We Do Not Fear Anarchy, We Invoke It
The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement
On September 28, 1864, delegates representing European workers met at Saint Martin’s Hall in London, England, to create the International Workingmen’s Association (the “International” or “IWMA”). Stirring speeches were given regarding “the fraternity of peoples” and the “cause of labour.” But, who would have suspected that from this organization would ultimately spring an international anarchist movement? After all, none of the delegates identified themselves as anarchists and there were no recognizably anarchist movements in Europe at the time.
The stated purpose of the organization was not even to create an international revolutionary movement, but to provide support for workers across national boundaries in their struggles against an increasingly international capital. In response to strikes in England and France, capitalists were bringing in lower-paid “blacklegs,” or “scabs,” from other countries to replace striking workers, foiling attempts to improve working conditions. Work was also being sent abroad to countries with lower wages and workers who could be more easily exploited.
Yet, by 1872, when the anarchist Michael Bakunin (1814–1876) and his associate, James Guillaume (1844–1916), were expelled from the International at the instigation of Karl Marx (1818–1883), a significant portion of the International’s constitutive associations had adopted an anarchist stance. Those associations reconstituted the International along antiauthoritarian lines and provided the foundation for an international anarchist movement.
The purpose of this book is to describe how this came about. I do not pretend to present a work of original scholarship. My goal is simply to present a historical narrative, which, unlike other works on the International, focuses on the anarchist currents within the organization and how, from these various currents, an international anarchist movement emerged in the early 1870s. In the process, I will be referring to some original documentation neglected in other works on the subject. My hope is to dispel some common misconceptions and sometimes misrepresentations regarding the ways in which anarchist ideas spread within the International, leading to the creation of avowedly anarchist movements, primarily in France, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland, but also in Russia, Germany, and the Americas.
Before the International was founded in 1864, there were people who sometimes identified themselves as anarchists, but it would be difficult to describe them as forming part of an anarchist movement. One of the premises of this book is that anarchism only assumed the status of a genuine movement after people with anarchist sympathies became involved in popular struggles, starting with the struggle of European workers for self-emancipation. Consequently, I distinguish between anarchism as a body of ideas and anarchist movements.
In the first chapter, I survey the various anarchist currents in Europe that predated the International. I do this in order to show that anarchist ideas had already emerged in Europe, particularly during the revolutionary struggles that swept across the continent in 1848–1849, and to demonstrate what influence, if any, they had on the emergence of anarchist tendencies in the International.
Despite the focus of this book, I do not agree with the view that “anarchism” can only be conceived as a historically embodied movement or movements having a common genesis in the struggles within the International between the so-called authoritarians (Karl Marx, his allies, and the “Blanquists,” followers of the French revolutionary Auguste Blanqui) and antiauthoritarians (Bakunin and his associates). Such a “genealogical” or “historicist” approach conflates anarchism as a body of ideas with anarchism as a movement. It results not only in a Eurocentric approach to anarchism, but one that excludes from the anarchist pantheon even those European anarchists who were active prior to the founding of the International, such as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865) and Joseph Déjacque (1821–1864).
This approach also precludes the possibility of anarchist ideas and movements emerging independently at different times and places in different circumstances. If during an era of social upheaval in China around 300 CE, a Daoist like Bao Jingyan expressed views substantially similar to those expressed 1500 years later by European anarchists during another era of social upheaval, and the latter’s views are generally accepted as “anarchist,” then there is no reason why Bao Jingyan cannot be described as an anarchist too.
Bao Jingyan’s motto was “Neither Lord Nor Subject,” which is remarkably similar to the nineteenth-century anarchist battle cry, “Neither God Nor Master.” As with later self-proclaimed anarchists, Bao Jingyan opposed hierarchy and domination, seeing them as the cause of poverty, crime, exploitation, and social conflict; rejected religious beliefs that justified such a state of affairs; looked forward to the revolt of the masses; and advocated a voluntary society without rank or status, and the inequalities of wealth and power that inevitably accompany them. If adherence to such beliefs by a European worker or intellectual in the nineteenth century qualifies them as an anarchist, then so should Bao Jingyan should qualify as well, despite the temporal and geographical distances that separate them.
In order to determine whether someone’s views, or a movement, can be described as “anarchist,” an analytical approach is unavoidable. One must come up with some identifying or defining characteristics of anarchist doctrines and movements that distinguish them from other ideas and movements. One cannot simply rely on self-identification. Just because someone claims to be an anarchist does not make it so. By the same token, just because someone never identified him- or herself as an anarchist does not mean that his or her ideas cannot be qualified as anarchist.
