Socialism and Equality in the Programme of the International Workingmen’s Association

Last week I put up a piece arguing that one of the main differences between genuine socialism and Nazism and Fascism, which at times included socialist elements or affected socialistic postures, is that Socialism also demanded equality. Karl Kautsky in his writings stated that socialists supported the working class as the way to equality and the classless society. If this could be done better without socialism, then the latter would have to be discarded. Article 6 of the Preamble to the General Rules of the International Workingmen’s Association, agreed at the Geneva congress in 1866, explicitly included racial, national and religious equality. Bakunin gives the rules in the Preamble in his piece on ‘The Organisation of the International’ in Mikhail Bakunin: From Out of the Dustbin: Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-1871, Robert M. Cutler, ed. and trans. (Ann Arbor: Ardis 1985), pp. 137-44. They were

1. The emancipation of Labour should be the work of the labourers themselves;
2. The efforts of the workers to emancipate themselves should lend themselves to the establishment not of new privileges but of equal rights and equal obligations for everyone, and to the abolition of all class domination;
3. The economic subjection of the worker to the monopolizers of primatery materials and of the instruments of labour is the origin of all forms of slavery: social poverty, mental degradation, and political submission.
4. For this reason, the economic emancipation of the working classes is the great goal to which every political movement should be subordinated as a simple means;
5. The emancipation of the workers is not a simply local or national problem; on the contrary, this problem is of interest to all civilized nations depending for its solution upon their theoretical and practical circumstances;
6. The Association and all its members recognize that Truth, Justice, and Morality must be the basis of their conduct toward all men, without regard to colour, creed or nationality;
7. Finally the Association considers itself obliged to demand human and civil rights not only for its members but also for whoever fulfills his obligations; “No obligations without rights, no rights without obligations”.

Pp. 142-3, my emphasis.

I realise that there are exception to this rule. The Fabians were fully behind British imperialism and the Boer War, and Marx and Engels had deeply unpleasant views about how certain nations – the Celts and the Slavs – were reactionary and due to disappear from history. And I think its probably fair to say that it has only been after the great social changes in the 1960s that feminism and anti-racism have been more than the concern of a few intellectuals both within the Labour movement in Britain and outside it.

But nevertheless, the I.W.M.A’s programme does show a commitment to social equality was present in the working class movement from very early on, a commitment that continues to inspire and motivate socialists and working people today striving for a better world. A world without Fascism, which will try to take on some of its aspects in order to suppress real socialism.

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