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

CHAPTER 4: Checkered History of the Bourgeoisie

There was a time when the bourgeoisie, endowed with vital power and constituting the only historic class, offered the spectacle of union and fraternity, in its acts as well as in its thoughts. That was the finest period in the life of that class, no doubt always respectable but thereafter an impotent, stupid, and sterile class; that was the epoch of its most vigorous development. Such it was prior to the Great Revolution of 1793; such it also was though to a much lesser degree before the revolutions of 1830 and 1848. Then the bourgeoisie had a world to conquer, it had to take its place in society, and, organized for struggle, and intelligent, audacious, and feeling itself stronger than anyone else in point of right, it was endowed with an irresistible, almighty power. Alone it engendered three revolutions against the united power of the monarchy, the nobility, and the clergy.

Freemasonry: the International of the Bourgeoisie in Its Heroic Past. At that time the bourgeoisie also created a universal, formidable, international association: Freemasonry.

It would be a great mistake to judge the Freemasonry of the last century or even that of the beginning of the present century, by what it represents now. Pre-eminently a bourgeois institution, Freemasonry reflected in its history the development, the growing power, and the decadence of the intellectual and moral bourgeoisie. . . . Prior to 1793 and even before 1830 Freemasonry united in its midst, with few exceptions, all the chosen spirits, the most ardent hearts and most daring wills; it instituted an active, powerful, and truly beneficent organization. It was the vigorous embodiment and the practical realization of the humanitarian idea of the eighteenth century. All the great principles of liberty, equality, [194] fraternity, reason, and human justice, worked out at first theoretically by the philosophy of the century, became within Freemasonry practical dogmas and the bases of a new morality and politics -- they became the soul of a gigantic work of demolition and reconstruction. . . .

Decay of Freemasonry. The triumph of the Revolution killed Freemasonry; for, having seen its wishes partly fulfilled by the Revolution, and having taken, as a result of the latter, the place of the nobility, the bourgeoisie, after being for a long time an exploited and oppressed class, became in turn a privileged, exploiting, oppressing conservative, and reactionary class. . . . Following the coup d'etat of Napoleon I, Freemasonry became an imperial institution throughout the greater part of the European continent.

The Epigone of Bourgeois Revolutionism. To some extent the Restoration revived it. Seeing itself threatened by the return of the old regime, and forced to yield to the nobility and the Church coalition the place which it had won through the first Revolution, the bourgeoisie again became revolutionary by force of necessity. But what a difference between this warmed-up revolutionism and the ardent and powerful revolutionism which had inspired it toward the end of the last century. Then the bourgeoisie was sincere, it seriously and naively believed in the rights of man, it was inspired and driven on by a genius for destruction and reconstruction. And at that time the bourgeoisie found itself in full possession of its intelligence and in full development of its power.

It did not yet suspect that a gulf separated it from the people; it believed and felt itself to be -- and for that matter it really was -- the real representative of the people. The Thermidorian reaction and the Babeuf conspiracy cured it of this illusion. The gulf separating the working people from the exploiting, dominating, and prosperous bourgeoisie has widened ever more, and now nothing less than the dead body of the whole bourgeoisie, and its entire privileged existence, will ever be able to fill up this gulf.1

Class Antagonism Displaced the Bourgeoisie from Its Revolutionary Position as Leader of the People. The bourgeoisie of the last century sincerely believed that by emancipating themselves from the monarchistic, clerical, and feudal yoke, they would thereby emancipate the whole people. And this sincere but naive belief was the source of their heroic daring and of all their marvelous power. They felt themselves united with everyone and they marched to the assault carrying within themselves the power and right for everybody. Owing to this right and this power which were, so to speak, embodied in their class, the bourgeois of the last century could scale and take the fortress of political power which their fathers had coveted for so many centuries.

But at the very moment when they had planted their banner there, a new light struck their minds. As soon as they had won that power, they [195] realized that there actually was nothing in common between the interests of the bourgeoisie and those of the great masses of people, but that, on the contrary, they were radically opposed to each other, and that the power and the exclusive prosperity of the possessing class could rest only upon the poverty and the political and social dependence of the proletariat.

