Sixty Years in the Social-Democratic Movement
In 1864, the old “League of Communists” revived in a different shape, and under the name of the “International Workingmen’s Association.” The idea of an international association of workmen originated at the second London Universal Exhibition, in 1862. At that time working men from all civilised countries met in London to take into consideration the measures to be adopted to bring about an improvement in the condition of the working classes. Two years passed, however, before this idea took a practical shape. The immediate inducement for founding the International was given by the Polish Revolution of 1863. At that time Poles were far more liked by people of Western Europe than they are to-day. In every Pole people saw a champion of liberty. The suppression of the Polish Revolution was universally regretted. In April, 1864, a meeting of English workmen took place at St. James’s Hall, London, in order to influence public opinion in favour of the Poles, and to exercise pressure in their favour upon Lord Palmerston, then head of the English Government. To this meeting the French workmen also sent a deputation. After the meeting a committee of English workmen was formed, which sent an address of fraternity to their French comrades. The reply to this address was to be delivered by a French deputation, which was to be welcomed at a public meeting in London. The English committee invited also the “Communistische Arbeiterbildungsverein” to this meeting, and at the same time expressed a wish that Marx should attend this international fraternisation of the working men. The “Communistische Arbeiterbildungsverein” sent me to Marx. I informed him of the wish of the English workmen, and after some inquiries as to the conveners and the object of the meeting, Marx consented to come.
As arranged, the meeting took place on September 28th. Mr. Beesly, professor at the London University, and a follower of Comte, took the chair. There were present Englishmen, Germans, French, Poles, and Italians. The report of this memorable meeting was as follows:—
Professor Beesly opened the meeting with an address, received with enthusiasm. He said: “We are present to receive a deputation of French workmen. I hope this meeting will contribute towards strengthening the feeling of fraternity among the working men of the world. A fraternal association between England and France would protect and maintain the liberties of the people. The English Government is as bad as the Continental Powers. England has committed wrongs against Spain, China, Japan, and India. Everywhere the English Government has behaved cowardly and unjustly. Lay aside, my friends, those egotistical feelings, marked by the expression of patriotism, and act always according to your feelings of right and justice.”
After that the Germans sang some songs, which were received with great applause. Then the addresses of the English and French working men were read. In both declarations, the social revolutionary idea found strong expression. At last a provisional Central Council (later on called the General Council) was elected, to which Marx belonged from the first. At the second meeting of the Central Council I was proposed and elected a member. In the third session the Italians submitted the first draft of an inauguration address, composed by Mazzini. Marx also submitted a draft, which was unanimously accepted, whilst that of Mazzini was rejected.
At the meetings of the Central Council of the year 1865, besides the question of organisation and the Labour question, the situation of the Poles was also discussed. Marx was a great friend of the Poles. He never tired of telling us of the importance of a free and independent Poland. Not less intense were his sympathies for the Irish. The International had especially aroused public opinion in England against the vile treatment the Irish prisoners had to undergo in English prisons. The English Government was forced to alleviate the fate of these political “criminals.” Generally Marx endeavoured to draw into our discussions all the greater political questions, and to enable the working men to “penetrate into the mysteries of international politics and to watch the diplomatic coups of the Governments.”
At one of the meetings of the Central Council it was agreed to hold the first Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association at Brussels in September, 1865. As the Belgian Government threatened expulsion and punishment, the Central Council called a conference in London. This conference was attended, among others, by J. Ph. Becker, from Geneva, and Cæsar de Paepe, from Brussels. I had not made the acquaintance of either before then. Becker was of striking, manly appearance; De Paepe was insignificant looking, scarcely of middle height, and slender, but of an active mind, and of great intellect. When I made the acquaintance of Paepe he was still a Proudhonist. At the London Conference the chief business was to decide what questions were to be discussed at the General Congress, which was to take place at Geneva. Among these questions, the position of the International Workingmen’s Association regarding religion especially called forth a lively debate. Marx proposed to discuss the religious question at the next Congress, its relation to the social, political, and intellectual development of the people. This proposal, strongly opposed by two English delegates, was finally accepted against the protest of a strong minority.
In the beginning of 1866 the movement for English franchise reform started. The International assisted this movement by all available means. Towards the end of February a conference for Franchise Reform took place in London, attended by 200 English and Irish delegates. At this conference the General Council was represented by some Englishmen, also Eccarius and myself. The agitation lasted for two years, until the English Government was compelled to extend the franchise to the town workers.
In the spring, 1866, a great tailors’ strike broke out, in which I took part as a workman and leader.
At the outbreak of the war between the Prussian and Austrian dynasties, in which the German people had to pay the costs, this question often occupied us in public meetings. The debates held on this occasion can be condensed into the sentence—we want neither Prussia nor Austria, but a free Germany.
