The International faces state repression: Report of the General Council to the Fifth Annual Congress of the IWA held at the Hague

The Franco-German War and the Civil War in France were preceded, accompanied, and followed by a third war - the war against the International Working Men's Association. Following the defeat of the Paris Commune, the International was faced with a concerted onslaught of reaction, aggravated by the internal intrigues by both the anarchists and the agents of the state.


[The German text has "Working men"]

Since our last Congress at Basle, two great wars have changed the face of Europe: the Franco-German War and the Civil War in France. Both of these wars were preceded, accompanied, and followed by a third war -- the war against the International Working Men's Association.

The Paris members of the International had told the French people publicly and emphatically that voting the plebiscite was voting despotism at home and war abroad Under the pretext of having participated in a plot for the assassination of Louis Bonaparte they were arrested on the eve of the plebiscite the 23rd of April 1870. [1] Simultaneous arrests of Internationalists took place at Lyons, Rouen Marseilles, Brest, and other towns. In its declaration of May 3rd, 1870, the General Council stated [2]:

"This last plot will worthily range with its two predecessors of grotesque memory. The noisy and violent measures against our French sections are exclusively intended to serve one single purpose -- the manipulation of the plebiscite."

In point of fact, after the downfall of the December empire its governmental successors published documentary evidence to the effect that this last plot had been fabricated by the Bonapartist police itself, [3] and that on the eve of the plebiscite, Ollivier, in a private circular, directly told his subordinates,

"The leaders of the International must be arrested or else the voting of the plebiscite could not be satisfactorily proceeded with."

The plebiscitary farce once over, the members of the Paris Federal Council were indeed condemned, on the 8th of July, by Louis Bonaparte's own judges, but for the simple crime of belonging to the International and not for any participation in the sham plot. [4] Thus the Bonapartist government considered it necessary to initiate the most ruinous war that was ever brought down upon France, by a preliminary campaign against the French sections of the International Working Men's Association. Let us not forget that the working class in France rose like one man to reject the plebiscite Let us no more forget that

"the stock-exchanges, the cabinets, the ruling classes, and the press of Europe celebrated the plebiscite as a signal victory of the French emperor over the French working class." -- (Address of General Council on the Franco-Prussian War. 23rd July, 1870.)

A few weeks after the plebiscite, when the imperialist press commenced to fan the warlike passions amongst the French people, the Paris Internationalists, nothing daunted by the government persecutions, issued their appeal of the 12th of July, "to the workmen of all nations", denounced the intended war as a "criminal absurdity", telling their "brothers of Germany", that

their "division would only result in the complete triumph of despotism on both sides of the Rhine", and declaring that "we, the members of the International Association, know of no frontiers."

Their appeal met with an enthusiastic echo from Germany, so that the General Council was entitled to state,

"The very fact that while official France and Germany are rushing into a fratricidal feud, the workmen of France and Germany send each other messages of peace and good will -- this great fact, unparalleled in the history of the past-opens the vista of a brighter future. It proves that in contrast to old society with its economical miseries and its political delirium, a new society is springing up whose international rule will be peace, because its national ruler will be everywhere the same -- Labour. The pioneer of that new society is the International Working Men's Association." -- (Address of July 23rd, 1870.)

Up to the proclamation of the Republic, the members of the Paris Federal Council remained in prison, while the other members of the Association were daily denounced to the mob as traitors acting in the pay of Prussia.

With the capitulation of Sedan, when the second empire ended as it began, by a parody, the Franco-German War entered upon its second phase. It became war against the French people. After her repeated solemn declarations to take lip arms for the sole purpose of repelling foreign aggression, Prussia now dropped the mask and proclaimed a war of conquest. From that moment she found herself compelled not only to fight the Republic in France, but simultaneously the International in Germany. We can here hut hint at a few incidents of that conflict.

Immediately after the declaration of war, the greater part of the territory of the North German Confederation, Hanover, Oldenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Brunswick, Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg, Pomerania, and the province of Prussia, were placed in a state of siege and handed over to the tender mercies of General Vogel von Falkenstein. This state of siege proclaimed as a safeguard against the threatening foreign invasion was at once turned into a state of war against the German Internationals.

