Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 20, 2010

History of the Marxist internationals (part 1, the IWA)

Filed under: history of the Marxist internationals,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 7:10 pm

Earlier this month Marxmail subscriber Joonas Laine asked about books that cover the history of the first International, known rather unfortunately as the International Workingman’s Association. I should add that this was more than just a sexist oversight. One of the standard histories of the first international written by G.M. Stekloff that can be read online at the Marxist Internet Archives describes the exclusion of women from the Paris branch of the IWA by its Proudhonist majority:

Regarding this matter, the French … had decided by a large majority: ‘Woman’s place is the home, not the forum; nature has made her nurse and housewife, do not let us withdraw her from these social functions and from her true sphere in life; for the man, work, and study of the problems of society for the woman, the caring for children and the beautifying of the worker’s home.’ Consequently, to the great scandal of the advocates of the so-called emancipation of woman, they had decided against the admission of women to the International.

These were the words of E.E. Fribourg, a Proudhonist who had written his own history in 1871, just around the time that the IWA was collapsing.

I read Stekloff’s book as well as the first chapter of Raymond Williams Postgate’s history as background for a series of posts on the four attempts to build socialist internationals. Ever since Hugo Chavez issued a call for a Fifth International, I had promised myself to carve out some time to take up this question. Most people who are veterans of the Trotskyist movement were indoctrinated to believe something like this. The internationals that preceded our own—the fourth—failed for one reason or the other. I was more familiar with the second and the third, which succumbed to the kinds of social democratic and Stalinist sins that our movement devoted so much energy to exposing. I knew much less about the first international, which usually received a brief review in a new member’s class or an educational. Of course, our own Fourth International was destined to lead the workers to power all over the world, just as long as they didn’t get misled by the bevy of Fourth Internationals that were pretenders to the throne of Leon Trotsky.

I looked forward to reading about the IWA for several reasons. I am always looking for ways to educate myself about our movement, especially since it helps to keep my brain cells exercised. I also had a hunch that during the lifetime of the IWA, there would be the same sorts of problems we face today. In both periods Marxism was a minority current on the left. If we are trying to piece together a movement out of the rubble of the collapse of the USSR, what better period to study than when socialism was in its infancy?

To start with, it is important to realize that the IWA was not initiated by Karl Marx. As it turns out the British trade union movement played a key role in getting it off the ground and, as might be expected, had very little interest in revolutionary socialism. Indeed, one of their primary motivations was to find a way of preventing foreign workers being used as scabs in British strikes. Stekloff writes:

Simultaneously with the growth of interest in the political struggle, there was a revival of internationalist leanings among the British workers. Here and there, the direct economic interests of the workers exercised an influence. At this date, the standard of life of the British workers was higher than that of the workers in other lands, and consequently the strike movement in Britain was hindered by the competition of the Continental workers. When there was a strike in Britain, the employers would threaten to import foreign workers who would accept worse conditions – and did actually import strike-breakers from Belgium and elsewhere. Naturally, therefore, the movement could not be confined within national limits.

Accepting at face value that British trade unionists were only opposed to scabs and not foreign workers “stealing jobs”, it is necessary to note that the American trade union movement did exhibit naked racism in this period, all within the framework of the IWA.

Timothy Messer-Kruse’s “The Yankee International” explores the factional divisions between Victoria Woodhull and Fredrick Sorge in the American section of the IWA. Woodhull was considered flaky by some dogmatic Marxists since she dabbled in spiritualism and was an early feminist of the kind derided by the Proudhomists. Sorge, on the other hand, had the full support of Karl Marx on most questions but his attitude toward Chinese immigration was hardly calculated to sit well with our movement today, regardless of Marx’s feelings. Messer-Kruse explains:

At their first annual congress after purging the Yankees [Woodhull] from their midst, Sorge’s Tenth Ward Hotel faction devoted much of its attention to the issue the Chinese. In honor to their West Coast comrades, the convention chose Robert Blissert. the proxy delegate of a San Francisco section, president of the convention. Beneath their red banner inscribed with the words “Workingmen of all Countries Unite,” the delegate representing San Francisco’s Internationalists read his report:

“The white workingmen see and feel daily the effects of the Chinese labor in that State. We cannot only perceive how it affects us, but know assuredly that it will seriously affect the destiny of the working classes of this country. The Chinese have driven out of employment thousands of white men, women, girls and boys…. They are in all branches of the manufacturing business, and it is only a matter of time when they will monopolize all branches of industry; as it is impossible for white men to exist on the same amount and sort of food Chinamen seem to thrive upon.”

