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(en) From Interesting anarchist archive: The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State by Mikhail Aleksandrovich Bakunin First Published in 1871

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 7 Aug 2004 17:17:20 +0200 (CEST)

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This work, like all my published work, of which there has not
been a great deal, is an outgrowth of events. It is the natural
continuation of my Letters to a Frenchman (September 1870),
wherein I had the easy but painful distinction of foreseeing and
foretelling the dire calamities which now beset France and the
whole civilized world, the only cure for which is the Social Revolution.
My purpose now is to prove the need for such a revolution. I
shall review the historical development of society and what is
now taking place in Europe, right before our eyes. Thus all those
who sincerely thirst for truth can accept it and proclaim openly
and unequivocally the philosophical principles and practical aims
which are at the very core of what we call the Social Revolution.

I know my self-imposed task is not a simple one. I might be
called presumptuous had I any personal motives in undertaking
it. Let me assure my reader, I have none. I am not a scholar or a
philosopher, not even a professional writer. I have not done
much writing in my life and have never written except, so to
speak, in self-defense, and only when a passionate conviction
forced me to overcome my instinctive dislike for any public
exhibition of myself.

Well, then, who am I, and what is it that prompts me to
publish this work at this time? I am an impassioned seeker of the
truth, and as bitter an enemy of the vicious fictions used by the
established order - an order which has profited from all the
religious, metaphysical, political, juridical, economic, and social
infamies of all times - to brutalize and enslave the world. I am a
fanatical lover of liberty. I consider it the only environment in
which human intelligence, dignity, and happiness can thrive and
develop. I do not mean that formal liberty which is dispensed,
measured out, and regulated by the State; for this is a perennial
lie and represents nothing but the privilege of a few, based upon
the servitude of the remainder. Nor do I mean that individualist,
egoist, base, and fraudulent liberty extolled by the school of Jean
Jacques Rousseau and every other school of bourgeois
liberalism, which considers the rights of all, represented by the
State, as a limit for the rights of each; it always, necessarily, ends
up by reducing the rights of individuals to zero. No, I mean the
only liberty worthy of the name, the liberty which implies the full
development of all the material, intellectual, and moral capacities
latent in every one of us; the liberty which knows no other
restrictions but those set by the laws of our own nature.
Consequently there are, properly speaking, no restrictions, since
these laws are not imposed upon us by any legislator from
outside, alongside, or above ourselves. These laws are subjective,
inherent in ourselves; they constitute the very basis of our being.
Instead of seeking to curtail them, we should see in them the real
condition and the effective cause of our liberty - that liberty of
each man which does not find another manpis freedom a
boundary but a confirmation and vast extension of his own;
liberty through solidarity, in equality. I mean liberty triumphant
over brute force and, what has always been the real expression of
such force, the principle of authority. I mean liberty which will
shatter all the idols in heaven and on earth and will then build a
new world of mankind in solidarity, upon the ruins of all the
churches and all the states.

I am a convinced advocate of economic and social equality
because I know that, without it, liberty, justice, human dignity,
morality, and the well-being of individuals, as well as the
prosperity of nations, will never amount to more than a pack of
lies. But since I stand for liberty as the primary condition of
mankind, I believe that equality must be established in the world
by the spontaneous organization of labor and the collective
ownership of property by freely organized producerspi
associations, and by the equally spontaneous federation of
communes, to replace the domineering paternalistic State.

It is at this point that a fundamental division arises between
the socialists and revolutionary collectivists on the one hand and
the authoritarian communists who support the absolute power of
the State on the other. Their ultimate aim is identical. Both
equally desire to create a new social order based first on the
organization of collective labor, inevitably imposed upon each
and all by the natural force of events, under conditions equal for
all, and second, upon the collective ownership of the tools of

The difference is only that the communists imagine they can
attain their goal by the development and organization of the
political power of the working classes, and chiefly of the
proletariat of the cities, aided by bourgeois radicalism. The
revolutionary socialists, on the other hand, believe they can
succeed only through the development and organization of the
nonpolitical or antipolitical social power of the working classes in
city and country, including all men of goodwill from the upper
classes who break with their past and wish openly to join them
and accept their revolutionary program in full.

