Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin (30 May [O.S. 18 May] 1814 - July 1, 1876) (Russian: Михаи́л Алекса́ндрович Баку́нин) was a well-known Russian revolutionary and theorist of collectivist anarchism.
Born in the Russian Empire to a family of Russian nobles, Bakunin spent his youth as a junior officer in the Russian army but resigned his commission in 1835. He went to school in Moscow to study philosophy and began to frequent radical circles where he was greatly influenced by Alexander Herzen. Bakunin left Russia in 1842 for Dresden, and eventually Paris where he met George Sand, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Karl Marx.
He was eventually deported from France for speaking against Russia's oppression of Poland. In 1849 he was apprehended in Dresden for his participation in the Czech rebellion of 1848. He was turned over to Russia where he was imprisoned in Peter-Paul Fortress in Saint Petersburg. He remained there until 1857, when he was exiled to a work camp in Siberia.
He was able to escape via Japan and the USA, and ended up in London for a short time, where he worked with Herzen on the radical journal Kolokol ("The Bell"). In 1863, he left to join the insurrection in Poland. But he failed to reach his destination and spent some time in Switzerland and Italy. Despite his criminal status, Bakunin gained great influence with radical youth in Russia, and all of Europe. In 1870, he was involved in the insurrection in Lyon, which foreshadowed the Paris Commune.
In 1868, Bakunin joined the International Working Men's Association, a federation of radical and trade union organizations with sections in most European countries. The 1872 Congress was dominated by a fight between a faction around Marx who argued for participation in parliamentary elections and a faction around Bakunin who opposed it. Bakunin's faction lost the vote on this issue, and at the end of the congress, Bakunin and several of his faction were expelled for supposedly maintaining a secret organisation within the international. The anarchists insisted the congress was rigged, and so held their own conference of the International at Saint-Imier in Switzerland in 1872. Bakunin remained very active in this and the European socialist movement. From 1870 to 1876, he wrote much of his seminal work such as Statism and Anarchy and God and the State. Despite his declining health, he tried to take part in an insurrection in Bologna, but was forced to return to Switzerland in disguise, and settled in Lugano. He remained active in the radical movement of Europe until further health problems caused him to be moved to a hospital in Berne, where he died in 1876.
Bakunin is remembered as a major figure in the history of anarchism and an opponent of Marxism, especially of Marx's idea of dictatorship of the proletariat. He continues to be an influence on modern-day anarchists, such as Noam Chomsky.
In the spring of 1814, Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin was born to an aristocratic family in the village of Pryamukhino (Прямухино) between Torzhok (Торжок) and Kuvshinovo (Кувшиново), in Tver guberniya, northwest of Moscow. At the age of 14 he left for Saint Petersburg, receiving military training at the Artillery University. He completed his studies in 1832, and in 1834 was commissioned a junior officer in the Russian Imperial Guard and sent to Minsk and Gardinas in Lithuania (now Belarus). That summer, Bakunin became embroiled in a family row, taking his sister’s side in rebellion to an unhappy marriage. Though his father wished him to continue in either the military or the civil service, Bakunin abandoned both in 1835, and made his way to Moscow, hoping to study philosophy.
In Moscow, Bakunin soon became friends with a group of former university students, and engaged in the systematic study of Idealist philosophy, grouped around the poet Nikolay Stankevich, “the bold pioneer who opened to Russian thought the vast and fertile continent of German metaphysics” (E. H. Carr). The philosophy of Kant initially was central to their study, but then progressed to Schelling, Fichte, and Hegel. By autumn of 1835, Bakunin had conceived of forming a philosophical circle in his home town of Pryamukhino; a passionate environment for the young people involved. For example, Vissarion Belinsky fell in love with one of Bakunin’s sisters. Moreover, by early 1836, Bakunin was back in Moscow, where he published translations of Fichte’s Some Lectures Concerning the Scholar's Vocation and The Way to a Blessed Life, which became his favorite book. With Stankevich he also read Goethe, Schiller, and E.T.A. Hoffmann.
