Rereading Bakunin

The work that delayed the new edition of “God and the State” has had a very large silver lining. Not only has that book turned into something I’m finding really exciting to work on, but the improvements are going to allow some changes to the overall structure of the series, which I think will make the various volumes more accessible and useful to both beginners and those with some more thorough exposure to existing translations of Bakunin.

I’m still working out the precise formatting of the critical portions of the volumes, but the general plan is fairly clear. Each volume will be built around a core of more or less familiar work, freshly retranslated, with additional material providing context and elaboration for material rightly considered central to Bakunin’s thought. Introductions will provide historical and biographical context and notes will provide clarification and context where necessary. Finally, a sort of critical appendix in each volume will tackle one or more key theoretical concerns raised in the volume, highlighting a mix of interpretive concerns, translation issues, potential differences between the picture presented by existing, partial translations and the new translations, etc. Because I want to specifically address the difficulties faced by English-language readers, for whom Bakunin has been an important figure, but not a particularly accessible source, I’m currently thinking of the task in this final section as “Rereading Bakunin,” as even those encountering the material for the first time directly will be hard put not to have absorbed some basic “reading” of the material through its very partial incorporation into anarchist tradition and theory.

As I have said, my interpretive goals are fairly modest. I think, and really hope, that we have a long work ahead of us, really exhausting what there is to learn from Bakunin’s works. But there is no responsible way to present the material that does not shine a very specific light on the difficulties we face in the English-speaking world, in the context of the very uneven international development of Bakunin studies. So my intention is not to attempt to interpret the books for readers, but to pick a few critical instances where I can, in effect, do some very careful reading with readers, providing some insights into all that has gone into the process of assembling the edition. In the end, I expect to provide as many questions as answers, but without being too bashful about at least suggesting answers where the questions are most critical to our understanding of anarchist theory.

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