California’s Internationalists appealed to their Eastern comrades to do all they could to publicize the plight of the Western white worker and the grave threat posed to all white workers by the continued immigration of the Chinese. Their communication ended on a murderous note. “If Chinese emigration is not stopped,” the message declared (according to one observer present at the meeting), “blood will yet flow in the streets of San Francisco on their account.” The convention voted unanimously to “use [all] their endeavors to give all the publicity possible to the document.”

There were problems with the French section of the IWA but of an entirely different sort. There the followers of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon enjoyed hegemony. While it would be a mistake to fall into the trap of economic determinism, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that Proudhon’s philosophy of “mutualism” had a fertile soil in France since industry was not as developed as it was in Britain. If Britain’s trade union was governed by bread-and-butter issues, French radicals of the 1860s tended to have illusions that change could come about short of a proletarian revolution. Proudhon’s main emphasis was not on the class struggle, but allowing workers to have a fair share in the capitalist economy through co-operatives, the easy advancement of credit and other such reforms. Anybody who has seen Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: a love story” can easily see how seductive these ideas are in a period when the working class was not a fully developed social and economic force.


Chapter five of Stekloff’s history hones in on Proudhon’s philosophy which can be described as a form of anarchism, although distinctly at odds with Bakunin’s anarchism, another current that was also well represented in a highly heterogeneous international.

Proudhonism was organised as a system in the period of extreme reaction which supervened in France upon the suppression of the proletarian rising in June 1848. On the one hand, it was tinged with political indifferentism, which was a reflection of the political indifferentism of the masses during the Second Empire; this aroused sharp criticism on the part of the Blanquists, who declared that the International (during the early days the French members of the organisation were mainly Proudhonists) was in the service of the Bonapartist police. Or, the other hand, Proudhonism was characterised by a narrow doctrinairism. In a society based upon the dominion of large-scale capital and upon the centralisation of economic life, the Proudhonists hoped to solve the social problem by economic measures which should not transcend the limits of petty production and exchange. The difficulties arising out of the exploitation of wage labour by large-scale machine industry, in a society where banking capital had become highly concentrated, were to be overcome – so thought the Proudhonists – by the organisation of people’s banks, with free credit, and by the “equitable” (non-monetary) exchange of products among isolated producers, who were to exchange these goods for their actual (“constituted”) value.

Put in its most simple terms, Proudhonism was a system that prioritized the implementation of economic “alternatives” to capitalism to political assaults on the system. It was akin to the utopian socialist experiments of the time that took root in Britain and the United States. Utopian thought obviously continues to this day as demonstrated by the fascination with the Mondragon cooperatives in Spain, which have now grown into a powerful multinational company. As was the case with the Proudhonists, the Mondragon co-op has almost no interest in strikes or political action. If you are expecting the Mondragon management to be on the front lines against the “war on terror”, immigrant rights or gay liberation, you will likely be disappointed. This is not to say that co-op’s are not of benefit to some workers or that Proudhonism was not a genuine movement of the left. It is only a problem when such politically confused initiatives represent themselves as precursors to socialism.

Turning now to the other anarchist party represented in the IWA, we find ourselves communing with the ancestors of the Black Block rather than Mondragon. As master of the “propaganda of the deed”, Mikhail Bakunin—like Proudhon—was undoubtedly opposed to the capitalist system. But he had little interest in co-ops. His main interest was in insurrectionist activity by enlightened intellectuals over and above the heads of the proletariat.


While Bakunin saw the IWA as an organization to spread his influence, his main identification was with something called the Alliance of Social Revolutionaries founded in 1868 that he proposed as a kind of international within the First International, which the IWA understandably rejected. That, of course, did not prevent Bakunin from operating as a secret faction within the IWA. As a past master of intrigue, he probably considered his Marxist comrades with as much contempt as the bourgeoisie since both groups obviously adhered to statism.