At the same time we received an appeal of the Paris students to their colleagues in Germany and in Italy. This appeal was worded thus:—
APPEAL OF THE PARIS STUDENTS TO THE STUDENTS OF GERMANY AND ITALY.
Brothers! In both countries you have the expectation of war. Young Italy and Young Germany are making preparations against each other. It is with deep regret that we as young Frenchmen notice this movement. Our generation is destined to fulfil a task, which is the hope of mankind, and requires the consolidation of all our forces. This task you seem not to fully understand.
German and Italian brothers, who draw swords against each other with threatening looks, tell us what are the feelings and opinions that separate you. Only one hatred glows in our hearts. What hatred? Is it not the hatred against oppression? What do we love best in the world? What do we want to realise in society? Liberty and Justice! Do not ask further; surely we all agree. It is madness to attack each other. Brothers, you are the victims of an old-fashioned, despicable policy which has instigated nations to mutual slaughter for thousands of years under the silly pretext of national interest and differences of race.
Nationalities, countries, differences of races, balance of powers—all big words that have always served as a mask for the ambition and pride of some oppressors. Wars of this kind have been waged since civilisation began. What have they effected? Torrents of blood have been shed. And what have the people won?
Brothers, the time has come to shake off all these murderous prejudices. Let us separate ourselves from this old world that is doomed to ruin.
Italians, Germans, Frenchmen! Long enough have we fought for the glory of these empty titles. Away with them! Let us recognise that we are simply men. If we accept only one guide—reason, we acknowledge only one country—mankind. Whosoever means to be free, whosoever is willing to go with us on the way to revolution, he is our countryman; and the violators of liberty, they who for ever mean to doom people to slavery, to ignorance, and to misery, are our only foes.
Brethren of Germany and Italy! Against these foes it is that we have to wage war, merciless war, without mercy or cessation. We urge you to take your share in this war. This is our sacred task, the task of the nineteenth century.
Onward, united! For this war will be the first from the beginning of human society that deserves well of mankind; and it will be the last of all wars. For if oppression is destroyed, social justice realised, who, then, would think of fighting against each other? Their plain interest is not in these hideous fights, but in peace, in harmony, and fraternity.
(Here follow the names).
To this appeal the working men on the General Council answered as follows:—
THE WORKMEN OF ALL COUNTRIES TO THE STUDENTS OF PARIS AND THE STUDENTS AND YOUNG MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES.
Students of Paris! We have heard your earnest appeal, which you have addressed to your brothers in Germany and Italy. Our hearts have been filled with joy. They had told us the magnificent youth of learning was dead, which before had always been ready to fight for right and justice. No, it is not dead; it moves as steadily as ever in the path of the revolution.
To you, who in the midst of frenzy that carries away the Governments to set nation against nation for mutual slaughter; to you, who have had the courage to proclaim words of peace and concord, we say:—
We, in common with you, curse the war, for we have to bear the burden; we have to pay for it; and men of our class are butchered by the thousands on the battlefields.
We, the disinherited of to-day, that bear the burdens; we, who produce the riches, and enjoy nothing of them, appeal to your hearts.
Students of medicine! You know better than others our sufferings, for you see us in the hospitals—our whole reward for a life of privations and loathsome work.
Students of law! You know how they stop our endeavours by laws, and hinder our organisation.
Students of philosophy, who have freed yourselves from all superstitions by science, remember the exertions it has cost you to reach this result. Can we workmen, who have to work without cessation, make more efforts to raise ourselves to this intellectual height?
Young men, who are obliged to earn your livelihood like ourselves, best know what miserable work our daily bread costs us.
We also have, like you, our Congress. It will be held on September 3rd, at Geneva.
We shall examine together the horrible wound that rots our flesh; we will look for a cure and remedy at all costs.
You are still young; old age has not yet chilled your noble feelings. You are the hope of the future. Therefore, we ask you: come into our midst, join hands with us. You shall light us with the candle of science, and we will show you the secrets of work. Thus we shall learn to know and to love each other.
The poor have no country. In all countries the same ills oppress them; therefore they understand that the partition walls the rulers have raised between the nations in order to better enslave them must fall for ever. It is this class, young men, the working class, that shall realise the dream of Anacharsis Cloots, the speaker of mankind; it is the working class that shall found the great confederation of nations. Come, then, and help us to fulfil the great work of our century.
It is the Social Revolution, which we expect and desire with all our might, that must be accomplished. Then man will not only be master of his person, but also of his work, for the privileged will then have sunk to insignificance, and the parasites of labour will have disappeared from the world. Then workers only shall be honoured, peace will reign on earth, and the union of mankind shall be established.
(Signed)—Dupont (Toolmaker), Dutton (Saddler), Eccarius (Tailor), Jung (Watchmaker), Lessner (Tailor), Marco (Umbrella Maker), etc.
At the first Congress of the International, which took place at Geneva, in September, 1866, I was not present. All the other Congresses I attended as delegate.
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