The Policy of the International (III & IV) (1869)

The Policy of the International
L’Égalité, August 21, 1869;
If the International at first showed itself indulgent toward the subversive and reactionary ideas, whether in politics and religion, that the workers might have when joining it, it was not through indifference toward these ideas. We cannot tax it with indifference since it detests them and rejects them with all the strength of its being, every reactionary idea being the overturning of the very principle of the Revolution, as we have already demonstrated in our preceding articles.
That indulgence, we repeat again, is inspired by a high wisdom. Knowing perfectly that every serious worker is a socialist by all the necessities inherent in their miserable positions, and that some reactionary ideas, it they have them, may only be the effect of their ignorance, it counts on the collective experience that they cannot fail to acquire in the heart of the International and especially on the development of the collective struggle of the workers against the bosses to deliver them from those ideas.
And indeed, from the moment that a worker takes faith in the possibility of an imminent radical transformation of the economic situation, associated with his comrades, begins to struggle seriously for the reduction of his hours of labor and the increase of his wages from the moment that he begins to interest himself seriously in that entirely material struggle, we can be certain that he will soon abandon all his heavenly preoccupations, and that becoming accustomed to count always more on the collective force of the workers, he will willingly renounce aid from heaven. Socialism takes the place of religion in his mind.
It will not be the same with his reactionary politics. It will lose its principal support to the extent that the conscience of the worker sees itself delivered from religious oppression. On another side the economic struggle, by developing and always extending to a greater extent, will make itself known more and more in a practical manner and by a collective experience that is necessarily always more instructive and broader than isolated experience, its true enemies, which are the privileged classes, including the clergy, the bourgeoisie, the nobility and the State; this last only being there to safeguard all the privileges of these classes and inevitably always taking their side against the proletariat.
The worker thus involved in the struggle will inevitably end by understanding the irreconcilable antagonism that exists between these accomplices of the reaction and its most cherished human interests, and having arrived at this point he will no fail to recognize himself and frankly declare himself a revolutionary socialist.
This is not the case with the bourgeoisie. All their interests are contrary to the economic transformation of society. And if their ideas are also contrary to it as well, if these ideas are reactionaries, or as we say more politely today, moderates; if their heart and mind reject this great act of justice and emancipation that we call the social revolution, if they enjoy real, social equality, that is political, social and economic equality at once; if in the bottom of their hearts they want to keep for themselves, for their class or for their children a single privilege, even just that of intelligence, as today so many bourgeois socialists do; if they do not detest, not just with all the logic in their minds but also all the power of their passion, the present order of things, then we can be certain that they will remain reactionaries, enemies of the cause of the workers, all their life.
We must keep them far from the International.
We must keep them very far away, for they could only enter to demoralize it and turn it from its path. It is, moreover, an infallible sign by which the workers can recognize if a bourgeois, who asks to be received in their ranks, comes to them frankly, without the shadow of hypocrisy and without the least subversive ulterior motive. That sign is the relations that they preserve with the bourgeois world.
The antagonism that exists between the world of the worker and the bourgeois world takes on a more and more pronounced character. Every man who thinks seriously and whose feelings and imagination are not altered by the often unconscious influence of self-interested sophisms, must understand today that no reconciliation is possible between them. The workers want equality, and the bourgeois want to maintain inequality. Obviously one destroys the other. And the great majority of the bourgeois capitalists and proprietors, those who have the courage to frankly admit what they want, also have the courage to display with the same frankness the horror that the present movement of the working class inspires in them. They are enemies as resolute as sincere. We know them, and that is good.
But there is another category of bourgeois who do not have the same frankness or courage. Enemies of the social liquidation—which we call for with all the power of our souls as a great act of justice, as the necessary point of departure and indispensible basis of an egalitarian and rational organization of society—they, like all the other bourgeois, preserve economic inequality, that eternal source of all the other inequalities; an at the same time they pretend to want, like us, the complete emancipation of the worker and of work. They maintain against us, with a passion worthy of the most reactionary bourgeois, the very cause of the slavery of the proletariat, the separation of labor and immobile or capitalized property, represented today by two different classes; and they pose nonetheless as the apostles of the emancipation of the working class from the yoke of property and capital!
