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(en) BASIC BAKUNIN 2007 edition. Written and published by the Anarchist Federation

Date Mon, 24 Dec 2007 14:37:00 +0200

Preface ------- The aim of this pamphlet is to do nothing more than present an
outline of what the author thinks are the key features of Mikhail Bakunin's
anarchist ideas. Bakunin was extremely influential in the 19th century socialist
movement, yet his ideas for decades have been reviled, distorted or ignored. On
reading this pamphlet, it will become apparent that Bakunin has a lot to offer
and that his ideas are not at all confused (as some writers would have us think)
but make up a full coherent and well argued body of thought. For a detailed but
difficult analysis of Bakunin's revolutionary ideas, Richard B. Saltman's book,
The Social and Political Thought of Michael Bakunin is strongly recommended. Ask
your local library to obtain a copy.


Bakunin saw revolution in terms of the overthrow of one oppressing class by
another oppressed class and the destruction of political power as expressed as
the state and social hierarchy. According to Bakunin, society is divided into
two main classes which are fundamentally opposed to each other. The oppressed
class, he variously described as commoners, the people, the masses or the
workers, makes up a great majority of the population. It is in 'normal' time not
conscious of itself as a class, though it has an 'instinct' for revolt and
whilst unorganised, is full of vitality. The numerically much smaller oppressing
class, however is conscious of its role and maintains its ascendancy by acting
in a purposeful, concerted and united manner.

The basic differences between the two classes, Bakunin maintained, rests upon
the ownership and control of property, which is disproportionately in the hands
of the minority class of capitalists. The masses, on the other hand, have little
to call their own beyond their ability to work.

Bakunin was astute enough to understand that the differences between the two
main classes is not always clear cut. He pointed out that it is not possible to
draw a hard line between the two classes, though as in most things, the
differences are most apparent at the extremes. Between these extremes of wealth
and power there is a hierarchy of social strata which can be assessed according
to the degree to which they exploit each other or are exploited themselves. The
further away a given group is from the workers, the more likely it is to be part
of the exploiting category and the less it suffers from exploitation. Between
the two major classes there is a middle class or middle classes which are both
exploiting and exploited, depending on their position of social hierarchy.

The masses who are the most exploited form, in Bakunin's view, the great
revolutionary class which alone can sweep away the present economic system.
Unfortunately, the fact of exploitation and its resultant poverty are in
themselves no guarantee of revolution. Extreme poverty is, Bakunin thought,
likely to lead to resignation if the people can see no possible alternative to
the existing order. Perhaps, if driven to great depths of despair, the poor will
rise up in revolt. Revolts however tend to be local and therefore, easy to put
down. In Bakunin's view, three conditions are necessary to bring about popular

They are:

* sheer hatred for the conditions in which the masses find themselves
* the belief the change is a possible alternative
* a clear vision of the society that has to be made to bring about human

Without these three factors being present, plus a united and efficient
self-organisation, no liberatory revolution can possibly succeed.

Bakunin had no doubts that revolution must necessarily involve destruction to
create the basis of the new society. He stated that, quite simply, revolution
means nothing less than war, that is the physical destruction of people and
property. Spontaneous revolutions involve, often, the vast destruction of
property. Bakunin noted that when circumstances demanded it, the workers would
destroy even their own houses, which more often than not, do not belong to them.
The negative, destructive urge is absolutely necessary, he argued, to sweep away
the past.

Destruction is closely linked with construction, since the "more vividly the
future is visualized, the more powerful is the force of destruction."

Given the close relationship between the concentration of wealth and power in
capitalist societies, it is not surprising that Bakunin considered economic
questions to be of paramount importance. It is in the context of the struggle
between labour and capital that Bakunin gave great significance of strikes by
workers. Strikes, he believed, have a number of important functions in the
struggle against capitalism. They are necessary as catalysts to wrench the
workers away from their ready acceptance of capitalism; they jolt them out of
their condition of resignation. Strikes, as a form of economic and political
warfare, require unity to succeed, thus welding the workers together. During
strikes, there is a polarization between employers and workers. This makes the
latter more receptive to the revolutionary propaganda and destroys the urge to
compromise and seek deals. Bakunin thought that as the struggle between labour
and capital increases, so will the intensity and number of strikes. The ultimate
strike is the general strike. A revolutionary general strike, in which class
conscious workers are infused with anarchist ideas will lead, Bakunin thought,
to the final explosion which will bring about anarchist society.

