Letter to Johann Philipp Becker (excerpt) (2)

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We present here an excerpt from a letter by a friend in London; among other things, it mentions the Working Men’s Congress in Lausanne and the Peace Congress in Geneva [1] as well as Marx’s latest work:

“...You will simply not believe what a tremendous sensation the Lausanne Congress has caused here in all the papers. Once The Times had set the tone, by printing daily reports [from Eccarius], the other papers no longer considered it beneath their dignity to print not just short notices on the labour question, but even long editorials. There has been comment on the Congress not only in all the dailies, but the weeklies, too. It was, on occasion, quite naturally treated in a condescending and ironical way. After all, everything has a comical side, as well as a more lofty one, so why should our good Working Men’s Congress, with its garrulous Frenchmen, be the exception? In spite of everything, however, generally it was treated quite properly and taken au sérieux. Even the Manchester Examiner, the organ of the Manchester school,[2] and John Bright himself, in an excellent leader presented it as important and epoch-making. When compared with its stepbrother, the Peace Congress, the advantage was always on the elder brother’s side, one seen as a threatening tragedy of fate, while the other as merely farce and burlesque.

“If you have already acquired Karl Marx’s book,[Capital, Volume I] and if, like me, you have not yet managed to work through the dialectical subtleties of the first chapters, I advise you to read those on the primitive accumulation of capital and the modern theory of colonisation first. I am sure that, like myself, you will obtain great satisfaction from this part. Marx does not, of course, have any specific remedy at hand, which the bourgeois world, that now also calls itself socialist, so violently cries out for, he has no tablets, no ointments, or lint, to heal the gaping, bleeding wounds of our society; but to me it seems that, basing himself on the natural historical rise and development of modern society he has indicated the results and their practical application, including even the most daring conclusions, and that it was no small matter to bring the astounded philistine to the giddy heights of the following problems by means of statistical data and dialectical reasoning:

“‘Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power... A great deal of capital, which appears today in the United States without any certificate of birth, was yesterday, in England, the capitalised blood of children... If money “comes into the world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek”, capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore with blood and dirt.’ Or the whole passage from: ‘The knell of capitalist private property sounds, etc.’, to the end.

“I must admit openly that I was gripped by this simple pathos and that history became as clear as daylight to me.”

  1. The Lausanne Congress of the International was held on September 2-8, 1867. Marx took part in the preparations but, as he was busy, reading the proofs of the first volume of Capital, was unable to attend: he withdrew his candidature at the General Council meeting of August 13, 1867. The Congress was attended by 64 delegates from six countries Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Switzerland). Apart from the annual report of the General Council, the Congress heard reports from the local sections which indicated the increased influence of the International on the proletarian masses and the growing strength of its organisations in different countries. The Proudhonist-minded delegates, especially the French, made an attempt to change the orientation of the International’s activity and its programme principles. Despite the efforts of the General Council’s delegates, they imposed their agenda on the Congress and sought to revise the Geneva Congress resolutions in a Proudhonist spirit. They managed to pass a number of their resolutions, in particular on cooperation and credit, which the Proudhonists regarded as the chief factors in changing society by means of reform. However, the Proudhonists failed to achieve their main aim. The Congress confirmed the Geneva Congress resolutions on the economic struggle and strikes. As distinct from the Proudhonist dogma on abstaining from political struggle, the Lausanne Congress resolution on political freedom emphasised that the social emancipation of workers was inseparable from political liberation. The Proudhonists likewise failed to seize the leadership of the International. The Congress re-elected the General Council in its former composition and retained London as its seat. The League of Peace and Freedom was a pacifist organisation set up in 1867 with the active participation of Victor Hugo, Giuseppe Garibaldi and other democrats. Voicing the anti-militarist sentiments of the masses, the League’s leaders did not reveal the social sources of wars and often confined anti-militarist activity to mere declarations. The inaugural Congress of the League was to open on September 9 (originally on September 5) in Geneva and was specially timed to coincide with the end of the Lausanne Congress of the International (September 2-8, 1867). At the General Council meeting of August 13, Marx spoke against the International’s official participation in the League’s Congress, since this would mean solidarity with its bourgeois programme; but he recommended that sonic members of the International should attend the Congress on their own in order to make it adopt revolutionary-democratic decisions. Concluding his speech, Marx submitted this resolution, which the Council adopted. In the Minute Book of the General Council, the speech and resolution are reproduced in the form of a clipping from The Bee-Hive carrying a report of the Council meeting. The Lausanne Congress ignored the General Council’s resolution and, influenced by petty-bourgeois elements, resolved officially, to take part in the Congress of the League of Peace and Freedom The Congress of the League, however, attended by several General Council and some other International members revealed great differences between the proletarian and the abstract, pacifist approach to the struggle for peace. Marx’s tactics in regard to the League was fully approved at the Brussels Congress of the International in 1868, which opposed official affiliation to the League but called upon the working class to combine efforts with all progressive anti-military forces. The Inaugural Congress of the bourgeois-pacifist League of Peace and Freedom (see Note 155) was originally to he held in Geneva on September 5, 1867. The League’s Organising Committee, which had enlisted the support of bourgeois-radical and democratic leaders (John Stuart Mill, the Reclus brothers and others), also counted on the participation in the League’s work of representatives of European proletariat and its international organisation. The Committee consequently invited the sections of the International and its leaders, Marx included, to attend the Congress. At the same time it was decided to postpone the opening of the Congress until September 9, so as to enable delegates of the Lausanne Congress of the International (to be held on September 2-8) to take part. The International’s attitude towards the League of Peace and Freedom was discussed both by the General Council and the local sections. Unlike the advocates of unconditional support of the League’s activity, in particular the leaders of British trade unions, Marx, in his speech on August 13, 1867 and the resolution he proposed, formulated the principles of the International’s tactics as regards this kind of bourgeois-democratic movement. These principles envisaged the joint struggle with the democrats against the war threat on condition that the proletarian organisation preserves its class independence, and, in opposition to bourgeois-pacifist illusions, takes a revolutionary proletarian approach to the problems of war and peace. In a letter to Engels of September 4, 1867 Marx wrote about the wide response to his speech. He also pointed out the extremely concise record of his speeches (Eccarius’ report of the Council meeting published in The Bee-Hive Newspaper on August 17, 1867 and pasted into the Minute Book). He went on to say that this record gave only approximate idea of his speech, which lasted half an hour (see MECW, Vol. 42).
  2. The Manchester School — a trend in political economy expressing the interests of the industrial bourgeoisie. It favoured free trade and non-interference by the state in the economy. The Free Traders’ stronghold was Manchester, where the movement was led by Cobden and Bright, two textile manufacturers who founded the Anti-Corn Law League in 1838. In the 1840s and 1850s the Free Traders were an independent political group which later formed the Left wing of the Liberal Party.