Library update: April 2016

[June update: See the posts on “Strategies of Interpretation” and “Strategies of Presentation” for some additional information on the edition.]

The hardest thing about assembling an edition like the Bakunin Library is knowing when you can safely stop planning and exploring, and finally settle down to the work itself. Ideally, it would have been wonderful to take ten years to work through everything and then prepare the reader as a summary volume. But it’s been necessary to be realistic about where the English-speaking community is with respect to Bakunin and about my most useful role as an editor of the edition.

We still have a lot to learn, and a bit to unlearn, about Bakunin. Under those circumstances, my greatest strengths are arguably not as an expert, either regarding Bakunin or the early anarchist period within which he worked, but as an advanced scout of sorts. I recognized that early on, while working hard to also patch up the gaps in my expertise, and I think the approach has served the project well. This blog was launched just about four years ago. By the end of October, 2012 I had settled on the project of “an anarcho-collectivist view of collectivst anarchism” and sketched out six essential volumes for the Library. Since then, the exact design and number of the volumes has fluctuated a bit, as I have delved deeper in Bakunin’s works and dealt with the messy logistics of actually organizing texts into volumes, but the project is still essentially an expansion of Guillaume’s edition. The number of volumes proposed has crept back up again to the ten I proposed in July, 2012, but very differently arranged, taking into account the helpful advice of some colleagues overseas. Here is the current, and probably final, rearrangement of the Bakunin Library:

  1. God and the State (an expanded edition)
  2. Preaching Life’s Revolt: A Mikhail Bakunin Reader (featuring key texts and significant variants of familiar material)
  3. 1864-66: “Principles and Organization of the International Revolutionary Society” (the “Revolutionary Catechism,” etc), together with the “Fragments concerning Freemasonry” (which anticipates many of the concerns of “Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism”) and perhaps also an earlier “catechism.”
  4. 1867-68: “Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism,” together with Bakunin’s speeches from the League of Peace and Liberty, correspondence, etc.
  5. 1868-69: A volume documenting the International Alliance of Socialist Democracy
  6. 1868-72: A volume specifically dedicated to Bakunin’s involvement in the International prior to the complete break with Marx
  7. 1870-71: The “Letter to a Frenchman,” “The Political Situation in France,” and correspondence relating to the Paris Commune and the Franco-Prussian War
  8. 1870-71: The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution, with the “Writing against Marx,” etc.
  9. 1871-72: The Political Theology of Mazzini and the International, including the unpublished second part
  10. 1873-75: A volume dealing with the anti-authoritarian international, the Jura Federation and Bakunin’s final writings

This is essentially the plan I announced last July, with the major difference that I have decided that James Guillaume’s The International: Documents and Recollections cannot practically be part of the project. The Collectivism Reader is progressing nicely and I am leaving open the option of translating some other works by Guillaume, Schwitzguébel, etc., but I decided that a serious edition of Guillaume’s documentary history would demand more scholarly care and attention than I can guarantee it with the resources available.

I currently expect to spread the production of the Library over the next ten years and to proceed roughly in chronological order. Several volumes are already partially prepared. Some, like The Knouto-Germanic Empire, are larger and more demanding in scholarly terms. It would be nice to time the Paris Commune volume with the upcoming anniversary. And chronological order is a little jumbled in the middle volumes anyway, so expect a bit of jumping around, but also expect that the constant criterion will be making sure that each volume is really finished before we bring it to press.

I’m currently putting the finishing touches on the manuscript for the expanded edition of God and the State. I wanted a chance to celebrate the best of the previous translations and clear up some “old business,” before kicking the Bakunin Library in earnest, so I’ve gathered the most useful bits I could find on the genesis and initial reception of the text. The contents will include:

  • Introduction to the Expanded Edition—Shawn P. Wilbur
  • Introductory Remark—Max Nettlau
  • Preface—Carlo Cafiero and Elisée Reclus
  • God and the State (Revised translation, 1910)—Mikhail Bakunin (Benjamin R. Tucker, et al, translators)
  • Extracts from unpublished manuscripts—Bakunin (Nettlau, translator)
  • Appendix to the Commonweal edition—Nettlau
  • Biographical accounts—Nettlau and Tucker
  • Bakunin in “Liberty” and “Truth”—Tucker and Marie Le Compte
  • Note on the Bakunin Library—Wilbur

Things may remain a bit quiet on the blog for the next few months, as the Reader comes together, but I expect I’ll start posting some bits from Knouto-Germanic Empire soon, along with more of the “Fragments concerning Freemasonry.”

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Letter to Arnold Ruge, May 1843

[Translated from the French text published in La vie ouvrière, No. 112, May 20, 1914, ]

B. to R.

St. Peter’s Island, Lake Biel, May 1843.

Our friend Marx has passed on your letter from Berlin. You seem disgruntled with Germany. You only see the family and the bourgeois, cooped up with all its thoughts and all its desires between four stakes, and you do not want to believe in the springtime that will make it emerge from its hole. Ah, dear friend! Do not lose faith! You especially, do not lose it! What! me, the Russian, the Barbarian, I do not renounce it, I do not want to despair of Germany: and you who are in the very midst of the movement, you who have lived through its beginning, and been surprised by its development, you now want to accuse of powerlessness these same ideas from which previously, when their strength had still not been put to the test, you expected everything? Oh, I agree, the day of the German ’89 is still far off! Haven’t the Germans always remained several centuries behind? But that is not a reason to cross your arms now and be shamefully disheartened. If men like you no longer believe in the future of Germany, no longer want to work for it, then who will believe, and who will act?

I write this letter on the island of Rousseau, on Lake Biel. You know, I do not thrive on imaginations and clichés; but I feel myself tremble with all my being at the thought that today even, when I write to you, and on such a subject, I have been led to this place by destiny. Oh yes, I attest to it, my belief in the victory of humanity over the priests and tyrants is the same belief that the great exile a poured into so many millions of hearts, and that he had carried here with him. Rousseau and Voltaire, those immortals, have become young again; it is in the most intelligent heads of the German nation that they celebrate their resurrection; a powerful enthusiasm for humanism and for the finally regenerated State, of which man has really become the principle, a burning hatred of the priests and of the insolent stain that they impress on everything that is humanly great and true, has entered the world anew. Philosophy will yet one day enjoy the role that it has so gloriously fulfilled in France; and it is not an argument against it, that its formidable power has revealed itself to its adversaries before having been revealed to itself. It is naïve and does not expect, at first, the struggle and persecution: for it takes all men for reasonable beings and addresses itself to their reason, as if that reason commanded them as a sovereign. It is always in order that its adversaries, who have the gall to declare: “We are unreasonable and we wish to remain so,” begin through unreasonable measures the practical combat, the resistance to reason. Voltaire once said: You, little men, graced with a little job that gives you a little authority in a little country, you cry out against philosophy? In Germany, we are in the era of Rousseau and Voltaire, and those of us who are young enough to gather the fruits of our labor, will see a great revolution and a time when it will be worth the pain of having lived. These words of Voltaire, we can repeat them, with the certainty that history will confirm them no less this time than the first.

The French, at this moment, are still our masters. They have over us, from the political point of view, an advance of several centuries, and all that follows from it. That powerful literature, and that art, all so lively, that culture and that intellectualization of all the people, so many conditions of which we only have a distant understanding! We must acquire what we lack; we must give the lash to our metaphysical pride, which cannot stimulate the world; we must learn, we must work day and night, to make ourselves capable of living as men among men, to be free and make others free; we must – I always return to this – finally take possession of our era and our thoughts. The thinker and the poet have the privilege of anticipating the future and of constructing, in the midst of the chaos of the death and decomposition that surrounds us, a new world of liberty and beauty.

And knowing all that, initiated into the secret of the eternal powers that will give birth to the new times, you want to give up hope? If you give up hope in Germany, you not only give up hope in yourself, you renounce the pleasure of truth, to which you have devoted yourself. Few men are noble enough to devote themselves entirely and without reservation to the action of the liberating truth, few know how to transfer to their contemporaries that movement of the heart and head; but the one to whom in has once been given to be the mouth of Liberty and to captive the world with the charming accents of the voice of the goddess, that one possesses a guarantee for the victory of their cause that another can only obtain in their turn the a similar effort and a similar success.

But we must – I must acknowledge it – break with our own past. We have been beaten. It is brutal force alone, it is true, that has been an obstacle to the movement of thought and poetry; but that brutality would have been impossible, if we had not had lead an existence apart in the heaven of learned theory, if we had had the people on our side. It was not before them that we have posed the question of its proper cause. The French have done otherwise. Their liberators would have been crushed, if they could have been.

