September 28, 2014

‘Stronger in Deed, Gentler in Style’

M A Baby

ON September 28, 1864, St. Martin Hall, London, witnessed a meeting of workers and refugees from various European countries. They represented various workers’ organisations with heterogeneous ideas. In fact, the meeting started on September 26th itself where representatives of the suppressed Polish workers uprising were felicitated. However, the meeting on the 28th led to the foundation of the First International. The meeting of the 28th was presided over by Edward Spencer Beesly, a historian and professor at London University. There are contradictory views about the participation of Karl Marx in this event, which we need not go into now. Nevertheless, two facts seem indisputable. He did not speak at the founding meeting of the International Working Men’s Association (IWA), which is also known as the First International and he was voted unanimously to a provisional committee to work out a programme and membership rules for the organisation. As per some reports, Karl Marx was present in the meeting invited by Victor Le Lubez, a 30 year old French radical. This committee, which met after a week of the First International decided to form a smaller subcommittee to prepare the draft. Karl Marx was included in this and the subcommittee met at Marx’s home. Discussions over the orientation of the programme led to sharp differences among the members. Italian Workers Association led by Massini had drafted a programme and its translation by Massini’s secretary was placed for adoption as the programme of IWA. Few other drafts were also presented before the committee. The penetrating arguments of Marx exposed the inadequacies of those drafts and finally the formulations made by Karl Marx got the approval of the majority in the subcommittee. While preparing the text, which became famous as the inaugural address of the International Working Men’s Association, Karl Marx took special care about two aspects. He incorporated the essential thesis of the Communist Manifesto, which was published sixteen years ago. David Fernbach in his introduction to the First International and After refers to this incorporation as ‘couched in veiled and cautious terms’. Secondly, necessary modifications were integrated in the text considering the changes since the revolutionary upsurge by the end of forties. Modifications he made in the text also reflected the lessons from those valuable experiences. In reference to this, Marx wrote to Engels: “It will take time before the reawakened movement allows the old boldness of speech. It will be necessary to be ‘fortiter in re, suaviter in modo’ (Stronger in deed, gentler in style). It is a great lesson for communists in all times that there should be strength in one’s deeds but it is necessary to have a gentle style while dealing with complex situations. HISTORICAL IMPORTANCE The historical importance of the founding of the IWA was succinctly described by Engels in his preface to the Communist Manifesto (English Edition of 1888) in the following words “When the European Working Class had recovered sufficient strength for another attack on the ruling classes, the International Workingmen’s Association sprang up. But this association formed with the express aim of welding into one body the whole militant proletariat of Europe and America, could not at once proclaim the principles laid down in the Manifesto. The international was bound to have a programme broad enough to be acceptable to the English Trade Unions, to the followers of Proudhon in France, Belgium, Italy and Spain, and to the Lasalleans in Germany. Marx who drew up this programme to the satisfaction of all parties entirely trusted the intellectual development of the working class, which was sure to result from combined action and mutual discussions. The very events and vicissitudes of the struggle against Capital, the defeats more than the victories, could not help bringing home to men’s minds the insufficiency of their various favourite nostrums and preparing the way for a more complete insight into the true conditions of working class emancipation.” Engels wrote the above lines 24 years after the setting up of the International and 14 years after the end of the International. Today when we look back and go through the formulations made in the documents of the IWA, debates in its forum and active struggles of those days, we would be enlightened immensely by the supreme value of the collective experience. The importance of unity of working class and the grave danger that would result from its absence are the most relevant points highlighted by Marx in the inaugural address: “That the emancipation of the working class must be conquered by the working classes themselves; that the struggle for the emancipation of the working classes means not a struggle for class privileges and monopolies, but for equal rights and duties, and the abolition of all class rule….. That all efforts aiming at that great end have hitherto failed from the want of solidarity between the manifold divisions of labour in each country, and from the absence of a fraternal bond of union between the working classes of different countries.” Marx made this formulation on the basis of his analysis of the revolutionary uprising suppressed in various European countries immediately after the publication of the Communist Manifesto. The basic reason for the continuation of the domination of forces of finance capital and imperialist exploitation even today is the division among the toiling masses of workers, peasants, unemployed youth and other marginalised sections across the countries. It is true that gigantic advances have been made by the revolutionary forces during the past one and a half centuries in different corners of the world at different phases of history. To mention a few: the short-lived Paris Commune; Great October Socialist Revolution; Victory over Fascism; emergence of socialist experiments in East Europe, victory of Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Kampuchean and Cuban revolutions, awakening of Asia, Africa and Latin America. They were directly or indirectly impacted by the struggles and sacrifices of the working class, communist and national liberation movements which influenced and supported each other. But these mighty upsurges could not surge forward with full steam without setbacks. The dismantling of the USSR and East Europe was a heavy blow to the forces of change. The subjective shortcomings of the working class and progressive parties and forces in different parts of the globe at different historical junctures needs to be self-critically recognised in this context, apart from the counter revolutionary role of the international reaction. Certain attempts have been made by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) towards this in its 14th Congress at Chennai in 1992 as well as on subsequent occasions. The CPI(M) was able to make its contribution in a substantially scientific and reasonable manner in addressing most of the issues related to the temporary setbacks suffered in the erstwhile USSR and East Europe. The relevance and importance of upholding high communist values by the IWA as opposed to the profit driven, hedonist predatory values of capitalist exploiters can be understood from the documents of the First International. This needs to be emphasised in the present context, more than any other time. Moreover, the immeasurable damage inflicted upon humanity and irreparable destruction of environment as a result of the profit maximisation efforts of Capital is evident from the growing inequality, global warming and climate