G M Stekloff's 'History of the First International', could have been a good history book but for the author's Marxist agenda. This is ironic given the author's criticism of James Guillaume's "L'Internationale, documents et souvenirs 1864-1878" as having a strong Bakunist bias. Stekloff's purpose is to glorify Marx, condemn his enemies (especially Bakunin who correctly envisaged a Marxist society as one dictatorship replacing another) and to 'prove' the Third International was the rightful heir of the First. Underlying this purpose is the false supposition that proletarian solidarity had existed throughout history but had been hidden by the Catholic Church and the development of nation-states. He describes the pope as 'the international chief of the ruling classes' in period before the 'great French Revolution' enabled the 'revolutionary bourgeoisie' to seize state power in the failed hope of establishing 'universal brotherhood and universal peace'. He claims the interests of the bourgeoisie conflict with each other whereas the interests of the proletarians coincided. Sadly, some academics have never progressed beyond this shallow, inaccurate and erroneous assessment of historical reality.
The Marxist argument in the Communist Manifesto was that the proletariat need only develop its own class consciousness to become a revolutionary force and that this was a necessary outgrowth of the contradictions of bourgeois society. The purpose of the First International was to facilitate this force in an international context coalescing around the ideas of socialism. Stekloff attributes far too much importance to political dissent in Britain in the aftermath of the French Revolution. For example, his references to the Chartist Movement makes no reference to the influential Feargus O'Connor who accused Harney of being socialist first and Chartist second, nor to the Irish origins of Physical Force versus Moral Force. While Marx and Engels made contact with foreign i.e. non-German socialists their numbers were small and their influence less than he suggests.
Stekloff assumes the development of class consciousness was one reason for the growth of trade unionism in Britain, which was Europe's most industrially developed nation at the time. He was mistaken. British trade unions were primarily interested in the bread and butter issues of pay and conditions and their membership of the International was never based on theory. Stekloff contemptuously refers to them as 'class collaborationists' as opposed to the revolutionary communists led by Marx and anarchism which emanated from Proudhon and Bakunin. Hence the foundation meeting held in London in 1864 included contrasting theorists competing for support amongst the various delegates. While moderate socialists called for international action it was apparent the various elements had no unified political structure but were motivated by their own cultural antecedents. Stekloff claims the International was based on 'socialist and revolutionary principles' but misses the point that while this was Marx's wish, it was not a matter of fact.
Marx and his fiercest opponent Bakunin shared a common philosophy including atheism, republicanism and opposition to war based on class solidarity. However, they were divided as to the correct course of action to achieve economic, social and political change. Marx favoured the participation of the aristocracy of labour to lead the proletariat itself. Bakunin placed his faith in the Lumpen-proletariat which Stekloff argues could never carry out a proletariat revolution because of its incapacity for organisation and tendency to mob violence which could be used by the forces of reaction. Bakunin envisaged revolution instigated by a combination of peasants and the younger intelligentsia. Ideological differences were bound to lead to conflict which crystallized in the wake of the Paris Commune
Bakunin referred to 'the London Conference (September 1871), which, prepared by the long arm of Mr. Marx, approved all that he wished - the conquest of political power as an integral part of the obligatory program of the International and the dictatorship of the General Council, that is, the personal dictatorship of Marx, and consequently the transformation of the International into an immense and monstrous state with himself as chief.' The following year the Hague Conference expelled Bakunin from the International and voted to move the International to New York. The reason was political opportunism on the part of Marx and Engels who feared that if the International was in London they would lose control to the Blaquists. Four years later the Marxist International folded, while Anarchists' Congresses continued separately. By 1873 Engels admitted the anarchist International was stronger than the Marxist International.
The reasons for the split were apparent, even to Stekloff. The International was the idea of the French Proudonists and British trade unionists. Their aims and interests were not those of the Marxists who wanted to create international social revolution. Thus when George Odger left the International Marx accused him of making 'use of the International...to win the confidence of the working class and he left......as soon as he was convinced that the principles upon which the (International) was founded would be a stumbling block in the way of his political career.' Marx did not understand that the British aristocracy of labour rejected his theories and the rest of the working classes aspired to social advancement in much the same manner. This contrasted with Marx's bombastic commitment to his own erroneous theories and his inability to tolerate dissent.
After the collapse of the Paris Commune Marx tried to establish an international political party of the working classes and, by strengthening the power of the General Council, to impose discipline on the national left-wing movements, a discipline Stekloff asserted had been achieved through the creation of the Third International. The Bakunists advocated 'immediate social revolution, without any intervening stage of political stage of political organisation and political education of the proletariat'. Eventually Lenin persuaded Russian Marxists that the latter could only be achieved through the leadership of professional revolutionaries. The whole of the book (except the footnotes) is available online at the Marxist Internet Archive. The prices asked for hard copies are ludicrous, as is the book. Three stars.