Questions of Organisation, Part 3: The Hague Congress of 1872: The Struggle against Political Parasitism

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In the first two parts of this series, we have shown the origins and development of Bakunin's Alliance, and how the bourgeoisie supported and manipulated this sect as a war machine against the First International. We have seen the absolute priority which Marx and Engels, and all the healthy proletarian elements in the International, gave to the defence of working class principles of functioning in the struggle against organizational anarchism. In this article; we will draw the lessons of the Hague Congress, one of the most important moments in the struggle of marxism against political parasitism. Socialist sects, which no longer had any place in a still young, but developing working class movement, began to devote their main activity to fighting, not the bourgeoisie, but the revolutionary organisations themselves. All these parasitic elements, despite their own political divergences, rallied around Bakunin's attempts to destroy the International.

The lessons of this struggle against parasitism at the Hague Congress are particularly relevant today. Due to the break in organic continuity with the past workers' movement, there are many parallels between the development of the revolutionary milieu after 1968 and that at the beginning of the workers movement. In particular, there is, if not an identity. a strong parallel between the role of political parasitism at the time of Bakunin and today.

The tasks of revolutionaries after the Paris Commune

The Hague Congress of the First International in 1872 is one of the most famous congresses in the history of the workers' movement. At this congress the historic "showdown" between Marxism and Anarchism took place. This congress marked a decisive step in overcoming the sectarian phase which had marked the early days of the workers' movement. At the Hague the groundwork was laid for overcoming the separation between the socialist organisations on the one hand and the mass movements of proletarian class struggle on the other. The congress firmly condemned the petty bourgeois anarchist "rejection of politics", as well as its aloofness from the daily defensive struggles of the class. Above all, it declared that the emancipation of the proletariat required its organisation into an autonomous political class party in opposition to all the parties of the propertied classes. (Resolution on the statutes, Hague Congress).

It was no coincidence that these questions were dealt with at this moment. The Hague was the first international congress to follow the defeat of the Paris Commune of 1871. It took place in the face of an international wave of reactionary terror which descended on the workers' movement after this defeat. The Paris Commune had shown the political character of the proletarian class struggle. It showed the necessity for the revolutionary class to organize its confrontation with the bourgeois state and its ability to do so, its historical tendency to destroy this state and replace it with the dictatorship of the proletariat, the precondition of socialism, The events in Paris proved to the working class that socialism could not be achieved by cooperative experiments of the Proudhonist type, by pacts with the ruling classes such as the Lassalleans propagated, or by the daring action of a determined minority advocated by Blanquism. Above all, the Paris Commune proved to all true proletarian revolutionaries that the socialist revolution is not an orgy of anarchy and destruction but a centralized organized process. And that the workers' insurrection does not lead to the immediate "abolition" of classes, the state and "authority", but imperiously requires the authority of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In other words, the Paris Commune completely vindicated the position of Marxism, and totally disproved the "theories" of the Bakuninists.

In fact, by the time of the Hague Congress the best representatives of the workers' movement were realising that the weight of the Proudhonists, Blanquists, Bakuninists and other sectarians within the leadership of the insurrection had been the principle political weakness of the Commune. This was linked to the incapacity of the International to influence the events in Paris in the centralized and coordinated manner of a class party.

Thus, after the fall of the Paris Commune, the absolute priority for the workers' movement became to shake off the weight of its own sectarian past, to overcome the influence of petty bourgeois socialism.

It is this political framework which explains the fact that the central question dealt with at the Hague Congress was not the Paris Commune itself, but the defence of the statutes of the International against the plots of Bakunin and his supporters, Bourgeois historians, baffled by this fact, conclude that this congress was itself the expression of sectarianism, since the International "preferred" to deal with itself rather than with the results of a class struggle of historic importance. What the bourgeoisie cannot understand is that the defence of the political and organizational principles of the proletariat, the elimination of petty bourgeois theories and organizational attitudes from its ranks, was the necessary response of revolutionaries to the Paris Commune.

Thus, the delegates came to The Hague, not only to repel the international repression and slanders against the Association, but also and above all to defeat the attack against the organisation from within. These internal attacks were led by Bakunin, who was now openly calling for the abolition of organizational centralization, for the non-respect of the statutes. The non-payment of membership dues to the General Council, and the rejection of the political struggle. Above all, he opposed all the decisions of the London Conference of 1871, which, drawing the lessons from the Paris Commune, defended the need for the International to play the role of the class party. At the organizational level, this conference had called on the General Council to assume without hesitation its role of centralization, embodying the unity of the International between congresses. And it condemned the existence of secret societies within the International, ordering the preparation of a report on the scandalous activities of Bakunin and Nechayev in the name of the International in Russia.

