Policy of the International

Michael Bakunin

L’Égalité, August 1869

I

“We have believed until now,” says La Montagne, “that political and religious opinions were independent of membership of the International; and, as for us, it is on this terrain that we place ourselves.”

You might believe, at first glance, that Mr. Coullery is right. For, indeed, when accepting a new member into its midst, the International does not ask him whether he is religious or an atheist, whether he belongs to such-and-such political party or if he belongs to none. It simply asks him: Are you a worker, or, if you are not, do you feel the need and do you feel the strength to frankly, fully embrace the cause of the workers, to identify with it to the exclusion of all other causes that may be opposed to it?

Do you realise that the workers, who produce all of the world’s wealth, who are the creators of civilisation, and who have conquered all liberties for the bourgeoisie, are today condemned to poverty, ignorance and slavery? Do you understand that the principal cause of all the evils that the worker endures is poverty, and that this poverty, which is the lot of all the workers in the world, is a necessary consequence of the current economic organisation of society, and particularly the subjugation of labour, that is to say of the proletariat, under the yoke of capital, that is to say to the bourgeoisie?

Do you understand that there is an irreconcilable antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, because it is the necessary consequence of their respective positions? That the prosperity of the bourgeois class is incompatible with the well-being and freedom of the workers, because this exclusive prosperity is and can be founded only upon the exploitation and subjugation of their labour, and that, for the same reason, the prosperity and human dignity of the working masses absolutely requires the abolition of the bourgeoisie as a separate class? That consequently the war between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is inevitable and can only end with the destruction of the latter?

Do you understand that no worker, however intelligent and energetic, can fight alone against the well-organised power of the bourgeoisie, a power principally represented and supported by the organisation of the State, of every State? That in order to become strong you must associate not with the bourgeois, which would be a stupidity or a crime on your part because all the bourgeois as bourgeois are our irreconcilable enemies, nor with treacherous workers who would be cowardly enough to go beg for the smiles and benevolence of the bourgeois, but with honest and energetic workers who frankly want what you want?

Do you understand that, in view of the formidable coalition of all the privileged classes, all the capitalist proprietors and all the States in the world, an isolated workers’ association, local or national, even one belonging to one of the largest countries of Europe, can never triumph, and that to stand up to this coalition and obtain that victory, nothing less than the union of all local and national workers’ associations into a single universal association is needed, it needs the great International Association of the Workers of all countries?

If you feel, if you understand and if you truly want all this, come to us, whatever your political and religious beliefs. But for us to accept you, you must promise us: 1) to henceforth subordinate your personal interests, even those of your family, as well as your political and religious convictions and expressions, to the supreme interest of our association: the struggle of labour against capital, of the workers against the bourgeoisie on the economic terrain; 2) never compromise with the bourgeoisie for personal gain; 3) to never seek to raise yourself individually, only for yourself, above the working mass, which would immediately make you a bourgeois, an enemy and exploiter of the proletariat; as all the difference between the bourgeois and the worker is this, that the first always seeks his good outside the collectivity, and the second only seeks it and intends to conquer it only in solidarity with all those who work and who are exploited by bourgeois capital; 4) you will always remain faithful to worker solidarity, for the slightest betrayal of that solidarity is considered by the International as the greatest crime and the greatest infamy that a worker can commit. In short, you must frankly, fully accept our general statutes, and you will make a solemn commitment to henceforth abide by them in your actions and your life.

We think that the founders of the International [Workers’] Association acted with a very great wisdom by first eliminating all political and religious questions from the programme of this association. Doubtless, they did not themselves lack either political opinions or very pronounced anti-religious opinions; but they refrained from expressing them in this programme, because their principal aim was above all to unite the working masses of the civilised world in a common action. They necessarily had to seek a common basis, a series of simple principles on which all workers, whatever their political and religious aberrations, are and should be in agreement, provided they are serious workers, that is to say harshly exploited and suffering men.

If they had raised the flag of a political or anti-religious system, far from uniting the workers of Europe they would have divided them still further; because, the ignorance of the workers assisting, the self-serving and utmost corrupting propaganda of priests, governments and all bourgeois political parties, including the most red, has spread a host of false ideas amongst the working masses, and that these blind masses are unfortunately still too often enthralled by lies, which have no other purpose than to make them voluntarily and stupidly serve, to the detriment of their own interests, those of the privileged classes.