The day after the proclamation of the Republic at Paris, the Brunswick Central Committee of the German Democratic Socialist Working Men's Party, which forms a section of the International within the limits imposed by the law of the country, issued a manifesto (5th September) calling upon the working class to oppose by all means in their power the dismemberment of France to claim a peace honourable for that country, and to agitate for the recognition of the French Republic. [5] The manifesto denounced the proposed annexation of Alsace and Lorraine as a crime tending to transform all Germany into a Prussian barracks and to establish war as a permanent European institution. On the 9th September, Vogel von Falkenstein had the members of the Brunswick Committee arrested and marched off in chains a distance of 600 miles, to Loctzen, a Prussian fortress, on the Russian frontier, where their ignominious treatment was to serve as a foil to the ostentations feasting of the Imperial guest at Wilhelmshöhe. [Castle of the Prussian kings where Napoleon III, former Emperor of France, was held prisoner by the Prussians from September 5, 1870 to March 19, 1871] As arrests, the hunting of workmen from one German state to another, suppression of proletarian papers, military brutality, and police-chicane in all forms, did not prevent the International vanguard of the German working class from acting up to the Brunswick manifesto, Vogel von Falkenstein, by an ukase of September 21st [1870], interdicted all meetings of the Democratic Socialist party. That interdict was cancelled by another ukase of October 5th wherein he naively commands the police spies

"to denounce to him personally all individuals who, by public demonstrations, shall encourage France in her resistance against the conditions of peace imposed by Germany, so as to enable him to render such individuals innocuous during the continuance of the war".

Leaving the cares of the war abroad to Moltke, the King of Prussia contrived to give a new turn to the war at home. By his personal order of the 17th October, Vogel von Falkenstein was to lend his Loetzen captives to the Brunswick District Tribunal, the which, on its part, was either to find grounds for their legal durance, or else return them to the safe keeping of the dread general.

Vogel von Falkenstein's proceedings were, of course, imitated throughout Germany, while Bismarck, in a diplomatic circular, mocked Europe by standing forth as the indignant champion of the right of free utterance of opinion, free press, and free meetings, on the part of the peace party in France. At the very same time that he demanded a freely elected National Assembly for France, in Germany he had Bebel and Liebknecht imprisoned for having, in opposition to him, represented the International in the German Parliament, and in order to get them out of the way during the impending general elections. [6] His master, William the Conqueror, supported him, by a decree from Versailles, prolonging the state of siege, that is to say, the suspension of all civil law, for the whole period of the elections. In fact, the King did not allow the state of siege to he raised in Germany until two months after the conclusion of peace with France. The stubbornness with which lie was insisting upon the state of war at home, and his repeated personal meddling with his own German captives, prove the awe in which he, amidst the din of victorious arms and the frantic cheers of the whole middle class, held the rising party of the proletariat. It was the involuntary homage paid by physical force to moral power.

If the war against the International had been localised, first in France, from the days of the plebiscite to the downfall of the Empire, then in Germany during the whole period of the resistance of the Republic against Prussia, it became general since the rise, and after the fall, of the Paris Commune.

On the 6th of June, 1871, Jules Favre issued his circular to the Foreign Powers demanding the extradition of the refugees of the Commune as common criminals, and a general crusade against the International as the enemy of family, religion, order, and property, so adequately represented in his own person. [7] Austria and Hungary caught the cue at once. On the 13th June a raid was made on the reputed leaders of the Pesth Working Men's Union their papers were seized their persons sequestered and proceedings were instituted against them for high treason. [8] Several delegates of the Vienna International happening to be on a visit to Pesth, were carried off to Vienna there to undergo a similar treatment Beust asked and received from his parliament a supplementary vote of £30,000

"on behalf of expenses for political information that had become more than ever indispensable through the dangerous spread of the International all over Europe".

Since that time a true reign of terror against the working class has set in in Austria and Hungary. In its last agonies the Austrian Government seems still anxiously to cling to its old privilege of playing the Don Quixote of European reaction.

A few weeks after Jules Favre's circular, Dufaure proposed to his rurals a law which is now in force, [9] and punishes as a crime the mere fact of belonging to the International Working Men's Association, or of sharing its principles. As a witness before the rural committee of enquiry on Dufaure's Bill, Thiers boasted that it was the offspring of his own ingenious brains, and that he had been the first to discover the infallible panacea of treating the Internationals as the Spanish Inquisition had treated the heretics. But even on this point he can lay no claim to originality. Long before his appointment as saviour of society, the true law which the Internationals deserve at the bands of the ruling classes had been laid down by the Vienna courts.

On the 26th July, 1870, the most prominent men of the Austrian proletarian party were found guilty of high treason, and sentenced to years of penal servitude, with one fast day in every month. The law laid down was this: --

The prisoners, as they themselves confess, have accepted and acted according to the programme of the German Working Men's Congress of Eisenach (1869). This programme embodies the programme of the International. The International is established for the emancipation of the working class from the rule of the propertied class, and from political dependence. That emancipation is incompatible with the existing institutions of the Austrian state. Hence, whoever accepts and propagates the principles of the International programme, commits preparatory acts for the overthrow of the Austrian Government, and is consequently guilty of high treason.

