Questions of Organization, Part 2: The 1st International against Bakunin's "Alliance"

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In part one of this series, we pointed out that the famous struggle within the First International, which led to the exclusion of Bakunin and the condemning of his secret "Alliance of Socialist Democracy" at the Hague Congress of 1872, was more than a struggle of marxism against anarchism. It was a struggle of life and death between those dedicated to the construction of the revolutionary party of the proletariat, and all those bent on its destruction. The latter included not only declared anarchists, but the most varied political shades of organizational parasitism. The goal of Bakunin's secret "Alliance" was none less than that of taking control of the International Working Men's Association through a hidden plot, in order to destroy its proletarian nature. In this attempt, the Bakuninists were supported by a series of bourgeois, petty bourgeois, and declassed elements existing inside the different sections of the International without sharing its goals. And behind the scenes, the plot was encouraged by the ruling classes themselves. They encouraged and manipulated Bakunin and his followers, often without the latter even being aware of this. They echoed the slander campaigns of the Alliance against Marx and the General Council in the bourgeois press, praising the "spirit of freedom" of the anarchists which condemning the marxists' "dictatorial methods". Their spies and agent provocateurs sent to infiltrate the IWA did all they could to support Bakunin and his parasitic allies inside and outside the Association. The political police facilitated the undermining of the statutes of the International, arresting militants in such a way as to favor the success of the maneuvers of the Alliance.

In part two of this article, we will concentrate on the way Bakunin' s Alliance went about taking over and destroying the International. We will try to show the tactics used against the workers' movement as concretely as possible, basing ourselves on the analysis made by the International itself. We are convinced that the identification of these tactics of the bourgeoisie and of parasitism, the drawing of the lessons of the fight against Bakuninism, are indispensable for the defense of the revolutionary milieu today.

The war of capital against the International

From the outset, the bourgeoisie used its police, courts, prisons, and later its execution squads against the International. But this was not its most dangerous weapon. Indeed, the Hague Congress showed how "the IWA, the representative of labor, grew all the stronger as persecutions increased" (The Hague Congress of the First International,Minutes and Documents, Progress Publishers, Moscow p.146).

The bourgeoisie's most dangerous weapon was precisely the attempt to destroy the International from within, through infiltration, manipulation and intrigue. This strategy consists in provoking suspicion, demoralization, divisions and open splits within a proletarian organization, in order to make it destroy itself. Whereas repression always carries the risk of provoking the solidarity of the working class with the victims, destruction from within is capable, not only of destroying a proletarian party or group, but of ruining its reputation and thus erasing it from the collective memory and traditions of the working class. More generally speaking, it aims at slandering organizational discipline, at presenting the struggle against police infiltration, the fight against the ambitions of the declassed elements of the ruling class to take over and destroy proletarian groups, the resistance against petty bourgeois individualism, as a "dictatorship" or as the "administrative elimination of rivals. "

Before showing how the bourgeoisie with the help of political parasitism, in particular Bakuninism, went about this work of destruction and denigration, we will briefly recall the nature of the fear provoked within the bourgeoisie by the International.

The bourgeoisie feels threatened by the International

The report of the General Council to the fifth annual Congress of the International Working Men's Association in The Hague, September 1872, written in the aftermath of the defeat of the Paris Commune, declared: "Since our last Congress at Basle, two great wars have changed the face of Europe, the Franco-German War and the Civil War in France. Both of these wars were preceded, accompanied, and followed by a third war- the war against the International Working Men's Association".

Thus, on the eve of the plebiscite with which Louis Napoleon prepared his war against Prussia, the Paris members of the International, under the pretext of having taken part in a plot to assassinate Louis Bonaparte, were arrested on the 23rd of April, 1870. Simultaneous arrests of Internationalists took place at Lyon, Rouen, Marseilles, Brest and other towns.

"Up to the proclamation of the Republic, the members of the Paris Federal Council remained in prison, while the other members of the Association were daily denounced to the mob as traitors acting in the pay of Prussia.

With the capitulation of Sedan, when the second empire ended as it began, by a parody, the French-German War entered upon its second phase. It became war against the French people ... From that moment she found herself compelled not only to fight the Republic in France, but simultaneously the International in Germany" (Report of the General Council to the Hague Congress, Minutes and Documents, p.213)

"If the war against the International had been localized, first in France (...) then in Germany (...) it became general since the rise, and after the fall, of the Paris Commune. On the 6th of June, 1871, Jules Favre issued his circular to the Foreign Powers demanding the extradition of the refugees of the Commune as common criminals, and a general crusade against the International as the enemy of family, religion, order and property" (ibid p.215).