Bakunin's ideas are revolutionary in a very full sense, being concerned with
the destruction of economic exploitation and social/political domination and
their replacement by a system of social organisation which is in harmony with
human nature. Bakunin offered a critique of capitalism, in which authority and
economic inequality went hand in hand, and state socialism, (e.g. Marxism) which
is one sided in its concentration on economic factors whilst, grossly
underestimating the dangers of social authority.

Bakunin based his consistent and unified theory upon three interdependent
platforms, namely:

* human beings are naturally social (and therefore they desire social
* are more or less equal and
* want to be free

His anarchism is consequently concerned with the problem of creating a society
of freedom within the context of an egalitarian system of mutual interaction.
The problem with existing societies, he argued, is that they are dominated by
states that are necessarily violent, anti-social, and artificial constructs
which deny the fulfilment of humanity.

Whilst there are, in Bakunin's view, many objectionable features within
capitalism, apart from the state (e.g. the oppression of women, wage slavery),
it is the state which nurtures, maintains and protects the oppressive system as
a whole. The state is defined as an anti-social machine which controls society
for the benefit of an oppressing class or elite. It is essentially an
institution based upon violence and is concerned with its maintenance of
inequality through political repression. In addition the state relies upon a
permanent bureaucracy to help carry out its aims. The bureaucratic element,
incidentally, is not simply a tool which it promotes. All states, Bakunin
believed, have internal tendencies toward self-perpetuation, whether they be
capitalist or socialist and are thus to be opposed as obstacles to human freedom.

It might be objected that states are not primarily concerned with political
repression and violence and that liberal democratic states, in particular, are
much interested in social welfare. Bakunin argues that such aspects are only a
disguise, and that when threatened, all states reveal their essentially violent
natures. In Britain and Northern Ireland this repressive feature of state
activity has come increasingly to the fore, when the state has been challenged
to any significant degree, it has responded with brutal firmness.

And developments within Britain over the last couple decades tend to
substantiate another feature of the state which Bakunin drew attention to, the
tendency toward over increasing authoritarianism and absolutism. He believed
that there were strong pressures in all states, whether they are liberal,
socialist, capitalist, or whatever, toward military dictatorship but that the
rate of such development will vary according to factors such as demography,
culture and politics.

Finally, Bakunin noted that states tend toward warfare against other states.
Since there is no internationally accepted moral code between states, then
rivalries between them will be expressed in terms of military conflict. " So
long as there's government, there will be no peace. There will only be more or
less prolonged respites, armistices concluded by the perpetually belligerent
states; but as soon as a state feels sufficiently strong to destroy this
equilibrium to its advantage, it will never fail to do so."

God as an idea was deeply repulsive to Bakunin, it flew in the face of reason
and rational thought. God is very much a human creation, an "absolute
abstraction without reality, content and determination", in other words it is
absolute nothingness. God and religion are both human fantasies projected
through a "crooked mirror", in fact a distortion of life on earth. The belief in
God destroys human "solidarity, liberty, co-operation and community". Human love
becomes transferred to the nonsense of love for something which does not exist
and into religious charity. For Bakunin, God and religion were the enemies of
all oppressed classes and indeed their role was to contribute to exploitation
and oppression in concert with the ruling class. The acceptance of the idea of
God was for Bakunin the denial of humanity, freedom and justice. He argued that
if God is truth, justice and infinite life then humanity must be "falsehood,
gross injustice and death". Furthermore, by accepting the existence of God,
humanity becomes enslaved but since humanity is capable of intelligence, justice
and freedom, then God does necessarily not exist.

Religions for Bakunin are the result of human fantasy in which heaven is a
"mirage". Once installed, God naturally becomes the master in which people bow
down before him and submit to obedience and slavery. Of course Bakunin
recognized that God does not exist and that religion is a human form of
organising and controlling the masses. He proposed that whoever takes it upon
themselves to become prophet, revealer or priest (God's representative on earth)
becomes the teacher and leader. From that role religious leaders end up
"commanding, directing and governing over earthly existence". So, slaves of God
become slaves of the Church and State insofar as the latter is given the
blessing of organised religion. The organised religions of the world,
particularly Christianity, have always allied themselves with domination and
even persecuted religions discipline their followers, laying the ground for a
new tyranny. All religions but again especially Christianity were, states
Bakunin, "founded on blood". How many innocent victims have been tortured and
murdered in the name of the religion of love and forgiveness.

