Category Archives: letters

Letter to Arnold Ruge, May 1843

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

B. to R.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Letter to Albert Richard (February 7, 1870)

February 7, 1870

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

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

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

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

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

Burn this letter.

Your M.B.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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Letter to Nikolai Bakunin, February 1, 1861

Working on the Bakunin Library involves a lot of working back and forth through the writings, keeping important details fresh and seeing what new details seem fresh and important as things develop. As part of that process, I’m going to spend some time working through parts of Bakunin’s correspondence, starting with the years 1861-1868, preparing to work on the introduction for the first full volume of the edition. I’ll share rough translations of as many of those letters as time allows.

The first fruits of that project is the last surviving letter from Bakunin during his exile in Siberia, written to his brother Nikolai about six months before his escape.

February 1, 1861. Irkutsk.

Dear brother, this is probably the last time that I will write to you before receiving your response to my letters, which I want to complete by the following remarks: the best would be, obviously, that if, having had my rights restored, I should be permitted, simply and with no restrictions, to go in Russia; we must extend all our strength toward that end. But if I am considered dangerous to the point that in order to avoid my permanent stay in Russia they are ready to refuse me anything, we can say to them that I only ask a permission of six or even four months before returning to Siberia, after I have seen you, you and mother. Naturally, it is necessary that in Siberia a job and some means of existence. It seems to me that it would be good if mother addresses a direct request to the sovereign; her great age gives her the right to it. Finally, if you convince yourself of the absolute impossibility of obtaining the authorization for me to go now to Russia – but only in the case of absolute impossibility –, let them restore to me my rights without that of returning to Russia initially; that decision has recently been announced for the political criminal Weber for whom Murav’ev had demanded the total liberation. Thanks to that he has become, at least in Siberia, a free man, enjoying the same rights as all, while I am presently tied hands and feet. I anticipate all possible cases, according you full liberty to act as you judge is best. Just remember that you will never find a more propitious moment and that if you do not manage to liberate me now, you will surely never manage it. On you, your skill, your faith in success – for nothing on earth is impossible -, and on your energy depends at present the question of knowing if we will see each other or not on this earth. I would not rot in Siberia, that is certain; only having given up following the regular planetary march, I would again become a comet. But I would not desire it, and it is not easy, it would be very difficult with my wife, [although] alone I would not have hesitated. But I would not separate from her, and before attempting anything with her, I must consider it ten times. Having given the business much thought, I have decided to wait a bit more, another year doubtless, but in no case more if I see the hope of a future liberation, based on something precise. From you, in any case, I expect a complete sincerity and truthfulness. You would act very badly if you dared to deceive me concerning my situation. Enemies have the right to act in this way, but not you, and the least blunder, the least bad faith, the least contradiction on your part would be sufficient to incite me to the most reckless enterprises. I have become suspicious of everything and everyone and it would be difficult to mislead me, to string me along, and if that occurred, I would never forgive having been abused. I speak to you on the same basis as in the past and, so rare are the things that do not change in life, I judge you according to myself and I believe in you as I believe in myself; but if you have changed, if you are weary of me, say so frankly, I will not complain. I only demand the unconditional truth from you in all things.

I have asked you, Nikolaj, if it is possible, without harm to my honor, not to break off my relations with Benardaki; I have urged you to define, reinforce and regulate my financial affaires with him without modesty, without quixotism, and safeguard my interests to the degree that it is possible. Here two possible cases present themselves: either I am given the authorization to return to Russia, or I am not given it. in the first case, he must know that I will leave in May, and he will not refuse to give me the means to go to Russia, as he does it for all the employees of his businesses. In the second case, I would desire that he entrust me with a mission on the Amur up to Nikolaevsk; I would doubtless learn all the truth about what is done and can be done and learned in that country, and the truth in business, the truth at six thousand or ten thousand verst is precious. In any case, I would not take less than 3000 silver rubles of salary in order to entirely provide for my needs, as those are practiced in Siberia, and I feel myself capable of being equally useful to him for 6000 r. or salary. It goes without saying that I would not consent to remain in his service if he does not entrust me with a real job and does not admit his error.

