Rise of socialist ideas (up to Marx); Spread of Marxian Socialism (Part 4)

Rise of socialist ideas (up to Marx); Spread of Marxian Socialism (Part 4)

First International

  • The International Workingmen’s Association (1864–1876), often called the First International, was an international organization which aimed at uniting a variety of different left-wing socialist, communist and anarchist political groups and trade union organizations that were based on the working class and class struggle. It was founded in 1864 in a workmen’s meeting held in Saint Martin’s Hall, London. Its founders were among the most powerful British and French trade-union leaders of the time. Though Karl Marx had no part in organizing the meeting, he was elected one of the 32 members of the provisional General Council and at once assumed its leadership.
  • The International Workingmen’s Association, described by Engels as “the first international movement of the working class” was persuaded by Engels to change its motto from “all men are brothers” to “working men of all countries, unite!”. It reflected Marx’s and Engels’ view of proletarian internationalism.
  • The International came to assume the character of a highly centralized party, based primarily on individual members, organized in local groups, which were integrated in national federations, though some trade unions and associations were affiliated to it. Its supreme body was the Congress, which met in a different city each year and formulated principles and policies.
  • Its first congress was held in 1866 in Geneva. The Congress was attended by delegates from five countries. The Geneva Congress is best remembered for its watershed decision to make universal establishment of the 8-hour working day a main goal of the International Socialist movement.
  • For six years, it held annual congresses  in different European towns. It was persecuted and declared illegal i many countries. It exercised influence on workers movements in Europe and North America.
  • From its beginnings, the First International was riven by conflicting schools of socialist though—Marxism, Proudhonism (after Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who advocated only the reform of capitalism), Blanquism (after Auguste Blanqui, who advocated radical methods and a sweeping revolution), and Mikhail Bakunin’s version of anarchism.
  • When Mikhail Bakunin and his followers joined in 1868, the First International became polarised into two camps, with Marx and Bakunin as their respective figureheads. Perhaps the clearest differences between the groups emerged over their proposed strategies for achieving their visions of socialism. The anarchists grouped around Bakunin favoured “direct economical struggle against capitalism, without interfering in the political parliamentary agitation.” Marxist thinking, at that time, focused on parliamentary activity. For example, when the new German Empire of 1871 introduced male suffrage, many German socialists became active in the Marxist Social Democratic Party of Germany.
  • After the Paris Commune (1871), Bakunin characterised Marx’s ideas as authoritarian, and argued that if a Marxist party came to power its leaders would end up as bad as the ruling class they had fought against. In 1872, the conflict in the First International climaxed with a final split between the two groups at the Hague Congress. This clash is often cited as the origin of the long-running conflict between anarchists and Marxists.
  • This split is sometimes called the “red” and “black” divide, red referring to the Marxists and black referring to the anarchists. Bismarck remarked, upon hearing of the split at the First International, “Crowned heads, wealth and privilege may well tremble should ever again the Black and Red unite!
  • It should be noted that the International’s renown at the time as a formidable power with millions of members and almost unlimited resources was out of proportion with the association’s actual strength; the hard core of its individual members probably seldom exceeded 20,000. Although so accused, it did not organize the wave of strikes that swept France, Belgium, and Switzerland in 1868, but its support and rumoured support of such strikes was very influential.