How many clerics, even today, asks Bakunin, support capital punishment. God does
not exist. That is good enough reason for opposing religion. However, religions
also must be combated, says Bakunin, because they create an intellectual slavery
which in alliance with the state results in political and social slavery.
Religions demoralise and corrupt people. They destroy reason and "fill people's
minds with absurdities". Religion is an ancient form of ideology which, in
alliance with the state can be reduced to a simple statement - We fool you, we
rule you.

Bourgeois Democracy

Political commentators and the media are constantly singing the praises of the
system of representative democracy in which every few years or so the electorate
is asked to put a cross on a piece of paper to determine who will control them.
This system works good insofar as the capitalist system has found a way of
gaining legitimacy through the illusion that some how the voters are in charge
of running the system. Bakunin's writings on the issue are of representative
democracy were made at the time when it barely existed in the world. Yet he
could see on the basis of a couple of examples (the United States and
Switzerland) that the widening of the franchise does little to improve the lot
of the great mass of the population. True, as Bakunin noted, middle class
politicians are prepared to humble themselves before the electorate issuing all
sorts of promises. But this levelling of candidates before the populace
disappears the day after the election, once they are transformed into members of
the Parliament. The workers continue to go to work and the bourgeoisie takes up
once again the problems of business and political intrigue.

Today, in the United States and Western Europe, the predominant political system
is that of liberal democracy. In Britain the electoral system is patently unfair
in its distribution of parliamentary seats, insofar as some parties with
substantial support get negligible representation. However, even where strict
proportional representation applies, the Bakuninist critique remains scathing.
For the representative system requires that only a small section of the
population concern itself directly with legislation and governing (in Britain a
majority out of 650 MP's (Members of Parliament).

Bakunin's objections to representative democracy rests basically on the fact
that it is an expression of the inequality of power which exists in society.
Despite constitutions guaranteeing the rights of citizens and equality before
the law, the reality is that the capitalist class is in permanent control. So
long as the great mass of the population has to sell its labour power in order
to survive, there can not be democratic government. So long as people are
economically exploited by capitalism and there are gross inequalities of wealth,
there can not be real democracy. As Bakunin made clear, economic facts are much
stronger than political rights. So long as there is economic privilege there
will be political domination by the rich over the poor. The result of this
relationship is that representatives of capitalism (bourgeois democracy)
"possesses in fact, if not by right, the exclusive privilege of governing."

A common fiction that is expounded in liberal democracies is that the people
rule. However the reality is that minorities necessarily do the governing. A
privileged few who have access to wealth, education and leisure time, clearly
are better equipped to govern than ordinary working people, who generally have
little free time and only a basic education.

But as Bakunin made clear, if by some quirk, a socialist government were
elected, in real terms, things would not improve much. When people gain power
and place themselves 'above' society, he argued, their way of looking at the
world changes. From their exalted position of high office the perspective on
life becomes distorted and seems very different to those on the bottom. The
history of socialist representation in parliament is primarily that of reneging
on promises and becoming absorbed into the manners, morality and attitudes of
the ruling class. Bakunin suggests that such backsliding from socialist ideas is
not due to treachery, but because participation in parliament makes
representatives see the world through a distorted mirror. A workers parliament,
engaged in the tasks of governing would, said Bakunin, end up a chamber of "
determined aristocrats, bold or timid worshipers of the principle of authority
who will also become exploiters and oppressors."

The point that Bakunin makes time and time again in his writings is that no
one can govern for the people in their interests. Only personal and direct
control over our lives will ensure that justice and freedom will prevail. To
abdicate direct control is to deny freedom. To grant political sovereignty to
others, whether under the mantle of democracy, republicanism, the people's
state, or whatever, is to give others control and therefore domination over our

It might be thought that the referendum, in which people directly make laws,
would be an advance upon the idea of representative democracy. This is not the
case according to Bakunin, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the people are not
in a position to make decisions on the basis of full knowledge of all the issues
involved. Also, laws may be a complex, abstract, and specialized nature and
that in order to vote for them in a serious way, the people need to be fully
educated and have available the time and facilities to reflect upon and discuss
the implications involved. The reality of referenda is that they are used by
full-time politicians to gain legitimacy for essentially bourgeois issues. It is
no coincidence that Switzerland, which has used the referendum frequently,
remains one of the most conservative countries in Europe. With referenda, the
people are guided by politicians, who set the terms of the debate. Thus despite
popular input, the people still remain under bourgeois control.