I know that you love the French, that you sense their superiority. That is enough for a strong will, in such a great cause, to make itself their imitator, and to match them. What feeling! What inexpressible bliss que this effort and this power! Oh, how I envy you such a task, and even your anger, for that too is the feeling felt by all the noble hearts of your people. May I only collaborate with you: my blood and my life for the liberation of that people! Believe me, it will rise, it will reach the great daylight of human history. It will not always make itself a title to glory of that shame of the Germans, of being the best servants of all tyrannies. You reproach it for not being free, for only being a domesticated people. You only say there what it is: how can you conclude from that what it will be?

Was it not just the same in France? And yet how quickly was the whole of France transformed into a nation, and her sons became citizens! It is not permissible for us to abandon the cause of the people, even if they deserted it themselves. The bourgeois have defected, they persecute us: what does it matter? Their children will only devote themselves more faithfully to our cause: the fathers try to kill freedom, they will die striving for it.

And what advantage do we not have over the men of the eighteenth century! in their time, they talked to themselves. We, we have living before our eyes the gigantic results of their ideas, we can enter into contact with these results through practice. Let us go to France, let us cross the Rhine, and we will be, in a single step, transported into the midst of new elements, which, in German, are still to be born. The diffusion of political thought in all the strata of society, the energy of thought and speech, which only explodes in the most prominent heads because it gives issue, through each word, to the concentrated passion of an entire people, – all of that could teach us now through a living spectacle. A journey in France and even a prolonged stay in Paris would be for us of the greatest utility.

The German theory, cast down from the heights of its heaven, today sees itself, in its fall, mangled by some brutal theologians and stupid country squires, who shake it by the ears, like we do a hunting dog, to show it the way to take. It has largely deserved it. It would be well if that fall cured it of some of its pride. It would be up to it to draw from that adventure this lesson, that on the solitary somber heights it is abandoned without defense, and that it is only in the heart of the people that is can find security. “Who will win over the people, we or you?” these obscure eunuchs cry to the philosophers. Oh, shame that such has taken place! But also cheers and honor to the men who can bring about the triumph of the cause of humanity now.

It is here, yes, it is here that the combat truly begins: and so strong is our cause, that we, a few scattered men, with hands tied, by our war-cry alone we inspire fright in their myriads! Let us go, with heart, and I want to break your bonds, oh Germans who wish to become Greeks, me the Scythian. Send me you works. On the island of Rousseau I will print them, and in letters of fire I will inscribe once more in the heavens the history of the defeat of the Persians!

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Letter to Albert Richard (February 7, 1870)

February 7, 1870

My friend and brother – Forgive me my long silence, and you will forgive me for it I am sure when you know the cause of it. – In response to the question that you ask me, you and Mme D. Z. [André Bastelica], I respond: Yes, the affairs of Mr A. S. [Russia] are very serious and they should become still more serious in the spring. The debacle in that house is imminent, and God alone knows what will result from it! Will it be a failed, fraudulent bankruptcy? Will it be a complete and open bankruptcy? It is impossible to surmise. What is certain is that the position is very serious, and that in a month, in two months at the most, there will be a ruckus. This business has absolutely absorbed me for a month – I have not had a moment to write a letter. We have done all that it was possible to do – The bow is bent, arrow will take flight, and then we will see what will occur. – We have nothing to reproach ourselves for, for we have fulfilled our duty to the end. Ah! My dear friend, how these lads work over there what disciplined and serious organization and what power of collective action, where all the individualities are effaced giv[ing] up even their names, [as well as] all reputation, all conceit, all glory –  taking for themselves only the risks, the dangers, the harshest privations, but with that the consciousness of being a force and of doing – You have not forgotten my young savage? Well, he has returned – He has accomplished exploits that among you no one would believe – He has suffered horribly, taken, beaten half to death, liberated and starting again with more vigor. And they are all like that – The individual has disappeared – and in the place of the individuals the legion, invisible, unknown and present everywhere – acting everywhere – dying and being reborn each day – they have been apprehended by the dozens, they rise up by the hundreds – the individual perish, but the legion is immortal – and each day more powerful – because it has pushed deep roots into the world of the black hands and drawn from this world a mass of recruits –

That is the organization that I have dreamed, that I still dream and that I want for you – Unfortunately, you are still [attached to] individual heroism, the need for individual display – to dramatic effects and historic ostentations –  This is why power escapes you and [in the realm] of action there remains to you only rumors and phrases – Do not write to me that I can become, if I desire it, the Garibaldi of Socialism – I do not much care about becoming a Garibaldi and playing any role. My dear friend, I will die and the worms will eat me – But I want our idea to triumph. I want the black hands to be really emancipated from all the authorities and all the heroes, present and to come – I want for the triumph of our idea not the more or less dramatic exhibition of my own person, not my power, but our power – the power of our collectivity, of our organization and collective action, in favor of which I am the first ready to abdicate and annul my name and my person. My dear friend, the time of brilliant historical individualities is passed, and so much the better. That is the true token of the triumph of democracy – See with what rapidity the individualities are absorbed, consumed, devoured by the collectivity, by that giant with several millions heads that is called the people – And once again, so much the better – Study well the character of our era – there is a characteristic opposition of the mass against every authority and against every individual who would like to impose themselves – The mass is right – it is in [sympathy with] our program – No individual would have power any longer – there would no longer be order, nor public authority – And what must take its place, in order that the revolutionary anarchy does not result in reaction – The collective action of an invisible organization spread over a whole country – If we do not form that organization, we will never escape from the powerlessness – You who love to think, have you never reflected on the principal cause of the power and vitality of the order of the Jesuits? Do you want me to name that cause? Well, my friend, it is the absolute effacement of individuals in the will, the organization and the action of the collective – And I ask you, for men who are really strong, passionate and serious, is this  such a great sacrifice? It is the sacrifice of appearance to reality, of vainglory to a real power, of phrases to action action – That is the sacrifice that I ask of all our friends and of which I am always ready to give the first example – I do not want to be Me, I want to be Us. For, I will repeat it a thousand times, it is only on this condition that we will triumph, that our idea will triumph – Well! that triumph, it is my only passion.

That is, my friends a preface to my long letter, which I will send to you when affairs permit me to finish it – I await the rich cousin from day to day and I am full of hope – So be patient –

Friends urge me to make a visit to Mme P. [Paris] – Yes – after the arrival of the cousin – With regard to Mr D. U. [Benoit Malon], I have done well not to respond to you right away, since that has given you the time to change your opinion regarding him – It is not, however, necessary to reject him, but preserve him only in the external fat that covers your heart; not in the very depths – I would say the same thing with regard to Mme D. [U] [Aristide Rey], not as an individual – he is charming, but in collective relations – then he is useless and even harmful – he is demoralizing – He is a being who will remain eternally colorless and whose sentimentality will always deliver him up to bourgeois socialism – My dear friend, I speak from experience – And I assure you, I love you a great deal – but I love even more our cause, to which we cannot give ourselves halfway – All or nothing – well, it will never manage to constitute a whole. It is demoralized by the circle of Elie Reclus and Mme André Léo, the nymph Egeria to all of them, who are demoralized in their turn by the millionaire socialist, Saint-Simonian Charles Le Monnier – So I ask you very seriously, dear friend, to keep Mr and Mme D. U. outside of our private circle, without them suspecting it however. Kept well outside, they could be useful and used on occasion. – To undertake the great means, it is first necessary to have a few means, [and] that is what I hope to find soon – with the arrival of my cousin. Mme D. T. [The League of Peace and Liberty] is an excellent and useful person, but is yet to be absolutely with us. Have you see Mr C. S. [Paul Robin] who was going to make a visit to Mme P.? He will be quite useful to us there, although it is not a strong man. He has the microscopic and not telescopic mind. – I must say that the persons with whom I am happiest at this hour, less naturally the friends Mr A. S. – are Mr and Mme E. F. [Gaspar Sentinon and Rafael Farga i Pellicer] – they have understood that in order to constitute a power, collective action is required, but that this is impossible without serious organization, which is in its turn impossible without the observation of the rules – The observe they and they make some amazing progress – Bu the way, Mr E. F. complains that you little or no [help] with a compatriot whom he has recommended to you, and who has returned, he says, as stupid, that is to say, as rabidly political and as little a Socialist as when he left –

Adieu – respond swiftly and be patient. – Heaven will doubtless smile on us in the end and from the moment when the holy dewdrops begin to fall, I will direct them on your head – Long live the collectivity – long live the socialists. When you write to Mme D. Z. [Louis Palix], give him fraternal regards from me.

Burn this letter.

Your M.B.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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Program of the International Society of the Revolution (1868)

Program of the International Society of the Revolution

First part. Theoretical principles.

