The First Socialist Schism: Bakunin vs. Marx in the International Working Men's Association

The First Socialist Schism: Bakunin vs. Marx in the International Working Men's Association


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The First Socialist Schism chronicles the conflicts in the International Working Men’s Association (First International, 1864–1877), which represents an important milestone in the history of political ideas and socialist theory. The separate movements in the International—which would later develop into social democracy, communism, and anarchism—found their greatest advocates in Mikhail Bakunin and Karl Marx. What made the conflict between Bakunin and Marx so important was that it heralded the first socialist schism between parliamentary party politics aiming to conquer political power and social-revolutionary concepts. Instead of focusing exclusively on what Marx and Bakunin said, many other contributions to this debate are examined, making this the first reconstruction of a dispute that gripped the entire organization. This book also provides the first detailed account of the International’s Congress of The Hague (September, 1872), famous for the expulsion of Bakunin; including the background, the sequence of events, and international reaction. The book sets new standards when it comes to source material, taking into account documents from numerous archives and libraries that have previously gone unnoticed or were completely unknown.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781629630427
Publisher: PM Press
Publication date: 09/01/2016
Pages: 624
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Wolfgang Eckhardt works for the Library of the Free (Bibliothek der Freien) in Berlin and has been actively researching anarchism since the 1990s. His publications include the German-language Bakunin Selected Works series, of which six volumes have been published so far under his editorship (1995–2011).

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The First Socialist Schism

Bakunin vs. Marx in the International Working Men's Association

By Wolfgang Eckhardt, Robert M. Homsi, Jesse Cohn, Cian Lawless, Nestor McNab, Bas Moreel

PM Press

Copyright © 2016 Wolfgang Eckhardt
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62963-308-4


Bakunin, Marx, and Johann Philipp Becker

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

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

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

The Alliance 'request' by Johann Philipp Becker (November 1868)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Alliance joins the International (February–July 1869)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Excerpted from The First Socialist Schism by Wolfgang Eckhardt, Robert M. Homsi, Jesse Cohn, Cian Lawless, Nestor McNab, Bas Moreel. Copyright © 2016 Wolfgang Eckhardt. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

1 Bakunin, Marx, and Johann Philipp Becker 1

The Alliance 'request' Johann Philipp Becker (November 1868)

The Alliance joins the International (February-July 1869)

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

2 The International in Geneva and in the Jura Region 9

The International in Jura (February-May 1869)

3 The Basel Congress of the International 19

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

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

4 Marx's 'communications' concerning Bakunin 35

Bakunin's defence by Eugene Him (January 1870)

The 'Confidential Communication' to German social democrats (March 1870)

5 The Romance Federation split 47

La Chaux-de-Fonds Congress (April 1870)

Marx's third 'communication' regarding Bakunin (April 1870)

The General Council's decision (June 1870)

The international response and the International's next congress (April-August 1870)

6 Fixing the International's course 67

Bakunin's second strategy: cautious criticism of Marx

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

Marx and pluralism within the International

7 The London Conference 85

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

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

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

The Sonvillier Circular 101

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

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

9 The International in Italy 121

Reaction of the International in Italy (until January 1872)

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

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

10 The International in Spain 153

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

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

Paul Lafargue goes to Spain

11 Lafargue's activities in Spain 179

Lafargue and the Emancipation's contact with the Republican Party (January to March 1872)

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

Bakunin's letters to Mora and Lorenzo (April-May 1872)

12 The Belgian rules project and the Fictitious Splits 197

Fictitious Splits in the International by Marx and Engels

Bakunin's third strategy: open criticism of Marx

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

Cafiero's reckoning with Engels (12-19 June 1872)

13 Convening the Congress of The Hague 227

Boycott or participation?

14 The factional divide in the Spanish International 243

The Alianza fracas

Engels' attacks against the Alianza (July-August 1872)

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

15 The eve of the Congress of the Hague 283

The opposition

Delegate mandates from the United States and Germany

The French and General Council delegate mandates

16 The Congress of The Hague: the mandate commission and the commission to investigate the Alliance 303

The verification of the mandates

The voting procedure and the commission to investigate the Alliance

The story behind Bakunin's translation of Capital

17 The revisions to the Rules, the transfer of the General Council and the 'Minority Declaration' 331

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

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

18 The Congresses of St. Imier, Brussels, and Córdoba 353

The downfall of the Congress of The Hague's majority

The Brussels Congress (December 1872)

The Córdoba Congress (December 1872)

Bakunin and the Congress of The Hague

19 The Geneva Congresses and the disastrous New York General Council 379

Reactions in Belgium, Spain, and Italy

The split of the English International

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

The General Council's congress (8-13 September 1873)

20 Politics and historical narratives 407

The pamphlet 'L'Alliance'

The Mémoire of the Jura Federation


Bibliography 421

Notes 441

Index 579

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