Library Update — July 1, 2017

Today is the anniversary of the death of Bakunin in 1876. It seems like as good an occasion as any to update folks on the progress of the library (particularly as I had really hoped to do an update back at the end of May, on the anniversary of his birth.) It’s been a comparatively quiet year for the project, with much of the work focused on how best to frame the new translations. Some of that task has involved working ahead, tackling material destined for later volumes, just to be as certain as possible that we’re on the right track and prepared to make the most of the material as we present it. But this year, to be honest, much of the work has simply involved thinking long and hard about what we hope to accomplish and what is most useful in the present political context.

There are obviously questions to be answered about the role of this sort of deep historical work in a context where things seem just on the verge of, as they say, hitting the fan. Perhaps our present circumstances make a return to the sources of anarchism more useful than ever, but there is no escaping the conflict between the sort of careful attention required to derive what is most useful from this old and difficult material and the often more-than-just-daily distractions of the present era. So I feel like the stakes have been raised quite a bit since the last update. At the same time, the questions posed by the materials themselves have not got any simpler. None of this has changed the general approach of the edition, but it has encouraged some refinements.

Back in September of last year, I announced the basic structure of the volumes:

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.

In the meantime, much of my time has been spent clarifying in my own mind what those “key theoretical concerns” might be. The result of that reflection has been the realization that each of the volumes proposed raises not just questions of interpretation specific to the works included, but also more general issues that arguably stand between us and the fullest use of Bakunin’s works. So each volume will include, besides the selected works and that “critical appendix” on interpreting those works, some discussion of one of the larger issues facing English readers of Bakunin in the 21st century. The new edition of God and the State will collect the most important texts from the various previous editions and address the question of “the authority of the bootmaker,” but also address more generally the place of Bakunin in anarchist tradition and mythology. The Reader will collect a representative selection of texts, with appropriate interpretive helps, but also address the question of how to read the works of a writer who produced numerous variants and fragments. The third volume will collect material of “secret societies,” with a close look at the question of “conspiracy” in the writings, but also address the difficult question of Bakunin’s relation to Proudhon. And so on…

In general, the goal remains “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.” But the hope is to highlight more of the possibilities for further study, particularly where the received wisdom about early anarchist figures might suggest there was little more to be learned.

The only other significant change since the last update is that this has once again become a one-person project, at least for the first few volumes. Changes in participants precipitated a minor shake-up in the contents of the Reader—and that ultimately became a more considerable shake-up, as these other considerations emerged and I decided to confront the complex character of Bakunin’s work directly in the Reader itself. My initial approach had been to avoid excerpts, in order to avoid loss of contexts, which meant that a few well-known and historically important pieces had been excluded. But the deeper I got into the work, the clearer it became that readers would almost certainly be better off if their introductory experience included the full range of fragments, variants, excerpts, etc. that they are likely to encounter when exploring Bakunin’s works. The new contents are not quite finalized, but I am hopeful that the new selection, together with the critical material, will not just be a useful tool for those following the remainder of the Bakunin Library project, but will also provide some guidance in making the most of the texts already available.

All in all, although it would be wonderful to have a volume or two already complete, the time spent refining the project seems to me to be producing useful results. The coming months will, I suppose, give more definitive answers.

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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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Max Nettlau, “New Bakunin Documents” (1924)

NEW BAKUNIN DOCUMENTS.

Materials for the Biography of M. Bakunin. From Documents in tho Archives of the late Third Department [of State Police] and the Ministry of the Navy. Edited and Annotated by Viatcheslav Polonski. T. I. Moscow, State Edition, 1923. xii, 439, 8vo.

Two or three years ago much noise was made about the memorial written by Bakunin at the request of Tsar Nicholas I (1851). Before it was ever published, some persons—above all, an ex-Anarchist turned Communist, who had not even read its full text —proceeded to discredit and vilify Bakunin on the strength of this document, the full text of which, published in 1921, with an introduction by the editor of the present volume, was sufficient to silence these intrigues. To-day Bakunin’s name stands higher than ever and his traducers are no longer heard of.

