Le texte qui suit est une réponse à un article
de Louis Proyect, un marxiste américain,
sur Bakounine. L’auteur avait à l’origine l’intention de rédiger
une série d’articles sur l’anarchisme en général, mais les événements
consécutifs aux 11 septembre l’en ont empêché. La réponse peut
sembler quelque peu tardive mais dans la mesure où l’article de
Proyect est encore accessible sur le
Net, j’ai pensé que l’auteur le considérait toujours comme pertinent.
L’article original de Proyect se trouve
à la suite de ma réponse.
Jan. 15, 2008
Dear Mr Louis Proyect,
By mere chance I found on the Internet an article you
wrote, “Marxist critique of Bakunin”, about which I would like to make some comments.
I realize however you wrote it seven years ago and my comments
might seem largely outdated, but since your text can be found
on the Internet I must assume you still consider it has some relevance
The introduction dealing with the “Anarchist Soccer League” shows a deliberate,
and useless intention of ridiculing the anarchist movement but
doesn’t prove anything. Considering a historical movement such
as the anarchist movement, one can always choose to describe individual
cases existing on the margins of the movement and make a big laugh
of them. I’m sure that in the United States, as in France where
I live, you can find ultra-dogmatic brats, strutting about with
trotsky-like beards or Mao-style jackets,
arrogantly airing their opinions on the “masses”, the “Glorious October Revolution”,
and explaining how the “Diamat” (Dialectical
materialism – concept which is
absolutely absent in Marx, mind you) will help them achieve the
Revolution. An anarchist with as much a polemic talent as yours
could easily turn them into idiots.
Certain things you say are factually wrong :
1. For instance when you mention “Hegel's tendency to idealize the Kaiser's regime”. I suppose you mention
the last Roman emperor, for when Hegel died in 1831, there was
no Kaiser, but only the king of Prussia.
The Kaiser popped into the film 40 years later, in 1871.
2. There is another mistake, much more serious in my opinion, when
you say :
“Marx eventually came
to the conclusion that a critique of capitalism had to be rooted
in political economy rather than ethics. Written in 1846-47, The
Poverty of Philosophy is not only an answer to Proudhon's
Property is Theft, it also contains some of the basic economic
insights that would be more fully developed in Capital.
In fact, there are two mistakes in that statement.
♦ The Poverty of Philosophy (the French
title is Misery of Philosophy) is not an answer to Proudhon’s
Property is Theft because Proudhon
never wrote such a book. You surely are mentioning What
is Property? (the whole title is:
What is Property? Or, an Inquiry into the
Principle of Right and Government),
written in 1840.
“Property is theft” is a sentence included in that book,
about which Marx said that “Not only does Proudhon
write in the interest of the proletarians, he is himself a proletarian,
an ouvrier. His work is a scientific manifesto of the French
proletariat. ” (The Holy Family.)
♦ The Poverty of Philosophy is an answer to Proudhon’s System of economic contradictions (1846),
undertitled “Philosophy of Misery” –
which explains Marx’s reply : “Misery
of Philosophy” – a typically left hegelian turn
Considering the title of Proudhon’s
book – System of economic
contradictions – one can
suppose that the author intends to describe, or explain, the capitalist
system in the light of its economic, and not moral contradictions ;
which leads us to the conclusion that Proudhon
intends to make, as you say about Marx, “a critique of capitalism
(…) rooted in political economy rather than ethics”.
Which is precisely the case. I must
add that rooting the critique of capitalism in political economy
doesn’t exclude ethical considerations. The Communist Manifesto
is full of ethical considerations and moral indignations, and
no doubt it is one of the reasons why it has had so much success.
No communist I know has ever read Proudhon’s System
of Economic Contradictions. They simply read Marx’s critique
of his book, The Poverty of Philosophy and to them it is
enough (a very common attitude with communists). The
same way that many communists will probably read your article
and refrain from reading Bakunin, whom
you mention abundantly.
The year 1846
1846 is a very interesting year, because :
1. Marx and Engels wrote
The German Ideology and
2. Proudhon wrote the Systeme des contradictions economiques
(System of economic contradictions).
The German Ideology is a book in which Marx and Engels establish the great lines of their historical method,
which Marx never names, but which Engels
calls “historical materialism”.
The Systeme des contradictions
economiques is a book in which Proudhon exposes his own method, to which he gives no name,
but which is simply the inductive-deductive method (named also
hypothetical-deductive method). This method is very commonly used
in sciences. Proudhon is the very first
who used it in political economy. Roughly, this method consists
in testing a hypothesis and then checking if facts confirm it.
If they do, you form another hypothesis, and so on.
What is it all about ? Proudhon wanted to explain how the capitalist system works.
At first, he tried the historical method, and he said :
where (when) do I begin ? The year 1900 ?
1600 ? 1000 ? It simply
didn’t work. Finally he decided to use abstract categories.
The core of Marx’s criticism of Proudhon’s
book, when you put aside all the details, is precisely his use
of the inductive-deductive method and categories. Proudhon,
says Marx, rejects the only possible method :
the study of the historical movement of production relationships
(“rapports de production”, in French, I’m not used
to marxist jargon in English). Proudhon,
on his side, wants to show that the categories of economy are
in inter-relation in a contradictory way and that all these categories
work simultaneously. Therefore it is necessary to define the basic
category, from which you build up a simulation of the system
(Proudhon uses the word “scaffolding”,
“echaffaudage” in French). His idea is that the simple description of a phenomenon does
not enable to understand its internal movement.
The basic category, according to Proudhon,
is value, which is the fundamental category from which
the essential structure of capitalism can be unveiled. From that,
he deduces the division of labor, machinism,
competition, monopoly, etc. “Value is
the cornerstone of the economic building” says Proudhon in the Systeme
des contradictions economiques.
I don’t think Marx would disagree with that.
So where is the problem ?
The problem is that in 1846 Marx hysterically attacked Proudhon’s
method, accusing it of being idealistic, petit-bourgeois and all
sorts of things, and then for more than ten years he didn’t produce
anything with his own method. A letter he wrote to Engels
(April 2, 1852) shows his despair :
“All that is beginning to annoy me. Actually, that science [political
economy], since A. Smith and D. Ricardo, has made no progress
in spite of all the particular and sometimes very delicate researches
that have been made.
These words are practicaly the
same you can read in Proudhon’s Systeme
des contradictions economiques : “Monographies and
history books : we are saturated with them since Ad. Smith
and J.-B Say, and only variations are made on their texts.
Obviously, Proudhon and Marx were
faced with the same problem and came to the same conclusion. Unfortunately
for Marx, he lost more than ten years searching the solution Proudhon had found in the Systeme
des contradictions economiques as
soon as 1846.
I’m mentioning this only to show you that in spite of what you think, marxism and anarchism are much more
interrelated than you think because thay
had to face the same theoretical problems, and the smartest was
not the one you think. Proudhon too,
About The Capital
In the General introduction to the critique of political
economy (1857), Marx has still not found the way to explain
the structure of the system. There is an abundant literature about
the modifications in the plan of The Capital. On december 18, 1857, Marx writes to Engels
that he is eager to “get rid of this nightmare”.
On February 22, 1858, Marx writes to Lassalle : after 15 years,
“I have the feeling now (…) that I can manage to get to work”.
Good. Fifteen years after his hysterical attacks against
Proudhon, he found at last something. Let’s see what it is.
In the Introduction, Marx asks :
where should one start ? Which scientific method should be
used ? Then he starts explaining the proper method : usually, he says, when you write about political
economy, you start with generalities, production, population,
import, export, annual production. That’s not the good method,
he says. The “scientifically correct method”
consists in considering that “the abstract determinations lead
towards a reproduction of the concrete by way of thought”.
He also says : “the economic
categories would appear on the whole in the same order as in the
(A Contribution to the Critique of Political economy).
So: the logical exposition is not the historical exposition.