Neither can anarchism be reduced to the ideas (and actions) of particular individuals. This sometimes leads to the fallacy that anarchism is whatever particular anarchists say it is, regardless of their personal idiosyncrasies, inconsistencies, and foibles; or, worse, that anarchism is whatever these individuals said and did, before they identified themselves as anarchists (Bakunin) and after they had ceased to do so (Proudhon). If anarchism is nothing but the sum of all the ideas and actions of everyone who ever identified themselves as anarchists, then anarchism would simply be an incoherent mishmash of contradictory ideas and approaches.
As will be seen, the members of the International who came to describe themselves as anarchists did so on the basis of some fundamental tenets that they quite self-consciously argued distinguished them from other currents in the International. They also recognized as anarchists people who held similar views and had influenced them in coming to their own conceptions of anarchism, such as Proudhon. What, then, were those views that distinguished them, and those they regarded as their precursors, as anarchists?
During his polemics within the International against the “authoritarians” and “bourgeois socialists,” Bakunin set forth six primary grounds for distinguishing his anarchism from the views of his opponents: first, his rejection of any kind of institutional, coercive authority (antiauthoritarianism); second, his opposition to the modern state, even as a “transitional” power to abolish capitalism (antistatism); third, his opposition to any participation in existing systems of government or “bourgeois politics” (antiparliamentarianism); fourth and fifth, his advocacy of voluntary federation during the struggle against capitalism and the state and in a postrevolutionary society (federalism), so that the revolutionary means were consistent with the revolutionary ends (libertarianism); and sixth, his call for the immediate abolition of the state and capitalism through direct action, including insurrection and the expropriation of the means of production by the workers themselves (social revolution).
In identifying Proudhon as an anarchist, Bakunin focused on Proudhon’s critique of the state and private property, his opposition to the authoritarian politics of the Jacobins and any sort of “revolutionary” dictatorship, and his concept of “agro-industrial federation,” a libertarian form of socialism wherein the state and capitalism are replaced by voluntary federations of agricultural, industrial, and communal organizations with no central authority above them. Where he differed from Proudhon was in his advocacy of insurrection and expropriation and in his rejection of Proudhon’s view that capitalism and the state could be gradually supplanted through the creation and ever-widening expansion of voluntary associations of workers, peasants, professionals, and other functional groups with access to free credit through their own credit unions, or a “people’s bank.”
Following Bakunin’s approach, anarchism, whether his, Proudhon’s, or someone else’s, can be distinguished from other doctrines on the basis of its antiauthoritarianism, antistatism, antiparliamentarianism, federalism, libertarianism, and advocacy of direct action. Bakunin included Proudhon in the anarchist camp despite Proudhon’s opposition to insurrection and expropriation and his gradualist approach. Bakunin recognized that, despite these differences, Proudhon was still an anarchist. Both advocated direct action, though Proudhon favored a nonviolent approach.
While Proudhon and Bakunin were both proponents of “social” revolution, Proudhon’s social revolution was conceived in gradual, pacific terms, not in insurrectionary terms, in contrast to Bakunin. Furthermore, all socialists of their era agreed on the need for some kind of “social” revolution, given the failure of the preceding “political” revolutions (the French Revolution and the European revolutions of 1848–1849). Consequently, advocacy of social revolution does not distinguish anarchism from other doctrines, such as socialism.
For the purposes of this study, therefore, I will proceed on the basis that anarchism can be defined as a view that rejects coercive authority, the state, and participation in existing systems of government, and that advocates federalism (or voluntary association), libertarianism, and direct action. This is consistent with Proudhon and Bakunin’s conceptions of anarchism and, as will be seen in the chapters that follow, the views of those members of the International who came to identify themselves as anarchists and to create an international anarchist movement.
Arguably, some of these six defining characteristics can be derived from the others. For example, the state and government can be seen simply as specific examples of coercive authority, so that antiauthoritarianism is the primary defining characteristic of anarchism. As Sébastien Faure (1858–1942) put it, “whoever denies Authority and fights against it is an Anarchist.” Be that as it may, in historical terms, I believe that it was on the basis of these six characteristics that anarchism came to be distinguished from other political orientations. These six criteria help flesh out the content of anarchism in a more substantive sense, providing a more robust and “political” conception of anarchism as something more than mere antiauthoritarianism. To define anarchism simply on the basis of what it is that anarchists oppose fails to take into account the positive anarchist alternatives to authoritarian institutions and practices that also distinguish anarchism from other doctrines.