Bakunin's arrogance was partly an attempt to brazen out the discovery of his activities against the International. But it was above all a strategic calculation. The Alliance reckoned to exploit the weakening and disorientation of many parts of the organisation after the defeat of the Paris Commune, with the aim of wrecking the International at the Hague Congress itself, under the watching eyes of the whole world. Bakunin's attack against the "dictatorship of the General Council" was contained in the Sonvilliers Circular of November 1871, sent to all the sections, and skilfully aimed at rallying all the petty bourgeois elements who felt threatened by the thorough proletarianisation of the organizational methods of the International advocated by the central organs. Long extracts of the Sonvilliers circular were republished in the bourgeois press under the title "The International monster is devouring itself". "In France, where everything in any way connected with the International was wildly persecuted, it was posted up on the houses" (Nicolaievsky: Karl Marx P.380).

The alliance between parasitism and the ruling classes

More generally speaking, not only the Paris Commune, but the foundation of the International itself, were both expressions of one and the same historical process. The essence of this process was the maturation of the emancipation struggle of the proletariat. Since the mid-1860s, the workers' movement had begun to overcome its own "childhood disorders". Drawing the lessons of the revolutions of 1848, the proletariat, no longer accepted the leadership of the radical wing of the bourgeoisie, and was now fighting to establish its own class autonomy. But this autonomy required that the proletariat overcome the domination, within its own organisations, of the theories and organizational concepts of the petty bourgeoisie, Bohemian and declassed elements etc.

Thus, the struggle to impose the proletarian approach within its organisations, which after the Paris Commune reached a new stage, had to be waged not only towards tile outside, against tile attacks of the bourgeoisie, but within the International itself. Within its ranks, the petty bourgeois and declassed elements waged a ferocious struggle against the imposition of these proletarian political and organizational principles, since this meant the elimination of their own influence over the workers organisation.

In this way, these sects, "at the beginning levers of the movement, become a hindrance, as soon as they are rendered obsolete by it; they then become reactionary" (Marx/Engels: The Alleged Splits in the International).

The Hague Congress thus set itself the goal of eliminating the sabotage of the maturation and autonomy of tile proletariat by the sectarians. A month before the congress, the General Council declared in a circular to all members of the International that it was high time to finish once and for all with the internal struggles caused by "the presence of this parasitic body". And it declared: "By paralyzing the activity of the International against the enemies of the working crus, the Alliance magnificently serves the bourgeoisie and its governments".

The Hague Congress revealed that the sectarians, who were no longer a lever of the movement, but had become parasites living off the back of proletarian organisations, had organized internationally to coordinate their war against the International. They preferred to destroy the workers' party rather than accept that the proletariat emancipate itself from their influence. It was revealed that political parasitism, in order to prevent itself landing on the famous "rubbish dump of history" where it belonged, was prepared to form an alliance with the bourgeoisie. The basis of this alliance was a common hatred of tile proletariat, even if this hatred was not for the same reason. One of the great achievements of The Hague was its capacity to show the essence of this political parasitism, that of doing the job of the bourgeoisie, participating in the war of the propertied classes against communist organisations.

The delegates prepare to confront Bakuninism

The written declarations sent to The Hague by different sections, especially in France where the Association worked in clandestinity and many delegates could not attend the congress, show the mood within the International on the eve of the Congress. The main points to be dealt with were the proposed extension of the powers of the General Council, the orientation towards a political class party, and the confrontation with Bakunin's Alliance and other blatant violations of tile statutes.

Marx's decision to attend the congress in person was only one of many signs of tile determination within the ranks of the organisation to uncover and destroy the different plots being developed within the Association, all of which were centred around Bakunin's Alliance. This Alliance, a hidden organisation within the organisation, was a secret society set up according to the bourgeois model of freemasonry. The delegates were well aware that behind these sectarian manoeuvres around Bakunin stood the ruling class.

"Citizens, never was a congress more solemn and more important than the one whose sittings bring you together in The Hague. What indeed will be discussed will not be this or that insignificant question of form, this or that trite article of the Regulations, but the very life of the Association.

