Council the right to suspend a section, we demand that the Council not interfere in internal affairs. Sections can only be suspended by the national council, which is obliged to explain its reasons to the very next congress, which shall decide in the last instance.[1264]

Finally, the delegates decided to publish the resolutions so that the members of all sections could debate them and add further revisions to the Rules.[1265]

The Liberté commented on the federal congress’s outcome as follows:

The Belgian Congress has reached the opinion that the General Council should not be entirely abolished but reduced in its appointed powers such that it would retain only administrative functions. It is good that it should be the visible link between the federations, but it is to the federations themselves that independence and full self-possession belong, just as in the federation the section must remain the autonomous group upon which no direct and permanent power can be exercised. What remains to be developed within the present organisation is the more complete and intimate international union of similar tradecrafts and industries. With this double federation, both territorial and corporative, the International shall be indestructible.[1266]

Just like in December 1871, the Belgian federal congress presented constructive alternatives by reflecting upon and further developing opposing viewpoints that were expressed internationally. The discussion had now arrived at a preliminary result and the debate quieted. The Federación limited itself to countering the aforementioned argument that the abolition of the General Council would be ‘untimely, for certainly, at a moment when all the governments are banding together against us, we should not help them by decapitating our own powerful Association’.[1267] The Federación wrote the following with regards to this argument and the Belgian resolutions in general:

It is not our intention to present conclusions or our opinions on the big questions that are circulating. Moreover, they will be dealt with and resolved at successive meetings of the Barcelona [Local] Federation, and their own opinion will be made known. However, we could do no less than observe how wrong the delegated comrade was who posited that to abolish the General Council would be akin to beheading our Association.

The head, the heart and the whole life of the International Working Men’s Association is not found in the General Council, or, let’s say, in any council or representation of any sort, but rather in the individuals and the trade sections which represent the fundamental and essential collectives. They are the base of the organisation of work and justice in the new society.[1268]

On the other hand, the SDAP’s Volksstaat was resentful:

The biannual congress of the Belgian International held here on 16 (14) July declared by a vote of 10 to 3 that the institution of the General Council should be maintained but that its authority should be diminished. The General Council shall, for example, from now on no longer have the right to suspend individual sections until the yearly congress is held. The doors were thereby also opened wide for the Bakuninistic machinations, that aim to dissolve the International into so many atoms.[1269]

Cafiero’s reckoning with Engels (12–19 June 1872)

Engels had lost his closest ally in Italy when Theodor Cuno was deported.[1270] And Cafiero’s political reliability seemed questionable to Engels by now: ‘They are all Bakunists in Naples,’ he complained to Lafargue, ‘and there is only one among them, Cafiero, who at least means well, with him I correspond’.[1271] ‘Naples harbours the worst Bakuninists in the whole of Italy’, he repeated to Laura Lafargue. ‘Cafiero is a good chap, a born intermediary and, as such, naturally weak. If he doesn’t improve soon, I shall give him up too.’[1272]

However, Cafiero was still working with the interest of the General Council in mind; for example, in his conflict with Luigi Stefanoni, who published the freethinking newspaper Libero Pensiero. Giornale dei Razionalisti in Florence. Cafiero clashed with Stefanoni in the press between January and May 1872, because he had attacked the General Council and the International. Stefanoni ridiculed Cafiero’s defence of the General Council as follows: ‘Mr Cafiero […] is by now alone in all Italy in supporting the desperate cause of the Marxids [marxidi]. And this solitude in which he finds himself may well be enough to pardon the foolishness as well as the intemperances with which he indulges himself out of spite.’[1273]

Torn between his loyalty to the General Council and his correspondent Engels on the one hand and his Neapolitan friends’ criticism of the General Council on the other, Cafiero’s opinion began to sway – Carmelo Palladino claimed that he himself was chiefly responsible for this: ‘when upon approaching him openly, I set about refuting his principles. He was in good faith, and we soon came to an understanding’.[1274] As they did not think much of Cafiero’s relationship with the General Council, Palladino and Malatesta convinced Cafiero to visit Bakunin in Locarno, where Cafiero could make up his own mind about the allegations made against Bakunin in Engels’ letters to Cafiero.[1275]

Cafiero was still backing the General Council in public in face of Stefanoni’s attacks on 16 May 1872.[1276] But a short time later he left for Locarno and arrived at Bakunin’s on 20 May together with Fanelli.[1277] Already on the next day, Bakunin noted in his diary: ‘All day with Fanelli and Cafiero – alliance accomplished’.[1278] Apparently the two bonded quickly. Cafiero later wrote: ‘After just a few minutes of conversation we both realized that there was the most complete agreement on principles.’[1279] And Bakunin later remembered: ‘Since our first meeting in Spring 1872, he has shown me an unbounded, almost filial affection’.[1280] Cafiero and Bakunin continued their discussion after Fanelli’s departure on 22 May 1872.[1281] Bakunin’s diary notes that an organisation plan was drafted on 24 May. During his visit, Cafiero also got to know famous Communards and activists in the International in Switzerland and visited the most important sections.[1282] Bakunin also let him look at his correspondences from the last twelve months.[1283]

Cafiero was so thoroughly enlightened about the conflict in the International during his trip to Switzerland that he already began moving against the General Council at the end of May 1872 by composing a letter to Engels – he read a first part of it to Bakunin on 31 May and the rest on 3 June.[1284] In reckoning with Engels, he tried to get to the roots of the conflict in the International and reflected on the politics of the General Council and the concept of the conquest of political power, which in his eyes permeated Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto and resolution no. 9 of the London Conference:

Illuminated by the Manifesto of the German Communist Party,[1285] I now understand perfectly the whole import of resolution [no.] 9 of the London Conference […]. Holding capital to be the source of all privilege, oppression, imposition, etc., etc., and agreeing on the need to return capital to the commonality, the question then arises on the way to effect this change […]. This is the point where the various opinions, the various systems are determined; and this is the point on which the London Conference was so wrong in wishing to proclaim an official system. The authors of the German communist programme tell us, on this point, that they will reach the goal through the conquest of political power by the proletariat; that is to say, through the constitution of a new state […]. So then, my dear friend, permit me to speak frankly to you. The positive part of your communist programme is, as far as I am concerned, a gross, reactionary absurdity. I hold the state and, equally, the Church in horror, as institutions founded in privilege, created by people who wanted to ensure for themselves the exclusive enjoyment of capital. Capital is there, surrounded by the state, by the Church and by the whole magna caterva [great crowd] of the lesser institutions, that proceed from these principal ones, destined to ensure the privileged its exclusive enjoyment. We all want to win, or rather, claim capital for the commonality and two different ways are proposed to do this. – Some counsel a rapid strike against the principal stronghold – the state – whose fall into our hands will open to everyone the doors to capital; while others advise that all of us together break down every obstacle and take possession collectively, effectively, of that capital that we seek to ensure for ever as common property. I stand with the latter, my dear man, since thanks to your Communist Manifesto I have been fully able to understand the position. And you, good materialist that you are? How can you stand with the former?[1286]

Cafiero took a position on many issues at dispute in the International and held out the prospect that the Italian sections could join Belgium, Spain, and Jura as a Federation critical of the General Council. On 18 June, Cafiero left Locarno after a four-week stay in Switzerland;[1287] the letter was finally sent to London from Milan on 19 June along with a postscript written the same day where Cafiero first referred to the Fictitious Splits:

Nothing of what is said therein is new to me. I know by now all the facts in all their worth. Consummatum est! [It is finished!], your work is complete! … It is not I who says so, but the Belgian Congress with the proposal to reform our General Rules; and the Jura mountains and Spain repeat it: Consummatum est! And Italy? Italy will gladly welcome the news of the death of the General Council […].[1288]

Bakunin seems to have had more or less detailed information about Engels’ previous letters to Cafiero before his visit.[1289] The abuse contained in the letters must have shocked Bakunin and his political friends, and made them even more angry than they already were because of Marx’s ‘Confidential Communication’ – which became general knowledge during the high treason trial in Leipzig (16 March 1872)[1290] – and Lafargue’s malicious report in the Liberté (5 May 1872).[1291] Guillaume wrote about this in the Jura Federation’s Bulletin on 10 May 1872:

This correspondence [from Lafargue in the Liberté], the author of which is very close to Mr Marx, is for us but one more proof that the men who scheme against us in Switzerland are doing the same work in other countries. The Bebel-Liebknecht trial has shown us this scandalous fact, that since 1870, the General Council has issued defamatory letters against us in Germany under the title of confidential communications. – We have received word of letters written last autumn to the Italian comrades by Mr Engels, corresponding secretary for Italy in the General Council; in these letters, Mr Engels gives himself over to the most odious of slanders against honourable citizens belonging to the Jura Federation and against the spirit of our federation in general.[1292]

In addition to personal attacks, a letter from Engels (which has not survived) written from 29 February to 9 March 1872 appears to have contained controversial political statements regarding, for example, the need for a very strong government in order to civilize Italy (alphabetisation, education, and the fight against brigandage and the Camorra) as well as Bismarck and the Italian King Victor Emanuel II, who according to Engels had both done a great deal for the social revolution by calling for political centralisation.[1293] The very idea that his opinion would become public must have made Engels queasy.[1294] Infuriated, he wrote the following letter on 10 June 1872:

Cafiero in Naples and someone else in Turin whom I don’t yet know turned letters of mine over to the Jurassians; that doesn’t matter to me in itself, but the very fact of their perfidy is unpleasant. The Italians will still have to pass through a school of experience to realise that a peasant people as backward as they are merely makes itself ridiculous when it tries to prescribe to the workers of big industrial nations the road they should take for their emancipation.[1295]

Engels had the following words for Cafiero:

In any case, I have not written to anyone in Italy other than you, and it must be these letters of mine to you that Schwitzguébel’s paper [the Bulletin of the Jura Federation] is referring to. […] My letters have nothing to fear from publication, but it is a question of honour for you to inform me whether they were sent to my enemies with your consent or not. If it was done with your consent, I can only come to one conclusion: that you have allowed yourself to be persuaded to join the Bakuninist secret society, the Alliance which, preaching to the profane – behind the mask of autonomy, anarchy and anti-authoritarianism – the breaking up of the International’s organisation, practises towards its initiates an absolute authoritarianism, with the aim of taking over the leadership of the Association. It is a society which treats the working masses as a flock of sheep, led by a few initiates whom they follow blindly, and which imitates, within the International, the role of the Jesuits in the Catholic Church.[1296]

Engels’ grim remarks did not help him in Italy. On the same day, he was forced to summarise the situation as follows: ‘In Milan, Ferrara, Naples, everywhere there are friends of Bakunin.’[1297] He never answered Cafiero’s letter from 12 to 19 June 1872.

CHAPTER 13. Convening the Congress of The Hague

JUST LIKE THEY HAD IN THE run-up to the London Conference, Marx and Engels laid the groundwork for the general congress of 1872 well in advance, so things would go their way. This included selecting a favourable location for the congress, which Marx and Engels had been discussing with their confidants since the beginning of 1872. Engels sent Liebknecht a written request ‘to find a form that will make it possible for you to be represented at the next congress’.[1298] Liebknecht responded on 5 January 1872:

Everything necessary will be done concerning the congress. Will it take place at the usual time, or earlier for once? And where? The latter is a vital question. […] In any case, you need to make sure that if the congress does not take place in Germany, it is somewhere close to the German border. Then, the German element will definitely be strongly represented and will obviously take our side.[1299]

After the first protests against the General Council’s leadership grab, Liebknecht wrote again: ‘Just make sure that the next congress is within reach for us and we will soon defeat this federalism – it doesn’t seem dangerous to me.’[1300] On the other hand, Lafargue suggested to Engels on 17 May 1872:

The next Congress must be held in England; the Bakunists would be done for there before they ever appeared. You could use as the pretext the persecutions and the need to be in touch with the trade-unions to make them join the International. You could circulate a note to the federations asking for their views beforehand. Manchester would be the best place, the French being less numerous there [than in London].[1301]

The Local Committee (Comité Cantonal) of the International’s Geneva sections, where Johann Philipp Becker was a member, suggested Geneva as the congress location in a letter to the General Council dated 9 April 1872.[1302] After the letter was mentioned at the General Council meeting on 4 May 1872, the Communard and General Council member Frédéric Cournet suggested that the congress be convened as soon as possible, ‘so as to stop the complaints that were made relative to the non-holding of the Congresses (1870/1871)’ – no decision was made, though.[1303] Engels replied to Becker in Geneva on 9 May 1872 that the congress location had not yet been chosen, and continued: ‘In the meantime, we must know, if we are to be able to make a final decision, what the situation is like there [in Geneva] and whether it will be possible for you to be assured of a compact and reliable majority of the Swiss delegates.’[1304] Becker wrote an enthusiastic reply to London on 20 May 1872:

I entirely agree that the Congress must be held in a place where we are sure of a large majority. But I believe, so far as I can judge of the circumstances, that this will nowhere be more the case than in Geneva, since we are sure in advance of the 30 sections here, and consequently of just as many delegates. In the rest of Romance Switzerland we can get together at least as many representatives as the so-called Jura Federation. It is true that the latter, if it has enough money, might conceivably invent sections, Italy could send exclusively opponents, Spain and France also partly, but at any rate only in very limited numbers. If we reckon 10 Jurassians, 10 Frenchmen, 6 Italians and 4 Spaniards as opponents, that will be all; if it comes to the worst the Belgians will hold the balance and the English should all be on our side. Then with Germany we can thus be sure of an imposing majority if, besides those directly delegated, we get as large a number of societies as possible to send me mandates for Germans living here and elsewhere in Switzerland, omitting the names, which I could fill in as required.[1305]

Despite these tempting prospects, the General Council passed Marx’s motion on 11 June 1872 to convene the congress in Holland on the first Monday of September. A week later, the General Council selected The Hague as the location of the congress and put the revision of the Rules on the agenda as the sole item.[1306] It is easy to see why Marx suggested The Hague as the location. England was disqualified because of tactical reasons, Engels explained two and a half weeks later:

It would be inexpedient to convene it in England from the very start, for although it would be quite safe from police interference here, it would nevertheless be subjected to attacks by our enemies. The General Council, they would say, is convening the Congress in England because only there does it possess an artificial majority.[1307]

In Switzerland, where almost all of the International’s congresses had taken place, the General Council would have been – as Becker put it – ‘sure of an imposing majority’. However, it would also have been easier to reach than The Hague for the opposition’s delegates from Southern Europe. On the other hand, to get to The Hague 21 General Council members only had to cross the Channel. The Hague is ‘easily reached’, Engels cynically argued to the General Council, ‘and he thought that was a great advantage’.[1308] What’s more, as difficult as it would be to send delegates from the International’s southern federations to The Hague, Bakunin’s participation there was virtually impossible, because to get to Holland he would have to travel through France or Germany, where there were warrants out for him.

The critics and supporters of the General Council in Switzerland still assumed in June 1872 that the congress would take place in Geneva or somewhere else in Switzerland. The Geneva Local Committee reaffirmed their offer to host the congress to the General Council on 19 May 1872.[1309] In the Jura, the congress was eagerly awaited as it was expected to solve many problems. In view of the continuing conflict in Switzerland, the Jura Federation’s Bulletin wished the following on 1 May 1872: ‘Ah, just let the day of the General Congress come! And when we meet one another there face to face, all shall see the light, and the liars shall be put on the spot.’[1310]

According to the Rules, only those who had paid their membership dues could take part in the congress. As the Jura Federation had not paid since its inception in November 1871, it made up for its arrears in a letter dated 1 June 1872: for 1871 dues were paid for 140 members (seven sections) and for 1872 for 294 members (eleven sections).[1311] The General Council was at first unsure as to how to deal with the fact that their opponents in Jura had paid their dues in such an exemplary fashion:

Citizen Engels said he was in favour of accepting the contribution for 1871 but of rejecting the contribution for 1872. He proposed that that should be done.

Citizen Marx said there was only one section that had not been acknowledged, that was [the Geneva Communards’ section of propaganda]. The Jurassian section was dissentient but it was a section – it had not been excluded.

Citizen Serraillier said he would accept the money but reject the men.

Citizen Marx said the Council could not accept the money for one year and refuse it for the other. The way would be to accept all but that of the one section.[1312]

This motion was passed unanimously. Jung, the corresponding secretary for Switzerland in the General Council, noted this resolution on the Jura Federation’s letter (‘the sum of 37.20 fr. has been received, 6.20 fr. in contributions refused from the Propaganda and Revolutionary Action Section in Geneva’) and asked Marx the next day whether the Federal Committee of the Jura Federation should be informed – along with the confirmation of payment – that the congress would be convened in Holland: ‘While acknowledging the receipt of the money should I do well to inform Schwitzguébel of our decision concerning the Congress or would it be better to say nothing to him about it.’[1313] Marx must have advised against informing Schwitzguébel as Jung only told the Swiss sections about the decision weeks later.[1314]

Even the General Council’s supporters were shocked when The Hague was finally announced as the location of the congress: Perret, secretary of the Romance Federation’s Committee in Geneva, wrote a resentful letter to Jung.[1315] But the General Council’s subcommittee merely confirmed the status quo after Perret’s letter of complaint was mentioned:

Citizen Engels took a count of delegates who wanted to be at the Congress. The outcome of the count, which was bound to be approximate, made him conclude in favour of The Hague.

Citizen Serraillier was in agreement with Citizen Engels; he took up the idea that at The Hague the success of the General Council would be general and not local, as people would inevitably have said if the Council had chosen Switzerland for the gathering. Here [in The Hague] the war was international and not national.

Citizen Marx nonetheless sounded the dangers that The Hague presented.

Citizen Engels proposed that, things being as they were, the status quo had to be accepted.[1316]

Theodor Remy in Zurich also voiced his criticism in a letter to Jung:

Why, it has been asked, should we not be convened in London, or at Inverness, or at John O’Groat’s?[1317] The Federal Council [General Council] had the right. But why, in the present circumstances, select The Hague? Do you know what they will say? They will say that in view of the great distance and the enormous expense it would be very difficult for the enemies of the General Council to be represented in sufficient numbers, whereas the General Council would probably be there en masse, with its supporters from German Switzerland, from Geneva, etc., and could arrange everything in its own way, almost in family.[1318]

The protest from the Jura Federation’s Federal Committee, signed by its corresponding secretary Schwitzguébel, was tame by comparison:

It being in the interests of every federation and of the Association as a whole to see as many delegates as possible taking part in the Congress, common sense indicates that the place of the Congress should be as far as possible a central point, within reach of all the federations, or at least of the majority of them.

But The Hague does not fulfil these conditions. It is on the contrary far from central, and the choice of this city would make it impossible for some of the federations to send delegates in view of the enormous expenses they would have to bear.

The country which appeared to us naturally indicated as the seat of the Congress is Switzerland, by its central situation as by the relative freedom enjoyed there. We are therefore asking you, in the most formal manner and with the assurance that after a further examination of the question you will be unable to do otherwise than to share our opinion, to come back on your decision and to choose some town in Switzerland as the seat of the Congress.

We appeal to your feeling of equity; it cannot be your intention to close, indirectly, the doors of the Congress to the delegates of certain federations; you will not wish the General Congress, at which so many grave questions must find their solution, to see its moral authority weakened by this fact; you will wish, on the contrary, to give public proof of the loyalty with which you accept debate by satisfying our claim, the more so as it comes from a federation which disagrees with you on several points.[1319]

Of course, Marx and Engels weren’t about to change their mind – ‘you should have read Schwitzguébel’s hypocritical letter’, an amused Engels wrote about the aforementioned letter: ‘If nothing else had shown me that we were pursuing the right tactics, this would.’[1320] After Schwitzguébel’s letter was mentioned in the General Council’s subcommittee, Marx said ‘that three Congresses had already been held in Switzerland, that Holland had already been proposed by the Belgians in 1870,[1321] that Holland was the centre for England, Belgium, Germany and the North of France and that there was no need to come round to the first decision of the Council’.[1322] In his reply to the Jura Federation, Jung wrote that the General Council’s decision to stick with The Hague

was reached after due consideration of all the arguments contained in your letter, and that this choice was dictated by the following considerations:

The Congress could not be held in Switzerland, since that is the place of origin and focal point of the disputes; the Congress is always influenced to some extent by the place in which it is held; in order to add more weight to its decisions and enhance the wisdoms of its debates, the local character must be avoided, for which it was necessary to choose a place remote from the main centre of disputes.

You can scarcely be ignorant of the fact that three of the last four congresses were held in Switzerland, and that at Basle the Belgian delegates were most insistent that the next Congress should be held either at Verviers or in Holland.[1323]

In spite of the relative freedom which she enjoys, Switzerland can hardly claim the right to monopolise congresses.[1324]

In a riposte in the Bulletin, Guillaume explained:

Citizen Jung said, in his own words, that ‘the Congress is always influenced to some extent by the place in which it is held’. So it shall be subject to the influence of the milieu, whatever it may be, in which it meets. And this time, what is this milieu? Precisely the most unfortunate of all, the one that should have been avoided with the greatest care: a Germanic milieu.[1325]

Let none take this as an opportunity to repeat the ridiculous accusation against us that we preach ethnic hatred [la haine des races]. On the contrary, it is in order to prevent this ethnic hatred, which would inevitably occur in the International if one ethnic group wished to try to dominate the others, that we believe it necessary to speak frankly about this issue. – Of what does the London General Council stand accused, among the Spaniards, the Italians, and the French? Pan-Germanic tendencies, which means, in other words, the tendency to wish to impose the German spirit, the authority of German theories, upon the whole International. Yet there are facts which unfortunately give great likelihood to this accusation.

First fact: the General Council has an official doctrine, found in all its manifestos and the official doctrine is that which was published twenty years ago in the ‘Manifesto of the German Communist Party’[1326] (Manifest der deutschen Kommunisten-partei). The signatories of the ‘German Communist Manifesto’ are Mr Marx and Mr Engels, who both serve on the General Council. It is Mr Marx who generally writes all the important documents published by the General Council:[1327] thus, it is not surprising that they bear the imprint of a German communist doctrine.[1328]

Furthermore, Guillaume submitted that the socialist press in the Romance languages were generally opposed to the General Council’s leadership grab and in favour of the autonomy of the sections and federations in the International, noting, ‘we do not include the Égalité of Geneva, which serves as a mouthpiece for Marx’s agents in Romance Switzerland, nor the Emancipación of Madrid, which serves as a mouthpiece for Marx’s agents in Spain, neither of which expresses the thought of the country’. He continued:

However, all of the German-language newspapers support the General Council’s course of action: these are the Vorbote of Geneva, the Tagwacht of Zurich, the Volksstaat of Leipzig, the Volkswille of Vienna. – It must be admitted that this division of the international press into two camps, one in which French, Italian and Spanish are spoken, while in the other German is spoken exclusively, is likely to make people wonder.

We could yet draw attention to other facts, but we deem it unnecessary to lengthen this list. As we have said, in France, Italy, and Spain, they speak, rightly or wrongly, of the Pan-German tendencies of the General Council, and we think that it ought to have taken care to clear its name of this accusation. To do this, it would have to convene the congress in Switzerland, for Switzerland is a neutral terrain, belonging exclusively to neither one nor the other of the two parties into which the International is divided, and because the federations would all be roughly equidistant from the venue of the Congress and could therefore represent themselves in equal proportions. Instead, the General Council is choosing The Hague […]. And Jung claims that this ‘add more weight to its decisions and enhance the wisdoms of its debates’. But this is really a bad joke! The only result that the General Council will have obtained is that it will be said, and rightly so, that The Hague was chosen so that the Germanic element would dominate the Congress […].[1329]

As mentioned, Liebknecht really did promise at the beginning of the year that if the congress were to take place close to the German border ‘the German element will definitely be strongly represented and will obviously take our side’.[1330] Guillaume concluded his riposte as follows:

Finally, the fact that three congresses have already been held in Switzerland is not an argument against sticking to it for a fourth. This does not constitute a monopoly in favour of Switzerland; it is simply the result of its geographical position and its relatively liberal institutions. If one demands that the congress be convened in Switzerland, this is not in the interest of Switzerland; it is in the interest of the federations of other countries. Would one ever say that if the lamp was set in the middle of the table three nights in a row, this act constitutes a privilege for the spot on which it was set, and that therefore, in the spirit of equality, it must be set at one end of the table on the fourth night? Would readers who have need for lamp-light at the other end not complain at this alleged act of justice, and would they not rightly say that true justice would be to leave the lamp in the middle of the table for all to enjoy its light equally?

The General Congress ought to restore unity in the International: it ought to be the tribunal before which all the serious disagreements that separate and paralyze us would be considered. Held in The Hague, however, the congress will not be an instrument of unification; as a tribunal, it probably shall not provide the necessary guarantees of impartiality, and we greatly fear that instead of the peace for which we wholeheartedly appeal, the Congress of The Hague shall give us war. Whatever the case may be, it is the General Council that would have it so; let the responsibility for this fall upon it alone.[1331]

Boycott or participation?