Well, well, Marx is now advocating the same method Proudhon used in the Systeme
des contradictions economiques and
appeals to “categories”! He now discovers that
each economic category, such as exchange value, exists only in
relation with a whole, something Proudhon
had discovered more than ten years earlier. Now Marx says that
“it is wrong and inopportune to present the succession of economic
categories in the order of their historic action”. That is precisely the idea he had attacked in Proudhon in 1847.
When the first volume of The Capital was published
in 1867, the preface said that “abstraction is the only method
to analyse economic forms”,
which is precisely Proudhon’s viewpoint. And if you compare the respective plans or the first book of The Capital
and of the Systeme des contradictions
economiques, you can see that they are strangely identical.
The funny thing in that affair is that the masterpiece of
Marx, The Capital, is based on a method that has nothing
to do with “historical materialism”
but on the inductive-deductive method, an authentically scientific
method, which Proudhon used years before
him ; and precisely because of that method, The Capital
is an authentically scientific work !!! Proudhon’s
genius was that he was the first to apply it to political economy.
Now it is interesting to explain how Marx justified the
use of this “new”
method. Of course, he could not say :
“Good old Proudhon was right.” Acknowledging he was wrong and someone else was right was not his style.
So he said that one day, he “accidently” fumbled through Hegel’s Logic, and that helped him
find the proper method. The funny thing about that book,
is that it had belonged to… Bakunin : “Freiligrath found some volumes
of Hegel that had originaly belonged
to Bakunin and sent them to me as a gift”, he says in a letter (January 14, 1858). Obviously, Marx
wanted to establish a filiation with
German philosophy rather than with French socialism.
Later, a lot of marxist
authors realised that there was something
wrong about the method used in The Capital.
Preobrajensky for instance, is a little upset because he realises
that there is nothing to do with “historical materialism” in the book. So he says it is necessary to “rise above all the phenomena of practical capitalism which
keep us from understanding this form and its movement in their
purest aspect.” (The New Economy.) This
is a pretty good definition for “simulation”. So, says Preobrajensky, you must use an “analytical-abstract
method adapted to the peculiarities of the subject which is studied” (sic). Interesting, that. Translated, it means : “You don’t use historical materialism and you
change method according to what you are studying”. A great step has been made in the understanding of “scientific socialism”…
After a somewhat confuse explanation of this method, which
is obviously not “the usual materialist dialectics” (sic) Preobrajensky turns the difficulty baptizing the
method “abstract analytical dialectics”. Whaow ! That was a narrow escape for “dialectics”.
I won’t annoy you with all the marxists who seem obviously upset with the The Capital using the inductive-deductive method.
Most of them are French and you probably never heard about them.
However, I will mention one :
Roman Rosdolsky, a Ukrainian activist
who closely examined the reasons why Marx so frequently changed
the plan of the Capital (Cf. The Changes of the structural
plan of The Capital and its causes, 1929.)
Marxism and anarchism are
What’s the use of all this ?
Well, I only wanted to say that anarchists also have brains, good
brains I would say, and don’t need marxist’s
brain transplanted in their skulls.
More seriously, I simply wanted to show that marxism and anarchism, from a strictly theoretical point
of view, are closely interrelated, and that if you really want
a debate on “marxism & anarchism”, that is the direction you should take. But in fact your article doesn’t
deal with a “debate”
but with categorical assertions founded on a very approximate
knowledge of the problem. In other words :
I don’t mean that the Systeme
des contradictions economiques is
strictly equivalent to The Capital, nor better. Marx’s
book was published 20 years after Proudhon’s
so there is much more in it, which is natural.
Strangely, Mr Proyect, you don’t mention Bakunin’s
opinion on The Capital. You could have, if you had wanted
to prove the incomparable superiority of marxism
upon anarchism. Marx had sent him the Vol. 1 when it was published.
Bakunin always considered it as a necessary reference for
the workers (workers, not peasants…). “It should have been
translated into French a long time
ago”, he wrote, “for no other
contains such a deep enlighting, scientific,
decisive and if I could say, such a terribly unmasking analysis
of the formation of bourgeois capital”, etc. A
whole page of it.
The only problem, adds Bakunin,
is that its style is “too metaphysical and abstract”, which makes it difficult to read for most of the workers (workers,
not peasants). The Capital, says Bakunin
again, “is nothing but the death sentence, scientifically motivated” of the bourgeoisie.
Not bad, isn’t it ?
The collectivists of the First International (they did not
call themselves “anarchists”)
agreed with Bakunin on that point :
so Carlo Cafiero, a follower of Bakunin
(ex-follower of Engels, so he knew what
he was talking about), wrote an “Abstract” of the Capital so that it could be read by the workers (workers not
peasants), and James Guillaume, another of Bakounine’s
followers, wrote a preface.
Mind you, Bakounine praised The
Capital, not the Systeme
des contradictions economiques which,
by the time Marx’s book was published, was somewhat outdated because
even if Proudhon had “invented” some basic concepts used also by Marx twenty years later, Marx had gone further,
which is normal. Besides, Proudhon’s
style, in another way, was not more clear
So what have we got, right now ?
1. Proudhon uses a method
Marx used twenty years later in The Capital.
2. Bakunin and the collectivists
in the First International considered The Capital as a
reference for the workers.
300 pages against Stirner
Let’s get back to the German Ideology. Those who
took the trouble to read it entirely, and not only chosen abstracts
as is usually the case (it is a very thick book), realised
that only a very small part of it concerns the explanation of
the historical method Marx and Engels
are supposed to have discovered.
The main part of the book is dedicated to hysterical polemics.
And 300 pages (2/3 of the book !)
concern Max Stirner. This man is considered
by authorised marxists
who never read him as totally uninteresting. Now, who is this
uninteresting bloke about whom Marx writes 300 pages ?
Most people (and particularly anarchists) ignore that if
Stirner had been famous for a short time in the intellectual
circles of Berlin, he had fallen into oblivion until the late
1880’s and was literally propelled into the anarchist “Pantheon” by Engels, who wanted to kick
the anarchists out of the 2nd International. In order
to discredit the anarchists, Engels
tried to link Bakunin and Stirner, saying that
the former had been influenced by the latter, which is absolutely
wrong. Bakunin, who never hesitated to praise the authors he appreciated,
never refers to his thought and mentions him only once, casually,
in an enumeration of “progressist hegelians”:
“Were part of this group the Bauer brothers, Bruno and Edgar,
Max Stirner et then, in Berlin, the first circle of German nihilists
who, by their cynical logic, left the wild Russian nihilists far
and Anarchy.) This is the only mention he ever
makes of Stirner. As you can see, being considered as a “nihilist”
was not a particularly favorable opinion to Bakunin.
It is significant that the Bauer brothers and Stirner
are put in the same boat: they are part of that fraction of the
left Hegelians who stuck to intellectuel
criticism and never took action. In fact, Marx, Engels
and Bakunin shared the same opinion
on him and if Engels hadn’t been so
sectarian, he would have realized it.
I, personally, don’t consider Stirner
as an anarchist, but that’s a strictly personal opinion. Most
anarchists think he is an individualist but they are wrong. His
concern is not the individual but the individuality. That
makes a great difference. There is nothing anarchist in him ;
I would say he is more of a precursor of Freud.
The young intellectuals who, around 1840, criticized Hegel’s
philosophy finally split into two branches.
The first branch, influenced by Feuerbach,
but mainly by a Pole called Cieskovsky,
concluded that it was necessary now to start acting. That was
Bakunin, Marx, Engels,
The second branch refused to act and stuck to a strictly intellectually criticist point of view. That was Bruno Bauer and Max Stirner. During the 1848 revolution in Germany, Stirner strictly did nothing. This is, among other reasons,
why I can’t consider him as an anarchist.
Anyway, Stirner’s thought deserves
being studied because, among other things, he played an important
part in the constitution of marxism.
