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

PART III: The System of Anarchism

CHAPTER 1: Freedom and Equality

Natural and Man-Made Laws. Man can never be altogether free in relation to natural and social laws.1

What is freedom? What is slavery? Does man's freedom consist in revolting against all laws? We say No, in so far as laws are natural, economic, and social laws, not authoritatively imposed but inherent in things, in relations, in situations, the natural development of which is expressed by those laws. We say Yes if they are political and juridical laws, imposed by men upon men: whether violently by the right of force; whether by deceit and hypocrisy -- in the name of religion or any doctrine whatever; or finally, by dint of the fiction, the democratic falsehood called universal suffrage.2

Man Cannot Revolt Against Nor Escape from Nature. Against the laws of Nature no revolt is possible on the part of man, the simple reason being that he himself is a product of Nature and that he exists only by virtue of those laws. A rebellion on his part would be . . . a ridiculous attempt, it would be a revolt against himself, a veritable suicide. And when man has a determination to destroy himself, or even when he carries out such a design, he again acts in accordance with those same natural laws, from which nothing can exempt him: neither thought, nor will, nor despair, nor any other passion, nor life, nor death.

Man himself is nothing but Nature. His most sublime or most monstrous sentiments, the most perverted, the most egoistic, or the most heroic resolves or manifestations of his will, his most abstract, most theological, or most insane thoughts -- all that is nothing else but Nature. Nature envelops, permeates, constitutes his whole existence. How can he ever escape this Nature?2

The Sources of Escapism. It is really to be wondered at how man could ever conceive this idea of escaping from Nature. Separation from Nature being utterly impossible, how could man ever dream of such a thing? Whence this monstrous dream? Whence does it come if not from theology, the science of Non-Being, and later from metaphysics, which is the impossible reconciliation of Non-Existence with reality?4

We must distinguish well between natural laws and authoritarian, arbitrary political, religious, criminal, and civil laws which the privileged [264] classes have established in the course of history, always in the interest of exploitation of the labor of the toiling masses -- laws which, under the pretense of a fictitious morality were ever the source of the deepest immorality: consequently, involuntary and inescapable obedience to all laws which, independently of human will, constitute the very life of Nature and society; and at the same time independence as complete as possible for everyone in relation to all pretensions to command, coming from any human will whatever, individual as well as collective, and tending to assert themselves not by way of natural influence, but by imposing their law, their despotism.5

Freedom Does Not Imply Foregoing Any Exertion of Influence. The freedom of every man is the result produced ever anew by a multitude of physical, mental, and moral influences to which he is subjected by the environment in which he was born, and in which he lives and dies. To wish to escape from this influence in the name of some transcendental, divine freedom, self-sufficient and absolutely egoistical, is to aim at non-existence; to forego influencing others means to forego social action, or even giving expression to one's thoughts and feelings -- which again is to tend toward non-existence. This notorious independence, so greatly extolled by the idealists and metaphysicians, and individual freedom conceived in this sense, are just mere nothingness.6

The worse it is for those who are ignorant of the natural and social law of human solidarity to the extent of imagining that the absolute mutual independence of individuals or the masses is possible or desirable. To will that is to will the very annihilation of society, for all social life is simply this incessant mutual dependence of individuals and masses. All individuals, even the strongest and the most intelligent of them, are, at every instant of their lives, at once producers and the product of the will and action of the masses.7

In Nature as in human society, which in itself is nothing but Nature, everything that lives does so only under the supreme condition of intervening in the most positive manner in the life of others -- intervening in as powerful a manner as the particular nature of a given individual permits it to do so. To do away with this reciprocal influence would spell death in the full sense of the word. And when we demand liberty for the masse we do not pretend to have abolished any of the natural influences exerted upon the masses by any individual or group of individuals. What we want is the abolition of fictitious, privileged, legal, and official influences.8

