Category Archives: 1870

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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Mikhail Bakunin, “What is Authority” (1870)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is in this sense that we are really Anarchists.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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

God and the State: The Lost Paragraphs

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

Here are those paragraphs:






Historical Sophisms of the Doctrinaire School of the German Communists

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letter to Albert Richard (April 1, 1870)

April 1, 1870. Geneva.

Dear friend. I still find myself here and every day await news of the arrival of the relation that you know, in order to go to meet them.

Complete reaction in the International of Geneva.—The factory [fabrique] has triumphed on all fronts in my absence, and no one has been found to halt that triumph. L’Egalité has become a reactionary paper. Here is the program: Cooperation and the local politics of bourgeois radicalism. From now on the International of Geneva will no longer be anything but a stepping-stone to bring the Perrets and Grosselins to power. Old Becker, become weak from age, has fallen in with the reaction.—He also takes part in local politics.

But the soul and chief schemer of that reactionary conspiracy is a sort of compatriot of mine, the little Russian Jew, Outine, the same one that you saw at Basel.—He is a petty, ambitious type of the worst sort. Jealous of the fame that I have gained, he has taken advantage of my absence to slander me here in the most vile manner, spreading the most absurd murmurs and making the filthiest insinuations against me. He has no intelligence; he is incapable of forming a thought, but he does not lack a certain skill at scheming. He is flattering, ingratiating and tireless when it comes to intrigue. First, he courted Perron; now he doesn’t even greet him. He is the friend of Perret, Grosselin, Duplex and Crosset, of the whole dirty, reactionary shop, and they help one another to grow.—Thanks to them, he is sent as the delegate of three sections to the Congress of the Suisse Romande [Federation Romande]—which will open April 4 at La Chaux-de-Fonds—and he is also named as delegate by the reactionary committee of l’Egalité.

This Congress will be very important for the future of the International in the Suisse romande. There will be a great battle. It will be given principally on the question of the abstention or participation of the workers in local politics. We all, [in] the sections from the Mountains, are for abstention. The strictly Genevan workers, the factory [workers], for participation. At this moment, Outine is their representative, their champion.

It is more or less resolved, that either our friends of the Mountain will triumph, and then the Federal Council and the editorial board of l’Egalité will be transferred to them—or if our friends yield, that the sections of the Mountains, and with them perhaps those of Lausanne, Vevey, Neufchâtel and Bienne, will separate from Geneva to form a separate Federation. From its side, the factory of Geneva has declared loudly that if Congress rejects participation in local politics, it will separate from the Mountain sections. Outine is the author of the Genovese project and he will be its principal defender. If Geneva carries the day, and if l’Egalité remains with it, Outine will be its editor.

He will naturally take advantage of it in order to put himself in contact with French socialism. My dear friend, I ask you then energetically, imperiously, in the name of our Intimacy, to warn all our friends in France and above all Mme D. T., Mme D. Z., Mr E. A., Mr D. U., without forgetting Mr D. Z., of that filthy and reactionary intrigue. Outine must be banished from our circle, as a pernicious being, and all the good, all those who march with us, either directly or indirectly, must guard against him like a plague. For his intrigue is insidious, perfidious, subversive—so warn all those who find themselves under your influence or under that of our friends.

If our party yields, the separation and independent organization of the sections of the mountains will take place—and then we will have as an organ not l’Egalité, but le Progrès of Locle, which will probably move then to Neufchâtel, under the direction of Guillaume. It will then be le Progrès that we should support with our correspondence and obtain many subscriptions for it.

Apart from its local importance, the battle that will be engaged at La chaux de Fonds will have an immense universal interest. It will be the forerunner and precursor of the one that we must give at the next General Congress of the International:

Do we want the grand politics of universal socialism or the petty politics of the bourgeois radicals, revised and corrected from the point of view of the bourgeois workers?

Do we want the abolition of the bourgeois homelands and political States, and the coming of the universal State, socialist and unique?

Do we want the complete emancipation of the workers or only the improvement of their lot?

Do we want to create a new world or plaster over the old?

Such are the questions that we must study and prepare for the next Congress. You [in the] Lyonese Section, propose it at London.—On our side will be: the Spaniards, the Belgians, the Italians, the sections of the Swiss Mountains and, I hope, the majority of the French. And we will have against us not the workers’ instincts, but the ambitions and vanities of the party leaders of the Socialist Democracy, and under the influence of these same German chiefs, in large part Jews, exploiter and bourgeois by instinct, including the school of Marx, we will also have against us the English and American delegates.

So let us close our ranks and prepare ourselves for combat. For on this depends the triumph of the International and of the Revolution.


Mr. Liebknecht continues to act in a treacherous manner with me, and in general with all the Russian revolutionaries. He has republished, it is true, my Appel aux jeunes Russes and the letter of Nechayev, but at the same time he has published an article against us, both stupid and vile, written by a joker named Borkheim, a little Jew, instrument of Marx. Note that all our enemies, all these who bay against us are Jews: Marx, Hess, Borkheim, Liebknecht, Jacobi, Weis, Kohn, Outine and many others, are Jews; all belong to that restless, scheming, exploitative nationality, bourgeois by tradition, by instinct—Marx, the most distinguished among them, possesses a great intelligence—all the others are nothing but traders in the details of his ideas.—Marx has rendered great services to socialism. But it is necessary to acknowledge at the same that that he is a very rough customer, a detestable character, vain, irascible, jealous, touchy; sly, perfidious and capable of great villainies—and as scheming as possible, as are all the Jews.

I have begun a series of letters in response to these baying Jews and Germans.—I want to be done with them.—The first letter, already finished, is translated into German and will be sent to the Volksstaat, newspaper of the Socialist Democracy of the German workers, edited by Liebknecht—after that, I will make them appear in French in the Marseillaise and in the Progrès of Locle—Please call these letters to the attention of friends.


Have you [yourself] carefully read and read to our principal friends all of the letter that I have recently sent to you through Schwitzguébel—especially the second part, the conclusion? I am very keen to receive your very specific response to that conclusion.

You always say to me: “We are in agreement on the principal points.”—Alas! My friend, I fear very much that we are in perfect disagreement on those points. According to your last letters and the latest news I have heard from you, I must think that you remain more than ever a partisan of centralization, of the revolutionary State. While I am more than ever its adversary, and see salvation only in Revolutionary Anarchy, directed at all points by an invisible collective force—the only dictatorship that I will accept, because it alone is compatible with the candor and full energy of the revolutionary movement.—

Your revolutionary plan is summarized in these words: As soon as the Revolution breaks out in Paris—Paris organizes temporarily the revolutionary commune—Lyon, Marseille, Rouen and other great cities rise up simultaneously and immediately send to Paris their revolutionary delegates, who together form a sort of National Convention or Committee of Public Safety for all of France. This Committee decrees the Revolution, decrees the abolition of the old State, the social liquidation, collective property—organizes the Revolutionary State with a strength sufficient to repress the internal and external reaction.

Is that not your idea?

Our idea, our plan is completely opposed. First, it is not at all proven that the revolutionary movement must absolutely begin in Paris. It is not at all impossible that it will commence in the provinces. But let us suppose that in accordance with the tradition, it is Paris that begins. Paris, we believe, has only an entirely negative, which is to say frankly revolutionary initiative to take: that of the destruction and liquidation, not that of organization.—If Paris rises up and triumphs, it will have the right and duty to proclaim the complete liquidation of the political, juridical, financial and administrative State—public and private bankruptcy, the dissolution of all the powers, all the services, all the functions and all the forces of the State, the fire or bonfire of all the papers, private and public deeds. Paris will naturally hurry to organize for itself, somehow, in a revolutionary manner, after the laborers gathered in associations have helped themselves to all the instruments of labor, capital of all sorts and buildings. Remaining armed and organized by streets and neighborhoods [quartiers], they will form the revolutionary federation of all the neighborhoods, the federative commune.—And that commune will certainly have the right to declare that it does not assume the right of governing or organizing France, but that it calls the people and all the towns [communes], either of France, or of what we have called until this our the foreign countries, to follow its example, to each make in their own place a revolution as radical and as destructive for the State, for legal right and for privileged property, and after having done it, to come and join in federation with it, either in Paris, or in such other places as they please, so that all the revolutionary communes, French and foreign, send their delegates for a common organization of services and of necessary relations of production and exchange, for the establishment of the charter of Equality, basis of all liberty, a charter absolutely negative in its character, clarifying much more what must be abolished forever, than the positive forms of local life, which can only be created by the living practice of each locality—and in order to form a common defense against the enemies of the revolution, as well as propaganda, weapon of the revolution, and practical revolutionary solidarity with friends from all countries against the enemies from all countries.

The provinces, at least the principal points, such as Lyon, Marseille, St Etienne, Rouen and others, must not await the decrees of Paris to rise up and organize themselves in a revolutionary manner.—They must rise up simultaneously with Paris, and do what Paris must do, the negative revolution and the first organization by a spontaneous movement—so that the federal revolutionary assembly of the delegates of the Provinces and communes do not have to organize France, but be the expression of a spontaneous organization made at each point—I mean the revolutionary points, not those that still find themselves in a state of reaction.—In a word, the revolution must be and must remain everywhere independently of the central point, which must be its expression, the product and not the source, the direction and the cause.

It is necessary that the anarchy, the uprising of all the local passions, the spontaneous awakening of life at all points, be very great in order that the Revolution should be, and remain, real and powerful.—The political revolutionaries, the partisans of ostensible dictatorship, once the revolution has obtained a first triumph, recommend the calming of the passions, order, confidence and submission to the established revolutionary powers—and in this way, they reestablish the State.

—We, on the contrary, we must foment, awaken, unleash all the passions—we must produce anarchy—and, invisible pilots in the midst of the popular storm, we must direct it, not by any ostensible power, but by the collective dictatorship of all the Allies—dictatorship without écharpe, without title, without official right, and that much more powerful, because it will have none of the appearances of power.– This is the only dictatorship that I accept. But in order for it to act, it is necessary that it exist, and for that it is necessary to prepare for and organize it in advance; for it will not make itself all alone—neither by discussions, nor by expositions and discussions of principles, nor by popular assemblies.

Few allies but the good, but good, but energetic, but discreet, but faithful, but above all free of vanity and personal ambition, strong men, serious enough, having mind and heart highly placed enough to prefer the reality of strength to these vain appearances. If you form this collective and invisible dictatorship, you will triumph, the well directed revolution will triumph. If not, no. If you amuse yourself playing at Committees of Public Safety and official dictatorship, you will be devoured by the reaction but you have your selves created.

Dear friend, I admire the generous instincts and the so lively intelligence of the French workers. But I greatly fear their tendency to effects, to grand dramatic scenes, heroic and brilliant.—Many of our friends–among whom I place you–prepare themselves to play a great role in the coming revolution–that of statesman of the revolution. They promise themselves to become the Dantons, Robespierres and St. Justs of revolutionary socialism—and they already prepare the fine speeches and grand gestures that must astonish the world. They will naturally make the popular masses a stepping stone—a pedestal for their democratic ambitions, for their glory! For the salvation of all they will make dictatorship, government, the State—a ridiculous and deplorable illusion. They will make only vanity and only serve the reaction. They will be the reaction themselves.

Remember this well, my friend and brother, the present socialist movement, completely opposed in that to the political movement that tends only to the domination and exultation of individuals, the movement for popular emancipation does not entail the triumph and dictatorship of individuals.–If individuals triumph, that will no longer be socialism, but politics, the business of the bourgeois, and socialism will perish. If it does not perish, it will be the vain, ambitious and glory-seeking individuals, the budding dictators, will make a terrible fiasco.

There is no longer but a single power, a single dictatorship whose organization is salutary and possible: it is that collective and invisible dictatorship of the allies, in the name of our principle–and that dictatorship will be that much more salutary and powerful, as it will not be cloaked by any official power, nor any ostensible character.

But in order to form it we must have really strong men, elevated by their intelligence and by their heart above vulgar ambitions, who are seriously ambitious enough to only want the triumph of their idea and not of their person and to prefer real power to the appearances of strength–in order to comprehend finally that our century is that of the collective forces, not individual forces, and that the collectivity will crush all the individuals who wish to impose themselves upon it.

Your intelligence is too great to not understand all that.–But will your heart and your character be as elevated as your intelligence. This is the question. What’s will carry the day in you: the love of justice and equality or the delirium of seeing yourself reflected in a historic pose? Have you the strength to vanquishing yourself that is Italian charlatanism, but you consider an excellent means of magnetizing the masses, that mania for posing and that thirst for glory that still torments you today?

You see, I speak to you with the ease of a friend and brother who believes they have the right to say all, because they feel in their heart an immense love for you, and who, while recognizing a large dose of individualism in you, count on your intelligence and your heart, which are still greater than your faults, and who, in short, has faith in your friendship. If you keep it for me after having read this letter, I will congratulate myself for having written it.

One more word. In one of your letters, you have said to me that I could become the Garibaldi of the social movement. You truly have too good an opinion of me, dear friend. Be certain but I know myself well and that I find myself in either any of the qualities nor any of the faults necessary to make a hero; and besides, I do not care in the least to make a historical name for myself.

Do you know to what all ambition is reduced? It is great, but it does not aim for glory or noise:

It is to help you to form that invisible collective force that alone can save and direct the revolution.

Respond to me right away, please, at the address of Perron.

Your devoted M.B.

Soon, I hope, we will see one another and I would not come with a full mouth and empty hands.

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Letter to Ogarev and Ozerov (April 5, 1871)

ogarevLetter to Nikolay Platonovich Ogarev and Vladimir Michajlovich Ozerov

April 5, 1871, Locarno

1. To Jean.

Here is a letter to Varlin for you. I send it to you today in case, enflamed by our impatient friend Ross, you should decide to leave Paris before circumstances and especially financial means have allowed me to join you. On that subject, I have already written to Ross and to you yesterday. Return the letter to Varlin only from hand to hand. In all probability the Parisians succumb, but they will not succumb in vain, having accomplished their task, and posed the question; and they carry with them at least half of Paris. The provincial towns—Lyon, Marseille and others—are unfortunately in as bad shape as before, at least judging by the news that has reached me. The old Jacobins also worry me a great deal: Delescluze, Flourens, Pyat and their ilk, and even Blanqui, become members of the Commune. I fear that they push the Commune and make fall in the old rut of the slicing of heads and the attention to pockets. Then all will be lost. One and indivisible will lose all and be lost itself in the first place. The whole merit of this revolution is precisely to be a revolution of the laborers. That is what organization can do. Our friends, during the siege, have succeeded, and they have been able to do it, by organizing and in that manner they have put in place a considerable force, but our friends from Lyon and Marseille [2] remain outside. At Paris, too many energetic and capable men are concentrated, so numerous that I fear that they obstruct one another. On the contrary, in the provinces, there is no one. If there was still time, we would have to insist that Paris send as many truly revolutionary delegates to the provinces as possible. But how to do that when Cluseret has entered the Committee? Could this be true? If it is true, it can only be by a forceful coup. What a devilishly difficult situation! On the one hand, the police connivance of the Prussians with the French reaction; on the other hand, the idiocy of the province. Only the most desperate measures and the determination to destroy everything with itself can save the cause. I beg you, write me all that you know about Lyon and Marseille, as well as Paris. Has James left or not?

Why is my book published on such gray, dirty paper?

I would like to give it another title:

L’Empire knouto-germanique et la Révolution sociale.

If the printing is still not finished, change it. But if everything is already printed, [3] let your title for the book remain.

Please send me right away all the printed sheets, in 20 copies, and mail a copy: to Alerini, to Marseille, to someone in Lyon, either to Richard or to Mme Blanc, to Sentiñón and Pellicer-Farga in Barcelone. Get their addresses, as well as that of Alerini, from Zhukovskij. Do Zhuk and Utin intend to go to Paris? Send me the Egalité. And what is happening with Solidarité?

If you leave, our friend Sacha, at least initially, will naturally remain in Geneva. I impatiently await your response.