Impure hands stained with Republican blood have been trying for a long time to sow among us a discord which would be profitable only to the" most criminal of monsters, Louis Bonaparte; intriguers expelled with shame from our midst - the Bakunin's, Malons, Gaspard Blancs and Richards - are trying to found we know not what kind of ridiculous federation intended in their ambitious projects to crush the Association. Well, citizens, it is this germ of discord, grotesque in its arrogant designs, but dangerous in its daring manoeuvres, which must be annihilated at all costs. Its life is incompatible with ours and we rely on your pitiless energy to achieve a decisive and brilliant success. Be without pity, strike without hesitation, for should you retreat, should you weaken, you would be responsible not only for the disaster suffered by the Association, but moreover for the terrible consequences which this would lead to for the cause of the proletariat" (Paris Ferre section to the Hague Delegates: Minutes and Documents (M+D) of Hague Congress P. 238).

Against the Bakuninist demand for the autonomisation of the sections and the virtual abolition of the General Council, the central organ representing the unity of the International, the Paris sections declared:

"If you claim that the Council is a useless body, that the federations could do without it by corresponding among themselves (...) then the International Association is dislocated. The proletariat goes back to the period of the corporations (...) Well, we Parisians declare that we have not shed our blood in floods at every generation for the satisfaction of parochial interests. We declare that you have understood nothing at all about the character and the mission of the International Association" (Paris Sections: M + D P. 235). The sections went on "We do not want to be transformed into a secret society, neither do we want to sink into the bog of purely economic evolution. Because a secret society leads to adventures in which the people is always the victim" (P.232).

The question of mandates

What the infiltration of political parasitism into proletarian organisations can mean concretely is illustrated by the fact that of the 6 days set aside for the Hague Congress (2-7 September 1872), two whole days had to be devoted to controlling the mandates. In other words, it was not always clear which delegates really had a mandate and from whom. In a few cases it was not even clear if delegates were members of the organisation, or if the sections sending them actually existed.

Thus, Serrailler, the correspondent for France of the General Council, had never heard of the Marseilles sections which mandated an Alliance member.  

Nor had he ever received membership dues from them. "Moreover he has been informed that sections have recently been formed for the purpose of sending delegates to the Congress" (M+D P.124). The congress had to vote on whether these sections existed or not!

Finding itself in a minority at the Congress, the supporters of Bakunin tried in turn to contest different mandates, and thereby also waste time.

The Alliance member Alerini claimed that the authors of the "Pretended Splits" - i.e. the General Council - should be excluded. Their crime: defending the statutes of the organisation. The Alliance also wanted to violate the existing voting rules by forbidding General Council members from voting as delegates mandated by the sections.

Another enemy of the central organs, Mottershead "asks why Barry, who is not one of the leaders in England and carries no weight, has nevertheless been delegated to the Congress by a German section". Marx declared in reply that "it does credit to Barry that he is not one of the so-called leaders of the English workers, since these men are more or less bribed by the bourgeoisie and the government; attacks are made on Barry only because he refuses to be a tool in the hands of Hales" (M+D P.124). Hales and Mottershead supported the anti-organizational tendency in Britain.

Having no majority, the Alliance tried to make a putsch against the rules of the International in the middle of the congress - corresponding to their vision that rules were only there for others, not for the Bakuninist elite.

In proposal Number 4 to the congress, the Spanish Alliance put forward that only the votes of those delegates would count at the congress, which had an "imperative mandate" from their sections. The votes of the other delegates would only count after their sections had discussed and voted on the congress motions. As a result, the resolutions adopted would only come into force two months after the congress. (M+D P. 180).

This proposal was aimed at nothing less than the destruction of the Congress as the highest instance of the organisation.

Morago then announced" that the delegates from Spain have received definite instructions to abstain from voting until voting is carried out according to the number of electors represented by each delegate".

The reply of Lafargue was recorded in the minutes - "Lafargue states that although he is a delegate from Spain, he has not received such instructions". This reveals the essence of the functioning of the Alliance. Delegates of different sections, some of them claiming to have an "imperative" mandate from their sections, were in reality obeying the secret instructions of the Alliance, a hidden alternative leadership opposed to the General Council and to the statutes.

To enforce their strategy, the Alliance members proceeded to blackmail the Congress. Bakunin's right hand man, Guillaume, in face of the refusal of the congress to break its own rules to please the Spanish Bakuninists, "announces that from now on the Jura Federation will no longer take part in the voting" (M+D P.143).

Not stopping there, threats were also made to leave the congress.

