Monday, February 25, 2013

James Guillaume, "Proudhon: Communist" (1911)

This essay by James Guillaume is probably more historically significant than it is convincing, focusing as it does on one very early bit of Proudhon's writing, but it is certainly an interesting interpretation. 

Proudhon: Communist

At the basis of Proudhon’s economic theory we find two essential ideas, that of value and that of exchange.
These two ideas are only of interest in the regime of individual property. in a communist society, in fact, one does not produce in order to sell, but to consume; the question of the exchange value of objects for consumption is thus no longer posed, as there is no longer exchange (sale), but simple distribution. Consequently, the problem that concerned Proudhon so much, that of the “constitution of value,” does not exist where social products are produced by a social labor, destined to be consumed by the community of producers.
In his Economic Contradictions (1846) Proudhon dedicated a chapter to the “constitution of value.” Here are the principle passages:

The economists seem always to have understood by the measure of value only a standard, a sort of original unit, existing by itself, and applicable to all sorts of merchandise, as the yard is applicable to all lengths. Consequently, many have thought that such a standard is furnished by the precious metals. But the theory of money has proved that, far from being the measure of values, specie is only their arithmetic, and a conventional arithmetic at that. …
The idea that has been entertained hitherto of the measure of value, then, is inexact; the object of our inquiry is not the standard of value, as has been said so often and so foolishly, but the law which regulates the proportions of the various products to the social wealth; for upon the knowledge of this law depends the rise and fall of prices in so far as it is normal and legitimate. In a word, as we understand by the measure of celestial bodies the relation resulting from the comparison of these bodies with each other, so, by the measure of values, we must understand the relation which results from their comparison. Now, I say that this relation has its law, and this comparison its principle.
I suppose, then, a force which combines in certain proportions the elements of wealth, and makes of them a homogeneous whole: if the constituent elements do not exist in the desired proportion, the combination will take place nevertheless; but, instead of absorbing all the material, it will reject a portion as useless. The internal movement by which the combination is produced, and which the affinities of the various substances determine — this movement in society is exchange; exchange considered no longer simply in its elementary form and between man and man, but exchange considered as the fusion of all values produced by private industry in one and the same mass of social wealth. Finally, the proportion in which each element enters into the compound is what we call value; the excess remaining after the combination is non-value, until the addition of a certain quantity of other elements causes further combination and exchange.

Although having placed himself on the terrain of private production, Proudhon regarded the products, once entered into the general consumption, as having received a social character. It is, he said, exchange which, by merging all the values produced by private industries into a single social wealth, impresses them with that character. Only, the products exchanged, those that have become social, or, in other words, entered into the combination by which the products become social wealth, have a true value; those of the products that cannot be absorbed, that is, exchanged and consumed, remain, from the social point of view, non-values. There is, however, in this way of viewing the facts, something unsatisfying for the mind: it is that the products created by private industry, without preconceived plan, appear at the beginning as so many isolated objects, manufactured arbitrarily and by chance; but we see Proudhon correct himself, further along, this defect in his conception.
Let’s continue the quotation:

This determined, it is conceivable that at a given moment the proportions of values constituting the wealth of a country may be determined, or at least empirically approximated, by means of statistics and inventories, in nearly the same way that the chemists have discovered by experience, aided by' analysis, the proportions of hydrogen and oxygen necessary to the formation of water. There is nothing objectionable in this method of determining values; it is, after all, only a matter of accounts. But such a work, however interesting it might be, would teach us nothing very useful. On the one hand, indeed, we know that the proportion continually varies; on the other, it is clear that from a statement of the public wealth giving the proportions of values only for the time and place when and where the statistics should be gathered we could not deduce the law of proportionality of wealth…
Social economy, on the contrary, to which no d posteriori investigation could reveal directly the law of proportionality of values, can grasp it in the very force which produces it, and which it is time to announce.
This force, which Adam Smith has glorified so eloquently, and which his successors have misconceived (making privilege its equal), — this force is Labor
Society, or the collective man, produces an infinitude of objects, the enjoyment of which constitutes its well-being. This well-being is developed not only in the ratio of the quantity of the products, but also in the ratio of their variety (quality) and proportion. From this fundamental datum it follows that society always, at each instant of its life, must strive for such proportion in its products as will give the greatest amount of well-being, considering the power and means of production. Abundance, variety, and proportion in products are the three factors which constitute Wealth
But how establish this marvelous proportion, so essential that without it a portion of human labor is lost, — that is, useless, inharmonious, untrue, and consequently synonymous with poverty and annihilation?
Prometheus, according to the fable, is the symbol of human activity. Prometheus steals the fire of heaven, and invents the early arts; Prometheus foresees the future, and aspires to equality with Jupiter; Prometheus is God. Then let us call society Prometheus.
Prometheus knows that such a product costs an hour's labor, such another a day's, a week's, a year's; he knows at the same time that all these products, arranged according to their cost, form the progression of his wealth. First, then, he will assure his existence by providing himself with the least costly, and consequently most necessary, things; then, as fast as his position becomes secure, he will look forward to articles of luxury, proceeding always, if he is wise, according to the natural position of each article in the scale of prices. Sometimes Prometheus will make a mistake in his calculations, or else, carried away by passion, he will sacrifice an immediate good to a premature enjoyment, and, after having toiled and moiled, he will starve. Thus, the law carries with it its own sanction; its violation is inevitably accompanied by the immediate punishment of the transgressor.
According to this analysis, value, considered from the point of view of the association which producers, by division of labor and by exchange, naturally form among themselves, is the proportional relation of the products which constitute wealth; and what we call the value of any special product is a formula which expresses, in terms of money, the proportion of this product to the general wealth…

