12 November 1871
The undersigned delegates, representing a group of Sections of the International which has just constituted itself under the name of the Jura Federation, address themselves by the present circular to all the Federations of the International Workers’ Association and ask them to join together to demand the prompt convening of a general Congress.
We will explain in a few words what are the reasons which make us demand this measure, absolutely necessary to prevent our great Association from being dragged, without its knowledge, down a disastrous slope, at the end of which it would find dissolution.
When the International Workers’ Association was created, a General Council was established which, according to the statutes, was to serve as the central correspondence office between Sections, but to which absolutely no authority was delegated, which would have been contrary to the very essence of the International, which is only one immense protest against authority.
The powers of the General Council are clearly defined by the following articles of the General Statutes and the General Regulations:
“Article 3 – There is established a General Council consisting of workers representing the different nations forming part of the International Association. It will take from its members, according to the needs of the Association, officers, such as president, general secretary, treasurer and correspondence secretaries for the different countries.
“Every year, the assembled Congress will indicate the seat of the General Council, nominate its members, giving it the right to appoint additional members, and choose the place of the next assembly.
“At the time fixed for the Congress, and without the need for a special invitation, delegates will assemble by right at the designated time and place. The General Council may, in case of emergencies, change the location of the Congress, without however changing the date.
“Article 4. At each annual Congress, the General Council will publish a report of its activities for the year. In case of emergency, it may convene the Congress before the appointed term.
“Article 5. The General Council shall establish relations with the various workers associations, so that the workers of every country are constantly aware of the movement of their class in the other countries; that an inquiry into the social state [of the different countries] is made at the same time and in the same spirit; that the questions of general interest proposed by a Society for discussion be examined by all, and that when a practical idea or an international problem calls for the action of the Association, it may act in a uniform manner. Whenever it seems necessary, the General Council shall take the initiative of submitting proposals to local or national societies.
“It will publish a bulletin to facilitate its communications with the correspondence offices [of local and national societies].”
“First Article – The General Council is obliged to execute the resolutions of the Congress.
“To this end, it collects all the documents sent to it by the correspondence offices of the different countries, and those which it can obtain by other means. It is charged with organising the Congress and bringing its agenda to the attention of all the Sections, through the corresponding offices of the different countries.
“Article 2 – The General Council will publish, as many and as often as its means permit, a bulletin embracing everything that may interest the International Association: the supply and demand for labour in different localities; co-operative societies; the condition of the labouring classes in every country, etc.”
The General Council was seated in London for its first year for several reasons: it was from a meeting held in London that the initial idea of the International had arisen; London offered more security then than the other cities of Europe in respect to individual rights.
In the subsequent Congresses of the International, at Lausanne (1867) and Brussels (1868), the [location of the] General Council was confirmed in London. As for its composition, all those who attended the general Congresses knew how it happened: the lists submitted to the Congress were voted upon in trust, and most of them had names completely unknown to the delegates. Trust went so far that the General Council was allowed to appoint whomsoever it pleased; and by this provision of the statutes, the appointment of the General Council by Congress became illusory. Indeed, the Council could, afterwards, appoint any personnel who would completely modify the majority and tendencies.
At the Basel Congress, blind trust reached a sort of voluntary abdication into the hands of the General Council. By means of administrative resolutions, the spirit and letter of the General Statutes, in which the autonomy of each Section, of each group of Sections was so clearly proclaimed, was violated without really noticing it. Judge for yourselves:
“Basel Administrative Resolutions
“Resolution VI – The General Council has the right to suspend a Section of the International until the next Congress.
“Resolution VII – When disputes arise between societies or branches of a national group, or between groups of different nationalities, the General Council will have the right to decide upon the dispute, subject to appeal to the next Congress which will decide definitively.”
It placed into the hands of the General Council a dangerous power, and it was wrong not to have predicted the result.
If there is one undeniable fact, attested to a thousand times by experience, it is the corrupting effect produced by authority on those into whose hands it is deposited. It is absolutely impossible for a man who has power over his fellows to remain moral.
The General Council could not escape this inevitable law. Composed of the same men always re-elected for five consecutive years and provided with a very great power over Sections by the Basel resolutions, it ended up seeing itself as the rightful ruler of the International. The mandate of a member of the General Council has become, in the hands of some personalities, a personal property, and London appeared to them the immovable capital of our Association. Little by little, these men, who are only our agents – and most of them are not even our regular agents, not having been elected by a Congress – these men, we say, accustomed to march at our head and to speak in our name, have been led by the natural course of events and by very force of this situation to desire that their particular programme, their personal doctrine, should prevail in the International. Having become, in their own eyes, a sort of government, it was natural that their own particular ideas should appear to them as the official theory having sole legitimate place in the Association; while divergent views expressed by other groups appeared to them no longer the legitimate expression of an opinion equal in rights to theirs, but as a real heresy. So was gradually formed an orthodoxy with headquarters in London, whose representatives were members of the General Council; and soon the correspondents of the Council for each country gave themselves the mission not to serve as neutral and disinterested intermediaries between the various Federations, but to become apostles for the orthodox doctrine, to seek propagators for it, and to serve sectarian interests to the detriment of the general interests of the Association.