change. In all these, the problem with capitalist system is its moral deficit, which places profit over people and nature, whereas right from the time of the First International, working class forces differentiated themselves distinctly by upholding principled moral values. “They declare that this International Association and all societies and individuals adhering to it, will acknowledge truth, justice and morality as the basis of their conduct towards each other, and towards all men, without regard to colour, creed, or nationality. They hold it the duty of a man to claim the rights of a man and a citizen, not only for himself, but for every man who does his duty. No rights without duties, and no duties without rights”. (True, the terms used above lack gender justice, due to obvious historical reasons, though we should admit the grave mistake with retrospective effect!) Apart from underlining the importance of values like truth, justice and morality, the dialectical relation between right and duty is the most significant commitment that member organisations of International and individuals were called upon to practice. It is the failure to practice this in an unequivocal manner in the past by the revolutionary forces in different countries at diverse occasions, partially or otherwise could be, perhaps, one of the major reasons for the stagnation and setbacks for the much desired revolutionary transformation of society. The ability of the IWA leadership with Marx and Engels working as its brains, in identifying and analysing every significant progress achieved by working class struggles is noteworthy. Marx pointed out two important gains of the working class struggles in the inaugural address- restricting working hours per day to ten hours and the cooperative movement. He said, “The Ten Hour Bill was not only a great practical success, it was the victory of a principle, it was the first time that in broad day light the political economy of the middle class succumbed to the political economy of the working class.” “….But there was in store a still greater victory of the political economy of labour over the political economy of property. We speak of the cooperative movement, especially the cooperative factories raised by the unassisted efforts of a few bold hands. The value of these great social experiments cannot be overrated. By deed, instead of by argument, they have shown that production on a large scale and in accord with the behest of modern science may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands; that to bear fruits, the means of labour need not be monopolised as a means of domination over and of extortion against the labouring man himself; and that, like slave labour, like serf labour, hired labour is but a transition and inferior form destined to disappear before associated labour playing its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind and a joyous heart”. Having highlighted the positive side of the cooperative movement, Marx had clearly stated its limitations also in the following words: “At the same time the experience of the period from 1848 to 1864 has proved beyond doubt that however excellent in principle and however useful in practice, cooperative labour, if kept within the narrow circle of the casual efforts of private workmen, will never be able to arrest the growth in geometrical progression of monopoly, to free the masses, nor even to perceptibly lighten the burden of their miseries.” NECESSITY OF SOCIAL CHANGE Later, in the instructions for the delegates to the Geneva Congress, Marx in unequivocal terms under the subsection 5, titled Cooperative Labour stated that “…. The cooperative system will never transform Capitalist Society.” Then he underlines the necessity of general social change. The stand on religion also came up in the debates within the IWA. The Alliance of Socialist Democracy was led by Bakunin and his demand for its admission into the IWA was rejected by the general council due to the ideological and organisational aberrations pursued by Bakunin. His approach to religion was also a matter of dispute. Bakunin wanted to declare the organisation as “atheist”. Marx considered that as archaic and ridiculous posturing, as he had held since the mid 1840s that religion could disappear only when society was thoroughly transformed and the material basis for its existence is removed. Now we know from our experience of various socialist experiments that even after social transformation, lot more needs to be done to develop genuine scientific temper and rationality. This cannot be and should not be attempted mechanically and through crude and rude State intervention. In 1890, while concluding the preface to the German edition of the Manifesto, Engels summed up the impact of the First International in the following way: “True, the International itself lived only nine years. But that the eternal union of the proletarians of all countries created by it is still alive and lies stronger than ever there is no better witness than this day. Because today, as I write these lines, the European and American proletariat is reviewing its fighting forces, mobilized for the first time, mobilized as one army, under one flag, for one immediate aim: the standard eight hour working day to be established by legal enactment as proclaimed by the Geneva Congress of the International in 1866 and again by the Paris Workers Congress in 1889. And today’s spectacle will open the eyes of the capitalist and landlords of all countries to the fact that today the working men of all countries are united indeed. If only Marx were still by my side to see this with his own eyes”. Engels wrote these lines 124 years ago. Even though the Communist and working class forces in the world today are faced with many challenges and setbacks, the unsustainability of capitalism is established beyond doubt again and again and its halo triumphalism is no more visible. Various experiments being carried out in socialist countries and alternatives developed in Latin American countries present tremendous hope and optimism for the forces of change. So far as organised working class movement is concerned, joint struggles are gathering strength in all corners of the globe. Over 100 million workers participated in a single strike in India last year. And similar united struggles of workers and peasants are gathering momentum across the nations, where policies to protect the miniscule minority of the rich is pursued by the perverse and reactionary political forces. These forces participate in apportioning of the loot – whether it is the surplus value expropriated from the working class or from natural resources, which belong not only to the present generation but to all future generations. The profound revolutionary ideas developed by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and other comrades of the First International provide very valid guidelines and a scientific framework to analyse different problems of a fast changing world. The world with injustice, misery, oppression and exploitation will not change on its own. Workers, peasants and masses must organise as a united army with revolutionary ideology, organisational orientation and discipline committed to the scientific study of situations. And, this has to be accompanied by relentless struggles and sacrifices. This is the message of the three internationals, of which the First International was founded 150 years ago. This alone had the unique privilege of having had the direct guidance and leadership of two of the most revolutionary leaders of the working class movement, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.