Mr. George Howell’s History of the International Working-Men’s Association
|Mr. George Howell’s History of the International Working-Men’s Association
|Published in The Secular Chronicle, And Record of Freethought Progress, August 4, 1878|
I believe it worth while to illustrate by a few notes the most recent contribution — see the Nineteenth Century of July last — to the extensive spurious literature on the International’s History, because its last expounder, Mr. George Howell, an ex-workman and ex-member of the General Council of that Association, may erroneously be supposed to have drawn his wisdom from sources not generally accessible.
Mr. Howell sets about his “History” by passing by the facts that, on September 28th, 1864, 1 was present at the foundation-meeting of the International, was there chosen a member of the provisional General Council, and soon after drew up the “Inaugural Address,” and the “General Statutes” of the Association, first issued at London in 1864, then confirmed by the Geneva Congress of 1866.
So much Mr. Howell knew, but, for purposes of his own, prefers to make “a German Doctor named Karl Marx” first appear at the London “Congress opened on September 25th, 1865.” There and then, he avers, the said “doctor” had “sown the seeds of discord and decay by the introduction of the Religious Idea.”
In the first instance, no “Congress” of the International took place in September, 1865. A few delegates from the main continental branches of the Association met at London for the sole purpose of conferring with the General Council on the Programme of the “First Congress,” which was to assemble at Geneva, in September, 1866. The real business of the Conference was transacted in private sittings, not at the semi-public meetings in Adelphi Terrace, exclusively made mention of by the exact historian, Mr. George Howell.
Like the other representatives of the General Council, I had to secure the acceptance by the Conference of our own programme, on its publication thus characterised, in a letter to the Siècle, by the French historian, Henri Martin:
“The breadth of view and the high moral, political, and economical conceptions which have decided the choice of questions composing the programme of the International Congress of Workingmen, which is to assemble next year, will strike with a common sympathy all friends of progress, justice, and liberty in Europe.”
By the way, a paragraph of the programme which I had the honour to indite for the General Council, runs thus:
“The necessity of annihilating the Muscovite influence in Europe, by the application of the principle of the right of nations to dispose of themselves, and the reconstruction of Poland upon a democratic and socialist basis.”
Upon this text Henri Martin put the gloss:
“We will take the liberty of remarking that the expression, ‘democratic and socialist basis’, is a very simple one as regards Poland, where the social framework needs reconstruction quite as much as the political framework, and where this basis has been laid down by the decrees of the anonymous government of 1863, and accepted by all classes of the nation. This, then, is the reply of true socialism, of social progress in harmony with justice and liberty, to the advances of the Communist despotism of Muscovy. This secret of the people of Paris is now becoming the common secret of the peoples of Europe.”
Unfortunately, the “people of Paris” had kept their “secret” so well that, quite unaware of it, two of the Paris delegates to the Conference, Tolain, now a senator of the French Republic, and Fribourg, now a simple renegade, inveighed against the very proposition which was to call forth the enthusiastic comment of the French historian.
The programme of the General Council contained not one syllable on “Religion,” but at the instance of the Paris delegates the forbidden dish got into the bill of fare in store for the prospective Congress, in this dressing:
“Religious Ideas (not “The Religious Idea,” as Howell’s spurious version has it), their influence on the social, political and intellectual movement.”
The topic of discussion thus introduced by the Paris delegates was left in their keeping. In point of fact, they dropped it at the Geneva Congress of 1866, and no one else picked it up.
The London “Congress” of 1865, the “Introduction” there by “a German Doctor named Karl Marx” of the “Religious Idea,” and the fierce feud thence arising within the International — this, his triple myth, Mr. George Howell caps by a legend. He says:
“In the Draft Address to the American people with regard to the abolition of slavery, the sentence, ‘God made of one blood all nations of men’, was struck out, etc.”
Now the General Council issued an address, not to the American people, but to its President, Abraham Lincoln, which he gracefully acknowledged. The address, written by me, underwent no alteration whatever. As the words “God made of one blood all nations of men” had never figured in it, they could not be “struck out.”
The attitude of the General Council in regard to the “Religious Idea” is clearly shown by the following incident: — One of the Swiss branches of the Alliance, founded by Michael Bakunin, and calling itself Section des athées Socialistes, requested its admission to the International from the General Council, but got the reply: “Already in the case of the Young Men’s Christian Association the Council has declared that it recognizes no theological sections. (See page 13 of Les prétendues scissions dans l'Internationale Circulaire du Conseil Général, printed at Geneva.)”
Even Mr. George Howell, at that time not yet become a convert by close study of the Christian Reader, consummated his divorce from the International, not at the call of the “Religious Idea,” but on grounds altogether secular. At the foundation of the Commonwealth as the “special organ” of the General Council, he canvassed keenly the “proud position” of Editor. Having failed in his “ambitious” attempt, he waxed sulky, his zeal grew less and less, and soon after he was no more heard of. During the most eventful period of the International he was therefore an outsider.