In the course of that explanation, the original point of view is transformed. Proudhon, who showed us, in the beginning, individual producers each working as they wish, without concert, so that part of the products risk remained unused, has substituted for private industry an entirely different conception of production. He no longer speaks to us of isolated laborers, but of the “society,” the “collective man;” he symbolized that collective man in the mythological character of Prometheus, “the one who foresees:” it is Prometheus who rules production by proportioning to the various needs. The producers, he said, “naturally form a society among themselves,” and there is the recognition of that truth, that production is also a social fact, and not only exchange. Proudhon shows a society that combines the efforts of labor in a manner to realize “such proportion in its products as will give the greatest amount of well-being;” which obtains “abundance, variety and proportion in the products;” a society, consequently, where the laborers are united and act in concert.
But that is the communist society.
And then, since production is social, since it is organized in advanced and proportional to needs, it is not, as Proudhon said at the beginning, by exchange that the socialization of products occurs. There is no need to socialize them after the fact; they are socialized in advance by the fact of the agreement and solidarity between the producers. The products once created, and created according to the quantity and proportion which have been settled upon by Prometheus, that is to say by society, it is not a question of exchanging them by of dividing them in conformity with the plan that has directed production, since the production has been done precisely with an eye to that division destined to satisfy the needs of all the producers.
Proudhon ended up, then, at the communist idea—although, in his horror of authority, he had battled energetically as we know the communists in the manner of Cabet or Blanqui.
Proudhon was an anti-authoritarian, anti-statist communist, a federalist communist. Was he a communist without knowing it?
Non, he suspected it, and he said it, at least once.
In his famous letter to Marx, May 17, 1846 (published for the first time in the Correspondence), he wrote :

I myself put the problem in this way: to bring about the return to society, by an economic combination, of the wealth which was withdrawn from society by another economic combination. In other words, through Political Economy to turn the theory of Property against Property in such a way as to engender what you German socialists call community and what I will limit myself for the moment to calling liberty or equality.

Liberty and equality: that is how Proudhon formulated his social ideal; and that is the same, he said, as what Marx and his friends call community.[1]
We must believe him.
JAMES GUILLAUME


La Vie ouvrière, n°46-47 (August 20-September 5, 1911): 307-312.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur, with passages from The System of Economic Contradictions taken from Benjamin R. Tucker's edition.]


[1] Proudhon’s book against property (What is Property?) was the first socialist expression, of historical importance, which issued from the proletariat. Marx knew that book before coming to Paris, and it was like a revelation for him (eine Art Offenbarung)... The writing of Proudhon impressed him, by its careful and substantial language, its penetrating dissection of jurisprudence and bourgeois political economy by the boldness with which it subjected property to a critical analysis, and, especially, because that writing was the work of a proletarian. (Franz Mehring, Gesammelte Schriften von Karl Marx und Friedrich Engels, II, pages 11-12, 1902.)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Michael Bakunin: A Biographical Sketch (London, 1862)


MICHAEL BAKUNIN.
(A Biographical Sketch.)

