How the ICT denies the lessons of Marxism on the fight against political parasitism

Printer-friendly version

Bakunin set up a secret organisation within the International Workingmen’s Association aimed either at taking it under his control or, if that was not possible, at destroying it. The IWA responded to this colossal piece of intrigue by devoting the Hague Congress (1872) to the defence of the organisation against this parasitic attempt to destroy it.

We must remember that this congress took place one year after the Paris Commune, the first time in history that the proletariat had tried to take power; but the crucial importance of defending the revolutionary organisation against the attempts to destroy it was consciously addressed by the IWA by giving it absolute priority and making its work public.

The lessons of this combat are vital. However, they have been totally buried for various reasons. The first is that they were quickly forgotten in the later workers' movement with the sole exception of the Bolsheviks. Franz Mehring - Rosa Luxemburg's sparring partner in the left of Social Democracy - in his biography of Marx presents his fight against Bakunin's conspiracy as a "personal confrontation".

Of course, the numerous authors (historians, Marxologists, political scientists) who have spoken of the Hague Congress have repeated ad nauseam the same refrain: it all came down to a "clash of personalities" or a "struggle between authoritarians and libertarians".

No scientific rigour can be expected from them. However, what is outrageous is that a group like the Internationalist Communist Tendency, which claims to be part of the Communist Left, which claims to fight for the World Party of the proletariat, has published an article on the Hague Congress[1] which repeats the same falsifying clichés that for 150 years have been propagated about that Congress.

Bakunin's trajectory and his entry into the IWA [2]

Who was Bakunin? According to the ICT article a true revolutionary who championed misguided ideas such as pan-Slavism, but "When the 1863 uprising in partitioned Poland broke out, Bakunin volunteered his services, only to be rebuffed. He then tried to make his own way to join the uprising, but the expedition failed, as did the uprising itself - the Polish insurgents were isolated and crushed. These events delivered a blow to Bakunin's pan-Slavist hopes and finally made him reconsider his political ideas". According to the article, this reconsideration led Bakunin to "formulate a new doctrine, characterised by political abstentionism, anti-statism and federalism, which variously went under the names of revolutionary socialism, collectivism and anarchism. He initially looked for supporters among the radicalised followers of Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Freemasons, eventually founding a secret society, the International Revolutionary Association. The ‘catechisms’ of that secret society sum up the ideas around which Bakunin attempted to reorganise revolutionaries in an international network".

The General Council of the IWA did not share this assessment: "The denunciations in the bourgeois press, like the lamentations of the international police, found a sympathetic echo even in our Association. Some intrigues, directed ostensibly against the General Council but in reality against the Association, were hatched in its midst. At the bottom of these intrigues was the inevitable International Alliance of Socialist Democracy, fathered by the Russian Michael Bakunin. On his return from Siberia, the latter began to write in Herzen's Kolokol, preaching the idea of Pan-Slavism and racial war, conceived out of his long experience. Later, during his stay in Switzerland, he was nominated to head the steering committee of the League of Peace and Freedom, founded in opposition to the International. When this bourgeois society's affairs went from bad to worse, its president, Mr. G. Vogt, acting on Bakunin's advice, proposed to the International's Congress which met at Brussels in September 1868, that it make an alliance with the League. The Congress unanimously proposed two alternatives: either the League should follow the same goal as the International, in which case it would have no reason for existing; or else its goal should be different, in which case an alliance would be impossible. At the League's congress, held in Bern a few days later, Bakunin made an about-face. He proposed a makeshift programme whose scientific value may be judged by this single phrase: ‘economic and social equalisation of classes’. Backed by an insignificant minority, he broke with the League in order to join the International, determined to replace the International's General Rules by the makeshift programme, which had been rejected by the League, and to replace the General Council by his personal dictatorship. To this end, he created a special instrument, the International Alliance of Socialist Democracy, intended to become an International within the International."[3] .

Thus, contrary to what the ICT says, Bakunin was not a revolutionary who "evolved his ideas". His changes of position were not based on considerations of lived experience. Much of his career was spent with clearly bourgeois and even reactionary positions (Pan-Slavism, the League for Peace and Freedom), but, sniffing out that the International could fall into his hands, he quickly changed his hat, threw the League for Peace and Freedom into the dustbin and rushed to join the International, inventing for the occasion a "back-up programme" following the criteria of "Groucho Marxism" (Groucho Marx joked "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others"). He was not a sincere revolutionary who “evolved”; he was a political adventurer[4]. Such figures are very destructive for the workers' movement because what drives them is not the struggle for the interests of the class, but their personal ambition to be a "political player" who uses workers' organisations for their spurious ends. Lassalle wanted to make the German labour movement a pawn in his game with Bismark, with whom he even made a secret pact[5]. Bakunin wanted to put the IWA at his own service.

