The Policy of the International
L’Égalité, August 7, 1869;
“We have believed until now, said La Montagne, that political and religious opinions were independent of the profession of member of the International; and, as for us, that is the terrain on which we place ourselves.”
We could believe, at first glance, that Mr. Coullery was right. For, in fact, in accepting a new member the International does not ask him whether he is religious or an atheist, whether or not he belongs to any political party. It simply asks him: Are you a worker, or if you are not, do you want and do you feel you have the need and strength to frankly, fully embrace the cause of the workers, to identify with it to the exclusion of all causes that might oppose it?
Do you feel that the workers, who produce all of the world’s wealth, who are the creatures of civilization and who have won all the bourgeois liberties, are today condemned to poverty, ignorance and slavery? Do you understand that the principal source of all the evils that the workers endure is poverty, and that this poverty, which is the lot of all the workers in the world, is a necessary consequence of the present economic order of society, and particularly of the submission of labor of the proletariat to the yoke of capital, to the bourgeoisie?
Do you understand that there is an irreconcilable antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, which is the necessary consequence of their respective positions? That the prosperity of the bourgeois class is incompatible with the well-being and liberty of the workers, because this exclusive prosperity can be founded only upon the exploitation and subjugation of their labor, and that for this reason, the prosperity and human dignity of the working masses absolutely demands the abolition of the bourgeoisie as a separate class? That, as a consequence, the war between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is inevitable, and can only end with the destruction of the bourgeoisie.
Do you understand that no worker, however intelligent and energetic, can struggle all by himself against the well-organized power of the bourgeoisie, a power principally represented and sustained by the organization of the State, of all the States? That in order to give yourself the strength you must associate, not with the bourgeois, which would be a stupidity or a crime on your part, because all the bourgeois, as bourgeois, are our irreconcilable enemies, nor with some unfaithful workers, who would be so cowardly as to go beg for the smiles and benevolence of the bourgeois, but with honest, energetic workers, who frankly want what you want?
Do you understand that faced with the formidable coalition of all the privileged classes, all the proprietors and capitalists, and all the states in the world, an isolated workers’ association, local or national, even in one of the greatest European nations, could never triumph, and that to stand up to that coalition and obtain that victory, nothing less would be required than a union of all the local and national workers’ associations into a single universal association, that it would require the great International Association of the workers of all countries?
If you feel, understand and truly want all this, then come to us, whatever your political and religious beliefs. But in order to be accepted, you must promise:
1) to subordinate from now on your personal interests, and even those of your family, as well as your political and religious convictions and expressions, to the supreme interest of our association: the struggle of labor against capital, of the workers against the bourgeoisie on the economic terrain;
2) to never compromise with the bourgeoisie for your personal gain;
3) to never seek to raise yourself individually, only for your own gain, above the working mass, which would immediately make you a bourgeois, an enemy and exploiter of the proletariat; for the only difference between the bourgeois and the worker is that the first always seeks his good outside the collectivity, only seeks it and claims to win it in solidarity with all those who labor and are exploited by the capital of the bourgeois;
4) to remain always faithful to the solidarity of the workers, for the least betrayal of that solidarity will be considered by the International as the greatest crime and infamy that any worker could commit. In short, you must frankly, fully accept our general statutes and give your solemn pledge to conform to them from now on in your acts and life.
We think that the founders of the International Association have acted with a very great wisdom by first of all eliminating all political and religious questions from the program of that Association. Doubtless, they did not themselves lack political opinions, nor very marked anti-religious opinions; but they abstained from advancing them in that program, because their principal aim was to unite above all the working masses of the civilized world in a common action. They necessarily had to seek a common basis, a series of simple principles about which all the workers, whatever there political and religious aberrations, if they are serious workers, honest men who are harshly exploited and suffering, are and should be in agreement.
If they displayed the flag of a political or anti-religious system, far from uniting the workers of Europe they would still be more divided; because, with the ignorance of the workers assisting, the self-serving and most utterly corrupting propaganda of the priests, the governments and all the bourgeois political parties, including the very reddest of them, has spread a host of false ideas among the working masses, that these blind masses are unfortunately still too often fascinated by some lies, which have no other aim than to make them willingly and stupidly serve, to the detriment of their own interests, those of the privileges classes.
Besides, there still exists too great a difference in the degrees of industrial, political, intellectual and moral development of the working masses in the different countries for it to be possible for them to unite today by one single political and antireligious program. To pose such a program as that of the International, by making it an absolute condition for entry into that Association, would be to try to establish a sect, not a global association. It could only destroy the International.