If you judge it necessary to break off my relations with Benardaki, it would not be bad for you to recommend me to another muscovite or pétersbourgeois capitalist. But in this regard, I count little on you, it would on the contrary be a good thing if I could dwell myself in Moscow or Saint-Petersburg. Adieu, my brothers, pardon the blunt tone of this letter, but what is there to do, my soul is dried out, but despite everything I love you ardently and I believe in your as par le passé. Mother, grant me your benediction, let us hope that we will see each other soon.

          Your M. Bakunin

One more word. If I am not freed, if my relations with Benardaki are shattered and you do not find me other work, it will be necessary to sell my part of the estate, to pay off my debts and send me the balance, whatever it may be. I see no other solution. I am presently buried in debts, and what’s more I must still settle a debt of 600 r. I live poorly and in need and there is little hope, however I lose neither faith nor morals. – I would fight to the end.

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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 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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Fragment of a letter (c. 1835-1840)

369px-Michail_Bakunin_selfportraitTrue thought and feeling transmit harmony by means of chords, so if you want to know the truth, do not resort to deception. Deceit is vain; it disappears before the all-knowing eye like the wave before the rock!

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Bakunin to Proudhon, November 11, 1864

Proudhon_atelier_Nadar_BNF_GallicaNovember 11, Paris

My dear Proudhon – I have just arrived in Paris and I will remain here only a very few days. You friend, and now mine also, Felix Delhasse has given me your address at Passy. I would like to come there to see you. But knowing that you are ill, I did not want to risk the journey before being sure that you would be in a state to receive me. So please inform me or have me informed in a few words, if I should come or not. Address your response to me in a double envelope; the first in the name of

Mr. Kossilowski

56 Boulevard des Batignolles

Ecole polonaise

and on the second put my name.

Your very devoted

M. Bakunin

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]


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Bakunin to Elisée Reclus, February 15, 1875

RECLUS3February 15, 1875 – Lugano

My very dear friend, I thank you so much for your kind words. I have never doubted your friendship. That feeling has always been mutual and I judge yours by my own.

Yes, you are right. For the moment, the revolution has gone back to bed, and we fall once again into a period of evolutions, one of subterranean, invisible and often even insensible revolutions. The evolution that takes place today is very dangerous, if not for humanity, at least for certain nations. – it is the last incarnation of a used-up class, enjoying its last game, under the protection of the military-Mac-Mahono-Bonapartist dictatorship in France, the Bismarkian in the remainder of Europe.

I agree with you in saying that the hour of revolution has passed, not because of the frightful disasters we have witnessed or the terrible defeats of which we have been the more or less guilty victims, but because, to my great despair, I have observed, and I observe each day anew, that thought, hope and the revolutionary passion are absolutely not to be found among the masses, and when those are absent, we will strive in vain. We will accomplish nothing. – I admire the patience and the heroic perseverance of the Jurassians and the Belgians—these last Mohicans of the International—who despite all the difficulties, adversities and despite all the obstacles, in the mdst of general indifference, opposing their stubborn front to the absolutely opposite course of things, continuing to calmly do what they did before the catastrophes, when the general movement was ascending and the least effort created a force. – It is a labor that much more praiseworthy, as they do not collect the fruits of it, but they can be certain that the labor will not be wasted, – nothing is wasted in the world – and though the drops of water are invisibles, they nonetheless form the ocean. –

As for me, my friend, I had become too old, too sick, too weary, and, need I say it, in many ways too disillusioned, to feel the desire and strength to participate in that work. – I am truly retired from the struggle and I will pass the rest of my days in a contemplation—not idle, but on the contrary very active intellectually—that I hope will not fail produce something useful. –

One of the passions that dominates within me at this time is an immense curiosity. – Once I was obliged to recognize that evil has triumphed and that I cannot prevent it, I set myself to studying the evolutions and developments with a quasi-scientific, entirely objective, passion. –

What actors and what scenery! – At the back and dominating all the situation in Europe, the Emperor Wilhelm and Bismarck at the head of a great nation of lackeys. – Against them, the Pope with his Jesuits, all the Catholic and Roman Church, riches of billions, dominate a great portion of the world through women, through the ignorance of the masses, through the incomparable skill of their numberless affiliates, having their eyes and hands everywhere. – Third actor – French civilization embodied in Mac-Mahon, Dupanloup and Broglie attaching the chains of a great fallen people. – Then around all that, Spain, Italy, Austria, and Russia each painting their faces according to the occasion – and far off England not being able to decide to become something again, and still father away the model Republic of the United State of American already flirting with military dictatorship.

