Category Archives: Max Nettlau

Max Nettlau, “New Bakunin Documents” (1924)

NEW BAKUNIN DOCUMENTS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M. N.


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

Comments Off on Max Nettlau, “New Bakunin Documents” (1924)

Filed under 1920s, Max Nettlau

Max Nettlau, A Travesty of Bakunin (1929)

devilatlongbridgeA TRAVESTY OF BAKUNIN*

By. M. NETTLAU

[Freedom Bulletin, 7 (May, 1929): 2.]

Bakunin’s fair name, like everybody else’s, is dear to all of us, and it has been cleared by most careful research from all the Marxian and other aspersions shoveled upon it in fanatical party strife. It has now become his lot to be defined from another side, by the book of an Italian author, Riccardo Bacchelli, which has been translated into English. I have not seen this book, but from what I have heard from various sides it purports to deal with events, partially private, in Bakunin’s life during the years 1872-1874. Now, these events have been illustrated and explained by a large quantity of letters, private papers, and personal unrestricted statements of some of the most intimate participants in these events. This has been partly put in print or in polygraphic reproduction many years ago; partly it is produced and dissected in works not yet in print, but not unknown nor inaccessible to those who have a serious interest in this question, which, to the general public as well as to the Anarchist public, is of minor interest, indeed, and interests only the intimate historical students of that period.

All this material Bacchelli, from all one hears, does not consult, so what he produces cannot concern the real Bakunin, but only an imaginary manikin of his own creation. As historical novels in our time are loosely based on the most thorough documentation obtainable, the public ought to be made aware then that this novel is quite an exception to this.

This is very openly stated by Dr. Luigi Bakunin, a grandson of Michael Bakunin, in a letter printed—during his stay in Argentina—in the large Buenos Aires literary review, Nosotros, No. 235, December, 1928, pp. 416-418, which is an outburst of indignation against Bacchelli’s proceedings. I will extract only these lines, not because I am mentioned in them, but because they state the facts as, from all I know, they appear to be, unfortunately:—

“I like to believe, for the dignity of the man and the author, that Bacchelli operates with full good faith, but let him accept advice and it is this, that before writing a historical novel he should attentively read history and give to this several hours of study every day. In the present case, he would have done well to read the history of the “International,” by James Guillaume, and the biography of “Michael Bakunin,” by Max Nettla, if not the writings of Bakunin himself. Let him read these, it is still time; let him think them over, and he will see what an offence he has inflicted on truth, and he will certainly be the first to regret this.”

This will be sufficient to warn the English comrades against being influenced by this book, which they can repudiate by a sound instinct, but which they cannot control and verify as to assertions purporting to be facts, as the books and documents necessary for this so not exist in English editions. There in an abundance of real research work on Bakunin available now, mainly in French, German, Spanish, Italian and Russian, but indeed nothing at all in English. It is a bitter irony of fat that the publishers should first be attracted by the manikin which Bacchelli dubs with the name of Bakunin, but this are managed like this in this best of all possible best worlds.

March 23rd, 1929.

 

* “The Devil at the Long Bridge.” By Riccardo Bacchelli. 7s. 6d. London: Longmans, Green & Co.

Comments Off on Max Nettlau, A Travesty of Bakunin (1929)

Filed under 1920s, Max Nettlau, Riccardo Bacchelli, Uncategorized

Max Nettlau, “The St. Imier Congress of the International” (1922)