But one thing was still wanted: that the document in question and others should be presented in their right milieu, or frame, and this is done by the present volume. This was the way, in fairness to Bakunin, in which these publications from Russian archives ought to have begun years ago. I am glad to see this has been done now; better late than never.

It is a priori likely that, when we know a man’s life from infancy to deathbed from a thousand sources, source number thousand and one will not modify the impression we have of him, but may add some welcome new touches at the most. So it is with the “Confession” and this whole volume of Bakunin documents.

He and comrades of his were tried for their lives from 1849 to 1851; even twice over in his case, in Saxony and in Austria. These long inquisitorial trials were flagrant revolutionary facts; the testimony and confessions of the accused and documentary evidence seized brought a great number of facts to the knowledge of the judicial authorities (which in Bakunin’s case were eagerly picked up by Russian representatives and sent to the Tsar’s police). These facts were summarised and used against the prisoners in long accusations, and the prisoners were given the opportunity to present statements in their defence. Of this opportunity Bakunin, always willing to argue matters out with opponents, made use of in a long written defence, some extracts of which I gathered long since from a letter on this subject which he sent to his lawyer (March 23,1850).

Thus Bakunin knew exactly what facts had been discovered by the authorities, and he also knew the many facts upon which, when questioned, he refused to reply, expressed himself in generalities, or pretended failing memory, just as the others did also, though sometimes an unreflected admission gave the inquiring judge a chance, and then the others also had to give up this indefensible position.

Bakunin’s case was aggravated by the fact that, as through his public life since the end of 1847, so also through these trials ran a stream of slander and false accusations circulated against him by the Russian Embassy in Paris since he first had publicly proclaimed the reconciliation of Russians and Poles and their struggle in common against Tsarism (November, 1847).

When face to face with the Tsar in the memorial of 1851, called the “Confession” (in the Catholic religious sense), he knew therefore exactly which facts of his personal and of his revolutionary life were known to his prosecutors and what they did not know and must not learn; he knew also which pretended facts, invented against him, had given a particularly ugly aspect to his case in the eyes of the Tsar; and just as almost every prisoner, however much he despises those who judge him, wishes to put his case in his own words, so Bakunin wrote the memorial of 1851 for the Tsar.

I dissected this document two years ago, examining every statement by itself, and found that it was written with great discretion and care, putting the best face on all that was known, ceding not an inch of new ground; and where it was explicit was where Bakunin, inspired by nationalist ardour, his Slav sentiment, which was so strong in him in 1848-49 and had not yet abated in 1851, spoke to the Tsar as a fellow-Slav, for nationalism makes strange bedfellows like every other common creed.

The present volume contains on pages 3-94 unpublished documents seized among Bakunin’s papers or referring to the trials, sent to Russia at the time; also a copy of the letter to the lawyer, which I knew already. This material shows to what extent the ” Confession” is a circumscription of the results of the trials, and it would have been the right thing to publish all these papers together from the beginning and not to foist off bits of the ” Confession” upon an unprepared public.

The “Confession” is again reproduced in a careful edition, with facsimiles (pages 95-248), an edition which, we are told by the editor (who did not himself provide the text for the 1921 edition, for which he wrote a preface), in about 300 instances presents a more correct text than the first print.

Then a charming though sad portion follows: Bakunin’s correspondence with his family from the fortress—or at least a portion of it—and the letters of his mother to the Tsar and high officials in his favour, efforts which she continued until April, 1861. She begged them to let him live with her, and his five brothers offered the Tsar their guarantee as hostages for his quiet behaviour. The first of Bakunin’s letters, beginning January 4, 1852, after he had seen his favourite sister Tatiana and one of his brothers, show him cheerful, or pretending cheerfulness, reconstructing in these letters the happy and exceedingly intimate family circle of his early years which we know from the many letters and traditions in Korniloff’s book, based on the Russian family papers (1915). Many years had passed, but Bakunin in prison clings again to this Utopia, which, indeed, formed his mind and prepared it to be receptive to generous ideas.