At this time he embraced a religious but extra-ecclesiastical immanentism:
“Let religion become the basis and reality of your life and your actions, but let it be the pure and single-minded religion of divine reason and divine love, and not … that religion which strove to disassociate itself from everything that makes up the substance and life of truly moral existence. … Look at Christ, my dear friend; … His life was divine through and through, full of self-denial, and He did everything for mankind, finding His satisfaction and His delight in the dissolution of His material being.”
“… Because we have baptized in this world and are in communion with this heavenly love, we feel that we are divine creatures, that we are free, and that we have been ordained for the emancipation of humanity, which has remained a victim of the instinctive laws of unconscious existence. … Absolute freedom and absolute love—that is our aim; the freeing of humanity and the whole world–that is our purpose.”
He became increasingly influenced by Hegel and provided the first Russian translation of his work. During this period he met slavophile Konstantin Aksakov, Piotr Tschaadaev and the socialists Alexander Herzen and Nikolay Ogarev. In this period he began to develop his panslavic views. After long wrangles with his father, Bakunin went to Berlin in 1840. His stated plan at the time was still to become a university professor (a “priest of truth,” as he and his friends imagined it), but he soon encountered and joined radical students of the so-called “Hegelian Left,” and joined the socialist movement in Berlin. In his 1842 essay The Reaction in Germany, he argued in favor of the revolutionary role of negation, summed up in the phrase
“the passion for destruction is a creative passion.”
After three semesters in Berlin Bakunin went to Dresden where he became friends with Arnold Ruge. Here he also read Lorenz von Stein's Der Sozialismus und Kommunismus des heutigen Frankreich and developed a passion for socialism. He abandoned his interest in an academic career, devoting more and more of his time to promoting revolution.The Russian government, becoming aware of his radicalism, ordered him to return to Russia. On his refusal his property was confiscated. Instead he went with Georg Herwegh to Zürich, Switzerland.
The young Mikhail Bakunin
During his six month stay in Zürich, he became closely associated with German communist Wilhelm Weitling. Until 1848 he remained on friendly terms with the German communists, occasionally calling himself a communist and writing articles on communism in the Schweitzerische Republikaner. He moved to Geneva in western Switzerland shortly before Weitling's arrest. His name had appeared frequently in Weitling's correspondence seized by the police. This led to reports being circulated to the imperial police. The Russian ambassador in Berne ordered Bakunin to return to Russia, but instead he went to Brussels, where he met many leading Polish nationalists, such as Joachim Lelewel. However he clashed with them over their demand for a historic Poland based on the borders of 1776 as he defended the right of autonomy for the non-Polish peoples in these territories. He also did not support their clericalism and they did not support his calls for the emancipation of the peasantry.
In 1844 Bakunin went to Paris, then a centre for European radicalism. He established contacts with Karl Marx and the Anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who greatly impressed him and with whom he formed a personal bond. In December 1844, Emperor Nicholas issued a decree stripping Bakunin of his privileges as a noble, denying him civil rights, confiscating his land in Russia, and condemning him to life long exile in Siberia should the Russian authorities ever get their hands on him. He responded with a long letter to La Réforme, denouncing the Emperor as a despot and calling for democracy in Russia and Poland (Carr, p.139). In March 1846 in another letter to the Constitutionel he defended Poland, following the repression of Catholics there. Some Polish refugees from Kraków, following the defeat of the uprising there, invited him to speak at the meeting in November 1847 commemorating the Polish November Uprising of 1830.
In his speech, Bakunin called for an alliance between the Polish and Russian peoples against the Emperor, and looked forward to "the definitive collapse of despotism in Russia." As a result, he was expelled from France and went to Brussels. Bakunin's attempt to draw Alexander Herzen and Vissarion Belinsky into conspiratorial action for revolution in Russia fell on deaf ears. In Brussels, Bakunin renewed his contacts with revolutionary Poles and Karl Marx. He spoke at a meeting organised by Lelewel in February 1848 about a great future for the slavs, whose destiny was to rejuvenate the Western world. Around this time the Russian embassy circulated rumours that Bakunin was a Russian agent who had exceeded his orders.