There ensued a renewed, internationally coordinated offensive of the bourgeoisie to destroy the International. The chancellors of Austria-Hungary and Germany, Beust and Bismarck, came together in two "summit meetings" almost entirely devoted to working out the means of this destruction. The Austrian courts, for instance, in condemning the leaders of the proletarian party to penal servitude in July 1870, ruled as follows: "The International is established for the emancipation of the working class from the rule of the propertied class, and from political dependence. That emancipation is incompatible with the existing institutions of the Austrian state. Hence, whoever accepts and propagates the principles of the International program, commits preparatory acts for the overthrow of the Austrian Government, and is consequently guilty of high treason" (ibid p.216).

By the time of the Paris Commune, at the latest, all sectors of the ruling classes had realized the mortal danger which international socialist organization posed to their rule. Although the International could not itself play a leading role during the events of the Paris Commune, the bourgeoisie was perfectly aware that this uprising, the first attempt of the working class to destroy the bourgeois state and replace it with its own class rule, would not have been possible without the political and organizational autonomy and maturity of the proletariat - a maturity which the International represented.

Moreover, it was the political menace which the very existence of the International posed for the long term domination of capital which to a large extent explained the savagery with which the Paris Commune was jointly repressed by the French and German states.

After the Paris Commune: the bourgeoisie tries to break up and discredit the IWA

In fact, as Marx and Engels were just beginning to realize at the time of the famous Hague Congress in 1872, the defeat of the Paris Commune and of the French proletariat as a whole spelled the beginning of the end of the International. The association of the leading sectors of the European and American workers, founded in 1864, was not an artificial creation, but the product of the international upswing of the class struggle at that time. The crushing of the Commune spelled the end of this upsurge, opening a period of defeat and political disarray. Just as the Communist League had fallen prey to a similar disarray after the defeat of the revolutions of 1848-49, with many of its members refusing to recognize that the revolutionary period was over, the International after 1871 was entering a period of decline. In this situation, the principle concern of Marx and Engels became to allow the International to conclude its work in good order. It was with this in mind that, at the Hague Congress, they proposed transferring the General Council of the IWA to New York, where it would be out of the front line of bourgeois repression and internal feuds. They wanted above all to preserve the reputation of the Association, to defend its political and organizational principles, so that they could be passed on to future generations of revolutionaries. In particular, the experience of the First International should serve as a basis for the construction of a Second International as soon as the objective conditions allowed.

For the ruling classes, however, there was no question of allowing the International to conclude its work in good order, to let it pass on the lessons of its first steps in international centralized organization on the basis of statutes to future proletarian generations. The slaughter of the Paris workers was the signal for bringing to a conclusion the whole work of internal undermining and discrediting which had already begun long before the Commune. The most intelligent representatives of the ruling classes feared that the First International would go down in history as a decisive moment in the adoption of marxism by the workers' movement. One such intelligent representative of the exploiters was Bismarck, who throughout the 1860s had secretly, and sometimes openly, supported the Lassalleans within the German workers' movement in order to combat the development of marxism. But there were others, as we shall see, who joined together to disrupt and wreck the political vanguard of the working class.

Bakunin's Alliance, the main weapon in Capital's war against the International

"The Alliance of Socialist Democracy was founded by M. Bakunin towards the end of 1868. It was an international society claiming to junction, at the same time, both within and without the International Working Men's Association. Composed of members of the Association, who demanded the right to take part in all meetings of the International's members, this society, nevertheless, wished to retain the right to organize its own local groups,national federations and congresses alongside and in addition to the Congresses of the International. Thus, right from the outset, the Alliance claimed to form a kind of aristocracy within our Association, or elite with its own program and possessing special privileges" ("Report on the Alliance to the Hague Congress by the General Council", Minutes and Documents, p.348).

Bakunin had failed in his original scheme to unite the International with the bourgeois League for Peace and Freedom under his own control, his propositions having been refused by the general congress of the whole International in Brussels. Bakunin explained this defeat to his bourgeois friends of the League as follows: "I could not have foreseen that the Congress of the International would reply with an insult as gross as it was pretentious, but this was due to the intrigues of a certain clique of Germans who detest the Russians and everybody except themselves" (Bakunin's letter to Gustav Vogt of the League, quoted in the documents of the Hague Congress p.388).

