Secret Societies of All Ages: Vol 2 - Charles Heckethorn

The International Workingmen's Association

503. History of the International.—The first attempt at an international society was made by a small number of German workmen in London, who had been expelled from France in 1839 for taking part in the emeute in Paris. Its members consisted of Germans, Hungarians, Poles, Danes, and Swedes. Of the few English members, Ernest Jones was one. The society was on friendly terms with the English Socialists, the Chartists, and the London French Democratic Society. Out of that friendship sprang the Society of the Fraternal Democrats, who were in correspondence with a number of democratic societies in Belgium.

In November 1847 a German Communist Conference was held in London, at which Dr. Karl Marx was present. In the manifesto then put forth, it was declared that the aim of the Communists was the overthrow of the rule of the capitalists by the acquisition of political power. The practical measures by which this was to be effected were the abolition of private property in land; the centralisation of credit in the hands of the State—the leading agitators of course to be the chiefs of the State—by means of a national bank; the centralisation of the means of transport in the hands of the State; national workshops; the reclamation and improvement of land; and the gratuitous education of all the children. But all these fine schemes of amelioration, or rather spoliation, in consequence of the Revolution of February 1848, ended in smoke; and it was not till the year 1859, when the London builders' dispute arose, that new alliances among the working-men were formed.

In 1860 a Trade Unionist, Manhood Suffrage, and Vote by Ballot Association was established. As if it had not enough of what might be called legitimate work to do, the association also undertook to agitate in favour of Poland, for which purpose it co-operated with the National League for the Independence of Poland. The London International Exhibition of 1862 induced the French Government to assist many French workmen with means to visit that exhibition; "a visit," said the French press, "which will enable our workmen to study the great works of art and industry, remove the leaven of international discord, and replace national jealousies by fraternal emulation." It is impossible to say how far these French workmen studied the works of art and industry exhibited in 1862, but it is quite certain that the old leaven of international discord, which up to that time had not been very formidable, was speedily replaced by a new leaven of social discord, not so virulent at first, it is true, as it subsequently became in the after-days of the International. Many of the original members of this association, in fact, eventually withdrew from it, as they refused to be identified with its excesses, which had not been planned or foreseen by its founders.

On the 5th of August, all the delegates met at a dinner given to them by their English colleagues at Freemasons' Hall, when an address was read which formed, as it were, the foundation-stone of the International. The Imperial Commission that had enabled the French workmen to visit the London Exhibition had no doubt furnished them with return tickets; but several of the artisans made no use of their second halves, since profitable employment in London was found for them by their English brethren, so that they might form connecting links between the workmen of the two countries.

The next year a new meeting was found necessary. There was no longer an Exhibition, nor subsidies from the Imperial Government to pay travelling expenses. The pretext, however, was found in a demonstration just then made in favour of Poland. Six French delegates having mulcted their mates in contributions towards the pleasant trip, came over, and the democrats of London and Paris were invited to co-operate in the liberation of Poland, and to form an international working-men's alliance. Various meetings were held, and all the stale twaddle concerning Poland and the emancipation of the working classes talked over again. A central committee of working-men of different countries, to have its seat in London—truly England is the political and social dunghill of Europe!—was appointed, and a collection of course followed, which at the most important meeting realised three guineas. A paltry sum after so much talk! The members of the committee, holding its powers by the resolution of the public meeting held on September 28, 1864, at St. Martin's Hall, then declared the International Working-Men's Association to be established; and congresses were appointed to be held at different times and places, to decide on the measures to be taken to found the working-men's Eldorado. Many societies at first were affiliated, but dissensions soon broke out among them, and many, such as the Italian Working-Men's Society, withdrew again.