Besides, there still exists too great a difference in the degrees of industrial, political, intellectual and moral development of the working masses in different countries for it to be possible for them to unite today under one and the same political and anti-religious programme. To pose such a programme as that to the International, to make it an absolute condition for entry into that Association, would be to try to organise a sect, not a global association, it would kill the International.

There was yet another reason for eliminating at first, in appearance at least, and only in appearance, all political tendencies from the programme of the International.

Up until now, since the beginning of history, there has not yet been a politics of the people, and by this word we mean the lower classes, the worker rabble who feed the world with their labour; there was only the politics of the privileged classes; these classes have used the muscular power of the people to depose one another, and to put themselves in the place of others. The people for its part has never sided with one against the others except in the vague hope that at least one of these political revolutions, of which none could have been made without it but none was made for it, would bring some relief to its age-old poverty and slavery. It has always been deceived. Even the great French Revolution betrayed it. It killed the aristocratic nobility and put the bourgeoisie in its place. The people are no longer called slaves or serfs, they are proclaimed freeborn by law, but in fact their slavery and poverty remain the same.

And they will always remain the same as long as the popular masses continue to serve as an instrument for bourgeois politics, whether that politics is called conservative, liberal, progressive, radical, and even when it gives itself the most revolutionary appearance in the world. For every bourgeois politics, whatever its colour and name, can have at bottom only one aim: the preservation of bourgeois domination, and bourgeois domination is the slavery of the proletariat.

What then was the International to do? It first had to separate the working masses from all bourgeois politics, it had to eliminate from its programme all bourgeois political programmes. But, at the time of its founding, there was no other politics in the world than that of the Church or the monarchy, or of the aristocracy, or the bourgeoisie; the last, especially that of the radical bourgeoisie, was undeniably more liberal and more humane than the others, but all equally based on the exploitation of the working masses and having in reality no other aim than to quarrel over the monopolisation of this exploitation. The International therefore had to begin by clearing the ground, and as all politics, from the point of view of the emancipation of labour, was then tainted with reactionary elements, it first had to reject from its midst of all known political system, in order to be able to raise, on these ruins of the bourgeois world, the true politics of the workers, the policy of the International [Workers’] Association.

II

The founders of the International Workers’ Association acted with much wisdom by refraining from making political and philosophical principles the basis of this association, and giving it at first as its sole basis the exclusively economic struggle of labour against capital, that they were certain that from the moment that a worker put his foot on this terrain, from the moment that, taking confidence both in his right and in his numerical strength, he engages with his fellow workers in a united struggle against bourgeois exploitation, he will necessarily be brought, by the very force of things and by the development of this struggle, to soon recognise all the political, socialist and philosophical principles of the International, principles that are, after all, nothing but the true exposition of its starting point, of its purpose.

We have outlined these principles in our recent issues.[1] From a political and social point of view, they have as a necessary consequence the abolition of classes, and consequently that of the bourgeoisie, which is the dominant class today; the abolition of all territorial States, that of all political homelands, and, on their downfall, the establishment of the great international federation of all productive groups, national and local. From the philosophical point of view, as they tend to nothing less than the realisation of the human ideal, of human happiness, equality, justice and liberty on earth, that because they tend to render completely useless all the celestial complements and all hopes of a [heavenly] better world, they will likewise result in the abolition of cults and all religious systems.

To begin by declaring these two goals to ignorant workers, crushed by labour every day and demoralised, imprisoned so to speak, knowingly by the perverse doctrines that governments, in concert with all the privileged castes, priests, nobility, bourgeoisie, dispense to them with both hands, and you will scare them; they may snub you, without suspecting that all these ideas are nothing but the most faithful expression of their own interests, that these goals carry within them the realisation of their most cherished wishes; and that, on the contrary, the religious and political prejudices in whose name they may reject them, are the direct cause of the prolongation of their slavery and their poverty.

It is necessary to distinguish clearly between the prejudices of the popular masses and those of the privileged class. The prejudices of the masses, as we have just said, are based only on their ignorance and are entirely contrary to their interests, while those of the bourgeoisie are based precisely on the interests of that class, and are only maintained, against the dissolving action of bourgeois science itself, thanks to the collective selfishness of the bourgeoisie. The people want, but they do not know; the bourgeoisie know, but they do not want. Which of the two is incurable? The bourgeoisie, without a doubt.