There is yet another important reason for eliminating at first, in appearance and only in appearance, all political tendencies.
From the beginnings of history to this day, there has still never been a true politics of the people, and by that word we mean the lower classes, the working rabble who feed the world with their toil. There has only been the politics of the privileged classes, those classes who have used the muscular power of the people to mutually depose one another, and to replace one another. The people, in turn, have only taken the part of some against the others in the vain hope that at least one of these political revolutions, which no one has been able to make without them, would bring some relief to their century-old poverty and slavery. They have always been misled. Even the great French Revolution betrayed them. It killed the aristocratic nobility and put the bourgeoisie in its place. The people are no longer called slaves or serfs, they are proclaimed freeborn by law, but in fact their slavery and poverty remain the same.
And they will always remain the same as long as the popular masses continue to serve as an instrument for bourgeois politics, whether that politics is called conservative, liberal, progressive, or radical, and even when it is given the most revolutionary appearances in the world. For all bourgeois politics, whatever its color and name, can at base only have one aim: the maintenance of bourgeois domination; and bourgeois domination is the slavery of the proletariat.
And they will remain enslaved as long as the working masses continue to serve as tools of bourgeois politics, whether conservative or liberal, even if those politics pretend to he revolutionary. For all bourgeois politics whatever the label or color have only one purpose: to perpetuate domination by the bourgeoisie, and bourgeois domination is the slavery of the proletariat.
What then was the International to do? It first had to loose the working masses from all bourgeois politics, it had to eliminate from its own program all the political programs of the bourgeois. But at the time of its founding, there was no other politics in the world by but those of the Church or the monarchy, or of the aristocracy or bourgeoisie; the last, especially that of the radical bourgeoisie, was indisputably more liberal and more humane than the others, but all equally founded on the exploitation of the working masses and having in reality no other aim than to dispute the monopoly of that exploitation. So the International had to begin by clearing the ground, and like every politics, from the point of view of the emancipation of labor, found itself thus tarnished by reactionary elements, it first had to purge itself of every known political system, in order to be able to build on these ruins of the bourgeois world, the true politics of the workers, the politics of the International Association.
L’Égalité, August 14, 1869;
The founders of the International Workingmen's Association acted with so much more wisdom by avoiding posing political and philosophical principles as the basis of that association, and giving it at first for sole basis only the purely economic struggle of labor against capital, as they were certain that, from the moment that a worker put his foot on the land, from the moment that, taking confidence both in his right and in numerical strength, he agrees with his companions to work in a united struggle against bourgeois exploitation, he will necessarily be led, by the very force of things and by the development of the struggle, to recognize soon all the political, socialist and philosophical principles of the International, principles that are nothing, in fact, but the just exposition of its starting point, its purpose.
We have set out these principles in previous issues. From the political and social point of view, their necessary consequences are the abolition of the classes, and consequently that of the bourgeoisie, which is the dominant class today; the abolition of all the territorial States, that of all the political homelands, and on their ruin, the establishment of the great international federation of all the productive groups, national and local. From the philosophical point of vie, as they tend to nothing less than the realization of the human ideal, of human happiness, of quality, of justice and liberty on earth, that because they tend to render completely useless all the celestial complements and all the hopes of a better world, they have as an equally necessary consequence the abolition of the cults and all the religious systems.
Announce these two goals first of all to the ignorant workers, crushed by the work of each day and demoralized—poisoned, as it were—knowingly by the perverse doctrines that the governments, in concert with all the privileged castes, priests, nobility, bourgeoisie, distribute to them with both hands, and you will scare them; they will perhaps reject you, without suspecting that all these ideas are nothing but the most faithful expression of their own interests, that these goals bear within them the realization of their dearest wishes; and that, on the contrary, the religious and political prejudices in whose name they reject them may be the direct cause of the prolongation of their slavery and poverty.
It is necessary to clearly distinguish the prejudices of the popular masses and those of the privileged classes. The prejudices of the masses, as we have just said, are only based on their ignorance and are entirely contrary to their interests, while those of the bourgeoisie are based precisely on the interests of that class, and are only maintained, against the dissolving action of bourgeois science itself, that to the collective selfishness of the bourgeois. The people want, but they do not know. The bourgeoisie know, but they do not want. Of the two, which is incurable? The bourgeoisie, of course.