In reply to this blackmail, "The Chairman explains that the Rules were made not by the General Council or by individual persons but by the IWA and its congresses, and that therefore anyone who attacks the Rules is attacking the IWA and its existence!".

As Engels pointed out "It is not our fault that the Spaniards are in the sad position of not being able to vote, nor is it the fault of the Spanish workers but of the Spanish Federal Council, which is composed of members of the Alliance" (M + D P. 142, 143).

Confronting the sabotage of the Alliance, Engels formulated the decision facing the Congress.

"We must decide whether the IWA is to continue to be managed on a democratic basis or ruled by a clique (cries and protests at the word "clique") organized secretly and in violation of the Rules" (M+D P.122)

"Ranvier protests against the threat made by Splingard, Guillaume and others to leave the hall, which only proves that it is they and not we who have pronounced in advance on the question under discussion; he wishes all the police agents in the world would thus take their departure" (M+D P. 129).

"If Morago says so much about possible despotism on the part of the General Council, he must realize that his and his comrades' way of speaking is most tyrannical since they want to force us to yield to them under the threat of their breaking away" (Intervention of Lafargue, M+D P.153).

The Congress also replied on the question of imperative mandates, which means turning the congress into a simple ballot box, where the delegations present the votes already taken. It would be cheaper not to hold the congress and send the votes by post. The congress is no longer the highest instance of the unity of the organisation, which reaches its decisions sovereignly, as a body.

"Serrailler says that he is not tied down here like Guillaume and his comrades, who have already made up their minds about everything in advance since they have accepted imperative mandates which oblige them to vote in a certain way or withdraw".

The true function of the "imperative mandate" in the Alliance strategy is revealed in Engels article "The Imperative Mandate and the Hague Congress".

"Why do the Alliancists, these flesh and blood enemies of every authoritarian principle, insist so doggedly on the authority of the imperative mandate? Because for a secret society such as theirs, existing in the midst of a public society such as the International, there is nothing more comfortable than an imperative

mandate. The mandate of their allies will all be identical. Those of the sections, which are not under the influence of the Alliance, or which rebel against it, will contradict each other, so that often the absolute majority, and always the relative majority will belong to the secret society; whereas at a congress without an imperative mandate, the common sense of the independent delegates will soon unite them to a common party against the party of the secret society. The imperative mandate is an extremely effective means of domination, and that is why the Alliance, despite all its Anarchism, supports its authority" .

The question of finances: the "sinews of war"

Since the finances, as the material basis of political work, are vital for the construction and defence of revolutionary organisation, it was inevitable that attacking these finances would be one of the main ways of undermining the International through political parasitism.

Before the Hague Congress, attempts were made to boycott or sabotage the paying of membership subscriptions to the General Council as required by the statutes. Referring to the policy of those who in the US sections revolted against the General Council, Marx declared: "The refusal to pay subscriptions, and even to pay for objects asked for by the section from the General Council, corresponded to the advice given by the Jura Federation, which said that if both America and Europe refused to pay subscriptions the General Council would fall of its own account" (M+D P. 47)

On the "rebel" Second Section in New York:

"Ranvier is of the opinion that the Regulations are being made into a toy. Section No. 2 has separated from the Federal Council, has fallen into lethargy, and, at the approach of the world congress, has wished to be represented at it and to protest against those who have been active. How, by the way, has this section regularized its position with the General Council? It only paid its subscriptions on August 26. Such conduct borders on comedy and is intolerable. These petty coteries, these sects, these groups independent of one another and having no common ties, resemble freemasonry and cannot be tolerated in the International" (M + D P.45)

The congress rightly insisted that only delegations of sections which had paid their dues could participate at the Congress.

Here is how Farga Pellicier "explained" the absence of the dues of the Spanish Alliancists. "As for the subscriptions, he will explain: the situation was difficult, they had to fight the bourgeoisie, and almost all the workers belong to trade unions. They aim at uniting all the workers against capital. The International is making great progress in Spain, but the struggle is costly. They have not paid their subscriptions, but they will do it".

In other words they are keeping the money of the organisation for themselves. Here is the reply of the treasurer of the International.

"Engels, secretary for Spain, finds it strange that the delegates arrive with money in their pockets and have not yet paid. At the London Conference all the delegates settled up immediately, and the Spaniards should have done the same here, for this was indispensable for the validation of their mandates" (M + D P. 128). Two pages on, we read in the minutes "Farga Pellicer finally rises and hands to the Chairman the treasury accounts and the subscriptions from the Spanish Federation except for the last quarter" i.e. the money they allegedly did not have.