On the 27th November, 1871, judgment was passed upon the members of the Brunswick Committee. They were sentenced to various periods of imprisonment. The court expressly referred, as to a precedent, to the law laid down at Vienna.

At Pesth, the prisoners belonging to the Working Men's Union, after having undergone for nearly a year a treatment as infamous as that inflicted upon the Fenians by the British Government, were brought up for judgment on the 22nd April, 1872. The public prosecutor, here also, called upon the court to apply to them the law laid down at Vienna. They were, however, acquitted.

At Leipzig, on the 27th March, 1872, Bebel and Liebknecht were sentenced to two years imprisonment in a fortress for attempted high treason upon the strength of the law as laid down at Vienna. The only distinctive feature of this case is that the law laid down by a Vienna judge was sanctioned by a Saxon jury.

At Copenhagen the three members of the Central Committee of the International, Brix, Pio, and Geleff, were thrown into prison on the 5th of May [1872] because they had declared their firm resolve to hold an open air meeting in the teeth of a police order forbidding it. Once in prison they were told that the accusation against them was extended, that tile socialist ideas in themselves were incompatible with the existence of the Danish state and that consequently the mere act of propagating them constituted a clime against the Danish constitution. Again the law as laid down in Vienna! The accused are still in prison awaiting their trial.

The Belgian government distinguished by its sympathetic reply to Jules Favre's demand of extradition made haste to propose, through Malou, a hypocritical counterfeit of Dufaure's law.

His Holiness Pope Pius IX gave vent to his feelings in an allocation to a deputation of Swiss Catholics.

"Your government," said he, "which is republican thinks itself bound to make a heavy sacrifice for what is called liberty. It affords an asylum to a goodly number of individuals of the worst character. It tolerates that sect of the International which desires to treat all Europe as it has treated Paris. These gentlemen of the International who are no gentlemen, are to he feared because they work for the account of the everlasting enemy of God and mankind. What is to be gained by protecting them! One must pray for them."

Hang them first and pray for them afterwards!

Supported by Bismarck, Beust, and Stieber, the Prussian spy-in-chief, the Emperors of Austria and Germany met at Salzburg in the beginning of September, 1871, for the ostensible purpose of founding a holy alliance against the International Working Men's Association.

"Such a European Alliance," declared the North German Gazette, Bismarck's private Moniteur, "is the only possible salvation of state, church, property, civilisation, in one word, of everything that constitutes European states."

Bismarck's real object, of course, was to prepare alliances for an impending war with Russia and the International was held up to Austria as a piece of red cloth is held up to a bull.

Lanza suppressed the International in Italy by simple decree. Sagasta declared it an outlaw in Spain, [10] probably with a view to curry favour with the English stock exchange. The Russian government which, since the emancipation of the serfs, has been driven to the dangerous expedient of making timid concessions to popular claims today, and withdrawing them tomorrow, found in the general line and cry against the International a pretext for a recrudescence of reaction at home. Abroad, with the intention of prying into the secrets of our Association, it succeeded in inducing a Swiss judge to search, in presence of a Russian spy, the house of Outine. a Russian International, and the editor of the Geneva Egalité, the organ of our Romance Federation. [11] The republican government of Switzerland has only been prevented by the agitation of the Swiss Internationals from handing up to Thiers refugees of the Commune.

Finally, the government of Mr. Gladstone, unable to act in Great Britain, at least set forth its good intentions by the police terrorism exercised in Ireland against our sections then in course of formation, and by ordering its representatives abroad to collect information with respect to the International Working Men's Association.

But all the measures of repression which the combined government intellect of Europe was capable of devising, vanish into nothing before the war of calumny undertaken by the lying power of the civilised world. Apocryphal histories and mysteries of the International, shameless forgeries of public documents and private letters, sensational telegrams, followed each other in rapid succession; all the sluices of slander at the disposal of the venal respectable press were opened at once to set free a deluge of infamy in which to drown the execrated foe. This war of calumny finds no parallel in history for the truly international area over which it has spread, and for the complete accord in which it has been carried on by all shades of ruling class opinion. When the great conflagration took place at Chicago, the telegraph round the world announced it as the infernal deed of the International; and it is really wonderful that to its demoniacal agency has not been attributed the hurricane ravaging the West Indies.

In its former annual reports, the General Council used to give a review of the progress of the Association since the meeting of the preceding Congress. You will appreciate, citizens, the motives which induce us to abstain from that course upon this occasion. Moreover, the reports of the delegates from the various countries, who know best how far their discretion may extend, will in a measure make up for this deficiency. We confine ourselves to the statement that since the Congress at Basle, and chiefly since the London Conference of September 1871, the International has been extended to the Irish in England and to Ireland itself, to Holland, Denmark, and Portugal, that it has been firmly organised in the United States, and that it has established ramifications in Buenos Aires, Australia, and New Zealand.