This divergence leads to a difference in tactics. The
communists believe it necessary to organize the workerspi forces
in order to seize the political power of the State. The
revolutionary socialists organize for the purpose of destroying -
or, to put it more politely - liquidating the State. The communists
advocate the principle and the practices of authority; the
revolutionary socialists put all their faith in liberty. Both equally
favor science, which is to eliminate superstition and take the
place of religious faith. The former would like to impose science
by force; the latter would try to propagate it so that human
groups, once convinced, would organize and federalize
spontaneously, freely, from the bottom up, of their own accord
and true t their own interests, never following a prearranged plan
imposed upon "ignorant"; masses by a few "superior" minds.

The revolutionary socialists hold that there is a great deal more
practical good sense and wisdom in the instinctive aspirations
and real needs of the masses than in the profound intelligence of
all the doctors and guides of humanity who, after so many
failures, still keep on trying to make men happy. The
revolutionary socialists, further more, believe that mankind has
for too long submitted to being governed; that the cause of its
troubles does not lie in any particular form of government but in
the fundamental principles and the very existence of
government, whatever form it may take.

Finally, there is the well-known contradiction between
communism as developed scientifically by the German school
and accepted in part by the Americans and the English, and
Proudhonism, greatly developed and taken to its ultimate
conclusion by the proletariat of the Latin countries.
Revolutionary socialism has just attempted its first striking and
practical demonstration in the Paris Commune.

I am a supporter of the Paris Commune, which for all the
bloodletting it suffered at the hands of monarchical and clerical
reaction, has nonetheless grown more enduring and more
powerful in the hearts and minds of Europepis proletariat. I am
its supporter, above all, because it was a bold, clearly formulated
negation of the State.

It is immensely significant that this rebellion against the State
has taken place in France, which had been hitherto the land of
political centralization par excellence, and that it was precisely
Paris, the leader and the fountainhead of the great French
civilization, which took the initiative in the Commune. Paris,
casting aside her crown and enthusiastically proclaiming her own
defeat in order to give life and liberty to France, to Europe, to the
entire world; Paris reaffirming her historic power of leadership,
showing to all the enslaved peoples (and are there any masses
that are not slaves?) the only road to emancipation and health;
Paris inflicting a mortal blow upon the political traditions of
bourgeois radicalism and giving a real basis to revolutionary
socialism against the reactionaries of France and Europe! Paris
shrouded in her own ruins, to give the solemn lie to triumphant
reaction; saving, by her own disaster, the honor and the future of
France, and proving to mankind that if life, intelligence, and
moral strength have departed from the upper classes, they have
been preserved in their power and promises in the proletariat!
Paris inaugurating the new era of the definitive and complete
emancipation of the masses and their real solidarity across state
frontiers; Paris destroying nationalism and erecting th religion of
humanity upon its ruins; Paris proclaiming herself humanitarian
and atheist, and replacing divine fictions with the great realities
of social life and faith in science, replacing the lies and inequities
of the old morality with the principles of liberty, justice, equality,
and fraternity, those eternal bases of all human morality! Paris
heroic, rational and confident, confirming her strong faith in the
destinies of mankind by her own glorious downfall, her death;
passing down her faith, in all its power, to the generations to
come! Paris, drenched in the blood of her noblest children - this
is humanity itself, crucified by the united international reaction of
Europe, under the direct inspiration of all the Christian churches
and that high priest of iniquity, the Pope. But the coming
international revolution, expressing the solidarity of the peoples,
shall be the resurrection of Paris.