2. To Aga.

Come on, my friend Aga. Write back to me, if only one line. What do you think of the desperate movement at Paris? Whatever its result, it must be said that they are brave. At Paris is to be found what we have sought in vain at Lyon and Marseille: an organization and some men determined to go all the way to the end. It is likely that they will be defeated. But it is certain that from now on there will be no other existence France apart from the Social Revolution. [3] The French State is dead for centuries. Over there, the revolutionaries are more feared then the five billions [war indemnity]; and so many different nations: 1. the peasants; 2. the workers; 3. the petite bourgeoisie; 4. the grande bourgeoisie; 5. the phantoms of the other world, the nobles; and 6. the eternal shadows, the vampire-clerics; 7. finally, the bureaucratic sphere; 8. the proletariat of the pen. Between all these nations, there is no solidarity, if there is not mutual hatred and patriotic phraseology. As for [Vladimir Fedorovich] Luginin, I am very pleased with him. I have unearthed in him the old compagnon, the familiar knight, the same last Mohican of the nobles, but today beset with concern for the cooperatives. As for my business, he has taken it in hand warmly, sincerely and with good grace and there are serious hopes that he will settle it. As for you, old friend, write. Today, I have telegraphed you, asking you to send me, to be paid for on delivery, two pounds of tea. So send them And how is my Angel Marie. How is her health, and yours? Write soonest.


M. B.



Marginal notes:

[1] In the margin: You, instruct Varlin to read my letter and give it a reading yourself, if possible in the presence of some other good friends.

It would be good if we saw each other before you leave. Send some money, I will arrive after the 13th or 15th of April.

[2] In the left margin: And what is going on with Lazarev? Where does he fly with his beloved [apparently a flying machine he had invented]? Do you know anything about Postnikov?

In the right margin: As for Luginin, he claims that it will soon be [this way?] in Russia.

[3] In the margin: more than two million troops and all have received arms; the soldiers are trained according to the new Prussian system; as for the officers, they are perfectly instructed. And what news of [Sergei] Nechaev and [Vladimir] Serebrennikov?

[4] In the margin: Read my letter to Varlin and tell me what you think of it.

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Letter to Nikolay Ivanovich Zhukovsky (May 5, 1870)

[Letter to Nikolay Ivanovich Zhukovsky, in Russia]

                             May 5, 1870. Locarno.

                             Casa Pedrazzini.

Dear Zhuk,

The day after my arrival, I responded briefly to you few words. Now I want to discuss with you. You probably already know that I have punctually fulfilled, towards Guillaume and Fritz Robert, what we have decided among us; and I see, in the latest issues of Solidarité, which I have found here in the home of a friend, that Guillaume has held strictly to the direction fixed. The last two issues are excellent. I wish very much to know the impression that Solidarité has produced in Geneva. In a general fashion, I await the detailed letter that you have promised, a response to all the questions that I have posed in my last. Please tell me in detail everything that has happened or happens in the Alliance and in the International as well. What do the building workers thing and do? Are there not new internal wars in the enemy camp? Have they brought us to justice, in what form and under what pretext? Has Becker presented himself again to the Alliance? Or has he completely abandoned it? in what terms has Rémy explained the proposition that he has repeated? Have there been danger? How has it been avoided? What effects have been felt in the Alliance from the accusations born by Duval against Perron? Has the latter ceased to make faces? What does he think and what does he do? Has Schindler been seen and has he not let himself be corrupted by Duval? What has become of Lagrange? What has become of the trinity: Lindegger, Pinier and Miche? What has become of Guilmeaux? Finally, what has become of Brosset? And you, what are you doing? How are you? Do you have lessons? Are you at Ogarev’s house? In a word, everything that in your opinion and according to your conscience you have to tell me. Have you read my brochure on the bears? Does it sell? Has it made some impression? And on whom? Finally, has my letter to Liebknecht in the Marseillaise been published?

Speak to me of everything, if you please, in detail. I will be with you May 15, impossible before. I do not know, has Perron found me a lodging, or is he so angry with me that he no longer wants to concern himself with it? I await his response to my three letters.

I have received a letter from Sentiñon. These are really brave. We must take an interest in the Madrid revue Solidaridad (at the Redacción of la Solidaridad, Madrid, Tabernillas, 21) as well as at El Obrero (at the Redaccion of El Obrero, Spagna, Baleares, Palma, Calle de la Longete, num. 39).

Have you written, as you promised, a personal and detailed relation of the crisis that has erupted (by explaining the facts, acts and motives of all those concerned) for all those concerned? If you have still not written it, write. It is necessary.

The first issue of the new Narodnoe delo is a simple shell without anything inside, like all the previous ones. They have put in some articles, but they have nothing to put inside, except for Utin himself, the great and mundane instigator of all these maneuvers in soap bubbles.

I remained ten days at Molan where I have seen Gambuzzi who, at Naples, is actively and skillfully occupied with renovating the business of the International, seriously jeopardized by the arrests and trials. Together, we have put in place the first stones of the International in Lombardy; more detail about this in person.

But what to say of the arrests in Paris; I am sure that Varlin, Robin, Richard and many others are arrested. Write me, please, what you know about this subject.

And what is the news from London? In whose favor do they lean? And why and how?

Your M.B.


My address: Canton du Tessin, Locarno, Signora Pedrazzini, for Madame Antoinette.

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The Bears of Berne and the Bear of Saint-Petersburg (1870)