Liberty in Conformity with Natural Laws. Man's freedom consists solely in this: that he obeys natural laws because he has himself recognized them as such, and not because they have been imposed upon him by any extrinsic will whatever, divine or human, collective or individual.9

As against natural laws there is only one kind of liberty possible for man -- and that is to recognize and apply them on an ever-extending scale in [265] conformity with the goal of emancipation, or humanization -- individual or collective -- which he pursues. These laws, once recognized, exercise an authority which has never been disputed by the great mass of mankind. One must, for instance, be a madman or a theologian, or at least a metaphysician, a jurist, or a bourgeois economist to revolt against the law according to which twice two makes four. One must have faith to imagine that one will not burn in fire or that he will not drown in water unless he has recourse to some subterfuge, which, in its turn, is founded on some other natural law. But these revolts, or rather these attempts at or wild fancies of impossible revolts, constitute only very rare exceptions; for in general it may be said that the mass of mankind, in their daily lives, let themselves be governed, in an almost absolute fashion, by common sense, that is, by the sum of generally recognized natural laws.10

Rational Liberty. True, man, with the aid of knowledge and the thoughtful application of the laws of Nature, gradually emancipates himself, but he achieves this emancipation not in regard to the universal yoke, which is borne by all living beings, himself included, and by all existing things that are produced and that vanish in this world. Man frees himself only from the brutal pressure of his external material and social world, including that of all the things and people surrounding him. He dominates things through science and by work; and as to the arbitrary yoke of men, he throws it off through revolutions.

Such then is the only rational meaning of the word liberty: it is the domination over external things, based upon the respectful observance of the laws of Nature; it is independence from the pretentious claims and despotic acts of men; it is science, work, political rebellion, and, finally, it is the organization, at once planned and free, of a social environment, in conformity with the natural laws inherent in every human society. The first and last condition of this liberty remains then the most absolute submission to the omnipotence of Nature, our mother, and the observance, the most rigorous application of her laws.11

Wide Diffusion of Knowledge Will Lead to Full Freedom. The great misfortune is that a large number of natural laws, already established as such by science, remain unknown to the masses, thanks to the solicitous care of the tutelary governments that exist, as we know, only for the good of the people. There also is another difficulty: namely, that the greater number of the natural laws inherent in the development of human society, wnich are quite as necessary, invariable, and inevitable, as the laws which govern the physical world, have not been duly recognized and established by science itself.12

Once they have been recognized, first by science and then by means of an extensive system of popular education and instruction, once they have become part and parcel of the general consciousness -- the question of liberty will be completely solved. The most recalcitrant authorities must [266] admit that there will then be no need of political organization, administration, or legislation, three things which, whether emanating from the will of the sovereign or from that of a parliament elected on the basis of unversal suffrage, and even if they should conform to the system of natural laws -- which has never happened yet and never will happen -- are always equally baneful and hostile to the liberty of the people because they impose upon the latter a system of external and therefore despotic laws.13

Freedom Is Valid Only When Shared by Everyone. The materialist, realist, and collectivist definition of liberty is altogether opposed to that of the idealists. The materialist definition runs like this: Man becomes man and arrives at awareness as well as realization of his humanity only in society and only through the collective action of the whole society. He frees himself from the yoke of external Nature only by collective and social labor, which alone is capable of transforming the surface of the earth into an abode favorable to the development of humanity. And without this material emancipation there can be no intellectual or moral emancipation for anyone.

Man cannot free himself from the yoke of his own nature, that is, he can subordinate his instincts and his bodily movements to the direction of his ever-developing mind only with the aid of education and upbringing. Both, however, are pre-eminently and exclusively social phenomena. For outside of society man would always remain a wild beast or a saint, which is about the same. Finally, an isolated man cannot have awareness of his liberty. To be free signifies that man shall be recognized and treated as such by another man, by all men who surround him. Liberty then is not a fact springing from isolation but from reciprocal action, a fact not of exclusion, but, on the contrary, of social interaction -- for the freedom of every individual is simply the reflection of his humanity or his human right in the consciousness of all free men, his brothers, his equals.14

I can call myself and feel myself a free man only in the presence of and in relation to other men. In the presence of an animal of inferior species, I am neither free nor am I a man, for that animal is incapable of conceiving, and consequently incapable of recognizing my humanity. I myself am human and free only inasmuch as I recognize the freedom and humanity of all people surrounding me. It is only when I respect their human character that I respect my own humanity.