Bakunin probably first heard that the general congress would be held in The Hague on 6 July 1872 and apparently informed Guillaume immediately.[1332] During their correspondence between 8 and 9 July, they appear to have agreed to meet in Neuchâtel, where Bakunin travelled on 13 July.[1333] On the following day, Bakunin met with his political allies in Jura (Guillaume, Auguste Spichiger and Schwitzguébel) for a lengthy discussion, which must have resulted in a concrete plan of action: ‘all well – / Projects fixed’, Bakunin noted in his diary on 14 July 1872.[1334] In the days that followed, Bakunin informed various people by mail about what was agreed upon. On 16 July, he wrote Gambuzzi in Naples:

As for myself, I am in the process of organising our struggle against London. – You have already received our mammoth Bulletin[1335] containing our initial responses to the infamous circular. Now London has struck a powerful new blow. It has designated The Hague in Holland as the meeting place for the next Congress. The obvious purpose is to prevent delegates from Italy, Spain, southern France and the Jura to come in large numbers (the journey of each delegate from Switzerland alone costs 300 fr., and for those from Italy, it cannot be less than 500 fr.) and to obtain, therefore, a Marxist majority, mostly Germans, who would crush us if we were foolish enough to go. Therefore, the Federal Committee[1336] of the Jura Federation has decided to send a protest[1337] to the General Council, quite moderate in form, quite strong in content, which will try to impress upon the General Council that given the extreme importance of the issues which this Congress will address, it is in the interest of the International that the General Council should designate a central location, preferably in Switzerland, to which delegates from all countries could travel with equal ease, and therefore invites the General Council to choose another site in Switzerland. At the same time, the Jur[assian] Fed[eral] C[ommittee] shall invite the friendly federations of Italy and Spain to join its protest and petition. If London refuses after that, we will invite the Italians and Spaniards to do what the Jura will do, that is to say, not to send any delegates to the Congress, but instead to send them to the Conference of free and dissenting sections in Switzerland, in order to assert and to maintain their independence and to organise their own inner Federation, the Federation of autonomous federations and sections within the International. Let all your friends know, and help us on your side by your energetic activity. We have just received letters from Spain, including one from the regional (national) council of Spain – the latter an official letter[1338] – which tell us that all the Spanish sections and federations will declare for us against London and move against it in solidarity with us, demanding, as we do so today, the abolition of the General Council. This is the current state of affairs.[1339]

It’s unclear whether all of the plans Bakunin presented here were agreed upon in Neuchâtel. It seems indisputable that they planned to protest against the General Council convening a congress in The Hague – a protest which others in the International would be invited to join. But Guillaume later denied wanting to call for a boycott of the congress if The Hague was kept as the location: ‘This must be B.’s personal idea’, Guillaume wrote about Bakunin’s aforementioned letter to Gambuzzi, ‘or if we had thought about it even for an instant, we would have quickly changed our mind.’[1340] In fact, there is evidence that Bakunin soon changed his mind and abandoned the idea of boycotting the Congress of The Hague.[1341] He must have mentioned this reversal in his various letters to Italy.[1342] But unfortunately for Bakunin, the militant members of the International in Italy had already taken a liking to the idea of boycotting the congress. The Italians didn’t think highly of the General Council and its manoeuvres in Italy as can be seen by the fact that most groups ignored Bakunin’s earlier appeal to comply with all of the formalities involving membership in the International:[1343] despite the fact that the International had made great inroads in Italy, hardly any of the sections were properly registered with the General Council. They did not want to have anything to do with the authoritarians, who they had long ago rejected politically. For instance, a text written by Pezza or Cafiero on 20 July 1872 complained:

The authoritarian communism that predominates in the [General] Council is opposed by the revolutionary tendency of the southern sections, who are instead for the destruction of all authority and want, in place of the state, a free federation of free associations of producers. […] But the Council is not content with that; it has planned a true coup d’état, and in order to succeed in its ambitious goals, it has fixed the location for the General Congress in The Hague (in Holland), where as a result of the excessive distance and the too great expense, both Spain and France, Italy and Switzerland would only find themselves represented in tiny proportions, and the Council would thus be assured an Anglo-Germanic majority which would defer to its every wish.[1344]

The General Council and the Congress of The Hague were also central issues when delegates from 21 Italian sections (including Cafiero [president], Nabruzzi [vice president], Costa [secretary], Fanelli, Friscia and Ceretti) met in Rimini on 4 August 1872 to form an Italian Federation of the International.[1345] They had a copy of the Jura Federation Federal Committee’s letter of protest regarding the selection of The Hague as the location of the congress.[1346] Furthermore they received an official address from Spain, which appealed to them ‘to hold high the banner of Anarchy and Collectivism and to send many delegates to the Congress of The Hague’.[1347] However, they did not accede to the appeal – at the fifth meeting of the Rimini Conference on 6 August 1872, the delegates discussed the following:

there was a long discussion on German authoritarian communism, which there had been an obvious attempt to infuse the International with through resolution no. 9 of the London Conference; it was said that such a system was the negation of the revolutionary sentiment of the Italian proletariat; that the General Council had used shameful means to support such a system, means which were clearly manifest in the latest private circular [the Fictitious Splits] […]. Having heard the reasons for which the Congress was called in The Hague, and having heard several speeches in which delegates all spoke against the Grand Council [General Council], a motion from the floor was unanimously approved and published separately, whereby the Italian Federation breaks off all solidarity with the Grand Council and proposes to hold a General Congress in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, on 2 September next […].[1348]

They justified their decision in the corresponding resolution:


that the London Conference (September 1871) sought through resolution no. 9 to impose on the whole International Working Men’s Association a particular authoritarian doctrine, to wit that of the German communist party;

that the General Council was the promoter and supporter of this deed;

that the said doctrine of the authoritarian communists is the negation of the revolutionary sentiment of the Italian proletariat;

that the General Council has used the most shameful means, such as slander and falsification, with the sole aim of bringing the whole International Association into line with its particular authoritarian communist doctrine;

that the General Council exceeded the limit of its unworthiness with its private circular[1349] dated London, 5 March 1872, in which, continuing with its work of slander and falsification, it reveals all the villainy of authority […]

that the reaction of the General Council caused enormous resentment among the Belgian, French, Spanish, Slavic, and Italian revolutionaries and in part of the Swiss, leading to the proposal to abolish the Council and the reform of the General Rules;

that the General Council has, not coincidentally, convened the General Congress in The Hague, a place that is as far as possible from these revolutionary countries;

for these reasons,

the Conference solemnly declares before every working man in the world, that the Italian Federation of the International Working Men’s Association henceforth breaks off all solidarity with the London General Council, while continuing to assert its economic solidarity with all working men, and proposes that all those sections which do not share the authoritarian principles of the General Council send their delegates on 2 September 1872 not to The Hague but to Neuchâtel in Switzerland to open an anti-authoritarian General Congress on the same day.[1350]

The surprising call for a boycott of the Congress of The Hague was telegraphed to the Federación in Barcelona.[1351] An editorial there made a connection between the boycott call and the location the General Council had selected for the congress:

In view of the serious implications of what has been disclosed in this news – that Italy, after a delegates’ meeting [in Rimini], has decided not to attend the Congress of The Hague – we do not know which attitude the federations in our region will adopt.

At any rate, we can only record our profound disgust at what we see as the authoritarian and inconvenient actions of the General Council which, it seems, persists with the idea of holding the universal congress in the far regions of Holland, in spite of all the observations that have been made. […]

From the moment we first saw this location selected we understood the serious consequences that could come of it. For that is not the way to serve the cause of the proletariat – obliging the vast majority to make scarcely possible sacrifices resulting in insignificant representation [at the congress].

The General Council has fixed the location of the Congress in a place where it seems sure they will have the majority in their favour.

This is in essence the action of a government.[1352]

The general meeting of the Barcelona Local Federation on 18 August 1872 decided to send a last appeal to Italy by telegram, ‘that they do send representatives to the Congress of The Hague so as to hold our banner high. Even though at first glance it would seem that all efforts are useless in the face of a congress so cleverly prepared by the General Council for their own purposes’.[1353] Morago’s newspaper, the Condenado, noted:

we wholeheartedly ask that our Italian brothers revoke their resolution and attend the Congress of The Hague. Otherwise, instead of contributing to the defence of the Association and saving it from the danger it encounters you are contributing (although in good faith) to the plans of the General Council. Snakes should not be disregarded, they should be crushed.[1354]

The Italian sections’ boycott call was criticised in the Bulletin as well, which added that this issue would be addressed at the Jura Federation’s upcoming congress:

On Sunday, the Jura Congress will have to make a decision about the proposal of the Italian Federation. We do not wish to prejudge its decision; however, if we may be permitted to express the entirely personal opinion of the editorial board of the Bulletin, we shall say that in our opinion, our abstention will be slandered, if we do not go to the Congress of The Hague. The Jura Federation was the first to demand a congress, a public discussion; they offer us one, at last, – under the most disadvantageous conditions, it is true, – yet they are offering it to us; we cannot be seen to reverse ourselves.[1355]

Like the Spanish Federation, the Jura Federation stood by its decision to send delegates to the Congress of The Hague at its extraordinary congress – held on 18 August 1872 in La Chaux-de-Fonds.[1356] Guillaume and Schwitzguébel were elected delegates and given the following imperative mandate:

The delegates of the Jura Federation are given an imperative mandate to present to the Congress of The Hague the following principles as the basis of the organisation of the International. […] The federative principle being the basis of the organisation of the International, the sections federate freely among themselves and the federations federate freely among themselves with full autonomy, setting up according to their needs all the organs of correspondence, statistics bureaus, etc., which they judge to be suitable.

The Jura Federation sees as a consequence of the above-mentioned principles the abolition of the General Council and the suppression of all authority in the International.

The Jura delegates must act in complete solidarity with the Spanish, Italian and French delegates and all those who protest frankly and broadly against the authoritarian principle. Consequently, refusal to admit a delegate of these federations must lead to the immediate withdrawal of the Jura delegates.

Similarly, if the Congress does not accept the organisational bases of the International set forth above, the delegates will have to withdraw in agreement with the delegates of the anti-authoritarian federations.[1357]

A ‘Special Instruction’ held out the prospect of an alternative congress: the delegates critical of the General Council, the confidential additional resolution stated, would ‘organise amongst themselves the calling of a congress wherever they deem best’.[1358]

On the other hand, the boycott call by the Italian sections was rejected:

The Congress decides, as a natural corollary to the above decisions, not to accept the proposal from the Italian Federation to hold a Congress on 2 September in Neuchâtel, and it charges the Federal Committee to write the Italian Federation immediately to urgently advise it to reverse its decision and to send representatives to The Hague.[1359]

The Jura Federation’s Federal Committee then sent a message to the Italian Federation calling on them ‘to send their delegates to The Hague so that they could take part there in the great struggle between authority and federalism that would decide the future of the International’.[1360] Furthermore, they reiterated that ‘an anti-authoritarian congress in Switzerland’ would be convened if the delegates withdrew from the Congress of The Hague.[1361] Andrea Costa, who had been elected secretary of the Correspondence Commission (Commissione di corrispondenza) of the Italian Federation in Rimini, replied to the Jura Federation’s Federal Committee as follows:

In order to affirm and maintain solemnly the autonomy of the International societies, the Italian federation unanimously voted at its conference in Rimini a resolution calling a congress in Neuchâtel, Switzerland and breaking off all links with the General Council. That decision was so solemn and the delegates who passed it felt such a need for it, that we could not now reverse it without negating our sentiments.

However, though we cannot be with our brothers from Switzerland and Spain in order to support the struggle of the revolution against authority at the coming congress, we shall follow them nonetheless with our hearts, and hope at the same time that we can come to agreement with them and shake their hands soon in Switzerland, as we believe that their free proposals will not be welcomed by the representatives of authority at The Hague.

We wanted to ward off once and for all those dangers to which you called our attention by means of the circular last November:[1362] you began it and we believe we have finished it.

It is not therefore for vain pride, brothers, that we shall not revoke our proposal, nor send [delegates] to The Hague, but because we believe we would betray the end which we are vowed to. […]

Lastly, the Grand Council is not the International; and while we broke with it, we also affirmed once again our economic solidarity with all working men in the world. And let that be enough for us. When the revolution meets the Bastille along its path, it will fell it by popular acclaim.[1363]

After a further exchange of letters between Italy and Jura,[1364] an alternative congress following the Congress of The Hague was finally agreed upon. Thus, the Italian Federation was able to stick with its boycott of the Congress of The Hague and the alternative congress planned for 2 September 1872 (the opening day of the Congress of The Hague) was postponed until a later date.[1365]

The General Council naturally took a dim view of the vocal criticism from the opposition forming in Italy, and again avoided the contentious issues in their reaction. Because of the Italian sections’ lax attitude toward formalities, the General Council had an easy time of dismissing the Italian Federation’s boycott call. A letter signed by Hermann Jung responded to the Zurich section’s enquiry to the General Council regarding the events in Italy:

the associations represented in Rimini are unknown to the General Council and do not belong to the International Working Men’s Association. As according to II. (the General Council) points four and five of the general Administrative Regulations (resolutions of the Basel Congress 1869) every section has to apply to the General Council for membership, the General Council is completely authorised by the Rules to make the above statement.

Moreover, we are forced to declare:

1) According to art. 4 of the General Rules each congress appoints the time and place for the next congress. The General Council may, in emergencies, change the place of the meeting.

2) At its meeting on 18 June, the General Council made use of the rights imparted on it by the Rules to convene the congress in The Hague (Holland) […]

3) According to art. 12 of the General Rules, these may be revised by each congress, provided that two thirds of the delegates present are in favour.

4) The recognition of the General Rules and the Administrative Regulations is the first prerequisite for membership in the International Working Men’s Association.


while each section has the right to request changes it deems necessary, it is obliged, as long as the general congress has not ratified the changes, to follow the existing Rules.

Even if all of the said 21 Italian ‘sections’ had been part of the International beforehand, because of their continued violation of the Rules, they would put themselves outside of the Rules and thereby outside of the International Working Men’s Association.[1366]

Engels could not resist delving into the formalities of the issue, either. He wrote the following in the General Council’s name for Italian newspapers on 23 August 1872:

It should be pointed out that of the 21 sections whose delegates have signed this resolution, there is only one (Naples) which belongs to the International. None of the other 20 sections has ever fulfilled any of the conditions prescribed by our General Rules and Regulations for the admission of new sections. An Italian federation of the Working Men’s Association therefore does not exist. Those who want to found it, form their own international outside the great Working Men’s Association.[1367]

Possibly provoked by the conference’s address to Bakunin,[1368] Engels used a letter to concoct a conspiracy theory about the Rimini Conference’s boycott call of the Congress of The Hague: ‘Bakunin, whose style is detectable throughout the document, realising that the game was up, has beaten a retreat all along the line and, with his followers, is leaving the International.’[1369] According to Guillaume, Bakunin was really ‘just as surprised and dissatisfied as ourselves when he read the Rimini resolution’.[1370] Bakunin wrote Gambuzzi in Naples on 31 August 1872:

We all deplore one of these resolutions [of the Rimini Conference], just one, that which decided not to send delegates to the Congress of The Hague. The Italians would have had to act in concert with the Spanish and the Jurassians, both having decided to send their [delegates] to The Hague, but with clearly determined imperative [mandates] commanding them to withdraw from the Congress in a concerted fashion as soon as the [majority] declared itself in favour of the Marxian direction on whatever question might be. The presence of the Italian delegates would have added a great power to this collective [protest], while their absence gives our adversaries one more argument against us. But in the end, what’s done is done; what has been so solemnly resolved by the federation of a great country cannot be rescinded or altered without drawing immense ridicule. – Thus it remains to you to accept the fait accompli, trying to take advantage of it if possible while striving to contain its disastrous effects.[1371]

Costa reinforced the decision made in Rimini in a statement dated 16 August 1872 and printed in the Plebe, the only newspaper in Italy which still supported the General Council. He wrote that the resolutions of Rimini had expressed a mood that

was one of absolute independence and full autonomy. And to those who accuse us of running after foreign theories let this be a guarantee, that we, though we do not follow the old traditions of our land where they negate the modern sentiment of the peoples, neither do we allow ourselves to become slaves to the first arrival from beyond the Alps.

The International (and our adversaries should know this once and for all) is not Karl Marx or Mikhail Bakunin; it has no idols of any sort to whom we doff our hats; it is not a sect and does not have any dogmas, but follows the progressive development of human thought and, where individuals halt, it walks on because the great soul of the century agitates and moves it […]. It cultivates great men with love, it admires them, it venerates them; but if any kindness towards one of these should cost it a single line of its programme, it would not do it.[1372]

Engels had first scoffed that Naples was the only section present in Rimini that was officially recognised as a member: ‘The three other sections which maintain relations with the General Council – Milan, Turin and Ferrara – did not send delegates to Rimini.’[1373] But this did not help Engels long-term: the sections in Milan and Ferrara formally approved the resolutions of Rimini and joined the Italian Federation. About three months later, the section of the International in Turin also broke with the General Council.[1374] Costa said the following regarding membership in the International:

And let the Grand Council take note, that we would be lying to our sentiments if we were to give any consideration to its blustering against ‘les Riministes’ [the Riminists], who by virtue alone of having accepted the programme of the International are part of that great society […].[1375]

And ‘Ateo’, the Turin correspondent for the newspaper the Favilla, wrote the following about Engels’ overbearing tone in his aforementioned letter dated 23 August 1872:

But who are these gentlemen who seek to set themselves up as monarchs of the proletariat? Your names are well-known by now – you have nothing in common with us – it was to be expected after the resolutions in Rimini – this is the death rattle of the dying man. They still have hopes for the Congress of The Hague! They know full well that they have a majority, thanks to their intrigues.

Is the Grand Council perhaps the personification of all the proletarians of the world? No. It is now the union of a pack of ambitious bourgeois disguised as proletarians. Hail, federation of the Bernese Jura, the first to unmask them. Hail, once again! The service you rendered humanity should go down in history. Do we perhaps need to be recognised [by the General Council]?[1376]

CHAPTER 14. The factional divide in the Spanish International

AS PREVIOUSLY MENTIONED, BAKUNIN ONLY HAD sporadic contact with the Spanish sections of the International until March 1872.[1377] In the months that followed, Bakunin was never really abreast of the situation in Spain despite intensifying his correspondence with the French refugee Alerini in Barcelona: Bakunin followed the recommendation of a badly informed Alerini and wrote a letter to Francisco Mora in April 1872, which was unfortunate, since Mora was involved in the Emancipación’s controversial attempt to contact the Republican Party in March of that year, which resulted in staunch criticism of Lafargue and Mesa’s group.[1378] In April/May 1872, a message from Alerini led Bakunin to send a series of urgent questions to Lorenzo; however, events made Lorenzo’s reply on 24 August 1872 redundant.[1379] On 22 April 1872, Bakunin noted in his diary that he had received another letter from Alerini[1380] in which he must have discovered that Alianza groups were disbanding. This was yet another event to which he could only react.

What exactly motivated the Alianza to disband in April 1872 remains unclear to this day. Those involved explained: ‘on the basis of reasons that are foreign to its principle, it [the Alianza] dissolved itself last April’.[1381] In reality, the Saragossa Congress (4–11 April 1872) may have played a role: a delegate wrote in July 1872 that the Alianza had been disbanded ‘in compliance with the resolution of Saragossa brought about by the present members of the Alianza on the grounds that Alianza had completed the task it was created for’.[1382] At the Congress of The Hague, the delegate Marselau provided the following account:

at the Saragossa Congress, the [Alianza’s] members – he was honoured to belong to them – decided to disband for the following reasons: on the one hand, the local federations were already firmly established by then, and on the other the change in the political regime meant that the International could operate in broad daylight.[1383]

The following two factors may have also played a role: the attempt by the Madrid Federal Council to bring the Alianza under its control by forming the rival organisation Defenders of the International (Defensores de la Internacional)[1384] and the membership in the Alianza of the divisive editors of the Emancipación and Federal Council members Mesa, Mora, etc.[1385] Both reasons may have caused the idea of provisionally disbanding the Alianza, at least in Madrid.

Bakunin, who apparently still only had vague notions about the political and personal conflicts in Madrid, started writing a ‘Letter to the Spanish Allies’ (‘Écrit aux Alliés d’Espagne’) on 27 April 1872.[1386] He began by referring to Fanelli and introducing himself to the Alianza members, whom he did not know for the most part, and proceeded to try to convince them not to disband.

Brothers –

I am an old and intimate friend, I might say the brother, of Christophe [Fanelli], the friend and brother whom certainly many of you have not forgotten. Along with him, I was one of the first founders of the A[lliance]. And it is under this double title that I address these words to you, brothers of the A[lianza].

Unhappy dissensions produced by egoistic strife between brothers who seem to have sacrificed our great goal, the triumph of the universal social revolution, to their personal vanities and ambitions, ended up resulting in the dissolution of the A[lianza] of Madrid. […]

The A[lianza] is neither an academy nor a workshop; it is fundamentally a militant organisation whose purpose is the organisation of the power of the masses for the destruction of all states and all of the religious, political, judicial, social, and economic institutions currently existing, for the absolute emancipation of the subjugated and exploited labourers of the whole world. The purpose of our organisation is to push the masses to make a clean sweep, so that agricultural and industrial populations can reorganise and federate themselves according to the principles of justice, equality, freedom and solidarity, from the bottom up, spontaneously, freely, apart from any official tutelage, whether of the reactionary or even the so-called revolutionary kind.

To those who ask us what good the existence of the Alliance serves when the International exists, we reply: the International is of course a wonderful institution; it is unquestionably the most beautiful, the most useful, the most beneficent creation of the century. It has established the basis for the solidarity of workers around the world. It has begun to organise across the borders of all states, outside the world of the exploiters and the privileged. It has done more: already today, it contains the first seeds of the organisation of the future unity, and at the same time it has given the proletariat of the world a sense of its own power. Certainly these are immense services that it has rendered to the great cause of the universal social revolution. But it is not at all sufficient, as an institution, to organise and to lead this revolution.

All the serious revolutionaries who took an active part of the International in any country whatsoever, since 1864, the year of its founding, must be convinced of this. The International prepares elements of the revolutionary organisation, but it does not accomplish it. It prepares by organising public and legal struggle for the unified workers of all countries against the exploiters of labour, the capitalists, entrepreneurs, and owners of industry, but it never goes beyond this. The only thing it does outside of this work, already so useful, is the theoretical propaganda of socialist ideas among the working masses, which is also very useful work, quite necessary for the preparation of the revolution of the masses, but which is still far from the revolutionary organisation of the masses.

The International, in short, is an enormous milieu favourable to and necessary for that organisation, but it is not yet the organisation itself. […] Take the largest, most advanced and best organised section of the International. – Is it ready for combat? You know that it is not. Out of a thousand workers, you would be lucky to muster one or at most two hundred on the day of the battle. This is because, in order to organise a force, it is not enough to unite interests, feelings, thoughts … We must unite wills and characters. Our enemies organise their forces through the power of money and the authority of the state. We can only organise our own through conviction, through passion.

We cannot and do not have any army other than the people, the mass. But for this mass to rise up simultaneously as a whole – and it is only on this condition that it can triumph – how can this be achieved? Above all, how can we ensure that the masses, even when they are electrified and whipped up, do not contradict themselves, paralysing themselves by their opposed movements? […]

Obviously this cannot be the work of one man; only many men in association can initiate such a difficult undertaking and lead it to a successful conclusion. But for this to happen, it is necessary first of all that they agree with each other and that they join hands for the shared task. But since this task has a practical, revolutionary goal, the mutual understanding which is the necessary condition for it cannot be made publicly; if conducted in public, it would draw official and unofficial persecution against the initiators from all sides, and they would be crushed before they could accomplish the least thing.

Thus, this agreement and the association that must result from it can only be made in secret; this means that a conspiracy must be established, a formal secret society.