Finally, on the whole concept of the possibility of the democratic state:
Bakunin thought that the democratic state is a contradiction in terms since the
state is essentially about force, authority and domination and is necessarily
based upon an inequality of wealth and power. Democracy, in the sense of
self-rule for all, means that no one is ruled. If no one rules, there can be no
state. If there is a state, there can be no self-rule.

Bakunin's opposition to Marxism involves several separate but related
criticisms. Though he thought Marx was a sincere revolutionary, Bakunin believed
that the application of the Marxist system would necessarily lead to the
replacement of one repression (capitalist) by another (state socialist).

Firstly, Bakunin opposed what he considered to be the economic determinist
element in Marx's thought, most simply stated that " Being determines
consciousness." Put in another way, Bakunin was against the idea that the whole
range of 'super structural' factors of society, its laws, moralities, science,
religion, etc. were " but the necessary after effects of the development of
economic facts." Rather than history or science being primarily determined by
economic factors (e.g. the 'mode of production'), Bakunin allowed much more for
the active intervention of human beings in the realization of their destiny.

More fundamental was Bakunin's opposition to the Marxist idea of dictatorship of
the proletariat which was, in effect, a transitional state on the way to
stateless communism. Marx and Engles, in the Communist Manifesto of 1848, had
written of the need for labour armies under state supervision, the backwardness
of the rural workers, the need for centralised and directed economy, and for
wide spread nationalisation. Later, Marx also made clear that a workers'
government could come into being through universal franchise. Bakunin questioned
each of these propositions.

The state, whatever its basis, whether it be proletarian or bourgeois,
inevitably contains several objectionable features. States are based upon
coercion and domination. This domination would, Bakunin stated, very soon cease
to be that of the proletariat over its enemies but would become a state over the
proletariat. This would arise, Bakunin believed, because of the impossibility of
a whole class, numbering millions of people, governing on its own behalf.
Necessarily, the workers would have to wield power by proxy by entrusting the
tasks of government to a small group of politicians.

Once the role of government was taken out of the hands of the masses, a new
class of experts, scientists and professional politicians would arise. This new
elite would, Bakunin believed, be far more secure in its domination over the
workers by means of the mystification and legitimacy granted by the claim to
acting in accordance with scientific laws (a major claim by Marxists).
Furthermore, given that the new state could masquerade as the true expression of
the people's will. The institutionalising of political power gives rise to a new
group of governors with the same self-seeking interests and the same cover-ups
of its dubious dealings.

Another problem posed by the statist system, that of centralised statist
government would, argued Bakunin, further strengthen the process of domination.
The state as owner, organiser, director, financier, and distributor of labour
and economy would necessarily have to act in an authoritarian manner in its
operations. As can be seen by the Soviet system, a command economy must act with
decision flowing from top to bottom; it cannot meet the complex and various
needs of individuals and, in the final analysis, is a hopeless, inefficient
giant. Marx believed that centralism, from whatever quarter, was a move toward
the final, statist solution of revolution. Bakunin, in contrast opposed
centralism by federalism.

Bakunin's predictions as to the operation of Marxist states have been borne out
by reality. The Bolsheviks seized power in 1917, talked incessantly of
proletarian dictatorship and soviet power, yet inevitably, with or without
wanting to, created a vast bureaucratic police state.

Most of the left in Britain view the present structures of trade unions in a
positive light. This is true for members of the Labour Party, both left and
right, and many Marxist organisations. These bodies wish to capture or retain
control of the unions, pretty much as they stand, in order to use them for their
own purposes. As a result, there are frequently bitter conflicts and
manoeuvrings within the unions for control.

Bakunin laid the foundations of the anarcho-syndicalist approach to union
organization and the general tendency of non-anarchist unions to decay into
personal fiefdoms and bureaucracy over a century ago. Arguing in the context of
union organisation of the period within the International Working Mens
Association, he gave examples of how unions can be stolen from the membership
whose will they are supposed to be an expression of. He identified several
interrelated features which lead to the usurpation of power by union leaders.

