Record of Engels' Speeches on the Paris Commune and in Connection with the Centennial Anniversary of Robert Owen's Birth

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Published in English for the first time in The General Council of the First International. 1870-1871. Minutes, Moscow, 1967, pp. 189-90, 192.

[FROM THE MINUTES OF THE GENERAL COUNCIL MEETING OF MAY 9, 1871]

Cit. Engels then stated that the address[1] was not ready yet. Cit. Marx had been seriously unwell and drawing up the address had made him worse. But it would be ready on Saturday and the Subcommittee[2] could meet at Marx’s any time after five o’clock in the afternoon. A delegate from the Commune had been here, the reports were good. Strictness had to be employed not to let people pass without passports. It had been discovered that spies from Versailles had lounged about at their leisure. The main attack had failed. The Versailles army had tried to get in between the National Guards and the ramparts but now they could only attack in one place and that was where they had failed before. The defence was getting stronger. The Commune had lost a little ground [but] had regained Clamart. Even if the army succeeded at the ramparts there were the barricades afterwards and there had never been such a struggle before as the one impending. For the first time barricades would be defended by cannon, by military guns, and by regularly organised forces. The contending armies were nearly equal now. Versailles could get no troops from the country, they had to send some away to keep the towns in order. Thiers could not even allow the Town Councils to meet at Bordeaux and talk politics,[3] he had to use Napoleon’s Law to prevent it.[4]

Cit. Engels seconded the proposition.[5] He said he knew too little of the promoters of the affair but there was no doubt about Robert Owen. There were things to be found in his writings that had not been superseded yet. He had started from his own ideas, had been originally a manufacturer himself and the first that had stood up against his class to put a stop to the shameful system in which women and children had been employed in factories. He thought the International ought to be represented.

Cit. Engels objected to Mottershead[6] that Locke had been a deist but Owen a materialist. Locke’s philosophy had led the French to materialism. He doubted that Owen had been acquainted with the older French writers. He differed entirely from Mottershead. Owen’s movement had commenced as early as 1809 and had been independent of anything previously written. In 1812 he had published his book on marriage[7] and 1818 he had gone to the King’s Congress at Aix-la-Chapelle to induce them to proclaim Communism. That later the movement had been more in the direction of religion was true to a certain extent but much had been said about social reform. Most of the Owenites had gone over to the middle classes. They had been Chartists but forced into the position of professional agitators and then they had become less reliable and not stuck [to] their principles. He should regret if the festival came off in such a way that we could not take part in it.

Cit. Engels said he had not meant that all the socialists were Chartists but some he had known had been.

  1. K. Marx, The Civil War in France (pp. 307-59).— Ed.
  2. At a meeting of the Sub-Committee of the General Council on October 8, 1864, Luigi Wolff proposed that the Rules of the Italian Working Men’s Association, written by Mazzini and translated into English by Wolff, should be adopted as the Rules of the International. Mazzini’s Rules gave the organisation a sectarian and conspiratorial character. The Sub-Committee, or the Standing Committee, of the General Council of the International developed from a committee set up in the early period of the International Working Men’s Association in 1864 to draw up its programme and Rules. The Sub-Committee consisted of corresponding secretaries for various countries, the General Secretary of the General Council, and a treasurer. The Sub-Committee, which was not envisaged by the Rules of the International, was an executive body; under Marx’s direction, it fulfilled a wide range of duties in the day-to-day guidance of the International and drafting its documents, which were subsequently submitted to the General Council for approval.
  3. Ligue des villes (League of the Cities) (full name: Ligue patriotique des villes républicaines)—an organisation which bourgeois republicans, fearing the restoration of the monarchy after the suppression of the Paris Commune, tried to set up in April-May 1871. The provisional committee of the League, with the active support of the Ligue d’Union Républicaine pour les droits de Paris (see Note 302), intended to convene a congress of municipal council representatives in Bordeaux on May 9, 1871, with the aim of bringing closer an end of the Civil War, consolidating the Republic and formalising the League. The Versailles Government banned the Congress and the provisional committee soon ceased to exist. Le Rappel in its issue No. 692, May 6, 1871 carried the programme of the proposed congress of the Ligue des villes.
  4. This presumably refers to the law on municipal organisation of 1831, which drastically curtailed the rights of municipal councils, and also the law on municipal organisation of 1855, which banned interrelations between councils. On the plan for convening a congress of municipal delegates at Bordeaux see Note 306.
  5. Engels seconded Jung’s proposal to send a delegation from the General Council to the celebrations of the centenary of Robert Owen’s birth, which were to take place on May 16, 1871, in Freemason’s Hall, London.
  6. Mottershead objected to participation in the celebrations on the grounds that Owen “had not been quite so original as Engels seemed to think. His socialism he had had from older French writers, his religious ideas from Locke”. Besides, Mottershead ascribed to Engels the allegation that Owenite socialists were Chartists (see The General Council of the First International. 1870-1871. Minutes, Moscow, 1967, pp. 191-92).
  7. Evidently a mistake in the date. The reference is to Owen's book The Marriage System of the New Moral World..., Leeds, 1838.— Ed.