This is the thought and goal of the Alliance. It is a secret society formed within the International in order to give it a revolutionary organisation, to transform it, and all the masses of people that lie outside of it, into a power sufficiently organised to destroy the politico-clerical-bourgeois reaction, to destroy all the economic, legal, religious and political institutions of the states.[1387]

Perhaps provoked by Lafargue’s continued ‘denunciation’ of the Alianza and in spite of Bakunin’s appeal, the Alianza didn’t only disband in Madrid but in Barcelona, as well.[1388] After his scandal-plagued report in the Liberté,[1389] Lafargue got involved in another attack against the Alianza: the Madrilenian Alianza’s public statement of dissolution – which contained even more ‘revelations’ – penned by Mesa and Mora’s group and the other editors of the Emancipación on 2 June 1872.[1390] However, their statement was only released after the other Alianza groups had already disbanded: Gabriel Albajés from Barcelona, a delegate at the Saragossa Congress, wrote in an open letter to Lafargue ‘that the Alianza from Madrid were very late in executing the dissolution of the Alianza groups because on the day they effected the dissolution the Alianza in the rest of Spain had already ceased to exist a month and a half earlier’.[1391]

Lafargue tried to churn up more antagonism in the Madrid sections of the International. As the article ‘Revolutionary Information’ in La Emancipación on 1 June 1872 led to the second expulsion of its editors from the Madrid Section of Various Trades,[1392] Lafargue made plans to settle the score at the general meeting of the Madrid Local Federation. He wrote Engels on 5 June 1872:

The powder-magazine has been set alight here, the Allies no longer know which way to turn. […] there is a demand for the expulsion of all its editors [i.e. the editors of La Emancipación], on the grounds that, in the last issue, they proposed that an investigation should be made into the private fortunes of politicians, which is tantamount to entering into politics, that is, being reactionary, inimical to the proletariat, etc. Following that, my turn came and a jury was appointed to try and sentence me. I am told that Morago himself was on it. There is no end to the dirty work. The bomb will go off next Monday. I shall declare at the meeting that I do not accept the jury; but I shall make all the revelations I can concerning the Alliance […].[1393]

Indeed, the Madrid Local Federation debated all of the accusations in detail once again during a six-hour-long general meeting on the evening of 9 June 1872. The editors of the Emancipación Mesa, Mora, Iglesias, Pauly and Pagés for their part again ‘denounced’ the Alianza – in Lafargue’s own words[1394] – to no avail: at the end of the meeting, the decision by the Section of Various Trades to throw them out of the International was confirmed. Felípe Martín, who attended the meeting, described how the editors of the Emancipación contributed to the discussion:

Slanders (that they could not defend when obliged to), insults towards the federated members and the Federation, threats to dissolve it, foolish provocations, and all the bile they wanted to spill on the assembly – these were the only reasons in defence of their conduct that fell from their lips from nine in the evening until three in the morning when the president drew the session to a close.[1395]

Lafargue on the other hand reported enthusiastically about the meeting’s events to Engels:

Monday’s meeting was more sublime than I had anticipated. There was no need for me to speak; the members of the Alliance took it upon themselves to reveal their secrets. […] The meeting went on until half-past three in the morning. It was then that I moved the following resolution:

I request the assembly to appoint a commission for the purpose of investigating the existence of a secret society known as the Alliance of Socialist Democracy, whose centre is in Switzerland, whence membership cards, orders and secret instructions emanate. This society, certain members of which belong to the International, and others to the bourgeoisie and its political parties, presumes to impose its ideas upon the International, to dictate its aims and to lead the working class under concealment and towards an unknown goal. […]

I do not know whether this investigation will be carried out; but whether or not, the fact that has been established is that the existence of the Alliance, its plans and the names of those who belonged to it have been denounced in open assembly in Madrid. If you think it would be useful to publish these facts in L’Égalité before the general Congress, you may do so.[1396]

Lafargue went on to announce that his political allies ‘intend to form a new Federation’.[1397] By establishing a rival organisation, Lafargue had succeeded in creating a factional divide within the Spanish Federation of the International – as called for in Engels’ master plan according to which Lafargue was to establish a base in Spain in case of a split.[1398]

Three former members of the Federal Council (Angel Mora, Inocente Calleja, and Valentin Saenz) expressed their solidarity with the five expelled editors of the Emancipación (Mesa, Mora, Iglesias, Pauly, and Pagés). This eight-man group filed a complaint with the Spanish Federal Council on 15 June 1872 and called for the expulsion of the Madrid Local Federation from the Spanish Federation. After asking for a statement from the Madrid Local Federation, the Federal Council denied this request.[1399] Together with Lafargue, the eight-man group then formed the New Madrid Federation (Nueva federación madrileña) with Lafargue on 8 July 1872 and applied for membership in the Spanish Federation in a letter of the same day. The Federal Council also denied their request by pointing out that only one local federation was allowed per location according to the rules.[1400]

In light of the Spanish International’s 15,000 members, the Condenado made the following pun on the new group’s name: why is it called the New [nueva] Madrid Federation? Because it ‘consisted of only NINE [NUEVE] members’.[1401] The Jura Federation’s Bulletin didn’t take the new federation all too seriously, either. Calling to mind the General Council’s decision on 28 June 1870 to deny the Jura sections the right to call themselves the Romance Federation despite their majority at the Congress of La Chaux-de-Fonds,[1402] the Bulletin prophesied:

Nothing more would be lacking, for the comedy to be complete, than to see the London General Council, siding with Lafargue and his nine followers against the Spanish Federation, pronounce a verdict of the same kind that it rendered in the conflict between the majority and the minority of the Romance Federation in 1870. We shall not have long to wait before Marx decides that, whereas the Spanish workers are only a pretend majority, and whereas the real majority is composed of nine right-thinking individuals, his son-in-law’s nine acolytes shall in the future bear the title of the Spanish Federation, and that the latter will have to look for some other name, say, the Federation of the Pyrenees or something like that.[1403]

The Madrid Local Federation on the other hand openly scolded the New Madrid Federation:

the individuals on the editorial board of a paper published under the title Emancipación (the same ones who were declared TRAITORS to the programme that they signed with their signatures by the regular general assembly of the Section of Various Trades) have, in their inexcusable blindness, come to believe themselves worthy enough to constitute another local federation in opposition to the one that considered them unworthy of belonging to it […]. We ask all of our comrades to keep in mind the names of these unworthy workers which we are obliged to publish in order to put a stop to their harmful intrigues that are forged under the cover of their paper in their editorial office:


The Alianza fracas

As the Jura Federation’s Bulletin had anticipated, the secretary of the New Madrid Federation, Victor Pagés, turned to the General Council for help.[1405] Unsurprisingly, Engels hurried to have the new federation recognised by the Subcommittee of the General Council – without consulting the Spanish Federation as stipulated by the Rules. In a letter to the New Madrid Federation dated 15 August 1872, he explained:

in view of the Spanish regional Federal Council’s resolution of July 16, refusing to admit the said federation;

considering that, formally, it would be absurd to share in this matter the attitude of a regional Federal Council, the majority of which are members of a secret society hostile to the International, and which the General Council will charge at the Congress;

considering that, essentially, the founders of the New Madrid Federation are the very people who were the first in Spain to dare disassociate themselves from this secret society called the Alliance of Socialist Democracy, and disclose and thwart its schemes.

For these reasons,

the Executive Committee, on behalf of the General Council, has resolved to recognise the New Madrid Federation […].[1406]

‘The General Council’, the Federación commented concerning this manoeuvre, ‘has lost its mind as a consequence of the governmental fever that dominates it’.[1407] Of course, the Spanish Federal Council protested against the General Council’s decision:

This new fact once again shows up the General Council as a violator of the Rules, an enemy of the autonomy of the sections and regional federations as well as an arrogant dictator that attempts to impose itself upon the International Working Men’s Association.

The General Council, swept along by a dictatorial fury that has for some time guided all its actions, can only see in the so-called New Madrid Federation the son-in-law of Karl Marx and his eight Carlists,[1408] and not nine individuals the majority of whom were considered unworthy of belonging to the Section of Various Trades of the Madrid Federation of the International Working Men’s Association.

It is a trick – which only shows the bad faith that guides the acts of the General Council – to use a pretext to not consult with this [Spanish Federal] Council, ‘the majority of which are members of a secret society hostile to the International’. Said assertion is not only ridiculous but moreover slanderous. And coming as it does from the General Council it shows us that they continue their project of mystification and slander […].[1409]

According to Engels’ dispatch, the compelling reason behind the General Council’s decision on the membership bid was the Alianza, who also became the obsession of the New Madrid Federation and its organ, the Emancipación – Guillaume diagnosed them with an acute case of Alliançophobie.[1410] Already in their first circular published in issue no. 59 of the Emancipación on 27 July 1872, the New Madrid Federation claimed that the departure of its members from the Spanish Federation was the

only way left to them to practice in its purity the organisation of the International which has been distorted and obscured by the old Federation who – under the harmful influence of a secret society called the Alianza and having blindly followed its mandates – have shown themselves more than authoritarian, tyrannical and inquisitional, infringing upon the Rules, trampling on the regulations, falsifying the truth and mocking justice. […] Because of their cautious and active manner, the Alianza, like all mysterious powers, exerts more influence than you can imagine on all the resolutions of the general assemblies, the assemblies of the sections, those of the federations and even in the councils. Organised hierarchically (like freemasonry) this society is composed of various societies stacked above and below one another, the inferiors being directed by the superiors without it being noticed, like the workers in the International who fail to see that they are directed and managed by the members of the Alianza. That is why the majority of the members of the Alianza in Spain do not know that they themselves are subjected to other mysterious powers. So when they want to make some resolution against an order that comes from Switzerland or when they want to be free and rebel against the tyranny that oppresses them, they are attacked mercilessly and abandoned by all of their associates, as has happened to us.[1411]

Lafargue had already claimed that the Alianza was being controlled from Switzerland.[1412] However, no one ever bothered to provide proof for such claims – which wasn’t surprising because surviving documents show that Bakunin had little contact with Spain.

In the same circular in issue no. 59 of the Emancipación, the New Madrid Federation had a new accusation on tap – this time with regard to the upcoming election of delegates for the Congress of The Hague:

Comrades, we must not be fooled. We the workers should know where we are going and know who guides us. The Alianza must be judged and this bourgeois element should disappear from the International Working Men’s Association for it is destined to kill it. […] the federations should immediately take a decision declaring that no individual that belongs to or has previously belonged to the Alianza de la Democracia Socialista in Spain can be elected [as a delegate to The Hague]. […] we will tell you the names of the individuals that we know as having belonged to the Alianza in Spain […].[1413]

The circular then identified the members of the Alianza in Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona, Málaga, Seville, Cádiz, Palma, and Córdoba, and advised against electing them delegates to the Congress of The Hague. Satisfied with his coup, Mesa wrote a letter to Engels in which he expressed the hope that ‘we shall not go to the Congress, but the men of the Alliance will not go there either. […] We shall try also to obtain the adherence of most of the Spanish federations.’[1414]

In reality, the New Madrid Federation’s first circular provoked an uproar of unprecedented proportions: 13 members of the Alianza in Barcelona released a statement on 1 August 1872 in reaction to the bizarre vilification of the Alianza as an hierarchical organisation, destined to kill the International, controlled from abroad, etc.:

At the proposal and initiative of two individuals that belonged to the Alianza, we the undersigned met to decide on the contents of issue no. 59 of the Emancipación. We decided unanimously to publish this and to secure the resources necessary for the printing of a pamphlet that takes what has been said and what has not been said about the Alianza de la Democracia Socialista and puts in its place the truth […]. We conclude by stating that we will always remember our membership in the Alianza with satisfaction and pride and by pleading that all the local federations where it has existed start an enquiry about it, whether in general assemblies, by jury, by commissions appointed for such a purpose, or as they so desire. Then we will see who is despicable.[1415]

As promised, the memorandum was released under the title The Question of the Alianza (Cuestión de la Alianza) at the end of 1872. It included numerous reports and statements on the Alianza’s activities that were printed in newspapers and sent to the Federal Council because of this appeal and in reaction to the New Madrid Federation’s circular in issue no. 59 of the Emancipación. For instance, Morago wrote the following from Madrid:

Accused of being a member of the Alianza, I reply with the firm declaration that I am honoured to have been considered a member […]. It was well known that the Alianza, which built the foundations for the International in Spain, gave itself the special mission of working for its triumph, its radicalism and the purity of its principles. In the end it was known that wherever a member of it arrived, a new local federation sprang up whose core constituted a small but active and revolutionary group.

It was known that wherever this group existed, the formation of the federations that it brought about were solid, because even if the federations suffer one or more setbacks, the constituting core will always survive, from which a new federation will spring soon.[1416]

Francisco Coll, Miguel Salas, Francisco Cañellas and Guillermo Arbós wrote from Palma de Mallorca:

It was with indignation that we witnessed the attacks and slanders directed against the Federal Council and individual members in issue no. 59 of the newspaper entitled the Emancipación. – As the comrade Tomás, acting general secretary and secretary of the eastern comarca,[1417] was a member of this Palma Federation, we want to declare and to issue the following testimonial to the individuals of the Federal Council and the rest of the members of the International in Spain and beyond, so that they can inform themselves about his behaviour in our federation.

We are completely satisfied with our comrade Tomás’s conduct during the time he belonged to our federation. We are completely grateful to him for having promptly carried out the tasks entrusted to him by this Palma Local Council and for having ignored every kind of danger, working with faith and energy to organise and enhance our federation and giving us an understanding in the different assemblies of collectivist, anarchist and atheist ideas by which we completely abide.

We also inform you that as a member of the dissolved section of the Alianza, neither shall his impeccable and esteemed conduct be challenged in any way, nor shall that of the comrades G. Arbós (shoemaker), Juan Vidal (shoemaker), Juan Frau (shoemaker), Antonio García (mason), Bartolomé Alorda (shoemaker), Bartelomé Guarros (shoemaker), Francisco Cañellas (mason), Juan Sánchez (carpenter), Pedro Gayá (shoemaker) and Martín Rullau (shoemaker), all members from the same [group of the Alianza]. Even less so was it noticed that they wanted to disrupt and destroy the International, as libelled in the Emancipación. On the contrary, their active and tireless propaganda and efforts have been the reason that our federation in Palma has remained highly organised despite the lies of politicians and the unbridled persecution that we have been the victims of.[1418]

A statement from Seville (Marselau) told the story of the Alianza and the transformation of some members in Madrid from supporters to enemies of the same organisation at the hands of Lafargue:

Some time after hearing of the International, I got to know the programme and aspirations of the Alianza de la Democracia Socialista. I studied said document and it fulfilled my desires: it was the beautiful ideal of my aspirations. How could one not subscribe to that programme? How could one not propagate it? Together with various friends we studied it and we worked along the lines it prescribed and from this small nucleus the federation in Seville was born. Could one not say that the International in Spain came out of the Alianza? Let its detractors of today and its staunch defenders of yesterday respond sincerely. When I consider the conversations and discussions of the members of the Alianza who attended the Valencia Conference and I compare their seemingly truly revolutionary projects with the revelation made today to Paul Lafargue, with his denunciation in the Liberté from Brussels, and with the letter advising the dissolution of the Alianza by those who shortly before had reorganised it and promised to work with greater activity, then I cannot but believe in a pernicious and criminal influence in the very midst of the International, the watchword of which is to divide in order to destroy. […]

I, as one who loves the International Association and, moreover, believes it is the only lifeline for workers and for humanity, have formed an opinion from which I will not back away for anything. I believe our main objective should be PROPAGANDA AND ORGANISATION. Regarding propaganda, I will continue with the programme of the Alianza de la Democracia Socialista, because I think it derives from the words which form the basis of our General Rules: TRUTH, JUSTICE and MORALITY; no duties without rights; NO RIGHTS WITHOUT DUTIES.[1419] Regarding the organisation, I believe that our Rules require revision and reform in the general and regional congresses. Also, I agree with those that want to abolish the authoritative power of the General Council. I believe it would matter little to me or to the International if a General Council was in this nation or another as it should always be a statistics bureau and a centre for correspondence. […]

Workers: we despise poverty and we will move towards our objective without hesitation: in every way our enemies must succumb. We hope that those responsible for these divisions are filled with shame when they see our indifference to their machinations.[1420]

[…] with our head held high and with a dignity that gives us a pure and simple conscience, we reject what has been said in this circular [of the Emancipación] about the tendencies of the Alianza and its objective. We have always believed that the Alianza would synthesise the aims and objectives of the International.

We have seen nothing in it [the Alianza] that is not pure and revolutionary; its members have been the most active propagandists of collectivism in the International – at least for our part we have experienced this, and nobody can accuse us of being traitors […].

And now I ask you, the signatories of the circular: if the Alliance is a ‘secret society with harmful influence, more than authoritarian, tyrannical and inquisitional’; if you ‘knew of the existence of the Alianza de la Democracia Socialista, a secret society that has for some time struggled to covertly dominate the International and to which you BELONGED’ – then why have you been so complicit in such an evil?[1421]

Felípe Martín, himself not a member of the Alianza, wrote from Madrid that for those who signed the circular

it is very easy to direct accusations onto everyone and adopt a new school using the pretext of the Alianza de la Democracia Socialista, a secret society, of which they themselves were members in Spain before it dissolved itself, and which they organised and promoted, although they claim it has ideas contrary to those of the Association. However, I have not seen anyone propagate such ideas and all of those that are accused of being in the Alianza in Spain are exactly those who have sacrificed the most for the international cause […].[1422]

A commission was elected in Cádiz to investigate the Alianza’s activities; after they read their report to the International’s general meeting in Cádiz on 17 November 1872, the meeting passed the following resolution:

That the individuals that constituted said society have not done anything that may be contrary to the International Working Men’s Association. Quite the opposite, they have constantly worked for the propagation of its doctrines and for its development in this locality and in others around the province. Likewise their conduct within this federation is blameless. In view of this, the assembly agreed that the Alianza members were following the proper course, and congratulated them on the success born of their devoted work. This will be made public by way of the International’s newspapers so that it may come to the attention of all associated workers.[1423]

At the Valencia Federation’s general meeting on 14 September 1872, an investigative commission also read its report on the Alianza. Afterward the meeting declared ‘that it approves of the conduct of its members within the Valencia Federation’.[1424]

In Córdoba, the International’s general meeting passed the following resolution after the New Madrid Federation’s circular was read:

Of the five individuals belonging to the Alianza de la Democracia Socialista in Córdoba, none have exerted pressure or any sort of influence on this federation. As workers, honest workers, we do not want and we do not allow anyone to believe us to be puppets or vessels of a secret association, because neither are we willing to play that role, nor were the individuals that have belonged to the Alianza mistaken about their mission as members of the International so much that they allegedly tried to act in a way that was lamented in such a cynical manner by these nine individuals who pompously call themselves the New Madrid Federation. This assertion is an infamous slander.[1425]

The investigation Lafargue had called for in Madrid[1426] came to the following conclusion on 20 September 1872:

the commission began by examining the background and behaviour, not only of Morago, but of all those accused and betrayed by their former accomplices and bosses, and it was seen that all of the most revolutionary and the most intelligent amongst the members of the Association have been accused of being in the Alianza, and logic has led this committee to reason thus:

If the comrades who are the most active, propagandistic, energetic and dedicated are classified by their informers as members of the Alianza and therefore as enemies of the International, and if no evidence (which we can presume does not exist) of this is presented by them other than infinite claims, then how can the Alianza have been acting contrary to the International Working Men’s Association?[1427]

The memorandum The Question of the Alianza also retold the Alianza’s story and reached the following conclusion:[1428] the members of the Alianza ‘who founded the first and most important local federations, were the most persecuted in a critical epoch and designed the organisation that exists in Spain’[1429] – it served as a backbone for the International; in many ways a role similar to that of the FAI decades later.[1430]

Francisco Mora, formerly one of the most active Alianza members, wrote the following to the Alianza group in Valencia on 10 August 1871: ‘It is desirable that members of the A[lianza] develop closer relationships among themselves as much in order to come to agreement about pending matters as to found new sections [of the Alianza] in the local federations that do not yet have one.’[1431] Thus it must have been very irritating to see Mora – who should have known better – sign the New Madrid Federation’s vicious attack against the Alianza in issue no. 59 of the Emancipación. ‘Yes, editors of the Emancipación, accuse us of being members of the Alianza’, the Federal Council replied in a circular dated 30 July 1872, ‘you, who were hitherto recommending the organisation of this very same Alianza’.[1432] From Barcelona, José García Viñas addressed the circular’s signatories but especially Mora:

You must surely be very blind in the mind, or the most degraded man one could imagine, to dare to sign that pack of nonsense that you published in no. 59 of the Marxist newspaper. You, who should know me as well as all the others described there as ambitious, foolish and as the bourgeoisie disguised as revolutionaries. How can you lift your head with the shame? Did your hand not tremble when you signed such villainy? […]

I understand that what Karl Marx’s son-in-law did, because his mission is to proselytize for his messiah. Or to destroy the International, which does not want to follow him. Therefore, although this is unworthy, your behaviour [as a group] is even less worthy and especially your personal behaviour – turning traitors to become puppets and perfectly filling the role of the police.

The General Council (which Lorenzo, on his return from the London Conference, so aptly named the court of Karl Marx) must reward your services. Although what is more probable is that you will receive the prize of all traitors – the contempt of those who you have betrayed and those that have used you.

Given your behaviour, one can only think of all that you have lost – dignity, judgement and pride. In what way have you been fooled? Where are these hierarchies of which you speak? I know no others than the ones that you tried to build, thus constituting yourself as the centre of the Alianza. I know no other instructions or orders than the ones that you have issued, believing yourselves superior to the rest, without consulting or inquiring beyond your omnipotent will. […] I end, because, to continue, would fill many sheets in vain because you know the truth as well as I do […].[1433]

Mora tried to defend himself by repeating familiar accusations, which Lafargue had probably made up:

It is not the programme of the Alianza that we have fought, or its conduct in Spain until just before we split from it. What we did fight is its subsequent behaviour and its hierarchical organisation that certain details which came to our attention have convinced us exists. The acts of the Alliance in Switzerland, Italy, England[1434] and other countries all demonstrate clearly that the Alliance intends, with the arrogance of all sects, that the International surrender itself, or else they will divide and kill the International.[1435]

The accusations and especially the vague reference to certain details, which were supposedly the only proof, disgusted the authors of the memorandum The Question of the Alianza:

What are these details that prove to you that the Alianza was a hierarchical society? Imposters! With all that you have said, you still have the wisdom or the impertinence to invent something. Well, if you had some details, would you not publish them? But you can’t have any, because it is as false as everything that you have said, because you know that the Alianza was completely democratic; there was not even a regional committee, but all sections communicated and consulted with each other. This you know from experience and you have the impertinence to say otherwise.

You claim it was the acts of the Alliance in Switzerland, Italy, England and other countries that you have fought. Imposters! One hundred thousand times imposters! Present proof, conclusive proof. Not inventions as hitherto, not saying ‘You see what has happened? This is the work of the mysterious Alianza.’ Speaking like that does nothing more than prove your degradation, your debasement and your infamy. You must present conclusive proof. Moreover you know that the secret Alianza was founded in Spain without anyone coming to found it, that they made the programme and its rules here, and you also know that this society didn’t have sections beyond Spain and Lisbon, and that its action was confined to this circle, whatever efforts we have undertaken to extend it. So you know perfectly well that even if a secret society called the Alliance may have existed in other places (which we do not know) we had nothing to do with it.

They got to saying that the Alianza was receiving orders from a centre, which they said exists in Switzerland. And to be abominable to the Jura Federation, they said that this centre was the Federal Council of this federation. They know this is a lie since the Alianza never received orders, but if they claim this they may present evidence of it. But how can they present it when they know full well that such a thing is false. They know the opposite is true, that the Alianza has always discussed at length all its resolutions and that without consultation between the sections and the vote of the majority nothing apart from the common good has been put into practice. And we can present correspondence between the sections to prove it. If they know this, how can they cover themselves in such absurdity and infamy by saying that the Alianza did nothing more than receive and follow orders?[1436]

Repeated calls for actual proof remained unanswered. It quickly became clear that the only point of reference for the New Madrid Federation’s attacks was Lafargue’s Marxian conjecture, ‘which sufficed for denunciations and disloyal polemic’.[1437] Lafargue apparently never planned to submit ‘conclusive proof’. By merely mentioning the name Alianza, Lafargue was able to get London’s attention as Marx and Engels went hopping mad upon hearing it. The Alianza in Spain could not be a network of militant members of the International; it had to be Bakunin’s tool: ‘What will break the old scoundrel’s neck is the continued existence of the “Alliance” – at least in Spain – as a secret society’, Engels posited, for instance.[1438] It didn’t occur to Marx and Engels that the Alianza in no way had continued the International Alliance of 1868 and that their speculation about the Alianza was baseless. The Alianza caused a knee-jerk reaction in them laden with conspiracy theories and resentment against Bakunin. Despite the fact that Bakunin did not have significant influence in Spain and there could be no question of a conspiracy against the International, Engels continued to make up bizarre stories about the Alianza, for example that it was directed against the International and even against the workers as well as under the leadership of Bakunin, etc.[1439] Information about the Alianza’s real function fell by the wayside.

This state of affairs meant that all of the aforementioned attempts at clarification by the members of the Alianza – about its autonomous development and inner workings, for example – and all of the appeals for a more balanced point of view were futile. Lafargue was able to push the Spanish International into constantly making new statements regarding the Alianza, which he was then able to latch onto, etc. And so they argued about the Alianza for many months, talking at cross purposes: the one side never tired of stressing the Alianza’s constructive role during the International’s development in Spain, the other side kept finding new evidence of a long-standing and far-reaching Bakuninist conspiracy with each mention of the name Alianza. An author who claimed to be impartial observed in the Federación that the Alianza’s programme still embodied the ideas and feelings of the entire proletariat, ‘with the exception of some individuals – the London [General] Council – who think the opposite, or rather, who do not know how to think at all’.[1440] Thus both parties debated about the Alianza, although their conception and intentions couldn’t be more different. This incongruence in the discussion often led to bizarre situations: Lafargue and Engels were overjoyed after the Barcelona Alianza members published their former programme and rules in order to provide authentic information regarding their group[1441] – an act which actually cut the ground from under the Emancipación’s vicious attacks and accusations. ‘We have forced the Alliancists themselves to publish the Rules of the “eminently secret” Alliance’, a satisfied Engels wrote;[1442] apparently he speculated that this gave him leverage against the Alianza. Lafargue and Engels evidently did not intend to understand the situation in Spain or learn about the inner workings of the Alianza. At the Congress of The Hague, Alerini accused Engels of being ignorant ‘about the sentiment of the Spanish Internationals’. Engels – a true conspiracy theorist – countered ‘that he knew more about things in Spain than these gentlemen would have liked’.[1443]

The Alianza’s decisive role in the development of the Spanish International was of course not due to a conspiracy against the International or ‘secret instructions’ from Bakunin as Lafargue and Engels would have liked people to believe. On the contrary, it was due to an event at International’s inception in Spain: Fanelli’s simultaneous propaganda for the International and the programme of the Genevan International Alliance formed in 1868. Fanelli propagated this problematic mix of organisations because the Alliance initially considered itself an independent international organisation on the one hand and an integral part of the International on the other, and Fanelli thought that being a member of the Alliance made him part of the International.[1444] Bakunin considered the results of Fanelli’s propaganda trip fatal. Bakunin wrote a letter to Alerini – partly in code – in Barcelona at the beginning of May 1872, suggesting that when Fanelli had laid the groundwork in Spain for this mix composing the International and Alliance, he had

committed an organisational mistake of which you are now feeling the effects. He confounded the International with the Alliance and thereby led his friends 3521 [in Madrid] to found the International with the programme of the Alliance. This may have seemed a great triumph at first; in reality, this became a cause of confusion and disorganisation for both.[1445]

Bakunin had good arguments to back his claim that blending the Alliance and International’s programmes would lead to confusion and be detrimental to the organisation. As he had already explained in his letters to Italy,[1446] Bakunin wrote to Spain that the International could not have a programme that was mandatory for all – regardless of whether it was from Marx or the Alliance:

The International welcomes, without any consideration of differences in political and religious belief, all honest workers, on the sole condition that they accept, with all that it entails, the solidarity of workers’ struggle against bourgeois capital, the exploiter of labour. This is a positive condition, sufficient to separate the world of the workers from the world of the privileged, but insufficient to impart a revolutionary direction to the former. Its programme is so broad that even monarchists and Catholics can enter. And this breadth of the programme is absolutely necessary for the International to be able to include hundreds of thousands of workers, and it is only by counting hundreds of thousands of members that it can become a real power.[1447]

He continued in a letter to Alerini:

The great merit of the founders of the International and of the Geneva Congress (September 1866) consisted in having understood this and having made it the basis of the entire programme of our great Association. If we had introduced atheism and materialism into this programme, we would certainly have expelled from the International millions of very serious workers, i.e. greatly oppressed and very poor ones. […] impose the programme of the Alliance upon the International, and the International will no longer count more than two or three thousand members throughout Europe. These will, indeed, be valuable members, the most developed, the strongest and most sincere revolutionary socialists of Europe – but what are three thousand men before the combined power of the rich classes and the state, of all the states? – Absolutely powerless. This formidable coalition of the reaction and the exploiters can only be broken by the organised power of the masses of all the millions of workers – and certainly those millions today will not accept the socialist philosophical programme of the Alliance. –

Neither will they accept the Marxian program, which, in addition to its scientific and abstract character, also entails the terrible disadvantage of tending to the founding of new popular states, i.e. new prisons and new guards for the people, all the more oppressive in that they oppress in the name of the sovereign will of the people. –

[…] How to proceed, then? Should there be two Internationals? One Germanic, the other Latino-Slavic? It would be a great misfortune – and a certain triumph for the bourgeois of all nationalities and all lands. It would be the disruption of the proletariat, the introduction of civil war in its midst, all to the profit of the bourgeoisie. – Is there an opportunity to reconcile the Marxian programme with ours? No, because they are mutually exclusive. – This reconciliation is impossible. In the end, must one of these programmes be sacrificed to the other, for the sake of peace and to save the unity of the International – and as it is the Germans who tend to dominate, not Latins nor Slavs, should the latter submit to the yoke of Germanic ideas – a yoke that could have no other result than the deprivation and enslavement of Latin and Slavic nationalities, or even a terrible ethnic war? It is enough to ask this question for us all to answer it firmly in the negative.

