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

CHAPTER 8: The Modern State Surveyed

Capitalism and Representative Democracy. Modern capitalist production and banking speculations demand for their full development a vast centralized State apparatus which alone is capable of subjecting the millions of toilers to their exploitation.

A federal organization, from the bottom upward, of workers' associations, groups, city and village communes, and finally of regions and peoples, the sole condition of a real and not fictitious liberty, is just as contrary to capitalist production as any sort of economic autonomy. But capitalist production and banking speculation get along very well with the so-called representative democracy; for this most modern State form, based upon the pretended rule by the people's will, allegedly expressed by the would-be representatives of the people at the supposedly popular assemblies, unites in itself the two conditions necessary for the prosperity of the capitalistic economy: State centralization and the actual subjection of the Sovereign -- The People -- to the minority allegedly representing it but actually governing it intellectually and invariably exploiting it.

Modern State Must Have Centralized, Military Apparatus. The modern State, in its essence and aims, is necessarily a military State, and a military State is driven on by the very same logic to become a conquering State. If it does not conquer, it will be conquered by others, and that is true for the simple reason that where there is force, it must manifest itself in some form. Hence it follows that the modern State invariably must be a vast and powerful State: only under this indispensable condition can it preserve itself.

Dynamics of State and Capitalism Are Identical. And just as capitalist production and banking speculation, which in the long run swallows up that production, must, under the threat of bankruptcy, ceaselessly expand at the expense of the small financial and productive enterprises which they absorb, must become universal, monopolistic enterprises extending all over the world -- so this modern and necessarily military State is driven on by an irrepressible urge to become a universal State. But a universal State, which of course never can be realized, can exist only in a singular number, the co-existence of two such States alongside of each other being utterly impossible.

Monarchy and Republic. Hegemony is only a modest manifestation, possible under the circumstances, of this unrealizable urge inherent in eveiy State. And the first condition of this hegemony is the relative impotent and subjection of all the neighboring States.1 At the present time, most [211] serious in its implications, a strong State can have only one foundation; military and bureaucratic centralization. In this respect the essential difference between a monarchy and a democratic republic is reduced to the following: in a monarchy the bureaucratic world oppresses and plunders the people for the greater benefit of the privileged propertied classes as well as for its own benefit, and all that is done in the name of the monarch; in a republic the same bureaucracy will do exactly the same, but -- in the name of the will of the people. In a republic the so-called people, the legal people, allegedly represented by the State, stifle and will keep on stifling the actual and living people. But the people will scarcely feel any better if the stick with which they are being belabored is called The People's Stick.

No State Can Satisfy the Aspirations of the People. No State, democratic though it may be in form -- and not even the reddest political republic, which is a people's republic in the same sense in which this falsehood is known by the name of popular representation -- can give the people what they need, that is, the free organization of their own interests, from the bottom upward, with no interference, tutelage, or violence from above, because every State, even the most Republican and the most democratic State -- even the would-be popular State conceived by M. Marx -- are in their essence only machines governing the masses from above, through an intelligent and therefore a privileged minority, allegedly knowing the genuine interests of the people better than the people themselves.

Inherent Antagonism Toward People Leads to Violence. Thus, not being able to satisfy the demands of the people or to allay popular passion, the propertied and ruling classes have only one means at their disposal: State violence, in a word, the State, because the State denotes violence, rule by disguised, or if necessary open and unceremonious, violence.2

The State, any State -- even when it is dressed up in the most liberal and democratic form -- is necessarily based upon domination, and upon violence, that is, upon despotism -- a concealed but no less dangerous despotism.3

Militarism and Freedom. We have already said that society cannot remain a State without taking on the character of a conquering State. The same competition, which in the economic field annihilates and swallows up small and even medium-sized capital, industrial enterprises, and landed estates in favor of vast capital, factories, and commercial houses -- is also operative in the lives of the States, leading to the destruction and absorption of small and medium-sized States for the benefit of empires. Henceforth every State, in so far as it wants to live not only on paper and not merely by sufferance of its neighbors, but to enjoy real independence -- inevitably must become a conquering State.