Marx and Bakunin both emerge out of the radical wing of the Hegelian School of philosophy but by the early 1840s, they both struggled to transcend this framework. At the outset this was manifested by a tendency to see the struggle for a classless society in moral or philosophical terms. They hoped to lead European society to a better future through a kind of prophetic denunciation of contemporary ills. Proudhon’s notion that “property is theft” epitomizes this approach.

Unlike his anarchist comrades, Marx eventually came to the conclusion that a critique of capitalism had to be rooted in political economy rather than ethics. Written in 1846-47, “The Poverty of Philosophy” is not only an answer to Proudhon’s “Property is Theft,” it also contains some of the basic economic insights that would be more fully developed in Capital.

Besides the philosophical differences, you also have a basic disagreement over what Marxists call “agency,” a term designating the social class capable of transforming society through revolutionary action. Despite the fact that the industrial proletariat had not achieved the sort of numerical strength and social power that it would later in the century, Marx staked everything on this emerging class. The reasons for this are developed extensively throughout his writings, but suffice it to say at this point that it is related to his analysis of the capitalist economy. Since the capitalist system can only survive through competition and revolutionizing the means of production, it would of necessity introduce machinery and–hence–a proletariat. In struggles over wages and working conditions–as well as a host of ancillary issues–the two classes will confront each other in revolutionary battles for power.

Although Bakunin was no friend of the bourgeoisie, he never seemed to be able to make up his mind on the ‘agency’ question. Addressing Marx’s belief that the proletariat be “raised to the level of a ruling class,” Bakunin pointed out that some other class, like the peasant rabble or lumpen-proletariat might be the most willing to rise up against the capitalist system. Whether they, or the philosopher-kings leading them, had a grasp of the political tasks leading up to the final insurrection could hardly matter less.

Despite the clashes in the IWA over such basic questions, it continued to grow as workers became radicalized in struggle. While the Paris Commune was not directly led by IWA members, there is little doubt that the bourgeoisie saw it as the most consistent defender of the first proletarian revolution and a future organizer of such challenges to capitalist rule.

Torn apart by internal rifts and bourgeois repression, the IWA went into a crisis after 1871. The meeting at The Hague in the summer of 1872 would be its last. The IWA decided to expel Bakunin who was charged with mishandling funds. 300 pounds had been advanced to Bakaunin to translate Capital into Russian but he failed to follow through. He was also charged with organizing a secret faction. Additionally, Marx and Engels decided to withdraw from the leadership of the IWA in order to focus on completing Capital and other major theoretical works.

The headquarters of the IWA was transferred to the United States where it sputtered along for a few years until its final convention in July 1876. The American branch was led by Daniel DeLeon, a Jew born in Curacao in 1852 who would move to the United States as a youth and graduate from Columbia University. The American branch of the IWA would eventually become known as the Socialist Labor Party. Unlike the IWA, the SLP continued to exist right until today.

The IWA was a workers international that probably was destined to have a short life, given the social and political contradictions of the movement in its earliest phases. When it finally collapsed, Marx and Engels had already begun to consider how the next phase of the movement would take shape. Marx did not live long enough to see that development—the second international—but clearly his ideas were at its core, as opposed to the inchoate first international.

In September 27, 1873, Marx wrote to Sorge giving his assessment of where the IWA stood:

According to my reading of the European situation, it will be a very good thing that the formal organisation of the International shall, for the time being, be allowed to retire into the background – though it may be just as well that we should keep our hands upon the nucleus in New York, lest idiots like Perret or adventurers like Cluseret might get hold of it and compromise the affair. The course of events and the inevitable development and interlacement of things will spontaneously ensure the uprising of the International in an improved form. For the nonce, however, it will suffice that we avoid allowing ourselves to get quite out of touch with the really efficient workers in the movement in various lands.