Patriotic lament for a humiliated and hopeless Switzerland
March, 1870
The Russian government has judged our Federal Council well, when it dared to demand the extradition of the Russian patriot Nechayev. Everyone knows that the order has been given to all the cantonal police to seek and arrest that revolutionary, as intrepid as tireless, who, after having escaped twice from the claws of the czar, that is from death preceded by the most dreadful tortures, would probably have believed, that once having taken refuge in the Swiss republic, he would be sheltered from all the imperial brutalities.
He would be wrong. The homeland of William Tell, that hero of political murder, that we still glorify today in our federal celebrations, precisely because tradition accuses him of having killed Gessler; that republic which had not feared to confront the dangers of a war with France, to defend its right of asylum against Louis-Philippe demanding the extradition of prince Louis-Napoléon, today emperor of the French; and who, after the last Polish insurrection, had dared demand of the Austrian emperor not the arrest, but the releaseof Mr. Langiewicz, on whom it had bestowed the freedom of the city; that Helvetia formerly so independent and so proud, is governed today by a Federal Council which no longer seems to seek its except in the police and spy services that it renders to all the despots.
It inaugurated its new policyof appeasement by a striking act, the inexorable histoire of which will reflect the republican hospitality of the Swiss. It was the expulsion of the great Italian patriot, Mazzini, guilty of having created Italy and of having dedicated all his life, forty years of indomitable activity, in the service of humanity. To drive out Mazzini, that was to expel from the republican territory of the Swiss the very genius of liberty. it was to give a slap in the face to the very honor of our homeland.
The Federal Council did not let itself be stopped by that consideration. It is a republican government, it is true, but after all it is nonetheless a government, and every political power, whatever its denomination and external form, is animated by a natural instinctive hatred against liberty. Its daily practice leadsinevitably to the necessity of restraining, diminishing and destroying, slowly or violently, according to the circumstances and times, the spontaneity of the governed masses, and that negation of liberty extends always and everywhere as far as the political and social conditions of the milieu and the spirit of the populations permits.
What is striking about the expulsion of Mazzini by the Federal Council is that it has not even been demanded by theItalian government. it was a spontaneous act, like a sort of bouquet offered to that body by the gallantry of the federal councilors, to whom Mr. Melegari, ci-devant patriot and Italian refugee in that same Switzerland, but today representative of the monarchy and of the Italian consorteria, close to the federal government, had suggested that such a proof of good will on their part could not fail to accelerate the conclusion the great affair of the Saint-Gotthard railway.
If ever a historian wanted to recount all public and private business which has been concluded, carried out, and resolved, on the occasion of the establishment, at once ruinous and useful, of the railroads in Europe, one would see a mountain of filth rise higher than Mont-Blanc.
The Federal Council has doubtless wanted to contribute to the raising of that mountain by lending a complaisant ear to the suggestions of Mr. Melegari. Besides, by expelling Mazzini, the Federal Council made what one calls a dead certainty [sure thing?]: it gained the good graces and earned the gratitude, always so useful, of a great neighboring monarchy, knowing well the public opinion and democratic sentiment of the Swiss were so deeply sleeping or so absorbed in minor affairs, in the small gains of each day, that they would not even notice the slap that they received full on the cheek. Alas! the Federal Council showed itself a profound expert on our dispositions and our present manners. Apart from some rare protests, the Swiss republicans have remained unshaken before such an act accomplished in their name.
This impassivity of public sentiment was an encouragementto the Federal Council, which, always eager to please thedespotic powers more, asked nothing better than to persevere in the same way. It proved it only too well in the case of Princess Obolensky.
A mother who has the misfortune to be born into the Russian aristocracy andthe even greater misfortuneto have been given in marriage toa Russian prince—a hypocrite, on his knees before all the orthodox priests of Moscow and Saint-Petersburg, who naturally bowed down before his emperor, in the end all that is most servile in this world of official servility;—that mother wants to raise her children in liberty, in respect for labor and humanity. For that, she took up residence in Switzerland, in Vevey. Naturally that displeased the court at Saint-Petersburg a great deal. They spoke there with indignation, with anger of the democratic  simplicity in which she raised her children; they were clothed like bourgeois children, no luxury either in the apartments, nor at the table; no carriage, no lackeys, two servants for the whole house, and a table always very simple.—Finally, the children were forced to study from morning to night and the teachers were asked to treat them as mere mortals.—They said that the grand duchess Marie of Leuchtenberg, sister of the emperor, and ci-devant friend of Princess Obolenski, could not speak of it without shedding tears of rage. The emperor himself was moved by it. Several times, he ordered Princess Obolenski to return immediately to Russia. She refused. So what did His Majesty do? He ordered Prince Obolenski, who as everyone knew, had long been separated from his wife, to assert his rights as husband and father, and to use force pour bring home if not the mother, at least the children.
The Russian prince asked nothing better than to obey His Majesty.The whole fortune of the family belonged to the princess, not to him: once she was relegated to some Russian convent or else declared an émigré, uncooperative with the sacred will of His Majesty, her could would be confiscated and as natural guardian of his children, he would become their administrator. The affair was excellent. But how to execute this act of brutal violence in the midst of a free, proud people, in a canton of the Swiss Republic? he was told that there is no liberty, nor republic, nor pride, nor Swiss independence which lasts against the will of His Majesty, the Emperor of all the Russias.
Was that presumptuous? Alas, no! It was only a fair assessment of a sad truth. The emperor ordered his high chancellor of foreign affairs, Prince Gortschakoff, he order the minister representing Russia at Berne, and he ordered—but, no, we must speak politely—he recommended, he asked the Federal Council of the Helvetian Republic. the Federal Council sent Prince Obolenski, with its very urgent recommendations, to the cantonal government of Lausanne; that government sent him on, empowered with its orders, to the prefect of Vevey; and at Vevey all the republican authorities had long awaited Prince Obolenski, impatient to receive him as one must receive a Russian prince, when he comes to command in the name of his czar. All had indeed been prepared from afar through the care, undoubtedly disinterested, of the attorney Cérésole, today a member of the Federal Council.
To be fair, the lawyer Cérésole had deployed in this case a great zeal, a great energy and a tremendous skill. Thanks to him, an unheard of act of bureaucratic violence has been able to be accomplished in the midst of the republican Swiss without glare and without obstacles. Forewarned on the eve of the arrival of Prince Obolenski, the prefect, the justice of the peace and the gendarmes of Vevey, Mr. Cérésole at their head, waited one find morning at the station for the arrival of the august convoy. They had pushed kindness to the point of preparing the carriages necessary for the projected abduction, and as soon as the prince arrived, they transported themselves en masse to the home of Princess Obolenski, poor woman did not even guess the storm that would swoop down on her.
There occurred a scenethat we renounce describing. The policeof Vaud, doubtless jealous to distinguish themselves in front of a Russian prince, beat back with their fists the princess who wanted to say a last goodbye to her children; Prince Obolenski, delighted, went back to Russia; Mr. Cérésole gave commands. The sick, disheartened children were taken away by the gendarmes and thrown in the carriages which carried them off.
Such was the affair of princess Obolenski. Some months before that event, which was so disastrous for the honor of our republic, the princess had consulted, it is said, several Swiss jurists, and all had responded that she had nothing to fear in that country, where the liberty of each is guaranteed by the laws, and where no authority can attempt anything against any person whether native, or foreign, without a ruling and without the prior authorization of a Swiss court. It should be this way in a country which calls itself a republic and which takes liberty seriously. However, quite the opposite has happened in the case of Mme. Obolenski. It is even told that when the princess, seeing herself assailed by this entirely Cossack invasion of republican gendarmes, commanded by Mr. Cérésole and Prince Obolenski, wished to claim the protection of Swiss justice, the attorney Cérésole responded to her with some crude banter, which the Vaudois gendarmes hastened to translate immediately into blows… and love live Swiss liberty!
The Limousin affair is a new specimen of that liberty. The imperial government of France, it is known, just concluded with our federal government an extradition treaty for misdemeanors and common crimes. It is obvious that this treaty is nothing, on the part of the government of Napoleon III, but an awful trap, and on the part of the Federal Council which has agreed to it, as well as to the Federal Assembly which has ratified it, an act of unpardonable weakness. For, under the pretext of prosecuting common crimes, the ministers of Napoleon III could now demand the extradition of all the enemies of their master.
Revolutions are not a child’s game, nor an academic debate where vanities are killed, nor a literary joust where only ink is spilled. Revolution is war, and whoever says war, says the destruction of men and things. It is doubtless unpleasant for humanity that it still has not invented a more peaceful means of progress, but up to the present every new step in history has really only be accomplished after receiving the baptism of blood. Moreover, the reaction has no cause to reproach the revolution in this regard. It has always spilled more blood than that latter. Take as proof the massacres of Paris in June 1848 and in December 1851, the savage repressions of the despotic governments of other countries, in the same period and after, without speaking of the dozens, of the hundreds of thousands of victims which are the cost of wars, the necessary consequences and like the periodic fevers of that political and social state we call the reaction.
It is thus impossible to be either a revolutionary, or a true reactionary, without committing act which, from the point of view of the criminal and civil codes, unquestionably constitute offenses or even crimes, but which from the point of view of real and serious practice, whether of the reaction, or of the revolution, appear as inevitable misfortunes.
On this account, making exceptions for the innocent makers of speeches and books, what political struggler does not fall under the attack of the extradition treaty newly concluded between France and Switzerland?
If the criminal coup of December had not succeeded, and if Prince Louis-Napoleon, accompanied by his worthy acolytes, the Mornys, the Fleurys, the Saint-Arnauds, the Baroches, the Persignys, the Pietris and so many others, had taken refuge in Switzerland, after having put the city of Paris, all of France in fire and blood, and if the victorious Republic had demanded their extradition from their sister the Helvetic Republic, would the Swiss have given them up? No, doubtless. And yet if there was ever violators of all laws, human and divine, criminals against all possible codes, they were them: a band of thieves and brigands, a dozen Robert Macaires of the elegant life, united by vice and by a common distress, ruined, doomed by reputation and debts, and who, in order to rebuild a position and a fortune, have not recoiled before one of the most awful attacks known to history. There is, in a few words, the whole truth about the coup d’état of December.
The brigands have triumphed. They reigned for eighteen yearswithout division and without control over the most beautiful countryin Europe, that Europe considered with good reason as the center of the civilized world. They have created an official France in their image. They kept almost intactthe appearance  of some institutions and things, but they have upset the base of it by lowering it to the level of their manners and their own spirits. All the ancient words remain. They speak, as always, of liberty, justice, dignity, right, civilization and humanity; but the sense of these words is completely transformed in their mouths, each word signifying in reality the complete opposite of what it seems to want to express: they talk of a society of bandits who, by a bloody irony, make use of the most honest expressions, to discuss the most criminal schemes and act. Isn’t that still the character of imperial France today?
Is there anything more disgusting, more vile, for example, than the imperial senate, composed, in the terms of the Constitution, of all the celebrated persons of the country? Doesn’t everyone know that it is the maison des invalides of all the accomplices of the crime, all tired and satedDecembrists? Do you know anything more disgraced than the justice of the empire, that all these courts and magistrates which recognize no other duty than to support even so the imperial iniquity?
Well! It is to serve the interests of one of these pères conscrits of the crime of December, in it solely on the strength of a judgment pronounced by one of those courts, that the government of Napoleon III, on the back of the sucker’s treaty concluded by the Swiss with him, demands today the extradition of Mme. Limousin. The official pretext, and there must always be one—hypocrisy, as says a maxim which has become a proverb, being an homage that vice enders to virtue—the official pretext taken advantage of by the French minister, to press his demand, is the conviction pronounced by the court of Bordeaux against Mme. Limousin for violation of the secrecy of correspondence.
Isn’t it sublime?… The empire, that violator par excellence of all the things reputed inviolable, the government of Napoleon III pursuing a poor woman who had violated the secrecy of correspondence! As if they themselves had ever done anything else!
But what is permitted for the state is forbidden to the individual. Such is the governmental maxim. Machiavelli said it, and history, as well as the practice of all present governments show it to be correct: Crime is a necessary condition of the very existence of the state, so it establishes an exclusive monopoly on it, from which it results that the individual who dares to commit a crime is twice guilty: first, against human conscience, then and especially against the state, by assuming one of its most precious privileges.
We will not discuss the value of this fine principle, the basis of all state politics. We will ask instead if it is well proven that Mme. Limousin had violated the secrecy of correspondence? Who asserts it? An imperial court. And do you truly believe that one can put faith in a judgment pronounced by an imperial court? Yes, it will be said, every time that the court has no interest in lying. Very well, but the interest exist on this occasion, and it is the imperial government itself which it charged with informing the federal government of the fact.
It is in the interest of Mr. Tourangin, senator of the empire and no doubt a great aristocrat, since he sets in motion all the powers of heaven and earth, from the bishops, the French minister, and the Federal Council of our republic, to the police of Vaud, to prevent his nephew from marrying Mme. Limousin.
Under the old regime in France, whennecessary to save the honor of an illustrious family, the minister placed at the disposal of the family a lettre de cachet. A royal bailiff, armed with that terrible instrument, seized the offenders: man and woman, lover and mistress, man and wife, and bury them separately in the oubliettes of the Bastille. Today, we are under the regime of official liberty, under the regime of hypocrisy. The lettre de cachet is called a diplomatic note, and the role of the imperial bailiff is filled by the Federal Council of the Swiss republic.
The nephew of a senator of the empire, an unworthy member of that powerful and illustrious Tourangin family, to marry Madame Limousin! What a horrible scandal! And isn’t there something there something to revoltall the honest feelings in the hearts of our honest federal councilors! Moreover, are not all the senators of the world united among themselves? The service that Switzerland renders today to a senator of the Empire, France may renderone day to a councilor of the Swiss state. In this way, the honor of the great families of all countries will be saved, and the misalliance,this leprosy that today devours the aristocraticworld, would becomeimpossible everywhere.
The imperial government has so little doubted the excellent sentiments that animate our republican government, that in order to accelerate its administrative action, I has frankly admitter, we know it from a reliable source, that in this affaire, the supposed violation of the secret of the letters was the least of things, a pretext, and that it was a question of an interest with a very different importance: the very honor of the imperial senator Tourangin.
So we have seen with what energy the Federal Council andthose Vaud police, who had already excited theadmiration of a Russian prince, put themselves at the service of the celebrated revenges ofMr. Tourangin. It was not the fault of the always-so-executive authorities of the canton of Vaud, if the young couple, doubtless warned, took refuge in the canton of Fribourg, andit is not the fault of the Federal Council, if the cantonal government of Fribourg, more possessive of the dignity and independence of the Swiss that he, has not yet delivered the guilty to the imperial and senatorial condemnation.
What we admire most is the role played by certain Swiss newspapers in this shamefulaffair. Our so-called liberal newspapers, who have a mission to defend freedom against the encroachment of democracy, do not believe themselves obliged to defend it againstthe violence of despotism. They dread and curse theforce from below, but they bless and call alltheir wishes force from above. All the manifestations of popular liberty seem detestable to them, but on the other hand they love the free deploymentsof power, they have the cult of authority all the same, because, coming from God or the devil, all authority, by a necessity inherent in its being, becomes the natural protector of the exclusive freedomsof the privileged world. Driven bythis strange liberalism, in all the questions that agitate it, they always embrace the party of the oppressors against the oppressed.
It is thus that we have seen the Journal de Genève, this paladin in chief o the liberal leader at home, warmly approve the expulsion of Mazzini, laud the servilecomplaisance of the Federal Counciland entirely Cossackbrutality of the Vaud authoritiesin the case of Princess Obolensky; and now he is preparing to prove that Mr. SenatorTourangin and the Federal Councilare right, first to require, and second to order the extradition of that poor Mrs. Limousin.
He prepares, as always, by slander. This is an excellent weapon, more certain than the chassepot, the favorite weapon of the Catholic and Protestant Jesuits. However, it appeared that Mme. Limousin pays little to slander, since this newspaper, which is always so well informed, thanks to its relationship with the police and thegovernments of all countries, has not been able to find a single grievance againsther: Ms. Limousinis older than her husband, the nephew of Senator Tourangin!
Is this not a clear proof of great depravity? A woman being married by a younger man and without even offer the advantages of a large fortune! It is almost the corruption of a minor! And thinkwhat minor! The nephew of a senator of Napoleon III. It is obvious that this is a very immoral, very dangerous woman, and that the Swiss republic should not suffer such a monster in its bosom.
And most of our papers repeat stupidly, shamefully: “This woman does not deserve the sympathies of the public!” And what do you know of it, Gentlemen? Do you know her, have you met with her often, o writers as truthful as virtuous? Who are her accusers? The government, the diplomatic corps, a senator and a tribunal of Napoleon III, that is the quintessence of triumphant and cynical immorality. And it is by basing yourself on such testimonies, that you, republicans and representatives of a free people, throw mud on a poor woman persecuted by French despotism and by all the Cérésoles of our Federal Council! So don’t you sense, o gossips without brains and without shame, that the mud will remain on yourselves, you, the indulgers of all the powers, traitors to liberty, miserable gravediggers of the independence and dignity of our homeland.
Let us return to the affair of the Russian patriot, Nechayev.
The federal government seeks him with all the cantonal police. It has given orders to arrest him. But once arrested, what it he do to him? Does itreally have the courage to deliver him to the Czar of Russia? We will give it a suggestion: Let it throw him instead into the bear pitof Bern. It will be more frank and honest, shorter, and above all morehumane.
And besides, it will be a punishment that Mr. Nechayev has earned. He has had faith in Swiss hospitality, justice and liberty. He thought that since Switzerland was a republic, it could only have indignationand disgust for the policy of the czar. He took the fable of William Tell seriously, helet himself be deceived by the republican pride of the speeches we pronounce during our federal and cantonal holidays, and he did not understand, the imprudent young man, that we arean entirely bourgeois republic andit is in the nature of the current bourgeoisie tolove the beautiful things in the past, and to worship only lucrative and useful things in the present.
The republican virtues too costly. The practice of independence and national pride, taken seriously, can become very dangerous. Servile complacency with regard to the great despotic poweris infinitely more profitable. Moreover, the major powers have a way of acting that isimpossible to resist. If you do notobey them, they threaten you, and their threats are serious. Hell! Each of them has more than half a million soldiers to crush us. But if you yield a little and give proof of a bit of good will, they will lavish the most tender compliments on you, and better than compliments… thanks to the financial systems that are ruining their peoples, the great powers are very rich. The police of the canton of Vaud know somethingof it and the purse of Prince Obolensky too.
Caught in this dilemma, the Federal Council could not hesitate. Its utilitarian andprudent patriotism resolved it for the policy of appeasement. What, besides has this Mr. Nechayev done! Did he go, just to please him, to face the wrath of the Czar and attracton poor little Switzerland the vengeance of the Emperor of all the Russias? It can not hesitate between this unknown young man and the most powerful monarch in the world! It does not have to judge between them. It is enough that the monarch demanded his head; it must deliver it. Moreover, it is clear that Nechayev is a great culprit. Didn’t he rebel against his lawful sovereign, and did he not confess in his letter that he is a revolutionary?
The Federal Council, after all, is a government. As such, it must have a natural sympathy for every government, whatever its form, and just as natural a hatred for the revolutionaries of all countries. If it held only to that, it would have very quickly swept the Swiss territory of all those adventurers who unfortunately fill it today. But there is one serious obstacle, it is the still living sentiment of Swiss dignity, the great historical traditions and the natural, deep sympathies of our republican people for the heroes and martyrs of liberty. There is finally the Swiss law that offers a generous hospitality to all political refugees and protects them against the persecutions of the despots.