As the revolutionary movement of 1848 broke out, Bakunin was ecstatic, despite disappointment that little was happening in Russia. Bakunin obtained funding from some socialists in the Provisional Government, Ferdinand Flocon, Louis Blanc, Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin and Albert L'Ouvrier, for a project for a Slav federation liberating those under the rule of Prussia, Austro-Hungary and Turkey. He left for Germany travelling through Baden to Frankfurt and Köln.
Bakunin supported the German Democratic Legion led by Herwegh in an abortive attempt to join Friedrich Hecker's insurrection in Baden. He broke with Marx over the latter's criticism of Herwegh. Much later in 1871 – Bakunin was to write: “I must openly admit that in this controversy Marx and Engels were in the right. With characteristic insolence, they attacked Herwegh personally when he was not there to defend himself. In a face-to-face confrontation with them, I heatedly defended Herwegh, and our mutual dislike began then.”
Bakunin went on to Berlin, but was stopped from going to Posen by the police, which was part of Prussian occupied Poland where a nationalist insurrection was taking place. Instead Bakunin went to Leipzig and Breslau, then to Prague where he participated in the First Pan Slav Congress. The Congress was followed by an abortive insurrection that Bakunin had sought to promote and intensify but which was violently suppressed. He returned to Breslau, where Marx republished the allegation that Bakunin was an imperial agent, claiming that George Sand had proof. Marx retracted the statement after George Sand came to Bakunin's defense.
Bakunin published his Appeal to the Slavs in the fall of 1848, in which he proposed that Slav revolutionaries unite with Hungarian, Italian and German revolutionaries to overthrow the three major European autocracies, the Russian Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Kingdom of Prussia.
Bakunin played a leading role in the May Uprising in Dresden in 1849, helping to organize the defense of the barricades against Prussian troops with Richard Wagner and Wilhelm Heine. He was captured in Chemnitz and held for thirteen months before being condemned to death by the government of Saxony. As the governments of Russia and Austria were also after him, his sentence was commuted to life. In June 1850, he was handed over to the Austrian authorities. Eleven months later he received a further death sentence, but this too was commuted to life imprisonment. Finally, in May 1851, Bakunin was handed over to the Russian authorities.
Richard Wagner wrote in his diary about Bakunin's visit:
“First of all, however, with the view of adapting himself to the most Philistine culture, he had to submit his huge beard and bushy hair to the tender mercies of the razor and shears. As no barber was available, Rockel had to undertake the task. A small group of friends watched the operation, which had to be executed with a dull razor, causing no little pain, under which none but the victim himself remained passive. We bade farewell to Bakunin with the firm conviction that we should never see him again alive. But in a week he was back once more, as he had realised immediately what a distorted account he had received as to the state of things in Prague, where all he found ready for him was a mere handful of childish students. These admissions made him the butt of Rockel's good-humoured chaff, and after this he won the reputation among us of being a mere revolutionary, who was content with theoretical conspiracy. Very similar to his expectations from the Prague students were his presumptions with regard to the Russian people.”
Bakunin was taken to the notorious Peter and Paul Fortress. At the beginning of his captivity, Count Orlov, an emissary of the Emperor, visited Bakunin and told him that the Emperor requested a written confession hoping that the confession would place Bakunin spiritually as well as physically in the power of the Russian state. Since all his acts were known, he had no secrets to reveal, and so he decided to write to the Emperor:
“You want my confession; but you must know that a penitent sinner is not obliged to implicate or reveal the misdeeds of others. I have only the honor and the conscience that I have never betrayed anyone who has confided in me, and this is why I will not give you any names.”
On reading the letter, Emperor Nicholas I, remarked, "He is a good lad, full of spirit, but he is a dangerous man and we must never cease watching him." This Confession, which was only published following its discovery in the imperial archives, has proved to be quite controversial, and is sometimes analysed within the context of a specifically Russian literary form.
After three years in the underground dungeons of the Fortress of St Peter and St Paul, he spent another four years in the castle of Shlisselburg. It was here that he suffered from scurvy and all his teeth fell out as a result of the appalling diet. He later recounted that he found some relief in mentally re-enacting the legend of Prometheus. His continuing imprisonment in these awful conditions led him to entreat his brother to supply him with poison.