Bakunin is in London! Bakunin, buried in dungeons, lost in Eastern Siberia, re-appears in the midst of us, full of life and energy. Redivivus et ultor, we might say, with Pougatscheff, were not Bakunin and ourselves, too much occupied to waste time in thoughts of vengeance. Bakunin returns more hopeful than ever, with redoubled love for the Russian people. He is invigorated by the sharp, but healthy, air of Siberia.
Is it that spring approaches? Old friends return to us from beyond the Pacific Ocean. How many images, how many shadows, rise from the dead with Bakunin. We observe, with closer attention, what passes in the East of Europe, on the shores of the Danube. We seem once more to hear the crack of a mosaic empire that is falling, we hear the murmur of the waves of the Slavonic world, and see dismembered Poland re-unite around Warsaw, and extend—forgetting the past—a fraternal hand to the Russian people, free, also, from the yoke of absolutism.
The dreams of 1848! Yes, dreams, but give only two or three such years, and the dreams of 1848 will be realised from the Straits of Messina to the Vistula, the Volga, and the Oural. The year 1848 is not dead, it has only changed its place.
The activity of Bakunin—previous to the fortress of Koanigstein—was philosophical and abstract in Moscow, revolutionary in general and socialist in Europe; henceforth we hope it will be Slavo-Russian. We will speak of this at length, on a future occasion; at present, we touch briefly the details of his past career.
Bakunin left Russia in 1841. In 1845 he was involved in the trial of the Swiss socialists. Blunchl pointed him out to the Russian government, and he was ordered to return immediately. He did not return; the Senate deprived him of his rank as an officer, and his rights of nobility; he then went to Paris.
It was there Bakunin pronounced his celebrated speech to the Poles, on the 29th November, 1847—the anniversary of the insurrection at "Warsaw. For the first time, a Russian was seen to offer a hand of brotherhood to the Poles, and renounce publicly the government of Petersburg. The speech, had an immense effect. Guizot expelled Bakunin from Paris; but he had scarcely reached Brussels, when Paris expelled Guizot and Louis Philippe from France. Bakunin returned to Paris, and passionately threw himself into the new political life which then began. The Lamartine and Marast government beheld, with evil eye, the men who accepted the republic in earnest, and was glad to be rid of them in any manner, provided they did not remain in France. It was a relief when Bakunin prepared to depart. But a new era had commenced,—a Slavo-Polish Congress had assembled at Breslau. There Bakunin was active; and even more so afterwards at the Congress of Prague, where, indeed, he was not the only Russian. He wrote his social Slavonic programme, which the checks have not yet forgotten; he acted with the Slavonians until Windisehgraetz dispersed the Congress with Austrian cannon. Quitting Prague, Bakunin made an attempt, in opposition to Palack, to unite the Slavonian democrats with the Hungarians, who sought their independence, and with the German revolutionists. Into this union many Poles entered, and the Hungarians sent Count Teleki. Bakunin, wishing to confirm this union by example, took the command at the defence of Dresden, and acquired a glory which even his enemies have not denied. He retired, after the taking of Dresden by the Prussians. At Themnites he was seized by treachery, with two of his companions, and from that time commences his long martyrdom.
Bakunin was condemned to death by the Saxon tribunals—a sentence commuted by the King to that of perpetual imprisonment. In May, 1850, he was sent, chained, to Prague. The Austrian government desired to extort from him the secrets of the Slavonian movement; he refused to answer. He was left for a year at Gratz, and the question was not renewed. In May, 1851, terrified by the report of a design to liberate Bakunin, the government transferred him to Olmutz, where he passed six months chained to the wall. Afterwards, Austria delivered him to Russia. It was said, that on the frontier the fetters should be removed from his hands and feet. Nicholas was not so delicate; the Austrian chains were taken off, as imperial property; but they were replaced by native irons, of twice the weight. Bakunin passed three long years in the fortress of Alexis, and he left in 1854 for Schlusselbourg. Nicholas feared that Sir Charles Napier might set him free.
Alexander re ascended the throne; he published several unsatisfactory, half amnesties—of Bakunin, not the word. His Majesty deigned even to efface his name from the list. Bakunin's mother petitioned the Emperor, who replied with affability, "As long as your son lives, Madame, he will never be free." In 1857, Bakunin was sent to Eastern Siberia.
In 1860, a fresh attempt was made to obtain for Bakunin permission to return to Russia. His Majesty again refused, assigning as the motive for his severity, a letter written by Bakunin, in 1851, and adding, "I see in him no sign of remorse." However, the emperor granted him the right of entering the service as an employee in the Chancery, of the 4th order—a particular class of copyists,—Bakunin could not profit by this imperial grace of the 4th order. After eight years' imprisonment, and four years' exile, he had to look forward still to a long series of dreary years in Siberia.
A new flame was kindled throughout Russia; Austria vanquished and in retreat, the Italian flag unfurled at Milan, Bakunin tells us with what eagerness he followed, at Irkutsk, the movements of Garibaldi, as the peninsula grew brighter and brighter in the light of liberty, to remain, at 47 years of age, and with his pulse in full vigour, a tame and distant spectator of events, was impossible; he had expiated long enough his faith in the possibility of a union with the German democrats. He determined to escape from Siberia. Under pretext of a commercial affair he reached the Amour, and an American clipper conveyed him to Japan, undoubtedly the first political refugee who had ever there sought shelter. Thence he arrived at San Francisco, crossed the Isthmus of Panama, and came to New York. On December 26th he landed at Liverpool, and on the 27th was with us in London.
For the present, let us conclude with the strong hope that the Emperor's prediction that the peasants shall have "no other liberty than that which they possess," may be put to the proof as speedily as the prediction concerning the liberty of Bakunin.—From A RUSSIAN CORRESPONDENT.

