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

CHAPTER 2: Federalism: Real and Sham

Is Municipal Self-Governraent a Sufficient Counter-Balance for a Centralized State? The illustrious Italian patriot Joseph Mazzini . . . maintains that autonomy of the communes is quite sufficient to counterbalance the [272] omnipotence of a solidily built republic But he is mistaken about that: no isolated commune would be capable of resisting such a formidable centralization; it would be crushed by it. In order not to succumb in this struggle, each commune will have to combine with neighboring communes in a federation with a view to common defense; that is, it will have to form together with them an autonomous province. Besides, if the provinces are not autonomous, they will have to be governed by State-appointed functionaries. There is no midway between a rigorously consistent federalism and a bureaucratic regime. . . . In 1793, under the regime of terror, the autonomy of communes was recognized, but that did not prevent their being crushed by the revolutionary despotism of the Convention or rather of the Commune of Paris, of which Napoleon was the heir.1

Organic Social Unity Versus State Unity. Mazzini and all the advocates of unity place themselves in a contradictory position when on one hand they tell you of the deep, intimate, brotherly feeling existing among this group of twenty-five millions of Italians, united by language, tradition, morals, faith, and common aspirations, while on the other hand they want to maintain -- nay, to augment -- the power of the State, which, they say, is necessary for the preservation of that unity. But if the Italians are so effectively and indissolubly linked by ties of solidarity, it would be a luxury and even sheer nonsense to force them into a union. If, on the contrary, you believe it necessary to force them to unite, it simply shows that yon are convinced that the natural bonds are not so strong, and that you lie to them, that you wish to mislead them when you talk of union.

A social union, the real outcome of a combination of traditions, habits, customs, ideas, present interests, and common aspirations, is a living, fertile, real unity. The political unity of the State is a fiction, an abstraction of unity; and not only does it conceal discord, but it artificially produces such discord where, without this intervention by the State, a living unity would not fail to spring up.2

Socialism Must Be Federalistic in Character. That is why Socialism is federalistic in character and why the International as a whole enthusastically hailed the program of the Paris Commune.* [* This refers to the Commune of 1871, and is not to be confused with the Commune of 1793, cited earlier in this chapter.] On the other hand, the Commune proclaimed explicitly in its manifestoes that what it wanted was not the dissolution of the national unity of France but its resurrection, its consolidation, its revival, and real and full liberty for the people. It wanted the unity of the nation, of the people, of French society, but not the unity of the State.

Medieval and Modern Communes. Mazzini, in his hatred of the Paris Commune, has gone to the extreme of sheer foolishness. He maintains that the system proclaimed by the last revolution in Paris would lead us back [273] to the medieval ages, that is, to the breaking up of the civilized world into a number of small centers, foreign to and ignoring one another. He does not understand, poor fellow, that between the commune of the Middle Ages and the modern commune there is the vast difference which the history of the last five centuries wrought not just in books but in the morals, aspirations, ideas, interests, and needs of the population. The Italian communes were, at the beginning of their history, really isolated centers of social and political life, independent of one another, lacking any solidarity, and forced into a certain kind of self-sufficiency.

How different that was from what is in existence today! The material, intellectual, and moral interests created among all the members of the same nation -- nay, even of different nations -- a social unity of so powerful and real a nature that whatever is being done now by the States to paralyze and destroy such unity is of no avail. That unity resists everything and it will survive the States.3

The Living Unity of the Future. When the States have disappeared, a living, fertile, beneficent unity of regions as well as of nations -- first the international unity of the civilized world and then the unity of all of the peoples of the earth, by way of a free federation and organization from below upward -- will unfold itself in all its majesty, not divine but human.4

The patriotic movement of the Italian youth under the direction of Garibaldi and Mazzini was legitimate, useful, and glorious; not because it created political unity, the unified Italian State -- on the contrary, that was its mistake, for it could not create that unity without sacrificing the liberty and prosperity of the people -- but because it destroyed the various political centers of domination, the different States which violently and artificially obstructed the social unification of the Italian people.

That glorious work having been accomplished, the youth of Italy is called upon to perform an even more glorious task. That is to aid the Italian people in destroying the unitary State which it founded with its own hands. It [the youth of Italy] should oppose to the unitary banner of Mazzini the federal banner of the Italian nation, of the Italian people.

Real and Sham Federalism. One has to distinguish between federalism and federalism.

There exists in Italy the tradition of a regional federalism, which by now has become a political and historical falsehood. Let us say once for all, the past will never come back, it would be a great misfortune if it were revived. Regional federalism could be only an institution of the merging aristocratic and plutocratic classes (consorteria), for, in relation to the communes and workers' associations -- industrial and agricultural -- it would still be a political organization built from the top downward. A truly popular organization begins, on the contrary, from below, from the association, from the commune. Thus, starting out with the organization lowest nucleus and proceeding upward, federalism becomes a [274] political institution of Socialism, the free and spontaneous organization popular life.5

In conformity with sentiment unanimously expressed at the first Congress of the League for Peace and Freedom [held in Geneva, Switzerland in September, 1867] , we now declare:

The Principle of Federalism. 1. There is only one way of insuring the triumph of freedom, justice, and peace in the international relations of Europe, of rendering impossible any civil war among peoples comprising the European family, and that is: by building up a United States of Europe.

2. The United States of Europe can never be formed out of the present European States, in view of the monstrous inequality existing among their respective forces.

