Category Archives: 1869

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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The International Movement of the Workers (1869)

[published in L’Egalité, May 22, 1869]

GENEVA, May 21.

The International Movement of the Workers.

If, today, there is one fact that strikes the minds of the most recalcitrant conservatives, it is the always more general and always more imposing movement of the working masses, not only in Europe, but in America as well. The men of state and the politicians of all countries, whether aristocratic or bourgeois, are worried, and we have the proof of it in every speech they make; they do not pass up any occasion to express their sympathies—so deep and above all so sincere—for that mass—so numerous and so interesting—of the laborers, who, after having served for so many centuries as a passive, mute pedestal for all the ambitions and all the politicians of the world, are finally tired of playing a role as unprofitable as it is unworthy, and today announce their firm desire to live and work from now on only for themselves.

Indeed, it would be necessary to be endowed with a large dose of stupidity, it would be necessary to be blind and deaf not to recognize the importance of this movement. And whoever has preserved within themselves a glimmer of life and honest feeling, not depraved by interest or doctrine, will recognize with us that there is only one single movement today that is not a ridiculous, fruitless agitation, that bears a whole future within its flanks, and it is the international workers’ movement.

Apart from that movement, what remains? First, at the top, a very respectable thing, no doubt, but absolutely unproductive and above the absolutely ruinous marketplace: the organized brutality of the States. Then, under the protection of that brutality, the great financial, commercial and industrial exploitation, the great international plundering; some thousands of men united internationally among themselves and, with the power of their capital, dominating the entire world.

Below them, the moyenne and petite bourgeoisie, a class formerly intelligent and comfortable, but today stifled, destroyed and displaced into the proletariat by the progressive invasions of the financial feudalism. It is not that much more miserable, as it unites all the vanities of a privileged world with all the real miseries of the exploited. It is a class condemned by its own history and physiologically exhausted. Formerly it marched forward, and therein lay all its power; today it retreats, it is afraid, it has condemned itself to nothingness. If it had saved a bit of that energetic vitality, a bit of the sacred fire that had made it conquer a world in the past, it would have found within itself the courage to admit that today it is in an impossible situation, and that without a heroic effort on its part it is doomed in every way, dishonored, ruined and threatened with dying in the confrontation. Only two powers presently exist and both prepare for an inevitable encounter: the power of the past, represented by the States, and the power of the future, represented by the proletariat.

What effort could save it, not, undoubtedly, as a separate class, but as an aggregation of individuals?—The response is very simple: driven by the force of things into the proletariat, the moyenne and especially the petite bourgeoisie should enter it freely, voluntarily.

We will return to this question soon. Meanwhile, we end this article with the following reflections, which we take from our colleague in Vienna, organ of social democracy, the Volksstimme:

“Only the blindest selfishness can fail to understand that there is no longer anything but the triumph and realization of the socialist principle that can put an end to the terrifying rot that has invaded all the strata of society, and establish, in place of the present anarchy, a social order consistent with justice and general well-being. Truly, there is no need for scientific dissertations in order to prove the necessity of profound social reforms. Today, socialism inevitably takes hold of all minds. The future belongs to it. There can no longer be any doubt on this point, for the waves of the workers’ movement mount always higher and more threatening in every country. – The main force of the working masses is especially concentrated in the capitals and in the other large cities of Europe—our organized battalions press forward everywhere.—Already, in Spain, the red flag has received its baptism in blood.

“The electoral agitations in France and especially the recent crimes of the privileged class in Belgium, prove that everywhere there are those determined to oppose the legitimate demands of the workers with the arguments of brutal force and the eloquence of bayonets. In Vienna as well a certain paper has given out this sinister cry: ‘It is time to finish it!’—We have been threatened, and yet, without letting ourselves be intimated at all by these threats, we are not afraid to say that if we feel an ardent desire, it is the desire to see all these social reforms, which have become absolutely necessary today, realized in a peaceful manner, through the fraternal agreement of all.

For us, the red flag is the symbol of universal human love. – So let our enemies not dream of transforming it against themselves into a flag of terror.”

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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Counter-Proposal on Resistance Funds (1869)

[“Reaction to a report of the Central Section of Geneva of the I.W.A., adopted in a session of the Alliance on August 14, [1869].”]
1) There must be created in each section, corporation or society in the International Association a resistant fund [caisse de résistance].
2) In order to form that fund, each corporative section or society, by a decision taken in the general assembly, modifiable by later assemblies, of the section or corporative society will impose [a contribution] on all its members, always conforming to the rate of their wages.
3) No shareholder, except in very serious cases such as forced unemployment, family misfortunes orprolonged illnesses, cases that will always be recognizedby the General Assembly of the section, by the Committee—no one may avoid payment of this contribution, under pain of exclusion pronounced by the General Assembly of their section.
4) It is permitted for several or even all the sections or corporative societies of a single locality to join their individual funds into a single local fund.
But that union must be entirely voluntary on the part of each, no section can or should be forced to join even by a majority that represents all the sections of a locality, minus just one.
The section that refuses in this way to merge its individual resistance fund in that of all the others, as long as it remains faithful to the general, national and local statutes of the International Association, would preserve all its right to the solidarity of all the other sections.
5) All the costs that the members have to cover as members of the International Association, such as the costs of the section and the committee of the section, costs of the Cantonal Committee, Federal Committee as General Council, costs of the delegates for propaganda and of delegates for the Congresses, costs of the Journal, of the Circle – and if they also want it, of the funds for aid and defense, in short all the ordinary and supplementary costs, will be withdrawn from the resistance funds of the sections.
The subscriptions, except in extremely serious cases, recognized as such by the General Assembly of all the sections of a locality, are absolutely prohibited.
6) – Each Section or Corporative Society will determine the minimum sum that must properly constitute its resistance fund, which could never have any purpose but to maintain the war, that is to say the rights of the laborers against the bosses, either by nourishing its own resistance, or by making, as a loan, obligatory, or as a gift in aid of the other sections of the locality, nation or other countries, when the need of this aid has been proclaimed by the respective committees.
7) – Each section, at its own risk and perils, has he incontestable right to come to the aid of any other section, even though it does not have any recommendation on the part of any committee. But it is only morally obligated in the case where it has a formal invitation, either on the part of the local Committee, or of the General Assembly of all the sections of the locality, or of the Federal Committee, or the General Committee.
8) In this case, each section or corporative society imposes on itself the loan that, in the situation of the fund, it is capable of making.
Of Strikes
Experience has proven to the international sections of all the countries that the strike is a very dangerous weapon, which undoubtedly bears some very noticeable blows to the interests of the bosses, but which almost never also fails to deeply wound the interests of the laborers.
Strikes, unquestionably, by maintaining a healthy agitation among the workers and kindlingin their hearts adeep hatred against bourgeois exploitation, as well as unveiling the depravity of the present social organization, contribute a lot to make our propaganda more incisive and more vivid, deeper and wider. Each strike ended happily has brought us new sections.—But, on the contrary, the strikes that have not succeeded greatly demoralizethe workers, kill their confidence in the association and ruin them. Who does not know that even the mosthappily terminated strikes are always accompanied by suffering andvery serious material sacrifices?
From all these considerations it results:
1) That no section in its own interest must decide to strike except in these three cases: either when the state of the market will be such that the triumph will be certain or easy – or when the bosses wish to worsen the situation of their workers; or finally when they want to do the least harm either to their individual dignity, or to their right of association.
2) Each section or corporative society is incidentally perfectly free to begin its isolated strike, without asking the consent of anyone. But then it must know that it damages the principle of the International, and it is just that it not demand aid when it has not had recourse to the solidarity of anyone. – A decision made in isolation by a single section cannot and must not lead the other sections into an involuntary strike; otherwise that would be pure exploitation, a dishonest exploitation of worker fraternity.
3) All the other sections not only have the right but almost the duty to refuse their aid to the section that has begun its strike without consulting them and without having obtained their agreement.
4) In order for a strike to become a matter of solidarity for all the sections in a locality, it must either be accepted by the local Committee or by the General Assembly of all the sections of that locality.—In order for it to be a matter of solidarity for all the sections of a country, it must be proclaimed by the Committee of the country, in French-speaking Switzerland, for example, by the Federal Committee.—In order for it to be a matter of solidarity for all the sections of all the countries, it must be proclaimed by the General Council.
6) – Amendment
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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Bakunin, Two Speeches to the Congress of the IWA at Basle (1869)



