Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion - Gareth Stedman Jones (2016)

Chapter 11. Capital, Social Democracy and the International



After the failures of 1848 and the triumph of reaction across mainland Europe through the 1850s, the 1860s witnessed not only a revival of democratic hopes, but some real democratic gains. In Germany in 1862–3, there developed an independent workers’ movement, and in France the beginnings of a veiled workers’ opposition to Bonaparte. In England, three developments were particularly important. Without them, the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA) would never have come into existence, let alone have made the impact it did. The first was the popular response to republican transnationalism in the form of identification with the stirring and heroic national struggles in Italy, Poland and elsewhere against the Hapsburg, Bourbon and Russian autocracies.1 The second and equally important development was the growth of popular support for the abolition of slavery and the cause of the North in the American Civil War. The fact that Lancashire cotton workers were prepared to endure the unemployment deriving from the resultant ‘cotton famine’ without abandoning the abolitionist cause helped to convince many in the propertied classes that workers were entitled to the full rights of citizenship and contributed to the success of the agitation for political reform in 1867. But none of these campaigns would have made such an impact without a third and fundamental development, the transformation in the capability and political presence of trade unions.

Karl was slow to discern the importance of these developments. Until 1863, he appears to have remained fixated upon a renewal of 1848. But once he began to understand and accept the new shape of politics, he became excited by the new opportunities which it opened up. The years between 1864 and 1869 were the most fruitful and successful in Karl’s life. During this period he made an enduring contribution both to an understanding of the history and anatomy of capitalism, and to the development of the European labour movement. Capital was published in 1867, while his most lasting and valuable work on the General Council of the IWMA took place in the years before the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71. These were achievements which transcended the narrow world of exile groups and sectarian politics, and they were recognized beyond his immediate circle. It was also in these years that Karl initially became personally acquainted with a spectrum of British radicals at first hand – Owenites, Positivists, pacifists, ex-Chartists, feminists, trade unionists, Irish nationalists and others.

Participation in the IWMA and the publication of Capital had been preceded by four or five years of anxiety and frustration. Karl had not been successful as a theorist or as a political leader. As a theorist, the exaggerated hopes he had invested in his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy in 1859 had proved wholly unrealistic. There was more interest in his polemic, Herr Vogt. But as a means of affirming the political solidarity of a group, this book was unsuccessful. The mixed reactions to Herr Vogt underlined what had already become obvious in the disagreement over Italy. The ‘party’, as Karl still liked to imagine it, no longer existed.

The one area in which he had made his mark had been as a journalist – an occupation which he sometimes affected to despise. The largest constituency for Karl’s writings around the end of the 1850s had been the English-speaking readers of the New-York Daily Tribune. The Tribune had also provided a lifeline to the Marx family. It had been the nearest thing to a real earned income that Karl had experienced, and for Jenny it had been a source of considerable pride. But with the onset of the American Civil War, the Tribune’s demand for his contributions declined. In February 1861, his employment was reduced to one article per week, and in 1862 it was discontinued.

It was in these years as well that Karl’s health problems became acute. What is remarkable is not that Karl failed to complete Capital, but that he managed to publish a version of some kind. For it was particularly the anxiety surrounding the attempt to write up his critique of political economy that appeared to bring on his illness. Writing around November 1863, when Karl had remained ‘tied to the sofa’ by boils and carbuncles, Jenny wrote to ‘Mr Engels’: ‘You can imagine, too, how depressed this business makes him. It seems as though the wretched book will never get finished. It weighs like a nightmare on us all. If only the LEVIATHAN were launched!’2 The ups and downs in his health in the following year were characteristic. After Karl’s convalescence at his uncle’s in Zaltbommel from December 1863 through to the end of February 1864, his condition improved. He and his family moved to Modena Villas, Maitland Park, Haverstock Hill, but in June and July he was ill again. Being ‘utterly incapable of work’, he read books on anatomy and physiology.3 In late July and the beginning of August, together with his daughters, he attempted to recuperate in Ramsgate. But the illnesses continued into the winter. On 4 November, Karl informed Engels that all had gone well until two days before, when another carbuncle had appeared. ‘If the thing does not clear up quickly and others appear, I intend to use Gumpert’s arsenic remedy this time.’ On 14 November, Karl reported that although the carbuncle was now ‘clearing up’ he had had to stay in bed for almost a week. Two days later, Engels replied that he was glad that it was getting better. ‘Let us hope it is the last. But do take arsenic.’ On 2 December, he reported that another carbuncle was appearing on his hip. He was scared that his local doctor, who had not approved the arsenic cure, would give him ‘a most dreadful dressing down’ for attempting self-medication behind his back.4

The politics of the early 1860s were also disappointing. Developments in the 1850s had not conformed to Karl’s expectations. The world-wide economic depression of 1857–8 had not brought about a new sequence of revolutions. In France, the Bonapartist police state had successfully stifled the public expression of opposition. Boosted by exceptional economic growth, Bonaparte had succeeded in strengthening support for his regime, particularly in the countryside. In a plebiscite as late as 1870, he managed to win 7.4 million votes over an opposition of 1.6 million.

In Paris itself, changes in the city made the chances of revolution look increasingly slim. During the 1850s and 1860s, the population almost doubled. Migrant workers attracted by a spectacular building boom crowded into the new industrial suburbs or into the dilapidated and overcrowded centre. The authorities were well aware of the dangers of a vast new city, a quarter of whose inhabitants were classified as ‘indigent’. From 1853 onward, the emperor, with assistance of his Prefect of Paris, Baron Haussmann, rebuilt much of central Paris. Replacing many of the closely packed lanes of the ancient city by wide boulevards, lined with brightly lit cafés, bars and the first department stores, reduced the possibilities for building barricades and mounting insurrections. The accompanying improvements in sanitation and transport combated cholera and speeded up economic activity.

Displays of opposition in Paris were further limited by a new administrative structure; the city lacked a mayor, and the city’s twenty municipal councils were appointed rather than elected. In addition, the opposition itself was divided. But despite all these obstacles, the threat to the regime did not disappear. The police stored information on 170,000 potentially subversive Parisians, while a small but more visible grouping continued to identify with the revolutionary politics of the imprisoned Auguste Blanqui.5

This was of little comfort to Karl. For all the trouble he had taken in the 1840s to make known his views to the French, his work had gone unread. The Poverty of Philosophy, his criticism of Proudhon, published in France and specially written in French, had remained unknown even to political activists. Similarly, his 1848 writings on The Class Struggles in France and the Eighteenth Brumaire remained untranslated.

Karl believed that the emperor’s dependence upon the military would ultimately end in his downfall. And so, in the end, it did; but not before France had been provoked into war with Prussia in the summer of 1870. In the meantime, from 1859 onwards the regime employed a number of stratagems to move forward from the straightforward repression of the early 1850s. In an effort to create a more liberal image of empire, the emperor courted workers as a counterweight to the liberal opposition. He proclaimed an amnesty in 1859, legalized strikes in 1864 and relaxed press censorship in the later 1860s.

As part of this tactic, Bonaparte sponsored an elected delegation of French workers to visit the London Exhibition of 1862. The meeting of this delegation with workers in London proved to be of real significance in the events leading to the formation of the IWMA in 1864. But this became clear only in retrospect. Not surprisingly, at the time, Bonapartist support for a workers’ delegation was viewed by radicals with considerable suspicion.

In England, despite – or perhaps because of – the large-scale development of industry and trade, Chartism as a mass movement faded away. Karl found it hard to adjust to the changed political environment. The Tory Party had abandoned Protection, but the depression of 1857 had not brought back Chartism; nor had it resulted in a triumph for the radical members of the ‘Manchester School’. On the contrary, in the 1857 general election the former leaders of the Anti-Corn League, Cobden and Bright, lost their seats, and in 1859 they joined together with Whigs, Peelites and Irish MPs to found the Liberal Party. Instead of the radical simplicity of a struggle between the bourgeoisie of the ‘Manchester School’ and the proletarian radicals of the Chartist movement, the reconstituted Liberal Party incorporated a new alliance between the middle and working classes.6

The impact of these shifts was evident in the political trajectory of a friend of Karl’s, the former Chartist leader, Ernest Jones.7 In the early 1850s, Jones had vainly attempted to revive the Chartist movement. Using his People’s Paper (to which Karl had contributed several articles), he had conducted successive speaking tours in the North, and unsuccessfully fought a number of elections. But in 1857 Jones abandoned this strategy. He broke with most of the remaining Chartist leaders, and in February 1858 called a conference on parliamentary reform at St Martin’s Hall in London, to which he invited every variety of ‘reformer’, from the veteran socialist Robert Owen to the leaders of middle-class radicalism, such as John Bright and J. A. Roebuck.

Seemingly oblivious to the failure of all Jones’s previous attempts to revive Chartism, Karl still insisted that ‘The ass should begin by forming a party, for which purpose he must go to the manufacturing districts. Then the radical bourgeois will come to him in search of compromise.’8 While he continued to think of Jones as ‘an honest man’, he considered his new role ‘inane’. Still resisting the idea that Chartism had disappeared, he persisted in the belief that the re-emergence of a proletarian party akin to that of the 1840s was only a matter of time. In April 1863, he attended a trade union meeting chaired by John Bright: ‘The working men themselves spoke very well indeed without a trace of bourgeois rhetoric or the faintest attempt to conceal their opposition to the capitalists (who by the by, were also attacked by papa Bright).’ He was not sure ‘how soon the English workers will throw off what seems to be a bourgeois contagion’. But having looked again at Engels’ 1844 book, The Condition of the Working Class in England, he confidently told his friend that: ‘So far as the main theses in your book are concerned, by the by, they have been corroborated down to the very last detail by developments subsequent to 1844.’9 Engels did not agree. He thought a new edition of his book at this point would not be appropriate: ‘This is not a suitable moment … now that the English proletariat’s revolutionary energy has all but completely evaporated and the English proletarian has declared himself in full agreement with the dominancy of the bourgeoisie.’10


In Germany, the ‘new era’ opened up political opportunities once more after a decade of reaction. But, for Karl, the upshot was again frustrating and disappointing. In the early 1860s, an independent working-class politics did emerge. But it developed not as a result of Karl’s ‘party’, but in spite of it.

Like Karl, many of the most active revolutionaries in Germany in 1848 had gone abroad to the United States, England or Switzerland. In Germany itself, Karl’s earlier writings were for the most part either unknown or forgotten. At most, the Communist Manifesto was familiar to a few hundred veterans from 1848. It was only when it was republished in 1872 as the result of a quirk in the law that it became well known.11

Karl had been infuriated not only by the independent political line adopted by Lassalle on Italy – ‘no one speaks for the party without prior consultation with the others’ – but equally by his refusal to toe the line on Vogt.12 In the course of this quarrel, he had become increasingly officious, referring in unspecific terms to Lassalle’s alleged misbehaviour. While denying any personal involvement in the accusation, he wrote about reasons for ‘mistrust’ of Lassalle and referred to an unfounded letter from Baltimore denouncing Lassalle. ‘The official allegations against you …’, he went on, ‘are in the League’s files, which are neither in my possession nor am I authorised to use them.’13Lassalle reacted angrily. What virtue was Karl claiming by dissociating himself from this patently absurd ‘trickery’? For him, it was just proof of Karl’s inclination unhesitatingly to believe the worst of every person, while considering it some sort of virtue in this particular case not to have given credence to it.14

Karl’s behaviour was particularly perverse, since at the end of the 1850s Lassalle was his only important political contact in Germany. Lassalle had been a member of the Communist League in 1848 and had been lucky to get away with a light prison sentence after urging the citizens of Düsseldorf to prepare for armed resistance in response to the Prussian government’s dissolution of the National Assembly. He had become famous in the 1850s for his legal defence of Countess Sophie von Hatzfeldt in protracted divorce proceedings, which ended in 1854, leaving Lassalle with a comfortable annual income of 5,000 thalers.

If Karl himself had once dreamt of his destiny as a great poet, a great critic or a born leader, in Lassalle he met his match. Lassalle not only aimed to make a substantial contribution to legal theory, but also to be recognized as a classical scholar, a dramatist and a political leader. Among his many projects was the ambition to produce his own critique of political economy: a project which Karl found profoundly threatening.15 As a follower of Hegel and a radical activist with ‘a desire to attain a speculative construction of things’, Lassalle was an avowed admirer of Karl. Even his companion, Sophie von Hatzfeldt, so he professed, could not match him. Karl was his ‘last manly friend’: ‘The countess so excellent though this lady is in every respect, and of infinite worth though her friendship is, nevertheless as a woman is not able to follow all the mysteries of a man’s thought with truly creative understanding’.16

The extraordinary scale of Lassalle’s ambition, his restlessness and unselfconscious conception of himself as the vehicle of a higher providence were clearly conveyed in one of the letters he wrote to Karl in March 1859. At the time, he was engaged in a work on pre-Socratic philosophy. The letter explained how towards the end of the time he had devoted to this two-volume study, The Philosophy of Heraclitus,17 an unanticipated force impelled him to compose a drama. The story would concern the early-sixteenth-century imperial knight, defender of Luther and national hero, Franz von Sickingen: ‘You will be astonished, when you see I have sent you a play. Almost as astonished, as I myself was when I came up with the idea of writing one, or in truth when the idea came to me. For my sense of what happened was not of a freely willed decision on my part to produce something, but rather of a force which took me over and which I was utterly unable to fend off.’18

Like others who had experienced 1848, and were frustrated by the contrast made famous by Hegel between the ‘greyness of theory’ and the vividness of life – ‘those practical things which bring colour to our cheeks today’ – he found it difficult to focus solely upon Heraclitus: ‘Oh how often when some association of ideas brings me out of that world of ideas, in which I must perforce ruminate, to our burning contemporary issues, to the great questions of the day, which even when outwardly appearing to be at rest, continued to seethe inside me with boiling heat – how often did I have to jump up from my writing desk and throw away my pen. It was as if all my blood was up and only after struggling with myself half an hour or more did I regain my self-control and once more force myself back to my seat and devote myself to the hard concentration, which that work demanded.’ It happened one night, when as a relief from Heraclitus Lassalle was perusing works from the Middle Ages, the Reformation and particularly the works of Ulrich von Hutten. He had just flipped through ‘an extremely miserable modern drama’ when he was struck by the thought that a play needed to be written, not about Hutten, another figure from the world of ‘pure theory’, but about Franz von Sickingen, ‘the great dramatic hero’: ‘And scarcely had I had this thought, when as it were I had an intuition of the whole worked out plan and in the same moment a force not to be resisted commanded me: “you must also carry it out”.’ Now, he could ‘write so much from the heart’. As he admitted to Karl, he considered the play to be ‘very good’, but he would never write another one: ‘This one was inflicted on me from above like a fateful command and nothing more.’19

In the course of 1860, the quarrel over Italy was patched up. Lassalle still hoped that it would be possible to work with Karl, while Karl wanted Lassalle’s help in dealing with the publisher of his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. During the rest of the year, the correspondence was friendly. Lassalle noted that events had proved his reading of Italy to be correct. Karl reiterated his position, but asserted that the past was no longer his concern and that what was now most important was that ‘we should come to an agreement on a programme’. He also thanked Lassalle for his praise of Karl’s book on political economy.20 Otherwise, they exchanged notes about Karl’s ailments, Jenny’s smallpox and Lassalle’s gout.

On 11 March 1860, Lassalle again enquired whether Karl and Engels would consider returning to Prussia when the old king died and an amnesty would be declared.21 A year later, the old king, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, by then incapable and demented, finally died. He was succeeded by his brother, Wilhelm I, who immediately declared a political amnesty. In 1861, Lassalle reiterated his invitation and proposed a revival of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. The countess was prepared to invest 20,000–30,000 thalers in the paper, and it would be edited jointly by Karl and Lassalle, with Engels as well, if Karl insisted.

Karl was not keen to return to Prussia. As he told Engels: ‘I would, circumstances being what they are, clutch even at this straw, but the tide in Germany hasn’t risen high enough yet to bear our ship. The thing would prove abortive from the very outset.’22 Set against this, however, the loss of earnings from the Tribune was alarming. It was, as he told Lassalle, a ‘financial crisis’. He therefore decided that having visited his uncle, Lion Philips, in Zaltbommel to ‘put his financial affairs in order’, he would proceed to Berlin ‘in order to discuss with you, personally, the possibility of joint politico-literary enterprises’.23 He also used the opportunity to draw upon Lassalle a bill for £20, which he promised to repay from Holland before the expiry date or else ‘bring it to Berlin in person’.24

Between around 16 March and 13 April 1861, Karl stayed with Lassalle in Berlin. He gave a detailed account of his stay to his Dutch cousin, Antoinette Philips. From Lassalle, he received ‘a most friendly welcome’ and was also at once introduced to the Countess of Hatzfeldt, ‘who, as I soon became aware, dines every day in his house at 4 o’clock p.m. and passes her evenings with him’. Karl provided a detailed and not particularly flattering account of her physical appearance, but conceded that she was ‘A very distinguished lady, no blue-stocking, of great natural intellect, much vivacity, deeply interested in the revolutionary movement, and of an aristocratic laissez aller very superior to the pedantic grimaces of professional femmes d’esprit.’25

The possibility of combining together with Lassalle on a newspaper depended upon the possibility of Karl reacquiring Prussian citizenship. For since Karl had abandoned his citizenship voluntarily, he was not covered by the terms of the amnesty. Lassalle vigorously lobbied the highest government officials on his behalf and, while the negotiations were proceeding, he, together with the countess, saw to it that Karl was shown the best that the city had to offer. But Karl was not impressed: ‘On Tuesday evening Lassalle and the countess led me to a Berlin theatre where a Berlin comedy, full of Prussian self-glorification, was enacted. It was altogether a disgusting affair. On Wednesday evening, I was forced by them to be present at the performance of a ballet in the Opera House. We had a box for ourselves at the side – horribile dictu – of the king’s “loge”. Such a ballet is characteristic of Berlin. It forms, not as at Paris, or at London, an entrejeu or the conclusion of an opera, but it absorbs the whole evening … It is in fact deadly – dull.’

He was also the guest of honour at a dinner party which included General von Pfuel, the historian, Hofrath Förster and Ludmilla Assing, the niece of Varnhagen von Ense and editor of the Varnhagen correspondence.26 Karl’s account of Fräulein Assing, who was seated next to him, was gratuitously nasty: ‘This Fräulein, who really swamped me with her benevolence, is the ugliest creature I ever saw in life, a nastily Jewish physiognomy, a sharply protruding thin nose, eternally smiling and grinning, always speaking poetical prose, constantly trying to say something extraordinary, playing at false enthusiasm, and spitting at her auditory during the trances of her ecstasis.’ But there were some moments of real relaxation. He looked up his old friend from his student days, the orientalist Friedrich Köppen. ‘I went out on a spree with him twice and it was a real treat for me.’27 His intention was to stay in Berlin until he received the official answer to his petition for naturalization.28

In the event, Karl had to leave before any decision had been made. He set off from Berlin around 14 April and made his way back to London through the Rhineland, stopping off for two days in Trier with his mother, who cancelled some of his old IOUs.29 He then proceeded to Zaltbommel, where his inheritance from his uncle gave him £150 in cash to pay bills due at the beginning of May. Money was evidently his overwhelming preoccupation. Back in London, he wrote to Lassalle that ‘conditions in America’ – meaning his employment prospects – would probably mean that ‘even if nothing comes of the newspaper enterprise, I may move to Berlin for a semester or thereabouts’. This would depend upon the outcome of his application for naturalization. But, even so, he would much rather stay in London: ‘London, I CAN’T DENY IT, possesses an extraordinary fascination for me, although, to a certain extent, I live a hermit’s life in this gigantic place.’30

On 18 June, Karl heard from the Countess von Hatzfeldt that his application for naturalization had been turned down. From the start, the whole scheme had suffered from an air of unreality. Engels, whose attitude towards Lassalle had been much more negative from the start, had no intention of abandoning his position in Manchester. It would mean suffering ‘severe financial loss’ and ‘falling into the clutches of Prussia’s common law’. He also thought that circumstances were ‘not yet ripe for the setting up of a newspaper’.31

As for Jenny, she had been appalled by the idea. At the beginning of April, she had written to Engels, reassuring him that, contrary to rumours in the press, it had not ‘ever occurred to Karl that the family might move to and settle down in Berlin’. It was true that Karl was interested in renaturalization, but, as she admitted, she did not understand why. Nor was she tempted by the prospect of setting up a newspaper. ‘What a risky venture for Karl – a daily paper, and on the countess’s own ground, too!’ Jenny herself felt ‘small longing for the fatherland, for “dear”, beloved, trusty Germany’, and ‘as for the girls!’, ‘The idea of leaving the country of their precious Shakespeare appals them; they’ve become English to the marrow and cling like limpets to the soil of England.’32

Karl’s attitude remained more equivocal. On 11 June, he wrote to Lassalle stating that whether or not he was granted Prussian nationality, he was still considering travelling to Berlin together with his family on a foreign passport and spending the winter there. He also encouraged Lassalle by providing a generally commendatory response to Lassalle’s latest work, a two-volume study on the law of inheritance.33 He perhaps still believed that a crisis in Prussia might enable him both to find a new source of income and to recapture some of the political prominence he had enjoyed in 1848. While in Berlin, he had witnessed from the press gallery a meeting of the Prussian Second Chamber. With few exceptions, as he had told Engels, it was a ‘gathering of pygmies’. But the political situation in Berlin had not been without hope: in ‘bourgeois circles’ there had been discontent about the tax exemption of landowners and the position of the military.34 As he had told Antoinette Philips: ‘The state of things here is ill-boding for the powers that be. The Prussian Exchequer labours under a deficit, and all the old parties are in a movement of dissolution. The chamber of deputies will have to be re-elected during this season, and there is every probability that, during the process of its reconstitution, a great movement will pervade the country.’ He also believed that ‘this may, as my friend Lassalle thinks, be the proper moment for starting a newspaper here in the Prussian capital … I have not yet come to a firm resolution,’ Karl concluded.35 Despite the letter from the countess, he still believed in July that his ‘Berlin affair’ had ‘not yet been brought to a definite issue’, and that for the coming year he would be able to travel on his existing passport, while after that ‘things will perhaps have so altered in Prussia, that I shall not want their permission’.36

These hopes were almost certainly a product of his financial anxieties. Whether dependable or not, Lassalle was not only his most important political ally in Germany, but also one of the few in a position to help him financially. Hence the panicky tone of his letter to Lassalle in April 1862. Despite a promise of rapid repayment dating back to the months before he had visited Berlin in 1861, he had still not been able to find the £10 owing, and now a further disaster had struck. The Tribune had finally dismissed all its foreign correspondents: ‘So, I now find myself in a complete vacuum. I have no intention of treating you to a tale of woe of any sort; it’s a wonder I haven’t actually gone mad. If I mention the beastly mess at all, it’s simply so that my other misfortunes should not be compounded by a misunderstanding with you.’37 During the next few months, Karl’s financial desperation continued. Jenny wished she and the children were in their graves. The gap left by the Tribune was filled in part by articles for the Viennese paper Die Presse, but the payment was poor and fewer than one in three of his contributions were published. Political disagreement brought the arrangement to an end and his last contribution was published in November.

