The International Workingmen’s Association, 1870
Confidential Communication on Bakunin
Written: March 28, 1870, (in German) by Marx as the IWMA’s corresponding secretary for Germany, and sent confidentially to Dr. Ludwig Kugelmann – who was then to circulate it to leaders in the German Social-Democratic Workers’ party.
The Russian Bakunin (although I have known him
since 1843, I pass over everything that is not absolutely necessary for
an understanding of the following) had a meeting with Marx in London shortly
after the founding of the International. Marx received him in the International,
for which Bakunin promised to work to the best of his ability. Bakunin
went to Italy, received there the Provisional Statutes and the Address
to the Working Classes, which Marx sent him, replied “very enthusiastically,”
and did nothing. After years during which one heard nothing from him, he
emerged again in Switzerland, There, he joined not the International but
the Ligue de la Paix et de la Liberté [The League of Peace and Liberty, founded 1867 – members included Victor Hugo and Giuseppe Garibaldi]. After
the congress of this Peace League (Geneva 1867), Bakunin gets himself elected
to its executive committee, but in it he finds opponents who not
only do not allow him any “dictatorial” influence but also watch him as
a “Russian suspect.” Shortly after the Brussels Congress of the International
(September 1868), the Peace League held its congress in bern. This time,
B. appeared as a firebrand and – it is to be remarked in passing – denounced
the Occidental bourgeoisie in the same tone that the Muscovite optimists
use to attack Western civilization in order to minimize their own barbarism.
He proposed a series of resolutions which, absurd in themselves, were designed
to instill fear in the bourgeoisie cretins and to allow Herr Bakunin to
leave the Peace League and to enter the International with eclat. It suffices
to say that the program he proposed at the Bern Congress contained such
absurdities as “equality” of “classes,” “abolition of the right of inheritance as the beginning of the social revolution,” etc. – senseless prattle,
a garland of hollow notions which pretended to be chilling; in short, an
insipid improvization designed to achieve a certain monetary effect. Bakunin’s
friends in Paris (where a Russian [Grigory Vyrubov] is co-publisher of
the Revue Positiviste) and in London publicly announced his withdrawl
from the Peace League as an evenement [event] and proclaimed his
grotesque program – this olla podrida [spiced-up stew] of polished
commonplaces – as something strangely fearsome and original.
In the meantime, B. joined the Branche Romande [Romanish Branch] of
the International (in Geneva). It took him years before he decided on this
step. But it was only a few days before Herr Bakunin decided to overthrow
the International and transform it into his instrument.
Behind the back of the London General Council – which was informed
only after everything was seemingly ready – he established the so-called
Alliance des Democrates Socialistes. The program of this Alliance
was none other than the one B. had proposed at the Bern Peace [League]
Congress. Thus, from the outset, the Alliance showed itself to be a propaganda
organization of specifically Bakuninist private mysticism, and B. himself,
one of the most ignorant of men in the field of social theory, suddenly
figures here as a sect founder. However, the theoretical program of this
Alliance was pure farce. Its serious side lay in its practical organization.
For this Alliance was to be an international one, with its central
committee in Geneva, that is, under Bakunin’s personal direction. At the
same time it was to be an “integral” part of the International Working
Men’s Association. Its branches were to be represented at the “next Congress"
of the International (in Basel) on the one hand, and to have its own separate
sessions alongside the former on the other hand, etc., etc.
The human material chiefly at Bakunin’s disposal consisted of
the then-majority of the Federal Romanish Committee of he International
in Geneva. J. Ph. Becker, whose propaganda seal occassionally runs away
with his head, was pushed forward. In Italy and Spain, Bakunin had some
The General Council in London had been thoroughly informed. But
it quietly let Bakunin go on until the moment when he was forced by J.
Ph. Becker to submit the statutes (and program) of the Alliance of Socialist
Democracy to the General Council for approval. Thereupon followed a far-reaching
decision – entirely “judicial” and “objective,” yet in its “basic considerations”
full of irony – which concluded as follows:
The General Council does not admit the Alliance as a branch of the
All paragraphs of the statutes of the Alliance which deal with the relationship
of the International are declared null and void.
In the basic considerations it was demonstrated clearly and strikingly
that the Alliance is nothing but a machine for the disorganization of the
This came as an unexpected blow. Bakunin had already transformed
L’Égalite, the central organ of the French-speaking members of the
International in Switzerland, into his organ; in addition, he founded
in Locle a little private journal – Progres. Progres still
plays that role under the editorship of fanatical Bakunin follower, Guillaume.
