The working class movement in the 21st Century needs to learn from the First International. This task, of course, without aiming to return to the past can be a learning point due to the necessity of a critique. With respect to the directions and solutions of the social left reformists which dominated during our period of class war – it is a war between the Bourgeois and the Proletariat. The process of regression of the anti-capitalist movement of the working class in the 20th Century, everywhere and step by step, was the process of the dismissal of its goals, traditions, and the practical directions of the First International. The Syndicalists and Sectarists and all the social bourgeois hid the feelings of their dislike in holding a dialogue to learn and be educated by the First International experiences which carried the torch of anti-wage labour around the world. To talk about organizing the working masses against capitalism is something bizarre to them. The International Workingmen’s Association during its short lifetime had some weak points but its strong points in the current historical condition are a light in our period of class war. Our attempt here only is to re-review one more time some of these unforgettable lessons and their experiences of the working class. Some of their lessons are:
1. The Nature of Anti-capitalism of the First International
The International Workingmen’s Association was the manifestation of the initiation of the most united and the most conscious of the pioneers of the working class for organizing their current movement against the essence of capitalism. The declaration of the First International towards the working masses, ‘process of work’ of their current society proclaimed the target of the class war. This declaration is the opposite of the point of view and the tradition of the left in the 20th Century. It does not transform communism as a holy idea due to dissolving the working class into democracy or unionism or nationalism/anti-imperialism. In fact, it describes communism as a grassroots movement whose aim is to deeply change the current situation. This declaration looked profoundly at the condition of buying and selling the labour force and builds its essential critique, programs, and what has to be done with a deep context in the relation between labour and capital as well as the anti-capitalism of the current international working class. The essence and the linkage of all the discussion and the program of the First International, was between the Proletarian political economy and the Bourgeois political economy – a war between the army of the wage labour against wage slavery. The outlook of the First International towards the “immediate demands of the Proletariat” neither was at the ‘level of revolution’, nor was it a secret name in order to exit from the anti-wage movement, nor was it a permission due to slaughtering communism in front of syndicalism, reformism, or nationalism but its directions were to takeover ditch by ditch capitalism’s front line. The First International emphasized the overthrow of the bourgeois barrier and it was not like the ‘populists democrat’s’ call for overthrowing any regime. In fact, it emphasized smashing one of the bourgeois’ resistance and to make a path for the wage labour army to cross the ups and downs of this war in order to abolish wage-slavery and establish communism. The reason that the First International was international was that it was against wage labour and the following International was not international because none of them were either against wage labour or were representing the working class as whole.
2. Quarrel over Sectarianism and Unionism
Marx in the letter to Friedrich Bolte in the 3rd year of the foundation of the International wrote: ”The International was founded in order to replace the Socialist or semi-Socialist sects by a real organization of the working class for struggle. The original Statutes and the Inaugural Address show this at first glance. On the other hand the Internationalists could not have maintained themselves if the course of history had not already smashed up the sectarian system. The development of the system of Socialist sects and that of the real workers’ movement always stands in inverse ratio to each other. So long as the sects are (historically) justified, the working class is not yet ripe for an independent historic movement. As soon as it has attained this maturity all sects are essentially reactionary”. (Marx and Engels correspondence November 23, 1871) Marx also on the internal controversy of the International Workingmen’s Association, as far as is related to the unions, clearly has asserted, ” …the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto, “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work!” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, “Abolition of the wages system!””.(Value, Price and Profit) The International in the course of its existence has maintained its tasks and politics which had emphasized the two above points. Marx’s critique on Unionism and its politics has become content in one of the Association’s declarations. On the quarrel over sectarianism, the International agreement due to rejecting the resolution was provided by the ‘Mazzini’ clique. It’s obvious the contrary and critique of the worker international foundation against sectarianism. This point should be emphasized seriously that the unity of the whole class against capitalism was the main grounds of existence of the First International. The situation of Marx and Engels as well as other communist pioneers of the working class movement to build the unity among groups, guilds, societies, unions in the Europe and put this unity based on anti-capitalism for abolishing wage labor was one of the most important of the First International lessons for all workers.