This is the true meaning, and these are the immense,
beneficent results of two months which encompassed the life and
death of the ever memorable Paris Commune.

The Paris Commune lasted too short a time, and its internal
development was too hampered by the mortal struggle it had to
engage in against the Versailles reaction to allow it at least to
formulate, if not apply, its socialist program theoretically. We
must realize, too, that the majority of the members of the
Commune were not socialists, properly speaking. If they
appeared to be, it was because they were drawn in this direction
by the irresistible course of events, the nature of the situation, the
necessities of their position, rather than through personal
conviction. The socialists were a tiny minority - there were, at
most, fourteen or fifteen of them; the rest were Jacobins. But, let
us make it clear, there are Jacobins and Jacobins. There are
Jacobin lawyers and doctrinaires, like Mr. Gambetta; their
positivist...presumptuous, despotic, and legalistic republicanism
had repudiated the old revolutionary faith, leaving nothing of
Jacobinism but its cult of unity and authority, and delivered the
people of France over to the Prussians, and later still to
native-born reactionaries. And there are Jacobins who are frankly
revolutionaries, the heroes, the last sincere representatives of the
democratic faith of 1793; able to sacrifice both their well-armed
unity and authority rather than submit their conscience to the
insolence of the reaction. These magnanimous Jacobins led
naturally by Delescluze, a great soul and a great character, desire
the triumph of the Revolution above everything else; and since
there is no revolution without the masses, and since the masses
nowadays reveal an instinct for socialism and can only make an
economic and social revolution, the Jacobins of good faith,
letting themselves be impelled increasingly by the logic of the
revolutionary movement, will end up becoming socialists in spite
of themselves.

This precisely was the situation in which the Jacobins who
participated in the Paris Commune found themselves.
Delescluze, and many others with him, signed programs and
proclamations whose general import and promise were of a
positively socialist nature. However, in spite of their good faith
and all their goodwill, they were merely socialists impelled by
outward circumstances rather than by an inward conviction; they
lacked the time and even the capacity to overcome and subdue
many of their own bourgeois prejudices which were contrary to
their newly acquired socialism. One can understand that, trapped
in this internal struggle, they could never go beyond generalities
or take any of those decisive measures that would end their
solidarity and all their contacts with the bourgeois world forever.

This was a great misfortune for the Commune and these men.
They were paralyzed, and they paralyzed the Commune. Yet we
cannot blame them. Men are not transformed overnight; they do
not change their natures or their habits at will. They proved their
sincerity by letting themselves be killed for the Commune. Who
would dare ask more of them?

They are no more to be blamed than the people of Paris, under
whose influence they thought and acted. The people were
socialists more by instinct than by reflection. All their aspirations
are in the highest degree socialist but their ideas, or rather their
traditional expressions, are not. The proletariat of the great cities
of France, and even of Paris, still cling to many Jacobin
prejudices, and to many dictatorial and governmental concepts.
The cult of authority - the fatal result of religious education, that
historic source of all evils, depravations, and servitude - has not
yet been completely eradicated in them. This is so true that even
the most intelligent children of the people, the most convinced
socialists, have not freed themselves completely of these ideas. If
you rummage around a bit in their minds, you will find the
Jacobin, the advocate of government, cowering in a dark corner,
humble but not quite dead.

And, too, the small group of convinced socialists who
participated in the Commune were in a very difficult position.
While they felt the lack of support from the great masses of the
people of Paris, and while the organization of the International
Association, itself imperfect, compromised hardly a few
thousand persons, they had to keep up a daily struggle against
the Jacobin majority. In the midst of the conflict, they had to feed
and provide work for several thousand workers, organize and arm
them, and keep a sharp lookout for the doings of the
reactionaries. All this in an immense city like Paris, besieged,
facing the threat of starvation, and a prey to all the shady
intrigues of the reaction, which managed to establish itself in
Versailles with the permission and by the grace of the Prussians.
They had to set up a revolutionary government and army against
the government and army of Versailles; in order to fight the
monarchist and clerical reaction they were compelled to organize
themselves in a Jacobin manner, forgetting or sacrificing the first
conditions of revolutionary socialism.