Firstly, he indicated a psychological factor which plays a key part. Honest,
hardworking, intelligent and well meaning militants win through hard work the
respect and admiration of their fellow members and are elected to union office.
They display self-sacrifice, initiative and ability. Unfortunately, once in
positions of leadership, these people soon imagine themselves to be
indispensable and their focus of attention centers more and more on the
machinations within the various union committees.

The one time militant thus becomes removed from the every day problems of the
rank and file members and assumes the self-delusion which afflicts all leaders,
namely a sense of superiority.

Given the existence of union bureaucracies and secret debating chambers in which
leaders decide union actions and policies, a 'governmental aristocracy' arises
within the union structures, no matter how democratic those structures may
formally be. With the growing authority of the union committees etc., the
workers become indifferent to union affairs with the exception, Bakunin asserts,
of issues which directly affect them e.g. dues payment, strikes etc. Unions have
always had great problems in getting subscriptions from alienated memberships, a
solution which has been found in the 'check off' system by which unions and
employers collaborate to remove the required sum at source, i.e. from the pay
packet. Where workers do not directly control their union, as Bakunin thought
they should, and delegate authority to committees and full-time agents, several
things happen. Firstly, so long as union subscriptions are not too high, and
back dues are not pressed too hard for, the substituting bodies can act with
virtual impunity. This is good for the committees but brings almost to an end
the democratic life of the union. Power gravitates increasingly to the
committees and these bodies, like all governments, substitute their will for
that of the membership. This in turn allows expression for personal intrigues,
vanity, ambition and self-interest. Many intra-union battles, which are
ostensibly fought on ideological grounds, are in fact merely struggles for
control by ambitious self-seekers who have chosen the union for their career
structure. This careerism occasionally surfaces in battles between rival
leftists, for example where no political reasons for conflict exist. In the past
the Communist Party offered a union career route within certain unions and such
conflicts constantly arose.

Within the various union committees, which are arranged on a hierarchical basis
(mirroring capitalism), one or two individuals come to dominate on the basis of
superior intelligence or aggressiveness. Ultimately, the unions become dominated
by bosses who hold great power in their organisations, despite the safeguards of
democratic procedures and constitutions. Over the last few decades, many such
union bosses have become national figures, especially in periods of Labour
government. Bakunin was aware that such union degeneration was inevitable but
only arises in the absence of rank and file control, lack of opposition to
undemocratic trends and the accession to union power to those who allow
themselves to be corrupted. Those individuals who genuinely wish to safeguard
their personal integrity should, Bakunin argued, not stay in office too long and
should encourage strong rank and file opposition. Union militants have a duty to
remain faithful to their revolutionary ideals.

Personal integrity, however, is an insufficient safeguard. Other, institutional
and organisational factors must also be brought into play. These include regular
reporting to the proposals made by the officials and how they voted, in other
words frequent and direct accountability. Secondly, such union delegates must
draw their mandates from the membership being subject to rank and file
instructions. Thirdly, Bakunin suggests the instant recall of unsatisfactory
delegates. Finally, and most importantly, he urged the calling of mass meetings
by ordinary members and other expressions of grass roots activity to circumvent
those leaders who acted in undemocratic ways. Mass meetings inspire passive
members to action, creating a camaraderie which would tend to repudiate the
so-called leaders.

Bakunin based his analysis on unions of the period. As such, his critique of the
unions was perceptive and acute; in particular his usual perceptions of the
alienating nature of power as with the increasing bureaucratization of union
officials. Bakunin’s thought on the question of workers organizations and how
they should be structured laid the foundations for the birth of
anarcho-syndicalism in Spain, France and elsewhere.

However, in the century after his birth, the integration of the unions into the
capitalist system has advanced at a rapid pace. Union leaderships often directly
sabotage workers struggles. Rank and file organisation within the trade union
and attempts to “democratise” the trade unions are no answer to the question of
how workers should organise. Struggles now are increasingly of the wildcat kind,
outside the control of the union leaderships, and often organised outside the
unions. Where unions have declared strikes themselves, they have been forced to
do so because of the anger and discontent of the membership.