In 1866, a meeting or congress was held at Geneva, where it was decided that an inquiry into the condition of the working classes of all countries should be made respecting rate of wages, hours of labour, etc. And this inquiry, which never was made on the part of the International, was to be a preliminary to practical measures—no wonder that the association produced nothing practical. At this Geneva Congress resolutions were passed in favour of transferring railways and other means of locomotion to the people, and of destroying the monopoly of the great companies "that subject the working classes to arbitrary laws, assailing both the dignity of man and individual liberty." Resolutions were also passed in favour of direct taxation. How this suggestion would be received by the working-man has very pleasantly been pointed out by Punch or some other comic paper: "Mrs. Brown (loq.}—'Well, Mrs. Jones, my husband says that if they tax him, he will take it out in parish relief.'" The abolition of standing armies and the independence of Poland—Poland again—were also decided on. Both these points are still decided on, and will probably remain at the same interesting stage of progress a little longer.

504. Objects and Aims of International.—To sum up what was proposed at the latter congresses: Quarries, coal and other mines, as well as railways, shall belong to the social collectivity, represented by the State; but by the State regenerated, that will concede them, not, as now, to capitalists, but to associations of workmen. The soil shall be granted to agricultural associations; canals, roads, telegraphs, and forests shall belong collectively to society. Contracts of lease, or letting, shall be converted into contracts of sale; that is to say, capital shall no longer be entitled to claim interest. If I borrow £1000, I shall have paid off the debt in twenty years by an annual payment of £50. Such were the doctrines of this society, whose motto was, La proprtitd, c'est le vol. All these, however, were clothed in very fine words "economic evolution," "social collectivity," "scientific and rational exploitation," "social liquidation," etc.

No congress met in 1870, in consequence of the war; but the programme that was to have formed the subject of discussion has been published. The first question was: "On the necessity of abolishing the public debt". The third: "Concerning practical means for converting landed and funded property into social property". The fifth: "Conditions of co-operative prodnctiou on a national scale". The Belgian Committee proposed as an additional question: "Concerning the practical means for constituting agricultural sections in the International". Thus private property was to be abolished, private enterprise destroyed, and the poison of Communism, with which large towns are now infected, to be diffused throughout the country. What would these men have done could they, according to their intention, have met in Paris in 1870? The pertinacity with which the cause of Poland is sought to be identified with the objects of the International has already been alluded to. Poland seems a mine that can never be exhausted. Thousands of rogues and vagabonds of all countries have fattened, are fattening, and will yet fatten on this carcass, as burnt-out tradesmen have been known to flourish on the fire by which they lost everything!

505. The International in England.—In this country, as we have seen, the International had only a limited success. It indeed held public meetings and demonstrations, and led to some insignificant riots, for the occurrence of which our Government of course was very much to blame. There were, indeed, alarmists who were led astray by the "bounce" of the International, and who thus invested it with greater importance than intrinsically attached to it. Thus a Paris paper contained a letter from a London correspondent, which gave an awful picture of the danger threatening this country from the spread of socialistic doctrines. The writer said: "The whole of this vast empire is permeated by secret societies. The International here holds its meetings almost publicly. It is said that the greater number of the dispossessed princes of India, a good number of officers belonging to the army and navy, as well as members of Parliament, and even ministers, are affiliated to it(!). The Government is aware of the infernal plan by which, at a given moment, the public buildings of London are to be exposed to the fate which befell so many in Paris. Boats are already waiting on the Thames to receive the treasures of the Bank of England—an easy prey, say the conspirators—as soon as the main artery of the Strand shall have been burnt, and the public buildings, the barracks especially, shall have been blown up, as was three years ago the Clerkenwell prison."

Perhaps the writer was only joking; and if I thought the leaders of the International possessed any Machiavellian talent, I should say they themselves caused the letter to be written to give the world an exaggerated idea of their power therein imitating the President of the London Republican Club, who boasted of his power of pulling down the monarchy, as that would be the readiest means of attracting fresh members; for the idea of belonging to a powerful and universally diffused brotherhood exercises a great fascination over the minds of only partially educated men, such as form the bulk of the working classes.

