Part 6: Western Europe, Section 2

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Part 6: Western Europe, Section 2

This text was taken from the 1st edition of Memoirs of a Revolutionist, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 1899.

Part Six

Section II

     THE Jura Federation has played an important part in the modern development of socialism.

     It always happens that after a political party has set before itself a purpose, and has proclaimed that nothing short of the complete attainment of that aim will satisfy it, it divides into two factions. One of them remains what it was, while the other, although it professes not to have changed a word of its previous intentions, accepts some sort of compromise, and gradually, from compromise to compromise, is driven farther from its primitive program, and becomes a party of modest makeshift reform.

     Such a division had occurred within the International Workingmen's Association. Nothing less than an expropriation of the present owners of land and capital, and a transmission of all that is necessary for the production of wealth to the producers themselves, was the avowed aim of the association at the outset. The workers of all nations were called upon to form their own organizations for a direct struggle against capitalism; to work out the means of socializing the production of wealth and its consumption; and, when they should be ready to do so, to take possession of the necessaries for production, and to control production with no regard to the present political organization, which must undergo a complete reconstruction. The association had thus to be the means for preparing an immense revolution in men's minds, and later on in the very forms of life, --a revolution which would open to mankind a new era of progress based upon the solidarity of all. That was the ideal which aroused from their slumber millions of European workers and attracted to the association its best intellectual forces.

     However, two factions soon developed. When the war of 1870 had ended in a complete defeat of France, and the uprising of the Paris Commune had been crushed, and the Draconian laws which were passed against the association excluded the French workers from participation in it; and when, on the other hand, parliamentary rule had been introduced in "united Germany,"--the goal of the radicals since 1848,--an effort was made by the Germans to modify the aims and the methods of the whole socialist movement. The "conquest of power within the existing states" became the watchword of that section, which took the name of "Social Democracy." The first electoral successes of this party at the elections to the German Reichstag aroused great hopes. The number of the social democratic deputies having grown from two to seven, and next to nine, it was confidently calculated by otherwise reasonable men that before the end of the century the social democrats would have a majority in the German parliament, and would then introduce the socialist "popular state" by means of suitable legislation. The socialist ideal of this party gradually lost the character of something that had to be worked out by the labor organizations themselves, and became state management of the industries,--in fact, state socialism; that is, state capitalism. To-day, in Switzerland, the efforts of the social democrats are directed in politics toward centralization as against federalism, and in the economic field to promoting the state management of railways and the state monopoly of banking and of the sale of spirits. The state management of the land and of the leading industries, and even of the consumption of riches, would be the next step in a more or less distant future.

     Gradually, the life and activity of the German social democratic party was subordinated to electoral considerations. Trade unions were treated with contempt and strikes were met with disapproval, because both diverted the attention of the workers from electoral struggles. Every popular outbreak, every revolutionary agitation in any country of Europe, was received in those years by the social democratic leaders with even more animosity than by the capitalist press.

     In the Latin countries, however, this new departure found but few adherents. The sections and federations of the International remained true to the principles which had prevailed at the foundation of the association. Federalist by their history, hostile to the idea of a centralized state, and possessed of revolutionary traditions, the Latin workers could not follow the evolution of the Germans.

     The division between the two branches of the socialist movement became apparent immediately after the Franco-German war. The association, as I have already mentioned, had created a governing body in the shape of a general council which resided at London; and the leading spirits of that council being two Germans, Engels and Marx, the council became the stronghold of the new social democratic direction; while the inspirers and intellectual leaders of the Latin federations were Bakúnin and his friends.

     The conflict between the Marxists and the Bakúnists was not a personal affair. It was the necessary conflict between the principles of federalism and those of centralization, the free commune and the state's paternal rule, the free action of the masses of the people and the betterment of existing capitalist conditions through legislation,--a conflict between the Latin spirit and the German Geist, which, after the defeat of France on the battlefield, claimed supremecy in science, politics, philosophy, and in socialism too, representing its own conception of socialism as "scientific," while all other interpretations it described as "utopian."

     At the Hague Congress of the International Association,which was held in 1872, the London general council, by means of a fictitious majority, excluded Bakúnin, his friend Guillaume, and even the Jura Federation from the International. But as it was certain that most of what remained then of the International--that is, the Spanish, the Italian, and the Belgian federations--would side with the Jurassians, the congress tried to dissolve the association. A new general council, composed of a few social democrats, was nominated in New York, where there were no workmen's organizations belonging to the association to control it, and where it has never been heard of since. In the meantime, the Spanish, the Italian, the Belgian, and the Jura federations of the International continued to exist, and to meet as usual, for the next five or six years, in annual international congresses.