Moreover, it is false that Bakunin adopted an "abstentionist, federalist and anti-statist" programme; his "principles" varied according to circumstances. As we shall see later, he was ultra-centralist when he thought he had the conquest of the IWA within his grasp, but, when he failed, he abandoned this self-interested centralism to wrap himself in the banner of federalism as this proved to be the best instrument to harass an IWA General Council which refused to surrender at his feet.

We are faced with two antagonistic visions. That of the ICT article which paints Bakunin as "a romantic revolutionary with wrong ideas" and that of the IWA General Council which saw him as a scheming and unscrupulous political adventurer. We resolutely choose the second view as it provides a political weapon to defend and build the organisation. The revolutionary organisation is a vital instrument of the proletariat which must not only intervene in its struggles, but also build itself consciously and defend its existence against bourgeois repression and all the instruments at its disposal, such as adventurers, political parasitism, etc.

How did Bakunin join the IWA?

Bakunin finally succeeded in joining the IWA. The article completely ignores the danger that this membership entailed and ignores the fact that Bakunin pretended to adhere to the IWA while smuggling his International Alliance of Socialist Democracy in under his cloak. The General Council rejected this trap: "Whereas: that the existence of a second international body functioning inside and outside the International Workingmen's Association would be the most infallible means of disorganising it; that any other group of individuals resident in any locality would have the right to imitate the Geneva Initiating Group and to introduce, under more or less ostensible pretexts, within the International Workingmen's Association, other international Associations with other special missions; that, in this way, the International Workingmen's Association would very soon become the plaything of intriguers of any nationality and of any party".

Faced with this refusal, Bakunin began to manoeuvre. He pretended to accept the principles of the International and pretended to dissolve the Alliance. He resorted to another deception: he gave the impression to the central organ of the IWA that he had been endorsed by the Swiss Romance Federal Council (which turned out to be false). Armed with these credentials Bakunin set out to conquer the International and went to the Basle congress (1869) with the aim of imposing his programme of the day, based on "the abolition of the right of inheritance", and above all on obtaining the transfer of the General Council to Geneva.

To this end Bakunin showed himself to be the most ultra-centralist. This manoeuvre is not grasped by the ICT article which is "surprised" by it: "more surprisingly, Bakunin also supported a motion to extend the powers of the General Council so that it could suspend any section which acted against the principles of the International".

Nor does the ICT see the instrumentalising manoeuvre behind Bakunin's "programme": "For Bakunin, the abolition of the right of inheritance formed a key point of his programme for the Alliance, a prerequisite for social equality in the society of the future. For Marx, the whole question of the right of inheritance was a juridical distraction which would be resolved with the abolition of private property in the means of production (already approved by the International)".

According to the article there was a "debate" between Marx's position and Bakunin's. This assessment is erroneous: what there was in reality was a rabbit that Bakunin had pulled out of the hat, which the IWA denounced: "the programme of the Alliance, in the tow of a ‘Mohammed without the Koran’, is nothing but a heap of pompously worded ideas long since dead and capable only of frightening bourgeois idiots or serving as evidence to be used by the Bonapartist or other prosecutors against members of the International".

Bakunin did not seek "debate"; his star proposal for the "abolition of the right of inheritance" was a means, combined with ultra-centralism, to take control of the IWA.

Similarly, for the ICT, there was nothing untoward in the attempt to move the General Council to Geneva where it could be "welcomed" by Bakunin. On the contrary, their version is: "the attacks on his person did not stop, as Moses Hess then published a hit piece in October 1869, claiming Bakunin intended to undermine the International and transfer the General Council from London to Geneva. Bakunin responded with an – unpublished – anti-Semitic tirade against ‘German Jews’ who allegedly conspired against him (which even Herzen and Ogarev found excessive). Both out of respect and tactical consideration Bakunin spared Marx, though he incorrectly assumed him to be the mastermind behind all these attacks ".

Here we see that the ICT article clearly takes Bakunin's side and even praises his "personal magnanimity" in "forgiving" Marx. The ICT does not see - or does not want to see - what was at stake, which was Bakunin's manoeuvre to take over the central organ of the IWA by proposing to move the General Council to Geneva. What is a central organ in a proletarian organisation - an instrument for an individual or group to control the organisation? Or an expression of the organisation as a whole which must be defended against the intrigues and ambitions of individuals or groups? The IWA clearly had the latter position, which is the one we revolutionaries must defend, contrary to that of the ICT which only sees "conflicts between individuals".