Which, of course, marxists
won’t admit, and which is why they are unable to explain why Marx
wrote 300 pages against him…
In 1844, Marx’s thought was totally influenced by Feuerbach ;
he enthusiastically mentioned the “great discoveries” of the philosopher who had “given a philosophical foundation to socialism”. At that time Marx was a humanist. When he says in the
1844 Manuscripts that “communism is not as such the aim
of human development”, he means that the aim is Man with a capital M. At that
time he thought philosophy was the truth of religion.
Stirner vigorously criticized Feuerbach for not having
destroyed the Sacred but only its surface. Philosophy has only
taken away the sacred envelope of religion. Feuerbach’s
“generic man” is a new form of the Divine and reproduces Christian morals.
The very moment Marx wanted to show that the suppression of philosophy
is the actualization of philosophy, Stirner showed that it can only accomplish itself as theology.
These ideas were developped in
a book, The Unique and its property, published in 1845, and were
a shock to Marx. Worse, Engels himself
adhered to Stirner’s theses, a time. (He was curtly reprimanded by his
pal, beleive me…)
Even worse, Stirner’s critique
of Feuerbach was obviously an implicit
critique of Marx.
And even worse again, a number of the smartest minds in
Berlin were gathering around Stirner.
Marxist authors usually forget to say that.
All that, for Marx, was unbearable. Which
explains why he wrote The German Ideology. After
that, Marx gives up the idea of “generic man”
and all these humanistic concepts.
So here we have another example of connection between anarchism
(if you consider Stirner as an “anarchist”)
and marxism, evolving into something
finally positive, since without Stirner’s
philosophical kick in the ass, Marx would have developped
a sort of flabby, spineless socialism. We can consider that Marx
became truely a marxist
after that. And naturally, his attack against Stirner
was proportional to his (philosophical) pain in the ass.
There are many other examples of positive connection between marxism and anarchism.
♦ When Bakunin escaped
from Siberia, he went to England and met Marx before settling
down in Italy. Marx then asked Bakunin
to help him in his fight against Mazzini.
This is precisely what he did. Of course, he would have fought
Mazzini’s influence anyway, but he was
quite efficient. He personally initiated several sections of the
International, although he was not yet a member, and had a decisive
influence in the constitution of the Italian working class (working
class, not peasantry). (On that question, see :
Bakunin & the Italians, T.R. Ravindranathan, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Kingston
and Montreal – in English.)
♦ When Bakunin joined the
International, he supported the marxists
against the right-wing Proudhonians.
“Causes productive of effects”
But there are two decisive points upon which anarchism and
but generally marxists are not aware
of it (nor anarchists, I would say):
1. One of the fundamental criticisms Bakunin
made of marxism
was about the exclusiveness of economic determinations in history.
Not that he denied the prominent character of these determinations,
on the contrary. But, he said, the other determinations,
political, ideological, juridical, etc. “once given, can become
causes productive of effects” (Letter to La Liberte, November 11, 1872).
Which is, may I say, a perfectly “dialectical” point of view.
In 1890 – long after Bakunin had died – Engels wrote a letter to Joseph Bloch (Sept. 21, 1890) saying :
“It’s Marx and myself, partially, who bear the responsabiity of the fact that sometimes, the young people
give more weigh than they should to the economic side. In front
of our adversaries, we had to stress the main principle they denied,
so we did not always find the time, the place nor
the opportunity to give their place to the other factors which
participate to the action.”
So on that first point, Engels
(implicitly) acknowledges that Bakunin
Comment : you can find something very close to Bakunin’s
objection in the German Ideology : “The production
of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly
interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse
of men, the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental
intercourse of men, appear at this stage
as the direct efflux of their material behaviour.
The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language
of politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, etc., of a
people. Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc.”
But of course Bakunin – and the marxists
–, did not know about this book
for it was never published until 1928.
2. The second important point on which Bakunin disagreed with Marx was the theory of evolution of
successive forms of production. The marxists,
says he, do not so much blame us for our programme
as because we “fail to recognize the positive law of successive
evolutions” (Letter to La Liberte,
loc. cit.) Here again, he did not deny the validity of
that theory in the history of Western Europe, but he denied its
universal character, for reasons he explains but upon which I
will not insist.
Marx will (implicitely
once more) admit Bakunin was finally
right. In november 1877 (Bakunin is dead)
he writes to a Russian correspondant
called Mikhailovski and tells him that it is a mistake to transform
his “sketch of the genesis of capitalism in Western Europe into
a historic-philosopic theory of the
general march fatally imposed to all peoples, whatever the historical
circumstances in which they are placed…”
In 1881 he writes to Vera Zassoulitch
that the “historical fatality”
of the genesis of capitalist production is “expressively limited
to the Western European countries”.
The restrictions Engels and Marx
make to their own theory are limited to their private correspondance
and have no effect on “real marxism” such as it had already begun to spread into a sort of mechanical
deterministic economism. However, since
anarchists are supposed to have no brains, I thought it necessary
to precise these points : Bakunin
was right concerning two fundamental points regarding marxist
theory ! He was in a way a better marxist than
I don’t intend to examine point by point the inconsistency
of your argumentation concerning Bakunin.
It is too much dominated by incincerity.
But there are some other factual mistakes I would like to stress.
Bakunin has nothing to do with social darwinism. And he
does mention Herbert Spencer, to criticise
him, in a text called “Science and the people” (1868). He blames the “practical duplicity” you can find in the works of “Bockel [Henry
Thomas Buckle?], Darwin, Lewis, Herbert Spencer and Stuart
Mill”. In fact he criticizes Auguste
Comte’s system who offered these authors the ideological ground
to carry on their work without risking to be accused of atheism
In another text (l’Empire knouto-germanique), recalling that Shelley had to emigrate
and had his child taken away from him because he was accused ot atheism, he says that men like “Buckle, Stuart Mill and
had “enjoyed the possibility that positive philosophy had offered
them to reconcile the freedom of their scientific investigations
with the religious cant [in English in the text],
despotically imposed by English opinion upon whoever intends to
be part of the society”.
It is true that you rarely (but I would not say never) find “scholarly citations
in his work”.
But it is absolutely wrong to say that he reflects “commonplace
ideas floating around in the European middle-class of his age”. To begin with, Bakunin had a strong scientific
background (2) and his archives show that he had read books in
many fields : philosophy of course, religions, economic history,
natural sciences, languages and mathematics.
And it is absolutely wrong to say that he spent his time “fomenting insurrections”. He never fomented any
insurrection, but he took part in three of them.
The first one was in Prague in 1848. He had analysed
the situation and had concluded that it was bound to fail. But
not being able to prevent it, he joined the insurgents. Strangely,
at that moment the Neue Rheinisches Gazette,
run by Marx, printed on July 6 an article asserting that the French
writer George Sand had documents proving that Bakunin
was a Russian agent and that he had betrayed Polish insurgents.
The article even said that George Sand had shown the documents
to some of her friends. Of course the writer had nothing to do
with that, and protested that the article of the Neue
Rheinisches Gazette was pure invention.
Marx published the writer’s denial and a publisher’s note saying
that they had only done their duty informing the public, adding
that after all it had given Bakunin
the opportunity to dissipate the suspicions…
Mentioning the Prague insurrection, Engels writes
on June 18, 1848 in the NRG that from now on “the only possible
solution now is a war of extermination between the Germans and
The second insurrection was in Dresden
in 1849. As in Prague, the context was disastrous, but Bakunin did all he could to keep the insurrection going, of
which he had taken the command. When finally the overwhelming
Prussian forces took the place, he organized a strategical
retreat. As you know, Bakunin was an
artillery officer. Organizing a retreat is something very difficult :
the objective is to reduce the losses as much as possible. Now,
someone whom you heard about mentions this retreat :
Engels himself. Here is what he wrote in 1852 :
“In Dresden, the
street fights lasted four days. The Dresden petty bourgeois – the “National Gard” – not only did not take part in this fight, but they
supported the progression of the troops against the insurgents.