Paris Commune, 1871

  • Paris Commune was insurrection of Paris against the French government from March 18 to May 28, 1871. It occurred in the wake of France’s defeat in the Franco-German War and the collapse of Napoleon III’s Empire (1852–70).
  • The National Assembly, which was elected in February 1871 to conclude a peace with Germany, had a royalist majority, reflecting the conservative attitude of the provinces. The republican Parisians feared that the National Assembly meeting in Versailles would restore the monarchy.
  • To ensure order in Paris, Adolphe Thiers, executive head of the provisional national government, decided to disarm the National Guard (composed largely of workers who fought during the siege of Paris). On March 18 resistance broke out in Paris in response to an attempt to remove the cannons of the guard overlooking the city.
  • Then, on March 26, municipal elections, organized by the central committee of the guard, resulted in victory for the revolutionaries, who formed the Commune government. Among those in the new government were the so-called Jacobins, who followed in the French Revolutionary tradition of 1793 and wanted the Paris Commune to control the Revolution; the Proudhonists, socialists who supported a federation of communes throughout the country; and the Blanquistes, socialists who demanded violent action. The program that the Commune adopted, despite its internal divisions, called for measures reminiscent of 1793 (end of support for religion, use of the Revolutionary calendar) and a limited number of social measures (10-hour workday, end of work at night for bakers).
  • With the quick suppression of communes that arose at Lyon, Saint-Etienne, Marseille, and Toulouse, the Commune of Paris alone faced the opposition of the Versailles government. But the Federes, as the insurgents were called, were unable to organize themselves militarily and take the offensive, and, on May 21, government troops entered an undefended section of Paris.
  • During “bloody week,” that followed, the regular troops crushed the opposition of the Communards, who in their defense set up barricades in the streets and burned public buildings. About 20,000 insurrectionists were killed, along with about 750 government troops. In the aftermath of the Commune, the government took harsh repressive action: about 38,000 were arrested and more than 7,000 were deported.
  • Following the 1871 Paris Commune, the socialist movement, as the whole of the workers’ movement, was decapitated and deeply affected for years.

Second International

  • Second International, also called Socialist International,  federation of socialist parties and trade unions that greatly influenced the ideology, policy, and methods of the European labour movement from the last decade of the 19th century to the beginning of World War I.
  • The Second International was founded at a congress in Paris in 1889. Unlike the First International, it was based on the membership of national parties and trade unions only. It was not a centralized organization, like the first, but rather a loose federation that did not set up an executive body, the International Socialist Bureau, until 11 years after its foundation. Its headquarters was in Brussels, where the second congress of the International met in 1891.
  • The congresses met in a number of cities at various intervals, not on a yearly basis. By 1912 the Second International represented the socialist and social democratic parties of all European countries, the United States, Canada, and Japan, with a voting strength of nearly nine million. Although it had no mandatory power, it was recognized by its member parties as their highest moral authority.
  • The Second International stood for parliamentary democracy and finally, at its London Congress in 1896, expelled from its ranks the anarchists, who opposed it. Yet, after much debate, the Second International rejected the theory of the gradual achievement of socialism and cooperation with nonsocialist parties in office, and it reaffirmed the Marxist doctrine of the class struggle and the inevitability of revolution.
  • Its main concern, however, was the prevention of a general European war. After extended debate it rejected the use of a general strike to ward off the imminent danger of a general European war. It demanded the introduction of compulsory courts of arbitration for the settlement of disputes between nations; and the reduction of armaments with total disarmament as the ultimate aim.
  • In a resolution drafted by Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, and L. Martov and adopted by its Stuttgart Congress in 1907, however, the International pledged its member parties in belligerent countries to use the social and economic crisis brought about by war to promote social revolution.
  • The power groupings in World War I confronted the socialist parties in the belligerent countries with a dilemma. With the exception of the Serbian and Russian socialists, all such parties supported the war efforts of their respective countries. This situation split the International: a growing minority within these parties rebuked the majority for its desertion of the antiwar principles of the Second International. At a conference held in Zimmerwald, Switz., in 1915, these “Internationalists” called for an immediate cessation of the war and for peace negotiations based on the principle of “no annexations, no indemnities.”
  • The minority socialists opposed to the war were themselves divided, however; a “left” group led by Lenin urged an effort to transform the imperialist war into a transnational class war and opposed a revival of the Second International, which had by then ceased to function.
  • In an attempt to reconstruct the Second International after the war, a commission of socialist leaders in the Allied countries convened a congress of the International at Geneva in 1920. When this congress met, however, only a small fraction of the prewar membership of the Second International attended. The rift in the international socialist movement, produced by dissensions over the war policy pursued by the majority of the socialist parties, and their hostility to the Bolshevik Revolution, which had aroused the sympathy of many workers, had destroyed the common ground for the reinstitution of the Second International.
  • In 1923 those who had remained loyal to the Second International joined with several national socialist parties to form the Labour and Socialist International. This union of socialists opposed to the Soviet-dominated Third International (or Comintern) never attained the power and influence of the Second International, however, and Adolf Hitler’s conquests in 1940 destroyed most of its basis in Europe.


