The First International Meets in London


The First International Meets in London

Covent Garden, London The 28th of September 1864 AD

By the 1860s in various countries of Europe and in the USA diverse groups existed to promote the causes of workers’ rights, the widening of the democratic franchise, and the fairer distribution of wealth. International cooperation was seen as the way to increase the effectiveness of these disparate organisations; an early meeting was held in London in 1863 between French and British representatives. In September 1864 this international cooperation was widened and formalised at a meeting in St Martin’s Hall in London: Italians, Germans and Americans attended along with the English and French who set the ball rolling.
On September 28 1864 trade unionists, anarchists, socialists, Italian Republicans, Chartists and others gathered to arrange the means of exchanging information of mutual interest, and being of support to one another in different ways. The chairman was Edward Beesly, a university professor from a comfortable background; George Odger spoke, a one-time shoemaker and at the time head of the General Trades Council. The French activist Tolain made a speech. The most significant figure at the meeting as matters transpired was Karl Marx, who represented no grouping. He made no speech, yet by clever manipulation of committees and tasks he ended by writing the rules and aims of what was dubbed The International Workingmen’s Association, now more often referred to as The First International, which was to be based in London. The workers’ movement had by the end of the gathering in October been rendered truly international, and given a leaning towards Marxism, though that philosophy was still evolving. Marx himself would be a member of the General Council of the organisation until it split in 1872.

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