But to be a conquering State means to be forced to hold in subjection many millions of alien people. And this requires the development of a huge military force. And where military force prevails, there freedom has [212] to take its leave -- especially the freedom and well-being of the working people.4

Expansion of State Leads to Growth of Abuse. Some believe that when the State has expanded and its population has doubled, trebled, or increased tenfold, it will become more liberal, and that its institutions, all the conditions of its existence, and its governmental action will b more popular in character and more in harmony with the instincts of people. But upon what is this hope and this supposition based? Upon theory? Yet theoretically it is quite evident that the larger the State, the more complex its organism, and the more alien it becomes to the people, and because of that, the more do its interests militate against the interests of the masses of the people, the heavier the oppression of the people, the farther apart the State government finds itself from genuine popular self-rule.

Or are their expectations based upon the practical experience of other countries? By way of answering this question, it is enough to point to the example of Russia, Austria, expanded Prussia, France, England, Italy, and even the United States of America, where everything is under the administrative control of a special, altogether bourgeois class, under the control of so-called politicians or business people in politics, whereas the great mass of toilers live under conditions which are just as wretched and frightful as those which prevail in the monarchic States.5

Social Control of State Power as a Necessary Safeguard for Liberty. Modern society is so convinced of this truth -- that all political power, whatever its origin and form may be, necessarily tends toward despotism -- that in any country where society succeeds in emancipating itself to some extent from the State, it hastens to subject the government, even when the latter has sprung from a revolution and from popular elections, to as severe a control as possible. It places the salvation of liberty in a real and serious organization of control to be exercised by the popular will and opinion upon men invested with public authority. In all the countries enjoying representative government, liberty can be valid only when thb control is valid. On the contrary, where such control is fictitious, the freedom of the people likewise becomes a mere fiction.6

The best men easily become corrupted, especially when the environment itself promotes corruption on the part of individuals through lack of serious control and permanent opposition.7

Lack of permanent opposition and continuous control inevitably become a source of moral depravity for all the individuals who find themselves invested with some social power.8

Participation in Government as a Source of Corruption. Many times it has been established as a general truth that it suffices for anyone, even the most liberal and popular man, to become a part of a governmental machine in order to undergo a complete change in outlook and arttitude. [213] Unless that person is frequently reinvigorated by contacts with the life of the people; unless he is compelled to act openly under conditions of full publicity; unless he is subjected to a salutary and uninterrupted regime of popular control and criticism, which is to remind him constantly that he is not the master nor even the guardian of the masses but only their proxy or their elected functionary who is always subject to recall -- unless he is placed under those conditions, he runs the risk of becoming utterly spoiled by dealing only with aristocrats like himself, and he also runs the risk of becoming a pretentious and vain fool, all puffed up with the feeling of his ridiculous importance.9

Universal Suffrage as an Attempted form of Popular Control; the Swiss Example. It would be easy to prove that in no part of Europe is there genuine control by the people. But we shall confine ourselves to Switzerland and see how this control is being applied. . . .

. . . Toward the period of 1830 the most advanced cantons in Switzerland sought to guarantee liberty by introducing universal suffrage. . . . Once this universal suffrage had been established, the belief became general that from then on liberty for the population would be firmly assured. This, however, turned out to be a great illusion, and one may say that the realization of this illusion led in some cantons to the downfall and everywhere to the demoralization, which today has become some flagrant, of the Radical Party. . . . [It] really acted on the strength of its convictions when it promised liberty to the people through universal suffrage. . . .

And, indeed, the whole thing seemed so natural and simple: Once the legislative and executive power emanate directly from popular elections, shall they not become the pure expression of the will of the people, and that will, can it produce anything eke but freedom and prosperity of the people?10

Universal Suffrage Under Capitalism. I frankly confess, my dear friend, that I do not share the superstitious devotion of your bourgeois radicals or your republican bourgeois to universal suffrage. . . . So long as universal suffrage is exercised in a society where the people, the mass of workers, are ECONOMICALLY dominated by a minority holding in exclusive possession the property and capital of the country, free or independent though the people may be otherwise, or as they may appear to be from a political aspect, these elections held under conditions of universal suffrage can only be illusory, anti-democratic in their results, which invariably will prove to be absolutely opposed to the needs, instincts, and real will of the population.