So neither conciliation, because it is impossible, nor submission, because it is disgusting and deadly, nor division, because it is necessary to save the unity of the International, the supreme condition for the triumph of the proletariat in its struggle against the bourgeoisie. So what is to be done? – We must seek for this unity where it is, not where it cannot be found. It must be sought not in either political or philosophical theories, but in the solidary aspirations of the proletariat of all countries to material or economic emancipation – on the terrain of the economic struggle, in the everyday practice of labour exploited by capital.

I will never cease to repeat it. That is the goal, the only purpose of the organisation, and the sole programme of the International. […] Such is the serious, positive side of the International, the only really required of it; everything else, all these questions of the social and political organisation of the future being discussed at our congresses, such as that of all-round education, of the abolition of states or the emancipation of the proletariat by the state, of women’s emancipation, of common property, of the abolition of inheritance rights, of atheism, materialism or deism – all of these are undoubtedly very interesting questions, and discussion of them is very useful to the intellectual and moral development of the proletariat – but no congress has the ability or authority to resolve them in an absolute manner, nor to impose its resolutions as articles of a mandatory programme for the sections, or for its individual members; they cannot, they do not want to, because by so doing they would proclaim absolute truths, a nonsense, and they would impose, by the artificial vote of a necessarily factitious and fluctuating majority, an official truth – a monstrosity. […] On such a broad terrain, every idea, every doctrine must be fully free to unfold – the authoritarian theories of Marx, as well as our own anarchic theories […].[1448]

As long as ‘none of them is proclaimed as the official theory’, Bakunin added in the aforementioned ‘Letter to the Spanish Allies’,

these doctrinal differences and the peaceful struggles that result from them within the International are far from being an evil; they are, in my opinion, a great good, in that they help to develop the thinking and the spontaneous labour of the intelligence of each […]. The workers of the Jura Federation, for example, who abhor any authoritarian organisation and who have adopted the programme of the abolition of the state, are deeply separated in this view from the workers of Germany, a large majority of whom, it seems, agree with Marx’s authoritarian theories, and yet if a strike broke out in Germany, the workers of the Jura would be the first to support it by all means. I am not sure of it, but I hope that the workers of Germany would do likewise. So here is the true and only form of solidarity that the International creates. It is entirely practical, and it persists, it remains strong in spite of all the theoretical disagreements that may arise between different groups of workers.

However, this can only be maintained on the sole condition that no political, socialist or philosophical theory can ever become the binding, official theory of the International. First of all, any official theory is nonsense. To have the courage and the excuse to impose itself, it must proclaim itself absolute, and the time for absolutes is past, at least in the camp of the revolution – for men of freedom and humanity, the absolute is the absurd. Then, since it will be forever impossible that any particular theory should actually be the product of the individual thought of each; since there has never been an example of such in history; since all theories, inasmuch as they are explicit and finite theories, have been and always will be developed by a small number of individuals, therefore, a theory which is called absolute will not represent anything in reality other than the despotism exercised by the thought of some over the thoughts of all – a theoretical despotism that will never fail to turn into despotism and exploitation in practice.

This is precisely what we see happening today within the International itself. The Marxist clique, all-powerful in the General Council, […] obviously strives to impose the political and socialist doctrine of Marx, that of the emancipation of the working classes by the power of the large centralised state, as the official doctrine of the International. In tandem with this goal and as its necessary consequence, it pursues another goal: that of transforming the General Council, always led by Marx himself, into the government, the official director, the dictator of the International – And it labours, it schemes mightily even now, vigorously spreading slanders, to prepare a congress that, once it has proclaimed the doctrine and dictatorship of Marx (masked, naturally) as mandatory for all sections of the International, will declare heretics all those who do not wish to accept this doctrine, and traitors all those who will not bow their heads before this dictatorship. –

Such is the fatal effect of official doctrines.

Lest it betray its mission, the International must accept none of this.[1449]

Engels’ attacks against the Alianza (July–August 1872)

After reading Lafargue’s first ‘denunciation’ of the Alianza, Engels hurried to add it at the last minute to the controversial pamphlet Fictitious Splits. As the General Council had approved the comprehensive pamphlet at its meeting on 5 March 1872 without knowing what it was about,[1450] Marx and Engels didn’t have any qualms about adding a reference to Lafargue’s report to the text in April 1872. As the Fictitious Splits was already being typeset, they were only able to add the following threat against Bakunin and his political allies as a footnote:

these absolute proponents of clamour and publicity organised within the International, in contempt of our Rules, a real secret society directed against the International itself with the aim of bringing its sections, unbeknown to them, under the sacerdotal direction of Bakunin. The General Council intends to demand at the next Congress an investigation of this secret organisation and its promoters in certain countries, such as Spain, for example.[1451]

Engels was only able to fully exploit Lafargue’s denunciation of the Alianza after the Fictitious Splits was printed. At the meeting of the General Council’s subcommittee on 5 July 1872, he presented Bakunin’s reply to the Fictitious Splits,[1452] Lafargue’s scandalous report in the Liberté and the objection against it from three Spanish Federal Council and Alianza members.[1453] The subcommittee passed the following resolution according to the minutes:

After having heard the reading of documents reporting on Spain, the Sub-Committee resolved the following:

  1. That it would not reply to Bakunin’s letter.

  2. Citizen Engels was to write to Valencia, to the Federal Council, to ask it to account for its relations with the Alliance, since the Council had at least three of its members belonging to this society.

  3. The Sub-Committee was to request the General Council to propose the expulsion of Bakunin and the members of the Alliance at the next Congress. Citizens Marx and Engels were charged with compiling the points to be presented to the General Council.[1454]

The second point, the idea of sending a threatening letter to the Spanish Federal Council in Valencia, may have been based on an idea by Lafargue who suggested the following to Engels on 1 July 1872:

You should write officially to Valencia, in the name of the G[eneral] C[ouncil] asking them what attitude should be adopted towards the Al[liance] and telling them that you learn from La Razón that at least three members of the Federal C[ouncil] belong to the Al[liance]. Send a registered letter and try to compromise them in relation to yourselves. In any case, according to Mesa and Mora, the Fed[eral] C[ouncil] will not dare to do anything for the Al[liance], which is in process of disbanding.[1455]

Lafargue mentions this again in his follow-up letter:

Mesa thinks that the G[eneral] Council should act energetically and even provoke a split before the Congress; but first he has to write to the Fed[eral] C[ouncil] telling them that he is aware of all their tricks, demanding to know the names of all the members of the All[iance] in Spain and asking them to institute a public enquiry into the All[iance] for the purpose of furnishing the General Congress with these documents; also that they should reply to you by return of post and that if they fail to satisfy your wishes, you will openly denounce them in Spain as having violated the statutes and being members of the All[iance].[1456]

‘The Federal Council will not pronounce in favour of the Alianza, I am almost sure of it’,[1457] Mesa promised in a letter to Engels. Spurred by Lafargue and Mesa, Engels sent the following declaration of war to Spain on 24 July 1872:



We hold proof that within the International, and particularly in Spain, there exists a secret society called the Alliance of Socialist Democracy. This society, whose centre is in Switzerland, considers it its special mission to guide our great Association in keeping with its own particular tendencies and lead it towards goals unknown to the vast majority of International members. Moreover, we know from the Seville Razon that at least three members of your Council belong to the Alliance. […] The International knows but one type of members, all with equal rights and duties; the Alliance divides them into two classes, the initiated and the uninitiated, the latter doomed to be led by the former by means of an organisation of whose very existence they are unaware. The International demands that its adherents should acknowledge Truth, Justice and Morality as the basis of their conduct; the Alliance obliges its supporters to hide from the uninitiated members of the International the existence of the secret organisation, the motives and the aim of their words and deeds.[1458] The General Council had already announced in its private circular [the Fictitious Splits] that at the coming Congress it would demand an inquiry into this Alliance, which is a veritable conspiracy against the International. The General Council is also aware of the measures taken by the Spanish Federal Council on the insistence of the men of the Alliance in the interests of their society, and is determined to put an end to this underhand dealing. With this end in view, it requests from you for the report it will be presenting at the Hague Congress:

1) a list of all the members of the Alliance in Spain, with indication of the functions they fulfil in the International;

2) information about the nature and activities of the Alliance, and also about its organisation and ramifications outside Spain;

3) a copy of your private circular of July 7;[1459]

4) an explanation of how you reconcile your duties towards the International with the presence in your Council of at least three notorious members of the Alliance.

Unless it receives a categoric and exhaustive answer by return, the General Council will be obliged to denounce you publicly in Spain and abroad for having violated the spirit and the letter of the General Rules, and having betrayed the International in the interests of a secret society that is not only alien but hostile to it.

Greetings and fraternity.

On behalf of the General Council

Secretary for Spain,

Frederick Engels[1460]

In the tense weeks before the Congress of The Hague, if anything lent credence to the claims that the General Council was authoritarian, it was this threatening letter by Engels. The Federación commented:

With this letter the General Council gives fresh proof of the authoritarian spirit that dominates it. By overreaching its powers, with undue threats and displaying a fury that it cannot master, it requests things of the Spanish Federal Council that any government would request of its interior ministers or its police.

What gives the General Council the right to declare the Spanish Federal Council traitors? It carries out its duties with zeal and to the satisfaction of those it represents – the only ones who can call it to account for its actions. What powers has the General Council to declare the esteemed brothers [in the Federal Council], whom we have entrusted with the mission to serve as our mediums of communication, traitors for the grand and solitary crime of not replying by return post? One cannot ask for a more dictatorial rage.[1461]

Morago’s periodical, the Condenado, printed Engels’ letter under the title ‘The arrogance of the gods’ (‘La soberbia de los dioses’), and the editors included the following foreword:

Driven by arrogance and enraged by the setbacks that his Mephistophelian plan has suffered in this country, the authoritarian Karl Marx has directed an unfair and unspeakable decree, an order or something like that to our Federal Council. […] Read it, comrades, and you will appreciate the autocratic arrogance of Marx and likewise you will deduce how grand must have been the setbacks that brought about the fiasco of his son-in-law Paul Lafargue in this country.[1462]

Engels’ letter also caused indignation internationally. Andrea Costa, secretary of the Italian Federation’s correspondence commission, explained: ‘That the General Council is and believes it is endowed with authority is proved by many facts, not the least of which is the dictatorial letter that Friedrich Engels writes to the Spanish Federal Council on the orders and in the name of the same, for which the members of the General Council don the garb of police officers.’[1463] And the Communard Aristide Claris wrote:

the most guilty party in all this is Karl Marx, whose overriding influence led the entire General Council down a deplorable path. Once it had embarked on this path, there was little reason to depart from it. A burning fever for authority gripped the men of London, who fell to issuing excommunications and decrees that could have made Mastai himself [Pope Pius IX] jealous. One must read the documents emanating from the General Council to form an idea of the ravages that the thirst for power can wreak on some minds. – And so that we shall not be charged with exaggeration, let us here give the principal passages from the circular sent to the Federal Council of the Spanish sections, who had committed the sin of declaring themselves in solidarity with their brothers of the Jura and not sharing Karl Marx’s views; it is a masterpiece of audacity and vanity.[1464]

‘A dictator could not have said it better’, Claris concluded concerning Engels’ demands.[1465] And Engels followed through on his threat: as he expected a reply from Valencia by return post, he called for the suspension of the Spanish Federal Council in the General Council’s subcommittee exactly four days after sending his letter.[1466] Hermann Jung, the corresponding secretary for Switzerland and a member of the subcommittee, later explained:

Four days after the despatch of his letter he proposed the suspension as (= in the name of the) sub-committee. It takes two days for a letter to reach Spain, and two days more for an answer to come back, and there was no time to reply. I asked him how he got the information he acted on, he said he had it from Lafargue, Marx’s son-in-law, who was not a secretary of a section or an official of any kind. My opposition had the effect of bringing the matter before the Council, and the policy was counteracted, but the Federation was lost.[1467]

There was really no stopping the General Council’s loss of authority in Spain. The Spanish Federal Council reacted quite differently than Mesa had supposed – they categorically dismissed the accusations in their response on 3 August and resolved on 9 August to publish the correspondence:[1468]

To the General Council based in London:

The [Spanish Federal] Council is also aware of the existence of the Alianza de la Democracia Socialista in Spain, because it is already general knowledge. And to be honest, it’s precisely in view of the knowledge we have of it that we do not agree with the General Council.

It seems that the [General] Council has not paid much attention to formulating the charges it has made against us.

The General Council should know that this Federal Council has never taken, does not take nor will in the future take any steps that are not in the interests of the International Working Men’s Association and therefore the General Council is very badly informed.

We are always willing to account for our actions to those we represent, and nobody else, because only they have the right to demand it and because it is only they who will appreciate if we have carried out their mandate or not. Therefore your threat to denounce us as traitors if we do not reply by return post is of very little concern to us. We have the assuredness that we fulfil our duties.

In your position, we would have added your proposed request for information about the Alianza to the agenda of the next congress. In order to get such information in as comprehensive and as just a manner as possible, we would have duly requested all the sections or local federations for their contribution, if they had relevant data.

We would have designated a city in Central Europe as the location of the congress. Our intentions would have been two-fold: that a proportional contingent from every countries could come easily to the congress and also that as many representatives as possible from Italy, Switzerland and Spain participate – countries where the Alianza exists (according to your private circular)[1469] and where it must be known best. Thus, this question could be resolved with better understanding and impartiality and with the severity and magnitude that the great cause of the proletariat requires.

That the [General] Council hasn’t paid much attention to formulating this request, is quite clear.

You demand from us by return post:

First. ‘A list of all the members of the Alliance in Spain, with indication of the functions they fulfil in the International.’

Several reasons prevent us from fulfilling this request, reasons that ought to have prevented you from making the request. One reason is dignity, because in our opinion you ask us in the same manner that a head of state would ask the police department.

We lack the data you request for the simple reason that the [Spanish Federal] Council has no obligation to know the number and names of individuals in our Association who take part in another, or the functions that they fulfil in ours, which is up to those who appointed them, because to appoint them they must have confidence in them. […]

The General Council also asks us for:

Fourth. ‘An explanation of how you reconcile your duties towards the International with the presence in your Council of at least three notorious members of the Alliance.’

The explanation is beyond simplistic: none of the members composing the [Federal] Council have either opposed or neglected any of the obligations that we have accepted as the Spanish Federal Council of the International Working Men’s Association.

Therefore, if within the [Federal] Council there are individuals who have belonged to the dissolved Alianza de la Democracia Socialista in Spain, they have proven that their stay amongst us was in no way contrary to the ends of the International, and from this we can infer that you are mistaken in asserting that this society conspires against the International.

We can also tell you what was said in our circular dated 30 July – that no member of the Federal Council belongs to an organisation other than the one the Spanish Regional Federation had adopted[1470] and we have the right to call those who claim the opposite miserable slanderers.

Instead of presumptuously describing (like the General Council does) the purposes of a society, presenting it as being malicious and making much fuss about it, before coming to the conclusion that the principles they support are bad – would it not be better and more worthy to discuss them [the principles] and see if they are acceptable or not and to welcome or reject them according to the knowledge you gain?

Members of the General Council, isn’t it true that this would be the honourable procedure, and that to slander, condemn and excommunicate an individual or community to combat their principles is the procedure of the Jesuitical and liberal bourgeoisie?

For us, who deeply despise vanities and the vain, it can only be deeply painful that the International endures such a sad crisis on account of the devotion of some and the intemperance of yourselves.

Greetings and Social Liquidation, Collectivism and Anarchy.

Valencia, 3 August 1872.

By name and by agreement of the Federal Council, acting general secretary, Francisco Tomás, mason.[1471]

Naturally Engels was not deterred and continued to collect supposedly incriminating evidence – in accordance with the subcommittee’s mandate to compile ‘the points to be presented to the General Council’ – into a draft resolution for the General Council. Therein, he only made negligible changes to his established line of reasoning, which asserted that the debate on internal organisation and pluralism in Switzerland, Belgium, Italy and Spain was really being controlled by the Alliance, which was conspiring to take over the International, etc.:


The General Council finds itself under the necessity of publicly denouncing to you the existence, within the International, of intrigues which, although in full work for several years past, have never been even suspected by the majority among you.

In our private circular dated 5th March 1872 on ‘the pretended divisions within the International’ [the Fictitious Splits], we were compelled to call your attention to the manoeuvres of the so-called ‘Alliance of Socialist Democracy’, manoeuvres aiming at the creation of discord in our ranks, and at the handing over, in an underhand manner, of the supreme direction of our Association to a small clique directed by Michael Bakounine. […] we are put in possession of documents which prove irrefragably that this same Alliance of Socialist Democracy, in spite of its formal promise, has continued and does continue to exist as an international body within the International, and that in the shape of a secret society; that it is still directed by M. Bakounine; that its ends are still the same, and that all the attacks which for the last twelve months have been directed apparently against the London Conference and the General Council, but in reality against the whole of our organisation, have had their source in this Alliance. […]

The nucleus of the Alliance is in the federation of the Jura. From it the watchword is issued which is taken up and repeated immediately by the other sections and by the newspapers belonging to the secret organisation. In Italy, a certain number of societies are controlled by it. These societies call themselves International sections, but have never either demanded their admission, or paid any contributions, or fulfilled any of the other conditions prescribed by our Regulations. In Belgium, the Alliance has a few influential agents. In the South of France, it has several correspondents, among them pluralists, who couple their functions of correspondents to the Alliance with the office of clerk to the inspector of police. But the country where the Alliance is organised most effectively, and where it has the most extended ramifications is Spain. Having managed to slip itself quietly and from the commencement into the ranks of the Spanish Internationals, it has managed to control, most of the time, the successive Federal Councils and Congresses. […] Thus the sections and local federations of Spain, so proud of their autonomy, are led like a flock of sheep, without even suspecting it, by secret orders sent from Switzerland, which the Federal Council has to carry out without a murmur, under penalty of being outlawed by the Alliance. […]

For these reasons, the General Council will call upon the Congress of The Hague to expel from the International all and every member of the Alliance and to give the Council such powers as shall enable it effectually to prevent the recurrence of similar conspiracies.[1472]

In letters written around the same time, Engels boasted that his draft resolution had deciphered Bakunin’s plans: ‘a secret society within the International to gain control of the latter. Fortunately, the plan has now come to light and just in time. This business will break Bakunin’s neck. The General Council will issue an Address devoted to it on Tuesday’.[1473] He was even more overt in another letter:

Incidentally, we shall be launching a bombshell tomorrow evening which will cause no small panic among the Bakuninists. It is a public statement about the continued existence of the Alliance de la démocratie socialiste as a secret society. We have at long last received the necessary material and the proof of this from Spain […]. Those swine imagined that with their secret organisation they could direct the entire International from Locarno.[1474]

In reality, Engels’ ‘bombshell’ didn’t include any proof whatsoever of his monstrous allegations. And he was criticised for this after he presented his bizarre document to the General Council on 6 August 1872. The minutes relay Engels’ presentation as follows: ‘Citizen Engels spoke of the Alliance as intended to fetter and destroy our Association. Bakunin was the chief organiser of this Alliance; he had given us a great deal of trouble before, but we had our duty to do and that was to expose this scheme; he submitted that the report be received.’[1475] Two opinions in favour and against Engels’ motion had already been shared in the ensuing debate when the English General Council member Charles Murray spoke:

Citizen Murray said that, taking the present state of Spain into consideration, that secret society might to some extent be justified; the report modified might be accepted.

Citizen Barry said our duty was to unmask our enemies and cut them down in detail; he approved the report of the Sub-Committee.

Citizen Vaillant said that the Council should consider most that part of the report relating to Spain.

Citizen Hales doubted the statements of the [Sub-]Committee; he could not vote without proof, he looked on the whole affair as an election dodge, he demanded the facts, he looked on the whole affair as an intrigue on the part of one secret society to build itself up by the destruction of another.[1476]

Naturally Engels couldn’t provide Hales with any proof – a flaw which set the tone for the rest of the debate:

Citizen Johannard demanded that the proofs be added to the report as there was nothing [in] it to explain the attacks on Bakunin.

Citizen Vaillant would oppose the vote unless the proofs were added to the report.

Amidst loud cries of Vote, the Chairman proposed that the report of the Sub-Committee as read [by] Citizen Engels be accepted, which was declared to be carried by twelve votes for and eight votes against.[1477]

The vote, however, had no consequences and Engels’ text was never published in his lifetime.[1478] Evidently the opposition was loud enough for Engels to get the message and his plans to suspend the Spanish Federal Council were quickly abandoned.

The resistance against Engels – Marx didn’t say a word throughout the entire debate – was apparently also the result of the tense atmosphere in the General Council, which got successively worse as 1872 wore on. On 23 January 1872, the French General Council member Cournet complained: ‘[at] every sitting two or three hours were lost in personal quarrels’.[1479] Three weeks later a judicial committee was even formed ‘to which all personal questions and matters relating thereto should be referred’.[1480] However, this did not calm matters: ‘whatever fraternal feeling the members possessed’, Hales, the secretary of the General Council, said with resignation on 9 July 1872, ‘the Council possessed none’.[1481] Engels’ authoritarian tone often aggravated the situation: Engels himself recalled someone in the General Council saying that ‘If you want to have a row make Mr. Engels chairman’.[1482] A son of Marx’s son-in-law Charles Longuet later said that Engels’ increased involvement had already led to a rude tone around the time of the Fictitious Splits:

The curt and rigid tone that characterised it, rather different from most of the preceding circulars written by Marx, reveals the considerable part played in its authorship by Friedrich Engels, who […] exercised upon Marx an influence of which faithful friends of the great socialist such as Eccarius, Lessner, and Jung deplored the exclusivity. When it came to political struggle, Engels […] lacked tact, and in practical or doctrinal controversies, he could display a rather Prussian rudeness.[1483]

And so the mood was at times quite sour in the General Council: ‘Never heard a speech with more virus than that of Citizen Engels’, the General Council member Thomas Mottershead complained on 7 May 1872[1484] after Engels attacked Marx’s former confidant Eccarius. Hermann Jung, who along with Eccarius belonged to the General Council since its inception, later remembered:

You are all aware that I have for a long time been intimate with Marx. Formerly he used to consult his friends about what was to be done, when any question of importance turned up, and we always agreed before things were brought on in the open Council meetings. After Engels came to London [September 1870] that was no longer done, and hence it often happened that we were divided in the open meetings, and by this Marx gradually lost the confidence of his old friends. […] The last meeting before the [Hague] Congress I wrote a resolution in several languages, proposing the removal of the General Council from London. Marx and Engels were dead against it. […] I could see that no new Council could be formed in London.[1485]

Eccarius later wrote:

The reasons urged in favour of the removal were that the General Council had remained too long in the same hands and place, which had bred suspicion in many quarters, a suspicion that could only be cured by the removal and that the dissensions in the Association had reached the General Council itself, which was but a committee of mutual distrust and suspicion.[1486]

And so, unbeknownst to the public, the General Council was increasingly falling apart. At the General Council’s last meeting at the end of August 1872 (the minutes are not dated), Jung proposed that the next General Council have its seat on the Continent – more or less a voluntarily capitulation on the part of the General Council. His motion was only narrowly rejected.[1487] The vote was accompanied by tumultuous scenes: ‘the last meeting’, Eccarius later remember, ‘had ended in a “bear garden”’.[1488]

The Spanish delegate elections and the New Madrid Federation before the Congress of The Hague

In a letter dated 15 June 1872 (while the debate over the Belgian rules project was at its peak), the Spanish Federal Council called on the General Council to put the revision of the Rules on the agenda of the Congress of The Hague.[1489] In a ‘Private Circular’ (‘Circular reservada’) dated 7 July 1872, the Federal Council disclosed its own position regarding the revision of the Rules based on the resolutions of the Spanish International, which had already spoken out in favour of autonomy at its founding congress in Barcelona (June 1870). The Valencia Conference of September 1871, the ‘Private Circular’ continued,

concludes this statement by declaring themselves in favour of common property, anarchy, economic federation, and accepts as a formula the FREE WORLDWIDE FEDERATION OF FREE AGRICULTURAL AND INDUSTRIAL WORKER’S ASSOCIATIONS.[1490]

And the Federal Congress held in Saragossa accepts the Belgian Congress resolutions that declare ‘that the International is only and has always been a group of completely autonomous federations’,[1491] being resolutions that were also adopted by the Jura Federation in Switzerland.[1492]

Although the radical and revolutionary ideas of the Spanish Federation are set down, we are obliged – in compliance with art. 13 of the rules of our federation[1493] – to declare that the ideas proclaimed in the congresses of Barcelona, Saragossa and the conference of Valencia are in grave danger. […]

The danger that threatens us[1494] is none other than the repeal of our anarchist anti-authoritarian principle by the pre-dominance of authoritarian tendencies in the International Working Men’s Association. These tendencies want to convert the group of autonomous federations into a vast authoritarian communist state. It is in opposition to the grand formula adopted by the Valencia Conference to unite humanity in a FREE WORLDWIDE FEDERATION OF FREE AGRICULTURAL AND INDUSTRIAL WORKER’S ASSOCIATIONS, abolishing all states to wipe out the authoritarian principle. […]

In our opinion this question is none other than the authoritarian principle applied to socialism as well as to the principle of autonomy and federalism, which are at stake here not only in view of the upcoming reorganisation of the proletariat but also the future. And in light of this question we say that it is necessary to dedicate to such an important question the attention it deserves so that it is clear in everybody’s mind and so that they can stand up for the principles and resolutions which are the most appropriate to restore peace within our Association and resolve the crisis that it faces.