  • The International Socialist Congress, Amsterdam 1904 was the Sixth Congress of the Second International It was held from 14 to 18 August 1904. In this meeting Dadabhai Naoroji of India demanded, for the first time, ‘self – government’ for people of India i.e. freedom from British colonial rule.

Third International (Comintern)

  • Third International, also called Communist International, byname Comintern,  association of national communist parties founded in 1919. Though its stated purpose was the promotion of world revolution, the Comintern functioned chiefly as an organ of Soviet control over the international communist movement.
  • The Comintern emerged from the three-way split in the socialist Second International over the issue of World War I. A majority of socialist parties, comprising the International’s “right” wing, chose to support the war efforts of their respective national governments against enemies that they saw as far more hostile to socialist aims. The “centre” faction of the International decried the nationalism of the right and sought the reunification of the Second International under the banner of world peace. The “left” group, led by Vladimir Lenin, rejected both nationalism and pacifism, urging instead a socialist drive to transform the war of nations into a transnational class war.
  • In 1915 Lenin proposed the creation of a new International to promote “civil war, not civil peace” through propaganda directed at soldiers and workers. Two years later Lenin led the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia, and in 1919 he called the first congress of the Comintern, in Moscow, specifically to undermine ongoing centrist efforts to revive the Second International. Only 19 delegations and a few non-Russian communists who happened to be in Moscow attended this first congress; but the second, meeting in Moscow in 1920, was attended by delegates from 37 countries. There Lenin established the Twenty-one Points, the conditions of admission to the Communist International. These prerequisites for Comintern membership required all parties to model their structure on disciplined lines in conformity with the Soviet pattern and to expel moderate socialists and pacifists.
  • The administrative structure of the Comintern resembled that of the Soviet Communist Party: an executive committee acted when congresses were not in session, and a smaller presidium served as chief executive body. Gradually, power came to be concentrated in these top organs, the decisions of which were binding on all member parties of the International.
  • Moreover, Soviet domination of the Comintern was established early. The International had been founded by Soviet initiative, its headquarters was in Moscow, the Soviet party enjoyed disproportionate representation in the administrative bodies, and most foreign communists felt loyal to the world’s first socialist state.
  • The realization that world revolution was not imminent led in 1921 to a new Comintern policy in order to gain broad working-class support. “United fronts” of workers were to be formed for making “transitional demands” on the existing regimes. This policy was abandoned in 1923, when the Comintern’s left wing gained temporary control.
  • Joseph Stalin’s assault on the left group of his party, however, brought the expulsion of the Comintern’s first president, Grigory Y. Zinovyev, in 1926 and a further rapprochement with moderate socialism. Then Stalin’s move against the right wing of his party led to another turn in Comintern policy. In 1928 the sixth congress adopted a policy of “extreme leftism” set forth by Stalin: once again, moderate socialists and social democrats were branded as the chief enemies of the working class. The dangers of the rising fascist movement were ignored. In Germany in the early 1930s, the communists focused their attacks on the social democrats and even cooperated with the Nazis, whom they claimed to fear less, in destroying the Weimar Republic. World revolution was once more to be considered imminent, despite Stalin’s own concentration on “building socialism in one country.”
  • At the Comintern’s seventh and last congress in 1935, Soviet national interests dictated a new policy shift: in order to gain the favour of potential allies against Germany, revolutionary ardour was dampened, and the defeat of fascism was declared the primary goal of the Comintern. Now communists were to join with moderate socialist and liberal groups in “popular fronts” against fascism.
  • By now the Comintern was being used as a tool of Soviet foreign policy. The program of popular fronts ended with the signing of Stalin’s pact with Adolf Hitler in 1939. Soon, however, Germany and the Soviet Union were at war, and in 1943 Stalin officially dissolved the Comintern in order to allay fears of communist subversion among his allies. From the Soviet point of view, Moscow was confident of its ability to control the foreign communist parties; and, in any case, much of the Comintern organization was preserved intact within the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
  • In 1947 Stalin set up a new centre of international control called the Cominform, which lasted until 1956. The international communist movement broke down after 1956 owing to a developing split between the Soviet Union and China, among other factors.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Vengatesh says:

    Thank U Sir


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