I. Negation of God and of the principle of authority, both human and divine, as well as every tutelage exercised by men over men—even when we wish to exercise that tutelage over individuals of the age of majority but deprived of instruction or else over the ignorant masses, whether in the name of an intelligence, or even in the name of scientific reason, represented by a group of men—recognized and licensed intelligences—or by any exclusive class, either of which would form a sort of aristocracy of intelligence—the most odious and most harmful of all for liberty.

note 1. Positive and rational science positive is the only light that can lead man to the knowledge of truth and that could be capable of regulating his conduct, as well as his relations in society. But it is subject to errors, and even if it wasn’t, it must not arrogate to itself the right to govern men contrary to their convictions and their will. A truly free society could only grant it two rights, the exercise of which is incidentally its duty: the first is the education and instruction of individuals of both sexes, equally accessible and obligatory for all children and adults until they have passed the age of majority—the age when the action of all authority must cease—and the second to imbue them with its ideas, its judgments in all their convictions, by means of an absolutely free propaganda.

note 2. In rejecting absolutely, in all its possible forms, the tutelage that intelligence, developed by science and by the practice of affairs, of men and of life, could wish to exercise over the ignorant masses, we are far from denying their natural and salutary influence on these masses,—provided that this influence is only exercised in an entirely simple manner, by the natural action of every superior intelligence on inferior intelligences, and that it not be dressed up with any official character or any privilege, whether political or social,—two things that never fail to produce, on the one hand, the enslavement of the masses, and, on the other, the corruption and stupefaction of the intelligences that are accorded them.

II. Negation of free will and of the right of society to punish;—every human individual, without any exception, never being anything but the involuntary product of their natural and social environment.—The four great causes of all human immorality are: 1) the absence of rational hygiene and education; 2) the inequality of economic and social conditions; 3) the ignorance of the masses, which naturally results from it, and 4) their inevitable consequence—slavery. The education, instruction and organization of society according to liberty and justice must replace punishment. During the whole transitory era, more or less long, which cannot fail to follow the social revolution—society, in the interest of its own defense against incorrigible individuals—not culpable, but dangerous,—will never apply to them any other punishment but that of placing them outside its guarantee and its solidarity—exclusion

III. The Negation of free will is not that of liberty. Liberty is, on the contrary, the necessary consequence, the product of the natural and social fatality.

note 1. Man is not free with regard to the laws of nature, which constitute the very basis and absolute condition of his being. They penetrate and dominate him as they dominate and penetrate all that exists. Nothing could shield him from their fatal omnipotence: any leaning toward revolt on his part would end in suicide. But through a power that is inherent in his individual nature and inevitably drives him to realize, to conquer the conditions of his life, man can and must gradually emancipate himself from the obsession and from the crushing, natural hostility of the external world, whether physical or social, that surrounds him, through thought, through science and through the application of thought to the instinct of will—through his intelligent will.

note 2. Man is the last link, the highest term of the uninterrupted series of beings who, starting from the simplest elements and arriving at him, constitute the known world. He is an animal who, thanks to the superior development of his organism and notably of his brain, is endowed with the ability to think and speak. That is all the difference that separates him from all the other animal species—his older brothers with regard to time, his younger brothers with regard to intellectual capacity. But that difference is enormous. It is the unique cause of all that we call our history and of which here, in a few words, is the summary and the sense: man begins from bestiality to arrive at humanity, at the constitution of his social existence through science, through conscience, through his intelligent labor and through liberty.

note 3. Man is a social animal—as are many other animals that appeared on the earth before him. He did not create society through a free contract, he is born in its womb and could not live as a man, nor even become a man, nor think, nor speak, nor will, nor act reasonably apart from it. Society constitutes his human nature, he depends on it as absolutely as on physical nature itself, and is not such a great genius that he should absolutely dominate it.

IV. Social solidarity is the first human law; liberty is the second. These two laws, mutually penetrating and inseparable from one another, constitute the whole of humanity. Liberty is thus not the negation of solidarity; it is its development and, so to speak, its humanization.

V. Liberty is not the independence of man with regard to the inevitable laws of nature and society. It is first of all his power of gradual emancipation from the oppression of the external physical world— through science and intelligent labor; it is then his right to dispose of himself and act in accordance with his own convictions and ideas—a right opposed to the despotic and authoritarian pretensions of another man, of a group or class of men, or of the whole of society.

note 1. It is necessary not to confuse sociological laws, otherwise known as the laws of social physiology and which are as fatally obligatory for every man as the laws of physical nature itself,—being in reality laws as physical as those of nature—it is necessary not to confuse these laws with the political, criminal and civil that are more or less the expression of the manners, customs and interests, as well as the opinions that, in a particular era, that are dominant in society, or in a part, in one class of society. It is entirely natural that, being recognized by the majority of men or even by a dominant class, they except a powerful natural influence—good or bad, according to their particular character—on each. But it is neither good, nor legitimate, nor just, nor even useful for the society itself, that these laws be able to impose themselves in a violent, authoritarian manner on any individual, contrary to their own convictions.—That would be an attack on their liberty, on their personal dignity, even on their humanity.

VI. The natural society in which every man is born, outside of which he could never become an intelligent and free man, is truly humanize do only the the extent that all the men of which it is composed become more and more free, individually and collectively.

note 1. To be individually free means, for the man living in the midst of society, not bending his thought or will before any other authority than that of his own reason and his own conception of justice; not recognizing, in short, any truth except that which he comprehends, and submitting to no law but that which is acceptable to his own conscience. Such is the conditio sine que non of all human dignity, the incontestable right of man—the sign of his humanity.

To be collectively free—is to live in the midst of free men and to be free through their liberty. Man, we have said, could not become an intelligent being, endowed with a reflective will, and consequently could not conquer his individual liberty apart from and without the aid of all of society. The liberty of each is thus the product of the common solidarity. But once that solidarity is recognized as the basis and condition of all individual liberty, it is clear that if a man lived in the midst of slaves, even if he was their master, he would necessarily be the slave of their slavery, and that he could become really and completely free only through their liberty. So the liberty of everyone is necessary to my liberty; as a result, it is not true to say that the liberty of all is the limit of my liberty, which would be tantamount to a complete negation of the latter. It is, on the contrary, its necessary confirmation and infinite extension.

VII. Individual liberty of each only becomes real and possible through the collective liberty of society, of which, by a natural and fatal law, he is a part.

note 1. Liberty like humanity, of which it is the purest expression, is not at the debut, it is at the last term of history. Human society, we have said, begins with bestiality. Natural, savage men recognize their human character and natural right so little, that they begin by tearing one another apart and sadly even today they have not ceased slaughtering one another.—The second period in the historical development of human society is that of slavery. The third—in the midst of which we live—is that of economic exploitation or the salariat. The fourth period—that toward which we tend, and toward which, we must at least hope, we strive, is that of justice, liberty in equality or mutuality.

VIII. The natural man becomes a free man, he is humanized and moralized, recognizes, in short, and realizes in himself and for himself his own human character and right only to the degree that he recognizes this same character and right in all his fellows.—In the interests of his own humanity, of his own morality and personal liberty, man must thus desire the liberty, the morality and the humanity of all.

IX. To respect the liberty of others is thus the supreme duty of every man.—To love them and serve them—that is the only virtue. It is the basis of all morals; there exists no other.

X. Liberty being the product and the highest expression of solidarity, which is to say of mutuality, it is only completely achievable in equality. Political equality can only be based on economic and social equality. The realization of liberty through that equality—that is justice.

XI. Labor being the sole producer of all values, social utilities or wealth, man, who is a social being par excellence, could not live without labor.

XII. Only associated labor is sufficient for the existence of a populous and somewhat civilized society. All that we call civilization could only have been created by associated labor. The whole secret of the infinite productivity of human labor consists first of the application of more or less developed, scientific intelligence, which is itself always the product of a labor previously and currently associated; and then the division of labor, but at the same time also of a certain combination or association of the labor thus divided.

XIII. All the historical injustices, all the wars, all the political and social privileges have for their basis and principal object the subjugation and exploitation of some associated labor to the profit of the stronger—conquering nations, classes and individuals. Such has been the true historical cause of slavery, of serfdom, of the salariat—and to sum up everything in a phrase—of the so-called right of individual and hereditary property.

XIV. From the moment that the right of property was accepted and established, society was forced to divide itself into two parts: a privileged propertarian minority, exploiting the associated, forced labor of the masses, on one side,—and on the other, the millions of proletarians, subjugated under the name of slaves, serfs, or wage-earners. Some, through leisure based on the satisfaction of needs and material comfort, would find themselves assured all the benefits of civilization, of education and of instruction. The others—the masses, the millions would find themselves condemned to a forced labor without rest, to an ignorance and a poverty without end.

XV. The civilization of the minority finds itself thus founded on the forced barbarism of the majority. The privileged of all political and social hues, all the representatives of property are thus, by the very force of their position, the natural enemies, the exploiters and oppressors of the great masses of the people.

XVI. Leisure—this precious privilege of the dominant classes—being necessary for the development of the intelligence, and a certain ease as well as a certain freedom of movement and action being equally indispensable to the development of character—it is entirely natural that these classes should show themselves first more civilized, more intelligent, more humane and up to a certain point even more moral than the masses.—But as on the one hand the inactivity as well as privilege break down bodies, with hearts and deform minds, by making them love and pursue lies and injustice, absolutely compatible with their exclusive interest, but by the disarm token contrary to the interest of everyone, it is obvious that the privileged classes must sooner or later fall into corruption and imbecility, and into servility.—It is an effect that we see today.