THE ST. IMIER CONGRESS OF THE INTERNATIONAL,
September 15 and 16, 1872.
This September our Swiss comrades in the Jura mountains will commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the anti-authoritarian Congress of the old International held at St. Imier, September 15 and 16, 1873; and they will also recall the memory of the Jurassian Federation of the International, which for many years stood in the front ranks of the struggles of the ‘60s and ‘70s which created the Anarchist and revolutionary Syndicalist movements of our time. The Congress in question did more: it saved the continuity of the internationalist movement and rescued it from the clutches of the authoritarian politicians gathering round Marx, it even inaugurated the friendly co-existence of movements of different tendencies within the same organisation by establishing the solid basis of complete autonomy and mutual respect for all shades of opinion and tactics. Thus it pointed out ways and methods which have since been abandoned’ to the detriment of the common cause of social emancipation To the present English readers many of the facts connected With these events will not be familiar, when they read this rapid Summary of these facts they will, I believe, feel solidarity with the Swiss comrades and send them fraternal greetings, and they may  also consider whether these events of fifty years ago do not contain some lessons useful in our days, when, indeed, fresh impulse, fresh initiative are wanted more than ever.
The International Working Men’s Association, as founded at St. Martin’s Hall, in London, September 29, 1864, was to unite and weld together all workers who would work together for their emancipation from Capitalism, irrespective of the shades of opinion on principles and tactics which divided them. This broad principle was respected for five years, until after the Congress held at Basle, Switzerland, in September, 1869, where for the last time State Socialists or Marxists, Revolutionary Collectivists as the Anarchists were then called, Proudhonian Mutualists, Trade Unionists, Co-operators, and social reformers met in fair discussion and tried to elaborate lines of common action, useful and acceptable to all. The Congresses of 1868 and 1869 showed that the anti-authoritarian and truly revolutionary, anti-parliamentary ideas were making excellent headway, being spread from several intellectual centres of propaganda in Belgium, the Swiss Jura, and Spain, and with so much vigour by Bakunin, who had then lived for two years in and near Geneva, whilst before that time he had first spread these ideas in parts of Italy, mainly Florence and Naples.
Marx, who for all these years had had a free hand in leading the London General Council of the Association, and who had expected that by these means by and by his personal ideas would meet with international acceptance, was mortified when he saw in 1868, and more so in 1869 by the Basle Congress, that he was not making progress, that revolutionary Anarchism came to the front in a way alarming to him. This made him resort from that date to desperate and utterly unfair means by which he expected to terrorise or discourage the anti-authoritarian sections, and he did not mind trying by foul means to discredit and ruin the advocates of freedom, notably Bakunin, whom he had disliked for many years. A minute unravelling of these machinations will be found in the Life of Bakunin as compiled by me and in the records of the International collected by the late James Guillaume; but all this is surpassed by the cynical discussion of their doings between Marx and Engels in their private correspondence, which has since come to light to a large extent.
These intrigues were permitted a long impunity by the situation created by the war of 1870-71 and the Paris Commune, since this gave a plausible pretext for not meeting in congress in 1870 and a miserable, utterly unfair pretext for replacing the congress of 1871 by a private conference held in London and thoroughly engineered and controlled by Marx. At this conference he struck the blow long since premeditated, namely, to enforce an official doctrine, that Of political action (implying Labour parties, electioneering, etc.), upon the Association. This was too much.
Opinions as to how to resist these authoritarian encroachments were divided. We can study every phase of this from Bakunin’s letter to the Paris Réveil (end of 1869), the Jurassian attitude against be  Geneva politicians at the Congress held at Easter, 1870, Bakunin’s letter of August 6, 1871, protesting against the voluntary dissolution of the section called “L’Alliance” at Geneva, the Jurassian letter to the London conference (September 4, 1871), etc.—there was always an opposition between the intransigent attitude of Bakunin, who did not mind a split in the Association, and the Jurassians’ (for brevity’s sake I will say James Guillaume’s) position; the latter whilst repudiating the authoritarians as keenly as Bakunin, never ceased looking for means to maintain the cohesion or unity of the International in any case. This struggle of opinion never left the line of friendly discussion, as both sides had so thoroughly at heart their common cause.
After the London conference (September 17-23, 1871) the Jurassian Federation at their Congress held at Souvillier (Swiss Jura), November 12, exposed the situation in a long circular, defending the autonomy of the sections and federations, and calling for the intermediate convening of a general Congress to restore the lost freedom in the International. Bakunin did what he could to second this first open movement of protest, which met with hearty support in Italy, Spain, Belgium, etc.
Until then, apart from slanders spread in semi-private communications to Germany and the United States, which have since come to light, and other slanders circulated by zealous subordinates Marx had left Bakunin alone personally, though anxiously collecting material (namely, of his revolutionary activity) against him by means of repulsive persons like N. Utin and others. But when the Souvillier circular set the ball rolling and the very foundation of his power was in danger of being either deprived of its prerogatives or abolished altogether, he shirked the fair struggle of opinion, freedom versus authority, which Bakunin and his comrades expected to fight out at the coming Congress, and he lowered the level of the debate to personal quarrelling by gathering heaps of incriminations against the revolutionists into a longer private circular signed with the names of the members of the General Council (nearly all of whom had never read or even seen it), called “On the Pretended Split in the International,” dated March 5, and printed and circulated end of May, 1872. Bakunin and several others published replies and refutations in the Jura Bulletin of June 15. Shortly after this the general Congress was convened to meet at The Hague in September. The location of the Congress in Holland, so near to London and Germany, and far from Switzerland and the Southern countries, showed that Marx intended absolutely to control this Congress by a packed majority and in one of his letters to his American agent, F. A. Sorge (June 21, 1872; published 1906), Marx asked for not less than twelve American credentials, to be sent to himself and his London partisans. The Congress so long waited for in vain was now to become an absolute farce, another tool of Marx as the conference of 1871 had been and as the General Council still was. The Anarchists were determined to stand this no longer and henceforward to fight for the liberation of the International from Marx’s domination. But again opinions as to how to act differed in the sense described above.
