By New Worker correspondent
LEFT-WING activists from a wide range of different groups came to the Rivoli Ballroom in Crofton Park, south London on Sunday afternoon to mark the 150th anniversary of the First International.
The International Working Men’s Association was founded on 28th September 1864 at St Martin’s Hall, Long Acre in central London. Among those attending was Karl Marx. He was one of many European revolutionaries of many shades in exile in London after the failure of the 1848 uprisings throughout the continent.
British law had a fairly relaxed attitude to fringe political activity and so London was the safest place to stage the first attempt to unite workers in struggle from many different nations.
The First International, known at the time as the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA) did not last long. But it did unite all those fighting against repressive regimes in Europe.
A deep split soon developed between the radicals (Liberals) and the socialists who were seeking working class power through solidarity and collectivism.
The crushing of the Paris Commune – the world’s first attempt to create a workers’ state – deepened the divisions between radicals and socialists.
Last Sunday’s celebration was hosted by Lewisham People Before Profit and Strawberry Fields Socialist Choir with the support of choirs from Europe.
The New Communist Party was among various left and socialist groups invited to attend to take part in non-sectarian debate and to bring a large poster describing who and what we are.
After the event these posters were taken to be displayed at the nearby Harts Lane Studios in New Cross Gate. This building was saved for community use by People before Profit, which occupied it in February 2012 to prevent its sale by the council. The posters will also be used in an on-line exhibition of web pages about the 150th anniversary celebrations.
Speakers at the event included socialist historian Keith Flett – who gave an account of the history of the First International, and Isabelle Hautbout from France who spoke on the contribution of women, who were admitted to the International in 1865.
Deborah Lavin from the Bishopsgate Institute and London Socialist Historians’ Group spoke about the break-up of the First International. The minutes of the IWA meetings are held in the Bishopsgate Institute.
There were many interludes for songs from the combined choirs, who sang together magnificently. Their repertoire included a lot of old favourites: Bandiera Rossa, Bread and Roses and Die Einheitsfront by Berthold Brecht but also less well known songs such as La Danse de Bombes from the Paris Commune and the song of the Limerick Soviet. And they sang the Red Flag, written by Jim Connell who lived near to the Rivoli Ballroom where the event was taking place.
There was a session for breaking up into small groups to discuss many different issues and aspects of struggle.
There was also entertainment from Ian Saville, the Marxist magician and of course the event had to end with everyone singing the Internationale the combined choirs leading with the Italian and French versions and everyone in the hall joining in when they sang the English version.