Bakunin's war against the IWA

The Basel Congress rejected Bakunin's "proposals", which made him change his strategy: since he could not take over the IWA, he now conspired to destroy it.

In the service of this strategy, the extreme centralist from Basel was fast becoming the most ultra-federalist and his new Groucho Marx-style programme was "abstention in politics", but all this was "the sign of the open and unceasing war that the Alliance is waging; not only against the General Council, but again against all the sections of the International, which refuse to adopt the programme of this sectarian and above all the doctrine of absolute abstention in political matters.”[6]

Let us look at the nightmare that Bakunin and his Alliance brought about in the life of the International after 1869. We will highlight some of the most salient episodes.

The Nechayev affair

"Just before the Basle Congress, when Nechayev came to Geneva, Bakunin got in touch with him and founded a secret society among the students in Russia. (...) The great means of propagandising this society consisted in compromising innocent people vis-à-vis the Russian police, by sending them communications from Geneva, under blue envelopes, covered outside, in Russian, with the stamp of the ‘Secret Revolutionary Committee’"[7].

Bakunin had no scruples about joining up with a shady informer who was handing over to the Tsarist torturers people interested in the International. This "bad company" is seen by the ICT as a "mistake" on Bakunin's part, ignoring the fact that as the International's document shows it was he who was using Nechayev. According to the ICT, “Bakunin's fondness for conspiracies blinded him to the scale of the deception and when he finally distanced himself from Nechayev, it was already too late. The likes of Borkheim and Utin now had further ammunition to feed Marx's suspicions”.

In other words, Bakunin was "fond of conspiracies" (sic) and this "blinded" him to Nechayev’s (sic) manoeuvres and by the time he realised it was "too late", which ended up giving "ammunition" to Marx, ill-advised by Berkheim and Utin.

The ICT trivialises the fact that within a communist organisation there are "conspiracy buffs"; this means that for this organisation, which claims to be part of the Communist Left, being a "conspiracy buff" would be an "innocent pastime", a "small defect" of a "great revolutionary" like Bakunin...

This position of the ICT is simply monstrous. That within a bourgeois organisation there are "conspiracy buffs" is standard practice, but that within a communist organisation there are "conspiracy buffs" is something radically incompatible with its principles of functioning and militancy and immediately endangers it.

“Poor Bakunin" did not see the extent of Nechayev’s deceptions according to the ICT. No! The lesson to be learned is that Bakunin had used and encouraged Nechayev, was aware of his disgusting actions, and when the whole affair began to be discovered, it was too late to cover it up. In a communist organisation such "alliances" with shady elements are intolerable, and those who practise them are equally incompatible with communist organisations. This does not appear in the ICT's field of vision and that is why it has no qualms about collaborating with informers and thieves, such as the IGCL riff-raff, to set up the NWBCW committees[8] .

The attack on the General Council using a Romance Federation newspaper

Let us see what version the ICT gives us of this affair which took place in 1870: “The next controversy revolved around the Romance Federation, the Geneva section of the First International, where L’Egalité, edited by followers of Bakunin such as Paul Robin and Charles Perron, had made a number of complaints regarding the work of the General Council. In March 1870 the General Council circulated a response by Marx, which addressed the criticisms. However, Marx seemed to be under the incorrect impression that Bakunin was personally behind this, that having failed to influence the Basel Congress, he was now trying to discredit the General Council. Nikolai Utin, another Russian émigré with a vendetta against Bakunin, now sensed his chance and made a move to take over L’Egalité in the name of Marx. The section split, those in Geneva declaring themselves followers of Marx, those in Jura followers of Bakunin, and both claiming the Romance Federation name”.

According to this explanation, Bakunin's followers, without his knowledge, had attacked the General Council. In his reply, on behalf of the latter, Marx had been "misinformed" and, in addition, a follower of Marx, Utin, wanting a vendetta against Bakunin, provoked a split in the Romance Federation.

