The First International was founded on September 28, 1864 in London. It brought together various socialist, anarchist and communist groups, which sought to forward the class struggle through an international organization.
Since the International consisted of organizations and people with a wide-range of philosophies, debate and conflict about the direction of the International was present from the start. The anarchists, especially the mutualists, opposed the communists and statism in general. Later, the entrance of collectivist anarchists into the International permanently divided it into two clear camps: those who supported the state in some way and those who were opposed.
The anarchists favoured direct struggle of the workers. They argued that the Marxists' ideas were authoritarian and if a Marxist type party ever came to power, they would be as bad as the rulers that the workers were fighting against.
The anarchists, in this respect, were proven correct.
In 1872, the International split into two currents: the anarchist one and the Marxist, with the Marxists expelling prominent anarchists. The anarchists held their own separate Congress, declaring their own ideas.
The International did not survive, but anarchists attempted to revive it several times. Finally, at the end of 1922, the International Workingmen's Association, the current IWA, was revived.
Unlike the first attempt to create a revolutionary international, this time the IWA made a clear stance against political vanguards from the very beginning. Rejecting the role of the party in the liberation of the working class, the IWA refused the ideas of the Communist Party, which sought to unite all revolutionary worker's organizations under its wing, according to their goals.
The first Principle of Revolutionary Unionism which is found in the IWA statutes is that:
„Revolutionary unionism, basing itself on the class struggle, aims to unite all workers in combative economic organizations, which fight to free themselves from the double yoke of capital and the State. Its goal is the reorganization of social life on the basis of Libertarian Communism via the revolutionary action of the working class. Since only the economic organizations of the proletariat are capable of achieving this objective, revolutionary unionism addresses itself to workers in their capacity as producers, creators of social wealth, to take root and develop amongst them, in opposition to the modern workers’ parties, which it declares are incapable of the economic reorganization of society.”
Some consider the IWA's legacy to go back to the founding of the First International, but in reality, the First International was something of a false start. The goals of those who wish to achieve change through the state or the revolutionary vanguard/party are simply not the same as the goals of the anarchists who went into the International with optimism, only to realize the unbridgeable chasm between the 2 ideas in the end.
Nowadays, due to the relatively weak organization of the working class in revolutionary organizations, some believe that the solution lies in uniting the various elements of the working class and ignoring the question of the state. But this is an eternal question and an issue which can only come back to bite us if we are not vigilant. The actual power of some parties may fluctuate, but the nature of power and authority is essentially the same.
On the occasion of this anniversary, we can say, „Long live the IWA! Our IWA”
IWA General Secretary
(pictured: Bakunin speaking at the 1869 Basel Congress of the IWMA)