The situation was made still worse by Lassalle’s announcement of his intention to stay with them when he came to visit the International Exhibition in South Kensington in the summer of 1862.38 After he had been entertained so regally in the previous year in Berlin, Karl could on no account lose face by not reciprocating. His reply to Lassalle was welcoming. Politically, he declared, ‘we are, indeed, but few in numbers – and therein lies our strength’, while, in social terms, he unwittingly revealed the family’s isolation in its new suburban setting: ‘We shall all be very glad to see you over here. It will greatly please my family, not to mention myself, as they hardly ever see a “human being” now that my English, German and French acquaintances all live outside London.’39 The girls were particularly looking forward to seeing Lassalle after receiving the fine cloaks he had sent them as presents from Berlin, while Jenny declared herself delighted by the impression that the girls’ new clothes could make upon ‘the philistines of the neighbourhood and earn us respect and credit’.40

But putting Lassalle up placed an almost unbearable strain on family life, both financially and psychologically. Lassalle arrived on 9 July and proposed to stay for several weeks. ‘In order to keep up certain dehors [appearances] vis-à-vis the fellow, my wife had to put in pawn everything that wasn’t actually nailed or bolted down.’41 But Karl had already written telling Lassalle about the loss of his American earnings, so it was difficult to conceal the family’s real situation. Lassalle’s well-intentioned response was resented. Karl wrote indignantly that Lassalle had had ‘the insolence to ask me whether I would be willing to hand over one of my daughters to la Hatzfeldt as a “companion” ’. ‘The fellow has wasted my time and, what is more, the dolt opined that, since I was not engaged upon my “business” just now, but merely upon a “theoretical work”, I might just as well kill time with him.’ As he warmed to his theme, Karl’s abuse plumbed the depths of what he imagined to be the lowest form of racist insult: ‘It is now quite plain to me – as the shape of his head and the way his hair grows also testify – that he is descended from the Negroes who accompanied Moses’ flight from Egypt … The fellow’s importunity is also niggerlike.’42 In her mémoire, Jenny’s description bristled with sarcasm: ‘The laurel wreath was fresh on his Olympian brow and ambrosian head or rather on his stiff bristling Negro hair.’ But she left a memorable description of his presence in the house: ‘As on the wings of the wind he swept through our rooms, perorating so loudly, gesticulating and raising his voice to such a pitch that our neighbours were scared by the terrible shouting and asked us what was the matter. It was the inner struggle of the “great” man bursting forth in shrill discords.’43 The nastiness of Karl and Jenny’s attitude towards Lassalle in 1862 was undoubtedly inflamed by their financial desperation. As Karl admitted, ‘Had I not been in this appalling position and vexed by the way this parvenu flaunted his money bags, he’d have amused me tremendously.’44 Karl also thought Lassalle had changed since he had seen him in Berlin. He’d gone ‘quite mad’ and Karl found it intolerable to have to put up with his ‘incessant chatter in a high falsetto voice, the aesthetic histrionic gestures, the dogmatic tone’. He was incensed that Lassalle, who had ‘happily lost another 5,000 talers in an ill-judged speculation’, ‘would sooner throw his money down the drain than lend it to a friend’.45

When, at the end of his stay, Karl told Lassalle about his desperate financial plight, Lassalle lent him £15 and also advanced him a further £60, provided Engels guaranteed the loan. Karl drew upon Lassalle’s £60, but reacted angrily when Lassalle insisted upon receiving a written guarantee from Engels, and did not make the requisite arrangements to ensure its return. Lassalle expressed his annoyance and also reproached Karl for not sending him the copy of Wilhelm Roscher’s System of Political Economy, as he had promised.46 In response, Karl acknowledged Lassalle’s ‘rancour’ and offered a half-hearted apology for his behaviour. But he immediately went on to reproach Lassalle for not taking into account Karl’s own state of mind as ‘a man on a powder barrel’ who ‘would have liked nothing better than to blow my brains out’. He therefore trusted that, despite everything, their old relationship would ‘continue untroubled’.47 Thereafter, however, their personal correspondence ceased.

There was more at issue in this breakdown of relations than Lassalle’s histrionics or Karl’s parlous financial plight. It was not until he came to stay with Karl in London in the summer of 1862 that Lassalle became fully aware of the distance that separated him from Karl, both in politics and in philosophy. What had brought their disagreement to the surface was the changed situation in Prussia. In the winter of 1861, Lassalle had gone to Italy, where he had attempted to persuade Garibaldi to launch an attack on the Austrians. This, he had hoped, might provoke a revolutionary situation in Germany. The project failed. But in December 1861 in the election for the Prussian Assembly, the Constitutional Party was defeated by the Progressives. The conflict between the government and the Assembly over taxes and the role of the military now reached a critical stage.

Lassalle believed that the Progressives were too timid to provoke a revolutionary situation. They defined the conflict as one between force and right, but had no plans to act. According to Lassalle, only in a democratic state could there be a claim of right. In a quasi-academic lecture, Lassalle argued that attention should be paid not to the paper constitution, but to the real constitution – the relations of power; and March 1848 showed the power of the nation to be greater than that of the government and the army.48 Practically, this meant that the Assembly should defy the government by proroguing itself indefinitely. In the spring of 1862, he went further. He defined the existing three-class suffrage system in Prussia as a bourgeois regime reliant upon free trade and indirect taxation. But, he argued, the French Revolution had inaugurated a new epoch, in which the working class was called upon to form society on a new basis. As he went on to argue, the true task of the state was not, as the bourgeoisie believed, to act as a night-watchman, but to form the unity of individuals into a moral whole.49

Like Karl, Lassalle had originally been inspired by Hegel. But he was seven years younger than Karl and had therefore largely missed the radical controversies fought over Hegel’s conception of the state in the mid-1840s. Practically, this meant that he did not believe, like Karl, that the state was a creature of civil society. As in Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Lassalle believed that civil society was subsumed within the state as the larger social, political and spiritual whole. The crucial objective therefore was to transform the character of the state, and thereby perfect society. The fundamental improvement in the workers’ condition would not come about through the practice of self-help, as liberals like Schulze von Delitzsch proposed, or even through the agency of trade unions. Fundamental improvement could only come about through the activity of a transformed state built upon universal suffrage and able to replace the vagaries of the market by state-aided cooperative production.

It was not until Lassalle stayed with the Marx family in July 1862 that the extent of their differences became clear. At one level, Lassalle’s programme represented a summary of radical social democracy, as it had existed in 1848. As Karl later recalled, his programme linked Buchez’s demand for state-aided producer associations, a French demand which dated back to 1834, with the Chartist call for manhood suffrage. But that was to ignore the particular implications of such a programme in Prussia. For, as Karl pointed out, by emphasizing the ‘practicality’ of his programme, the ‘state’ became ‘the Prussian state’. According to Karl, he had ‘proved’ to Lassalle that ‘direct socialist intervention by a Prussian state was an absurdity’.50 It would have meant, as he later wrote to Johann Baptist von Schweitzer, that Lassalle would have been forced to make concessions to the Prussian monarchy, to Prussian reaction (‘the feudal party’) and even to ‘the clericals’.51 According to Karl, ‘all this I predicted to Lassalle, when he came to London in 1862, and called upon me to place myself, with him, at the head of the new movement’. But, as he told one of his followers, Dr Kugelmann, ‘as soon as he had become convinced in London (at the end of 1862) that he could not play his game with me, he resolved to set himself up as workers’ dictator against me and the old party’.52

In May 1863, thanks to the inspired campaigning of Lassalle, an independent workers’ party, the General German Workers’ Association (Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein, henceforth ADAV), came into being. Karl and Engels reiterated the position that they had adopted in 1848. In an essay on ‘The Prussian Military Question’, Engels argued that the constitutional conflict between the liberals and the government, now led by Bismarck, was just a further expression of the struggle between aristocratic feudalism and bourgeois liberalism. The ADAV should push the liberals forward against the government, and only turn against bourgeois forces once feudalism was finally defeated.53

Lassalle by contrast adopted an anti-liberal strategy which focused upon the reluctance of the liberals to challenge the government and their refusal to support the enfranchisement of manual workers. Manhood suffrage, the principal demand of the new Association, neatly undercut the aims of the liberal constitutional movement, but also suggested the disturbing possibility of an implicit alliance between the crown and the workers against the middle class. Karl witnessed Lassalle’s success with a mixture of admiration, irritation and distrust. Liebknecht reported to Karl on Lassalle’s vanity and the danger of getting too close to him.54 Karl agreed with Liebknecht’s caution: ‘while we consider it politic to give Lassalle a completely free rein for the time being, we cannot identify with him in any way’.55

Karl’s attitude towards Lassalle had veered between paranoia and grudging admiration. But when, at the beginning of September 1864, Freiligrath came round to tell him of Lassalle’s death from peritonitis as the result of a duel, he was deeply shocked. However mean so many of Karl’s remarks about Lassalle had been, he admitted to Engels that ‘during the last few days my thoughts have been damnably preoccupied with Lassalle’s misfortune’. He was ‘the foe of our foes … It’s hard to believe so noisy, STIRRING, PUSHING a person is now dead’, he continued and he regretted that their relationship should have been ‘clouded in recent years’, though ‘the fault lay with him’.56 In his letter of condolence to Sophie von Hatzfeldt, he regretted that he had been out of touch with Lassalle, and diplomatically ascribed this to the effects of his illness, ‘which lasted over a year and of which I only rid myself a few days ago’.57

But the distrust did not disappear. Initial relations with Johann von Schweitzer, editor of Der Sozial-Demokrat and Lassalle’s effective successor, were cordial. The journal published a translation of Karl’s inaugural address to the IWMA, and an obituary of Proudhon. But by the end of January 1865 Karl and Engels considered their deepest suspicions confirmed. On the basis of a report by Liebknecht, that Lassalle had planned to back Bismarck’s annexation of Schleswig-Holstein in return for the introduction of universal suffrage, Karl wrote, ‘we now know that Izzy [Lassalle] planned to trade off the workers’ party to Bismarck’. A few weeks later, he and Engels withdrew cooperation with the Sozial-Demokrat and drafted a letter denouncing ‘royal Prussian governmental socialism’.58 Schweitzer replied that while he was happy to follow Karl in matters of theory, he was not prepared to accept his instruction in practical matters.59

The rupture with Lassalle and his new party followed by Lassalle’s sudden death strengthened Karl’s sense of isolation, which was further reinforced by his awareness of the passing of the 1848 generation. ‘Our ranks are being steadily depleted’, Karl lamented, ‘and there are no reinforcements in sight.’60


A reluctance to abandon his original hopes caused Karl at first to underrate the importance of the new forms of social and political movement emerging in the 1860s. It was only once he had agreed to participate in the IWMA that he became fully aware not only that, after ten to fifteen years of political quiescence, political life had reawakened in Britain, Europe and North America, but that its character and ambitions were significantly different from those of 1848.

The most conspicuous manifestation of the new political climate of the 1860s was to be found in the widespread and enthusiastic support for the struggles of oppressed peoples for liberty and independence against the ancien régimes of Europe, especially Russia and Austria. Dating back as a cause to the beginning of the century, this dedicated transnational republicanism, inspired by the idea of sacrifice and a heroic ethos, was to remain the most serious alternative to the class-based transnationalism delineated in Karl’s vision of the ‘International’.

The origins of transnationalism as a facet of radical politics went back to the transformation of the European state system during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Most important had been the way in which Napoléon had spread the promise of revolution across Europe. As a result, states had begun to be imagined no longer in dynastic terms, but as actual or potential nations. Napoléon’s armies had been responsible for the transmission of a transnational ideal, in which the creation of the republic as the embodiment of a free and democratic people was the destiny of every nation. As Madame de Staël had remarked, Napoléon was ‘Robespierre on horseback’.

The enduring potency of this republican ethos after 1815 became clear in the attempted conspiracies and revolts directed against the restored Europe of the Holy Alliance. Rebellion against Spanish rule resulted in the formation of republics throughout Latin America, while the Greek battle for independence from the Ottomans triumphed in 1832. In the 1820s, there were also attempts to topple Legitimist regimes in Spain, Naples, Piedmont and Russia. In France and Italy, the Carbonari, a secret society dedicated to the overthrow of the Bourbons and the Congress of Vienna, engaged in a number of plots, the most famous of which, that of the ‘Four Sergeants of La Rochelle’ in 1822, impelled the young Auguste Blanqui to commit the rest of his life to revolutionary struggle.61

Many of the leaders of these early plots and conspiracies had served in Napoléon’s Grande Armée, not only in France and Spain, but also in Poland, where the uprising of November 1830 was led by Napoleonic veterans. As failed plots and uprisings followed each other, more and more clusters of activists were forced into emigration. The number of political exiles began to mount. Settled mainly in capital cities, living from hand to mouth, and generally without stable employment, these exiles formed unstable and volatile groups, numbers of whom were willing to fight for the republic wherever the battle was to be fought. At the time of the July Revolution in 1830, there were estimated to be over 5,000 political refugees living in Paris. The radical critic of German passivity Ludwig Börne, arriving in Paris just after the Revolution, noted the presence of ‘the English, people from the Netherlands, Spanish, Portuguese, Indians, Poles, Greeks, Americans, even Negros, all excluding Germans’, who ‘fought for the liberty of France, which is certainly the liberty of all peoples’.62 It was from such activists that Godefroi Cavaignac was able to form his ‘sacred battalion’ of 600 men to fight for the attainment of a Belgian republic in 1830.

In the two decades following 1830, the somewhat inchoate republicanism of the 1820s was refashioned by Mazzini and others into diverse forms of transnationalism aimed at the establishment of a Europe of free republics. In Mazzini’s case, the struggle for the republic was imagined as a providential movement towards ‘a Holy Alliance of the Peoples’.63 The emphasis was upon voluntarism. Even among those who did not share Mazzini’s sacral conception of ‘the duties of man’, the achievement of the republic was associated with an act of will. Mazzini’s declared aim was to organize ‘not thought, but action’. Action in turn was identified with the active practice of virtue. According to the oath sworn by members of Mazzini’s Young Italy, ‘virtue consists in action and sacrifice’.64

By 1848, enthusiasm for the republic had also spread to the 7,000 or so Germans resident in Paris, an assortment of political exiles and migrant artisans. From this group, the republican poet and one-time friend of Karl, Georg Herwegh, assembled a poorly organized legion of volunteers to cross the Rhine at Strasbourg, to join the uprising in Baden and declare the German Republic. But, as Karl warned at the time, the expedition was a disaster and the legion was scattered on its first encounter with Württemberg troops at the end of April.65

In Germany itself, republicanism made little impact in 1848.66 The heroic image of the republic was associated rather with the Poles, the Hungarians and the Italians. The most impressive example was the Roman Republic, declared after Pope Pius IX had fled Rome in February 1849. It was governed by a ‘Triumvirate’ which included Mazzini, but was soon attacked by the Catholic powers of Europe, in response to an appeal from the Pope, the Austrians in the north, and the Neapolitans in the south. Most shocking was the invasion force sent by France – supposedly a sister republic. The Roman Republic was supported by many volunteers from Italy and elsewhere, but eventually, despite the resistance organized by Garibaldi, succumbed to French troops.

In the 1850s, the career of Garibaldi as a transnational hero continued. After a spell as a sea captain, including a famous visit to Tyneside in 1854, in 1859 he became actively involved in the Second Italian War of Independence. In April 1860, there were uprisings in Messina and Palermo. Garibaldi and his ‘thousand’ volunteers landed in Sicily, and after a number of hard-fought battles succeeded in incorporating Naples and Sicily in the new kingdom of Italy. Although he felt compelled to compromise his republican ideal, by recognizing the Piedmontese monarch, Garibaldi in many ways embodied the transnational and heroic ideal of the republic, as it had developed from the early years of the century. He fought not only in Italy and South America, but also ten years later for the French Republic, when he together with a force of francs-tireurs in the Vosges mounted resistance against the Prussians after Bonaparte’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. As he wrote in his Autobiography: ‘the man who defends his own country or who attacks the country of others, is but a soldier, pious in the first hypothesis – unjust in the second; – but … the man who, making himself a cosmopolite, adopts the second as his country, and goes to offer his sword and his blood to every people struggling against tyranny, is more than a soldier: he is a hero.’67

In Britain, the heroic deeds of the ‘Thousand’ captured the popular imagination, and from 1863 excitement about political events in Europe and the wider world reached unprecedented levels. Karl remained suspicious or hostile towards national or transnational struggles, except where they forwarded his own notion of revolution. Revolts in Poland and Ireland could help destabilize Russia and Britain, but he dismissed republican revolts in Italy, Spain and other Slavic lands, especially when championed later in the decade by a returned Siberian exile, Michael Bakunin.

Such distrust found no resonance in popular sentiment. In the aftermath of 1848, inspired by the presence in London of exiled leaders of oppressed nations like Mazzini or Kossuth, republicans, democrats, socialists and many liberals considered radicalism and transnationalism to belong together.68 When, in the spring of 1864, Garibaldi, the hero of the Risorgimento, visited London, half a million people turned out to meet him and a huge trade union procession escorted him into the City. The response to Garibaldi was the expression of a general upsurge of interest in politics and a feeling of solidarity with subject nations. Garibaldi was celebrated not only as a leader of a nation, but also as a ‘man of the people’, and this support soon turned into a campaign of protest when it became clear that an ‘aristocratic government’ had contrived to prevent him from touring the provinces.69 This accusation was one of the precipitants of the campaign to reform the franchise, a movement which gathered full force with the foundation of the Reform League in 1865.

The upsurge in progressive sentiment in 1863 was also a response to President Lincoln’s proclamation of the abolition of slavery in the United States at the beginning of that year.70 In response to the suspicion that in ministerial, aristocratic and business circles there might be support for the slave-holding Southern Confederacy, a movement was formed under the leadership of John Bright to support the democratic North. Trade union leaders were again prominent in this movement, as they had been in the campaign to welcome Garibaldi. Karl later claimed that ‘a monster meeting’ in St James’s Hall, chaired by Bright, had ‘prevented Palmerston declaring war on the United States, which he was on the point of doing’. In the Marx household, Karl’s youngest daughter, the ten-year-old Eleanor, wrote to Lincoln, appointing herself his political adviser.71

In the first months of 1863, there was an uprising in Poland against Russian rule. Among radicals, the revolt revived a concern about the plight of Poland, which went back to the revolt of 1830 and the declarations of the Fraternal Democrats in the years before 1848. In combination with the popularity of the Risorgimento and the enthusiasm for Lincoln, the Polish revolt further intensified the transnational preoccupations of politically engaged workers and middle-class radicals, both in England and in France.

As a result of the events in Poland, the originally innocuous and officially supported visit of French workers to the International Exhibition of 1862 bore fruit of an unexpected kind. When the French delegation had arrived, they had been invited to a tea party by the committee of the Working Man, a journal associated with the cooperative movement. Convened under the patronage of Shaftesbury and Palmerston, the meeting had not been designed to be of anything other than of cultural and philanthropic interest. But unbeknown to its patrons, the gathering had included radical French workers and political refugees – Tolain, Fribourg, Talandier and Bocquet – all to be active members of the future International. Similarly, on the English side, the meeting included G. E. Harris and Charles Murray, followers of the Chartist–feminist politics of Bronterre O’Brien. At the meeting, one of the French refugees, Bocquet, had proposed that ‘a corresponding committee should be formed in London for the purpose of interchanging ideas with the workmen of France’.72 In 1862, there had been no reason to suppose that anything of political consequence would follow from the proposal.

But the significance of such a committee was transformed by the outbreak of the Polish revolt against czarist rule at the beginning of 1863. Following correspondence between English and French workers, a mass meeting in support of the Poles was held at St James’s Hall on 22 July 1863. It was attended by a five-member delegation from the Paris Working Men’s Polish Committee. On the following day, English and French workers met at the Bell Inn and agreed to inaugurate a joint campaign on behalf of Poland. On 5 August, this resulted in the founding of the National League for the Independence of Poland together with an address to French workers drafted by George Odger, the Chairman of the London Trades Council. This address called for ‘a gathering together of representatives from France, Italy, Germany, Poland, England and all countries where there exists a will to cooperate for the good of mankind’.

The National League represented an important moment in the re-emergence of an independent movement of politically engaged working men. As part of its agitation, a delegation of working men from Tower Hamlets met with Palmerston and urged him, if necessary, to wage war against Russia in support of ‘oppressed nationality’ in Poland. Similarly, at the July meeting, George Odger declared that ‘if the government did not move in the matter, it was for the working people of the country to call upon them to take an active part in the question’.73 The League drew upon the support of former Chartists, leading trade unionists and middle-class radical activists, including John Stuart Mill and Frederic Harrison.

The theme of transnational cooperation came up again in April 1864 at a meeting of the English Working Men’s Garibaldi Committee, whose membership overlapped that of the National League, and also included a delegation of French working men. There, it was proposed that a ‘congress of continental and English working men’ be held in London, and on 27 August it was announced in the Beehive, the journal of the London Trades Council, that an international meeting would be held on 28 September. This was the first meeting of what was to become the IWMA. Around 19 September, Karl was invited to this meeting as a representative of Germany. He was also asked to choose a German worker, and put forward his old ally and former member of the Communist League, the tailor Johann Georg Eccarius.

A crowded meeting duly took place in St Martin’s Hall, Long Acre, attended by a deputation from Paris, headed by an engraver, Henri Tolain. Karl was one of those elected a member of the General Council. But whether because of ill-health or preoccupation with his own work, it took some weeks before Karl began fully to appreciate the potential importance of the Association. Having been elected to the General Council and also appointed to the sub-committee responsible for drawing up a ‘declaration of principles’ and provisional rules, he was unable to attend either the following meeting of the General Council or the first two meetings of the sub-committee. It was only when Eccarius warned him that there was danger in delaying his appearance any longer, citing Livy, ‘a case of periculum in mora’ (danger in delay), that Karl went along to the sub-committee.

In early November, however, he wrote to Engels with enthusiasm about what had happened. The meeting of 28 September had been ‘chock-full’. It was an indication, according to Karl, that ‘there is now evidently a revival of the working classes taking place’, and, he went on, ‘I knew that on this occasion “people who really count” were appearing, both from London and from Paris, and I therefore decided to waive my usual standing rule TO DECLINE ANY SUCH INVITATIONS’.74


The ‘people who really count’ were the trade unionists. What distinguished the IWMA from earlier international associations such as the Fraternal Democrats was the presence and participation of the leaders of the most important London trade societies. The location of the International in London in the 1860s was not the result of its concentration of political exiles residing in the city – though this made it an obvious choice. Nor was it simply the result of Britain’s liberal reputation. It was the consequence of an upsurge of new forms of trade unionism which had occurred in London at the end of the 1850s. The formation of the IWMA owed its inception to the expanding ambitions of the new London trade societies, themselves a response to the rapid increase in production which had occurred in Britain and elsewhere after 1848.

Between 1850 and 1890, industrial world production increased four-fold, world trade six-fold.75 The most eye-catching aspects of this increase were to be found in the growth of railways, steamships, coal mines and factory towns. But striking changes also occurred in capital cities, whose rapid expansion was signalled by the building booms of the 1850s and 1860s. Kentish Town, where the Marx family settled, was one of the new areas of housing developed during this construction boom.

The boom was accompanied by even more striking changes in the production of consumer goods. In clothing, footwear and furniture, as well as building, a technological revolution occurred during the 1850s. The invention of the sewing machine in 1846 and the band saw in 1858, and the adoption of mass sewing and cutting from 1850, provided the basis for the take-off of a large-scale ready-made clothing industry. The application of the sewing machine to shoe sewing in 1857 removed the production bottleneck imposed by hand-sewn shoemaking. At the same time, the use of steam power in sawmills, assisted by the use of wood-working machines from the end of the 1840s, enormously accelerated furniture production. In the building trades, mechanized brickmaking, automatic lockmaking and other innovations similarly accelerated the pace of production.76

The tensions generated by these changes in the pace of work and attendant losses in job control came to a head in the London building trades in 1859. In that year, metropolitan building workers demanded a maximum nine-hour day. In response, the employers demanded that workers sign a ‘document’ disavowing trade societies. The refusal of the men to comply led to a six-month lockout, involving 24,000 masons, bricklayers, joiners and labourers. The men on strike appealed nation-wide for financial help, and in response representatives from other London trades organized national support. The struggle ended in a draw. The workers withdrew their demand for a nine-hour day and the employers withdrew their ‘document’.

One of the reasons why the building workers had been able to survive the lockout without capitulation had been the substantial financial support (£3,000) they had received from the Amalgamated Society of Engineers. This was another novel achievement of the post-Chartist era. The Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE), founded in 1850, embodied a new form of unionism. In place of the traditional practices of small and localized trade societies, the ASE built up a national organization with 21,000 members. It possessed a centrally organized financial organization and conducted disputes in accordance with strict and nationally agreed rules. The other London trade unionists reformed their own trade societies along the lines pioneered by the Engineers. While George Howell reorganized the Operative Bricklayers’ Society, Randall Cremer and Robert Applegarth transformed the Carpenters into a nationally based ‘amalgamated’ union, whose membership rose from 949 to 10,475 between 1862 and 1871, with 207 branches. These ‘new model unions’ were able to offer greater benefits to their members. Their bargaining position was greatly strengthened, both by their size and by the effectiveness of their organization.77 This was why, in Karl’s words, their leaders were ‘people who really count’.

Experience of the strike led the leaders of London trade societies to consider that new and more coordinated forms of labour organization had become necessary. In 1860, the representatives of the London trades formed a permanent body, the London Trades Council. Its members included a new generation of trade union leaders – George Howell of the Bricklayers, George Odger of the West London Shoemakers, Randall Cremer of the Carpenters and, a little later, Robert Applegarth, also of the Carpenters. These men, whom the Webbs were to call ‘the Junta’, were soon to become leading figures in the agitations over the American Civil War, Italy and Poland.78 They encouraged the formation of trades councils in other towns, and in 1868 founded the Trades Union Congress with the ambition to advance the political as well as social aims of labour. This was stated in 1861 in the declaration of the aims of the London Trades Council, which were to: ‘watch over the general interest of labour, both political and social, both in and out of Parliament; to use their influence in supporting any measure likely to benefit trade unions’.79

The Council could recommend assistance for particular strikes, summon delegates and make pronouncements on issues of public interest. Its first Secretary was George Howell, between 1861 and 1862, and he was succeeded by George Odger, who remained Secretary through to 1871.

