Evolution of Socialist Movement


The First International, 1864

First International

One of the most important events in the history of the socialist movement was the formation in 1864 of the International Working Men’s Association, or the First International. With it, socialism stepped on the stage of history as a world movement. It was formed at London, with delegates coming from Britain, Italy, France, Germany, Poland and Switzerland. Marx addressed the meeting, which became famous as the Inaugural Address of the International Working Men’s Association. This address along with the general rules, outlined the principles and aims of the international. The central aim of the international was declared to be the total abolition of all class rule. The universal character of the struggle of the working class was emphasized. The address ended with the slogan- ‘Proletarians of all lands, unite!’.

Since its formation, it was seen by the governments as a menace, and attempts were made to exterminate it. It was persecuted and declared illegal in many countries. However, the international exercised a tremendous influence in Europe and North America, by helping to create bonds of international solidarity.

Paris Commune, 1871

Paris Commune, 1871

The War between France and Prussia led to an important development- an uprising of workers of Paris and the seizure of power by them. This is one of the most important events in the history of socialism. After the war, French were defeated and Louis Bonaparte imprisoned. A new government came into being and had declared France a republic. This government was dominated by the propertied classes, and had agreed to Bismarck’s terms for truce, including surrender of Paris, cession of Alsace-Lorraine and payment of a huge war indemnity. The workers of Paris regarded the surrender by the government as treacherous. They refused to surrender. The government withdrew from Paris on February 18, 1871 and asked the Germans to crush Paris.

The workers of Paris elected a council, which on March 28, 1871 assumed the title of the Paris Commune. It was elected by universal adult franchise and represented the workers and the lower middle classes of Paris. All public offices were elected by universal suffrage with people having a right to recall. The aim of the commune was declared as the ending of exploitation, stock-exchange speculation, monopolies and privileges to which proletariat attribute its slavery.

Paris Commune was the result of an upsurge of the workers. It was the result of the first workers’ revolution in history. However, it was soon crushed in blood, by the French government which had established in Versailles, with a huge army. Many thousands were killed and imprisoned.

Extermination of the Commune was followed by systematic attempts to destroy the International in almost every country in Europe. The International was engaged in aiding the refugees from Paris. It was also gaining strength in many countries in Europe. However, it soon collapsed due to internal differences. The International was not a homogenous organization. It represented many different trends in the workers’ movement. Due to these differences, it was split in 1872 and was formally dissolved in 1876.

The Second International

Second International

By 1870s and 1880s, there were socialist parties in almost every country in Europe. Some of them even participated in the elections. The German Socialist Party was the largest socialist party in Europe. In Britain emerged- the Social Democratic Federation, The Socialist League and the Fabian Society. Thus, though the First International had been dissolved, the socialist movement had become a mass movement.

To unite the socialist parties in various countries into an international organization, a Congress was held in Paris on July 14, 1889, on the centenary of the French Revolution of 1789. The result of the meeting was the Second International. It set a new stage in the history of socialism. An important step was to make the first May every year as a day of working class solidarity.

The period after the formation of the second international saw a steady increase in the strength of the socialist parties and of trade unions. The most significant achievement of the second international were its campaigns against militarism and war and in asserting the principle of the basic equality of all peoples and their right to freedom and national independence.

The period fro last decade of the 19th century saw the growing militarization of every country in Europe. Wars seemed imminent. Europe was being divided into different warring groups, the struggle for colonies being the main cause of conflicts between them. Thus, struggle against militarism and the prevention of war became the major aims of the second international. They expressed conviction that capitalism was the root cause of war.

The Second International also decided that the socialist should utilize the economic and political crisis created by the war, to rouse the masses and thereby hasten the downfall of capitalist rule. It made the international solidarity of workers as a fundamental principle. When Russia and Japan were warring each other, in 1904, The leaders of socialist groups from Japan and Russia were made joint presidents of the Second International.

The Second International also condemned colonialism and committed the socialist parties to oppose the robbery and subjugation of colonial peoples. In 1904, Dadabhai Bhai Naoroji attended the Second International pleading for the cause of India.

Weaknesses of the Socialist Movement

However, inspite of its achievement and popularity, Second International had many weaknesses. Unlike the First International, it was a loose federation of socialist parties of many countries. With growing influence of different parties, there emerged internal differences. Debates started over the course to be chosen to bring socialism- with some supporting revolution, while others advocating gradual reforms. Similarly, there were internal differences over issues of War and colonialism. On the question of war, it suffered a fatal blow. When the First World War broke out, most of the socialist parties extended support to their respective governments. Thus, the second international ceased to function and the socialist movement in every country was split. Therefore, with the outbreak of the first world war, an important phase in the history of the socialist movement came to an end.

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