The Present Institutions of the International in Relation to the Future

César De Paepe

L’Internationale : organe des Sections belges de l’Association internationale des travailleurs, February 1869

The International Workers’ Association bears social regeneration within itself.

There are many who agree that if the Association should realise its programme, it will have indeed established the reign of justice, but who believe that certain current institutions of the International are only temporary and are destined to disappear. We want to show that the International already offers the model of the society to come, and that its various institutions, with appropriate modifications, will form the future social order.

Let us examine the current structure of the association, taking its most complete examples, for a great number of sections have not yet reached a perfect organisation.

The section is the model for the commune. There the workers of all trades are gathered without distinction. The matters that concern all workers, whatever their profession, must be dealt with there.

At the head of the section is an Administrative Committee, which is charged with carrying out the measures decreed by the section. Instead of commanding like present administrations, it obeys its citizens.

The Federal Council is composed of the delegates of different worker groups; to it [are given] issues of relations between different trades, of the organisation of labour. This is a gap in our present governments, which only represent a confused morass of individuals instead of representing groups [united] by interests.

The different societies gathered in the Federal Council are resistance societies. These societies belong to the future as well as the present. Grouping around it the workers of the same trade, teaching them their interests, calculating the selling price and cost price for basing their demands on, the resistance society is destined to organise labour in the future, much more than the productive society, which, at the moment, is difficult to extend.[1] When the time comes, when the workers have agreed to demand the liquidation of the present society, which perpetually bankrupts them, nothing will be easier than to transform resistance societies into co-operative workshops.

The co-operative consumer societies, which are established in the majority of sections, are destined one day to replace current commerce, full of frauds and traps, they will transform themselves into communal bazaars, where the various products will be displayed with an accurate indication of the deed of sale [expéditions], without any further surcharge than the payment of expenses.

The mutual assistance and insurance funds will take a wider development and become universal insurance societies. Illnesses, disabilities, old age, widowhood, all these present sources of poverty will be eliminated. No more charity offices, [no more] public assistance dishonour; no more hospitals where we are admitted by charity. All the care that we receive will have been paid for; there will be no more doctors of the poor.[2]

Ignorance, another source of poverty, will disappear in the face of the education given by every section. It is not a question of that instruction which even our doctrinaires loudly demand. We want to make men, and one is only a complete man when one is a worker and scholar at the same time; also all the workers gathered at the Congress of Brussels last September demanded integral education which includes science and learning of trades.[3] As this education cannot be provided at present, due to material impediments, the sections compensate as best they can by organising meetings, conferences, founding newspapers, where workers are taught the rights of man, where they learn to claim them, where finally we assemble the materials for the edifice of the future society.

The problem of the organisation of justice is already resolved within the International. The defence funds fulfil this purpose. They have their current aspect, in this respect, that having examined the case, the Defence Committee decides when a worker complains of an injustice committed by his boss whether it will be upheld in court. But this institution also looks to the future, in that it decides disputes between members by means of a jury chosen by election and renewable at very short notice. In the future, no more pettifoggers, judges, prosecutors, lawyers. The same law for all, and justice based, no longer on this or that, more or less muddled, text about which we quarrel, but on reason and rectitude.

The various sections are connected in their turn in the federation, by regions, then by country. These federations include not only a grouping by sections, but also by trades, as there is for communes. Thus the relations between the different groups will be facilitated, thus labour can be organised, not only within the communes, but within the entire country.

Vast institutions of credit will be like the veins and arteries of this organisation. Credit will no longer be what it is today, an instrument of death, for it will be based on equal exchange: it will be credit at cost-price.

If the International has not yet been able, in its current state, to establish an institution of this kind, at least it has already discussed its principles and statutes at the Congresses of Lausanne and Brussels. At the latter Congress, a plan for a bank of exchange was presented by the Brussels section.

Finally, the relations between different countries are secured by an international General Council. Such will be future diplomacy: no more embassy attachés, no more dashing secretaries of legation[4], no more diplomats, protocols, wars.

A central office of correspondence, information and statistics is all that is necessary to connect nations united by a fraternal bond.

We now believe that we have shown that the International contains within itself the seeds of all the institutions of the future. In every commune let a section of the International be established, and the new society will be formed and the old will collapse with a breath. Thus, when a wound heals, we see a scab form above while the flesh slowly regrows below. One fine day, the scab falls off, and the flesh appears fresh and ruddy.

End Notes

[1] A reference to workers’ co-operatives created within capitalism, viewed as a key means of reforming capitalism away by the more orthodox mutualists within the International and rejected by revolutionary collectivists like Bakunin. (Translator)

[2] A reference to doctors who took up work with charitable institutions. (Translator)

[3] This idea was raised by Proudhon and advocated by Bakunin, the latter publishing a series of articles on it in L’Égalité – see “All-Round Education” in The Basic Bakunin. (Translator)

[4] A legation was a diplomatic representative office of lower rank than an embassy. In the 19th century, most diplomatic missions were legations but this gradually fell from favour as the embassy became the standard form of diplomatic mission. (Translator)