One year later, it was Engels’s turn to write to Sorge about the end of the IWA. He was reflective about the organization’s internal contradictions:

‘Tis just as well. The organisation belonged to the epoch of the Second Empire, when the labour movement was again beginning to become active, but when the oppressions that prevailed throughout Europe made unity and abstention from internal disputes absolutely essential. It was time when the joint cosmopolitan interests of the proletariat could come to the front. Germany, Spain, Italy, and Denmark had recently entered the movement, or were just entering it. In 1864, throughout Europe (among the masses at any rate), there was still very little understanding of the theory underlying the movement. German communism had not yet found expression in a workers’ party, and Proudhonism was too weak to impose its whimsies; Bakunin’s new-fangled idea had not yet found its way into his own head. Even the British trade-union leaders felt able to participate is the movement upon the basis of the program formulated in the Preamble to the Provisional Rules of the Association. It was inevitable that the first great success should break up this simple harmony of all the factions. The success was the Commune, which, as far as its intellectual inspiration was concerned, was unmistakably the child of the International, although the International had not stirred a finger to bring it into being – for the International is with good reason made responsible for its creation. But when, thanks to the Commune, the International became a moral force in Europe, the quarrel promptly broke out. The members of each faction wanted to exploit the success on their own account. The break-up of the organisation was inevitable, and speedily ensued. Jealousy of the rising power of those who were ready to continue working along the lines laid down in the old comprehensive program, jealousy of the German communists, drove the Belgian Proudhonists into the arms of the Bakuninist adventurers. The Hague Congress was, in fact, the end of the International, and for both parties in the International. There was only one country in which something might still be done in the name of the International, and it was a happy instinct which led the congress to decide upon the removal of the General Council to the United States. But now, even there, its prestige has waned, and any further attempts to galvanise the corpse to life would be a foolish waste of energy.

The one thing that comes through loud and clear from both Marx and Engels’s letters is an utter lack of sentimentality when it comes to the question of organization. Rather than seeing the IWA as a movement in permanence, they viewed it as an episode in the history of the revolutionary movement that was valid for a particular time and place. As we shall see, this insight would be lost on future leaders of workers’ internationals who tended to invest in them universality and permanence they ill deserved.


  1. If supporting the building of co-ops is so very non-Marxist, what are we to make of Marx’s writing in Capital Vol. III:

    “The co-operative factories of the labourers themselves represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new, although they naturally reproduce, and must reproduce, everywhere in their actual organisation all the shortcomings of the prevailing system. But the antithesis between capital and labour is overcome within them, if at first only by way of making the associated labourers into their own capitalist, i.e., by enabling them to use the means of production for the employment of their own labour. They show how a new mode of production naturally grows out of an old one, when the development of the material forces of production and of the corresponding forms of social production have reached a particular stage. Without the factory system arising out of the capitalist mode of production there could have been no co-operative factories. Nor could these have developed without the credit system arising out of the same mode of production. The credit system is not only the principal basis for the gradual transformation of capitalist private enterprises. into capitalist stock companies, but equally offers the means for the gradual extension of co-operative enterprises on a more or less national scale. The capitalist stock companies, as much as the co-operative factories, should be considered as transitional forms from the capitalist mode of production to the associated one, with the only distinction that the antagonism is resolved negatively in the one and positively in the other.”

    He goes on,

    “The two characteristics immanent in the credit system are, on the one hand, to develop the incentive of capitalist production, enrichment through exploitation of the labour of others, to the purest and most colossal form of gambling and swindling, and to reduce more and more the number of the few who exploit the social wealth; on the other hand, to constitute the form of transition to a new mode of production. It is this ambiguous nature, which endows the principal spokesmen of credit from Law to Isaac Pereire with the pleasant character mixture of swindler and prophet.”
    (pp. 441-2)

    Also, in the Address to the First International:

    “But there was in store a still greater victory of the political economy of labor over the political economy of property. We speak of the co-operative movement, especially the co-operative factories raised by the unassisted efforts of a few bold “hands”. The value of these great social experiments cannot be overrated. By deed instead of by argument, they have shown that production on a large scale, and in accord with the behests of modern science, may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands; that to bear fruit, the means of labor need not be monopolized as a means of dominion over, and of extortion against, the laboring man himself; and that, like slave labor, like serf labor, hired labor is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated labor plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart.”

    And Critique of the Gotha Programme:

    “That the workers desire to establish the conditions for co-operative production on a social scale, and first of all on a national scale, in their own country, only means that they are working to revolutionize the present conditions of production, and it has nothing in common with the foundation of co-operative societies with state aid. But as far as the present co-operative societies are concerned, they are of value only insofar as they are the independent creations of the workers and not protégés either of the governments or of the bourgeois.”