The antiauthoritarian wing of the International can be seen as a precursor to both anarchism and revolutionary syndicalism. The term “syndicalism” is derived from the French word for trade union, syndicate. Revolutionary syndicalism can be broadly defined as the doctrine that the working class, through its own trade union organizations, can abolish capitalism and the states that protect it, by means of working-class forms of direct action, such as strikes, boycotts, and sabotage, culminating in a general strike, the expropriation of the capitalists by the workers themselves, and the creation of workers’ self-management.
Revolutionary syndicalists also favored federalist forms of organization similar to the voluntary federations advocated by anarchists. However, some syndicalists did not completely oppose political participation, arguing only that the revolutionary unions themselves should remain independent from political parties, while their members were free as individuals to participate in politics and to support the political party of their choice. Thus, revolutionary syndicalism can be described as “apolitical” in this sense, whereas anarchism is explicitly “antipolitical”; that is, anarchists are opposed to participation in existing political institutions, political parties, and elections. Syndicalists who adopted an anarchist stance often referred to themselves as “anarcho-syndicalists” to distinguish themselves from the “apolitical” revolutionary syndicalists. As we shall see, there were both anarchist and revolutionary syndicalist elements in the International.
My use of the term “libertarianism” to refer to Bakunin’s view, shared by other anarchists and most syndicalists, that “liberty can only be created by liberty,” may be confusing to contemporary readers but is historically accurate. Long before advocates of laissez-faire capitalism began identifying themselves as “libertarians” around the mid-twentieth century, anarchists had already been calling themselves libertarians as early as Joseph Déjacque in the 1850s. During the 1890s in France, “libertarian” became a popular synonym for “anarchist” because people who identified themselves as “anarchists” were liable to imprisonment under the so-called lois scélérates, or “exceptional” laws, banning anarchist propaganda. “Libertarian socialism” and “libertarian communism” became terms used by anarchists to distinguish their views from what they regarded as the “authoritarian” socialism and communism of the Marxists, primarily on the basis that anarchists advocated libertarian means for achieving anarchist ends.
Another point of clarification: the International Workingmen’s Association is today commonly referred to as the First International. However, other than in the title to this book, I will be referring to it simply as the “International.” This is mainly because that is how it was referred to at the time of the events recounted in this book. The International only came to be referred to as the “First” International after the founding of the so-called “Second” International in 1889, which was dominated by Marxist political parties, and from which the anarchists were excluded in 1896 on the basis that they were opposed to participation in existing political systems. Then there was the Marxist-Leninist “Third” International created by the Bolsheviks after the 1917 Russian Revolution, which became an instrument of Soviet foreign policy, and the “Fourth” International, founded by Trotsky and his followers in 1938 after his break with Stalin.
The tendentious use of the “Second,” “Third,” and “Fourth” International labels (and then “Fifth” or “Sixth,” ad infinitum or ad nauseum, depending on your point of view) suggests that the only legitimate heirs to the “First” International were the various Marxist political parties, whether social democratic or Marxist-Leninist. However, as I hope to show in this book, the anarchists were as much, if not more so, the successors to the “First” International as were subsequent Marxist political parties. In fact, when the International was split in 1872 by the effective expulsion of the anarchists at the Hague Congress, there were no clearly Marxist political parties or movements, nor would there be until the 1880s.
One of the main purposes of this book is to show that the so-called “First” International played a much more important role in the emergence of anarchist movements in Europe than it did in relation to Marxist ones. After the split in 1872, the antiauthoritarian wing of the International continued for several years, and it was through the debates within the antiauthoritarian International that not only anarchist movements but also the basic principles of modern anarchism were developed.
One final note regarding the front cover and title to this book: the image on the front cover is of a pétroleuse, an almost mythical figure created by the reactionaries following their suppression of the Paris Commune during the last week of May 1871, which became known as “the bloody week.” The pétroleuses were accused of setting fire to Paris while it was under attack by French army troops sent in by the national government in Versailles. Louise Michel (1830–1905) admitted at her trial before the military tribunal that she participated in the burning of Paris, as she “wanted to block the Versailles invaders with a barrier of flames,” but claimed that she had acted on her own. Some 30,000 men, women, and children were killed by the Versailles army and by enraged mobs of “bourgeois,” upper- and middle-class Parisians who despised the Communards for their modest attempts to create a more egalitarian society.
The title of this book is a quotation from Bakunin, written in 1868, three years before the Commune, as part of a polemic against those revolutionaries who believed that only a revolutionary government, imposing its own dictatorship, was capable of bringing any revolution to a successful conclusion. As we shall see, Bakunin and the anarchists disagreed.