Bakunin, Mikhail, 1814-1876

(libcom.org) A short biography of Russian anarchist, often described as the founding father of collectivist anarchism, Mikhail Bakunin.

Escape from Siberia

In 1861 he made a dramatic escape and returned to Europe by way of Japan, the Panama Canal and San Francisco! For the next three years he threw himself into the struggle for Polish independence. Then he began to rethink his ideas. Would national independence, in itself, lead to liberty for working people? This took him away from nationalism and towards anarchism.

In 1868 he joined the International Working Men’s Association (also known as the First International), a federation of radical and trade union organisations with sections in most European countries. Very rapidly his ideas developed and he became a famous exponent of anarchism. While agreeing with much of Marx’s economic theory, he rejected his authoritarian politics and the major division within the International was between the anarchists and the Marxists.

While Marx believed that socialism could be built by taking over the state, Bakunin looked forward to its destruction and the creation of a new society based on free federations of free workers. This soon became the policy of the International in Italy and Spain, and grew in popularity in Switzerland, Belgium and France. After failing to defeat the anarchist idea, Marx and his followers resorted to a campaign of smears and lies against Bakunin.

A movement is born

A committee set up to investigate the charges found, by a majority, Bakunin guilty and voted to expel him. The Swiss section called a further congress, where the charges were found to be false. An international conference also vindicated Bakunin, and went on to adopt the anarchist position of rejecting any rule by a minority.

Defeated, Marx and his followers moved the General Council of the International to New York where it faded into irrelevance. The ideas developed by Bakunin in the last decade of his life went on to form the basis of the modern anarchist movement. Worn out by a lifetime of struggle, Bakunin died in Switzerland on July 1st 1876.

His legacy is enormous. Although he wrote manifestos, articles and books he never finished a single sizable work. Being primarily an activist he would stop, sometimes literally in mid-sentence, to play his part in struggles, strikes and rebellions. What he left to posterity is a collection of fragments. Even so, his writings are full of insights that are as relevant today as they were in his time.

The danger of dictatorship

While understanding that ideas and intellectuals have an important role to play in the revolution, a role of education and articulating people’s needs and desires, he issued a warning. He cautioned them against trying to take power and create a dictatorship of the proletariat. The notion that a small group of people, no matter how well meaning, could execute a coup d’etat for the benefit of the majority was a heresy against common sense. Long before the Russian revolution he warned that a new class of intellectuals and semi-intellectuals might seek to step into the shoes of the landlords and bosses, and deny working people their freedom.

In 1873 he foretold, with great accuracy, that under the dictatorship of the proletariat of the Marxists the party leaders would concentrate the reins of government in a strong hand and divide the masses into two great armies – industrial and agricultural – under the direct command of state engineers who will constitute a new privileged scientific and political class.

Bakunin understood that government is the means by which a minority rules. In so far as ‘political power’ means the concentration of authority in a few hands, he declared, it must be abolished. Instead there must be a ‘social revolution’ which will change the relationship between people and place power in the hands of the masses through their own federation of voluntary organisations.

It is necessary to abolish completely and in principle and in practice, everything that may be called political power, for as long as political power exists there will always be rulers and ruled, masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited.

Who now can say he was not right?

By the Workers Solidarity Movement

Source: http://libcom.org/history/bakunin-mikhail-1814-1876

About these ads

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 26 other followers

%d bloggers like this: