The Marxist Congress (Cunninghame, 1889)

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The Labour Elector, July 27th 1889[edit source]

We can, at the last minute, only find space for half of an account of the Marxist Congress sent in by Mr. CUNNINGHAME GRAHAM, M.P., who presided over its deliberations on the last day of its sitting. Our next issue will contain a full account of the Possibilist Congress by Mr. JOHN BURNS, and the remainder of Mr. GRAHAM's account, of which we now give the commencement :—

Yes, in spite of Mr. Stead, I am glad I went to the Paris Conference; not that I think the presence of one man more or less was of any consequence; but because I was glad to have been present at the almost unanimous passing of a resolution in favour of an Eight Hours Working Day, by the representatives of thousands of working men of every nationality in Europe.

In point of fact both Conferences were chiefly occupied with the discussion of this great economic problem. Yes! Mr. Stead, I was both glad to be there, and pleased at being elected President for the morning sitting, of having the privilege (myself not a working man) of stating my views to the representatives of so many thousands of those who will be benefited by the application of the Eight Hours system. Especially was I pleased. at ascertaining for myself that the policy that has been pursued by the LABOUR ELECTOR, by myself, by John Burns. by Keir Hardie and others in this country, is also the policy that is being pursued by the great bulk of the intelligent working classes of France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Spain, and other European countries.

It has always been the object of some who wish to keep our British workingmen from entering into an International movement, to represent to them that all foreigners are revolutionists, Anarchists, and men of violence.

However, at the Marxist Conference the contrary was the case. There were, without doubt, some violent men present, but who were they, not above seven or eight after all.

How were they received, chiefly in silence, and when they persisted in disregarding the ruling of the chair, they were quietly ejected. Does this look as if the majority of foreign working men were in favour of violence. Now, as I know space is valuable, I will endeavour to tell you, working-class readers, what we did, and what we looked like, at the Marxist Conference. We met in a large Music-hall, the Fantaisies Parisiennes. At one end a high platform, on each side a row of boxes, so that when the hall was filled with people, the exact idea of the National Assembly of 1793 was realised.

Imagine a large hall filled with working men and working women of every nationality. Picture to yourselves the leaders of advanced thought of Europe, mixed with the hard-handed workers. Colonel Lavroff the patriachal Russian, expelled from his country for a advocating freedom of the working classes. He was a patriach, tall, grey-haired, benevolent, a most striking and venerable figure.

Cipriani, the picturesque Italian ex-Deputy, a thinker, a patriot, a man of striking appearance, one who, though no speaker, has by his actions endeared himself to the poor and the down-trodden of his country. An imitator of St. Paul, in prisons oft, but in spite of this nine times elected Deputy during the twenty years of his prison life.

Costa, the Italian Deputy, the son of a small tradesman, writer. thinker, man of action, the leader of the unemployed in Rome last year.

Anseele, well-known Trades Union and Socialist leader of Ghent, a worthy descendant of the stout burghers who in the middle ages so often defied their Counts, who defied the whole power of France and Spain, and laid the foundation of economic freedom from feudalism in Europe. Was he a bogus delegate, Mrs. Besant?

Domela Nieuwenhuis, the Dutch member of Parliament, fresh from his nine months imprisonment for free speech, tall, thoughtful, long-haired, refined, very like Parnell in appearance, a vegetarian, a teetotaller, a good man, if one exists, quiet, thoughtful, a scientific Socialist.

De Paepe, the well known Belgian doctor, a delegate to both Congresses, very ill, walking with difficulty, speaking with pain, pale, resolute and determined, the scientist of the advanced movement.

Volmar, the Prussian ex-captain of artillery, a giant, a Samson Agonistes, lame in the feet, our German translator, a man of energy and courage, a man trusted and loved by every one of the 82 German workmen who were at the Congress. His Buffalo Bill hat, of the pattern also affected by Guesde and Cipriani, became him well.

Bebel and Liebknecht, the German members of Parliament, quiet earnest, self-contained, well-educated, self-respecting men of great eloquence.

Basly, the French miners' representative, resolute, talkative, like most miners' leaders. We all remembered how he had stood up all alone and compelled the French Chamber to discuss the question of Monceaux-les-Mines disturbances.

Behind him 10 or 12 miners delegates from the centre and north of France, quiet, silent men, their faces bearing the traces of the explosions in many a dark pit, their hands callous with the pick-shaft. No speakers these, but determined. Says one of them, "Mr. President, I mean, Citizen President, I am no speaker, but we from the mines agree with all that has been said, and we are ready 300,000 of us, to combine or to fight, and to work or die to help our class. That is all I have to say." Not much, eh? But worth all your orations.