Without entering upon dates and documents, published and unpublished, the principal phases may be described. When in the middle of July Bakunin and some of the Jurassians met, the latter also were for an intransigent policy, meaning that if the Congress was not held in Switzerland instead of The Hague they would invite the anti-authoritarian federations not to go to Holland but to meet with them in Switzerland and to organise an intimate federation among themselves. In this sense, no doubt, Bakunin then wrote long letters to Italy and to Spain, and the idea was acted upon and further enlarged by the Italians at their conference held at Rimini early in August, where the immediate rupture with the General Council and the convocation of a Congress to be held at Neuchatel were decided upon.
Meanwhile, however, James Guillaume’s constant idea of doing the utmost to keep within the International had prevailed also in the Jura, and found expression in the instructions given to the Jura delegates at the local Congress held in August! They would go to The Hague and the Italians would not. Bakunin sided with the Italians, but—as it was right for true Anarchists to do—all were free to act as they chose, and Guillaume pursued his politics at The Hague with the disapproval of the Spanish Anarchist delegates and of the Italian, Cafiero, who attended the Congress merely as a visitor, but Guillaume met with no interference from their side though they thrashed out the matter in hot discussions.
Guillaume’s idea was that instead of a split, leaving authoritarians and Anarchists absolutely separated, it was preferable that all should remain within the International who would accept the economic solidarity of the workers against Capitalism and the complete autonomy of federations, sections, and individual members as to ideas and tactics, provided the principle that the emancipation of the workers should be their own work was not lost sight of. To put it in a nutshell, he worked with the purpose that the authoritarians those who would not recognise anybody’s freedom but their own and who were bent upon domineering over all the others, should leave the International, which they never ought to have joined at all, and that all who loved fair play and mutual toleration should be made welcome in it, whatever their shade of Socialist theory and practice should be. During the week of the Congress whilst the packed majority voted almost dictatorial powers to the ruling clique, and Marx imagined that he won constant victories, Guillaume went round quietly discussing these ideas with many delegates, dispelling their prejudices and welding together their forces. Then when the triumph of Marx was at its height, when the vote was about to be taken decreeing the expulsion of Bakunin and his friends, the minority by a declaration read by V. Dave, a comrade who is still alive declared the mutual solidarity of the autonomous federations which did not recognise any of the regulations and resolutions interfering with their autonomy, and which would henceforth communicate among themselves and prepare the realisation of federalist autonomy within the organisation at the next Congress. Marx was dumbfounded; his authority was defied, and The Hague resolutions were already declared null and void by the Internationalists of Spain, Beigium, Holland, and the Swiss Jura, as far as the delegates who signed the declaration represented them.
Besides this solidarity on the basis of mutual toleration, another link, that of Anarchist ideas held by all, was to keep together the definitely Anarchist federations. This idea Guillaume discussed at Amsterdam (September 8) with Cafiero and the Spanish delegates, and Bakunin since August 30 had already written (at Zurich) the principles and rules of the secret society, the “ Alliance of Revolutionary Socialists,” which was to ally the action of the Italian and Spanish Anarchists with that of himself and others. To discuss this matter with him the Italian delegates to the anti-authoritarian Congress first met in Zurich (September 6 und following days); on September 11 the Spanish delegates and Catiero arrived from The Hague; on September 13 the rules of the secret society were definitely accepted, and the St. Imier Congress was then discussed.
Bakunin and these comrades, also a number of Russians, travelled to St. Imier, where the “International Congress” was held on September 15 and 16, being composed of Spanish, Italian (Bakunin among them), French (mainly Commune refugees), and Jurassian delegates.
Here again the Italian view of complete rupture with the General Council and the Jurassian standpoint, defended by Guillaume, were face to face, and the latter was prevailing. Thus the famous second resolution, called “Pact of friendship, solidarity, and mutual defence between the free Federations,” did not go further than the declaration of the minority above described, but this was quite sufficient, as coming events showed.
Bakunin, after long conversations with Guillaume, adhered also to these views and began to act upon the Italians in this sense. It may be said that finally, in March, 1873, the next Italian Congress, held at Bologna adopted a resolution expressing these views of economic solidarity against Capitalism and complete autonomy as to ideas and tactics in the most definite terms, so this idea of mutual toleration generally prevailed over that of a clean separation.
The further development was facilitated by the maniacal behaviour of the Marxist General Council at New York, which simply suspended all the independent federations, with the result that in the turn of a hand these excommunicated federations continued to form the International on the basis of the St. Imier principles, and the General Council and its few acolytes were left out in the cold and henceforth taken no further notice of. The Congress held at Geneva (September, l873) reorganised the Association on this anti-authoritarian basis, and further Congresses were held at Brussels, Berne, and Verviers.
The continuity of the International was thus saved by the methods adopted at St. Imier. After the death of Bakunin (June, 1876) another similar effort was made by the Anarchists to live on friendly terms with their opponents on the basis of this autonomy of ideas and tactics, and the universal Congress held at Ghent (1877) is yet another instance. It was owing to this tradition that the more Ghent International Socialist Congresses held at Paris, 1889, and so forth, at the beginning as a matter of course comprised Socialists of all shades of opinion; and it will be remembered that the Marxists will not rest until by successive and increasing vexations and acts of brutality they gloriously managed at the London Congress of 1896 to at last erect barriers excluding henceforth all who disbelieved in Parliamentarian tactics. Then they were alone once more and quite happy, and they culled that unsocial isolation the “Second International”! There is no more unsocial being than an out-and-out Marxist, who recognises no Socialist comradeship and knows only dictators and slaves
It appears to me that if ever Internationalism is to be restored it will never be done by the “diplomacy of the proletariat” (a phrase coined by Engels in a letter to Marx), which is quite as abominable as official diplomacy, never by the leaders of the Second, Two-and-a-half, and Third Internationals putting their heads together in as many conferences, and at a similar cost, as the present capitalist masters of poor Europe. It might be tried on these or similar lines, if the lessons of St. Imier are worth anything:
Solidarity in the economic struggle against Capitalism;
Solidarity in the defence of mankind by the repudiation of war and all nationalist oppression;
Autonomy as to ideas and tactics, provided these do not uphold the State, Capitalism, Nationalism, or war.
When by these mean the ground has been cleared for independent action, then another series of international ties would come into operation, namely, those joining together men and organizations holding similar ideas and pursuing similar tactics. Then Internationalism will give them combined strength and they will be able to decide where best to begin to act by free experimentation. Then, at last, something newwill be before us, not as an oppressive organism imposed by dictatorship, but as an organic growth, and we will all learn by this experience and the present period of stagnation or oppression will be over.