Hardly surprising that the Alliance and its supporters, to weaken the organisation, then proposed the reduction of membership subscriptions. The proposal of the Congress was to increase them.

"Brismee is in favour of diminishing the subscriptions because the workers have to pay to their sections, to the federal council and it is very burdensome for them to give ten centimes a year to the General Council".

To this, Frankel replied in defence of the organisation.

"Frankel himself is a wage-worker and precisely he thinks that in the interest of the International the subscriptions absolutely must be increased. There are federations which only pay at the last minute and as little as possible. The council has not a sou in the treasury (...) Frankel is of the opinion that with the means of propaganda which an increase of subscriptions will allow, the divisions in the International would cease, and they would not exist today if the General Council had been able to send its emissaries to the different countries where these dissentions occurred" (M+D P. 95)

On this question the Alliance obtained a partial victory: the dues were left at the old rate.

Finally, the Congress firmly rejected the slanders of the Alliance and the bourgeois press on this question.

"Marx observed that whereas the members of the Council have been advancing their own money to pay the expenses of the International, calumniators have accused those members of living on the Council (...) of living on the pennies of the workers". "Lafargue says that the Jura Federation has been one of the mouthpieces of those calumnies" (M+D P.98, 169).

The defence of the General Council: at the heart of the defence of the International

"The General Council (...) places on the order of the day, as the most important questions to be discussed by the Congress of The Hague, the revision of the General Rules and Regulations" (General Councils resolution on the Agenda of the Hague Congress, M+D P. 23-24).

At the level of functioning, the central issue was the following modification of the general Rules:

"Article 2. The General Council is bound to execute the Congress Resolutions, and to take care that in every country the principles and the General Rules and Regulations of the International are strictly observed (...)

Article 6. The General Council has also the right to suspend Branches, Sections, Federal Councils or committees, and federations of the International, till the meeting of the next Congress" (Resolution Relative to the Administrative Regulations P. 283).

As opposed to this, the enemies of the development of the International sought to destroy its centralized unity. The pretence that this opposition was motivated by a "principled opposition to centralization" is disproved, as far as the Alliance is concerned, by its own secret statutes, where "centralization" is converted into the personal dictatorship of one man, "Citizen B" (Bakunin). Behind the Bakuninist love of federalism was the understanding that centralization was one of the main means through which the International resisted being destroyed, preventing itself from being carved up piece by piece. To the end of this "holy destruction" the Bakuninists mobilized the federalist prejudices of the petty bourgeois element inside the organisation.

"Brismee wants the rules to be discussed first, because it is possible that there might not be a General Council anymore and therefore no powers would be needed for it. The Belgians want no extension of the General Councils powers, on the contrary, they carne here to take away from it the crown which it usurped" (M+D P.141).

Sauva, USA: "His mandatories want the Council to be preserved, but first of all they want it to have no rights and that this sovereign should not have the right to give orders to its servants (laughter)".

The Congress rejected these attempts to destroy the unity of the organisation, adopting the enforcement of the General Council, thus giving a signal which marxists have followed to this day. As Hepner declared during the debate: 

"Yesterday evening two great ideas were mentioned: centralization and federation. The latter expressed itself in abstentionism, but this abstention from all political activity leads to the police station" (Statutes P. 160)

And Marx: "Sauva has changed his opinion since London. As regards authority, at London he was for the authority of the General Council (...) here he has defended the opposite" (M+D P.89)

"Marx says that in discussing the powers of the Council it is not us, but the institution. Marx has stated that he would rather vote for the abolition of the Council than for a council which would be only a letterbox" (M+D P.73).

Against the stirring up of the petty bourgeois fears of "dictatorship" by the Bakuninists, Marx argued.

"But whether we grant the General Council the rights of a Negro prince or of the Russian tsar, its power is illusory as soon as the General Council ceases to express the will of the majority of the IWA. The General Council has no army, no budget, it is only a moral force, and it will always be powerless if it has not the support of the whole Association" (P. 154)

The Congress also made the link between the other major change in the statutes which it adopted, that on the need for a political class party, and the question of proletarian principles of functioning. This link is the struggle against "anti-authoritarianism" as a weapon both against the party and against party discipline.

