Rules of the Communist League (1850)

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Note from MECW :

The rules of the Communist League were drawn up by the Cologne Central Authority in November 1850 in conformity with the decision of the London Central Authority adopted on September 15, 1850 (see this volume, p. 630). A copy of the Rules in Heinrich Bürgers’ handwriting as well as the Address of the Cologne Central Authority of December 1, 1850, and other documents, were received in London on December 18 (see Jenny Marx’s letter to Engels of December 19, 1850). On January 5, 1851, the Rules were approved at a meeting of the London district of the Communist League, at which Marx was also present. He made several remarks in the copy of the Rules which in this volume are in bold type. These remarks may have been made at a later date (early in March 1852) when Marx forwarded the Rules to Weydemeyer in New York (see Marx’s letter to Weydemeyer of March 5, 1852).

The police confiscated a copy of the Rules from Peter Nothjung, one of the League members, when he was arrested in May 1851. Among other documents the Rules were printed in the police-sponsored edition: Wermuth-Stieber, Die Communisten-Verschwörungen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts.

1. The aim of the Communist League is to bring about the destruction of the old society—and the overthrow of the bourgeoisie—the spiritual, political and economic emancipation of the proletariat, the communist revolution, using all the resources of propaganda and political struggle towards this goal. In the various stages of development through which the struggle of the proletariat has to pass, the League shall represent at all times the interest of the movement as a whole, just as it shall seek at all times to unite and organise all the revolutionary forces of the proletariat within itself; as long as the proletarian revolution has not attained its ultimate goal the League shall remain secret and indissoluble.

2. Membership shall be open only to those who comply with the following conditions:

a. be emancipated from all religion, sever connections with any church organisation and not participate in any ceremony not required by civil law;

b. understand the conditions, the course of development and the ultimate goal of the proletarian movement;

c. stand aloof from all organisations and particular strivings that oppose or obstruct the progress of the League towards its goal;

d. show ability and zeal in propaganda, unswerving devotion to convictions and revolutionary energy;

e. maintain the strictest secrecy in all matters concerning the League.

3. Admission shall be granted by the unanimous vote of the community. A new member shall normally be admitted by the chairman in the presence of the whole community. Members will swear to abide unconditionally by the decisions of the League.

4. Whoever violates the conditions of membership shall be expelled. A majority vote of the community is required for the expulsion of individuals. The Central Authority can expel whole communities where expulsion has been proposed by a district community. The whole League shall be notified of expulsions and shall keep those expelled under surveillance just like any suspect individual.

5. The League is organised in communities, districts, a Central Authority and a congress.

6. A community consists of at least three members of the same locality. It shall elect a chairman, who will conduct the meetings, and a deputy, who will act as treasurer.

7. Above the communities of a country or a province there shall be a chief community, the district, to be nominated by the Central Authority. The communities shall deal directly only with their districts, the districts in turn deal with the Central Authority.

8. The communities shall meet regularly, not less than once a fortnight, they shall correspond at least once a month with their districts; the latter shall communicate with the Central Authority at least once every two months; every three months the Central Authority shall report on the state of the League.

9. The chairman and deputy of the communities and districts shall be elected for one year and can be deposed at any time by their electorate; the members of the Central Authority can only be deposed by the congress.

10. Every League member shall pay a monthly contribution whose minimum shall be determined by the congress. Half of the sums so raised will go to the districts and half to the Central Authority; they will be used to cover administration costs, the distribution of propaganda material and the dispatching of emissaries. The districts shall bear the cost of the correspondence with their communities. Contributions shall be sent every three months to the districts, which will forward half of the total income to the Central Authority and, at the same time, give an account of their income and expenditure to their communities. The Central Authority shall account to the congress for monies it has received. Extraordinary expenses shall be met by extraordinary contributions.

11. The Central Authority is the executive organ of the whole League. It shall consist of at least three members and shall be elected and augmented by the district which the congress has assigned as its seat. It shall be responsible only to the congress.

12. The congress is the legislative organ of the whole League. It shall consist of the delegates of the district assemblies, which will elect one deputy for every five communities.

13. The district assembly is the representative body of thé district. It shall be convened in the district centre regularly every quarter by the committee of the chief community to debate the affairs of the district. To this assembly each community shall send one delegate. The district assembly shall invariably be convened in the middle of July each year for the election of the League delegates.

Article 5 Community

Article 6 District

Article 7 Central Authority

Article 8 The Congress

Article 9 Admission to the League

Article 10 Expulsion from the League (money....)[1]

14. A fortnight after the close of the district election assemblies the congress shall meet as a rule at the seat of the Central Authority unless the latter decides upon another venue.

15. The congress shall receive from the Central Authority, which has a seat in it but no vote, a report on all its activities and on the state of the League; it shall lay down the principles governing the policy to be followed by the League, decide upon amendments to the Rules and determine the seat of the Central Authority for the coming year. 16. In cases of emergency the Central Authority can summon an extraordinary congress which will consist in that event of the delegates last elected by the districts.

17. Disputes between individual members of the same community shall be settled conclusively by that community; disputes between members of the same district by the district community; those between members of different districts by the Central Authority; personal complaints about members of the Central Authority shall be brought before the congress. Disputes among communities belonging to the same district shall be resolved by the district community, those between communities and their district or between different districts, by the Central Authority; but in the first case an appeal may be made to the district assemblies and in the second, to the congress. The congress shall also resolve all conflicts between the Central Authority and the lower committees of the League.

  1. Articles 5-10 were written by Marx at the bottom of the third page of the manuscript.— Ed.