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The First Socialist Schism: Bakunin vs. Marx in the International Working Men’s Association

The First Socialist Schism chronicles the conflicts in the International Working Men’s Association (the First International, 1864–1877), which represents an important milestone in the history of political ideas and socialist theory. In defending their autonomy, federations in the International became aware of what separated them from the social democratic movement that relied on the establishment of national labor parties and the conquest of political power. This can be seen as a decisive moment in the history of political ideas: the split between centralist party politics and the federalist grassroots movement. The separate movements in the International—which would later develop into social democracy, communism, and anarchism—found their greatest advocates in Mikhail Bakunin and Karl Marx. However, the significance of this alleged clash of titans is largely a modern invention. It was not the rivalry between two arch-enemies or a personal vendetta based on mutual resentment that made the conflict between Bakunin and Marx so important but rather that it heralded the first socialist schism between parliamentary party politics aiming to conquer political power and social-revolutionary concepts.

Instead of focusing exclusively on what Marx and Bakunin said, many other contributions to this debate are examined, making this the first reconstruction of a dispute that gripped the entire organization. This book also provides the first detailed account of the International’s Congress of The Hague (September, 1872); including the background, the sequence of events, and international reaction. The book sets new standards when it comes to source material, taking into account documents from numerous archives and libraries that have previously gone unnoticed or were completely unknown.


“This collection offers a definitive account of the political struggle within the First International. This struggle was, as documents show, a complex and sophisticated theoretical-political process, involving serious analysis and insight. This is arguably the first book to lift the history of the International out of the framework of an analysis that focuses solely on the clash of its two great protagonists.”
—Andrej Grubacic, associate professor and department chair of the Anthropology and Social Change program at the California Institute of Integral Studies; coauthor of Wobblies and Zapatistas

“Wolfgang Eckhardt has been doing outstanding research on Mikhail Bakunin and the First International for years, unearthing precious materials in archives across Europe and documenting them in various German-language publications. His work now being available in English means a tremendous contribution to the international historiography of the anarchist movement and its origins.”
—Gabriel Kuhn, editor of Gustav Landauer: Revolution and Other Writings

“Eckhardt provides an in-depth description of the development and political context of the conflict between Marx and Bakunin. The book sets a new standard, providing a detailed account of the context, background, and effect of the conflict.”
—Jochen Schmück, DadA (Database of German-Language Anarchism)

“Eckhardt’s historiographical and documentary presentation is more thorough and detailed than anything that has been published on this topic in recent years. His valuable contribution to both historiography and political discussion can scarcely be overestimated.”
—Max Henninger, Sozial.Geschichte Online (Social History Online)

About the Contributors:

Wolfgang Eckhardt, who works for the Library of the Free (Bibliothek der Freien) in Berlin, has been actively researching anarchism since the 1990s. His publications include the German-language Bakunin Ausgewählte Schriften (Selected Works) series, of which six volumes have been published so far under his editorship (1995–2011).

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