Anarcho-syndicalist unions have often been engaged in sharp fights with the
employers and the State. Nevertheless, there is always a dynamic of being forced
to mediate in struggles that has led to serious divisions within the syndicalist
movement inside specific countries and on a world-wide level. Bakunin was
acutely aware of the dangerous nature of officialdom and how ordinary workers,
by taking official positions, could become alienated from their fellows. He was
less aware of the mediating role of the unions themselves in the fight to secure
better pay and conditions, and the tendency to become controllers of the
workforce, of labour, themselves
Revolutionary Organisation

Above all else, Bakunin the revolutionary, believed in the necessity of
collective action to achieve anarchy. After his death there was a strong
tendency within the anarchist movement towards the abandonment of organisation
in favour of small group and individual activity. This development, which
culminated in individual acts of terror in the late nineteenth century France,
isolating anarchism from the very source of the revolution, namely the workers.

Bakunin, being consistent with other aspects of his thought, saw organisation
not in terms of a centralised and disciplined army (though he thought self
discipline was vital), but as the result of decentralised federalism in which
revolutionaries could channel their energies through mutual agreement within a
collective. It is necessary, Bakunin argued, to have a coordinated revolutionary
movement for a number of reasons. If anarchists acted alone, without direction
they would inevitably end up moving in different directions and would, as a
result, tend to neutralise each other. Organisation is not necessary for its own
sake, but is necessary to maximise strength of the revolutionary classes, in the
face of the great resources commanded by the capitalist state.

However, from Bakunin's standpoint, it was the spontaneous revolt against
authority by the people which is of the greatest importance. The nature of
purely spontaneous uprisings is that they are uneven and vary in intensity from
time to time and place to place. The anarchist revolutionary organization must
not attempt to take over and lead the uprising but has the responsibility of
clarifying goals, putting forward revolutionary propaganda, and working out
ideas in correspondence with the revolutionary instincts of the masses. To go
beyond this would undermine the whole self-liberatory purpose of the revolution.
Putchism has no place in Bakunin's thought.

Bakunin then, saw revolutionary organization in terms of offering assistance to
the revolution, not as a substitute. It is in this context that we should
interpret Bakunin's call for a " secret revolutionary vanguard" and " invisible
dictatorship" of that vanguard. The vanguard it should be said, has nothing in
common with that of the Leninist model which seeks actual, direct leadership
over the working class. Bakunin was strongly opposed to such approaches and
informed his followers that " no member... is permitted, even in the midst of
full revolution, to take public office of any kind, nor is the (revolutionary)
organization permitted to do so... it will at all times be on the alert, making
it impossible for authorities, governments and states to be established." The
vanguard was, however, to influence the revolutionary movement on an informal
basis, relying on the talents of its members to achieve results. Bakunin thought
that it was the institutionalisation of authority, not natural inequalities that
posed a threat to the revolution. The vanguard would act as a catalyst to the
working classes' own revolutionary activity and was expected to fully immerse
itself in the movement. Bakunin's vanguard then, was concerned with education
and propaganda, and unlike the Leninist vanguard party, was not to be a body
separate from the class, but an active agent within it.

The other major task of the Bakuninist organization was that it would act as the
watchdog for the working class. Then, as now, authoritarian groupings posed as
leaders of the revolution and supplied their own members as " governments in
waiting." The anarchist vanguard has to expose such movements in order that the
revolution should not replace one representative state by another
'revolutionary' one. After the initial victory, the political revolutionaries,
those advocates of so-called workers' governments and the dictatorship of the
proletariat, would according to Bakunin try " to squelch the popular passions.
They appeal for order, for trust in, for submission to those who, in the course
and the name of the revolution, seized and legalised their own dictatorial
powers; this is how such political revolutionaries reconstitute the state. We on
the other hand, must awaken and foment all the dynamic passions of the people."

Throughout Bakunin's criticisms of capitalism and state socialism he constantly
argues for freedom. It is not surprising, then, to find that in his sketches of
future anarchist society that the principle of freedom takes precedence. In a
number of revolutionary programs he outlined which he considered to be the
essential features of societies which would promote the maximum possible
individual and collective freedom. The societies envisioned in Bakunin's
programs are not Utopias, in the sense of being detailed fictional communities,
free of troubles, but rather suggest the basic minimum skeletal structures which
would guarantee freedom. The character of future anarchist societies will vary,
said Bakunin depending on a whole range of historical, cultural, economic and
geographical factors.