XVII. On the other side, the total absence of leisure and the force labor have necessarily condemned the masses to barbarism. The labor itself cannot develop their intelligence, for [due to] their necessarily hereditary ignorance, all the intelligent part of labor—the applications of science, the combination and direction of the productive forces were and still find themselves almost exclusively reserved for individuals of the bourgeois class; only the muscular, unintelligent, mechanical part, rendered still more stultifying by the division of labor, was left to the people,—who thus find themselves stunned, in the full sense of that word, by their daily labor.

Well, despite all that, thanks to the moralizing power that is inherent in labor, thanks also to the fact that in demanding justice, liberty and equality for himself, the laborer implicitly demands them for everyone, since there exists no human being who is more shamefully treated than him—if it is not the woman or child perhaps;—thanks finally to the fact that he has not used and abused life and consequently is not jaded, and that while lacking instruction he at least has this immense advantage that his virgin heart and mind have not been corrupted and distorted by selfish interests and self-serving lies;—that he has preserved intact all of the natural energy of his character—while all the privileged classes slump, weaken and rot, the worker alone increases in life—today, he alone represents, loves and desires truth, liberty, equality and justice;—to him alone belongs the future.

XVIII. Our socialist program

It demands and must demand:

  1. Political, social and economic equalization of all the classes and of all the individual humans on the earth.
  2. The abolition of hereditary property.
  3. The appropriation of the land—by the agricultural associations; of capital and of all the instruments of labor—by the industrial associations.
  4. The abolition of patriarchal right, of the right of the family—of the despotism of the husband and father, founded solely on the right of hereditary property. And the equalization of the political, economic and social rights of woman with those of man.
  5. The upkeep,—the education and instruction, both scientific and industrial, and including all the branches of higher education, equal for all children of both sexes, and obligatory until they have passed the age of majority—at the cost of society.

The School must replace the Church and render the criminal codes, punishment, prison, executioner and gendarme useless.

Children are not the property of anyone, not the property of their parents or even of society—they belong to their own future Liberty. But that liberty in children is still not real;—it is only potential—real liberty, the full consciousness and practice of liberty in each, based primarily on the sentiment of personal dignity and on the serious respect of the liberty and dignity of others, that is to say on justice,—that liberty only being capable of realization in children though the rational development of their intelligence, and by that of their character, of their intelligent will.—From this it results that society, the whole future of which depends on the education and instruction of children, and which consequently has not just the right, but the duty to oversee them—is the natural tutor of all the children of both sexes, and as it will be from now on the sole inheritor, the right of individual inheritance needing to be abolished—it will naturally consider it one of its first duties to provide for all the costs of maintenance, education and instruction without distinction for all the children of both sexes, without consideration of their relations and origins.

The rights of the parents should be limited to loving their children and exerting over them a natural authority, to the extent that that authority will not be contrary to their morality, their intelligence and their future liberty.—Marriage, political and civil, and every intervention of society in matters of love should disappear.—The children would belong naturally, not by right, especially to the mother, under the intelligent observation of society.

Children, especially at the youngest age, being incapable of reasoning and directing their own conduct, the principle of tutelage and authority, which must be absolutely excluded from society, finds its natural place in their education and instruction. Only this must be a truly human, intelligent authority, absolutely foreign to every theological, metaphysical and legal recollection, and starting from the principle that each human being is neither good nor evil at their birth, and that the good—which is to say the love of liberty, consciousness of justice and mutuality, the worship, or rather the respect and the habit of truth, reason and labor—could only be developed in each through a rational education and instruction, based on the obvious and manifest respect, at once practical and theoretical, of that reason, that justice and that liberty that authority, I say, must have as its sole aim the preparation of all children for the most complete liberty. It could only arrive at that goal by destroying itself gradually, giving way to the liberty of the children, as they increasingly approach the age of majority.

Instruction should embrace all the branches of science, technology and human industry.—It must be scientific and professional at the same time, necessarily general for all children, and special according to the dispositions and tastes of each; in order that each young man and woman, leaving the schools and recognized as free and adult—should be equally fit to work with the head and with the hands.

Once emancipated, they will be absolutely free to associate for labor or not to associate. All will inevitably wish to associate, because from the moment that the right of inheritance is abolished, and land and capital will become the property of the international, or rather universal, federation of free workers’ associations, there will be no more place or possibility for competition, for the existence of isolated labor.

No one could exploit the labor of others any longer—each would have to work to live. Each will be free to die of hunger by not working,—at least if they do not find an association or a commune that consents to feed them out of pity. But then probably it would be considered fair not to recognize any political right for those who, capable working, would prefer the shame of living on the labor of others, all the political and social rights necessarily having no other basis than the labor or each. Moreover, this case could occur only during the era of transition, while there would still naturally be many individuals, products of the present organization of injustice and privilege, who would not have been raised with a consciousness of justice and true human dignity, as well as with respect and the habit of labor. With regard to these individuals, the revolutionary or revolutionized society would find itself with the awkward alternative either of forcing them to work, which would be despotism, or else of letting itself be exploited by the lazy, which would be a new slavery and a new source of corruption for the whole society.

Laziness, in a society organized according to equality and justice—bases of all liberty,—with a rational system of education and instruction, and under the pressure of a public opinion, which, having labor for a principal foundation, would scorn the good-for-nothings—would become impossible.—Becoming a very rare exception, it would be rightly considered a malady and would be treated as such in the hospitals.

Only the children,—until they have attained a certain degree of strength and, later, only to the degree that will be necessary to leave them time to educate themselves and in order not to be overburdened with labor,—the disabled, the old and the sick could be exempted from labor without dishonor and without thus renouncing their rights as free citizens.

XIX. The workers, in the interest of their radical and complete economic emancipation, must demand the complete and final abolition of the State, along with all the institutions of the State.

Note 1. What is the State? It is the historical organization of the principles of authority and tutelage, divine and human, exercised over the masses of the people, either in the name of some religion, or in the name of the exclusive and privileged intelligence of one or several classes of proprietors and to the detriment of the millions whose associated, forced labor they exploit.—Conquest, primary basis of the right of individual inherited property, has been in this way that of all the States.—The legalized exploitation of the masses for the profit of a certain number of proprietors—of which the majority are fictive, and only a small number real—sanctioned by the Church in the name of a supposed Divinity, and that has always been made to take the part of the strongest and most crafty—is called right. The development of the wealth, the comfort, the luxury and refined, distorted intelligence of the privileged classes—a development necessarily based on the poverty and ignorance of the immense majority of the populations—is called civilization—and the organization, the guarantee of that whole ensemble of historical iniquities—is called the State.

So the workers must desire the destruction of the State.

note 2. The State, necessarily founded on the exploitation and subjugation of the masses and as such, oppressor and violator of all popular liberty and all domestic justice, is inevitably brutal, conquering, pillaging and carnivorous externally.—The State, every State—monarchy republic—is the negation of humanity. It is its negation, because by presenting itself as the supreme or ultimate aim or patriotism of the citizens—by putting, in accordance with its very principle, the interest of its [consecration], of its power and of the increase of that power internally, as well as its extension externally, above all the other interests in the world, it denies the particular interests and human rights of its subjects, as well as those of the foreign nations;—it thereby breaks the same universal solidarity of nations and men,—it sets them outside justice, outside humanity.

note 3. The State is the younger brother of the Church. It could only legitimate its existence through some theological or metaphysical idea.—Being opposed to human justice, it must base itself on the theological or metaphysical fiction of a divine justice.—In the ancient world, the very idea of a nation or of society did not exist—society having been entirely absorbed, invaded and dominated by the State—and each State drew its origin and in particular right of existence and domination from some God or some system of Gods, who were supposed to be the exclusive protectors of some particular State. In the ancient world, man was unknown, the very idea of humanity did not exist.—There were only citizens. That is why in that civilization, slavery was a natural fact and the necessary basis of the liberty of the citizens.

Christianity having destroyed Polytheism, and having proclaimed one unique God, the States were forced to fall back on the saints of the Christian paradise;—each Catholic State had a saint or a certain number of saints—protectors and patrons of that State—its mediators before God, which because of this has often found itself in great difficulty. Each State besides still finds it useful today to proclaim that the good God protects it in an exclusive and special manner.