Considering the above, the members of the International in Spain will easily understand the need to take a stance on such an important question which is being discussed within the International so that their delegates [to the Congress of The Hague] are faithful interpreters of their ideas and aspirations.[1495]

As the delegates for the Congress of The Hague had not yet been elected, the ‘Private Circular’ suggested that the delegate elections begin in the local federations, the delegates’ travel expenses be covered by a special payment and drafts of the imperative mandate for the delegates be sent to the Federal Council. The results of the delegate elections were printed by the Federal Council six weeks later in another circular.[1496] The following candidates received the most votes:

  • Nicolás Alonso Marselau: 3,882 votes

  • Tomás Gonzalez Morago: 3,707 votes

The Barcelonans decided to take a different route: a resolution was passed after the general meetings of their local federation on 31 July, 7 and 8 August

that the Barcelona Local Federation will appoint its delegates to the Congress of The Hague by itself […] recognising that the mandate the Barcelona Local Federation gives to its delegates is associated with the mandate given by the other local federations, so that the delegates of the Spanish Regional Federation follow its collective mandate.[1497]

During the delegate elections between 15 and 17 August in Barcelona, the following candidates received the most of the 3,306 votes:[1498]

  • Rafael Farga Pellicer: 1,083 votes

  • Charles Alerini: 587 votes

The wording of the imperative mandate led to the following debate in Barcelona:

The question of the relationship between the working class and politics has almost completely occupied the discussions – to the point that some defended the idea that to achieve emancipation faster the working class should help the most advanced party of the middle class. Others maintained that it [the working class] should concern itself with politics, but for itself and without mixing at all with the bourgeois parties. The majority upheld the resolutions from the Barcelona Congress and the Valencia Conference on this point, where it is emphatically stated that the policy of the working class must be nothing other than the organisation of work, completely separated from the political government of all states and with the most radical and revolutionary propaganda. […]

The abolition of the political, judicial and authoritarian states, the complete social liquidation, the economic transformation of society – this is what the International carries in its heart, in its very organisation. No party is as strong, as revolutionary or as generous as the workers inside the International who directly (without attempting a governmental farce) move towards the destruction of all authoritarian powers, the consolidation of anarchy in society, the implementation of the free federation of free agricultural and industrial worker’s associations.

After approving the mandate as a whole, its parts were discussed and approved.

The document principally contained the following:

It expresses a profound displeasure that The Hague was chosen as the location for the congress without paying heed to the convenience of the majority of the federated, or to fairness, or to justice.

That the General Council as it stands today, should be abolished. It will be composed of two representatives per region, and will be a simple centre for correspondence and workers’ statistics.

That the vote of the delegates be counted according to the numbers represented by each of them.

That the vote of the majority is not obligatory nor are resolutions regarding questions of principle. Resolutions can only be binding when they are freely accepted and when administrative matters are concerned or workers’ solidarity in the economic struggle against the exploiters.

That the delegates, in all matters not provided for in the mandate, must align their conduct using the anarchic and decentralised criteria of collectivism, as expressed by the congresses and conference in Spain.

After the various articles or conditions of the imperative mandate were approved – some unanimously, others with very few dissenting votes – a discussion started about another draft of an imperative mandate containing (among other things) the proposal that those that had belonged to the Alianza de la Democracia Socialista be declared traitors and that the working class was to occupy itself with politics. It was rejected unanimously.[1499]

A report from another meeting on 18 August 1872 states:

the speakers agreed with the virtue of socialist principles based on collectivism and anarchy, which is why there was nobody defending the General Council. Just a few limited themselves to asking for information and evidence concerning the repeated accusations that were made against it, which was given in its entirety. On the other hand, there was no shortage of comrades who upheld the idea of completely abolishing the General Council. The assembly agreed that as a centre or bureau for reports, correspondence and statistics it could be of service to the organisation of the International.[1500]

The report also described the discussion about the decision ‘that the vote of the majority is not obligatory nor are resolutions regarding questions of principle’:

the congresses of the International do not have or should not have anything in common with the conclaves and councils of the obscurantists where decisions are imposed as articles of faith. Similarly they should not be anything like the parliaments of the middle class or the congresses of states, whose decisions are imposed by the persuasive force of the police and bayonets. Therefore questions of principle cannot be mandatory because no one can declare (for all that progress and constant study) which ideas really have the honour of representing justice.

History and reason show us that what was considered true yesterday, is false today. What represented revolution yesterday, is among the ideas and aspirations of the reactionary today. Justice is determined and studied. Humanity will always study to more fully determine it, define it and practice it.

For this reason, an official and exclusive programme – an official priority of one or another theory – would be the height of absurdity and the most fatal and tyrannical of impositions. The International cannot and should never stray from this fundamental principle which is set down in its rules – it must endeavour for the unity and solidarity of the proletariat, without distinction of colour, creed, or nationality.

The comrades who defended the participation of the working class in the most advanced politics of the middle class relied on resolution no. 9 of the London Conference, which seems to be the holy book of those who love politics.[1501]

The Madrid Local Federation submitted the following draft of an imperative mandate for the delegates:

  1. That the General Council shall be composed of three delegates per region.

  2. That the faculties of the Council shall solely correspond with those of a centre for statistics and correspondence.

  3. That the term of the Council shall be one year, and outgoing members cannot be re-elected until the following congress.

  4. That the Council shall reside in Belgium until the congress of 1873.

  5. That the delegates should procure by every means possible a copy of the minutes of the congress sessions and pass them upon their return onto the Federal Council which will in turn pass them to the local federations.

  6. That the delegates bring a copy of the list of subscriptions made to the General Council by all regions and especially those of our delegate to the London Conference, with a detailed report of its receipts and expenses from the Basel Congress until that date.[1502]

The Valencia Local Federation approved the following draft of an imperative mandate for the delegates on 14 and 15 August 1872:

  1. That [the delegates] shall establish a pact of solidarity for the practice of economic solidarity among all the regional federations.

  2. That they shall vote for the complete abolishment of the General Council.

  3. That the aspiration of the International must be to unite humanity in a free worldwide federation of free agricultural and industrial worker’s associations and that its organisation must match that in every way possible.

  4. That the delegates shall not be authorised to vote on questions of principles and when the Congress would do so they have to withdraw and go to Neuchâtel.[1503]

  5. That the delegates should procure a copy of the minutes of the Congress of The Hague, as well as those from Neuchâtel, so that all the local federations may acquaint themselves with them.

  6. That the delegates bring a copy of the list of subscriptions made to the General Council by all regions, especially those delivered by the Spanish Federation with a report of expenses and receipts from the Basel Congress until that date.[1504]

The Federal Council pieced together the following definitive imperative mandate for the four Spanish delegates based on the discussion and the suggestions it had received:

1) We have seen with profound bitterness that the General Council has named the place of assembly of the Congress without consulting the different regional federations;

We have seen with regret that it has named The Hague for the assembly of the Congress, because it is thus impossible for various regions to send the number of representatives they would have been able to send had a more central place been named;

And because tendencies opposed to the General Council have been manifested in the southern regions of Europe, it appears there has been a deliberate intention of causing these regions to have the smallest possible number of representatives at this Congress;

Because of all this the delegates must demonstrate to the Congress that the General Council has violated the principles of justice.

2) Not considering as equitable the principle observed up to the present International Congress of voting according to the number of delegates, we request: that the votes be counted according to the number of those represented by the delegates holding an imperative mandate, which must show the number of individuals who are represented; that the votes of those represented by delegates not provided with an imperative mandate will not count until the sections or federations which they represent have discussed and voted on the questions debated at the Congress.

In order to ensure the implementation of the said principle and that the resolutions of the Congress shall be the true expression of the will of the International Working Men’s Association, these resolutions shall not enter into force before two months have elapsed, in which time the sections or federations which have not provided their delegates with an imperative mandate on the questions discussed and also those which have not been able to send delegates will express their vote by publishing it in the newspapers of the International and by taking part in the Regional Council which will be entrusted with this mission.

In the event of the Congress persisting in the traditional system of voting, our delegates will take part in the discussion, but will abstain from voting.

The Belgian Federal Council will be entrusted with counting the votes of the different sections or federations which, because they have not empowered a delegate or have not provided him with an imperative mandate on the questions debated, have to express their opinion.

3) Only the administrative resolutions of the Congresses, sanctioned by the vote of the sections or federations, will be obliging for all members of the International. There will be voting on questions of principle only to show which opinion is so far most accepted; but resolutions on these questions will not be binding.

4) The General Council has no authority whatsoever over the sections and federations. As it is today it should be abolished; its functions shall be those of an intermediary between the different regional federations; for which its activity shall be limited to that of a mere correspondence and statistics centre, leaving it full freedom of initiative to propose to the different regions or to the Congress the solutions which it finds most suitable by reason of the data acquired through correspondence and statistics.

5) The General Council should be located in Brussels until the next Congress. The Belgian Federal Council will be charged with:

Counting the votes of the different sections and federations which, because they have not sent delegates or because they have not provided them with an imperative mandate on the questions debated, have to express their opinion.

Installing in its functions, after two months have elapsed since the Congress, the General Council which will be elected.

6) The General Council will be composed of two members for each regional federation, who will be nominated directly by the respective federations and can be recalled only by them.

7) The responsibility for our Italian brothers’ break with the General Council rests with the latter exclusively; if the Italian members of the International despite this send their delegates to the Congress of The Hague we declare that our delegates will always be on their side so long as they support the banner of revolution as at present.

In the event of the Italians persisting in holding the Congress which they have convened in Neuchâtel either at the same time as, or after the termination of, the Congress of The Hague, our delegates, once they have ended their mission at the Congress, will pass through Neuchâtel in order to take part in the said Congress or to obtain all the necessary data to render an account on their return of all that can be of interest to us concerning this grand and transcendental question.

8) Our delegates shall by all possible means accessible to them secure the unity of the International; but without renouncing in any way any one of the revolutionary principles proclaimed by our Conference and regional congresses.

For this purpose our delegates must come to an agreement with the delegates of the Italian and Jura regions to defend in common the principles which inspire both the regions, inasmuch as they are identical, inasmuch as they are the same.

9) The delegates of the Spanish Federation will procure a copy of the minutes of the sittings of the Congress of The Hague, as also of that of Neuchâtel, so that all the local federations may acquaint themselves with them.

10) They will also procure a copy of the list of subscriptions made to the General Council by all the regional federations, and especially those made by the Spanish Federation, showing all the data and the growth from the time of the Basle Congress until today.

11) Our delegates will bear in mind the following:

It would be desirable to concretise the agenda of the Congress on the different points which are to be debated; because the subject of the revision of the General Rules and Regulations can contain so many and so complicated questions, we point out to them that on all points not foreseen, for the reason already given, in this mandate they must keep in the discussion to the collectivistic, decentralising, anarchistic and anti-authoritarian criterion, which is the standard for members of the International in our Region, expressed by the congresses of Barcelona and Saragossa and the Conference of Valencia. They must bear in mind the formula adopted by the Conference of uniting Humanity in a free world federation of free associations of agricultural and industrial workers.

12) The delegates of the Spanish Region will observe this mandate in everything and on their return will render an exact account of what they have done, the first two [Marselau and Morago] to this Federal Council so that it can in turn pass it on to all the local federations, and the two nominated directly by the Barcelona Federation [Alerini and Farga Pellicer] at the general meeting of the same which will be convened for the purpose, without neglecting to give a written account of their conduct to this Federal Council.

13) The activists of the Federation who have paid their subscription in the course of this month number more than fifteen thousand members of the International.[1505]

The Spanish delegates were also given an extensive report for the Congress of The Hague dated 20 August 1872, which stated that the Spanish Federation comprised: individual members in 11 locations; 495 sections in 65 established local federations and 139 local federations in the process of formation; and 10 unions with at least 353 local sections. It was by far the biggest federation in the International. The report was also said to include the following:

There is a chapter of charges against the General Council demonstrating its pernicious influence and arrogant dictatorship, which it attempts to impose on the Association. […] [The report] calls the attention of the congress to the General Council’s letter dated 24 July, which shows that they believe themselves to be a dictatorial government and the Federal Councils to be their police departments. […] As was promised it dedicates a chapter to the opinion of different local federations towards the dissolved Alianza de la Democracia Socialista, as well as to the conduct observed by the editors of La Emancipación […].[1506]

In their first circular in issue no. 59 of the Emancipación, the New Madrid Federation described the Federal Council’s ‘Private Circular’ of 7 July 1872 – which proposed decentralised delegate elections and special payments for the travel expenses, and called on local federations to submit drafts of the imperative mandate for the delegates[1507] – as ‘Machiavellian intrigue’ and ‘very pronounced authoritarianism’. They claimed that the objective was ‘to send to the international congress delegates from the Alianza with money from local federations’.[1508]

However, the delegate election proved that those branded as members of the ominous Alianza – Marselau, Morago, Farga Pellicer, Alerini, and others – enjoyed the trust of thousands of voters, while Lafargue’s political allies José Mesa and Victor Pagés received 104 and only 5 votes respectively.[1509] Mesa had presaged ‘we shall abandon the field only as vanquished or victors’.[1510]

To top things off, the New Madrid Federation had to do without Lafargue in the conflict-ridden weeks before the Congress of The Hague. After provoking a showdown, Lafargue left Spain forever with his wife at the end of July 1872.[1511] Despite Engels’ repeated demands for conclusive evidence, Lafargue failed to deliver any proof to substantiate his claims. In a letter dated 29 May 1872, Lafargue only told Engels that Mesa and Mora’s group were preparing a statement of dissolution for the Madrid Alianza (2 June 1872) and that there were rumours regarding a letter from Bakunin to Morago, who supposedly showed the letter to Mesa in a café.[1512] Lafargue still had not provided any evidence by the time he left Spain; however, he was still trying to sooth Engels’ nerves in mid-July 1872: ‘Have no fear, you will be sent further ammunition against the Al[liance]’.[1513] In Lisbon on 8 August 1872, Lafargue also reported hearing about a letter from Bakunin to Mora – ‘but I do not know whether he will wish to let you see it’ – and a letter from Bakunin to Portugal, ‘which I have not read wherein he applies himself to attacking the G[eneral] C[ouncil]. I shall do what I can to have it sent to you in London’.[1514] Four days later, Lafargue still had not made any progress on this issue: ‘I shall try to take from here the letter from Bakunin’, he wrote Marx from Lisbon, ‘so as to have at least one proof’.[1515] This letter never turned up, either.[1516]

Thus Lafargue left the thankless job of gathering proof to his political allies in Madrid. Their report to the General Council on 23 August 1872, which included eleven original documents, contained all of the evidence they considered incriminating.[1517] What it did not include was a single document in support of their theories regarding the Alianza – i.e. it was hierarchically organised, against the International, controlled from abroad. On the contrary, the fourth attachment to the report, the letter from Alerini dated 14 November 1871,[1518] illustrated clearly that the Alianza was independent and dispelled any notions that it was controlled from abroad, for example. The report also admitted that the new theories that it contained regarding the Alianza were also unfounded – for instance, the assertion that the Alianza was still active: ‘we do not have material proof of what we are affirming.’[1519]

Of all of Bakunin’s letters that Lafargue had mentioned, Mesa was only able to get his hands on one: Bakunin’s unfortunate letter to Francisco Mora dated 5 April 1872.[1520] But this letter only showed how little Bakunin knew about the situation in Spain and that his correspondence did not involve any ‘secret instructions’ as Lafargue had claimed. ‘I fought for a long time to get this letter’, Mesa nevertheless proudly announced. With this letter in hand, he no longer felt the need to make a public statement regarding the aforementioned letter from Bakunin to Morago, which he claimed he had seen in a café. He added that such a statement would not be worth much because ‘that blackguard would deny everything’.[1521] With little else to go on, Engels nonetheless pushed Mesa into sending a corresponding statement claiming that Morago had shown him a letter from Bakunin at the end of January 1872 ‘in which was developed a whole Machiavellian plan’, etc.[1522] According to Bakunin’s diary, he only ever wrote Morago two letters: one from 18 to 19 May and another one from 2 to 7 June 1872. A surviving draft of a letter dated 21 May 1872 proves that he wrote Morago for the first time at this point in time.[1523]

After the fiasco regarding his resolution in the General Council, Engels was forced to piece together a report for the Congress of The Hague using various publications because the only confidential material he had was useless. His ‘Report on the Alliance of Socialist Democracy Presented in the Name of the General Council to the Congress at The Hague’ (‘Rapport fait au Congrès de La Haye, au nom du Conseil général, sur l’Alliance de la Démocratie Socialiste’)[1524] included the following ‘pieces of documentary evidence’ (pièces justificatives) from Spain:

  • Issue no. 61 of the Emancipación of 10 August 1872 in which Mesa and Mora describe themselves as the former ‘central committee’ of the Alianza in Spain. Engels considered this publication proof ‘that the Alliance has not, in fact, been dissolved’.[1525]

  • Issue no. 59 of the Emancipación of 27 July 1872, which included the New Madrid Federation’s first circular[1526] and the statement of dissolution of the Madrid Alianza dated 2 June 1872 by Mesa and Mora’s group.[1527]

  • The Spanish Federal Council’s ‘Private Circular’ dated 7 July 1872, which Engels claimed revealed a secret plan to elect ‘Alliance men to attend the Congress [of The Hague] on funds provided by members of the International’.[1528]

  • Issue no. 155 of the Federación of 4 August 1872, which included the programme and rules of the Alianza.[1529] Engels boasted that this put the Alianza’s existence ‘beyond question’.[1530]

  • The published minutes of the Saragossa Congress from 4 to 11 April 1872, which show that Morago’s organisational plan was rejected. Engels did not mention that the Alianza member Tomás’s suggestion was accepted (the organisational status remained unchanged).[1531]

  • A copy of the rules of the Madrid Section of Various Trades, which Engels claimed included various points from the rules of Geneva section of the Alliance.[1532]

  • Issue no. 157 of the Federación of 18 August 1872, which included Engels’ letter dated 24 July 1872 and the Spanish Federal Council’s reply dated 3 August 1872 – which took Engels so thoroughly to task that he should have been ashamed of it.[1533]

After presenting this rather paltry evidence, Engels suggested the following resolution ‘in the Name of the General Council’ – who had never laid eyes on any of it:


1) That the Alliance (the main organ of which is the Central Committee of the Jura Federation), founded and led by M. Bakunin, is a society hostile to the International, insofar as it aims at dominating or disorganising the latter;

2) That as a consequence of the foregoing the International and the Alliance are incompatible;

The Congress resolves:

1) That M. Bakunin and all the present members of the Alliance of Socialist Democracy be expelled from the International Working Men’s Association and be granted readmission to it only after a public renunciation of all connections with this secret society;

2) That the Jura Federation be expelled as such from the International.[1534]

CHAPTER 15. The eve of the Congress of The Hague

AS WILL BE SEEN BELOW, MARX and Engels had three goals in mind for the Congress of The Hague:

  • Enshrining their political views in the International’s General Rules.

  • Banishing the General Council’s critics and especially Bakunin.

  • Putting the General Council out of reach of the growing opposition.

Marx and Engels pursued the first goal – writing their political views into the Rules, i.e. eliminating the current pluralism – by borrowing from their opposition’s approach and proposing a revision of the Rules. Marx looked like he was giving in to the criticisms of the General Council launched by the Belgian rules project when he suggested on 18 June 1872 that the revision of the Rules be the only item on the agenda at the Congress of The Hague.[1535] However, Marx in no way planned on letting the General Council’s critics table their revision of the Rules at the congress. Already in July 1872, a text either by Pezza or Cafiero pointed out that the General Council’s supporters and critics were pursuing different goals when it came to the revision of the Rules, and commented on this fact as follows:

Now, since a revision of the General Rules was being spoken about on all sides, the General Council intended itself to place the revision of the General Rules at the top of the agenda for the next congress; but while the dissident federations want the revision in order to limit the Council’s powers and allow the sections greater freedom, it is seeking the revision in order to restrict the organisation of the International and make it a more manageable body in its hands.[1536]

First and foremost Marx and Engels wanted to enshrine the London Conference’s watershed decisions into the General Rules – above all resolution no. 9 which affirmed their position regarding the ‘political action of the working class’, i.e. their constitution into a political party and the conquest of political power. In order to carry out their plan, Marx and Engels could above all rely on the support of the following groups:

  • The German social democrats – whose political activities had long been oriented around party politics, i.e. the formation of parties, running for elections, participation in parliamentarianism – and their supporters (especially German immigrants in the United States).

  • Adherents of Blanquism, who like Vaillant had already said at the London Conference that the workers must combine their forces on the terrain of politics.[1537] During the General Council meeting on 23 July 1872, Vaillant – with the support of Marx and Engels – moved that resolution no. 9 be added to the General Rules of the International at the Congress of The Hague.[1538] Vaillant and his political allies tabled a corresponding motion at the tenth meeting of the Congress of The Hague.[1539]

  • The members of the Romance Federation and their Federal Committee in Geneva, whose political-parliamentary line was affirmed by resolution no. 9 of the London Conference and whose conflict with the Jura Federation had its roots in the ‘position of the International regarding governments’.[1540] The Genevan delegate Théodore Duval submitted a written declaration at the twelfth meeting of the Congress of The Hague that stated that his mandate required him ‘to defend energetically Article [resolution no.] IX. (political action of the working class) and its inclusion in the Rules’.[1541]

Lafargue and Engels had already tried to lay the groundwork for Marx and Engels’ second goal – banishing the General Council’s critics and especially Bakunin – with their ‘denunciation’ of the Alianza. As they only had rather paltry evidence to put Bakunin and the Jura Federation on trial with at The Hague, Marx and Engels apparently turned to the longtime anti-Bakuninist Utin at the beginning of August 1872. Marx had already asked Utin for information on Bakunin in early 1870, at which time Utin even held out the prospect of an anti-Bakunin brochure[1542] – which he failed to deliver. Utin’s services were also enlisted against Bakunin at the London Conference and during the printing of the Fictitious Splits. He now received another request to deliver material against Bakunin, this time from Marx’s youngest daughter, Eleanor. Utin replied to Eleanor Marx in mid-August 1872:

here is what I propose to do: I shall make a report in writing to the General Council both on the split [of the International] (its causes, its effects) and above all on the principal chief and motive force behind this split – Bakunin […] I shall append to my report some documents on the Nechayev affair, Bakunin’s role of initiator in it, and the close connections between the Russian affair, the Alliance and the present intrigues. Oh, if I had had the time I would have made an interesting pamphlet out of it! I shall see again how the best use can be made of the documents which I have in my possession: one of my friends has just communicated to me the most valuable documents: they are the programme and the secret rules of the secret Alliance organised by Bakunin in October 1869 [actually 1868]; in this programme one can see clearly all the stupidity and the villainy of this Herostratus[1543] of the social revolution and how he has decided to seize control of our International Association; I have no doubt that the documents will carry great, decisive weight in the struggle at the Congress; I am having them copied now and perhaps I shall send you the copy as early as tomorrow. But I demand the greatest discretion, that is to say, that you will not breathe a word about them to anybody; you will hand them to your father and it is to him and to Engels personally that I trust the secret that these documents come from me; later we shall see how we shall arrange this; meanwhile they can read them out to the General Council at a secret sitting and vouch on their honour that part of these rules was written by Bakunin with his own hand, another part by his wife, a third by Mme Obolenskaya, and a fourth under Bakunin’s dictation by one of my friends.[1544]

On 22 August 1872, Utin sent the first pages of the alleged ‘secret rules of the secret Alliance’ – in reality a draft plan for the ‘Organisation of the Alliance of the International Brethren’ written in the autumn of 1868 – to Eleanor Marx who forwarded them to Marx in The Hague.[1545] Utin also asked for an address in The Hague ‘to send my long and, I presume to say, interesting report on Bakunin’.[1546] Utin was able to send part of his report – a lengthy diatribe with numerous appendices totalling 180 pages – before and during the Congress of The Hague;[1547] however, it was only really read by Engels two months after the congress when Utin finally sent the rest of the report to Marx on 1 November 1872.[1548] Thus, the only ammunition Marx and Engels had at their disposal during the Congress of The Hague with which to damage Bakunin’s reputation was

  • the draft plan for an organisation sent by Utin and written in the autumn of 1868,

  • material regarding Bakunin’s unfinished translation of Capital[1549] and

  • Engels’ collection of documents regarding the Alianza.

Marx and Engels must have soon realised that they could only succeed with their third goal – i.e. putting the General Council out of reach of their opposition after imposing their political line and banishing their critics – by manipulating the majority of the International, and that such a victory would be short-lived. While feigning self-confidence, Marx and Engels had to admit in the spring and summer of 1872 that neither the decisions reached at the London Conference nor the defamation of their opponents in the Fictitious Splits had borne any fruits, but had instead caused waves of protest and a never-ending discussion about the General Council’s right to exist. After the debate about the internal organisation and pluralism within the International could no longer be ignored and the Belgium rules project in May 1872 put the abolition of the General Council up for discussion, Marx and Engels logically settled on an exit strategy.