Two Speeches to the Congress of the IWA at Basle

[L’Egalité, September 18, October 1, 1869, Geneva]
Between the collectivists who think that after having voted for collective property, it becomes useless to vote for the abolition of the right of inheritance, and the collectivists who, like us, think that it is useful and even necessary to vote for it, there is only a simple difference in point of view.
They place themselves fully in the future, and taking collective property as their point of departure, find that there is no more place to speak of the right of inheritance.
We, on the contrary, begin from the present, we find ourselves under the regime of triumphant individual property, and marching towards collective property, we encounter an obstacle: the right of inheritance.
We think that we must overthrow it, abolish it.
The report of the General Council says that the legal fact never being anything but the consequence of economic facts, it is sufficient to transform the latter to destroy the former.
It is incontestable that everything that we call legal or political right has never been anything in history by the expression or product of a fait accompli. But it is also incontestable that after having been an effect of acts or facts previously carried out, the right becomes in its turn the cause of subsequent facts, becomes itself a very real, very powerful fact, that must be overthrown if we want to arrive at a different order of things that the one that exists.
So the right of inheritance, after having been the natural consequence of the violent appropriation of natural and social wealth, later becomes the basis of the political State and legal family, which guarantee and sanction individual property.
So we must vote to abolish the right of inheritance.
One after speaks to us of practice. Well, it is in the name of practice that I urge you to vote the abolition of the right of inheritance.
It has been said today that the transformation of individual property into collective property will encounter serious obstacles among the peasants, small proprietors of land.
And, in fact, if after having proclaimed the social liquidation, we attempted to dispossess by decree these millions of small farmers, we would necessarily cast them into the reaction, and to subject them to the revolution, we would have to use force against them, that is to say reaction.
So it is necessary to leave them as possessors in fact of those parcels of which they are today the proprietors. But if you do not abolish the right of inheritance, what will happen?
They will transmit these parcels to their children, with the sanction of the State, by title of property.
You will preserve, you will perpetuate the individual property of which you have voted for the necessary abolition, and its transformation into collective property.
If, on the contrary, at the same time that you make the social liquidation, you proclaim the political and legal liquidation of the State, if you abolish the right of inheritance, what will remain to the peasants?
Nothing but possession in fact, and that possession, deprived of all legal sanction, no longer being sheltered under the powerful protection of the State, will easily let itself be transformed under the pressure of events and revolutionary forces.
The absence of the representative of agriculture is not a reason to contest at the Congress the right to decide the question of property. The Congress is only a minority, but there has been in every era a minority that represents the interests of all of humanity. In 89, the bourgeois minority represented the interests of France and the world; it led to the coming of the bourgeoisie. A protest was heard in the name of the proletariat, that of Baboeuf; we are his heirs, our little minority will soon be a majority.
Contrary to what has been said, it is the collectivity that is the basis for the individual; it is society that makes the man; isolated, he would not even manage to learn, speak and think. Let no one cite the men of genius and their discoveries, Arago, Galileo, etc.; they would have invented nothing without the labor of previous generations; there is someone who has a greater mind than Voltaire, and it is everyone. The greatest genius, if he lived from the age of five on a deserted island, would produce nothing; the individual is nothing without the collectivity. Individual property has only been, and is only the exploitation of collective labor; we can only destroy that exploitation by establishing collective property.
I vote for collectivity, in particular of the soil, and in general of all the social wealth in the sense of the social liquidation.
I mean by the social liquidation the expropriation by right of all the existing proprietors, by the abolition of the political and legal State, which is the sanction and sole guarantee of existing property and of everything that is called political right; and the expropriation in fact, everywhere and as much as possible, by the force of events and things themselves.
As for the later organization, consider that all productive labor is necessarily a collective labor, and that the labor that we improperly call individual is still a collective labor, since it only becomes possible thanks to the collective labor of past and present generations.
I conclude in favor of the solidarization of the communes proposed by the majority of the commission, that much more willingly as that solidarization implies the organization from the bottom up, while the plan of the minority speaks to us of the State.
I am a resolute antagonist of the State and of every bourgeois state policy.
I demand the destruction of all the national and territorial States and, on their ruins, the founding of the international State of the workers.
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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The Policy of the International (III & IV) (1869)