FreedomSeptember 1922

Comments Off on Max Nettlau, “The St. Imier Congress of the International” (1922)

Filed under 1920, Max Nettlau, St. Imier Congress

Max Nettlau, “Marx and Engels and the IWMA” (1907)

Marx and Engels and the International Working
Men’s Association, 1872 to 1876.
I.
F. A. Sorge, a German refugee of 1849, the chief American correspondent of Marx and Engels in the seventies and eighties, a few months before his death published a volume of letters addressed to him by Marx (1868-1881), Engels (1872-1895), J. Ph. Becker, Dietzgen and others (Stuttgart, 1906, xii., pp. 422, 8vo.) We have already had glimpses of Marx’s personal life and doings in F. Lassalle’s letters addressed to him during the fifties, in Marx’s own letters to Dr. Kugelmann during the sixties, and in his letters to his daughter, Madame Longuet, towards the end of her and his life, etc. This volume, however, abounds with new materials, and although everything has not been published in full, an infinite number of statements and appreciations are here in print before us which unveil the threads of Marxism to an unprecedented extent. I propose to give some extracts relating to the inner history of the International, and let the writer’s words speak for themselves, adding some connecting lines of historical notes. The subject is treated at considerable length in the second volume of J. Guillaume’s L’Internationale, leading up to the Hague Congress of 1872, a volume which will shortly be published; the principal writings of Bakunin in 1870 are also being published just now by J. Guillaume in a carefully edited volume (Paris, 1907, Oeuvres, tome II.).
Marx was always eager to send information about Bakunin; in 1870 he wrote the famous Confidential Communication, published among the Kugelmann letters. To Sorge he writes on November 23, 1871:—
“His (Bakunin’s) programme was riff-raff, superficially gathered from right and left—equality of classes (!), abolition of the right of inheritance as the starting point of the social movement (a St. Simonian idiocy), Atheism dictated to the members as a dogma, and the chief dogma (Proudhonist) abstention from politics.
This children’s spelling-book met with sympathy (and still maintains it to extent) in Italy and Spain, where the real conditions of a workers’ movement are still little developed, and among some vain, ambitious, hollow doctrinaires in French-speaking Switzerland and Belgium.
For Mr. Bakunin this doctrine (his rot begged from Proudhon, St. Simon, etc.) was and is a secondary object—only a means to impose his personality. If he is theoretically a blank, he is at home in intriguing.”
When after poisoning people’s minds in this way for years and evading any encounter with his opponents at an open Congress, Marx was at last forced to convoke the Hague Congress (September, 18~2), he knew the small support he would find among the European International, and in order to dominate the Congress he ordered delegates’ credentials from America. The letter showing how it was done is now before us (June 21, 1872):—
You and at least one or two others must come. Those sections which send no direct delegates may send credentials (delegates’ credentials).
The Germans for myself, Fr. Engels, Lochner, Karl Pfaender, Lessner.
The French for G. Rouvier, Auguste Serraillier, Le Moussu, Ed. Vaillant, F. Cournet, Ant. Arnoud.
The Irish for MacDonell, who does very well; or, if they prefer, for one of the forenamed Germans or French.”
Twelve credentials for Marxists and Blanquists, who had but to travel from London to Holland—a red herring across the path of genuine delegates, who might have to travel from Spain, Italy or Switzerland. Thus Congresses are made.
The majority thuscreated expelled Bakunin and Guillaume after an inquiry by a committee to which but one member of the large anti-authoritarian minority of the Congress was admitted. One of the members of that committee, before which the friends of Bakunin were expected to lay their most private revolutionary affairs—they did not, of course—was an unknown person named Walter. His real name was Van Heddeghem, and of him Engels, on Alay 3, 1873, is forced to admit: “Heddeghen was a spy already at the Hague.” Notwithstanding this, Engels is delighted to elaborate the scurrilous pamphlet L’Alliance de Démocratie Socialiste (1873), into which all the libels collected about Bakunin were gathered. It appears now that it contains materials—all the Russian parts referring to Bakunin and Netchaev—which the Hague committee never saw (Engels, September 21, October 5, 1872); these will make “a horrible scandal. I never met with such an infamous pack of rogues” (October 5). “The thing will explode like a bomb among the autonomists, and if anybody can be killed at all, Bakunin will be as dead as a doornail. Lafargue and I made it between us, only the conclusions are by Marx and myself “ (July 25, 1873). It is known that Bakunin brushed this mud aside with two words, and that the thing fell entirely flat.
The Marxists had at the Hague Congress transferred the General Council of the International from London to New York. The way Engels handles this New York Council is quite farcical, and the life of that body was but the faint shadow of a shadow. The Spanish, Italian, Jurassian, Belgian, and part of the French and English Internationalists took no notice of it, the Dutch were indifferent, and its own friends, galvanized into life for the purposes of the Hague Congress, did almost exactly the same. Engels does his best first to gather the remains of power into his own hands and those of his London friends, and then to write to Sorge, the secretary of that Council, fantastic reports of the phantom progress of the Marxist International and the usual amount of libels against the Anarchists.
In his report on Spain(October 31, 1872) he is forced to admit: “There exist in Spain only two local Federations which openly and thoroughly acknowledge the resolutions of the Hague Congress and the new General Council—the new Federation of Madrid and the Federation of Alcula de Henares,” and “the great bulk of the Spanish International are still under the leadership of the Alliance, which predominates in the Federal Councils as well as in tho most important Local Councils.” He puts his faith in Jose Mesn, calling him “without doubt by far the most superior man we have in Spain, both as to character and talent, and indeed one of the best men we have anywhere.” It is curious to note that men of a certain type like Jose Mesa, Mr. Glaser de Willebrord, and Mr. Maltman Barry, were always round Marx and Engels, and enjoyed their greatest confidence. Engels’ letter to Mr. Glaser on the eve of the Hague Congress, published elsewhere, and Marx’s letter to Sorge (September 27, 1877), saying “Barry is my factotum here,” are documentary evidence of this.
Engels thinks it possible that at the next Spanish Congress ‘‘we shall blow up the whole thing and turn the Alliance out. We owe this to the energy of Mesa alone, who single-handedhad to do everything” (November 16). The Cordova Congress was a splendid manifestation of the Anarchist International, and Engels, forestalling this defeat, records that Mesa wrote to him that many of our people are just now participating in the insurrection, in prison or with the bands in the mountains” (January 3, 1873). As the unique Mesa could not be ubiquitous, this information is rather puzzling, but Engels no doubt thought that it would do for Sorge! At Inst he begins to tell the truth (April 15, 1873): “The Emancipacion of Madrid is dying, if not dead. We have sent them £15, but as scarcely anybody paid for the copies received [which nobody evidently wanted !] it appears impossible to keep it up.” But Mesa is irrepressible; he corresponds with Engels “with regard to another paper to be started” (of which nothing ever came).
With regard to Italy, Engels writes (November 2, 1872):—“Bignami [in Lodi, Lombardia] is the only fellow in Italy who took our part, though up to the present not very energetically… He sits amidst the autonomists, and has still to take certain precautions.” Bignami published a manifesto of the New York General Council, and that number of his paper, La Plebe, was seized, and Bignami and two others were arrested (December 14), six others ran away, and, says Engels (January 4, 1873), “Bignami bombards me with letters for support.” Engels appeals for money to America: “It is of the highest importance that Lodi be supported from abroad; it is our strongest position in Italy, and now, when nothing more is heard from Turin, the only reliable…. If Lodi and the Plebe are lost to us, we have no further foothold in Italy, on that you may rely.” On March 20: “The section of Lodi has not yet been reconstituted, and that of Turin probably went to pieces.” Meanwhile three of the al rested were released after a fortnight, and Bignami after six weeks. They had received from London, Germany and Austria £10, and from New York £8 more was sent, which Engels sent to Bignami, who stated that “he was hiding again in older to avoid being dragged to prison to undergo a sentence of imprisonment, which he prefers doing later or after having been restored to better health” (April 15, 1873); the Plebe appears to be suspended too.” Thus the Spanish Marxist International was last seen with the bands in the mountains, the Italian Marxist International was hiding, and in that same letter Engels has the cheek to write: “The arrest of Alliancists at Bologna and Mirandole will not last long, they will soon be liberated; if some of them are now and again arrested by mistake, they never suffer seriously.” This is Engel’s description of the endless persecutions to which the real International in Italy was exposed, a record of which—a reprint of letters sent to the Jurassian Bulletin, with connecting text—is now published in the Geneva Risveglio by J. Guillaume and L. Bertoni.