    See also Engels’ letter to Bebel, January 20th, 1886:

    “The matter has nothing to do with either Sch[ulze]-Delitzsch or with Lassalle. Both propagated small cooperatives, the one with, the other without state help; however, in both cases the cooperatives were not meant to come under the ownership of already existing means of production, but create alongside the existing capitalist production a new cooperative one. My suggestion requires the entry of the cooperatives into the existing production. One should give them land which otherwise would be exploited by capitalist means: as demanded by the Paris Commune, the workers should operate the factories shut down by the factory-owners on a cooperative basis. That is the great difference. And Marx and I never doubted that in the transition to the full communist economy we will have to use the cooperative system as an intermediate stage on a large scale.”

    It seems to me that building a co-op movement linked to the labor movement — and to a workers’ party — is perfectly Marxist.

    Comment by Jason Schulman — January 20, 2010 @ 10:02 pm

  2. Don’t forget Harriet Law.

    Comment by michael — January 20, 2010 @ 10:03 pm

  3. I can’t believe no one here is posting comments or information or links on events in Haiti, or the game-ology the Obama administration and its little buddies are playing with the “aid” piece of this crisis.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux — January 20, 2010 @ 10:07 pm

  4. In the interests of transparency, it should be understood that Jason Schulman is a long-time activist with the Democratic Socialists of America, the official section of the Second International that–like the IWA–should have folded its tent after supporting WWI. Nowadays the DSA devotes most of its energy into boosting the left-wing of the Democratic Party and, as such, it does not surprise me that Jason is pro-cooperative. He would of course be more convincing if he made the case for Mondragon type initiatives rather than a bunch of quote-mongering from Marx and Engels, a mode of scholasticism we would do well to overcome.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 20, 2010 @ 10:53 pm

  5. It should be understood that Louis Proyect is apparently incapable of answering a simple question. I’m surprised Louis didn’t accuse me of murdering Rosa Luxemburg, too.

    Comment by Jason Schulman — January 21, 2010 @ 3:32 am

  6. Jason, did the organization you represent that did in fact murder Rosa Luxemburg distance itself from that crime?

    Comment by ish — January 21, 2010 @ 3:58 am

  7. Umm…DSA didn’t murder Rosa Luxemburg. The SPD of 1919 murdered Luxemburg. Apples and oranges. I find it ahistorical to refer to the Socialist International of 1951-onward (sad as that body is) “the Second International” anyway. The real 2nd International was dead by WWII.

    Comment by Jason Schulman — January 21, 2010 @ 4:33 am

  8. Why must he defend “Mondragon type initiatives” when makes his argument in favor of cooperatives in a quite explicit context: “It seems to me that building a co-op movement linked to the labor movement — and to a workers’ party — is perfectly Marxist.”

    Comment by Bhaskar — January 21, 2010 @ 5:42 am

  9. Yeah, well, the type of argument from authority displayed in Jason’s comment –“Marx said it so it must be right”– is one of the greatest weaknesses of the socialist left as a whole. Since Marx wrote these words there has been well over a century of experience with how co-ops evolve in capitalist systems, their strengths and weaknesses. We’ve seen that far from challenging capitalism, these co-ops are happily absorbed by it, no threat whatsoever and often are forced or voluntarily start to behave like any other capitalist company.

    Marx, nor any other safely dead socilist, is not some timeless authority that only needs to be quoted to reveal the true path to enlightenment. He needs to be read in the context of his own time and place and any lessons in his works that still apply today have to be carefully judged.

    Comment by Martin Wisse — January 21, 2010 @ 11:40 am

  10. It seems that most of the quotes `in favour’ of co-ops are actually damnations via feint praise. None of them seem to me to be ringing endorsements of co-operatives. Marx and Engels often for instance praised Robert Owen as a hero of a previous time before pointing out that we needed to go beyond his experiments and even sectarianism. Property needed to be socialised. I think Lenin says somewhere that they hadn’t made a revolution so that such and such workers could own such and such industry.