Do they mislead or are they misled? Some are mistaken in good faith, badly mistaken; the majority are misleading and misled at the same time. They all belong to that category of bourgeois radicals and bourgeois socialists who founded the League of Peace and Freedom.
Is this League socialist? In the beginning, and for the first year of its existence, as we have already had occasion to tell, it rejected socialism with horror.
Last year, in its Congress at Berne it rejected the principle of economic equality. Today, feeling itself dying and wishing to live a little longer, and finally understanding that no political existence is possible from now on without the social question, it calls itself socialist; it has become bourgeois-socialist, which means that it wants to resolve all social questions on the basis of economic inequality. It desires, it must preserve the interest of capital and the rent of the earth, and it claims to emancipate the workers with that. It strives to give a body to nonsense.
Why do that do it? What is it that makes it attempt a work as incongruous as sterile? It is not difficult to understand.
A great portion of the bourgeoisie is tired of the reign of Caesarism and militarism that it itself established in 1848, from fear of the proletariat. Just recall the June days, precursors of the days of December; recall that National Assembly that curse and insulted, unanimously but for one voice, the illustrious and we could well say heroic socialist Proudhon, who alone had the courage to hurl the challenge of socialism at this and expose this rabid herd of bourgeois conservatives, liberals, and radicals. And we must not forget that among these traducers of Proudhon, there are a number of citizens still living, and today more militant than ever, who, baptized by the persecutions of December, have since become martyrs to liberty.
So there is no doubt that the entire bourgeoisie, including the radical bourgeoisie, has been the creator of the césarien and military despotism whose effects it deplores today. After having used them against the proletariat, they now want to be free of them. Nothing is more natural; this regime humiliates and ruins them.
But how can they free themselves? Formerly, they were brave and powerful, they had the power for conquests. Today they are cowardly and senile, and afflicted with the impotence of the old. They recognize only too well their weakness, and sense that they alone can do nothing. So they must have an aid. That aid can only be the proletariat; so they must win over the proletariat.
But how can they win them over? By promises of liberty and political equality? These are words that no longer move the workers. They have learned at their own cost, they have learned by hard experience, that these words mean nothing for them but the maintenance of their economic slavery, often more harsh than before. So if you want to touch the heart of these miserable millions of slaves to labor, speak to them about their economic emancipation. There is no a worker who does not know now that it is for him the only serious and real basis of all the other emancipations. So it would be necessary to speak to them about the economic reform of society.
Well, the members of the League for Peace and Freedom say to themselves, let us speak of it, let us could ourselves socialists as well. Let us promise them some economic and social reforms, always on the condition that they wish to respect the basis of civilization and bourgeois omnipotence: individual and hereditary property, interest on capital and land-rent. Let us persuade them that on these conditions alone, which assure us domination and the workers slavery, can the workers be emancipated.
Let us persuade them that in order to realize all these social reforms, we must first make a good political revolution, exclusively political, as red as they please from the political point of view, with a great chopping of heads, if that becomes necessary, but with the greatest respect for holy property; an entirely Jacobin revolution, in a word, that would make us the masters of the situation; and once masters, we could give to the workers… what we can and what we want.
There is an infallible sign by which the workers can recognize a false socialist, a bourgeois socialist; if in speaking to them of revolution or, if you want, of social transformation, he tells them that the political transformation must make both at once or even that the political revolution should be nothing but the immediate and direct putting into action of the full, complete social liquidation; let them turn their back, for either he is only a fool, or else a hypocritical exploiter.
L’Égalité, August 28, 1869;
The International Workingmen’s Association, in order to remain faithful to its principle and in order not to deviate from the only road that can lead it to its destination, must above all protect itself against the influence of two kinds of bourgeois socialists: the partisans of bourgeois politics, including even the revolutionary bourgeois, and the so-called “practical men,” partisans of bourgeois cooperation.
