Read The Eloquent Atheist Webzine

Infidels, Freethinkers, Humanists, and Unbelievers
Bakunin, Mikhail (1814-1876)
“People go to church for the same reasons they go to a tavern: to stupefy themselves, to forget their misery, to imagine themselves, for a few minutes anyway, free and happy”

“Does it follow that I reject all authority? Perish the thought. In the matter of boots, I defer to the authority of the boot-maker.”

“A Boss in Heaven is the best excuse for a boss on earth, therefore If God did exist, he would have to be abolished”

-- Mikhail Bakunin


Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin (Trolo) was a well known Russian anarchist. He was best known as one of the first generation of anarchist philosophers, and has been called one of the "fathers of anarchism".

Bakunin was born of an aristocratic family in the village of Pryamukhino between Torzhok and Kuvshinovo, in Tver guberniya, northwest of Moscow, in the spring of 1814. At the age of 14 he left for St. Petersburg where he was given military training at the Artillery University. On completion of his studies in 1832, he was commissioned as a junior officer in the Russian Imperial Guard and sent to Minsk and Gardinas in Lithuania (now in Belarus). Though his father wished him to continue in either the military or civil service, Bakunin abandoned both in 1835 and fled to Moscow, where he hoped to pursue the study of philosophy.

In Moscow, Bakunin became fast friends with a group of former university students, then engaged in the systematic study of Idealist philosophy, in particular Schelling, Fichte, and Hegel. All along, he and his friends hoped to complete their studies with a trip to Berlin, then considered the capital of modern science. Bakunins' parents refused at first to pay for this journey; but in the end, they relented and in 1840 Bakunin went abroad.

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. From there he went to Paris, where he met Proudhon and George Sand, and also made the acquaintance of the chief Polish exiles. From Paris he journeyed to Switzerland, where he resided for some time, taking an active share in all socialistic movements.

While in Switzerland, Bakunin was ordered by the Russian government to return to Russia, and on his refusal his property was confiscated. In 1848, on his return to Paris, he published a fiery tirade against Russia, which caused his expulsion from France. The revolutionary movement of 1848 gave him the opportunity to join a radical campaign of democratic agitation, and for his participation in the May Uprising in Dresden of 1849 he was arrested and condemned to death. The death sentence, however, was commuted to imprisonment for life, and he was eventually handed over to the Russian authorities, by whom he was imprisoned and finally sent to eastern Siberia in 1855.

Bakunin received permission to move to the Amur region, from where he succeeded in escaping, making his way through Japan and the United States to England in 1861. He spent the rest of his life in exile in western Europe, principally in Switzerland. In 1869 he founded the Social Democratic Alliance; however, this organisation 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 in the same year it was formed, and the various groups which composed it joined the International separately.

In 1870 Bakunin led a failed uprising in Lyons on the principles later exemplified by the Paris Commune. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels later approved of the Paris Commune and described it as an example of a dictatorship of the proletariat; however, Marx was of the view that the rising in Lyons had been premature and adventurist.

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 (1872), give a clear-cut representation of the differences between the Marxist view of the need for a transitional workers' state prior to the final dissolution of the state, and Bakunin's opposition to the notion that such an intermediate step was needed. 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 a communist revolution (a prediction that many believe has been proved accurate). More importantly, Bakunin criticized "authoritarian socialism" (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 Czar himself."

Bakunin retired to Lugano in 1873 and died at Bern on June 13, 1876.

Political beliefs
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 his Dieu et l'Etat or 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." Natural laws being thus recognized by every man for himself, Bakunin's reasoning went, an individual could not but obey them, for they would be the laws also of his own nature; and the need for political organization, administration and legislation would at once disappear.

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 methods of realizing his revolutionary program were no less purposeful than his principles. The revolutionist, as Bakunin described, would be a devoted man, who allowed no private interests or feelings, and no scruples of religion, patriotism or morality, to turn him aside from his mission, the aim of which is by all available means to overturn the existing society.

The dispute between Mikhail Bakunin and Karl Marx highlighted the difference between anarchism and Marxism: While both anarchists and Marxists share the same final goal - the creation of a free, egalitarian society with no social classes and no government, they strongly disagree on how to achieve this goal. Anarchists believe that the classless, stateless society should be established right away, as soon as possible; they refuse any intermediate stage of dictatorship of the proletariat. Marxists believe that such a thing would be impossible and that the anarchists are too idealistic; the Marxists want a more gradual transition towards the classless and stateless society, involving a transitional stage of democratic government and planned economics, which they call "socialism". (Note that the word "socialism" also has a number of other meanings.)

Allegations of Anti-Semitism
Bakunin is alleged to have been anti-semitic, in one quote regarding Jewish people he wrote "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"[citation needed] It is, however, unclear whether he was talking about Semites or about those practicing Judaism but it must be noted that he criticised all religions throughout his life and Christianity and Judaism were dominant in Europe at his time. Bakunin's anti-Semitism, like that of many at the time, likely grew out of a perception that "they" were behind the workings of European capitalism and politics, which he spent his life opposing.

The following quote, part of a polemic attacking Karl Marx, illustrates his perceptions of European Jewry: "Now this entire Jewish world, which constitutes an exploiting sect, a people of leeches, a voracious parasite, closely and intimately connected with another, regardless not only of frontiers but of political differences as well -- this Jewish world is today largely at the disposal of Marx or Rothschild. I am sure that, on the one hand, the Rothschilds appreciate the merits of Marx, and that on the other hand, Marx feels an instinctive inclination and a great respect for the Rothschilds. This may seem strange. What could there be in common between communism and high finance? Ho ho! The communism of Marx seeks a strong state centralization, and where this exists, there the parasitic Jewish nation -- which speculates upon the labor of people -- will always find the means for its existence..."

and

"In reality, this would be for the proletariat a barrack-regime, under which the workingmen and the workingwomen, converted into a uniform mass, would rise, fall asleep, work, and live at the beat of the drum. The privilege of ruling would be in the hands of the skilled and the learned, with a wide scope left for profitable crooked deals carried on by the Jews, who would be attracted by the enormous extension of the international speculations of the national banks..." -- Michael Bakunin: Polemique contre les Juifs, 1872.

Criticism
Bakunin has been criticized by anarchists and statists alike as a closet authoritarian. He is known to have sent secret letters in the hopes of creating an "invisible dictatorship." For example, a letter to Albert Richard stated 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, it is argued that these quotes are taken out of context, and that by definition this "invisible dictatorship", to the contrary of the Marxist "dictatorship of the proletariat", is not organized: "this dictatorship will be all the more salutary and effective for not being dressed up in any official power or extrinsic character." Some however argue that the sole expression in itself is a sign of Bakunin's alleged authoritarianism.

Some anarchists argue that the "collective dictatorship" was meant to be the spontaneous coalition of citizens against the state without a ruler behind it. However, in one letter Bakunin stated that "the secret and universal association of the International Brothers" need not be large. "One hundred revolutionaries, strongly and earnestly allied, would suffice for the international organization of all of Europe. Two or three hundred revolutionaries will be enough for the organization of the largest country."

Many, proponents of anarchism and statism alike, would consider this to be against the basic ideals of anarchism because the vast majority of people are left outside the decision-making process. In the same letter he argued that "revolutions are never made by individuals or even by secret societies. They make themselves."

 
Google
Web www.theinfidels.org
The information on which this page is based has been drawn from research on the Internet. For example, much use has been made of Wikipedia.org, to whom we are greatly indebted. Since the information recording process at Wikipedia is prone to changes in the data, please check at Wikipedia for current information. If you find something on this page to be in error, please contact us.
The Talk Of Lawrence