Letter to Friedrich Bolte, November 23, 1871

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 23 November 1871


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First published in Briefe und Auszüge aus Briefen von Joh. Phil Becker, Jos. Dietzgen, Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx u. A. an F. A.
Sorge und Andere, Stuttgart, 1906

Extract published in Marx and Engels Correspondence; International Publishers (1968);
First Published: Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe;
Published in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 44

To Friedrich Bolte in New York

[London,] November 23, 1871[edit source]

Friend Bolte,

I received your letter yesterday together with Sorge’s report.

1. First of all, as to the attitude of the General Council towards the New York Federal Council, I trust that my letters already sent to Sorge (and a letter to Speyer, which I authorised him to communicate to Sorge confidentially) will have disposed of the highly erroneous viewpoint of the German Section which you represent.

In the United States, as in every other country where the International first has to be established, the General Council originally had to authorise separate individuals and appoint them as its official correspondents. But from the moment the New York Committee had gained some stability, these correspondents were dropped one after the other, although they could not be removed all at once.

For some time past the official correspondence with formerly appointed authorised representatives has been confined to Eccarius’ correspondence with Jessup, and I see from your own letter that you have no complaint at all to make regarding the latter.

Except for Eccarius, however, no one was to carry on official correspondence with the United States but myself and Dupont as correspondent (at the time) for the French sections, and whatever correspondence he conducted was confined to the latter.

With the exception of yourself and Sorge, I have not carried on any official correspondence at all. My correspondence with Sigfrid Meyer is private correspondence, of which he has never published the slightest detail, and which by its very nature could in no way be troublesome or harmful to the New York Committee.

There is no doubt, on the other hand, that George Harris and perhaps Boon—two English members of the General Council— are carrying on private correspondence with Internationals in New York, etc. Both of them belong to the sect of the late Bronterre O’Brien, and are full of follies and CROTCHETS, such as CURRENCY quackery, false emancipation of women, and the like. They are thus BY NATURE allies of Section 12 in New York and its kindred souls.

The General Council has no right to forbid its members to conduct private correspondence. But if it could be proved to us: either that this private correspondence pretends to be official, or that it counteracts the activity of the General Council—whether used for publication or to drag the New York Committee through the mire—the necessary measures would be taken to prevent such mischief.

These O’Brienites, in spite of their follies, constitute an often necessary counterweight to TRADES UNIONISTS in the COUNCIL. They are more revolutionary, firmer on the LAND QUESTION, less NATIONALISTIC, and not susceptible to bourgeois bribery in one form or another. Otherwise they would have been kicked out long ago.

2. I was greatly astonished to see that German Section No. 1 suspects the General Council of a preference for bourgeois philanthropists, sectarians, or amateur groups.

The position is quite the contrary.

The International was founded in order to replace the Socialist or semi-Socialist sects by a real organisation of the working class for struggle. The original Statutes and the Inaugural Address show this at the first glance. On the other hand the Internationalists could not have maintained themselves if the course of history had not already smashed up the sectarian system. The development of the system of Socialist sects and that of the real workers' movement always stand in inverse ratio to each other. So long as the sects are (historically) justified, the working class is not yet ripe for an independent historic movement. As soon as it has attained this maturity ail sects are essentially reactionary. Nevertheless what history has shown everywhere was repeated within the International. The antiquated makes an attempt to re-establish and maintain itself within the newly achieved form.

And the history of the International was a continual struggle on the part of the General Council against the sects and amateur experiments which attempted to assert themselves within the International itself against the genuine movement of the working class. This struggle was conducted at the Congresses, but far more in the private dealings of the General Council with the individual sections.

In Paris, as the Proudhonists (Mutualists) were co-founders of the Association, they naturally had the reins in their hands there for the first years. Later, of course, collectivist, positivist, etc., groups were formed in opposition to them.

In Germany – the Lassalle clique. I myself went on corresponding for two years with the notorious Schweitzer and proved irrefutably to him that Lassalle's organisation is nothing but a sectarian organisation and as such hostile to the organisation of the genuine workers' movement striven for by the International. He had his "reasons" for not understanding this.

At the end of 1868 the Russian, Bakunin, entered the International with the aim of forming inside it a second International called the “Alliance of Social-Democracy,” with himself as leader. He – a man devoid of theoretical knowledge – put forward the pretension that this separate body was to represent the scientific propaganda of the International, which was to be made the special function of this second International within the International.

His programme was a superficially scraped together hash of Right and Left – EQUALITY Of CLASSES (!), abolition of the right of inheritance as the starting point of the social movement (St. Simonistic nonsense), atheism as a dogma to be dictated to the members, etc., and as the main dogma (Proudhonist), abstention from the political movement.

This infant's spelling-book found favour (and still has a certain hold) in Italy and Spain, where the real conditions of the workers' movement are as yet little developed, and among a few vain, ambitious and empty doctrinaires in French Switzerland and Belgium.

For Mr. Bakunin the theory (the assembled rubbish he has scraped together from Proudhon, St. Simon, etc.) is a secondary affair – merely a means to his personal self-assertion. If he is a nonentity as a theoretician he is in his element as an intriguer.

For years the General Council had to fight against this conspiracy (which was supported up to a certain point by the French Proudhonists, especially in the south of France). At last, by means of Conference resolutions I (2) and (3), IX, XVI, and XVII, it delivered its long prepared blow.