Universal Suffrage in Past History. And all the elections held after the coup d'etat of December,* [* The coup d'etat effected by Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III) on December 2, 1851, which made him practically dictator of France.] with the people of France directly [214] participating in such elections, were they not in their results quite contrary to the interests of the people? And did not the last imperial plebiscite yield seven millions of "Yes" votes to the Emperor? No doubt it will be argued that universal suffrage was never freely exercised under the Empire, inasmuch as freedom of the press and freedom of association -- the essential conditions of political liberty -- had been proscribed and the defenseless people left to be corrupted by a subsidized press and an infamous administration. Be it so, but the elections of 1848 for the Constituent Assembly and the office of President, and also those held in May, 1849, for Legislative Assembly, were, I believe, absolutely free. They took place with no undue pressure or intervention by the government, under conditions of the greatest freedom. And, still, what did they produce? Nothing but reaction.11

Why Workers Cannot Make Use of Political Democracy. One has to be greatly enamored of illusions to imagine that workers, under the economic and social conditions in which they now find themselves, can fully profit, or can make serious and real use of their political freedom. For this they lack two "small" things: leisure and material means. . . .

Certainly the French workers were neither indifferent nor unintelligent, and yet, notwithstanding the most extensive universal suffrage, they had to clear the stage of action for the bourgeoisie. Why? Because they lacked the material means which are necessary to make political liberty a reality, because they remained slaves forced to work by hunger while radical, liberal, and even conservative bourgeois -- some Republicans of quite recent date and others converted on the morrow of the Revolution -- kept coming and going, agitated, harangued, and freely conspired. Some could do it because of their incomes from rent or from some other lucrative variety of bourgeois income, and others owed it to the State budget, which they naturally preserved and even increased to an unheard of extent.

The results are well known: first, the June days, and later, as a necessary sequel, the days of December.12

Proudhon on Universal Suffrage. "One of the first acts of the Provisional Government (of 1848)," says Proudhon,* [* The General Idea of the Revolution m the Nineteenth Century. Bakunin does not give the page number.] "an act eliciting tht greatest applause, was the application of universal suffrage. On the very day that the decree was promulgated, we wrote precisely these words, which at that time could have passed as a paradox: Universal suffrage is counter-revolution. One can judge by the events which followed whether we were right in this matter. The elections of 1848, in their great majority were carried by priests, legitimists, partisans of monarchy, by the most reactionary and retrograde elements of France. And it could not be otherwise." [215]

No, it could not be otherwise, and this will hold true to an even greater measure so long as inequality of economic and social conditions prevails in the organization of society, and so long as society continues to be divided into two classes, one of which -- the exploiting and privileged class -- enjoys all the advantages of fortune, education, and leisure, while the other class -- comprising the whole mass of the proletariat -- gets for its share only forced and wearisome labor, ignorance, and poverty, with their necessary accompaniment: slavery, not by right but in fact.

The Great Odds Which the Proletariat Must Face in Political Democracy. Yes, slavery indeed; for wide as may be in scope the political rights accorded to these millions of wage-receiving proletarians -- the true galley-slaves of hunger -- you will never succeed in drawing them away from the pernicious influence, from the natural domination of diverse representatives of the privileged classes -- beginning with the preacher and ending with the bourgeois Republican of the reddest, Jacobin variety -- representatives who, divided though they may appear, or as they may actually be, on political questions, are nevertheless united by one common and supreme interest: the exploitation of the misery, ignorance, political inexperience, and good faith of the proletariat, for the benefit of the economic domination of the possessing class.

How could the city and rural proletariat resist the political intrigues of the clericals, the nobility, and the bourgeoisie? For self-defense it has only one weapon -- its instinct, which tends almost always to be true and just because it is itself the principal, if not the sole victim of the iniquity and all the falsehoods which reign supreme in existing society. And because it is oppressed by privilege it naturally demands equality for all.