The IWA has another, radically different version: "The Alliance commenced at this time a public polemic directed against the General Council, first in the Locle Progres, then in the Geneva Egalité, the official newspaper of the Romance Federation, where several members of the Alliance had followed Bakunin. The General Council, which had scorned the attacks published in Progres, Bakunin's personal organ, could not ignore those from Egalité, which it was bound to believe were approved by the Romance Federal Committee "[9]. In the controversy, the organ L'Egalité accused the General Council of not fulfilling its functions. The latter in a circular clarified that criticism of the functioning of the IWA should not be made in the organisation's public press but should be channelled through the statutory bodies. Otherwise, these "criticisms" would give ammunition to the incessant attacks of the bourgeois press against the International: "When the Romance Federal Committee addresses requests of reprimands to us through the only legitmiate channel, that is to say through its secretary, the General Council will always be ready to reply. But the Romance Federal Committee has no right either to abdicate its functions in favour of l’Egalité and Progres, or to let these newspapers usurp its functions. Generally speaking, the General Council's administrative correspondence with national and local committees cannot be published without greatly prejudicing the Association's general interests. Consequently, if the other organs of the International were to follow the example of Progres and the l’Egalité, the General Council would be faced with the alternative of either discrediting itself publicly by its silence or violating its obligations by replying publicly. l’Egalité joins Progres in inviting Travail (Paris paper) to denounce, on its part, the General Council. That is almost a League of Public Welfare"[10].

To begin with, Bakunin had used his lackeys to launch a public attack on the General Council by fraudulently using L'Egalité, the press organ of the Romance Federation.

The General Council's response, insisting on respect for organisational principles, was that criticism of the General Council should be made through the central body of the Romance Federation and not by publicly airing this criticism behind the organisation's back.

This attack on the General Council had spread to another body in Paris. As the General Council pointed out, a "league" of public attack against it was being forged. The aim was clear: to discredit the central body elected by the Basel Congress, thus destroying the centralisation of the IWA.

Thus the issue at stake was not Utin's personal vendettas against Bakunin, nor an "ill-informed" Marx, but the defence of a method of centralised debate where criticism is not used to discredit the central organs, but to strengthen the whole organisation and the central organ. Where the IWA sees vicious attacks on its central body, the ICT sees "personal vendettas" against Bakunin.

The ICT article is very striking: at every step we see that their main concern is the defence of "poor Bakunin" and that everything concerning the defence of revolutionary organisation, of its centralisation, of the method of criticism and debate, has completely disappeared from their radar.

The sabotage of the Romance Federation Congress

Another episode in Bakunin's conspiracy against the International was the attempt at the congress of La Chaux-des-Fonds to take over the Romance Federation in April 1870.

Let us look at the manoeuvres and intrigues that Bakunin and his altar boys employed: "Although, on their own calculation, the Alliance supporters represented no more than a fifth of the Federation members, they succeeded, thanks to repetition of the Basel manoeuvres, in procuring a fictitious majority of one or two votes, a majority which, in the words of their own organ (see Solidarité of May 7, 1870), represented no more than 15 sections, while in Geneva alone there were 30! On this vote, the French-Switzerland Congress split into two groups which continued their meetings independently. The Alliance supporters, considering themselves the legal representatives of the whole of the Federation, transferred the Federal Committee's seat to Chaux-de-Fonds and founded at Neuchatel their official organ, Solidarité, edited by Citizen Guillaume. This young writer had the special job of decrying the Geneva ‘factory workers’, those odious ‘bourgeois’, of waging war on L'Egalité, the Federation newspaper, and of preaching total abstention from politics. The authors of the most important articles on this theme were Bastelica in Marseilles and Albert Richard and Gaspard Blanc in Lyon, the two big pillars of the Alliance"[11].

So we have here :

  • Tricks to gain a fictitious majority in the Congress by repeating the manoeuvre that had allowed Bakunin to carry weight at the Congress of Basel.
  • Split in the Romance Federation between Bakunin's followers and the majority loyal to the working principles of the International.
  • Intrigue to destroy the Romance Federation by creating an improvised "central organ" totally submissive to Bakunin in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
  • Attack on the comrades faithful to the functioning of the International by presenting them as "odious bourgeois", the point at which Bakunin's lieutenant, Guillaume, enters the scene.
  • The two pillars of the Alliance in Lyon were police officers, Richard and Blanc.

This episode and the clear lessons it provides are ignored by the ICT article which says in passing, referring to the London Conference (1871): "During the conference, Marx delivered a speech in which he criticised the Alliance for not actually having dissolved back in 1869 when it was asked to, and alleged that it existed as a secret society within the First International. He also argued that the Jura section should not use the name of the Romance Federation (though it could go under the name Jura Federation instead), and he singled out Guillaume for having published an appeal in violation of the International’s statutes ".