It was the trade union leaders who effectively brought the IWMA into existence. It was the ‘Address to the French Working Classes’, drawn up by Odger and co-signed by Cremer and others, which led to the foundation of the International. In the ‘Address’, which was published in the Beehive on 5 December 1863, it was stated that: ‘A fraternity of peoples is highly necessary for the cause of labour, for we find that whenever we attempt to better our social condition by reducing the hours of toil, or by raising the price of labour, our employers threaten us with bringing over Frenchmen, Belgians, and others to do our work at reduced wages.’ This had been the result of ‘a want of regular and systematic communication between the industrious classes of all countries, which we hope to see speedily effected’.80

Similarly, it was George Odger’s open letter to trade unionists appealing to them to agitate for the franchise which led to the formation of the Manhood Suffrage and Vote by Ballot Association, the precursor of the Reform League.

The creators of the IWMA did not make a sharp distinction between economic and political aims. They were as much inspired by transnational republican movements as other radicals. Thus, their ‘first united effort’ was to be ‘for the freedom of Poland’. For Howell, Garibaldi was ‘an idol’, while both Howell and Cremer by the early 1860s were friends of Mazzini. At the foundation meeting of the International, Odger sounded an equally Mazzinian note. Workers were to lead a campaign for a foreign policy based on morality and justice and to head an alliance of subject peoples – Italians, Hungarians and Poles – against Austria and Russia.81 Domestically, ‘the enfranchisement of the masses of the people was to be the first object of the English Section’. This was the object achieved in the Reform Bill of 1867.82

In the economic sphere, the purpose of the Association was equally large-minded. The object was not simply to combat the use of continental labour as blacklegs: a new phenomenon resulting from commercial expansion and the growing ease of transport between Britain and the Continent.83 The Trade Society leaders saw blacklegging as the symptom of a deeper disparity between the condition of labour in Britain and Europe. Therefore the fundamental aim of the IWMA, as it was conceived by the English Trade Society leaders, was to bring the benefits of British social legislation (limitation of working hours, restriction of juvenile employment) and the achievements of the new ‘amalgamated’ model of trade unionism to the other nations of Europe and the world.84

The IWMA was both organizationally heterogeneous and ideologically diverse. It was governed by a General Council, of whom the vast majority were English – 27 out of 34.85 Conversely, each national section, except the English, was represented on the General Council; Karl and Eccarius were to represent Germany. The Association issued an ‘Inaugural Address’ and ‘Provisional Rules’ in November 1864. Its overall aims were to promote brotherhood and the end of war.86 But the Association was, and remained, a very fragile institution. Contrary to rumours at the time, it was virtually without resources, and was at one point expelled from its premises for non-payment of rent. Furthermore, its membership through affiliation was notional. According to George Howell, ‘The whole system of “affiliation”, that is joining in a body or society, consisted simply of a vague agreement with certain undefined propositions by a formal resolution, the chief of which was the urgent need of an association which should embrace the workmen of all countries.’ Therefore, while it was reported that the Council had obtained 18,000 adhesions, actual paying members in England did not exceed 500. There were more in France, Belgium and Switzerland, ‘but in no country were the numbers formidable’.87 The General Council met weekly in Greek Street in Soho, its main business being to accept the affiliation of new branches, whether of individuals or associations. The other task of the General Council was to prepare for annual congresses, which would vote on matters of policy. Karl played a central role in preparing the agenda of each congress, but only attended the congress at The Hague in 1872.

At a preliminary meeting in London in September 1865, the task was to set the agenda for the first congress, to be held in Geneva in September 1866. The main issue, which arose there, and again at Geneva, was Poland. The French and the Belgians did not consider the question of Poland to be relevant to an ‘economic’ conference; nor were they happy about the specific condemnation of Russian tyranny; if the resolution were to be admitted at all, it should be directed at tyranny in general. The question was resolved by a compromise amendment.

In Geneva, not surprisingly, the sixty delegates came mainly from France and Switzerland. Nevertheless, despite some French opposition to state intervention, the congress passed a number of resolutions in line with the aims of the English trade unionists, most notably the demand for an eight-hour day and restrictions on juvenile labour. A French demand, voiced by Tolain, that only workers should be admitted to congresses as delegates, was rejected by the English trade unionist Randall Cremer, but another motion recommending the prohibition of female labour was passed.

In September 1867, a second congress was held, in Lausanne. Once again, there was a large French presence, even though, as in the previous year, French delegates were harassed by the authorities. In England, the attention of members of the General Council was distracted by the agitation over the Reform Bill, while Karl himself was preoccupied with the publication of Capital. But that did not damp down a wider international interest in the congress in 1867. The combination of the Reform struggle in England and a series of prominent strikes in Europe – bronze workers in Paris, builders in Geneva, silk workers in Basle – heightened the growth of international attention to the aspirations of the working classes. The proceedings of the congress in Lausanne were reported in The Times and reproduced by the rest of the European press. The Times editorial stated, ‘it will be nothing less than a new world, we really believe, when Englishmen and foreigners find themselves able to work together’. Thirty-three more trade societies affiliated to the International, and by the spring of 1868, the number had reached 120.

Two issues dominated the congress. The first was social ownership. Proposals of state responsibility for education and ownership of the railways were raised by Belgian delegates, but rejected or amended by the French. The question of ownership of the land, whether it should be based on peasant proprietorship or be socialized, was another issue between the French and the Belgians which was deferred until the next congress.

The second issue raised at Lausanne was the relationship of the International with the League of Peace and Freedom, whose founding congress was held in neighbouring Geneva. The League had the support of John Stuart Mill, Victor Hugo, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Louis Blanc, Alexander Herzen, Michael Bakunin and others. Six thousand supporters attended the congress and 10,000 people across Europe had also signed a petition promoting its aims. The League had changed the starting date of its congress, so that delegates from Lausanne would also be able to attend. On 13 August 1867, at a meeting of the General Council, Karl had argued that while ‘it was desirable that as many delegates as could make it convenient should attend the Peace Congress in their individual capacity … it would be injudicious to take part officially as representatives of the International Association. The International Working Men’s Congress was itself a Peace Congress, as the union of the working classes of the different countries must ultimately make international wars impossible.’88 At Lausanne, the majority of delegates favoured cooperation with the League, but added a motion proposed by Tolain that war could only be stopped by a new social system based upon a just distribution of wealth. This did not hinder the enthusiasm of the League, which happily accepted the amendment. However, no further action was taken.

The Brussels Congress of 1868 attracted ninety-one delegates, not only twelve from Britain, but also delegates from Spain, Italy and Germany. There was a large Belgian delegation and the congress began with a Belgian resolution. It was inspired by Bonaparte’s ill-fated imperial expedition to Mexico, and declared that the root of wars was to be traced to the economic system, in which what was unleashed was a war between producers – in reality, therefore, a civil war. A declaration of war should therefore be countered by a general strike. There was general agreement about the need to assist strikes, when they were justified. Trade unions were to be supported, not merely in themselves, but as ‘a means to a higher idea – that of cooperation’. A tribute was paid to Karl’s recently published Capital and his analysis was used in a discussion of machinery led by Eccarius. But despite the increased numbers of the English delegation, it was noted that ‘In England the unsettled state of politics, the dissolution of the old parties, and the preparation for the coming electoral campaign have absorbed many of our most active members, and to some degree, retarded our propaganda.’89 Proposals for free credit and state education were referred back for further discussion. A controversial resolution, advocating the collective ownership of land, railways, mines and forests, was passed, but only in a small ballot: 9 to 4 in favour, with 15 abstentions.

The final congress before the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War was held in Basle in September 1869. It was composed of seventy-eight delegates, including a twelve-man delegation from the newly formed Eisenach Social Democratic Party in Germany led by Wilhelm Liebknecht. In Britain, with the success of reform and hopeful indications of improvement in the legal status of trade unions, interest in the International had continued to decline, and in the Annual Report the country was barely mentioned. In Basle, unlike Brussels, commitment to public ownership of the land was strongly reaffirmed. But the conditions under which the land should be held remained a matter of controversy. Opinions also differed about English-supported proposals for compulsory, secular and inspected state education. Bakunin again raised the originally Saint-Simonian demand for the abolition of inheritance, but failed to achieve the required two-thirds majority.90 The next congress was planned for Paris, but two weeks before it was due to take place, Napoléon declared war on Prussia, and the congress was cancelled.

The earliest account of the history of the International was written by Edward Beesly, a Positivist professor at University College, London, who had chaired the International’s founding meeting in 1864. He declared that an ‘account of the political and economic principles advocated by the International’ was of ‘very little importance in comparison with the practical work done by the association’.

Five months after the Geneva Congress, at the beginning of February 1867, 5,000 Parisian bronze workers were locked out by their employers. An appeal was made to the General Council, which in turn passed on the request for aid to its affiliated societies, and this produced sufficient promises of assistance to force a defeat of the employers. In the ensuing years, the Association helped the resistance to lockouts and supported a number of strikes, notably those of London bookbinders and tailors. In the spring of 1868, Genevan ‘master builders’ locked out their men for refusing to renounce their connection with the International. But international aid from relevant trade societies forced the masters to withdraw their demand and make concessions on wages and hours of work. This resulted in a great increase in the International’s reputation in Switzerland. In the years 1868–9, it was said that ‘industrial war raged over Europe’.91 Most of these conflicts were in fact unconnected to the International, but were nevertheless associated with it in the public mind.

In the late 1860s, industrial disputes directly connected with the International began to include some industrial workers, notably weavers and spinners in Rouen and the Norman textile district.92 But the struggles of the International for the most part took place in workshops or on building sites, and were related to the concern of skilled artisans that the import of cheaper labour from Europe should not become the norm. A characteristic example of its success in that sector concerned the basketmakers of Bermondsey:

During the London basket-makers’ dispute, in 1867, information was received that six Belgians were at work under the railway arches in Blue Anchor Lane, Bermondsey. They were as strictly guarded against contact with the outside public as a kidnapped girl in a nunnery. By some stratagem a Flemish member of the Council succeeded in obtaining an interview, and upon being informed of the nature of their engagement, the men struck work, and returned home. Just as they were about to embark a steamer arrived with a fresh supply. The new arrivals were at once communicated with; they too repudiated their engagement and returned home, promising they would exert themselves to prevent any further supplies.93

However limited the economic reach and effectiveness of the International Association, its impact and legacy were far broader. The greatest achievement of the IWMA was to forge and spread across Europe and the Americas a new and lasting language of social democracy. European socialism was an invention of the 1860s. Terms like ‘solidarity’, ‘strike’, ‘meeting’ or ‘trade union’ were adopted in countries where their previous use had been unknown. British radicals and trade unionists were perceived as role models across Europe. Some of their leaders – George Odger, Benjamin Lucraft, George Howell – were seen as standard-bearers for what had formerly been known as Chartist ideas of political participation. The picture of the new British trade unions as established and well-funded contrasted strongly with the situation of unions in France, fragmented between different regions and lacking recognized or protected union rights. Finally, the success of the Reform League in pressing for the Reform Bill of 1867 was perceived as a demonstration that political emancipation could be achieved through ‘pressure from without’.


When Karl became involved in the International, his political views were virtually unknown as he had played little or no part in the emergence of the new politics of the 1860s. Furthermore, as his own account made clear, the opportunity to play such a central part in highlighting the condition of the working classes and in formulating the aims of the International Association came about largely as a matter of chance. Karl had been appointed to a sub-committee delegated to produce ‘a declaration of principles and provisional rules’. Preliminary drafts of the ‘declaration’ had been prepared by an Owenite manufacturer, John Weston, and of the rules by Mazzini’s secretary, ‘Major’ Luigi Wolff.

Weston, according to Karl, had drawn up ‘a programme full of extreme confusion and of indescribable breadth’; Wolff’s rules had been lifted directly from the statutes of Italian Workers’ Associations, which in reality, according to Karl, were benefit societies. Karl was absent from the first two meetings of the sub-committee; during this period, a redraft had been prepared by a Jersey-born French republican refugee, Victor Le Lubez. At the following meeting, which Karl had finally been able to attend, the redraft was read out to the full committee. Karl was really ‘shocked’. It was ‘A fearfully cliché-ridden, badly written and totally unpolished preamble, pretending to be a declaration of principles, with Mazzini showing through the whole thing from beneath a crust of the most insubstantial scraps of French socialism.’ He was equally scornful of the Italian-inspired rules, which he thought referred to ‘something quite impossible, a sort of central government of the European working classes (with Mazzini in the background, of course)’.

According to his own account, Karl ‘remonstrated mildly’ and, as a result, the drafts were sent back to the sub-committee for further editing, but with the instruction that ‘the sentiments’ expressed in the Le Lubez Declaration should be retained. Two days later, on 20 October, a meeting of the sub-committee at Karl’s house lasted until one o’clock in the morning, but only succeeded in reformulating one of forty rules. Cremer called the meeting to a close with the hope that a reformulated document could be agreed by the sub-committee on 27 October. The ‘papers’ were ‘bequeathed’ to Karl for his perusal.94

In order to accommodate the ‘sentiments’ of Le Lubez, while tactfully detaching them from their Mazzinian framework, Karl replaced the ‘Declaration of Principles’ by an ‘Inaugural Address’ which recounted the development of the working classes from the mid-1840s. This declared that, despite the rapid growth of the world economy, the misery of the working masses had not diminished between 1848 and 1864. Drawing upon Parliamentary Public Health Reports, he pointed to the virtually starvation wages existing among groups of workers as diverse as agricultural labourers, silk and stocking weavers, needlewomen and others.95 He also quoted the announcement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, William Gladstone, that between 1853 and 1861 the taxable income of the country had increased by 20 per cent. ‘This intoxicating augmentation of wealth and power’, Gladstone had added, was ‘almost entirely confined to classes of property’.96 Everywhere in Britain and Europe, according to the ‘Inaugural Address’, ‘the great mass of the working classes were sinking down to a lower depth, at the same rate at least that those above them were rising in the social scale’. Only a minority ‘got their wages somewhat advanced’. Contrary to the promises of industrialization and free trade, it appeared that ‘no improvement of machinery, no appliance of science to production, no contrivances of communication, no new colonies, no emigration, no opening of markets, no free trade, nor all these things put together, will do away with the miseries of the industrious masses.’97 But the situation was not hopeless. The period also possessed ‘compensating features’. Firstly, there had been the success of the Ten Hours Bill (limiting factory hours). This was ‘the first time that in broad daylight the political economy of the middle class succumbed to the political economy of the working class’. Secondly, there was the cooperative movement, ‘a still greater victory of the political economy of labour over the political economy of property’.

Of course, ‘the lords of land and lords of capital’ would always use their ‘political privileges’ to defend ‘their economical monopolies’. As the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, had ‘sneered’, when defeating the advocates of the Irish Tenants’ Right Bill, ‘the House of Commons’ was ‘a house of landed proprietors’. For this reason, ‘to conquer political power has … become the great duty of the working classes’. Their ‘fraternal concurrence’ was also required in combating the foreign policy of the ruling classes in pursuit of criminal designs, whether for the preservation of transatlantic slavery or the support of ‘heroic Poland’ against ‘that barbarous power, whose head is at St Petersburg and whose hands are in every cabinet in Europe’. At that stage, a Mazzinian point was added. In foreign policy, the aim was to ‘vindicate the simple laws of morals and justice, which ought to govern the relations of private individuals, as the rules paramount of the intercourse of nations’. But the concluding sentence reiterated the words of the Manifesto: ‘Proletarians of all countries, Unite!’98

The strategy adopted in the ‘Provisional Rules’ was the same as that found in the ‘Inaugural Address’. Concessions were made to the Mazzinian standpoint, but ‘these are so placed that they can do no harm’. Members of the International Association were to ‘acknowledge truth, justice, and morality, as the bases of their conduct towards each other, and towards all men, without regard to colour, creed, or nationality’. But the first and fundamental point was that ‘the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves’. Karl was also pleased that he had managed to forefront Russian tyranny and to refer to ‘countries’ rather than ‘nationalities’. He lamented the fact that he was unable to employ ‘the old boldness of language’, and was compelled to ‘frame the thing so that our view should appear in a form that would make it ACCEPTABLE to the present outlook of the workers’ movement’.99

But, in truth, that was a large part of the document’s strength. Not only did it conceptualize the emancipation of the working classes as a global project and articulate a transnational community of workers’ interests, but it did so in a language with which politically aware working men at the time could identify. Similarly, the discussion of the workers’ condition during the preceding fifteen years took care to mirror what trade unionists like Howell and Applegarth considered to be their own understanding of the period. It also addressed conventional notions of justice and respectability by emphasizing that what was being discussed was not ‘the deserved poverty of idleness’, but ‘the poverty of working populations’.

With one or two minor amendments, Karl’s reformulation of the drafts of Weston, Wolff and Le Lubez was accepted unanimously by the General Council. According to Edward Beesly, ‘The Address thus issued is probably the most striking and powerful statement of the workman’s case against the middle class that has ever been compressed into a dozen small pages.’100 What particularly impressed contemporaries were its deployment of official sources and the confining of its claims to historical fact. As the Secretary of the Reform League, George Howell, put it, with understandable exaggeration, ‘a Gladstone or a Bright could have accepted it with a good conscience’.101


It was in the formulation of this new social-democratic language in the mid-1860s that Karl made his greatest contribution to the International, both in the definition of the aims of the Association and in a global diagnosis of the workers’ condition. These were also the years – between 1863 and 1867 – in which Karl was writing up Capital. The pronouncements in the ‘Inaugural Address’ and the ‘Rules’ of the International were closely related to the analysis he was currently developing in his book. But before this proximity can be fully recognized, it is necessary to dismantle the standard twentieth-century reading of Karl’s theory of revolution.

The turbulent history of the twentieth century from 1917 through to the 1970s created an almost indelible association between Karl and a ‘Marxist’ language of revolution. ‘Marxism’ was identified with the violent overthrow of capitalism and the leading role of the revolutionary party. The leaders of revolutionary parties constructed their strategies upon what they conceived to be the correct reading of a small number of prescribed Marxian texts. Particular emphasis was placed upon The Communist Manifesto, the 1859 preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political EconomyThe Civil War in France and The Critique of the Gotha Programme. Significantly, this canonical list contained no more than dutiful mention of Karl’s works during the period of his greatest achievement, the years 1864–9. This period included his publication of Capital and his formulation of the aims of the International Working Men’s Association.

Twentieth-century associations have obscured Karl’s conception of revolutionary change during the 1860s. What excited him was not the expectation of an apocalyptic event, some revolutionary doomsday, in which ‘the knell of capitalist private property sounds’ and ‘the expropriators are expropriated’.102 Rather, his assumption was that the process of a transition from the capitalist mode of production towards the society of associated producers had already begun.

The existence of such an assumption has been obscured by Karl’s failure to publish Capital as a single work in 1867. The delay in publishing the second volume was never envisaged. On 7 May 1867, Karl wrote to Engels that Meissner, his publisher, was demanding the second volume by the end of the autumn at the latest: ‘I shall therefore have to get my nose to the grindstone as soon as possible, as a lot of new material relating especially to the chapters on credit and landed property has become available since the manuscript was composed. The third volume must be completed during the winter, so that I shall have shaken off the whole opus by next spring.’103 Engels thought it ‘obvious’ that after completing the first volume ‘you must have a 6 week rest’. But in the following August, having ‘read the thing through to the end’, he ‘definitely’ thought that ‘the second volume is also indispensable, and the sooner you finish it the better’.104

In the event, the manuscripts of the unfinished volume were only published by Engels in 1885 and 1894, between twenty and thirty years after their original composition. Furthermore, Engels’ introductions, which focused upon preoccupations of the 1880s and 1890s – Karl’s alleged plagiarism of the political economy of Rodbertus, and Engels’ suggested solution to the problem of relating surplus value to profit – deadened any connection there might have been with the original political intention of the book. In particular, this posthumous publication dulled any sense of an immediate connection between the ‘Inaugural Address’ and the allusions to the transition from bourgeois society to the society of associated producers found in the unpublished part of Capital.105

The most distinctive feature of Karl’s conception of revolution in the 1860s was that its focus was not upon event, but upon process. It was for this reason that in the 1867 preface to Capital he could write about the actuality of ‘the process of revolution’ in England.106 The picture of revolutionary change presented there was not of revolution as theatrical event – the fall of the Bastille, the storming of the Winter Palace. Successful revolution meant rather the political ratification of changes which were already occurring or had already occurred in civil society.

The greater the extent of these preceding social changes, the less the violence likely to accompany the process of political change. It was for this reason that Karl believed that workers in England might ‘by peaceful means’ conquer ‘political supremacy in order to establish the new organisation of labour’.107 In January 1867, in a speech in support of Polish independence, he suggested that the struggle between workmen and capitalists might be ‘less fierce and bloody than the struggles between the feudal lord and the capitalist proved in England and France. We will hope so.’108 The picture was not of the violent seizure of power associated with twentieth-century communism, but of a social-democratic process propelled by ‘pressure from without’.109 It was in the same spirit that Karl concluded his chapter on ‘The Working Day’ in Capital: ‘In place of the pompous catalogue of the “inalienable rights of man” [of 1789] comes the modest Magna Charta of a legally limited working day … Quantum mutatus ab illo!110

The picture of the transition from capitalism to socialism was analogous to that from feudalism to capitalism. The depiction of the emergence and ascent of the capitalist mode of production in Capital showed that crucial changes in the development of civil society preceded both the achievement of a bourgeois state and the technological triumphs of the industrial revolution. In accordance with his organic vision of the development of modes of production, Karl maintained that ‘the economic structure of capitalistic society’ had ‘grown out of the economic structure of feudal society’ and that ‘the dissolution of the latter’ had ‘set free the elements of the former’.111 In feudal times, ‘The money capital formed by means of usury and commerce was prevented from turning into industrial capital, in the country by the feudal constitution, in the towns by guild organisation. These fetters vanished with the dissolution of feudal society, with the expropriation and partial eviction of the country population.’ Global developments further assisted this capitalist development: ‘The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation.’112 Heralded by the communal movements in late medieval towns, freeing urban corporations from feudal structures, together with the expansion of international trade and the discovery of new continents, civil society had developed alongside new forms of commodity production. Assisted between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries by the ‘expropriation of the agricultural population from the land’, new legal and institutional arrangements made possible the accumulation of capital. This process of social change found political and legal ratification in the ‘bourgeois revolution’ of 1688, which removed remaining restrictions on the inheritance of property.113

Parallel examples of the transition from bourgeois property to that of the ‘associated producers’ were to be found in Karl’s picture of the 1860s. In the third, unpublished volume of Capital, Karl wrote of the transformation of stock companies: ‘the stock company is a transition toward the conversion of all functions in the reproduction process which still remain linked with capitalist property, into mere functions of associated producers, into social functions.’114This, he continued, ‘is the abolition of the capitalist mode of production within the capitalist mode of production itself, and hence a self-dissolving contradiction, which prima facie represents a mere phase of transition to a new form of production.’115 But the most impressive of these examples was the development of cooperative factories which ‘represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new … 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 showed how ‘A new mode of production naturally grows out of an old one, when the development of material forces of production and of the corresponding forms of social production have reached a particular stage.’116

In the ‘Inaugural Address’, he developed the same thought, but with a sharper political edge. Cooperative factories ‘by deed instead of argument’ had 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 labour need not be monopolised as a means of dominion over, and of extortion against, the labouring man himself.’ This demonstrated that ‘Like slave labour, like serf labour, hired labour is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated labour plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart.’ The advent of cooperative production performed by associated labour had been the central issue not only in the development of Owenism in England, but also the rational core of schemes for the emancipation of labour in 1848: ‘In England, the seeds of the cooperative system were sown by Robert Owen; the working men’s experiments, tried on the continent were, in fact, the practical upshot of the theories, not invented, but loudly proclaimed, in 1848.’117


Karl regularly attended the weekly meetings of the General Council and played an intellectually leading role within it. Uniquely positioned to act as a mediator between British and European currents of thought, he was able to give shape and meaning to the development of events at home and abroad. He was also able to draft coherent responses to the unfolding of events. It was therefore not surprising that in the years before the Franco-Prussian War, his services to the Council were highly appreciated. Their value was pointed out at the Geneva Congress by the trade unionist Randall Cremer in opposition to a French motion declaring that only workers should be eligible as delegates to congresses of the International. Cremer pointed out that the movement in Britain owed much to members of the Council who were not manual workers. ‘Among those members, I will mention one only, Citizen Marx, who has devoted all his life to the triumph of the working classes.’118 Contemporaries were particularly struck by his economic and statistical erudition. According to Edward Beesly, ‘While the practical English element prevents it from splitting to pieces on economic and political theories, the foreign members, in whose hands the continental correspondence necessarily lies are men of great ability and information, who have devoted themselves to the International from its foundation. To no one is the success of the Association so much due as to Dr Karl Marx, who, in his acquaintance with the history and statistics of the industrial movement in all parts of Europe, is, I should imagine, without a rival.’119