The Policy of the International
L’Égalité, August 21, 1869;
If the International at first showed itself indulgent toward the subversive and reactionary ideas, whether in politics and religion, that the workers might have when joining it, it was not through indifference toward these ideas. We cannot tax it with indifference since it detests them and rejects them with all the strength of its being, every reactionary idea being the overturning of the very principle of the Revolution, as we have already demonstrated in our preceding articles.
That indulgence, we repeat again, is inspired by a high wisdom. Knowing perfectly that every serious worker is a socialist by all the necessities inherent in their miserable positions, and that some reactionary ideas, it they have them, may only be the effect of their ignorance, it counts on the collective experience that they cannot fail to acquire in the heart of the International and especially on the development of the collective struggle of the workers against the bosses to deliver them from those ideas.
And indeed, from the moment that a worker takes faith in the possibility of an imminent radical transformation of the economic situation, associated with his comrades, begins to struggle seriously for the reduction of his hours of labor and the increase of his wages from the moment that he begins to interest himself seriously in that entirely material struggle, we can be certain that he will soon abandon all his heavenly preoccupations, and that becoming accustomed to count always more on the collective force of the workers, he will willingly renounce aid from heaven. Socialism takes the place of religion in his mind.
It will not be the same with his reactionary politics. It will lose its principal support to the extent that the conscience of the worker sees itself delivered from religious oppression. On another side the economic struggle, by developing and always extending to a greater extent, will make itself known more and more in a practical manner and by a collective experience that is necessarily always more instructive and broader than isolated experience, its true enemies, which are the privileged classes, including the clergy, the bourgeoisie, the nobility and the State; this last only being there to safeguard all the privileges of these classes and inevitably always taking their side against the proletariat.
The worker thus involved in the struggle will inevitably end by understanding the irreconcilable antagonism that exists between these accomplices of the reaction and its most cherished human interests, and having arrived at this point he will no fail to recognize himself and frankly declare himself a revolutionary socialist.
This is not the case with the bourgeoisie. All their interests are contrary to the economic transformation of society. And if their ideas are also contrary to it as well, if these ideas are reactionaries, or as we say more politely today, moderates; if their heart and mind reject this great act of justice and emancipation that we call the social revolution, if they enjoy real, social equality, that is political, social and economic equality at once; if in the bottom of their hearts they want to keep for themselves, for their class or for their children a single privilege, even just that of intelligence, as today so many bourgeois socialists do; if they do not detest, not just with all the logic in their minds but also all the power of their passion, the present order of things, then we can be certain that they will remain reactionaries, enemies of the cause of the workers, all their life.
We must keep them far from the International.
We must keep them very far away, for they could only enter to demoralize it and turn it from its path. It is, moreover, an infallible sign by which the workers can recognize if a bourgeois, who asks to be received in their ranks, comes to them frankly, without the shadow of hypocrisy and without the least subversive ulterior motive. That sign is the relations that they preserve with the bourgeois world.
The antagonism that exists between the world of the worker and the bourgeois world takes on a more and more pronounced character. Every man who thinks seriously and whose feelings and imagination are not altered by the often unconscious influence of self-interested sophisms, must understand today that no reconciliation is possible between them. The workers want equality, and the bourgeois want to maintain inequality. Obviously one destroys the other. And the great majority of the bourgeois capitalists and proprietors, those who have the courage to frankly admit what they want, also have the courage to display with the same frankness the horror that the present movement of the working class inspires in them. They are enemies as resolute as sincere. We know them, and that is good.
But there is another category of bourgeois who do not have the same frankness or courage. Enemies of the social liquidation—which we call for with all the power of our souls as a great act of justice, as the necessary point of departure and indispensible basis of an egalitarian and rational organization of society—they, like all the other bourgeois, preserve economic inequality, that eternal source of all the other inequalities; an at the same time they pretend to want, like us, the complete emancipation of the worker and of work. They maintain against us, with a passion worthy of the most reactionary bourgeois, the very cause of the slavery of the proletariat, the separation of labor and immobile or capitalized property, represented today by two different classes; and they pose nonetheless as the apostles of the emancipation of the working class from the yoke of property and capital!
Do they mislead or are they misled? Some are mistaken in good faith, badly mistaken; the majority are misleading and misled at the same time. They all belong to that category of bourgeois radicals and bourgeois socialists who founded the League of Peace and Freedom.
Is this League socialist? In the beginning, and for the first year of its existence, as we have already had occasion to tell, it rejected socialism with horror.
Last year, in its Congress at Berne it rejected the principle of economic equality. Today, feeling itself dying and wishing to live a little longer, and finally understanding that no political existence is possible from now on without the social question, it calls itself socialist; it has become bourgeois-socialist, which means that it wants to resolve all social questions on the basis of economic inequality. It desires, it must preserve the interest of capital and the rent of the earth, and it claims to emancipate the workers with that. It strives to give a body to nonsense.
Why do that do it? What is it that makes it attempt a work as incongruous as sterile? It is not difficult to understand.
A great portion of the bourgeoisie is tired of the reign of Caesarism and militarism that it itself established in 1848, from fear of the proletariat. Just recall the June days, precursors of the days of December; recall that National Assembly that curse and insulted, unanimously but for one voice, the illustrious and we could well say heroic socialist Proudhon, who alone had the courage to hurl the challenge of socialism at this and expose this rabid herd of bourgeois conservatives, liberals, and radicals. And we must not forget that among these traducers of Proudhon, there are a number of citizens still living, and today more militant than ever, who, baptized by the persecutions of December, have since become martyrs to liberty.
So there is no doubt that the entire bourgeoisie, including the radical bourgeoisie, has been the creator of the césarien and military despotism whose effects it deplores today. After having used them against the proletariat, they now want to be free of them. Nothing is more natural; this regime humiliates and ruins them.
But how can they free themselves? Formerly, they were brave and powerful, they had the power for conquests. Today they are cowardly and senile, and afflicted with the impotence of the old. They recognize only too well their weakness, and sense that they alone can do nothing. So they must have an aid. That aid can only be the proletariat; so they must win over the proletariat.
But how can they win them over? By promises of liberty and political equality? These are words that no longer move the workers. They have learned at their own cost, they have learned by hard experience, that these words mean nothing for them but the maintenance of their economic slavery, often more harsh than before. So if you want to touch the heart of these miserable millions of slaves to labor, speak to them about their economic emancipation. There is no a worker who does not know now that it is for him the only serious and real basis of all the other emancipations. So it would be necessary to speak to them about the economic reform of society.
Well, the members of the League for Peace and Freedom say to themselves, let us speak of it, let us could ourselves socialists as well. Let us promise them some economic and social reforms, always on the condition that they wish to respect the basis of civilization and bourgeois omnipotence: individual and hereditary property, interest on capital and land-rent. Let us persuade them that on these conditions alone, which assure us domination and the workers slavery, can the workers be emancipated.
Let us persuade them that in order to realize all these social reforms, we must first make a good political revolution, exclusively political, as red as they please from the political point of view, with a great chopping of heads, if that becomes necessary, but with the greatest respect for holy property; an entirely Jacobin revolution, in a word, that would make us the masters of the situation; and once masters, we could give to the workers… what we can and what we want.
There is an infallible sign by which the workers can recognize a false socialist, a bourgeois socialist; if in speaking to them of revolution or, if you want, of social transformation, he tells them that the political transformation must make both at once or even that the political revolution should be nothing but the immediate and direct putting into action of the full, complete social liquidation; let them turn their back, for either he is only a fool, or else a hypocritical exploiter.
L’Égalité, August 28, 1869;
The International Workingmen’s Association, in order to remain faithful to its principle and in order not to deviate from the only road that can lead it to its destination, must above all protect itself against the influence of two kinds of bourgeois socialists: the partisans of bourgeois politics, including even the revolutionary bourgeois, and the so-called “practical men,” partisans of bourgeois cooperation.
