International, any of a succession of international socialist and Communist organizations of the 19th and 20th cent.
The First International
The First International was founded in London in 1864 as the International Workingmen's Association. Karl Marx was a key figure in inspiring its creation and was later chosen as its leader. Its goal was to unite all workers for the purpose of achieving political power along the lines set down by Marx and Friedrich Engels in the Communist Manifesto (1848). Marx viewed the International as a vehicle for revolution, but it played only a minor role in the revolutionary Commune of Paris (1871). Power struggles within the organization greatly weakened it, and the clash between Marx and the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin led to its complete disintegration (1876).
The Second International
By 1889, socialist parties had been founded in numerous European nations and the need for another International was felt. The Second, or Socialist, International, was founded in that year at a Paris congress, and it later set up permanent headquarters in Belgium, with Emile Vandervelde as its president. This International was predominantly political in character, and the German and Russian Social Democratic parties were its most important elements. Its early leaders included Engels, August Bebel, Karl Kautsky, and Georgi Valentinovich Plekhanov.
Despite the ideological schisms that plagued socialism during this period, the Second International did much to advance labor legislation and strengthen the democratic socialist movement. It failed, however, in what was perhaps its primary concern—the prevention of war. On the outbreak (1914) of World War I nearly all the socialist parties supported their individual governments, and the Second International collapsed.
The Third International (Comintern)
After the victory of Communism in the Russian Revolution (1917), a Third, or Communist, International was created (1919). Under the leadership of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, this Communist International, or Comintern, hoped to foster world revolution. The Comintern was not generally acceptable to socialist labor groups, however, and was dissolved in 1943.
After World War II, the Comintern was replaced (1947) by the Communist Information Bureau, or Cominform, which aided the seizure of power by the Communists in Czechoslovakia. Because of world political pressures the Cominform lost its influence and power after 1948 and became a vehicle for Soviet propaganda. It was disbanded in 1956.
The Socialist International
After World War I, the Second International was revived (1919) by moderate socialists, and a Vienna, or Two-and-a-Half, International was formed (1921) from splinter leftist groups that spurned both the Second International and the Comintern. In 1923 the Second and Vienna internationals merged to form the Labor and Socialist International, which lasted until the beginning of World War II. After the war this International was continued under the name of the Socialist International, and it exists today. Among its tenets are support for internationally integrated economic systems and civil rights and opposition to left-wing and right-wing totalitarianism and all forms of exploitation and enslavement.
See J. Joll, The Second International, 1889–1914 (1955); M. M. Drachkovitch, ed., The Revolutionary Internationals, 1864–1943 (1966); J. Braunthal, History of the International (2 vol., 1967). See also bibliographies under communism and socialism.