The Alliance did not make "mistakes" as the ICT claims, but engaged in repugnant attacks against the organisation. The ICT article ignores the precise reason for Marx's denunciation: "On August 10, the Alliance, hardly eager to see its activities looked into by a Conference, declared itself dissolved as from August 6. But, on September 15, it reappeared and requested admission to the Council under the name of the Atheist Socialist Section. According to Administrative Resolution No. V. of the Basel Congress, the Council could not admit it without consulting the Geneva Federal Committee, which was exhausted after its two years of struggle against the sectarian sections. Moreover, the Council had already told the Young Men’s Christian Association that the International did not recognize theological sections"[12].

In other words, the Alliance had pretended to dissolve and then appeared under the guise of the "Section of Atheist Socialists" (!).

Bakunin's conspiracy continued and had taken as its axis the Romance Federation where he had (along with Spain and Italy) a string of followers. From its base of operations at La Chaux-de-Fonds, Bakunin's Alliance was ceaselessly mounting one scandal after another to disorganise the International and paralyse its General Council with constant demands. One of these was that an Alliance delegate, Robin, relentlessly insisted that the General Council convene a private Conference to finally give the "Federation of the Jura" (Bakunin's stronghold around La Chaux-de-Fonds) the upper hand against the Romance Federation.

The proliferation of sectarian sections

As the Basel Congress had marked the impossibility of taking over the IWA "from above", Bakunin now undertook politics "from below" by using his followers as promoters of all kinds of "sections" with an "autonomous" functioning and advocating the most fanciful alternatives as a remedy for the evils of the world. The General Council saw two fundamental political dangers in all this turmoil:

  1. The disorganisation of the IWA

The IWA was being dislocated by a chaotic proliferation of groupings, each flying a different banner. Moreover, these groupings, in the hands of Bakunin and the Alliance, devoted themselves from the beginning to the harassment of the General Council by resorting to the most absurd "arguments". For example, the alleged "pan-Germanism" of the General Council. Thus, a press organ was created in a hurry by Bakunin's friends in Switzerland, The Social Revolution, “thought the moment opportune to fan the flames of national hatred, even within the International. It called the General Council a German Committee led by a Bismarckian brain”.

The anti-German agitation continued with a disgraceful action. An "émigré section of the Commune" set up in London with police provocateurs like Pyat, engaged in the denigration of German workers' militants who had opposed the Franco-Prussian war: "The London Conference approved the conduct of the German workers during the [Franco-Prussian] war… Nonetheless, eight days later, on November 23, 1871, 15 members of the ‘French Section of 1871’ inserted in Qui Vive! a ‘protest’ full of abuse against the German workers and denouncing the Conference resolution as irrefutable proof of the General Council’s ‘pan-Germanic idea’. On the other hand, the entire feudal, liberal, and police press of Germany seized avidly upon this incident to demonstrate to the German workers how their international dreams had come to naught "[13].

It is important to note that all the calumnies and intrigue circulated by the followers of the Alliance were immediately echoed in the bourgeois press organs: "Let us note in passing that the Times, that Leviathan of the capitalist press, Progres (of Lyon), a publication of the liberal bourgeoisie, and the Journal de Geneve, an ultra-reactionary paper, have brought the same charges against the Conference and used virtually the same terms as Citizens Malon and Lefrancais"[14].

        2. The resurrection of sects

All the Bakuninist agitation for the creation of sectarian sections within the IWA took the workers' movement back to the epoch of its first steps (1800-1848), dominated by sects. "The first phase of the proletariat’s struggle against the bourgeoisie is marked by a sectarian movement. That is logical at a time when the proletariat has not yet developed sufficiently to act as a class. Certain thinkers criticise social antagonisms and suggest fantastic solutions thereof, which the mass of workers is left to accept, preach, and put into practice. The sects formed by these initiators are abstentionist by their very nature — i.e., alien to all real action, politics, strikes, coalitions, or, in a word, to any united movement. The mass of the proletariat always remains indifferent or even hostile to their propaganda. The Paris and Lyon workers did not want the St. Simonists, the Fourierists, the Icarians, any more than the Chartists and the English trade unionists wanted the Owenites. These sects act as levers of the movement in the beginning, but become an obstruction as soon as the movement outgrows them; after which they became reactionary. Witness the sects in France and England, and lately the Lassalleans in Germany, who after having hindered the proletariat’s organisation for several years ended up becoming simple instruments of the police. To sum up, we have here the infancy of the proletarian movement, just as astrology and alchemy are the infancy of science. If the International were to be founded, it was necessary that the proletariat go through this phase.”