What would result from all this? The General Council naturally encountered opposition to the new way in which it acted. Irresistible logic compelled it to seek to break this opposition. And now conflicts begin, and with them personal intimacies and the manoeuvres of cliques. The General Council becomes a hotbed of intrigue; opponents are reviled, slandered; finally, war, open war, breaks out within our Association.
Since the Congress of Basel in 1869, the General Congress of the Association has not met, the General Council has been left to itself for the last two years. The Franco-Prussian war was the reason there was no Congress in 1870; in 1871, this Congress was replaced by a secret Conference convened by the General Council without the Statutes in any way authorising it to act in this manner. This secret Conference, which certainly did not provide a comprehensive representation of the International since many Sections, ours in particular, had not been invited there; this Conference, the majority of which had been skewed in advanced by the fact that the General Council had arrogated to itself the right to seat six delegates appointed by itself with a deliberative vote; this Conference, which absolutely could not consider itself to be vested with the rights of a Congress, has nevertheless adopted resolutions which seriously undermine the General Statutes, and which tend to make the International, [currently] a free federation of autonomous Sections, a hierarchical and authoritarian organisation of disciplined Sections, placed entirely under the control of a General Council which may, as its discretion, refuse their admission or suspend their activity. And to crown the edifice, a decision of this Conference is that the General Council will itself fix the date and place of the next Congress or the Conference which will replace it; so that we are threatened with the suppression of General Congresses, these great public foundations of the International, and their replacement, at the pleasure of the General Council, by secret Conferences similar to that which has just been held in London.
In the face of this situation, what do we have to do?
We do not impugn the intentions of the General Council. The individuals who compose it have found themselves the victims of an inevitable necessity: they wanted, in good faith and for the triumph of their particular doctrine, to introduce into the International the principle of authority; Circumstances appeared to favour this tendency, and it appears to us quite natural that this school, whose ideal is the conquest of political power by the working class, should have believed that the International, as a result of recent events, had to change its original organisation and transform itself into a hierarchical organisation, directed and governed by a Committee.
But if we have explained these tendencies and events, we feel no less obliged to fight them in the name of that Social Revolution we are pursuing and whose program is: “Emancipation of the workers by the workers themselves,” outside of any directing authority, even if that authority was elected and consented to by the workers [themselves].
We demand in the International the upholding of this principle of the autonomy of the Sections which has hitherto been the basis of our Association; we demand that the General Council, whose functions have been distorted by the administrative resolutions of the Basel Congress, return to its normal role, which is that of a mere correspondence and statistics bureau; – and that unity that they would like to establish through centralisation and dictatorship, we want to achieve through the free federation of autonomous groups.
The future society must be nothing else than the universalisation of the organisation that the International will give itself. We must therefore take care to ensure that this organisation is close as possible to our ideal. How could an egalitarian and free society emerge from an authoritarian organisation? It is impossible. The International, embryo of the future human society, must from now on be the faithful reflection of our principles of federation and liberty, and reject from its midst any principle tending towards authority, towards dictatorship.
We conclude with the call for a general Congress of the Association in the near future.
Long live the International Workers Association!
Sonvillier, 12 November 1871
Delegates to the Congress of the Jura Federation:
Henri DEVENOGES, Léon SCHWITZGUÉBEL, delegates of the central Section of the district of Courtelary; – Fritz TSCHUJ, Justin GUERBER, delegates of the Social Studies Circle of Sonvilier; – Christian HOFER, delegate of the Section of Moutier-Grandval; – Frédéric GRAISIER, Auguste SPICHIGER, delegates of the central Section of Le Locle ; – Nicolas JOUKOVSKY, Jules GUESDE, delegates of the Section for propaganda and revolutionary socialist action of Geneva; – Charles CHOPARD, Alfred JEANRENAUD, delegates of the Section of the engravers and steel cutters of the district of Courtelary; – Numa BRANDT, delegate of the Section of propaganda of La Chaux-de-Fonds; – James GUILLAUME, A. DUPUIS, delegates of the central Section of Neuchâtel; – A. SCHEUNER, Louis CARTIER, delegates of the Circle of social studies of Saint Imier.