From the correspondence with officials or their letters we learn how every slight improvement in his position in Siberia had to be begged for over and over again; the only refreshing detail, known before but not in the verbatim text, is the letter of Count Muravieff (May 18,1858), the Governor of Eastern Siberia and Bakunin’s near relative, who, when he had secured the Amur territory for the Tsar, demanded as his best reward the pardon of Speshnev, Lvoff, Petrashevsky (of the deported Petrashevsky group of 1848), and of his relative Bakunin. He did not get it.

The book concludes with the documents accumulating after Bakunin’s happy escape from Siberia. We learn that two midshipmen, about a month too late, delivered an urgent letter recommending that he be watched; and that a miserable informer who denounced his intention to escape, when the ship which bore him away was still in sight and another ship under steam was to hand to hunt him down, met with the philosophical or humanitarian or very well acted indifference of the official, who listened to his deposition while the ship went out of sight, and the warning was sent by a rather slow route to a place where Bakunin never went. Whether red tape, human feeling, or secret understanding brought about this happy result, remains a mystery.

This is a welcome book of Bakunin details, showing his ordeals and how he came well out of them.

M. N.


Max Nettlau, “New Bakunin Documents,” Freedom (London) 38 no. 416 (March-April, 1924): 18-19.

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John Tamlyn, “Marx and Bakunin” (1920)

MARX AND BAKUNIN.

[The following letter was sent to the Call, but the Editor declined to publish it, on the ground that it “might possibly lead to confusion in the minds of people who are little acquainted with the work either of Marx or Bakunin.”]

Dear Comrade,—If Marx was the revolutionary force that Comrade Lenin and other comrades would have us believe, and if his writings are still revolutionary, there are a few points upon which many of us would like more information. Many of us have now reached the point when we are ready to take help from any man’s thought, but refuse to have our own thought dominated by any man. In the writings of our comrade Lenin there is just a little too much of “Marx says it, therefore it must be all right.” The points I would have us discuss are these.

  1. If Marx was the revolutionary force some maintain, how was it that he and Engels gave their weight to the German manhood suffrage movement, which Michael Bakunin denounced right off as reactionary, and which soon proved itself to be so?
  2. Why did Marx and Engels help to build up the German political Socialist Party, with its members in the capitalist Reichstag?
  3. Why at the first thump of the capitalist war drum did the whole lot of this Second International do a stampede to the side of the capitalists and help them to cut the throats and blow out the brains of the working class?
  4. May not a thinker be judged by the kind of followers he turns out?
  5. Why did Marx and Engels try to ignore the work of Bakunin and the Anarchists, and why have the political Socialists boycotted Bakunin from their bookstalls?

Lenin may go down in history as our greatest master of revolutionary tactics, but some of us very much question whether it will decide that he got his wisdom from Marx. Lenin is a Marxian, and would have us see the whole wisdom of the universe in Marx. It is a trick of the hero-worshipper always to find more in his hero than was ever there. This to many of us seems another instance. Up to the present our side looks upon Karl Marx as being not so much a revolutionary as a social pathologist, who, very much as a doctor puts a carcase on the table and cuts it up, cut up Capitalism. But a man who spends his life in cutting up a body has not much life left to get rid of the dirty mess. All honour and glory to Marx for the work he did, and did well; but let us be accurate about it. We have no heroes to worship, but if we are asked to pick the revolutionary of Marx’s time, we say not Marx but Bakunin. The power of Marx was static, the other was the dynamic force of Revolution.—Yours fraternally,

John Tamlyn.


John Tamlyn, “Marx and Bakunin,” Freedom (London) 34 no. 372 (June, 1920): 33.

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The Reveille of the Peoples (1870)

The Germans have just rendered an immense service to the French people. They have destroyed its army.

The French army! That terrible instrument of imperial despotism, that unique reason for the existence of the Napoleons! As long as it existed, bristling with its fratricidal bayonets, there was no salvation for the French people. France could have a pronunciamento as in Spain, a military revolution, but never liberty. Paris, Lyon and so many other worker cities of France, know it well.

Today that immense army, with its formidable organization, no longer exists. France can be free. It will be free, thanks to the German brothers!