Let us first consider the first group.
Economic emancipation, we said in our preceding number, is the basis of all the other emancipations. We have summarized by those words the whole policy of the International.
In fact we read, in the of our general statutes the following declaration:
“That the subjection of labor to capital is the source of all political moral and material servitude, and that for this reason the emancipation of the workers is the great aim to which every political movement must be subordinated.”
It is well understood that every political movement whose immediate, direct objective is not the definitive and complete economic emancipation of the workers, and which has not inscribed on its flag, in a very clear and decided manner, the principle of economic equality, which means the complete restitution of capital to labor, or else the social liquidation – that every such political movement is a bourgeois, and, as such, must be excluded from the International.
Must consequently be pitilessly excluded the politics of the bourgeois democrats or bourgeois socialists, who, in declaring “that political liberty is the preliminary condition for economic emancipation,” cannot intend by this words anything but this: political reforms or revolution must precede economic reforms of revolution; the workers must consequently ally with the more or less radical bourgeois in order to faire d’abord avec eux les premières, sauf à faire ensuite contre eux les dernières.
We frankly protest against this disastrous theory that could only lead, for the workers, to make them serve once again as an instrument against themselves and deliver them up anew to the exploitation of the bourgeoisie.
To conquer political liberty first can mean nothing except winning it first all alone, leaving, at least for the first days, the economic and social relations in their present state, leaving the proprietors and capitalists with their insolent wealth, and the workers with their poverty.
But, some will say, once that liberty is won, it will serve the workers as an instrument to later gain equality or economic justice.
Liberty is indeed a magnificent and powerful instrument. But everything depends on whether the workers can really make use of it, if it is really in their possession, or if, as has always been the case before, their political liberty is only a misleading appearance, a fiction.
Couldn’t a worker, in his present economic situation, respond with the refrain of a well-known song, to those who came to him to speak of political liberty:
“Do not speak of liberty.
“Poverty is slavery!”
And, in fact, he would have to be in love with illusions to imagine that a worker, in the economic and social conditions in which he finds himself at present, could profit fully, and make a real, serious use of his political liberty. For that, he lacks two things: the leisure and the material means.
Incidentally, haven’t we seen it in France, the day after the revolution of 1848, the most radical revolution we could desire from a political point of view?
The French workers were certainly not indifferent or unintelligent, yet despite the broadest universal suffrage, they had to let the bourgeois have their way [laisser faire]. Why? Because they lacked the material means that were necessary to make political liberty become a reality, because they remained the slaves of a labor forced by hunger, while the bourgeois radicals, liberals, and even conservatives, some republicans the day before, others converted the day after, came and went, acted and spoke, worked and schemed freely – some thanks to their rents or their lucrative bourgeois positions, the others thanks to the State budget that they have naturally preserved and even made greater than ever.
We know what the result has been: first the days of June, then later, as a necessary consequence, the days of December.
But, it will be said, the workers, made wiser by the very experience that have had, will no longer send the bourgeois to the constituent or legislative assemblies; they will send simple workers. Poor as they are, they could provide for their deputies. Do you know what would happen? The worker deputies, transplanted into bourgeois conditions of existence and an atmosphere of entirely bourgeois political ideas, ceasing to be workers by he act of becoming men of State, would become bourgeois and perhaps even more bourgeois than the bourgeois themselves. For the men do not make the positions; it is, on the contrary, the positions that make the men. And we know by experience that the bourgeois workers are seldom less selfish than the bourgeois exploiters, nor less deadly to the Association than the bourgeois socialists, nor less vain and ridiculous than the ennobled bourgeois.
Whatever is said and done, as long as the workers remain plunged in their present state, no liberty possible will be possible, and those who agree to win political liberty for them without first addressing the burning questions of socialism, without pronouncing that phrase that makes the bourgeois pale—social liquidation—simply say to them: First win that liberty for us, so that later we can use it against you.