Let us first consider the first group.
Economic emancipation, we said in our preceding number, is the basis of all the other emancipations. We have summarized by those words the whole policy of the International.
In fact we read, in the of our general statutes the following declaration:
“That the subjection of labor to capital is the source of all political moral and material servitude, and that for this reason the emancipation of the workers is the great aim to which every political movement must be subordinated.”
It is well understood that every political movement whose immediate, direct objective is not the definitive and complete economic emancipation of the workers, and which has not inscribed on its flag, in a very clear and decided manner, the principle of economic equality, which means the complete restitution of capital to labor, or else the social liquidation – that every such political movement is a bourgeois, and, as such, must be excluded from the International.
Must consequently be pitilessly excluded the politics of the bourgeois democrats or bourgeois socialists, who, in declaring “that political liberty is the preliminary condition for economic emancipation,” cannot intend by this words anything but this: political reforms or revolution must precede economic reforms of revolution; the workers must consequently ally with the more or less radical bourgeois in order to faire d’abord avec eux les premières, sauf à faire ensuite contre eux les dernières.
We frankly protest against this disastrous theory that could only lead, for the workers, to make them serve once again as an instrument against themselves and deliver them up anew to the exploitation of the bourgeoisie.
To conquer political liberty first can mean nothing except winning it first all alone, leaving, at least for the first days, the economic and social relations in their present state, leaving the proprietors and capitalists with their insolent wealth, and the workers with their poverty.
But, some will say, once that liberty is won, it will serve the workers as an instrument to later gain equality or economic justice.
Liberty is indeed a magnificent and powerful instrument. But everything depends on whether the workers can really make use of it, if it is really in their possession, or if, as has always been the case before, their political liberty is only a misleading appearance, a fiction.
Couldn’t a worker, in his present economic situation, respond with the refrain of a well-known song, to those who came to him to speak of political liberty:
“Do not speak of liberty.
“Poverty is slavery!”
And, in fact, he would have to be in love with illusions to imagine that a worker, in the economic and social conditions in which he finds himself at present, could profit fully, and make a real, serious use of his political liberty. For that, he lacks two things: the leisure and the material means.
Incidentally, haven’t we seen it in France, the day after the revolution of 1848, the most radical revolution we could desire from a political point of view?
The French workers were certainly not indifferent or unintelligent, yet despite the broadest universal suffrage, they had to let the bourgeois have their way [laisser faire]. Why? Because they lacked the material means that were necessary to make political liberty become a reality, because they remained the slaves of a labor forced by hunger, while the bourgeois radicals, liberals, and even conservatives, some republicans the day before, others converted the day after, came and went, acted and spoke, worked and schemed freely – some thanks to their rents or their lucrative bourgeois positions, the others thanks to the State budget that they have naturally preserved and even made greater than ever.
We know what the result has been: first the days of June, then later, as a necessary consequence, the days of December.
But, it will be said, the workers, made wiser by the very experience that have had, will no longer send the bourgeois to the constituent or legislative assemblies; they will send simple workers. Poor as they are, they could provide for their deputies. Do you know what would happen? The worker deputies, transplanted into bourgeois conditions of existence and an atmosphere of entirely bourgeois political ideas, ceasing to be workers by he act of becoming men of State, would become bourgeois and perhaps even more bourgeois than the bourgeois themselves. For the men do not make the positions; it is, on the contrary, the positions that make the men. And we know by experience that the bourgeois workers are seldom less selfish than the bourgeois exploiters, nor less deadly to the Association than the bourgeois socialists, nor less vain and ridiculous than the ennobled bourgeois.
Whatever is said and done, as long as the workers remain plunged in their present state, no liberty possible will be possible, and those who agree to win political liberty for them without first addressing the burning questions of socialism, without pronouncing that phrase that makes the bourgeois pale—social liquidation—simply say to them: First win that liberty for us, so that later we can use it against you.
But they are well intentioned and sincere, these bourgeois, it will be said. There are no good intentions and sincerity that hold out against the influences of the position, and since we have said that even the workers who put themselves in that position would inevitably become bourgeois, there is all the more reason that the bourgeois who remain in that position will remain bourgeois.
If a bourgeois, inspired by a great passion de justice, equality and humanity, wants to work seriously for the emancipation of the proletariat, let him first begin by breaking all the political and social ties, all the relations of interest as well as spirit, vanity and heart, with the bourgeoisie. Let him first understand that no reconciliation is possible between the proletariat and that class, which, living only for the exploitation of the other, is the natural enemy of the proletariat.
After having turned his back once and for all on the bourgeois world, let him then come to fall in beneath the flag of the workers, on which are inscribed these words: “Justice, Equality and Liberty for all. Abolition of the classes by the economic equalization of all. Social liquidation.” He will be welcome. 
As for the bourgeois socialists and bourgeois workers who come to speak to us of conciliation between bourgeois politics and the socialism of the laborers, we have only one bit of advice to give to the laborers: they must turn their backs on them.
Since the bourgeois socialists strive to organize today, with socialism as bait, a formidable agitation among the workers in order to win political liberty, a liberty that, as we have just seen will only profit the bourgeoisie; since the working masses, arriving at a knowledge of their position, enlightened and guided by the principle of the International, are in fact organizing and begin to constitute a true power, not national, but international; not to do the business of the bourgeois, but their own business; and since, even to realize that ideal of the bourgeois, of a complete political liberty with republication institutions, would require, and since no revolution can except through the power of the people; that power must, ceasing to pull chestnuts from the fire for the gentlemen of the bourgeoisie, only serve from now on to bring triumph to the cause of the people, the cause of all those who labor against all those who exploit labor.
The International Workingmen’s Association, faithful to its principle, will never extend its had to a political agitation whose immediate and direct aim is not the complete economic emancipation of the worker, the abolition of the bourgeoisie as a class economically separate from the mass of the population, nor to any revolution that does not, from the first day, from the first hour inscribe the social liquidation on its banner.
But revolutions are not improvised. They are not made arbitrarily, either by individuals or by the most powerful associations. Independent of all will and of all conspiracy, they are always brought about by the force of events. They can be foreseen, their approach can sometimes be sensed, but their explosion can never be accelerated.
Convinced of this truth, we pose this question: What is the policy that the International should pursue during this more or less extended period of time that separates us from that terrible social revolution which everyone senses today?
Setting aside, as its statutes command, all local and national politics, it will give to the agitation of the workers in all countries an essentially economic character, by establishing the reduction of the hours of labor and the increase of wages as its aim, the association of the working masses and the establishment of strike funds as its means.
It will propagandize its principles, for these principles, being the purest expression of the collective interests of the workers of the whole world, are the soul and constitute all the vital force of the Association. It will spread that propaganda broadly, without regard for bourgeois sensibilities, so that every worker, emerging from the intellectual and moral torpor in which he has been they have tried to keep him, will understand his situation and know what he must do, and under what conditions he can gain his rights as a man.
It will make an every more energetic and sincere propaganda, as within the International itself we will often encounter influences, which, affecting disdain for these principles, would like to portray them as a useless theory and strive to bring the workers back to the to the political, economic and religious catechism of the bourgeoisie.
It will extend and organize itself strongly across the borders of all the nations, so that when the Revolution, brought about by the force of events, breaks out, it will be a real force ready, knowing what it must do and therefore capable of grasping and giving it a direction that it truly salutary for the people; a serious international organization of the workers’ associations of all countries, capable of replacing that political world of States and of the bourgeoisie, which is on the way out.
We conclude this faithful exposition of the policy of the International, by reproducing the final paragraph of the preamble to our general statutes:
“The movement that comes about among the workers of the most industrious countries of Europe, by giving rise to new hopes, gives a solemn warning not to fall again into old errors.”
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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The Policy of the International (I & II) (1869)