The latter, however, were constituted almost exclusively of workers
from the surrounding industrial neighborhoods. They found a capable
and self-controled chief in the person
of the Russian refugee Michael Bakunin,
who was soon after made prisoner…”
A few remarks : Bakunin
did not choose to participate in the insurrection : he simply
was there and assumed his responsibilities. And he probably saw
more of, and lived more with German industrial workers than Marx
ever did, so when you mention “a street disturbance or sometimes
even a clash with the police in some German city”, we can assume he knows
what it is about.
Second remark : at that time, what were Marx
and Engels doing ? They had swept
the Communist League under the carpet, the first Communist party
in history, because their analysis was
that on their historical agenda time was for the bourgeois
revolution. So they peacefully sat on their chair writing articles
in the Neue Rheinisches Gazette
encouraging bourgeois class-consciousness and protesting against
the Czechs demanding their independance:
It is not admissible, says Engels in
the Neue Rheinisches
Gazette, to give the Czechs their independance for the East of Germany would look “like a loaf
of bread that has been gnawed by rats.” (“Neue Rheinische
Zeitung” No. 222, February 1849.)
In the meantime, Bakunin was arrested by the Prussians,
sentenced to death, handed over to the
Austrians, sentenced to death, handed over to the Russians who
locked him without judgement for six
years in Peter-and-Paul fortress, where he was chained to the
wall. Then he was sent to Schlusselburg fortress for two years. By that time he had
lost all his teeth because of scorbut
and was driven half mad. So the one whom you say was “too busy
fomenting insurrections to find time to go to a library”
got arrested because he had fought for German democracy.
Well, I have no objection about people
who spend their time in libraries reading (and writing) books
about classe struggle. This is necessary. I respect that. I myself
have read some books.
But, Mr Proyect,
you seem to have a sort of fascination for libraries and books.
In thirty years I have read three times the three volumes of The
Capital, so, according to your own values, I may have a fairly
good knowledge of the “laws of capitalist accumulation”. During the same period
I have been an active CGT union shop stuart,
union official, union president in the printing industry, but
I never had the notion that reading three times The Capital
had helped me. And I have good friends in the CGT and in the Communist
party who never read The Capital. I don’t think that is
the reason why they never made the revolution. In fact your approach
of the problem is that to “develop a new revolutionary movement”
you must be an intellectual because only intellectuals can adapt
facts to a pre-existent theory.
I’m not saying that theory is useless, but that revolutionary theory should
be something comprehensive, i.e. not only economic, and a permanent
process of reexamination of facts through theory and theory through
facts – and you’d be surprised to see what clever analysis
workers who never read The Capital can make.
But the fact is that Marx practiced class struggle in the British Museum while
Bakounine practiced it on the field,
and paid a very high tribute to it. You should at least respect
In the meantime, what had happened to Marx and Engels ?
The German communists demanded them to answer for their collaborationist
attitude during the revolution. A very strange text shows evidence
of it, called Address of the central committee to the Communist
league. When you read the text superficially, you think that
Marx criticizes the “petty bourgeois who were leaders of democratic
associations”, the “publishers of democratic papers” ; the Address calls the workers
not to support the bourgeois democrats and claims the necessity
of the “autonomous organisation of the
proletariat”. In fact, the one Marx is writing about himself : he had been the leader of a Democratic
association after he had dissolved the Communist League, he
had published a liberal paper and he had dissolved the
“autonomous organisation of the proletariat”. The Address mentions also the necessity of reestablishing “the independance of the workers”, which sounds really funny when you consider that Engels
did absolutely not want the programme
of the Communist League to be spread in Germany because it was
too radical and would frighten the liberals. And what was the
programme of the League ?
A document directly inspired from the Communist Manifesto !!! “If only one copy of our programme in seventeen points is distributed here, everything
would be lost for us”,
I wonder how you can reconcile that with your assertion
that Marx and Engels “never abandoned
the idea that the communists should constitute the most ‘advanced’
or ‘extreme wing’ of the ‘democratic party’ as they put it”.
In 1848, they were the most advanced wing of the bourgeois liberals.
OK, Marx and Engels chose to write
articles in a liberal paper while Bakounine
was “fomenting” insurrections. But at least,
did they say interesting things ?
Bakounine’s programme (he was not
yet an anarchist, by far) at that time was to create an alliance
between the Centre-European Slavs demanding national emancipation
and the Germans demanding democracy. If both could fight hand
in hand, he thought, they would be invinvible. The problem was that the Germans – Prussians and Austrians –
occupied Slav territories. What opinion did Marx and Engels
express in their liberal-bourgeois paper ?
They supported the German occupation of Slav territories, in the
name of “historical materialism” : the productive forces in Germany were higher than in the Slav territories
so the Slavs should remain under German domination : that’s
what I call understanding the “laws of capitalist accumulation”. The Czechs who demanded their independance were
very ungrateful for the Germans had “given themselves the trouble
of civilizing the stubborn Czechs and Slovenes, and introducing
among them trade, industry, a tolerable degree of agriculture,
and culture!” (Engels, “Democratic pan-slavism”,
Gazette, Feb. 1849.)
Those Slavs who disagreed with that “scientific analysis” were “reactionaries”, and “for this cowardly, base betrayal of the revolution we shall at some
time take a bloody revenge against the Slavs”, writes Engels
What did Engels think about the
project of unity between Germans and Slavs Bakunin
proposed? Engels writes on february
16, 1849: “To the sentimental phrases about brotherhood which
we are being offered here on behalf of the most counter-revolutionary
nations of Europe, we reply that hatred of Russians was and still
is the primary revolutionary passion among Germans;
that since the revolution hatred of Czechs and Croats has been
added, and that only by the most determined use of terror against
these Slav peoples can we, jointly with the Poles and Magyars,
safeguard the revolution.” At the end of his article, Engels
calls for “a struggle, an ‘inexorable life-and-death struggle’,
against those Slavs who betray the revolution; an annihilating
fight and ruthless terror — not in the interests of Germany, but
in the interests of the revolution!” (What kind of revolution ? Obviously not the one mentioned in the Manifesto.)
Hatred surely is a useful concept to understand the “laws
of capitalist accumulation”.
The German communists were not fooled by the Address
of the central committee to the Communist league.
Communist historians never give the “key” to understand the Address. And they are very uneasy
about the dissolution of the Communist League. Their explanations
are masterpieces of jesuitism.
Escaping repression, members of the Communist League settle
down in London. There, Marx and Engels
will be expulsed from the first communist party in history (3) ! The motives of the expulsions are interesting. The
two men are accused of having “published gazettes”, of having “selected a group of half-literary hacks so as to have personal
supporters and fantasize about their future political power” ; “because the literary camarilla cannot be useful to the League and makes
all organisation impossible” ; because they use the League for their personal interests, ignoring
it when it is not useful to their personal needs…
Of course, communist historians take a very low profile
when they deal with this period of Marx and Engel’s life.
I said Bakunin took part in three
insurrections and so far I mentioned only two.
The third one was in 1870 in Lyon,
a big indsutrial town in the South East
of France. That was just before the Paris Commune.
While Marx was reading books in a British library, the Prussians had occupied
France and the workers in Lyon were beginning to show some unrest.
Bakunin participated in the insurrection. Here again, he didn’t
think it could succeed. But among other measures, he proposed
to create a permanent revolutionary mititia,
the sequestration or all property, public and private. The communes
were to choose delegates, create commissions to reorganize labor,
hand over to workers’ associations the money they needed. When
the municipal council decided to reduce the wages, Bakunin was firmly opposed to the workers going unarmed to
the protest demonstration.
Of course, Marx, who was reading books in the British Museum,
couldn’t help deriding Bakunin’s action.
Of course, the insurrection failed. But I think one viewpoint
might interest you, Mr Proyect : that of Iuri Steklov, a bolchevik historian :
Bakunin’s intervention in Lyon was “a
generous attempt to wake up the sleeping energy of the French
proletariat and direct it towards the struggle against the capitalist
system and at the same time to repell
the foreign invasion.”