Conscious of his utter incompetence to trace the history of the Association, but at the same time eager to spice his article with strange revelations, he catches at the appearance, during the Fenian troubles, of General Cluseret in London where, we are told, at the Black Horse, Rathbone Place, Oxford-street, the General met “a few men — fortunately Englishmen,” in order to initiate them into his “plan” of “a general insurrection.” I have some reason to doubt the genuineness of the anecdote, but suppose it to be true, what else would it prove but that Cluseret was not such a fool as to intrude his person and his “plan” upon the General Council, but kept both of them wisely in reserve for “a few Englishmen” of Mr. Howell’s acquaintance, unless the latter himself be one of these stout fellows in buckram who, by their “fortunate” interference, contrived to save the British Empire and Europe from universal convulsion.
Mr. George Howell has another dark secret to disclose.
At the beginning of June, 1871, the General Council put forth an Address on the Civil War in France, welcomed on the part of the London press by a chorus of execration. One weekly fell foul of ‘,the infamous author — , cowardly concealing his name behind the screen of the General Council. Thereupon I declared in The Daily News that I was the author. This stale secret Mr. George Howell reveals, in July, 1878, with all the consequentiality of the man behind the curtain.
“The writer of that Address was Dr. Karl Marx. ...Mr. George Odger and Mr. Lucraft, both of whom were members of the Council when it (sic!) was adopted, repudiated it on its publication.”
He forgets to add that the other nineteen British members present acclaimed the “Address.”
Since then, the statements of this Address have been fully borne out by the Enquires of the French Rural Assembly, the evidence taken before the Versailles Courts-Martial, the trial of Jules Favre, and the memoirs of persons far from hostile to the victors.
It is in the natural order of things that an English historian of Mr. George Howell’s sound erudition should haughtily ignore French prints, whether official or not. But I confess to a feeling of disgust when, on such occasions for instance as the Hödel and Nobiling attempts, I behold great London papers ruminating the base calumnies, which their own correspondents, eye-witnesses, had been the first to refute.
Mr. Howell reaches the climax of snobbism in his account of the exchequer of the General Council.
The Council, in its published Report to the Congress of Basle (1869), ridicules the huge treasure with which the busy tongue of the European police and the wild imagination of the capitalist had endowed it. It says,
“If these people, though good Christians, had happened to live at the time of nascent Christianity, they would have hurried to a Roman bank there to pry into St. Paul’s balance.”
Mr. Ernest Renan who, it is true, falls somewhat short of Mr. George Howell’s standard of orthodoxy, even fancies the state of the primitive Christian communes sapping the Roman Empire might be best illustrated by that of the International Sections.
Mr. George Howell, as a writer, is what the crystallographer would call a “Pseudomorph,” his outer form of penmanship being but imitative of the manner of thought and style “natural” to the English moneyed man of sated virtue and solvent morals. Although he borrows his array of “figures” as to the resources of the General Council from the accounts yearly laid by that same Council before a public “International Congress,” Mr. George Howell must not derogate from his “imitative” dignity by stooping to touch the obvious question: how came it to pass that, instead of taking comfort from the lean budgets of the General Council, all the governments of Continental Europe took fright at “the powerful and formidable organisation of the International Working-men’s Association, and the rapid development it had attained in a few years.” (See Circular of the Spanish Foreign Minister to the representatives of Spain in Foreign Countries.) Instead of laying the Red Ghost by the simple process of shaking at its face the sorry returns of the General Council, why, in the name of common sense, did the Pope and his bishops exorcise the International, the French Rural Assembly outlaw it, Bismarck — at the Salzburg meeting of the emperors of Austria and Germany — threaten it with a Holy Alliance Crusade, and the White Czar commend it to his terrible “Third Division,” then presided over by the emotional Schouvaloff?
Mr. George Howell condescends to admit: “Poverty is no crime, but it is fearfully inconvenient.” I admit, he speaks by book. The prouder he ought to have felt of his former fellowship with a Working-men’s Association, which won world-wide fame and a place in the history of mankind, not by length of purse, but by strength of mind and unselfish energy.
However, from the lofty standpoint of an insular “philistine,” Mr. George Howell reveals to the “cultured people” of the “Nineteenth Century,” that the International was a “failure,” and has faded away. In reality, the social democratic working-men’s parties organised on more or less national dimensions, in Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Holland, and the United States of America, form as many international groups, no longer single sections thinly scattered through different countries and held together by an eccentric General Council, but the working masses themselves in continuous, active, direct intercourse, cemented by exchange of thought, mutual services, and common aspiration.
After the fall of the Paris Commune, all working class organisation in France was of course temporarily broken, but is now in an incipient state of reforming. On the other hand, despite all political and social obstacles, the Slavs, chiefly in Poland, Bohemia, and Russia, participate at present in this international movement to an extent not to be foreseen by the most sanguine in 1872. Thus, instead of dying out, the International did only pass from its first period of incubation to a higher one where its already original tendencies have in part become realities. In the course of its progressive development, it will yet have to undergo many a change, before the last chapter of its history can be written.
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