The basic problem was to lay down the minimum necessary conditions which would
bring about a society based upon justice and social welfare for all and would
also generate freedom. The negative destructive features of the programs are all
concerned with the abolition of those institutions which lead to domination and
exploitation. The state, including the established church, the judiciary, state
banks and bureaucracy, the armed forces and the police are all to be swept away.
Also, all ranks, privileges, classes and the monarchy are to be abolished. The
positive, constructive features of the new society all interlink to promote
freedom and justice. For a society to be free, Bakunin argued, it is not
sufficient to simply impose equality. No, freedom can only be achieved and
maintained through the full participation in society of a highly educated and
healthy population, free from social and economic worries. Such an enlightened
population, can then be truly free and able to act rationally on the basis of a
popularly controlled science and a thorough knowledge of the issues involved.

Bakunin advocated complete freedom of movement, opinion, morality where people
would not be accountable to anyone for their beliefs and acts. This must be, he
argued, complete and unlimited freedom of speech, press and assembly. Freedom,
he believed, must be defended by freedom, for to " advocate the restriction of
freedom on the pretext that it is being defended is a dangerous delusion." A
truly free and enlightened society, Bakunin said, would adequately preserve
liberty. An ordered society, he thought, stems not from suppression of ideas,
which only breeds opposition and factionalism, but from the fullest freedom for all.

This is not to say that Bakunin did not think that a society has the right to
protect itself. He firmly believed that freedom was to be found within society,
not through its destruction. Those people who acted in ways that lessen freedom
for others have no place; these include all parasites that live off the labour
of others. Work, the contribution of one's labour for the creation of wealth,
forms the basis of political rights in the proposed anarchist society. Those who
live by exploiting others do not deserve political rights. Others, who steal,
violate voluntary agreements within and by society, inflict bodily harm etc. can
expect to be punished by the laws which have been created by that society. The
condemned criminal, on the other hand, can escape punishment by society by
removing himself/herself from society and the benefits it confers. Society can
also expel the criminal if it so wishes. Basically Bakunin set great store on
the power of enlightened public opinion to minimise antisocial activity.

Bakunin proposed the equalisation of wealth, though natural inequalities which
are reflected in different levels of skill, energy and thrift, should he argued
be tolerated. The purpose of equality is to allow individuals to find full
expression of their humanity within society. Bakunin was strongly opposed to the
idea of hired labour which if introduced into an anarchist society, would lead
to the reintroduction of inequality and wage slavery. He proposed instead
collective effort because it would, he thought, tend to be more efficient.
However, so long as individuals did not employ others, he had no objection to
them working alone.

Through the creation of associations of labour which could coordinate worker's
activities, Bakunin proposed the setting up of an industrial assembly in order
to harmonise production with the demand for products. Such an assembly would be
necessary in the absence of the market. Supplied with statistical information
from the various voluntary organisations, who would be federated, production
could be specialised on an international basis so that those countries with in
built economic advantages would produce most efficiently for the general good.
Then, according to Bakunin, waste, economic crisis and stagnation " will no
longer plague mankind; the emancipation of human labour will regenerate the world."

Turning to the question of the political organisation of society, Bakunin
stressed that society should be built in such a way as to achieve order through
the realisation of freedom on the basis of the federation of voluntary
organisations. In all such political bodies power is to flow " from the base to
the summit" and from " the circumference to the centre" In other words, such
organizations should be the expressions of individual and group opinions, not
directing centres which control people. On the basis of federalism, Bakunin
proposed a multi-tier system of responsibility for decision making which would
be binding on all participants, so long as they supported the system. Those
individuals, groups or political institutions which made up the total structure
would have the right to secede. Each participating unit would have an absolute
right to self-determination, to associate with the larger bodies, or not.
Starting at the local level, Bakunin suggested as the basic political unit, the
completely autonomous commune. The commune would elect all of its functionaries,
law makers, judges, and administrators of communal property.

The commune would decide its own affairs but, if voluntarily federated to the
next tier of administration, the provincial assembly, its constitution must
conform to the provincial assembly. Similarly, the constitution of the province
must be accepted by the participating communes. The provincial assembly would
define the rights and obligations existing between communes and pass laws
affecting the province as a whole.