The Federal Council does not yet feel strong enough to break that obstacle, but it knows how to skillfully turn it; and extradition treaties for crimes and common offenses, which almost all the Governments of Europe hastened to finalizeamong themselves, in preparation for an upcoming international war of reactionagainst the revolution, offer it a magnificent means of doing it. first it slanders,then it clamps down. It pretends to give credence to lying accusations raised against a political émigréby a government that has never done anything but lie;then it declares to the republican public of Switzerland that this individual is wanted, not for any political crime, but for common crimes.This is how Mr. Nechayev became a murderer and a forger.
Who affirms it? the Russian government. And our dear and honest Federal Council has such faith in all the affirmations of the Russian government that it does not even ask for legal proofs, its word alone suffices. Moreover, it knows very well that if legal proofs became necessary, the Czar would only have to make a sign, for the Russian courts to pronounce against the unfortunate Nechayev the most impossible accusations and. So it has wished to spare the government of the Czar that useless trouble, and contenting itself with his simple word, it has ordered the arrest of the Russian patriot, as a murderer and  maker of counterfeit bank notes.
These unfortunate Russian bank notes have served as a pretext to make domiciliary visits to the homes of several émigrés in Geneva. We know that they did not find the shadow of a bank note. But they have doubtless hoped to get their hands on some political correspondence that would necessarily compromise a lot of people, both in Russia and Poland, and which would unveil the revolutionary plans of this terrible Nechayev. They have found nothing and covered themselves with shame, that is all. But what seek with this extra-republican zeal the traces of a correspondence, some papers and letters that could in no way interest the Swiss republic? Do they want to enrich the library of the Federal Council? It is improbable, so it was to deliver them to the curiosity of the Russian government; from which it clearly results that the cantonal police of Geneva, following the example given by the police of Vaud and obeying the orders of the Federal Council itself, is transformed into the police force of the czar of all the Russias.
One even claims that Mr. Camperio, the spiritual statesman of Geneva, washed his hands of it like Pilate. He was in despair at having to fulfill some functions that disgusted him, but he had to obey the precise orders of the Federal Council. I ask myself if Mr. James Fazy, also a man of wit and the greatest revolutionary, as everyone knows, would have acted, or could have acted differently in his place? I am convinced that the answer is no. After having been on of the principal promoters of the system of political centralization, that, since 1848, subordinated the autonomy of the cantons to the power of the Federal Council, how could he escape from the consequences of that system? It would have been enough for the Federal Council to order it, in order for him, like Mr. Camperio, to fulfill nolens volens the office of the Russian policeman.
Such then is the clearest result of our great conquest of 1848. That political centralization that the radical party created in the name of liberty, kills liberty. It is enough that the Federal Council let itself be intimidated or corrupted by a foreign power, in order for all the cantons to betray liberty. It is enough that the Federal Council orders it, in order for all the cantonal authorities to transform  themselves into a police force for the despots. Hence it follows that the former regime of autonomy for the cantons guaranteed the liberty and national independence of Switzerland much better than does the current system.
If liberty has made notable progress in several cantons that were once very reactionary, it is not at all thanks to the new powers with which the Constitution of 1848 invested the federal authorities; it is entirely thanks to the development of minds, thanks to the march of time. All the progress accomplished since 1848 in the federal domain is progress in the economic order, like the unification of currencies, weights, and measures, the great public works, the trade treaties, etc.
It will be said that economic centralization can only be obtained by political centralization, that one implies the other, that they are both necessary and beneficial in the same degree. Not at all. Economic centralization, essential, condition of civilization, created liberty; but political centralization kills it, by destroying, for the profit of the ruler and the governing classes, the proper life and spontaneous action of the populations. The concentration of political powers can only produce slavery, for liberty and power exclude one another in an absolute manner. Every government, even the most democratic, is a natural enemy of liberty, and the stronger and more concentrated it is, the more oppressive it becomes. These are moreover truths so simples, so clear, that we are almost ashamed to repeat them.
If the cantons of Switzerland were still autonomous, the Federal Council would have neither the right, nor the power to transform them into police for foreign powers. There were doubtless some very reactionary cantons. And don’t they exist today? Aren’t there cantons where they condemn to the lash people who dare deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, without the federal power involving itself? But there were besides these reactionary cantons, other cantons largely infused with the spirit of liberty, of which the Federal Council could no longer arrest the progressive impetus. These cantons, far from being paralyzed by the reactionary cantons, would end by dragging them with them. For liberty is contagious and liberty alone,—not the governments,—created liberty.
Modern society is so convinced of this truth: that all political power, whatever its origin and form, inevitably tend to despotism,—that in all the countries where it has been able to emancipate itself somewhat, it has hastened to subject the governments, even when they are the issue of revolution and popular election, to as strict a control as possible. It has put all the safety of liberty in the real and serious organization of the control exerted by opinion and by the will of the people over all the men invested with the public force. In all the countries enjoying representative government, and Switzerland is one of them, liberty can thus only be real which this control is real. On the contrary, if the control is fictive, the liberty of the people inevitably also becomes a pure fiction.
It would be easy to demonstrate that in no part of Europe is the popular control real. We will limit ourselves this time to examining its application in Switzerland. First because it remains closest to us, and then, because being the sole democratic republic in Europe today, it has realized to some extent the ideal of popular sovereignty, so that what is true for it, must be, for even greater reasons, true for all the other countries.
The most advanced cantons in Switzerland have sought, around the era of 1830, the guarantee of liberty in universal suffrage. It was a movement tout-à-fait legitimate. As long as our Legislative Councils were only named by one class of privileged citizens, as long as differences remained with regard to electoral rights between the cities and the country, between the patricians and the people, the executive power chosen by these Councils, as well as the law elaborated within them, could have no other purpose that to assure and regulate the domination of an aristocracy over the nation. So it was necessary, in the interest of the liberty of the people, to overthrown this regime, and replace it wit that of the sovereignty of the people.
Universal suffrage once established, we thought we had assured the liberty of the populations. Well, that was a great illusion, and we could say that the consciousness of that illusion has led in several cantons to the fall, and in all, to the demoralization that is so obvious today among the radical party. The radicals have not wished to fool the people, as our so-called liberal press assures them, but they were fooled themselves. They were really convinced when they promised the people liberty, by means of universal suffrage, and full of that conviction, they had the power to lift up les masses and overthrown the established aristocratic governments. Today, instructed by experience and by the practice of power, they have lost that faith in themselves and in their own principle, and that is why they are slaughtered and so profoundly corrupted.
And indeed, the thing appears so natural and so simple: once the legislative power and the executive power will emanate directly from popular lection, mustn’t they become the pure expression of the will of the people, and could that will produce anything but the liberty and prosperity of the people?
All the lies of the representative system rest on that fiction, that a power and a legislative chamber elected by the people absolutely must or even can represent the real will of the people. The people, in Switzerland as everywhere, instinctively, inevitably want two things: the greatest material prosperity possible with the greatest freedom of existence, movement and for themselves: the best organization of their economic interests and the complete absence of any political power, any political organization,—since every political organization leads inevitably to the negation of their liberty. Such is the basis of all the instincts of the people.
The instincts of those who govern, as much as those who make the laws as those who exercise the executive power, are, precisely because of their exceptional positions, diametrically opposed. Whatever their sentiments and their democratic intentions, from the height where they find themselves placed, they do not consider society except as a tutor considers his pupil. But between the tutor and the pupil equality cannot exist. On the one hand, there is the feeling of superiority, inevitably inspired by a superior position; on the other, that of an inferiority that results from the superiority of the tutor, exercising either the executive power, or the legislative power. Whoever says political power, says domination; but where domination exists, there must necessarily be men, a more or less great part of society that is dominate, and those who are dominated necessarily detest those who dominate them, while those who dominate must necessarily repress, and consequently oppress those who are subject to their domination.
Such is the eternal history of political power, since that power has been established in the world. That is also what explains why and how some men who have been the reddest democrats, the most furious rebels, when they are among the mass of the governed, become excessively moderate conservatives as soon as they rise to power. We ordinarily attribute these palinodes to treason. That is an error; their principal cause if the change of perspective and position, and never forget that the positions and the necessities they impose are always more powerful than the hatred or ill will of individuals.
Touched by this truth, I would not fear to express this conviction, that if tomorrow we established a government and a legislative council, a parliament, made up exclusively of workers, these workers who are today firm socialist democrats, would become the day after tomorrow determined aristocrats, bold or timid worshippers of the principle of authority, oppressors and exploiters. My conclusion is this: we must completely abolish, in principle and in fact, everything that is called political power; because as long as political power exists, there will be dominators and dominated, masters and slave, exploiters and exploited. Political power once abolished, we must replace it by the organization of the productive forces and economic services.
Let us return to the Swiss. Among us, as everywhere else, the governing class is quite different and completely separate from the mass of the governed. In Switzerland, as everywhere, however egalitarian our political constitutions may be, it is the bourgeoisie that governs, and it is the laboring people, including the peasants, which obeys its laws. The people have neither leisure, nor the necessary instruction to concern themselves with government. The bourgeoisie, possessing both, have, not by right, but in fact, the exclusive privilege of it. So political equality is only, in Switzerland as everywhere, a puerile fiction, a lie.
But being separated from the people by all the conditions of its economic and social existence, how can the bourgeoisie realize, in the government and in our laws, the sentiments, the ideas, the will of the people? It is impossible, and the daily experience proves to us, in fact, that in the legislation as well as in the government, the bourgeoisie let itself by guided primarily by its own interests and instincts, without worrying much about those of the people.
It is true that all our legislators, as well as all the members of our cantonal governments, are elected, either directly or indirectly, by the people. It is true that on election days, the proudest bourgeois, however little ambition they may have, are forced to make court to His Majesty the sovereign people. They come to it hat in hand, and seem to have no other will than its own. But this is only a bad quarter of an hour to pass. Once the elections are over each returns to their daily occupations: the people to their work, and the bourgeoisie to the lucrative business and political intrigues. They do not encounter one another, they hardly know each other any more. How will the people, crushed by their labor and ignorant of the majority of the questions that are discussed, control the political acts of its representatives? Isn’t it obvious that the control exercised by the voters over their representatives is only a pure fiction? But as popular control, in the representative system, is the sole guarantee of popular liberty, it is obvious that this liberty is also only a fiction.
In order to protect against that inconvenience, the radical democrats of the canton of Zurich have made triumph a new political system, that of the referendum, or direct legislation by the people. But the referendum is itself only a palliative means, a new illusion, a lie. In order to vote, with full knowledge of the issues and with an entire liberty, on the laws that are proposed or that they push to propose themselves, the people would have to have the time and the necessary instruction to study them, nurture them, and discuss them; it should transform itself into an immense parliament in the open fields. That is only rarely possible and only on great occasions, when the proposed law excites the attention and touches the interests of everyone. These cases are exceedingly rare. Most of the time, the laws proposed have such a special scope, that you must have the habit of political and legal abstractions to grasp their true scope. They naturally escape the attention and comprehension of the people, who vote blindly on them, on their faith in their favorite orators.—taken separately, each of these laws appears too insignificant to interest the people much, but together they form a ring that enchains them. So it is that with or despite the referendum, they remain, under the name of the sovereign people, the instrument and very humble servant of the bourgeoisie.
We see well, in the representative system, even corrected by the referendum, that popular control does not exist, and as there cannot be serious liberty for the people without this control, we conclude that our popular liberty, our government by ourselves, is a lie.
What happens each day in all the cantons of Switzerland confirms this sad conviction in us. Where is the canton where the people exercise a real and direct action of the laws produced in its Grand-Conseil and on the measures ordered by its Petit-Conseil? Where is this fictive sovereign not treated by its own representatives like an eternal minor, and where is it not forced to obey commandments from on high, of which most of the time it does not know the reason of the aim?
The largest part of the business and the laws, and much of the important business and laws, which have a direct relations with well-being, with the material interests of the communes, are over the head of the people, without the people knowing it, caring about it and getting involved in it. They are compromised, bound, and sometimes ruined, without them being aware of it. They have neither the habit, nor the time necessary to study all that, and it leaves free its representatives, who naturally serve the interests of their class, of their own world, not those of the people, and whose greatest art consists in presenting to them their measures and their laws under the most harmless and the most popular aspect. The system of the democratic representation is that of the hypocrisy and perpetual lies. The stupidity of the people is needed, and it bases all its triumphs on it.
As indifferent and patient and the populations of our cantons show themselves, they still have certain ideas, certain instincts for liberty, independence and justice on which it is good to touch, and that a skillful government will take care not to offend. When popular sentiment feels itself attacked on these points that constitute so to speak the sanctus sanctorum and entire political conscience of the Swiss nation, then they awaken from their habitual torpor and revolt, and when they revolt, they sweep everything away: constitution and government, Petits and Grand-Conseils… The whole progressive movement in Switzerland, until 1848, has proceeded by a series of cantonal revolutions. These revolutions, the always present possibility of these popular uprisings, the salutary fear that they inspire, such is still today the only form of control that really exists in Switzerland, the only limit that stops the overflowing of the ambitious and self-serving passions of its governors.
It was also great weapon that the radical party usedto overthrow our aristocratic constitutionsgovernments. But after having used so fortunately, it broke it, so a new party could use it againstit in its turn. Howwas it broken? By destroying the autonomy of the cantons, by subordinating the cantonal governments to the federal power. From now on, thecantonal revolutions, the only means available to the cantonal population to exert a real and serious control on their governors, and keep in check the despotic tendencies inherent in every government, these salutary uprisings of popular indignation have become impossible. They break themselves powerlessly against federal intervention.
Let us suppose that the population of a canton, at the end of their patience, rises against its government, what will happen? According to the Constitution of 1848, the Federal Council not only has the right, it has the duty to send there as many federal troops, taken from the other cantons, as will be necessary to reestablish public order and to give force to the laws and constitution of the canton. The troops will not leave the canton before the constitutional and legal order are perfectly reestablished there; that is to say, naming things frankly by their names, before the regime, the ideas and men who enjoy some sympathies of the Federal Council had completely triumphed. Such has been the outcome of the last insurrection of the canton of Geneva in 1864.
This time, the radicals were able to estimate at their own expense the consequences of the system of political centralizationinaugurated by themselves in 1848. Thanks to this system, the Republican populations of the townshipstoday have an all-powerful sovereign: the federal power, and to safeguard their freedom, it is that power that they mustbe able to control and even overthrow if necessary.It would be easy for me to prove that, apart from quite extraordinary circumstances, unless a unanimousand strong passion should seize the entire Swissnation, all the cantons together at the same time, neither that control, nor that overthrow will ever be possible.
Let us first see how the federal government is constituted. It consists of the Federal Assembly, the legislature power, and the Federal Council, the executive power. The Federal Assembly consists of two chambers: the National Chamber, directly elected by the people of the cantons, and the Chamber of States, consisting of two members from each canton, elected almost everywhere by the Grand Councils of the cantons. It is the Federal Assembly that elects within itself the seven members of the Federal Councilor executive.
Among all the elective bodies, it is the National Council that is obviously the most democratic, the most frankly popular, because it is named directly by the people. However, no one will contest, I hope, that is not democratic and that it must be much less so than the cantonal Grand Councils or the legislative chambers of the cantons. And that is for a very simple reason.
The people, who are inevitably ignorant and indifferent, thanks to the economic situation in which they still find themselves today, know well only the things that touch them closely. They understand clearly their daily interests, their business each day… Beyond that begins for them the unknown, the uncertain, and the danger of political mystifications. As they possess a great dose of practical instinct, they are rarely fooled in the communal elections, for example. They more or less know the business of their commune, it interests them a great deal, and they know how to choose from among themselves the men most capable of leading them well. In these affairs, the control itself is possible, since they are done under the eyes of the voters, and concern the most intimate aspects of their daily existence. That is why the communal elections are always and everywhere the best, the most really in conformity with the sentiments, interests, and will of the people.
The elections for the Grands-Conseils, as well as for the Petits-Conseils, there where the latter are made directly by the people, are already much less perfect. The political, judiciary and administrative questions the solution and good direction of which constitutes the principal task of these Councils, are usually unknown to the people, exceed the limits of its daily practice, and nearly always escape its control; and they must they must confide them to men who, living in a sphere almost absolutely separated from their own, are nearly unknown to them; if they know them, it is only by their speeches, not in their private life. But the speeches are deceptive, especially when they are intended to attract the goodwill of the people, and address questions that the people know very poorly and often do not understand at all.
It follows that the cantonal Grands-Conseils are already and must necessarily be much more distant from the popular sentiment than the communal Councils. However we cannot say that they are absolute strangers. Thanks to the long practice of liberty and to the habit of the Swiss people to read the papers, our Swiss populations know at least roughly their cantonal affaires and they are more or less interested in it. However, they are completely ignorant of federal affairs and attach no interest to it, and as a result they are absolutely indifferent to knowing who represents them and what their delegates judge it useful to do in the Federal Asssembly.
The Council of States, consisting of members elected by the Councils of the cantons, is by itself still more removed from the people as that first Chamber at least issues directly from popular election. It represents the double quintessence of the bourgeois parliamentarianism. It is entirely dominated by the political abstractions and by the exclusive interests of our governmental classes.
Elected by a Federal Assembly thus constituted, the Federal Council, in its turn, must be inevitably, not only foreign, but hostile to all the instincts of independence, justice and liberty that animate our populations. Apart from the republican forms that do not diminish, but that only hides the power that it exerts, without any other control than the Federal Assembly, in the most important, as in the most delicate affairs of the Swiss, it only distinguishes itself very slightly from the authoritarian governments of Europe. It sympathizes with them and shares nearly all their oppressive passions.
If the exercise of popular control in cantonal affairs is excessively difficult, in the federal affairs, it is absolutely impossible. These affairs are furthermore made exclusively in the high official regions, above the head of our populations, so that, most of the time, these last completely ignore them.
