Basic Bakunin

Ray (raycunhm@macollamh.ucd.ie)
Thu, 19 Sep 1996 10:24:20 +0000


** Workers Solidarity No 48 **
** Irish Anarchist Paper **

The Basic Bakunin, writings 1869-1871

Translated and edited by Robert M Cutler

Prometheus Books, New York, =A36.95

History is written by the victors. The victory of Stalinism in=20
the USSR was certainly one of the reasons why the works of=20
Marx were classified, published, translated and sold into the=20
millions. The opposite is true for Mikhail Bakunin's=20
political ideas. =20

Bakunin led an adventurous life travelling throughout=20
Europe. When it was once remarked to him that his=20
manuscripts were in disarray he replied "my life itself is a=20
fragment." (see introduction).

This has meant that many of his major works remain=20
untranslated and published. There are many well paid=20
academics who call themselves Marxists but only a handful,=20
like Noam Chomsky, with the courage to call themselves=20
anarchists. So the work of translating and printing=20
Bakunin's ideas remains the work of a handful of dedicated=20
and unpaid activists. This book is a useful addition to that=20
ongoing effort.

It is a collection of writings spanning what Cutler describes=20
as "a phase of his activity which is central to his anarchism,=20
which is generally agreed to be one of his most significant=20
projects and which marks the height of his influence in his=20
life."

They were originally written as articles for the Swiss=20
newspapers 'L'Egalite' and 'Le Progress' in 1869. As=A0articles=
=20
they are well written and readable, not boring economic or=20
political tracts.

Cutler divides the writings into five parts. Parts 2, 3 and 4=20
would be of greatest interest to present day anarchists or=20
activists with an interest in anarchism. These deal with the=20
differences between bourgeois and revolutionary socialism=20
(his terms!), and the programme and tactics which=20
revolutionaries need to succeed.

Much of his time was spent trying to differentiate his ideas=20
=66rom those of Marx. Bakunin's position in this battle of=20
ideas is clearly outlined in chapters like that on the policy of=20
the International Workingmen's (sic) Association. Bakunin=20
emphasised the point that ideas are not handed down ready=20
made by intellectuals hot out of the library. Ideas are learned=20
through living and through struggling. As he says of "the=20
worker". (p.103)

"On the other hand, through practice and collective=20
experience, which is naturally always more broadening and=20
instructive then any isolated experience, the progressive=20
expansion and development of the economic struggle will=20
bring him more and more to recognise his true enemies: the=20
privileged classes, including the clergy, the bourgeoisie and=20
the nobility; and the state."

Socialism was not bought in from "without" but was carried=20
instinctively by the great majority.(p.140) "People have=20
always longed for their emancipation from every yoke that=20
has enslaved them."

This instinct was not enough though, organisation was=20
necessary. Bakunin pointed to the International Working=20
Men's Association of which he was then a member as an=20
example of how to organise. He shows how it was acting as=20
a leadership of ideas. (p.140) "The International's influence=20
has never been anything but one of opinion".

This he compares to the state which never calls on workers=20
for anything other then their "submission".

Besides these basic anarchist arguments there are other=20
articles on a range of issues like nationalism, social=20
democracy, education, land and inheritance, and the general=20
strike.

Overall this book is readable, inspirational and still relevant. =
=20
Unlike the adoration of Marx by some Marxists, we don't=20
claim Bakunin as a deity with all the answers. But he did=20
point us in the right direction. As a basic introduction to=20
anarchist ideas you could do worse than start here.

Des McCarron=20

--=20
***********************
For a basic introduction to anarchism try
http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/2419/anaintro.html

Workers Solidarity and other Irish anarchist publications are at
http://www.geocities.com/Athens/2724/anpubdx.html