- Officially the International Working Men’s Association, the First International was an organization of working class groups from Western and Central Europe, with which Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were heavily involved. Formed in 1864 it initially lacked both a firm structure and organization, and an overall political program. This reflected the diverse groups and views represented in the International, including nationalist followers of Guiseppe Mazzini, Anglo–French positivists, English former Chartists, Proudhonists, supporters of Michael Bakunin and German socialists. The International had both individual members and group affiliations, and when it began had five affiliated national sections: English, French, German, Italian and Polish. Marx, who sat on the International’s General Council, drafted the Inaugural Address andRules and the moderate and minimal character of the program he wrote reflected the compromises required to produce anything that would gain agreement from so broad a range of groups and views. Gradually, Marx was able to influence the International in a more socialist direction, so that by 1868 it was committed to collective ownership of mines, railways, communications and some land. In 1871 the International gave its support to the Paris Commune, with Marx’s The Civil War in France being issued as an Address on behalf of the General Council. In the same year at the party’s conference the goal of creating a working-class party was endorsed, and the following year the “conquest of political power” by the proletariat was announced as an objective at the Hague Congress. This Congress was also notable for both its size (65 delegates from 15 countries including the United States and Australia) and the expulsion of Bakunin who had opposed Marx and the General Council on issues of political action and the “growing authoritarianism” of the Council. In addition, the Hague Congress decided in favor of moving the General Council from London to New York, a move that contributed to the end of the First International, which was formally dissolved at a conference in Philadelphia in 1876. The First International was notable for its support of the Polish national uprising of 1863 and of the Paris Commune. It also represents one of the earliest attempts to forge international links between socialist groups, and helped Marx to spread his influence and ideas among the European labor movement. The International also saw the deepening of the divide between anarchists and socialists, embodied in the battle between Marx and Bakunin, and it led Marx to view international organizations (at least at the time of the demise of the First International) as “impossible” and “useless,” and to move instead toward the strategy of promoting workers’ (Marxist) parties with the aim of conquering political power.
Historical dictionary of Marxism. David Walker and Daniel Gray . 2014.
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