Regarding this letter, Nicolai Utin, in his report to the Hague Congress, pointed out one of the central aspects of Bakunin 's politics. Instead of openly attacking the program and statutes of a proletarian organization, he makes a personal attack against certain members of its central organs, accusing them of wielding a personal dictatorship.

"It proves that it is to that time, if not earlier, that Bakunin's calumnies date, against citizen Marx, against the Germans, and against the whole of the International, which was already accused then,and a priori - since Bakunin had no knowledge at that time either of the organization or of the activity of the Association - of being a blind tool in the hands of Citizen Marx, of the German clique (later distorted by Bakunin's supporters into an authoritarian clique of Bismarckian minds); to that time also dates Bakunin's rancorous hatred of the General Council and above all of certain of its members" ("Utin's Report to the Hague Congress, presented by the Investigation Commission on the Alliance", Minutes and Documents p.388).

This approach is fundamental to political parasitism. Instead of confronting its opponents openly, and on a political terrain, it spreads personal calumnies behind the back of proletarian organs. These attacks are aimed against certain persons seen as particularly staunch defenders of the statutes of such organizations. More generally, they serve to whip up a general feeling of suspicion within and around the organization under attack. At the same time, this approach reflects the feeling of the likes of Bakunin that since we conspire on the basis of personal politics, our opponents probably do too.

In view of the League's failure, Bakunin had to change his tactics and apply for membership to the International. But he did not alter his basic strategy: "In order to win recognition for himself as head of the International, he had to present himself as head of another army whose absolute devotion to him was to be ensured by a secret organization. After having openly planted his society in the International, he counted on extending its ramifications into all sections and on taking over absolute control by this means. With this aim, he founded the (public) Alliance of Socialist Democracy in Geneva (...) But this public Alliance covered another which, in its turn, was controlled by the even more secret Alliance of the international brethren, the bodyguard of the dictator Bakunin" ("The Alliance and the International", Minutes and Documents p.511). This is the official public report commissioned by the Hague Congress, and drafted by Marx, Engels, Lafargue and others. The title of the German draft, edited by Engels, is more fitting: "Ein Plot gegen die Internationale Arbeiter - Association").

However, the Alliance's first application for membership had to be refused, since its organizational practice did not conform to the statutes of the Association.

"The General Council refused to admit the Alliance as long as it retained its distinct international character; it promised to admit the Alliance only on the condition that the latter would dissolve its special international organization, that its sections would become ordinary sections of our Association, and that the Council should be informed of the seat and numerical strength of each new section formed" (ibid).

This latter point was insisted on by the General Council to prevent the Alliance entering the International secretly, under different names.

The Alliance replied: "The question of dissolution has today been decided. In communicating this decision to the various groups of the Alliance, we have invited them to follow our example and constitute themselves into sections of the International Working Men's Association, and seek recognition as such either from you or from the Federal Councils of the Association in their respective countries" (ibid p.349, quoted by Engels in his report).

However, the Alliance did nothing of the kind. Its sections neither declared their location and numerical strength, nor did they openly apply for membership in their own name.

"The Geneva section proved to be the only one to request admission to the International. Nothing was heard about other allegedly existing sections of the Alliance. Nevertheless, in spite of the constant intrigues of the Alliancists who sought to impose their special program on the entire International and gain control of our Association, one was bound to accept that the Alliance had kept its word and disbanded itself. The General Council, however, has received fairly clear indications which forced it to conclude that the Alliance was not even contemplating dissolution and that, in spite of its solemn undertaking, it existed and was continuing to function as a secret society, using this underground organization to realize its original aim - the securing of complete control" ("Report to the Hague Congress", ibid, p.349).

In fact, at the moment the Alliance declared its dissolution, the General Council did not possess sufficient proofs to justify a refusal to admit it to the International. And it had been "misled by some signatures on the program which gave the impression that the Alliance had been recognized by the Romance Federal Committee" ("The Alliance and the IWA", Minutes and Documents p.522).

But this had not been the case, since the Romance Federal Committee did not trust the Alliancists one inch, and with good reason.

"The secret organization hidden behind the public Alliance now went into full action. Behind the International's Geneva section was the Central Bureau of the Secret Alliance: behind the International's sections of Naples, Barcelona, Lyons and Jura lay the secret sections of the Alliance. Relying on this freemasonry, whose existence was suspected neither by the mass of the International's membership nor by their administrative centers, Bakunin hoped to win control of the International at the Basle Congress in September 1869" (ibid p.522-523).

To this end, the Alliance began to set in motion its secret international apparatus.

