International, the common name of various associations formed to unite socialist and communist organizations throughout the world.


In 1864 representatives of English and French industrial workers founded the International Working Men’s Association in London, dedicated to the overthrow of the capitalist system. Karl Marx, then living in London, was elected to the International’s provisional general council. He became the dominant figure in the International, drafting its general rules and a carefully worded inaugural address that was designed to safeguard unity of purpose.

From the first, however, anarchist followers of Pierre Joseph Proudhon and Mikhail Bakunin opposed Marx’s model of a centralized state dominated by the workers. Bakunin precipitated an organizational crisis by denouncing Marx’s despotic manner and calling for the creation of an “anti-authoritarian” International. At The Hague Congress of 1872, Marx prevailed, and Bakunin was expelled from the International. In the wake of the Marxist-anarchist split, however, the decision was made to remove the general council to the United States, where it maintained a shadowy existence until it was formally dissolved in 1876. Although the First International caused anxiety in European right-wing political circles, it never numbered more than 25,000 individual members.


In 1889, the centenary of the beginning of the French Revolution, two socialist congresses met in Paris. One of them, inspired by Marx’s Communist Manifesto, inaugurated what came to be known as the Second International. A loose federation of mass parties, the new organization established a coordinating office, the International Socialist Bureau (Brussels), in 1900. The International met nine times at irregular intervals before World War I. At the London Congress of 1896, the anarchists were expelled, leaving the Marxists—above all the German Marxists—in a position of undisputed leadership. The Germans, although they continued to proclaim Marx’s revolutionary theories, were now working for reform within Germany’s legal framework.

Many French Marxists were taking the same approach. In 1899 the French socialist Alexandre Millerand accepted a post in the nonsocialist Cabinet of René Waldeck-Rousseau. In the same year, the German socialist leader Eduard Bernstein published his Evolutionary Socialism (trans. 1909), a revision of Marx’s teachings that rejected the inevitability of revolution and proposed collaboration with non-Marxist parties to achieve socialist aims. Bernstein’s views were opposed by Karl Kautsky, leader of the orthodox German Marxists.

A parallel conflict undermined the International’s efforts to prevent a European war. Ideologically committed to peace and internationalism, European socialists could not reconcile themselves to the military defeat of their own nations, within which they constituted recognized subcultures. When World War I broke out in 1914, national allegiances proved to be stronger than class commitments, and most socialists backed the war efforts of their respective governments. This marked the end of the Second International, although efforts to reorganize the group did not end until 1920.


In March 1919, following the Russian Revolution, Lenin, the Bolshevik leader of the new Soviet government, organized a new International, popularly known as the Communist International, or Comintern, to promote world revolution on the Russian Communist model. The founding congress elected as president Grigory Zinoviev, one of Lenin’s lieutenants, and appointed an executive committee to ensure continuity between congresses. The Second Congress (1920) adopted 21 membership conditions that reflected Lenin’s insistence on unqualified obedience and his contempt for the Second International’s reformist socialism.

By the time Lenin died in 1924, the revolutionary tide had receded in Europe, and dreams of a world socialist revolution had begun to give place to the more narrowly nationalist ideas of Lenin’s successor, Joseph Stalin. For Stalin, the Comintern was little more than a means of protecting his absolute power at home and of increasing Soviet influence abroad. Radical and seemingly inexplicable shifts in Comintern policy, particularly with respect to the question of political cooperation with non-Communists, were dictated by Stalin’s domestic intrigues and foreign policy strategies. As a concession to his US and British allies during World War II, Stalin did not hesitate to dissolve the Comintern in May 1943.


The Fourth International, of comparatively little importance, was founded in 1938 by Trotsky and his followers in opposition to Stalin. After Trotsky’s assassination (1940) it was controlled by Belgian communists, whose bitter disagreements rendered it ineffective by 1953.


In October 1947 the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) arranged a meeting in Poland for the Communist parties of nine countries: the USSR, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia, France, and Italy. At this meeting, the Cominform was founded, ostensibly as a clearing-house for information of common concern, but in reality as an instrument of Stalin’s policy, particularly in Yugoslavia, where the Communist leader Tito was adopting independent policies. Although Cominform headquarters was initially located in Belgrade, Tito’s determination to assert Yugoslavia’s independence led to his party’s expulsion in June 1948. On April 17, 1956, the Cominform was dissolved as part of Nikita Khrushchev’s effort to effect a Soviet-Yugoslav reconciliation.

The failure of the Internationals was due in large measure to the inherent contradiction between the theory of the supranational solidarity of the working class and the reality of national rivalry within the socialist movement. After World War II, socialists and Communists attempted to identify themselves, in theory as well as in practice, with national traditions and aspirations.