Metaphysics and the science of a legal order founded ideally on metaphysics and actually [based] on the interests of the proprietary classes,—have equally sought to find a rational basis for the existence of States.—They have had recourse to the fiction of a universal and tacit consent or contract; or else to that of an objective justice and of the universal and public public good represented, they say, by the State.—The State, according to the Jacobin democrats, has the mission to make the universal and collective interest of all the citizens triumph over the selfish interest of individuals, communes and isolated provinces.—It is the justice and reason of everyone dominating the selfishness and the stupidity of each.—It is thus the declaration of the wickedness and folly of each in the name of the wisdom and virtue of all.—It is the real negation, or what means the same thing, the limitation ad infinitum of all the particular liberties—individual and collective—in the name of the so-called liberty of everyone—collective and universal liberty, which is nothing but an oppressive abstraction, deduced from the negation or limitation of the rights of each and founded on the real slavery of each.—And as every abstraction could only exist so long as it is sustain by the positive interests of a real being—the abstraction of the State represents, in fact, the very positive interests of the governing, possessing, exploiting classes, [which are] also called the intelligent classes, and the systematic immolation of the interests and liberties of the subjugated masses.

note 4. Patriotism—virtue and passion of politics or the State [manuscript ends]

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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Program of the Russian Socialist Democracy [Narodnoe Delo] (1868)

[From the broadside: Program of the Russian Socialist Democracy. Drawn from the Newspaper “La Cause du peuple”, published in French, Geneva, 1868.]


We want the emancipation of the people, their intellectual, economic, social and political emancipation.

I. The intellectual emancipation of the popular masses is indispensable in order for their political and social liberty to become complete and solid. Faith in God, the belief in the immortality of the soul, and, in general, all the idealist or supernatural utopias, necessarily based on a false principle, contrary to science, have been for the peoples a constant cause of slavery and misery. On the one hand, they have always served as a justification and support to all the enslavers of humanity, to all the exploiters of the labor of the masses; on the other, they have demoralized the peoples themselves, dividing their conscience and their being between two absolutely opposing tendencies: the one celestial and the other terrestrial, and at the same time depriving them of the energy necessary to win their human rights and give themselves a happy, free existence. It follows from this that we are francs partisans of atheism and scientific, humanitarian materialism.

II. We want the economic, social emancipation of the people, without which all liberty would be nothing but a vain word and a disgusting lie. The economic situation of the peoples has always been the cornerstone and real explanation of their political situation. All the political and civil organizations, past and present, have for principal bases: the brutal act of conquest; the patriarchal right of the husband and father; the right of hereditary property, and the blessing of all these historic rights by the Church in the name of some god. The ensemble of all these things hierarchically coordinated is called the State. Thus, the inevitable consequence of every State constitution will always be the enslavement of millions of laborers condemned to a fatal ignorance, for the profit of a privileged, exploiting and so-called civilized minority. The State – that younger brother of the Church – in inconceivable without political, legal and civil privileges, which have a a natural basis the economic privileges.

Desiring the real and definitive emancipation of the popular masses, we want:

1) The abolition of the right of hereditary property.

2) The complete equalization of the political and social rights of women with those of men and, as a consequence: the abolition of laws regarding the family, as well as that of religious, political and civil marriage, historical corollary of the right of inheritance.

3) The abolition of marriage, as a religious, political legal and civil institution, will immediately raise question of the education of children; their upkeep, from the moment when the pregnancy of the mother is determined the age of their majority; their education and instruction, equal for all at all degrees, from primary school to the highest developments of science in the more advanced schools; – scientific and industrial at the same time, and preparing the man as much for muscular labor as for nervous labor, – must fall primarily to the charge of society.

We pose as the bases of economic justice the following principle:

The earth must only belong to those who cultivate it with their own arms – and as all human labor is only productive insofar as it is associated,- we claim the land for the communes or rural associations; as well as capital and other instruments of labor for the industrial associations, both based on the most complete liberty and on the perfect economic and political equality of the laborers

III. In the future, no political organization should be anything but a free federation of free associations, whether agricultural or industrial.

Consequently, in the name itself of the political and social emancipation of the popular masses, we desire the destruction, or if you prefer the liquidation, of the State – it’s radical extirpation, with all its institutions, whether ecclesiastical, political or civil, university, legal or financial , military or bureaucratic.

We want absolute liberty for all peoples, Russian and non-Russian, crushed today by the empire of all Russias; with the absolute right of each to manage their own affairs, and to govern themselves according to their own instincts, according to their needs and will; so that, federalizing from bottom to top, those among them who desire to become members of the Russian people, can create with it a truly free society, United federatively with other similar societies, who, taking for their basis the same principles, will freely organize together in Europe and in the entire world.

For us there principal foundations of our program will be obligatory. This is why we believe it necessary to announce that we will not accept articles in our newspaper, nor people among us, that are not entirely in agreement with us.

The development of the program will be the subject of a series of articles under the title: How to Pose the Revolutionary Question, and it, of course, will also be the content of our entire newspaper.

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Rereading Bakunin

The work that delayed the new edition of “God and the State” has had a very large silver lining. Not only has that book turned into something I’m finding really exciting to work on, but the improvements are going to allow some changes to the overall structure of the series, which I think will make the various volumes more accessible and useful to both beginners and those with some more thorough exposure to existing translations of Bakunin.

I’m still working out the precise formatting of the critical portions of the volumes, but the general plan is fairly clear. Each volume will be built around a core of more or less familiar work, freshly retranslated, with additional material providing context and elaboration for material rightly considered central to Bakunin’s thought. Introductions will provide historical and biographical context and notes will provide clarification and context where necessary. Finally, a sort of critical appendix in each volume will tackle one or more key theoretical concerns raised in the volume, highlighting a mix of interpretive concerns, translation issues, potential differences between the picture presented by existing, partial translations and the new translations, etc. Because I want to specifically address the difficulties faced by English-language readers, for whom Bakunin has been an important figure, but not a particularly accessible source, I’m currently thinking of the task in this final section as “Rereading Bakunin,” as even those encountering the material for the first time directly will be hard put not to have absorbed some basic “reading” of the material through its very partial incorporation into anarchist tradition and theory.

As I have said, my interpretive goals are fairly modest. I think, and really hope, that we have a long work ahead of us, really exhausting what there is to learn from Bakunin’s works. But there is no responsible way to present the material that does not shine a very specific light on the difficulties we face in the English-speaking world, in the context of the very uneven international development of Bakunin studies. So my intention is not to attempt to interpret the books for readers, but to pick a few critical instances where I can, in effect, do some very careful reading with readers, providing some insights into all that has gone into the process of assembling the edition. In the end, I expect to provide as many questions as answers, but without being too bashful about at least suggesting answers where the questions are most critical to our understanding of anarchist theory.

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The Program of “La Démocratie” (1868)

La Voix de l’Avenir, May 24, 1868, Chaux-de-Fonds

Need I say that as far as a foreigner my be allowed to meddle in your affairs, I sympathize with all my heart with your courageous enterprise and that I subscribe completely to your program? You have the noble ambition of restoring the press in your country to the heights from which it should never have descended, whatever the storms that have assailed it, and of once again accustoming is to seek our inspirations there, a habit that we have lost for nearly 19 years.

Be sure that, in all countries, all men to whom liberty and humanity are dear will happily salute the end of the French eclipse, even when they no longer have need of the resplendent sun of France in order to know their way.

The time of the messiah-peoples has passed. Liberty, justice, from now only no longer form the monopoly of any one nation. – The initiative, – to make use of the favorite expression of Mazzini, – that initiative (which, in the case of Dante, he wanted to bestow exclusively upon the fair Italy, his homeland) belongs from now on to all the peoples; it is, to different degrees, it is true, divided among them all. This is a true division of labor, proportionate to the intellectual and moral power of each nation; and the last word of that division will be the federal organization of Europe.

All for each and all by each: such must be today our motto, our watchword. But the harmony would be very imperfect, it would be impossible, if the light and the powerful participation of France was lacking. That is the sense in which we all greet happily its reawakening to liberty.

I can only subscribe fully to the principle of decentralization that you set down as one of the principal bases of your program. Seventy-five years of sad, hard experience, passed in a fruitless tossing between a liberty, re-conquered several times, but always lost again, and the despotism of the increasingly triumphant State, have proven to France and that world that in 1793 your Girondins were in the right against your Jacobins. Robespierre, St.-Just, Carnot, Couthon, Cambon and so many other citizens of the Mountain have been great and pure patriots, but it remains no less true that they have organized the governmental machine, that formidable centralization of the State, which has made possible, natural and necessary, the military dictatorship of Napoleon I, which, surviving all the revolutions that have followed, in no way diminished, but on the contrary preserved, caressed and developed, through the Restoration, the July Monarchy and the Republic of 1848, has inevitably led to the destruction of your liberties.

Many of the democrats of the old unitary school – and I should even say Catholic school, although they are that most often without knowing it themselves – still think today that communal autonomy can suffice, and that with emancipated communes on one side, and on the other side a powerful centralization of the State, the organization of Liberty is possible. Such is the belief boldly professed by the illustrious Italian democrat Joseph Mazzini.