Following the death of Nicholas I, the new Emperor Alexander II personally struck Bakunin's name off the amnesty list. However in February 1857, his mother's pleas to the Emperor were finally heeded and he was allowed to go into permanent exile in the western Siberian city of Tomsk. Within a year of arriving in Tomsk, Bakunin married Antonia Kwiatkowska, the daughter of a Polish merchant. He had been teaching her French. In August 1858 Bakunin received a visit from his second cousin, General Count Nikolay Muravyov-Amursky, who had been Governor of Eastern Siberia for ten years.
Muravyov was a liberal and Bakunin, as his relative, became a particular favourite. In the spring of 1859, Muravyov helped Bakunin with a job for Amur Development Agency which enabled him to move with his wife to Irkutsk, the capital of Eastern Siberia. This enabled Bakunin to be part of the circle involved in political discussions centred on Muravyov's colonial headquarters. Resenting the treatment of the colony by the Saint Petersburg bureaucracy, including its use as a dumping ground for malcontents, a proposal for a United States of Siberia emerged, independent of Russia and federated into a new United States of Siberia and America, following the example of the United States of America. The circle included Muravyov's young Chief of Staff, Kukel—who Kropotkin related had the complete works of Alexander Herzen – the civil governor Izvolsky, who allowed Bakunin to use his address for correspondence, and Muravyov's deputy and eventual successor, General Alexander Dondukov-Korsakov.
When Herzen criticised Muravyov in The Bell, Bakunin wrote vigorously in his patron's defence. Bakunin tired of his job as a commercial traveller, but thanks to Muravyov's influence, was able to keep his sinecure (worth 2,000 roubles a year) without having to perform any duties. However Muravyov was forced to retire from his post as governor general, partly because of his liberal views and partly due to fears he might take Siberia towards independence. He was replaced by Korsakov, who perhaps was even more sympathetic to the plight of the Siberian exiles. Korsakov was also related to Bakunin, Bakunin's brother Paul having married his cousin. Taking Bakunin's word, Korsakov issued him with a letter giving him passage on all ships on the river Amur and its tributaries as long as he was back in Irkutsk when the ice came.
On June 5, 1861, Bakunin left Irkutsk under cover of company business, ostensibly employed by a Siberian merchant to make a trip to Nikolaevsk. By July 17 he was on board the Russian warship Strelok bound for Kastri. However, in the port of Olga, Bakunin managed to persuade the American captain of the SS Vickery to take him on board. Despite bumping into the Russian Consul on board, Bakunin was able to sail away under the nose of the Russian Imperial Navy. By August 6 he had reached Hakodate in the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaidō and was soon in Yokohama. In Japan Bakunin met by chance Wilhelm Heine, one of his comrades-in arms from Dresden. He also met the German botanist Philipp Franz von Siebold who had been involved in opening up Japan to Europeans (particularly Russians and the Dutch) and was a friend of Bakunin's patron Muraviev. Von Siebold's son wrote some 40 years later:
“In that Yokohama boarding-house we encountered an outlaw from the Wild West Heine, presumably as well as many other interesting guests. The presence of the Russian revolutionist Michael Bakunin, in flight from Siberia, was as far as one could see being winked at by the authorities. He was well-endowed with money, and none who came to know him could fail to pay their respects.”
He left Japan from Kanagawa on the SS Carrington, as one of nineteen passengers including Heine, Rev. P. F. Koe and Joseph Heco. Heco was a Japanese American, who eight years later played a significant role giving political advice to Kido Takayoshi and Itō Hirobumi during the revolutionary overthrow of the feudal Tokugawa shogunate. They arrived in San Francisco on October 15. In the period before the trans-continental railroads had been completed, the quickest way to New York was via Panama. Bakunin boarded the Orizaba for Panama, where after waiting for two weeks he boarded the Champion for New York.