Already on 9 November 1871 after the first critical reaction to the London Conference resolutions in the Geneva Communards’ newspaper, the Révolution Sociale, Marx suddenly started complaining at length that ‘the affairs of the International take too much of my time and interrupt my theoretical work’.[1550] ‘Certainly’, Marx added in a letter written on the same day, ‘I shall one fine morning put a stop to all this but there are circumstances where you are in duty bound to occupy yourselves with things much less attractive than theoretical study and research’.[1551] After further protest, an upset Marx explained on 24 November 1871: ‘I have often asked myself if the time has not come to resign from the General Council. The more the society develops, the more my time is taken up.’[1552]

No such complaints can be found in the months that followed while Marx and Engels were busy with the Fictitious Splits. They apparently hoped that the growing opposition could still be defeated with this pamphlet. Only after the text was finished in March 1872 did they start whining about the time spent on the International again.[1553] A look at what little work Marx produced during the last decade of his life from 1872 onward (other than a few articles, notes, prefaces and epilogues, he edited the French translation of Capital) could lead one to believe that these complaints were a mere pretext. Marx and Engels seem to have made their final decision to resign from the General Council on 28 May 1872, a time when the criticism of the General Council reached its peak because of the Belgian rules project. On this day Engels wrote Liebknecht:

The Belgians have debated a revision of the Rules but have not reached any conclusions. Hins has tabled a draft proposing [the] abolition of the General council. I would be quite contented with that personally; Marx and I will not re-enter it anyway and as matters stand at present we have scarcely any time to work and that is something that has to stop.[1554]

On the same day, Marx made the following rather conspiratorial statement: ‘I am so overworked, and in fact so much interfered with in my theoretical studies, that, after September, I shall withdraw from the commercial concern.’[1555] Marx confided in De Paepe on 28 May 1872, as well: ‘I can hardly wait for the next Congress. It will be the end of my slavery. After that I shall become a free man again; I shall accept no administrative functions any more, either for the General Council or for the British Federal Council.’[1556] Thus, their planned resignation was to take place at the next congress, which had to be convened: at that evening’s General Council meeting, Marx took the offensive just as he had at a similarly decisive General Council meeting on 25 July 1871 when the London Conference was convened. With reference to the debate sparked by the Belgian rules project regarding the General Council’s abolition, Marx declared that ‘He had no motion to make on the matter, but he would point out that the time had come to decide upon the holding of a Congress. It was clear that reconstruction of some kind would be proposed and the Council ought to discuss the matter.’[1557]

As Marx and Engels wanted to resign without losing face and safeguard their political line, the General Council had to be kept away from the opposition – i.e. it was to be put in safe hands in a far-off land. Marx and Engels must have realised that their three-fold strategy of imposing their political line, banishing their critics and keeping the growing opposition away from the General Council would put the International’s very existence in jeopardy. They were very obviously willing to take that risk: ‘they have not feared to sacrifice the Association for the sake of having their proposals adopted’, their General Council colleague Jules Johannard wrote indignantly from The Hague.[1558] On 29 July 1872, Marx tried to justify his plans: at the Congress of The Hague ‘it will be a matter of life or death for the International; and, before I resign, I want at least to protect it from disintegrating elements’.[1559] Marx went even further in another discussion: ‘I would not have gone to this extreme if I had not seen the Belgians, the Dutch and the Spanish being won over by the Jurassians, Mikhail Bakunin’s men.’[1560]

The opposition

The General Council’s critics didn’t have a unified course of action and instead followed numerous different strategies. At one end of the spectrum, the Belgian sections wanted to keep the General Council as an institution: ‘I shall merely tell you’, De Paepe wrote to Jung on 22 August 1872, ‘that I personally (and the majority of the Belgians with me) am by no means with the Jura, but certainly with the General Council’.[1561] Nevertheless, the powers of the General Council were to be reduced: ‘All the Belgians’, Engels’ confidant in Brussels reported, ‘will ask that the powers of the General Council should be purely administrative and that it should in no case be allowed to intervene in differences which could arise between sections or between federations in the same country. To put it briefly, they wish to reduce the role of the Council to that of a post-box.’[1562]

The Geneva Communards were more radical. Their section of propaganda issued their delegate Joukovsky an imperative mandate on 30 August 1872 that included the following:

considering that the General Council, which was initially useful, has become not only useless, but harmful, the delegate of the Section will have to demand:

  1. The abolition of the said General Council;

  2. The organisation of a central correspondence and statistics bureau, appointed no longer by the congress, but by the regional federations on the basis of from one to three members of each federation. […]

The delegate of the Section shall protest:

  1. Against the General Council’s choice of the place of assembly of the present Congress.

  2. Against the private circular [the Fictitious Splits] which the said General Council permitted itself to publish whereas no International congress has given it the right to launch manifestos. […]

the delegate shall […] support all proposals tending to give the Association institutions sanctioning the most complete autonomy of groups by excluding all power and authoritarian dispositions.[1563]

The Spanish delegates’ imperative mandate also called for the General Council to be abolished in its present form and re-established as a ‘mere correspondence and statistics centre’ whose members would be chosen by the federations.[1564] However, the position of the Spanish delegates was undermined from the very start by another clause in their mandate whereby they could only take part in votes if the voting procedure was changed (i.e. each delegate had votes according to the number of members they represent) – a pointless venture which prevented the Spanish delegates from voting during the entire congress. The Spanish mandate also called on its delegates to visit an alternative congress in Switzerland after the Congress of The Hague, which the imperative mandate of the Jura Federation’s delegates also stipulated.[1565] The Jura Federation’s delegates were even expected to withdraw immediately from the congress if one of the ‘Spanish, Italian and French delegates and all those who protest frankly and broadly against the authoritarian principle’ was not admitted to the congress or if the principles of autonomy and the right to federate freely among sections and federations were eliminated.

The Italians were at the other end of the spectrum of federations critical of the General Council. They implemented the common demands of all General Council critics, i.e.

  • federal internal organisation of the International and

  • limiting the power of the General Council,

so completely that they declared their autonomy from the General Council and broke with it at the Congress of Rimini.[1566]

Two weeks before the Congress of The Hague, an extraordinary congress took place in Jura,[1567] which Bakunin attended. He noted in his diary on the date of the congress: ‘Chaux de Fonds – Congress – Total victory’.[1568] According to Guillaume, Bakunin helped formulate the imperative mandate for the Jura Federation’s delegates to the congress.[1569] In the following week, Bakunin travelled between Sonvillier, Le Locle, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Neuchâtel and Zurich and was constantly in touch with Guillaume, Cafiero, and other political allies.[1570] On 26 August 1872, he travelled to a Russian woman in Baden (Canton of Aargau) to pick up 800 francs, which his friend Vladimir Ozerov had arranged for the delegates’ travel expenses to The Hague.[1571] Bakunin also used the opportunity to borrow 200 francs to send to the Spanish delegates for their travel expenses.[1572]

Both Jura delegates, Guillaume and Schwitzguébel, took the train toward The Hague on 30 August 1872 and met Cafiero in Basel, who accompanied them to the congress and helped pay the travel expenses.[1573] On the following day Bakunin sent a letter to Gambuzzi in Naples:

Armando [Cafiero] went to The Hague, […] not as [a delegate], but as an advisor to our Jurassian and Spanish friends, the latter especially being in a rather delicate position vis-à-vis their own sections, not demoralized, it is true, but troubled by the intrigues of Marx and his son-in-law, Mr Lafargue. He went to give them all necessary information and explanations about the Italian Fede[ration] and sections, of which the General Council, more brazen than ever and reduced to absurdity, simply denies the [existence].[1574] He will add a powerful element to the courage, the [revolutionary] resolution of our Jurassian and Spanish friends. We anticipate that the great battle, the decisive battle, will be joined at the second session of the Congress and that the Spanish and Jurassians will then withdraw from the [Congress], protesting strongly in the name of the autonomy and [freedom] of their respective [federations] against all subsequent decisions of the [Congress], but at the same [time] proclaiming, solemnly affirming the solidarity of each of those [federations] with the International, with the [proletariat] of all the world.

After this all will come to St. Imier (Bernese Jura), near Neuchâtel between 10 and 12 September to hold the Congress of the free Fed[erations] and to constitute a closer alliance of these [federations], not outside but within the Int[ernational].

This is the plan. For now, we await letters and dispatches from The Hague, and once we have important news, I will hasten to communicate them to you.[1575]

When Guillaume read this letter for the first time at the beginning of the 20th century, he made the following note about Bakunin’s speculation that the Jura and Spanish delegates would withdraw from the Congress of The Hague during the second meeting: ‘B. had very poorly foreseen what would take place.’[1576] In reality, Bakunin and Guillaume’s different expectations were probably based on different notions about how the conflict would be carried out in The Hague. Bakunin seems to have favoured the confrontational line of the Italian sections, who professed to being anarchists and broke with the General Council. Thus he must have hoped that the Spanish and Jurassic delegates would break quickly with the General Council and withdraw from the congress. Guillaume on the other hand tried to negotiate an agreement among the majority of the International based on autonomy: ‘I would not wish for the Spanish and the Jurassians to be alone in their withdrawal; I would also like to carry the Belgians, the Dutch, the English. And for that I must negotiate up to the last day of the Congress’.[1577] Cafiero seems to have been cast as the radical who was to counterbalance Guillaume’s willingness to compromise. ‘He will add a powerful element to the courage, the [revolutionary] resolution of our Jurassian and Spanish friends’, Bakunin wrote of him to Gambuzzi.

Another one of Bakunin’s friends, Arman Ross, also considered a quick split likely:

In this situation one can positively speak of the emergence of two internationals. The party of revolutionary anarchists recognises no other programme than their own without worrying about a majority. They also don’t want to impose their programme on any of their adversaries, not even if the majority were on their side. The discussions on political issues show clearly two currents in the International: the anarchist and the statist. Unity and solidarity are only possible in economics – the anarchists understand things that way too. […] It seems clear that unity can be maintained on that basis only. All the rest is futile fancy, and you will see, if they don’t realise that properly, the unity is finished.[1578]

It is quite conspicuous that the critics and supporters of the General Council organised themselves in a manner corresponding to their theoretical positions: while Marx and Engels tried to steer the congress by keeping their supporters on a tight leash, the General Council’s federally organised critics from Italy to Belgium each took their own route.

Delegate mandates from the United States and Germany

There were always irregularities at the congresses of the International – delegates were sent by groups, associations and sections that had scarcely any contact with the International beforehand and that often could not prove that they had been admitted as sections. In the run-up to the Basel Congress (September 1869), Bakunin also proposed improvising a section from Italy in order to issue mandates.

we absolutely must [try] to get me nominated by one of your workers’ sections. How many do you have? Only one? – The smallest [section] can send a [delegate], even if this [section] is composed of only 10 or 20 members. – We could improvise one if necessary: any workers’ association, even one formed [previously], provided that it declares its adherence to the General Rules of the Int[ernational] and sends 10 centimes for each of [its members], is a [legitimate section] of the Int[ernational].[1579]

However, there were never any improvised sections in Italy. But there were always grey areas during the verification of mandates at the International’s congresses as many delegates already found it difficult to prove that their sections had paid their dues.

Compared to the irregularities at earlier congresses, though, the manipulations at the Congress of The Hague reached unprecedented proportions. On 21 June 1872, Marx sent the following order to his confidant in New York, Friedrich Sorge:

The next Congress will be held on the first Monday in September 1872 in The Hague (Holland) – the official notification will be sent to New York next week. It simply will not do for you to fob us off with a memorandum.[1580] At this Congress the life or death of the International will be at stake. You yourself and at least one other, if not two, must attend. As for the sections which do not send delegates directly, they can send mandates (mandates for delegates).

The Germans for me, F. Engels, Lochner, Karl Pfänder, Lessner.[1581]

The French for G. Ranvier, Auguste Serraillier, Le Moussu, Ed. Vaillant, F. Cournet, Ant. Arnaud.[1582]

The Irish for MacDonnel, who is doing very well, or if they prefer, for one of the above-named Germans or French.[1583]

At a congress of the American sections in New York from 6 to 8 July 1872 organised by Sorge’s Tenth Ward Hotel Council, Sorge apparently pointed to this letter when he called for blank mandates. Hermann Jung, who was one of Marx’s closest friends in the General Council, commented on this:

At the New York Congress Sorge and Dereure were elected as delegates for the Hague and then Sorge demanded blank credentials to take with him, and when objected to Sorge showed a letter from Marx. I received the news of this, and went to Marx and he said if Sorge has done that he is a (ein dummer Esel) a stupid ass. Barry had one of these blank credentials filled in.[1584]

In his reply to Marx dated 15 July 1872, Sorge confirmed that he and Simon Dereure were elected delegates, and added: ‘Besides, a few more mandates are to be sent.’[1585] In a letter to Marx dated 5 August 1872, Carl Speyer – Sorge’s colleague in the Tenth Ward Hotel Council and co-signer on the mandates for the congress – gave his impression of the mood surrounding the issuing of the mandates and admitted to having a bad conscience:

I have fulfilled my duty as regards making out a mandate for you and as regards the three mandates from Chicago, but I admit to you that I did it only by way of precaution; at the bottom of my heart I cannot believe that Bakunin’s clique will be in a position to play the trick we fear on us.[1586] I was and am still today in favour of making out these mandates because I know by experience that the enormous sacrifices a Congress costs can only bear fruit if the German element is sufficiently represented […].[1587]

The story behind the ‘three mandates from Chicago’ is explained in a letter from Sorge to Marx dated 6 August 1872: ‘I shall bring mandates with me for you and Pfänder and 3 blank ones in case of need’.[1588] Maltman Barry, a Scottish journalist and colleague of Marx in the General Council, received one of the blank mandates from Chicago.[1589] ‘Credentials received – many thanks’, Barry wrote to Marx,[1590] who had apparently furnished him with the mandate. The English delegate Mottershead wondered during the congress, ‘why exactly Barry was elected of all things by a German foreign section while at home in England he didn’t belong to the leaders and didn’t account for anything?’ Marx replied nervously: ‘who the section elects is none of your business. By the way, it does honour to Barry that he doesn’t belong to the so-called leaders of the English workers as these are all more or less bought by the bourgeoisie and government.’[1591] ‘Your man is sold too’,[1592] one of the English participants at the congress shouted as Barry was suspected of having relations with the Conservative party and wrote for their press.[1593]

Marx and Engels were especially busy at churning out French and German mandates for The Hague. Bebel, Liebknecht, and other leading German social democrats – who could be regarded as model students of political-parliamentary socialism when it came to party politics – were qualified as secure delegates as they were the main supporters of Marx and Engels’ political line. However, the German social democrats’ fixation on party politics had the effect that they had not shown much more than a polite disinterest in the International for a long time. In its founding programme (Eisenach, 1869), the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei; SDAP) only called itself a branch of the International ‘in as much as the laws regarding associations allow’.[1594] Few party members could be won over for the alternative, being a party member and a member of the International, whether because of financial reasons (two membership fees) or because of the organisational reasons (avoiding an inefficient double structure). ‘Don’t count on a lot of individual memberships in Germany, and entre nous [between us], I also don’t think it’s necessary’, Liebknecht admitted.[1595] Faced with such brutal honesty, Engels could only make the following angry appeal:

Your view that the German Internationalists do not need to pay dues, and that, in general, it is a matter of complete indifference whether the International has few members in Germany or many, is the exact opposite of ours. If you have not asked for the contributions of 1 silver groschen per person per annum, or if you have used them up yourselves, you will have to come up with your own justification. How you can imagine that the other nations would bear your share of the costs, so that you might come amongst them ‘in the Spirit’, like Jesus Christ, while saving your flesh and your money, – is something I quite fail to comprehend. At all events, this Platonic relationship has got to stop […]. If you personally treat the matter as being of no importance, we shall have to turn to others, but we shall clear the business up one way or the other, on that you may rely.[1596]

Despite his grim words, Engels still depended on Liebknecht and was forced to come to terms with his low level of commitment toward the International. Upon receiving a letter from the Spanish Federal Council that was to be forwarded ‘to the Comrades of the Federal Council of Germany’,[1597] Engels – the corresponding secretary for Spain in the General Council – decided to lose the letter among his papers.[1598]

In May 1872, Engels once again brought up this tiresome subject in a letter to Liebknecht:

We must now try and clear up the situation there as quickly as possible so that Germany can be properly represented at the Congress. I must ask you straight out to tell us frankly how the International stands with you.

  1. Roughly how many stamps have been distributed to how many places, and which places are involved? The 208 counted by Fink are surely not all there are?[1599]

  2. Does the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party intend to be represented at the Congress and if so how does it propose to place itself to arrange matters with the General Council in advance so that its mandates cannot be queried at the Congress? This would mean a) that it would have to declare itself to be the German Federation of the International in reality and not merely figuratively and b) that as such it would pay its dues before the Congress. The matter is becoming serious and we have to know where we are, or else you will force us to act on our own initiative and to consider the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party as an alien body for whom the International has no significance. We cannot allow the representation of the German workers at the Congress to be fumbled or forfeited for reasons unknown to us, but which cannot be other than petty. We should like to ask for a clear statement about this quickly.[1600]

Engels complained two weeks later that Liebknecht had ignored his letter: ‘there is still no answer to my question about how your Party intends to put its relations with the General Council on a clear footing, without which it will be absolutely impossible for it to be represented at the Congress.’[1601] In his reply, Liebknecht reiterated that the German social democrats could not officially join the International, but promised that they would get more involved:

An official relationship of our Committee to the General Council is not possible; the only way which seems practicable to me is that everywhere some of our members (the more the better, though all cannot be expected to do so) buy membership cards of the International Working Men’s Association and stamps with the Rules, and then for the Internationals of one locality to get together and elect a delegate or else issue a mandate.[1602]

On that note, the Volksstaat printed the following appeal on 15 June 1872:

It is extremely important that the German social democracy be represented at the next Congress of the International Working Men’s Association (in September of this year) in a dignified fashion.

As no delegate will be admitted to the Congress without presenting a proper mandate and the German laws of associations prohibit the formation of sections, party members need to buy a membership stamp (for one groschen) that they must stick on their copy of the Rules in order to become individual members, which is not prohibited by any German law. The members of one or several locations should then in due time elect a delegate or issue a mandate.[1603]

In the issue of the Volksstaat that announced that the Congress of The Hague had been convened, the editors once again printed the appeal for delegates to be elected and mandates to be issued.[1604] The same appeal appeared for a third time in the Volksstaat on 7 August along with a model form for the mandates, which was meant to help the German party members unfamiliar with the International fill out the mandates properly – ‘in order to avoid irregularities and unpleasantness’, as Liebknecht put it.[1605] The paper also stated that the editors of the Volksstaat ‘declare themselves ready to organise mandates for delegates planning to attend’.[1606]

And so Adolf Hepner (1846–1923), editor-in-chief of the Volksstaat since Liebknecht began serving his sentence on 15 June 1872 after being convicted at the Leipzig high treason trial,[1607] acted as a switch board to ‘organise mandates’ for the congress. Hepner was already quite confident in a letter to Engels dated 29 June: ‘We shall probably get a sufficient number of mandates together.’[1608] On 29 July 1872, Marx told his friend Kugelmann to ‘write to Hepner that I ask him to get you a delegate’s mandate’ after Kugelmann signalised his intent to go to The Hague.[1609] ‘Hepner wrote me that he would send me a mandate in time’, Kugelmann soon confirmed.[1610] ‘Concerning the mandate’, the German delegate Joseph Dietzgen explained, ‘I applied to Hepner, who has also promised to see about it’.[1611] ‘When mandates are sent out it is absolutely essential to include one for Cuno, who is now in Belgium’, Engels wrote Hepner in another request for a mandate.[1612]

Indeed, Hepner organised mandates for Dietzgen from Dresden, for Kugelmann from Celle, for Cuno from Stuttgart, and for Heinrich Scheu from Königsberg and Eßlingen.[1613] On 21 August 1872, Hepner sent Engels a mandate: ‘enclosed a mandate from Breslau for you’.[1614] Five days later Hepner wrote that a mandate for Marx was being sent from Leipzig. As Engels apparently urged Hepner to send additional blank mandates, he felt the need to justify his refusal in the same letter: ‘It is impossible for me to get blank mandates because when you suggest to people to make them out, they consider the International as a “swindle”’.[1615]

Even without blank mandates, the process of issuing mandates in Germany was not altogether free of manipulation. The frantic attempts to present the social democrats (or at least their individual members) as an authentic organisation within the International were made difficult by the fact that the International was practically irrelevant in Germany – which Liebknecht made no secret of. The Berlin social democrat Fritz Milke also let Marx know in a letter dated 4 July 1872 that he could ‘as yet not report about any direct activity by members of the International as a whole’ and that the SDAP ‘as such should be seen as the International itself’.[1616]

And so the Volksstaat’s membership drive for the International didn’t have any long-term effect – all related activities only aimed at issuing mandates for the Congress of The Hague for Marx had said that Germany must have ‘as many representatives as possible’.[1617] After the congress, the International once again sank into oblivion in Germany.

The one-off activities included the formation of ad hoc sections in order to issue mandates, such as in Düsseldorf where a section was formed on 26 August 1872 a few days before the congress began. The first (and apparently only) act of this section was to furnish Cuno with a mandate.[1618] There were further meetings held in order to issue mandates in Berlin on 21 August 1872 for Fritz Milke,[1619] Brunswick on 9 August 1872 for Bernhard Becker[1620] and Cologne on 21 July 1872 for the publicist Moritz Rittinghausen. The Volksstaat reported on the meeting in Cologne:

[Rittinghausen] called attention to the fact that we were not meeting as an association or section here, but that an open meeting of individual members of the International was taking place. After Rittinghausen briefly explained the International’s aims by summarising that the purpose was the study of social sciences and unification of the workers to accomplish the obtained results, the speaker read the resolution of the General Council regarding this year’s congress (Volksstaat no. 53). He then illuminated the organisational endeavours of various sections and showed that the main aim of one direction was apparently to dissolve the International into incoherent national groups. […] The chairman Heinrichs pleaded that the current organisation be kept […].[1621]

This characterisation of the conflict within the International, while completely misguided, was not uncommon in Germany: as they were so fixated on their party, the German social democrats had long ago become completely isolated from the contemporary developments of European socialism and were surrounded by a veritable ‘Great Wall of China’.[1622] Social-revolutionary socialist concepts were not up for debate in Germany unlike in other countries in Europe and the German social democrats were only given a one-sided, distorted account of the conflict in the International by their corresponding secretary in the General Council, Karl Marx.[1623] As such it isn’t very surprising that the Cologne social democrats in their plea ‘that the current organisation be kept’ unwittingly took the side of the General Council’s critics. At the same time they were convinced that the conflict within the International was not about internal organisation and pluralism but about preventing the break up into incoherent national groups. Ironically this description was especially fitting for the German social democrats’ role in the International.

A prevalent opinion among German social democrats was that the debate within the International had nothing to do with different concepts of socialism but involved warding off certain scheming troublemakers. ‘This time’, the German delegate Dietzgen confidently wrote Marx before the Congress of The Hague, ‘the quarrellers will be defeated’.[1624] And Wilhelm Bracke, member of the committee of the SDAP from 1869 to 1870, expressed the hope on 3 August 1872 that ‘Bakunin will be sent packing’.[1625] A series of articles published with Engels’ assistance were of a similar vein: titled ‘The Alleged Social Theories and the True Political Aims of Mr Bakunin’ (‘Die angeblichen socialen Theorien und die wirklichen politischen Bestrebungen des Herrn Bakunin’),[1626] the articles appeared in the Volksstaat from the beginning of August to the beginning of September 1872 and were to be sent to the Congress of The Hague as an offprint.[1627] The anonymous author, Carl Hirsch, stated that the articles aimed to prove

  1. that Mr Bakunin wrongly claims to advocate a revolutionary theory or idea but instead advocates, according to his needs, one opinion today and tomorrow the opposite, of which one is not any more revolutionary than the other;

  2. that all of his publications have nothing in common with theoretical but rather with practical, political endeavours, which he attempts to adorn with revolutionary phrases;

  3. that these political endeavours coincide with those of the Russian government.[1628]

With such ideological whoppers being doled out, it’s no wonder that the Düsseldorf party members gave their delegate Cuno the mandate ‘to oppose the intrigues of the Alliance of socialist Democracy led by Bakunin.’[1629] Cuno proudly referred to his mandate as his ‘Düsseldorf credential instructing me to vote against Bakunin.’[1630]

The French and General Council delegate mandates

The delegates from France were a special case: as the International was largely incapacitated because of the persecution that followed the fall of the Paris Commune and the ‘Dufaure Law’ of 14 March 1872 made membership a punishable offence, sections of the International could not exist officially in France. In this situation, mandates for the Congress of The Hague could only be issued if precautionary measures had been taken, both by the section electing the delegates and the delegates themselves. Marx and Engels took advantage of the discretion required for the French mandates to furnish their confidants with delegate mandates. A few days before the opening of the congress, the matter caused the following scene at a meeting of the Subcommittee of the General Council on 28 August 1872:

Cournet asked whether Citizen Serraillier had received blank mandates from France, so that he could hand them over to Council members who had been provided with mandates.

Serraillier replied that he had received a mandate for Citizen Ranvier, one for Longuet, one for Johannard, one had been given to Vilmart [Wilmart] in Manchester.[1631] Two delegates would come from France to The Hague. […]

A discussion ensued on who was to be given the blank mandate that had been sent.

Serraillier proposed Combault.

Frankel, Vaillant, Cournet seconded.

Marx [proposed] Arnaud.

Frankel said that in the event of Vaillant receiving a mandate, as was being said to the General Council, he would then wish it to go to Combault because he knew all the affairs concerning Malon.

Marx said that the letter which Sorge, delegated by the American Congress, possessed and which affirmed that the San Francisco section had nominated him as delegate to the Congress, would suffice for Vaillant to be admitted even in the event of the mandate not arriving.

After Marx’s declaration Frankel rescinded his proposition.

A vote was passed to accept Combault as recipient of a mandate.[1632]

Marx organised mandates from elsewhere for the French Blanquists Antoine Arnaud and Édouard Vaillant who had gone empty-handed: Henri Perret, secretary of the Committee of the Romance Federation in Geneva, had given Johann Philipp Becker a mandate in his name as well as a blank one. Perret sent them to Becker on 30 August 1872 along with the following note: ‘I am sending a mandate for you from the Federal Committee […]. Besides I am enclosing a mandate from the Section of Carouge, the space for the name being left blank. If you meet a citizen devoted to our ideas you will trust him with the mandate, adding his name.’[1633] The blank mandate belonging to the Carouge section was used by Arnaud.

