The Political Philosophy of Bakunin: Scientific Anarchism, compiled and edited by G. P. Maximoff, 1953.

CHAPTER 11: Class Interests in Modern Patriotism

The very existence of the State demands that there be some privileged class vitally interested in maintaining that existence. And it is precisely the group interests of this privileged class that are called patriotism.1

This flagrant negation of humanity which is the very essence of the State is from the State's point of view the supreme duty and the greatest virtue; it is called patriotism and it constitutes the transcendent niorality of the State.2

True patriotism is of course a very respectable feeling, but at the same time a narrow, exclusive, anti-human, and at times a simply bestial feeling. A consistent patriot is one who, though passionately loving his fatherland and everything that he calls his own, likewise hates everything foreign.3

Patriotism Without Freedom -- a Tool of Reaction. Patriotism which [233] aims toward unity that is not based upon freedom is bad patriotism; it is blameful from the point of view of the real interests of the people and of the country which it pretends to exalt and serve. Such patriotism becomes, very often against its will, a friend of reaction, an enemy of revolution, -- that is, of the emancipation of nations and men.4

Bourgeois Patriotism. Bourgeois patriotism, as I view it, is only a very shabby, very narrow, especially mercenary, and deeply anti-human nation, having for its object the preservation and maintenance of the power of the national State -- that is, the mainstay of all the privileges of the exploiters throughout the nation.5

The bourgeois gentlemen of all parties, even of the most advanced and radical kind, cosmopolitan as they may be in their official views, whenever it comes to making money by exploiting to an ever greater extent the work of the people, show themselves to be politically ardent and fanatical patriots of the State, this patriotism being in fact, as it was well said by M. Thiers -- the illustrious assassin of the Parisian proletariat and the actual savior of the present-day France -- nothing else but the cult and the passion of the national State.6

Bourgeois Patriotism Degenerates When Faced by Revolutionary Movement of Workers. The latest events have proven that patriotism, this supreme virtue of the State, this soul animating the power of the State, does not exist any more in France. In the upper classes it manifests itself only in the form of national vanity. But this vanity is already so feeble, and already has been so much undermined by the bourgeois necessity and habit of sacrificing ideal interests for the sake of real interests that during the last war [the Franco-Prussian conflict] it could not, even for a short time, make patriots out of storekeepers, businessmen, Stock Exchange speculators, Army officers, bureaucrats, capitalists, and Jesuit-trained noblemen.

They all lost their courage, they all betrayed their country, having only one thing on their minds -- to save their property -- and they all tried to turn to their own advantage the calamity befalling France. All of them, with no exception, outdid one another in throwing themselves at the mercy of the haughty victor who became the arbiter of French destinies. Unanimously they preached submission, and meekness, humbly begging for peace. . . . But now all those degenerate prattlers have become patriotic and nationalistic again, and have taken to bragging, yet this ridiculous and repulsive balderdash on the part of such cheap heroes cannot obscure the evidence of their recent villainy.

Patriotism of Peasants Undermined by Bourgeois Psychology. Of still greater importance is the fact that the rural population of France did not evince the slightest patriotism. Yes, contrary to the general expectation, the French peasant, ever since he became a proprietor, has ceased to be a patriot. [234]

In the period of Joan of Arc, it was the peasants who bore the brunt of the fighting which saved France. And in 1792 and afterward it was mainly the peasants who held off the military coalition of the rest of Europe. But then it was quite a different matter. Owing to the cheap sales of the estates belonging to the Church and the nobility, the peasant came to own the land which prior to that he had been cultivating in the capacity of a slave -- and that is why he justly feared that in the event of defeat the emigres who followed in the wake of the German troops would take away from him his recently acquired property.

But now he had no such fear, and he showed the utmost indifference to the shameful defeat of his sweet fatherland. In the central provinces of France the peasants were chasing out the French and foreign volunteers who had taken up arms to save France, refusing any aid to those volunteers, frequently betraying them to the Prussians and, conversely, according the German troops a hospitable reception. Alsace and Lorraine, however, must be counted as exceptions. There, strangely enough, as if to spite the Germans, who persist in regarding those provinces as German, there were stirrings of patriotic resistance.7

When Patriotism Turns Into Treason. No doubt the privileged layers of French society would like to place their country in a position where it would again become an imposing power, a splendid and impressive power among the rest of the nations. But along with that they are also moved by greed, money-grubbing, the get-rich-quick spirit, and anti-patriotic egoism, all of which make them quite willing to sacrifice the property, life, and freedom of the proletariat for the sake of some patriotic gain, but rather reluctant when it comes to giving up any of their own gainful privileges. They would rather submit to a foreign yoke than yield any of their property or agree to a general leveling of rights and fortunes.

This is fully confirmed by events taking place before our eyes. When the government of M. Thiers officially announced to the Versailles Assembly the conclusion of the final peace treaty with the Berlin Cabinet, by virtue of which the German troops were to clear out of the occupied provinces of France in September, the majority of that Assembly, representing a coalition of privileged classes of France, were visibly depressed. Stocks at the French Exchange, which represent those privileged interests even more truly than the Assembly, dropped with this announcement, as if heralding a genuine State catastrophe. . . . It turned out that to the privileged French patriots, those representatives of bourgeois valor and bourgeois civilization, the hateful, forced, and shameful presence of the victorious army of occupation was a source of consolation, was their mainstay and salvation, and to their minds the withdrawal of that army spelled ruin and annihilation.