After several weeks of reflection.the Central Committee of the
Alliance – under the signature of Perron, a Genevan – finally sent a
reply to the General Council. In it, the Alliance, out of zeal for the
cause, offered to sacrifice its independent organization, but only on one
condition, namely, a declaration by the General Council that it recognizes
the Alliance’s “radical” principles.
The General Council replied:
It is not its function to sit in theoretical judgment on the programs
of the various sections. Its only task is to see to it that the latter
are not in direct contradiction with its Statutes and their spirit.
Hence the General Council must insist that the absurd phrase “equality
of the classes” be stricken out and replaced by the phrase “abolition of
classes” (which was done). For the rest, the members of the Alliance can
join the International, after the dissolution of its own independent
international organization and after a list of the various branches
has been supplied to the General Council (which, let it be noted, was never
With this, the incident was closed. The Alliance dissolved itself nominally,
but factually continued under the leadership of Bakunin, who at
the same time dominated the Geneva Comite Romand Federal of the
International. Added to its lists of organs there was the Federacion
in Barcelona (and after the Basel Congress, also the Eguaglianza
Bakunin then sought to achieve his aim – to transform the International
into his private instrument – by other means. Through the Geneva Romanish
Committee of the General Council he proposed that the “question of inheritance"
be put on the agenda of the Basel Congress. The General Council agreed,
in order to be able to hit Bakunin on the head directly. Bakunin’s plan
was this: When the Basel Congress accepts the “principles” (?) he proposed
in Bern, he will show the world that he has not gone over to the International,
but the International has gone over to him. The simple consequence: The
London General Council (whose opposition to the rehashing of the St.-Simonist
vieillerie [rubbish] was known to Bakunin) must resign and the Basel Congress would move the General Council to Geneva; that is, the
International would fall under the dictatorship of Bakunin.
Bakunin put his full conspiracy into motion, in order to assure
himself of a majority in the Basel Congress. Even fake mandates were not
lacking, such as those of Herr Guillaume for Locle, etc. Bakunin himself
importuned mandates from Naples and Lyon. All sorts of calumnies against
the General Council were spread. Some were told that it was dominated by
the element bourgeois and others that it was the seat of communisme
The result of the Basel Congress is known. Bakunin’s proposal
did not go through, and the General Council remained in London.
The anger of this defeat – Bakunin had perhaps tied up a hoped-for
success with private speculations in “his heart’s spirit and feeling” –
was aired in irritated utterances in L’Égalité and Progres.
These papers in the meantime assumed more and more the form of official
oracles. Now one and now the other of the Swiss sections [of the International]
was put under excommunication because, despite Bakunin’s express instructions,
it participated in political movements, etc. Finally the long restrained
fury against the General Council broke into the open. Progres and
L’Égalité sneered, attacked, declared that the General Council did
not fulfill its duties, for example, in connection with the quarterly bulletins;
the General Council must rid itself of direct control over England and
establish a separate central committee to occupy itself with English affairs;
the resolutions of the General Council in regard to the Fenian prisoners
were an infringement of its functions, since it is not supposed to concern
itself with the local political questions. Furthermore, Progres
and L’Égalité took the side of Schweitzer, and the General Council
was categorically challenged to declare itself officially and publicly
on the Liebknecht-Schweitzer question. The journal Le Travail (in
Paris), into which Schweitzer’s Paris friends smuggled articles favorably
to him, was praised for this by Progress and L’Égalité, the
latter demanding that Le Travail make common cause against the General
Hence the time has come for taking decisive steps. The enclosed
is an exact copy of the General Council’s circular to the Romanish Central
Committee in Geneva. The document [written in French] is too long to translate
CIRCULAR TO THE SWISS ROMANISH FEDERAL COUNCIL
composed around January 1, 1870
In its extraordinary session of January 1, 1870, the General
1. We read in L’Égalité of December 11, 1869:
“It is certain that the General Council is neglecting
extremely important matters. We remind the General Council of
its obligations under Article I of the Regulations: The
General Council is obliged to carry out the decisions of the
Congress.... We could put enough questions to the General
Council for its replies to make up quite a lengthy document.
They will come later.... Meanwhile... etc.”
The General Council does not know of any article, either in the
Statutes or in the Rules, which obliges it to enter into
correspondence or into polemics with L’Égalité or to provide
“answers” to “questions” from any newspapers.