In Boston, Bakunin visited Karol Forster, a partisan of Ludwik Mieroslawski during the 1848 Revolution in Paris, and caught up with other "Forty-Eighters", veterans of the 1848 revolutions in Europe, such as Friedrich Kapp. He then sailed for Liverpool arriving on December 27. Bakunin immediately went to London to see Herzen. That evening he burst into the drawing-room where the family was having supper. "What! Are you sitting down eating oysters! Well! Tell me the news. What is happening, and where?!"
Having re-entered Western Europe, Bakunin immediately immersed himself in the revolutionary movement. In 1860, while still in Irkutsk Bakunin and his political associates had been greatly impressed by Giuseppe Garibaldi and his expedition to Sicily, during which he declared himself dictator in the name of Victor Emmanuel II. Following his return to London, he wrote to Garibaldi on 31 January 1862:
"If you could have seen as I did the passionate enthusiasm of the whole town of Irkutsk, the capital of Eastern Siberia, at the news of your triumphal march across the possession of the mad king of Naples, you would have said as I did that there is no longer space or frontiers".
Bakunin asked Garibaldi to participate in a movement encompassing Italians, Hungarians and South Slavs against both Austria and Turkey. Garibaldi was then engaged in preparations for the Expedition against Rome. By May Bakunin's correspondence was focussing on Italian-slavic unity and the developments in Poland. By June, he had resolved to move to Italy, but was waiting for his wife to join him. When he left for Italy in August, Mazzini wrote to Maurizio Quadrio, one of his key supporters that Bakunin was a good and dependable person. However, with the news of the failure at Aspromonte Bakunin paused in Paris where he was briefly involved with Ludwik Mierosławski. However Bakunin rejected Mieroslawski's chauvinism and refusal to grant any concessions to the peasants. Bakunin returned to England in September and focussed on Polish affairs. When the Polish insurrection broke out in January 1863, he sailed to Copenhagen where he hoped to join the Polish Legion. They planned to sail across the Baltic in the SS Ward Jackson to join the insurrection. This attempt failed, and Bakunin met his wife in Stockholm before returning to London. Now he focussed again on going to Italy and his friend Aurelio Saffi wrote him letters of introduction for Florence, Turin and Milan. Mazzini wrote letters of commendation to Frederico Campanella in Genoa and Giuseppe Dolfi in Florence. Bakunin left London in November 1863 travelling by way of Brussels, Paris and Vevey (Switzerland) arriving in Italy on 11 January 1864. It was here that he first began to develop his anarchist ideas.
He conceived the plan of forming a secret organization of revolutionaries to carry on propaganda work and prepare for direct action. He recruited Italians, Frenchmen, Scandinavians, and Slavs into the International Brotherhood, also called the Alliance of Revolutionary Socialists.
By July 1866 Bakunin was informing Herzen and Ogarev about the fruits of his work over the previous two years. His secret society then had members in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, England, France, Spain, and Italy, as well as Polish and Russian members. In his Catechism of a Revolutionary of 1866, he opposed religion and the state, advocating the
“absolute rejection of every authority including that which sacrifices freedom for the convenience of the state.”
Bakunin's membership card of
the League of Peace and Freedom
During the 1867–1868 period, Bakunin responded to Emile Acollas's call and became involved in the League of Peace and Freedom (LPF), for which he wrote a lengthy essay Federalism, Socialism, and Anti-Theologism Here he advocated a federalist socialism, drawing on the work of Proudhon. He supported freedom of association and the right of secession for each unit of the federation, but emphasized that this freedom must be joined with socialism for: "Liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality."
Bakunin played a prominent role in the Geneva Conference (September 1867), and joined the Central Committee. The founding conference was attended by 6,000 people. As Bakunin rose to speak:
“the cry passed from mouth to mouth: 'Bakunin!' Garibaldi, who was in the chair, stood up, advanced a few steps and embraced him. This solemn meeting of two old and tried warriors of the revolution produced an astonishing impression... Everyone rose and there was a prolonged and enthusiastic clapping of hands.”
The First International and the rise of the anarchist movement
In 1868, Bakunin joined the Geneva section of the First International, in which he remained very active until he was expelled from the International by Karl Marx and his followers at the Hague Congress in 1872. Bakunin was instrumental in establishing branches of the International in Italy and Spain.