Obviously the General Council does not support in America what it combats in Europe. Resolutions I (2) and (3) and IX now give the New York committee legal weapons with which to put an end to all sectarian formations and amateur groups and if necessary to expel them.

3. The New York Committee will do well to express its full agreement with the decisions of the Conference in an official communication to the General Council.

Bakunin, personally threatened in addition by Resolution XIV (publication in Égalité of the Netchaev trial) which will bring to light his infamous doings in Russia, is making every possible effort to get a protest started against the Conference among the remnants of his followers.

For this purpose he has got into contact with the demoralised section of the French political refugees in Geneva and London (a numerically weak section, anyway). The slogan given out is that the Geneva Council is dominated by Pan-Germanism (especially Bismarckism). This refers to the unpardonable fact that I am by birth a German and do actually exercise a decisive intellectual influence on the German Council. (N.B. The German element on the Council is two-thirds weaker numerically than either the English or the French. The crime therefore consists in the fact that the English and French elements are dominated by the German element where theory is concerned (!) and find this domination, i.e., German science, very useful and indeed indispensable.)

In Geneva, under the patronage of the bourgeois Madame Andrée Léo (who at the Lausanne Congress was shameless enough to denounce Ferré to his executioners in Versailles), they have published a paper, La Révolution Sociale, which conducts arguments against us in almost literally the same words as the Journal de Genève, the most reactionary paper in Europe.

In London they attempted to establish a French section, of whose activities you will find an example in No. 42 of Qui Vive? which I enclose. (Also the number which contains the letter from our French Secretary, Seraillier). This section, consisting of twenty people (including a lot of spies), has not been recognised by the General Council, but another much more numerous section has been.

Actually, despite the intrigues of this bunch of scoundrels, we are carrying on great propaganda in France--and in Russia, where they know what value to place on Bakunin and where my book on capital is just being published in Russian....

The secretary of the first-mentioned French Section (the one not recognised by us and now in the process of complete dissolution) was the same Durand whom we expelled from the Association as a mouchard.

The Bakuninist abstentionists from politics, Blanc[1] and Albert Richard of Lyons, are now paid Bonapartist agents. The evidence is in our hands. Bousquet (of the same clique in Geneva), the correspondent in Béziers (Southern France), has been denounced to us by the section there as a police officer!

4. With regard to the resolutions of the Conference, let me say that the whole edition was in my hands, and that I sent them first to New York (Sorge) as the most distant point.

If reports on the Conference—half true and half false— appeared in the press before that, the blame rests on a delegate to the Conference,[2] against whom the General Council has instituted an inquiry.

5. As for the Washington Section, it applied first to the General Council in order to maintain contact with it as an independent section. If the affair is now settled, it is useless to return to it.

With regard to sections the following general remarks apply :

(a) According to Art. 7 of the Rules[3], sections that wish to be independent can apply directly to the General Council for admission (* ‘no independent local society shall be precluded from directly corresponding with the General Council’*). II: Arts 4 and 5 of the Regulations: *’Every new branch or society’* (this refers to * ‘independent local societies’) ‘intending to join the International is bound immediately to announce its adhesion to the General Council!’* (II: Art. 4) and *’The General Council has the right to admit or to refuse the affiliation of any new branch etc’ * (II: Art. 5).

(b) According to Art. 5 of the Regulations,[4] however, the GENERAL COUNCIL has to consult the FEDERAL COUNCILS or COMMITTEES beforehand regarding admission, etc., and (c) according to the decision of the Conference (see V: Art. 3 of the Regulations), no section will be admitted any more from the outset that takes a sectarian name, etc., or (V: Art. 2) does not constitute itself simply as a Section of the International Working Men’s Association.

Kindly communicate this letter to the German Section you represent, and make use of its contents for action but not for publication.

Salut et fraternité,

Karl Marx


Capital has not been published in English or French as yet. A French edition was being worked on but was discontinued as a result of the events.

Eccarius has been appointed, at my request, secretary for all sections in the UNITED STATES (with the exception of the French, for which Le Moussu is secretary). Nevertheless I shall be glad to answer any private questions that you or Sorge may address to me. Engels has sent the Irish Republic article on the International to Italy for publication there.

In future, issues of The Eastern Post containing reports on the General Council’s meetings will be sent to New York regularly, addressed to Sorge.

N.B. as to political movement: The political movement of the working class has as its object, of course, the conquest of political power for the working class, and for this it is naturally necessary that a previous organisation of the working class, itself arising from their economic struggles, should have been developed up to a certain point.

On the other hand, however, every movement in which the working class comes out as a class against the ruling classes and attempts to force them by pressure from without is a political movement. For instance, the attempt in a particular factory or even a particular industry to force a shorter working day out of the capitalists by strikes, etc., is a purely economic movement. On the other hand the movement to force an eight-hour day, etc., law is a political movement. And in this way, out of the separate economic movements of the workers there grows up everywhere a political movement, that is to say a movement of the class, with the object of achieving its interests in a general form, in a form possessing a general social force of compulsion. If these movements presuppose a certain degree of previous organisation, they are themselves equally a means of the development of this organisation.

Where the working class is not yet far enough advanced in its organisation to undertake a decisive campaign against the collective power, i.e., the political power of the ruling classes, it must at any rate be trained for this by continual agitation against and a hostile attitude towards the policy of the ruling classes. Otherwise it will remain a plaything in their hands, as the September revolution in France showed, and as is also proved up to a certain point by the game Messrs. Gladstone & Co. are bringing off in England even up to the present time.