In the affair of the extradition treaty concluded recently with imperial France, in that of the expulsion of Mazzini, of the violence committed against the princess Obolenski, of the extradition with which Mme. Limousin is threatened, and in the hunt ordered for all the cantonal police by the Federal Council against Mr. Nechayev, affairs that touched so close to our national dignity, our national right, and even our national independence, have the Swiss people been consulted? And if they had been consulted, would they have given their consent to measures as contrary to all our traditions of liberty as hospitality as they are disastrous for our honor? Certainly not. So how, in a country that calls itself a democratic republic and that is supposed to govern itself, could such measures be commanded by the federal power and executed by our cantonal police?
It is the fault of the press, some say, of the press that has no other mission than to call the attention of the Swiss people to all the questions that may interest his well-being, his liberty or his national independence, and that in all these cases has not fulfilled his duty. It is true, the conduct of the press has been deplorable. But what was the cause? It is that all of the Swiss press, aristocratic or radical, is a bourgeois press, and that if we set aside a few papers written by the workers’ societies, there does not yet exist among us a properly popular press. There was a time when the radical press was proud to represent the aspirations of the people. This time is long gone. The radical press, as well as the party whose name it bears, now only represents the individual ambition of its leaders who would hold office and places already taken, according to the saying: “Get out of there so that I can put myself there.” Moreover, for many years, radicalism has renouncedits revolutionary extravagances, as the conservative or aristocratic parties, on their side, gave up all their outdated aspirations surannées.—There are almost no actual differences between the two parties, and we will soonsee them merge into a single partyof conservatism and bourgeois domination, opposing with a desperate resistance the revolutionaryand socialist aspirations of the people. Is it any wonder that after that the radical press has not fulfilledwhat it no longer considers it its duty? Let us be grateful that it has not yet openly sided with the Governments.
But let us suppose that in one way or another, either by the press or by other means, the attention of populations of one or more cantons are drawn to some unpopular measure ordered by the Federal Council and executed by their cantonal Governments. What can they do to stop the execution? Nothing. Can they overthrow their government? The intervention of federal troops will be able to prevent it. Can they protest in their popular assemblies? The Federal Council has nothing to do with the popular assemblies, and it recognizes no limit to its power but orders issued by the Federal Chambers; and for the latter to embrace the party of the indignant populations, that same indignation would have to have won at least half of the cantons of Switzerland. To overthrow the federal government, including the Federal Council and the Legislative Chambers, it would take more than the uprising of a few cantons; it would take a national revolution in Switzerland.
It is clear that for the federal power popular control does not exist. The establishment of this power was the crowning of the Governmental edifice in the Republic, the death of Swissliberty. So what do we see? The conservative oraristocratic party, in all cantons, after having made all-out war on the system of political centralization, created in 1848 by the radical party, beginsto rally to it in a quite conspicuous manner. Today it embraces warmlythe party of the Federal Council against the Council of State of Fribourg inthe case of Mme. Limousin. What does this mean?
This simply proves that the aristocratic party, instructed by experience, has ended by understanding that the radical party, much more conservative and governmental than itself, by elevating the federal government above the autonomy of the cantons, has created a magnificent instrument, not for liberty, but of government, an all-powerful means of consolidating the domination of the rich bourgeoisie in all the cantons and to oppose a salutary barrier to the threatening aspirations of the proletariat.
But if the system of political centralization, instead of increasing the amount of liberty enjoyed by the Swiss, tends on the contrary to annihilate it absolutely, has it at least fortified and increased the independence of the Helvetian republic with regard to foreign powers?
No, it has considerably diminished. As long as the cantons were autonomous, the federal government wished to win, even by an unworthy complacency, the good graces of a foreign power, it had no right, nor even any opportunity to do so. It could neither conclude the extradition treaties, nor order the cantonal police to hunt down political refugees, nor force the cantons to deliver them to the despots . It would not have dared to demand of the canton of Ticino the expulsion of Mazzini, nor of the canton of Fribourg the extradition of Ms. Limousin. Exercising only an excessively limited power over the cantonal Governments, the federal government, on the other hand, did not have to answer for their actions before the foreign powers, and when the latter demanded something of it, it usually took shelter behind its constitutional powerlessness. The cantons were autonomous, and it had no right to command them. It was necessary that the representatives of the powers negotiate directly with the cantonal governments, and when it was a question of a political refugee, it was enough that that they be transported to a nearby canton, so that the foreign minister must begin his process again. It never ended… diplomacy most often abandoned its prosecution discouraged. The right of asylum, that traditional and sacred right of Switzerland, remained intact, and no foreign government had the right to blame the federal government for that, which was very much against it all, precisely because of its powerlessness.
Today, the federal government is powerful. It has the incontestable right to  command the cantons in all international questions; in this way, it has become responsible with regard to foreign diplomacy. These diplomats have nothingto do with the cantonalgovernments, being able from now on toaddress complaints and orders to the federal government,which, no longer ableto hide behind its powerlessness,which no longer exists constitutionally, must either comply with the demand made to it or,confining himself to its right and the sentiment of national dignity, of which he is today the only official representative vis-à-vis all the foreign powers, to withhold it. But if, in the majority of cases, it cannot consent to what the powers demand of it, withoutcowardice, it must recognize, on the other hand, that a refusal on his part, while saving our national dignity, may expose the republic to great dangers.
Such is the difficult position that the Constitution of 1848 has made for the Federal Council. By concentrating and thereby rendering more comprehensible the political responsibility of our little republic towards the great States of Europe, it could not increase, at the same time, in a very sensible manner, our military power; and that increase of material strength was, however, necessary so that the Federal Council could maintain with dignity the new rights which it had invested it. On the contrary, although the number of our troops has increased considerably, and in general our army is much better organized and disciplined than it had been in 1848, it is certain that our strength of resistance, the only one that a republic as small as ours could have, has diminished, and this for two reasons: first, because the military force of the great States has increased in a proportion much more serious than in ours; and especially because the energy of our national resistance rests much more on the intensity of the republican sentiments that animate our populations, that can rise at need as one man, that on the artificial organization of our regular forces, and because the system of political centralization that we have had the good fortune to enjoy for the last twenty- two years, has precisely the effect, in Switzerland as elsewhere, of the diminishing of liberty and consequently also the slow but sure disappearance of that energy, of passion and popular action, which is the true foundation of our national power, the only guarantee of our independence.
Invested with a great external responsibility, but not with a force sufficiently organized to sustain it, and too distant from the people, by its very constitution, to draw from it a natural force, the Federal Council should at least becomposed of the most patriotic, dedicated, intelligence, and energetic of the Swiss. Then, there would still be some chance that it would not fail absolutely in its difficult mission. But, like thatsame constitution, the Federal Council iscondemned to be nothing but the quintessence and thesupreme guarantee of bourgeois conservatism of Switzerland, there is every reason to fear that there would always have within her much more ofCérésoles than of Staempfli. So we should expect tosee our freedom, our dignity and our republican national independence diminish every day.
Today Switzerland finds itself caught in a dilemma:
It may not want to return to his past regime, that ofthe political autonomy of the cantons, which was a confederation of independent states and politicallyseparate from each other. The recoveryof such a constitution would result in the loss of infallible Switzerland, stop short all the major economic progress it has madesince the new centralistconstitution overturned the barriers that separated and isolated the cantons.Economic centralization is one of the essential conditions for the development of wealth,and this centralization would have been impossible if we had not abolished the political autonomyof the cantons.
It could not want to return to its past regime, to that of the political autonomy of the cantons, which made of them a confederation of states politically separated and independent from one another. The reestablishment of such a constitution would have had as an inevitable consequence the impoverishment of the Swiss, would have stopped dead the great economic progress that it has made, since the new centralist constitution has overturned the barriers separated and isolated the cantons. Economic centralization is one of the essential conditions of the development of wealth, and that centralization would have been impossible, if they had not abolished the political autonomy of the cantons.
On the other hand, the experience of twenty-two year proves to us that political centralization is equally deadly to the Swiss. You kill its liberty, put in danger its independence, make it a complacent and servile policeman for all the powerful despots of Europe. By decreasing its moral strength, it compromises its material existence…
What to do then? To return to the political autonomy of the cantons is an impossible thing. To preserve political centralization is not desirable.
The dilemma thus posed admits only one solution: it is the abolition of every political state, as much cantonal as federal, it is the transformation of the political federation into an economic federation, national and international.
 Such is the end toward which all of Europe obviously marches today.
Meanwhile, Switzerland, thanks to its newConstitution, every day loses a portion of its independenceand freedom. The years 1869 and 1870 will be an epoch in the history of our national decline. Never has any Swiss government shown such contempt forour republican sentiment, nor so much servilecondescension for the arrogant and haughty demands of the great foreign powers as the Federal Council,which has within it men such as the lawyer Cérésole.
And never have the Swiss people Suisse shown so much shameful indifference to the odious acts accomplished in their name.
To show how a people who respect themselves and who are as jealous of their national independence as of their domestic liberties act in such circumstances, I will end this brochure by citing two acts that have taken place in English.
After the attempt of Orsini on the life of Napoléon III, the French government dared to demand of England the extradition of Bernard, a French refugee, accused of complicity with Orsini, and the expulsion of several other French citizens, among them Félix Pyat, who in a pamphlet, published after the attack, had championed the regicide. Lord Palmerston, who paid court to Napoléon III, asked nothing better than to satisfy him; but he encountered an insurmountable obstacle in the English law, which puts all foreigners under the protection of the common law/right and makes England, for the persecuted of any country or government whatever, an inviolable asylum.
However, Lord Palmerston was an extremely popular minister. Confident in that popularity, and desirous of doing a good, neighborly service to his friend Napoléon III, he dared present to parliament a new law governing foreigners, which, if it had been accepted, would have removed all the political refugees from the common right and delivered them up to the will of the government.
But he had hardly presented his bill, when a storm arose over all of England. The whole soil of Great Britain was covered with monster meetings. All the English people took the part of the foreigner against their favorite minister. Before that immense, imposing manifestation of popular indignation, Lord Palmerston fell—Bernard, Félix Pyat, and many others were acquitted by the English jury and borne in triumph by the workers of London, to the unanimous applause of all of England.
Napoléon III was forced to swallow that pill. And here is the other fact:
In 1863, the Italian government, in concert with the French government, had worked out an excellent business. It was a question of compromising, to doom the great Italian patriot Mazzini. For that, the government of Victor-Emmanuel had sent to Lugano, where Mazzini was then, one named Greco, an agent of the Italian police. Greco had requested an interview with Mazzini in order to announce to him his intention of assassinating Napoléon III. Warned by his friends, Mazzini turned a deaf ear, giving the impression that he did not understand. Arriving at Paris, Greco was immediately seized by the French police, and his trial was held. He denounced Mazzini as having sent him to Paris in order to kill Napoléon III. Following that lying accusation, the French government demanded once more of the government of the queen of England the extradition or at least the expulsion of Mazzini. But Mazzini had already published an article, in which he maintained and proved that Greco was nothing but an agent provocateur who had been sent to draw him into a despicable ambush. That question was treated in Parliament, and here is what the Queen’s minister, Lord John Russell, said on that occasion: “The French government maintains that Mazzini had enlisted Greco to assassinate the emperor. But Mazzini maintains on the contrary, that Greco was sent to him by the two governments to compromise him. Between these two contrary affirmations, we cannot hesitate. Without doubt, we must believe Mazzini.”
That is how one safeguards, even under a monarchic regime, the liberty, dignity and independence of one’s country. And Switzerland, which is a republic, makes itself the policeman, now of Italy, now of France, of Prussia, or of the czar of Russia!
But, someone will say, England is a powerful country, while Switzerland, republic though it may be, is comparatively a very weak country. Its weakness advises it to yield, for if it wanted to oppose too great a résistance to even the unjust demands and the hurtful injunctions of the great foreign powers, it would be lost.
That would appear very plausible, but nevertheless nothing is more false, for it is precisely by these shameful concessions and this cowardly deference that Switzerland will be doomed.
Today, on what bases does the independence of Switzerland rest?
There are three: First is the right of the people, the historic right and faith in the treaties that guarantee the neutrality of the Swiss.
Second, there is the mutual jealousy of the great neighboring states, of France, Prussia and Italy, each of which covets, it is true, a portion of Switzerland, but none of which wishes to see the other two divide it among themselves, without receiving or taking a portion at least equal to theirs.
Third, finally, there is the ardent patriotism and republican energy of the Swiss people.
Must we prove that the first basis, that of respect for treaties and rights, is perfectly null? Morals, we known, only exerts an extremely weak influence on the domestic policy of states; it exerts none of their foreign policy. The supreme law of the State is itself the preservation of the State,—and since all states, since they have existed on the earth, are condemned to a perpetual struggle: a struggle against their own populations, whom they oppress and ruin, a struggle against all the foreign states, each of which is only powerful on the condition that the others are weak; and as they can only preserve themselves in that struggle by increasing their power each day, as much within, against their own subjects, as without, against the neighboring powers, it results that the supreme law of the State is the increase of its power to the detriment of internal liberty and external justice.
Such is, in its pure reality, the unique morality, and unique aim of the State. It worships God himself only insofar as it is him exclusive God, the sanction of its power and of what it calls its right, that is its right to be not matter what and to always expand to the detriment of all the other states. Everything that serves that end is commendable, legitimate, virtuous. Everything that harms it is criminal. So the morality of the State is the overturning of human justice, of human morals.
That transcendent, extra-human and thus anti-human morality of the state is not only the result of corruption of the men who fulfill itsfunctions. You could say rather that the corruption of these men is the natural, necessary consequence of the institutionof States. This morality is nothing but the development of the fundamental principle of the State, the inevitable expression of a need inherent in the State. The State is nothingother than the negation of humanity; it is a restricted collectivity that wants to take its place and wants to impose itself as a supremeend, to which all must serve and all must submit .
It was natural and easy in antiquity, while the idea of humanity was unknown,while each people loved exclusively its national gods, which gave itthe power of life and death over all the other nations. Human right then existed only forthe citizens of the State. Everything outside the state was doomed to pillage,massacre and slavery.
It is no longer so today. The idea of humanity becomes increasingly powerfulin the civilized world, and even,thanks to the expansion and the increasing speed of communication and thanks to the influence, even more material than moral, of civilization on the barbarian peoples, it alreadybegins to penetrate these latter. This idea is the invisible power of the century, with which the powers of the day, the States, must count. They cannot submit to it in good faith, because that submission on their part would be tantamount to suicide, the triumph of humanity only being achievedby the destruction of the states.But they can no longer deny or rebel openly against it, because having  become too powerful today, it could kill them.
In this painful alternative, there remains to them only oneoption: it is hypocrisy. They give the air of respect, they do not speak, they no longer act except in its name, and they violateit every day. Do not blame them for that. They cannot act otherwise, their positionhaving become such that they can no longer preserve themselves except bylying. Diplomacy hasno other mission.
So what do we see? Whenever one State wants to declare war on another, he begins by issuing a manifesto addressed not only to his own subjects, but to the whole world, in which, putting all the right on his own side, it tries to prove that that it only breathes humanity and love of peace, and that suffused with these generous and peaceful sentiments, it suffered a long time in silence, but that the increasing iniquity of the enemy finally forced it to draw the sword from its scabbard. Its swears at the same time that, disdainful of all material conquest and not seeking any increase in its territory, it will end this war as soon as justice is restored. Its opponent responds with a similar manifesto in which naturally all the right, justice, humanity, and all the generous sentiments are found on its own side. These two opposing manifestos are written with the same eloquence, they breathe the same righteous indignation, and one is as sincere as the other, that is to say that both lie shamelessly, and only fools allow themselves to be taken in…
The informed men, all those who have some experience of politics, do not even take the trouble of reading them; but they seek, on the contrary, to sort out the interests that drive to two adversaries to that war, and to weigh their respective forces in order to predict the outcome. Evidence that moral considerations don’t enter in at all.
The right of people, the treaties that govern the relations of states, are deprived of any legal sanction. They are, in each determined period of history, the material expression of the balance resulting from the mutual antagonism of the states. As long as there are states,there will be no peace. There will only shorter or longer truces, armistices concludedby the discouraged, by these eternal belligerents, the states,and as soon as a State feels strong enough toprofit by breaking this balance, it will never fail to do. All history is there to prove it.
So it would be a great folly on our part to base our security on faith in the treaties that guarantee the independence and neutrality of the Swiss. We should found it on bases that are more real.
The antagonism of interests and mutual jealousy of the Statessurrounding Switzerland offer a much more serious guarantee, it is true, butstill very inadequate. It is perfectly true that none of thesestates alone could lay hands on Switzerland, without all the others immediately opposing it, and you can be surethat the division of Switzerland could not be made at the beginning of a European war, when each state, still uncertain of success, would be well advised to hide its ambitious views. But that division could still be made at the end of a great war, to the profit of the victorious states, and eventhe benefit of the vanquished states, as compensationfor other territories that they could be forced to yield. This is clear.
Let us suppose that the great war that we prophesydaily breaks out in the end, between France, Italy and Austria on one side, and Prussia with Russia on the other. If it is Francethat triumphs, what will prevent it from seizing French-speaking Switzerland and giving Ticino to Italy? If it is Prussia that wins, what will prevent it fromgetting its hands on the part of German-speaking Switzerland it has coveted for so long, except to give up, ifit appears necessary as a compensation, at least a portion of French-speaking Switzerland to Franceand Ticino to Italy?
It will doubtless not be the gratitude that these States will experience for the great services as policeman that the Federal Council has made for them before the war. We would have to be very naive to rely on the gratitude of a State. Gratitude is a feeling, and feelings have nothing to do with politics, which has no other motive than interests. We must permeate ourselves with that idea that the sympathies or antipathies that our formidable neighbors may inspire in us, cannot have the least influence on our national security. Let them love us and have a heart full of gratitude towards us, if they find the dismemberment of Switzerland is possible, they will tear us apart. Let them hate us as much as they want, but if they are convinced of the impossibility of dividing Switzerland among themselves, they will respect us. So we must create this impossibility. But being able to be based on the calculations of diplomacy, that impossibility can only reside in the republican energy of the Swiss people.
Such is then the only real and serious basis of our security, of our liberty, of our national independence. It is not by veiling, nor by belittling our republican principle, it is not by shamefully asking the despoticpowers to continueto permit us to be, in the midst of monarchical states, the only republic of Europe, it is not by striving to win their good graces byshameful deference;—no, it is by raising high our republican flag, it is by proclaimingour principles of liberty, equalityand international justice, it isby frankly becoming a center of propaganda and attraction for the people,and an object of respect and hatred for all the despots, that we will save Switzerland.
And it is in the name of our national security, as much as in the name of our republican dignity, that we should protest against the odious, unspeakable, and deadly acts of our Federal Council.