The Working Man. II, 23 (March 1, 1862) 65-67.

"The Working Man" of London greets Bakunin (1862)


MICHAEL BAKUNIN

THE Committee of the "Working Man," on Tuesday, the 7th of January, having been informed that Michael Bakunin had arrived in London, a deputation was appointed to go and present to this martyr of human progress an address of welcome.
On Friday, the 10th, accordingly the deputation waited upon Alexander Herzen, the celebrated Russian exile and "publiciste," who introduced them to Bakunin, surrounded by a goodly staff of Russians, Poles, &c, all friends of progress, united by the brotherly love for one common mother—Liberty.
The following address was then read:—

The Committee of the "Working Man" to the illustrious Michael Bakunin.

Whilst the oppressors of the human race are busy in forging instruments of destruction and are exciting men to the hatred of each other, we, working men of England, have become conscious at last that the cause of human freedom and happiness is identical under every sky, and that it is only by the union of all the friends to that sacred cause that its success can be insured. Whilst, therefore, our tyrants excite our deluded brethren to "War, Competition, and Hatred, we want to raise a cry for peace, Association, and Fraternal Love.
In the same way, as when the eagle soars high above the clouds, his piercing eyes embrace an immense range where to choose his prey. We have raised ourselves to the high sphere of philosophy, we have been enabled to survey the whole of our common abode—the earth, and we have counted our friends—the friends of liberty, of labour, of justice.
"We have seen them all heroically contending against our enemies—ignorance, superstition, despotism, competition, exploitation of labour, slavery—and our hearts have been elated with proud joy. Amongst those whom we distinguished from the crowd, you, Bakunin, stood among the highest, by your courage, your undaunted energy, and your sufferings. "We saw you handed from one tyrant to the other, as if each succeeding one was afraid to keep such a prey too long in his hands; at last, we heard you had been sent to the deadly mines of Siberia—a torture that even Dante could not invent for his Hell. We bad gone into mourning for a brother lost, for one of our guiding stars dropped from our heaven of hope, when lo!—can we believe the report?— #e heard that you had baffled all their cunning, broken through all their meshes, that you were free! No, it cannot be; for who can come back from Siberia? We might as well hope to see Prometheus break his chains, and fling them at his torturing vulture.
But no, it is true! Bakunin is free! he has landed in America—he is in London.
Prometheus can break his chains. Vultures, your fate is now doomed! Ply, and leave us free to love one another, and to labour for all.
Bakunin, welcome in the land of freedom. We have forgotten the lessons of our oppressors, who tried to teach us to look upon men as foreigners, as enemies, because they were born on another land, or because they spoke another language, or because their skin was not exactly the same colour as yours. We have felt the warmth of their hearts, and the loving grasp of their hands, and we have called them brothers.
Brother Bakunin, welcome to England.
Brother Herzen, you have lived already a long time among us; you know our customs, you will guide him and comfort him, and when he will have rested himself from his fatigues, we will, as our forefathers used to do, form a circle around him, and he will tell us the wonderful tale of his struggles, and then you both will help us in our search after truth. The land where you were born, is we think, unknown to us. The customs and struggles of your countrymen we want to be acquainted with; for in the examination of the great problem of labour, which we have undertaken, we want all the light that men like you can give us.
Bakunin, Herzen, we tender you the right hand of fellowship. ,
On behalf of the Committee,

The Deputation:—
A. C. Cuddon, Chairman.
W. Turnbull.
 H. Baker.
W. P. Wallace.
G. Hill.
G. E. Harris, Secretary.

Bakunin then answered as follows:—
Friends,—I am deeply moved by this manifestation of your sympathy, which I did not hope to have deserved. I ascribe it to the democratical instinct which enables you to recognize a friend, even in a man of a foreign race, because a friend devoted to our common cause. And, indeed, as long as I recollect, I have been passionately devoted to the cause of social and economical emancipation of mankind; I have not succeeded in doing much. Imprisonment and exile have taken from me twelve years of my life and activity. But all that remains in me of life and strength will be devoted to our great cause. The time is come when the Russian people, who have slept so long, are awakening, and will not go to sleep again. "We Russians know how much depends upon this struggle for the emancipation of labour, but we know also that its strength is not destructive, but productive. We are persuaded that the Russian element will bring a new idea into the great social question, and that it will, in its turn, stand in the rank of all nations which tend towards the fullest emancipation of mankind, and offer a brotherly hand to those working for our common cause.