But they are well intentioned and sincere, these bourgeois, it will be said. There are no good intentions and sincerity that hold out against the influences of the position, and since we have said that even the workers who put themselves in that position would inevitably become bourgeois, there is all the more reason that the bourgeois who remain in that position will remain bourgeois.
If a bourgeois, inspired by a great passion de justice, equality and humanity, wants to work seriously for the emancipation of the proletariat, let him first begin by breaking all the political and social ties, all the relations of interest as well as spirit, vanity and heart, with the bourgeoisie. Let him first understand that no reconciliation is possible between the proletariat and that class, which, living only for the exploitation of the other, is the natural enemy of the proletariat.
After having turned his back once and for all on the bourgeois world, let him then come to fall in beneath the flag of the workers, on which are inscribed these words: “Justice, Equality and Liberty for all. Abolition of the classes by the economic equalization of all. Social liquidation.” He will be welcome. 
As for the bourgeois socialists and bourgeois workers who come to speak to us of conciliation between bourgeois politics and the socialism of the laborers, we have only one bit of advice to give to the laborers: they must turn their backs on them.
Since the bourgeois socialists strive to organize today, with socialism as bait, a formidable agitation among the workers in order to win political liberty, a liberty that, as we have just seen will only profit the bourgeoisie; since the working masses, arriving at a knowledge of their position, enlightened and guided by the principle of the International, are in fact organizing and begin to constitute a true power, not national, but international; not to do the business of the bourgeois, but their own business; and since, even to realize that ideal of the bourgeois, of a complete political liberty with republication institutions, would require, and since no revolution can except through the power of the people; that power must, ceasing to pull chestnuts from the fire for the gentlemen of the bourgeoisie, only serve from now on to bring triumph to the cause of the people, the cause of all those who labor against all those who exploit labor.
The International Workingmen’s Association, faithful to its principle, will never extend its had to a political agitation whose immediate and direct aim is not the complete economic emancipation of the worker, the abolition of the bourgeoisie as a class economically separate from the mass of the population, nor to any revolution that does not, from the first day, from the first hour inscribe the social liquidation on its banner.
But revolutions are not improvised. They are not made arbitrarily, either by individuals or by the most powerful associations. Independent of all will and of all conspiracy, they are always brought about by the force of events. They can be foreseen, their approach can sometimes be sensed, but their explosion can never be accelerated.
Convinced of this truth, we pose this question: What is the policy that the International should pursue during this more or less extended period of time that separates us from that terrible social revolution which everyone senses today?
Setting aside, as its statutes command, all local and national politics, it will give to the agitation of the workers in all countries an essentially economic character, by establishing the reduction of the hours of labor and the increase of wages as its aim, the association of the working masses and the establishment of strike funds as its means.
It will propagandize its principles, for these principles, being the purest expression of the collective interests of the workers of the whole world, are the soul and constitute all the vital force of the Association. It will spread that propaganda broadly, without regard for bourgeois sensibilities, so that every worker, emerging from the intellectual and moral torpor in which he has been they have tried to keep him, will understand his situation and know what he must do, and under what conditions he can gain his rights as a man.
It will make an every more energetic and sincere propaganda, as within the International itself we will often encounter influences, which, affecting disdain for these principles, would like to portray them as a useless theory and strive to bring the workers back to the to the political, economic and religious catechism of the bourgeoisie.
It will extend and organize itself strongly across the borders of all the nations, so that when the Revolution, brought about by the force of events, breaks out, it will be a real force ready, knowing what it must do and therefore capable of grasping and giving it a direction that it truly salutary for the people; a serious international organization of the workers’ associations of all countries, capable of replacing that political world of States and of the bourgeoisie, which is on the way out.
We conclude this faithful exposition of the policy of the International, by reproducing the final paragraph of the preamble to our general statutes:
“The movement that comes about among the workers of the most industrious countries of Europe, by giving rise to new hopes, gives a solemn warning not to fall again into old errors.”
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]
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Independent scholar, translator and archivist.