Workers Lack Education, Leisure, and Knowledge of Affairs. But instinct as a weapon is not sufficient to safeguard the proletariat against the reactionary machinations of the privileged classes. Instinct left to itself, and inasmuch as it has not been transformed into consciously reflected, clearly determined thought, lends itself easily to falsification, distortion, and deceit. Yet it is impossible for it to rise to this state of self-awareness without the aid of education, of science; and science, knowledge of affairs and of people, and political experience -- those are things which the proletariat completely lacks. The consequence can be easily foreseen: the proletariat wants one thing, but clever people, profiting by its ignorance, make it do quite another thing, without it even suspecting that it is doing the contrary of what it wants to do. And when it finally does take note of this, it is generally too late to repair the wrong of which it naturally, necessarily, and invariably becomes the first and principal victim.12

Workers' Deputies Lose Their Proletarian Outlook. But, we are told, the workers, taught by the experience which they have gone through, will not send the bourgeoisie any more as their representatives to the [216] Constituent or Legislative Assemblies; instead they will send simple workers. Poor as they are, the workers can manage somehow to scrape up enough for the upkeep of their parliamentary deputies. And do you know what will be the result? The inevitable result will be that workers deputies, transferred to a purely bourgeois environment and into an atmosphere of purely bourgeois political ideas, ceasing in fact to be workers and becoming statesmen instead, will become middle class in their outlook, perhaps even more so than the bourgeois themselves.

For men do not create situations; it is situations that create men. And we know from experience that bourgeois workers are frequently neither less egoistical than bourgeois exploiters, nor less baneful for the International than bourgeois Socialists; nor are they less ridiculous in their vanity than bourgeois commoners raised into nobility.

Political Liberty Without Socialism Is a Fraud. Whatever may be said and done, one thing is clear: so long as the workers remain in their present state, no liberty will be possible for them, and those who call upon them to win political liberties without touching upon the burning question of Socialism, without even uttering the phrase "social liquidation." which sets the bourgeois trembling, tell them in effect the following; "Win first this freedom for us in order that we may use it against you later."14

Under Capitalism the Bourgeoisie Is Better Equipped Than the Workers to Make Use of Parliamentarian Democracy. It is certain that the bourgeoisie knows better than the proletariat what it wants and what it should want. This is true for two reasons: first, because it is more learned than the latter, and because it has more leisure and many more means of all sorts to know the persons whom it elected; and second -- and this is the principal reason -- because the purpose which it is pursuing is, unlike that of the proletariat, neither new nor is it immensely large in scope. On the contrary, it is known and is completely determined by history is well as by all the conditions of the present situation of the bourgeoisie, this purpose being nothing else but the preservation of political and economic domination by the bourgeoisie. This is so clearly posed that it is quite easy to guess and to know which of the candidates who solicit the electoral votes of the bourgeoisie are capable of serving well its interests. Therefore it is certain, or nearly certain, that the bourgeoisie will always be represented in accordance with its most intimate desires.

Classes Do Not Abdicate Their Privileges. But it is no less that this representation, excellent from the point of view of the bourgeoisie, will prove to be detestable from the point of view of popular interests. The interests of the bourgeoisie being absolutely opposed to those of the working masses, it is certain that a bourgeois Parliament could never do anything else but legislate the slavery of the people, and vote all those measures which have for their aim the perpetuation of their [217] poverty and ignorance. Indeed, one must be extremely naive to believe that a bourgeois Parliament could freely vote to bring about the intellectual, material, and political emancipation of the people. Has it ever been witnessed in history that a political body, a privileged class, committed suicide, or sacrificed the least of its interests and so-called rights for the love of justice and liberty?

I believe I have already pointed out that even the famous night of August 4, when the nobility of France generously sacrificed their interests upon the altar of the fatherland, was nothing but a forced and belated consequence of a formidable uprising of peasants who set fire to the title deeds and the castles of their lords and masters. No, classes never sacrifice themselves and will never do it -- because it is contrary to their nature, to the reason for their existence, and nothing is ever done or ever can be done by them against Nature or against reason. Therefore one would have to be mad, indeed, to expect from a privileged Assembly measures and laws for the benefit of the people.15

It is clear to me that universal suffrage is the most extensive and at the same time the most refined manifestation of the political charlatanism of the State; a dangerous instrument without doubt, and demanding a great deal of skill and competence by those who make use of it, but becoming at the same time -- that is, if those people learn to make use of it -- the surest means of making the masses co-operate in the building of their own prison. Napoleon III built his power completely upon universal suffrage and it never betrayed his trust. And Bismarck made it the basis of his Knouto-Germanic Empire.16