Strategizing a bit

There are inevitably choices to be made about any “collected works” project. Even a “complete works” collection generally has to draw some specific lines around what will count as “complete,” generally by limiting what will count as “works.” In the case of Bakunin, the most complete writings are his letters, addresses, and a body of shorter articles, generally addressing fairly specific occasions. His longest and most ambitious published works were nearly all extracted from larger, unfinished manuscripts. It’s not an uncommon problem, but it does pose a particular set of problems, not the least of which is that it takes some real work to wade through all the letter and manuscript fragments to see what there is to choose from. 
The two attempts at a collected works in French have tackled the problems in different ways. James Guillaume’s six-volume French Œuvres de Michel Bakounine included selected works from the period between 1868 and 1871, with a number of works drawn from Bakunin’s manuscripts or supplemented with previously unpublished material. Arthur Lehning’s eight-volume Archives Bakunin was much more inclusive in terms of manuscript materials and previously published works, but covered only the period from 1870 to 1875, and features many texts available only in their original language. Since works appeared in nine different languages, Lehning’s collection, though tremendously well-organized, requires a fairly extensive skillset to make full use of. That later edition also included a great deal of material by other authors, intended to provide context for Bakunin’s works. The CD-ROM of the Œuvres complètes de Michel Bakounine, produced by L’Institut International d’Histoire Sociale, is extremely complete, including published works, manuscripts, correspondence and miscellaneous other material, and provides nearly all of the texts not originally written in French in French translation, but one needs to know a bit about what they are looking for in order to make very good use of it.

For an English edition, aimed—hopefully, for my publisher’s sake—at an audience a little broader than libraries and academics, it seems to me that the structure of the edition itself ought to help guide readers and researchers through the wealth of material. The initial proposal was to begin with an anthology for more casual readers, and for those who want to get a taste of what the larger project will have to offer. But, ideally, each step should also fulfill the functions of satisfying a particular group of readers, while tiding the completists over until the next stage. Having now at least looked briefly at the majority of the texts included in the CD-ROM edition, it seems to me that we have a fairly straightforward set of categories:

  1. THE MAJOR (PARTIALLY) PUBLISHED WORKS: Significant, stand-alone sections of The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution (from which God and the State was drawn) and The Political Theology of Mazzini and the International have published been published in English, but in both cases large manuscript sections remain to be translated. Statism and Anarchy has been published twice, and the more recent Cambridge University edition may be both complete and accurate enough that no new translation is needed. But, no matter how much retranslation seems to be required, a complete and well-annotated presentation of these three major works seems to be a priority second only to producing a representative anthology of Bakunin’s writings.
  2. OTHER PUBLISHED WORKS AND KEY MANUSCRIPT WRITINGS: Beyond the large manuscripts which have seen at least some publication, there is a wealth of published articles, letters to periodicals, transcripts of addresses and documents from the various organizations in which Bakunin participated. And there there are unpublished manuscripts which are likely to be of particular interest to contemporary readers. It seems to me that this material—which ranges from Bakunin’s earliest writings in the late 1830s until his last productions in the 1870s—could easily be presented chronologically in a number of annotated volumes, including works by other writers only where it is essential.
  3. CORRESPONDENCE: Bakunin’s correspondence was extensive, and over a thousand letters have survived. At least a couple of well-indexed volumes seems essential to a serious Collected Works project.
  4. CONTEXTUAL WRITINGS: Both previous editions have attempted to incorporate enough material by other writers to give a context for Bakunin’s own writings, particularly in the period of the First International. The contextual material seems to be of two sorts: Material relating to the conflicts in the First International and works by other collectivist anarchists which expands on Bakunin’s work. My sense is that both functions might be well served by a translation of Guillaume’s The International: Documents and Recollections and perhaps some sort of anthology of collectivist anarchism, collecting key works by Guillame, César De Paepe, Adhémar Schwitzguébel, etc.
  5. MINOR MANUSCRIPT WRITINGS RESEARCH AIDS, BIBLIOGRAPHY, ETC: If we find that there has been support for publishing a number of the other categories of material, then I imagine it will only make sense to make the effort to translate whatever is left over, and to produce the sorts of cumulative indexes, complete historical bibliographies, collections of biographical material, etc., that are likely to have been practically collecting themselves over a number of years of research. 
If this strategy seems to make sense, then there is an additional question about whether or not all of the texts translated for the project should be published in book form, or if there is perhaps a class of documents which only merit online publication.

In the end, however, all of this needs to make sense to more than just me, so please, please, please let me know if the general strategy that I’ve laid out here looks like it will produce a Collected Works of Bakunin that you would use, enjoy, even lay down a little cold, hard cash for.

    4 Comments

    1. I’d love to see a chronologically ordered, comprehensive volume of correspondence, with threaded replies from other writers placed interstitially. I think an index that also addressed threads by topic would be wonderful.

      I’d certainly purchase the paper version simply to have in the collection, but would probably prefer reading it as an internally hyperlinked ebook.

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