A cannibal who eats his captives, treating them as savage animals, is not a man but a beast. The master of slaves is not a man but a master. In ignoring the humanity of his slaves, he ignores his own humanity. Every ancient society furnishes good proofs thereof: the Greeks, the Romans, did not feel free as men, they did not consider themselves as such from the point of view of human right. They believed themselves privileged as Greeks, as Romans, only in their own fatherland, and only so long as the latter remained unconquered and on the contrary conquering other [267] countries because of the special protection of their national gods. And they did not wonder and did not hold it their right or duty to revolt when, having been vanquished, they themselves fell into slavery.15

Christian Freedom. It was the great merit of Christianity that it proclaimed the humanity of all human beings, including that of women, and the equality of all men before God. Yet how was it proclaimed? In the sky, in the future life, but not for the existing real life upon earth. Besides, this equality to come constitutes a falsehood because, as we know, the number of the elect is greatly restricted. On this point all the theologians of the various Christian sects are in full agreement. Accordingly, the so-called Christian equality entails the most flagrant privilege on the part of the several thousands elected by Divine Grace over the millions of the damned. For that matter, the equality of all before God, even if it were all-inclusive to embrace everyone, would only be equality of nothingness, and equal slavery of all before a supreme master.16

And is not the basis of the Christian cult and the first condition of salvation the renunciation of human dignity and the cultivation of contempt for this dignity in the presence of Divine Grandeur? A Christian then is not a man, in the sense that he lacks the consciousness of his humanity, and because, not respecting human dignity in himself, he cannot respect it in others; and not respecting it in others, he cannot respect it in himself. A Christian can be a prophet, a saint, a priest, a king, a general, a minister, a State functionary, a representative of some authority, a gendarme, an executioner, a nobleman, an exploiting bourgeois, an enthralled proletarian, an oppressor or one of the oppressed, a torturer or one of the tortured, an employer or a hired man, but he has no right to call himself man, for one becomes a man only when he respects and loves the humanity and liberty of everyone else and when his own freedom and his humanity are respected, loved, stimulated, and created by all others.17

Freedom of Individual Increased and Not Limited by Freedom of All. I am free only when all human beings surrounding me -- men and women alike -- are equally free. The freedom of others, far from limiting or negating my liberty, is on the contrary its necessary condition and confirmation. I become free in the true sense only by virtue of the liberty of others, so much so that the greater the number of free people surrounding me and the deeper and greater and more extensive their liberty, the deeper and larger becomes my liberty.

On the contrary, it is the slavery of men that sets up a barrier to my liberty, or (which practically amounts to the same) it is their bestiality which constitutes a negation of my humanity because, I repeat again, I call myself a truly free person only when my freedom or, (which is the same) my human dignity, my human right, the essence of which is to obey no one and to follow only the guidance of my own ideas -- when this freedom, reflected by the equally free consciousness of all men, comes [268] back to me confirmed by everybody's assent. My personal freedom, confirmed by the freedom of everyone else, extends to infinity.

The Constituent Elements of Freedom. We can see then that freedom, as understood by materialists, is something very positive, very complex, and above all eminently social, since it can be realized only by society and only under conditions of strict equality and solidarity of each person with all his fellows. One can distinguish in it three phases of development, three elements, the first of which is highly positive and social. It is the full development and the full enjoyment by everyone of all the faculties and human powers through the means of education, scientific upbringing, and material prosperity, and all that can be given to everyone only by collective labor, and by the material and mental, muscular, and nervous labor of society as a whole.18

Rebellion the Second Element of Liberty. The second element or phase of liberty is negative in character. It is the element of revolt on the part of the human individual against all divine and human authority, collective and individual. It is first of all a revolt against the tyranny of this supreme phantom of theology, against God. . . .

