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International Revolutionary Congress.

London, 1881

The following is written by the anarchist historian Max Nettlau:

London socialist life was enlivened in 1881 by the International Revolutionary Congress. It was considered useful that the many advanced parties and groups formed outside of the International and the remaining Internationalists should meet and discuss ideas and action. The congress sat with doors closed and the delegates' names were never published. Long reports may be found in the "Revolte" (July 23 to September 9, 1881), in the London "Freiheit," etc. Some of the members are known: Peter Kropotkin and G. Herzig from Geneva, Malatesta and Merlino, Johann Neve, the German Anarchist, the best comrade of Most (who was then in an English prison; Neve himself died ten years later in a German penitentiary). There were the English comrades, who in those years resuscitated the socialist movement by untiring street corner and leaflet propaganda; Joseph Lane is worth to be mentioned as the very soul of this work.

G. Brocher in his recollections on Kropotkin (published by Grave, 1921) revives the memory of this congress and mentions also the names of Louise Michel, Emile Gautier, Victorine Rouchy (of the Commune, Brocher's future wife, d. 1922), Chauviere [a Blanquist], Miss Lecomte of Boston, Tchaikowski, etc. Malatesta was overwhelmed with credentials, being delegated by the Tuscan Federation of the International, the Socialists of the Marches, groups in Turin and Naples, Pavia and Alessandria, Marseille and Geneva, and the Internationalists of Constantinople and Egypt (which meant groups formed among the many Italians whom emigration or exile scattered in the last). The other Italian delegate [Dr. Merlino] had credentials from Rome and Naples, Calabrian towns, also from Pisa, Fabriano and Palermo.

Malatesta's ideas of the purpose of this congress can be gathered from a letter of his to the Verviers "Cri du Peuple," the Belgian Anarchist paper. From Kropotkin's careful report in the "Revolte" it can be seen that he was one of the very few who had before his mind the clear purpose of arriving at a practical solution of the organizing problem; but he had uphill work to do and his feelings made him once cry out: we are of an appalling doctrinarism. Most delegates seemed to want an organization and did not want one, considering every practical step as interfering with their autonomy. Finally a London bureau of three (and three substitutes) is appointed, the address being "John Poor," 6 Rose Street, Soho Square, W., that is the house of the Rose Street Socialist Club. I heard Kropotkin mention Malatesta and Trunk (a German cabinet maker, of the Freiheit group), letters to be sent to Trunk -- a practical measure, as the "John Poor" address was only a taunt to the governments. That Malatesta, who had to live in London, was appointed to the bureau is evident; it is probably that the two other members were a German and perhaps a Russian. Very soon it became evident that the revolutionary movements in each country had so much on their own hands, were exposed to such local persecutions, that there was no occasion to complicate matters by entertaining unnecessary international relations and the bureau may have had little work to do, if anything.

Gatherings of such a kind are exposed to be infested by spies; one of the most impudent ones was Serreaux, the individual which by order of the Paris police (Andreiux) supported the Parish Anarchist paper already alluded to. Kropotkin always suspected him, but poor Cafiero gave to that paper his finest articles ("Revolution) and others did the same. To allay the suspicions of Kropotkin the spy pretended to show him his happy family life by introducing him to an old-established venerable aunt he had in London. They met at the rooms of this aunt, when Malatesta recognized the furniture which he had often seen in passing an old shop; this proved that the furniture was hired for the occasion, the aunt no doubt also, and that the man was a liar. The paper soon ceased to be published, and four years later Andrieux cynically told the whole story.

Another congress proposed to be held in Barcelona in 1884, then in 1885, never met. Violent persecutions took place in a number of countries and then papers were founded and had a more durable existence than the earlier papers, and a constant discussion and elaboration of ideas took place in this form. In Spain the two Certomen socialista of Rens (1885) and Barcelona (1889), a kind of Symposium, replaced whole congresses. In Paris (September, 1889), in Chicago and at Zurich (1893) and in London (1896) international meetings were held, formless discussions which yet ventilated many ideas and made comrades known to each other. All this corresponded better to the beginning modern Anarchist spirit which respects the work done by the old International, but thinks that grown up movements can now find their way unaided by artificial ties however loose.


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