After that the relations between the bourgeoisie and the people changed radically, but before the workers had realized that the bourgeois were their natural enemies, from necessity rather than from a wicked will, the bourgeoisie had become aware of this inevitable antagonism. It is this that I call the bad conscience of the bourgeoisie.2

Flight From the Revolutionary Past. Now it is altogether different: the bourgeoisie, in all the countries of Europe, is most of all afraid of the Social Revolution; it knows that against this storm it has no other refuge but the State. That is why it always desires and demands a strong State, or, in plain language, a military dictatorship. And in order the easier to bamboozle the masses of the people, it aims to invest this dictatorship with the forms of a popular representative government which would allow it to exploit the great masses of the people in the name of the people itself.3

The Upper Bourgeoisie. In the upper layers of the bourgeoisie, following the consolidation of the unity of the State, there has come into existence and now is developing and expanding to an ever greater extent the social unity of the privileged exploiters of the labor of the working people.

This class [the upper bourgeoisie] comprises the high officialdom, the spheres of high bureaucracy, military officers, high police officials, and judges; the world of large owners, industrialists, merchants, and bankers; the official legal world and the press; and likewise the Parliament, the right wing of which already enjoys all the benefits of government, whereas the left wing aims to take into its own hands the very same government.4

The Petty-Bourgeoisie. We realize quite well that even among the bourgeoisie knowledge is not equally distributed. Here too there is a hierarchy conditioned not by the capacity of the individuals therein, but by the relative wealth of the social layer to which they belong by birth. Thus, for instance, the education received by the children of the petty-bourgeoisie, just slightly above that of the education of workers' children, is insignificant when compared to the education received by the cnildren of the upper and middle bourgeoisie. And what do we see? The Petty-bourgeoisie, which ranks itself with the middle classes because of a ridiculous vanity on the one hand, and on the other because of its dependence upon the big capitalists, finds itself most of the time in an even more miserable and more humiliating position than that of the proletariat.

Therefore when we speak of privileged classes we do not mean thereby this miserable petty-bourgeoisie, which, if it had more courage and more intelligence, would not fail to join us in order jointly to struggle against [196] the big bourgeoisie, which crushes it no less than it crushes the proletariat. And if the economic development of society is going to proceed in the same direction for another ten years, we shall see the greater part of the middle bourgeoisie sunk at first into the present position of the petty-bourgeoisie, and then gradually lose themselves in the rank of the proletariat, all this taking place as the result of the same inevitable concentration of property in the hands of an ever smaller number of people, necessarily entailing the division of the social world into a small, very rich, learned, and ruling minority, and the vast majority of miserable, ignorant proletarians and slaves.

Technical Progress Benefits Only the Bourgeoisie. There is a fact which should strike all conscientious people, all those who have at heart human dignity and justice; that is, the freedom of everyone in equality for all. This notable fact is that all the inventions of the mind, all the great applications of science to industry, to commerce, and generally to social life, have benefited up to now only the privileged classes and the power of the States, those eternal protectors of political and social iniquities, and they have never benefited the masses of the people. We need only point to machinery by way of an illustration, to have every worker and every sincere partisan of emancipation for labor agree with us on that score.

The State a Bourgeois-Controlled Institution. What power now sustains the privileged classes, with all their insolent well-being and iniquitous enjoyments of life, against the legitimate indignation of the masses of the people? That power is the power of the State, in which their children are holding, as they always have held, all the dominant positions, and the middle and lower positions, except those of laborers and soldiers.5

Administration of the Economy in Place of the State. The bourgeoisie is the dominant and exclusively intelligent class because it exploits the people and keeps it in a state of starvation. If the people become prosperous and as learned as the bourgeoisie, the domination of the latter must come to an end; and there will be no more room for political government, such government changing then into a simple apparatus for the administration of the economy.6

Moral and Intellectual Decay of the Bourgeoisie. The educated classes, the nobility, the bourgeoisie, who at one time flourished and stood at the head of a living and progressive civilization throughout Europe, now have sunk into torpor and have become vulgarized, obese, and cowardly, so much so that if they represent anything it is the most deleterious and vile attributes of man's nature. We see that these classes in a highly rnoral country like France are not even capable of defending the independence of their own country against Germans. And in Germany we see that all these classes are capable of is boot-licking loyalty to their Kaiser.7

No bourgeois, even of the reddest kind, wants to have economic equality, for that kind of equality would spell his death.8 [197]

The bourgeoisie do not see and do not understand anything lying outside of the State and the regulating powers of the State. The height of their ideal, of their imagination and heroism, is the revolutionary exaggeration of the power and action of the State in the name of public safety.9