"Here we have talk against authority: we also are against excesses of any kind, but a certain authority, a certain prestige will always be necessary to provide cohesion in the party. It is logical that such anti-authoritarians have to abolish also the federal councils, the federations, the committees and even the sections, because authority is exercised to a greater or lesser degree by all of them; they must establish absolute anarchy everywhere, that is, they must turn the militant International into a petty bourgeois party in a dressing gown and slippers. How can one object to authority after the Commune? We German workers at least are convinced that the Commune fell largely because it did not exercise enough authority!" (M+D P. 161).

The inquiry into the Alliance

On the last day of the Congress, the report of the commission to investigate the Alliance was presented and discussed.

Cuno declares: "It is absolutely indisputable that there have been intrigues inside the Association; lies, calumnies and treachery have been proved, the commission has carried out a superhuman job, having sat for 13 hours running today. Now it seeks a vote of confidence by the acceptance of the demands set forth in the report". 

In fact the work of the investigation Commission appointed was enormous throughout the Congress. A mountain of documents had been examined. A series of witnesses were called to give evidence on different aspects of the question. Engels read out the General Council's report on the Alliance. Significantly one of the documents presented by the General Council to the Commission was the "General Rules of the International Working Men's Association after the Geneva Congress, 1866". This fact illustrates that the problem menacing the International was not the existence of political divergences, which can be dealt with normally in the framework laid down by the statutes, but systematic violations of the statutes themselves. Trampling on die organizational class principles of the proletariat always constitutes a mortal danger for the existence and reputation of communist organisations. The presentation of the secret statutes of the Alliance by the General Council was proof enough that this was the case here.

The commission elected by the Congress did not take its job lightly. The documentation of its work is as lengthy as all the other documents of the Congress put together. The longest of these documents. Utin's report, commissioned by the London Conference the previous year, contains almost 100 pages. At the end, the Hague Congress commissioned the publication of an even longer report the famous "Alliance of Socialist Democracy and the International Working Men's Association". Revolutionary organisations, having nothing to hide from the proletariat have always wanted to inform the proletariat on such questions to the extent that the security of the organisation permits.

The Commission established without doubt that Bakunin had dissolved and refounded the Alliance at least three times in order to deceive the International, that it was a secret organisation within the Association working against the statutes behind the back of the organisation, aiming at taking over or destroying that body.

The Commission also recognised the irrational, esoteric character of this formation.

"It is obvious from the whole organisation that there are three different grades, some of which lead the others by the nose. The whole affair seems to be so exalted and eccentric that the whole Commission is constantly rolling with mirth. This kind of mysticism is generally considered as insanity. The greatest absolutism is manifested in the whole organisation" ("Minutes of the Commission to Investigate the Alliance". M+D P. 339).

The work of the Commission was hampered by different factors. One was the absence of Bakunin himself from the Congress. After declaring beforehand in his loud-mouth manner that he would come to the Congress to defend his honour, he preferred to leave his defence to his disciples. But he gave then a strategy to follow, aimed at sabotaging the investigations. Firstly, his followers refused to divulge anything about the Alliance or secret societies in general "for security reasons", as if their activities had been aimed against the bourgeoisie and not against the Alliance, Guillaume repeated what he had already defended at the Swiss Romance congress of April 1970: "Every member of the International has the full and complete right to join any secret society, even the Freemasons. Any inquiry into a secret society would simply be equivalent to a denunciation to the police" (Nicolaievsky: Karl Marx, P.387)

Secondly, the written imperative mandate to the Jura delegates for the Congress stipulated that "the Jura delegates will eliminate all personal questions and will hold discussions in that field only when they are forced to do so, proposing to the congress oblivion of the past and for the future the election of courts of honour, which will have to take a decision every time an accusation is levelled against a member of the International" (M + D P. 325).

This is a document of political evasion. The clarification of the role of Bakunin as the leader of a plot against the International is dismissed as a personal question, not a political one. Investigations should be reserved "for the future" and take the form of a permanent institution to settle squabbles in the way of a bourgeois court. A proletarian investigation commission or court of honour are completely emasculated.

Thirdly, the Alliance poses as the "victim" of the organisation. Guillaume contests the "General Council's power to establish an Inquisition over the International" (M+D P. 84). He affirms "the whole process is to kill the so-called minority, in reality the majority (...) it is the federalist principle which is being condemned here" (p. I72).

"Alerini is of the opinion that the commission has only moral convictions and no material proofs; he was a member of the Alliance and proud of it (...) But you are a holy Inquisition; we demand a public investigation and conclusive, tangible proofs" (P. 170).