Karl’s intellectual authority in this area was demonstrated in a running debate on the General Council in the spring and summer of 1865, sparked off by ‘Citizen’ Weston’s ‘proposition’ on wages. Weston questioned the value of trade unions since wage increases merely resulted in higher prices; only producer-cooperatives could increase workers’ standard of living. Drawing upon his current work in Capital, Karl argued over two meetings that wage rises might bring about a fall in the rate of profits, but would leave the value of commodities unaltered. The general tendency of production, however, was to lower wages. Trade unions were valuable in counteracting, even if only temporarily, falls in wage rates, and in limiting the working day. But, above all, their value lay ‘in organising the working class as a class’. They failed generally by ‘accepting the present relations of capital and labour as permanent instead of working for their abolition’.120 In response to Weston, Randall Cremer, at that point the General Secretary of the Council, thought that ‘Citizen Marx had given two or three practical illustrations or rather facts which completely destroyed the positions affirmed by Citizen Weston.’121

On the General Council, Karl’s strategy was to align himself as closely as possible with the positions of the new trade union leaders. The Association, as he wrote to Dr Kugelmann at the end of November 1864, was ‘important because the leaders of the London Trade Unions belong to it’.122 Over a year later, his views remained unchanged: ‘We have succeeded in attracting into the movement the only really big workers’ organisation, the English “TRADE UNIONS”, which previously concerned themselves exclusively with the wage question.’123 Twentieth-century assumptions about the centrality of the Party have obscured the extent to which this was not Karl’s assumption in the 1860s. His confidence in the merits of a party as the vehicle of revolution had been undermined by the developments of the preceding fifteen years. His hope that Chartism might be revived had finally had to be abandoned, while his efforts to preserve his own ‘party’ in exile had been destroyed by the emergence of what he called ‘governmental socialism’ under Lassalle and Schweitzer in Germany. Throughout the 1860s, Karl put his faith in trade unions as the means of the formation and consolidation of class identity and activity. In Hanover, in 1869, Karl told a delegation of Lassallean metal workers, ‘All political parties, whatever they may be, without exception, inspire the masses of the workers only temporarily, the unions, however, mesmerise the masses of the workers for good, only they are capable of truly representing a workers’ party and being a bastion against the power of capital.’ Trade unions, he continued, were ‘the schools of socialism’. In trade unions, workers were formed as socialists, since ‘there daily the struggle against capital was played out before their eyes’.124

Writing to Dr Kugelmann early in 1865, after explaining why it was now impossible for him to participate in Prussian politics, he went on, ‘I prefer my agitation here through the “International Association” a 100 times. The effect on the English proletariat is direct and of the greatest importance.’125 Pushing the International Association towards a conventional socialist agenda was not his primary concern. As he later emphasized, the General Council had not been ‘responsible’ for the decision of the 1868 Brussels Congress to demand the nationalization of mines, railways and forests. That initiative had come from the Brussels delegates. As he explained to Dr Kugelmann, in relation to the programme of the 1866 Geneva Congress, his objective was rather to confine it ‘to points which allow direct agreement and combination of efforts by the workers and give direct sustenance and impetus to the requirements of the class struggle and the organisation of the workers into a class’.126 The ambition to steer clear of issues that might spark off divisive political struggles was clear in the ‘Instructions for the Delegates of the Provisional General Council’, which he drafted for the Geneva Congress. The ‘Instructions’ concentrated upon statistical enquiries about conditions of labour, the limitation of the working day, juvenile and children’s labour, producer cooperatives and trade unions. On controversial questions about international credit or religion, he recommended, ‘initiative to be left to the French’.127

In order to make class formation a priority and to avoid sectarian squabbles, which might distract from it, Karl was prepared to make whatever compromises might be necessary. His willingness to incorporate Mazzinian formulations within the ‘Inaugural Address’ was a good example of his approach. Another was his preparedness in the face of liberal and Nonconformist opposition to accept the removal of his protégé, Johann Georg Eccarius, from the editorship of The Commonwealth, briefly the International’s official newspaper. In January 1866, Karl had hoped that Eccarius’s appointment could counter the influence of the paper’s liberal, Nonconformist backers. But in March, while Karl was away in Margate on a prolonged health trip, the Editorial Supervision Committee dismissed Eccarius. Whatever the rebuff, Karl thought that ‘good understanding with the English must, of course, be more important to us than satisfying Eccarius’ more or less justified ambition’.128 On international questions as well, he attempted to avoid involvement in intra-party quarrels. He made every effort to remain neutral in the arguments between republicans and Proudhonists in France, and between the Lassallean and Eisenach parties in Germany.

In the first few years of the International, there was practical agreement between Karl and the English trade unionists on major issues, both on the General Council and in the annual congresses. In particular, in the 1865 London Conference and in the Geneva and Lausanne Congresses of 1866 and 1867 there was consensus in opposing a variety of French positions. These included the refusal to condemn Russian actions in Poland (according to the French, this was not the business of an ‘economic’ association), indifference towards trade unionism (the aim should not be to encourage strikes, but to remove the wage system altogether), opposition to the eight-hour day or state education (these would imply approval of state interference with freedom of contract) and the French demand for the exclusion of women from the labour force.

The success of Karl’s approach, particularly on issues where the English approach faced a challenge from abroad, led him to an increasingly enthusiastic identification with the Association. In early 1865, now referring to himself as part of the General Council, he had informed Dr Kugelmann: ‘We are now STIRRING the GENERAL SUFFRAGE QUESTION here.’129 Around the same time, he wrote to Engels about the setting up of the new Reform League, ‘the whole leadership is in our hands’.130 The great achievement of the International Association was to have created in the Reform League a movement which could transform European politics: ‘The REFORM LEAGUE is OUR WORK … The WORKINGMEN are ALL MEMBERS OF OUR COUNCIL … WE HAVE BAFFLED all attempts by the middle class TO MISLEAD THE WORKING CLASS … If we succeed in re-electrifying the POLITICAL MOVEMENT of the ENGLISH WORKING CLASS, our ASSOCIATION will already have done more for the European working class, WITHOUT MAKING ANY FUSS, than was possible IN ANY OTHER WAY. And there is every prospect of success.’131

At the beginning of 1866, his confidence in the capacity of the General Council to channel workers’ activity in the right direction remained undiminished. In January 1866, he informed Dr Kugelmann: ‘The English society we founded to achieve UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE (half of its Central Committee consists of members – working men – of our Central Committee) held a giant meeting a few weeks ago, at which only working men spoke.’132 At this time, Karl liked to imagine that he was playing a controlling role: a result, he claimed, of ‘acting behind the scenes, while retiring in public’. He saw this as a contrast with the ‘democrats’ habit of puffing themselves up in public and DOING NOTHING’.133 On 9 October 1866, Karl reported to Dr Kugelmann that ‘The Reform movement here, which was called into being by our Central Council (quorum magna pars fui [in which I played a large part]), has now assumed enormous and irresistible dimensions.’134 On 13 October, he announced that the London Trades Council was considering declaring itself the British section of the International. ‘If it does so,’ he confided to Kugelmann, ‘the control of the working class here will IN A CERTAIN SENSE pass into our hands and we shall be able to give the movement a good “PUSH ON”.’135

In the summer of 1867, Karl was too preoccupied with the publication of Capital to pay much attention to domestic political events. He continued to be optimistic. In the case of England, he remained confident that ‘pressure from without’ could result in a revolutionary transformation and that such a revolution need not be violent. In September 1867, he wrote to Engels: ‘When the next revolution comes, and that will perhaps be sooner than might appear, we (i.e., you and I) will have this mighty ENGINE at our disposal. COMPARE WITH THIS THE RESULTS OF MAZZINI’S ETC. OPERATIONS SINCE 30 YEARS! And with no money to boot! And with the intrigues of the Proudhonists in Paris, Mazzini in Italy and the jealous Odger, Cremer, Potter in London, with the Schulze-Delitzsch and the Lassalleans in Germany! We can be well satisfied.’136 Early successes had led Karl both to overestimate the importance of the IWMA in British radical politics, and his own importance within the Association. But he had begun to notice that as a result of a growing preoccupation with the suffrage and a parallel need to defend the legality of trade union action in industrial disputes, union leaders were now devoting most of their time to the Reform League and parliamentary lobbying. Their attendance of the General Council had fallen off. In October 1866, Karl claimed that he had to run the whole Association himself.137

Furthermore, from 1866–7, he found it increasingly difficult to sustain an ecumenical position. Different positions were emerging within the Council, in particular over the agitation for political reform and the reappearance of a republican independence movement in Ireland. Both issues raised questions about the political role of the IWMA and that of the most important trade union leaders within it. Should the Association aim to maintain an independent position? Or should it aim to work alongside other progressive political forces allied to the Liberal Party, now under the charismatic leadership of Mr Gladstone?138


The preface to Capital was written in July 1867 towards the end of a year of mounting political agitation around the issue of manhood suffrage. The campaign for reform had been pursued by the Reform League, a radical and predominantly working-class organization, supported by trade unions and the International. At its height, it possessed over 600 branches. The campaign had begun in 1865 and had proceeded in parallel with a modest parliamentary Reform Bill proposed by the Liberal government of Russell and Gladstone. But popular interest in the question only gathered pace after the fall of this government and its replacement in June 1866 by the Tory ministry of Derby and Disraeli. In the following month, a series of increasingly large Reform meetings in Trafalgar Square culminated in the decision to hold a demonstration in Hyde Park – crown property and, until then, largely the preserve of the horse-riding gentility of Rotten Row. Although the meeting was forbidden and the park guarded by the Metropolitan Police backed up by the military, the crowd pulled down the railings, broke into the park and for three days engaged in minor skirmishing with the forces of law and order. Finally, the League met the Home Secretary, Spencer Walpole, and offered to clear the park, provided the police and military withdrew. The Home Secretary accepted the offer and was said to have wept with gratitude. This supposedly shameful climb-down by the government greatly enhanced the power and prestige of the League.

But however laughable Walpole’s refusal to use the military might first have seemed – Karl called him ‘the weeping willow’ – this was a sign of the strength, rather than the weakness, of the English polity. As the Positivist Frederic Harrison observed:

A centralised bureaucratic system gives a great resisting force to the hand that commands the Executive. Our Executive has nothing to fall back upon … A few redcoats may be called upon to suppress a vulgar riot; but the first blood of the people shed by troops in a really popular cause, as we all know, makes the Briton boil in a very ugly manner …

The fact is that our political organism of the constitutional type was based on a totally different theory from that of force at all. The governing classes never pretended to rely on force. They trusted to maintain their supremacy by their social power, and their skill in working the machine. Local self-government, representation of the people, civil liberty, was all the cry, until at last the tone of English public life became saturated with ideas of rule by consent, and not by force … The least suggestion of force puts the governing classes in an outrageously false position, and arrays against them all the noble sentiments of liberty on which they based their own title to rule.139

This was also the sentiment that restrained the leaders of the Reform League from pushing their advantage to the limits. At a meeting of radical MPs and leaders of the Reform League, John Stuart Mill urged the League not to occupy the park and ‘produce a collision with the military’, while in the following months John Bright, who was leading a series of Reform demonstrations in Glasgow, Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester, warned about the possibility that further demonstrations in London might attract armed volunteers: it ‘would place the peace of the country on a soil hot with volcanic fire’.140

It is not clear how Karl expected the existing situation to develop. He was well aware that Britain was not France. Back in April 1866, writing from Margate, he had complained to Engels that ‘The accursed traditional nature of all English movements is manifesting itself again in the REFORM-MOVEMENT. The same INSTALMENTS which but a few weeks ago were rejected with the utmost indignation by the people’s party – they had even refused Bright’s ultimatum of HOUSEHOLD SUFFRAGE – are now treated as a prize worthy to be fought for. And why? Because the Tories are screaming blue murder.’ But he was encouraged by the course of events over the summer. On 7 July, he was excited to report that ‘The Workers’ demonstrations in London are fabulous compared with anything seen in England since 1849, and they are solely the work of the INTERNATIONAL. Mr Lucraft, FI, the captain in Trafalgar Square, is ONE OF OUR COUNCIL.’ He had mixed feelings about Walpole’s dealings with the League in the Hyde Park railings affair. ‘The government has almost caused a mutiny here.’ But, he continued, ‘Your Englishman first needs a revolutionary education.’ If the military had had to ‘step in, instead of merely parading … then things would have got quite jolly … This much is certain’, he went on, ‘These stiff-necked John Bulls … will accomplish nothing without a really bloody clash with those in power.’141

The possibilities remained open. But from the beginning of the agitation Karl had been made aware that the priorities of the leading trade unionists on the General Council were not the same as his own. At the time of the Hyde Park railings affair, he had lamented that the leaders of the Reform movement lacked ‘the METTLE of the old Chartists’.142 His failure to establish Eccarius on the editorial board of the Commonwealth showed that his hostility to the participation of middle-class radicals in the Association was not generally shared. It was also far from clear that the leaders of the Reform League would stick to their original demand for ‘manhood suffrage’ rather than accept some form of household suffrage, which would allow agreement with radical liberals. At the end of August 1866, he complained to Johann Philipp Becker, one of the International’s most energetic supporters in Geneva, that ‘Cremer and Odger have both betrayed us in the Reform League, where they came to a compromise with the bourgeoisie against our wishes.’143

If there had been any serious possibility of political crisis in England, by the spring of 1867 it was already passing.144 It had been doused by Parliament itself. In the first few months of 1866, the moderate reform proposals of Russell and Gladstone had been opposed both by the Tories and by the so-called Adullamites within Liberal ranks. The incoming Tory administration of Derby and Disraeli had had no initial plans for reform. But in the winter of 1866–7, against a background of economic depression and the return of cholera, with Reform demonstrations continuing with undiminished intensity, and the dangers of an uprising in Ireland, the government’s priorities fundamentally changed.145 As Disraeli put it, ‘we might take a step which would destroy the present agitation and extinguish Gladstone and Co.’.146

In January 1867, Disraeli introduced reform proposals and, whether as the result of a change in party calculation or of continuing pressure from outside, was prepared to accept increasingly radical amendments to the Bill. This culminated in Hodgkinson’s amendment, which extended household suffrage to include the large urban lodger population. It was a concession scarcely dreamt of months before, and even Ernest Jones was eager to convince Karl that the amended Bill deserved support. The result was a franchise four times larger than originally intended, or, in Jonathan Parry’s words, ‘the most unintended revolution in the history of British politics’.147

One of the reasons why both parties were anxious to settle the question of reform was mounting anxiety about Ireland.148 The Irish Republican Brotherhood, or the Fenians, as they were popularly known, originated among Irish expatriates in America. It began planning an insurrection in 1865 that it hoped would be reinforced by veterans from the American Civil War. The Fenians collected around 6,000 firearms and claimed the support of up to 50,000 volunteers. But in September of that year the government closed down the Fenian newspaper, The Irish People, and arrested most of its leaders. Despite this, the Fenians attempted to launch an insurrection in early 1867. They proclaimed a republic based upon universal (male) suffrage, dispossession of the ascendant landed oligarchy, religious freedom and the separation of church and state. There was an unsuccessful insurrection in County Kerry, followed by failed risings in Cork, Limerick and Dublin. Even more ominously, the organizers hoped to draw upon the support of the Irish living in England. Their plans included the capture of arms in Chester Castle and the appropriation of rail and shipping links to Dublin. But the uprising was poorly planned and undermined by informers.

On 18 September 1867, the prison van transporting two of the arrested leaders to the Manchester courthouse was attacked by armed Fenians. The prisoners escaped, but a policeman was killed in the struggle. A trial in November led to the execution of three of the Fenians involved on the 23rd. On 13 December, a bomb designed to aid the escape of imprisoned Fenian leaders in Clerkenwell prison resulted in twelve deaths and 120 wounded. In this instance, unsurprisingly, much of the support for the Fenians drained away. As Karl wrote to Engels, ‘This latest Fenian exploit in Clerkenwell is a great folly. The London masses, who have shown much sympathy for Ireland, will be enraged by it and driven into the arms of the government party. One cannot expect London proletarians to let themselves be blown up for the benefit of Fenian emissaries. Secret melodramatic conspiracies of this kind are in general, more or less doomed to failure.’149

The unrest in Ireland and Fenian violence in Manchester and Clerkenwell transformed the character of political debate. Quite apart from Fenianism, discontent among the middle class in Ireland had led to the formation of the National Association, which demanded the disestablishment of the Irish (Anglican) church, tenant rights on the land and the establishment of a Catholic university. Although deeply disturbed by the activity of the Fenians, it was to these demands that Gladstone explicitly responded in the general election of 1868. His move to disestablish the church not only addressed a major grievance of Catholics in Ireland, but also gained enthusiastic support from English Dissenters. Through the winter of 1867–8, discussion was dominated by the question of Ireland and Gladstone’s proposal to disestablish the Irish church. As Karl reported to Dr Kugelmann in April 1868, ‘The Irish question predominates here just now. It has naturally only been exploited by Gladstone and consorts to take over the helm again and particularly to have an ELECTORAL CRY at the next elections, which will be based on HOUSEHOLD SUFFRAGE.’150

Like the rest of the nation, Karl’s family was drawn into discussion of the Irish question. In the case of the Engels household, commitment to the cause of Ireland was long-standing, and enthusiasm for the Fenians immediate. Lizzie Burns had always been a fierce supporter of Irish independence. Engels himself had also long been deeply engaged and in the winter of 1869–70 was to embark upon an ambitious, but never completed, plan to write The History of Ireland.151 Five days after the Fenian armed rescue in Manchester, he took Laura Marx’s companion, Paul Lafargue, to show him the railway arch ‘where the great Fenian liberation battle was enacted … The affair was splendidly organised and executed’, he wrote to Dr Kugelmann, but unfortunately, ‘the ringleaders were caught’.152

Karl needed to be more cautious. He had sought ‘by every means at my disposal to incite the English workers to demonstrate in favour of FENIANISM’, and he certainly would not keep ‘entirely silent’. ‘But’, he argued, ‘under no circumstances do I want the fellows, when criticising my book, to confine themselves to the statement that I am a demagogue.’153 The execution of three of the Fenians involved in the Manchester rescue attempt was felt as a tragedy by both households. ‘Jenny goes in black since the Manchester execution,’ wrote Karl, ‘and wears her Polish cross on a green ribbon.’ ‘I need hardly tell you’, Engels replied the next day, ‘that black and green are the prevailing colours in my house too.’154

Feelings of outrage about the sentences passed on the Fenians were shared by the General Council of the International. At its meeting to discuss Fenianism on 19 November 1867, the tone was set by Hermann Jung, a Swiss watchmaker. He argued that although he was ‘no abettor of physical force movements … the Irish have no other means to make an impression.’ The Reform League had accomplished much by ‘moral force’, but it was only ‘under a threat that physical force might be resorted to on the occasion of the Hyde Park meetings that the Government gave way … Garibaldi is held up as a great patriot; and have no lives been sacrificed in Garibaldi’s movements? The Irish have the same right to revolt as the Italians … (Loud cheers.)’155 At meetings of the Reform League, feelings ran equally high. Odger even declared that had he been born an Irishman, he would also have been a Fenian.156

Karl arrived late for the 19 November meeting of the General Council. He was still suffering from a fever, and was relieved not to have to speak, since the press was present. He prepared a speech for the following meeting on 26 November, but in the event was happy to make way to enable another member, Peter Fox, to speak instead; government treatment of the Irish should be condemned first and foremost, he thought, by the English, and not just by European members of the Council. Thereafter, recurrent bouts of illness meant that he did not attend Council meetings from January through to the summer of 1868. The speech he would have given to the Council, he delivered more discreetly on 16 December to the German Workers’ Educational Association.157

No doubt, as he had already indicated, he was anxious not to let his views on Ireland deflect attention from the publication of Capital. But there were also other reasons for caution. The view he now developed on Ireland also formed part of a more basic revision of his conception of the possibilities of British politics as a whole. On Ireland, he conveyed the gist of his new approach in a couple of letters to Engels in November. On 2 November, he referred to forcible methods of ‘driving thousands from their homes’, including ‘well-to-do tenant farmers’, and to the confiscation of their ‘improvements and capital investments … In no other European country’, he wrote, ‘has foreign rule assumed this form of direct expropriation of the natives’, and he concluded, ‘I once believed the separation of Ireland from England to be impossible. I now regard it as inevitable, although Federation may follow upon separation.’158In a further letter to Engels on 30 November, he elaborated his argument. He claimed that since 1846 the economic content and political purpose of English rule had ‘entered an entirely new phase’. Ireland had lost its monopoly of the English corn market. It had therefore exchanged tillage for pasture. This meant ‘the clearing out of the estates of Ireland’, and the driving out of the Irish ‘by means of sheep, pigs and oxen’. For these reasons he believed that ‘Fenianism is characterised by socialist (in the negative sense, as directed against the APPROPRIATION of the SOIL) leanings and as a LOWER ORDERS MOVEMENT.’ English workers, he concluded, should declare their support for Repeal of the Union (the Union of the English and Irish Parliaments in 1801). What the Irish needed were ‘self-government and independence’, ‘agrarian revolution’ and protective tariffs against England.159

His new view of Ireland went together with a fading of the hopes he had initially entertained about the Reform League and the London trade unionists. In April 1868, he wrote to Dr Kugelmann that ‘At the moment, this turn of affairs is detrimental to the workers’ party, because the intriguers among the workers, such as Odger, Potter, etc. who want to get into the next Parliament, have now found a new excuse for attaching themselves to the bourgeois liberals.’160 He was particularly incensed by their enthusiasm for Mr Gladstone, a man who had refused clemency to the Fenian insurgents, and who as late as 1862 had expressed support for Jefferson Davis and the Confederate cause.

The chances of independent political activity on the part of workers were further diminished by the course of the 1868 election. The Reform League did not field independent candidates of its own. Not only did it not possess the financial resources to do so, but there was little popular support for such initiatives. A lib–lab alliance was firmly in the ascendant. As Beesly argued, ‘no workman would cast his vote against such men as Mr. Bright, Mr. Mill or Mr. Gladstone, let the opposing candidate promise what he would’.161 Furthermore, the campaign to disestablish the Irish church was popular; even Karl himself thought that ‘in the long run’ it would benefit the English working class. For ‘The overthrow of the Established church in Ireland would mean its fall in England, and the two will be followed (in their downfall) by LANDLORDISM, first in Ireland and then in England. And I have always been convinced that the social revolution must begin seriously from the ground, i.e. from landed property.’162

In 1869, the issue of Ireland surfaced again with the emergence of an Irish-based movement pressing for an amnesty for the Fenian leaders imprisoned in 1867. It scored a particular triumph with the victory of the imprisoned Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa in the 1869 Tipperary by-election. Fenianism briefly captured the imagination not just of activists, but of Irish moderates willing to support the amnesty campaign and of a broad spectrum of sympathizers in England, ranging from the Marx family to Cardinal Newman. In September, ‘Tussy’ toured Ireland together with Engels and Lizzy Burns, and early the next year, using the pseudonym J. Williams, her sister, Jenny, wrote a series of supportive articles on the Fenians for La Marseillaise. In October, she wrote to Dr Kugelmann, describing a mass demonstration for the Fenian prisoners’ release: ‘As Tussy has returned from Ireland, a stauncher Irishman than ever, she did not rest until she had persuaded Moor, Mama and me to go with her to Hyde Park … This Park … was one mass of men, women and children, even the trees up to their highest branches had their inhabitants.’163

Karl hoped to use the amnesty campaign to make a frontal assault on Gladstone. He now thought it imperative to shift the attitude of the English working class towards Ireland, but if that were to happen, the trade unionists’ infatuation with the Liberals would have to be challenged. On 16 November, he opened discussion in the General Council on ‘the attitude of the British ministry to the Irish amnesty question’. He spoke for an hour and a quarter. In his reply to Irish demands for ‘the release of the imprisoned Irish patriots’, Karl contended, ‘Mr Gladstone deliberately insults the Irish Nation.’ In support of his resolution, Karl claimed that ‘during the election, Gladstone justified the Fenian insurrection and said that every other nation would have revolted under similar circumstances’. He also contrasted Gladstone’s support for ‘the American Slave Holders’ Rebellion’ with his preaching of ‘passive obedience’ to the Irish people.164 In the following Council meeting on 23 November, Odger, in defence of Gladstone, raised the question of whether it was not ‘impolitic’ to employ such strong language, if the aim were to secure the prisoners’ release, while Thomas Mottershead of the weavers’ union not only rejected any Irish demand for independence, on the grounds that Ireland was needed as a defence against France, but also strongly defended Gladstone’s political record. Finally, Odger suggested that the resolution could be passed unanimously, if the word ‘deliberately’ was omitted.165

‘I have now attacked Gladstone,’ Karl wrote to Dr Kugelmann on 29 November. The intention behind his resolution, he explained, ‘naturally had other grounds than simply to speak out loudly and decidedly for the oppressed Irish … I have become more and more convinced’, he went on, that ‘The thing now is to drum this conviction into the English working class – that they will never be able to do anything decisive here in England before they separate their attitude towards Ireland quite definitely from that of the ruling classes, and not only make common cause with the Irish, but even take the initiative in dissolving the Union.’166 But, as it happened, Karl was unable to attend the meeting of 7 December, in which he was due to open the discussion about Ireland and the English working class. ‘My family did not allow me to go in this FOG and in MY PRESENT STATE OF HEALTH.’167

Not only was Karl’s resolution on Ireland and the English working class not discussed on this occasion, but the matter was not discussed again. The General Council was happy to support Irish demands for independence, but not prepared to go further. Trade unionists like Odger backtracked on any endorsement of the use of force by the Fenians. They were also reluctant to participate in an unqualified attack on Gladstone, especially since they supported not only his Church Bill, but also his Land Bill, which dominated the government’s legislative programme.168 Moreover, in 1870 the salience of Fenianism receded. The majority of the Fenians themselves backed away from the politics of armed rebellion and in 1874 switched their support to a parliamentary campaign for home rule.