A general rule: You can only convert those who feel the need to be, only those who already carry in their instincts or in the miseries of their position, whether external or internal, all that you want to give them; you will never convert those who do not feel the need of any change, even those who, while desiring to escape from a position which they are disgruntled with, are driven by the nature of their moral, intellectual and social habits to seek it in a world that is not of your ideas.

Convert to socialism, I ask you, a nobleman who covets wealth, a bourgeois who would like to become a noble, or even a worker who strains with all the strength of his soul to become a bourgeois! Convert even a real or imaginary aristocrat of the intellect, a scholar, a half-scholar, a fourth, tenth, or hundredth part of a scholar who, full of scientific ostentation, and often because they have only had the good fortune to have somehow understood, after a fashion, a few books, are full of arrogant contempt for the illiterate masses and imagine that they are called to form between themselves a new dominant, that is to say exploiting, caste.

No reasoning or propaganda will ever be able to convert these wretches. There is only one way to convince them: it is the deed, the destruction of the very possibility of privileged circumstances, of all domination and all exploitation; it is the social revolution, which, by sweeping away all that creates inequality in the world, will moralise them by forcing them to seek their happiness in equality and in solidarity.

The situation is different with serious workers. By serious workers we mean those who are really crushed by the weight of work; all those whose position is so precarious and so miserable that none, except in quite extraordinary circumstances, can think of conquering just for himself, and only for himself, in the present economic conditions and social environment, a better position; to become in their turn, for example, a boss or a State Councillor. Without doubt, we also include in this category the rare and generous workers who, while having the opportunity to rise individually above the working class, do not want to benefit by this, preferring to suffer for some time still exploitation by the bourgeoisie, in solidarity with their comrades in poverty, than become exploiters in their turn. These do not need to be converted; they are pure socialists.

We speak of the great mass of workers who, exhausted by their daily labour, are ignorant and miserable. These, whatever the political and religious prejudices that they [the ruling class] have tried and even in part succeeded to encourage in their conscience, is socialist without knowing it; it is deep in their instinct, and by the very force of their position, more seriously, more truly socialist than all the scientific and bourgeois socialists combined. They are so by all the conditions of their material existence, by all the needs of their being, whereas these others are only so by the needs of their thought; and, in real life, the needs of the being always exert a much stronger power than those of thought, thought being here, as it is everywhere and always, the expression of being, the reflection of its successive developments, but never its principle.

What workers lack is not the reality, the real necessity of socialist aspirations, it is only socialist thought. What every worker demands in the depths of his heart – a fully human existence in the form of material well-being and intellectual development, based on justice, that is to say on equality and liberty for each and all in labour – this instinctive ideal of each who lives only by their own labour, can obviously not be realised in the present political and social world, which is based on the cynical exploitation of the labour of the working masses. Therefore, every serious worker is necessarily a socialist revolutionary, since his emancipation can only take place by the overthrow of all that now exists. Either this organisation of injustice, with its whole array of iniquitous laws and privileged institutions, must perish, or the working masses will remain condemned to an eternal slavery.

Here is the socialist thought whose seeds will be found in the instinct of every serious worker. The aim then is to render him fully conscious of what he wants, to nurture in him a thought that corresponds to his instinct, for as soon as the thought of the working masses has risen to the height of their instinct, their will becomes resolute and their power becomes irresistible.

Yet what prevents the speedier development of this salutary thought within the working masses? Their ignorance, without doubt, and to a great extent the political and religious prejudices by which the interested classes are still striving today to obfuscate their conscience and their natural intelligence. How to dispel this ignorance, how to destroy these harmful prejudices? – By education and propaganda?

These are undoubtedly great and beautiful means. But, in the present state of the working masses, they are insufficient. The isolated worker is too crushed by his work and by his daily worries to have a lot of time to devote to his education. And, besides, who will make this propaganda? Will it be the few sincere socialists, children of the bourgeoisie, who are full of generous intent, no doubt, but who are for one thing far too few in number to give their propaganda all the necessary breadth, and who, moreover, belonging by their position to a different world, do not have all the grasp of the workers’ world that is needed and who arouse in them more or less legitimate distrust.

“The emancipation of the workers is the task of the workers themselves,” says the preamble of our general statutes. And it is a thousand times right to say it. It is the principal basis of our great Association. But the workers’ world is generally ignorant, it still entirely lacks theory. So there remains to it only a single path, that of its emancipation through practice. What can and should that practice be?