Apparently the question of Vaillant’s mandate was taken care of in a similar manner. At first he was to profit from Hepner’s roaring trade in mandates with one from Leipzig: ‘I shall get a Leipzig mandate for Vaillant’, Hepner promised.[1634] But Vaillant turned down the mandate from Germany in a letter dated 30 August 1872 and – only three days before the congress’s opening – was sad to say that there was currently no delegate mandate available for him.[1635] At the last minute, though, Vaillant was able to procure three mandates: a clandestine mandate from France (‘after intriguing everywhere to get a mandate from France’, his General Council colleague Jules Johannard wrote[1636]) as well as a mandate sent from San Francisco (‘for Vaillant, they say, though the letter was addressed to Dupont’, Johannard wrote[1637]) and a blank mandate possibly arranged by Becker from the section of La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland. Guillaume wrote about this in his report on the congress:

We saw this with our own eyes in the case of Citizen Vaillant who had a mandate from the Section of Chaux-de-Fonds […]. This mandate did not contain any instructions, but said simply: ‘The section delegates to the Congress Citizen … (a blank space for the name) with powers to represent it,’ and then another hand had inserted the name of Vaillant.[1638]

Guillaume also addressed this at the congress: ‘Guillaume opposes Vaillant’s mandate because Vaillant’s name has been inserted on the mandate in another hand and at a different time.’ However, this didn’t prevent the mandate from being declared valid.[1639]

Last but not least, the election of the General Council’s own delegates at the end of August 1872 caused heated debate. The discussion was recorded in the minutes as follows:

In the commencement of the proceedings great diversity of opinion was shown as to the method of electing the delegates to represent the General Council at the ensuing Congress. […] Several propositions were put as to the number of delegates and were afterwards withdrawn in favour of the proposition of Vaillant, seconded by Frankel, that 6 be the number of delegates to represent the General Council at the Congress, which, being put from the chair, was carried. As to the method of taking the votes for the delegates, great difference of opinion [was] shown at first but finally it was agreed to and put from the chair: that only those who had an absolute majority of votes could be considered elected.[1640]

Of the delegates elected ‘to represent the General Council’ (Marx, Dupont, Serraillier, Wróblewski, Cournet, and George Sexton),[1641] four already had mandates – only Dupont and Sexton did not represent a section. After it became clear that there was not enough money to cover the travel expenses of all those elected, Engels came to the rescue: ‘Citizen Engels said that money would be advanced to the Council to meet its obligations.’[1642] He likely did this because Marx and Engels were counting on the support of Dupont, Serraillier, Wróblewski, and Cournet at the congress. When Martin James Boon asked his General Council colleague Engels ‘where the money was to come from he was told it was a secret. He must not be inquisitive.’[1643]

Engels also urged Hermann Jung to take on a delegate’s mandate as he had taken part in all of the congresses and conferences of the International (except for the Lausanne Congress, 1867) and was well respected. However, the recent developments in the General Council led Jung to distance himself from Marx and Engels. Jung later explained:

Engels was for getting a majority to smash the opposition, I was for arguing the question, and to smash the opponents by argument. Engels reckoned upon the sections, and the delegates they were likely to send for the purpose of outnumbering the opposition. I opposed it, which widened the breach between me and Marx. I have always given opponents more time to speak than my own side. If they are wrong no smash will convince them, if right they are sure to triumph in the long run. […] At all the former Congresses I and Eccarius had been the exponents of Marx’s doctrine, but I could not vote for his new policy, and rather than vote against him I resolved to stay away. A few days before the Congress some news had arrived which made it doubtful whether the Council would have the majority. Marx and Engels came to me to urge me to go. I refused giving as my reason that I had sacrificed too much already. The next day they came and said, I must go, it might depend on one vote, I replied, you can easily get that. They offered to pay the costs, whatever they might be, if I would go. Engels said you are the only one who can save the Association. I replied I can only go if you and Marx stop away.[1644]

By way of contrast, Engels likely paid for the travel expenses of the corresponding secretary for Ireland in the General Council, Marx’s confidant Joseph Patrick McDonnell, after he asked for assistance in a letter to Engels on 29 August 1872: ‘As to the Congress I regret that I cannot command sufficient ready cash to go. […] If I could get the loan of £ 10 I think we could manage for another delegate besides myself. If you would act as security for me I would no doubt be able to get the money by Saturday.’[1645] Hepner was also helped financially after he wrote Engels from Leipzig on 15 August 1872: ‘Whether I come to The Hague or not depends on whether the Frankfurter Zeitung accepts a report from me on the Congress […]; otherwise I have not got the fare.’[1646] After Hepner returned from the Congress of The Hague, the Volksstaat’s shipping clerk Wilhelm Fink sent Engels the following message:

With reference to your letter addressed to Hepner in August in which you guaranteed him compensation for part of the travelling expenses to The Hague and requested him on this basis to obtain an advance, we advanced Hepner the sum necessary for the journey from the cash-office of the Volksstaat. According to the account presented to us now by Hepner for the Hague-Mainz journey, we have taken the liberty – after the above-named cash-office and Hepner had taken over two-thirds of the expenses to their account – to charge the remainder of the twenty talers to your account.[1647]

Johann Philipp Becker was also promised 100 francs (possibly from Engels) for travel expenses by Sorge on 29 August 1872 on the following condition: ‘set out immediately on your journey to The Hague’.[1648] Duval’s travel expenses likely came from the same source, seeing as the Geneva sections had almost unanimously refused to send a delegate because of the financial reasons. ‘On the opening day of the Congress of The Hague’, a flabbergasted Candaux – a member of the Local Council of the Geneva sections – wrote, ‘we learn that the Romance Federal Committee has delegated one of its members with money furnished by an anonymous person, a gift!???’[1649] According to Candaux, Duval was thus only the ‘so-called delegate of the Romance Federation, but one who has usurped this title, for he was officially only the delegate of the Romance Federal Committee and not of the Federation; he was the delegate of three or four individuals, no more than that!’[1650]

Marx appears to have also subsidised the travel expenses of various French delegates, such as his General Council colleagues Serraillier and Dupont. As a trip to Amsterdam was planned for after the Congress of The Hague, Dupont asked Marx: ‘If we are to go to Amsterdam I would ask you to tell me whether you can add a little money to the sum you have already given to Serraillier’.[1651] And on 15 March 1873, Émile Dentraygues – the General Council’s proxy in Toulouse – testified in court that ‘lacking funds’ he was at first unsure whether he could travel to The Hague as delegate for Toulouse and the Hérault region. Ultimately he was given 472 francs for the journey to The Hague: ‘Larroque and Karl Marx have sent me the money.’[1652] Marx also had to pay for his return trip: ‘At the Hague, Karl Marx (the great leader of the International) had to give me a fat sum so that I could get to Bordeaux.’[1653]

At any rate, Marx and Engels managed to bring together a large number of delegates and apparently even had surplus mandates. On the opening day of the Congress of The Hague, Marx is said to have told his contact person in The Hague, who had rented the assembly hall, ‘that he would have to leave the room but if he liked to remain Marx would give him credentials’.[1654]

CHAPTER 16. The Congress of The Hague: the mandate commission and the commission to investigate the Alliance

EN ROUTE TO THE CONGRESS OF The Hague, Guillaume, Schwitzguébel and Cafiero arrived in Brussels on the morning of 31 August 1872 and met with Brismée, Verrijcken, and other Belgian activists of the International.[1655] Guillaume later remembered that he had to

clear up many prejudices that had accumulated over the last three years [since the last general congress]: that it was not a question of forcing anarchy upon the International but of each federation proceeding in the way it sees fit. G[uillaume] saw it as a major success that he was able to clarify this matter for Désiré Brismée.[1656]

On the following day, the remaining Belgian delegates (Nicolas Eberhard, Roch Splingard, Herman, Coenen, and Henri Van Den Abeele) and the newly arrived Spanish delegates (Farga Pellicer, Alerini, Marselau, and Morago) joined the others in Brussels and Antwerp for the trip to The Hague.[1657] When Guillaume, Schwitzguébel and Cafiero arrived at their hotel in The Hague on the afternoon of 1 September 1872, they were surprised in the dining hall by the delegates Eccarius, Hales, Sexton, Mottershead, John Roach, and W.-Edwell Harcourt, who had arrived from England, and some of whom were staying in the same hotel.[1658] Guillaume and friends were even more surprised to hear about the bad blood within the General Council and Marx’s alienation of various long-standing members.[1659] They had chosen these accommodations, they explained to Guillaume,

in order to be as far away as possible from the hotel where Marx and his clique had taken up residence; that sparks were flying in the General Council, and that although Roach, Sexton, Mottershead, John Hales and Eccarius were members of that Council, they would be openly at war with those who formed the majority. ‘But,’ we said to them, ‘how is it that you have signed the famous private circular [the Fictitious Splits] printed four months ago, at the bottom of which your names fraternised with those of Engels, Serraillier, Marx and Longuet?’ They replied that their signatures had been placed there without their having been informed as to the contents of this document.[1660]

The Irish delegate McDonnell, who was staying in the same hotel and travelling on Engels’ tab, alarmed him about the situation:

6 o’clock


Dear Engels,

There is a plotting going on. Mr. Guillaume and his confrères are at work. They have a meeting just while I am writing this and our beautiful English members are with them, Sexton, Roach, Mottershead etc. They are securing the addresses of the disaffected and have even – in a mild way – essayed to catch me. I fear they will work harm to us in The Hague. Mr. Eccarius is a leader. He says the most shameful things of Dr. Marx.[1661]

At 7 p.m. the delegates arrived for a pre-congress meeting in the Concordia hall in Lange Lombardstraat 109, which had been rented for the congress. A Dutch observer described the location:

A simple brick building in a small alley carries the name Concordia and is alternately devoted to song and dance. A small corridor leads to a pretty small hall which resembles a warehouse and can be called the epitome of the worn out and dilapidated. During the day, this holy hall is illuminated by a sparse light that filters through two large windows whose panes are partially dirty and partially broken so that only after waiting a while did it allow us to get an overview of all the clutter within. Garden benches with high backrests painted green a half century ago separated the honourable house in two uneven parts […]. In front of the benches the delegates sat enthroned on a horseshoe-shaped table made up of a cobbled-together bunch of painted and unpainted small tables […]. An old, round play table was set up for the chairman with his office; an even older one was used by the keepers of the minutes.[1662]

A further surprise awaited the Jura delegates upon entering the hall: ‘the presence of the General Council almost in full strength; its members alone made up one-third of the Congress, and with the addition of a certain number of more or less serious delegates they constituted a ready-made majority which was bound to make all discussion illusive’, Guillaume wrote in his report on the congress.[1663]

Sixty-five delegates in total were admitted to the congress, including 21 members of the General Council.[1664] Forty of those delegates can be considered General Council supporters (including 16 General Council members):

  • Marx and his sons-in-law Lafargue and Longuet[1665] as well as Engels – four delegates.

  • The General Council members with blank mandates and/or clandestine mandates from France: Arnaud, Frankel, Johannard, Gabriel Ranvier, Serraillier (also a General Council delegate), and Vaillant – six delegates.

  • Further General Council members who supported Marx and Engels: Cournet, Dupont, Le Moussu, McDonnell, and Wróblewski – five delegates.

  • The General Council’s proxy in Hungary: Károly Farkas.

  • Representatives of the Danish (Pihl), Romance (Duval), and American (the Tenth Ward Hotel Council; Dereure and Sorge) Federations, all friendly to the General Council – four delegates.

  • An English delegate with a blank mandate: Barry.

  • French delegates with clandestine mandates: Eugène Faillet [pseudonym: Dumon(t)], Frédéric Potel [pseudonym: Lucain], Émile Dentraygues [pseudonym: Swarm], Paul Vichard, Lucien Van Heddeghem [pseudonym: Walter], and Raimond Wilmart [pseudonym: Wilmot] – six delegates.

  • The social democrats from Germany, Austria and German-speaking Switzerland: Bernhard Becker, Johann Philipp Becker, Cuno, Dietzgen, Hugo Friedländer, Hepner, Kugelmann, Friedrich Lessner, Gustav Ludwig,[1666] Milke, Heinrich Oberwinder [pseudonym: Heim], Heinrich Scheu, and Georg Schumacher – [1667] delegates.

This majority of 40 delegates supporting the General Council, the Belgian delegate Brismée complained, ‘was formed essentially from two countries in which the International cannot exist regularly, France and Germany’.13 On the other hand, this delighted Engels: ‘It was gratifying to see the French and the Germans always voting in agreement at The Hague […]. It was this union of the French and the Germans that led to all the resolutions without exception being adopted.’[1668] Eccarius, however, pointed out the following in his report for the Times on 4 September 1872: ‘The opposition will have it that it is a packed Congress, and that bogus delegations have been manufactured to sustain the London Council against its enemies. I must say that the charge looks very suspiciously true.’[1669] ‘Everything goes well’, Engels chirped to the delegate Cuno upon welcoming him to the opening meeting, ‘we have a big majority’.[1670]

The minority at the congress was made up of the following 20 delegates (no General Council members):

  • Four delegates from Spain with an imperative mandate: Alerini, Farga Pellicer, Marselau, and Morago.

  • Two delegates from Jura with an imperative mandate: Guillaume and Schwitzguébel.

  • Four delegates from Holland: Victor Dave, Hendrik Gerhard, J. H. Gilkens, and Isaac Salomon van der Hout.

  • Seven delegates from Belgium: Brismée, Coenen, Eberhard, Fluse, Herman, Splingard, and Van Den Abeele.

  • The Communard Cyrille (delegate for the Brussels Communards), Arsène Sauva (delegate for three American sections), and W.-Edwell Harcourt (delegate of an Australian section).

A third group, which was also unhappy with Marx and Engels’ methods but voted with the majority most of the time, was made up of the five English delegates and General Council members Eccarius, Hales, Mottershead (all three of whom had mandates from London sections), Roach (delegate for the British Federal Council), and Sexton (delegate for the General Council).

The verification of the mandates

In light of the many problematic mandates among the majority, and in line with Engels’ view that ‘this time everything depends’ on the verification of the mandates,[1671] the questions that would tip the scales of power at the Congress of The Hague already arose at the pre-congress meeting on the eve of the official opening:

Frankel demands that the mandate commission be nominated immediately and that the delegates should not be obliged to reveal the seat of their sections, since this would create a danger for members coming from countries where the International Working Men’s Association is banned and we are surrounded by spies. Sorge claims for such delegates the right to adopt other names. Both these proposals are adopted as a matter of course.[1672]

At the opening meeting on 2 September 1872, Vaillant even suggested that the mandate commission ‘had to destroy the mandates from countries where the IWA is banned’.[1673]

The first divisive issue of the congress was the question of the seven-person mandate commission’s makeup: Sauva and Guillaume, delegates of the minority, suggested that each of the federations present at the congress elect a member of the commission;[1674] ‘no occasion must be provided for suspicion’, Sauva explained, ‘that only supporters of the General Council are sitting on the commission, and therefore a member from each federation should be elected to the commission’.[1675] Longuet countered, ‘The French mandates cannot be made public, the verification commission must keep them secret and its members must be elected by all of the delegates’ – i.e. by the majority. In view of this deceptive manoeuvre, Brismée jokes that ‘all mandates that do not suit the General Council are to be ripped up’.[1676] The majority nevertheless voted against composing the mandate commission according to federations and elected the General Council members Marx, Ranvier, McDonnell, Frankel and Roach as well as Dereure and Gerhard into the commission. Of these, Roach (‘speaking only English’[1677]) and Gerhard (‘a very quiet, diffident young man’[1678]) belonged to the minority – whether because of their lack of assertiveness or language skills, they did not effectively oppose the majority in the commission.

Because of the resolution that the section name and even the delegate name on the clandestine French mandates be kept secret, the mandate commission was able to decide on the right to vote of numerous delegates without being accountable to anyone. Accordingly they told the delegates that they could ‘take back their mandates’ right away.[1679] Alerini’s request that ‘all the mandates to be handed over to a member of the commission so that everybody will be able to examine them’ was objected to by Barry, who had a blank mandate from Chicago: ‘what in that case was the purpose of appointing the commission.’[1680] In this manner, most of the delegates were kept in the dark about important details regarding the mandates – i.e. whether the respective sections actually existed, whether the section members had paid their dues, whether the delegates had an imperative mandate, etc. ‘Thus we had to accept with our eyes closed any delegate’, Guillaume complained in his report on the congress,

who said he had been sent by a French section; we were forbidden any investigation concerning them […]. In this way we found ourselves in the presence of citizens whose mandates we could not check and whose personal identity we could not even establish. As these citizens voted with the General Council, the latter made no remark and found that everything was perfectly in order.[1681]

Six delegates from France and six General Council members (Frankel, Johannard, Longuet, Ranvier, Serraillier, and Vaillant) had clandestine French mandates, and the mandate commission didn’t allow anybody to look at their mandates. Just how trustworthy the clandestine French delegates were only became clear after the congress:

  • Eugène Faillet, who used the pseudonym Dumon(t) at the congress and represented the Rouen Local Federation and a Paris section,[1682] was able to legitimise his presence by showing a memorandum of the Rouen Federation that referred to him as ‘our representative’ who would defend their interests.[1683] In reference to the internal organisation of the International, the memorandum included the demand ‘that the principle of authority should be eliminated more and more from its midst’.[1684] Faillet nevertheless voted for the General Council’s oversight capacity.[1685] When this emerged, the corresponding secretary of the Rouen Local Federation issued a press release: ‘We declare the vote cast in our name null and void.’[1686]

  • Raimond Wilmart, who took part at the congress under the pseudonym Wilmot, was listed as a delegate of an unspecified French section – his mandate came from Bordeaux.[1687] At the congress Wilmart voted for the insertion of a new article (based on resolution no. 9 of the London Conference) regarding the constitution of the proletariat into a political party and conquest of political power to the General Rules of the International.[1688] When this emerged, Paul Dubiau – a member of the Bordeaux Local Federation’s council – protested against Wilmart’s vote and explained

that the mandate sent by the Bordeaux Federation to its delegate, citizen Wilmart, imposed on him the obligation not only to fight against the authoritarian tendencies of the General Council, but also to seek the repeal of the powers conferred upon this Council by the secret conference in London in 1871; this mandate issued in addition to the formal vow to return to the General Rules approved at the Lausanne Congress, which the Bordeaux group considered a masterpiece and which it did not wish to see changed by the Congress of The Hague.[1689]

  • Émile Dentraygues, who used the pseudonym Swarm at the congress and was a delegate for Toulouse and the Hérault region, was arrested on 23 December 1872 and put on trial two and a half months later along with 37 others. Dentraygues provided the police with evidence and testimony about numerous French sections. He also denounced many activists during the trial in Toulouse. In court, his co-defendants and their lawyers openly accused him of working for the police and called him an ‘informer’, ‘snitch’ and ‘agent provocateur’, as well as ‘the linchpin of the prosecution, the pivot on which it turns’ and ‘the drawer they open in which they find all the letters of those whom he has betrayed or duped, all the information they want, and we come to this painful conclusion: Dentraygues is the prosecutors’ confederate’.[1690] After he was fined and sentenced to two years, he applied for clemency with the French president Mac Mahon by calling to mind his ‘sincere and accurate testimony […] on the emergence of the International’: his sentence was reduced by six months. He offered his services to the Bordeaux police after he was freed.[1691]

  • Lucien Van Heddeghem, who used the pseudonym Walter at the congress and sent a mandate from Paris to the General Council member Ranvier,[1692] was arrested in December 1872 because of Dentraygues’ denunciations. He was suspected of being a police spy and during his trial in Paris in March 1873 made statements like ‘he has but one fixed idea: to destroy the International’.[1693]

The French delegates all voted together with the majority; Marx later admitted that ‘The few Frenchmen (I mean of those who still stuck to us in The Hague) later turned out for the most part to be rascals’.[1694] And Engels was especially peeved ‘that Walter (Heddeghem) comes out as a downright spy. He is said to have been a Bonapartist mouchard [informer]. At Toulouse, Swarm (Dentraygues) has not behaved much better […].’[1695] Regardless of this, Engels emphasised that both delegates had mandates ‘and thus had to be admitted to the Congress, so long as no charge was brought against them, which did not occur to any member of the minority’.[1696] Engels did not explain how the minority was to object to delegates who used pseudonyms, represented unknown sections and only had to reveal themselves to the mandate commission.

The lack of transparency within the mandate commission also proved problematic in other matters: the German delegate Gustav Ludwig (see above) arrived late claiming to have a mandate from Mainz.[1697] The mandate commission then allowed Ludwig to take part in the congress although they had already accepted Marx as the delegate for Mainz.[1698] According to the Administrative Regulations of the International, a section could only send two delegates if each represented 500 members.[1699] Bearing the small number of members of the International in Germany in mind, this was highly unlikely. Another absurd act on the part of the mandate commission related to Rittinghausen, who was elected the delegate for Cologne[1700] but never travelled to The Hague – ‘because he was scared’, according to the Brunswick delegate Bernhard Becker.[1701] Nevertheless, the mandate commission was given a mandate for Rittinghausen from Munich, which they validated[1702] even though Rittinghausen never arrived in The Hague. How this mandate got to The Hague remains a mystery.

All of these inconsistencies were shrouded in the secrecy which enveloped the mandate commission. ‘The mandates were verified en famille’, the Mémoire of the Jura Federation charged, calling the commission ‘the (Marxist) bureau of the Congress’.[1703] In the report that they tabled on the evening of 2 September, the commission predictably approved all of the questionable French or German mandates and focused instead on various mandates belonging to the minority.[1704] The commission’s reporting secretary, Ranvier, even cynically called for a ‘vote of confidence in the mandate commission’.[1705]

After the mandates concerning which the commission had expressed doubt were announced, the mandates to which they did not object were read out so the delegates had a chance to challenge them. The Belgian delegate Brismée criticised the General Council’s six mandates: ‘The General Council could make do with one delegate and [should] “not come here en masse to vote for their own rights”; they are “judge and plaintiff at the same time”’.[1706] In response, Marx called attention to the General Council members with mandates from sections and argued that the General Rules did not expressly forbid this practice – a weak argument, especially because Marx carefully failed to mention the delegates who represented the General Council and no section (Dupont and Sexton). Guillaume’s call that the General Council mandates be rejected was drowned out by the majority who voted for their approval ‘amidst an explosion of applause’.[1707]

Alerini protested in the name of the Spanish Federal Council against Lafargue’s mandate from the New Madrid Federation because the General Council had violated the Rules in admitting them ‘and entered into correspondence with them without beforehand consulting the Regional [Federal] Council’.[1708] Morago emphasised, ‘The Spanish Federation is the most militant of all the Federations, and all the strife and discord in Spain appeared only after the arrival and interference of this one individual [Lafargue]. They [i.e. the Spanish members of the International] stand on the positions of the Rules, which the General Council has no right to violate.’[1709] Engels responded by repeating his conspiracy theory:

The General Council, indeed, transgressed against the Rules, but consciously and with the intention of thus saving the International Working Men’s Association in Spain. The Alliance is working in Spain with the money of the I.W.A. and the Spanish Federal Council has among its 8 members 5 ‘brothers of the Alliance’. The General Council was quite conscious of what it was doing but had to do it.[1710]

‘That clique [the Alianza] must be driven out of the International’,[1711] Engels raved, according to other minutes. As the rules of order passed by the majority only provided for two speakers for and two against a contentious mandate, the debate was ended at this point and a motion to allow the Spanish delegates to respond to Engels’ attacks was rejected. Lafargue’s mandate was instead put to a vote and approved by the majority.[1712] As the Alliance had already been mentioned in the debate, Marx went on the offensive at the end of the meeting: ‘Marx moves the expulsion of the Alliance from the I.W.A. and demands the appointment of a commission to investigate the documents and the whole matter.’[1713]

But first the debate about the mandates continued. Joukovsky’s mandate as delegate for the Geneva Communards’ section of propaganda was on the agenda at the afternoon meeting of 3 September 1872. The mandate commission argued that the section was not recognised by the London General Council or the Committee of the Romance Federation in Geneva. In reality, the section of propaganda had sent three membership applications to the General Council – the London Conference resolutions revealed that the General Council did not reply to the letters because they were harbouring resentments.[1714] Joukovsky thus appealed to the congress ‘that the General Council motivate its rejection’.[1715] Without being prompted the Geneva delegate Duval, a member of the Committee of the Romance Federation, attacked the section of propaganda and accused them of being the successors of the Geneva section of the Alliance. Duval himself had been a founding member of the International Alliance, its Geneva committee and even its Provisional Central Office (Bureau central provisoire), and had belonged to the Geneva section of the Alliance until 1870.[1716] The section of propaganda, Duval railed, ‘has not been recognised by the Federal Council and the General Council and cannot be recognised by the Congress because it does not belong to the international movement’.[1717] This resulted in the following exchange:

Brismée does not find these reasons sufficient. – If this group has principles opposed to ours, it can be refused admission; but he first asks the General Council to supply explanations.

Marx replies that the Alliance had been recognised in Geneva, because it was not known to be a secret society – this will be dealt with later. At the time of the [London] Conference it became known; the Alliance declared itself dissolved. The Conference took note of this; but the Revolutionary Society [the Communards] was the successor of the Alliance.[1718]

‘I am not speaking against secret societies as such – for I myself have belonged to such societies – but against secret societies which are hostile and harmful to the I.W.A.’, Marx clarified.[1719]

Joukovsky explained why the section of propaganda did not apply for membership to the Committee of the Romance Federation:

As they, however, did not want to make propaganda in the Canton of Geneva but in France, they formed this section, which definitely did not have anything in common with the Alliance which almost none of the members belonged to before. He himself had indeed been a member, but only of the section of the I.W.A., without knowing about the secret society. The members of his section always refuse to get involved in the Alliance’s business and now request admission as a section of the IWA.[1720]

Ranvier, the reporting secretary of the mandate commission, then cleverly suggested that the vote on Joukovsky’s mandate ‘be deferred until Marx’s motion against the Alliance is dealt with’.[1721] This suggestion was accepted by the majority, which effectively neutralised Joukovsky as the congress never got back to the question of his mandate.

Ranvier then tried to use the same trick on the four Spanish delegates. Of all the delegates at the Congress of The Hague, the Spaniards probably had the most genuine mandates as Morago and Marselau were elected delegates through a national and Farga Pellicer and Alerini through a regional election. More members voted in the Spanish delegate elections than all of the other sections represented at the congress had together. Regardless of this, Ranvier complained that the Spaniards had not paid their dues and moved

that the decision about it [the accreditation of the Spanish delegates] be postponed until the decision regarding the Alliance.