506. The International Abroad.—Abroad, however, its action was much more marked. It fomented serious riots in Holland, Belgium, and France; and in the last-named country it especially stimulated Communism, and supported the Paris Commune in all its atrocities, which were spoken of in the most laudatory terms in the then recently published pamphlet, "The Civil War in France" (Truelove, 1871). But even continental workmen have ere this discovered the hollowness of the International. The working engineers of Brussels, instead of receiving during a recent strike fifteen francs weekly, as promised, were paid only six francs; and having imposed upon the masters an augmentation of fifty percent, on overtime, the masters, in order to avoid this ruinous tariff, had no work performed after the regular hours. The men, finding themselves losers by this rule, enforced on them by the International, sent in their resignations as members of the society, which they described as the "Leprosy of Europe," and the "Company of Millionaires . . . on paper." At a conference held in London, the Russian delegate urged that his country especially offered an excellent field for the spread of socialist doctrines, and that the students were quite ripe for revolution. Wherefore it was decided that a special appeal should be addressed to the Russian students and workmen.

507. The International and the Empire.—At the time when the International was founded, the French Empire was as yet in all its strength. None of the parties that secretly strove against it seemed to have any chance of success; nor from their political and social characteristics could these parties, though all bent on the overthrow of the empire, coalesce and act as one combined force. The International refused to ally itself to any of them or to meddle with politics, but declared social questions paramount to all political considerations; and to the position thus assumed by the association it was due that the Imperial Government did not molest it, but that the ministers allowed it to develop itself, hoping at the convenient moment to win it over to their interest. These ministers considered themselves very profound politicians, when they had fomented a quarrel between Prussia and Austria; trusting, when these two powers should mutually have exhausted each other, to seize the Rhenish provinces. They looked upon themselves as small Machiavellis when they permitted the International to grow in order some day to use it against a mutinous bourgeoisie.

The Emperor had an opportunity on September 2, at Sedan, and the Empress on September 4, at Paris, to judge of the value of such policy. However, the scheme of the association having been settled in London in 1864, the organisers opened at Paris a bureau de correspondance, which was neither formally interdicted nor regularly authorised by the Prefect and the Minister. But the constantly-growing power of the International, shown by the strikes of Roubaix, Amiens, Paris, Geneva, etc., after a time compelled the Government either to direct or to destroy it. The Parisian manifesto read at Geneva was stopped at the French frontier; but M. Rouher agreed to admit it into France, if the association would insert some passages thanking the Emperor for what he had done for the working classes—a suggestion which was received with derision by the members.

In the meantime the old revolutionary party looked with suspicion on the foundation of the International; for, as this last declared that it would not meddle with politics, the others called out, Treason! and thus the two parties were soon in a condition of violent opposition. In 1867, the Congress of Lausanne voted against war, but at the same moment the other fraction of the demagogues, assembled at Geneva, under pretence of forming a congress of peace, declared war to all tyrants and oppressors of the people. However, the two parties, the bourgeois demagogues and the workmen demagogues, eventually united; and thus it came to pass that by virtue of this pact the International took part in two revolutionary manifestations which occurred about six weeks after the one at the tomb of Manin in the cemetery of Montmartre, and the other on the following day on the Boulevard Montmartre, to protest against the French occupation of Rome.

The International having thus been carried away to declare war against the Government, the latter determined to prosecute it. The association was declared to be dissolved, and fifteen of the leaders were each fined ono hundred francs. The International taking no notice of the decree of dissolution, a second prosecution was instituted, and nine of the accused were condemned to imprisonment for three months. The International now hid itself amidst the multitude of working-men's societies of all descriptions that were either authorised or at least tolerated, and made enormous progress, so that its chiefs at last declared themselves able to do without any extraneous support. The International, said one of the speakers at the Basle Congress (1869), is and must be a state within states; let these go on as suits them, until our state is the strongest. Then, on the ruins of these, we shall erect our own fully prepared, such as it exists in every section. The Volksstimme, the Austrian organ of the society, said: "To us the red flag is the symbol of universal love of mankind. Let our enemies beware lest they transform it against themselves into a flag of terror." To have an organ of its own the International founded the Marseillaise, with Rochefort for its chief, his association therewith having induced certain capitalists to find the necessary funds.