The Policy of the International
L’Égalité, August 7, 1869;
“We have believed until now, said La Montagne, that political and religious opinions were independent of the profession of member of the International; and, as for us, that is the terrain on which we place ourselves.”
We could believe, at first glance, that Mr. Coullery was right. For, in fact, in accepting a new member the International does not ask him whether he is religious or an atheist, whether or not he belongs to any political party. It simply asks him: Are you a worker, or if you are not, do you want and do you feel you have the need and strength to frankly, fully embrace the cause of the workers, to identify with it to the exclusion of all causes that might oppose it?
Do you feel that the workers, who produce all of the world’s wealth, who are the creatures of civilization and who have won all the bourgeois liberties, are today condemned to poverty, ignorance and slavery? Do you understand that the principal source of all the evils that the workers endure is poverty, and that this poverty, which is the lot of all the workers in the world, is a necessary consequence of the present economic order of society, and particularly of the submission of labor of the proletariat to the yoke of capital, to the bourgeoisie?
Do you understand that there is an irreconcilable antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, which is the necessary consequence of their respective positions? That the prosperity of the bourgeois class is incompatible with the well-being and liberty of the workers, because this exclusive prosperity can be founded only upon the exploitation and subjugation of their labor, and that for this reason, the prosperity and human dignity of the working masses absolutely demands the abolition of the bourgeoisie as a separate class? That, as a consequence, the war between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is inevitable, and can only end with the destruction of the bourgeoisie.
Do you understand that no worker, however intelligent and energetic, can struggle all by himself against the well-organized power of the bourgeoisie, a power principally represented and sustained by the organization of the State, of all the States? That in order to give yourself the strength you must associate, not with the bourgeois, which would be a stupidity or a crime on your part, because all the bourgeois, as bourgeois, are our irreconcilable enemies, nor with some unfaithful workers, who would be so cowardly as to go beg for the smiles and benevolence of the bourgeois, but with honest, energetic workers, who frankly want what you want?
Do you understand that faced with the formidable coalition of all the privileged classes, all the proprietors and capitalists, and all the states in the world, an isolated workers’ association, local or national, even in one of the greatest European nations, could never triumph, and that to stand up to that coalition and obtain that victory, nothing less would be required than a union of all the local and national workers’ associations into a single universal association, that it would require the great International Association of the workers of all countries?
If you feel, understand and truly want all this, then come to us, whatever your political and religious beliefs. But in order to be accepted, you must promise:
1) to subordinate from now on your personal interests, and even those of your family, as well as your political and religious convictions and expressions, to the supreme interest of our association: the struggle of labor against capital, of the workers against the bourgeoisie on the economic terrain;
2) to never compromise with the bourgeoisie for your personal gain;
3) to never seek to raise yourself individually, only for your own gain, above the working mass, which would immediately make you a bourgeois, an enemy and exploiter of the proletariat; for the only difference between the bourgeois and the worker is that the first always seeks his good outside the collectivity, only seeks it and claims to win it in solidarity with all those who labor and are exploited by the capital of the bourgeois;
4) to remain always faithful to the solidarity of the workers, for the least betrayal of that solidarity will be considered by the International as the greatest crime and infamy that any worker could commit. In short, you must frankly, fully accept our general statutes and give your solemn pledge to conform to them from now on in your acts and life.
We think that the founders of the International Association have acted with a very great wisdom by first of all eliminating all political and religious questions from the program of that Association. Doubtless, they did not themselves lack political opinions, nor very marked anti-religious opinions; but they abstained from advancing them in that program, because their principal aim was to unite above all the working masses of the civilized world in a common action. They necessarily had to seek a common basis, a series of simple principles about which all the workers, whatever there political and religious aberrations, if they are serious workers, honest men who are harshly exploited and suffering, are and should be in agreement.
If they displayed the flag of a political or anti-religious system, far from uniting the workers of Europe they would still be more divided; because, with the ignorance of the workers assisting, the self-serving and most utterly corrupting propaganda of the priests, the governments and all the bourgeois political parties, including the very reddest of them, has spread a host of false ideas among the working masses, that these blind masses are unfortunately still too often fascinated by some lies, which have no other aim than to make them willingly and stupidly serve, to the detriment of their own interests, those of the privileges classes.
Besides, there still exists too great a difference in the degrees of industrial, political, intellectual and moral development of the working masses in the different countries for it to be possible for them to unite today by one single political and antireligious program. To pose such a program as that of the International, by making it an absolute condition for entry into that Association, would be to try to establish a sect, not a global association. It could only destroy the International.
There is yet another important reason for eliminating at first, in appearance and only in appearance, all political tendencies.
From the beginnings of history to this day, there has still never been a true politics of the people, and by that word we mean the lower classes, the working rabble who feed the world with their toil. There has only been the politics of the privileged classes, those classes who have used the muscular power of the people to mutually depose one another, and to replace one another. The people, in turn, have only taken the part of some against the others in the vain hope that at least one of these political revolutions, which no one has been able to make without them, would bring some relief to their century-old poverty and slavery. They have always been misled. Even the great French Revolution betrayed them. It killed the aristocratic nobility and put the bourgeoisie in its place. The people are no longer called slaves or serfs, they are proclaimed freeborn by law, but in fact their slavery and poverty remain the same.
And they will always remain the same as long as the popular masses continue to serve as an instrument for bourgeois politics, whether that politics is called conservative, liberal, progressive, or radical, and even when it is given the most revolutionary appearances in the world. For all bourgeois politics, whatever its color and name, can at base only have one aim: the maintenance of bourgeois domination; and bourgeois domination is the slavery of the proletariat.
And they will remain enslaved as long as the working masses continue to serve as tools of bourgeois politics, whether conservative or liberal, even if those politics pretend to he revolutionary. For all bourgeois politics whatever the label or color have only one purpose: to perpetuate domination by the bourgeoisie, and bourgeois domination is the slavery of the proletariat.
What then was the International to do? It first had to loose the working masses from all bourgeois politics, it had to eliminate from its own program all the political programs of the bourgeois. But at the time of its founding, there was no other politics in the world by but those of the Church or the monarchy, or of the aristocracy or bourgeoisie; the last, especially that of the radical bourgeoisie, was indisputably more liberal and more humane than the others, but all equally founded on the exploitation of the working masses and having in reality no other aim than to dispute the monopoly of that exploitation. So the International had to begin by clearing the ground, and like every politics, from the point of view of the emancipation of labor, found itself thus tarnished by reactionary elements, it first had to purge itself of every known political system, in order to be able to build on these ruins of the bourgeois world, the true politics of the workers, the politics of the International Association.
L’Égalité, August 14, 1869;