"The secret Alliance sent instructions to its adherents in every corner of Europe, directing them whom to choose as delegates and to whom to give a mandate if they could not send one of their own men. In many areas members were very surprised indeed to find that for the first time in the history of the International the selection of delegates was not being carried out in a straightforward, open, matter-of-fact way, and letters reached the General Council asking what was in the wind" (Karl Marx: Man and Fighter, Nicolaievsky and Maenchen-Helfen, p.31l).

At the Basle Congress. the Alliance failed to achieve its main goal: that of transferring the General Council from London to Geneva, where Bakunin expected to be able to dominate it. The Alliance did not give up: it changed tactics.

"Right from the start the activities of the Alliance fall into two distinct phases. The first is characterized by the assumption that it would be successful in gaining control of the General Council and thereby securing supreme direction of our Association. It was at this stage that the Alliance urged its adherents to uphold the "strong organization" of the International and, above all, "the authority of the General Council and of the Federal Councils and Central Committees"; and it was at this stage that gentlemen of the Alliance demanded at the Basle Congress that the General Council be invested with those wide powers which they later rejected with such horror as being authoritarian" ("Report on the Alliance", Minutes and Documents p.354).

Only after their defeat at Basle did the Bakuninists unfurl the flag of anti-authoritarianism throughout the International. This shows that for the Alliance, taking over control of the International was its essential goal, whereas its "program" was secondary, a mere means to an end. For Bakunin himself, who propagated authoritarianism and anti-authoritarianism, peasant revolution and worship of the Russian Czar, proletarian internationalism and rabid pan-slavism, depending on whom he was addressing himself to, questions of programmatic principles were quite irrelevant.

The bourgeoisie assists Bakunin's work of sabotage

In part one of this article, on the pre-history of Bakunin's conspiracy, we have already indicated the class nature of his secret society. Even if the majority of its members were not aware of the fact, the Alliance represented nothing less than a Trojan horse through which the bourgeoisie attempted to destroy the International from within.

Bakunin's attempt to take control of the IWA at the Basle Congress, not even a year after joining it, was only possible because he was assisted by the bourgeoisie. This assistance provided him with a political and organizational power base even before he joined the International.

The first origin of Bakunin's power was the entirely bourgeois Peace and Freedom League, set up in order to rival and oppose the International. As Utin recalled in relation to the structure of the Alliance: "We must note first of all that the names Permanent Central Committee, Central Bureau, and National Committees already existed in the League of Peace and Freedom. Indeed the secret rules [of the Alliance] admit without any embarrassment that the Permanent Central Committee is composed of "all the founder members of the Alliance". And these founders are "the former members of the Berne Congress" [of the League] called "the socialist Minority". So these founders were to elect from among themselves the Central Bureau with its seat in Geneva" (Utin's Report, ibid p.392-393).
The anarchist historian Nettlau mentions the following persons who moved out of the League in order to work on penetrating the International: Bakunin, Fanelli, Friscia, Tucci, Mroczkowski, Zagorski, Joukovski, Elisee Reclus, Aristide Rey, Charles Keller, Jaclard, J.Bedouche, A. Richard. (Max Nettlau: Der Anarchismus van Proudhon bis Kropotkin p.l00). Several of these persons were direct agents of bourgeois political infiltration. Albert Richard, who set up the Alliance in France, was an agent of the Bonapartist political police, as was his "comrade in arms" in Lyon, Gaspard Blanc. Saverio Friscia, according to another anarchist historian, Woodcock, was not only "a Sicilian homeopathic physician, but also a member of the Chamber of Deputies, but more important to the International Brotherhood as a thirty-third degree Freemason with great influence in the lodges of southern Italy" (George Woodcock: Anarchism, p.310).

Fanelli was a long standing member of the Italian parliament with the most intimate connections with the highest representatives of the Italian bourgeoisie.

The second bourgeois origin of Bakunin's power base was thus his linkage to "influential circles" in Italy. In October 1864, in London, Bakunin told Marx he was going to Italy to work for the International, and Marx wrote to Engels to say how impressed he was by this intention. But Bakunin was lying.

"Through Dolfi he was introduced into the society of the Freemasons where the Fee thinking elements of Italy were united", as Bakunin's German aristocratic admirer and biographer Richarda Huch tells us (Huch: Bakunin und die Anarchic, p.147). As we saw in part one of this article. Bakunin, who left London for Italy in 1864 took advantage of the absence of the International in that country to prepare sections there under his own control and after his own image. Those who, like the German Cuno who founded the Milan section, opposed the domination by the secret "brotherhood", were conveniently arrested or deported by the police at decisive moments.

