International Workingmen’s Association 1866
Paul Lafargue 1866
Source: MECW, Volume 20, p. 406;
Written: by Paul Lafargue before the 12 June, 1866;
First published: in La Rive Gauche, June 17, 1866;
Translated: from the French.
At the end of 1865, Paul Lafargue was expelled from the Medical Faculty of Paris University for his political statements against the regime of the Second Empire. He soon took an active part in the work of the International and on March 6, 1866 was elected member of the Central Council. As a contributor to the newspaper La Rive Gauche, Lafargue wrote for it a survey of the progress of the International Working Men’s Association, drawing on Marx’s oral information and probably on material received from him. ‘File survey was first read out at a Central Council meeting on June 12, 1866. La Rive Gauche of June 17, 1866 published it together with the French translation of the Inaugural Address of the Association made by Charles Longuet at Marx’s request.
The International Working Men’s Association was founded at a meeting on September 28, 1864 in St. Martin’s Hall, London. This meeting was attended by representatives of the principal European nations (Germany, Poland, Switzerland, France, Belgium and Italy). The election took place of a provisional Central Committee charged with the tasks of editing the manifesto, drawing up the regulations and establishing branches throughout Europe.
Our present wish, in advance of the [Geneva] Congress is to give an account of what has been achieved to all the members of the Association, as well as to those who have not yet joined.
A large number of the English working men’s societies* have accepted the principles of the International Association and are affiliated to it (the society of bricklayers, the shoemakers, the cabinet-makers, the tailors, etc.)...
[The reader should remember that the English working class is partly organised. Indeed its societies (trade-unions) comprise all the members of a singular industry. Some of these societies contain a considerable number of men; the shoemakers, for example, number around 30,000 members.]
At the present time the societies of the carpenters, coopers, joiners, etc., are ready to become members.
The reform movement has absorbed the entire attention of the working class for a moment and the entire activity of the Central Council. But for some time past deputations from the Central Council have been sent to all the working men’s societies in order to acquaint them with its principles and to invite them to join. These deputations have everywhere been warmly received.
In London the Central Council has established a newspaper, The Commonwealth, which has become its official organ.
A German branch and a French branch of the International Association have been formed.
But its greatest title to public attention is that it has awakened and sustained in the English working class the consciousness of its own political power, a consciousness that had been lost since the reaction of 1848, as was pointed out in the Inaugural Address. The stimulus it has provided in this respect has been so great that the society of shoemakers has deleted from its statutes the clause which forbade it to concern itself with politics; the society of masons is in the process of doing likewise.
It is the International Association which induced the workers to persevere in their anti-slavery policy (luring the American War. The International was one of the first to send a message of congratulations to Lincoln on his re-election. Lincoln replied and strongly urged the members of the Association to continue its campaign for union and harmony.
The Association has taken the initiative in the movement of the Reform League. After the first meeting of the reformists an organisational and agitational committee was set up. It was composed of 27 members, 24 of whom belonged to the Central Council, and it was these who called for universal suffrage . At a time when the entire English press clapped its hands and applauded the government’s treatment of the Fenians, The Commonwealth was alone in venturing to raise its voice in their defence. The Central Council even sent a request to the Secretary of State to be granted an interview with the Minister in order to plead for better treatment for the prisoners. The request was refused.
The International Association has latterly achieved a success which has modified the attitude of the press towards it. The journeymen tailors had been locked out by their employers, who immediately sent agents to the Continent to recruit workers to replace them. The Central Council warned its correspondents, who managed, either by word of mouth or through the press, to thwart the plans of the employers. However, a certain number of German workers, who originated in towns where the International Association has no members, did arrive in Edinburgh. Two of their compatriots were dispatched to meet them and on their return they were able to report to the Central Council, announcing the workers’ departure, which in fact took place a few days later.
[In England, the employers as well as the workers go on strike. They close their workshops and set their wretched employees out on the street. This is what is happening at the moment in Sheffield where the workers in the woollen industry are without work and all the other societies have come to their aid.
At the request of Odger, its President, the Central Council intends to discuss the question of the war and will call a large meeting of workers to sound out popular feeling.]
It is above all in Switzerland that the International Association has experienced the most rapid growth and has achieved some positive results. It has established branches in almost all the towns o Switzerland: Geneva, Lausanne, Vevey, Montreux, La Chauxde-Fonds, St.-Imier, Sonvillier, Porrentry, Bienne, Basle, Zurich, Aubonne, Wetzibonne, etc.
The International Association is the owner of three newspapers, two written in French, the Voix de l'Avenir and the Journal de l'Association Internationale, and one in German, Der Vorbote. All the Swiss papers have put their publicity at the service of the Association.
In Lausanne the members of the Association undertook work for the state last winter, earning around 24,000 francs, with the aim of providing workers with work during the idle season. The workshop, managed by the workers themselves and without the participation of any employer, was a source of astonishment to visitors and the municipal authorities. The Association has set up a bank known as the Caisse du credit mutuel with a capital of 20,000 frs divided into shares of 5 francs each. – A workers’ circle has been created.