Death Agony of a Historically Condemned Class. This class, as a political and social organism, after having rendered outstanding services to the civilization of the modern world, is now condemned to death by history itself. To die is the only service which it may still render to humanity, which it served during its life. But it does not want to die. And this reluctance to die is the only cause of its present stupidity and that shameful impotence now characterizing everyone of its political, national, and international enterprises.10

Is the Bourgeoisie Altogether Bankrupt? Has the bourgeoisie already become bankrupt? Not yet. Or has it lost the taste for liberty and peace? Not at all. It still continues to love liberty, with the condition, of course, that this liberty exist for the bourgeoisie only; that is, that the latter retain the liberty to exploit the slavery of the masses, who, while possessing, under existing constitutions, the right to liberty but not the means to enjoy it, remain forcibly enslaved under the yoke of the bourgeoisie. As for peace, never did the bourgeoisie feel so much the need thereof as it does today. Armed peace, which weighs down heavily upon the European world, disturbs, paralyzes, and ruins the bourgeoisie.11

Bourgeois Reaction Against Military Dictatorship. A large part of the bourgeoisie is tired of the reign of Caesarism and militarism, which it founded in 1848 because of its fear of the proletariat. . . .

There is no doubt that the bourgeoisie on the whole, including the radical bourgeoisie, was not, in the proper sense of the word, the creator of Caesarian and military despotism, the effects of which it already has come to deplore. Having availed itself of this dictatorship in its struggle against the proletariat, it now evinces the desire to get rid of it. Nothing is more natural: this regime humiliates and ruins it. But how can it get id of this dictatorship? At one time it was courageous and powerful; it had the power to conquer worlds. Now it is cowardly and weak, and afflicted with the impotence of old age. It is keenly aware of this feebleness, and it feels that it alone cannot do anything. It needs assistance. This assistance can be rendered only by the proletariat, and that is why it feels that the latter must be won over to its side.

The Liberal Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat. But how can the proletariat be won over? By promises of liberty and political equality? No, those are words which do not touch the workers any more. They have learned, at their own cost, they have realized through their own harsh experience, that these words mean only the preservation of their economic slavery, often more harsh than what has gone before. . . . If you want to [198] touch the hearts of those wretched millions of slaves of work, talk to them about their economic emancipation. There are hardly any workers now who do not realize that this is the only serious and real basis of all the other emancipations. Therefore they have to be approached from the point of view of economic reforms of society.

Bourgeois Socialism. "Well, then," the members of the League fot Peace and Liberty will tell themselves, "let us also call ourselves Socialists, Let us promise them economic and social reforms, but on the condition that they respect the bases of civilization and bourgeois omnipotence: individual and hereditary property, interest on capital, and land rent. Let us persuade them that it is only upon these conditions, which incidentally assure our domination and the slavery of the proletariat, that the workers can be emancipated.

"Let us also convince them that in order to carry out those social reforms it is necessary first to have a good political revolution, exclusively political, and as red as they want to make it in the political sense, with a lot of head-chopping -- if that becomes necessary -- but with an even greater respect for sacrosanct property. In short, a purely Jacobin revolution which will render us the masters of the situation; and once we become masters, we shall give the workers what we can and want to give them."

Distinguishing Marks of a Bourgeois Socialist. Here we have the infallible sign by which workers can detect a false Socialist, a bourgeois Socialist. If, in speaking to them of revolution, or, if you please, of social transformation, he tells them that political transformation should precede the economic transformation; if he denies that both have to be made at the same time, or holds that the political revolution has to be something apart from the immediate and direct carrying out of full and complete social liquidation -- the workers should turn their backs upon him: for the one who speaks thus is either a fool or a hypocritical exploiter.12

The Buorgeoisie Has No Faith in the Future. What is very remarkable and what, besides, has been observed and established by a great number of writers of various tendencies, is that now only the proletariat possesses a constructive ideal toward which it aspires with the still virginal passion of its whole being. It sees ahead of it a star, a sun which illumines and already warms it (at least in its imagination) in its faith, and which shows it with a certain clarity the road to be followed, whereas all the privileged and so-called enlightened classes find themselves plunged at the same time into a frightful and desolating darkness.

The latter see nothing ahead of them, they do not believe in or aspire to anything but the everlasting preservation of the status quo, recognizing at the same time that this status quo has no value at all. Nothing proves better that these classes are condemned to die and that the future belongs to the proletariat. It is the "barbarians" (the proletarians) who now represent faith in human destiny and the future of civilization, whereas the [199] "civilized people" find their salvation only in barbarism: the massacre of the Communards and return to the Pope. Such are the final two behests of the privileged civilization.13