Creatively Apply the Lessons of the First International

In Commemoration of 150th Anniversary of Foundation

[This article, originally planned to be published in two parts, will be brought to you in three parts. The discussion on the principal lessons to be learnt from the experience of the First International will accordingly appear not in the second part as mentioned in our October number but in the concluding part to be published next month. -Editor ]

Before we proceed, a couple of important facts should be taken note of.

Initially, membership of the International Workingmen’s Association was restricted to men only. In less than a year, it was opened up to women also and one woman comrade was co-opted into the General Council. A resolution was passed in the 1871 London conference calling for the “formation of working women’s branches” or “female branches among the working class, without however interfering “with the existing or formation of branches composed of both sexes”.

Secondly, the International regarded the peasant question as of vital importance in the struggle for emancipation of the proletariat. The Basle Congress (September 1869) for instance reiterated its socialist platform and expressed full support to the abolition of private property in land. The relevant resolutions were widely propagated and in England the “Land and Labour League” was founded with the participation of the GC members. Around the same time Engels wrote a special preface for the second edition of his The Peasant War in Germany (first published in 1850) which also appeared separately in working class magazines. In this preface he criticised the tendency, witnessed even among senior leaders like Liebknecht, of belittling the importance of socialist propaganda in the countryside. He also explained why with the development of capitalism stratification of the peasantry assumes great importance and why the proletariat must unite firmly with the toiling peasantry as opposed to the wealthy capitalist elements.

However, in those days and in the industrialised countries, naturally the central focus was on the working class movement in “its three coordinated and interconnected sides, the theoretical, the political and the practical-economic”1. Among the outcomes of this “concentric attack”2 on the power of capital, the most significant was the Paris Commune.

The First Proletarian State

The Paris Commune was “the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of labour” (as Marx put it in the “Address of the General Council of the International”, later published as The Civil War in France, henceforth The Civil War). It was not planned or guided by the IWA, but it represented the rapid advance of revolutionary proletarian consciousness under the impact of vigorous ideological-political work conducted by the International. Engels was perfectly justified when he wrote that the Commune “was undoubtedly the child of the International intellectually –– although the International did not lift a finger to produce it.”3