Campaign news

150 Years of International Solidarity

30th September 2014

150 Years of International Solidarity

The 150th Anniversary of the 1st International

By Heiko Khoo

The International Working Men’s Association was formed 150 years ago on 28 September 1864. Revolutionaries from six countries gathered at St. Martin’s Hall in London to represent the struggles of the workers of the world and to unify their demands and actions in a single body. Karl Marx became its de facto leader, although, at the inaugural meeting, he did not speak. At Marx’s funeral, Friedrich Engels described the formation of the International as the crowning achievement of Marx’s revolutionary work.

The founding meeting brought together radicals and revolutionaries from Britain, France, Ireland, Poland, Italy and Germany. They were united in seeking social and political change, even though their ideals and aspirations differed. The organisation united nationalists, democrats, reformists, revolutionary socialists and trade unionists.
In Britain several of the Trades Councils then in the process of formation affiliated. Many of the craft trades unions also signed up en bloc. These included the French Polishers, Basket Makers, Coach Makers, Bookbinders, Block Cutters, West End Cabinet Makers, Kendal Shoemakers and Darlington Tailors.

Marx penned the inaugural address of the International. It examined the dynamic development of British capitalism—- exposing how the immense profits of the capitalists, bankers and landlords, corresponded with starvation, child labour, and immense poverty amongst the workers producing the wealth of society. Marx described how the political economy of labour challenged the political economy of property by means of the workers’ struggles to win legislation on the ten-hour working day. This encroachment against capitalism went even further in the theses on Co-operative Labour, written by Marx:

“The value of these great social experiments cannot be overrated. By deed instead of by argument, they have shown that production on a large scale, and in accord with the behests of modern science, may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands; that to bear fruit, the means of labor need not be monopolized as a means of dominion over, and of extortion against, the laboring man himself; and that, like slave labor, like serf labor, hired labor is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated labor plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart.”
But Marx explained that ” co-operative labor ought to be developed to national dimensions, and, consequently, to be fostered by national means”.

Marx also managed to establish that the aim of the International was “the emancipation of the working class.”

Thus, for Marx, the transformation to socialist economics presupposed public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy and land, and this required the conquest of political power. This was main the task of the organisations of the International.

Marx encouraged the International to establish contact with US President Abraham Lincoln by sending him a letter of congratulations on his re-election in 1864. The International pledged its support to the struggle against slavery in the United States.

“From the commencement of the titanic American strife the workingmen of Europe felt instinctively that the star-spangled banner carried the destiny of their class.”

Lincoln’s representative, Ambassador Abrahams, wrote back.
“Nations do not exist for themselves alone, but to promote the welfare and happiness of mankind by benevolent intercourse and example. It is in this relation that the United States regard their cause in the present conflict with slavery, maintaining insurgence as the cause of human nature, and they derive new encouragements to persevere from the testimony of the workingmen of Europe that the national attitude is favored with their enlightened approval and earnest sympathies.”

In the 1860s supporters of the International led the struggle for male suffrage in England. Mass protests assembled in London’s Hyde Park led by the Reform League in 1866 and 1867. They won a big extension of the vote for working men although this still fell short of universal male suffrage.

After the defeat of France at the hands of Prussia (the leading German state) in 1870, the angry and starving masses of Paris rose up against their government in March 1871. War became the mother of revolution as the Parisian masses took destiny into their hands and established the Paris Commune. All officials were elected and subject to immediate recall. No official received more than a workers’ wage. And the masses were armed to defend their revolution. The International hailed the Commune as the birth of the new society. But the Commune was condemned by official society as the destruction of all order and authority. The Commune held out for 72 days but was finally was drowned in the blood of thousands of revolutionaries.

The Paris Commune was calumniated by the authorities all over the world. The General Council issued a pamphlet, written by Marx, called The Civil War in France, which provided a doughty defence of the Communards

After this defeat Marx battled to hold together squabbling groups of revolutionaries in the International. He eventually abandoned the task in the mid 1870s and the International was dissolved in 1876. It had left seeds on the fertile soil of a growing working class movement worldwide. A new Socialist International was formed in 1889, and became a mass force, with significant parliamentary representation.

Bookmark and Share

Find us on Facebook Follow LRCinfo on Twitter

Corbyn for 2020:


Subscribe to Labour Briefing

Labour Briefing