In this confusing situation, it was natural that the Jacobins,
the strongest section, constituting the majority of the Commune,
who also possessed a highly developed political instinct, the
tradition and practice of governmental organization, should have
had the upper hand over the socialists. It is a matter of surprise
that they did not press their advantage more than they did; that
they did not give a fully Jacobin character to the Paris
insurrection; that, on the contrary, they let themselves be carried
along into a social revolution.

I know that many socialists, very logical in their theory, blame
our Paris friends for not having acted sufficiently as socialists in
their revolutionary practice. The yelping pack of the bourgeois
press, on the other hand, accuse them of having followed their
program too faithfully. Let us forget, for a moment, the ignoble
denunciations of that press. I want to call the attention of the
strictest theoreticians of proletarian emancipation to the fact that
they are unjust to our Paris brothers, for between the most
correct theories and their practical application lies an enormous
distance which cannot be bridged in a few days. Whoever had the
pleasure of knowing Varlin, for instance (to name just one man
whose death is certain), knows that he and his friends were
guided by profound, passionate, and well-considered socialist
convictions. These were men whose ardent zeal, devotion, and
good faith had never been questioned by those who had known
them. Yet, precisely because they were men of good faith, they
were filled with self-distrust in the face of the immense task to
which they had devoted their minds and their lives; they thought
too little of themselves! And they were convinced that in the
Social Revolution, diametrically opposite to a political revolution
in this as in other ways, individual action was to be almost nil,
while the spontaneous action of the masses had to be everything.
All that individuals can do is formulate, clarify, and propagate
ideas expressing the instinctive desires of the people, and
contribute their constant efforts to the revolutionary organization
of the natural powers of the masses. This and nothing more; all
the rest can be accomplished only by the people themselves.
Otherwise we would end up with a political dictatorship - the
reconstitution of the State, with all its privileges, inequalities, and
oppressions; by taking a devious but inevitable path we would
come to reestablish the political, social, and economic slavery of
the masses.

Varlin and all his friends, like all sincere socialists, and
generally like all workers born and bred among the people,
shared this perfectly legitimate feeling of caution toward the
continuous activity of one and the same group of individuals and
against the domination exerted by superior personalities. And
since they were just and fair-minded men above all else, they
turned this foresight, this mistrust, against themselves as much
as against other persons.

Contrary to the belief of authoritarian communists - which I
deem completely wrong - that a social revolution must be
decreed and organized either by a dictatorship or by a constituent
assembly emerging from a political revolution, our friends, the
Paris socialists, believed that revolution could neither be made
nor brought to its full development except by the spontaneous
and continued action of the masses, the groups and the
associations of the people.

Our Paris friends were right a thousand times over. In fact,
where is the mind, brilliant as it may be, or - if we speak of a
collective dictatorship, even if it were formed of several hundred
individuals endowed with superior mentalities - where are the
intellects powerful enough to embrace the infinite multiplicity
and diversity of real interests, aspirations, wishes and needs
which sum up the collective will of the people? And to invent a
social organization that will not be a Procrustean bed upon which
the violence of the State will more or less overtly force unhappy
society to stretch out? It has always been thus, and it is exactly
this old system of organization by force that the Social Revolution
should end by granting full liberty to the masses, the groups, the
communes, the associations and to the individuals as well; by
destroying once and for all the historic cause of all violence,
which is the power and indeed the mere existence of the State.
Its fall will bring down with it all the inequities of the law and all
the lies of the various religions, since both law and religion have
never been anything but the compulsory consecration, ideal and
real, of all violence represented, guaranteed, and protected by the