Only the Swiss Romanish Federal Council represents the branch
societies in the General Council. When the Federal Council directs
questions or reprimands to us, and does it by the only legitimate
means – that is, through its secretary – the General Council will
always be ready to reply. But the Romanish Federal Council has the
right neither to abdicate its functions to L’Égalité and
Progres not to permit them to be usurped by these newspapers.
Generally, speaking, the General Council’s correspondence with
national and local committees cannot be published without doing
great harm to the general interests of the International.
Hence if other organs of the International were to follow the
example of Progres and L’Égalité, the General Council would be
faced with the alternative of either discrediting itself publicly
by its silence or violating its obligations by replying publicly.
L’Égalité joined Progres (a paper which has not hitherto
declared itself an organ of the International, and which is also
note sent to the General Council) to demand explanations from the
General Council. that is almost a League of Public Welfare!
[The latter was a feudal association from 1464 France, founded to
oppose policies of Louis XI.]
2. Assuming that the questions put by L’Égalité come from the
Romanish Federal Council, we are going to answer them, but only on
condition that such questions are never put to us again in such a
3. The Question of a Bulletin.
In the Resolutions of the Geneva Congress, which are inserted in
the Rules, it is laid down that the national committees shall send
the General Council document dealing with the proletarian
movement and that the General Council shall thereupon publish them
as bulletins in the different languages as often as its means
permit. (“As often as its means permit, the General Council shall
publish a report, etc.”)
The General Council’s obligation was thus made dependent on
conditions which have never been fulfilled. Even the statistical
inquiry provided for in the Rules, decided on by conservative
general congresses, and requested by the General Council year after
year, has never been made. As for means, the General Council would
long ago have ceased to exist without the regional contributions
from England and the personal sacrifices of its members.
Thus the Rule adopted by the Geneva Congress has remained a dead
In regard to the Basel Congress, it did not discuss fulfillment of
these existing Rules, but only the opportunity of issuing a
bulletin in good time, and it did not make any resolutions on
this. (See German account, published in Basel under the eyes of
For the rest, the General Council believes that the basic purpose
of the bulletin is at the moment perfectly fulfilled by the various
organs of the International published in various languages and
exchanged among them. It would be absurd to do by expensive
reports what is being done already without cost. Moreover, a
bulletin which published what is not printed in the organs of the
International would only help our enemies to see behind the scenes.
4. The Question of the Separation of the General Council from the
Federal Council of England.
Long before the founding of L’Égalité, this proposal used to be
made repeatedly in the General Council by two of its English
members. It was always rejected almost unanimously.
Although revolutionary initiative will probably come from France,
England alone can serve as the lever for a serious economic
revolution. It is the only country where there are no longer any
peasants and where landed property is concentrated in a few hands.
It is the only country where the capitalist form – that is,
labor combined on a large scale under capitalist entrepreneurs –
has taken over practically the whole of production. It is the only
country where the great majority of the population consists of
wage laborers. It is the only country where the class struggle
and organization of the working class by the trade unions have
attained a certain degree of maturity and universality. It is the
only country where, thanks to its domination of the world market,
ever revolution in economic relationships must directly affect the
whole world. While on the one hand landlordism and capitalism have
their classic seat in this country, the material conditions for
their destruction are on the other hand the most mature here.
The General Council is now in the fortunate position of having its
hand directly on this great lever of proletarian revolution, what
folly, yea, one might almost say what crime, it would be to let
this lever fall into purely English hands!
The English have at their disposal all necessary material
preconditions for a social revolution. What they lack is the
spirit of generalization and revolutionary passion. Only the
General Council can provide them with this, and thus accelerate a
truly revolutionary movement here and, in consequence,
everywhere. The great successes we have already achieved in this
respect are attested by the most intelligent and most eminent
newspapers of the ruling classes, such as, for example, the Pall
Mall Gazette, the Saturday Review, the Spectator, and the
Fortnightly Review, not to mention the so-called radicals in the
House of Commons and the House of Lords who until recently still
exerted a great influence on the leaders of the English workers.
They accuse us publicly of having poisoned and practically stifled
the “English spirit” of the working class and of having driven it
to revolutionary socialism.
The only way of bringing about this change is to do what the
General Council of the International Association is doing. As the
General Council, we are able to initiate measures (for example, the
founding of the Land and Labor League) which later, after their
execution, appear to the public as spontaneous movements of the
English working class.
If a Federal Council were to be established outside the General
Council, what would be the immediate effects? The Federal Council
would find itself placed between the General Council of the
International and the General Council of the Trade Unions, and
would have no authority. Furthermore, the General Council of the
International would have its great lever taken out of its hands.