Another personage with whom it became connected was General Cluseret (669). Cluseret, as an adventurer, always on the look-out for what might turn up, saw the power such an association as the International might command, and the latter found in him a willing tool. From a letter he addressed from New York to Varlin, on February 17, 1870, it also appears that all the crimes of which he has since then been guilty, were premeditated, and that he had from the first resolved not to perish without involving Paris in his fall. "On that day" (of the downfall of Louis Napoleon), he says, "on that day, we or nothing. On that day Paris must be ours, or Paris must cease to exist." That this feeling was shared by other members of the association may be inferred from the fact that, at the house of one of the affiliated was found a dictionary which formed the key of their secret correspondence. Now, besides the usual words, we find such as nitro-glycerine and picrate of potash; at the house of another, recipes were discovered for the manufacture of nitro-glycerine, and of various other explosive compounds. Some of the recipes were followed by such directions as these "To be thrown in at windows," "To be thrown into gutters," etc.

The attempted plebiscite in support of the reforms voted by the Senate, in January 1870, was violently opposed by the International, who declared in favour of a republic. On the occasion of the plot of the Orsini shells, the society, in defending itself against the charge of having had any share in it, declared that it did not war against individual perpetrators of coups d'etat, but that it was a permanent conspiracy of all the oppressed, which shall exist until all capitalists, priests, and political adventurers shall have disappeared. Such a declaration of war against all men that had any interest in the maintenance of public order, and especially against many men forming the then Imperial Government, naturally induced a third prosecution.

Thirty-eight members were indicted, many of whom we meet again as active members of the Commune. Some were acquitted, others condemned to one year's imprisonment. No one suspected that the names of these obscure workmen, condemned as members of a secret society, would soon be connected with the most horrible disasters of Paris, and that these men, sentenced to such slight punishments, would at the end of a year reappear before a military tribunal, after having for two months and a half filled terrified Paris with pillage, murder, and incendiary fires.

508. The International and the War.—The International condemned all war except war against bourgeois, capitalists, monopolists, parasites—that is to say, the classes that live not by manual labour, but by intellectual work, or the savings of any kind of labour. It abolished national wars, to replace them by social war. For this reason it so pertinaciously insisted on the abolition of all standing armies, which are of course great obstacles to its own plans. It therefore protested against the Franco-Prussian war, but as this opposition ended in mere talk, it need not further be dilated on. Its only results were to consign some of the most violent opponents to prison; and there is no proof that one single soldier of the regular Prussian army, or even of the Landwehr, deserted or refused to fight, in order to remain faithful to the theories of the society. In France the affiliated of the International were only brave in civil war.

On September 3, 1870, the disaster of Sedan became known at Paris. On the next day, Lyons, Marseilles, Toulouse, and Paris proclaimed the Republic. This simultaneous movement was the result of an understanding existing between the leading members of the International in the various parts of France; but that the "Jules Favres and Gambettas," that vermine bourgeoise, as the International called them, should obtain any share of power, was very galling to the demagogues. At Lyons and Marseilles, however, the supreme power fell into the hands of the lowest wretches. The Commune installed at Lyons began its work by raising the red flag—that of the International. At Paris the association pretended at first to be most anxious to fight the Prussians. When the battalions were sent to the front, however, it was found that those comprising most Internationals were the most ready "to fall back in good order," or even to flee in great disorder at the first alarm; and General Clement Thomas pointed out this instructive fact to the readers of the Journal Officiel. But when a few Prussian regiments entered Paris, the International, through its central committee, announced that the moment for action was come; and so the members seized the cannons scattered in various parts of the city, and then began that series of excesses, for which the Commune will always enjoy an infamous notoriety.

509. The International and the Commune.—One would have supposed that the International would disavow the Communists; but, on the contrary, it approved of their proceedings. Flames were still ascending from the Hotel de Ville, when already numerous sections of the International throughout Europe expressed their admiration of the conduct of the Parisian outcasts.

