“The Social Revolution” (Freedom, 1910) with a corrected translation

[Even when we are extremely careful, it is easy for translations to become compromised by changes in the common usage of particular keywords. When we feel the pressure of translating for audiences who may be less sensitive to that development, or to nuances in the texts themselves, there is often a temptation to try to make the translation “clearer” than the original text. (The problems with the translation of anarchie in Proudhon’s General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century of undoubtedly of this sort.) And then there are instances where translation and adaptation to new ideological purposes are combined into a single step, resulting in a text, like this one from Freedom, which combine elements of careful translation and obvious falsification.]

Bakunin Library translation (2017)

This work, like all the writings, themselves not very numerous, that I have published thus far, is born of events. It is the natural continuation of my “Letters to a Frenchman” (Septembre 1870), in which I had the simple, sad honor of foreseeing and predicting the horrible misfortunes that today strike France, and, with it, the whole civilized world; misfortunes for which there has been and now still remains only one single remedy: The Social Revolution. [one paragraph omitted]

The task I have imposed on myself is not easy, I know, and I could be accused of presumption, if I bore in this work the slightest personal ambition. But, I can assure the reader, that is not the case. I am not a scholar, nor a philosopher, nor even a writer by trade. I have written very little in my life and I have only ever done so, so to speak, when my life depended on it, and only when a passionate conviction forced me to conquer my instinctive aversion to all exhibition of my own self in public.

So who am I and what is it that urges me now to publish this work? I am a passionate seeker of truth and an equally fierce enemy of all the destructive fictions of which the party of order,—that official, privileged and self-interested representative of all the religious, metaphysical, political, juridical, economic and social turpitudes, present and past, still claims the use today in order to stupefy and enslave the world. I am a fanatical lover of liberty, considering it the only milieu in the heart of which that purely formal liberty granted, determined and regulated by the State,—an eternal lie, which in reality never represents anything but the privilege of a few founded on the slavery of everyone,—can develop and grow; not of that individualist, selfish, local, miserly and fictive liberty extolled by the school of J.J. Rousseau, and by all the other schools of bourgeois liberalism, which considers the so-called right of all, represented by the State, as the limit of the right of each, which always, necessarily leads to the reduction of the right of each to zero. No, I mean the only liberty that is truly worthy of the name, the liberty that consists of the full development of all the material, intellectual and moral powers found in the state of latent faculties in each; the liberty that recognizes no other restrictions than those drawn for us by the laws of our own nature; so that, properly speaking, there are no restrictions, since these laws are not imposed on us by some outside legislation, whether residing beside or above us; they are immanent within us, inherent, constituting the very basis of our whole being, as much material as intellectual and moral; so instead of taking them for a limit, we should consider them the real conditions and effective reason of our liberty.

I mean that liberty of each that, far from ending at the liberty of others, as if at a boundary, finds there, on the contrary, its confirmation and indefinite extension; the unlimited liberty of each through the liberty of all, liberty through solidarity, liberty in equality; liberty triumphant over brutal force and the principle of authority, which was never anything but the ideal expression of that force; that liberty that, after having toppled all the idols, celestial and terrestrial, will found and organize a new world, that of united humanity, on the ruins of all the Churches and all the States.

I am a convinced partisan of social and economic Equality, because I know that apart from that equality, liberty, justice, human dignity, morality and the well-being of individuals, as well as the prosperity of nations, will never be anything but so many lies. But still being a partisan of liberty, that first condition of humanity, I think that equality must be established in the world by the spontaneous organization of labor and of collective property, of productive associations freely organized and federalized in the communes, and by the equally spontaneous federation of the communes, but not by the supreme, tutelary action of the State.

This is the principal point that divides the revolutionary socialists or collectivists from the authoritarian communists, partisans of the absolute initiative of the State. Their aim is the same; both parties equally desire the creation of a new social order, founded solely on the organization of collective labor, inevitably imposed on each and all by the very force of things, with conditions economically equal for all, and on the collective appropriation of the instruments of labor. Only, the communists imagine that they can arrive there through the development and organization of the political power of the working classes, and especially of the proletariat in the towns, with the aid of bourgeois radicalism, while the revolutionary socialists, enemies of every alloy and every suspect alliance, think, on the contrary, that they could achieve this end only through the development and organization, not of the political power, but of the social, and consequently non-political power of the working masses, both in the cities and in the country including all the men of good will of the upper classes who, breaking with their past, honestly wish to join with them and completely accept their program.

From this, two different methods arise. The Communists believe it necessary to organize the strength of the workers in order to seize the political power of the States. The revolutionary socialists organize it in anticipation of the destruction or, if you wish a more polite term, the liquidation of the States. The Communists are partisans of the principle and practice of authority; the revolutionary socialists have confidence only in liberty. Both being equally partisans of science, which must kill superstition and replace faith, the first would like to impose it, while the other strive to propagate it, so that the human groups, convinced, organize and federalize spontaneously, freely, from the bottom up, by their own movement and in accordance with their real interests, but never according to a plan drawn up in advance and imposed on the ignorant masses by a few superior intelligences.

The socialist revolutionaries think that there is much more practical reason and intellect in the instinctive and real needs of the popular masses than in the profound intelligence of all these doctors and tutors of humanity, who, having so often tried and failed to make it happy, still claim to add their efforts. The revolutionary socialists, on the contrary, think that humanity has let itself be governed for so long, too long, and that the source of its misfortunes is not to be found in this or that form of government, but in the principle, in the very fact that there is government.

This, finally, is the contradiction, already historic, that exists between the scientific communism developed by the German school and accepted in part by the authoritarian and English socialists on one side, and the Proudhonism, fully developed and pushed to its last consequences, preferred, on the other, by the proletariat of the Latin countries. [1] Revolutionary socialism just attempted a first striking, practical demonstration in the PARIS COMMUNE.