Throughout the 1870s, the General Council was happy to leave the matter to one side. The only evidence suggesting engagement on their part was a ‘Circular’ which was allegedly sent by the General Council to ‘the Federal Council of Romance Switzerland’, its ostensible purpose to reply to an attack upon its constitutional behaviour in the Geneva-based Egalité, a newspaper sympathetic to Bakunin.

The main aim of the Circular was to oppose the proposal to separate the General Council from a Federal Council, which would act as the English branch of the Association. In defence of the existing position of the General Council, the Circular developed an ambitious speculative analysis of the downfall of the British Empire and the world market. It was stated that while revolution might begin in France, ‘England alone can serve as the lever for a serious economic revolution’. It was a country in which the great majority of the population were wage labourers, and where class struggle and the organization of the working class by the trade unions ‘have acquired a certain degree of maturity and universality’. England dominated the world market; it was the world centre of landlordism and capitalism. Its weak point was Ireland.

The first concern of the Association was ‘to advance the social revolution in England. To this end, a great blow must be struck in Ireland.’ The power of English landlordism depended importantly upon absentee ownership of Irish land, while the English bourgeoisie had reinforced its power by forcing the immigration of poor Irish workers. This had divided the proletariat in Britain into two hostile camps: ‘The average English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers wages and the STANDARD OF LIFE. He feels national and religious antipathies for him. He regards him somewhat like the POOR WHITES of the Southern States of North America regarded black slaves.’ By forwarding Irish independence and breaking the power of landlordism, the collapse of the ruling class became possible. Therefore it became imperative to move the English working class towards the Repeal of the Union. For Repeal was a ‘precondition to the emancipation of the English working class to transform the present forced union (i.e., the enslavement of Ireland) into equal and free confederation if possible, into complete separation, if need be’.

Written in French and defined as a ‘confidential’ document, the Circular escaped the elementary cautions that normally attend official documents. For whatever the merits of its reading of the relationship between the British working class and Ireland, discussion of how this political objective might be achieved resulted in an unbuttoned flight of pure fantasy, generally found only in private correspondence. Revolution could not be entrusted to the English: ‘The General Council now being in the happy position of having its hand directly on this great lever of the proletarian revolution, what folly, we might say even what a crime, to let this lever fall into purely English hands! … The English’, it went on, ‘have all the material necessary for the social revolution. What they lack is the spirit of generalisation and revolutionary ardour.’ This could be provided by the General Council, which could ‘accelerate the truly revolutionary movement in this country, and consequently everywhere’.169 The Circular purported to derive from the General Council. At the beginning of the Circular, it was stated: ‘at its extraordinary meeting on 1 January 1870, the General Council resolved …’ But there is no evidence that such a meeting ever took place.170 Nor is it at all likely that the members of the General Council would have approved of such a document.

In Karl’s approach, the complexities of the Irish situation were wished away. His analysis was based upon the unreal premise that religious and sectarian divisions would quickly recede. Once the Irish church had been removed, Karl wrote to Dr Kugelmann in 1868, ‘The Protestant Irish tenants in the province of Ulster will make common cause with the Catholic tenants and their movement in the 3 other provinces of Ireland, whereas so far LANDLORDISM has been able to exploit this religious antagonism.’171 Through 1870, Karl persisted with this reading of Ireland as the key to the advent of social revolution, first in England and then, by extension, the world. In March 1870, he wrote to the Lafargues: ‘To accelerate the social development in Europe, you must push on the catastrophe of official England. To do so, you must attack her in Ireland. That’s her weakest point. Ireland lost, the British “Empire” is gone, and the class war in England, till now somnolent and chronic, will assume acute forms. But England is the metropolis of landlordism and capitalism all over the world.’172 But without further evidence of the ‘pressure from without’, which had given some substance to the hopes of 1866–7, the analysis appeared abstract and doctrinaire.

The focus on Ireland was in part the result of frustration about the lack of further critical developments in England together with disappointment at the reluctance of trade unionists to move beyond their initial positions. Until 1871, Karl remained a respected, if somewhat isolated, figure on the General Council. Beyond indigenous traditions of radicalism, there were Mazzinians, but no Marxians. There were also Comteans: intellectuals, such as Mill, who grappled with Comte, or became Comtean Positivists like Edward Beesly or Frederic Harrison. Karl became notorious after the Paris Commune and the publication of The Civil War in France in 1871. But there was no wider interest in Marxian ideas until Capital appeared in French from the late 1870s. It is probable, as George Howell later claimed, that little was known about his larger views beyond the practical questions which concerned the Association. Karl’s views and those of the trade unionists on the General Council had converged on a number of important issues – the limitation of factory hours and juvenile labour, secular education and the ownership of the land. But the language of class articulated by English trade unionists differed substantially from that imagined by Karl.

Karl, and Engels before him, only half understood this language as it was articulated in radicalism and Chartism. While Karl conceived of class as a purely social phenomenon, for English radicals class was inseparable from the political oppression which resulted from an unbalanced constitution. Socially, there were good and bad employers; so far as there was hostility towards employers, it had been political – their collusion in a state dominated by the landed aristocracy. The trade unionists were happy to collaborate with those who supported reform, with ‘advanced liberals’ like Miall. The trade unionists approved of arbitration, where possible, supporting strikes only where they were necessary. So far as there was a more visceral form of class hostility, it was directed against the landed aristocracy. Their position was based not upon work, but upon conquest. Land reform, whether in the shape of the abolition of primogeniture recommended by Mill’s Land Tenure Reform Association or public ownership of the land as pursued by the Land and Labour League, had long belonged within the radical tradition.

The trade union leaders with whom Karl had to deal in the International – George Odger, George Howell, William Cremer, Robert Applegarth, Thomas Mottershead, John Hales and others – all belonged to a particular generation. Their attitude to industrial conflict had been shaped by the political climate of the 1850s. The turning point had been the great strike wave of 1853–4: in particular the strike in Preston, an event of sufficient importance to inspire Dickens to write Hard Times. The strike wave had marked the first revival of mass working-class activity after 1848. But attempts to connect this movement with Chartism failed. Both the radical press and its propertied counterpart spoke about the struggle in new terms. They spoke of the harmony or conflict of interests between ‘capital’ and ‘labour’, a new economic rhetoric quite distinct from that of the Chartist agitation between 1837 and 1842.173 It marked the first step in the process by which the working classes came to be recognized as legitimate bargainers in the polity. The propertied press for the first time spoke of the working class as the ‘Fourth Estate’ with legitimate interests and grievances.174

The new attitude towards industrial relations was a product of the changed political climate after the demise of Chartism in 1848. After the drastic restructuring it had undertaken in the 1830s and 1840s, the state withdrew from the salient role it had played in the labour market. The conflict between ‘capital’ and ‘labour’ no longer possessed immediate political connotations. Chartism had been a struggle not against the wages system as such, but rather against its abuses, which were abetted and facilitated by a corrupt state. The change in the stance of the state in the 1850s and 1860s was accompanied by changing attitudes on the part of the working classes.

While Karl paid much attention to developments within the English economy between 1850 and 1870, he scarcely noticed the changing character of the state and the political system. In 1844, Engels had seriously underestimated the importance of England’s ‘birthrights’, and Karl did not question Engels’ position. As 1848 indicated, freedom of the press and freedom of association were not unimportant legitimizing features of the English political system at a time when they did not exist anywhere else in Europe.

In the following twenty years, the moral legitimacy of the state and the political system substantially increased. The excesses of ‘old corruption’ were reduced, Nonconformists were able to breach the Anglican monopoly of state employment and higher education, working hours were restricted, trade union funds were legally protected, strikes were increasingly tolerated and, in 1867, a significant proportion of the working classes was enfranchised. The differences in the political climate between Britain and the Continent were highlighted by Robert Applegarth, the leader of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners, who remarked at the Basle Congress of the International in 1869: ‘fortunately, in England we have no need of creeping into holes and corners lest a policeman see us’.175



The 1870 Congress of the International was scheduled to take place in Paris, but continued harassment of the Association in France led to the decision to hold it in Mainz. On 19 July 1870, however, two weeks before it was due to take place, France declared war on Prussia, and the congress was cancelled. War was the product of dynastic ambition compounded with nationalist arousal. French fears of encirclement had been aroused by Bismarck’s support of a Hohenzollern claim to the Spanish throne. In nurturing a bellicose mood in France (but not in initiating war himself), Bismarck’s aim was to draw South Germany closer to the Prussian-dominated North German Confederation. The Hohenzollern claim had been withdrawn. But French opinion had been inflamed by the supposed snub to France delivered by the Prussian king in the course of withdrawing the claim (the famous Ems telegram). Given the triviality of the ostensible reason for war and Bonaparte’s reputation for military adventurism, initial sympathy lay with the Prussians; they had supposedly been forced into a defensive war. As Karl’s daughter, Jenny, wrote to Dr Kugelmann: ‘We have not yet recovered from our surprise and indignation at the turn affairs have taken … Instead of fighting for the destruction of the Empire, the French people are sacrificing themselves for its aggrandizement. This revival of chauvinism in the nineteenth century is indeed a hideous farce.’176 Karl’s initial support for the Prussians was emphatic: ‘The French deserve a good hiding. If the Prussians win, then centralisation of the STATE POWER will be beneficial for the centralisation of the German working class. German predominance would then shift the centre of gravity of the West European workers’ movement from France to Germany.’ From 1866, he continued, the German working class had been ‘superior to the French both in theory and organisation’. Prussian victory would ensure ‘the predominance of our theory over Proudhon’s’. He also believed that Bonaparte’s defeat was likely to provoke a revolution in France, while a German defeat would ‘only protract the present state of things for 20 years’.177

On 23 July, Karl was empowered by the General Council to draft an ‘Address’ on the war. Bonaparte, the ‘Address’ declared, was engaged in a purely ‘dynastic’ war, which would be ‘the death knell of the Second Empire’. The Germans, on the other hand, were engaged in ‘a war of defence’. It would be disastrous, if the German working class were to ‘allow the present war to lose its strictly defensive character’, but ‘the principles of the International’ were ‘too firmly rooted among the German working class to apprehend such a sad consummation’. In contrast to the ‘old society, with its economic miseries and political delirium’, the ‘Address’ concluded, a ‘new society’ was springing up, whose ‘international rule’ would be Peace and Labour.178 In Britain, the ‘Address’ was very well received. At the meeting of the General Council on 2 August, it was reported that John Stuart Mill ‘was highly pleased with the address. There was not one word in it that ought not to be there; it could not have been done with fewer words.’179

French mobilization was slow and German military superiority was rapidly established. Already by the first week in August, it was clear even to Karl, who understood ‘nothing of military matters’, that the French were heading for defeat. ‘Rarely has a campaign been conducted in a more mindless, planless and mediocre manner than this campaign’. But hopes of the restraining influence of the labour movement were quickly dashed. Engels’ assessment had been more sombre from the start: ‘Louis Bonaparte realises how badly he has miscalculated.’ The campaign could not possibly end well for him. Any hope of a ‘pretend war’ on the part of the Prussians was pointless. ‘On ira au fond’ (‘It will be fought through to the bitter end’).180 This was soon made clear by the Prussian war demands – the payment of an indemnity of 5,000 million francs, and the loss of Alsace and most of Lorraine.

Karl ascribed this change of ambition to ‘the Prussian Camarilla’ and ‘South-German beer-patriots’. He also saw clearly enough that ‘the lust for Alsace and Lorraine … would be the greatest misfortune that could befall Europe and above all Germany’.181 The war, as Karl had foretold, also brought the Second Empire to an end. On 2 September, Bonaparte, together with an army of 120,000 men, surrendered at Sedan. On 4 September, the Corps Législatif declared the end of the Empire, while a group of republican deputies declared a Republic. The war was blamed on Bonaparte, but Bismarck’s demands remained. War now meant the defence of the Nation and the Republic.

In response to what had happened, the General Council on 9 September issued a ‘Second Address’, also drafted by Karl. In that address Germany’s switch towards a ‘policy of conquest’ was ascribed to the German liberal middle class, ‘with its professors, its capitalists, its alderman, and its penman’, irresolute since 1846 in its struggle for civil liberty, but now ‘highly delighted to bestride the European scene as the roaring lion of German patriotism’. German military arguments for annexation, the so-called ‘material guarantees’, were derided. France must either become ‘the avowed tool of Russian aggrandisement, or, after some short respite’, would prepare for another war, ‘not one of those new-fangled “localised” wars, but a war of races – a war with the combined Slavonian and Roman races’.182

In a letter Karl wrote to Friedrich Sorge around the same time, he was more explicit: ‘What the Prussian jackasses do not see is that the present war is leading just as inevitably to a war between Germany and Russia as the war of 1866 led to the war between Prussia and France.’ The ‘best outcome’ of such a war would be the end of ‘Prussia’ since ‘Prussianism’ could only exist ‘in alliance with and in subjection to Russia’. Secondly, such a war would act as ‘the midwife of the inevitable social revolution in Russia’.183

The ‘Second Address’ went on to salute the ‘advent of the Republic in France’ while cautioning at the same time that the new French government, composed of Orléanists and middle-class republicans, might serve as a ‘mere stopgap’ on the way to an Orléanist Restoration. But ‘French workmen’ should not attempt to disrupt the new administration: ‘Any attempt at upsetting the new government in the present crisis, when the enemy is almost knocking at the doors of Paris, must be a desperate folly.’ This seemed a real danger, given the increasing probability of French defeat. Even before Bonaparte’s defeat at Sedan, the French army had appeared demoralized. After a string of defeats in August, a Prussian siege of Paris seemed inevitable. The appointment of the Conservative Louis-Jules Trochu as military governor of the Paris region and the refusal to pull back the French army under Bazaine to defend the capital led to the belief that the main concern of the emperor was not to protect Paris, but to check civil unrest in the city.

With the end of empire and Prussian armies moving towards Paris, the only serious force left to defend the capital was the National Guard. They were armed and in possession of the cannons to be employed in the defence of the city. Unlike the imperial armies and Trochu’s 15,000 Mobile Guard, the National Guard during the war had become increasingly well organized. They had also become a militantly republican force. They had increased to 134 battalions comprising 170,000–200,000 men, and during the first week of September, with the addition of further battalions, the total came to number 340,000 men. National guardsmen elected their company commanders. They were predominantly workers or men from the lower middle class, unknown outside their particular quartiers, and they were paid 1.50 francs per day, with the payment of extras for spouses and children. This wage was of crucial importance, since with the cessation of peacetime economic activity, poorer Parisians had become increasingly dependent upon their daily ‘30 sous’ to sustain their families.

The Germans decided not to bombard the city, but to starve it into submission. The siege began on 18 September 1870 and lasted until the armistice of 28 January 1871. Parisians hoped that they would be relieved by Bazaine’s army at Metz. But on 31 October Metz fell and the army of 150,000 surrendered. At the same time, it appeared that attempts were being made to negotiate an armistice with the Prussians by the veteran conservative Adolphe Thiers. It now seemed only a question of getting the Parisians to accept defeat.

But this was not how Parisians understood the situation. Parisians had voted against Bonaparte since 1863 and resented the fact that they had been denied municipal self-government. The Haussmann building boom had resulted in phenomenal migration into the city, causing alarm among its richer inhabitants. Building workers now constituted 20 per cent of the city’s population in what had become an increasingly unstable economy. An economic downturn in 1867–8 had been followed by a wave of strikes in 1869–70, with the result that large numbers of small masters had become bankrupt.

The working population was republican and anti-clerical. The alliance of Bonaparte and the Catholic church was particularly disliked. After 1848, not only had the church blocked Italian unification by hanging on to its temporal possessions with French help; it had also officially promoted the purportedly miraculous happenings at Lourdes, and in its ‘Syllabus of Errors’ of 1864 had peremptorily rejected any compromise with liberalism or the Enlightenment.184 In Paris, this reactionary turn on the part of the church was matched by the growth of a radical and militant secularism articulated by a generation of radical students, inspired by the atheism of Proudhon, the positivism of Auguste Comte and the religious criticism of Renan, together with the arguments of Darwinians and other natural materialists.

But, at least until the armistice with Prussia, the mood in Paris was not revolutionary. When Metz fell, a Blanquist attempt to overthrow the government failed for lack of support and, soon after, the government reinforced its position by holding a plebiscite, which it won by a large majority (221,374 to 53,585). The government also held municipal elections, in which revolutionaries were clearly defeated, even though they gained a significant foothold in some working-class districts.

Within Paris, cut off from the outside world by the siege, confidence in the city’s ability to outlast the siege and break through to ultimate victory remained strong. Among radicals, the siege had engendered a new language of revolutionary patriotism, in which increasing appeal was made to the Commune. This was a reference to the ‘revolutionary Commune’ of Paris of August 1792, a moment in which a besieged France in an exceptional burst of patriotism had broken through to victory. That Commune had presided over the crucial turning point of the Revolution. It had overthrown the monarchy, transformed national defence by introducing the levée en masse (universal conscription) and provoked the killing of suspected enemies of the Revolution in the September Massacres. The potency of the term ‘Commune’ derived from the fact that it concentrated within one word the idea of national defence, of local democracy and of revolution. This language encouraged the belief that dedicated republican citizens could overcome the demoralized armies of monarchy. Revolutionary leaders and National Guard commanders expressed ‘practically daily in speeches, poems, pamphlets, posters and articles their utter determination to pursue la résistance à outrance, to die rather than surrender, to mount a sortie torrentielle’.185

On 30 November, a sortie of 60,000 men, which was intended to join up with the Army of the Loire, failed to break through German lines and suffered 10,000 casualties. In January 1871, Bismarck attempted to bombard the city into surrender, but without success. In response, Trochu, finally acceding to the arguments of republican patriots, employed combat units from the National Guard in a sortie intended to attack the Prussian headquarters at Versailles. But the attack by 90,000 French troops, including 42,000 National Guardsmen, was soon halted, leaving 4,000 men killed or wounded. Humiliated and angry, radical battalions of the National Guard pressed for further resistance. But the government, supported by most of the population outside Paris, now sought an armistice, which was accorded on 28 January 1871.

Paris had endured a four-month siege in vain. The government was blamed for the defeat. On 8 February, a national election was held to approve peace terms. Conservatives supported by rural voters campaigned for peace. Republicans based in urban areas, and above all Paris, pressed for a continuation of the war. The result was a National Assembly consisting of 400 Conservatives, for the most part royalists, and 150 republicans. Parisian hostility to this Assembly, dominated by les ruraux (country people), was intense. Their bigotry and hostility to the Republic, it was alleged, were maintained by the church through the use of the confessional.

Further developments threatened the status and position of Paris still more. The moderate republican Government of National Defence, now wholly discredited, was replaced by a new conservative government nominated by the National Assembly and headed by Adolphe Thiers. On 10 March, the National Assembly itself was moved from Bordeaux, not to Paris, but to Versailles, where it could remain at a safe distance from ‘the mob’. The Assembly itself decided to phase in repayment of commercial bills of exchange, a move which caused alarm among small businessmen, especially in Paris. It was feared that this measure would be followed by legislation to enforce the repayment of rent arrears and to end the daily 30 sous paid to the National Guard. It was also suspected that the National Assembly would move to re-establish a monarchy, as soon as it became possible to do so.

On 1 March, the Prussians held a victory parade on the Champs-Élysées. In response to the shame and perceived threat posed by Prussian soldiers within the city walls, the National Guard re-established itself as a Republican Federation in order to resist disarmament and prepare for the recommencement of the war. It held large patriotic and republican demonstrations, beginning on 24 February – the anniversary of the beginning of the 1848 Revolution. It also began collecting rifles and ammunition lest these fell into the hands of the Germans. Finally, it moved 300–400 cannons (which it claimed belonged to the people of Paris and not to the government) away from official gun parks and up to the heights of Montmartre, Belleville and eastern Paris.

The hostility towards Paris revealed by the measures of the National Assembly hampered government attempts to negotiate the handover of the cannon. But a handover was essential, for as long as the National Guard remained in possession of sufficient means of defence, government control of the city could not be enforced. To end this impasse, Thiers decided to take back the weaponry by surprise. Before dawn on 18 March, regular troops were dispatched to scale the heights of Montmartre and to bring back the cannon. But thousands of National Guardsmen, women and children turned out to obstruct them. Finding their progress blocked, soldiers ignored the orders of their officers to disperse demonstrators by force, and fraternized with the crowd. Two unpopular generals, one an unpopular appointee to command the National Guard, the other thought responsible for ordering troops to fire on the demonstrators, were taken away and shot. Barricades went up across the city. Paris was out of control. The government and army high command retreated with all available troops to Versailles. Paris was now left in the hands of the National Guard, whose Central Committee of the Republican Federation established itself the as de facto ruler of Paris in the Hôtel de Ville.


It is impossible to understand the Commune except as the product of the virtually unique circumstances produced by the siege and the war. To imagine a world city suddenly obliged or enabled to construct its own form of law and government from scratch was unprecedented and inimitable. It was also a freedom framed by tragedy. The Commune ended in one of the most notorious massacres of the nineteenth century. This happened in large part because both sides were armed and the slaughter was understood as an act of war. The bitterness produced by the polarization of positions in the months following the collapse of the Empire built upon an antagonism which was of much longer standing. The Republican Federation increased its support with commemorations of 24 February 1848 and the foundation of La République démocrate et sociale. Versailles and rural France, on the other hand, were for the most part erstwhile supporters of Bonaparte, who had come to power in the presidential vote of December 1848 as the leader of the country against revolutionary Paris, and had triumphantly reaffirmed this mandate in the plebiscite of 1870.

In the days immediately following 18 March, there was a reluctance to employ the term ‘Commune’. The sudden and complete evacuation of Paris by the government was greeted with astonishment. There was little desire on the part of the Central Committee of the National Guard to hold on to the power which had been dropped into its lap. The hope in the press and among the National Guard was that an agreement could be reached with the government. The best way to secure this, it was agreed by local mayors, by Parisian deputies to the National Assembly and by the Central Committee itself, was to hold elections for a city council which could negotiate a settlement.

The elections were held on 26 March. But the plan backfired: the Versailles government would not recognize the legitimacy of the poll, and this meant that many conservatives either left the city or boycotted the elections. As a result, there was a massive increase in electoral support for the radical republican left. The new Council, which consisted of seventy-three radicals and only nineteen moderates, promptly adopted the name ‘Paris Commune’. What had begun as a defence of the National Guard had turned into a revolution. But, as Benoît Malon put it, ‘never has a revolution so surprised revolutionaries’.186 Elections which had been intended to pave the way for negotiations had resulted in an even sharper confrontation. But, in fact, it had been unclear from the beginning what sort of compromise could have been reached. Demands for municipal autonomy and recognition of the Republic by the National Assembly were tantamount to the demand for a state within a state. Thiers insisted that the Commune possessed no legitimacy, and therefore that there was nothing to negotiate. The Communards must simply give up their weaponry and surrender.

Finding themselves unexpectedly in government, the Commune belatedly produced ‘A Declaration to the French People’ on 19 April, setting out the ‘Programme of Paris’. The demands included ‘the recognition and consolidation of the Republic’ and the extension of ‘the absolute autonomy of the Commune’ to all localities in France. France would become a federation of Communes, each with absolute control over economy, administration, security and education. It would mark the inauguration of ‘a new era of experimental politics, positive and scientific … It is the end of the old governmental, priest-ridden world, of militarism, of bureaucracy, exploitation, market-rigging, monopolies, privileges, to which the proletariat owes its serfdom and the fatherland its sufferings and its disasters.’187

What little chance there had remained of negotiation with Versailles was ended by the first military skirmishes in the western suburbs of Paris on 2 April. Thiers’s troops engaged a concentration of National Guardsmen at Courbevoie and won a victory. Thirty Communards were taken prisoner and condemned to summary execution. In response, the Commune assembled up to 20,000 men, and sent out four columns in the direction of Versailles, one of them under the command of Jenny’s friend Gustave Flourens. A colonel who observed the National Guardsmen leaving Paris for Versailles noted their state of disorder: each was carrying some sausage, bread and a litre of wine. Some were drunk and singing, while resourceful merchants plunged into their ranks selling strong eau de vie.188

The leaders of the Commune had reassured the National Guardsmen that the Versailles soldiers would not fight, that they would point their rifles to the ground, as they had done on 18 March. But this proved not to be true. The sortie faced incessant shelling, and only one column had some success, but then had to fall back because of lack of support. Flourens, an able and energetic commander, was captured, and brutally butchered by a gendarme. Other commanders, who had surrendered, were also shot, despite an original indication that they would be spared. On 4 April, the Versailles troops launched a counter-attack, capturing various strongpoints around the city. The Commune had lost about 3,000 fighters, killed or captured. But, for the moment, the mood within the strongly fortified city remained optimistic.