There is only one. It is that of the struggle of the workers in solidarity against the bosses. It is trades unions, organisation and the federation of resistance funds.

III

If the International at first showed itself indulgent toward the subversive and reactionary ideas, whether in politics or religion, that workers may have when joining it, it was not at all out of indifference for these ideas. It cannot be accused of indifference since it detests them and rejects them with all the strength of its being, every reactionary idea being the overturning of the very principle of the International, as we have already shown in our previous articles.

This indulgence, we repeat again, is inspired by a high wisdom. Knowing full well that every serious worker is a socialist by all the necessities inherent in his miserable position, and that any reactionary ideas he has are only the effect of his ignorance, it counts on the collective experience that he cannot fail to acquire in the midst of the International, and above all on the development of the collective struggle of the workers against the bosses, to deliver him [from them].

And indeed, from the moment that a worker, taking faith in the possibility of a future radical transformation of the economic situation, combines with his comrades, begins to struggle seriously for the reduction of his hours of labour and the increase of his wages; from the moment that he begins to take an active interest in this entirely material struggle, we can be certain that he will soon abandon all his heavenly preoccupations, and that becoming accustomed to rely ever more on the collective strength of the workers, he will willingly renounce help from heaven. Socialism takes the place of religion in his mind.

It will be the same with his reactionary politics. It will lose its principal support as the conscience of the worker is freed from religious oppression. On the other hand, the economic struggle, by developing and extending ever wider, will make him increasingly know, in a practical manner and by a collective experience that is necessarily always more instructive and broader than isolated experience, his true enemies, which are the privileged classes, including the clergy, the bourgeoisie, the nobility and the State; this last only existing to safeguard all the privileges of these classes, and inevitably always taking their side against the proletariat.

The worker, thus engaged in the struggle, will inevitably come to understand the irreconcilable antagonism that exists between these henchmen of reaction and his most cherished human interests, and having reached this point he will not fail to recognise himself, and bluntly present himself as, a revolutionary socialist.

It is not so with the bourgeoisie. All their interests are opposed to the economic transformation of society; and if their ideas are also opposed to it, if these ideas are reactionary, or as they are politely called today, moderate; [if] their heart and mind reject this great act of justice and emancipation that we call the social revolution; if they have a horror of real social equality, that is to say of simultaneous political, social and economic equality; if, in the depths of their souls, they want to keep for themselves, for their class or for their children, a single privilege, is only of understanding, as many bourgeois socialists do today; if they do not detest, not only with all the logic of their mind, but also with all the power of their passion, the present order of things, then we can be certain that they will remain all their life reactionaries, enemies of the cause of the workers. We must keep them far from the International.

They must be kept far from it, for they would only enter it to demoralise it and divert it from its path. There is, moreover, an infallible sign by which the workers can recognise whether a bourgeois, who asks to be admitted into their ranks, comes to them frankly, without the shadow of hypocrisy and without the least subversive ulterior motive. That sign is the relationships that he preserves with the bourgeois world.

The antagonism that exists between the world of the worker and the bourgeois world takes on a more and more pronounced character. Every man who thinks seriously and whose feelings and imagination are not altered by the often unconscious influence of self-interested sophisms must understand that today no reconciliation is possible between them. The workers want equality, and the bourgeois want to maintain inequality. Obviously one destroys the other. Also the vast majority of the capitalist and landlord bourgeois, those who have the courage to admit what they want, they likewise express with the same frankness the horror that the current movement of the working class inspires in them. They are enemies as resolute as they are sincere, we know them, and that is good.

But there is another category of bourgeois who have neither the same candour nor the same courage. Enemies of social liquidation, which we call, with all the power of our souls, a great act of justice, as the necessary starting point and indispensable basis of an egalitarian and rational organisation of society, they want, like all other bourgeois, to preserve economic inequality, that eternal source of all the other inequalities; and at the same time they pretend to want, like us, the complete emancipation of the worker and of work. They uphold against us, with a passion worthy of the most reactionary bourgeois, the very cause of proletariat’s slavery, the separation of labour and landed or capitalist property, represented today by two different classes; and they nonetheless pose as the apostles of the deliverance of the working class from the yoke of property and capital!

Are they mistaken or do they deceive? Some are mistaken in good faith, many deceive; the greater number are mistaken and deceive at the same time. They all belong to that category of bourgeois radicals and bourgeois socialists who founded the League of Peace and Freedom.

