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'Social-Democracy and Anarchism: In the International Workers' Association, 1864-1877’ with Rene Ber

René Berthier explores the profound historic split between Social Democrats and Anarchists within the First International – a pivotal moment in left history, whose difference of opinion continues to reverberate and shape the left today.

Housmans are delighted to welcome René Berthier to discuss his book, which revisits, in depth, the significant dispute between Anarchist and Marxist Social Democrats which occurred in the First International.

Much of the ongoing IWA were inspired by Bakunin. He argued for the priority of labour solidarity. But it was not an anarchist International that was created in 1872. Anarchism was born some five years later, when Bakunin was dead. Rather, the adoption of anarchism by the remnants of the IWA marked a breach with Bakuninism.

Berthier’s account also shows how the International Workers’ Association (IWA) was formed in 1864 by French and British trade unionists and quickly became a forum for socialist discussion over both strategy and goals; how Marx and Engels used bureaucratic manipulation to secure their control over the body and, in so doing, marginalise themselves so completely they ended up expelling the majority of the organisation; that Bakunin came to play a key role in the IWA because he articulated the majority position, what came to be called “syndicalist”.

After the Paris Commune (1871), Bakunin characterised Marx's ideas as authoritarian, and argued that if a Marxist party came to power its leaders would end up as bad as the ruling class they had fought against. In 1872, the conflict in the First International climaxed with a final split between the two groups at the Hague Congress. This clash is often cited as the origin of the long-running conflict between anarchists and Marxists.

This split is sometimes called the ‘red and black divide’, red referring to the Marxists and black referring to the anarchists. Otto von Bismarck remarked, upon hearing of the split at the First International, "Crowned heads, wealth and privilege may well tremble should ever again the Black and Red unite!"


“This is an excellent work, recommended to both anarchist activists and those interested in the rise of modern, revolutionary, anarchism.” – Anarchist Writers

“This book is a credit to its author, who has thoroughly researched the available evidence on this subject.” – Weekly Worker

Rene Berthier is an active researcher, writer, and a veteran French anarcho-syndicalist activist.


Rene Berthier | talks


Date and Time:

7 September 2016 at 7:00 pm


1 hour



Housmans Bookshop
5 Caledonian Road
King’s Cross
N1 9DX
020 7837 4473

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