The task of improvising a new system of government within a few days left many issues unresolved, in particular the boundaries between authorities and the division between functions. The Central Committee of the National Guard supposedly handed over power to those elected to the governing Council of the Commune on 26 March. But in fact the Central Committee not only remained in existence throughout the subsequent duration of the Commune, but continued to exercise independent authority as ‘the guardian of the revolution’. This was only one of many instances in which the activities of overlapping authorities hampered the efficiency of the whole. The Commune Council met almost daily at the Hôtel de Ville, but its authority was limited by the mairies of each of the component arrondissements. In place of a conventional distinction between legislative and executive, the Commune established executive ‘commissions’, each headed by a ‘delegate’. These ‘commissions’ convened twice a day at the Hôtel de Ville. But the consequence of democratic answerability was the incessant convening of lengthy and often unproductive meetings, in which much time was spent discussing irrelevant issues.

The enforcing of the decisions was also a problem. The Council depended on the goodwill of mayors, deputy mayors, policemen and National Guardsmen in each arrondissement. While most of these officials were cooperative, some were inefficient or obstructive. Despite these obstacles, however, the Commune was supported by the great majority and was able to act effectively in the interests of ordinary Parisians. The Commune prohibited eviction of tenants unable to pay rent arrears, rephased repayment of debt over three years (rather than the three months decreed by the National Assembly) and suspended the sale of items due for redemption at municipal pawnshops. It also banned night work in bakeries – a measure seen by some as ‘socialist’, but scarcely more radical than the limitation upon factory hours imposed by English Parliaments. Finally, on the basis of a loan negotiated with the Bank of France, the Commune was able to maintain the payment of the daily 30 sous to National Guardsmen.

Most Communards were skilled workers in long-established and small-scale craft industries, together with small employers, white-collar employees, women (active as ambulancières and cantinières) and radical students. They were ‘proletarian’ according to the contemporary French usage of the term: those who worked for their living. The salient political distinction was not between ‘bourgeoisie’ and ‘proletariat’, but between ‘producers’ and ‘idlers’. As republican and revolutionary papers declared in 1871, ‘while the Second Empire had fomented hatred’ between ‘our brave proletarians’ and ‘our good bourgeois’, under the Republic, ‘the people and the hardworking bourgeoisie are one’. That part of the bourgeoisie who were not part of the people were those who had taken advantage of the corrupt political system of the Second Empire, speculators and exploiters of the people.

Above all, the Communards were champions of La République démocrate et sociale. 1789 had emancipated the bourgeoisie, 1848 had aimed to emancipate the proletariat. The enemy had been the state, especially the authoritarian state of the Second Empire – the soldier, ‘the policeman believed on oath’, the tax-gatherer, the unaccountable official and the ‘unsackable magistrate’.189 The ideal was ‘federation’. Political power would be devolved to democratic communities; exploitation would be abolished by placing production in the hands of workers’ cooperatives. But there would still be a place for the small masters and employers of Paris, who formed an important part of the support for the Commune.

These ideals were above all associated with the name of Proudhon, who according to the painter Gustave Courbet was ‘the Christ’ of Communard socialism. But it would be a mistake to demarcate too precisely the supposed boundaries between the various forms of republicanism, mutualism and socialism which emerged in the 1860s. The leaders of the Commune, generally those who had become politically engaged during the three or four years before the war, were eclectic in their beliefs. Allowing for withdrawals, among the 79 members of the Commune Council, 25 were Freemasons, 34 belonged to the International and 43 were past or present members of the Central Committee of the National Guard.190 While Proudhon’s name was revered by many activists, by the late 1860s most of the leaders had rejected Proudhon’s exclusion of women’s work outside the home, his dismissal of strikes and his refusal to accept the efficacy of political revolution. Typical was the ethos of the Paris branch of the International, which in the years leading up to the war had become a mixture of socialist, syndical and cooperative ideas. But one common point of agreement was the statement found in the preamble to the statutes of the International that ‘the emancipation of workers ought to be the work of workers themselves’. On this basis, faith was placed in worker-controlled organizations (co-ops, chambres syndicales), together with general opposition to the centralized and authoritarian state.191

In the late 1860s, there had been convergence between the different groups (Mutualists, Collectivists, anti-authoritarian communists and even Blanquists). But in the course of April 1871 the increasingly endangered position of the Commune produced a split between the Jacobins and Blanquists, on the one hand, and the federalist, democratic socialists and Proudhonists on the other. From 2 April, the Versaillais had begun a bombardment of Paris and the shelling increased in intensity from then on. By the end of April, the military situation became more desperate. After Cluseret failed in his attempt to reorganize the National Guard, it was proposed that a Committee of Public Safety be established: once again an attempt to replicate the achievement of 1793. While the majority of the Commune supported this Jacobin–Blanquist proposal by thirty-four to twenty-eight, the minority of federalists, secularists and middle-class activists denounced it as dictatorial and, after 15 May, ceased to attend Commune meetings. Once more, however, the course of events reminded Communards that 1871 was not 1793, and after little more than a week the Committee had to be replaced.

The reason why Thiers had so dramatically pulled the government and armed forces out of Paris was that he had realized that he lacked sufficient forces to crush the insurrection. More than 300,000 soldiers and officers who had surrendered at Sedan and Metz were interned in German states. By early April, the troops at the disposal of Versailles amounted to 55,000, but Thiers estimated that at least 100,000 would be needed to retake Paris. In the meantime, he could do no more than intimidate parts of the city through bombardment, and recapture some important outposts beyond the city walls. It was only after 10 May and the signing of the Treaty of Frankfurt with Prussia that the defeated French army was free to return. Its troops were to form one quarter of the 130,000 men whom Thiers employed in the final assault on the city.

In the interim, during the ten weeks that the Commune lasted, the majority of Parisians enjoyed an unreal sense of freedom. The most visible change in everyday life concerned the place of religion. Education was secularized and anti-religious theatre was performed on the streets. Women’s clubs were formed, and women themselves addressed as ‘Citoyenne’ rather than ‘Madame’. Much music was performed, including huge concerts in the Tuileries and the public recitation of poems in aid of the wounded. The atmosphere on the street was noted with distaste by Goncourt: ‘you cannot imagine the suffering caused by the despotism exercised in the streets by the riff-raff disguised as soldiers’. But although there were festive occasions in which the working classes from Belleville and Montmartre ‘descended’ on the city and complaints were made about drunken behaviour among the National Guard, the general standard of behaviour appears to have been good, even prim. Concerts were decorous: no more Offenbach. No more street crime: instead a culture of self-improvement and stern control of prostitutes.

The city was lost on the evening of 22–23 May. Versaillais troops invaded from the south-west across ramparts which had been abandoned by the National Guard. The Commune called for a levée en masse, but got little response. Most were only prepared to defend streets in their own neighbourhoods, and generally retired after a few shots had been fired. Communards set fire to public buildings and tried to divest themselves of their weapons, uniforms and any other incriminating material. But they were soon engulfed in the mass slaughter that attended what became known as ‘La Semaine sanglante’ (the bloody week). The soldiers were often ignorant countrymen who had been told by their officers that the Communards were lawless insurgents and criminals. Many were therefore encouraged to believe that they could kill captured insurgents with the blessing of their officers. Anyone stopped and found carrying weapons or suspected of fighting was shot on sight, as were the so-called pétroleuses – females suspected of setting fire to houses. On the Communard side, the few acts of massacre were mainly the responsibility of Blanquists. Darboy, the Archbishop of Paris, was arrested, and after the failure of attempts to exchange him for the imprisoned Blanqui he, together with three others, was executed on 24 May. On 25 May, there was a massacre of Dominican priests, and on 26 May fifty hostages in Belleville were shot, again on the initiative of Blanquists. Against this, however, it is estimated that between 1,500 and 4,000 Communard combatants were executed.192 40,000 were rounded up and transported to New Caledonia.

On the General Council, the Commune was first discussed on 21 March, when Engels and a French shoemaker, Auguste Serraillier, endeavoured to correct misrepresentations in the press about the battle over the cannons.193Thereafter, it became increasingly clear that the Council must make a public statement about the situation. But the difficulty, as the Chairman, Hermann Jung, explained on 18 April, was that ‘wanting direct communications from Paris, we had only false newspaper reports’.194 Karl concurred: only a general resolution was possible, an address should be issued afterwards. Privately, he was pessimistic about the Commune’s chances of survival. In a letter to Dr Kugelmann on 12 April, he had claimed that crucial mistakes had been made early on. The Central Committee had surrendered its power to the Commune too soon, and had lost precious time in electing its members. He blamed the Communards for their ‘decency’ and maintained that ‘they should have marched at once on Versailles’.195

At the Council meeting of 25 April, Karl continued to complain about the absence of up-to-date letters and papers, while a week later, on 2 May, he was absent. Engels announced that the Address was not quite ready and that Karl had been advised to leave town on account of his health. His absence continued through 9 and 16 May. But on 23 May he reappeared. He feared ‘the end was near’, but reported that the Address should be ready the following week. Finally, on 30 May, Karl completed the Address, which he read out to the Council. It was adopted unanimously. But by then the Commune was over.

The Civil War in France, a pamphlet of around forty pages, was composed with some care. In addition to the published version, there still survive two rough drafts. It was divided into four sections. The first contained a portrait of the Thiers government, presented in the form of a rogues’ gallery, a villainous cabal supposedly conducting the war against Germany, but primarily engaged in a conspiracy to put down the Paris working class. Thiers himself was depicted as a ‘monstrous gnome’, for fifty years ‘the most consummate expression’ of the ‘class-corruption’ of the French bourgeoisie. Equally demeaning was the portrait of Jules Favre, the Foreign Minister responsible for the peace treaty with Germany and for the crusade against the International. Other ministers portrayed included Ernest Picard, the Finance Minister, presented as the close confrère of his brother, Arthur, a convicted thief and financial swindler.

According to the next section, which examined the immediate circumstances leading up to the Commune, the Versailles battle against Paris was not only animated by hatred, but fuelled by corruption. The republican government had negotiated a loan of two milliards. Out of that loan, newspapers alleged, ministers were to receive 300 million francs as a commission, but only provided that the resistance in Paris had been crushed.196 Karl argued that Thiers’s untruthful claim that the Paris cannonry was state property provided the required pretext for re-establishing control over the city.

In the third part of the essay, an attempt was made to depict the political character of the Commune. The Commune was not a reaction against state power in general, but against the French state, which had originated ‘from the days of absolute monarchy, serving nascent middle-class society as a mighty weapon in its struggle against feudalism’. It was obvious that ‘ready-made State machinery’ of such a kind could not be simply taken over by the working class and ‘wielded for its own purposes’. Thus ‘the centralised State power, with its ubiquitous organs of standing army, police, bureaucracy, clergy and judicature’, was removed.197 The standing army was turned into a people’s army; legislative and executive were combined; this body would be elected by universal suffrage, and its members were to be paid workmen’s wages to be ‘responsible and revocable in short terms’. Church would be separated from state; education would be free and no longer subject to clerical interference. Judges and magistrates would be elected by the people.

It would be wrong to treat this list as a factual description of the Commune’s constitutional structure or of its day-to-day proceedings. This was not an account of what the Commune was, but of what it might have become. The discrepancies between fact and putative intention were made clear enough by the use of the subjunctive mood.198 As a matter of fact, delegates and officials were not paid workmen’s wages, nor were judges and magistrates elected by the people. Nor was it the recorded intention of any of its actual participants that the Commune should ‘serve as a lever for uprooting the economical foundations upon which rests the existence of classes, and therefore of class rule’.199

What was listed was in part an actual depiction of the Commune, in part an imaginary projection of the changes that might accompany a transition towards the rule of associated producers, in which ‘every man becomes a working man, and productive labour ceases to be a class attribute’.200 As for the ‘social’ measures identified with the Commune (for example, the oft-cited prohibition of night work for bakers), these, as Karl wrote in one of the drafts, were of a kind undertaken by any government under siege, and were ‘principally confined to the military defence of Paris and its approvisionnement’.201

The final pages completed Karl’s account of ‘the conspiracy of the ruling class to break down the Revolution by a civil war carried on under the patronage of the foreign invader’. It ended with ‘the entrance of MacMahon’s praetorians through the gate of St Cloud’ and ‘the carnage of Paris’ that followed. It recounted the difficulties Thiers had experienced in the country in attempting to raise a provincial National Guard against Paris and the disappointing results of new elections for the National Assembly. Finally, it described the ‘ineffable infamy’ of Thiers, a modern-day ‘Sulla’, whose ‘glorious civilisation’ had first to ‘get rid of the heaps of corpses it made after the battle was over’.202

The Civil War in France was not only written in English, but for the English. It was Karl’s most impressive effort to express himself in colloquial terms. Earnest translators at the end of the century must have puzzled over the precise rendition of ‘ticket-of-leave men’, ‘gentlemen’s gentlemen’, ‘parson-power’, ‘natural superiors’, ‘shoddy men’, and must have wondered who ‘Joe Miller’ was. Had they delved into the drafts they might also have wondered what was meant by ‘turtle-soup guzzling aldermen’, by ‘the circumlocution office’, ‘the upper ten thousand’, ‘servants’ hall’ or ‘Billingsgate’.

The ambition was not simply to capture the cadences of popular speech, but also to juxtapose in moral terms the Paris of Versailles and the Empire against the Paris of the Commune. Imperial Paris was presented as the immoral other of Victorian England. Karl may have particularly disliked Jules Favre as one of the ‘bourgeois’ republicans, responsible for the suppression of the June Uprising in 1848, but in the text he was pilloried for ‘living in concubinage with the wife of a drunkard resident at Algiers’, and for securing a succession for the offspring of his adultery. Thiers was similarly impugned for ingratiating himself with Louis Philippe by ‘acting the minister-spy upon, and the jail-accoucheur of the Duchess de Berry’, Jules Ferry as Mayor of Paris was said to have made ‘a fortune out of famine’. The Paris of these men was a ‘phantom Paris’:

The Paris of the Boulevards, male and female – the rich, the capitalist, the gilded, the idle Paris, now thronging with its lackeys, its blacklegs, its literary bohème and its cocottes at Versailles, Saint-Denis, Rueil, and Saint-Germain; considering the civil war but an agreeable diversion, eyeing the battle going on through their telescopes, counting the rounds of cannon, and swearing by their own honour and that of their prostitutes, that the performance was far better got up than it used to be at Porte St-Martin. The men who fell were really dead; the cries of the wounded were in good earnest; and, besides, the whole thing was so intensely historical.203

But with the coming of the Commune, while the cocottes followed the scent of their protectors – ‘the absconding men of family, religion and, above all, of property’ – there appeared in their place ‘the real women of Paris … heroic, noble and devoted, like the women of antiquity’.204

From the time of the fall of the Empire, Karl had feared that some foolish attempt would be made to overthrow the newly established Republic. On 6 September, he noted that the entire London-based French branch of the International was setting off for Paris ‘to commit all sorts of follies there in the name of the International’. ‘They’ intended ‘to bring down the Provisional Government’ and ‘establish a commune de Paris’.205 In Lyons, Bakunin and his supporters attempted something similar. Describing the event in a letter to Edward Beesly, Karl wrote that in Lyons at first ‘everything went well’ and a republic had been proclaimed there before Paris. But then ‘the asses, Bakunin and Cluseret’, had arrived and ‘spoiled everything … The Hôtel de Ville was seized – for a short time – and most foolish decrees on the abolition de l’état and similar nonsense were issued. You understand that the very fact of a Russian – represented by the middle class papers as an agent of Bismarck – pretending to impose himself as the leader of a Comité du Salut de la France was quite sufficient to turn the balance of public opinion.’206 The actual Commune had been the result of an accident – ‘the presence of the Prussians right before Paris’ – a ‘decisively unfavourable “accident” ’, which had presented Paris with ‘the alternative of taking up the fight or succumbing without a struggle’. The city’s prospects had looked bleak, and in a letter written to Vienna a few days later Karl had considered that the course taken ‘had precluded all prospects of success’. The best that could be hoped for was an honourable peace between Paris and Versailles.207 But a month later his tone had changed. He now wrote that, whatever the immediate results, ‘the struggle of the working class against the capitalist class and its state’ had ‘entered upon a new phase’ and that ‘a new point of departure of world-historic importance has been gained’.208 What accounted for this change of mind?

It was not the social content of the insurrection. The Commune remained a purely political event. It had been generated as much by the anxieties and anger of shopkeepers and small masters, threatened by the resumption of debt payments, as by workers.209 Furthermore, through the agency of the Union Républicaine, these groups were just as active in the leadership of the movement. Although The Civil War in France claimed that the Commune was ‘essentially a working class government, the produce of the struggle of the producing against the appropriating class’, this was only true in the non-Marxian sense that, both in England and in France, the primary political distinction was not that between workers and employers, but between producers and idlers.210 It was ‘the working classes’ in this broad sense, whose aim as in 1848, was to realize La République democrate et sociale. This was clearly recognized by Karl himself. As he wrote to the Dutch socialist Domela Nieuwenhuis in 1881, ‘the majority of the Commune was in no sense socialist, nor could it have been … A socialist government does not come into power in a country unless conditions are so developed that it can immediately take the necessary measures for intimidating the mass of the bourgeoisie sufficiently to gain time – the first desideratum – for permanent action.’211

What excited Karl about the Commune was ‘its own working existence’. This was its ‘great social measure’.212 In practical terms, this meant a revolution not only for the working masses, but also a revolution by the working masses. As he explained in the ‘First Draft’:

That the revolution is made in the name and confessedly for the popular masses, that is the producing masses, is a feature this Revolution has in common with all its predecessors. The new feature is that the people, after the first rise, have not disarmed themselves and surrendered their power into the hands of the Republican Mountebanks of the ruling classes, that by the constitution of the Commune, they have taken the actual management of their Revolution into their own hands and found at the same time, in the case of success, the means to hold it in the hands of the People itself, displacing state machinery, the governmental machinery of the ruling classes by a governmental machinery of their own.213

The Commune excited Karl because it provided an unanticipated demonstration of what had been the starting point of his political criticism: the priority which he had accorded as early as 1843–4 to self-activity as the distinguishing feature of human history. Karl’s theory of history had started out from what he had considered to be Hegel’s greatest achievement in The Phenomenology of the Spirit – to have grasped ‘the self-creation of Man as a process’. Man was not merely a natural being, but ‘a human natural being’ whose point of origin was not nature, but history; a being who was able to make his activity ‘the object of his will’. But Hegel had also obscured the force of this insight by moving away from a vision of the polis, in which human powers were fully expressed, to a conception of the modern state based upon the division between state and civil society. It was to challenge this division that Karl had embarked upon his first full-scale work of political criticism, his Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right in 1843.

The unreal situation created by the temporary removal of the army, police, bureaucracy, clergy and judiciary from Paris in 1871 enabled Karl to return to his starting point and to imagine a polity in which the distinction between state and civil society had disappeared. Particularly exciting was the fact that the Commune had not emerged merely by default. The Commune had come into existence through its own agency. As he put it in his ‘First Draft’, ‘Whatever the merits of the single measures of the Commune, its greatest measure was its own organisation, extemporised with the Foreign Enemy at one door, and the class enemy at the other, proving by its life its vitality, confirming its thesis by its action.’ In this situation, it was possible to conceive the abolition of the distinction between legislative and executive, and of the role formerly played by Parliament being taken over by a democratically elected working body, cheaply and efficiently performing its function on workmen’s wages. He elaborated his idea:

The Commune – the reabsorption of the State power by society, as its own living forces instead of as forces controlling and subduing it, by the popular masses themselves, forming their own force instead of the organised force of their suppression – the political form of their social emancipation, instead of the artificial force (appropriated by their oppressors) (their own force opposed to and organised against them) of society wielded for their oppression by their enemies. The form was simple like all great things.214

The character of the Commune also enabled him to make a distinctive contribution to the post-1848 discussion about the form of society and polity to be attained in the future. He didn’t reiterate the formulations of the Communist Manifesto, which could easily look like the authoritarian state forms associated with the Second Empire. Nor did he reproduce the parliamentarism which, in the case of Bismarck’s Reichstag, at least, maintained the subordination of a weak legislative to an all-powerful executive.215 He went a long way towards accommodating the federalist ideals espoused by the leaders of the Commune: ‘In a rough sketch of national organization, which the Commune had no time to develop, it clearly states that the Commune was to be the political form of even the smallest country hamlet … The rural communes of every district were to administer their common affairs by an assembly of delegates in the central town and these district assemblies were again to send deputies to the National Delegation in Paris, each delegate to be at any time revocable and bound by the mandat impératif (formal instructions) of his constituents.’216 But he was also careful to emphasize that ‘The few but important functions which still would remain for a central government were not to be suppressed, as has been intentionally mis-stated, but were to be discharged by Communal, and therefore strictly responsible agents. The unity of the nation was not to be broken, but, on the contrary, to be organized by the Communal constitution.’217

As in his writings of the 1860s, he was also anxious to stress that the transition to a situation in which ‘united cooperative societies’ would ‘regulate national production upon a common plan’ – what he called ‘possible communism’ – would be a long-drawn-out process. ‘The working class did not expect miracles from the Commune.’ They had ‘no ready-made utopias to introduce’. ‘They know that in order to work out their own emancipation, and along with it that higher form to which present society is irresistibly tending by its own economical agencies, they will have to pass through long struggles, through a series of historic processes, transforming circumstances and men.’218

In publishing terms, The Civil War in France was a great success. It ran through three editions in two months, the second edition selling 8,000 copies.219 Suddenly, Karl had become a famous person. As he wrote to Dr Kugelmann on 18 June: ‘The Address is making the devil of a noise and I have the honour to be at this moment the best calumniated and the most menaced man of London. that really does one good after a tedious twenty years’ idyll in the backwoods.’220 His fame – or rather notoriety – had preceded the publication of the Address. On 19 March, a day after the Commune began, a right-wing Versailles newspaper, Journal de Paris, had reported an alleged letter sent by Karl – ‘the Red Doctor’ – to the members of the International in Paris, instructing them to start an insurrection. Karl believed this forgery to have been the work of Wilhelm Stieber, chief of the Prussian political police, German adviser to Versailles and, twenty years earlier, chief prosecution witness in the Cologne communist trial.

This allegation was taken up by most of the continental and British press. But it was accompanied by various lurid embellishments. In the Times report, the International was conflated with Bakunin’s ‘Alliance’ and cited as demanding the abolition of religion and marriage.221 By contrast, the Bonapartist press believed that the real author of the Commune was Bismarck and that Karl was his agent. On 2 April, Le Soir announced that Karl Marx, one of the main leaders of the International, had been Secretary to Count Bismarck in 1857, and remained in his service. But the Versailles government preferred the Stieber story. On 6 June, the Versailles Foreign Minister, Jules Favre, sent a circular letter to foreign governments, declaring the Commune to be the work of the International and calling upon all governments to cooperate in its suppression. Thereafter, the story was variously orchestrated by the French, Austrian and German governments.

In the light of these allegations, when Karl’s authorship was made public on 20 June, some of the more vulnerable or questionable formulations in the Address were subjected to concerted attack. Most vulnerable was the reference at the end of the Address to the relationship between the Commune and the International. It was stated: ‘Wherever, in whatever shape, and under whatever conditions the class struggle obtains any consistency, it is but natural that members of our Association should stand in the foreground.’222 In earlier drafts, the claim for the role of the International had been even greater, and it was perpetuated by Engels. But, in actual fact, the role of members of the International had been marginal – the efficiency of the Bonapartist police had resulted in the closure of the Paris International Branch in 1869; and as Karl repeatedly tried to point out, the International was not a secret society with a hierarchy of command.223 But in the light of the assertions of Favre and the hostility of most of the press, it proved virtually impossible to rebut the picture of the Commune as an International plot. As Karl observed to Dr Kugelmann, ‘The daily press and the telegraph, which in a moment spreads its inventions over the whole earth, fabricate more myths in one day (and the bourgeois cattle believe and propagate them still further) than could have previously been produced in a century.’224

The second area in which the Address was particularly subject to attack was its handling of Communard violence. In the light of the hundreds or perhaps thousands of people shot down by Versaillais troops, it was perhaps unreasonable of hostile commentators to make so much of Communard atrocities. But Karl’s defence of Communard actions in this instance was inept. In a passage about the conflict over the cannons on 18 March and the shooting of the generals, Thomas and Lecomte, which shortly followed, Karl offered a singularly implausible defence of this extra-judicial killing. The Commune was not really responsible, or rather, ‘The Central Committee and the Paris working men were as much responsible for the killing of Clément Thomas and Lecomte as the Princess of Wales was for the fate of the people crushed to death on the day of her entrance into London.’225 Similarly, because the execution of Archbishop Darboy came after a refusal by Versailles to exchange him for the veteran revolutionary Auguste Blanqui, the Address maintained that ‘the real murderer of Archbishop Darboy is Thiers’.226 The shooting of other priests was not mentioned. Similarly, the resort to incendiarism was defended as if it were purely a question of necessary defence. Whatever might be said about these arguments, they failed to convince. It would have been preferable to apologize in the case of indefensible actions and thereby make it possible to redirect scrutiny towards the much more extensive and indiscriminate slaughter committed by Versailles.