It is clear then that the rather strange patriotism of the French bourgeoisie seeks its salvation in the shameful subjugation of their own country. [235] Those who doubt it should look in the conservative magazines. Open the pages of any of those magazines and you will find that they threaten the French proletariat with the legitimate wrath of Prince Bismarck and his Emperor. That is patriotism indeed! Yes, they simply invite Germany's aid against the threatened Social Revolution in France.8

Only the City Proletariat Is Genuinely Patriotic. One can say with full conviction that patriotism has been preserved only among the city proletariat.

In Paris, as well as in all the other cities and provinces of France, it was only the proletariat that demanded the arming of the people and war to the end. And strangely enough it was precisely this which aroused the greatest hatred among the propertied classes, as if they took offense because their "lesser brothers" (Gambetta's expression) showed more virtue and patriotic loyalty than the older brothers.

Proletarian Patriotism Is International in Scope. However, the well-to-do classes were partly right. The proletariat was altogether moved by patriotism in the ancient and narrow meaning of the word.

True patriotism is of course a very venerable but also a narrow, exclusive, anti-human, and at times a pure and simple bestial feeling. Only he is a consistent patriot who, loving his own fatherland and everything of his own, also hates passionately everything foreign -- the very image, one might say, of our [Russian] Slavophiles. There is not a trace of this hatred left in the city proletarian of France. On the contrary, in the last decade -- or one might say, beginning with 1848 and even much earlier -- under the influence of Socialist propaganda, there was stirred up within him a brotherly feeling toward the whole proletariat, and that went hand in hand with just as decisive an indifference toward the so-called greatness and glory of France. The French workers were opposed to the war undertaken by Napoleon III, and on the eve of that war, in a manifesto signed by the members of the Parisian section of the International, they openly declared their sincere fraternal attitude toward the workers of Germany. The French workers were arming not against the German people but gainst the German military despotism.9

Boundaries of the Proletariat Fatherland. The boundaries of the proletarian fatherland have broadened to the extent of embracing now the proletariat of the whole world. This of course is just the opposite of the bourgeois fatherland. The declarations of the Paris Commune are in this respect highly characteristic, and the sympathies shown now by the French proletariat, even favoring a Federation based upon emancipated labor and collective ownership of the means of production, ignoring in this case national differences and State boundaries -- these sympathies and active tendencies, I say, prove that so far as the French proletariat is concerned, State patriotism is all in the past.10

Bourgeois Patriotism Exemplified by 1870. Whatever the patriots of [236] the French State may say, much as they can boast now, it is clear that France as a State is condemned to a second-rate position. Moreover, it will have to submit to the supreme leadership, the friendly, solicitous influence of the German Empire, just as it was with the Italian State which prior to 1870, submitted to the politics of Imperial France.

This situation, perhaps, suits well the French speculators who get their consolations from the world Stock Exchange market, but it is hardly flattering from the point of view of national vanity held by the patriots of the French State. Until 1870 one might have thought that this vanity was so strong that it would swing even the stoutest champions of bourgeois privileges into the camp of the Social Revolution, if only to save France from the shame of being overrun and conquered by Germans. But no one can expect this from them after what took place in 1870. It is common knowledge now that they will agree to any shame, even to submit to German protectorship, rather than forego their profitable domination over their own proletariat.11

Worship of Property Incompatible With True Patriotism. [Destruction of property] is incompatible with bourgeois coasciousness, with bourgeois civilization, because it is all built upon fanatical worship of property. The burgher or bourgeois will forego life, freedom, or honor, but he will not yield his property. The very thought of encroaching upon it, of destroying it for any purpose, appears sacrilegious to him. That is why he will never agree to have his cities or houses destroyed, as demanded by the defense aims. And that is why the French bourgeois in 1870 and the German burghers of 1813 yielded so easily to the invaders. We have seen that it was enough for the peasants to come into ownership of property to be corrupted and divested of the last spark of patriotism.12

In the eyes of all these ardent patriots, as well in the historically verified opinion of M. Jules Favre, the Social Revolution holds for France a greater danger than even invasion by foreign troops. I would very much like to believe that, if not all, at least the greater number of those worthy citizens would willingly sacrifice their lives to save the glory, greatness, and independence of France. But, on the other hand, 1 am sure that a still greater majority of them would prefer to see this noble France submit to the temporary yoke of the Prussians than to be indebted for their salvation to a genuine popular revolution, which inevitably would destroy with one blow the economic and political domination by their class. Hence their revolting but forced indulgence for the so numerous and unfortunately still powerful partisans of Bonapartist treason, and their passionate severity, the ruthless persecution they loosed against the social revolutionists -- the representatives of the working class who alone take seriously the freeing of the country from the foreign yoke.13