The Structure of the International

Submitted by GrouchoMarxist on June 21, 2012

The rise of modern industry sparked the founding of the International in 1864 in almost all European countries, particularly in highly industrialized England, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium. Two factors brought about the creation of the International. The first was the simultaneous awakening of the spirit, courage, and consciousness of the workers in these countries which followed the catastrophic defeat of the 1848 and 1851 uprisings. The second factor was the phenomenal enrichment of the bourgeoisie and the concomitant poverty of the workers. But, as is often the case, this renascent faith did not at once manifest itself among the proletarian masses. The first feeble, widely scattered associations were pioneered by a few of the most intelligent, educated militants — most of them tempered in the crucible of past struggles.. It was they who, upon returning from the founding conference of the International in London, organized the first central sections of the International in their respective countries.

The central sections represent no specific industry, but comprise the most advanced workers from all the industries. What do these sections represent? The idea behind the International. What is its mission? The elaboration and propagandizing of this idea. What is this idea? It is the full emancipation of all those who eke out their miserable sustenance by any form of productive labor, who are economically exploited and politically oppressed by the capitalists and their privileged intermediaries. Such is the negative, combative, or revolutionary force of this idea. And what is the positive force? It is the founding of a new social order resting on emancipated labor, one which will spontaneously erect upon the ruins of the Old World the free federation of workers’ associations. These two aspects of the same question are inseparable.

For no one can destroy without having at least a remote conception, true or false, of the new order of things which should replace the existing one. The more fantastic the conception, the more ruthless must be the destructive force. The more this concept approximates reality and conforms to the necessary, creative development of existing society, the more useful and salutary will be the effects of this destructive action. Destructive action is always determined not only by its purpose and its intensity but also by the means employed. It is conditioned by the constructive ideal from which it draws its initial inspiration, which constitutes its soul.

The central sections are the active nuclei which retain, develop, and clarify the new faith. No one joins them as a specialized worker in this or that trade. All join as workers in general to promote the general organization of labor in all countries. They are workers in “general.” Workers for what? Workers for the idea, for propaganda, and for the organization of the economic and militant might of the International, workers for the Social Revolution.

If the International Workingmen’s Association were composed solely of central sections, it would never have attained even one hundredth of the power of which it can now be so proud. The central sections would have been mere debating societies where all kinds of social questions, including of course that of workers’ organizations, would have been perpetually discussed without the least attempt being made or the slightest possibility existing of putting these ideas into practice. And this for the simple reason that “labor in general” is an abstract idea which is realized only in the immense diversity of specialized trades and industries. Each industry has its own special problems which cannot be determined by abstract formulas, and which are revealed only through actual development and practice.

The relationship of these industries to labor in general results from the vital combinations of all particular trades and functions, and is not based on an abstract, a priori principle, dogmatically or violently imposed.

If the International had been composed only of the central sections, the latter probably would have succeeded in organizing conspiracies for the overthrow of the existing order but would have been unable to achieve its goal. For it could have attracted only a mere handful of heroic workers while the remaining millions of workers would have remained outside this small circle. And the social order cannot he destroyed without winning the support of these millions. Only a relatively small number of individuals are moved by an abstract idea. The millions, the proletarian masses (and this is true also for the privileged classes) are moved only by the force of facts ... by their immediate interests and their momentary passions.

In order to interest and involve the whole proletariat in the work of the International, it is necessary to approach them not with vague generalizations but with realistic understanding of their daily concerns. To win the confidence of uninformed workers, and the vast majority of the proletariat are unfortunately in this group. it is necessary to begin by talking to the worker, not of the general troubles of the proletariat of the world, nor the general causes responsible for them, but only of his own trade and the working conditions in his own locality, his working hours. the cost of living, and to suggest practical measures to alleviate these evils and better his conditions. It would be a mistake to speak to him first about things like the abolition of hereditary property, the abolition of the juridical rights of the State, and the replacement of the State by the free federation of producers’ associations. He probably will not understand these theories. No! Propose in simple language such ideas as will appeal to his good sense and which he can verify by his daily experiences. These measures are: the establishment of complete solidarity with his workmates in order to defend his rights and resist the aggression of the employer. Next, the extension of this solidarity from his place of work to embrace the trades in his own locality, i.e., his formal entry as an active member in the section of his trade or profession, a section affiliated with the International Workingmen’s Association.