Further levels of political organisation would be the national body, and,
ultimately, the international assembly. As regards international organisation,
Bakunin proposed that there should be no permanent armed forces, preferring
instead, the creation of local citizens' defence militias.

Thus, from root to branch, Bakunin's outline for anarchy is based upon the free
federation of participants in order to maximise individual and collective well

Bakunin’s relevance today

Throughout most of this pamphlet Bakunin has been allowed to speak for himself
and any views by the writer of the pamphlet are obvious. In this final section
it might be valuable to make an assessment of Bakunin's ideas and actions. With
the dominance of Marxism in the world labour and revolutionary movements in the
twentieth century, it became the norm to dismiss Bakunin as muddle-headed or
irrelevant. However, during his lifetime he was a major figure who gained much
serious support. Marx was so pressured by Bakunin and his supporters that he had
to destroy the First International by dispatching it to New York. In order that
it should not succumb to Anarchism, Marx killed it off through a bureaucratic
manoeuvre. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the turning of China
towards the market and the ever increasingly obvious corruption of its
bureaucratic elite, Bakunin’s ideas and revolutionary Anarchism have new
possibilities. If authoritarian, state socialism has proved to be a
child-devouring monster, then libertarian communist ideas once again offer a
credible alternative.

The enduring qualities of Bakunin and his successors are many, but serious
commitment to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and the state must rank
high. Bakunin was much more of a doer than a writer, he threw himself into
actual insurrections, much to the trepidation of European heads of state. This
militant tradition was continued by Malatesta, Makhno, Durruti, and many other
anonymous militants. Those so-called anarchists who adopt a gradualist approach
are an insult to Anarchism. Either we are revolutionaries or we degenerate into
ineffective passivism.

Bakunin forecast the dangers of statist socialism. His predictions of a
militarised, enslaved society dominated by a Marxist ruling class came to pass
in a way that even Bakunin could not have fully envisaged. Lenin, Trotsky and
Stalin outstripped even the Tsars in their arrogance and brutality. And, after
decades of reformist socialism which have frequently formed governments,
Bakunin's evaluations have been proved correct. In Britain we have the ultimate
insult to working people in the form of "socialist Lords". For services to
capitalism, Labour MP's are ultimately granted promotion to the aristocracy.

Bakunin fought for a society based upon justice, equality and freedom. Unlike
political leaders of the left he had great faith in the spontaneous, creative
and revolutionary potential of working people. His beliefs and actions reflect
this approach.

So, revolutionaries can learn much of value from his federalism, his militancy
and his contempt for the state, which in the twenty first century has assumed
gigantic and dangerous proportions. Bakunin has much to teach us, but we too
must develop our ideas in the face of new challenges and opportunities. We must
retain the revolutionary core of his thought yet move forward. Such is the
legacy of Bakunin.

With this in mind, the Anarchist Federation is developing a revolutionary
anarchist doctrine, which whilst being based on Bakunin's ideas, goes much
further to suit the demands of present-day capitalism. Ecological issues,
questions of imperialist domination of the world, the massive oppression of
women, thea automation of industry, computerised technology, capitalist
globalisation etc. are all issues that have to be tackled. We welcome the challenge!


There are two main compilations of Bakunin's works which are quite readily
available through public libraries. They are " Bakunin on Anarchy" edited by Sam
Dolgoff and " The Political Philosophy of Bakunin" edited by G.P. Maximoff.

Also worth looking at, if you can get hold of them, are " The Basic Bakunin -
Writings 1869-1871" edited by Robert M. Cutler and " Mikhail Bakunin - From Out
of the Dustbin" , edited by the same person.

For an understanding of the full profundity of Bakunin's ideas, there is nothing
to match " The Social and Political Thought of Michael Bakunin" by Richard B

Another book on Bakunin worth reading is Bakunin: the philosophy of Freedom by
Brian Morris., published by Black Rose Books. This reaffirms Bakunin’s stature
and significance and, like Saltman, answers many of the charges brought against
him by his critics. This American publication should be available through your
local library.

A final new book is Bakunin: The Creative Passion by Mark Leier.

Alternatively download PDF full layout version.

Bakunin's works currently available:

* "God and the State"
* "Marxism, Freedom and the State" (edited by K.J. Kenafik)
* "The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State"
* "Statism and Anarchy" (heavy going) ed. Marshall Shatz.
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