Despite the deep and sincere respect that I bear for this great creator of modern Italian unity, the distressing spectacle presented by that same Italy today would suffice by itself to make me doubt the goodness of his doctrine. I do not hesitate to say that Mazzini and all those who think like him fall into a profound error. No, communal autonomy will never be sufficient to establish liberty in any country; to isolated commune will always be too weak to resist the crushing centralization of all the legislative and executive powers in the State. – in order for communal Liberty to be real, an intermediary more powerful than the commune is required between the commune and the State: the autonomous department or province. We can be certain that where commercial autonomy does not exist, the self-government of the commune will never be anything but a fiction. On the other hand, whatever Mazzini may say, a State powerfully centralized internally will never be anything externally but a war machine, which could enter into a federation of peoples in order to dominate it, but never to submit, on equal conditions with all the other nations, to the supreme law of international justice, that is to say purely human justice and, as such, contrary to the transcendent, theological, political and legal justice of the States.

I am happy to see the flag of antitheologism bravely displayed in France. A mind enveloped in theological and metaphysical fictions, which bows before any authority whatsoever, other than that of rational and experimental science, can only produce the political and social slavery of a nation. Whatever is said by your representatives of the official morality and your spiritualist democrats, scientific and humanitarian materialism alone is capable of establishing liberty, justice, and consequently also morality on branches truly broad and unshakeable. Isn’t it indeed a remarkable thing that, while the spiritualists, taking their point of departure in free will, end inevitably at the doctrine of authority, to the more or less open or masked, but always complete negation of liberty, – we materialists, we start from inevitability, both natural and social, in order to proclaim the progressive emancipation of humanity.

You are socialist. One does not have the right to call oneself a democrat today if, alongside the most complete political emancipation, one does not want as fully the economic emancipation of the people. You are a thousand times right to no longer wish to separate those two great questions which make up, in reality, only a single one: the political question and the social question.

Like you, I deplore the blindness of that party–and not too considerable a party, let us hope,–of workers in Europe, who imagine that by abstaining from any intervention in the political affairs of their country, they serve that much better their own material interests, and who think that they could attain economic equality and justice, to which the working classes aspire today, by another road than that of liberty. The unanimous testimony of the history of all times and all countries shows us that justice is never given to those who do not know how to take it themselves; logic confirms, by explaining it to us, that demonstration of history. It is not in the nature of a privilege, of a monopoly, of an existing power to cede or abdicate without being forced to do it; in order for right to triumph, it must become a force in its turn.

This truth is so simple, it is so well proven by the experience of each day, that we have the right to be astonished that people are still found who can doubt it. Equality without liberty is a noxious fiction created by the rogues to fool the sots. Equality without liberty is the despotism of the State, and the despotic State could not exist a single day without having at least an exploiting and privileged class; the bureaucracy, a hereditary power as in Russia and China, or de facto as in Germany and among you.

The great and true master of us all, Proudhon, has written, in his fine book on Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, that the most disastrous combination that could be formed would be that which would join together socialism with absolutism, the tendencies of the people toward economic emancipation and material well being with dictatorship concentration of all political and social powers in the State.

So let the future preserve us from the favors of despotism; but let it save us from the disastrous and mind-numbing consequences of authoritarian, doctrinaire or State socialism. Let us be socialists, but let us never become sheeplike peoples. Let us seek justice, all political, economic and social justice, only on the path of liberty. There can be nothing living and human apart from liberty, and a socialism that would cast it from its bosom or that would not accept it as the unique creative principle and basis would lead us straight to slavery and brutishness.

But if, on the one hand, we must energetically reject [repousser] every socialist system not inspired by the principle of collective and individual liberty, we must separate ourselves with the same energy and frankness from all the parties that declare their wish to remain strangers to the social question, the most formidable but also the greatest of all those questions that occupy the world today.

You great revolution, which began its sublime work with the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” would only have ended when it had organized – not only in your country, but on the whole surface of the globe – society according to justice: a society that, at the beginning of the life of each of its members, whether of masculine or feminine sex, would have guaranteed equality from the point of departure, as that equality would depend on social organization, setting aside the natural differences between individuals; a society that, in economic and social respects, would offer to each the equally real possibility for all to raise themselves up – in proportion to the energy and individual capacities of each – to the greatest heights of humanity, first through education and instruction, then through the labor or each, freely associated or not associated, – labor at once muscular and nervous, manual and intellectual, which, becoming the legitimate source of all individual, but not hereditary, property, would in the end be considered the principal basis of all political and social rights.

Such is, in my opinion, the last word of the revolutionary program. We could protest the difficulties of its realization; but we could not, without renouncing all logic, be unaware of what is there an absolute condition of true justice. And we who have renounced every theological faith in order to have the right and the power to embrace the human faith, we must still maintain the program of justice.

Finally you are persuaded, are you not, that all new wine must be poured in new bottles and that, turning your back on the henceforth exhausted mob of the cripples of theologism, of privilege, of anti-socialist democracy and transcendent politics, we should base all of our hopes of that party of the intelligent and studious, but not doctrinaire youth, who, feeling in themselves the need to merge with the mass of the people, in order to draw a life from it that ostensibly begins to be lacking in the higher regions of society, love, respect the people enough to have the right to instruct them and if necessary that of guiding them; – but especially on the working classes who, moralized by labor and not being exhausted by the abuse of the pleasures of life, are today the bearers and dispensers of every future?

Here is, my dear [Charles-Louis] Chassin, my profession of faith. If it does not displease you too much, accept me among your numerous collaborators. In the meantime, please record me among your subscribers.

Michel Bakounine

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To the Compagnons of the International Workingmen’s Association of Locle and La Chaux de fond, Article 1 (1869)

(Progrès, no 6, Geneva, February 23, 1869 – March 1, 1869)

To the Compagnons of the International Workingmen’s Association
of Locle and La Chaux de fond.

Friends and brothers,

Before leaving your mountains, I felt the need to express to you one more time, in writing, my profound gratitude for the fraternal reception that you have given me. Isn’t it a marvelous thing that a man, a Russian, a former noble, who until now was perfectly unknown to you and who has for the first time set foot in your country, hardly arrived, finds himself surrounded by several hundred brothers! This miracle can only be accomplished today by the International Workingmen’s Association, and for one simple reason: it alone represents today the historic life, and the creative power of the political and social future. Those who are united by a living thought, by a common will and great common passion, are really brothers, even when they do not know each other.

There was a time when the bourgeoisie, endowed with the same power of life and constituting exclusively the historic class, offered the same spectacle of fraternity and union as much in acts and in thought. That was the finest time for that class, always respectable, no doubt, but from now on powerless, stupid and sterile, the era of its most energetic development. It was so before the great revolution of 1793; it was still, though to a much lesser degree, before the revolutions of 1830 and 1848. Then the bourgeoisie had a world to conquer, a place to take in society, and organized by the combat, intelligent, audacious, feeling itself strong with the right of everyone, it was endowed with an irresistible power: alone it made three revolutions against the monarchy, the nobility and the clergy united.

In that era the bourgeoisie had also created an international, universal, formidable association, Freemasonry.

We would be badly mistaken if we judged the Freemasonry of the past century, or even that of the beginning of the present century, according to what it is today. Institution par excellence bourgeois, in its development, by its growing power at first and then by its decadence, Freemasonry represented in some ways the intellectual and moral development, power and decadence of the bourgeoisie. Today, descended to the role of an old, prattling schemer, it is null, useless, sometimes destructive and always ridiculous, while before 1830 and especially before 1793, having gathered within it, with very few exceptions, all the elite minds, the most ardent hearts, the proudest wills, the boldest characters, it had constituted an active organization, powerful and really beneficial. It was the energetic incarnation and practice of the humanitarian idea of the 18th century. All those great principles of liberty, equality, fraternity, reason and humane justice, elaborated at first theoretically by the philosophy of that century, had become in the heart of Freemasonry practical dogmas and the bases of a new morality and politics,—the soul of a gigantic enterprise of demolition and reconstruction. Freemasonry had been nothing less in that era than the universal conspiracy of the revolutionary bourgeoisie against feudal, monarchical and divine tyranny.—That was the International of the Bourgeoisie.

We know that almost all the major actors of the first Revolution were Freemasons, and when that Revolution broke out, it found, through Freemasonry, friends and dedicated, powerful cooperators in all other countries, which certainly helped its triumph a great deal. But it is equally obvious that the triumph of the Revolution killed Freemasonry, for the Revolution having largely fulfilled the wishes of the Bourgeoisie and having made them take the place of the noble aristocracy, the Bourgeoisie, having been so long an exploited and oppressed class, became quite naturally in its turn the privileged, exploitative, oppressive, conservative and reactionary class, the friend and the firmest supporter of the State. After the coup of the first Napoleon, Freemasonry had become, on a large part of the European continent, an imperial institution.