In La Chaux-de-Fonds a bakers’ co-operative has been established and a butchers’ co-operative has been announced. Hardly had the bakery been started when the bakers lowered the price of bread to 16 centimes a pound. Nor has the project of the butchers’ co-operative failed to have an impact on the price of meat; the butchers have already reduced it by 9 centimes.
In Geneva a consumers’ society is being formed. In Offenbach it has been decided to create funds for the construction of workers’ homes, on the lines of the familistère [a workers’ community based on Fourierist principles] of Guise, near Paris.
The International Association in Germany, as in France, has not been able to develop very far, owing to the absence of freedom! Nevertheless it has succeeded in forming branches in Leipzig, Hamburg, Hanover, Mainz, Berlin, Pelewodau, Lulingen, Langenbielau, Puilberg, Wult, Eudorf, etc.
With the approach of war [the Austro-Prussian war of 1866], greater freedom has been allowed and so the Association is now better able to prosper. All the chief leaders of the German working-class movement have accepted its principles and are actively engaged in propagating them.
The International Association has branches in a number of towns: Paris, Lyons, Bordeaux, Caen, Neufchâteau, Argentau, Rennes, Rouen, Grandville, etc., etc.
Although little developed as yet, it has rendered a service to the working class of Lyons. The tulle workers were on strike and were about to give in because their bosses had threatened to bring in English workers who, it was alleged, were paid less. The workers asked for information and the Central Council replied that the opposite was the case. So they persevered and obtained their demands.
Several branches have been established in Brussels, Antwerp, Liege, Verviers, Ghent, Namur, Patignies, etc. The society known as Le Peuple is federated with the International Association, and its organ, the Tribune du Peuple, now belongs to the Association.
In the Belgian Reform movement, it is the Association that has exercised the greatest influence and through its numerous meetings it has succeeded in focussing reformist aspirations unequivocally on the issue of universal suffrage.
Hitherto Italy has been preoccupied with the questions of unity and has not been able to devote much thought to social problems. However the Central Committee of all the Italian workers’ societies has accepted the principles of the International Association and has undertaken to promote its ideas. Branches already exist in Genoa, Milan, etc.
The Association is in communication with New York and a number of towns in Massachusetts.
308 A mass meeting of electoral reformers held in St. Martin’s Hall, London, on February, 23, 1865 proclaimed the foundation of the Reform League.
The League’s leading bodies – the Council and the Executive Committee – included the Central Council members, mainly trade-union leaders. The League’s programme was drafted under Marx’s influence. Unlike the bourgeois parties, which confined their demand to household suffrage, the League advanced the demand for manhood suffrage. This revived Chartist slogan secured it the support of the trade unions, hitherto indifferent to politics. The League had branches in all the big industrial cities. However, the vacillations of the radicals in its leadership and the conciliation of the trade-union leaders prevented the League Iron] following the line charted by the Central (General) Council of the International. The British bourgeoisie succeeded in splitting the movement and a moderate reform was carried out in 1867 which granted franchise only to the petty bourgeoisie and the upper layers of the working class.
A special committee was formed, in which the Central Council members were in the majority (15 out of 29; Lafargue’s figures are incorrect), to negotiate with the radicals about a joint campaign for electoral reform and the organisational structure of the League.
309 On February 20, 1866 the Central Council of the International discussed the harsh treatment of the Irish political prisoners in the Pentonville prison. The facts about this treatment penetrated into the opposition papers and were communicated to Peter Fox, a Central Council member, by, the wife of the condemned Fenian leader, O'Donovan Rossa. The Council resolved to send a delegation to the Home Secretary George Grey demanding the mitigation of the prison regime. When Grey refused to receive the delegation the Council decided on March 6, 1866 to make all the available material public. A document exposing the British authorities was drawn up by Fox and published with the signature of the Council’s President, George Odger, in The Commonwealth, No. 157, March 10. 1866, under. the heading “The Irish State Prisoners. Sir George Grey and the International Working Men’s Association”.
The Fenians’ first organisations appeared in the 1850s in the USA among the Irish immigrants and later in Ireland itself. The secret Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood, as the organisation was known in the 1860s, aimed at establishing an independent Irish republic by means of an armed uprising.
The Fenians, who represented the interests of the Irish peasantry, came mainly from the urban petty bourgeoisie and intelligentsia. They adhered to conspiracy tactics. The British government sought to suppress the Fenian movement by severe police reprisals. In September 1865 it arrested several leaders of the movement, including the editors of the banned newspaper The Irish People, Thomas Clarke Luby, John O'Leary, and Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, and sentenced them to long terms of imprisonment (O'Donovan Rossa for life). The Central Council of the International came out in defence of the arrested Fenians. In particular, on January 2, 1866 the Council adopted a decision, on Fox’s motion, to reprint in the International’s newspaper, The Workman’s Advocate, the appeal of Mrs. O'Donovan Rossa and Mrs. Clarke Luby, published in Irish newspapers, to raise funds for the Irish political prisoners. The appeal is mentioned below in these Minutes.