Letter to the National Council of the Socialist Workers' Party of Spain

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Engels wrote the letter to the National Council of the Socialist Workers ‘Party of Spain (in Engels’ translation—the Spanish Working Men’s Socialist Party — see Note 431) in response to the decision of the British trade union congress, which opened in Glasgow on September 5, 1892, to decline its invitation to the third International Socialist Workers ‘ Congress to be held in Zurich.

In a reply to Engels of October 2, 1892, the National Council of the Spanish Working Men’s Socialist Party stated that it intended to protest against the actions of the British trade unions, and confirmed its approval of the decisions passed by the Paris and Brussels congresses of the Second International (see Notes 91 and 195).

Resolutely opposing the divisive policy pursued by the British trade union leaders, Engels exposed the prejudicial nature of their stand in letters to working-class movement leaders in France, Germany and some other European countries.

Dear Comrades,

The English Trade Union Congress, meeting in Glasgow, adopted at its session of September 8th a resolution which the socialists of the European continent will hardly be able to ignore.

The Zurich Committee which, in conformity with the Brussels 1891 resolutions, was entrusted with the preparations for the next congress of the International in 1893, sent a letter of invitation to the Trade Union Congress. Despite the repeated complaints of the secretary of the Gas Union, Comrade Will Thorne, during three days of the proceedings, this letter was neither produced nor read to the Congress, which as a result never had an opportunity to express its opinion about the Zurich invitation.

Finally, Matkin proposed a motion that the Parliamentary Committee of the Trade Union Congress [1] should be entrusted with the convening of an international congress to discuss and pass a resolution on an international legal eight-hour working day.

Comrade Parnell (who went to the Paris congress of 1889) and Comrade Quelch replied that two international workers ‘ congresses had already been called for 1893, one to meet in Zurich, the other in Chicago [2]; that the Zurich provisional committee had invited the Trade Union Congress to participate in the Zurich congress, and that instead of calling a third congress the invitation to the Zurich congress should be accepted.

In reply, the representatives of the old conservative unions stated that the Zurich and Chicago congresses had not been convened by the English Trade Unions; that the workers on the Continent were badly organised and weak compared to the English, and that it was inappropriate for the English to make themselves responsible for all the WILD THEORIES of continental socialism, etc. etc. Only then was the invitation of our Zurich Committee read out.

In the end the Zurich Committee was turned down by 189 votes against 97, and the proposal to summon “immediately “ an international congress to discuss and pass a resolution on the international legal eight-hour working day was approved.

These two votes constitute an offence directed against the organised and socialist proletariat of the whole European Continent. Let us hope that the most advanced sectors of the English proletariat who, while being socialists at heart, are still frightened of the name and have been taken in by the old conservatives; that these more intelligent and bolder elements will be able to make amends for the mistake at the next congress.

Meanwhile it seems appropriate that the continental workers saye their dignity in the face of the insult contained in the said resolutions, and this is why I have informed our friends in France and Germany of the events in Glasgow, hoping that they will agree on what line of action to follow; as the French comrades will be celebrating their Marseilles congress [3] in a few days, they will be able to make a first reply to the Trade Union Congress.

But in my capacity as ex-secretary for Spain on the General Council of the old International of glorious memory, I believe it my duty to communicate to the Spanish National Council an event which concerns the Spanish comrades no less than those of other countries.

Greetings and social revolution.

  1. The Parliamentary Committee, the executive body of the association of Britain’s trade unions, which was formed in the late 1860s and became known as the Trades Union Congress of Great Britain. Beginning with 1871, the Committee was elected annually at trade union congresses. Among its duties was nomination of trade union candidates to Parliament, support for bills promoting the interests of trade unions and preparatory work for congresses. In 1921, the Parliamentary Committee was superseded by the Trades Union Congress General Council.
  2. For the congress in Zurich see Note 370. The congress held in Chicago in December 1893 was that of the American Federation of Labor. It recognised the need for political action on the part of the working class and adopted a programme demanding the introduction by law of the 8-hour day.
  3. On September 19-23, 1892, Marseilles was the venue for the congress of the National Federation of Trade Unions. Among other issues (May Day celebrations, women’s and child labour in industry, etc.), the congress discussed the resolution of the British Trades Union Congress in Glasgow. It decided to decline the invitation to the international congress convened by the trade unions to discuss the 8-hour day and to invite trade union representatives to the International Socialist Workers ‘ Congress to be held in Zurich. The congress of the French Workers ‘ Party, which took place on September 24-28 of the same year in Marseilles (see Note 445 ) passed a similar resolution.