Having joined his section of the International, the newly enlisted worker learns many things. He learns that the same solidarity that exists within his section is also established among all the different sections and trades in the whole area; that this wider solidarity has become necessary because all the employers in all the industries have established a united front to cut wages and drive down the living standards of the workers. He will learn later that this solidarity is not confined to his area but extends much further, beyond all frontiers, and embraces the workers of the world, powerfully organized for their defense, for waging war against exploitation by the bourgeoisie.

A worker does not need much intellectual preparation to become a member of a trade union section which is affiliated to the International, He is already, unconsciously and in a perfectly natural manner, conditioned to become one. All he has to know is that hard work is wearing him down, that his wages are barely enough to provide for his family, that his employer is a ruthless exploiter whom he detests with all the hatred of the slave rebelling against his master. This feeling will, when the final struggle has been won, give place to a feeling of justice and goodwill toward his former employer, as is befitting one who is now among the fraternity of free men.

The worker easily understands that he cannot possibly fight alone. To defend his rights he must unite with his fellow workers in his place of work, and pledge his solidarity in the common struggle. He learns that a union in one shop is not enough, and that it is necessary for all workers in the same trade and in the same locality to join forces. Even the least informed workers will, as a result of their shared experience, soon realize that solidarity must transcend narrow local limits.

The workers in the same trade and locality declare a strike for shorter hours and more pay. The boss imports strikebreakers from other places in and even outside the country who will work for less pay and longer hours. To compete with foreign producers who can sell their goods more cheaply because of lower working costs, employers are forced to reduce wages and lengthen working hours. Better working conditions in one country can be maintained only if the conditions in all other countries are comparable. Repeated experience eventually teaches even the most simple-minded workers that it is not enough to be organized locally, and that the workers in the same trade must be unionized not only in one region or in one country, but in all countries...

If only a single trade is internationally organized, while other trades remain unorganized ... the employer making less money in the unionized enterprises will gradually transfer his capital to the more sparsely organized and even altogether nonunion shops and industries. This situation creates unemployment in organized trades and compels the workers either to starve or to accept lower wages and increased hours. Conditions in any particular trade or industry will sooner or later affect the workers in all other branches of production. These factors demonstrate to the workers in all occupations in all lands that they are unbreakably linked by ties of economic solidarity and fraternal sentiment...

The International Workingmen’s Association did not spring ready-made out of the minds of a few erudite theoreticians. It developed out of actual economic necessity, out of the bitter tribulations the workers were forced to endure and the natural impact of these trials upon the minds of the toilers. For the International to come into being, it was necessary that the elements which went into its making — the economic factors, the experiences and aspirations and attitude of the proletariat — should have already provided a solid base for it. It was necessary that all over the world there should be pioneering groups or associations of advanced workers who were willing to initiate this great workers’ movement of self-emancipation... It is not enough that the workers can free themselves by way of international solidarity. It is also necessary that they have confidence in the effectiveness of this solidarity and in their coming deliverance. In the workers’ world this economic solidarity is also expressed emotionally by a deep passionate sentiment. As the political and social consequences of the economic oppression are felt by the proletariat in all trades and lands, this sentiment of emotional solidarity grows ever more intense.

The new member learns more from his own personal experience than he does from the verbal explanation of his fellow workers, explanations that are confirmed by his own experience and the experiences of all the members of his section. The workers of his trade, no longer willing to put up with the greed of their bosses, declare a strike. For a worker living only on his meager wages, every strike is a misfortune. His earnings stop and he has no savings... The strike fund of his union, built up with great difficulty, cannot sustain a strike lasting many days or even weeks. The strikers must either starve or give in to the harsh conditions imposed by their insolent employers, if help does not come quickly.