But there is something more mysterious still than these vanishing Spanish and Italian sections. It is the Polish International, whose delegate, Wroblewski, voted also for the expulsion of Bakunin at the Hague Congress, though he must have known that Bakunin had risked his liberty more than once and was ready to risk his life for Poland. Marx writes to Sorge (December 21, 1872) that the General Council obtained the participation of Poland in the International under the condition “that he deals only with Wroblewski, who communicates what he thinks right or necessary.”
“In this ease you have no choice. You must give Wroblewski the same unconditional powers as we did, or give up Poland.”
And Engels (March 20, 1873): “ Wroblewski cannot send any report, since in Poland everything is secret, and we never asked him about details,”—to which Sorge adds (1906): “Details have never been asked, but a sign of life.”
This sign of life, a very modest demand, never came—nor was anything ever heard again from Denmark, whose delegate, Pihl, also voted with the majority (“Still not one line,” January 4, 1873; “Not a word,” March 30; “Nothing heard nor seen,” May 3; “Never heard a word from Pihl,” July 26).
The French Blanquists, who had entered the General Council after the Paris Commune, left after the Hague Congress in full discontent. With all the French refugees in London, Engels wrote on December 7, 1872: “ We have none other here [who might receive general powers for France] but Serlaillier.’’ Two French agents of the Blanquists and the General Council, Van Heddeghem and D’Entraygues (another member of the Hague majority, called Swarm there) were arrested in France—the former turning out to have been a spy; the latter, “with the usual pedantry, had a mass of useless lists” (of names of Internationalists, March 20, 1873), and “denounced from personal reasons and feebleness some who had given him a hiding before “ (May 3), These arrests in Paris and in the South-West of France put an end to the Marxist International in France entrusted to Walter and Swarm!
About the sections in Germanyand Austria neither Engels nor Sorge knew any details (March 20, 1873); Engels had no addresses in Holland and Belgium (ib.) The Portuguesepaper “will have to suspend its publication for a short time, but will reappear” (April 15); the (London) International Herald “also is on its last legs” (ib.) When we speak of the pseudo-congress of Geneva (September, 1873) we shall see with what utter contempt Marx and Becher wrote of their allies against Bakunin, the politicians of the Geneva Fédération Romande. The English International had also split, and no epithets are too strong to be used by Marx against Hales, Eccarias, Jung, etc. The American International, which for years had been divided, continued to quarrel. Thus wherever we look we see the most complete breakdown of the structure on which Marx had relied to get a majority at the Hague to expel Bakunin, and later on the Anarchist federations.
To the New York General Council the minute books of the London Council were never sent, and Engels begs of Sorge nearly all the powers be can think of as agents for European countries (November 16, 1872): England and Italy for himself, France for Serraillier, Germany for Marx. They did not seem able to get even the papers published in Europe (February 8,1873).
All this points to but one conclusion: if the Marxist International after the Hague Congress is proved now by the word of their chiefs themselves to be an almost nolJ-existing thing, did it have any real life at any time whatsoever before that Congress? I believe not. Wherever the International existed, it was revolutionary (as in Spain, Italy, etc.) political (a Radical electioneering body as in Geneva), trade unionist, or consisted of small branches for Socialist propaganda. Marxist it never was to any extent, and the Hague majority of members of the General Council, Blanquists and politicians was the momentary creation of intrigue and humbug.
This will further be seen by the way the Geneva Congress of 1873 was fabricated by J. O. L. Becker—not to be confounded with the Geneva Congress of the Anarchist Federations of the same month.
II.
The minority of the Hague Congress protested against the resolutions voted by the fictitious Marxist and Blanquist majority (political action made compulsory, the expulsion of Bakunin and Guillaume, etc.); they met with Bakunin at Zurich, later at St. Imier (Swiss Jura), where an International Conference was held (September, 1872). This aetion was confirmed by atioilal Congresses held in the Jura, in Spain, Belgium, and, in March, 1873, in Italy. They prepared an Internatimal Congress which took place in September, 1873, in Geneva, of which an extensive report has been published (Locle, 1874).. The New York General Council voted their suspension,” but as they never recognised this Council at all no notice was taken of its doings in their regard.
Marx was furious at these mild proceedings, “suspension” only, which would have permitted them to appeal to the next General Congress. He tells Sorge (February 12, 1873) that by their action they put themselves outside of the Society, and, being no longer members, could not in any way interfere with any future Congress. “The great result of the Hague Congress was to compel the foul elements to expel themselves, that is to leave.” This is just what they did not do; they continued in the Society and disregarded the ridiculous New York dictatorship and its European agents.
How little Marx and Engels knew these men! Engels, always brutal, dreams of “chucking out by blows” (hinauspruegela) (May 3, 1873), just as in 1870 when he wrote about the Congress proposed at Mayence. “In Switzerland,” he says, “ there is only one locality possible [for the General Congress] and that is Geneva. There the masses of the workers are behind us, and there exists a hall belonging to the International, the Temple Unique, from which we simply chuck out the gentlemen of the Alliance if they present themselves. . . . . The Alliancists make every effort to come to the Congress in great numbers, whilst our people all go to sleep.” After the French arrests no French delegates can come, and the German delegates were greatly disappointed by all the bickerings and quarrellings they saw at the Hague Congress; moreover their actual leaders, during the imprisonment of Bebel and Liebknecht, were old Lassalleans, York and others, who—as Engels implies—did not dance to the tune of the London Marxists, the bitterest enemies of Lassalle. “the Geneva people themselves are doing nothing, the Egalité [their organ] seems dead [it had been so a long time already], thus no great local support may be expected—only we sit in our own houseand among people who know Bakunin and his band, and will turn them out by blows if necessary. Thus Geneva is the onlyplace to guarantee a victory for us;” but it is further absolutely necessary that the General Council declares that the Belgians, Spaniards, part of the English and Jurassians have left the Society, and that the Italian Federation never belonged to it! Under these precautions then Engels hoped that a successful Congress should be held in their last mousehole in Europe, the hall of the Geneva International ! But this is nothing in comparison to what really took place.
Johann Philipp Becker, au old and very active Socialist, who affected patriarchal airs, but with all this was an unscrupulous schemer had at the last moment to fabricate this General Congress of Geneva (September, 1873) almost out of nothing—for against all expectation neither Marx nor Engels nor any of their Loudon friends went there, nor any foreign delegates except Mr. Oberwinder, of Vienna; a Dutch delegate, who had been sent to the Anti-Authoritarian Congress held at the same time, also assisted.
This Oberwinder, a Frankfort journalist, had helped to introduce Lassallean Socialism in Austria; after some years, however, he leaned towards the Liberal Party and reduced the once vigorous Socialist movement to a mere suffrage question. At last the great mass of the Party, headed by Andreas Scheu, rose against this, and Oberwinder’s followers were soon reduced to a small and vanishing clique. We should have thought that here, at last, Marx and Engels would have seen their way clear, but now, blinded by their fear and hatred of Bakunin, they did the wrong thing also here. Engels (May 3, 1873) writes: “To us Scheu is suspect: (1) he is in relations with Vaillant [the Blanquist], and (2) there are signs that he, like his friend and predecessor, Neumayer, who went mad, is in relations with Bakunin. The great phrases of the latter obtrude somewhat from Scheu’s articles and speeches, and you will remember how his brother bolted at the Hague, when the affair with B. [Bakunin] was transacted.” So many words, so many wrong statements! Heinrich Scheu and other delegates left the Hague because they had to attend a German Congress which immediately followed. Oberwinder, in his unscrupulous polemics, often denounced some Russian students whom Scheu knew in Vienna—and from this Engels puts him down as a Bakunist and a Blanquist at the same time, and does all he can to excuse the behaviour of Oberwinder, of whom he writes himself but a little later (July 26): “Oberwinder has always been a trimmer.”