The founders of the International Workingmen’s Association actedwith so much more wisdom by avoiding posing political and philosophical principles as the basis of that association,and giving it at first for sole basis only the purely economic struggle of labor against capital, as they were certain that, from the moment that a worker put his foot on the land, from the moment that, taking confidence both in his right and in numerical strength, he agrees with his companions to work in a united struggle against bourgeois exploitation, he will necessarily be led, by the very force of things and by the development of the struggle, to recognize soon all the political,socialist and philosophical principlesof the International, principlesthat are nothing, in fact, but the just exposition of itsstarting point, its purpose.
We have set out these principles in previous issues. From the political and social point of view, their necessary consequences are the abolition of the classes, and consequently that of the bourgeoisie, which is the dominant class today; the abolition of all the territorial States, that of all the political homelands, and on their ruin, the establishment of the great international federation of all the productive groups, national and local. From the philosophical point of vie, as they tend to nothing less than the realization of the human ideal, of human happiness, of quality, of justice and liberty on earth, that because they tend to render completely useless all the celestial complements and all the hopes of a better world, they have as an equally necessary consequence the abolition of the cults and all the religious systems.
Announce these twogoals first of all to the ignorantworkers, crushed by the work of each day and demoralized—poisoned, as it were—knowingly by the perverse doctrines that the governments, in concert with allthe privileged castes, priests, nobility, bourgeoisie, distribute to them with both hands, and you will scarethem; they will perhaps reject you, without suspecting that all these ideas are nothing but the most faithful expression of their own interests, that these goals bear within them the realization of their dearest wishes; and that, on the contrary, the religious and political prejudices in whose name they reject them may be the direct cause of the prolongation of their slavery and poverty.
It is necessary to clearly distinguish the prejudices of the popular masses and those of the privileged classes. The prejudices of the masses, as we have just said, are only based on their ignorance and are entirely contrary to their interests, while those of the bourgeoisie are based precisely on the interests of that class, and are only maintained, against the dissolving action of bourgeois science itself, that to the collective selfishness of the bourgeois. The people want, but they do not know. The bourgeoisie know, but they do not want. Of the two, which is incurable? The bourgeoisie, of course.
General rule: You can only convert those who feel the need of conversion, only those who already bear in their instincts or in the miseries of their position, whether external or internal, all that you want to give them; never those who do not feel the need of any change, even those who, while desiring to escape from a position where they are dissatisfied, are driven by the nature of their moral, intellectual and social habits, to seek it in a world that is not the one of your ideas.
Convert to socialism, I beg you, a nobleman who covetswealth, a bourgeoiswho would be a noble, or even a worker who does tend to all the forces of his soul only to become a bourgeois! Then convert a real or imaginary aristocratof the intellect, a scholar, a half-scholar, a fourth, tenth, or hundredth part of a scholar who, full of scientificostentation, often only because they only had the good fortune to have understood, after a fashion,a few books, are full of arrogant contemptfor the illiterate masses, and imagine that they are called to form between themselves a new ruling, that is to say exploiting, caste.
No reasoning or propaganda will ever be able to convert these wretches. To convince them, there is only one means: it is the deed, the destruction of the very possibility of privileged situations, the destruction of all domination and exploitation; it is the social revolution, which, sweeping away everything that establishes inequality in the world, will moralize them and force them to seek their happiness in equality and in solidarity.
Things are different with serious workers. By serious workers we mean those who are really crushed by the weight of toil; all those whose position is so precarious and so miserable that none, except in extraordinary circumstances, can even think of attain for himself, and only for himself, in the present economic conditions and social environment, a better position; to become in their turn, for example, a boss or a member of the Council of State. We doubtless also place in this category those rare and generous workers who, though they have the opportunity to rise individually above the working class, still prefer nevertheless to suffer for a time, in solidarity with their comrades in poverty, exploitation by the bourgeoisie, than to become exploiters in their turn. Such workers do not have to be converted; they are pure socialists.
We speak of the great mass of workers who, exhausted by their daily labor, are miserable and ignorant. That mass, whatever the political and religious prejudices that have attempted or even partially succeeded in claiming its conscience, is socialistic without knowing it. It is, in the heart of its instinct and by the very force of its position, more seriously and truly socialist than all the scientific and bourgeois socialists combined. It is socialists by virtue of all the conditions of its material existence, by all the needs of its being, while the others are only socialist by virtue of the needs of their thought. In real life, the needs of the being always exert a much greater power than those of thought, thought being here, as it is everywhere and always, the expression of the being, the reflection of the successive developments, but never its principle.
What the workers lack is not the reality, the real necessity of socialist aspirations, but only socialist thought; what each worker demands in the bottom of their heart: a fully human existence as material well-being and intellectual development, based on justice, on equality and liberty for each and all in labor; that instinctive ideal of each who only live by their own labor, can obviously not be realized in the present political and social world, which is based on the cynical exploitation of the labor of the working masses. Thus, each serious worker is necessarily a socialist revolutionary, since their emancipation can only be attained by the overthrow of everything that now exists. Either that organization of injustice, with its whole display of iniquitous laws and privileged institutions must perish, or the working masses will remain condemned to an eternal slavery.
Here is the socialist thought whose seeds are found in the instinct of every serious worker. The aim is thus to make the worker fully conscious of what they want, to give rise in them to a thought that corresponds to their instinct, for from the moment that the thought of the working masses is raised to the height of their instinct, their desire will be determined and their power will become irresistible.
What is it that still prevents the more rapid development of that salutary tough in the heart of the working masses? Their ignorance, doubtless, and in large part the political and religious prejudices by which the interested classes still struggle today to obfuscate their conscience and their natural intelligence. How to dispel that ignorance, how to destroy these harmful prejudices? – By education and propaganda?
These are doubtless excellent means. But in the present state of the working masses they are insufficient. The isolated worker is too crushed by their work and by their daily cares to give much time to their education. And who will make this propaganda? Will it be the few sincere socialists, born of the bourgeoisie who are full of generous impulses, no doubt, but who are far too few in number to give their propaganda all the necessary breadth, and who, on the other hand, belonging by their position to a different world, do not have all the grasp of the workers’ world that is required and who excite in them more or less legitimate distrust.
 “The emancipation of the workers is the task of the workers themselves,” said the preamble of our general statutes. And it is a thousand times right to say it. It is the principal basis of our great Association. But the world of the workers is generally ignorant, it still completely lacks theory. So there remains to it only a single way, and it is that of its emancipation by practice. What can and should that practice be?
There is only one. It is that of the struggle of the workers in solidarity against the bosses. It is the trades unions, organization and the federation of the strike funds.
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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Report of the Commission on the Question of Inheritance (1869)