"Italy has only become the promised land if the Alliance by special acts of grace" declares the report published by the Hague Congress quoting a letter from Bakunin to Mora in which he explains: "Italy has what other countries lack: a youth which is passionate, energetic, completely at a loss, with no prospects. with no way out, and which, despite its bourgeois origins, is not morally and intellectually exhausted like the bourgeois youth of other countries".

Commenting on this, the report adds: "The Holy Father is right. The Alliance in Italy is not a "workers' union" but a rabble of declasses. All the so-called sections of the Italian International are run by lawyers without clients, doctors with neither patients nor medical knowledge, students of billiards, commercial travelers and other tradespeople, and principally journalists from small papers with a more or less dubious reputation. Italy is the only country where the International press - or what calls itself such - has acquired the characteristics of Le Figaro. One need only glance at the writing of the secretaries of these so-called sections to realize that it is the work of clerks or professional authors. By taking over all the official posts in the sections in this way, the Alliance managed to compel the Italian workers, each time they wanted to enter into relations with one another or with the other councils of the International to resort to the services of declasse members of the Alliance who found in the International a "career" and a "way out"" ("The Alliance and the IWA", Minutes and Documents p.556).

It was thanks to this infrastructure coming from the League that organ of the West European bourgeoisie influenced by the secret diplomacy of the Russian Tsar and from the "free-thinking" and "masonic" Italian bourgeois declassed riff-raff, that Bakunin could launch such a strong attack against the International.

Thus, it was after the Berne Congress of the League of Peace (September 1868) that the above mentioned Fanelli, Italian member of parliament and founding member of the Alliance, was sent to Spain "furnished with references by Bakunin for Garrido, deputy at the Cortes who put him in touch with republican circles,bourgeois and working class alike" in order to set up the Alliance on the Iberian peninsula. ("The Alliance and the IWA", ibid p.537). Here we see the typical methods of the "abstentionist" anarchists allegedly refusing to have anything to do with "politics".

It was through such methods that the Alliance spread itself in those parts of Europe where the industrial proletariat was still extremely underdeveloped: Italy and Spain, the south of France and the Jura mountains in Switzerland. Using such methods, at the Basle Congress "thanks to its dishonest methods, the secret Alliance found itself represented by at least ten delegates including the famous Albert Richard and Bakunin himself ("The Alliance and the IWA", p.523).

But all these Bakuninist sections secretly dominated by the Alliance were not in themselves sufficient. In order to take control of the International, it was necessary for Bakunin and his followers to be accepted by, and take control of, one of the already established, oldest and most important sections of the Association. Coming from the outside, Bakunin realized the need to invest himself with the authority of such a section already widely recognized inside the organization. This is why Bakunin had from the outset moved to Geneva, where he founded his own "Geneva Section of the Alliance of Socialist Democracy". Even before the open conflict with the General Council began, it was here that the first decisive resistance of the International to Bakuninist sabotage began.

The battle for control of the Swiss-Romance Federation

"But in December 1868 the Alliance of Socialist Democracy had just been formed in Geneva and declared itself a section of the IWA. This new section asked three times in fifteen months for admission to the group of Geneva sections, and three times was refused, first by the Central Council of all the Geneva sections and then by the Romance Federal Committee. In September 1869, Bakunin, the founder of the Alliance, was defeated at Geneva when he stood as candidate for the delegation to the Basle Congress. and his candidature was rejected, the Geneva members appointing Grosselin as their delegate. The discussions begun then (...) by Bakunin's supporters led by himself to force Grosselin to resign and give way to Bakunin - these discussions must have convinced Bakunin that Geneva was not a favorable place for his scheming. At their meetings the Geneva workers did not conceal their dissatisfaction. Their scorn for his high sounding words. This fact, together with other Russian matters, provided the motive for Bakunin's voluntary departure from Geneva" ("Utin's Report", ibid p.378).

At a time when the General Council in London was still acting very hesitantly, admitting the Alliance against its own better judgment, the workers' sections in Switzerland were already openly resisting Bakunin's attempts to impose his will in violation of the statutes. Whereas bourgeois historians, true to their vision of history made by "great individuals", portray the struggle in the International as a contest "between Marx and Bakunin", and whereas the anarchists present Bakunin as the innocent victim of Marx, the very first battle against the Bakuninists in Switzerland immediately reveals that this was a struggle by the whole organization in its own defense.