Steklov adds that Bakunin’s plan was not so ridiculous :
“In Bakunin’s mind, it was necessary to use the commotion provoked
by the war, the inability of the bourgeoisie, the patriotic protests
of the masses, its confuse social tendencies in order to attemt
a decisive intervention of the workers in the great centres,
involve the peasantry and thus start the world social revolution.
Nobody, then, has proposed a better plan (4).”
Your approach of the “Confession” of Bakounine
consists mainly in distorting facts. The “Confession” was published
in 1921 when the archives of the tsarist police were made public.
Curiously, the bolcheviks were not particularly shocked. Karl Radek told Fritz Brupbacher that
Bakunin was “perfectly entitled to adopt the proper method
to achieve his objective” : get
out of the dungeon in which he was sentenced to life. Count Orloff
asked Bakunin to write a confession,
Bakunin accepted but he declared that he would confess his
own “sins” but no one else’s. That
meant he wouldn’t betray anybody. And he didn’t. From this point,
whatever he said in this “confession”
has strictly no importance. The only persons he mentions are those
who are out of reach of the tsar, or who were notoriously known
to be with him during the revolution. No anarchist would write
on Lenin’s deal with the German authorities who allowed him to
cross their territory in March 1917 as many lines as you did on
The real value of the “Confession” lies in the marginal
notes of the tsar : “If he feels
the weigh of his sins, only a sincere and thourough
confession, and not a conditional one, can be considered as such.”
The technique he uses in the text is remarquable : first he
shows humility, expresses his guilt, and then starts an uncomproising
analysis of Russian policy, its expansionnist
policy, its dominant class, the Russian bureaucracy, the degenerescence
of the State, such as no tsar has ever read.
Actually, Bakunin stayed in prison
and his conditions were not improved. Later, he was removed to
another fortress during the Crimean war because the tsar feared
he should escape or be freed, which proves he was still afraid
of him. All attempts to soften his conditions were refused by
the tsar. Count Dolgoroukoff, minister
of the tsar, requested his deportation in Siberia :
the tsar refused. Bakunin was considered
as too dangerous. The new tsar Alexander II refused any change
in his condition. “As long as your son lives, he will never be
free”, he said to his mother. Finally he is deported to Siberia in 1857. He is
44 years old and looks like an old man after eight years of total
isolation. He escaped in 1861. When he arrived in London, he was
informed that Marx and his friends had spread the rumor that the
tsar had greeted him with open arms and that he had been spending
his time with hospitable ladies drinking champagne.
But the British workers were not mistaken :
a delegation of them greeted him and expressed their sympathy
to the great Russian revolutionary.
Who is the sect leader ?
But who is the sect leader ?
The offensive against Bakunin
started after the Basle congess of the
International (1869), when the motions or the General council
(Marx) were outvoted by those of the collectivists (Bakounine).
It ended in 1871 at the London Conference, sept. 17, which normally had no power to
take decisions. A factice majority of pro-Marx delegates
had been convened with fake mandates, delegates who were coopted by the General council, federations who had
not been informed. Bakunin and James
Guillaume, who had not been invited, were expelled.
A congress was organized in the
Hague in september 1872 in order to
confirm the expellings. The same assembly confirmed the decision taken
When the federations were informed about the decision and
realized that they had been manipulated, they condemned the decisions
taken in this fake congress :
The delegates of the French sections in october
The Italian federation in december
The Belgian federation in december
The Spanish federation in January 1873
The Spanish federation in 1873
The English federation in 1873
Of course, rejecting the bureaucratical
pratices of Marx and his pals did not
mean that all these federations approved of Bakunin’s
The marxizised International collapsed.
The General council was transferred to the United States – where no one could go –
in the hands of German friends of Marx.
One of the first decisions of the new General council was
to suspend the Jura federation of which
Bakounine and James Guillaume were members. Marx and Engels were furious because the Jura
federation had been suspended and not expelled.
Their argument was that it had “put itself out of the organisation” –
an argument which will be much used after. (Marx,
letter to the General council, Feb. 12, 1872.)
On May 30, 1873, according to instructions given by Engels, the New York General council decided to expell all the sections and federations that refused the decisions
taken in the Hague.
So what do we have ? Marx
and a small clique of pals expelled from the First international
the (almost) whole international working class of the time !
“Almost”, because the Germans did not protest. In fact, the Germans strictly didn’t care. “There never were real members,
not even of isolated persons”
writes Engels to Theodore Cuno
(May 7-8, 1872).
On May 22, 1872,
four months before the Hague congress, Engels
wrote to Liebknecht to ask him how many
membership cards he had distributed :
“Don’t tell me the 208 estimated by Finck
are all you got !”
The excluded Spanish federation had 30.000 members…
So, strangely, in two circumstances of rising class struggle
– 1848-1849 and 1871-1872 –, Marx and Engels scuttled
the working class organization !
Marxism and anarchism developped separately, but from commun
preoccupations and formulated different conclusions. The refusal to consider their genesis from identical conditions prevent most
people – you, in particular – from perceiving the points on which they join each
other, but also does not enable them to perceive their differences
in their real perspective. In other words, each movement should
be opposed to the other, but for the good reasons. This is why
I don’t beleive in such an eclectic
synthesis as “ libertarian marxism”
because the real gap between marxism
and anarchism lies, to a great extent, in organizational and strategic
Your article never even approaches the heart of the problem.
So, Mr Proyect,
I suggest that before polemizing on
Bakunin or anarchism, the real facts be first established.
After that, we can talk about the “tangible victories”, as you put it, of our respective movements. However, if I were a communist,
I would rather avoid that question. The only “tangible victory” of the bolcheviks is that they
succeeded a “coup d’Etat” in october. You know what
happened after: the dictatorship of the party on the workers and
peasants and an incredible mystification about the so-called “worker’s
State”. The first mystification of all being that Lenin is said
to be a marxist.
What happened to him was absolutely foreseen by Engels.
Here is a long quotation, but I’m sure you will see what I mean:
“The worst thing
that can befall a leader of an extreme party is to be compelled
to take over a government in an epoch when the movement is not
yet ripe for the domination of the class which he represents and
for the realisation of the measures
which that domination would imply. What he can do depends not upon his
will but upon the sharpness of the clash of interests between
the various classes, and upon the degree of development of the
material means of existence, the relations of production and means
of communication upon which the clash of interests of the classes
is based every time. What he ought to do, what his party
demands of him, again depends not upon him, or upon the degree
of development of the class struggle and its conditions. He is
bound to his doctrines and the demands hitherto propounded which
do not emanate from the interrelations of the social classes at
a given moment, or from the more or less accidental level of relations
of production and means of communication, but from his more or
less penetrating insight into the general result of the social
and political movement. Thus he necessarily finds himself in a
dilemma. What he can do is in contrast to all
his actions as hitherto practised, to
all his principles and to the present interests of his party;
what he ought to do cannot be achieved.
In a word, he is compelled to represent not his party or his class,
but the class for whom conditions are ripe for domination. In
the interests of the movement itself, he is compelled to defend
the interests of an alien class, and to feed his own class with phrases and promises,
with the assertion that the interests of that alien class are
their own interests. Whoever puts himself in this awkward position
is irrevocably lost.” (Frederick Engels,
The Peasant War in Germany, chapter 6.)
My answer aims at showing that there are lines of confluence
between anarchism and marxism
that constitute a basis for a constructive discussion. The problem
is that communists (5) can’t accept this approach because
when you start talking about real facts you can’t stop. It means
that you have to speak about what Marx really said and
what he really did. That man surely did achieve great theoretical
accomplishments, no doubt about that, but he really did dissolve
the first communist party at the beginning of a revolution, in
spite of his writing a few months before in the Manifesto
that “the Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims »;
and he really did expell from
the first worker’s International practically the whole european
working class. That is the basis upon which a constructive
discussion can take place.