Anyhow, Becker reports on the “Congress” as follows (September 22): “Even before the bad news arrived about Serraillier and the English Federal Council [who did not come nor send delegates], in order to give the Congress greater renown by a larger number of delegates, and to secure the majority on the right side, I had, so to speak, raised from the dust thirteen delegates (aus der Erde gestampft), and things went after all far better than I expected. As to sober attitude and practical results the sixth Congress may even be an example to all the others—especially considering the difficulties caused by a certain disruption of the Roman [Swiss] Federation.”
The old humbug must have chuckled to himself when he wrote these lines. He was furious at heart at the London and New York Marxists who had deserted the Congress, and at the Geneva Internationalists, of whom more anon. When Sorge took the part of the former his wrath breaks loose, and he then revolts against the cowardice of the clever people in London, who, fearing a defeat, did not turn up. “They ought to have come twice over if they saw danger ahead,” he writes (November 2, 1873), and these are good words well worth remembering.
The Geneva Labour politicians for whom the International was but an electioneering cry, and against whom, in 1869, Bakunin and his friends fought bitterly but unsuccessfully, the friends of Outine, tools of the General Council in all the machinations against Bakunin—these people had, up to 1873, discredited the Geneva International to such an extent that it could no longer keep together, and, as a last remedy, schemes like an International Federation of Trade Unions were ventilated—ideas which, because coming from these people, unsuccessful politicians and schemers for office, no one seriously considered at that time. They would have liked to polish up their lost reputation by having the New Yolk General Council transferred to Geneva—and it was just Becker, an intriguer but an old Socialist at the same time, who counteracted these schemes of Henri Perret, Duval and friends. Marx believed Cluseret to have been at their back (September 27)-—an interesting bit of information if correct, but men who fancied Bakunin was at the hack of Scheu are not reliable witnesses.
Under the circumstances, no foreign delegates arriving, Becker took it upon himself to fabricate delegates, which he writes about at full length in the letter of November 4. Oberwinder, who took the name of Schwarz wrote out Austrian credentials, which were presented by people living in Geneva, and Becker and his friends passed these “twelve delegates mad on after the other” (“12 nach und nach yemachte Delegirten”) and “secured for us a strong majority.”
“After this we had to use the position with great circumspection and moderation in order to do away with all pretext of charging us with; dictatorship and majorisation, broad hints of which were soon thrown out. Therefore I myself spoke very little, and only when absolutely necessary.” So this curious Congress passed silently away; after many delays some of its minutes were sent to New York, which none there could make out. The General Council was to remain in New York and the next Congress to take place in 1875, which it never did.
Marx himself writes to Sorge (Sept. 27’ 1873): “The fiasco of the Geneva Congless was inevitable. When it became known here that no American delegates would come the thing went immediately. You had been represented as my puppets. lf you did not come and we had gone [to the Congress] this would have been declared a confirmation of the rumour anxiously spread by our opponents. Besides, it would have been said to prove that the American Federation existed only on paper. Moreover, the English Federation had not the money for a single delegate. The Portuguese, Spaniards, Italians, announced that under these conditions they could not send direct delegates; from Germany, Austria, Hungary news equally bad arrived. French participation was out of the question…. From Geneva we had no news: Outine is no longer there, old Becker kept an obstinate silence, and Mr. Perret wrote once or twice to mislead us.”
After explaining why none of his London friends went to the Geneva Congress, Marx gives the game up and says: “From my opinion of the European situation it is essentially useful to relegate to the back for the moment the formal organization of the International, and only to hold on, if possible, to the New York centre, to prevent idiots like Perret [the Secretary of the Geneva International] or adventurers like Cluseret to get hold of the direction and to compromise the cause. Events and the inevitable evolution and development of circumstances will by themselves provide a resuscitation of the International in an improved form.” And Engels (September 12, 874) writes to Sorge: “By your leaving [the General Council] the old International is quite finished. And it is well so…. With the Hague Congress it was over indeed—and for both parties….” He puts forward an elaborate theoretical explanation for this decay, but we have seen in his letters too much of his intricate of intrigue and abuse for these post factum theoretical explanation to be considered of historical value.
The Marxist part of the International was indefinitely suspended at a meeting held in Philadelphia in July, 1876. Marxism had then arrived at its lowest depths since the fifties. Marx looked with discontent at the Amalgamation of the German Socialist Labour Party with the Lassalleans (Gotha, 1875), and his letter tearing to pieces the new party platform adopted at Gotha is now fuller explained by the mass of evidence we have of his hatred against Lassalle and his followers. In France the few who were the tools of Marx against Blanquists and Anarchists, were discredited in his own eyes. Mrs. Marx writes in January, 1897, to Sorge: “Of other acquaintances I can tell you but little, because we see few now, especially no Le Moussu’s [another member of the Hague majority, now completely discredited, see Engels’ letter of September 17, 1874], no Serraillier’s, above all no Blanquists. We had enough of them. . . . .” The indefatigable Mesa, living in Paris, sent a New York circular to Spain (Engels, August 13, 1875); the Plebe of Lodi joined pretty much the “Alliancists” (the same); the German Club in London, even, by the admission of Lassalleans, etc., appears less reliable; “the other sections in England have all gone to sleep,” etc. It is tedious to follow these last particles of flickering life.
To what a degree all this quarrelling blinded even persons of undoubted activity and experience like J. Ph. Becker (his letter of May 30,1867, is the 2,886th letter for propaganda purposes since 1861, he says), is shown by the following remark of his (November 25, 1873) to Sorge, the General Secretary of the International: “Enter without delay into relations with a. Terzaghi, editor of the Turin Proletario…. for I have reasons to believe that with this fellow…. something might be done for Italy.” At that time Terzaghi, a recognised police spy, had been long since exposed in Italy by Carlo Cafiero, had been refused admittance to the Geneva Anarchist Congress, and was even denounced in the Marxist pamphlet “L’Alliance,” published two months ago. Yet old J. Ph. Becker recommends him to the General Council.
These letters by Marx and Engels prove up to the hilt that wherever these men personally interfered with any movement, quarrelling and a public scandal were the inevitable result. This was the end of their participation in the German Communist societies of the forties and in their International and in other movements. The haughty contempt of Marx for all who did not follow him, as well as for those who became his tools—the brutality of Engels—made all fraternal co-operation with self-respecting men impossible. That in spite of this their theories met with wide acceptance is a fact the importance of which I do not deny, but the reasons of which I do not investigate here either. All I wish to say is that their correspondence placed side by side with that of Lassalle, Proudhon, Bakunin and others makes a deplorable effect. If this was generally recognised, we should not need to insist upon it, but as those who publish and commend it give out that it glorifies them and endorse all the insults they heap on their opponents and take little trouble to add any information to correct their libels, I thought it well to show how things went in those years within their own movement as described by their own words.