But one good deed deserves another. Now it is the turn of the people of France to render the same service to the German people. Woe to the Germans if their armies returned triumphant to Germany; that would be it for their hopes for the future and for their liberty for at least fifty years. Just imagine these hordes of slaves, disciplined and led by Pomeranian barons and rendered… [The manuscript is interrupted here.]

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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From “Philosophical Considerations on the Divine Phantom, the Real World and Man” (1870)

[Here is a selection from the beginning of the “Appendix” to The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution, which Bakunin wrote in November-December, 1870.]

Philosophical Considerations on the Divine Phantom, the Real World and Man

1. The System of the World

This is not the place to enter into philosophical speculations about the nature of Being. However, as I find myself forced to use this word, nature, often, I believe I should say what I mean by it. I could say that nature is the sum of all really existing things. But that would give a completely dead idea of that nature, which, on the contrary, presents itself to us as all movement and life. For that matter, what is the sum of things? The things that exist today will no longer exist tomorrow; tomorrow they will be, not lost, but entirely transformed. So I would approach the truth much more closely by saying that nature is the sum of the real transformations of the things incessantly produced and reproduced within it; and in order to give a bit more definite idea of what that sum or totality, which I call nature, could be, I would make, and I believe I can establish as an axiom, the following proposition:

Everything that exists, the being that constitute the indefinite ensemble of the universe, everything existing in the world, whatever their individual nature, as much in relation to quality as quantity, the most different and most similar, large or small, near or immensely distant, necessarily and unconsciously exert, either in an immediate and direct way, or by indirect transmission, a perpetual action and reaction; and that whole infinite quantity of individual actions and reactions, by combining in a single, general movement, produces and constitutes what we call universal life, solidarity and causality, nature. Call that God, the Absolute, if that amuses you, it matters little to me, provided that you give to that God no other meaning than the one I just specified: that of the universal, natural, necessary and real (but in no way predetermined nor preconceived, nor foreseen) combination of that infinity of individual actions and reactions that all really existing things incessantly exert on one another. Universal solidarity thus defined, nature considered in the sense of the Universe, which has neither end nor limits, is imposed as a rational necessity on our mind, but we could never embrace it in any real way, even through our imagination, and still less recognize it. For we could only recognize that infinitely small part of the Universe that is demonstrated to us by our senses; as for the rest, we suppose it, without really being able to even observe its existence.

Naturally, the universal solidarity, explained in this way, cannot have the character of an absolute and first cause; it is, on the contrary, nothing but a Resultant, [1] always produced and reproduced anew by the simultaneous action of an infinity of particular causes, the ensemble of which constitutes precisely the universal causality, the composite unity, always reproduced by the indefinite ensemble of the incessant transformations of all the things that exist, and at the same time creator of all these things; each point acts on the whole, (that is the universe produced) and the whole acting on each point (that is the universe [as] producer or creator). Having explained it in this way, I can now say, without fear of giving space for any misunderstanding, that Universal Causality, Nature, creates the worlds. It is [Nature] that has determined the mechanical, physical, chemical, geological and geographical configuration of our earth, and that, after having covered it surface with all the splendors of vegetable and animal life, still continues to create, in the human world, society, with all its developments, past, present and to come.

When man begins to observe with a persevering attention and pursues that part of nature that surrounds him and that he encounters in himself, he ends by perceiving that all things are governed by laws that are inherent to them and truly constitute their individual nature; that each thing has an individual mode of transformation and action; that in that transformation and that action, there is a succession of phenomena or facts that constantly repeats itself, in the same given circumstances, and that under the influence of new, determined circumstances is modified in an equally regular ad determined manner. That constant reproduction of the same facts by the same processes, properly constitutes the legislation of nature: order in the infinite diversity of phenomena and facts.

The sum of all the laws, known and unknown, that act in the universe, constitute its sole and supreme law. These laws divide and subdivide into general and particular laws. The mathematical, mechanical, physical and chemical laws, for example, are general laws, which manifest themselves in everything that exists, in all the things that have a real existence, what are, in a word, inherent in matter, that is to say in the really and uniquely universal Being, the true substratum of all the existing things. I hasten to add that matter never and nowhere exists as a substratum, that no one could perceive it in that unitary, abstract form; that it only exists and only can exist, everywhere and always, in a much more concrete form, as more or less varied and determined matter.

