The Manchester Foreign Section to All Sections and Members of the British Federation

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The Manchester Foreign Section of the International Association was formed in August 1872 mostly from the refugee workers. It waged a vigorous struggle against the reformist wing of the British Federal Council that rejected the decisions of the Hague Congress, and supported efforts made by Marx and Engels to strengthen the British Federation and rid it of the disorganising elements. Engels wrote the present address at the Section’s request in response to the circular of December 10, 1872, issued by the reformists who had split from the British Federal Council. The circular called upon the British sections of the International to defy the Hague Congress resolutions and to convene the Federation’s extraordinary congress in London in January 1873. Approved by the Manchester Foreign Section, Engels’ address was published as a leaflet and forwarded to all members of the International in Britain.

The address was also published in La Emancipacion, No. 82, January 11, 1873, and in Arbeiter-Zeitung, Nos. 5 and 6, March 8 and 15, 1873.

Fellow Working Men,

We feel compelled to address you in reply to a circular issued by those who call themselves the majority of the British Federal Council, and appealing to you to join them in open rebellion against the fundamental compact of our association.[1]

In that circular the majority of the Federal Council asserts that the minority have rendered all work impossible, and brought matters to a deadlock, owing to the last meeting having been dissolved by the chairman[2] in the midst of business in order to prevent discussion.[3]

It appears strange, at the first glance, that a majority should be brought to a deadlock by a minority, when a simple vote would have sufficed to silence that minority. Hitherto minorities have seceded often enough. This is the first instance of a majority seceding; and this fact alone is sufficient to render the whole proceeding more than suspicious. As to the pretence of the action of the chairman at one solitary meeting, we are credibly informed that, on that occasion, the chairman dissolved the meeting half an hour after the time for breaking up, at half past eleven, because members of the majority insisted upon interrupting the order of the day.

The Federal Council is divided, according to the circular, upon the question whether the resolutions of the General Congress of our Association, held at The Hague in September last, are to be considered valid or not. Now, for members of the International, this is not a question at all. According to its General Rules, Article 3, the duty of the General Congress is to “take the measures required for the successful working of our Association”.[4] The Congress is its legislative power. Its resolutions are binding upon all. Those who do not like them may either leave the Association, or try to reverse them at the next Congress. But no individual member, no section, no Federal Council, no local or national congress, has the right to declare them null and void, while pretending to remain within the International.

The signataries of the circular pretend that the Hague Congress was not fairly constituted, and in no way represented the majority of the members of the Association. That Congress was regularly convoked by the General Council, in accordance with Art. 4 of the General Rules. It was attended by 64 delegates, representing 15 different nationalities, and belonging, individually, to 12 different nationalities. No previous Congress could boast of such a truly international composition. That the resolutions taken were penetrated by the true spirit of internationalism is proved by the fact that they were almost all taken by majorities of three to one, and that the delegates of the two nations lately involved in fratricidal war—the French and the Germans—almost always voted for them to a man. If England, through its own fault, was not very numerously represented, is that a reason to invalidate the Congress?

The circular complains of the Congress resolution as to the political action of the working class.[5] They say it was taken after the majority of the delegates had left. The official report published in No. 37 of The International Herald (December 14th), shows that 48 delegates out of 64 voted on the question, out of which 35 voted in favour of the resolution. Among these 35 we find the name of Mr. Mottershead, who now signs a circular repudiating it.

Now what is this resolution? It is the same in substance, and mostly in words too, as that adopted at the General Conference held in London in September, 1871, and published officially, along with the rest of the resolutions, on the 17th October of that year by the General Council,[6] and has the signatures, among others, of John Hales, Th. Mottershead, H. Jung, F. Bradnick, H. Mayo, and John Roach! The General Council being bound to enforce the Conference resolutions, how is it that none of these citizens then thought fit to resign his seat on the General Council, and to protest against this resolution, now found out, all at once, to be so dangerous?

The circular totally falsifies the purport of this resolution, as will be easily seen by referring to its text as published in No. 37 of The International Herald. The resolution does not, as is pretended, make political action obligatory upon Trades’ Unions and other politically neutral bodies. It merely demands the formation, in every country, of a distinct working class party, opposed to all middle class parties. That is to say, it calls here in England upon the working class to refuse any longer to serve as the fag-end of the “great Liberal party”, and to form an independent party of their own, as they did in the glorious times of the great Chartist movement.

Thus the alleged breach of faith towards the Trades’ Unions turns out to be a pure invention. But, we may be allowed to ask, where are the Trades’ Unions now that at one time had affiliated themselves to the International? The cash accounts of last year show that they had almost every one disappeared during Citizen Hales’ secretaryship.