Against this setback, encouraged by Bakunin and his multiplication of sectarian sections, the IWA is "the genuine and militant organization of the proletarian class of all countries, united in their common struggle against the capitalists and the landowners, against their class power organized in the state. The International’s Rules, therefore, speak of only simple ‘workers’ societies’, all aiming for the same goal and accepting the same programme, which presents a general outline of the proletarian movement, while having its theoretical elaboration to be guided by the needs of the practical struggle and the exchange of ideas in the sections, unrestrictedly admitting all shades of socialist convictions in their organs and Congresses "[15].

The conclusions of the Hague Congress

We have recalled who Bakunin was, his trajectory and the sabotage and disorganisation he had carried out within the IWA. This work of destruction undermined the International from within. The International had to organise its defence and this defence was to:

  • denounce the parasitic conspiracy of Bakunin and his Alliance
  • affirm the organisational principles of the IWA
  • take the necessary measures to defend it against the assault organised by Bakunin.

This was the work of the Hague Congress in September 1872: the whole IWA united against three years of incessant intrigue which prevented it from achieving its aims and led it to paralysis and destruction. The ICT article sees things in a very different, opposite way:

  1. It takes the view that there were "political divergences" between Marx and Bakunin: "Marx accepted that the First International, as an organisation, might become obsolete with the development of the class struggle, whereas for Bakunin the First International was the embryo of the future society. Bakunin, although initially approving of the increase in powers of the General Council, came to the conclusion that it should be reduced to a simple correspondence and statistics bureau between autonomous sections. Marx, who saw the General Council as a means to centralise action towards a common goal, responded that he would rather vote for the abolition of the General Council than for a General Council which would only be a letter-box. These were their different basic approaches and they were incompatible. They were soon vulgarised into a conflict between ‘centralists’ and ‘federalists’ (a distinction that Engels publicly rejected) ".

We have already shown that this "debate" was a manoeuvre to destroy the International. That within the International there were different views on centralisation, on the function of the organisation, on the measures to achieve communism; that was obvious. But for this the International had statutes which encouraged debate, as Engels said, "Marx, who drew up this programme to the satisfaction of all parties, entirely trusted to the intellectual development of the working class, which was sure to result from combined action and mutual discussion. The very events and vicissitudes in the struggle against capital, the defeats even more than the victories, could not help bringing home to men’ s minds the insufficiency of their various favourite nostrums, and preparing the way for a more complete insight into the true conditions for working-class emancipation. And Marx was right. The International, on its breaking in 1874, left the workers quite different men from what it found them in 1864. Proudhonism in France, Lassalleanism in Germany, were dying out, and even the conservative English trade unions, though most of them had long since severed their connection with the International, were gradually advancing towards that point at which, last year at Swansea, their president [W. Bevan] could say in their name: ‘Continental socialism has lost its terror for us’. In fact, the principles of the Manifesto had made considerable headway among the working men of all countries".[16]

The intrigues, the sudden and unexplained changes of position, the slander, the secret organisations, the entire practice since 1868 of Bakunin and his followers, did nothing but prevent debate, for they exploited these differences for their own unsavoury ends, mixed them with personal tensions and spurious interests, festered them and made it impossible to clarify them. It was not debate they sought, but disorganisation, division and confrontation within the IWA.

​ 2. The ICT implies that Marx and "his supporters" used underhand methods and alliances in their struggle against Bakunin: “For a number of reasons, it was an ugly finale to the proceedings. At least one of those on the committee investigating the Alliance later turned out to be a Bonapartist spy. And to strengthen the case against Bakunin, the special committee also accused him of theft and intimidation. This was in regard to Bakunin having received the advance to translate Capital but neither completing the project nor returning the money. It was however Nechayev, likely without Bakunin’s knowledge, who then threatened the publisher with violence”

Thus, the "supporters of Marx" did "ugly" things and were carried away by antipathy towards Bakunin and levelled unjust accusations against him. This is not so; it was the whole congress that adopted as the main item on the agenda the investigation into the activities of the Alliance. This decision was actively supported by Proudhonians and other anarchist-oriented tendencies. The Hague Congress was not a struggle between "Marxist authoritarians" and "Bakuninist libertarians", but a fight for the defence of the organisation. As our article on the Hague Congress puts it: "The Congress - with the exception of the Bakuninist minority - resoundingly supported the conclusions of the Commission. In fact, the Commission called for only three expulsions: those of Bakunin, Guillaume and Schwitzguebel, and only the first two were accepted by the Congress, thus disproving the fallacy that the International intended to eliminate, by disciplinary means, an uncomfortable minority. The revolutionary organisations, contrary to the accusations levelled by anarchists and councilists, have no need of such measures, and do not fear, but, on the contrary, have the greatest interest in the most complete clarification through debate. In fact, they only resort to expulsions in very exceptional cases of serious indiscipline and disloyalty. As Johannard pointed out in The Hague: ‘expulsion from the IWA is the most serious and dishonourable condemnation that can befall a man; those expelled can never again belong to an honourable association’" (p. 171) [17].