A well known French historian, Georges Haupt, says that Marx’s refusal to “engage in a doctrinal
debate [with Bakunin] is above
all tactical. All Marx’s effort tends to minimize Bakounine,
to deny his rival all theoretical consistency. He refuses to acknowledge
Bakounine’s system of thought, not because he denies its consistency,
as he peremptorily says, but because Marx tries to discredit him
and to reduce him to the dimensions of a sect leader and of an
old style conspirator (6).”
Well, this is exactly what you do, Mr Proyect.
The author of the reply is a French syndicalist
“1. Complement des
elements d'algebre, par Lacroix.
(à ne pas confondre avec les elements
d'algebre que j'ai dejà).
complet de calcul differentiel et integral,
par Lacroix. 3 vol. in-quarto.
“3. Application de l'analyse à la geometrie à l'usage de l'Ecole Polytechnique – par Monge.
“4. Analyse Algebrique,
par Garnier – 1 vol. in-octavo.
“5. Leçons du calcul differentiel
et integral – 2 vol. in-octavo, par
“6. Euler – Elements
d'algebre.2 vol. in-octavo. La premiere
partie contient l'analyse determinee
revue et augmentee de notes par Garnier.
La deuxieme partie contient l'analyse
indeterminee revue et augmentee
de notes par Lagrange.
“7. Lagrange. Leçons sur le calcul des fonctions....
“8. Lagrange. Traite de la resolution des equations numeriques.
“9. Lagrange. Theorie
des fonctions analytiques.
“10. Lagrange. Traite de mecanique
analytique. 2 vol. in-quarto.
“11. Poisson. Traite de mecanique...
2 vol. in-quinto.
“12. Pouillet. Cours de physique.
“ Et encore [Cauchy/Canetry]
et Ampere sur le calcul differentiel
3 See :
Fernando Claudin, Marx et la revolution
de 1848, Maspero.
by F. Rude, in De la Guerre
à la Commune, editions Anthropos..
5. I am aware that I sometimes use the word “communism” where you might prefer my using “marxism”. To me, the equivalent to anarchism is communism. The equivalent to marxism is bakuninism,
or proudhonism, etc.
The other reason for
my using the word communism is that I have been over 30 years
in a trade union, the CGT, overwhelmingly dominated by communists
and beleive me, it is not always easy
to be an anarcho-syndicalist in these
conditions. I often (but not always) disagreed with them, and
I know them very well, some of them being friends. An average
American might occasionally know one communist –
probably a curiosity – but he never
goes to places where there are hundreds, or thousands of them.
To me, marxist or communist is the same
Georges Haupt, Bakounine
combats et debats,
Institut d'etudes slaves, 1979.
A Marxist critique of Bakunin
By Louis Proyect
With the advent of "anti-globalization"
protests, a very old movement seems to be picking up steam once
again. This seems to have something to do with fashion, according
to an article that appeared in the Style section of the April
4, 2000 Washington Post:
"Is this the Anarchist Soccer League?"
asks the girl with the pierced lip and eyebrow. She catches the
eye of a guy whose black T-shirt identifies him as "Poor,
He informs her that, yes, this is the regular pickup game of the Anarchist Soccer
League, held on Sunday afternoons amid the minivan-and-merlot
enclaves of upper Northwest Washington.
She surveys the dusty field near Woodrow
Wilson High School, where 30 players have amassed to kick a ball
around to promote physical fitness, camaraderie and the defeat
of global capitalism. They're mainly college-age men and women--energetic,
fairly decent players. They know how to cross and dribble. They
wear cleats and shin guards. "It looks too organized to be
the Anarchist Soccer League," the pierced girl says dismissively.
She adjusts the black bra under her white tank top, wondering
whether to join in.
"I need a cigarette," she
decides, and roller-blades off to find one.
But soon she'll return to get into the
game. She's a punk rocker, a supporter of an activist group called
Refuse & Resist. She wants to free Mumia
Abu-Jamal, the convicted cop killer.
Her name is Barucha
Peller. She wears Abercrombie &
Fitch pants and carries a Nine West wallet. She's not entirely
sure that she's an anarchist--"I'm 17, too young to pick
any ideology"--but she definitely doesn't like The System.
It's a sunny afternoon. So, sure, she'll
play some soccer.
One might legitimately question whether
this will generate any long-term commitment to revolutionary politics.
According to veteran left activist Walt Sheasby,
a 1970 news source reported that there were an estimated 2 million
U.S. citizens who considered themselves "revolutionary."
As an SDS organizer, Sheasby witnessed chapters springing up overnight like mushrooms.
Many of these young radicals--Ms. Peller's
forerunners--were also resistant to ideology. He confesses that,
"In various political activities over the last three decades,
I've met hardly a handful of those I knew in the sixties. I'm
willing to bet other organizers would tell the same tale. It's
as if these 'revolutionaries' never lived."
Whether the revival of anarchism will
turn out to more than just a passing fad is too soon to say. For
Marxists, however, its reappearance presents something of a challenge.
For Barbara Epstein, writing in the Marxist Monthly Review, it
is not only a shot in the arm for the left, but offers the possibility
of a kind of arranged marriage between the red and the black down
"Actually existing" anarchism
has changed and so has "actually existing" Marxism.
Marxists who participated in the movements of the sixties tend
to have a sharper appreciation of the importance of social and
cultural equality, and of living according to our values in the
present, than did many members of previous generations of Marxist
activists. If a new paradigm of the left emerges from the struggle
against neoliberalism and the transnational
corporate order, it is likely to include elements of anarchist
sensibility as well as of Marxist analysis.
All of this suggests that the marriage
will combine Marxist brains and anarchist heart. It is entirely
possible that the anarchist targets of Professor Epstein's affections
might spurn these advances. Indeed, based on my encounters with
anarchists on the Internet, I am left with the impression that
not only do they have their own analysis regarded as vastly superior
to Marxism, but are not bashful about saying so.
This article is the first in a series
that will try to come to terms with anarchist ideology. The chief
purpose is not to change anarchist minds. After all, if a movement
has maintained an existence for over 150 years without any tangible
victories, one might have to ask whether something other than
rational expectations or practical politics keeps it afloat. We
instead intend to help clarify the thinking of people like the
good Professor Epstein, so that the prospects of an arranged marriage
might be less risky for either party. When this kind of intimacy
is involved, one should minimize risks.
For many reasons, Bakunin
is a good place to start in such an investigation. Not only is
he a founding father of anarchism, his career developed partly
as a series of ideological and organizational challenges to Marx.
Marx and Bakunin
both emerge out of the radical wing of the Hegelian School of
philosophy. Since most of Europe in this period was struggling
to overcome the dead weight of feudal economic and social institutions,
Hegel's appeal is easily understandable. His dictum that "All
that is rational is real and all that is real is rational"
was not only a succinct statement of the Enlightenment, his entire
philosophy revolved around the notion of an uneven and dialectical
process toward a more progressive society and politics.
A breach opened up between the Young
Hegelians and their tutor over his belief that such progress was
identifiable with the Prussian state. In many ways, Hegel's
tendency to idealize the Kaiser's regime is reminiscent of
the efforts of a modern version of Hegelianism, namely Francis
Fukuyama's "End of History," which apotheosizes the
modern liberal imperialist state.
In the early 1840s, as both Marx and
Bakunin were struggling to transcend the Hegelian framework,
they made contact with socialist and communist circles led by
thinkers such as Moses Hess, Wilhelm Weitling
and P.J. Proudhon. What unites these early thinkers is their tendency
to see the struggle for a classless society in moral or philosophical
terms. They hoped to lead European society to a better future
through a kind of prophetic denunciation of contemporary ills.
Proudhon's notion that "property
is theft" epitomizes this approach.
Marx eventually came to the conclusion
that a critique of capitalism had to be rooted in political economy
rather than ethics. Written in 1846-47, "The Poverty of
Philosophy" is not only an answer to Proudhon's
"Property is Theft," it also contains some of the
basic economic insights that would be more fully developed in
Lacking an analysis of the laws of capitalist
accumulation, any attempt to develop a new revolutionary movement
would be open to the inconsistencies and moralizing that characterize
Proudhon's socialism, Bakunin included.