Farga Pellicer said that their sections were a bit in arrears because some of them were very poor, which we should all understand. They thus request a deferral of the dues for last three months because they themselves had not yet received them. He was surprised at Ranvier’s motion to postpone the decision until the Alliance question is resolved as there had only been a complaint about the non-payment [of dues]. The Spanish sections were very involved in the fight against capital, which they felt they may soon destroy. – Engels finds it very odd that the Spaniards keep the money in their pockets instead of handing it over with their mandates as has always occurred and should occur at the conferences and congresses. The Spanish delegates wonder why the Alliance is brought up, and they had today themselves admitted their membership. (Marselau and the others say that they are no longer in it but had belonged to it.) Engels believes that they are still in it, only under another name. When they call to mind the flourishing of the IWA in Spain, one should remember that the former Federal Council (those expelled in Madrid) had brought about this growth.[1722]

Marselau replies that the facts advanced are not exact. – The money was in Spanish currency and had to be changed. Those who held it never had the intention of taking it back and they reject Engels’ suspicions. – The Spanish delegates are surprised at the new objection raised against their mandate. – They feel honoured to belong to the Alliance because it is by it and not by the General Council that the International was founded in Spain.[1723] The members of the Alliance are reliable Party members and genuine soldiers of the revolution. He will not complain if he is thrown out, he knows that this question has been decided in advance. ‘I speak the truth and do not fear death for it. Our dissensions [in Spain] date only to the time of the arrival of one single individual [Lafargue]. We members of the Alliance have done and suffered more for the cause than all the members of the General Council and those who want to excommunicate us. Tell us frankly, that we are to be thrown out and we shall go and leave you the money which belongs to you. […] Ranvier points out that the question of the Alliance appears everywhere and therefore must first be settled before the Spaniards’ case can be pronounced upon. He said in confidence yesterday to the Spaniards that they should pay in order at least to remove that obstacle. He insists on the question of the Alliance being dealt with.[1724]

Coenen regrets that the question of the Alliance has been raised. – If the delegates pay their subscriptions they must be admitted immediately, in the event of the contrary his imperative mandate would command him to leave the Congress. Guillaume makes a similar statement.[1725]

Ranvier protests against the threat made by Splingard, Guillaume and others to leave the hall, which only proves that it is they and not we who have pronounced in advance on the question under discussion; he wishes all the police agents in the world would thus take their departure.[1726]

Morago believes there is a wish to throw them out.[1727] It was the Alliance that founded, raised and spread the I.W.A. [in Spain], all our electors knew that we belonged to the Alliance (for it was reported to the police).[1728] You have only to investigate whether our mandates are in order, nothing else. We are representatives of the Spanish Federation and the intention here is to expel us from the I.W.A. at any cost; but your rights extend only to checking the stamp, the payment of subscriptions, etc.

Lafargue defends himself against the assertion that he is in touch with the Spanish police because he attacked the Alliance; the Alliance has nothing to fear from denunciation to the police since its rules say that it shall not engage in any politics [crossed out: its purpose is only the destruction of the International Working Men’s Association] and the police wants nothing better.

Marselau says that Lafargue founded La Emancipación solely for the purpose of making his denunciations and that he has only now thought up the sophisms just heard […].

Splingard thought we had to deal only with the mandates, not with the Alliance, but in any case we owe the Alliance gratitude for its energetic propaganda in Spain.

Interruptions on all sides because the discussion in lasting too long.

Ranvier objects to the vote being taken before the Spaniards have paid their subscriptions and the question of the Alliance has been settled.[1729]

Farga Pellicer finally rises and hands to the Chairman the treasury accounts and the subscriptions from the Spanish Federation except for the last quarter.

Ranvier is now for the admission of the Spaniards.

The voting shows all in favour of the Spaniards’ admission with one abstention.[1730]

The voting procedure and the commission to investigate the Alliance

It has been argued that the majority at the Congress of The Hague was a sham because the countries where the International really functioned (to varying degrees) and that had a lively organisation – i.e. Belgium, Holland, Spain, Italy, England, the United States, and Switzerland – were in the minority due to the presence of ‘a certain number of more or less serious delegates’.[1731] However, the federations critical of the General Council were also an obstacle to themselves: for example, the majority at the congress benefited from the Italian Federation’s boycott.[1732] And a provision in the Spanish delegates’ imperative mandate also weakened the minority: as described above, it stipulated that their delegates had to abstain unless the voting procedure was changed – i.e. voting according to the number of members represented and not the number of delegates.[1733] This was already discussed at the first meeting:

The Spaniards explain that according to their imperative mandate they must first move that the voting procedures be changed: according to the number represented, not representatives.

Brismée suggested voting according to federations.[1734]

Marx (supported by all the Blanquists and all the Germans) says that such a manner of voting is contrary to the Rules of the Association; every section, he says, has the right to be represented, and its delegate has the right to vote.[1735]

Morago defended the idea of voting according to the number of members represented:

It is the only correct, the only fair manner of voting, he says. Five comrades representing 30 members could always in spite of everything get the better of the one who represents 5,000 working people organised in a union and paying their subscription. The Spanish region demands that the Congress discuss this question before any other, for its delegates have an imperative mandate to abstain as long as the old manner of voting is maintained by the Congress.[1736]

At the fifth and sixth congress meetings, the Spanish delegates again put forward this motion.[1737] Morago explained, ‘the Spanish region thinks that the present manner of voting is not democratic; it is not fair that the mandate of a large number should not have more weight than that of a small one’.[1738] Engels crowed that it is ‘not our fault that the Spanish delegates found themselves in such a sad situation (where they could not vote)’, and the majority rejected the Spanish motion.[1739]

Guillaume complained about this in his report on the congress: ‘This so legitimate request was rejected by the majority, who saw themselves lost if the vote was not by individuals.’[1740] The Spanish delegates later explained:

The majority could not accept the change [voting according to the number of members represented or according to federations] proposed by the Spanish or the Belgians because both of these reforms would present a danger to the triumph of their plans. This majority of delegates was aware that they did not represent the majority of the members of our Association. This moves us to insist upon the necessity to replace the voting method with another which ensures that the decisions of the congresses are the genuine expression of the majority will of the represented members of the International. Continuing the system adopted until today, on the other hand, only means that those who are closest to the location of the congress or have more means of being represented can therefore send the most delegates, attaining by this way a majority, which believes itself entitled to impose its resolutions despite the fact that it is a fictitious majority, as has happened in The Hague.[1741]

All the same, a change to the voting procedures would have meant changing the Administrative Regulations,[1742] which sensibly would only have applied for the next congress. Thus, the Spanish mandate’s call for an immediate change to the voting procedure was unfounded and the four Spanish delegates’ lengthy battle to have their mandates recognised was for nought as – in accordance with their mandates – they could not vote. Between the regimented majority who mostly voted en bloc and the powerless Spaniards, the congress increasingly took on a bizarre aspect; the Amsterdam delegate van der Hout complained about ‘the two opposite tendencies that are manifested’ by the ‘majority which votes for on all questions. He is surprised above all that [the Spanish] citizens have come here tied by an imperative mandate which imposes abstention on them’.[1743]

The Spanish delegates also did not take part in the vote to set up a commission to investigate the Alliance – Marx had already called for such a commission on the second day of the congress, but the decision had been postponed until the remaining contentious mandates were dealt with.[1744] Immediately after the question of the mandates was settled – two and a half days had already passed and the congress had not yet started with its agenda – on 4 September 1872, Engels tabled the following motion:

Considering the loss of time caused by the checking of the mandates and the personal questions hindering all useful discussion,

Considering the importance of the order of the day,

We demand that the question of the Alliance be submitted to a commission nominated by the Congress and discussed in a closed sitting and that the order of the day be immediately proceeded with.

Ranvier, Alfred Herman, A. Sauva, J. Van der Hout, Roch Splingard, D. Brismée, Dupont, H. Gerhard, P. de Fluse, Ph. Coenen, J. Johannard, Victor Dave

The opponents of the motion also stated their position on the same sheet of paper:

I sign, protesting against investigation of a secret society by the congress. J. Guillaume.

Farga Pellicer, Marselau, T. Gonzalez Morago, N. Eberhard, H. Van den Abeele, J. George Eccarius, Dumont [pseudonym of Faillet], Th. Mottershead, Cuno.[1745]

Quite unexpectedly a number of delegates supported or opposed the motion with their signatures: strong exponents of the minority like Brismée and Dave supported Engels’ proposal, while Cuno – a staunch supporter of the majority and trusty follower of Marx and Engels – signed Guillaume’s protest. Obviously many delegates had not yet been clued in about the context and aim of the proposal, which was initiated by Marx and Engels but not signed by these for tactical reasons.

The debate over the motion only began the next day (5 September 1872), the fourth day of the congress. Marx explained rather insipidly ‘that it is a matter of investigating not individuals but the Alliance and that all friends of truth will be impartial in this investigation’.[1746] The following candidates for the commission received the most votes: Cuno (33 votes and thus commission president); Splingard (31 votes), who had the support of the minority; Walter (29 votes), the suspected police agent Van Heddeghem; Lucain (24 votes), pseudonym of Potel; and Vichard (20 votes).[1747] Thus, the clandestine and mysterious Walter and Lucain were to judge the mysterious and clandestine Alliance.

Directly following the election of the commission members, Alerini and Guillaume proposed the formation of a

commission of five members to judge certain acts of the General Council and the underground intrigues of some of its members.

Sorge asks whether Eccarius is among the members of the Council alluded to; in that case he will have a lot to say.

Marx moves that the accusers themselves should appoint their commission.

Alerini and Guillaume propose that the commission which is to investigate the Alliance should also investigate the General Council.

Cuno says let those who are childish enough to accuse the General Council appoint their own commission.

The commission entrusted to investigate the Alliance will check the accusations of Alerini and Guillaume.[1748]

Surprisingly, a large number of the delegates also seemed uninformed about this question: this motion was also passed in a vote with 14 in favour and 4 against[1749] – a large number of delegates abstained.

The commission to investigate the Alliance thus met that same evening and was even given permission to miss the next day’s congress meetings in order to carry out their work.[1750] The commission first heard Engels, who presented his ‘Report on the Alliance’.[1751] As can be seen in the minutes, Engels was unable to impress the commission (most of which was on his side) with his paltry evidence:

Reading of the rules of the Alliance which was dissolved [as an international organisation] in 1869; in the main these rules coincide with those of the Alliance [Alianza in Spain] dissolved in 1872 (La Federacion No. 155) but they contain an article saying: No means not leading directly to the triumph of the working-class cause may be used in our struggle. […] It is noted that there are differences between the rules of the Alliance in Spain (secret) and those in Switzerland, for instance on atheism and on the right of inheritance.[1752]

The letter by Bakunin to Mora[1753] was said to note

the presence of members of the Alliance in Italy, Spain and Switzerland. In Italy Cafiero, the editors of the Campana, the Gazzettino Rosa, and Martello, in Switzerland Guillaume, Neuchâtel, 5, rue de la Place d’Armes, Adhémar Schwitzguébel, engraver. Engels observes that hence in any case either Guillaume’s statement that he is not a member of the Alliance is a lie or Bakunin’s letter is not true.[1754]

There seems to have been some confusion during the hearing: for example, Cafiero was not mentioned in Bakunin’s letter to Mora and the editors of the Italian newspapers were not necessarily Alliance members just because Bakunin mentioned their papers – otherwise the commission president Cuno himself would have to be considered an Alliance member since he used to work for the Milanese newspaper the Martello. About four and a half months earlier, Cuno wrote Engels a letter about his Alliance conspiracy theories. Cuno wrote that the letters from Locarno and Barcelona that he had read in Milan did not speak of ‘an actual organisation’ and that Engels was ‘taking a dark view on things’ with his theories.[1755] In The Hague, Cuno asked ‘what relation exists between the Spaniards and the Italians’, and Engels responded ‘that he does not know for certain, but that he was told by somebody whom he cannot name that this had been said’.[1756]

As he was unable to make an impression with his evidence, Engels tabled what was meant to be conclusive evidence at the end of the commission’s first meeting: Bakunin’s organisational plan from autumn 1868 that Utin had sent.[1757] Engels also deluded himself as to the worth of this document.

The countless secret societies planned by Bakunin continue to cause all sorts of speculation to this day. Despite the existence of numerous drafts of programmes and statutes, it is difficult to find cogent evidence regarding the inner workings or even the existence of such groups.[1758] Bakunin appears to have had a weakness for preparing detailed organisational plans for large-scale secret societies even though his network of allies was for the most part quite small. At the very least the theoretical revolutionary reflections Bakunin developed while drafting programmes played a significant role in the development of his political ideas.[1759] However, the secret revolutionary societies (with strict vertical organisational structures that had various ranks of membership) that he invented in his drafts of statutes only ever existed on paper. ‘Essentially, it was a group of like-minded people who worked on the same cause’, Arman Ross later wrote concerning their close cooperation; there were ‘no “oaths on daggers”, no statutes, no admission ceremonies or other things belonging to secret societies’.[1760] The groups only ever consisted of Bakunin’s friends – Elisée Reclus, James Guillaume, Arman Ross, etc. – who relied on their personal rapport and not on a secret hierarchy to maintain their internal cohesion. As soon as the former was gone, Bakunin’s groups quickly fell apart: for example, the secret society[1761] that was to exist alongside the newly established International Alliance (autumn 1868) fell apart after a few months because of personal conflicts. Various drafts of programmes and rules written around this time have survived, but none of them went beyond the planning stage. One of these manuscripts was the alleged ‘secret rules of the secret Alliance’ that Utin sent.[1762]

There is a lot of evidence which shows that these texts were drafts: Johann Philipp Becker, whose estate includes plans for organisations similar to the one Utin sent, described these in explanatory notes merely as projects (‘M. Bakunin’s organisational project’ and ‘Project by Bakunin’);[1763] Bakunin’s friend Charles Perron called them ‘those far-fetched secret committees of the Alliance’;[1764] Guillaume later described Bakunin’s drafts in a letter to the Bakunin expert Max Nettlau as a ‘sketch for an organisation which only existed theoretically in Bakunin’s mind, in the state of a pleasant daydream, a chimera formed in the clouds of his cigarette smoke’.[1765] In view of surviving evidence, such plans for organisation ‘did not prove to be practically applicable’.[1766] Bakunin himself described corresponding texts merely as a ‘first draft’ – he wrote Albert Richard in December 1868: ‘So carefully reread our statutes, of which Emilie has sent you the first draft’.[1767] A rift already occurred within the group at the end of January 1869, and the fact that the definitive statutes had not yet been compiled was even one of the main reasons behind the conflict.[1768]

Guillaume maintained that the network which remained active yet informal after the dissolution in early 1869 did not have a name or statutes: ‘it had to be called the secret organisation, secret agreement [entente secrète], or international friendship [intimité internationale]; in speaking of one of our own, we said: this is one of our intimates, or he is a brother, etc.’[1769]

there was no question of an association in the traditional mold of the old secret societies, in which one had to obey orders from above: the organisation was nothing more than the free connection between men who united with one another for collective action, informally, without solemnity, without mysterious rites, simply because they trust one another and because the agreement seemed to them preferable to acting alone.[1770]

Arthur Lehning pointed out that one could just as well describe the coordinated approach of Marx, Engels, and their supporters in different countries as a ‘Marxist Alliance’, as it was also based on a kind of network.[1771] While Marx kept his supporters on a tight leash and insisted that his instructions ‘should be followed to the letter’,[1772] the decision-making process in Bakunin’s network seems to have been open. A series of controversial questions which were not resolved as Bakunin would have wished – dissolution of the Geneva section of the Alliance,[1773] Guillaume not attending the London Conference,[1774] concessions to the moderate national federations,[1775] the Italian sections’ indifference toward official membership in the International,[1776] etc. – show that Bakunin did not take on a leadership role as his critics asserted. Even though Engels always insisted that the Alianza was controlled from Switzerland, the difference between the statutes of the Alianza and Bakunin’s plan for an organisation from autumn 1868 proves otherwise, which again shows the autonomy of Bakunin’s political allies abroad. But Marx simply brushed this fact aside: ‘The secret rules [of the Alianza] which have been printed [in the Federación] are not the true rules.’[1777]

This situation, which remains confusing to this day, was apparently too difficult for the commission members to understand. In an eerily jovial atmosphere, they accepted that the plan for an organisation tabled by Engels was in fact the ‘secret rules of the secret Alliance’:

The whole affair seems to be so exalted and eccentric that the whole Commission is constantly rolling with mirth. This kind of mysticism is generally considered as insanity. The greatest absolutism is manifested in the whole organisation. The most reckless, most untimely nonsense is apparent in the whole business. The idea of the whole business is domination over the International. – Russian Social-Democracy. It is proposed to declare the writings of the organisation of which Bakunin is recognised as the author, to be either insane or two centuries behind the times.[1778]

Cuno later reported having an informal talk with Guillaume ‘in the billiard room of the Hague Section premises’. He asked Guillaume bluntly:

‘What must one think of Bakunin, whom you consider so great a man, when one sees Rules for a secret society written by him with his own hand and full of madness and stupidity?’ Guillaume replied: ‘We know quite well that it is one of Bakunin’s weak points to be constantly making out programmes and rules, we have repeatedly reproached him for it but he just goes on doing so; that is why it is quite possible that rules of that sort out of his waste-paper basket have fallen into the hands of Marx and Co.’[1779]

However, such explanations were not taken into account, and the commission set itself the following puzzling agenda:

It therefore only remained to investigate two matters:

  1. If the citizens who had belonged to this society at its inception and who had been simultaneously members of the Association, still belonged to it.

  2. Who these citizens were, in order to inform all the members of the Association about their belonging to the two societies.[1780]

Thus the commission completely lost sight of the fact that they were not supposed to investigate the pros and cons of conspiratorial-revolutionary work. The Blanquist delegates at the congress, for example, were organised as a strict and tight conspiratorial group in accordance with their political ideals and tradition.[1781] Vaillant, who could be considered the Blanquists’ leader in the General Council, once commented on the nature of his work in the International: ‘if it is difficult to impose a military organisation upon the International, there is something beyond it to be done in that way’.[1782] However, it did not occur to anyone to indict the Blanquist members because of their choice of organisation. With the decision to keep the section and delegate names of the French mandates secret, the congress even acknowledged the necessity of conspiratorial work. ‘Everybody conspires’, Alerini observed at the final meeting of the Congress of The Hague.[1783] Even Marx, as we have seen, differentiated between ‘secret societies as such – for I myself have belonged to such societies’ and ‘secret societies which are hostile and harmful to the IWA.’[1784] However, the commission never examined whether the Alliance was harmful or beneficial. Johann Philipp Becker and Théodore Duval, founding members of the Alliance[1785] and delegates in The Hague siding with the majority, could have shared their experiences but were never asked. The majority of the commission was not interested in the statements of the Spanish delegates on this matter, either.

Lafargue on the other hand was given the opportunity to speak at the second meeting of the commission, on the evening of 6 September 1872:

Lafargue says that the founding of the Alliance in Madrid was inspired from Barcelona and he published its whole history in Madrid on June 27, 1872. His pamphlet was neither attacked nor refuted by the people of the Alliance.[1786] It is proved in this pamphlet that the Alliance did not found the International in Spain but that it appeared after the International. The Alliance has been established in eight places and has done much for the movement [!]. He maintains that it has never been dissolved in Spain. Mora and others demanded its dissolution, but the Saragossa Congress did not comply with this demand. The best proof of this is the Madrid circular of June 2, 1872 signed: Mesa, Pagés, Francisco Mora, Paulino Iglesias, Innocente Calleja, Valentin Saenz, Angel Mora, Luis Castillon, Hipolito Pauly. The Cadiz Section alone replied to that circular. As proof of this he quotes the statement published in La Emancipacion that the dissolution had not been accepted, a statement which nobody refuted. Lafargue, Mora and others were expelled from the Spanish Federation for denouncing members of the Alliance; and he [Lafargue] believes this because there was no other ground.[1787]

This testimony seems to have brought the confusion within the commission to a head. After Lafargue was finished, the commission wanted to ‘interrogate’ Guillaume and Schwitzguébel. A form with five questions was especially prepared for them, which Cuno would later admitted was meant

to convince the Jura gentlemen that Bakunin could lie and also that he was a quite incapable, stupid charlatan. […] Our intention to use the signed questionnaire in the sense we had thought of was rendered completely illusive by Guillaume’s statement: The whole thing seemed to him like an Inquisition procedure in the Middle Ages and he would not answer any of our questions concerning Bakunin or a secret society.[1788]

Guillaume was especially irritated that the commission ‘at first strangely claimed the functions of examining magistrate: the interrogation of the witnesses was to be secret, then there were to be confrontations and efforts to catch the witnesses out. Some of those who were thus called refused.’[1789] Schwitzguébel on the other hand filled out the questionnaire: with reference to Marx’s statement that the Alliance was only being attacked as it was allegedly ‘hostile and harmful’ to the International (see above), Schwitzguébel wanted to first ‘be shown how and in what way I could have harmed the International’.[1790] This question was never examined during or after the congress. Another one of the commission’s questions asked, ‘If Bakunin named you as belonging to the secret Alliance, would you accept his statement about you?’ This was a reference to Bakunin’s description of Schwitzguébel as an ‘ally’ (allié) in the letter to Mora.[1791] Schwitzguébel replied,

My relations with Bakunin have been of a close nature, I do not hesitate to declare that these relations have contributed strongly to the development of my revolutionary-socialist views and to the action which must inevitably result from them. I do not know in what sense Bakunin has interpreted these relations. […] I know that Bakunin has kept up the habit, in his correspondence, of using the term ‘allié’ [ally / member of the Alliance] when referring to men who have not rejected the Alliance programme.[1792]

And so the commission to investigate the Alliance came out of their second meeting more or less empty-handed. Cuno even began basing his case against Schwitzguébel on psychological observations: he later noted that Schwitzguébel only wrote down his answers to the commission’s questions

after thinking for a terrible long time from which any intelligent man was bound to see that the connection with the secret society did exist and that some ‘oath’ or other hocus-pocus, if not the evil intentions of the Alliance towards the International, hindered the persons questioned from answering promptly and frankly. […] there is no material proof of the existence of the Alliance, but […] it is urged on us only by moral conviction […].[1793]

On 7 September 1872, the last day of the congress, the third meeting of the commission began with the questioning of the Spanish delegate Marselau about the situation in Spain, which again only yielded marginal results: ‘He recognised the Programme of the Alliance, and in that feels himself honoured.’[1794] Splingard, who enjoyed the confidence of the minority, considered the lack of results from Marselau’s hearing as a proof of the commission’s ineffectiveness and said that he regretted ‘that he had agreed to take part in the commission, since those who had nominated him had no confidence in him’.[1795] His commission colleague Cuno on the other hand gave air to his suspicion that Splingard himself belonged to the Alliance; whereupon, Splingard threatened to cuff him.[1796]

Things were not any more pleasant when Cafiero made his appearance before the commission as – like Guillaume – he refused to make any statements regarding secret societies. The fanciful statement by the Polish General Council member Wróblewski, who had always been on Marx and Engels’ side, was also pointless. He explained to the commission that he did not know

who provided the General Council with evidence on the secret society of the Alliance. He is morally convinced that the Alliance exists and also that Bakunin is its leader. Bakunin is also a member of a ‘Comité Rouge’ which has set itself the aim of revolutionising Europe. He has no proofs or evidence in his possession. He is convinced that the secret Alliance was founded after the Commune everywhere. He does not wish to reveal the moral and material proofs which he has and will not do so. He does not know the rules of the Alliance. (Splingard does not regard this as moral proof.)[1797]

After these fruitless attempts to gather evidence, it’s no wonder that the commission members Cuno, ‘Lucain’ (pseudonym of Potel) and Vichard would tell Guillaume on the last afternoon of the congress ‘that, in spite of all the trouble they had taken, they had been unable to obtain any serious result and that the work of the commission of inquiry, when it came to submit its report to the Congress that evening, would be reminiscent of a mountain giving birth to a mouse’.[1798] Splingard also complained, ‘that the inquiry could not lead anywhere, that the accusers had produced no serious document, that the whole business was a mystification and that he had been made to waste his time by being appointed to such a commission’.[1799]

The story behind Bakunin’s translation of Capital

Marx finally appeared before the commission to investigate the Alliance on the last evening of the congress. He answered evasively when Cuno asked whether the Alliance still existed: ‘he was convinced that the secret Alliance was still active within the International, but in such cases written proof was always lacking and it was only by accumulating a mass of different evidence that one could arrive at an understanding of the truth.’ Marx nevertheless pretended ‘that he knew from a reliable source’ that Morago was the highest ranking member of the Alianza,[1800] and that Cafiero – who had still been a critic of the Alliance in Italy in 1871[1801] – ‘is morally a member of the Alliance’.[1802]

After he finished with his conjecture, Marx brought forth what he considered his strongest piece of evidence:

Citizen Marx then read from a letter, addressed to a Russian publisher, in which those belonging to a Russian secret society, of which Bakunin was a member, threatened this publisher that they would give him serious attention if he again demanded the return of a sum of 300 roubles which he had given to Citizen Bakunin in advance payment for a translation.[1803]

This letter was part of the affair surrounding Bakunin’s unfinished translation of Marx’s Capital into Russian, which came about as follows. In spring 1869, Mikhail Negreskul (ca. 1849–1871) – who was involved in the Petersburg student movement and revolutionary groups – was in Geneva. In May of that year, he met Bakunin’s friend Charles Perron who informed him about Bakunin’s dire financial situation. ‘He told me’, Negreskul recalled,

that Bakunin was literally dying of hunger and therefore asked me: shouldn’t we give him some work and help him with money? To the first question I answered that I might succeed in getting a translation for him from some publisher and that, should I persuade him to give work, I may persuade him to pay part of the sum in advance. I approached two publishers about this matter and both promised me to give him a translation.[1804]

On his way back to Russia, Negreskul stopped in Berlin in the summer of 1869 and met his friend Nikolai Lyubavin (1845–1918) who was studying science at the university in Berlin. In the previous year, Lyubavin had already contacted Johann Philip