FreedomFebruary-April 1907.

Comments Off on Max Nettlau, “Marx and Engels and the IWMA” (1907)

Filed under 1900s, Max Nettlau

Max Nettlau, “Michael Bakunin” (1914)

Michael Bakunin.
by Max Nettlau
Most centenarians, even when born much later and still among us, are but dried-up relics of a remote past; whilst some few, though gone long since, remain full of life, and rather make us feel ourselves how little life and energy there is in most of us. These men, in advance of their age, prepared new ways for coming generations, who are often but too slow to follow them up. Prophets and dreamers, thinkers and rebels they are called, and of those who, in the strife for freedom and social happiness for all, united the best qualities of these four descriptions, Michael Bakunin is by far the best known. In recalling his memory, we will not forget the many less known thinkers and rebels, very many of whom from the “thirties” to the early “seventies” of last century had, by personal contact, their share in forming this or that part of his personality None of them, however, had the great gift of uniting into one current of revolt all the many elements of revolutionary thought, and that burning desire to bring about collective revolutionary action which constitute Bakunin”‘s most fascinating characteristics. Courageous and heroic rebels always existed, but their aims were too often very Darrow they had not overcome political, religious, and social prejudices. Again, the most perfect “systems” were worked out theoretically; but these generous thinkers lacked the spirit to resort to action for their realization, and their methods were tame, meek, and mild. Fourier waited for years for a millionaire to turn up who would hand him the money to construct the first Phalanstery. The Saint-Simonians had their eyes on kings or sons of kings who might be persuaded to realise their aims “from above.” Marx was content to “prove” that the decay of Capitalism and the advent of the working classes to power will happen automatically.
Among the best known Socialists, Robert Owen and Proudhon, Blanqui and Bakunin, tried to realise their ideas by corresponding action Blanqui”‘s splendid “No God, No Master,” is, however, counteracted by the authoritarian and narrow political and nationalist character of his practical action. Both Owen and Proudhon represent, as to the means of action, the method of free experimentation, which is, in my opinion, the only one which holds good aside of the method of individual and collective revolt advocated by Bakunin and many others. Circumstances—the weakness of small minorities in face of the brute force of traditional authority, and the indifference of the great mass of the population—-have as yet no chance to either method to show its best, and, the ways of progress being manifold, neither of them may ever render the other quite superfluous. These experimental Socialists and Anarchists, then, are neither superior nor inferior, but simply different, dissimilar from Bakunin, the fiercest representative of the idea of real revolutionary action.
His economics are not original; he accepted willingly Marx”‘s dissection of the capitalist system; nor did he dwell in particular on the future methods of distribution, declaring only the necessity for each to receive the full produce of his labour. But to him exploitation and oppression were not merely economic and political grievances which fairer ways of distribution and apparent participation in political power (democracy) would abolish; he saw clearer than almost all Socialists before him the close connection of all forms of authority, religious, political, social, and their embodiment, the State, with economic exploitation and submission. Hence, Anarchism—which need not be defined here—was to him the necessary basis, the essential factor of all real Socialism. In this he differs fundamentally from ever so many Socialists who glide over this immense problem by some verbal juggle between “Government” and “administration,” “the State” and “society,” or the like, because a real desire for freedom is not yet awakened in them. This desire and its consequence, the determination to revolt to realise freedom, exists in every being; I should say that it exists in some form and to some degree in the smallest particle that composes matter, but ages of priest- and State- craft have almost smothered it, and ages of alleged democracy, of triumphant Social Democracy even, are not likely to kindle it again.
Here Bakunin”‘s Socialism sets in with full strength mental, personal, and social freedom to him are inseparable—Atheism, Anarchism, Socialism an organic unit. His Atheism is not that of the ordinary Freethinker, who may be an authoritarian and au anti-Socialist; nor is his Socialism that of the ordinary Socialist, who may be, and very often is, an authoritarian and a Christian; nor would his Anarchism ever deviate into the eccentricities of Tolstoi and Tucker. But each of the three ideas penetrates the other two and constitutes with them a living realisation of freedom, just as all our intellectual, political, and social prejudices and evils descend from one common source—authority. Whoever reads “God and the State,” the best known of Bakunin”‘s many written expositions of these ideas, may discover that when the scales of religion fall from his eyes, at the same moment also the State will appear to him in its horrid hideousness, and anti-Statist Socialism will be the only way out. The thoroughness of Bakunin”‘a Socialist propaganda is, to my impression, unique.
From these remarks it may be gathered that I dissent from certain recent efforts to revindicate Bakunin almost exclusively as a Syndicalist. He was, at the time of the International, greatly interested in seeing the scattered masses of the workers combining into trade societies or sections of the International. Solidarity in the economic struggle was to be the only basis of working-class organisation. He expressed the opinion that these organisations would spontaneously evolve into federated Socialist bodies, the natural basis of future society. This automatic evolution has been rightly contested by our Swiss comrade Bertoni But did Bakunin really mean it when he sketched it out in his writings of elementary public propaganda  We must not forget that Bakunin—and here we touch one of his shortcomings—seeing the backward dispositions of the great masses in his time, did not think it possible to propagate the whole of his ideas directly among the people. By insisting on purely economic organisation, he wished to protect the masses against the greedy politician who, under the cloak of Socialism, farms and exploits their electoral “power” in our age of progress!
He also wished to prevent their falling under the leadership of sectarian Socialism of any kind. He did not wish them, however, to fall into the hands and under the thumbs of Labour leaders, whom he knew, to satiety, in Geneva, and whom he stigmatised in his Egalitéarticles of 1869. His idea was that among the organised masses interested in economic warfare thoroughgoing revolutionists, Anarchists, should exercise an invisible yet carefully concerted activity, co-ordinating the workers”‘ forces and making them strike a common blow, nationally and internationally, at the right moment. The secret character of this inner circle, Fraternité and Alliance, was to be a safeguard against ambition and leadership. This method may have been derived from the secret societies of past times; Bakunin improved it as best he could in the direction of freedom, but could not, of course, remove the evils resulting from every infringement of freedom, however small and well-intentioned it may be in the beginning. This problem offers wide possibilities, from dictatorship and “democratic” leadership to Bakunin”‘s invisible, preconcerted initiative, to free and open initiative, and to entire spontaneity and individual freedom. To imitate Bakunin in our days in this respect would not mean progress, but repeating a mistake of the past.