First and foremost, Bakunin's ideology is Hegelianism in reverse. Where Hegel
tends to put a plus on German politics and society, Bakunin
puts a minus. Instead of looking to the Prussian Junkers state
as the embodiment of the impulse to freedom and self-actualization,
Bakunin looks to another nationality to lead humanity
forward, namely the Slavs.
Although you can find this theme throughout
Bakunin's writings, its most concentrated
form appears in "Statism and Anarchy,"
an uncompleted book representing his most mature thinking, to
put it generously. On nearly every page, you find stereotypes
about Germans and Slavs. The former have "a passion for state
order and state discipline" because of "German blood,
German instinct, and German tradition," while the latter
"lack this passion." (Statism
and Anarchy, p. 45) Furthermore, as if referring to a thoroughbred
horse, Bakunin refers to Czech peasants as representing "one
of the most splendid Slavic types." "Hussite
blood flows in their veins, the hot blood of the Taborites,
and the memory of Zizka lives within
them." Since the Hussite rebellion
took place in the 15th century, the Czechs must have a very
Lacking even the rudiments of an understanding
of the contradictions of the capitalist system, Bakunin can of course not detect changes taking place beneath
the surface. There is virtually no attempt to analyze German society
as a product of class contradictions. Bakunin
regards the workers "as confused by their leaders--politicians,
literati and Jews," even though, as he admits, "scarcely
a month or a week goes by without a street disturbance or sometimes
even a clash with the police in some German city." Bakunin
can scarcely keep his frustration under wraps as he rails at working
class willingness to vote for socialists rather than just going
out and making a gosh-darned revolution. If he Bakunin
understands how evil the system is, why can't they? While reformism
was certainly a problem in the German social democracy, one might
doubt whether Bakunin's petulant outbursts
would have had much affect. Mostly what they boil down to is an
appeal to workers to abandon their trade unions and parties, an
appeal heard from the ruling class that was mixed with a generous
dose of repression.
Bakunin's fixation with "blood" and "instinct" appears elsewhere.
You can frequently detect an element of 19th century social Darwinism,
even though Bakunin tends not to
cite anybody like Herbert Spencer. In the most bizarre expression
of this, he tries to explain patriotism as being rooted in biology:
"Those who are in agriculture or
gardening know the costs of preserving their plants from the invasion
of the parasitic species that join battle with them over the light
and the chemical elements of the earth, without which they cannot
survive. The strongest plant, which is best
adapted to the particular conditions of climate and soil and which
still develops with relative vigor naturally tends to stifle all
others. It is a silent struggle, but one without truce. And the
whole force of human intervention is required to protect the preferred
plants against this deadly invasion.
"In the animal world the same struggle
recurs, only with more dramatic commotion and noise. The extinction
is no longer silent and insensitive. Blood flows; the devoured,
tortured animal fills the air with its cries of distress. Man,
the animal, that can speak, finally utters the first word in this
struggle, and that word is patriotism." (Open Letters to
Swiss Comrades, 1869-1871)
Of course, this is complete nonsense.
If anything, patriotism is a relatively recent phenomenon in human
history, very much associated with the rise of the nation-state.
Since Bakunin lacks an analysis of the origin of the state,
it should come as no surprise that he confuses it with the garden.
One would be at a loss to determine
where Bakunin came up with such hare-brained
notions. Since there are never any scholarly citations in his
work, one must assume that he was simply reflecting commonplace
ideas floating around in the European middle-class of his age.
One imagines that he was too busy fomenting insurrections to
find time to go to a library. Then again, perhaps Bakunin
would have not gotten much use out of a library given anti-intellectual
prejudices such as these:
"By contrast to all metaphysicians,
positivists, and scholarly or unscholarly worshippers of the goddess
science, we maintain that natural and social life always precedes
thought (which is merely one of its functions) but is never its
result. Life develops out of its own inexhaustible depths by means
of a succession of diverse facts, not a succession of abstract
reflections; the latter, always produced by life but never producing
it, like milestones merely indicate its direction and the different
phases of its spontaneous and self-generated development."
(Statism and Anarchy, p. 135)
Allowing that this formula has a certain
kind of raffish 1960s charm, it is practically useless as a
guide for the intelligent pursuit of science. To state that
social life precedes thought is a truism. But how exactly do we
develop a method that can make sense out of the natural world
and society? That is the real question. By all evidence of Bakunin's
work, there is no indication that such a method was of any interest
to him. Rather you find vulgar opinionating worthless to anybody
trying to make sense of European society of the mid 19th century,
let alone the world we live in today.
One of the key differences between Bakunin and Marx is over what we might call "agency,"
a term designating the social class capable of transforming society
through revolutionary action. Despite the fact that the industrial
proletariat had not achieved the sort of numerical strength
and social power that it would later in the century, Marx staked
everything on this emerging class. The reasons for this are developed
extensively throughout his writings, but suffice it to say at
this point that it is related to his analysis of the capitalist
economy. Since the capitalist system can only survive through
competition and revolutionizing the means of production, it would
of necessity introduce machinery and--hence--a proletariat. In
struggles over wages and working conditions--as well as a host
of ancillary issues--the two classes will confront each other
in revolutionary battles for power. While the post-WWII era left
much of this in doubt, we are witnessing a return to the 'classic'
norms of the 19th century, as modern capitalism does everything
in its power to destroy the welfare state and the trade unions.
was no friend of the bourgeoisie, he never seemed to be able to
make up his mind on the 'agency' question. Addressing Marx's belief
that the proletariat be "raised to the level of a ruling
class," Bakunin pointed out that
some other class, like the "peasant rabble," might end
up under the working class boot. This concern is obviously related
to Bakunin's preference for the warmhearted Slavic
peasant over the anal-retentive, authority-worshipping German
worker: "If we look at the question from the national
point of view, then, presumably, as far as the Germans are concerned
it is the Slavs who "will occupy in regard to the victorious
German proletariat that the latter now occupies in relation to
its own bourgeoisie." Absent from Bakunin's discussion is the economic and social weight of
the working class, which could counter that of the ruling
class. Furthermore, the peasant was far too differentiated socially
to rule in its own name. Lacking any specific analysis of the
agrarian question, Bakunin was content to dwell in fantasies about the uncorrupted
peasant. (Statism and Anarchy, p.
In what might be described as a bet-hedging
strategy, Bakunin was not above making
appeals to the royalty to carry out his program. In 1862 Bakunin
wrote "The People's Cause: Romanov,
Pugachev, or Pestel." The three
figures respectively stood for various social layers: Romanov
the aristocracy, Pugachev the peasant
firebrand and Pestel the privileged intelligentsia. Romanov
was best qualified to lead the revolution:
"We should most gladly of all follow
Romanov, if Romanov
could and would transform himself from a Petersburg Emperor into
a National Tsar. We should gladly enroll under his standard because
the Russian people still recognizes him and because his strength
is concentrated, ready to act, and might become an irresistible
strength if only he would give it a popular baptism. We would
follow him because he alone could carry out and complete a great,
peaceful revolution without shedding one drop of Russian or Slav
was imprisoned in 1851, he wrote a "Confession"
to Czar Nicholas I. This self-debasing document was not wrested
out of torture, but was a ploy to win early release through flattery.
It contains page after page of the most embarrassing kind of toadying
up to the Russian despot, among which you can find appeals for
a "revolution from above" of the kind suggested in the
1862 pamphlet, when Bakunin was enjoying
freedom. In the Confessions, we find the following sort of thing:
"A strange thought was then born
within me. I suddenly took it into my head to write to you, Sire,
and was on the point of starting the letter. It too contained
a sort of confession, more vain, more high-flown than the one
I am now writing--I was then at liberty and had not yet learned
from experience--but it was quite sincere and heartfelt: I confessed
my sins; I prayed for forgiveness; then, having made a rather
drawn-out and pompous review of the current situation of the Slav
peoples, I implored you, Sire, in the name of all oppressed Slavs,
to come to their aid, to take them under your mighty protection,
to be their savior, their father, and, having proclaimed yourself
Tsar of all the Slavs, finally to raise the Slav banner in eastern
Europe to the terror of the Germans and all other oppressors and
enemies of the Slav race!"