[1] It is also accepted, and will be more and more, by the essentially non-political instinct of the Slavic peoples.

Freedom (London) translation (1910)

In my Lettres à un Francois, Sept. 1870, I had the easy and sad honor of foreseeing and foretelling the horrible evils that afflict France today and, with her, the whole civilised world; evils against which there was then and is now but one remedy: The Social Revolution. To prove this henceforth incontestable truth by the historic evolution of society, and by the very facts that are passing under our eyes in Europe, in such a way as to be accepted by all men of good faith, by all sincere inquirers after truth and then to expound frankly without reservations and without equivocation the philosophic principles and the practical ends that constitute, so to say, the living spirit, the foundation and aim of that which we call the social revolution, is the object of this work.

I know the task I have imposed upon myself is not easy, and I might be accused of presumption if I brought into this work the least personal pretension. But I can assure the reader I do not; I am neither a scholar nor a philosopher nor even a professional writer. I have written very little in my life and I have only done that, as it were, in personal defence, and then only when a passionate conviction forced me to conquer my instinctive repugnance to any exhibition of myself in public.

Who am I, then, and what is it urges me now to publish this work? I am a passionate seeker after truth and an enemy, not less embittered, of the mischievous fictions which the party of order—this official privileged and interested representative of all the religious, metaphysical, political, judicial, economic and social villainies past and present—still pretends to use today in order to stupefy and enslave the world. I am a fanatical lover of liberty, considering it as the sole medium amidst which the intelligence, dignity and happiness of men can be developed and increased; not of that altogether formal liberty—granted, measured and regulated by the State—an eternal delusion and which, in reality, never represents anything but the privilege of a few founded on the enslavement of all; not of that individualist liberty—egoistic, beggarly and fictitious—extolled by the school of J. J. Rousseau as well as by all other schools of bourgeois liberalism, and which considers the so-called right of all represented by the State as the limit of the right of each, which tends necessarily and always to reduce the right of each to zero.

No. I mean the only liberty which is really worthy of the name; the liberty which consists in the full development of all the material, intellectual and moral powers which exist as latent faculties in each; the liberty that recognises no other restrictions than those that are traced for us by the laws of our own nature in such a way that, properly speaking, there are no restrictions—since these laws are not imposed upon us by some legislator from without, whether dwelling beside or above us. They are immanent and inherent in us; they constitute the very basis of our whole being, alike the material as the intellectual and moral. Instead, then, of finding in them a limit, we should consider them as the actual conditions and effective ground of our liberty.

I mean that liberty of each which, far from being arrested as by a barrier before the liberty of others, finds there, on the contrary, its confirmation and extension. The unlimited liberty of each through the liberty of all. Liberty through solidarity ; liberty in equality; liberty triumphing over brute force and the principle of authority—which was never other than the ideal expression of this force. The liberty that, after having overthrown all celestial and terrestrial idols, shall found and organise a new world—that of comradeship—on the ruins of all the churches and all States.

I am a convinced partizan of economic and social equality ; because I know that—outside of this equality—liberty, justice, human dignity, morality and individual well-being, as Well as national prosperity, will never be anything other than illusions. However, as a partizan of liberty—that first condition of humanity—I think that equality should be established in the world through the voluntary organisation of the labor and collective property of productive associations freely organised and federated in communes and through the federation, equally voluntary, of communes; not through the supreme and tutelary action of the State.

That is the main point which divides Anarchist Communists from authoritarian Collectivists—partizans of the absolute initiative of the State. Their aim is the same; both parties desire equally the creation of a new social order founded exclusively upon the organisation of the collective work inevitably imposed on each and rill by the very force of things; the equal economic conditions for all and on the collective appropriation of the instruments of labor.

But the authoritarian Collectivists fancy that they will be able to arrive at this through the development and organisation of the political power of the working classes—chiefly of the town proletariat—with the help of bourgeois Radicalism. Whilst Anarchist Communists—enemies of any alloy or of any equivocal alliance—think, on the contrary, that they can only attain this end through the development and organisation of the power, not political but social and consequently anti-political, of the working masses equally of the towns and the country, and including all men of good will amongst the higher classes who, breaking with all their past, will frankly join with them and accept their programme.

From thence arise two different methods. Collectivists think they must organise the workers’ force in order to seize the political power of the State. Anarchists organise themselves with a view to the destruction or, if one wish a more polished word, the liquidation of the State.

Collectivists are the partizans of the principle and practice of authority. Anarchists have confidence only in liberty. Both are equally partizans of science, which must kill superstition and replace faith; but the one wishes to impose it, whilst the other strives to propagate it in order that convinced human groups may spontaneously organise and freely federate themselves from below upwards on their own motion ani conforms.ny to their real interests, but never according to a plan traced in advance and imposed on the “ignorant masses” by some superior intelligences. Anarchists think there is much more practical reason and spirit in the instinctive aspirations and real needs of the “ masses” than in the profound intelligence of all those doctors and tutors of humanity who, in spite of so many failures to render them happy, still continue their efforts. Anarchists think, on the contrary, humanity has allowed itself to be governed too long and that the source of its evils does not now reside in this or that form of government, but in the principle and very fact of government itself whatever it may be.

It is at last the contradiction, already become historic, and which exists between the communism scientifically developed by the German school and accepted in part by American and English Socialists on the one side, and Proudhonism, largely developed and pushed to its logical conclusions, on the other which is accepted by the proletariat of Latin lands. It is equally accepted and will be so more and more by the Slavonic peoples through their essentially non-political instincts. Anarchism has just tried its first striking and practical manifestation in the Paris Commune.