The next complaint is that the General Council has been removed to New York, and that there are neither English nor Americans upon it. The new General Council is composed of men of five different nationalities, and if the English in New York keep aloof from the International, they have but themselves to blame, if they are not represented at the Council. While that Council was in London, the English were always far more strongly represented than any other nation, and very often formed the absolute majority; while the French, for instance, at one time were not represented at all. But the English cannot claim this as a vested right. The Hague Congress, when, in virtue of- the duty and right conferred upon it by Art. 3 of the General Rules, it elected the new General Council, chose what was in its opinion the best locality, and in that locality the best men. The signataries of the Circular may be of a different opinion, but that does not affect the right of the Congress.

The Circular pretends that, by this action, the sections and federations are deprived of the right they possessed, of deciding upon the policy to be pursued in their respective countries. This is again untrue. Whether the General Council sit in London, in New York, or anywhere else, the rights of the sections and federations remain the same. But, says the Circular, to prevent disobedience upon this point,

"the Congress armed this General Council with the power of suspending any section, federation, or federal council whenever it pleased, without assigning any reason for so doing".

International Working Men's Association Assembled at London from 17th to 23rd September 1871.—Ed

Untrue, again. The right of suspending any section had been already conferred upon the General Council by the Basel Congress (1869). The official publication of the Hague Congress Resolutions, resolution II, art. 1, (The International Herald, No. 37) shows that, if the powers of the General Council have been increased, or rather better defined, they have also been surrounded by safeguards previously not existing.[7] Thus, if the General Council dissolve a Federal Council, it has to provide within 30 days, for the election of a new one; and thus, after all, the federation itself remains the ultimate judge. If the General Council suspend a whole federation, it has, if the rest of the federations demand it, to submit its decision within one month to the final judgment of a conference of delegates of all federations. And this is what the circular calls: the power of suspension without assigning any reason!

Fellow working men! whether you individually approve or disapprove of the resolutions passed at the Hague, they are at this moment the law of the International. If there are those among you who disapprove of them, they have their remedy at the next Congress. But neither any section, nor the British Federal Council, nor any national Congress called by it, has the right to repudiate resolutions of a General Congress lawfully convoked. Whoever attempts such a thing, places himself virtually outside the pale of the International, and that, in effect, the signataries of the circular have done. To allow such action to rule the International would be tantamount to its dissolution.

Even in the countries whose delegates formed the minority at the Hague, a strong re-action has set in against the secessionist tendencies fostered by those delegates. While in America, in France, in Germany, in Poland, in Austria, in Hungary, in Portugal, and in the whole of Switzerland, with the exception of a little knot of scarcely 200 men, the Hague resolutions are gladly accepted, the Dutch Internationals, in Congress assembled, have resolved to stand by the New York General Council, and to lay any grievances they may have before the next lawful General Congress of September, 1873, and before no other.[8] In Spain, where a secessionist movement similar to that inaugurated by the circular in question, was attempted by the Federal Council, the resistance against it is growing stronger every day, and section after section adheres to the Hague resolutions.

Fellow working men! for all these reasons, we protest against the convocation of any British Congress which is to sit in judgment upon the law of the Association as established by the delegates of all nations represented in it.

We protest against any Congress convoked at such a short notice as that called for the 5th January.[9]

We urge upon all sections to submit the foregoing to the consideration of their members, remembering that the future of our Association in England rests upon their action in the present crisis.

It is necessary that we recognise as legitimate delegates to the Federal Council only those who will uphold the authority of the Congress of the Hague, and endeavour to carry out the resolutions passed there.

Adopted at the general meeting of the Manchester Foreign Section, held on Saturday, 21st December, 1872.

Fraternal greeting to all members of our Association.

P. Zürcher, Chairman of the Meeting

F. Küpper, General and German Secretary

O. Wyss, French Secretary

  1. To the Branches, Sections and Members of the British Federation of the International Working Men's Association. [Signed:] Hales, J., Bennett, G. [London,] December 10, 1872.— Ed.
  2. Samuel Vickery.— Ed
  3. A reference to the British Federal Council meeting of December 5, 1872, which was to abolish the post of Council General Secretary, held by Hales, and to appoint a Corresponding Secretary, Treasurer, a secretary responsible for the minutes and other officials. The intention of the British Federal Council to prevent abuse of power on the part of its reformist leaders was a direct pretext for the split in the Council that followed.
  4. Cf. this volume, p. 4.— Ed
  5. See ibid., p. 243.— Ed.
  6. K. Marx and F. Engels, Resolutions of the Conference of Delegates of the
  7. See this volume, p. 244.— Ed.
  8. On the congress of the Dutch Federation see Note 219.
  9. The congress, convoked in London on January 26, 1873 (instead of January 5 as originally planned) by the reformists who had seceded from the British Federation, showed that they had failed to take with them the majority of the English sections of the International Working Men's Association. The congress, attended by 12 men only, refused to recognise the Hague Congress resolutions and thus actually placed itself outside the International. A Federal Council formed by the secessionists discontinued its meetings in the spring of 1873, and the sections which supported it either disintegrated or returned to the British Federation.