In 1869, the Social Democratic Alliance was refused entry to the First International, on the grounds that it was an international organisation in itself, and only national organisations were permitted membership in the International. The Alliance dissolved and the various groups which it comprised joined the International separately.
Between 1869 and 1870, Bakunin became involved with the Russian revolutionary Sergey Nechayev in a number of clandestine projects. However, Bakunin broke with Nechaev over what he described as the latter’s “Jesuit” methods, by which all means were justified to achieve revolutionary ends.
In 1870 Bakunin led a failed uprising in Lyon on the principles later exemplified by the Paris Commune, calling for a general uprising in response to the collapse of the French government during the Franco-Prussian War, seeking to transform an imperialist conflict into social revolution. In his Letters to A Frenchman on the Present Crisis, he argued for a revolutionary alliance between the working class and the peasantry and set forth his formulation of what was later to become known as propaganda of the deed:
“we must spread our principles, not with words but with deeds, for this is the most popular, the most potent, and the most irresistible form of propaganda.”
Bakunin was a strong supporter of the Paris Commune of 1871, which was brutally suppressed by the French government. He saw the Commune as above all a “rebellion against the State,” and commended the Communards for rejecting not only the State but also revolutionary dictatorship. In a series of powerful pamphlets, he defended the Commune and the First International against the Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini, thereby winning over many Italian republicans to the International and the cause of revolutionary socialism.
Bakunin’s disagreements with Marx, which led to Bakunin’s expulsion from the International in 1872 after being outvoted by the Marx party at the Hague Congress, illustrated the growing divergence between the "anti-authoritarian" sections of the International, which advocated the direct revolutionary action and organization of the workers in order to abolish the state and capitalism, and the social democratic sections allied with Marx, which advocated the conquest of political power by the working class.
The anti-authoritarian sections created their own International at the St. Imier Congress and adopted a revolutionary anarchist program. Although Bakunin accepted Marx’s class analysis and economic theories regarding capitalism, acknowledging "Marx’s genius", he thought Marx was arrogant, and that his methods would compromise the social revolution. More importantly, Bakunin criticized "authoritarian socialism" (which he associated with Marxism) and the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat which he adamantly refused.
“If you took the most ardent revolutionary, vested him in absolute power, within a year he would be worse than the Tsar himself.”
Bakunin retired to Lugano in 1873 and died in Bern on July 1, 1876.
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Bakunin’s political beliefs rejected governing systems in every name and shape, from the idea of God downwards, and every form of external authority, whether emanating from the will of a sovereign or from universal suffrage. He wrote in Dieu et l’Etat (God and the State), published posthumously in 1882:
“The liberty of man consists solely in this, that he obeys the laws of nature because he has himself recognized them as such, and not because they have been imposed upon him externally by any foreign will whatsoever, human or divine, collective or individual.”
Bakunin similarly rejected the notion of any privileged position or class, since
“it is the peculiarity of privilege and of every privileged position to kill the intellect and heart of man. The privileged man, whether he be privileged politically or economically, is a man depraved in intellect and heart.”
Bakunin's political beliefs were based on several interrelated concepts: (1) liberty; (2) socialism; (3) federalism; (4) anti-theism; and (5) materialism. He also developed a critique of Marxism, which some consider prescient, predicting that if the Marxists were successful in seizing power, they would create a party dictatorship "all the more dangerous because it appears as a sham expression of the people's will."
By "liberty", Bakunin did not mean an abstract ideal but a concrete reality based on the equal liberty of others. In a positive sense, liberty consists of "the fullest development of all the faculties and powers of every human being, by education, by scientific training, and by material prosperity." Such a conception of liberty is "eminently social, because it can only be realized in society," not in isolation. In a negative sense, liberty is "the revolt of the individual against all divine, collective, and individual authority."
Bakunin's socialism was known as "collectivist anarchism," in which the workers would directly manage the means of production through their own productive associations. There would be "equal means of subsistence, support, education, and opportunity for every child, boy or girl, until maturity, and equal resources and facilities in adulthood to create his own well-being by his own labor."