At Zurich, at a meeting of the members of the International, it was declared that "the struggle maintained by the Commune of Paris was just and worthy, and that all thinking men ought to join in the contest." At Brussels the Belgian section of the International protested against the prosecution of the malefactors of Paris. At Geneva, two days before the entrance of the Versaillais into Paris, an address to the Commune was voted, declaring that it (the Commune) represented "the economic aspirations of the working classes." The German Internationalists were no less positive in their praise of the Communists: "We are ready to defend the acts of the Commune at all times, and against all comers," said a socialistic paper published at Leipzig. The Italians sent an address to the Commune, ending thus:

"To capital which said, Ye shall starve, they replied: We will live by our labour. To despotism they replied: We are free! To the cannons and chassepots of the reactionnaires they opposed their naked breasts. They fell, but fell as heroes! Now the reaction calls them bandits. Shall we permit it? No! Let us invite our brethren to our homes, and protect them. The principles of the Commune are ours; we accept the responsibility of their acts."

The English Internationalists were too few to prove their approbation of the Commune by any public demonstration; but in private they did so very energetically. One of the members even declared that the good time "was really coming." "Soon," said he, "we shall be able to dethrone the Queen of England, turn Buckingham Palace into a workshop, and pull down the York column, as the noble French people has pulled down the Vendome column." (Be it observed here, that as this column chiefly commemorated French victories over the Germans, this act of vandalism has by some authorities been attributed to the influence of Prussian gold liberally distributed to certain patriotic members of the Commune.) But the London section of the International clearly put forth its views on the conduct of the Commune. The pamphlet, "The Civil War in France," published for the council by Truelove, 256 High Holborn, the office of the International, is a continuous panegyric on the Commune, and was at first signed by all the members of the council; but two of them, Lucraft and Odger, afterwards withdrew their names, stating that they had, in the first instance, been appended without their knowledge which appeared to be the fact.

510. Budget of the International.—One portion of the organisation of the International, and that the most important—for the chiefs, of course!—its budget, remains to be noticed. It is scarcely necessary to say that there was a total absence of official accounts; but the following details, referring to France and Belgium, will give some idea as to the way in which funds were raised and applied. Every member on his admission paid a fee of fifty centimes, for which he received his admission card, which was renewed annually and gratuitously. He had also to pay a minimum annual tax of ten centimes, to go towards the general expenses of the association. Then each federation imposed a special tax for its own expenses. At Lyons and Paris this amounted to ten centimes per month. Thus it appears that the annual tax was very light, amounting only to one franc thirty cents, which was not paying too dear for the honour of belonging to a society that aspired to the government of the world, and commenced by burning it. But this honour could be had at a still cheaper rate; for the Swiss branch charged its members only ten centimes a year. Yet even these small sums seemed difficult to be got in, and the statutes were very severe upon defaulters. But there were taxes to pay to the sections, which raised the yearly contributions to seven or eight francs.

Nor was this all. In the various legal prosecutions the society had to undergo there was frequent reference to the caisse federative du sou, though the expression was nowhere exactly defined. So far as has been ascertained it alluded to a voluntary weekly subscription of five centimes, collected in workshops and factories, from workmen who did not belong to the association, but intended to join it, or to support it without joining it. In the statutes of the Parisian branch, Article 9 further said that the council may, if necessary, vote larger sums than the general budget would justify, and proportionately increase the amount of contributions payable by the members. But the most powerful arm of the association, when any particular object was to be attained, such, for instance, as the success of a strike, was subscription. Thus the successful termination of the strike in the building trade of Geneva in 1868, was thought of such importance as to call forth unusual exertions. But the delegate who was sent to London to collect subscriptions from the English workmen met with but slight success; not because these were niggardly, but because, in spite of their avowed hatred of state forms and aristocratic deliberation, they yet so closely imitated both, that the Genevese workmen might have been starved into submission before the English woikmen had resolved to succour them, had not the Parisian workmen at once subscribed ten thousand francs.

What these annual subscriptions may have amounted to, it is impossible to tell. No doubt the total was very great, considering the large number of members; and yet it was insufficient, in consequence of the strikes that were constantly taking place at all places and times. The journals were full of the fine phrases used by the chiefs of the International concerning the sufferings of the workmen reduced by infamous capitalists to the point of forsaking their work and of leaving the workshops where their misery was turned to account. A confidential letter of Varlin, one of the chiefs of the Paris federation, which was brought into court at the trial of the International on June 22, 1870, at Paris, however, showed that the chiefs did not speak quite so feelingly of these sufferings, when they are not expected to be heard by their dupes:

"This strike which we declared closed ten days ago, leaves four hundred workmen on our hands. The day before yesterday they wanted to destroy their former workshops and drive away the mogs that had taken their places. Fortunately we restrained them, but we are greatly bothered by this affair (nous sommes bien embttte par cette affaire)."

