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The International Workingmen's Association (IWA), often called the First International (1864–1876), was an international organisation which aimed at uniting a variety of different left-wing socialist, communist[1] and anarchist groups and trade unions that were based on the working class and class struggle. It was founded in 1864 in a workmen's meeting held in St. Martin's Hall, London. Its first congress was held in 1866 in Geneva.

In Europe, a period of harsh reaction followed the widespread Revolutions of 1848. The next major phase of revolutionary activity began almost twenty years later with the founding of the IWA in 1864. At its peak, the IWA reported having 8 million members[2] while police reported 5 million.[3] In 1872, it split in two over conflicts between statist and anarchist factions and dissolved in 1876. The Second International was founded in 1889.

The conference was mainly noted for the confrontation between the Proudhonist mutualists and the collectivist position, defended by Marx's envoy for the General Council and Bakunin both. However, the Belgian socialist de Paepe played a decisive role in bringing the Belgian delegation across to the collectivist side and isolating the mainly French Proudhonists.

The fifth Congress of the IWA was held in early September 1872 in The Hague, the Netherlands. After the Paris Commune (1871), Bakunin characterised Marx's ideas as authoritarian and argued that if a Marxist party came to power its leaders would end up as bad as the ruling class they had fought against (notably in his Statism and Anarchy). In 1872, the conflict in the First International climaxed with a final split between the two groups at the Hague Congress. This clash is often cited as the origin of the long-running conflict between anarchists and Marxists.

The Hague Congress was notable for the attempted expulsion of Bakunin and Guillaume and for the decision to relocate the General Council to New York City. The main resolutions passed centred on committing the International to building political parties, aimed at capturing state power as an indispensable condition for socialist transformation.

After 1872: two First InternationalsNew York City. The main resolutions passed centred on committing the International to building political parties, aimed at capturing state power as an indispensable condition for socialist transformation.

From then on, the Marxist and anarchist currents of socialism had distinct organisations, at various points including rival internationals.

This split is sometimes called the "red" and "black" divide, red referring to the Marxists and black referring to the anarchists. Otto von Bismarck remarked upon hearing of the split at the First International that "[c]rowned heads, wealth and privilege may well tremble should ever again the Black and Red unite!".Otto von Bismarck remarked upon hearing of the split at the First International that "[c]rowned heads, wealth and privilege may well tremble should ever again the Black and Red unite!".[10]

The anarchist wing of the First International held a separate congress in September 1872 at St. Imier, Switzerland. The anarchists rejected the claim that Bakunin and Guillaume had been expelled and repudiated The Hague Congress as unrepresentative and improperly conducted. Over two days on 15–16 September 1872 at Saint-Imier, they declared themselves to be the true heirs of the International (see Anarchist St. Imier International).

Bakunin's programme was adopted, Marx was implicitly excluded and the anarchist First International ran until 1877, with some early growth in areas like Egypt and Turkey.

The sixth Congress of the Marxist wing of the International was held in Geneva in September 1873, but it was generally considered to be a failure. The Marxist wing hobbled on until it disbanded three years later at the 1876 Philadelphia conference. Attempts to revive the organisation over the next five years failed.

Since scholarship on the International is heavily shaped by different assessments of the importance and the effects of the Marx–Bakunin conflict, different accounts emphasise different wings of the International and give different dates of its final closure (1876 or 1877).

The Second International was established in 1889 as a successor. Both anarchists and Marxists were involved in the new body in its early years.

The International Working People's Association (the so-called Black International), an anarchist International, appeared in 1881, was mainly influential in the United States and Mexico and gradually disappeared after the late 1880s.

At a congress in Berlin in 1922, the anarcho-syndicalists decided to re-found the First International as the International Workers' Association, which still exists.