MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Organisations



First International (International Workingmen’s Association)

When the International was formed in September 1864, Marx was “a relatively obscure refugee journalist,” Saul Padover notes in the introduction to a volume of select works written by Marx for the International:

“Exiled from his native Germany, thrown out of Belgium, and expelled from France, Marx found refuge in the British capital in 1849. In the 15 years before the founding of the International, Marx eked out a living from journalism – saved from actual starvation by Frederick Engels, who was in the textile business in Manchester – and spent most of his time writing, reading, and researching (in the British Museum). After the traumatic defeat of the revolutions of 1848-49 in Europe, he became for a time politically inactive.

“In London, Marx’s main contacts were with other Europeans, particularly German and French radicals and refugees, with many of whom he had intermittent squabbles and disagreements. While showing deep interest in British politics, institutions, and movements – notably the history of Chartism, which was not without influence on his own political thinking – he kept himself, or was kept, aloof from English activists, including trade unionists. With few exceptions, one of them being the Chartist leader and editor Ernest Charles Jones, Marx had no close connection with English radicals or laborites, and vice versa. His led the politically isolated life of an unassimilated continental refugee. The International was to change all this.

“It is still not entirely clear why Marx was invited to what turned out to be a historic meeting at St. Martin’s Hall. Until about a week before the meeting, on September 28, he apparently knew nothing about any preparations for it. Then he was told about it by Victor Le Lubez, a 30-year-old French radical republican living in London, who invited him to come as a representtive of German workers. Marx accepted and proposed that he be joined by Johann Georg Eccarius, a tailor living in London, as another German representative. As it turned out, Marx and Eccarius were to become the two mainstays of the International from its inception to its end.

“The meeting was jammed with a large number of assorted radicals. There were English Owenties and Chartists, French Proudhonists and Blanquists, Irish nationalists, Polish patriots, Italian Mazzinists, and German Socialists. It was an assortment united not by a commonly shared ideology or even by genuine internationalism, but by an accumulated burden of variated grievances crying for an outlet. The English were against special privilege, the French against Bonapartism, the Irish against the British, the Poles against Russia [Poland was occupied by Russia in 1795], the Italians against Austria, and the Germans against capitalism. There was no necessary or integral interconnection among them – except what Marx later tried to provide in the organizaton that followed the meeting. Under the chairmanship of Edward Spencer Beesly, an English Positivist historian and professor at London University, radical oratory was given free rein. Marx himself did not speak. He was, as he wrote later, a ‘silent figure on the platform.’

“The meeting voted unanimously to appoint a provisional committee to work out a program and membership rules for the proposed international organizaton. Marx was appointed a member of the committee, which met a week later and, being large and unweildy, agreed on a small subcommittee to do the actual work. Marx became a member of this crucial subcommittee. The only other German on it was “my old friend, the tailor Eccarius", as Marx wrote to a communist friend in Solingen. The subcommittee met in Marx’s house, and so powerful was his intellectual ascendency and certainty of purpose – the Inaugural Address – and the rules – Provisional Statutes – of the new organization. Henceforth Marx was to remain its predominant spirit and the indomitable personality that held the disparate International Association together for eight difficult and often stormy years, until it was shattered by bitter internal dissensions.

“In the International, Marx saw a great historic opportunity, and seized it. Indeed, it is questionable whether the organization would have survived, or would have had any meaning, without him. His steely will and impassioned commitment to the idea of the revolutionary role of the world proletariat prevented the International from passing into the same oblivion as had other dreams of squabbly radicals, confused in their philosophy and at cross-purposes in their aims.”

See History of the First International, for documents and eye-witness histories.

General Council::

Architect – Karl Marx, Peter Fox
Tailor – Eccarius, Lessner, Maurice, Milner, Stainsby
Carpenter – Applegarth, Cremer, Lochner, Weston
Weaver – Bradnick, J. Hales, Mottershead
Shoemaker – Morgan, Odger, Serraillier
Furniture Maker – Dell, Lucraft
Watchmaker – Jung
Mason – Howell
Musical-instrument maker – Dupont
Hairdresser – Lassassie

Marx was one of few who kept his seat in the General Council from the formation of the International Working Men’s Association over many years. He would relinquish it in 1872 – when the International moved to New York. The General Council fluctuated greatly in size – the Address to President Lincoln, for example, had 58 signatures. The Council met weekly. Marx was almost always in attendance, unless limited by illness.

Further Reading: A Collection of articles by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels on The First International.