However, this proletarian resistance to Bakunin's open attempts at a takeover did not prevent him from splitting the Swiss sections. Behind the scenes, Bakunin had already begun to gain his own peronal supporters in the country. These he gained mainly through non-political means of persuasion, in particular the charisma of his own personality, with which he conquered the Locle Internationalist section in the Jura watch-making region. Locle had been a center of resistance to the Lassallean policy of support for the conservatives against the bourgeois radicals pursued by Coullery, the opportunist pioneer of the International in Switzerland. Although Marx and Engels were the most prominent opponents of Lassalle in Germany, Bakunin told the artisans in Locle that the rottenness of Coullery's politics was the result of the authoritarianism of Marx within the International, so that a secret society was necessary to "revolutionize" the Association. The local branch of the secret Alliance led by Guillaume became the couspirational center from which the struggle against the Swiss International was directed.

Bakunin's supporters were scarcely represented in the industrial towns, but had a strong presence among the artisan craftsmen of the Jura. They now split the Chaux-de-Fonds Congress of the Romance Federation around their attempts to oblige the Geneva section to admit the Alliance, and to take the Federal Committee and the editorial board of the press away from Geneva to be placed in the hands of Bakunin's right hand man Guillaume in Neuchatel. The Bakuninists completely sabotaged the Congress agenda, admitting discussion on no other point except the matter of the Alliance. Unable to impose their will, the Alliancists broke off from the Congress, moved to a nearby cafe, and immediately entitled themselves "Congress of the Romance Federation" and appointed "their own" Romance Federal Committee - in open breach of articles 53, 54 and 55 of the Federation's statutes.

Face with this coup, the Geneva delegation declared that "it was a matter of deciding whether the Association wished to remain a federation of working men's societies, aiming at the emancipation of the workers by the workers themselves, or whether it wished to abandon its program in face of a plot formed by a few bourgeois with the evident aim of seizing the leadership of the Association by means of its public organs and its secret conspiracies" ("Utin's Report", ibid p.383).

With this, the Geneva delegation had immediately grasped the entirety of what was going on.

Indeed, the split which the bourgeoisie longed for had been achieved.

"Anybody who knows anything about the history and the development of our Association is well aware that before the Romance Congress of La Chaux-de-Fonds in April 1870 there was no split in our Association and neither the bourgeois press nor the bourgeois world were ever able to gloat over our disagreements in public.

In Germany there was the struggle between the true Internationalists and the blind followers of Schweizer, but that struggle did not go beyond the borders of Germany, and the members of the International in all countries soon condemned that Prussian government agent, though at first he was well masked and seemed to be a great revolutionary.

In Belgium an attempt to misuse and exploit our Association was made by a certain Mr. Coudray, who also seemed at first to be an influential member, highly devoted to our cause, but in the end turned out to be nothing but a schemer whom the Belgian Federal Council and sections soon dealt with despite the important role which he had managed to assume.

With the exception of this fleeting incident the International was progressing like a real family of brothers animated by the same strivings and having no time to waste in idle and personal disputes.

"All of a sudden a call for intestine war was raised inside the International itself; this call was made by La Solidarite [a Bakuninist paper] in its first issue. It was accompanied by the most grave public accusations against the Geneva sections, and against their Federal Committee, which was accused of having sold itself to one member who was little known up to then ...

In the same issue La Solidarite foretold that there would soon be a profound split between the reactionaries (the Geneva delegates to the Chaux-de-Fonds Congress) and several members of the Geneva Building Workers' Section. At the same time posters appeared on the walls in Geneva signed by Chevalley, Cognon, Heng and Charles Perron [well known Bakuninists] announcing that the undersigned had arrived as delegates from Neuchatel to reveal to the Geneva members of the International the truth about the Chaux-de-Fonds Congress. This was logically equivalent to a public accusation against all the Geneva delegates, who were thus treated as liars hiding the truth from the members of the International.

The Swiss bourgeois newspapers then announced to the world that there was a split in the International" ("Utin's Report", Minutes and Documents p.376, 377).

The stakes in this first great battle were enormous for the International, but also for the Alliance, since its failure to be accepted in Geneva "would prove to all the members of the International in other places that there was something abnormal about the Alliance (...) and this would naturally undermine, paralyze the "prestige" that the founder of the Alliance was dreaming of for his creation and the influence which it was to exert above all outside of Geneva.

On the other hand, if it was a nucleus recognized and accepted by the Geneva and Romance group, the Alliance could, according to its founder's plan, usurp the right to speak in the name of the whole of the Romance Federation, which would necessarily give it great weight outside Switzerland ...