Is this League socialist? At its founding and during the first year of its existence, as we have already had occasion to tell, it rejected socialism with horror. Last year, at its Congress in Berne, it triumphantly rejected the principle of economic equality. Today, feeling itself dying and wishing to live a little longer, and finally understanding that no political existence is henceforth possible without the social question, it calls itself socialist, it has become bourgeois socialist: which means that it wants to solve all social questions on the basis of economic inequality. It wants, it must preserve interest on capital and rent on land, and it professes to emancipate the workers with these. It strives to give a body to nonsense.

Why does it do this? What is it that makes it undertake a work as incongruous as [it is] sterile? It is not difficult to understand.

A great part of the bourgeoisie is tired of the reign of Caesarism and militarism that it itself established in 1848, for fear of the proletariat. Just recall the June days, precursors of the December days; recall that National Assembly which, after the June days, cursed and insulted, unanimous bar one voice, the illustrious and we can say heroic socialist Proudhon who alone had the courage to hurl the challenge of socialism at this rabid herd of bourgeois conservatives, liberals and radicals.[2] And we must not forget that amongst those insulting Proudhon a number of citizens still living, and today more militant than ever, and who, baptised by the persecutions of December, have since become martyrs of liberty.

So, there is no doubt that the entire bourgeoisie, including the radical bourgeoisie, was itself the creator of the caesarean and military despotism whose effects it deplores today. After having served them against the proletariat, they now want to be free of it. Nothing is more natural; this regime humiliates and ruins them. But how can they be delivered from it? Formerly, they were brave and powerful, they had the power for conquests. Today they are cowardly and feeble, they are afflicted with the impotence of the old. They recognise only too well their weakness, and sense that they alone can do nothing. So they must have help. This help can only be the proletariat; so they must win over the proletariat.

But how to win them over? By promises of freedom and political equality? These are words that no longer move workers. They have learned at their cost, they understand by hard experience, that these words mean nothing for them but the maintenance of their economic slavery, often even harder than before. So if you want to touch the hearts of these miserable millions of slaves to labour, speak to them of their economic emancipation. There is no longer a worker who does not know now that this is for him the only serious and real basis for all the other emancipations. So it is necessary to speak to them about economic reforms for society.

Well, said the members of the League for Peace and Freedom, let us speak of it, let us say we are socialists too. Let us promise them some economic and social reforms, on the condition though that they take care to respect the basis of civilisation and bourgeois omnipotence: individual and hereditary property, interest on capital and rent on land. Let us persuade them that under these conditions alone, which moreover assure us domination and the workers slavery, can the worker be emancipated.

Let us even persuade them that, to realise all these social reforms, we must first make a good political revolution, exclusively political, as red as they please from the political point of view, with a great chopping of heads if that becomes necessary, but with the greatest respect for holy property; a wholly Jacobin revolution, in a word, that would make us the masters of the situation; and once masters, we could give the workers… what we can and what we want.

This is an infallible sign by which workers can recognise a false socialist, a bourgeois socialist: if, when speaking to them of revolution or, if you like, of social transformation, he tells them that political transformation must precede economic transformation; if he denies that they must both be made at once, or even [denies] that the political revolution must be nothing but the immediate and direct putting into action of the full and entire social liquidation; then [let them] turn their backs on him, for either he is nothing but a fool, or else a hypocritical exploiter.

IV

The International Workers’ Association, to remain faithful to its principle and to not deviate from the only path that can lead it to success, must above all guard itself against the influences of two kinds of bourgeois socialists: the partisans of bourgeois politics, including even bourgeois revolutionaries, and those of bourgeois co-operation, or so-called practical men.

Let us first consider the former.[3]

Economic emancipation, as we said in our previous issue, is the basis of all other emancipations. We have summarised by those words the entire politics of the International.

Indeed we read in the preamble of our general statutes the following statement:

That the subjection of labour to capital is the source of all political, moral and material servitude, and that for this reason the emancipation of the workers is the great aim to which every political movement must be subordinated.”

It is well understood that any political movement which does not have as an immediate and direct objective the definitive and complete economic emancipation of the workers, and which has not inscribed on its flag, in a very definite and clear manner, the principle of economic equality, which means the full restitution of capital to labour, or social liquidation – that every such political movement is bourgeois, and, as such, must be excluded from the International.