Positivists, such as Frederic Harrison and Edward Beesly, bravely tried to defend the Commune. There were also working men who sympathized with the Communards, not ‘upon strictly Communist grounds’, but because ‘they believed [the Communards] to be thorough patriots and true republicans’ who supported the International’s aim to secure ‘the fusion of interests among the working classes throughout the world’.227 But these were a minority. Even among radicals, the issue was very divisive. To cite only the more prominent, the Commune was attacked by Tolain, Mazzini, Holyoake and Bradlaugh. In an irascible exchange at the meeting of the General Council on 20 June, George Odger, one of the most prominent of trade unionist founders of the International, said that he had not been present when the Address was read out and that it should have been submitted to everyone whose signature was to be attached. After Karl had reminded him of the standing orders, Odger replied that ‘he wouldn’t be dictated to, if the Satellites of Dr Marx liked, they could, but he wouldn’t’. He stated that he had not come to resign, but since ‘there was no reason on the Council’, he would do so. As a leading republican activist, he identified the republican cause with the Orléanist government of Favre and Thiers. Secondly, as he stated elsewhere, the main purpose of the International was to promote peace and higher wages in Europe. Another prominent member of the General Council, Benjamin Lucraft, a cabinetmaker and a member of the London School Board, also resigned. Referring to the Address at the meeting of 20 June, he stated, ‘There was a great deal in it he objected to. The International defended Ruffians who had done deeds that he abhorred, ruffians that did not belong to the International, he would not sanction murder and Arson.’228

The Civil War in France did not succeed in stemming the hostile tide of public opinion. Over twenty years later, Karl’s daughter Eleanor vividly recalled the climate: ‘the condition of perfectly frantic fury of the whole middle class against the Commune’. So strong was the animosity towards the Commune and the Communard refugees that an attempt to book a hall to mark its first anniversary was cancelled by the landlord. He ‘preferred to return the deposit and pay a penalty for breach of contract to allowing such a set of “ruffians” in his highly respectable Hall … Saddest of all’, she continued, was ‘the fact that in England the workers also, with rare exceptions (just as there were some middle class exceptions among the Comtists) were as bitterly hostile to the Commune as their exploiters.’229


In England, the government took no action against Communard refugees. But hostility towards the Commune was pervasive. Among radicals, it was highlighted by the resignation of leading members of the General Council and the lack of any demonstrations in the Commune’s support. Six months after the Commune, Eleanor’s sister, Jenny, who had been helping Communard refugees, reported on their miserable condition in London:

Employers will have nothing to do with them. The men who had succeeded in obtaining engagements under borrowed names are dismissed, so soon as it is found out who they are.

As the refugees cannot find employment, you can imagine to what straits they are reduced. Their sufferings are beyond description – they are literally starving in the streets of this great city – the city that has carried the chacun pour soi [each for oneself] principle to its greatest perfection. It is not to be wondered at that Englishmen, who consider starvation cases to be part and parcel of their own glorious constitution … are not much impressed by the nameless misery of foreigners for whom they have no sympathies whatever.230

By contrast, for republicans and socialists from Spain and Italy through to Switzerland and Belgium, the Commune’s defiance of one of the most centralized and heavily policed regimes of post-1848 Europe was a source of inspiration. The Europe imagined by the Communards was a Europe of federations, freed from the oppressive weight of police and bureaucracy. The Republic proposed by Paris had entailed ‘The absolute autonomy of the Commune extended to all localities in France, assuring to each the integrality of its rights … The autonomy of the Commune, only limited by the equal right to autonomy of all the other Communes adhering to the contract, whose association is to assure French unity.’231 At first glance, The Civil War in France had appeared to give full support to the federalist position: ‘the Commune was to be the political form of even the smallest country hamlet’. This was the assumption of Bakunin’s ally and leader of the domestic craftsmen in the Jura, James Guillaume: ‘Marx appeared to have abandoned his own programme in order to rally behind federalist ideas.’232 But not only was Karl careful to retain the existence of ‘central government’, but in his account of the government of communal France, he had been careful to avoid employing the term ‘federation’.233

The ideal of federation had been most influentially articulated in the later writings of Proudhon, especially, his De la capacité politique des classes ouvrières (The Political Capacity of the Working Classes) of 1865.234 In this work, Proudhon had qualified the ‘Mutualist’ position which he had put forward in his General Idea of the Revolution of the Nineteenth Century: free credit, a drastic reduction of the political functions of the French state, and its eventual replacement by economic contracts and social agreements. His experience of the Second Empire had led him to conclude that democratic constitutions and universal suffrage were preferable to arbitrary decrees and electoral disfranchisement; and in the immediate future, at least, a federal state was the most viable solution. In his last writings he had also advocated, as a protest against the Bonapartist regime, electoral abstention. Workers should form their own cooperatives and mutual-aid societies, acquire predominance, whether in workshop, factory or farm, and eventually replace the existing political and economic system with a democratic federation of their own. But his followers in Paris, while still inspired by his larger vision, dissented from the argument about electoral abstention, considering the self-emancipation of the working class to mean active participation in the electoral process.235

In the early congresses of the International, nearly one third of those attending were broadly followers of Proudhon. But as early as 1867, at the Lausanne Congress, divisions were opening up within Proudhonist ranks. The strict Proudhonist position represented by Tolain (anti-social legislation, anti-trade union, anti-political engagement) was challenged by a grouping around a Parisian bookbinder, Eugène Varlin, and a Belgian compositor turned physician, César De Paepe.236 The leaders of this group, while still subscribing to ‘Mutualist’ ideals, had moved towards an espousal of what De Paepe was one of the first to call ‘collectivism’, the collective ownership of the means of production and endorsement of trade unions.237 While Varlin continued to agree with Tolain that strikes were economically self-defeating, he now maintained that they could at the same time increase solidarity among workers and provide means of moral protest.238

The strict Proudhonist position associated with Tolain and his followers was defeated at the Congress of Basle in 1869. The collectivist resolutions, put forward earlier at Brussels, passed overwhelmingly, alongside a motion calling for the immediate social collectivization of the land. The resolutions were careful to specify ‘social’ or ‘public’ ownership, and not ‘state ownership’. The victory of the French and Belgian group around Varlin and De Paepe over Tolain and his supporters was amplified by the energetic advocacy of Bakunin, together with a dozen followers. During the debate, Bakunin had emerged as one of the congress’s leading exponents of collectivism. Tolain and Fribourg complained that Bakunin and Karl’s allies on the General Council had wrested control from Paris Mutualists and produced a triumph for ‘Russo-German communism’.239

But while the congress’s rejection of Proudhon’s hostility to political engagement and trade unionism marked an important step forward, the involvement of Bakunin posed a different but ultimately more ominous threat to Karl’s vision of the International. At the end of 1861, Bakunin had escaped from Siberia after twelve years’ imprisonment by the czar. He made his way to San Francisco and then on to Europe, where he arrived at Herzen’s house in London at the beginning of 1862. Herzen wrote in his journal:

Into our work, into our closed shop of two, a new element had entered, or rather an old element, perhaps a risen shade of the ’forties, and most of all of 1848. Bakunin was just the same; he had grown older in body only, his spirit was as young and enthusiastic as in the days of the all-night arguments with Khomyakov in Moscow. He was just as devoted to one idea, just as capable of being carried away by it, and seeing in everything the fulfilment of his desires and ideals, and even more ready for every experience, every sacrifice, feeling that he had not so much life before him, and that consequently he must make haste and not let slip a single chance … The fantasies and ideals with which he was imprisoned in Königstein in 1849 he had preserved, and had carried them complete across Japan and California in 1861. Even his language recalled the finer articles of La Réforme and La Vraie République, the striking speeches in La Constituante and at Blanqui’s club. The spirit of the parties of that period, their exclusiveness, their personal sympathies and antipathies, above all their faith in the second coming of the revolution – it was all here.240

Mikhail Bakunin, four years older than Karl, was from a Russian aristocratic household. He was initially an artillery officer, became an enthusiast for Hegel in the mid-1830s and went as a student to Berlin in 1840. While in Berlin, he frequented left Hegelian circles and became close to Arnold Ruge. Hegel was and remained a formative influence upon his thinking. Among his Russian contemporaries, he was considered to possess ‘to a superlative degree a facility for dialectics, so indispensable if one is to infuse life into abstract logical formulas and to obtain conclusions from them applicable to life’.241 Like others in the 1840s, he was deeply and lastingly impressed by Feuerbach’s critique of religion as the source of human alienation; real freedom was to be found in Hegel’s organic state as the formation of an inclusive ethical community, but not ‘the tutelary state’ of Prussia, let alone the oppressive Russian autocracy of Nicholas I. In his early 1842 essay ‘The Reaction in Germany’, he advocated a ‘religion of democracy’, a secular translation of the Christian ideal of brotherhood put forward by the French socialist Pierre Leroux.

The second formative moment in Bakunin’s political thought was his experience of 1848. Enthusiasm for the democratic revolution in the spring of 1848 gave way to the disillusion of the autumn. He came to associate the bourgeoisie with reactionary politics, exemplified by the record of the Frankfurt Parliament, which showed that democracy in itself was not sufficient. By 1849, he had come to support a second popular revolution to establish a ‘red republic’. In the Dresden insurrection, he fought on the barricades alongside Richard Wagner. He was captured and imprisoned, first in Königstein in Saxony, and then he was transferred to Russia.

Before that, however, in the summer of 1848, he had participated in the first Slav Congress in Prague. Conservative Slavophilism, which lauded Russia’s past before the reforms of Peter the Great, was given a radical twist in the light of the failures of 1848. Building upon the observations of August von Haxthausen’s 1846 Studies of the Interior of Russia, it was argued that the peasant commune in Russia possessed a natural morality and was inherently ‘socialist’ in its assumptions. In the light of the failure of revolution in the West, hopes of revolutionary change were increasingly placed in Russia. An endorsement of a radical version of the Slavophil position brought with it a belief in the self-sufficiency of the peasant commune and a rejection of the centralizing activity of czarist state power inaugurated by Peter the Great. In Bakunin’s case, a left-Hegelian conception of the organic nature of the state was ascribed to the peasant commune. These were the Russian roots of Bakunin’s federalism.242

Back in Europe in 1861–2, having missed more than a decade of its intellectual and political development, Bakunin, as Herzen observed, started exactly where he had left off in 1849. His aim was to throw himself into preparations for a Polish insurrection. As he wrote to Herzen from San Francisco on his way back to Europe in October 1861, ‘as soon as I arrive I shall set to work; I shall work with you on the Polish-Slavonic question, which has been my idée fixe since 1846 and was in practice my speciality in 1848 and 1849.’243 In 1862, he still believed that natural Slav socialism contained more promise than that of the French or the Germans, or the utopian communism of the working classes. But the failure of the Polish revolt in the summer of 1863 led him to rethink his position. He broke with Pan-Slavism and began to criticize the peasant Commune as a patriarchal institution based on injustice and inequality. In 1864, in his Letters from a Democrat, his hopes centred once more upon Europe, while in his political thinking he returned to his radical Hegelian critique of the ‘tutelary’ state with religion as its foundation. His programme concluded with a utopian vision of the abolition of the right of inheritance, free marriage, equal rights for women and the upbringing of children by society. But the abolition of the ‘tutelary’ state did not entail the abolition of politics. Provinces would be made up from Communes, and the nation would be made up from provinces, while nations themselves would join a voluntary international federation. In 1865, he wrote in more practical terms, contrasting the religion-based official morality imposed by Napoléon III and other European countries with the ‘real liberty’ existing in Britain and the United States, and citing the United States as one possible model of federal government.

These positions were pushed further in 1866 in his Revolutionary Catechism. He called for ‘the radical dissolution of the centralised, tutelary and authoritarian state, together with the military, bureaucratic, governmental, administrative, judicial and civil institutions’.244 In previous texts, he had extolled ‘real democracy’ as a fundamental sentiment which came from ‘within the people’. Now he also added in labour, not only as the primary component of human dignity, but also as the basis of the solidarity which he had previously identified with the peasant Commune. A year later in a text explaining his disagreement with Pan-Slavists, he stated that they associated Slav emancipation with the expansion of the czarist empire, while he associated it with its destruction. He then added that there was another ‘great difference’: ‘They are unitary at all costs, always preferring public order to liberty, while I am anarchist and prefer liberty to public order, or rather, in order not to credit the case of my enemies too easily, I am federalist from head to toe.’245

Bakunin, both in body and in personality, was a charismatic figure, as attested by so many contemporaries. He was 6 feet 5 inches tall and reported to be massively strong. As an irrepressible activist, whose political expectations had been formed in the years before 1848, Bakunin was one of the last major representatives of the transnational republicanism which had accompanied the development of Europe between the age of Napoléon and the Franco-Prussian War. But the experience of 1848 and the inadequacies of Pan-Slavism had convinced him that republics, democratic constitutions, representative governments or national liberation were not enough. Social revolution was the only means by which the oppressed peoples of Europe would achieve emancipation. It went without saying, as he had emphasized up to 1864, that the freedom of Europe required the breakup of the military despotisms of Austria, Prussia and Russia. But it had also become clear that national unification by no means necessarily brought with it social or political liberation. In early 1864, Bakunin had moved to Italy, where disillusion, particularly in the south, with trade liberalization and Piedmontese taxation had grown apace. In Italy, he became one of the first to respond to this disenchantment by criticizing Mazzini’s idea of the moderate political republic.246

In 1867, having moved from Italy to Switzerland, he attended the inaugural Congress of the League of Peace and Freedom, based in Geneva. By that time, he was famous across Europe. As he rose to speak, ‘The cry passed from mouth to mouth: “Bakunin!” Garibaldi, who was in the chair, stood up, advanced a few steps and embraced him. This solemn meeting of two old and tried warriors of the revolution produced an astonishing impression … Everyone rose and there was a prolonged and enthusiastic clapping of hands.’247 Bakunin gave a rousing speech endorsing internationalism, socialism, anti-statism and federalism, and in the subsequent year attempted to persuade the League to adopt a socialist programme and to link itself to the International, whose Geneva branch he had just joined. At the second conference, held in Berne in 1868, when Bakunin attempted to initiate a debate on the ‘equalization of classes’, he was accused of ‘communism’. In response, he argued that the advocacy of ‘collective property’ along with the congress of ‘the workers’ in Brussels, was not ‘communism’, but ‘collectivism’: ‘I hate communism because it is the negation of liberty … I am not a communist because communism concentrates and causes all the powers of society to be absorbed by the state … I want the abolition of the state … I want the organisation of society and collective or social property from the bottom up, by way of free association, and not from the top down by means of any authority whatsoever.’248

Rejected by the League, Bakunin and his followers founded the International Alliance of Social Democracy. The Alliance considered itself from the outset to be a branch of the International and undertook to accept its rules and statutes. In December 1868, it applied for formal membership. The application was refused on the grounds (drafted by Karl) that the General Council did not accept ‘ “International” branches’ and that ‘the presence of a second international body working within and outside the International’ would be ‘the most infallible means of its disorganization’.249

In February 1869, the Alliance put in a second and successful bid for membership. It agreed to dissolve itself as an ‘international body’, while its branches in Switzerland, Spain and Italy would enrol as individual sections. In other words, a form of dual membership was permitted, a dangerous concession given Bakunin’s ambition since 1864 to form a secret society. Such an organization inhabiting a space within larger and more broadly based societies could hasten the pace of change. What was needed, as Bakunin explained in 1872, was ‘a secret society in the heart of the International, to give it a revolutionary organization, to transform it and all the popular masses which exist outside it into a power sufficiently organized to destroy the politico-clerico-bourgeois reaction, and the economic, juridical, religious and political institutions of the state.’250 It is unlikely that this plan was ever more than a fantasy. But what was undeniable was the growing power and influence of Bakunin’s revolutionary vision of federalism and collectivism within the International. One sixth of the Basle Congress consisted of Bakunin’s delegation; furthermore, Bakunin had managed to defeat the General Council on the question of inheritance, even if not by the required two-thirds majority.

More generally, after 1867 in England and Germany, membership and participation in the International were static or declining, while elsewhere journals in Geneva, Le Locle, Lyons, Naples and Barcelona were spreading Bakunin’s ideas. By the beginning of 1870, 2,000 members had joined the International in Madrid, and by June 150 sections from thirty-six regions had formed a regional federation and adopted a Bakuninist programme in Spain.251His appeal was not confined to what Engels considered ‘backward’ peasant regions, but was also strong in France and industrialized Belgium. The Franco-Prussian War and its aftermath, which destabilized relations in France and in neighbouring countries, led to a major increase in Bakunin’s support in Spain, where it was one of the factors accounting for a major strike wave in 1871. Its impact was also felt in Italy, where Mazzini’s condemnation of the Commune was vigorously combated by Bakunin and Garibaldi.

The appeal of Bakunin’s federalism and collectivism in Southern Europe was not surprising in regions where freedom of speech and of association was absent, where there were no labour organizations and where, therefore, open propaganda was not tolerated. In these areas, not surprisingly, the Carbonari, the Freemasons and other secret societies were thought more effective. But the appeal of Bakunin was not confined to the allegedly backward and non-industrialized South. The appeal of federalism was an expression of the deep-rooted hostility across Europe towards the militarized and undemocratic states which had taken over after the suppression of the revolutions of 1848.

There was little sympathetic understanding of these developments on Karl’s part. For Karl, the whole original point of involvement in the affairs of the International had been the possibility of acting in a pivotal role in relation to the English working class in the only country in which a transition towards a society of associated producers appeared a realistic possibility. What happened in Spain or Italy was of marginal interest.

In 1864, when he had met Bakunin again for the first time since 1848, he was impressed. ‘I must say I liked him very much, more so than previously … one of the few people, whom after 16 years I find to have moved forwards and not backwards.’ A few months later, they were also agreed upon the need to combat Mazzini’s attempt to control the International.252 But once Bakunin left Italy for Geneva and joined the League of Peace and Freedom, Karl’s suspicions – dating from 1848 – returned.253 Peace and disarmament would leave Europe at the mercy of Russian armies. Therefore, as he wrote to Engels, ‘the Peace Congress in Geneva was, of course, a fabrication of the Russians, which is why they sent along their WELL WORN OUT AGENT, Bakunin’.254 In the case of the Alliance, Bakunin tried flattery and protestations that he was Karl’s ‘disciple’ and now understood ‘how right you were in following and inviting all of us to follow the great road of economic revolution’.255 But Karl was unmoved. He sent the Rules of the Alliance to Engels with the comment, ‘Mr Bakunin is condescending enough to wish to take the workers’ movement under Russian leadership.’256

In the areas in which Bakunin’s federalist and collectivist message had found a response, and thus a growth of support for the International, it was simply mocked. The shift in the political character of Europe around the end of the 1860s had largely passed Karl by. Referring to a document produced by members of the Alliance, Karl ironized:

Their ‘revolutionary’ programme had had more effect in some weeks in Italy, Spain, etc., than that of the International Working Men’s Association had in years. If we should reject their ‘revolutionary programme’ we would [produce] a separation between the countries with a ‘revolutionary’ workers’ movement (these are listed as France, where they have all of 2 correspondents, Switzerland(!), Italy – where the workers apart from those who belong to us, are simply a tail to Mazzini – and Spain, where there are more clerics than workers) and those with a more gradual development of the working class (viz., England, Germany, the United States and Belgium) …

That the Swiss should represent the revolutionary type is really amusing.257

But the problem posed by Bakunin could not be ignored. For the growth of the International in these new areas was likely to lead to a Bakuninist majority at the next congress and this might mean the abandonment of a strategy based upon social-democratic growth in England and other advanced areas of Western Europe. Furthermore, this problem was becoming acute, because interest in the International was fading among English trade union and working-class leaders.

After the General Council permitted individual sections of the Alliance to enrol, the Geneva section attempted to join. But this was blocked by the pre-existing Geneva Federation, which was hostile and had rejected its application. For this reason, at the Basle Congress, Bakunin voted in favour of wider powers for the General Council, including the right to accept or refuse the admission of new sections. The General Council could then override the Geneva Federation’s veto.

But by the time the issue came up for decision, the attitude of the General Council had changed. In pressing the Basle Congress to vote for the abolition of inheritance, Bakunin had secured a majority rejection of Karl’s position. This marked the beginning of the battle which pitted Bakunin against Karl and his allies. Soon after Basle, Liebknecht denounced Bakunin as a Slavophil and an enemy of the International, while Moses Hess reported the conflict between Bakunin and the General Council as a contest between civilization and barbarism. Bakunin retorted with an attack upon German Jews. He now foresaw a ‘life and death struggle’ with Karl and his supporters. In late 1869, Bakunin himself left Geneva. But the pro-Bakuninist Geneva journal L’Égalité continued with an attack upon the General Council, which Karl attributed to ‘the insolence’ of Bakunin, especially the way in which he and his ‘Cossacks’ posed as the ‘guardian of true proletarianism’. At Karl’s instigation, the General Council followed up the attack, and in March 1870 sent a confidential circular to German sections, denouncing Bakunin as ‘this most dangerous intriguer’.

In spring 1870, the Geneva section of Bakunin’s Alliance once again applied for admission to the local Genevan Federal Council, the Fédération Romande. In accordance with the rules of the International, this was granted at its annual congress of the Fédération at Chaux-les-Fonds, but only by a majority of three. This led the anti-Bakunin minority to secede and hold its own conference. Each now claimed to be the true representative of the Fédération Romande. But in June 1870 the General Council found in favour of the anti-Bakunin minority. It decreed that the majority should adopt another name, a clear breach of its constitutional powers.

The Genevan Bakuninists changed their name to that of the Jura Federation in the summer. But the Swiss and other federations reacted with indignation to this high-handed action by the General Council, especially since in March it had admitted another Genevan Russian section, organized by Karl’s ally and leader of anti-Bakuninist Russians, Nicholas Utin. Support for federalism and Bakunin – or, at least, hostility to the arbitrary proceedings of the General Council – grew, particularly among the ‘Latin’ sections in Spain, Italy, Southern France and Switzerland. Faced with this mounting resistance, Karl planned to stage the next congress in Mainz, away from these pressures. But the war put paid to these plans.

Karl’s Civil War in France was an attempt to draw Federalist supporters nearer to the position of the General Council. But its unwanted effect was to further accentuate the decline of English participation in the International. By the summer of 1871, political ‘apathy’ among the English working classes had become obvious. At a meeting of the General Council on 8 August, Engels vented his frustration: ‘The Working Classes in England had behaved in a disgraceful manner, though the men of Paris had risked their lives, the working men of England had made no effort either to sympathise with them or assist them. There was no political life in them.’258 In an attempt to prevent the organization falling into the hands of a Bakuninist majority, on 25 July 1871 Engels had urged the summoning of a ‘private Conference of the Association’ in London later that summer, while Karl specified that it ‘would be confined to questions of organisation and policy’.259 The conference was held in a pub off Tottenham Court Road in the middle of September. It contained no one from Germany, two representatives from England, some Communard refugees from France, two former supporters of Bakunin from Switzerland (including Utin) and a six-man delegation from Belgium. The Jura Federation was not invited, on the specious grounds that it had never relinquished the title Fédération Romande.

The conference attempted to transform the International Association from a forum for discussion into a political party. Resolutions were made binding on all sections. Political action, originally a ‘means for social emancipation’, was now made mandatory, since in the militant activity of the working class ‘its economic movement and its political action are indissolubly united’. Such action would progress ‘peaceably where it is possible and by force of arms when it may be necessary’.260 The General Council was authorized to choose the time and place of the next congress, and the new powers given to the General Council at Basle to affiliate or disaffiliate sections of the International were now used to deny the affiliation of the Bakuninists in Switzerland by equating the congress decision with a General Council opinion. Through this subterfuge, Bakuninism was turned into a heresy. Karl also attempted, but failed, to associate Bakunin with the criminal activities of Nechaev. He tried to secure a condemnation of the Alliance, but was reminded that this was unnecessary, since the Alliance had already dissolved itself. In both cases, it was the Belgian delegation, led by De Paepe, which played a restraining role. Overall, Karl considered the conference a great success. He wrote to Jenny that ‘it was hard work … but more was done than at all previous congresses put together because there was no audience in front of which to stage rhetorical comedies’.261

Federalists, however, were right to consider this conference a stitch-up. In November 1871, the Jura Federation convened a congress at Sonvilliers, and issued a circular to all the other federations, demanding that another congress be called, since the meeting in London was invalid. That meeting had arrogated to itself unconstitutional powers and its decisions were unrepresentative.262 The rules of the International did not allow for a ‘secret conference’ like that held in London. The International Working Men’s Association had been constituted as ‘a free federation of autonomous sections’, not a hierarchical and authoritarian organization, composed of disciplined sections under the control of the General Council. The General Council should return to its original purpose, which was to act as ‘a simple correspondence and statistical bureau’. The circular concluded by asking, ‘how can a free and equal society arise from an authoritarian organisation?’