Poor humanity!

It is obvious that it could only escape from this cesspool by means of an immense social revolution. – But how would it make that revolution? The international reaction of Europe has never been so formidably armed against every popular movement. – It has made repression into a new science that is taught systematically in the military schools to the lieutenants of all the nations. – And what do we have to attack that impregnable fortress? – The disorganized masses. But how to organize them, when they are not even sufficiently interested in their own salvation, when the do not know what they should want and when they do not want the only thing that can save them? –

There remains propaganda, such as is done by the Jurassians and Belgians. – That is doubtless something, but a very small thing, some drops of water in the ocean; and if there were no other means of salvation, humanity would have the time to rot ten times before being saved. –

Another hope remains: universal war. – These immense military States must well destroy and devour one another sooner or later. – But what perspective [end of manuscript]

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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Bakunin to Karl Marx, December 22, 1868

Marx1867December 22, 1868. Geneva

123. Montbrillant.

My old friend – Serno has shared with me the part of your letter that concerned me. You asked him if I continue to be your friend. – Yes, more than ever, dear Marx, because I understand better than ever how right you are in following, and in inviting us all to march on the wide road of economic revolution, and in denigrating those among us who would lose themselves on the paths of either national or exclusively political enterprises. I now do what you yourself commenced to do more than twenty years ago. – Since the solemn and public farewells that I addressed to the bourgeois at the Berne Congress, I have known no other society, no other milieu than the world of the workers. – My homeland now is the International of which you are one of the principal founders. – So you see, dear friend, that I am your disciple – and I am proud to be it. – This is all that was needed to explain my relationships and my personal feelings. – Let us pass on to other questions.

I read in your letter to Serno that we have posed the question falsely at Berne, by speaking of the equalization of classes and individuals. – That observation is perfectly fair with regard to the terms, with regard to the formula that we have made use of. – But that formula has been, as it were, imposed on us by the stupidity and final impenitence of our bourgeois audience. – The have been stupid enough to yield to us, without a fight, as it were, the terrain of equality – and our triumph has consisted precisely in the fact that we have been able to observe that they reject all the conditions of a real and serious equality. – That if what has made them, and still makes them, furious. – What’s more, I admit wholeheartedly that we could have better expressed ourselves otherwise, if, for example, we had said: The radical suppression of the economic causes of the existence of the different classes, and the economic, social and political equalization of the environment and the conditions of existence and development for all individuals without difference of sex, nation and race. – I have send you in a bundle all the speeches, except one, that I gave at Berne – Herzen having asked me for permission to print them in the last Mohican, that is in the last issue of his Journal, which has ceased to appear for lack of public and readers, I had no reason to refuse him. – But I beg you to believe that there is absolutely no solidarity between him and me. – Since 1863 especially, all our political relations, and now even our private relations, have broken off. – He asked permission to modify in his own way the speech that I made at Berne regarding Russia, in response to the speech of my friend Mroczkowski, which you will find in Kolokol – I proposed, like all my friends of the Russian socialist democracy, of which I have also sent the program, incidentally written by me, as the condition of real, which is to say economic, social and political emancipation of the Russian and non-Russian peoples shut up in the Russian Empire – the radical destruction of that Empire – That is too much for Herzen and we have fallen out. – I also send you the Program of the Alliance that we have founded with Becker and many Italian, Polish and French friends. – On this subject we will have much to say to one another. – I will soon send you a copy of a long letter, – almost a pamphlet – that I wrote on the subject to my friend César de Paepe – Now a few words on what is happening here. At Basle there is a considerable strike – which will probably have the result of adding 5000 members more to the International. – Geneva appears perfect. – We have had a great popular assembly, which has appointed a permanent Commission of Correspondence with Basle – I am on it. – Becker as well. – I have truly found here, among the workers, some magnificent men. – Give my regards to Engels, if he is not dead a second time. – You know that he has been buried once – and I beg you to give him a copy of my speech, and Eckarius and Jung as well.

Your devoted M. Bakunin

Please remember me to Madame Marx.

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