The First International

A century ago, writes Patrick Renshaw, Karl Marx and his colleagues founded in London the first International Workingmen's Association, a body from which many varieties of socialism and communism have since developed.

Peking’s decision to formalize its dispute with Moscow by founding a new Communist International comes just one hundred years after a group of men in London formed the First International—the International Workingmen’s Association. In its eight years of effective life the First International did not achieve much except agitation; but its significance goes far beyond its achievements.

As the first labour organization to cross frontiers and unite British workers with those in France, Germany and Italy, it was the natural precursor of the social democratic Second, the Soviet-led Third and the Trotskyist Fourth Internationals. Now it seems a Fifth International is in the making. All these later movements borrowed from the experience of the First International.

The Third International, in particular, tried to gain legitimacy by arguing that its organizational structure and method—democratic centralism—derived from the body Karl Marx himself had helped to found and came to dominate.1 All were rent by the same factional conflicts, of which the Sino-Soviet clash is simply the latest episode.

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