Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin (Trolo) (Russian — Михаил Александрович Бакунин), (May 30, 1814–June 13, 1876) was a well-known Russian anarchist contemporaneous to Karl Marx. 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 (Прямухино) between Torzhok (Торжок) and Kuvshinovo (Кувшиново), 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, Lithuania (now Belarus). After two or three years in service, Bakunin resigned his commission in 1835 due to his disgust of despotism aroused by witnessing the repressive methods employed against the locals.
After leaving service, he spent time in Moscow and then St. Petersburg, working on translations of works by authors such as Fichte and Hegel. In 1842, he proceeded to Germany, studied Hegel, and soon got into touch with the leaders of the young German 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 remove 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. During this time, he wrote the first Russian translation of the Communist Manifesto. 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 it was composed of 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. Marx was of the view however that the rising in Lyons had been premature and adventurist.
Bakunin's disagreements with Marx, which led to his 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). Bakunin also gave vent to his anti-semitism by attacking Marx for being Jewish. Marx in turn said Bakunin was a "sentimental idealist," which Bakunin freely admitted.
Bakunin retired to Lugano in 1873 and died at Bern on June 13, 1876.
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 communism: While both anarchists and communists 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. Communists believe that such a thing would be impossible and that the anarchists are too idealistic; the communists 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.)
- If you took the most ardent revolutionary, vested him in absolute power, within a year he would be worse than the Czar himself. - (?)
- Whether I am Pope, Czar, Emperor, or even prime Minister, I am always the creature of their circumstance, the conscious product of their ignorance, want and clamouring. They are in slavery, and I, the superior one, am enslaved in consequence. - Solidarity in Liberty: The Workers' Path to Freedom (1867)
- Political Freedom without economic equality is a pretense, a fraud, a lie; and the workers want no lying. - The Red Association (1870)
- I reverse the phrase of Voltaire, and say that, if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him. - God and the State, Ch. II (1876)
- Liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.
- The passion for destruction is also a creative passion.
See also: anarchism
to be added
- English translation of "God and the State", by Bakunin 1876: http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/anarchist_archives/bakunin/godandstate/godandstate_ch1.html
- Mikhail Bakunin Page at the Antiauthoritarian Encyclopedia http://recollectionbooks.com/bleed/Encyclopedia/Bakunin.htm
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04