The hearty congratulations then became general.
Michael Bakunin, Alexander Herzen, and several other gentlemen, then entered into explanations as to the economical and political organization of Russia, which, when we reproduce them in our columns (as they have promised to contribute articles upon those subjects) will rather startle our readers.

The Working Man. II, 22 (February, 1862) 29-31.

M. Jourdain, "Mikhail Bakunin" (1920)


MIKHAIL BAKUNIN.

BY M. JOURDAIN.

“It is only by tracing things to their origin,” writes Paine in his Essay on Agrarian Justice, “that we can gain rightful ideas of them,” and the deepest foundations of the Russian Revolution owe much to the violence and perfervid genius of Bakunin, a name less frequently in the mouths of men than that of his adversary, Karl Marx. Marx, who recognized in himself a pioneer, comes within well-known categories, and his doctrines can be clearly tabulated, but Bakunin is more elusive. He was not, in any respect, leader of a party, nor founder of a sect; his enemies did at a time label his friends Bakuninists, but these always rejected the term. Bakunin was the typical revolutionary, an expression of the spirit of Russia, which had been and is still dominated by political conditions. Only seventy years ago, Konstantin Arkasov was forbidden by the police to wear a beard because the government of the Czar, at that moment, regarded the wearing of a beard as a revolutionary symbol. Bakunin is the outcome of these conditions.
He was a Russian to the finger nails, a gigantic figure. “His was a titan’s figure with leonine head,” wrote Herzen, “his energy, his sloth, his great bulk, and his appetite assumed gigantic proportions.” “His giant bulk, his athletic figure, his great Rabelaisian face attracted sympathy,” writes another observer.[1] The traits of the portraits from his enemies and followers agree, though Marx and his followers insist more on Bakunin’s defects, and Herzen and his intimates, on the defects of his qualities. To one, he is the “great serpent” ; to Herzen, “that avalanche of a Bakunin.”[2] In his Diary of 1848 Herzen notes that those well acquainted with him were already saying, “He is a man of talent, but a bad character.”
The leading traits of Bakunin’s character were an immense and childlike simplicity and demonic violence. As Herzen knew well, he was the wildest of dreamers. “Divorced from practical life,” as Herzen wrote to him, “from earliest youth immersed over head and ears in the German idealism out of which the epoch constructed a realistic outlook ‘as per schedule,’ knowing nothing of Russia either before your imprisonment or after your Siberian exile, but animated by grand and passionate desire for noble deeds, you have lived half a century in a world of phantoms and illusions, student-like unrestraint, lofty plans and petty defects.... When after ten years you regained liberty, you showed yourself to be as of old. a mere theorist, a man utterly without clear conceptions, a talker, unscrupulous in money matters, with an element of tacit but stubborn epicureanism and with a persistent itch for revolutionary activity.” Yet. “there was something childlike, frank and simple in his nature which was peculiarly charming,”’ according to Herzen. who was no prejudiced observer.
He was avid of anarchy, uneasy when leading a calm life; after his stay in Siberia he cries: “I was not made for this calm and peaceful existence, and after having been condemned, against my will, to so many years of rest, it is time for me to plunge again into active life.”[3] Now in England, now in France, now in Germany, Italy and Switzerland, he is always the prey of a revolutionary fever, in which agitation took the place of action. He had an immense confidence in human passions, and wished for a millennium in which the triumph of the proletariat would give free scope to those dammed up by social conditions. One of the phrases he was fond of repeating to his friends was: “We must let loose evil passions.” In 1848 he wrote: “We need something very different from a constitution ; we need storm and life, a world that is lawless and consequently free.”[4] In Gue’s Reminiscences we are told that Bakunin was asked what were his aims and beliefs. “I believe in nothing,” was the answer, “I read nothing. I think of but one thing: twist the neck, twist it yet further, screw off the head; let not a trace of it remain.” The same spirit, of which he was fully conscious, burns in the form of his work. He begs that a manuscript he has submitted may remain in its unattenuated violence, because, he says, “it is part of my nature, and nature cannot be transformed.”[5]
His violence at moments was closely akin to the fervor of madness, and to some of his friends his feverish temperament, his brusque transitions from love to hatred of his fellow men seemed the symptom of a restless and unbalanced imagination. Blind to the real nature of the men he came in contact with, he was equally devoid of real knowledge of the world he lived in, and when living in a villa near Locarno, he had thoughts of boring a tunnel through which his followers could make their entry unnoticed into Italy and organize a rising! Mis strange credulity, his desultoriness, his rashness and Slav torpor were characteristic of a man who expects a miracle—the miracle of revolution. As a set-off against his impulsiveness, his ignorance of the real, his often aimless and turbulent activity, it must be said that he never shrank from the risks of his actions and was always willing to set his life upon a cast, a quality which deserves recognition when contrasted with the hesitating Herzen and the calculating Marx.[6]
Bakunin’s life, like his temper, was stormy. He was born in 1814; his father, a wealthy retired diplomatist, lived at his estate in the government of Tver, his mother was related to MuravievApostol, one of the executed Decabrists. He entered the School of Artillery in St. Petersburg, and was sent as an ensign to a regiment stationed in the government of Minsk where he found barrack life monotonous and spent a great deal of the day on his bed in his dressing-gown.[7] The Polish insurrection had just been crushed. This, according to Guillaume, “acted powerfully on the heart of the young officer, and contributed to inspire in him the horror of despotism.” At any rate, he resigned his commission in 1834 and went to Moscow where he threw himself into the study of German philosophy and became a devout Hegelian. In 1839 he was still a Hegelian, and Ogareff, who was then in Moscow, speaks of him to Herzen as “plunged in the philosophy of Hegel when he is by himself; and if he is in company, he is immersed in chess, so that he is deaf to the conversation.”[8] Ogareff and Herzen lent Bakunin a considerable sum to allow him to continue his studies in Berlin, and this was the beginning of a prolonged stay outside the borders of Russia, in Berlin, Dresden and Paris. In 1842 he was a confirmed revolutionary, as we see by his article in the Deutsche Jahrbiicher, under the pseudonym of Jules Elizard. The Russian government demanded him to return, and on his refusal, deprived him of his civil rights. Bakunin removed himself to Paris from 1843 to 1847, years which were important in the formation of his opinions, for it was in Paris that he met Proudhon, and also Marx and Engels. his lifelong antagonists.