     The Jura Federation, at the time when I came to Switzerland, was the center and the leading voice of the International federations. Bakúnin had just died (July 1,1876), but the federation retained the position it had taken under his impulse.

     The conditions in France, Spain, and Italy were such that only the maintenance of the revolutionary spirit that had developed among the Internationalist workers previous to the Franco-German war prevented the governments from taking decisive steps toward crushing the whole labor movement, and inaugurating the reign of White Terror. It is well known that the reëstablishment of a Bourbon monarchy in France was very near becoming an accomplished fact. Marshal MacMahon was maintained as president of the republic only in order to prepare for a monarchist restoration; the very day of the solemn entry of Henry V. into Paris was settled, and even the harnesses of the horses, adorned with the pretender's crown and initials, were ready. And it is also known that it was only the fact that Gambetta and Clémenceau--the opportunist and the radical--had covered wide portions of France with committees, armed and ready to rise as soon as the coup d'etat should be made, which prevented the proposed restoration. But the real strength of those committees was in the workers, many of whom had formerly belonged to the International and had retained the old spirit. Speaking from personal knowledge, I may venture to say that the radical middle class leaders would have hesitated in case of emergency, while the workers would have seized the first opportunity for an uprising which, beginning with the defense of the republic, might have gone farther on in the socialist direction.

     The same was true in Spain. As soon as the clerical and aristocratic surroundings of the king drove him to turn the screws of reaction, the republicans menaced him with a movement in which they knew, the real fighting element would be the workers. In Catalonia alone there were over one hundred thousand men in strongly organized trade unions, and more than eighty thousand Spaniards belonged to the International, regularly holding congresses, and punctually paying their contributions to the association with a truly Spanish sense of duty. I can speak of these organizations from personal knowledge, gained on the spot, and I know that they were ready to proclaim the United States of Spain, abandon ruling the colonies, and in some of the most advanced regions make serious attempts in the direction of collectivism. It was this permanent menace which prevented the Spanish monarchy from suppressing all the workers' and peasants' organizations, and from inaugurating a frank clerical reaction.

     Similar conditions prevailed also in Italy. The trade unions in north Italy had not reached the strength they have now; but parts of Italy were honeycombed with International sections and republican groups The monarchy was kept under continual menace of being upset, should the middle-class republicans appeal to the revolutionary elements among the workers.

     In short, looking back upon these years, from which we are separated now by a quarter of a century, I am firmly persuaded that if Europe did not pass through a period of stern reaction after 1871, this was mainly due to the spirit which was aroused in Western Europe before the Franco-German war, and has been maintained since by the anarchist Internationalists, the Blanquists, the Mazzinians, and the Spanish "cantonalist" republicans.

     Of course, the Marxists, absorbed by their local electoral struggles, knew little of these conditions. Anxious not to draw the thunderbolts of Bismarck upon their heads, and fearing above all that a revolutionary spirit might make its appearance in Germany, and lead to repressions which they were not strong enough to face, they not only repudiated, for tactical purposes, all sympathy with the western revolutionists, but gradually became inspired with hatred toward the revolutionary spirit, and denounced it with virulence wheresoever it made its appearance, even when they saw its first signs in Russia.

     No revolutionary papers could be printed in France at that time, under Marshal MacMahon. Even the singing of the "Marseillaise" was considered a crime; and I was once very much amazed at the terror which seized several of my co-passengers in a train when they heard a few recruits singing the revolutionary song (in May, 1878). "Is it permitted again to sing the 'Marseillaise'?" they asked one another with anxiety. The French press had consequently no socialist papers. The Spanish papers were very well edited, and some of the manifestoes of their congresses were admirable expositions of anarchist socialism; but who knows anything of Spanish ideas outside of Spain? As to the Italian papers they were all short-lived, appearing, disappeering, and reappearing elsewhere under different names; and admirable as some of them were, they did not spread beyond Italy. Consequently, the Jura Federation, with its papers printed in French, became the center for the maintenance and expression in the Latin countries of the spirit which--I repeat it--saved Europe from a very dark period of reaction. And it was also the ground upon which the theoretical conceptions of anarchism were worked out by Bakúnin and his followers in a language that was understood all over continental Europe.

From : Anarchy Archives

Chronology

January 21, 2017 17:36:05 :
Part 6: Western Europe, Section 2 -- Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.

September 23, 2017 17:45:47 :
Part 6: Western Europe, Section 2 -- Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.

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