Closing Speech at the International Socialist Workers' Congress in Zurich

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Engels made a speech at the last meeting of the Third International Socialist Workers’ Congress in Zurich (August 12, 1893). He arrived in Zurich in the course of his tour of Europe, having visited Germany. At the last meeting, the congress Bureau requested Engels as its honorary chairman to close the congress.

At the time, Engels’ speech was extensively reproduced in the workers‘ and socialist press of various countries. It appeared, for instance, in the supplement to the Vorwärts, No. 190, August 15, and, with minor omissions, in the ‘Arbeiter-Zeitung, No. 35, September 1, 1893.

The Third International Socialist Workers’ Congress took place in Zurich on August 6-12, 1893. Taking part in it were 411 delegates from 18 countries. The key issue discussed at the congress was the political tactics of the Social Democrats. The resolution passed on this issue urged workers in all countries to fight for political rights so as to win political power and turn it, from an instrument of capital’s rule, into one for the emancipation of the working class. The congress condemned anarchist tactics and resolved that the right to remain in the International’s ranks belonged only to the parties that recognised the need for political action, after which the anarchists were forced to leave the congress.

Major importance at the congress attached to the Social Democrats’ attitude to war. On the basis of Georgy Plekhanov’s report, the delegates endorsed the main provisions of the resolution passed by the Brussels congress and rejected Nieuwenhuis’ anarchist proposal to declare a general strike if war broke out. The congress made it incumbent on socialist members of parliament to vote against war credits.

In the discussion of the May Day celebrations, the delegates criticised the position of the German Social Democrats, who suggested that they be postponed until the first Sunday of May. The Congress stressed the particular importance of holding demonstrations on May 1 as the day of proletarian solidarity.

Citizens and Citizenesses,

Allow me to translate my address (which the speaker had just delivered in English and French) into my beloved German. I could not but experience deep emotion at the unexpectedly splendid reception which you have given me, accepting it not for myself personally but as a collaborator of the great man whose portrait hangs up there (Marx). Just fifty years have passed since Marx and I entered the movement by publishing our first socialist articles in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher[1] Since then socialism has developed from small sects to a mighty party which makes the whole official world quail. Marx is dead, but were he still alive there would be not one man in Europe or America who could look back with such justified pride over his life’s work. There is another anniversary to commemorate. The last congress of the International was in 1872. [2] Two things happened there. First the absolute breach with the anarchists. Was this a superfluous decision or not? The Paris, the Brussels, the present Congress would have had to do the same. [3] Second, the ending of the activities of the International in its old form. This was the time when the fury of the reactionaries, intoxicated by the blood of the glorious Commune, had reached its zenith. The perpetuation of the old International would have led to sacrifices out of proportion with the results; it transferred its seat to America, i.e., it withdrew from the scene. The proletariat in the various countries was left to organise itself in its own forms. This happened, and the International is now much stronger than before. In accordance with this we must continue to work on common ground. We must permit discussion in order not to become a sect, but the common standpoint must be retained. The loose association, the voluntary bond which is furthered by congresses, is sufficient to win us the victory which no power in the world can snatch from us again. I am particularly glad that the English are represented here in large numbers, for they were our teachers in the organisation of the workers; but however much we learned from them, they will have seen various new things here from which they too can still learn.

I travelled through Germany, and heard regret in some respects that the Anti-Socialist Law had been repealed. The fight with the police had been much more amusing. No police force, no government in the whole world can suppress such fighters.

At the request of the Bureau, I declare the Congress closed. Long live the international proletariat!

(The meeting breaks out in stormy cheers. The acclamation lasts for quite some time. Those present rise and sing the Marseillaise.)

  1. ↑ See this volume, pp. 335, 341. — Ed.
  2. ↑ Engels is referring to the Hague Congress of the First International (see Note 136).
  3. ↑ See Notes 91 and 195.