. . . Following that and coming as a consequence of the revolt against God, there is the revolt against the tyranny of man, against authority, individual as well as collective, represented and legalized by the State.19

The Implication of the Theory of the Pre-Social Existence of Individual Freedom. But if the metaphysicians affirm that men, especially those who believe in the immortality of the soul, stand outside of the society of free beings, we inevitably arrive at the conclusion that men can unite in a society only at the cost of their own liberty, their natural independence, and by sacrificing first their personal and their local interests. Such self-renunciation and self-sacrifice are thus all the more imperative the more numerous society is in point of membership and the greater the complexity of its organization. In this sense the State is the expression of all the individual sacrifices. Given this abstract and at the same time violent origin, the State has to restrict liberty to an ever greater extent, doing it in the name of a falsehood called "the good of the people," which in reality represents exclusively the interests of the dominant class. Thus the Sate appears as an inevitable negation and annihilation of all liberty, of all individual and collective interests.20

Freedom the Ultimate Aim of Human Development. But we who believe neither in God nor in the immortality of the soul, nor in the freedom of will, we maintain that liberty should be understood in its larger connotation as the goal of the historic progress of humanity. By a strange, although logical contrast, our adversaries, the idealists of theology and metaphysics, take the principle of liberty as the foundation and the starting point of their theories, to deduce from it the indispensability of slavery for all men. We, materialists in theory, aim in practice to create [269] and consolidate a rational and noble idealism. Our enemies, the divine and transcendental idealists, sink into a practical bloody, and vile materialism, impelled by the same logic according to which every development is the negation of the basic principle.

We are convinced that all the wealth and all the intellectual, moral, and material development of man, as well as the degree of independence he already has attained -- that all this is the product of life in society. Outside of society, man would not only fail to be free; he would not even grow to the stature of a true man, that is, a being aware of himself and who feels and has the power of speech. It was only the intercourse of minds and collective labor that forced man out of the stage of being a savage and a brute, which constituted his original nature, or the starting point of his ultimate development.21

Freedom and Socialism Are Mutually Complementary. The serious realization of liberty, justice, and peace will be impossible so long as the vast majority of the population remains dispossessed in point of elementary needs, so long as it is deprived of education and is condemned to political and social insignificance and slavery -- in fact if not by law -- by the poverty as well as the necessity of working without rest or leisure, producing all the wealth, upon which the world now prides itself, and receiving in return only such a small part thereof that it hardly suffices to assure [the worker's] bread for the next day; . . . we are convinced that freedom without Socialism is privilege and injustice, and that Socialism without freedom is slavery md brutality.22

It is characteristic of privilege and of every privileged position to kill the minds and hearts of men. The privileged man, whether politically or economically, is a mentally and morally depraved man. That is a social law which admits of no exception and which holds good in relation to whole nations as well as to classes, groups, and individuals. It is the law of equality, the supreme condition of freedom and humanity.23

Socialism and Equality. Much as one may resort to all kinds of subterfuges, much as one may try to obscure the issue, and to falsify social science for the benefit of bourgeois exploitation, all sensible people who have no interest in deceiving themselves, now understand that so long as a certain number of people possessing economic privileges have the means to lead a life which is beyond the reach of the workers; that so long as a more or less considerable number inherit, in various proportions, capital and land which is not the product of their own labor, while on the other hand the vast majority of workers do not inherit anything at all; so long as land rent and interest on capital enable those privileged people to live without working -- so long as such a state of things exists, equality is inconceivable.

Even assuming that everyone in society works -- whether by compulsion or by free choice -- but that one class in society, thanks to its economic [270] situation and enjoying as a result thereof special political and social privileges, can devote itself exclusively to mental work, while the vast majority of people struggle hard for a bare living; in a word, so long as individuals on coming into life do not find in society the same means of livelihood, the same education, upbringing, work, and enjoyment -- political, economic, and social equality will be impossible.