The target was not the person of Bakunin, but his politics and above all the denunciation of the secret organisation he had set up, "an International within the International"; it was his methods that were to be denounced and eradicated. What was at stake at the Hague congress was not to see whether the supporters of Marx or the supporters of Bakunin would win, but to affirm the organisational principles of the International. A communist organisation cannot function without clear principles of organisation and militancy. This is the crux of the matter which the ICT article scandalously ignores.

With the crushing of the Paris Commune, the IWA found itself in a very dangerous situation: "Jules Favre was demanding from all governments, even the British, the extradition of refugees as common criminals; when Dufaure was proposing to the Rural Assembly a law banning the International, a hypocritical counterfeit of which was later presented by Malou to the Belgians; when in Switzerland a Commune refugee was put under preventive arrest while awaiting the federal government's decision on the extradition order; when hunting down members of the International was the ostensible basis for an alliance between Beust and Bismarck, whose anti-International clause Victor Emmanuel was quite eager to adopt; when the Spanish Government, putting itself entirely at the disposal of the butchers of Versailles, was forcing the Madrid Federal Council to seek refuge in Portugal; at a time, lastly, when the International's prime duty was to strengthen its organisation and to accept the gauntlet thrown down by the governments"[18].

The generalised attack by the European governments was supported within the IWA by the Bakuninist fifth column, "the support which European reaction finds in the scandals provoked by that society at a time when the International is undergoing the most serious trial since its foundation obliges it to present a historical review of all these intrigues "[19]. The Alliance and its machinations were an absolute threat to the IWA; one of the members of the Alliance, Bakunin's lieutenant, Guillaume, went so far as to say with impudence that: "Any member of the International has every right to join any secret society, even Freemasonry. Any investigation of a secret society would simply amount to a denunciation to the police"[20].

From the dawn of the workers' movement the bourgeoisie has waged a war to the death against its communist organisations, both when they are large and influential, and when they are tiny and have little or no influence in the class. The Communist League, once dissolved, was not forgotten by the bourgeoisie who mounted against its militants the monstrous Cologne Trial (1852) Similarly, Marx himself was the object of a campaign of slander orchestrated by Herr Vogt, which forced him to spend a year of work to refute it [21].

The experience of the IWA and that of the last 40 years of the Communist Left sheds light on another means of the bourgeoisie's war against revolutionary organisations: using forces which are not directly created by it, but which by their blind hatred of the communist organisations and what they represent, act admirably in favour of the bourgeoisie. This is the case of the parasites: "The Hague Congress showed that the Bakuninist Alliance was not acting on its own, but as a real coordinating centre of the whole parasitic opposition, which, supported by the bourgeoisie, was acting against the workers' movement.”[22]

In the United States, the Alliance received the support of a sinister, spiritualist-oriented group, that of Victoria Woodhull who, according to an intervention by Marx at the Hague Congress: "West's mandate is signed by Victoria Woodhull who, for years, has been scheming for the presidency of the United States, is the president of the spiritualists, preaches free love, has a banking business, etc. (...) She published the famous appeal to the English-speaking citizens of the United States, in which the IWA was accused of a host of atrocities, and which led to the creation in that country of several sections on a similar basis. It (the appeal) speaks, among many other things, of personal freedom, social freedom (free love), fashion in dress, women's suffrage, universal language, etc. (...) It considers that the women's question should take precedence over the workers' question, and refuses to recognise the IWA as a workers' organisation" [23].

German parasitism, i.e. the Lassalleans who had been expelled from the Association for the Education of German Workers in London, joined this international network of parasitism, through the above-mentioned Universal Federalist Council in London, in which they participated together with other enemies of the workers' movement such as the French radical Freemasons, and the Mazzinists of Italy (...) In Italy, for example, the bourgeoisie set up the Societa universalei razionalisti, which, under the leadership of Stefanoni, devoted itself to attacking the International in that country. Its press published the slanders of Vogt and the German Lassalleans against Marx, and ardently defended Bakunin's Alliance.

