First International

The first attempt to set up an international was, of course, undertaken by Marx and Engels with the founding of the First International. Marx attempted to bring together in one international organization the most advanced sections of the working class: French radicals, British trade unionists, and even the Russian anarchists. Great work was undertaken by the First International, culminating in the heroic Paris Commune. Engels pointed out that the International was “intellectually” responsible for the Commune although it had not “lifted a finger” to create it.

This first great attempt of the working class to establish their own state made the bourgeois tremble. They drowned the Commune in blood and conducted a witch-hunt against those who they held responsible, above all the leaders and adherents to the First International. But the defeat of the Paris Commune also coincided with an upturn in capitalism and a serious crisis within the First International especially because of the role of the anarchists, led by Bakunin. Marx and Engels led a successful struggle against the ideas of anarchism but, alongside the disruptive activities of the anarchists, the upswing of world capitalism created reformist illusions in those like the British trade union leaders, which led to splits and divisions within the First International. Marx and Engels then drew the conclusion that the First International had done its job, had established the idea of internationalism and of an International in the consciousness of the working class. But they also concluded that, having exhausted this historical mission, it should be wound up after moving its offices to New York.

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