The laws of equilibrium of combination and of the mutual action of forces or mechanical movement; the laws of weight, of heat, of the vibration of bodies, or light, of electricity, as well as those of the chemical composition and decomposition of bodies, are absolutely inherent in all the things that exist, without excluding in any way the manifestations of sentiment, will and mind; all three of these things, which properly constitute the ideal world of man, being themselves only some absolutely material operations of organized, living matter, in the body of the animal in general and above all in that of the human animal in particular. — As a consequence, all these laws are general laws, to which all the orders of real existence in the world, known or unknown, are subject.

But there are some specific laws that are only proper to certain particular orders of phenomena, facts and things, and which form between them separate systems or groups: such are, for example, the geological laws; the laws of vegetable organization; those of animal organization; finally those that preside over the conceptual [idéel] and social development of the most accomplished animal on the earth, of man. We can say that the laws belonging to one of these systems are absolutely foreign to those that make up the other systems. In nature, everything is connected much more intimately than we generally think and more so, perhaps, than the pedants of science would like, in the interest of a greater precision in their work of classification. But we can still say that such a system of laws belongs much more to one order of things than to another, and that if, in the succession in which I have presented them, the laws that dominate in the preceding systems continue to manifest their action in the phenomena and things that belong to all the systems that follow, there exists no retrograde action of the laws of the successive systems on the things and facts of the preceding systems. Thus, the law of progress that constitutes the essential character of the social development of the human species is not manifested at all in exclusively animal life, and still less in exclusively vegetable life, while all the laws of the vegetable and animal worlds are found again, undoubtedly modified by new circumstances, in the human world.

Finally, in the very heart of these great categories of things, phenomena and facts, along with the laws that are specifically inherent to them, there are also divisions and subdivision that show us these same laws always individualizing and specializing themselves more, accompanying, so to speak, the more and more defined specialization, and which becomes more restricted to the extent that it is more defined, of the beings themselves.

Man has no other means to note all these laws, general, particular and special, than the attentive and exact observation of the phenomena and facts that occur both outside and within him. He distinguishes what is accidental and variable from what is reproduced, always and everywhere, in an invariable manner. The invariable process by which a natural phenomenon, whether external or internal, is constantly reproduced, the invariable succession invariable of facts that constitute it, are precisely what we call the law of the phenomenon. That constancy and that repetition are not, however, absolute. They always leave a large field to what we improperly call anomalies and exceptions, – a very unjust manner of speaking, for the facts, to which it relates, only prove that these general rules, recognized by us as natural laws, being nothing but abstractions drawn by our mind from the real development of things, are not in a state to embrace, exhaust or explain all the indefinite richness of that development…

Does that diverse mass of laws, which our science separates into different categories, form a single, organic and universal system, a system in which they are linked, as well as the beings of which they manifest the transformations and development? It is very probable. But what is more than probable, what is certain, is that we could never manage, not only to comprehend, but only to embrace this single, real system of the universe, a system infinitely extended on one side and infinitely specialized on the other; so that in studying it we end up faced with two infinities: the infinitely large and the infinitely small.

Its details are inexhaustible. It will never be given to a man to know more than an infinitely small portion of them. Our starry heaven, with its multitude of suns, forms only an imperceptible point in the immensity of space and although we may embrace it with the gaze, we always know next to nothing of it. So we are forced to content ourselves with knowing a bit about our solar system, whose perfect harmony with the rest of the Universe we must presume, for if that harmony did not exist, it must either establish itself, or else our solar world would perish. We already know this last very well in the realm of mechanics and we already begin to recognize it a little in the physical, chemical, and even geological realms. Our science will have difficulty going much beyond that. If we want a more concrete understanding, we must limit ourselves to our terrestrial globe. We know that it was born in time and we presume that in who-knows-what indefinite number of centuries or hundreds of centuries, it will be condemned to perish, as everything that exists is born and perishes, or rather is transformed.