As for the choice of Geneva as the center of the open operations of the Alliance, this was due to the fact that Bakunin enjoyed greater safety in Switzerland than anywhere else and that in general Geneva, alongside Brussels has acquired the reputation of being one of the main centers of the International on the continent".

Confronted with this situation, Bakunin remained true to his destructive principle: one must split what one cannot take over.

"Nevertheless, the Alliance continued to insist on joining the Romance Federation which was then forced to decide on the expulsion of Bakunin and the other ringleaders. And so there were now two Romance Federal Committees, one at Geneva. the other at La Chaux-de-Fonds. The vast majority of the sections remained loyal to the former, while the latter had a following of only fifteen sections, many of which (...) one by one ceased to exist" ("Utin's Report", ibid p.526).

The Alliance now appealed to the General Council to decide which of the two should be considered as the true central organ, hoping to profit from the name Bakunin and from the ignorance of Swiss affairs assumed to reign in London. But as soon as the General Council pronounced in favor of the original federation of Geneva. calling on the La Chaux-de-Fonds group to transform itself into a local section, London was immediately denounced as "authoritarian" for meddling in Swiss affairs.

The London Conference 1871

During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the class struggles in France leading to the Paris Commune of 1871, the organizational struggle within the International receded into the background, without however disappearing. The defeat of the Commune, and the new quality of the attacks of the bourgeoisie, soon made it necessary to redouble all the measures of defense of the revolutionary organization. By the time of the London Conference (September 1871), it was becoming clear that the IWA was being attacked in a coordinated manner from without and within, and that in reality the bourgeoisie was the coordinator.

Only a few months previously, this had been less clear. "When material dealing with the Bakuninist organizations fell into the hands of the Paris police as a result of the arrests in May 1871, and the public prosecutor announced in the press that a secret society of conspirators existed besides the official International. Marx believed it to be one of the usual police forgeries". "Its the old tomfoolery" he wrote to Engels. "In the end the police won't even believe each other any more"" (Karl Marx: Man and Fighter p.315).

In September 1871, the London Conference, held in the teeth of international repression and slanders, proved equal to its task. For the first time ever, the international, internal, organizational questions dominated an international meeting of the Association. The conference adopted the proposition of Vaillant, insisting that the political and the social questions are two sides of the same task of the proletariat to destroy class society. The documents, in particular the resolution "On the Political Action of the Working Class" drawing the lessons of the Commune, showing the necessity for the dictatorship of the proletariat and for a separate working class party were a blow against the political abstentionists: "those assistants of the bourgeoisie whether consciously or not", as was pointed out at the conference (Die Erste International Vol.2 p.143).

At the organizational level, this struggle was concertized by the reinforcement of the responsibilities of the General Council. giving it the power if necessary, to suspend sections between international congresses. It was concertized by the resolution against secret societies, outlawing their existence within the organization. And it was concertized by the resolution against the activities of Nechayev, a collaborator of Bakunin in Russia. The Russian Nikolai Utin, since he was able to read all the documents of the Bakuninists in Russian, was commissioned by the Conference to draw up a report on this latter question. Since this report threatened to expose the whole Bakuninist conspiracy, much was undertaken to prevent it being drawn up. After an attempt of the Swiss authorities to expel Utin had to be withdrawn in the face of a massive public campaign by the International, an (almost successful) assassination attempt against Utin was made in Zurich by the Bakuninists.

Hand in hand with this bourgeois violence went the Sonvillier circular of the Bakuninist Jura Federation attacking the London Conference. This open attack had become all the more necessary for the Alliance, since the London Conference had brought the manipulations of Bakunin's followers in Spain out into the open.

"Even the most devoted members of the International in Spain were led to believe that the program of the Alliance was identical to that of the International, that this secret organization existed everywhere and that it was almost the duty of all to belong to it. This illusion was destroyed by the London Conference, where the Spanish delegate, himself a member of the Central Council of the Alliance in his country, could convince himself that the contrary was the fact, and also by the Jura circular itself, whose bitter attacks and lies against the Conference and the General Council were immediately taken up by all the organs of the Alliance. The first result of the Jura circular in Spain was the emergence of disagreements within the Spanish Alliance between those who were first and foremost members of the International and those who would not recognize it, since it had not come under Alliance control" ("Report on the Alliance", Minutes and Documents, p.355-356).