The difference between a working class without an International, and a working class with an International, becomes most evident if we look back to the period of 1848. Years were required for the working class itself to recognise the Insurrection of June, 1848, as the work of its own vanguard. The Paris Commune was at once acclaimed by the universal proletariat.

You, the delegates of the working class, meet to strengthen the militant organisation of a society aiming at the emancipation of labour and the extinction of national feuds. Almost at the same moment, there meet at Berlin the crowned dignitaries of the old world in order to forge new chains and to hatch new wars. [12]

Long life to the International Working Men's Association!

Written by Marx in late August 1872


1 On April 23 1870, the French government published a decree on holding a plebiscite on May 8 1870, the purpose of which was to bolster up the shaky position of the government of Napoleon III. The question was so formulated that it was impossible to express disapproval of the Second Empire's policy without at the same time opposing all democratic reforms

On April 24 1870, the newspaper La Marseillaise No. 125 carried a protest against the plebiscite launched by the Paris Federation of the international and the Federal Syndicalist Chamber. It was printed as a leaflet entitled Manifeste antiplébiscitaire des Sections parisiennes fédérées de l'Internationale et de lá Chambre fédérale des Sociétés ouvrières, Paris, 1870. (Anti-Plebiscite Manifesto Published by the Federation of the Paris Sections of the International and by the Federal Chamber of Workers' Societies.)

2 Reference to General Council statement (by Marx) entitled "On the Persecution of Members of the French Sections."

3 Marx is referring to Papiers et correspondance de la Famille impériale (Papers and Correspondence of the Royal Family) in two volumes published in Paris in 1870-71 -- the first volume of which contains Minister Ollivier's orders for the arrests of members of the International.

4 This refers to the third trial of members of the Paris organisation of the International which was held from June 22 to July 8 1870. Put on trial: 38 activists in the workers' movement -- including Varlin (he managed to flee), Frankel, Johannard, Avrial, Chalain. The accused were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment -- from two months to a year -- and were fined.

5 The Brunswick Committee of the German Social-Democratic Workers' Party issued on September 5 1870 a manifesto "An alle deutschen Arbeiter" ("To All German Workers"). It was published in the newspaper Der Volkstaat No. 73, September 11 1870. But on September 9 1870, all members of the Brunswick Committee were arrested.

6 On November 16 1870, during a debate in the German Reichstag on the question of fresh loans for the war against France, Bebel and Liebknecht demanded a ban on war loans and the immediate conclusion of a peace treaty without annexations with the French Republic. On December 17 1870, Bebel and, somewhat later, Liebknecht, were arrested. During the general elections in March 1871, Bebel was re-elected Deputy to the Reichstag as a sign of protest.

7 This refers to Jules Favre's circular to the diplomatic representatives of France abroad (of June 6 1871), in which he called upon all governments to join forces in the struggle against the International. The circular, which demanded the extradition of the Commune refugees as criminals, was dated May 16 1871.

8 The General Working Men's Union -- The first socialist organisation in Hungary, whose activities spread to Pest, the capital, and to major industrial towns. The Union carried on socialist propaganda and led the strike movement of the workers. Its leaders (Karoly Farkas, Antal Ihrlinger, Victor Külföldi) were members of the Hungarian section of the International Working Men's Association and had contacts with Austrian and German Social-Democrats and directly with Marx. On June 11 1871, the Union organised a demonstration of solidarity with the Paris Commune. In this connection, the government dissolved the Union, while its leaders and the representatives of the Austrian workers' movement who had come from Vienna were arrested on a charge of high treason. But they were acquitted owning to a lack of evidence and under pressure of public opinion.

9 This law was adopted by the French National Assembly on March 14 1872.

10 This refers to a circular from Lanza, Italian Home Minister, of August 14 1871, in which he ordered the dissolution of the International's sections.

11 The search of Utin's house in Geneva and inspection of his personal papers and documents of the International took place from January 16 to 28 1872. The cantonal Council of the Geneva sections adopted a special resolution on February 6, in which it sharply protested against this collusion of all the European governments against the International. The General Council of the International, in its turn, adopted a declaration denouncing the police arbitrariness of the Swiss authorities.

12 This refers to a meeting of the emperors of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia which took place in Berlin in September 1872 and which was an attempt to restore the reactionary alliance of these states. On its agenda there was also the question of the joint struggle against the revolutionary movement.

Courtesy of Marxists Internet Archive.