The Restoration revived it somewhat. Seeing themselves threatened by the return of the old regime, constrained to yield the place that it had won by the first revolution to the Church and the united nobility, the bourgeoisie necessarily became revolutionary again. But what a difference between this reheated revolutionism and the fiery, powerful revolutionism that had inspired it at the end of the last century! Then the bourgeoisie had been in good faith, it had believed seriously and naively in human rights, it had been driven, inspired by the genius of demolition and reconstruction, it had found itself in full possession of its intelligence, and in the full development of its strength; it did not suppose that an abyss separated it from the people; she believed, it felt, it was really the representative of the people. The Thermidorian reaction and the conspiracy of Babeuf have forever deprived it of that illusion.—The gulf that separated the working people from the exploiting, dominant and enjoying bourgeoisie was opened, and nothing less than the body of the whole bourgeoisie, all the privileged existence of the bourgeois, could fill it.

So was it no longer the bourgeoisie as a whole, but only a part of the bourgeoisie that began to conspire, after the Restoration, against the clerical regime, the nobility and against the legitimate kings.

In my next letter, I will elaborate, if you will permit me, my ideas on this last phase of constitutional liberalism and bourgeois carbonarism.

M. Bakunin.


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Mikhail Bakunin, “What is Authority” (1870)

NOTE: This passage is generally known as part of “God and the State” (Dieu et l’État, first published in 1882), but it appears in Bakunin’s manuscript as part of “Sophismes historiques de l’école doctrinaire des communistes allemands,” the second section of the unfinished book L’Empire Knouto-Germanique et la Révolution Sociale (The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution.)

This new translation seeks to clarify some passages that may appear contradictory in existing translations. In particularly the verb repousser, which previous translators have tended to simply render as “reject,” has been brought closer to its literal sense of “push back” and some attention has been given to distinguishing where Bakunin uses the word autorité to designate abstract authority and where he refers to particular experts or authority figures.

In the preceding section, Bakunin has been discussing, among other things, the idea of God, and the section ends with his reply to Voltaire’s comment that if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him:

If God really did exist, it would be necessary to get rid of him.

The severe logic that dictates these words is far too obvious to require a further development of this argument. And it seems to me impossible that the illustrious men, whose names (so celebrated and so justly respected) I have cited, should not have been struck by it themselves, and should not have perceived the contradiction into which they fell in speaking of God and human liberty at once. To have disregarded it, they must have considered this inconsistency or logical license practically necessary to humanity’s well-being.

Perhaps, too, while speaking of liberty as something very respectable and very dear, they understood the term quite differently than we do, as materialists and revolutionary socialists. Indeed, they never speak of it without immediately adding another word, authority—a word and a thing which we detest with all our heart.

What is authority? Is it the inevitable power of the natural laws which manifest themselves in the necessary concatenation and succession of phenomena in the physical and social worlds? Indeed, against these laws revolt is not only forbidden, but is even impossible. We may misunderstand them or still not know them at all, but we cannot disobey them, because they constitute the basis and very conditions of our existence; they envelop us, penetrate us, regulate all our movements, thoughts, and acts, so that even when we believe that we disobey them, we do nothing but demonstrate their omnipotence.

Yes, we are absolutely the slaves of these laws. But there is nothing humiliating in that slavery, or, rather, it is not slavery at all. For slavery supposes an external master, a legislator outside of the one whom he commands, while these laws are not outside of us; they are inherent in us; they constitute our being, our whole being,  as much physically as intellectually and morally. We live, we breathe, we act, we think, we wish only through these laws. Without them we are nothing–we are not. From where, then, could we derive the power and the wish to rebel against them?

With regard to natural laws, only one single liberty is possible to man—that of recognizing and applying them more and more all the time, in conformity with the goal of collective and individual emancipation or humanization which he pursues. These laws, once recognized, exercise an authority which is never disputed by the mass of men. One must, for instance, be at base either a fool or a theologian or at least a metaphysician, jurist, or bourgeois economist to rebel against the law by which 2 x 2 makes 4. One must have faith to imagine that fire will not burn nor water drown, unless one has recourse to some subterfuge that is still based on some other natural law. But these rebellions, or, rather, these attempts at or foolish fancies of an impossible revolt, only form a rare exception; for, in general, it may be said that the mass of men, in their daily lives, let themselves be governed by good sense—that is, by the sum of the natural laws generally recognized—in an almost absolute fashion.

The great misfortune is that a large number of natural laws, already established as such by science, remain unknown to the popular masses, thanks to the care of these tutelary governments that exist, as we know, only for the good of the people. There is another difficulty—namely, that the major portion of the natural laws that are inherent in the development of human society and that are every bit as necessary, invariable, and fatal as the laws that govern the physical world, have not been duly established and recognized by science itself.

Once they shall have been recognized by science, and then shall have passed, by means of an extensive system of popular education and instruction, from science into the consciousness of all, the question of liberty will be perfectly resolved. The most stubborn authoritarians must admit that then there will be no more need of political organization, direction or legislation, three things which, whether they emanate from the will of the sovereign or from the vote of a parliament elected by universal suffrage, and even should they conform to the system of natural laws—which has never been the case and could never be the case—are always equally deadly and hostile to the liberty of the masses, because they impose upon them a system of external and therefore despotic laws.

The liberty of man consists solely in this: that he obeys natural laws because he has himself recognized them as such, and not because they have been externally imposed upon him by any foreign will, whether divine or human, collective or individual.

Suppose an academy of learned individuals, composed of the most illustrious representatives of science; suppose that this academy is charged with the legislation and organization of society, and that, inspired only by the purest love of truth, it only dictates to society laws in absolute harmony with the latest discoveries of science. Well, I maintain, for my part, that that legislation and organization would be a monstrosity, and that for two reasons: first, that human science is always necessarily imperfect, and that, comparing what it has discovered with what remains to be discovered, we we might say that it is always in its cradle. So that if we wanted to force the practical life of men, collective as well as individual, into strict and exclusive conformity with the latest data of science, we should condemn society as well as individuals to suffer martyrdom on a bed of Procrustes, which would soon end by dislocating and stifling them, life always remaining infinitely greater than science.

The second reason is this: a society that would obey legislation emanating from a scientific academy, not because it understood itself the rational character of this legislation (in which case the existence of the academy would become useless), but because this legislation, emanating from the academy, was imposed in the name of a science that it venerated without comprehending—such a society would be a society, not of men, but of brutes. It would be a second edition of that poor Republic of Paraguay, which let itself be governed for so long by the Society of Jesus. Such a society could not fail to descend soon to the lowest stage of idiocy.

But there is still a third reason that would render such a government impossible. It is that a scientific academy invested with a sovereignty that is, so to speak, absolute, even if it were composed of the most illustrious men, would infallibly and soon end by corrupting itself morally and intellectually. Already today, with the few privileges allowed them, this is the history of all the academies. The greatest scientific genius, from the moment that he becomes an academician, an officially licensed savant, inevitably declines and lapses into sleep. He loses his spontaneity, his revolutionary hardihood, and that troublesome and savage energy that characterizes the nature of the grandest geniuses, ever called to destroy obsolete worlds and lay the foundations of new ones. He undoubtedly gains in politeness, in utilitarian and practical wisdom, what he loses in power of thought. In a word, he becomes corrupted.

It is the characteristic of privilege and of every privileged position to kill the mind and heart of men. The privileged man, whether politically or economically, is a man depraved intellectually and morally. That is a social law that admits no exception, and is as applicable to entire nations as to classes, companies, and individuals. It is the law of equality, the supreme condition of liberty and humanity. The principal aim of this treatise is precisely to elaborate on it, to demonstrate its truth in all the manifestations of human life.

A scientific body to which had been confided the government of society would soon end by no longer occupying itself with science at all, but with quite another business; and that business, the business of all established powers, would be to perpetuate itself by rendering the society confided to its care ever more stupid and consequently more in need of its government and direction.

But that which is true of scientific academies is also true of all constituent and legislative assemblies, even when they are the result of universal suffrage. Universal suffrage may renew their composition, it is true, but this does not prevent the formation in a few years’ time of a body of politicians, privileged in fact though not by right, who, by devoting themselves exclusively to the direction of the public affairs of a country, finally form a sort of political aristocracy or oligarchy. Witness the United States of America and Switzerland.

Consequently, no external legislation and no authority—one, for that matter, being inseparable from the other, and both tending to the enslavement of society and the degradation of the legislators themselves.

Does it follow that I drive back every authority? The thought would never occur to me. When it is a question of boots, I refer the matter to the authority of the cobbler; when it is a question of houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or engineer. For each special area of knowledge I speak to the appropriate expert. But I allow neither the cobbler nor the architect nor the scientist to impose upon me. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism and verification. I do not content myself with consulting a single specific authority, but consult several. I compare their opinions and choose that which seems to me most accurate. But I recognize no infallible authority, even in quite exceptional questions; consequently, whatever respect I may have for the honesty and the sincerity of such or such an individual, I have absolute faith in no one. Such a faith would be fatal to my reason, to my liberty, and even to the success of my undertakings; it would immediately transform me into a stupid slave and an instrument of the will and interests of another.