The Alliance in Russia: provocation in the interests of reaction

The "Nechayev affair" dealt with at the London Conference risked totally discrediting the International and thus menacing its very existence. During the first public political trial in Russian history, in July 1871, 80 men and women were accused of belonging to a secret society which had usurped the name of the IWA. Nechayev, who claimed to be an emissary of a so-called International Revolutionary Committee allegedly working for the International, obliged Russian youth to engage in a series of frauds, and forced some of them to assist in the murder of one of their members, who had been found guilty of doubting the existence of Nechayev's all powerful committee. This Nechayev, who escaped from Russia leaving these young revolutionaries to their fate, and went to Switzerland where he also engaged in blackmail, and tried to set up a gang to rob foreign tourists, was the direct collaborator of Bakunin. Behind the back of the Association, Bakunin had supplied Nechayev not only with a "mandate" to act in the Association's name in Russia, but also with an ideological justification for his acts. This was the "Revolutionary Catechism" based on the morality of Jesuitism so much admired by Bakunin, according to which the end justifies any means whatever, including lies, murder, extortion, blackmail, the elimination of comrades who "get in the way" etc.

In the fourth part of this series we will come back to Bakunin's Russian activities in more detail. Here, it is essential to understand the role they played in Bakunin's war against the International.

In fact, Nechayev's and Bakunin's activities led to the arrest of so many young and inexperienced revolutionaries that the Zurich Tagwacht, replying to Bakunin, wrote: "The fact is that, even if you were not a paid agent, certainly no paid agent provocateur could succeed in doing so much evil as you have done".

On the practice of sending ultra-radical proclamations by post to Russia, even to unpolitical people, Utin wrote: "Since letters are opened by the secret police in Russia, how could Bakunin and Nechayev seriously suppose that proclamations could be sent to Russia in envelopes to persons, known or unknown, on the one hand without compromising those persons and on the other hand without risking running up against a spy?" (Minutes and Documents, p.416).

One Russian revolutionary wrote to Utin "for mercy's sake let Bakunin know that if he holds anything sacred in the revolution, he must stop sending his lunatic proclamations, which are leading to searches in several cities and to arrests, and are paralyzing all serious work."

We consider the explanation for this given by Utin's report to be the most likely.

"I maintain therefore that Bakunin was seeking at any cost to have people in Europe believe that the revolutionary movement produced by his organization was truly gigantic. For the more gigantic the movement, the greater giant is its midwife. For this purpose he published in the Marseillaise and elsewhere articles which we could have understood that they come from the pen of an agent provocateur; while young people were being arrested (...) he gave assurances in fact that all was ready in Russia for the pan-destructive cataclysm, for the formidable explosion of his very great revolution of the muzhiks, that phalanxes of young people were quite ready, disciplined and seasoned, that all those who were arrested were indeed great revolutionaries (...) And he knew pertinently that in all that he was lying; he was lying when he speculated on the good faith of the radical papers and posed as the great Pope-midwife of all this youth suffering in prison-cells for their faith in the name of the International Working Men's Association".

In other words, by provoking the arrest of so many people in this way, and thus making Western Europe believe that he was the leader of a vast and audacious revolutionary organization in Russia, Bakunin intended to crown his attempts to present himself as Europe's greatest revolutionary deserving to lead the International.

Since, as Marx and Engels often pointed out, the Russian political police at home, and its "brotherhood" of agents abroad, was internationally the most formidable of its day, with agents in every radical political movement throughout Europe, it can be assumed that this so-called "third department" knew of Bakunin' s plans and tolerated them.


The construction of revolutionary proletarian organizations is not a peaceful process. It is a permanent struggle in the face, not only of the intrusions of petty bourgeois and other intermediate and declassed influences and attitudes, but of planned sabotage organized by the class enemy. The First International's struggle against this sabotage on the part of the Alliance is one of the most important organizational struggles in the history of the workers' movement. This struggle is full of lessons for today. The assimilation of these lessons is more vital than ever if the defense of the revolutionary milieu and the preparation of the class party is to succeed. These lessons are all the more relevant, since they have been formulated in a most concrete manner, and with the direct participation of the founders of scientific socialism, Marx and Engels. The whole struggle against Bakunin is a single lesson in the application of the marxist method to the defense and construction of communist organization. It is in assimilating these examples set by our great predecessors that the present generation of revolutionaries, still suffering from the break in organic continuity with the past workers' movement caused by the Stalinist counter-revolution, can more firmly place themselves in the tradition of this great organizational struggle. The lessons of these struggles waged by the IWA, by the Bolsheviks, by the Italian Left and others are an essential arm in the present struggle of marxism against the circle spirit, liquidationism and political parasitism. This is why we consider it necessary to go into very concrete detail in order to show the reality of this struggle in the history of the workers' movement.


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