511. Attempt to Revive the International.—An International Trades Union Congress was held in London in 1888 for the avowed purpose of reviving the International, which collapsed in 1871, though branches of it, such as the Jurassic Federation of Workmen, the International Brethren, the Council of Dynamite, at whose meetings in Chicago the editor of Freiheit presided, continue to vegetate. But the discussions as to the means of physically and morally raising the working classes as yet remain mere talk. As one of the speakers at the London Congress remarked, "The chief difficulty in the way of the reconstruction of the International lies in the apathy and indifference of the workmen themselves," which shows that the workmen are after all not such fools as agitators think or wish them to be.

512. Anarchists.—The fear of hell, the only means known to the churches of all denominations, to keep men from vice, has never been an efficient one for that purpose. In the Middle Ages, which, we are told, were permeated by deep religious feeling, club-law, persecution of the Jews, and inhuman cruelties indulged in by Church and State were the rule. The latter two have in our days become more civilised, but the masses retain their sting, and men are driven by wretchedness to attempt its removal by the destruction of all existing order.

Karl Marx in 1864 first thought of consolidating this principle by a secret society, the International Union of Working-Men. In 1868 the Russian, Michael Bakunin, and the Belgian, Victor Dave, infused into the association the poison of Anarchism, which in 1871 produced the Paris Commune. But disputes arose between the more moderate members, the Social Democrats, and the Anarchists in 1872, who thenceforth formed two distinct camps. The social democrat and bookbinder, John Most (born 1846), joined the Anarchists, and in 1879 founded in London the Freiheit, an Anarchist paper of the most violent character.

In 1883 the Anarchists attempted to blow up the German Emperor and those around him at the unveiling of the monument in the Niederwald; the two ringleaders were caught and beheaded, but in 1885 Dr. Rumpf, a high police official, who had been instrumental in securing the conviction of the criminals, was assassinated at Frankfort-on-the-Main; only the least important of the assassins, Julius Lieske, twenty-two years of age, was discovered and beheaded. Most then founded another more secret society of propagandists, to which only the leading members of the association were admitted. When the Freiheit applauded the Phoenix Park murders it was suppressed, but reappeared in Switzerland, and lastly in the United States, to which Most in 1882 emigrated, and the propaganda of Anarchism, whose secret chief seat was at Chicago, made rapid progress in the States, as well as in Europe, and culminated in the dynamite outrages at Chicago, assassinations at Strasburg, Stuttgart, Vienna, and Prague.

In the latter city, early in 1883, a secret council of Anarchists condemned the prefect of the police, who had had some of the assassins arrested, to death; lots were drawn as to who was to do the deed, and it fell on a journeyman glove-maker, named Dressier, who, however, committed suicide to escape becoming a murderer. But before his death he had written a letter to his parents, revealing the existence of the society; the information it gave enabled the police to arrest the most important members.

On the 4th July 1883, a shoe manufacturer in one of the most frequented suburban streets of Vienna was set upon in his house by two individuals, who held a sponge saturated with chloroform to his face until he became unconscious, when he was robbed of 782 florins. Some weeks after the crime was traced to an Anarchist association, and seventeen men and two women were arrested, who, after investigation, were found to be members of a secret association, whose aim, according to pamphlets found on them, was to do away with the throne, altar, and money-bags, and to establish a Red Republic. Small associations, it appeared, consisting of from five to nine members each, had been formed among the Radical workmen, each member being bound to establish another such small circle. The trial appears to have broken up the society, though Anarchists in most countries of Europe and other parts of the world remain very active, openly avowing the results they aim at, results in themselves impracticable, and which, if they could be attained, would render the existence of society and of civilisation impossible. The Anarchists, who wish to reform the world, should begin by reforming themselves.