Were these, too, bogus delegates, Mrs. Besant? So bogus in fact, that when the citizen delegate had finished his brief speech, for the first time a silence fell for a few minutes over the assembly, as it does when a man and not a politician speaks, and I wondered how it was so many of the delegates seemed to have suddenly taken cold and to feel an imperative necessity to draw the rough hand or dirty pockethandkerchief over the face,

William Morris, or as the French papers would have it, Williams Norris, blue shirt, blue suit and all complete. Our poet, our linguist, an honour to any Congress, I wish though that he had not been so emphatic against fusion of the two Congresses. Oh, Williams Norris, was it prudent of you to emphasise our differences thus before the capitalists? But to a poet all things are forgiven. Compose our songs, paint us our ideal, write us our Dream of John Ball, and all will be well, but do not let us be too exclusive. It is for that reason that heaven is said to be so sparsely populated.

Iglesias, delegate of Typographers of Madrid, a fair Spaniard, with fan-shaped beard, voluble, intense, the Moorish gutturals crashing against one another as the words streamed out of his mouth. Tells us that Spanish workingmen are in favour of Eight Hours, that they are overworked and under-paid. A most energetic and practical man, and one that will go far in the Labour movement.

John Burns makes his appearance to convey a fraternal greeting from the other Congress, to which he is a delegate. His heart is with us, labour questions are progressing in England, the Eight Hours movement is advancing. The value of international co-operation is becoming understood.

While he is speaking I reflect that not only his, but all the voices of the English delegates are louder than those of the foreigners. I attribute this to the freedom we enjoy of public open-air meeting (except in Trafalgar Square) and am glad that we are the possessors of this privilege.

I translate his speech into French. (Thunders of applause.) "Johnburns" (please pronounce all in one breath), il ira loin, &c. Whilst I am speaking, Mr. C. Fenwick, M.P., from the other Congress, comes in and stands against the wall, listening. Mr. Fenwick, betrayed into a strange mistake, goes away with the impression that I have made an anarchist speech, whereas I really spoke on the Eight Hour Question, as may be seen from the report in La Bataille of Sunday. How he fell into the mistake, I know not, as I translated my own French speech into English and Spanish, and am certain I said no single word of anarchy. Perhaps: though he will explain in the columns of the ELECTOR, as I am sure he does not want to misinterpret me.

Apropos of Anarchists, I must say one word of my friend, Dr. Merlino, whom we had to expel by force. He would speak, he would not obey the chair. I am sure we all gave him credit for his pluck and persistence in standing up against 400 angry men, helped only by Tochatti, and "Charles" of London, and a French cabinetmaker from the Faubourg St. Antoine.

Such were some of the most notable figures in an assembly where all were remarkable. Many others were there, Deville, the translator of Marx into French; Lafargue, the Cuba doctor of medicine; Eleanor Marx Aveling, an able and untiring translator; Longuet, ex-member of the Commune; Vaillant, the learned Town Councillor; Bernstein, editor of the Sozial-Demokrat; Beck, the polyglot Russian cabinetmaker; Franckel, the Hungarian; the delegates from America, Roumania and Russia, But space and time fail to describe them further now.

The Labour Elector, August 3rd 1889[edit source]

Daluc, delegate of the Paris cab workers, reads a series of resolutions to the Congress. Eight hours a day enough for men to work, edacation should be continued to higher grades by the State. A short, thickset, sturdy cabman this, one looks involuntarily to see where he has put down his whip. A cabman but a citizen, touching hat to no man, but then "only a beastly foreigner, you know," and freedom is unknown out of England.

Had we good speakers with us? Would their oratory have shown up well beside that of the House of Commons? Well, citizen readers, let me try to speak the truth, though I know the truth is seldom relished in England. The style of speaking was far beyond our House of Commons style. Firstly, it was much more practical, and the speakers showed what is so rare with us in St. Stephens—a knowledge of the subject they were talking of.

Then we were limited as to time, and the President remorselessly rang his bell, or thumped on the table with a thick stick, when the allotted time had elapsed. Again, we had amongst us such men as Guesde, the finest orator perhaps in France, Bebel, the man who has engaged in so many combats with Bismarck in the German Reichstag, and above all, we had an earnestness that few speakers in this country ever seem to infuse into their speeches. You know that with us it is not considered gentlemanlike and good form to be intense or to appear interested when you are speaking, for if you do so you may perhaps interest the audience, which is clearly a mistake.

However, these poor working men were earnest, and through the cloud of tobacco smoke that hung over the assembly like canon smoke over a battlefield, their fierce, logical, commonplace, sturdy, workmanlike periods penetrated like lightning flashes, and went straight to the hearts of the listeners, who testified their approval of them by frantic cheering and applause.