If we preferred noisy quackery to serious action behind the scenes,
we would perhaps commit the mistake of replying publicly to
L’Égalité’s question why “the General Council permits such a
burdensome accumulation of functions".
England should not simply be compared to other countries. It must
be considered as the metropolis of capital.
5. The Question of the General Council’s Resolution on the Irish
While England is the bulwark of landlordism and capitalism, Ireland
is the only point where the great blow against official England can
really be struck.
First, Ireland is the bulwark of English landlordism. If it fell
in Ireland, it would also fall in England. In Ireland this is a
hundred times easier, because the economic struggle there is
concentrated exclusively in landed property, because the struggle
there is at the same time a national one, and because the people
there are more revolutionary and more embittered than in England.
In Ireland, landlordism is maintained solely by the English army.
The moment the forced union between the two countries ends, a
social revolution will break out in Ireland, even if in outmoded
form. English landlordism would not only lose a substantial source
of its wealth, but also its greatest moral force – that of
representing the domination of England over Ireland. On the
other hand, by maintaining the power of their landlords in Ireland,
the English proletariat makes them invulnerable in England itself.
Second, the English bourgeoisie has not only exploited the Irish
misery to keep down the working class in England by forced
immigration of poor Irishmen, it has also divided the proletariat
into two hostile camps. The revolutionary ardor of the Celtic
worker does not go well with the solid but slow nature of the
Anglo-Saxon worker. On the contrary, in all the big industrial
centres in England, there is a profound antagonism between the
Irish and English proletarians. The average English worker hates
the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers wages and the standard
of life. He feels national and religious antipathies for him.
He regards him practically in the same way the the poor whites in the
southern states of North America regard the black slaves. This
antagonism between the proletarians in England is artificially
nourished and kept alive by the bourgeoisie. It knows that this
split is the true secret of maintaining its power.
This antagonism is reproduced also on the other side of the
Atlantic. The Irish, driven from their native soil by the oxen and
the sheep, reassemble in North America, where they constitute a
conspicuous and ever-growing section of the population. Their only
thought, their only passion, is hatred for England. The English
and American governments (that is, the classes they represent)
nourish these passions in order to perpetuate the covert struggle
between the United States and England, and thereby prevent a
sincere and serious alliance between the working classes on both
sides of the Atlantic, and, consequently, their emancipation.
Furthermore, Ireland is the only pretext the English Government has
for maintaining a large standing army, which in case of necessity,
as has happened before, can be loosed against the English workers
after getting its military training in Ireland.
Finally, England today is seeing a repetition of what happened on a
gigantic scale in ancient Rome. A nation that enslaves another
forges its own chains.
The position of the International on the Irish Question is thus
clear. Its first task is to hasten the social revolution in
England. To this end, the decisive blow must be struck in Ireland.
The General Council’s resolution on the Irish amnesty serves only
as an introduction to other resolutions which will affirm that,
apart from ordinary international justice, it is a precondition for
the emancipation of the English working class to transform the
present forced union (that is, the enslavement of Ireland) into an
equal and free confederation, if possible, or complete separation,
if need be.
For the rest, the naive doctrines of L’Égalité and Progres
about the connection, or rather the nonexistence of any connection, between
the social and political movements have never, to the best of our knowledge,
been recognized by any of our International congresses. They run counter
to our Statutes, which state: “That the economical emancipation of the
working classes is therefore the great end to which every political movement
ought to be subordinate as a means.” The words “as a means” were left out
in the French translation made in 1864 by the Paris Committee. When questioned
by the General Council, the Paris Committee excused itself by the difficulties
of its political position. There are other mutilations of the original
text of the Statutes. The first clause of the Statutes reads as follows:
“... The struggle for the emancipation of the working classes means...
a struggle... for equal rights nd duties, and the abolition of all class
rule.” The Paris translation speaks of “equal rights and duties;” that
is, it reproduces general phrases found virtually in all democratic manifestoes
of the hundred years and differently interpreted by different classes,
but omits the concrete demand: The abolition of all class rule.
Further, in the second clause of the Statutes one reads: “That the economical
subjection of the man of labor to the monopolizer of the means of labor
– that is, the sources of life,” etc. The Paris translation substitutes
the word “capital” for “the means of labor – that is, the sources of life,”
although the latter expression included the land as well as the other means
of labor. The original and authentic text was restored in the French translation
published as a pamphlet in Brussels by La Rive Gauche in 1866. 6.