    Comment by David Ellis — January 21, 2010 @ 1:52 pm

  11. Well, I think murdering Rosa Luxemburg can be forgiven at least on a statutes of limitation basis, but supporting Barack Obama is unforgivable…

    Comment by louisproyect — January 21, 2010 @ 2:05 pm

  12. Where you’re building this caricature of Jason’s positions from? He’s never endorsed or supported Barack Obama and many 2nd-internationalists in the DSA like Bill Fletcher have been far more sober in their appraisal of the prospects for mobilization in the Obama-era than the opportunism in the hard-Trot groups like the ISO. Granted, the whole vernacular of much of the “left” in the United States, which concerns itself with pressuring and “holding Obama’s feet to the fire” is quite reactionary, I’ll give you that, but this has never been a characteristic of Mr. Schulman.

    I’d recommend Bill Fletcher’s speech here, especially the end: http://vimeo.com/channels/71711/page:2

    Comment by Bhaskar — January 21, 2010 @ 7:55 pm

  13. I don’t care if Jason voted for the SWP candidate. The DSA, along with the CPUSA, has been functioning as a wing of the Democratic Party for decades now.

    Mobilized in Motor City
    How Detroit DSA works in the Democratic Party to effect change.
    By Seth A. Maxon

    In 1998, thanks partly to the work of Detroit DSA, a living-wage ordinance passed on the ballot in Detroit with 80 percent support. Since then, the group has led other successful campaigns to establish a living wage in the cities of Warren, Eastpointe and Ferndale, and in the counties of Wayne and Macomb.

    Share Facebook Digg del.icio.us Newsvine StumbleUpon Reddit TwitThis Furl Propeller

    Democratic socialists in southeastern Michigan can do something most of their counterparts across the nation cannot: they can boast of electoral victories. Moreover, they possess a level of influence within the Michigan Democratic Party of which many American leftists dream. And they’ve done it all without compromising their beliefs or values.

    Their success has come from working with, instead of against, local Democrats.

    “It starts out with relationships,” says David Green, the chair of the Detroit chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the organization that is a descendent of the Socialist Party of Eugene Victor Debs. He continues, “Mark Brewer, the chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, has a very good relationship with us. He’s spoken to our local several times. The chairs of the county parties, several of them are close friends as well.”

    Since 1998, Detroit DSA, with about 250 members, has successfully partnered with local county chairs and other Democratic Party officials to promote and elect several progressive candidates to the Michigan state legislature. One of these candidates, State Rep. John Espinoza, was even elected in the heavily conservative “Thumb” region of the state. In 2004, with the backing of Detroit DSA, Espinoza became the first Democrat and the first Latino ever elected to represent Michigan’s 83rd District.


    Comment by louisproyect — January 21, 2010 @ 8:03 pm

  14. Bhaskar — in the absence of a left-wing political vehicle which carries majority support — an independent left/labor party, a realigned Democratic Party, whatever — we’re all pressuring Obama from the left, regardless of our subjective desires. We’re always pressuring bourgeois politicians in the U.S. They have power; we don’t. (I agree, “holding Obama’s feet to the fire” is a phrase I wish would die.)

    As for what DSA is doing in Detroit; so far, it’s had some real positive results, so bravo, I see no reason to attack it. It doesn’t mean that DSA is apologizing for Obama; if we were, we wouldn’t be attacking him all the time (see, in particular, Bob Fitch’s MRZine article which we ran in “Democratic Left” and which Bob first presented at a DSA panel at the 2009 Left Forum. If a harsh and usually correct critic of U.S. business unionism like Bob can feel at home in DSA, I see no reason for me not to stick around).

    Another thing about the Dem Party: it really has no “wings,” which imply some formal organization; the DP really only exists in specific, often isolated localities; it has no existence outside of the politicians who run on its line, usually. There are very few “machines” left and DSA has nothing to do with them anyway (why would we want to?).

    You can be registered as a Dem and support left DP pols and still be brutally honest about Obama. (A lot more honest than the CPUSA is! THAT’s the wing of the left that’s prostrating itself before Obama, not DSA.)