In November, 1847, as the result of a speech at a Polish banquet commemorating the rising of 1830, Bakunin was expelled from France at the instance of the Russian ambassador Kisseleff, and the report was circulated that he was a secret agent of the Russian government, disavowed because he had gone too far. After a short stay in Brussels he returned to Paris after the February revolution and flung himself heart and soul into the organization of the workers. Caussidiere, who hoped to “create order out of chaos,” was somewhat embarrassed by Bakunin’s zeal and said of him: “What a man! the first day of a revolution he is a treasure: the next day he ought to be shot.” After leaving Paris he attended the Slav Congress at Prague, was leader of the Prague rising, and afterward took a leading part in the rising at Dresden which dominated that city for five days in May, 1849. Bakunin, who had been almost dictator in this brief space, was captured, at the same time as Richard Wagner: and his vivid and restless career was changed for the bitter lot of a prisoner.
He was condemned to death by the Saxon government in January, 1850, but the sentence was commuted and he was delivered to Austria which claimed the privilege of dealing with him. Again he was condemned to death, and the sentence was again commuted. Finally the Russian government in its turn claimed him, and from 18? 1 to 1854 he was imprisoned at St. Petersburg. He was visited an prison by Count Orlov, who told him that Czar Nicholas wished to have his confession. Bakunin, knowing that he “was at the mercy of the bear, that his activities were well known and that there was nothing to hide,” wrote a letter to the Czar. According to Herzen the Czar said on reading this. “He is a good fellow and clever; he ought to be kept behind prison-bars.” Later Alexander II struck Bakunin’s name from the list of offenders to whom amnesty was granted. At another prison, Schlusselburg, he suffered from scurvy and his health broke down completely; finally, after eight years of prison life, he was exiled to the comparative freedom of Siberia, whence he escaped by way of Japan and America to London.
For some years he lived in Italy, where he founded the Alliance of Socialist Revolutionaries. In 1867 he took part in the Congress of the League of Peace and Liberty at Geneva, and drew the League’s attention to the newly founded International Working Men’s Association. Bakunin did not at first believe that the latter would prove a success, and did not join it until 1868. His later exclusion from the Internationale, in 1872, was but a symptom of the conflict between Bakunin’s group and the followers of Marx. The two men were antipathetic. Bakunin, who always recognized Marx’s superior and systematic genius, who translated the Communist Manifesto for Herzen’s Kolokol and began to translate the first volume of Marx’s Kapital, distrusted Marx’s temperament, which was lacking, as he believed, “the instinct for liberty.” “I have always praised him,” Bakunin writes to Herzen. “and more than that, I have recognized his greatness.”[9] “I should never forgive myself if I had tried to destroy or weaken his beneficent influence, for the pleasure of revenging myself on him.”[10] “He calls me,” Bakunin once wrote, “a sentimental idealist, and he was right; I called him vain, treacherous and sly, and I was also right.” The Bakuninist following accused the German group of Socialists of self-seeking and trafficking for the prizes of civilization, and of carefulness for forms of law and order, while on the other hand the Marxian group accused their opponents of having no sound ideas of law or order, and of being visionaries and anarchists. By this time Bakunin’s health was broken, and except for short intervals his last years were passed in retirement at Lugano in a villa lent him by Cafiero. In 1876, the old revolutionary, who would have preferred death on the barricades, died peacefully in a hospital at Berne.
Bakunin’s written work, like his life, is fragmentary and interrupted. He was an organizer of revolts in which he stood in the forefront of the barricades, and most of his writing was done in the feverish interval between two insurrections. He was, as he himself said, no artist, and was quite without the shaping and architectonic gift.[11] His writings are chaotic, largely aroused by some passing occasion, abstract and metaphysical, except when they deal with current politics. “He does not come to close quarters with economic facts, but dwells usually in the regions of theory and metaphysics.”[12] His essay in the Deutsche Jahrbucher is a vivid expression of the revolutionary mood of his circle and his day, and is interesting from its philosophical conception of democracy as an outlook on the universe, a spirit moving upon the face of the waters. “The essence, the principle of democracy is the most general, the most all-embracing, the most intimate of factors; it is what Hegel speaks of as the spirit which reveals itself and develops itself in history.”[13] His hopes are set on the imminence of revolution; in Russia he saw lowering clouds gathering, the heralds of storm: “The atmosphere is sultry and pregnant with tempests. To the proletariat we say: ‘Open the eyes of your mind, let the dead bury their dead, realize at last that the spirit, the ever-young, the ever-reborn is not to be discovered in mouldering ruins!’ To the compromisers we say: ‘Throw open your hearts to the truth, clear your minds from pitiful and blind wisdom, free yourselves from the theorist’s arrogance and the slave’s dread, which have withered your souls and paralyzed your movements!’ Let us put our trust in the eternal spirit which only destroys and annihilates because it is the unsearchable and eternally creative source of all life! The desire for destruction is also a creative desire.”[14] Even more fragmentary is his God and the State, the most detailed of his philosophical writings published, which breaks off abruptly. The thesis is the development of his simple statement that the Church and the State were his two bugbears. The State is a stumbling-block in the way of liberty, for it guarantees the status quo—”to the rich, their wealth, and to the poor, their poverty.” The Church is the main prop of the State, and must therefore be destroyed. “If God exists, man is a slave: but man can and must be free, therefore God does not exist.” “As slaves of God, men must likewise become slaves of Church and State, in so far as State is sanctified by Church.” Atheism is therefore to him a prime necessity, and in the program for the Peace Congress at Geneva (1867) antitheology was set besides federalism and socialism as the third essential demand.[15] He amusingly turns Voltaire’s famous saying inside out: “If God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.”[16]
The State is the cause of civil and external war, and is the “most flagrant, cynical and complete negation of humanity.”[17] Bakunin’s medicine for the real world of society was revolution and the destruction—pandestruction he calls it—of the existing order. There is no doubt he found a childish and acute pleasure in the stimulus of revolutionary activities, in the hubbub of insurrections, the tumults of the streets and public places, the-tremor of anticipation and preparation, the agitated and continuous meetings and all-night sittings of committees, even in the minor weapons of the revolutionary, invisible ink and cypher. In attempting to formulate the philosophic principles of revolution, he goes so far as to presuppose an unborn need of revolt as a primary psychical element.[18] When actual revolutionary activities were impossible, he would find a cognate pleasure in the passionate negation of the social order.
He had no approval for reform and repair of the fabric of the State as it stood, but aimed at revolution from the prime foundation. Our State, he writes, “has nothing organic in it, and is held together mechanically. When it begins to break up, nothing can arrest the process, and sooner or later this Empire is bound to make an end of itself.”[19] Total disorganization and destruction, chaos, pandestruction is to him a prerequisite of the new heaven and a new earth, the new society that will spontaneously upbuild itself from the ashes of the old order. Private property as well as the State must be destroyed, and Bakunin does not hesitate to speak of this anarchy as the “complete manifestation of the folk-life,” and from this soil he expects absolute equality to flower. Forms of life, he imagined, would spring up from the soil thus deeply ploughed; and he inveighed against those who asked for an indication of the conditions of the future society. “It seems to us criminal that those who are already busied about the practical work of revolution should trouble their minds with this nebulous future, for such thoughts will merely prove a hindrance to the supreme cause of destruction.”[20] To him as to some other passionate visionaries, the end justifies all means: poison, the knife and the noose were permitted in the holy war, “for the revolution sanctifies all equally.” Terrorism he considered an accelerating instrument and a means of producing general panic Of some of his methods Bakunin, to judge by a letter written in 1874, seems to have wearied, for his final word is that “no solid, no living structure can be built upon a foundation of Jesuitical deception, and revolutionary actions must not rely upon vile and base passions. The Revolution will never triumph unless it has a humane and high ideal.”[21]
Influenced, no doubt, by his profound difference with Marx and his sympathy with Latin races, Bakunin distrusted Germany, the type of the sovereign and autocratic State. “In Germany,” he writes, “one breathes the atmosphere of an immense political and social slavery, philosophically explained and accepted by a great people with deliberate resignation and free will. Since her definitive establishment as a unitary power, she has become a menace, a danger to the liberty of entire Europe. To-day. Germany is servility, brutal and triumphant.”[22] In the Franco-Prussian War, he feared that the victory of Prussia would make an end of European progress for half a century,[23] and a few years later declared that he had set his hopes on the Slavs and Latins, who were to react against Pan-Germanism.
He, like Herzen, looked on the Russian people as predestined to establish the social revolution. His writings are blank as far as constructive ideas are looked for: at one moment he considers the significance of the Russian mir, a village community. In the opinion of the folk, he said, the soil belongs to the folk alone, to the tillers of the soil, and this outlook enfolds all the social revolutions of the past and future. By instinct, he continues, the Russians are socialistic, by nature they are revolutionary; the Russians therefore will institute the freedom of the world.[24] In 1866, however, he had strongly criticized Herzen’s mystic belief in the Russian mir from which he hoped so much, and speaks of its arbitrary and despotic patriarchalism, the complete repression of the individual and the corruption of its members, always ready to sell right and justice for ten liters of brandy.[25]
Bakunin’s stock of ideas was borrowed, for he assimilated those of others with facility. After subtracting what he owes to Feuerbach. to Auguste Comte, to Proudhon and to Marx, there is little small change left. What remains is his fervor, his belief in the imminent revolution that was so intense that he mistook, in Herzen’s phrase, the second month of gestation for the ninth. No one could approach him without catching, if but for a time, his revolutionary fire. The final word upon him is Belinski’s who speaks of his “savage energy, restless, stimulating and profound mobility of mind, his incessant striving for remote ends, without any gratification in the present; even hatred for the present and for himself in the present; ever leaping from the special to the general.” And in another context he admits that Bakunin has sinned and made many mistakes, but that there is something in him that wipes away all his faults of character, “the principle of eternal movement hidden in the very deeps of his soul.”