The Congress appointed a sympathizer of Bakunin, Splingard, as member of the commission. This Splingard had to admit that the Alliance had existed as a secret society within the International, even if he did not understand the function of the commission. He saw his role as a kind of "lawyer defending Bakunin" (who however should have been old enough to defend himself), rather than part of a collective body of investigation.

"Marx says that Splingard behaved in the Commission like an advocate of the Alliance, not as an impartial judge".

Marx and Lucain replied to the other accusation that there are "no proof".

Splingard "knows quite well that Marx gave all those documents to Engels. The Spanish Federal Council itself provided proofs and he (Marx) adduced others from Russia but cannot divulge the name of the sender; in this matter in general the commission has given its word of honour not to divulge anything of what is dealt with, in particular any names; its decision on this question is unshakable".

Lucain "asks whether they must wait until the Alliance has disrupted and disorganized the International and then come forward with proofs. But we refuse to wait so long, we attack evil where we see it because such is our duty" (P. 171).

The Congress strongly supported the conclusions of its Commission, except for the Bakuninist minority. In reality, the commission demanded only 3 expulsions, Bakunin, Guillaume and Schwitzguebel. Only the first two were accepted by the Congress. So much for the legend about the International wanting to eliminate an uncomfortable minority by disciplinary means! As opposed to what anarchists and councilists claim, proletarian organisations have no necessity of such measures; they have no fear of, but a complete interest in total political clarification through debate. And they expel members only in very exceptional cases of grave indiscipline and disloyalty. As Johannard said at The Hague "expulsion from the IWA is the worst and most dishonourable sentence that can be passed on a man; such a man could never belong to an honourable society again" (P. 171).

The parasitic front against the International

We will not deal here with the other dramatic decision of the Congress, the transfer of the General Council from London to New York. The motive behind the proposition was the fact that although the Bakuninists had been defeated, the General Council in London would have fallen into the hands of another sect, the Blanquists. The latter, refusing to recognize the international reflux of the class struggle which the defeat of the Paris Commune had caused, risked destroying the workers' movement in a series of pointless barricade confrontations. In fact, whereas Marx and Engels hoped at that time to bring the General Council back to Europe later, the defeat in Paris marked the beginning of the end of the First International (see part 2 of our series).

Instead, we will conclude this article with one of the great historic achievements of the Hague Congress. This achievement, which posterity mostly ignored or completely misunderstood (e.g. by Franz Mehring in his biography of Marx), was the identification of the role of political parasitism against workers' organisations.

The Hague Congress showed that Bakunin's Alliance did not act alone, but was the coordinating centre of a parasitic opposition to the workers' movement supported by the bourgeoisie.

One of the main allies of the Alliance in its fight against the International was the group around Woodhull and West in America, who were hardly "anarchists".

"West's mandate is signed by Victoria Woodhull, who has been intriguing for years already to become president of the United States, is president of the spiritualists, preaches free love, has a banking business etc". It "issued the notorious appeal to the English speaking citizens of the United States in which all kinds of nonsense were ascribed to the IWA and on the basis of which various similar sections were formed in the country. Among other things the appeal mentioned personal freedom, social freedom (free love), manner of dressing, women's franchise, a world language etc (...) They place the women's question before the workers question and refuse to recognize that the IWA is a workers organisation" (Intervention of Marx P. 133).

The connection of these elements to international parasitism was revealed by Sorge.

"Section No.12 received the correspondence of the Jura Federation and the Universal Federalist Council in London with the greatest pleasure. Section No.12 was always carrying on intrigues furtively and importuning to obtain the supreme leadership of the IWA, it even published and interpreted to its own benefit the General Council's decisions which were not in its favour. Later it excommunicated the French Communists and German atheists. Here we demand discipline and submission not to persons, but to the principle, to the organisation; to win over America we absolutely need the Irish and they will never be on our side if we do not break off all connections with Section No. 12 and the 'free lovers '" (P. 136).

This international coordination of attacks against the International, with the Bakuninists at the centre, was further clarified in the discussion.

"Le Moussu reads from the Bulletin de la Federation Jurassienne a reproduction of a letter addressed to him by the Spring Street Council in reply to the order suspending Section No.12" concluding "in favour of the formation of a new Association by uniting dissident elements in Spain, Switzerland, and London. Thus, not content with disregarding the authority which the General Council holds from Congress and instead of deferring their grievances, as the Rules lay down, until today, these individuals, intending to form a new society, openly break with the International".