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Filed under 1870, Mikhail Bakunin, Sergey Nechayev

Letter from Bakunin to Albert Richard, March 12, 1870

[Parts of this letter have appeared in a variety of places, including James Guillaume’s history of the International, and a comrade was curious to see the rest of the text. Bakunin’s use of the term “anarchy” towards the end is very interesting.]
Letter from Bakunin to Albert Richard, March 12, 1870
March 12, 1870, Geneva
Dear friend and brother,
Circumstances beyond my control prevent me from coming to take part in your great Assembly of March 13. But I would not want to let it pass without expressing my thoughts and wishes to my brothers in France.
If I could attend that impressive gathering, here is what I would say to the French workers, with all the barbaric frankness that characterizes the Russian socialist democrats.
Workers, no longer count on anyone but yourselves. Do not demoralize and paralyze your rising power in foolish alliances with bourgeois radicalism. The bourgeoisie no longer has anything to give you. Politically and morally, it is dead, and of all its historical magnificence, it has only preserved a single power, that of a wealth founded on the exploitation of your labor. Formerly, it was great, it was bold, it was powerful in thought and will. It had a world to overturn and a new world to create, the world of modern civilization.
It overturned the feudal world with the strength of your arms, and it has built its new world on your shoulders. It naturally hopes that you will never cease to serve as caryatids for that world. It wants its preservation, and you want, you must want its overthrow and destruction. What does it have in common with you?
Will you push naïveté to the point of believing that the bourgeoisie would ever consent to willingly strip itself of that which constitutes its prosperity, its liberty and its very existence, as a class economically separated from the economically enslaved mass of the proletariat? Doubtless not. You know that no dominant class has ever done justice against itself, that it has always been necessary to help it. Wasn’t that famous night of August 4, for which we have granted too much honor to the French nobility, the inevitable consequence of the general uprising of the peasants who burned the parchments of the nobility, and with those parchments the castles?
You know very well that rather than concede to you the conditions of a serious economic equality, the only conditions you could accept, they will push themselves back a thousand times under the protection of a parliamentary lie, and if necessary under that of a new military dictatorship.
So then what could you expect from bourgeois republicanism? What would you gain by allying yourself with it? Nothing – and you would lose everything, for you could not ally yourself with it without abandoning the holy cause, the only great cause today: that of the complete emancipation of the proletariat.
It is time for you to proclaim a complete rupture. Your salvation is only at this price.
Does this mean that you should reject all individuals born and raised in the bourgeois class, but who, convinced of the justice of your cause, come toyou to serve andto help you triumph? Not at all. Receive them as friends, as equals, as brothers, provided that their will is sincere and that theyhave given you both theoretical and practical guarantees of the sincerityof their convictions In theory, they should proclaim loudly and withoutany hesitation all the principles, conditions and consequences of a serious social and economic equality fir all individuals. In practice, they must have firmly and permanently severed their relationshipof interest, feeling and vanity with the bourgeois world, which is condemned to die.
You bear within you today all the elements of the power that must renew the world. But the elements of the power are still not the power. To constitute a real force, they must be organized; and in order for that organization to be consistent in its basis and purpose, it must receive within it no foreign elements. So you must hold back everything that belongs to civilization, to the legal, political and social organization of the bourgeoisie. Even when bourgeois politics is red as blood and burning like hot iron, if it does not accept as it direct and immediate aim the destruction of legal property and the political State – the two forts on which all bourgeois domination rests – its triumph could only be fatal to the cause of the proletariat.
Moreover, the bourgeoisie, which has come to the last degree of intellectual and moral impotence, is today incapable of making a revolution by itself. The people alone want it, and have the power to do it. So what is desired by this advance party of the bourgeoisie, represented by the liberals or exclusively politicaldemocrats? It wants to seize the direction of the popular movement to once again turn it to his advantage or as they saythemselves, to save the bases of what they call civilization, the very foundations of bourgeois domination.
Do the workers want to play the roles of dupes one more time? No. But in order not to be dupes what should they do? Abstain from all participation in bourgeois radicalism and organize outside of it the forces of the proletariat. The basis of that organization is entirely given: It is the workshops and the federation of the workshops; the creation of funds for resistance, instruments of struggle against the bourgeoisie, and their federation not just nationally, but internationally. The creation of chambres de travail as in Belgium.
And when the hour of the revolution sounds, the liquidation of the State and of bourgeois society, including all legal relations. Anarchy, that it to say the true, the open popular revolution: legal and political anarchy, and economic organization, from top to bottom and from the circumference to the center, of the triumphant world of the workers.
And in order to save the revolution, to lead it to a good end, even in the midst of that anarchy, the action of a collective, invisible dictatorship, not invested with any power, but [with something] that much more effective and powerful – the natural action of all the energetic and sincere socialist revolutionaries, spread over the surface of the country, of all the countries, but powerfully united by a common thought and will.
That, my dear friend, is, in my opinion, the only program which by it bold application will lead not to new deceptions, but to the final triumph of the proletariat.
M. Bakunin

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Filed under 1870, Albert Richard, Geneva, letters, Mikhail Bakunin

Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis (6 of 6) (1870)

Letter VI
September 15
Having said what I think of the possible union of the workers and peasants to save France, I want to return again to the essential point of my thesis, namely the absolute impossibility for any government, republican or not, and especially of the government of Gambetta et Co., to prevent the catastrophe that is brewing and that can be averted only by the direct and almighty action of the people themselves.
If it return, in the course of my demonstration, to some arguments that I have already used, it is because there are some things we cannot repeat too often: for the salvation of the French people depends on the knowledge of these things.
So let us see what the current government could attempt to do to organize the national defense.
This is the first difficulty that comes to mind. That organization, even in the most favorable circumstance, and much more in the present crisis, con only succeed on one condition: the organizing power must remain in immediate, regular, constant relations with the country that it proposes to organize. But it is beyond doubt that in just a few days, when Paris is surrounded by the German armies, the communications of the government with the country will be cut. In those conditions, no organization is possible. And moreover, at that final moment, the government of Paris will be so absorbed by the defense of Paris itself and by the internal difficulties that it will encounter, that, if it was composed of the most intelligent and energetic men, it would be impossible to think of anything else
It is true that the government could relocate itself outside Paris, in some large provincial city, at Lyon, for example. But then it would no longer exercise any authority over France, because, in the eyes of the people, and especially in the eyes of the peasants, as it finds itself composed not of the elected representatives of all of France, but of the representatives of Paris—of some men unknown, and some others detested in the countryside—that government would have no legitimate title to command France. If it remained Paris, sustained by the workers of Paris, it could then impose itself on France, at least in the cities, and perhaps even in the countryside, despite the very pronounced hostility of the peasants against the men who compose it. For, we must admit it, Paris exerts such a great historical glamour over all French imaginations, that whether they like it or not, they always end up obeying it.
But one the government left Paris, that powerful would no longer exist. Let us even suppose that the large provincial city where it transported its residence, cheered and ratified by that acclamation of the representatives of the population of Paris; that adherence of a province will not carry along the rest of France, and the countryside would not believe itself obliged to obey it.
And what means, what instrument will it use to obtain obedience? The administrative machine? Supposing it could still function, isn’t it all Bonapartist, and won’t it just serve, with the support of the priests, to stir up the countryside against the republican government? It would then have to contain the rebellious countryside, and for that, it would have to employ a part of the regular troops that should stand up to the Prussians. And as the superior officers are nearly all Bonapartists, the government, which would need devoted and faithful men, would be obliged to demote them and seek others; it would be necessary to reorganize the army from top to bottom to make it an instrument capable of defending the republic against the reactionary insurrection. During this time, the Prussians would take Paris, and the countryside would destroy the republic; and that is the only thing that could lead to an attempt at official, governmental defense, by regular, administrative means.
Woe to France, if it expects from the present government a renewal of the wonders of 1793. Those wonders were not produced by the power of the State, of the government, alone, but also and especially by the revolutionary enthusiasm of the entire French people, who, taking their own affairs in hand with the energy of despair, organized in each city, in each commune, a center of resistance and action. – And then, if the State born from the movement of 1789, still very young, and thoroughly imbued with the life and passions of the people, showed itself capable of saving the homeland, it must be said that since them it has grown old and very corrupted. Revised and corrected, and worn down toits mainsprings by Napoleon I; restored after a fashion by the Bourbons, corrupted and weakened by the July Monarchy, it arrive under the Second Empire at the last degree of corruption and impotence; and now the only thing we can expect from it is its complete disappearance,with all the police, administrative, legal and financial institutions that sustain it, to make room for natural society, for the people who retake their rights natural and rise up.
But, you say, the provisional government summoned all the voters for the first half of October, for the purpose of appointing a constituent assembly; that could be to radicallyreform the administrative system, as did that of 1789, and thus give new life to the political State thatfalls into ruin.
That objection is not serious. Suppose that according to the decision of the provisional government, which looks to me to be a bravado cast at the Prussians resolution rather than a resolute reflection, – suppose, I say, that the elections are conducted lawfully, and that there emerges an Assembly whose majority will be prepared to assist all intentions of the Republican government. I say that that Assembly can not make real and profound reforms at this time. That would be to want to execute a flanking movement in the presence of a powerful enemy, like the movement attempted by Bazaine before the Prussians that went so badly for him. Is it at the moment when the government will most need the energetic and regular services of the administrative machine, that it will try to renew and transform it? For this, it would be necessary to completely paralyze it for a few weeks. And during this time what would the government be, deprived of the apparatus necessary to govern the country?
That same impossibility will prevent the governmentfrom touching, in a manner even alittle bit radical, the staff of the imperial administration. It would be necessary to create alegion of new men. All it could do, all it has done so far, is to replace the prefects and sub-prefects with others who are usually not worthmuch more.
These few changes of persons necessarily still demoralize the current administration. It will produce endlesswrangling and a muted, protracted war, which would make it a hundred times more incapable of action than it is today, so that the republicangovernment would have at its service an administrative machinery that is not even worth the one thatperformed the orders of the imperial minister as well as possible.
To obviate this evil, the provisional government will doubtless send in the proconsuls to the departments, some extraordinary commissioners. This will be the height of disorganization.
Indeed, it is not enough to be equipped with extraordinary powers, to take extraordinarymeasures for public safety, in order to have the power to createnew forces, in order to inspire momentum, energy, and beneficial activity in a corrupt administration andin populations systematically discouraged from any initiative.To do this, you must also have what the bourgeoisieof 1792 and 1793 hadto such a high degree, and what is absolutely lacking in the current bourgeoisie, even among the republicans—you must have intelligence,will, and revolutionaryaudacity. And how could we imagine that thecommissars of the provisional government, the subordinates of Gambetta and Co.,possess these qualities, since their superiors, the members of government, the prime movers of the republican party, have not found them in their ownhearts.
Apart from these personal qualities that gave the men of 1793 a truly heroic character, if the special commissioners were as successful as the Jacobins of the National Convention, it was because that Convention was truly revolutionary, and that, basing itself in Paris and on the support of the people, of the vile multitude, to the exclusion of the liberal bourgeoisie, it had ordered all its proconsuls to also rely everywhere and always on that same popular rabble. The commissioners sent by Ledru-Rollin in 1848, and those that Gambetta could send today, made and necessarily will make a complete fiasco, for the opposite reason, and the latter more than the former, because that opposite reason will act more powerfully still on them than on their predecessors of 1848. That reason is that both have been and will be, to a greater or lesser degree, radical bourgeois, delegates of bourgeois republicanism and as such enemies of socialism, enemies of the truly popular revolution.
That antagonism between the bourgeois revolution and the popular revolution still did not exist, in 1793, in the consciousness of the people, or even in that of the bourgeoisie. We had not yet unraveled this truthfrom historical experience, that the liberty of the whole privileged class—and consequently that of the bourgeoisie—was based principally on the economic slavery of the proletariat. As fact, as real experience, that truth had always existed, but it was so tangled with other facts and masked by so many different interests and historical tendencies, especially of a religious and national, character  that it had not yet emerged in its great simplicity and present clarity, either for bourgeoisie, sponsor of labor, or for the proletariat, employed, which is to say, exploited, by it. The bourgeoisie and the proletariat were from then natural enemies, but without knowing it; as a result of this ignorance, they attributed, the one its fears, and the other his troubles, to fictitious reasons, not their real antagonism; and believing themselves united by interests, they marched together against the monarchy, nobility and priests.
That was the great strength of the revolutionary bourgeois of 1793. Not only they did not fear the explosion of popular passions, but they provoked it with all their might, as the only means of salvation for the country and for themselves against both internal and external reaction. When a special commissioner, delegated by the Convention, arrived in a province, he never addressed the bigwigs of the country, nor the kid-gloved revolutionaries; he spoke directly to the sans-culottes, the popular rabble, and it was on them that he relied to execute, against the bigwigs and the genuine revolutionaries, the decrees of the Convention. What they did was not, strictly speaking, either centralization or administration, but provocation. They did not come to a region to impose the control of the National Convention in a dictatorial manner. They did this in very rare occasions, when they came into a region decidedly and unanimously hostile and reactionary. Then they arrived accompanied by troops who added the argument of the bayonet to their civic eloquence. But usually, they came alone, without a soldier to support them, seeking their strength in the masses whose instincts were always in conformity with the thoughts of the Convention. Far from restricting the freedom of the popular movements, for fear of anarchy, they encouraged them in every way. The first thing they were accustome to do was to form a popular club, where they did not no find them in existence. Ernest revolutionaries, they soon recognized in the masses the true revolutionaries, and allied with them to prompt the revolution, the anarchy, and to organize that popular revolutionary anarchy. That was the only revolutionary organization administration and the only executive power which is to be served proconsuls 1793. That revolutionary organization was the only administration and the only executive force used by the proconsuls of 1793.
Such was the true secret of the power of those giants, that Jacobin-pygmies of our days admire, but that they are powerless to imitate.
The commissioners of 1848 were men of an entirely different stuff, who came outof a completely different environment.With their leaders, the members of the provisional government, they belonged to a bourgeoisie that had become doctrinaire and had inevitably, from that time, become separated fromthe people. The heroes of the great revolution were to them what the tragedies of Corneille and Racine had beento literature—conventional models. They wanted to copy them, but the life, passion, the sacred firewas no longer there. Where deeds were required had only been able to make some empty phrases, some grimaces. When they found themeselves in the midst of the proletariat, they felt ill at ease, like otherwise honest people who feel the need to deceive. They strove and strove to find a living word or fruitfulthought, but they found nothing.
In all of this revolutionary phantasmagoria of 1848, there have only been two really serious men, though absolutely dissimilar from one another; they were Proudhon and Blanqui. All the rest were only bad actors who played at Revolution, as the guilds of the Middle Ages played the Passion, until the moment when Louis Bonaparte came to bring down the curtain.
The instructions that the commissioners of 1848 received from Ledru-Rollin were asinconsistent and vague as the thoughts themselves of that revolutionary. They were all the great words of 1793, without any of the great things or goals, nor especially the energetic resolutionsof that era. Ledru-Rollin, like the rich bourgeois and rhetorician that he is, has always been the natural and instinctive enemy of socialism. Today, after great effort, he has finally managed to understand the cooperative societies, but it does not feel strong enough to go further.
Louis Blanc, that Robespierre in miniature, that worshipper of the intelligent and virtuous citizen, is the type of the State communist, the doctrinaire and authoritarian socialist. He wrote in his youth a whole little book on “The Organization of Labor,” and even today, in the presence of the immense labors and phenomenal development of the International, he still remains there. Not a breath of his speech, not a glimmer from his brain has given life to anyone. His intelligence is sterile, as his whole personality is dry. Today still, in a letter recently addressed to the Daily News, in the presence of the horrible and fratricidal butchery to which the two most civilized nations in the world have been delivered, he has not found anything in his head and heart, besides this advice that he addresses to the French republicans, “to propose to the Germans, in the name of the brotherhood of nations, a peace equally honorable for the two nations.”
Ledru-Rollin and Louis Blanc had been, as we known, the two great revolutionaries de 1848, before the days of June: the one a bourgeois lawyer, a rhetorician puffed up with Dantonesque looks and ambitions; the other, a Robespierre-Baboeuf reduced to the most paltry proportions. Neither has known how to think, to will, nor above all to dare. Besides, the Bishop Lamourette of that time, Lamartine, had impressed on all the acts and all the men of that era, except Proudhon and Blanqui, his false note and his false character of conciliation, – that conciliation that means, in reality, the sacrifice of the proletariat to the bourgeoisie, which led to the June days.
The extraordinary commissioners therefore left for theprovinces, carrying in their pocketsthe instructions of these great men,—ratherthe recommendations of a very realreactionary character, that were made to them by the moderate republicans of the National, Marrast, the Bastide,Jules Favre, etc.
Is it any wonder that these unfortunate commissioners did nothing in the departments, if not to stimulate everyone’s discontent, by the dictator’s tone and manner that it pleased them to put on. We laughed at them, and they exerted no influence. Instead of turning to the people, and only to the people, like their predecessors of 1793, they were only concerned with seeking to convert the privileged classes to the republic. Instead of organizing popular power everywhere by unleashing the revolutionary passions, they preached moderation, peace, patience to the proletariat, with blind faith in the generous intentions of the provisional government. The revolutionary circles of the provinces, intimidated at first by that revolution that had fallen so unexpectedly on their head and by the arrival of the Paris commissioners, took courage again when they saw that these gentlemen did not know anything but the phrases and were themselves afraid of people; and the outcome of the mission of Commissioners of 1848 was the sad Constituent Assembly that you know.
After June, it was something else. The sincere bourgeois revolutionaries, those who went into the socialist camp, under the influence of the great catastrophe that killed in one blow the revolutionary actorsof February, became serious men andmade serious efforts to revolutionize France. Theyeven succeeded in large part. But it was too late; the reaction on its side reorganizedwith a formidable power, and thanks tothe terrible means given by the centralization of the state, it eventually overcome completely, more even than it would have liked, inthe days of December.
Well, the commissioners that Gambetta could send in the departments would be even more unfortunate that the commissioners in 1848. Enemies of socialist workers, as well as of the administration and the Bonapartist peasants, on whom could they rely? Their instructions will obviously command them to enchain the revolutionary socialist movement in the cities, and in the countryside the reactionary Bonapartist movement,—but with whose help? In a disorganized administration, that itself remained half or three-quarters Bonapartist, and a few hundred pale Republicans, as uncertain and disoriented as themselves, remaining outside of the mass of the people and exercising no influence on anyone; and some Orléanists, only good, like all the rich people, to exploit and turn a movement in favor of the reaction, but incapable themselves of a resolution and energetic action. And note that the Orléanists will be much the stronger of the two, for besides some substantial financial means at their disposal, they still have the advantage of knowing what they want; while Republicans combine, with their extreme scarcity, the misfortune of not knowing where they are going and remaining strangers at all the real intersts, whether privileged or popular. As a result, whether the commissioners do something or do nothing, they will only do it with the support of Orléanists, and then they will only work, in reality, for the restoration of the Orleans.
Now, what is my definitive conclusion?
It is sufficiently clear from what I have said, andI also started by giving it to you in my first letter. I say that in the danger that France ran, a greater danger than any she ran for centuries, there is only one means of salvation: the general and revolutionary uprising of people.
If the people rise, I have no doubt of their triumph.I only fear one thing,that the danger does not seem pressing enough, greatenough, threatening enough to giveit the courage of despair it needs. At this moment there is no shortage ofFrench citizens who regard the taking of Paris, the destruction and enslavement of Franceby the Prussians, as an absolutelyimpossible thing, impossible to the point of being ridiculous. And leave the enemy to advance peacefully, confident in the star of France, but imagining that it is enough to have said: “It is impossible,” to prevent the thing from happening.
It is imperative to wake from this dream, Citizens of France, if some of you still let yourself be lulled by these fatal illusions.No, I tell you, thisterrible misfortune,  of which you will not even admit the thought, is not impossible,; instead it is so certain, that if you do not rise up today as a mass, to exterminate the German soldiers who have invaded the soil of France, it will be reality tomorrow.Several centuries of national dominance youhave so accustomed your to regardyourself as the first and most powerful people in the world that you havenot even noticedthe seriousness of your situation. That situation is this:
France as a State is lost. It can no longer save itself by ordinary, administrative means. It is up to the natural France, to the France of the people to enter now onto the stage of history, to save its liberty and that of all of Europe, by an immense, spontaneous, and entirely popular uprising, apart from any official organization, and all governmental centralization. And France, by sweeping the armies of the king of Prussia from its territory, will have with the same blow emancipated all the peoples of Europe and accomplished the social emancipation of the proletariat.
Michel Bakunin

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Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis (1-5 of 6) (1870)

Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis
(September 1-8, 1870, Locarno, Switzerland)
Letter to a Frenchman
My dear friend,
The latest events have placed France in such a position, that it can no longer be saved from a long and terrible slavery, from ruin, poverty, and annihilation, except by a rising en masse of the armed people.
Your principal army being destroyed, — and that is no longer in doubt today, — there remains to France only two outcomes: either to submit sheepishly, shamefully, to the insolent yoke of the Prussians, to bow beneath the staff of Bismarck and all his Pomeranian lieutenants; abandon Alsace and Lorraine, who do not want to be Germans, to the military despotism of the future emperor of Germany Alsace and Lorraine; to pay billions in damages, without counting the billions that this disastrous ware will have cost you; to accept from the hands of Bismarck a government, a crushing and ruinous public order, with the dynasty of the Orléans or the Bourbons, returning once more to France behind the foreign armies; to see itself, for a dozen or for twenty years, reduced to the miserable state of modern Italy, oppressed and contained by a viceroy who would administer France under the iron rule of Prussia, as Italy has thus far been administered under the iron rule of France; to accept, as a necessary consequence, the ruin of national commerce and industry, sacrificed to the commerce and industry of Germany; to see, in the end, the completion of the intellectual and moral decline of the whole nation…
Well, to avoid that ruin, that distraction, give the French people the means to save itself.
Well, my friend, I do not doubt that all the titled and well-heeled men of France, almost without exception, that the vast majority of the haute and moyenne bourgeoisie consent to this cowardly abandonment of France, rather than accept its salvation by a popular uprising. In fact, the popular uprising is the social revolution, it is the fall of privileged France. The fear of that revolution has cast them, for twenty years, under the dictatorship of Napoléon III, today it will cast them under the saber of Bismarck and under the constitutional and parliamentary rod of the Orléans. The liberty of the people causes them such a dreadful fear, that in order to avoid it they will accept any shame, consent to any cowardice, — even should this cowardice ruin them later, provided that they serve them now.
Yes, all official France, all bourgeois and privileged France conspire for the Orléans, and consequently conspire against the people. The generals of the empire, the commander of Paris, the left, agree in this treason. And the European powers see the thing approvingly. Why? Because knows well that if France tries to save itself by a formidable popular uprising, that would be the signal for the outburst of revolution in all of Europe.
Why then is the restoration of the Orléans still not an accomplished fact? Because the collective and obviously reactionary dictatorship of Paris finds itself at this moment inevitably powerless. Napoléon III and the empire have already fallen, but the whole imperial machine, legislative corps, senate, prefects, etc, continues to function; and they dare not change anything, because to change all that is to proclaim the revolution, and to proclaim the revolution is to provoke precisely what they wanted to avoid.
Letter II
Behold—the emperor a prisoner and the republic proclaimed at Paris, with a provisional government.
Has the internal situation of France been changed by that? I do not think so; and the reflections that I was about to communicate to you on the powerlessness of the empire have lost none of their truth and their topicality, in applying them to the government which was just established by the fusion republican and Orleanist lefts.
I suppose the members of this government, animated with the very sincere desire to save the homeland: it is not by trying to take advantage of the power of action of the administrative mechanism, before which the incorrigible Thiers is still so very enthralled in the session of August 26, it is not, I say, by following the old governmental routine that they can do something good; that whole administrative machine, if they seriously wanted to seek the salvation of France in the people, they would be obliged to break it, and in conformity with the propositions of Esquiros, Jouvencel, and General Cluseret, give the initiative of action to all the revolutionary communes of France, delivered from every centralizing government and from all guardianship, and consequently called to form a new organization by federating among themselves for defense.
I will explain in a few words my supporting evidence.
The provisional government cannot, even in the circumstances most favorable to it:
Neither constitutional reform the system of the present administration;
Nor change completely, or even in a noticeable manner, its personnel.
The constitutional reforms can onlybe made by someConstituent Assembly, and it is not necessary to demonstrate that the convening of a Constituent Assembly is an impossible thing in this moment when there is not a week, not a day to lose. As for the personnel changes, in order to perform it in a serious way, we should be able to find in a few days one hundred thousand new functionaries, with the certainty that these new functionaries will be more intelligent, more energetic and more honest than the current officials. It is enough to state this demand to see that its realization is impossible.
So there remain to the provisional government only two alternatives: either resign itself to make use of that essentially Bonapartist administration, that will be in its hands a weapon poisoned against itself and against France; or else to break that governmental machine, without even trying to replace it with another, and to render the most complete freedom of initiative to all the provinces, to all the communes of France, which would be equivalent to the dissolution of the present State.
But by destroying the administrative machine, the men of the left deprive themselves of the only means they had of governing France. Paris having lost in this way the official command, the initiative by decrees, would no longer preserve anything but the initiative of the example that it could give by putting itself at the head of this national movement.
Is Paris capable, by the energy of its resolutions, of playing this role? No; Paris is too absorbed by the interest of its own defense to be able to direct and organize the national movement of France. Besieged Paris will be transformed into an immense camp; its whole population will no longer form anything but an army, disciplined by the sense of danger: but an army does not reason, does not act as a directing and organizing force,—it fights.
The best and only thing that Pariscan do in the interest of its own salvation and that of the whole of France, it is toproclaim and bring about the absolute independence and the spontaneity of the provincial movements,—and if Paris forgets and neglects to do so, for any reason whatsoever,patriotism commands the provinces to rise up and organize itself spontaneously and independently of Paris.
Is this uprising of the provinces still possible? Yes, if the workers of the large provincial cities, Lyon, Marseille, St Etienne, Rouen, and many others, have blood in their veins, energy intheir hearts, and strength in their arms, if they are living men, revolutionary socialists and not doctrinaire socialists.
We must not rely on the bourgeoisie. The bourgeois see and understand nothing outside the State andthe regular means of the state. The maximum of their ideal, their imagination and their heroism is the revolutionaryexaggeration of the power and action of the State in the name of public safety. But I have already demonstrated thatthe action of the state, at this time and in the present circumstances, far from saving France, can only kill it.
Do you perhaps believe that an alliance is possible between the bourgeoisieand the proletariat, in the name ofnational salvation? That is the program that Gambetta stated in its letter to the Progrès de Lyon, and I think I would do well to tell you my opinionon that famous letter.
I have never thought much of Gambetta, but I admit that this letter has shown him even more insignificant and paler than I had imagined. He took his role as a moderate, wise, and reasonable republican very seriously, and in a terrible moment like this, when Francecollapses and dies, and when it could only be saved if all the Frenchreally have the devil in them, Mr. Gambetta finds the time and inspiration to writea letter in which he begins by declaring that he intends to hold with dignity the role of democratic governmental opposition.He speaks ofthe program at once republican and conservative that he has marked out since 1869,” the one of “making the politics drawn from universalsuffrage prevail” (but then this isthat of the plebiscite of Napoleon III), of proving that in the present circumstances, the republic is henceforth the very condition of salvation for France and European equilibrium;—that there is no longer security,peace, progress except in republican institutions wisely practiced” (as in Switzerland probably!);—that France cannot be governed againstthe middle classes, and it can not be directed without maintaining a generous alliance with the proletariat(generous on the part of whom? the bourgeoisie, no doubt.) “Te republican form alone permits a harmonious conciliation between the justaspirations of the laborers and the respect for the sacred rights of property. The happy medium is an outdated politics. Caesarism is the most ruinous, the most bankrupting of the solutions. Divine right is definitively abolished. Jacobinism is henceforth a ridiculous and noxious word. Only the rational positivist democracy (listen to the quack!) can reconcile everything, organize everything, fertilize everything. (Let us see how?) 1789 laid down the principles (not all, far from it; the principles of bourgeois freedom, yes; but the principle of equality, of the liberty of the proletariat, no); in 1792 made them triumph (and this is probably why France is so free!); 1848 gave them the sanction of universal suffrage (in June, no doubt). It is the present generation that is suited to realize the republican form (as in Switzerland), and reconcile, on the basis of justice (legal justice obviously) and the elective principle, the rights of the citizens and functions of the state, in a progressive and free society. To achieve this goal, two things are required: remove the fear of some and calm the mistrust of others; lead the bourgeoisie to the love of democracy, and the people to trust in their older brothers.” (Why not, then, confidence in the nobility, which is even older than the bourgeoisie?)
No, the hopes of Mr. Gambetta are illusions. By what right would the bourgeoisie ask the people to have confidence in it? It is the bourgeois who have unleashed war on France, bytheir cowardly deference to power,and the people, who understand them,also understand that it is up to them now to takethe affairs of the country in hand.
Doubtless there will be found among the bourgeois class a rather considerable number of young people who, driven by the despair of patriotism, will enter heartily into the popular movement that must save France; but it would not be possible to carry with them the entire bourgeoisie, and to give it that boldness, that energy, that knowledge of the situation that it absolutely lacks.
I think that at this hour in France, there are only two classes that would be capable of this supreme movement that the salvations of the homeland demands: these are the workersand the peasants.
Do not be surprised that I speak of the peasants. The peasants only sin through ignorance, not from lack of temperament. Having not abused or even used life, not having undergone the deleterious action of bourgeois civilization, which could only barely touch them on the surface, they have preserved all the energetic temperament, all nature of the people. Property, love and the enjoyment, not of pleasures butof gain, have made them considerably selfish, it’s true, but have not diminished their instinctive hatred against those who enjoy the fruits of the earth without producing them by the work of their arms.Moreover, the peasant is fundamentally patriotic, national, because he has a worship of the earth, a real passion for the earth, and he will make a war to the death to foreign invadersthat will chase him from his field.
But, to win over the peasant, it would be necessary to use a great deal of caution. It is true that the peasant hates the invader of the soil, that he also hates the fine gentlemen who dupe him; unfortunately, he does not hate the workers in the cities any less.
This is the great misfortune, the great obstacle to the revolution. The worker despises the peasant, the peasant returnshis contempt as hatred.Yet between these two great halves of the people there is really no contrary interest, there is only a huge and fatal misunderstanding,which must be eliminated at all costs.
The most civilized, more enlightened, and hence, as it were, the most bourgeois and mostdoctrinaire socialism of the cities,misjudges and despises the primitive, natural, and much savage socialism of the country. The farmer on his side considers the worker as the lackey or soldier of the bourgeois, and he detests him as such, to the point of becoming himself the servant and the blind soldier of the reaction.
Since the fatal antagonismis based on a misunderstanding, it is necessary that one of the two parties takes the initiative of explanation and reconciliation. The initiative naturally belongs to the most enlightened part, that is to say the urban workers.
I will examine, in my next letter, what the complaints of the workers are against the peasants, complaints which it is important that the workers account for to themselves, if they want to work seriously at a conciliation.
Letter III
September 6
The principal grievances of the workers against the peasants can be reduced to three:
The first is that the peasants are ignorant, superstitious and sanctimonious, and that they let themselves be guided by the priests;
The second is that they are devoted to the emperor;
The third is that they are enthusiastic partisans of individual property.
It is true that the French peasants are perfectly ignorant; but is it their fault? Have we ever tried to educate them? Is it right to scorn and mistreat them? But in this case the bourgeois, who are unquestionably more learned than the workers, would have the right to scorn and mistreat them, and we know many bourgeois who say it, who base their right to domination on thatsuperior education and deduce for workers a duty of subordination. What makes the greatness of the workers with regard to the bourgeois is not their education, which is small, but their instinct of justice, which is undoubtedly great. Bit is thisinstinct for justice lacking in the peasants? Look well: under some probably different forms, youwill find a it there entirely. You will find in them, besides their ignorance, a profound good sense, an admirable delicacy, and that energy for labor that constitutes the honor and the salvation of the proletariat.
The peasants, you say, are superstitious and sanctimonious, and that they let themselves be guided by the priests. Their superstition is the product of their ignorance, artificially and systematically maintained by all the bourgeois governments. And besides, they are not nearly as superstitiousand sanctimonious as you want to say; it is their womenwho are. But are all women of the workers reallyfree of the superstitions and doctrines of the Roman Catholic religion? As for the influence and direction of the priests, they only submit to them in appearance only, as far as their inner demands, and as long as they do not contradict their interests.That superstition has not prevented them, after 1789, from purchasing the landsof the Church, confiscated by the State, despite the curse that had been launched by the Church against the buyers and the sellers. So it follows that to definitively kill the influence of the priests in the country, the revolution has only todo one thing: it is to put the interests of farmers in contradiction with those of the Church.
I have heard with pain, not only of the revolutionary Jacobins,but of the socialists who have been indirectly influenced by this school, advance thiscompletely anti-revolutionaryidea that the future republic will have to abolishby decree all the public cults and also orderby decree the violent expulsion of all priests. First, I am the absolute enemy of the revolution by decrees, whichis a consequence and an application ofthe idea of the revolutionary Statethe reaction, that is, hidingbehind the appearances of the revolution. To the system of revolutionary decrees, I oppose that of revolutionary acts, the only effective, consistent and true system,without the intervention of any official and authoritarian violence.
Thus, in this example, if by some misfortune we wanted to order by decree the abolition of the cults and the expulsion of priests, you can be sure that the least religious peasants will take the part of the cults and the priests, if only in the spirit of contradiction, and because a legitimate, natural feeling, basis of liberty, rebels in every man against every imposed measure, even if it has liberty for a goal. So we can be certain that if cities committed the folly of decreeingthe abolition of religion and the expulsion of priests, the countryside, siding with the priests, would revolt against the cities and become a terrible instrument in the hands of the reaction. So must we leave the priests and their power standing? Not at all. We must fight then in the most energetic manner,—not as ministers of the Roman Catholic religion, but because they were the most effective support of this deplorable imperial regime that has summoned the calamities of war on France; because by persuading the people to vote for the emperor, and by promising them that they would have peace and security on this condition, they deceived the people, and therefore they are schemers and traitors.
The principal reason why all the revolutionary authorities of the world have always made so little revolution is that they have always wanted to do it by themselves, by their own authority and their own power, which has never failed to achieve two results. First, it shrinks the revolutionary action inordinately, because it is impossible for even the smartest, strongest, most honest revolutionary authority to embrace many questions and interests at the same time, any dictatorship, whether individual or collective, as formed by one or more official figures, being necessarily very limited, very blind, and incapable of penetrating the depths or embracing the breadth of the life of the people—it is impossible for the most powerful vessel to measure the depth and breadth of the ocean; and then, to raise resistance, because every act of authority and official power, legally imposed, necessarily awakens in the masses a sense of rebellion and reaction.
So what must the revolutionary authorities do? — and let us try to make it as little as possiblewhat should theydo to expand and organize the revolution? They should not do it themselves by decrees, not impose in on the masses, but provoke it in the masses. They should not imposeany organization, but by provoking their self-organization from the bottom up, work with the aid of individual influence on the most intelligent men in each locality, so that this organization is as consistent as possiblewith the true principles. — That is the entire secret of success.
That this work faces immense difficulties, who can doubt it? But do you think the revolution is child’s play, and we can do it without overcoming countless difficulties?Revolutionary socialists today have little or nothing to imitate from all the proceedingsof the revolutionary Jacobins of 1793. Revolutionaryroutine would doom them. They must work from scratch, and create everything.
I return to the peasants.
The alleged Bonapartist sympathies of French peasants, which constitutes another grievance of the workers against them, do not worry me at all. This is a superficial symptom of socialist instinct, warped by ignorance and exploited by malice, a skin disease that can not withstand the heroic remedies of revolutionary socialism, it is a negative expression of their hatred for the fine gentlemen and for the bourgeois of the city. The peasants will not give their lands, or their money, or their lives for Napoleon III, but they willingly give him the lives and the goods of others, because they hate the others, and because they have been shown, in Napoleon emperor of the peasants, the enemy of the bourgeoisie. And note that in that deplorable affair, when the farmers of a commune in Dordogne slaughtered and burned a young and noble proprietor, the dispute began with these words spoken by a peasant: “Ah! There you are, fine sir; you yourself remain quietly at home, because you are rich, and you send the poor people to war. Well, we’re going to your home. Let them seek us there.” In these words we can see the vivid expression of the hereditary resentment of the peasant against the rich proprietor, but not the fanatical desire to sacrifice himself and go to die for the Emperor; on the contrary, the entirely natural desire to avoid military service.
Moreover, in the villages where the love of the emperor has passed to the state of worship and passionate custom, – if it is found, – there is not even a need to speak of the emperor. It is necessary to ruin the Bonapartist superstition in fact, by ruining the administrative machine, by ruining the influence of the men who maintain the imperial fanaticism, – but without saying anything against the emperor himself. It is the true means of succeeding, the means that I have already recommended against the priests.
The last and principal argument of the workers of the cities against the peasants is their cupidity, their crude selfishness and their passionate attachment to individual property in land.
Workers who reproach them for all hat should firs ask themselves: Who is not selfish? Who in today’s society is not greedy in the sense that they cling furiously to the few goods they can amass, goods that guarantee them, in the current economic anarchy and in this society that has no mercy for those who are starving, their existence and the existence of their own? – The peasants are not communists, it is true; they fear, they hate the partageux because they have something to preserve, at least in imagination, and imagination is a great power of which generally we do not take enough account in the society. – The workers, of whom the vast majority do not own anything, have infinitely more propensity to communism than the peasants. Nothing is more natural: the communism of some is as natural as the individualism of the others – there is no reason there to brag, or to despise others – both being other, with all their ideas and all their passions, products of the different backgrounds that have given them birth. And yet, are the workers themselves all communists?
It is therefore not a question of blaming the peasants, nor of denigrating them, it is a question of establishing a line of revolutionary conduct that turns the difficulty that not only prevents the individualism of the peasants from driving them into the camp of the reaction, but that, on the contrary, will be used to ensure the triumph of revolution.
Apart from the means I propose, there exists only one: the terrorism of the cities against the countryside. Now, I have said, and I cannot repeat it too often: those who use a similar means will kill the revolution instead of making it triumph; it is imperative to give this old weaponof terror, of violence organized by the State, a weapon borrowed from the arsenal of Jacobinism; itwould only lead to pushing ten million Frenchpeasants back into the camp of reaction.
Fortunately I sayfortunately the defeats of France do not allow them to think for a moment of the terrorism, the despotism of the revolutionary state. And without that it is more than likely that many socialists, imbued with Jacobin prejudices, would have wanted to try to impose their program by force. They would have, for example, convened a Convention composed of deputies from the cities: that Convention would have wished to impose collectivismby decree in the countryside; the countryside would be raised, and to put it down,it would have been necessary to resort to a huge military force. That army, necessarily subject to military discipline, would have had some generals, probably ambitious;—and that isthe whole machine of the State rebuilding itself piece by piece. The machine reconstituted, they would soonhave the machinist, the dictator, the emperor. All that they wouldinfallibly occur, because it is the logic of things.
Fortunately, today, events themselves will force many workersto open their eyes and renounce this fatal system.They must be crazy to want, under present circumstances, to make terrorism in the countryside. Ifthe countryside rose now against the cities, the cities and France with them would be lost. The workers feel it,and this is part of what explains the apathy, the incredible inertia of the working population of most of the major cities in France.
In fact, the workers are at this moment completely defeated and stunned by the novelty of the situation. So far, there has been little but their suffering that they knew from personal experience; all the rest, their ideals, their hopes, their political and social imaginations, their plans and practical projects, dreamed rather than contemplated for a near future,—all that they have taken much more from books, from current theories and constantly discussed, than from a reflection based on the experience of life. From their existence and their daily experience, they have continually disregarded, and they are not accustomed to draw it from their inspirations, their thinking. Their thought is nourished by a certain theory accepted by tradition, without criticism, but with full confidence, and this theory is nothing other than the political system of the Jacobins, more or less modified to the use of the socialists. Now, this theory of revolution is bankrupt, its principal base, the State, the power of the State, having crumbled. In the current circumstances, the application of the terrorist method, of which the Jacobins are so fond, obviously becomes impossible. And the workers of France, who did not know others, are routed. They say to themselves with good reason that it is impossible to make terrorism official, regular and legal, nor employ coercive means against the peasants, that it is impossible to establish a revolutionary State, a central committee of public safety for the whole of France, at a time when foreign invasion is not only at the border as in 1792, but at the heart of France, two steps from Paris. They saw the whole official organization crumble, they despair with reason of the power to create another, and do not understand safety, these revolutionaries, apart from public order, only understood, these men of the people, the power and life that there was in the official tribe of all colors, from the fleur-de-lis to the deep red, called anarchy, they cross their arms and say: we are lost, France is lost.
Oh no, my friends, it is not lost, if you do not want to doom yourself,if you are men, if you want to save it. For that, you know what you have to do: the administration, the government, the entire machinery of the State collapseson all sides; refrain from distressing yourself, and seek to raise theseruins. Freed from all that official architecture, appealed to the life of the people, to liberty, andyou will save the people.
I return one more time to the peasants. I have never thought that, even in the most favorable circumstances, the workers could ever have the power to impose their collectivity on them; and I have never desired it, because I have a horror of any imposed system, because I sincerely and passionately love freedom. That false idea and that liberticidal hope constitutes the fundamental aberration of authoritarian communism, which because it needs regularly organized violence, needs the State and because it needs the State, necessarily leads to the reconstitution of the principle of authority and of a privileged class of State functionaries. We can only impose the collectivity on slaves,—and then the collectivity becomes the very negation of humanity. Among a free people, the collectivity could only be produced by the force of things; not by imposition from above, but by the spontaneous movement from below, freely and necessarily at once, while conditions privileged individualism, political and legal institutions of the State, would have disappeared themselves.
Letter IV
7 September
After having spoken of the grievances of the workers against the peasants, we must consider in their turn grievances of the peasants, the source of their hatred against the cities.
I will list them as follows:
1) The peasants feel scorned by the villages, and the scorn of which one is the object is quickly perceived, even by children, and is not forgiven.
2) The peasants imagine – and not without good reason, not without many proofs and historical experiences to support that opinion – that the cities want to dominate them, govern them, exploit them and always impose on them a political order that they do not care about.
3) Besides, the peasants consider the workers of the city as partageux, and fear that the socialists come to confiscate their land, which they love above all things.
So what should the workers do to overcome that mistrust and animosity of the peasant against them? First stop demonstrating their contempt; stop scorning them. This is necessary for the salvation of the revolution and of themselves, for hatred of the peasantsis a huge danger. If there were not this distrust and hatred, the revolution would have been accomplishedlong ago, because the animosity that unfortunately exists in the countryside against the cities is in all countries is the basis andthe driving force of the reaction.So in the interest of the revolution that must emancipatethem, the workers must cease as soon as possible showing this contemptfor peasants; justicealso demands it, because they reallyhave no reason to despise or detest them. The peasants are not lazy, they are hard workers like themselves, only they work in differentconditions. That is all. In the presence of bourgeois exploiter, the worker must feel that he is the brother of the peasant.
The peasants will march with the workers of the cities for the salvation o the homeland as soon as they are convinced that the workers of the cities do not claim to impose their will on them, or any political and social order invented by the cities for the greatest happiness of the countryside; as soon as they are assure that the workers have no intention of taking their land.
Well, it is absolutely necessary today that the workersreally renounce this claim and this intention, and that they renounce them in a manner that the peasants will know it all and remain convinced of it. Workers must renounce them, because even as such claims would be feasible, they would be supremely unjust and reactionary, and now that their realization has become absolutely impossible, theywould constitute a criminal folly.
By what right would the workers impose any form of government or economic organization on the peasants? By the right of revolution, one says. But revolution is not longer revolution when it acts as a despot, and when instead of prompting liberty in the masses, it prompts reaction among them. The means and condition if not the principal aim of the revolution is the annihilation of the principle of authority in all its possible manifestations, it is the complete abolition of the political and legal State, because the State, younger brother of the Church is, as Proudhon has well demonstrate, the historical consecration of all the despotisms and all the privileges, the political reasons of all the economic and social enslavements, the very essence and the center of all reaction. When in the name of the revolution, we want to make of the State, even if it is only a provisional State, we make reaction and we work for despotism, not for liberty; for the institution of privilege against equality.
This is clear as day. But the socialist workers of France, raised with the political traditions of the Jacobins, have never wanted to understand it. now they will be forced to understand it, fortunately for the revolution and for themselves. Where has this pretention come from—a pretention as ridiculous as it is arrogant, as unjust as deadly—of imposing their political and social ideal on ten million peasants who do not want it? It is obviously still a bourgeois inheritance, a political bequest of bourgeois revolutionism. What is the foundation, the explanation and the theory of that pretention? It is the real or imagined superiority of the intelligence, of the instruction, in a word of the civilization of the workers, over the civilization of the countryside. But do you know that with such a principle we can legitimate all conquests, all oppressions? The bourgeois have never had any other principle to prove their mission and their right to govern, or what means the same thing, to exploit the workers. From nation to nation, as well as from one class to another, this fatal principle fatal, which is none other than that of authority, explains and posits a right to all invasions and all conquests. Haven’t the Germans always used it to execute all their attacks on liberty and against the independence of the Slavic people, and to legitimate their violent, forced germanization? It is, they say, the conquest of civilization over barbarism. Beware; the Germans begin to realize also that Germanic, protestant civilization is superior to the catholic civilization of the peoples of the Latin race in general, and to French civilization in particular. Take care that they do not soon imagine that they have the mission to civilize you and make you happy, as you imagine that you have the mission of civilizing and emancipating your compatriots, your brothers, the peasants of France. For me, both pretentions are equally odious and I declare to you that, as much in international rapports as in the relations of one class to another, I will always be on the side of the that someone wants to civilize by that procedure. I will revolt with them against all this arrogant civilizers, whether they call themselves the workers, or the Germans, and by rebelling against them, I would serve the revolution against the reaction.
But, if it is thus, one says, must we abandon the ignorant and superstitious peasants to all the influences and all the intrigues of the reaction? Not at all. We must crush the reaction in the countryside as well as in the cities; but for that we must achieve it in the facts, and not merely to make war by decrees. I have already said, we uproot nothing with decrees. On the contrary, decrees and all the acts of authority consolidate what they would destroy.
Instead of wanting to take from the peasants the lands that they possess today, leave them to follow their natural instinct, and do you know what will happen that way? The peasant wants to have all the land as his own; he regards the great lord and the rich bourgeois, whose vast domains diminish his fields, as a foreigner and usurper. The revolution of 1789 gave the peasants the lands of the Church; they want to profit from another revolution by gaining the lands of the bourgeoisie.
But if that happened, if the peasants got their hands on the whole portion of the soil that does not yet belong to them, wouldn’t we have allowed in this way the reinforcement, in an unfortunate manner, of the principle of individual property, and won’t the peasants find themselves more hostiles than ever to the socialist workers of the cities?
Not at all, for the legal and political consecration of the State, the guarantee of property, will be lacking for the peasant. Property will no longer be a right, it will be reduced to the state of a simple fact.
But then that will be civil war, you say. Individual property no longer being guaranteed by any higher authority, and no longer being defended except by the energy of the proprietor alone, each wanting to take possession of the goods of the other, the strongest will plunder the weakest.
It is certain that, from the first, things will not happen in an absolutely peaceful manner: there will be struggles, public order will be troubled, and the first acts that will result from such a state of things could constitute what it is appropriate to call a civil war. But would you rather deliverFrance to the Prussians? Do you think the Prussians will respect public order, and not kill andplunder anyone? Would you prefer, to a momentary agitationthat must save the country, would you prefer slavery, shame and utter poverty, inevitable fruits of the victory of the Prussians that your hesitation and your scruples would have rendered certain?
No, not childish fears about the disadvantages of peasant uprisings. Don’t you thinkthat, despite some excesses that can occur here and there, the peasants, no longer being contained by the authority of the State, would devour each other? If they try to do in the beginning, they will soon be convinced of the physical impossibility of continuing in this direction, and thenthey will try to agree, to compromise and to organize themselves. The need tofeed themselves and their children,and consequently the need to continuethe work of the countryside, the necessity of securing their homes, their families and their own lives againstunforeseen attacks, all that will undoubtedly soon force them to enter mutual arrangements.
And do not believe either that in these arrangements broughtin without any officialsupervision, by the force of things alone, the strongest, the richest will exercise a controlling influence. The wealth of the rich will no longer be guaranteed by legal institutions, so it will cease to be a power. The rich peasants are only powerful todaybecause they are protected and courted by officials of the State and the State itself. This support coming to be lacking, their power will disappear at the same time. As for the craftier, and the stronger, they will be offset by the collective power of the masses, the large number of small and very small peasants, as well as the proletarians of the countryside, a mass enslaved today, reduced to silent suffering, but that the revolutionary movement will arm an irresistible power.
I do not pretend, note it well, that the countryside that is reorganized in this way, from the bottom up, will create an ideal organization at the first blow, conforming on all points to the one we dream of.
What I am convinced of is that it will be a living organization, a thousand times superior to the one that exists now, and that incidentally, open on the one hand to the active propaganda of the cities, and on the other never being able to be fixed and so to speak petrified by the protection of the State and of the law, will progress freely and could develop and perfect itself in an manner that is indefinite, but always living and free, never decreed or legalized, until it arrive finally at a point as reasonable as we can hope in our times.
As life and spontaneous action, suspended for centuries by the absorbent action of the State, will be returned to the communes, it is natural that each commune will take for the point of departure for its new development, not the intellectual and moral state in which the official fiction supposes it, but the real state of civilization; and as the degree of real civilization is very different between the communes of France, as well as between those of Europe in general, it will necessary result in a great difference of development; but the mutual agreement, the harmony, the equilibrium established by a common accord will replace the artificial unity of the States. There will be a new life and a new world.
Letter V
September 8
I expect that you will make an objection toall that I have written to you about farmers, their organizations and their reconciliation with the workers.
You say to me: But won’t that revolutionary agitation, that internal struggle that must necessarily arise from the destruction of the political and legal institutions, be paralyzed by the national defense, instead of pushing back the Prussians, wouldn’t we on the contrary have delivered France to the invasion ?
Not at all. History shows that nations never show themselves as strong outwardly, as when they feel deeply troubled and disturbed inwardly, and that on the contrary they never are never as weak as when they appear united under some authority and in some order. In the end, nothing is more natural: struggle is life, and life is strength. To convince yourself, compare some eras in your own history. Place France, emerging from the Fronde, in the youth of Louis XIV, opposite France in his old age, with the monarchy solidly established, unified, pacified by the great king; the first all resplendent with victories, the second marching from defeat to defeat, and finally to ruin. The compare the France of 1792 with France today. If ever France was torn by civil war, it was in 1792 and 1793; the movement, the struggle, the struggle for life and death, occurred in all parts of the republic; and yet the France victoriously repelled the invasion of almost all of Europe in coalition against it. In 1870, the united and pacified France of the Empire is defeated by the armies of Germany, and shows itself demoralized to the point that we must fear for its life.
You could undoubtedly cite the example of Prussia and Germany today, which are not torn by any civil war, whichshow themselves on the contrary strangely resigned and submissive to the tyranny of their sovereign, and nevertheless developing a formidable power today. But this exceptional fact is explained by two specific reasons, none of which can be applied to modern France. The first is the unitary passion that for fifty-five years has been growing at the expense of all other passions andall the other ideas in that unfortunateGerman nation. Thesecond is the expert perfection of its administrative system.
As far as the unitary passion, this inhuman and draconian ambition to become a great nation, the first nation in the world,—France has also felt it in its time. This passion, like those ragingfevers that give the patient a superhuman strength momentarily, only to totally exhaust them and throw them into a complete prostration, thispassion, after having grown in Francefor a very short space of time, lead it to a catastrophefrom which it has recovered so little, even today, fifty-five yearsafter the defeat of Waterloo, that its present misfortunes are nothing, in my opinion, but a relapse, a second fit of apoplexy that this timewill certainly take the patient, that is to say, the political, legaland military State.
Well, Germany is now worked by precisely that same fever, that same passion for national greatness, that France has felt and experienced in all its phases at the beginning of this century and that, for that very reason, has now become unable to move and electrify it. The Germans, who today believe they are the the first nation in the world, are at least half a century behind France; What am I saying? We must go back much farther to find the equivalent of the phase that they are going through today. The Official Gazette of Berlin shows them in the near future, as a reward for their heroic dedication, “the establishment of a great Teutonic empire, based on the fear of God and true morality.” Translate this into good Catholic language, and you would have the empire of by Louis XIV. Their conquests, of which they are presently so proud, would push them back two centuries! – So all that this is of honest and truly liberal intelligence in Germany – to say nothing of the Social Democrats – begins to worry about the consequences of the national victories. A few more weeks of sacrifices like those that has Germany had to make to date, half by strength, half by enthusiasm, and the fever will begin to fall; the German people will count their losses in men and money, they will compare them to the benefits obtained, and then the King William and Bismarck will have to behave themselves. And that is why they feel the absolute need to return victorious and with hands full.
The other reason for the unheardof power presently being developed by the Germans is the excellence of their administrative machine,—not excellence from the point of view of freedom and well-being, but from the point of view of wealth and the exclusive power of the State. The administrative machine, however perfect it may be, is never the life of the people, it is, on the contrary, its absolute and direct negation. So the strength that it produces is never a natural, organic, popular strength. On the contrary, it is an entirely artificial and mechanical strength. Once broken, it is not renewed by itself, and its reconstruction becomes exceedingly difficult. That is why we must be careful not to force its results. Well, that is what Bismark and his king have one; they have forced the machine. Germany has mobilized a million and a half soldiers, and God knows how many hundreds of millions it has spent. Let Paris resist, and let all of France rise behind it, and the German machine will explode.
[ Letter VI—forthcoming ]
[Working translations by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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