We should hasten to add that this is
the same Czar who made Russia a living hell for peasant and Jews
alike. According to Cecil Roth, of the legal enactments concerning
the Jews published in Russia from 1649 to 1881, no less than one
half, or six hundred in all, belong to Nicholas the First's reign.
"By the Statute Concerning the
Jews of 1835, the Pale of Settlement was yet further narrowed
down. Jews were excluded from all villages within fifty versts
of the western frontier. Synagogues were forbidden to be erected
in the vicinity of Churches, a strict censorship was established over all Hebrew
books. Later, the Jews were expelled from the towns as well as
the villages of the frontier area. Special taxation was imposed
on meat killed according to the Jewish fashion, and even on the
candles kindled on Friday night." (History of the Jews)
It is entirely likely that Bakunin's anti-Semitism prevented him from worrying much over
such matters. If this is the case, we can certainly explain it
as a function of his social roots in the Russian gentry.
Whether this makes him an appropriate symbol
of the unquenchable struggle for freedom and social justice is
another question altogether. Whatever else one might think
about 19th century Enlightenment values in this postmodernist
age, the commitment to the emancipation of the Jews was laudable.
It is unfortunate that Bakunin's revolt
against Hegel allowed him to embrace anti-Enlightenment prejudices
of the worst sort.
If appeals to the Czar went unheeded,
there were always tightly knit and highly secretive conspiratorial
circles that could be relied on. Such pure expressions of the
anarchist spirit would be immune to the blandishments of bourgeois
society. This revolutionary priesthood understands the tasks of
the oppressed far better than they ever could themselves:
"This revolutionary alliance excludes
any idea of dictatorship and of controlling and directive power.
It is, however, necessary for the establishment of this revolutionary
alliance and for the Triumph of the Revolution over reaction that
the unity of ideas of revolutionary action find an organ in the
midst of popular anarchy which will be the life and the energy
of the Revolution. This organ should be the secret and universal
association of the International Brothers.
"This association has its origin
in the conviction that revolutions are never made by individuals
or even by secret societies. They make themselves; they are
produced by the force of circumstances, the movement of facts
and events. They receive a long preparation in the deep, instinctive
consciousness of the masses, then they burst forth, often seemingly triggered by trivial
causes. All that a well-organized society can do is, first, to
assist at the birth of a revolution by spreading among the masses
ideas which give expression to their instincts, and to organize,
not the army of the Revolution-the people alone should always
be that army-but a sort of revolutionary general staff, composed
of dedicated, energetic, intelligent individuals, sincere
friends of the people above all, men neither vain nor ambitious,
but capable of serving as intermediaries between the revolutionary
idea and the instincts of the people."
"There need not be a great number
of these men. 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." ("The
Program of the International Brotherhood", 1869)
Even the worst caricature of Leninist
vanguard would pale in comparison to this kind of elitism. Nowhere
is there the slightest awareness in Bakunin
of the need for a working class revolutionary leadership to emerge
from its participation in the mass movement. In a revolutionary
situation, workers will not rally to people who have been sitting
around in the sewers hatching conspiracies by candlelight.
They will gravitate to the men and women who have risked jail
and beatings to win reforms that make a difference in their day-to-day
For all of the misunderstandings about
the Leninist concept of a vanguard, it is useful to refer to "What
is to be Done" for clarification:
"Why is there not a single political
event in Germany that does not add to the authority and prestige
of the Social-Democracy? Because Social-Democracy is always found
to be in advance of all the others in furnishing the most revolutionary
appraisal of every given event and in championing every protest
against tyranny...It intervenes in every sphere and in every question
of social and political life; in the matter of Wilhelm's refusal
to endorse a bourgeois progressive as city mayor (our Economists
have not managed to educate the Germans to the understanding that
such an act is, in fact, a compromise with liberalism!); in the
matter of the law against 'obscene' publications and pictures;
in the matter of governmental influence on the election of professors,
Despite the tendency of some modern
anarchists to claim that they are following the Zapatistas' footsteps,
there is powerful evidence that this movement has much more in
common with Lenin's concept than the small conspiratorial circles
favored by Bakunin. In many respects,
their descent on Mexico City in March 2001, culminating in one
of the largest "anti-globalizations" actions to date,
was designed to win support for legislation that would improve
the material, cultural and political conditions of Mayan Indians.
In an article in the March 25, Los Angeles Times on March 25,
Subcommandante Marcos is reported to
have "slammed the failures of revolutionary movements of
past decades for not standing up for the rights of indigenous
peoples and other disenfranchised groups, including homosexuals."
In reality, this has been the task of the socialist movement from
the days of Marx and Lenin. If particular socialist groups have
been inattentive to these sorts of issues, it is to be blamed
on "What is to be Done," which
calls for involvement in "every sphere and in every question
of social and political life."
In reality, the biggest
question dividing anarchists and Marxists is not the theory of
the state. It is rather the value of political action, including action
designed to win reforms of the kind that would improve the lives
of Mayan Indians, for example.
If you turn to August Nimtz's Summer 1999 article in Science
and Society titled "Marx and Engels--Unsung
Heroes of the Democratic Breakthrough," you will discover
how engaged they were in struggles against despotism. Rather
than philosophizing about future utopias, they committed themselves
to fighting alongside working class organizations on the front
lines. While the goal of these organizations was to replace feudal
absolutism with political democracy, the logic of the struggle
was toward social and economic democracy as well. This was the
original meaning of democracy: rule by the people (demos).
As I have pointed out, they did not
start out with this outlook. In the early 1840s, they gravitated
to socialist circles that held disdain for political action. What
changed them? It was the Chartist movement in Great Britain that
taught them the need for political struggles by the working class.
While the fight for the ballot was crucial, Engels emphasized in "Conditions of the Working Class
in England" that political democracy was not an end in itself,
but a means for social equality. He writes, "Therein lies
the difference between Chartist democracy and all previous political
While Marx and Engels
would eventually call for the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist
system, they never abandoned the idea that the communists should
constitute the most "advanced" or "extreme wing"
of the "democratic party" as they put it.
In the first wave of revolutions that
swept Europe in 1848, Marx and Engels
discovered that although democratic rights were in the interest
of all classes arrayed against the feudal gentry and clergy, the
only class that would fight resolutely was the working class.
In Germany, the middle-class radical democrats lost their nerve
in the fight against absolutism. This led Marx to theorize
a "permanent revolution" which would combine democratic
and socialist goals led by the workers.
After the suppression of the 1848 revolutions,
a decade-long lull set in. What gave Marx and Engels
encouragement was the emancipation of serfs in the Russia and
John Brown's uprising against slavery in the USA. They saw these
events as precursors of "a new era of revolution" which
had opened up in 1863. The revival of a democratic movement would
surely lead to an upsurge in the working class movement, as Marx
indicated in a letter to Lincoln in 1864 on behalf of the International
Working Man's Association (IMWA): "The working men of Europe
feel sure that, as the American War of Independence initiated
a new era of ascendancy for the middle class, so would the American
Anti-Slavery War will do for the working classes."
In 1870, a big struggle opened up in
the IMWA over Marx's proposal that two goals set the strategic
agenda of the organization: "To conquer political power has...become
the great duty of the working classes" and "the emancipation
of the working classes must be conquered by the working class
themselves." In other words, the original inspiration from
the Chartist movement lived on. His two main opponents were British
trade union bureaucrats, who while giving lip service to the idea
of working class independent politics, were aligned with the Liberal
Party. The other was Bakunin.
(This article was intended to be the
first in a series on anarchism. Because of the political upheavals
taking place around the September 11th events, the issues that
generated this article have been superseded for the foreseeable
future. I may return to them in the future as dictated by political