3. Worker Structure and Anti-bureaucracy
The ‘Communist’ parties and the worker apparatuses in the 20th Century, to a large extent, had been a part of the social, civil, and order of capitalism. Such parties and groups neither have been a container of the working class struggle against capitalism for abolishing the wage labour of the working class, nor have they been a container of the working class participation and demonstrated the determination of the worker masses in the course of maintaining working class expectations, goals, or politics. The reason for the obscurity of these parties on some occasions, were not because of the lack of a worker body but it was their irrelevancy with the class movement and the anti capitalism of the working class. The establishment of governmental capitalism under the name of ‘Communism’, ‘People’s Republic’, democracy, or obtaining ‘The rights of nations to self-determination’, or building the ‘National independent industry’, has nothing in common with socialism and the movement of abolishing capitalism. It’s obvious that the realm of activity or political and social structure of these movements is not to achieve the goals, politics, demonstrating determination, or the finding of solutions for the worker masses. In fact, on the contrary, there is a wide realm of recruiting a soldier from the workers in order to keep the army of people or guerilla of the national movement in which they are representing governmental capitalism. It’s possible that even the workers to a large extent are involved inside of the apparatus of these movements but only as the masses that must listen to some elites and nothing else. In that realm, the determination of the elites to determine and dominate everything and it is not the workers who determine any politics or directions. The fundamental work, internal relations and political structure of the First International were very different from these elements. In the First International, the masses, selling their labour force, were not enforcers and acted as objects of some party elites. On the contrary, they played the main role at every event. The main foundation brick of forming the International indeed was based on the massive presence of workers in Europe, the emergence of the working class in different countries, the revolt of the workers in Poland, the radical and passionate rising of the workers in England in support of abolishing slavery in America, in support of the revolt of workers in Poland, the internationalist emergence of the masses in France in support of workers in other countries, or in one word, challenging capitalism by the workers. The First International was a manifestation of the populist national movement under the name of communism. It was neither a shadow of any master ideas or the flag man of any schools, nor was it inspired by a heroic determination that carried out human destiny. On the contrary, all of its existing philosophy was extracted from the point of view of anti-capitalism of the worker masses in Europe. And that’s why the First International truly and indeed for this reason – firm determination – was representing the selling of the labour force. However, Marx and Engels played a major part in the First International since it had been formed until the end but throughout they played a role parallel to the most ordinary worker. Their acceptability and verbal influence had nothing to do with being Marx or Engels as special characters that were famous; rather it was owed to their radicalism and revolutionary materialism of being anti-capitalist. Some events such as the long conflict in the Geneva Congress regarding the right of participation of the French workers resulted in their rejection by the Congress with respect to their attending the Congress because of a lack of being elected directly from the organized workers of that country. This is a situation demonstrating the lack of being organized in France. Also, the rejection of the majority of the Luzon Congress due to inviting Garibaldi, and the Congress emphasized that he could participate as a rank and file or as a representative of the Italian worker and not anything else. There are many examples in the First International of the direct participation of workers on programming, and the politics on maintaining it.
4. Escape from Two Apparatuses – The Party and Mass Organization
One of the destructive traces of influence of the people’s movement and reformism in the worker movement is the issuance of permits for forming the party for gathering the elites and pioneers in one place and another one for the workers. This division is rising profoundly from the bourgeois point of view with respect to the working class movement. Here, the party is similar to an army staff headquarters and the mass organizations are like soldiers standing at attention at the headquarters. The imposition of this division and the breakdown of the Proletariat class war are the elements of establishing governmental capitalism and demolishing the movement of abolishing the wage labour of the worker masses. Replacing the wage slavery system by true worker socialism is impossible without organizing the masses on a broad scale, and the numerous terms of these selling the labour forces throughout the anti-capitalist movement, and without the presence of the masses in the struggle against capitalism in every aspect of social life. The point of view that commands the division of the party and the worker masses organization in fact dismisses the worker movement from the axis of struggle with capitalism and wage labour. This vision confines the worker masses struggle into a syndicalist term. Programming the political and socialist struggle is the capability of the party’s elites. The real meaning of this condition is that the first one is a policy maker and the second one is the follower and enforces the policy. This perspective has the same relation due to the programming of work and the social order and as a result, is nothing but governmental capitalism and has been called socialism. The workers, in order to maintain their own class struggle, need an organization that brings the full class forces including the pioneers or non-pioneers, productive or not productive, man or womyn, employed or unemployed, all as one body against capitalist domination over our work and lives and against the essence of wage-slavery. The First International was the first successful example of such an organization. Looking into the different and large realms of the International intervention with respect to organizing the workers struggle in the different countries against the essence of the existence of this system is a great sample of this reality. The dependency of every political premise movement on proletarian economic emancipation was one of the fundamentals in forming that society. This means that the International views on all aspects of the social-economy, and the political struggle of the workers must be adopted from the essence of opposition to the buying and selling of the labour-force. The struggle for political freedom from the perspective of the proletariat interest class is the struggle against the powerful rope and domination of the production order, political, and social of capitalism. The attainment of any social right or rights depends on taking a hard strike on civil life and the rules applicable with the re-production of social capital. In the realm of the International worker’s struggle for wages, with struggles against the war, against the lack of social rights for citizens, against unemployment, against the bourgeois government, against syndicalism and reformism, against the lack of rights for womyn, child labour – are all connected realms of the struggle against capitalism and abolishing capitalism. The continuity of all of these realms and protests in all of the front lines of anti-wage labour needs the organizing of the worker movement everywhere in one single container of the class struggle. Communists, only from the inside of this single container and united together are able to, on one hand, be pioneers and activists of the current struggle of its own class struggle and on the other hand, have the strong and firm relation, be effective and fruitful in terms of actions, thoughts, struggle, while organizing for anti-capitalism. The First International was the manifestation of this view of organizing the working class.