The Question of Liebknecht-Schweitzer. L’Égalité writes: “Both of
these groups belong to the International.” This is false. The Eisenach
group (which Proges and L’Égalité would like to transform
into Citizen Liebknecht’s group) belongs to the International. The Schweitzer
group does not belong to it. Schweitzer even explained at length in his
newspaper, Social-Demokrat, why the Lassallean organization could
not join the International without destroying itself. He spoke the truth
without realizing it. His artificial, sectarian organization stands in
opposition to the historical and spontaneous organization of the working
class. Progres and L’Égalité have summoned the General Council
to declare publicly its “opinion” on the personal differences between Liebknecht
and Schweitzer. Since Citizen Johann Phillip Becker (who is slandered as
much as Liebknecht in Schweitzer’s paper) is a member of L’Égalité’s
editorial board, it seems truly strange that its editors are not better
informed about the facts. The should have known Liebknecht, in the Demokratisches
Wochenblatt, publicly invited Schweitzer to accept the General Council
as arbiter over their differences, and that Schweitzer has no less publicly
refused to recognize the authority of the General Council. For its part,
the General Council has left no stone unturned to put an end to this scandal.
It instructed its secretary for Germany to enter into correspondence with
Schweitzer; this has been done for two years, but all efforts by the Council
have broken down in the face of Schweitzer’s firm resolve to preserve his
autocratic power, together with his sectarian organization, at all costs.
It is up to the General Council to determine the favorable moment when
its public intervention in this conflict will do more good than harm. 7.
Since L’Égalité’s accusations are public and could be considered
as emanating from the Romanish Federal Council in Geneva, the General Council
is to communication this reply to all committees corresponding with it.
By Order of the General CouncilThe French Committee (despite the fact that
Bakunin has intrigued mightily in Lyon and Marseilles and has won over
a few young hotheads), as well as the Conseil General Belge (Brussels),
have declared themselves in entire agreement with the General Council
The copy for Geneva (because the secretary for Switzerland, Jung,
was very busy) has been somewhat delayed. hence it crossed an official
statement which Perret, the secretary of the Geneva Romanish Central Committee,
sent to the General Council.
For the crisis broke out in Geneva before the arrival of our letter
there. Some of the editors of L’Égalité rebelled against the Bakuninist-dictated
direction. Bakunin and his followers (among them six Egalite editors)
wanted to force the Geneva Committee to dismiss the recalcitrants. But
the Geneva Committee had long been tired of Bakunin’s despotism and was
reluctant to be dragged in against the General Council, in opposition to
the German Swiss Committee. Hence it endorsed the Egalite editors
who had displeased Bakunin. Whereupon the six other editors submitted their
resignation from the editorial board, hoping thereby to bring the paper
to a standstill.
In reply to our communication the Geneva Central Committee stated
that Egalite’s attack took place against its wishes, that is had
never approved the policy it preached, that the paper would henceforth
be edited under strict supervision, etc.
Thereupon Bakunin withdrew from Geneva to Tessin. Now he has control
– at least as afar as Switzerland is concerned – only over Progres
Soon thereafter, Herzen died. Bakunin, who from the time when
he began to pose as the leader of the European labor movement slandered
his old friend and patron Herzen, upon the latter’s death immediately began
to trumpet his eulogies. Why? Because Herzen, despite his personal wealth,
received from the pseudo socialist Pan-Slavic party, which was friendly
to him, 25,000 francs annually for propaganda. Through his loud eulogies,
Bakunin managed to have this money directed to him and thereby entered
into “Herzen’s inheritance” – malgre sa haine de l’heritage [despite
his hatred of the right of inheritance] – pecuniarily and morally sine
beneficio inventarii [without legal permission of the estate].
At the same time, a young Russian refugee colony settled in Geneva,
consisting of students, who were really honest and who showed their honesty
by adopting opposition to Pan-Slavism as the main point of their program.
They are publishing a journal, La Voix du Peuple, in Geneva.
About two weeks ago they applied to London, sending in their program
and asking approval for the establishment of a Russian branch. The approval
In a separate letter to Marx, they requested him to represent
them provisionally in the General Council. This, too, was accepted. At
the same time they indicated – and seemed thereby to want to apologize
to Marx – that their next step must be to tear off Bakunin’s mask publicly,
because that man speaks two entirely different languages, one in Russia
and another in Europe.
Thus the game of this highly dangerous intrigant – at least on
the terrain of the International – will soon be played out.