But who will offer to help the strikers? Help can come only from workers in other trades and other countries. Lo and behold! Help arrives. The International sends out a call for help, and local as well as foreign sections respond ... This experience, renewed many times, demonstrates to the worker more power fully than words the blessings of the international solidarity of labor.

To share in the advantages of this solidarity, the worker is not asked about his political or religious beliefs. He is asked only one question: with the benefits, will you also accept the sometimes inconvenient obligations of membership? Will you practice economic solidarity in the widest sense of the word?

But once this solidarity is seriously and firmly established, it produces all the rest, all the sublime and the most subversive principles of the International which becomes the most ruthless enemy of religion, of the juridical rights of the State, of authority, divine as well as human — from the socialist point of view, the natural result of this economic solidarity. And the immense practical advantage of the trade sections over the central sections consists precisely in this: that these developments, these principles, are demonstrated to the workers not by theoretical reasoning, but by the living and tragic experience of a struggle which becomes each day more profound and more terrible. The least educated worker, the least prepared, driven by the very consequences of this struggle, ends by recognizing himself as a revolutionist, an anarchist, and an atheist, without in the least knowing how he became such.

It is clear that only the trade union sections can give a practical education to their members and that this alone can lead to the organization of the proletarian masses into the International, without whose powerful participation the Social Revolution will never be realized. If the International, I repeat, consisted only of central sections, they would be souls without a body, magnificent unrealizable dreams...

Fortunately, the central sections ... were founded, not by bourgeois, not by professional scholars, nor by politicians, but by socialist workers [as against the bourgeois youth]. The socialist workers had a highly positive and practical [approach to the organization of the workers]... . This fortunate circumstance enabled them to avoid the two pitfalls which wrecked all bourgeois revolutionary attempts: empty academic wrangling and platonic conspiracies. They could not wait for the masses. They had to induce the various trades already organized [but not in the International] ... to affiliate with the general organization [the International] while still retaining their autonomy... And they succeeded in organizing around every central section as many trade union sections as there were different industries. [The central sections also induced unorganized workers to join the International as members-at-large.]

The immense task to which the International Workingmen’s Association has dedicated itself is not only economic or purely material. It has, at the same time and in the highest degree, a social, philosophic, and moral objective... Far from dissolving, the central sections must pursue this objective and continue to spread the new social philosophy, theoretically inspired by real science — experimental and rational — based on humanistic principles in harmony with the eternal instincts of equality, liberty, and social solidarity.

Social science as a moral doctrine is the development and the formulation of these instincts. Between these instincts and this science there is a gap which must be bridged. For if instinct alone had been sufficient for the liberation of peoples, they would have long since freed themselves. These instincts did not prevent the masses from accepting, in the melancholy and tragic course of their history, all the religious, political, economic, and social absurdities of which they have been the eternal victims. The masses are a force, or at least the essential elements of a force. What do they lack? They lack two things which up till now constituted the power of all government: organization and knowledge.

The organization of the International, having for its objective not the creation of new despotisms but the uprooting of all domination, will take on an essentially different character from the organization of the State. just as the State is authoritarian, artificial, violent, foreign, and hostile to the natural development of the popular instincts, so must the organization of the International conform in all respects to these instincts and these interests. But what is the organization of the masses? It is an organization based on the various functions of daily life and of the different kinds of labor. It is the organization by professions and trades. Once all the different industries are represented in the International, including the cultivation of the land, its organization, the organization of the mass of the people, will have been achieved.

The organization of the trade sections and their representation in the Chambers of Labor creates a great academy in which all the workers can and must study economic science; these sections also bear in themselves the living seeds of the new society which is to replace the old world. They are creating not only the ideas, but also the facts of the future itself.