General rule: You can only convert those who feel the need of conversion, only those who already bear in their instincts or in the miseries of their position, whether external or internal, all that you want to give them; never those who do not feel the need of any change, even those who, while desiring to escape from a position where they are dissatisfied, are driven by the nature of their moral, intellectual and social habits, to seek it in a world that is not the one of your ideas.
Convert to socialism, I beg you, a nobleman who covets wealth, a bourgeois who would be a noble, or even a worker who does tend to all the forces of his soul only to become a bourgeois! Then convert a real or imaginary aristocrat of the intellect, a scholar, a half-scholar, a fourth, tenth, or hundredth part of a scholar who, full of scientific ostentation, often only because they only had the good fortune to have understood, after a fashion, a few books, are full of arrogant contempt for the illiterate masses, and imagine that they are called to form between themselves a new ruling, that is to say exploiting, caste.
No reasoning or propaganda will ever be able to convert these wretches. To convince them, there is only one means: it is the deed, the destruction of the very possibility of privileged situations, the destruction of all domination and exploitation; it is the social revolution, which, sweeping away everything that establishes inequality in the world, will moralize them and force them to seek their happiness in equality and in solidarity.
Things are different with serious workers. By serious workers we mean those who are really crushed by the weight of toil; all those whose position is so precarious and so miserable that none, except in extraordinary circumstances, can even think of attain for himself, and only for himself, in the present economic conditions and social environment, a better position; to become in their turn, for example, a boss or a member of the Council of State. We doubtless also place in this category those rare and generous workers who, though they have the opportunity to rise individually above the working class, still prefer nevertheless to suffer for a time, in solidarity with their comrades in poverty, exploitation by the bourgeoisie, than to become exploiters in their turn. Such workers do not have to be converted; they are pure socialists.
We speak of the great mass of workers who, exhausted by their daily labor, are miserable and ignorant. That mass, whatever the political and religious prejudices that have attempted or even partially succeeded in claiming its conscience, is socialistic without knowing it. It is, in the heart of its instinct and by the very force of its position, more seriously and truly socialist than all the scientific and bourgeois socialists combined. It is socialists by virtue of all the conditions of its material existence, by all the needs of its being, while the others are only socialist by virtue of the needs of their thought. In real life, the needs of the being always exert a much greater power than those of thought, thought being here, as it is everywhere and always, the expression of the being, the reflection of the successive developments, but never its principle.
What the workers lack is not the reality, the real necessity of socialist aspirations, but only socialist thought; what each worker demands in the bottom of their heart: a fully human existence as material well-being and intellectual development, based on justice, on equality and liberty for each and all in labor; that instinctive ideal of each who only live by their own labor, can obviously not be realized in the present political and social world, which is based on the cynical exploitation of the labor of the working masses. Thus, each serious worker is necessarily a socialist revolutionary, since their emancipation can only be attained by the overthrow of everything that now exists. Either that organization of injustice, with its whole display of iniquitous laws and privileged institutions must perish, or the working masses will remain condemned to an eternal slavery.
Here is the socialist thought whose seeds are found in the instinct of every serious worker. The aim is thus to make the worker fully conscious of what they want, to give rise in them to a thought that corresponds to their instinct, for from the moment that the thought of the working masses is raised to the height of their instinct, their desire will be determined and their power will become irresistible.
What is it that still prevents the more rapid development of that salutary tough in the heart of the working masses? Their ignorance, doubtless, and in large part the political and religious prejudices by which the interested classes still struggle today to obfuscate their conscience and their natural intelligence. How to dispel that ignorance, how to destroy these harmful prejudices? – By education and propaganda?
These are doubtless excellent means. But in the present state of the working masses they are insufficient. The isolated worker is too crushed by their work and by their daily cares to give much time to their education. And who will make this propaganda? Will it be the few sincere socialists, born of the bourgeoisie who are full of generous impulses, no doubt, but who are far too few in number to give their propaganda all the necessary breadth, and who, on the other hand, belonging by their position to a different world, do not have all the grasp of the workers’ world that is required and who excite in them more or less legitimate distrust.
“The emancipation of the workers is the task of the workers themselves,” said the preamble of our general statutes. And it is a thousand times right to say it. It is the principal basis of our great Association. But the world of the workers is generally ignorant, it still completely lacks theory. So there remains to it only a single way, and it is that of its emancipation by practice. What can and should that practice be?
There is only one. It is that of the struggle of the workers in solidarity against the bosses. It is the trades unions, organization and the federation of the strike funds.
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]