In criticising this secret preconcerted direction of movements, considered worse than useless in our time, we ought not to overlook that the then existing reason for making such arrangements has also nearly gone. To Bakunin, who participated in the movements of 1848-49, in the Polish insurrection in the early “sixties,” in secret Italian movements, and who, like so many, foresaw the fall of the French Empire and a revolution in Paris, which might have happened under better al spices than the Commune of 1871—to him, then, an international Socialist “‘S8 or “‘48, a real social revolution, was a tangible thing which might really happen before his eyes, and which he did his best to really bring about by secretly influencing and co-ordinating local mass movements. We in our sober days have so often been told that all this is impossible, that revolutions are hopeless and obsolete, that, with few exceptions, no effort is ever made, and the necessity of replacing semi-authoritarian proceedings like that of Bakunin by the free play of individual initiative or other improved methods, never seems to arise.
Bakunin”‘s best plans failed from various reasons, one of which wee the smallness of the means which the movements, then in their infancy, offered to him in every respect. Since all these possibilities are a matter of the past, let me dwell for a moment on the thought of what Bakunin would have done had he lived during the First of May movements of the early “nineties” or during the Continental general strike efforts of the ten years next following With the tenth part of the materials these movements contained, which exploded some here, some there. Like fireworks, in splendid isolation, Bakunin would have attacked international Capitalism and the State everywhere in a way never yet heard of. And movements which really create new methods of successful struggle against a strong Government, like the Suffragette and the Ulster movements, would never have let him stand aside in cool disdain, because their narrow purpose was Dot his own. I fancy he would never have rested day and night until he had raised the social revolutionary movement to the level of similar or greater efficiency To think of this makes one feel alive; to see the dreary reality of our wise age lulls one to sleep again. I am the last one to overlook the many Anarchists who sacrificed themselves by deeds of valour—the last also to urge others to do what I am not doing myself: I merely state the fact that with Bakunin a great part of faith in the revolution died, that the hope and confidence which emanated from his large personality were never restored, and that the infinite possibilities of the last twenty-five years found many excellent comrades who did their best, but none upon whose shoulders the mantle of Bakunin has fallen.
What, then, was and is Bakunin”‘s influence?
It is wonderful to think how he arose in the International at the right moment to prevent the influence of Marx, always predominant in the Northern countries, from becoming general. Without him, dull, political, electioneering Marxism would have fallen like mildew also on the South of Europe. We need but think how Cafiero, later on the boldest Itaiian Anarchist, first returned to Naples as the trusted friend and admirer of Marx; how Lafargue, Marx”‘s son-in-law, was the chosen apostle of Marxism for Spain, etc. To oppose the deep-laid schemes of Marx, a man of Bakunin”‘s experience and initiative was really needed; by him alone the young movements of Italy and Spain, those of the South of France and of French-speaking Switzerland, and a part of the Russian movement, were welded together, learnt to practise international solidarity, and to prepare international action. This alone created a lasting basis for the coming Anarchist movement, whilst everywhere else the other Socialist movements, described as Utopian and unscientific, had to give way to Marxism, proclaimed as the only scientific doctrine! Persecutions after revolutionary attempts often reduced these free territories of Anarchism to a minimum; but when Italy, Spain, and France were silenced, some corner in Switzerland where Bakunin”‘s seed had fallen always remained, and in this way, thanks to the solid work of Bakunin and his comrades, mainly from 1868 to 1874, Anarchy, was always able to face her enemies and to revive.
The immediate influence of Bakunin was reduced after he had retired from the movement in 1874, when certain friends left him; bad health—he died in June, 1876—prevented him continuing his work with fresh elements gathered round him. Soon after his death a period of theoretical elaboration began, when the methods of distribution were examined and Communist Anarchism is its present form was shaped. In those years also, after the failure of many collective revolts, the struggle became more bitter, and individual action, propaganda by deed was resorted to, a proceeding which made preconcerted secret arrangements in Bakunin”‘s manner useless. In this way, both his economic ideas, Collectivist Anarchism, and his favourite method of action alluded to, became so to speak obsolete, and were neglected.
Add to this that from about 1879 and 1880 Anarchism could be openly propagated on a large scale in France (mainly in Paris and in the Lyons region). This great extension of the propaganda gave so much new work, a new spirit entered the groups, soon arts and science were permeated with Anarchism—Elisée Reclus”‘ wonderful influence was at work. In Bakunin”‘s stormy days there was no time for this, through no fault of his. In short, Anarchism in France and in many other countries was in its vigorous youth, a period when the tendency to look ahead is greatest, and the past is neglected like a cradle of infancy. For this reason, and because very little information on Bakunin was accessible to the Anarchists of the “eighties,” Bakunin”‘s influence in those years remained small. I ought to have mentioned that certain opinions of Bakunin”‘s gained much ground in the Russian revolutionary movement of the “seventies” and later, but cannot dwell further on this.
In 1882, Reclus and Cafiero published the choicest extract from the many manuscripts left by Bakunin: “Dieu et Etat!” (God and the State), a pamphlet which B. R. Tucker fortunately translated into English (1883 or 1884). This or its English reprint circulated in England when no other English Anarchist pamphlet existed, and its radical Anarchist freethought or thoroughly freethinking Anarchism certainly left lasting marks on the early Anarchist propagandists, and will continue to do so. Of course, the same applies to translations in many countries.
About 1896, a considerable part of Bakunin”‘s correspondence was published, preceded and followed by many extracts from his unpublished manuscripts, a part of which is now before us in the six volumes of the Paris edition of his works. It became possible, with the help of these and many other sources, to examine his life in detail, and in particular to give. proofs in hand, the story of the great struggle in the International, and to scatter the calumnies and lies heaped up by the Marxist writers and the bourgeois authors who followed them.
All this brought about a revival in the interest for Bakunin; but is there not a deeper cause for such a revival  When Bakunin was gone, his friends felt perhaps rather relieved, for the strain he put on their activity was sometimes too great for them. We in our times, or some of us, at least, ala perhaps in the opposite situation: there is no strain at all put on us, and we might wish for somebody to rouse us. Thus we look back at any rate with pathetic sympathy on the heroic age of Anarchism, from Bakunin”‘s times to the early “nineties” in France Many things have happened since then also—I need but recall Ferrer”‘s name; but, in my opinion at least, a complacent admiration of Syndicalism has too often replaced every thought of Anarchist action. I say again: it is preposterous to think that Bakunin would have been a Syndicalist and nothing else—but what he would have tried to make of Syndicalism, how he would have tried to group these and many other materials of revolt and to lead them to action, this my imagination cannot sketch out, but I feel that things would have gone otherwise, and the capitalists would sleep less quietly. I am no admirer of personalities, and have many faults to find with Bakunin also on other grounds, but this I feel, that where he was rebellion grew round him, whilst to-day, with such splendid material, rebellion is nowhere. South Africa, Colorado, are ever so hopeful events, but think what a Bakunin would have made of them—and then we can measure the value of this man in the struggle for freedom.
Freedom, June 1914

Comments Off on Max Nettlau, “Michael Bakunin” (1914)

Filed under 1910s, biography, Max Nettlau