Consequently, the politics of the bourgeois democrats or bourgeois socialists must be ruthlessly excluded, which, by declaring “that political liberty is the preliminary condition for economic emancipation,” can only understand by these words nothing but this: political reforms or revolution must precede economic reforms or revolution; the workers must therefore ally themselves with the more or less radical bourgeois to first carry out the former with them, afterwards barring the making of the latter against them.

We protest strongly against this disastrous theory, which could only result in making the workers serve once again as an instrument against themselves and deliver them again to the exploitation of the bourgeoisie.

To conquer political liberty first cannot mean anything other than conquering it first by itself, leaving, at least for the first days, economic and social relationships as they are, that is to say, [leaving] the landlords and capitalists with their insolent wealth, and the workers with their poverty.

But, they say, once this freedom is won, it will serve the workers as an instrument to later conquer equality or economic justice.

Freedom is indeed a magnificent and powerful instrument. The question is whether the workers will really be able to use it, if it will really be in their possession, or if, as it has always been hitherto, their political freedom is only a deceptive visage, a fiction.

Could not a worker to whom you would speak of political freedom, in his present economic situation, respond with the refrain of a well-known song:

Do not speak of liberty.

Poverty is slavery!

And, indeed, you would have to be in love with illusions to imagine that a worker, in the economic and social conditions in which he currently finds himself, can take full advantage, make real, serious use of his political liberty. He lacks two things for this: leisure and material resources.

Besides, have we not seen it in France, the day after the revolution of 1848, the most radical revolution that can be desired from a political point of view?

The French workers were certainly neither indifferent nor unintelligent, and, in spite of the widest universal suffrage, they had to let the bourgeois do as they pleased. Why? because they lacked the material means that are necessary for political freedom to become a reality, because they remained the slaves of a labour forced by hunger, while the bourgeois radicals, liberals, and even conservatives, some republicans the day before, others converts the day after, came and went, conspired freely, some thanks to their unearned income or their lucrative bourgeois position, others thanks to the State budget which they have naturally preserved and had even made greater than ever.

We know what happened: first, the June days; later, as a necessary consequence, the December days.

But, it will be said, workers, becoming wiser by their very experience, will no longer send bourgeois to constituent or legislative assemblies, they will send simple workers. Poor as they are, they will be able to provide the necessary support for their deputies. Do you know what will be the result of this? The worker deputies, transferred into bourgeois surroundings and an atmosphere of entirely bourgeois political ideas, ceasing in fact to be workers by becoming Statesmen, will become bourgeois, and perhaps even more bourgeois than the bourgeois themselves. For men do not make situations, on the contrary it is situations that make men. And we know by experience that bourgeois workers are often no less selfish than bourgeois exploiters, nor less dire to the [International Workers’] Association than bourgeois socialists, nor less vain and ridiculous than ennobled bourgeois.[4]

No matter what they do and no matter what they may say, as long as the worker remains immersed in his present state, there will be no freedom possible for him, and those who advise him to win political liberties without first touching on the burning questions of socialism, without uttering that phrase that makes the bourgeois turn pale – social liquidation – simply tell him: First win this freedom for us, so that later we can use it against you.

But, it will be said, these radical bourgeois are well intentioned and sincere. There are no good intentions and sincerity that stand against the influences of position, and since we have said that even workers who put themselves in this position would inevitably become bourgeois, with even greater reason the bourgeois who remain in that position will remain bourgeois.

If a bourgeois, inspired by a great passion for justice, equality and humanity, wants to work seriously for the emancipation of the proletariat, he first begins by breaking all the political and social ties, all the relationships of interest as well as spirit, of vanity and heart, with the bourgeoisie. Let him first understand that no reconciliation is possible between the proletariat and that class, which, living only on the exploitation of others, is the natural enemy of the proletariat.

After having turned his back on the bourgeois world for good, let him then line up beneath the flag of the workers, on which are inscribed these words: “Justice, Equality and Freedom for all. Abolition of classes by the economic equalisation of all. Social liquidation.” He will be welcome.

As for the bourgeois socialists along with bourgeois workers who will come to talk to us of conciliation between bourgeois politics and the socialism of the workers, we have only one piece of advice to give to the latter: you must turn your backs on them.

