1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/International, The
INTERNATIONAL, THE. The International Working Men's Association, commonly called “The International,” was formed at London in 1864. It was a society of working men of all nations, somewhat like a cosmopolitan trades union, but bearing a still closer resemblance to an international social science association for discussing and furthering the rights of labour. The occasion of its formation was the visit of some French workmen to the London Exhibition of 1862. In the course of their visit the labour question was discussed, and a desire for the further interchange of ideas expressed. Nothing decisive was done till 1864, when a great public meeting of working men of all nations was held at St Martin's Hall, London, and a provisional committee was appointed to draft the constitution of the new association.
The first four congresses of the International, held at Geneva (September 1866), Lausanne (1867), Brussels (1868), and Basel (1869), marked the rapid development of the association. It gained its first triumph in the effectual support of the bronze-workers at Paris during their lock-out in 1867; and it repeatedly aided the English unionists by preventing the importation of cheap labour from the continent. It soon spread as far east as Poland and Hungary, and it had affiliated societies with journals devoted to its cause in every country of western Europe.
It was supposed to be concerned in all the revolutionary movements and agitations of Europe, gaining notoriety as the rallying point of social overthrow and ruin. Its prestige, however, was always based more on the vast possibilities of the cause it represented than on its actual power. Its organization was loose, its financial resources insignificant; the continental unionists joined it more in the hope of borrowing than of contributing support. At the successive congresses its socialistic tendencies became more and more pronounced; it declared its opposition to private property not only in railways but in mines and the soil, holding that these should revert to the community. Even the principle of inheritance was saved only by a narrow majority. In 1869 M. Bakunin, the Russian socialist or nihilist, with his party joined the association, and at once asserted his character as the “apostle of universal destruction.”
The relation of the association to the communal rising at Paris in the spring of 1871 has been the subject of much dispute. It is now agreed that the International as such had no part either in originating or conducting it; some of its French members joined it, but only on their individual responsibility. Its complicity after the event is equally clear. After the fall of the commune the general council of London, Karl Marx included, issued a long and trenchant manifesto, approving its action and extolling the “glorious vanquished.” From this point the decline and fall of the association is to be dated. The English unionists, intent on more practical concerns at home, never took a deep interest in its proceedings; the German socialists were hindered by law from corporate action; America was too remote. But it found its worst enemies amongst its own friends; the views of Marx and his school were too moderate for the universally subversive principles of M. Bakunin and the radical Swiss federation of the Jura. It came to a rupture at the congress of 1872, held at the Hague, when Bakunin, being outvoted and “excommunicated” by the Marx party, formed a rival International, which found its chief support in Spain and Italy. Wearied of its European contentions and desirous to form a basis of operation in America, the Marx International now transferred the seat of its general council to New York; but it survived just long enough to hold another congress at Geneva in 1874, and then quietly expired.
The party of destruction styling themselves “autonomists” had a bloodier history. The programme of this party was to overturn all existing institutions, with the view to reconstructing them on some vague communal basis such as had been tried at Paris in 1871. It endeavoured to realize this in the great communal risings in southern Spain in 1873, when its adherents set up their peculiar form of government at Barcelona, Seville, Cadiz and Cartagena—at the last-mentioned place also seizing part of the ironclad fleet of Spain. As at Paris, they failed in leadership and organization, and were suppressed, though not without difficulty, by the national troops. The “autonomists” lingered on till 1879. The collapse was complete of an association which once extended from Hungary to San Francisco, and alarmed the minds of men with visions of universal ruin.