It was in the name of equality that the bourgeoisie overthrew and massacred the nobility. And it is in the name of equality that we now demand either the violent death or the voluntary suicide of the bourgeoisie, only with this difference -- that being less bloodthirsty than the bourgeoisie of the revolutionary period, we do not want the death of men but the abolition of positions and things. If the bourgeoisie resigns itself to the inevitable changes, not a hair on its head will be touched. But so much the worse for it, if, forgetting prudence and sacrificing its individual interests to the collective interests of its class, a class doomed to extinction, it places itself athwart the course of the historic justice of the people, in order to save a position which will soon become utterly untenable.24

The Nature of True Freedom. I am a fanatical lover of freedom, viewing it as the only milieu in the midst of which the intelligence, dignity, and happiness of men can grow; but not of that formal liberty, vouchsafed, measured, and regulated by the State, which is an eternal falsehood and which in reality represents only the privilege of the select few based upon the slavery of the rest; and not of that individualist, egoistic, jejune, and fictitious liberty proclaimed by Jean Jacques Rousseau as well as by all the other schools of bourgeois liberalism, which regard the so-called public right represented by the State as being the limit of the right of everyone, which necessarily and always results in the whittling down of the right of everyone to the zero point.

No, I have in mind the only liberty worthy of that name, liberty consisting in the full development of all the material, intellectual, and moral powers latent in every man; a liberty which does not recognize any other restrictions but those which are traced by the laws of our own nature, which, properly speaking, is tantamount to saying that there are no restrictions at all, since these laws are not imposed upon us by some outside legislator standing above us or alongside us. Those laws are imminent, inherent in us; they constitute the very basis of our being, material as well as intellectual and moral; and instead of finding in them a limit to our liberty we should regard them as its real conditions and as its effective reason.25

I have in mind this liberty of everyone which, far from finding itself checked by the freedom of others, is, on the contrary, confirmed by it and extended to infinity. And I have in mind the freedom of every individual unlimited by the freedom of all, freedom in solidarity, freedom in equality, freedom triumphing over brute force and the principle of authority (which [271] was ever the ideal expression of this force); a freedom which, having overthrown all the heavenly and earthly idols, will have founded and organised a new world, the world of human solidarity, upon the ruins of all the churches and states.26

I am a convinced partisan of economic and social equality because I know that outside of this equality, freedom, justice, human dignity, morality, and the well-being of individuals as well as the flourishing of nations, are a lie.27

We already have said that by freedom we understand on one hand the development, as complete as possible, of all the natural faculties of every individual, and on the other hand his independence not in relation to natural and social laws, but in relation to all laws imposed by other human wills, whether collective or isolated.28

We understand by freedom, from the positive point of view, the development, as complete as possible, of all faculties which man has within himself, and, from the negative point of view, the independence of the will of everyone from the will of others.29

We are convinced -- and modern history fully confirms our conviction -- that so long as humanity is divided into an exploiting minority and an exploited majority, freedom is impossible, becoming instead a falsehood. If you want freedom for all, you must strive together with us to attain universal equality.30

How Can Freedom and Equality Be Assured? Do you want to make it impossible for anyone to oppress his fellow-man? Then make sure that no one shall possess power. Do you want men to respect the liberty, rights, and .personality of their fellows? Make sure that they shall be compelled to respect them, forced not by the will nor by the oppressive action of other men. and not by the repression of the State and its laws, necessarily represented and applied by men, which in turn makes slaves of them, but by the very organization of social environment -- an organization so constituted that by affording everyone the fullest enjoyment of his liberty, it does not permit anyone to rise above others nor dominate them in any way but through the natural influence of the intellectual and moral qualities which he possesses, without this influence ever being imposed as a right and without leaning upon any political institution whatever.31