Report of the Commission
This question which will be discussed at the Congress de Basle is divided into two part, the first consisting of the principle, the second the practical application of the principle.
The question of the principle itself must be considered from two points of view: that of utility and that of justice.
From the point of view of the emancipation of labor, is it useful, is it necessary for the right of inheritance to be abolished?
To pose that question, is, we believe, to resolve it. Can the emancipation of labor signifier anything but its deliverance from the yoke of property and capital? But how to prevent both from dominating and exploiting labor, as long as they are separated from labor, they will be monopolized in the hands of a class which, by the fact of exclusive enjoyment, exempt from the necessity of working to live, will continue to exist and crush labor, by taking from them rent for the land and interest on capital, and who, supported by this position, still take hold, as they do everywhere today, of all the profits of the industrial and commercial enterprises, leaving to the workers, crushed by the competition that they are forced to make among themselves, only that which is strictly necessary to preserve them from hunger.
No political and juridical law, however strict it may be, could not prevent that domination and exploitation, no law could prevail against the force of things, none will be able to prevent a given position from producing all its natural results; from which it clearly results that as long as property and capital on one side and labor on the other, the one constituting the bourgeois class, and the other the proletariat, the worker will be the slave, and the bourgeois the master.
But what is it that separates property and capital from labor? What constitutes, economically and politically, the difference of the classes, what destroys equality and perpetuates inequality, the privilege of the minority and the slavery of the majority? It is the right of inheritance.
Must we show how the right of inheritance creates all economic, political and social privileges? It is obvious that the difference in classes is only maintained by it. Through the right of inheritance, natural as well as temporary differences in fortune or happiness that can exist between individuals and should disappear as the individuals themselves disappear, are perpetuated, petrified as it were, and becoming traditional, create privileges of birth, found classes and become a permanent source of the exploitation of millions of workers by thousands of men born fortunate.
As long as the right of inheritance functioned, we could not have economic, social and political equality in the world, and as long as the inequality exists, there will be oppression and exploitation.
Then, in principle, from the point of view of the integral emancipation of labor and the laborers, we should desire the abolition of the right of inheritance.
It is understood that we do not pretend to abolish physiological heredity or the natural transmission of the bodily and mental faculties, or to express ourselves more accurately, of the muscular and nervous faculties of parents to their children; often this transmission is an unfortunate fact, because it passes physical and moral maladies from past generations to the present generations. But the fatal effects of this transmission can only be combated by the application of science to social hygiene, both individual and collective, and by the rational and egalitarian organization of society.
What we want, what we should abolish, is the right of inheritance created by jurisprudence and constituting the very basis of the legal family and the State.
It is also understood that we do not intend to abolish sentimental inheritance. We mean by this the inheritance that passes into the hands of children or friends objects of slight value that belonged to their friends or their deceased parents, which by dint of having long served have preserved, as it were, a personal imprint. The serious legacy is one that provides the heirs, either completely or in part, the possibility of living without work, drawing on the collective work, whether the rent of the land or interest on capital. We mean that capital as well as the land, in short all the instruments and all the raw materials for labor, ceasing to be transmissible by the right of inheritance, become forever the collective ownership of all productive associations .
The equality and consequently also the emancipation of labor and the laborers are only at this price.
There are few workers who do not understand that in the future the abolition of the right of inheritance is the supreme condition of equality. But there are some who fear that if we are going to abolish it presently, before a social organization has assured the fate of all children, whatever the conditions in which they are born, they children will find themselves in distress after their deaths.
What!” they say, “I have amassed by the sweat of my brow, and by condemning myself to the cruelest privations, 200, 300 or 400 francs, and my children are to be deprived of it!”
Yes, they will be deprived of it, but on the other hand they will receive from society, without any prejudice to the natural right of the mother and father, a maintenance, education and instruction that you would not be able to assure them of with 30 or 40 thousand francs. For it is obvious that as soon as the right of inheritance is abolished, society must take charge of all the costs of the physical, moral and intellectual development of all the children of both sexes who are born within it. It must thus become their ultimate guardian.
We have stopped at this point, because it brings in the question of integral instruction about which another commission must make its report to you.
But there is another point that we should clarify.
Many claim that by abolishing the right of inheritance, we will destroy the greatest stimulus that drives men to labor. Those who think thus continue to consider work as a necessary evil, or to speak theologically, as the effect of the curse that Jehovah in his wrath launched against the unfortunate human race, and in which by a singular whim, he understood his whole creation.
Without enering into this serious theological discussion, taking as a basis the simple study of human nature, we will respond to these accusers of labor, the work being far from an evil or a hard necessity, is, for any man who is in possession of his faculties, a need. In order to make sure everyone can make an experiment on himself, let them be condemned for just a few days to absolute inaction, or else to sterile, stupid, unproductive labor, and see if in the end they do not consider themselvess the unhappiest and most debased of people! Man is forced by his very nature to work, as he is forced to eat, drink, think, and speak.
If labor is cursed today, it is because it is excessive, stultifying et forced; it is because it kills leisure and deprives men of the possibility of humanely enjoying life; it is because each, or almost every one is forced to apply his productive strength to the sort of work least suited to his natural dispositions. It is finally because in this society founded on theology and on jurisprudence, the possibility of living without working is considered as an honor and a privilege, and the necessity of laboring to live as a sign of degradation, as a punishment and a shame.
The day when labor—muscular and nervous labor, manual and intellectual, at the same time—will be considered the highest honor of men, as the sign of their virility and their humanity, society will be saved; but that day will not come as long as the reign of inequality endures, as long as the right of inheritance is not abolished.
Would that abolition be just?
But if it is in the interest of everyone, in the interest of the humanity of everyone, how could it be unjust?
We must distinguish between historical, political, and legal justice, and rational or just simply human justice. The first has governed the world to this hour, and has made of it a receptacle of bloody oppression and iniquity. The second must emancipate it.
So let us examine the right of inheritance from the point of view of human justice.
A man, we are told, has earned for his labor a few tens, a few hundred thousand francs, a million, and he would not have the right to leave them as an inheritance to his children! But that would be a violation of natural right, a sinful plundering!
First, it has been proven a thousand times that a lone worker cannot produce much beyond what they consume. We challenge a serious worker, that is to say a workman enjoying no privilege, to earn tens, hundreds of thousand francs, millions! That would be him simply impossible. So if there is in today’s society some individuals who earn large sums, it is not by their work, it is thanks to their privilege, through a juridically legalized injustice, that they earn it; and as everything that they do not take by their own labor is necessarily taken from the labor of others, we have the right to say that all these gains are thefts committed by privileged individuals against the collective labor, with the sanction and under the protection of the State.
Let us move on.
The thief protected by law dies. He leaves, by testament or intestate, his land or capital to his children or relations. This, it is said, is a necessary consequence of his liberty and his individual rights; his wishes must be respected.
But a dead man is dead; outside of the entirely moral and sentimental existence made in the pious memories of his children, relatives or friends, if he has earned it, or public recognition, if he had rendered some real service to the public, he no longer exists at all; so he can have neither liberty, nor rights, nor individual will. Ghosts must not govern and oppress the world, which only belongs to the living.
To continue to wish and to act after his death, there must then be a legal fiction or political lie, and as he is henceforth incapable of acting by himself, some power, the State, must be responsible for acting for him and in his name, the State must execute the will of a man who, being no more, can have no will.
And what is the power of the State, if it is not the power of everyone organized to the detriment of everyone and in favor of the privileged classes? It is above all the production and collective force of the laborers. So must the laboring masses guarantee to the privileged classes the transmission of inheritances, which is the principal source of their poverty and slavery? Must they forge with their own hands the irons that bind them?
We conclude. It is enough that the proletariat declares that it no longer wants to sustain the State that sanctions its slavery, in order for the right of inheritance, which is exclusively political and legal, and as a consequence contrary to human rights, to fall on its own. To abolish the right of inheritance is enough to abolish the legal family and the State.
What is more, all social progress has proceeded by the successive abolitions of inheritance rights.
We first abolished the right of divine inheritance, the traditional privileges or chastisements that were long considered as the consequence of divine benediction or curse;
Then we abolished the right of political inheritance, the consequence of which was the recognition of the sovereignty of the people and the equality of citizens before the law;
Today we should abolish economic inheritance in order to emancipate the laborer, the man, and to establish the reign of justice on the ruins of all the political and theological iniquities of the present an past.
The last question that remains for us to resolve, is that of the practical measures to take in order to abolish the right of inheritance.
The abolition of the right of inheritance can be accomplished in two ways: either by means of successive reforms, or else by social revolution.
It could be accomplished by means of reform in those fortunate countries, very rare if not unknown, where the class of proprietors or capitalists, the bourgeois, being inspired by a spirit and wisdom that they lack today, and finally understanding the imminence of the social revolution, would come to terms, in a serious manner, with the world of the workers. In this case, but only in this case, the path of peaceful reforms would be possible; by a series of successive modifications, wisely combined and settled amiably between the laborers and the bourgeois, we could completely abolish the right of inheritance in twenty or thirty years, and replace the present mode of property, labor and instruction by collective labor and property, and by integral education or instruction.
It is impossible to determine more of the character of these reforms, since it would be necessary to adapt them to the particular situation in each country. But in all countries, the goal remains the same: the establishment of collective labor and property, and the liberty of each in the equality of all.
The method of revolution will naturally be shorter and more simple. Revolutions are never made by individual, nor by associations. They are brought about by the force of things. The International Association does not aim to make the revolution, but it must profit from it and organize on its behalf, as soon as it is made by the more and more obvious iniquity and ineptitude of the privileged classes.
It should be understood between us that on first day of the revolution, the right of inheritance will simply abolished, and with it the State and legal right, in order that on the ruins of all these iniquities will rise, across all political and national boundaries, the new international world, the world of labor, science, freedom and equality, organizing itself from the bottom up, by the free association of all the productive associations.
The Commission proposes to you the following resolutions:
Considering that the right of inheritance is one of the principal causes of the economic, social and political inequality which reigns in the world.
That apart from equality there can be neither liberty, nor justice, and there will always be oppression and exploitation; slavery and poverty for the proletariat, wealth and domination for the exploiters of the people’s labor;
The Congress recognized the necessity for the full and complete abolition of the right of inheritance.
That abolition will be accomplished, as events dictate, either by means of reforms, or by revolution.
L’Egalité, August 28, 1869, Geneva
[working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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Mikhail Bakunin, “Madame Léo and l’Egalité” (1869)