    Comment by Jason Schulman — January 21, 2010 @ 10:37 pm

  15. Leftism for people who want nothing to do with the Left.

    Comment by Antonis — January 22, 2010 @ 1:22 am

  16. Due to its influence within the CIO during “Popular Front” days, the CP bears far more responsibility than the social democrats do for labor and the left’s suicidal “alliance” with the Democrats. Only I don’t remember the DSA ever singing a different tune, and that includes voting for Obama. Indeed, the late Michael Harrington, who once said that he’d vote for Mickey Mouse if he was the Democratic candidate, lamented during his 1976 debate with Peter Camejo, that the SP in the 1930s missed the boat by not going whole hog for FDR the way the CP had. Needless to say they’ve been working hard ever since then to make up for it. Whether or not the CP (or the COC for that matter) is more craven in its groveling to the “Dems” than the DSA is utterly meaningless. Now there’s a case of “lesser evil’s” if ever there was one!

    P.S. I don’t doubt that most DSAers would look unkindly at the SPD’s killing of Rosa Luxemburg in 1919. The problem is that their organization is still connected with similar such outfits that have regularly helped kill revolutions long since Ebert and Noske called it a day. And while small fry reformists supporting the Democrats isn’t exactly on the same scale as the big boys supporting the Kaiser or Franz Joseph, it certainly shows the same appetite is there. Ironically the opposition to independent working class politics the reformists promote in the US contributes, even if in a small way, to ensuring that they never will reach the same size and status that their predecessors did elsewhere.

    Comment by MN Roy — January 22, 2010 @ 2:09 am

  17. An attempted discussion of the role of cooperatives in Marxism, diverted into an argument over which living American socialist bears the most moral culpability for the murder of Rosa Luxemberg. Scholasticism, I’ll show you scholasticism!

    Comment by skip — January 23, 2010 @ 5:20 am

  18. Of course, the “will you condemnathon” of MN Roy e.g. of whether or not a murder 90 years ago was or was not condemnded strongly enough by an organisation long since defunct, but with some tenuous connection to a currently existing socialist party, is the mirror image of the fetishisation of Marx. It’s unhelpful, irrelevant and wastes energy.

    Comment by Martin Wisse — January 23, 2010 @ 1:17 pm

  19. I apologize if my question about Luxemburg somehow derailed this thread. But given that there is, as it were, nothing new under the sun, I think it’s a fair question to ask how modern currents of thought and action absorb the lessons of history. I’ve actually learned something from the responses. Unless I’ve got that date wrong and it’s 1910 not 2010.

    Comment by ish — January 23, 2010 @ 9:43 pm

  20. There is no statute of limitation on murder, which in 1967, DSA leader Norman Thomas was also party to, via conspiracy, by soliciting funds from the CIA, to be used against alleged communist trade unionists in Latin America.

    Of course this shameful act didn’t prevent Michael Harrington from dedicating one his Opus DSA primer to Norman Thomas, the lying ghoul of Latin American death squads, who believed any means justified the ends of eliminating communists.


    I’ll never forget in the terrible Spring of 1991, during the Pentagon’s buildup of the 1st Gulf War, made possible only by the colapse of the USSR, the look on my pseudo leftist sociology professor’s face when, after inviting me to the innaugaral meeting of a DSA chapter in Ohio he was trying to organize, I passed out to the dozen or so youthful attendees crude photocopies of the actual 1967 NY Times article (which took me half a day to track down on microfiche) documenting Thomas’s mortal sin and his pathetic admission to it, this just after the professor read out loud DSA’s mission statement followed by Harrington’s 1st page book “dedication to Norman Thomas”.

    Half the attendees walked out, and I with them, while the other half joined us later on some sofas in the lounge area where I gave a 2 hour impromptu talk on the history of class struggle & imperialist turpitude from 1917 to the present — which was on the very eve of the First Gulf War, an ominous time indeed.

    I aquired 10 paid subscriptions to Workers World newspaper that night, then half a dozen more the next day, and whatever their faults, that Party went on to organize the largest anti-war demos of that era, where over 200,000 marched vociferously on Washington before the shooting even started.

    Needless to say DSA’s official position on that war at that time was: “Give Sanctions a Chance!”

    Sadly the poor Iraqis wound up getting the worst of both worlds — carpet bombing of conscripted Shia huddled in the desert followed by 10 years of onerous sanctions, which slowly & surely murdered over 500,000 children & elderly according to the UN, although Ramsey Clark documented over a million killed.

    Millions on the left were for sanctions. Where are they today? They got Obama elected, that’s where they’re at.