If I bow before the authority of the specialists and declare myself ready to follow, to a certain extent and as long as may seem to me necessary, their indications and even their directions, it is because that authority is imposed upon me by no one, neither by men nor by God. Otherwise I would drive them back in horror, and let the devil take their counsels, their direction, and their science, certain that they would make me pay, by the loss of my liberty and human dignity, for the scraps of truth, wrapped in a multitude of lies, that they might give me.

I bow before the authority of exceptional men because it is imposed upon me by my own reason. I am conscious of my ability to grasp, in all its details and positive developments, only a very small portion of human science. The greatest intelligence would not be sufficient to grasp the entirety. From this results, for science as well as for industry, the necessity of the division and association of labor. I receive and I give—such is human life. Each is a directing authority and each is directed in his turn. So there is no fixed and constant authority, but a continual exchange of mutual, temporary, and, above all, voluntary authority and subordination.

This same reason prohibits me, then, from recognizing a fixed, constant, and universal authority-figure, because there is no universal man, no man capable of grasping in that wealth of detail, without which the application of science to life is impossible, all the sciences, all the branches of social life. And if such a universality was ever realized in a single man, and if be wished to take advantage of it in order to impose his authority upon us, it would be necessary to drive that man out of society, because his authority would inevitably reduce all the others to slavery and imbecility. I do not think that society ought to maltreat men of genius as it has done hitherto; but neither do I think it should enrich them too much, nor, and this above all, grant them any privileges or exclusive rights; and that for three reasons: first, because it would often mistake a charlatan for a man of genius; then, because, through such a system of privileges, it could transform even a true man of genius into a charlatan, demoralize and stupefy him; and, finally, because it would give itself a despot.

in summary, then, we recognize the absolute authority of science, because science has no other object than the mental reproduction, well thought out and as systematic as possible, of the natural laws inherent in the material, intellectual, and moral life of both the physical and the social worlds, these two worlds constituting, in fact, only one single natural world. apart from this legitimate authority, uniquely legitimate because it is rational and in harmony with human liberty, we declare all other authorities false, arbitrary, despotic and deadly.

We recognize the absolute authority of science, but we reject [repoussons] the infallibility and universality of the representatives of science. In our church—if I may be permitted to use for a moment an expression which I so detest: Church and State are my two bêtes noires—in our church, as in the Protestant church, we have a head, an invisible Christ, science; and, like the Protestants, more consistent even than the Protestants, we do not wish to suffer a pope, nor council, nor conclaves of infallible cardinals, nor bishops, nor even priests. Our Christ is distinguished from the Protestant and Christian Christ in this—that the latter is a personal being, while ours is impersonal; the Christian Christ, already fully realized in an eternal past, presents himself as a perfect being, while the fulfillment and perfection of our Christ, science, are always in the future: which is equivalent to saying that they will never be realized. Therefore, in recognizing no absolute authority but that of absolute science, we in no way compromise our liberty.

I mean by this phrase, “absolute science,” the truly universal science that would reproduce ideally, to its fullest extent and in all its infinite detail, the universe, the system or coordination of all the natural laws manifested in the incessant development of the world. It is obvious that such a science, the sublime object of all the efforts of the human mind, will never be realized in its absolute fullness. Our Christ, then, will remain eternally unfinished, which must considerably moderate the pride of his licensed representatives among us. Against that God the Son, in whose name they claim to impose their insolent and pedantic authority on us, we appeal to God the Father, who is the real world, real life, of which their God is only the too-imperfect expression, and of which we, real beings, living, working, struggling, loving, aspiring, enjoying, and suffering, are the immediate representatives.

But, while rejecting [repoussant] the absolute, universal, and infallible authority of the men of science, we willingly bow before the respectable, but relative, very temporary, and very restricted authority of the representatives of special sciences, asking nothing better than to consult them by turns, and very grateful for the precious information that they should want give to us, on the condition that to receive such information from us on occasions when, and concerning matters about which, we are more learned than they; and, in general, we ask nothing better than to see men endowed with great knowledge, great experience, great minds, and, above all, great hearts, exert over us a natural and legitimate influence, freely accepted and never imposed in the name of any official authority whatsoever, celestial or terrestrial. We accept all natural authorities and all influences of fact, but none of right; for every authority or every influence of right, officially imposed as such, becoming straight away an oppression and a falsehood, would inevitably impose upon us, as I believe I have sufficiently shown, slavery and absurdity.

In short, we reject all legislation, all authority, and every privileged, licensed, official, and legal influence, even that arising from universal suffrage, convinced that it can only ever turn to the advantage of a dominant, exploiting minority and against the interests of the immense, subjugated majority.

It is in this sense that we are really Anarchists.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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Filed under 1870, God and the State, L'Empire knouto-germanique et la Révolution sociale, Mikhail Bakunin

God and the State: The Lost Paragraphs

It’s generally known that “God and the State” is a fragment drawn from “Historical Sophisms of the Doctrinaire School of the German Communists,” the second installment of The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution, Bakunin’s great, unfinished work. But as that work is still unpublished in English, the fact is simply one more mystery regarding the famous text. There are parts of the context that are not so easy to provide: the first section is over 40,000 words in length and “Historical Sophisms” contains at least another 40,000 words, of which less than 30,000 appear in “God and the State.” And then there are pages and pages of additional sections and fragments, which were never fully incorporated into the larger work, and the lengthy appendix, “Philosophical Considerations concerning the Divine Phantom, the Real World and Man.” So there is a good deal of translation to be done before we can present “God and the State” in its full context, but, as it happens, we can establish its place in the flow of the “Historical Sophisms” with comparative ease. Once a pages-long footnote is removed, it turns out that there are only four paragraphs at the start of the text, before the text of “God and the State.”

Here are those paragraphs:






Historical Sophisms of the Doctrinaire School of the German Communists

Such is not the opinion of the Doctrinaire School of socialists, or rather of authoritarian communists, in German; a school that was founded shortly before 1848, and which renders, it must be acknowledged, some distinguished services to the cause of the proletariat, not only in Germany, but in Europe. It is to that school that principally belongs the great idea of an International Association of Workingmen, as well as the initiative in its initial realization. Today it finds itself at the head of the Parti de la Démocratie socialiste des travailleurs in Germany, with the Volksstaat as its organ.

So it is a perfectly respectable school, which does not prevent it from showing a very bad character sometimes [*], and especially from having taken as a basis for its theories a principle that is profoundly true when we consider it in its true light, from a relative point of view, but which, considered and posited in an absolute manner, as the unique foundation and first source of all the other principles, as that school does, becomes completely false.

This principle, which constitutes, by the way, the essential foundation of positive socialism, has been scientifically formulated and developed for the first time by Karl Marx, the principal leader of the school of German communists. It forms the dominant thought of the famous Manifesto of the communists that an international committee of French, English, Belgian and German communists, gathered in London, issued in 1848, under this title: Proletarians of all countries, unite! This manifesto, written, as we know, by Marx et Engels, became the basis of all the later scientific labors of the School, and of the popular agitation stirred up later by Ferdinand Lassalle in Germany.

This principle is absolutely opposed to the principle recognized by the idealists of all the schools. While the latter derive all the facts of history, including the development of material interests and the different phases of the economic organization of society, from the development of ideas, the German communists, on the contrary, wish to see in all of human history, in the most ideal manifestations of the life, whether individual or collective, of society, of humanity, in all the intellectual and moral, religious, metaphysical, scientific, artistic, political, legal and social developments, which were produced in the past and continue to be produced in the present, nothing but reflections or necessary repercussions of the development of the economic facts. While the idealists claim that ideas dominate and produce facts, the communist, in agreement in this with scientific materialism, say on the contrary that the facts give rise to the ideas that that the latter are never anything but the ideal expression of accomplished facts; and that among all the facts, the economic or material facts, the facts par excellence, constitute the essential basis, the principal foundation, of which all the other facts, intellectual and moral, political and social, are nothing more than the inevitable derivatives.

The text of “God and the State” then begins with the question: “Who are right, the idealists or the materialists?”

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Filed under 1870, God and the State, L'Empire knouto-germanique et la Révolution sociale, Mikhail Bakunin

Collective protest of the dissident members of the 2nd Congress of Peace and Freedom

[September 25, 1868]

Considering that the majority of the delegates to the Congress of the League of Peace and Freedom have passionately and explicitly declared themselves against the economic and social equalization of classes and of individuals, and as no political program and action that does not aim at the realization of this principle could be accepted by the socialist democrats, by the conscientious and logical friends of peace and freedom, the undersigned believe it is their duty to separate from the League.

Albert Richard
J. Bedouch
Hugo Byter
Elisée Reclus
Aristide Rey
Victor Jaclard

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Filed under 1868, League of Peace and Freedom