How did our terrestrial globe, which was at first burning, gaseous matter, condense and cool? By what immense series of geological evolutions must it have passed, before it could produce on its surface all that infinite richness of organic life, vegetable and animal, from the simple cell to man? How has it manifested itself and how does it continue to develop in our historical and social world? What is the end toward which we march, driven by that supreme, inevitable law of unceasing transformation, which in human society we call progress?

These are the only questions that are accessible to us, the only ones that can and must be really embraced, studied and resolved by man. Forming only one imperceptible point in the unlimited and indefinable question of the Universe, these human and terrestrial questions offer all the same to our mind a world that is really infinite, not in the divine, which is to say abstract sense of the word, not as the Supreme Being created by religious abstraction; infinite, on the contrary, in the wealth of its details, which no observation, no science could ever exhaust.

In order to know our world, this infinite world, abstraction will not suffice. Abandoned to itself, it would lead us back, without fail, to the Supreme Being, to God, to Nothingness, as it has already done in history, as I will soon explain. It is necessary, while continuing to apply that faculty of abstraction, without which we could never raise ourselves up, from an order of inferior things to an order of superior things, nor consequently understand the natural hierarchy of the beings, it is necessary that, at the same time, our mind immerses itself, with respect and love, in the meticulous study of the details and of the infinitesimally small, without which we could never conceive the living reality of being. So it is only by uniting these two faculties, these two actions of the mind, which appear so opposed: abstraction and the scrupulous, attentive and patient analysis of the details that could raise us to the real conception of our world. It is obvious that, if our feelings and our imagination can give us an image, a more or less false representation of this world, science alone could give us a clear and precise idea.

So what is that imperious curiosity that drives man to recognize the world that surrounds him, to pursue with a tireless passion the secrets of that nature of which he is himself, on the earth, the last and most perfect creation? Is that curiosity a simple luxury, a pleasant pastime, or rather one of the principal necessities inherent in his being? I do not hesitate to say that of all the necessities that constitute the nature of man, it is the most human, and that man only actually distinguishes himself from the animals of all the other species through this inextinguishable need to know, that he only becomes really and completely a man through the awakening and progressive satisfaction of this immense need to know. In order to realize himself in the fullness of his being, man must recognize himself, and he will never recognize himself really and completely as long as he has not recognized the nature that envelopes him and of which he is the product. So, short of renouncing his humanity, man must know, he must fathom with his thought all of the real world, and without hope of every being able to reach the bottom, he must always deepen more its coordination [coordonnance] and laws, for his humanity only comes at this price. He must recognize all its inferior regions, prior and contemporary to himself, all the evolutions, mechanical, physical, chemical, geological, vegetable and animal, that is to say all the causes all the conditions of his own birth, his existence and his development; in order that he can understand his own nature and his mission on this earth, his homeland and unique theater; in order that, in this world of blind fatality, he can introduce his human world, the world of liberty.

Such is the task of man: It is inexhaustible, it is infinite and well sufficient to satisfy the hearts and minds of the proudest and most ambitious. An instantaneous and imperceptible being, lost in the midst of the waveless ocean of universal transformation, with an unknown eternity behind him, and an unknown eternity before him, the thinking man, the active man, the man conscious of his human destiny, remains calm and proud in the feeling of his liberty, which he has won by emancipating himself through labor, through science, and by emancipating, by inflaming, if necessary, all the men around him, his fellows, his brothers. If you ask him after that his private thought, his last word concerning the real unity of the Universe, he will say to you that it is eternal transformation, a movement infinitely detailed, diversified and, for that very reason, organized in itself, but having, nonetheless, neither beginning, nor limits, nor end. It is thus the absolute opposite of Providence: the negation of God.


[1] As each human individual, at each given moment of their life, is also nothing but the Resultant of all the causes that have acted at its birth and even before its birth, combined with all the conditions of its later development, as well as with all the circumstances that act on it in this moment.


Working Translation by Shawn P. Wilbur

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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.]


OUR PROGRAM

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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