"The aim of this whole network of fake revolutionaries was none other than to slander the members of the International, as does the bourgeois press, which they themselves inspire. And, to their shame, they do it by appealing to the unity of the workers"[24] (Duval's Intervention, p. 99).

The lessons of the Hague Congress are compelling:

  1. Bakunin and the Alliance were a means of division, disorganisation and confrontation within the IWA.
  2. It served as a centre of regroupment of all the forces that, while pretending to "oppose capitalist society" had as their main objective to destroy the organisation that was fighting in the most consistent way against capitalism: the IWA.
  3. The bourgeoisie used the fifth column which was the Alliance for its repressive aims to smash the IWA. The crushing of the Commune with more than 30,000 dead was joined by the attempt to crush the proletarian International.
  4. The IWA defended itself by affirming proletarian principles of organisation and functioning, appointing a commission of enquiry to expose the conspiracy of Bakunin and his alliance.

These lessons are thrown into the dustbin by the ICT article which concludes: "After a tumultuous session, Bakunin was expelled by a majority vote and from then on, the red and black tendencies of the workers’ movement went their separate ways".

There was no split between the "red tendency" and the "black tendency"! There was no quarrel between Marx and Bakunin, nor were differences of political or organisational conception the cause of the split in the IWA. The real problem was Bakunin's parasitic conspiracy against the International and what the momentous Congress of The Hague in 1872 did was to defend the organisation against this destructive plot.

Why has the ICT published the Hague Congress article?

So we see that the ICT has not written the article on the Hague Congress in order to recover and nourish the historical memory of the proletariat. If that had been its aim, it should have based itself on the documents of the Congress itself, which it does not quote at any point. According to the article itself the aim is: "At this crucial historical juncture, when every day that capitalism continues to survive is a threat to the very existence of humanity, we call on all who see themselves as anarchists devoted to the class struggle to reconsider how things have changed on that long road towards the self-emancipation of the working class since 150 years ago".

There is a trap here; anarchism is a swamp where many political tendencies coexist. The majority are clearly bourgeois, support the war in Ukraine and hold positions such as the national liberation of the Kurdish people of Rojava. Only a minority defends positions situated in the camp of the proletariat. The article does not address this minority, but with obvious opportunism it addresses "anarchists in general" and to keep them happy it whitewashes Bakunin, hides his anti-organisational conspiracy, denigrates Marx and hides the lessons the IWA drew. 

There are two blatant manifestations of opportunism in this behaviour. The first is that of advocating a "discussion" with anarchism while concealing the fact that the majority of this milieu is clearly made up of bourgeois organisations. The second, even more serious, is the whitewashing of characters like Bakunin and his methods which, as the IWA made clear, are incompatible with communist organisations.

Of course, it should be up to the ICT itself to explain the motives behind its article, but another motive is not hidden from us, namely its ongoing collaboration through the NWBCW committees with the parasites, and worse, the police-like snitches of the IGCL. It is evident that, in addition to the blatant flirtation with anarchism, the article on Bakunin also serves to whitewash the IGCL’s behaviour, to give it a "legitimacy", and this is simply scandalous.

C.Mir 24-08-23


[2] It is very striking how the article considers the roots of the IWA: “Meanwhile in London, the Polish uprising and the American Civil War served as the impetus for the founding of the First International in 1864”. It is incredible that a so-called Communist Left organisation sees the origins of the IWA in this way, not as an expression of the workers' movement, but as a result of the Polish uprising or the American Civil War! This differs radically from Marx and Engels' assessment of the origin of the IWA.

[3] From the text of the IWA Fictitious Splits in the International; unless otherwise stated, quotations are from this document.

[4] For an analysis of this notion see Communist Organisation: The Struggle of Marxism against Political Adventurism, International Review 88

[6] Fictitious Splits in the International

[7] ibid

[8] See Attacking the ICC: the raison d'être of the IGGC ICC Online, January 2023 and A committee that leads the participants to a dead end World Revolution no 395, Winter 2023

[9] Fictitious Splits in the International

[10] ibid

[11] ibid

[12] ibid

[13] ibid

[14] ibid

[15] ibid

[16] Foreword to the German edition of the Communist Manifesto of 1890

[19] ibid

[20] Nicolaievsky, La Vie de Karl Marx, p 409, Edition Gallimard, 1970

[23] ibid

[24] ibid


The 1872 Hague Congress of the First International