By federalism Bakunin meant the organization of society "from the base to the summit—from the circumference to the center—according to the principles of free association and federation." Consequently, society would be organized "on the basis of the absolute freedom of individuals, of the productive associations, and of the communes," with "every individual, every association, every commune, every region, every nation" having "the absolute right to self-determination, to associate or not to associate, to ally themselves with whomever they wish."
Bakunin argued that "the idea of God implies the abdication of human reason and justice; it is the most decisive negation of human liberty, and necessarily ends in the enslavement of mankind, in theory and practice." Consequently, Bakunin reversed Voltaire's famous aphorism that if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him, writing instead that "if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish Him."
Bakunin denied religious concepts of "free will" and advocated a materialist explanation of natural phenomena: "the manifestations of organic life, chemical properties and reactions, electricity, light, warmth and the natural attraction of physical bodies, constitute in our view so many different but no less closely interdependent variants of that totality of real beings which we call matter" (Selected Writings, page 219). The "mission of science is, by observation of the general relations of passing and real facts, to establish the general laws inherent in the development of the phenomena of the physical and social world." However, Bakunin rejected the notion of "scientific socialism," writing in God and the State that a "scientific body to which had been confided the government of society would soon end by devoting itself no longer to science at all, but to quite another affair... its own eternal perpetuation by rendering the society confided to its care ever more stupid and consequently more in need of its government and direction."
Bakunin’s methods of realizing his revolutionary program were consistent with his principles. The workers and peasants were to organize on a federalist basis, "creating not only the ideas, but also the facts of the future itself." The worker's trade union associations would "take possession of all the tools of production as well as buildings and capital." The peasants were to "take the land and throw out those landlords who live by the labor of others." Bakunin looked to "the rabble," the great masses of the poor and exploited, the so-called "lumpenproletariat," to "inaugurate and bring to triumph the Social Revolution," as they were "almost unpolluted by bourgeois civilization."
The dispute between Mikhail Bakunin and Karl Marx highlighted the differences between anarchism and Marxism. Bakunin argued – against certain ideas of a number of Marxists – that not all revolutions need be violent. He also strongly rejected Marx's concept of the "dictatorship of the proletariat", which Marx's adherents translate in modern terms to mean a "workers democracy" but which also maintains the state in existence during the transition to communism. Bakunin, "who had now abandoned his ideas of revolutionary dictatorship", insisted that revolutions must be led by the people directly while any "enlightened elite" must only exert influence by remaining "invisible...not imposed on anyone...[and] deprived of all official rights and significance". He held that the state should be immediately abolished because all forms of government eventually lead to oppression.
“They [the Marxists] maintain that only a
dictatorship—their dictatorship, of course—can create the will of the people,
while our answer to this is: No dictatorship can have any other aim but that of
self-perpetuation, and it can beget only slavery in the people tolerating it;
freedom can be created only by freedom, that is, by a universal rebellion on the
part of the people and free organization of the toiling masses from the bottom
up. — Mikhail Bakunin, Statism and Anarchism
While both social anarchists and Marxists share the same final goal, the creation of a free, egalitarian society without social classes and government, they strongly disagree on how to achieve this goal. Anarchists believe that the classless, stateless society should be established by the direct action of the masses, culminating in social revolution, and refuse any intermediate stage such as the dictatorship of the proletariat, on the basis that such a dictatorship will become a self-perpetuating fundament. For Bakunin, the fundamental contradiction is that for the Marxists,
“anarchism or freedom is the aim, while the state and dictatorship is the means, and so, in order to free the masses, they have first to be enslaved.”
However Bakunin also wrote of meeting Marx in 1844 that
As far as learning was concerned, Marx was, and still is, incomparably more advanced than I. I knew nothing at that time of political economy, I had not yet rid myself of my metaphysical observations... He called me a sentimental idealist and he was right; I called him a vain man, perfidious and crafty, and I also was right.
Bakunin found Marx's economic analysis very useful and began the job of translating Das Kapital into Russian. In turn Marx wrote of the rebels in the Dresden insurrection of 1848 that "In the Russian refugee Michael Bakunin they found a capable and cool headed leader." Marx wrote to Engels of meeting Bakunin in 1864 after his escape to Siberia saying "On the whole he is one of the few people whom I find not to have retrogressed after 16 years, but to have developed further."