3. The example of the defunct German Confederation proved in a peremptory manner that a confederation of monarchies is a mockery, that it is powerless to guarantee peace and liberty to the populations.6

4. No centralized, bureaucratic, military State, even if it calls itself republican, can seriously and sincerely enter into an international confederation. By its constitution, which will always be a negation of freedom within the State, either open or masked, it will necessarily be a permanent war declaration, a standing menace to the existence of the neighboring countries. Based essentially upon a preceding act of violence, upon conquest, or what in private life is called burglary -- an act blessed by the Church, consecrated by time, and therefore transformed into a historic right, and resting upon this divine consecration of a triumphant violence as an exclusive and supreme right -- every centralized State thereby poses itself as an absolute negation of the rights of all other States, recognizing them in the treaties it concludes only in view of some political interest or owing to its impotence.

5. All the adherents of the League should direct their efforts to rebuild their respective countries, in order to replace the old organization, founded from above downward upon violence and the principle of authority, by a new organization having no other foundation but the interests, needs, and natural affinities of the population, and admitting no other principle but the free federation of individuals into communes, of communes into provinces, of provinces into nations, and finally, of nations into the United States of Europe and then into the United States of the World.

6. Consequently, the absolute abandonment of all that is called the historic rights of the States; all questions relating to natural, political, strategic, and commercial boundaries should henceforth be considered as belonging to ancient history and be vigorously rejected by League adherents.7

7. Recognition of the absolute right of every nation, small or large, of every people, weak or strong, and of every province, of every commune, to a complete autonomy, provided the internal constitution of any [275] such unit is not in the nature of a menace to the autonomy and freedom of its neighbors.

8. Because a certain country constitutes a part of some State, even if it joined that State of its own free will, it does not follow that it is under obligation to remain forever attached to that State. No perpetual obligation can be admitted by human justice, the only justice which we recognize as having authority with us, and we will never recognize any duties that are not founded upon freedom. The right of free reunion, as well as the right of secession, is the first and most important of all political rights; lacking that right, a confederation would simply be disguised centralization . . . .9

12. The League recognizes nationality as a natural fact, having the incontestable right to exist and to develop freely, but it does not recognize it as a principle -- for every principle should possess the character of universality, whereas nationality, on the contrary, is an exclusive and isolated fact. The so-called principle of nationalities, such as has been posed in our day by the governments of France, Russia, and Prussia, and even by many German, Polish, Italian, and Hungarian patriots, is only a derivative of reaction and is opposed to the spirit of revolution. A highly aristocratic principle at heart, going so far as to despise the local dialects of the illiterate population, implicitly denying the liberty of the provinces and the real autonomy of the communes, and lacking the support of the masses whose real interests it sacrifices for the sake of the so-called public good, this principle expresses only the pretended historic rights and ambitions of the States. Thus the right of nationality can be considered only as the natural result of the supreme principle of liberty, ceasing to be a right from the moment it is posed against or even outside of liberty.9

13. Unity is the goal toward which humanity irresistibly tends. But it becomes fatal and destructive of the intelligence, dignity, and prosperity of individuals and peoples whenever it is formed by excluding liberty, whether by violence or by the authority of any theological, metaphysical, political, or even economic ideas. . . . The League can recognize only one kind of unity: that which is freely constituted by the federation of the autonomous parties into a single whole, so that the latter, no longer being the negation of rights and particular interests, and ceasing to be the cemetery wherein all the local prosperities are interred, will become, on the contrary, the source and the confirmation of all these autonomies and all these prosperities. The League shall then vigorously attack every religious, political. economic, and social organization which is not permeated by this great pnnciple of liberty. Without that principle there can be neither enlightenment, nor prosperity, nor justice, nor humanity.10

Such then are the developments and the necessary consequences of the great principle of federalism. Such are the necessary conditions of peace and freedom. The necessary conditions, yes -- but the only ones? We do not think so.11 [276]

. . . The abolition of every political State, the transformation of the political federation into an economic, national, and international federation. It is toward this aim that Europe as a whole is now marching.12

The Federalism of the Southern States Was Based Upon a Hideous Social Reality. The Southern States, in the great republican confederation of North America, were, from the time of the proclamation of independence by the American republic, pre-eminently democratic and federalist States, going to the length of clamoring for secession. And still they have of late, drawn upon themselves the condemnation of all partisans of liberty and humanity, and by their iniquitous and sacrilegious war against the republican States of the North, they nearly succeeded in overthrowing and destroying the finest political organization that mankind has ever known.

What is the main cause behind this strange fact? Is it a political cause? No, the cause is wholly social in character. The internal political organization of the Southern States was in many respects more perfect, more completely in harmony with the ideal of liberty than the political organization of the Northern States. But this magnificent political structure had its dark side, like the republics of antiquity: the freedom of citizens was founded upon the forced labor of slaves.12

The Stirrings of Equality Produced by the French Revolution. From the time when the Revolution brought down to the masses its Gospd -- not the mystic but the rational, not the heavenly but the earthly, not tk divine but the human Gospel, the Gospel of the Rights of Man -- and after it proclaimed that all men are equal, and that all men are entitled to liberty and equality -- the masses of . . . all the civilized world, awakening gradually from the sleep which had kept them in bondage ever since Christianity drugged them with its opium, began to ask themselves whether they too had the right to equality, freedom, and humanity.

Socialism -- the Explicit Expression of the Hopes Raised by the French Revolution. As soon as this question was posed, the people, guided by their admirable sound sense as well as by their instincts, realized that the first condition of their real emancipation, or of their humanization, must be a radical change in their economic situation. The question of daily bread was, justly, the first question to them, for, as Aristotle noted, man in order to think, to feel himself free, and to become a man, must be freed from the preoccupations of the material life. For that matter, the bourgeois, who are so vociferous in their outcries against the materialism of the people and who preach to the latter the abstinences of idealism, know it very well, for they themselves preach it by word and not by example.

The second question arising for the people is that of leisure after work, an indispensable condition for humanity; but bread and leisure can never be obtained apart from a radical transformation of society, and that explains why the Revolution, driven on by the implications of its own principle, gave birth to Socialism.14