It is obvious that liberty will never be given to humanity, and
that the real interests of society, of all groups, local associations,
and individuals who make up society will never be satisfied until
there are no longer any states. It is obvious that all the so-called
general interests of society, which the State is supposed to
represent and which are in reality just a general and constant
negation of the true interests of regions, communes,
associations, and individuals subject to the State, are a mere
abstraction, a fiction, a lie. The State is like a vast slaughterhouse
or an enormous cemetery, where all the real aspirations, all the
living forces of a country enter generously and happily, in the
shadow of that abstraction, to let themselves be slain and buried.
And just as no abstraction exists for and by itself, having no legs
to sand on, no arms to create with, no stomach to digest the
mass of victims delivered to it, it is likewise clear that the
celestial or religious abstraction, God, actually represents the
very real interests of a class, the clergy, while its terrestrial
complement, that political abstraction, the State, represents the
no less real interests of the exploiting class which tends to absorb
all the others - the bourgeoisie. As the clergy has always been
divisive, and nowadays tends to separate men even further into a
very powerful and wealthy minority and a sad and rather
wretched majority, so likewise the bourgeoisie, with its various
social and political organizations in industry, agriculture,
banking, and commerce, as well as in all administrative,
financial, judiciary, education, police, and military functions of
the State tend increasingly to weld all of these into a really
dominant oligarchy on the one hand, and on the other hand into
an enormous mass of more or less hopeless creatures, defrauded
creatures who live in a perpetual illusion, steadily and inevitably
pushed down into the proletariat by the irresistible force of the
present economic development, and reduced to serving as blind
tools of this all-powerful oligarchy.

The abolition of the Church and the State should be the first
and indispensable condition for the real enfranchisement of
society which can and should reorganize itself not from the top
down according to an ideal plan dressed up by wise men or
scholars nor by decrees promulgated by some dictatorial power or
even by a national assembly elected through universal suffrage.
Such a system, as I have already said, would inevitably lead to
the creation of a new state and, consequently, to the formation of
a ruling aristocracy, that is, an entire class of persons who have
nothing in common with the masses. And, of course, this class
would exploit and subject the masses, under the pretext of
serving the common welfare or saving the State.

The future social organization should be carried out from the
bottom up, by the free association or federation of workers,
starting with the associations, then going on to the communes,
the regions, the nations, and, finally, culminating in a great
international and universal federation. It is only then that the
true, life-giving social order of liberty and general welfare will
come into being, a social order which, far from restricting, will
affirm and reconcile the interests of individuals and of society.

It is said that the harmony and universal solidarity of
individuals with society can never be attained in practice because
their interests, being antagonistic, can never be reconciled. To
this objection I reply that if these interest have never as yet come
to mutual accord, it was because the State has sacrificed the
interests of the majority for the benefit of a privileged minority.
That is why this famous incompatibility, this conflict of personal
interests with those of society, is nothing but a fraud, a political
lie, born of the theological lie which invented the doctrine of
original sin in order to dishonor man and destroy his self-respect.
The same false idea concerning irreconcilable interests was also
fostered by the dreams of metaphysics which, as we know, is
close kin to theology. Metaphysics, failing to recognize the social
character of human nature, looked upon society as a mechanical
and purely artificial aggregate of individuals, suddenly brought
together in the name of some formal or secret compact
concluded freely or under the influence of a superior power.
Before uniting in society, these individuals, endowed with some
sort of immortal soul, enjoyed complete liberty, according to the
metaphysicians. We are convinced that all the wealth of man's
intellectual, moral, and material development, as well as his
apparent independence, is the product of his life in society.
Outside society, not only would he not be a free man, he would
not even become genuinely human, a being conscious of
himself, the only being who thinks and speaks. Only the
combination of intelligence and collective labor was able to force
man out of that savage and brutish state which constituted his
original nature, or rather the starting point for his further
development. We are profoundly convinced that the entire life of
men - their interests, tendencies, needs, illusions, even
stupidities, as well as very bit of violence, injustice, and
seemingly voluntary activity - merely represent the result of
inevitable societal forces. People cannot reject the idea of mutual
independence, nor can they deny the reciprocal influence and
uniformity exhibiting the manifestations of external nature.