M. Jourdain, “Mikhail Bakunin,” The Open Court, 34 (October, 1920): 591-599.


[1] B. Malon, “L’Internationale,” Nouvelle Revue, February 5, 1884, p. 749.
[2] Correspondance de Michel Bakounine (1860-74), ed. M. Dragomanov, Paris, 1896.
[3] Ibid., p. 186.
[4] Quoted in Masaryk, The Spirit of Russia, Vol. I, p. 457.
[5] Correspondance, p. 287.
[6] Masaryk, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 479.
[7] Correspondence, Preface, p. 7.
[8] Ibid., p. 10.
[9] Ibid., p. 288.
[10] Ibid., p. 391.
[11] Ibid., p. 892: “Je ne suis pas artiste, et le talent d’architecte en litterature me fait completement defaut” (1869).
[12] B. Russell, Roads to Freedom, p. 62.
[13] Masaryk, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 437.
[14] “L’empire knouto-germanique” (2d edition), Oeuvres, Vol. III, p. 160.
[15] Masaryk, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 446.
[16] God and the State, London, 1910, p. 16.
[17] “Federalisme, socialisme et antitheologisme,” Oeuvres, Vol. I, p. 148.
[18] See letter of Herzen, quoted in Correspondance, Preface, p. 67.
[19] Correspondance, p. 244.
[20] Masaryk, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 452.
[21] Correspondance, p. 379.
[22] God and the State, pp. 28-29.
[23] “Lettre a Esquiros,” Oeuvres, Vol. IV, p. 233.
[24] Masaryk, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 460.
[25] Correspondance, p. 223.