What besides Eight Hours a day did we discuss? You will be surprised to hear, not a single "fad." Not a word about Social Purity, not a syllable as to Anti-vaccination, not a particle about the ideas of the "Prophet of San Francisco," he who would have competition free, and fet the great middle-class work its will upon the working-classes without check.

No, whilst being all of us thoroughly convinced that land and capital should be public and not private property, we seemed to consider that the Land Question was a mere "fad" in comparison with the much greater questions affecting the daily life of working men and women. I mean as to these questions of hours, wages, and sanitary conditions, to approach which the San Francisco Isaiah and his followers shew such remarkable reluctance. Though all were Republicans, I fancy a territorial Duke would have had a better reception than one of the overfed, gold-bloated, mud-hearted capitalists, who too often are the Parliamentary representatives of British working men. Let no one suppose that the foreign working men are mere theorists; I seldcm heard less theory and more solid facts in the speech of any set of men:

"I come from such and such a district; there are 5,000 in my Union. We work 13 hours a day. The profits of the employers are 10 per cent. Women are engaged in certain branches of my trade. Since they began to be employed, wages have fallen, hours have got longer, our homes have got more miserable. It takes so much to make a piece of goods, therefore we know that our employers can reduce our hours and still make a profit. We do not drink; no, we are too poor; we earn so much a week. We are unanimously in favour of Eight Hours, of more Factory Inspectors, of protection of children, of prohibition of Sunday labour and night work."

This was a sample speech no matter whether from a Spanish typographer, or a German miner, a Swedish or Russian match-maker. One speech struck me as most remarkable:

"We have an international postage. A letter costs 2½d. — a letter to England or Russia. Why should not the principle be extended? Why should it be fixed at 2½d.? This 2½d. is most unfair in its operation, as in some countries it represents a much larger proportion of the workman's earnings than in others."

Thus you will see that a workman is a workman all the world over, and that whether in Portugal or Denmark, he suffers chiefly from three things :— Overwork, under-pay, and the tyranny of his employers. The moral of which is, that he should combine internationally, and endeavour to free himself from the rule of the middle class, no matter whether it takes the form of Conservative reaction and force as in Germany, or Liberal hypocrisy and fraud as in England.

And it was difficult now and then to keep 400 men of different nationalities in order, a difficulty complicated by the fact that all speeches had to be translated into English, French, and German, and that even then some of the delegates, as the Swedes and Portuguese, did not perfectly understand them.

No matter, though the difficulties of different speech, much practical good was done by the Congress.

Men who had read of one another met and talked and smoked together. National angularities weresmoothed off, and toned down. The German and Frenchman fraternised. They saw that not they, but their Government were enemies, they parted mutually satisfied, and with the feeling that there was nothing intrinsically bad in a Frenchman or a German. The English Trade Unionists gave organizing power, the Italians sincerity and fire, the Germans, steadiness and the French independence of character.

Whilst we felt that, as to hours and wages, the Englishmen had decidedly the best of it, still it was equally undeniable that the Germans were far better educated, and that the French surpassed both in a certain real Republicanism, not the cheap Republicanism of a man who, being a rough uncultured oaf, insists on dragging all down to his level, rude to his equals, brutal to his inferiors, and subservient to his superiors, but a frank genial air of being a citizen of his own country, a determination to treat all civilly and be treated in the same manner himself, which in my mind places the French workman (at least in my eyes) in the first rank socially, if only second economically of the workers of the world. Perhaps it is the consciousness that his fathers have fought for liberty, and that he himself is prepared to do the same, if he is forced to it, that gives this air and bearing.

Above all, the Congress has done this. The vague feeling of discontent, born of overwork and fostered by increasing education and better capabilities of studying economic problems, has taken a definite and concrete shape. Certain reasonable and definite demands have been formulated, and it now rests with the various Governments of Europe to endeavour to sce these reforms carried into effect, or if they cannot do so, to make way for a Government composed of workingmen to whom the jargon of Liberals and Conservatives, Moderates, Progressives, and Reactionaries, are of as little consequence as is the noise of water running out of a bottle.

Let but the Eight Hour Day alone be realised, and the first step will have been gained in the road to the final emancipation of Labour. It will be gained not perhaps so much on account of its intrinsic value, as because of the consciousness of power that it will give to workingmen when acting internationally.

Let us in this country, therefore, disregard all the foolish and interested pleas of those who wish us to wait, and let us shew the way, as we have always done in reform, to the men of all nations, and by shortening the hours of labour here, let us make a precedent for foreign nations to follow, and if for the first time, by so doing, mechanical appliances become really, "labour-saving," and not "wage-saving" as at present, why, then I shall be indeed glad that I attended the Paris International Labour Congress.