Nominally written on behalf of the General Council, Karl’s response, jointly composed with Engels, appeared in March 1872 and was called ‘Les prétendues scissions dans l’Internationale’ (‘Fictitious Splits in the International’). This document purported to trace the history of ‘the persistent efforts of certain meddlers to deliberately maintain confusion between the International and a society which has been hostile to it since its inception’. This society (the Alliance) had been ‘fathered by the Russian, Mikhail Bakunin’, whose ambition, it was alleged, was to use it as his instrument, and to replace the General Council by his personal dictatorship.263 Once again, the authors attempted to discredit Bakunin, both by revealing that two of his supporters were Bonapartist spies and by linking him with the criminal activities of Nechaev.

Sergei Nechaev was the son of a village priest. He was especially notorious for two reasons.264 Firstly, he had attempted to set up a revolutionary secret society in Russia composed of five-person groups whose only link with each other was through Nechaev himself. In Moscow, a student called Ivanov, belonging to one of these groups, had questioned Nechaev’s authority. So, in order to quell any possibility of mutiny and to bind the group together by making it jointly complicit in a common crime, Nechaev organized Ivanov’s murder on the pretext that he was about to denounce the group to the authorities. It was this murder, on 21 November 1869, which provided the plot for Dostoyevsky’s novel The Devils.

Secondly, in January 1870, Nechaev had found Bakunin in Locarno, engaged in a Russian translation of Capital. Perpetually short of money, Bakunin had signed a contract to translate the book for 1,200 roubles, of which 300 roubles had been paid as an advance. He had soon tired of the task and was pleased when Nechaev promised to persuade the publisher to release him from his contract. Thereafter, Nechaev demanded that the publisher leave Bakunin in peace, threatening in the name of the secret committee of People’s Justice that unless the publisher withdrew his request for the return of the advance, unpleasant consequences would follow. Perhaps aware of Ivanov’s fate, the publisher duly complied.

For some time in the late 1860s Bakunin had clearly been entranced by Nechaev’s revolutionary picture of himself. But there was no evidence, nor was it in any sense likely, that Bakunin was involved in, or even aware of, Nechaev’s crimes. Thus the repeated references made by Karl to Bakunin and Nechaev’s foundation of a ‘secret society among the students’ in Russia was an unsubstantiated smear.265

The main weakness of this counter-circular was that it failed to respond to the main point made at Sonvilliers: that the General Council in 1871 had arrogated to itself certain powers not covered by its own original ‘rules’.266 As a result, Engels’ ‘organizational’ initiative, far from placating Federalist opponents, widened still further the divisions within the International Association.

The next congress had been arranged to take place from 1 to 7 September 1872 in The Hague. This was a place that Bakunin would find it difficult, if not impossible, to reach. Furthermore, the vetting of delegates to the congress would be in the hands of Karl’s allies. In a letter to César De Paepe, Karl made an estimate of the forces ranged for and against him:

England, the United States, Germany, Denmark, Holland, Austria, most of the French groups, the northern Italians, Sicily and Rome, the vast majority of the Romance Swiss and the Russians in Russia (as distinct from certain Russians abroad linked with Bakunin) are marching in step with the General Council.

On the other hand, there will be the Jura Federation in Switzerland (in other words the men of the Alliance who hide behind this name), Naples, possibly Spain, part of Belgium and certain groups of French refugees … and these will form the opposing camp.267

Just before the congress, Karl urged Dr Kugelmann to attend, arguing that it was a ‘matter of life and death’ for the International and that the aim was to preserve it ‘from disintegrating elements’.268 Both sides competed to send delegates, but the supporters of Bakunin needlessly deprived themselves of vital support when the Italians, indignant about the claims made in ‘Les Prétendues Scissions’, decided to boycott The Hague and hold a rival congress at Neuchâtel.

At the congress itself, following the scrutiny of the credentials of delegates, particularly potential supporters of Bakunin, Karl was assured of majority support from the start and did not hesitate to exploit his advantage. The congress defeated the Bakuninist proposal that the General Council become simply a central office for correspondence and the collection of statistics. It also succeeded in incorporating the decisions of the London Conference into the rules of the Association. Furthermore, a committee of enquiry, chaired by Engels’ friend Theodor Cuno, found Bakunin to be the head of a secret organization and recommended that he and Guillaume be expelled. Karl, anxious to besmirch Bakunin further, produced a letter allegedly implicating Bakunin in the intimidation of his publisher.

Finally, Engels, backed up by Karl, Charles Longuet and others, put forward the surprise proposal that the General Council be moved to New York. There was silence and then confusion, particularly among the Germans and the French Blanquists, who up until then had been happy to support the battle against Bakunin. But the proposal was narrowly carried by 26 to 23 with 9 abstentions. The justification was that if the proposal had not been carried, the International Association would have ended up in the hands of either the Blanquists or the Bakuninists. It would have become a discredited conspiratorial organization, without larger social or political importance.

A year later, in Statism and Anarchy, Bakunin put forward his own picture of the conflict which had engulfed the International. His book powerfully expressed the shock to Europe produced by Bismarck’s triumphant wars against Denmark, Austria and France, and by the proclamation of the new German Empire in the Versailles Hall of Mirrors. Since the time of Louis XIV, and onward through the Napoleonic Wars, France had always been considered the most powerful state on the European mainland. Statism and Anarchy dwelt upon ‘the shattering of the historical supremacy of the French State’ and its replacement by ‘the even more odious and pernicious supremacy of state-supported Pan-Germanism’.269 Its analysis of 1848 in Germany in some ways prefigured Lewis Namier’s 1848: The Revolution of the Intellectuals.270 It stressed the learned character of the Frankfurt Assembly, its unjust treatment of the Poles and the Czechs and the inability both of Frankfurt and of the Prussian Parliament to challenge the state. This was not least, according to Bakunin, because the desire that prevailed ‘in the consciousness or instinct of every German’ was ‘the desire to expand far and wide the boundaries of the German Empire’.271

‘The propagation of this Germanic idea’, according to Bakunin, was also ‘now the chief aspiration of Marx, who … tried to resume within the International, to his own advantage, the exploits and victories of Prince Bismarck’.272Bakunin did not mention the centrality of England in Karl’s theory or his work on the General Council. He made no reference to the place accorded to federalism in The Civil War in France, but instead equated Karl’s approach solely with that of the Communist Manifesto. He acknowledged Karl’s gifts as a theorist, and agreed with his critique of Proudhon. But Germans could not make revolutions. They lacked ‘character’. They proceeded not from life to thought but, like Hegel himself, from thought to life. Even the ‘school of materialists or realists’, such as Karl or the natural materialist Ludwig Büchner, ‘could not and cannot free themselves from the sway of abstract, metaphysical thought’.273

Karl’s thought was roughly coupled with that of Lassalle. Not only were they both advocates of representative democracy, but Lassalle’s practice was built upon Karl’s theory. The fundamental point of Lassalle’s programme was ‘the liberation (imaginary) of the proletariat solely by means of the state’. This was what Lassalle had taken from ‘the communist theory created by Marx’. It was also suggested that Karl himself was a ‘direct disciple of (Louis) Blanc’ and therefore (inaccurately) that he, like Lassalle and Blanc before him, advocated making available ‘unlimited credit’ to ‘producers’ and consumers’ associations of workers’.274

Theoretically, Statism and Anarchy was rather thin, consisting largely of assertions rather than reasoned evidence. It was argued that ‘the passion for social revolution’ could only be satisfied when the state’s power of coercion, the last bulwark of bourgeois interests, collapses. For any state entailed ‘domination and consequently slavery’:

That is why we are enemies of the state … No state, howsoever democratic its forms … is capable of giving the people what they need: the free organisation of their own interests from below upward, without any interference, tutelage or coercion from above. That is because no state, not even the most republican and democratic, not even the pseudo-popular state contemplated by Marx, in essence represents anything but government of the masses from above downward, by an educated and thereby privileged minority which supposedly understands the real interests of the people better than the people themselves.275

Later on in the book, it was asked, if the proletariat were to be the ruling class, whom would it rule? Bakunin speculated that if it were a question of ‘cultural levels’, it might be ‘the peasant rabble’, while if the question were considered from a national viewpoint, it might be the Slavs. Finally, there was also the question raised by a sentence in the Communist Manifesto: ‘the proletariat raised to a governing class’. Would ‘the entire proletariat head the government? Will all 40 million be members of the government?’ The answer by Karl and others that ‘there would be government of the people by a small number of representatives elected by the people’ was a lie behind which the ‘despotism of the ruling minority’ was ‘concealed’, the expression of a ‘sham popular will’.276

Not surprisingly, Bakunin also attacked Karl’s character:

A nervous man, some say to the point of cowardice, he is extremely ambitious and vain, quarrelsome, intolerant, and absolute, like Jehovah, the Lord God of his ancestors, and, like him, vengeful to the point of madness. There is no lie or calumny that he would not invent and disseminate against anyone who had the misfortune to arouse his jealousy – or his hatred, which amounts to the same thing. And there is no intrigue so sordid that he would hesitate to engage in it if in his opinion (which is for the most part mistaken) it might serve to strengthen his position and his influence or extend his power. In this respect, he is a thoroughly political man.277

But as a ‘political man’, who aspired to lead the International, Karl was presented as a failed Lassalle. Although strong on theory, he lost ‘all significance and force in the public arena’. According to Bakunin, ‘He proved it in his hapless campaign to establish his dictatorship in the International and through the International over the entire revolutionary movement of the proletariat of Europe and America.’ Just as at Basle, the ‘integrity’ of the International’s programme had been defended against the Germans and their attempt to introduce ‘bourgeois politics into it’, so in 1872 ‘Marx had suffered a total and well-deserved defeat’. This, according to Bakunin, was how the schism within the International had begun.278

Karl wrote out some notes and commentary on Bakunin’s book between April 1874 and January 1875. His notes were either taken directly in Russian or translated into German. His main criticism concerned Bakunin’s inability to understand that ‘a radical social revolution is bound up with definite historical conditions of economic development; these are its premisses’. Bakunin, he claimed, ‘understands absolutely nothing of social revolution, only its political rhetoric’. He therefore imagined ‘that radical revolution is equally possible in all (social) formations’. In common with other Romantic representatives of the transnational radical tradition, Bakunin believed that ‘willpower, not economic conditions’, was ‘the basis of his social revolution’.279

Karl also took him up on his criticism of the representative principle. In response to Bakunin’s question, would ‘the entire proletariat stand at the head of the government?’, Karl answered, ‘in a trade union, for example, does the entire union form its executive committee?’ Similarly, in answer to the question about whether 40 million Germans could rule, Karl replied, ‘Certainly! For the system starts with the self-government of communities.’ He also went on to explain that only when the proletariat was victorious in its struggle to ‘abolish its own character as wage labour’ would ‘the distribution of general functions’ become a ‘routine matter which entails no domination’ and elections would ‘lose their present political character’.280 In that situation, the assignment of functions, as in a cooperative factory, would simply be according to suitability; and all Bakunin’s ‘fantasies about domination would go to the devil’. Harking back to his own polemics thirty years earlier, Karl observed, ‘Mr Bakunin has only translated Proudhon’s and Stirner’s anarchy into the barbaric idiom of the Tartars.’281

Both Bakunin and Karl put forward what they conceived to be critiques of ‘parliamentarism’. But neither was wholly successful in presenting a convincing alternative. The main difficulty of Bakunin’s criticism of the representative principle, and the conception of power ‘from the bottom up’, was the problem of embodying it in any stable or sustainable institutional form. For this reason, belief in federalism, so strong at the end of the 1860s, faded in the course of the subsequent decade. It was displaced by the growing attraction of social-democratic parties, adhering to representative principles.

Karl’s attempted synthesis of state and civil society in The Civil War in France took the form of an elected assembly, formed on the basis of democratic and representative principles. Once the proletariat was victorious, he argued, there would be a ‘distribution of general functions, assigned as in a cooperative factory according to suitability’. This image of representatives chosen according to particular skills, as an employer might search out the best worker to perform a particular task, was recurrent in Karl’s writings from the 1840s onwards. What was lacking in this conception was a social and political space in which a plurality not merely of functions, but also of opinions, might be expressed. In this sense, it was open to an authoritarian interpretation. The challenge of socialism in the years after 1848 was, as John Stuart Mill argued, ‘To unite the greatest individual liberty of action with an equal ownership of all in the raw material of the globe and an equal participation in the benefits of combined labour.’282 On this issue, Karl had nothing to say.

It is difficult to arrive at a fair judgement of Karl’s behaviour in relation to Bakunin in the years following the Basle Congress. Bakunin’s operatic attempt at revolution in Lyons in the autumn of 1870 and his predilection for secret societies were two good reasons to distrust him. Furthermore, however appropriate such organizations were in areas where freedom of association was absent, the statutes of the International Association committed it to open organization and propaganda. On the other hand, it was clear that the calling of the secret conference in London in the autumn of 1871 and its promulgation of new rules and objectives were a breach of the original statutes, which the London Conference did not possess the constitutional authority to amend.

The major political reason for bringing the International Association to such a hasty and inglorious end at the Hague Congress was that Karl could no longer look to any significant support from English trade union leaders on the General Council. Replacing these trade unionists with French refugees did nothing to strengthen the standing of the International Association as a representative institution. Karl’s fear was that the Association would become a mere sect, remote from English politics, and riven by an esoteric struggle between Blanquists and Bakuninists. Two years earlier, at the beginning of 1870, his confidence in the potentiality of the International had been strong. When attempting to mobilize continental sections of the International against the Bakuninist complaints of L’Égalité, he had considered it vital to keep the English representation in the hands of the General Council. England, he had argued, was the only country where ‘the great majority of the population consists of wage labourers and where class struggle and organisation of the working class by the trade unions have acquired a certain degree of maturity and universality … The English,’ he went on, ‘have all the material conditions for the social revolution. What they lack is the spirit of generalisation and revolutionary ardour.’ Luckily, however, the General Council was in ‘the happy position of having its hand directly on this great lever of the proletarian revolution’.283 For this reason, it was vital to keep English representation in the hands of the General Council.

Yet less than two years later he had abandoned this idea, and at the London Conference of 1871 made no objection to the separation of the English Federal Council from the General Council. At the beginning of that year, Karl had believed that the Gladstone government would fall and that another period of crisis was imminent. His optimism was based upon his hopes of a conflict with Russia. According to the Treaty of Paris, which had concluded the Crimean War in 1856, the Black Sea was to become a demilitarized area, not open to Russian warships. But during the Franco-Prussian War Russia, with the connivance of Prussia, took advantage of the prostration of France to remilitarize the Black Sea. The London middle classes, led by the Pall Mall Gazette, were incensed by the infringement of the Treaty, and demanded war. Gladstone had been a member of the Whig–Liberal government which in 1854 had declared war on Russia. He had no intention of going to war with Russia, especially in the absence of European allies. But he could not ignore the breach of the Treaty. Government indecision was interpreted by many as a national humiliation which would not have happened in Palmerston’s time. The Liberal government, it seemed, was incapable of defending national interests. Karl was right to the extent that Gladstone’s failure to force the Russians to back down was one of the factors which led to his defeat in the 1874 election. But it did not bring the working classes onto the streets, let alone precipitate a social crisis of the kind imagined by Karl.

The working classes, as Engels complained, had remained stubbornly ‘apathetic’. Not only did they not become engaged in the agitation over Russia, but they offered little or no support to the Paris Commune. At the time of the London Conference in September 1871, Karl exploded in fury against those whom he had previously regarded as his allies: ‘The Trade Unions … are an aristocratic minority – the poor workers cannot belong to them; the great mass of workers whom economic development is driving from the countryside into the towns every day – has long been outside the trade unions – and the most wretched mass has never belonged; the same goes for the workers born in the East End of London; one in ten belongs to trade unions – peasants, day labourers never belong to the societies.’ Defiantly, he continued: ‘The Trade Unions can do nothing by themselves – they will remain a minority – they have no power over the mass of proletarians – whereas the International works directly on these men.’284

In the Hague Congress of 1872, his anger was no less immoderate. He joined forces with the maverick Conservative journalist Maltman Barry, who somehow managed to get himself appointed to represent a German-speaking section from Chicago. When the English trade unionist and former Chartist Thomas Mottershead quite reasonably questioned Barry’s credentials as a representative of English working men, Karl launched into a tirade. If Barry was not ‘a recognised leader of English working men … that was an honour, for almost every recognised leader of English working men was sold to Gladstone, Morley, Dilke, and others’.285 Six years later, his bitterness towards ‘the Gladstones, Brights, Mundellas, Morleys, and the whole gang of factory owners’ remained. On 11 February 1878, Karl wrote to Liebknecht: ‘The English working class had gradually become ever more demoralised as a result of the period of corruption after 1848, and had finally reached the stage of being no more than an appendage of the great Liberal Party, i.e. of its oppressors, the capitalists. Its direction had passed completely into the hands of the venal Trades Union leaders and professional agitators.’286

Much better, therefore, to bring the International – or at least his own involvement in it – to a close. On the last day of the Hague Congress, Barry’s report explained why the General Council needed to move from London: ‘The time and thought which the affairs of the General Council exacted of Marx, when added to his labours of translating the various editions of his great book, and the general supervision of the Association, were found exhausting and injurious to his health. During the last year or so, since the accession to the Council of a number of “representative” Englishmen, it has taxed all his efforts (and these have sometime failed) to keep the Council to its legitimate work.’287

For Karl himself, the end of the International came as liberation. Three months before the Hague Congress, Karl wrote to De Paepe: ‘I can hardly wait for the next Congress. It will be the end of my slavery. After that I shall become a free man again; I shall accept no administrative functions any more, either for the General Council or for the British Federal Council.’288 Throughout the period in which the International had attempted to engage with the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune, he had continued to be dogged by ill-health. On 17 August 1870, he complained to Engels: ‘I have not slept a wink the fourth night running because of the rheumatism, and all that time fantasies about Paris, etc., run through my mind. I shall have Gumpert’s sleeping potion prepared for me this evening.’289 On 21 January 1871, he wrote to his ally Sigfrid Meyer in New York: ‘My health has again been abominable for months on end, but who can give thought to such trivia at a time of such momentous historical events!’290 Illness interrupted his attendance on the General Council during the Commune and resulted in a delay in his completion of The Civil War in France. But on 13 June he was able to tell his daughters that ‘after a 6 weeks’ illness I am all right again, so far as this is possible under present circumstances’.291

With the Commune came other anxieties, this time for the family. On 1 May, Jenny and Eleanor had travelled to Bordeaux to help Laura, whose third baby had been born in February and had become dangerously ill. Laura’s husband, Paul Lafargue, had returned from Paris with ‘full powers’ to organize a revolutionary army in Bordeaux. But once the Commune was destroyed by Versailles, Paul became a wanted man, so the family moved to Bagnères-de-Luchon, a remote small town in the Pyrenees, where they laid low, hoping to escape attention. On 13 June, Karl wrote a coded letter warning Paul of imminent arrest. The letter advised the family to move to a better climate on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees and advising that Paul’s health in particular ‘will deteriorate and may even incur great danger, if he any longer hesitates to follow the advice of medical men’.292 Paul remained for another six weeks in Luchon because of the baby’s sickness. But on 26 July the baby died, and soon after Paul crossed the frontier into Spain. On 6 August, the three sisters and Laura’s little son, Schnappy, went to visit him. Jenny and Eleanor then attempted to make their return to England, but were stopped on the French frontier, where they were searched and cross-examined. Jenny was in particular danger because she had with her a letter from Gustave Flourens, the assassinated Communard. Fortunately, in the police station she was able to hide the letter, and the two sisters returned home on 26 August.293

In other ways, Karl remained surprisingly ebullient in the summer of 1871. He enjoyed the scandal created by The Civil War in France and relished his reputation as ‘the best calumniated and most menaced man of London’. At the end of July, his mood was still upbeat. He wrote to Dr Kugelmann: ‘The work for the International is immense, and in addition London is overrun with refugees whom we have to look after. Moreover, I am overrun by other people – newspaper men and others of every description – who want to see the “MONSTER” with their own eyes.’294

There was also some healthy relaxation to be obtained away from the sooty and smog-ridden city at the seaside. Karl was fond of Brighton, but his favourite resort was Ramsgate. Engels described Ramsgate to his mother as ‘The most important resort I know, extremely informal, very pretty firm beach immediately beneath the steep chalk cliffs; the beach is full of fake Negro-minstrels, conjurers, fire-eaters, Punch-and-Judy shows and nonsense of that sort. The place is not very fashionable, but cheap and easy going. The bathing is very good.’295 In the summer of 1870, despite his rheumatism and his sleepless nights, Karl had written of Ramsgate: ‘The family is amusing itself here royally. Tussy and Jennychen never come out of the sea and are building up a good stock of health.’296

This optimistic mood carried through into the London Conference, which Engels had organized for the second half of September. But in the autumn and winter that followed, it became increasingly clear that the apparent victories achieved in London were fairly hollow. The followers of Bakunin had not accepted defeat. Bakunin himself counter-attacked with the accusation that the General Council was dominated by ‘Pan-Germanism (or Bismarckism)’. His followers were publishing a newspaper in Geneva, and trying to form a French section in London and a German section in New York.297 Parallel tensions were developing between the General Council and the English Federal Council. Former allies, like Johann Georg Eccarius and John Hales, were becoming uncompromising opponents.

In the face of these developments, Karl’s tone became wearier and he increasingly complained about overwork. To Liebknecht, he complained that he and Engels were ‘overwhelmed with International work’ and that no efforts had been made to ensure the presence at the Conference of German delegates, thus lending credence to rumours being spread that ‘Marx has lost his influence even in Germany!’298 On 24 November, he wrote to De Paepe, referring publicly for the first time to the possibility of his resignation, half jokingly as a response to the charge of ‘Pan-Germanism’.299 In the spring of 1872, ‘overburdened with work’ to the extent that he had not been able to write to Laura or ‘Dear Schnappy’, he explained to Paul Lafargue that ‘Indeed, the International impinges too greatly on my time and, were it not my conviction that my presence on the Council is still necessary at this period of strife, I should have withdrawn long since.’300 Moving the General Council to New York was the means by which his withdrawal could be achieved and this was not announced until the Hague Congress itself. But he could already state by the end of May, both to his Russian translator, Nicolai Danielson, and to César De Paepe that his withdrawal from the Association was imminent and that his ‘slavery’ would come to an end.

The International Association in 1872 was very different from the organization which had been founded eight years earlier. But so was the world in which it operated. The constitutional upheavals of the 1860s were at an end. Many of the cohort of transnational republicans who had fought for the Commune had died in combat. Garibaldi’s guerrilla campaign on behalf of the French Republic had had to be abandoned. The era of barricades was over. They were of little use in withstanding the onslaught of Versaillais soldiers, some newly equipped with machine guns. With the fall of the Commune, the transnational republican legacy had reached an ending.

Transnationalism had lost much of its point once the formation of states was no longer synonymous with the ambition to establish republics. Nationalism and republicanism were now separate. The nation-states formed in Italy and Germany came with hereditary monarchies and powerful aristocracies. Free trade had also begun to be challenged, culminating in Germany in a protective tariff, allying land and industry in an anti-liberal ‘marriage of iron and rye’. The consolidation of states had also begun to impinge more directly upon the daily lives of citizens, whether in the form of elementary education or of military conscription. Conversely, the economic basis of cross-border trade union solidarity had shrunk in the face of depression.

In England, the political climate had also changed. According to The Way We Live Now, Trollope’s bilious depiction of England around 1872, the self-confidence and liberality of the Palmerston era had gone. The ‘honourable’ traditions of the countryside had been submerged in a world dominated by the sordid machinations of international finance. Cosmopolitan adventurers of unknown origins, a plutocracy personified by Augustus Melmotte, dominated London society.

Karl’s priorities had also changed. In the mid-1860s, he had fully expected both volumes of Capital to appear together. But a host of difficulties, both practical and theoretical, had obstructed this project. Certainly, his work for the International had occupied a large proportion of his time. But it also appeared that the nature of the project itself changed significantly in the years between 1867 and 1872. While he still stated that he ‘must, after all, finally have done with Das Kapital’, there was no mention of the accompanying second volume. In part, this was because the argument as originally conceived could no longer be sustained, but it was also because his thoughts about the global character of capitalism were changing. Perhaps the development of capitalism in Western Europe was a special case. Perhaps its expansion across the rest of the world could be avoided. That at least appeared to be the thought that governed his increasing interest in what might happen in Russia and other parts of the as yet pre-capitalist world.