Progress Report: January 2014

While I’ve been posting plenty of draft translations to the blog, it’s been some time since I’ve been able to say much about the progress of the Bakunin Library project. The publisher and I spent quite a bit of last year negotiating the shape of the Bakunin Reader and the subsequent volumes, and there has been a lot of mostly useful back and forth in the process. But progress has not always been without a hitch, and as we entered December of last year I found myself at the beginning of another look through Bakunin’s works, trying to outline a slightly different Reader, to kick off a slightly reimagined Bakunin Library. I’m getting to the end of that process now, and am quite happy with the results. In the end, I think the project will have benefited enormously from the extra consideration. 
It has been an interesting journey, attempting to put the edition together. It is clear that there is quite a bit of interest in more Bakunin in English, but it isn’t always clear just where the interest is focused. We’ve had to use our best judgment to a large extent in anticipating what sorts of collections, and in what order, are likely to prove most useful to our readership. The most difficult problem, of course, is that we are having to plan and discover simultaneously. Not only has most of Bakunin’s work not been available in English, but existing translations have themselves generally been shaped by the complexities of Bakunin’s work. Whether they have been drawn from larger—and in some cases, much, much larger works—or whether they have been edited to suit other needs, the existing translations have generally presented some of Bakunin, but seldom given a very complete picture.

It has been interesting promoting the project on social media sites, and learning from others what they think about Bakunin’s style, his interests, his politics, etc. It appears to me that for many readers the appeal of Bakunin lies as much in the simplicity of Guy Aldred’s paraphrases, or Sam Dolgoff’s tendency to smooth Bakunin’s prose, or the artful selection made by various editors from his sprawling manuscripts, as it does in Bakunin’s own eloquence. Virtually all of those who have edited and translated Bakunin in the past have done tremendous services for those interested in his work, including those who have compiled, or are now engaged in compiling, collections and editions in languages other than English. If it weren’t for the very scholarly editions of some and the very usable translations of others, I wouldn’t feel nearly as comfortable pursuing the approach that we have settled on, of attempting to present Bakunin the anarchist in a largely anarchist critical framework, as a sort of extension of the work done by James Guillaume in the 19th century. Dolgoff’s translation choices occasionally baffle me, and Aldred’s translations sometimes stretched the term to the breaking point, but I feel very fortunate to have had those pioneers in front of me, preparing the ground for a somewhat different, sometimes more difficult, but also often more interesting Bakunin.

This is a grassroots, labor-of-love project, just like that of most of our predecessors, including Aldred, Dolgoff, Guillaume, Max Nettlau, Benjamin Tucker and Sarah E. Holmes. We’ll just be able to take things a few steps farther, in part thanks to the lessons learned from those who came before, both in terms of the scope of the project and by presenting translation that I hope more directly capture Bakunin’s voice.

The first of those steps will be the Bakunin Reader. I’m near finalizing the contents, which will almost certainly include:

  • “The Story of My Life” [All titles are tentative.]
  • “Hamlet”
  • “Plan for a revolutionary association” (c. 1866)
  • “Speech of the citizen Bakunin to a public assembly of foreign socialists”
  • “A Few Words to My Young Brothers in Russia”
  • “Report of the Commission on the Question of Inheritance”
  • “The Death Penalty in Russia”
  • “The Swiss Police”
  • “Science and the Vital Question of the Revolution”
  • “Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis”
  • “Pan-Slavism 
  • “Bourgeois Oligarchy”
  • “Is Nechayev a Political Criminal or Not?”
  • and a short “Memoir” written shortly before Bakunin’s death
There are all sorts of bibliographical complexities involved, which we’ll document where there is likely to be any confusion. For example, the “Letters to a Frenchman” is not the text partially translated in Dolgoff’s collection, but another text on roughly the same topic. As the manuscript is finalized, I also hope to make space for these additional texts:
  •  “The Principle of the State”
  • “Where to Go and What to Do?”
  • “The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State”
  • “The Policy of the International”
  • “Integral Education” 
But there is a delicate balance to be struck in this initial volume between including as many of Bakunin’s concerns as possible and avoiding unnecessary repetition. Everything on the list will eventually appear in the Bakunin Library, but it is possible that not all will be included, or included in their entirety, in the Reader
As the additional steps are negotiated, I’ll keep you updated.