Bakunin was perhaps the first theorist of the "new class", the intellectuals and administrators forming the bureaucratic apparatus of the state. Bakunin argued that the "State has always been the patrimony of some privileged class: a priestly class, an aristocratic class, a bourgeois class. And finally, when all the other classes have exhausted themselves, the State then becomes the patrimony of the bureaucratic class and then falls—or, if you will, rises—to the position of a machine."
Main article: Invisible dictatorship
Bakunin has been accused of being a closet authoritarian. In his letter to Albert Richard, he wrote that
“[t]here is only one power and one dictatorship whose organisation is salutary and feasible: it is that collective, invisible dictatorship of those who are allied in the name of our principle.”
However, Bakunin's supporters argue that this "invisible dictatorship" is not a dictatorship in any conventional sense of the word, as Bakunin was careful to point out that its members would not exercise any official political power:
“this dictatorship will be all the more salutary and effective for not being dressed up in any official power or extrinsic character.”
Charles A. Madison claimed that
“He [Bakunin] rejected political action as a means of abolishing the state and developed the doctrine of revolutionary conspiracy under autocratic leadership – disregarding the conflict of this principle with his philosophy of anarchism. Madison contended that it was Bakunin's scheming for control of the First International that brought about his rivalry with Karl Marx and his expulsion from it in 1872. His approval of violence as a weapon against the agents of oppression led to nihilism in Russia and to individual acts of terrorism elsewhere – with the result that anarchism became generally synonymous with assassination and chaos.”
Others reject this analysis, arguing that Bakunin never sought to take personal control over the International, the secret societies he organized were not subject to his autocratic power, and that he condemned terrorism as counter-revolutionary.
Anarchist historian Max Nettlau described Bakunin's pan-slavism as being the result of a nationalist psychosis from which few are free. The publication of his Confession of 1851, written while a prisoner of the Tsar in the Peter-Paul fortress, was used to attack Bakunin because in it he asked the Emperor for forgiveness for his sins and begged him to place himself at the head of the slavs as both redeemer and father.
Bakunin is often seen as a notable anti-semite since his death. Bakunin used Anti-Semitic arguments during his argument with Karl Marx. He claimed that Jews are "an exploitative sect, a people of bloodsuckers, one voracious parasite" who serve both Marx and the Rothschilds. Mikhail Bakunin repeated typical anti-semitic positions, imagining, for instance, the Jews as
“…one exploiting sect, one people of leeches, one single devouring parasite closely and intimately bound together not only across national boundaries, but also across all divergences of political opinion…[Jews have] that mercantile passion which constitutes one of the principle traits of their national character”
Bakunin's bigotry was shared by other radical socialists and anarchists of the time. Proudhon's notebooks, for example, contain a passage in which he calls for the expulsion or extermination of the Jews from Europe.
His Eurocentrism manifested itself in his call for a United States of Europe, his support for Russian Colonialism, particularly as practised by his relative and patron Count Nikolay Muravyov-Amursky and his indifference to Japan and Japanese peasants during and after his brief stay in Yokohama.. (Japan was regarded as the most prominent revolutionary country in Asia following the Meiji Restoration of 1866–1869.) All these aspects of his thought however date from before he became an anarchist. Bakunins conversion to anarchism was not till 1865, some years after his exile in Siberia and escape through Japan.
Poster advertising a discussion
of Bakunin's anarchism in 1975.
English translations of Bakunin are generally rare when compared to the comprehensive editions in French (by Arthur Lehning), Spanish and German. Madelaine Grawitz’s biography (Paris: Calmann Lévy 2000) remains to be translated.
The standard English-language biography is by E. H. Carr. A new biography, Bakunin: The Creative Passion, by Mark Leier, was published by St. Martin’s Press August 22 2006, hardcover, 320 pages, ISBN 0-312-30538-9
An eight-volume complete works of Bakunin is to be published at some point in the future by AK Press; according to Ramsey Kanaan these will likely be published yearly for eight years in hardcover format.
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