    I tried to explain to the couple of DSAers left in OH that in a cruel irony carpet bombing Iraqis was actually more humane than sanctions insofar as it would extinguish the possibility of the prolonged suffering associated with starvation and dehydration from dissentary & deprivation of basic medicines.

    Needless to say DSAers didn’t get it then and they still don’t today insofar as it’s a safe bet that 100% of their cadre cast a perfidious vote for Obama, despite his only kept promise to escalate the unwinnable war in Afghanistan, which will be the doomed legacy of this bankster huckster 1 term lame duck President, and hopefully, with a whole lot of luck, the graveyard of this shameful, predatory empire.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — January 24, 2010 @ 4:46 am

  21. I admit it! I killed her! Damn it, I killed them all!

    Comment by skip — January 24, 2010 @ 8:48 am

  22. In post # 14 Jason claims: “we’re all pressuring Obama from the left, regardless of our subjective desires. We’re always pressuring bourgeois politicians in the U.S.”

    That’s complete nonsense. Pressure politics should have vanished from Leftist thought after the lessons of Vietnam. Today it amounts to Jason advocating pissing into the wind.

    In a recent CounterPunch article Ron Jacobs does a decent job of illustraing the history of pressure politics in the US vis a vis the democratic party.

    Don’t Look Back
    Just Walk Away From the Democrats

    The left needs to organize the unorganized. The working people, the unemployed, the young, and the restless. The right wing has their core group of supporters who organize around fear of the other. The liberals have those who believe in the myth of American equality because they have no class analysis. The Left needs to organize the rest and they need to do so without the Democratic Party. It should be quite clear to almost every left-leaning American by now that the Democrats are nothing more than another wing of the party that works for Wall Street and the Pentagon. To continue to work for and elect their candidates is self-defeating. As the first year of the Obama presidency has clearly shown, not only do the Democrats support the right wing agenda, that support makes it easier for the right wing to put their candidates into power. Why? Because after promising progressive reforms and then failing to deliver, voters tend to either not vote or vote for the right wing candidates out of anger and frustration…

    [click link below for complete article]


    Comment by Karl Friedrich — January 24, 2010 @ 6:41 pm

  23. Congratulations on an excellent overview of the First International, Louis.

    How these differences would play out “on the ground” requires a lot more digging, and what the anarchist alliance represented in terms of real strength and numbers remains obscure to me.

    And, thanks for the patience in dealing, once again, with the politically suicidal “strategy” of the modern social democracy. Ah, but for the merely reformist days of the social democrats when they at least did not vote for parties of the other side.

    Comment by Mark Lause — February 15, 2010 @ 9:36 pm

  24. […] louisproyect @ 9:10 pm This is the second in a series of posts on socialist internationals. The first dealt with the International Workingman’s Association (IWA) that collapsed not long after the defeat of the Paris Commune. The ensuing repression combined with […]

    Pingback by History of the Marxist internationals (part 2, the Second International) « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — February 15, 2010 @ 9:39 pm

  25. Cooperatives and cooperative movements are an absolute joke unless they explicitly address the political question… like Ferdinand Lassalle and the Paris Commune did, and like Hugo Chavez has.

    Comment by Jacob Richter — March 6, 2010 @ 6:43 am

  26. There were quite a few programmatic issues addressed by the International Workingmen’s Association, such as its stand against consumption taxes back in the day (extended nowadays to indirect taxation and other class-regressive taxation based on labour and on consumer goods and services).

    Comment by Jacob Richter — March 6, 2010 @ 5:35 pm

  27. Some books I’d recommend on the topic:

    – “Marxism and the Party” by John Molyneux (it’s not definitive or focused on the 1st International but covers all 4 of them)
    – “Marx and Engels: Their Contribution to the Democratic Breakthrough” by August H. Nimitz

    Last thing I’ll say is that the Democratic party’s left wing is as fictional as a moderate Republican. Wake up DSA/PDA …

    Comment by Binh — March 9, 2010 @ 4:46 pm

  28. […] Marx’s written works and the First, Second and Third Internationals attempting to foment revolution in the name of the working and later the peasant classes […]

    Pingback by The Case for a Meta-economics 6: Is Economics Necessarily Perspectival (and therefore Political)? « Meta-economics — July 26, 2010 @ 10:31 pm

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