The different positions representing by Karl Marx and Michael Bakunin on what should be and how to organize the nascent labor movement not only marked the development itself of the First International, the International Workers Association IWA, but was also an expression of the two lines that henceforth, would mark the path of unionism.
One is called political and authoritarian of Marxist Socialism first, the Social Democrat after the Second International, and finally the Communist with the Third International sponsored by the Soviet Union and its appendix the International Trade Union. The other is the anti-authoritarian, collectivist first, anarch-communist afterwards, revolutionary unionism later, and finally anarcho-syndicalism.
The international organization of this second line was the IWA. Created in 1864 and rebuilt in Berlin in late 1922.
The clash has gone down in history focused on the figures of two senior representatives from each of the streams to the point which is attributed a key role in the decline and extinction of the first IWA. Today is the source of numerous writings in which the philias and phobias are distributed in equal part, depending on who wields the pen or pound the keyboard. Just take a look around the Web.
As often happens in these cases, and more with organizations involved, the colors of each are not exclusively black or white. Rather, walking all tones of gray. If accuse Bakuninist of all kinds of intrigues and personal attacks, the same could be said against the Marxists. And about the doctrinal perspective or analysis of the events which they lived. As true as this 2014 and is the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Bakunin's is also the hundredth fiftieth the founding of the IWA in London.
Based on this principle, we can focus on the Marx-Bakunin conflict from three different perspectives: the context in which occurred the birth of organized labor, their personalities and the influence of each in approaches to the development of the labor movement.
The IWA was the first attempt to create an international organization of workers. The culmination of a long process whose roots can be traced to thirty years earlier. Its creation is the expression of awareness as a social group of workers from different trends and traditions. From continental communist to British unionists, through Italian Mazzini or Garibaldinist. Also present existing organizations and individuals. All united by the idea, expressed by Marx in his famous 1848 manifesto, synthesized in the slogan: Proletarians of all countries, Unite! That means break the ties with bourgeois organizations and face them in an internationally way. The working world would have its own organization. Hence the expectation, and fear, with which it was received.
From the first moment were evidents the differences in approaches represented by Marx, who gained control of the organization through its General Council in London, and the anti-authoritarian, mainly French groups oriented by Proudhon ideas. If the Marxist leaning on the powerful German Social Democracy section, from 1868 opponents had the presence of Bakunin who, with his International Alliance of Socialist Democracy, became part of the International.
The IWA appeared, not coincidentally, in a context of crisis and war. In 1870 France and Prussia went to war. The french king Napoleon III defeat led to the proclamation of the Third Republic, and in March 1871, the Paris Commune. Were milestones. There were others, like the case of Russian Nechayev, where action and interpretative differences between the two currents were reflected. The staged issues such as homeland defense by Marxist and Bakunin pan Slavism, the role of the Commune and its pertinence. Recurrent matter. In 1869, at the Congress of Basel, they had already faced about the issue of worker participation in politics and the creation of a labor party. The accusations of adventurism and authoritarianism come back.
In 1872 the IWA met in The Hague and the Marxist achieved that Bakunin were ousted. Split was served. That same year the expelled met in Saint Imier. Little tour had both internationals. The Marxist, that had moved the General Council to New York, in an attempt to keep it under their control, took a languid life until its formal demise in 1876. The bakunista also had not many more activity. In 1877 it held its last meeting in Ghent.
Clash of personalities: Marx and Bakunin
Certainly the life of societies due to structural causes and economic situations. But do not forget that the men and women protagonists and their personality and modus operandi have their own role. Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin doctrinal and organizational differences represent in the first labor movement is not a mere transposition of a history of "great men" are kings, politicians and labor leaders. Were ideological and organizational differences, that also involved their characters, personal issues, origins and cultural prejudices.
It seems they met in Paris in 1844 where they hold a good relationship but were never intimate. It was difficult to do so for a sentimental idealist and a doctrinaire scientist. Soon their differences appeared. In 1848 they faced about the Slav uprisings against German rule. The Russian and German dug their tomahawks. Marx accused Bakunin of "Russian agent" and the second to the first of pan-german and "corrupted by power." They spent more than three decades until a new meet in wich the differences continued now within the IWA. The intellectual and the action-man faced again.
Two strong personalities struggling to assert their views and influencing his colleagues. Hence the role played by the news about the activities of each other for the development of the labor movement. Not that these were the most important, but it played a role. About their actions, their people, circulated all kinds of rumors, information and counter information. Including the struggle for control and guidance of the IWA. The march of history is not inevitable, alien to their actors.
Nor should forget that were both "men" rather than "historical figures" representing trends. Their actions can not be seen from the standpoint of absolute truth or a sign of eternal identity. Even from the perspective of the consequences of their approaches. Probably their own uncertainties and passions played a role. Like today, they stand in a crossroads that faced by proposals and projects.
The ways of unionism
But beyond personalities and situations, which underlay the debate between Marxist and Bakunin was the model and the roads that would take the nascent labor internationalism.
- On one side the centralist and political of the London General Council controlled by Marx.
- Alternatively, in the other the defender of the autonomy of the sections, federalist and opposed to create workers' parties proposed by Bakunin.
A fight that would end even conditioning the existence of the IWA. The first sought the conquest of political power to stablish socialism with a transitional period of "dictatorship of the proletariat." The second wanted the destruction of political power and advocating abstention and non-participation in that field.
Under these finalists and organizative differences underlay others. In first place the relevance of "the authority". For Marx it was a guarantee of effectiveness. For Bakunin a way to perpetuate the control of men. Second is the role given to different social groups as revolutionary subjects. For the first it was the working class, the proletariat who would carry the process through the organized action lead by the science of dialectical materialism, a doctrine that reflects the interests of the working class. For Bakunin, the peasantry also had a role to play, and the individual and collective action compete with such "scientific" principles. But not only pesants, also individuals from other social groups. Against Marxist class ideology, anarchism emphasized the role of the individual.
Bakunin died in July 1876 in Bern and Marx in London in March 1883. Today, 150 years after the creation of the IWA have enough perspective to evaluate. First that finally ended prevaling Marxist approaches in European trade unionism. Political action was drifting to its current marginal situation. When they had the opportunity to occupy the State, as in Russia in 1914, ended up developing an exterminator totalitarianism. In second place, where Bakunin approaches prevailed, as in Spain, workers associations continued to be the revolutionary catalyst that led to the Spanish Revolution 1936-1939.
Source- Marx, Bakunin y la Primera Internacional: CNT via LA TARCOTECA Contrainfo