Since bourgeois socialists seek to organise today, with socialism as bait, a formidable workers’ agitation in order to win political freedom, a liberty that, as we have just seen, would benefit only the bourgeoisie; since the working masses, having reached an understanding of their position, enlightened and guided by the principle of the International, are in fact organising themselves and begin to form a real power, not [just] national but international; not to do the business of the bourgeois, but their own affairs; and since, to realise that ideal of the bourgeois of a complete political freedom with republication institutions still requires a revolution, and since no revolution can triumph except by the power of the people, it is necessary that this power must, ceasing to pull chestnuts from the fire for the gentlemen of the bourgeoisie, henceforth only serve to make the cause of the people triumph, the cause of all those who labour against all those who exploit labour.

The International Workers’ Association, faithful to its principle, will never extend its hand to a political agitation which did not have as its immediate and direct aim the complete economic emancipation of the worker, that is to say the abolition of the bourgeoisie as a class economically separate from the mass of the population, nor to any revolution that, from the first day, from the first hour, will not inscribe social liquidation on its flag.

But revolutions are not improvised. They are not made arbitrarily, either by individuals or by even the most powerful associations. Independently of all will and of all conspiracy, they are always brought about by the force of events. They can be foreseen, their approach can sometimes be sensed, but the explosion can never be accelerated.

Convinced of this truth, we pose this question: What is the policy that the International must pursue during this more or less extended period of time that separates us from this terrible social revolution which everyone today anticipates?

Setting aside, as required by its statutes, all local and national politics, it will give workers’ agitation in all countries an essentially economic character, with the aim of reducing the hours of labour and increasing wages; the organisation of the working masses and the establishment of resistance funds as means.

It will propagandise its principles, for these principles are the purest expression of the collective interests of the workers of the whole world, are the soul and constitute all the life force of the Association. It will spread this propaganda widely, without regard for bourgeois sensitivities, so that every worker, emerging from the intellectual and moral torpor in which they strive to keep him, understands his situation, knows well what he must do and under what conditions he can conquer his human rights.

It will propagandise all the more energetically and sincerely for we often encounter influences, even in the International, which, affecting disdain for these principles, would like to portray them as a useless theory and strive to bring the workers back to the political, economic and religious catechism of the bourgeoisie.

Finally, it will expand and organise itself strongly across the borders of all lands, so that when the revolution, brought about by the force of events, breaks out, it is a real force, knowing what it must do, and hence capable of taking it in its hands and giving it a truly beneficial direction for the people; a serious international organisation of workers’ associations of all countries, capable of replacing this departing political world of States and bourgeoisie.[5]

We conclude this faithful exposition of the politics of the International by reproducing the final paragraph of the preamble to our general statutes:

“The movement that is taking place amongst the workers of the most industrious countries of Europe, by giving rise to new hopes, gives a solemn warning not to fall back into old errors.”

End Notes

[1] See, for example, “La Montage and Mr. Coullery,” The Basic Bakunin: Writings 1869-1871 (Buffalo, N.Y.: Promethus Books, 1994), Robert M. Cutler (trans. and ed.). (Translator)

[2] Extracts from this famous speech – in which he proclaimed “When I used those pronouns you and we, it was self-evident that at that point I was identifying myself with the proletariat and identifying you with the bourgeois class” – are included in Property is Theft! (Translator)

[3] Bakunin discussed the second issue in a subsequent article in L’Égalité entitled “On Co-operation” which is also included in The Basic Bakunin: Writings 1869-1871. (Translator)

[4] This analysis has, of course, been proven correct time and time again (not least, with Marxist Social Democracy). It has been repeated by many libertarian thinkers including Peter Kropotkin, Emma Goldman (Socialism: Caught in the Political Trap) and Rudolf Rocker (Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice). Of note is Chapter XIII (“Socialism”) of Alexander Berkman’s What Is Communist Anarchism? (1929). (Translator)

[5] As Bakunin later put it: “the serious, final, complete emancipation of the workers is possible only on one condition, and that this condition is the appropriation of capital, that is to say the raw materials and all the instruments of labour, including land, by the workers collectively. […] The organisation of trade sections, their federation in the International [Workers’] Association and their representation by trade councils [Chambres de travail] not only creates a great Academy where all the workers of the International, uniting practice with theory, can and must study economic science, they even carry the living seeds of the new social order that is to replace the bourgeois world. They create not only the ideas but the very facts of the future.” (Protest of the Alliance, July 1871)