In nature herself, this marvelous correlation and
interdependence of phenomena certainly is not produced without
struggle. On the contrary, the harmony of the forces of nature
appears only as the result of a continual struggle, which is the
real condition of life and of movement. In nature, as in society,
order without struggle is death.

If order is natural and possible in the universe, it is only
because the universe is not governed according to some pre
imagined system imposed by a supreme will. The theological
hypothesis of divine legislation leads to an obvious absurdity, to
the negation not only of all order but of nature herself. Natural
laws are real only in that they are inherent in nature; that is, they
are not established by any authority. These laws are but simple
manifestations, or rather continuous variations, of the
uniformities constituting what we call 'nature.' Human
intelligence and its science have observed them, have checked
them experimentally, assembled them into a system and called
them laws. But nature as such knows no laws. She acts
unconsciously; she represents in herself the infinite variety of
phenomena which appear and repeat themselves inevitably. This
inevitability of action is the reason the universal order can and
does exist.

Such an order is also apparent in human society, which seems
to have evolved in an allegedly anti natural way but actually is
determined by the natural animal's needs and his capacity for
thinking that have contributed a special element to his
development - a completely natural element, by the way, in the
sense that men, like everything that exists, represent the material
product of the union and action of natural forces. This special
element is reason, the captivity for generalization and
abstraction, thanks to which man is able to project himself in his
thought, examining and observing himself like a strange, eternal
object. By lifting himself in thought above himself, and above the
world around him, he reaches the representation of perfect
abstraction the absolute void. And this absolute is nothing less
than his capacity for abstraction, which disdains all that exists
and finds its repose in attaining complete negation. This is the
ultimate limit of the highest abstraction of the mind; this absolute
nothingness is God.

This is the meaning and the historical foundation of every
theological doctrine. As they did not understand the nature and
the material causes of their own thinking, and did not even grasp
the conditions or natural laws underlying such thinking, these
early men and early societies had not the slightest suspicion that
their absolute notions were simply the result of their own
capacity for formulating abstract ideas. Hence they viewed these
ideas, drawn from nature, as real objects, next to which nature
herself ceased to amount to anything. They began to worship
their fictions, their improbably notions of the absolute, and to
honor them. But since they felt the need of giving some concrete
form to the abstract idea of nothingness or of God, they created
the concept of divinity and, furthermore, endowed it with all the
qualities and powers, good and evil, which they found only in
nature and in society. Such was the origin and historical
development of all religions, from fetishism on down to

We do not intend to undertake a study of the history of
religious, theological, and metaphysical absurdities or to discuss
the procession of all the divine incarnations and visions created
by centuries of barbarism. We all know that superstition brought
disaster and caused rivers of blood and tears to flow. All these
revolting aberrations of poor mankind were historical, inevitable
stages in the normal growth and evolution of social
organizations. Such aberrations engendered the fatal idea, which
dominated men's imagination, that the universe was governed by
a supernatural power and will. Centuries came and went, and
societies grew accustomed to this idea to such an extent that
they finally destroyed any urge toward or capacity to achieve
further progress which arose in their midst.

The lust for power of a few individuals originally, and of
several social classes later, established slavery and conquest as
the dominant principle, and implanted this terrible idea of divinity
in the heart of society. Thereafter no society was viewed as
feasible without these two institutions, the Church and the State,
at its base. These two social scourges are defended by all their
doctrinaire apologists.

No sooner did these institutions appear in the world than two
ruling classes - the priests and the aristocrats - promptly
organized themselves and lost no time in indoctrinating the
enslaved people with the idea of the utility, indispensability, and
sacredness of the Church and of the State.

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