"Le Moussu draws the attention of the Congress to the coincidence between the attacks on the General Council and its members made by the Jura Federation's bulletin and those made by its sister federation published by Messrs. Vesinier and Landeck, the latter paper having been exposed as a mouthpiece of the police and its editors expelled as police agents from the Refugees' Society of the Commune in London. The aim of this falsification is to represent the Commune members on the General Council as admirers of the Bonapartist regime, while the other members, these wretches keep on insinuating, are Bismarckists, as if the real Bonapartists and Bismarckians were not those who, like all these hack-writers of all the various federations, trail along behind the bloodhounds of all governments to insult the true champions of the proletariat. That is why I say to these vile insulters: You are worthy henchmen of the Bismarck, Bonapartist and Thierist police" (P. 50, 51).

On the link between the Alliance and Landeck: "Dereure informs the Congress that hardly an hour earlier Alerini told him that he (Alerini) was an intimate friend of Landeck, who was known as a police spy in London" (P. 472).

German parasitism, in the form of Lassalleans expelled from the German Workers' Educational Association in London, were also linked to this intemational parasitic network via the above mentioned Universal Federalist Council in London, where they collaborated with other enemies of the workers' movement such as French radical Freemasons and Italian Mazzinists.

"The Bakuninist Party in Germany was the General Association of German Workers under Schweitzer, and the latter was finally unmasked as a police agent" (Intervention of Hepner P. 160).

The congress also showed the collaboration between the Swiss Bakuninists and the British reformists of the British Federation under Hales.

In reality, apart from infiltrating and manipulating degenerated sects which had once belonged to the working class, the bourgeoisie also set up organisations of its own to oppose the International. The Philadelphians, and Mazzinians, located in London, attempted to take over the General Council directly, but were defeated when their members were removed from the General Council subcommittee in September 1865.

"The principle enemy of the Philadelphians, the man who prevented the First International from becoming a front for their activities, was Karl Marx" (Nicolaevsky: Secret Societies and the First International P. 52). The direct link claimed by Nicolaevsky between this milieu and the Bakuninists, is more than probable, given their open identification with the methods and organisations of Freemasonry.

The destructive activity of this milieu was continued by the terrorist provocations of the secret society of Felix Pyat, the "Republican Revolutionary Commune". This group, having been excluded and publicly condemned by the International, continued to operate in its name, constantly attacking the General Council.

In Italy, for instance, the bourgeoisie set up a Societa Universale dei Razionalisti under Stefanoni to combat the International in that country. Its paper published the lies of Vogt and the German Lassalleans against Marx, and ardently defended Bakunin's Alliance.

The goal of this network of pseudo-revolutionaries was to "calumniate members of the International in a way which made the bourgeois papers, whose vile inspirers they are, blush with shame, that is what they call appealing to the workers to unite" (Intervention of Duval P. 99).

This was why the vital necessity to defend the organisation against all these attacks was at the heart of the interventions of Marx at this congress, whose vigilance and determination must guide us today in face of similar attacks.

"Anyone who smiles sceptically at the mention of police sections must know that such sections were formed in France, Austria and elsewhere, and the General Council received a request from Austria not to recognize any section which was not founded by delegates of the General Council or the organisation there. Vesinier and his comrades, whom the French refugees recently expelled, are naturally for the Jura Federation (...) Individuals like Vesinier, Landeck and others, in my opinion, form first a federal council, and then a federation and sections; agents of Bismarck could do the same, therefore the General Council must have the right to dissolve or suspend a federal council or a federation (...) In Austria, brawlers, Ultramontanes, Radicals and provocateurs form sections in order to discredit the IWA; in France a police commissary formed a section" (P.154-154).

"There was a case for suspending a federal council in New York; it may be that in other countries secret societies wish to get influence over federal councils, they must be suspended. As for the facility to form federations freely, as Vesinier, Landeck and a German police informer did, it cannot exist. Monsieur Thiers makes himself the lackey of all governments against the International, and the Council must have the power to remove all corrosive elements (...) Your expressions of anxiety are only tricks, because you belong to those societies which act in secret and are the most authoritarian" (P. 47-45).


In the fourth and last part of this series, we will deal with Bakunin the political adventurer, drawing general lessons from the history of the workers' movement.


Political currents and reference: 

Development of proletarian consciousness and organisation: