Category Archives: Albert Richard

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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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 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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