Madame Léo and l’Egalité
[L’Egalité(Geneva), March 13 & 27, 1869]
We have inserted this letter all the more willingly because it eloquently summarizes the reasons that militate in favor of a rapprochement of the different democratic parties. We will take the occasion to explain ourselves once and for all on the subject.
We understand the lofty sentiment which has dictated the letter we have just read, but we cannot let ourselves be led by these impulses of the heart; we know too well that they have always managed to doom the people’s cause, and we cannot, and must not forget what sad consequences the spirit of conciliation has had for the working class, for that class which, having always suffered, has always rebelled and have always been misled by too much confidence, by too much generosity, for that class which has so generously spilled its blood for the greatest profit of those to whom it has made concessions, for the bourgeoisie, who now oppress and starve it.
These lessons have been profitable. The workers, no longer letting themselves be led by their hearts, will no longer concede anything.
Every concession would have the effect of pushing back the complete emancipation of labor, and could produce only a partial liberation of the proletariat, the creation of a new class which, in its turn, would become oppressive.
That perspective, examined by the Congress of Lausanne, has been rejected: All together or no one, that has been the spirit of the Congress on that question. Now, that general liberation is only possible by radical means which exclude every possibility of compromise or concession; the Congress of Brussels has compromised, and that is why it has invited the League and Peace and Freedom to dissolve, manifesting in this way the will of the workers to break with the bourgeois democracy, and declaring, as it were, that the International Workingmen’s Association can no longer recognize any politics but that which would have for its immediate and direct aim the radical liberation of the last of the destitute.
We will continue in our next issue.
We have received two letters, one from Mme. André Léo, the other signed collectively by four persons: Elie Reclus, Louis Kneip, A. Davaud and Albert, cobbler. These two letters are inspired by the same spirit of conciliation with regard to that fine bourgeois class which feeds on us so tranquilly every day, as if it was the most natural and most legitimate thing in the world, and by protest against the tendencies of our paper, because having displayed the flag of the frank politics of the proletariat it does not wish to consent to any deal. It I true, we hold deals in horror.  Historical experience demonstrates to us that in all the political and social struggles they have always only served the possessing and powerful classes, to the detriment of the workers.
The lack of space does not allow us to insert these two letters. In the face of the coalition of bosses who threaten to starve us, we have nothing to say and do but to polemicize against bourgeois socialism.

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