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

Publisher's Preface

Philosophical anarchism is a very old doctrine. One would be tempted to say that it is as old as the idea of government, but clear evidence is lacking which would support such an assertion. Still, we possess texts more than two thousand years old which not only describe human society with- out government, force, and constraining law, but which designate this state of social relations as the ideal of human society. In beautiful, poetic words Ovidius gives a description of the anarchist Utopia. In the first book of his Metamorphoses Ovidius writes about the golden age which was without law and in which, with no one to use compulsion, everyone of his own will kept faith and did the right. There was no fear of punishment, no legal sanctions were engraved on bronze tablets, no mass of supplicants looked, full of fear, upon its avenger, but without judges everyone lived in security. The only difference between the vision of the Roman poet and that of modern philosophical anarchists is that he placed the golden age at.the beginning of human history, whereas they put it at the end.

But Ovidius was not the first inventor of these sentiments. He repeated in his poetry ideas which had been cherished for centuries. Georg Adler, a German social historian, who in 1899 published an exhaustive and well- documented study of the history of socialism, showed that anarchist views were certainly held by Zeno (342 to 270 B.C.), the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy.1 There were doubtless strong anarchist sentiments among many of the early Christian hermits, and in the politico-religious views of some, for example, Karpocrates, and his disciples, (second century A.D.), these feelings seem to have held a strong and perhaps predominant position. Such sentiments lingered on among some of the fundamentalist Christian sects of the Middle Ages and even the modern period.

Max Nettlau, the indefatigable historian of anarchism, also has gone over the field and lists a series of works composed in the two centuries before the French Revolution which contain strong libertarian views or are even outspokenly anarchist.2 Among the most important French works [10] of this period are Etienne de la Boetie's Discours de la servitude volontaire, which was composed about 1550, but remained unpublished until 1577; Gabriel Foigny's Les overtures de Jacques Sadeur dans la decouverte et le voyage de la Terre Australe, which appeared anonymously in 1676; a few short essays by Diderot; and a series of poems, fables, and stories by Sylvain Marechal which saw the light of day in the two decades immediately preceding the Revolution. Similarly, during the same period anarchist ideas can be traced in England, where, as in France, they are expressed usually by representatives of the most radical wing of the rising middle class. Thus anarchist views can be fount! in some of the writings of Winstanley, and it is well-known that the young Burke in his Vindication of Natural Society (1756) presents an ingenious argument in favor of anarchy, even though the work was intended as a satire.

But all these, and many other writings of this earlier period, display one of two characteristics which make them differ profoundly from later anarchist works. They are either openly Utopian as, for example, the books of Foigny or Marechal, or they are political tracts directed against some directly felt abuse by a ruler or a government, or aiming at the attainment of greater freedom of action in a particular political constellation. They contain not infrequently a discussion of political theory, but this is incidental and not the major object of the work.

As a systematic theory, philosophical anarchism may be said to have begun in England with William Godwin's Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, which appeared in 1793. Godwin's anarchism, as well as that of his more immediate predecessors, and of Proudhon some fifty years later, is the political theory of the most radical branch of the small bourgeoisie. In the English Revolution of 1688 and the French Revolution of 1789 the bourgeoisie had broken the monopoly of political power held previously by the crown and the aristocracy. Although post-revolutionary governments were still influenced strongly by the landed nobility and the bureaucracy (which remained, for long, a noblesse de robe), the more powerful and wealthy middle class families gradually became associated by marriage or through political alliances with aristocratic circles; and provided the government abstained from excessive interference in its economic affairs, the haute bourgeoisie was willing to support it. But since it demanded and obtained greater freedom in economic matters, it was instrumental in gradually abolishing or making ineffective the old guild organizations and other protective, quasi-monopolistic associations which had survived from the Middle Ages and which had become a fetter on the full development even of small-scale trade and manufacture. By the end of the eighteenth century in England the manufacturer who had a few hands in his employ, the small shopkeeper, the petty trader, formed a mass of independent entrepreneurs. By the middle of the nineteenth century in France, the artisan and craftsman, the peasant who owned a lot just large enough to [11] support himself and his family, also had acquired the nature of independent small entrepreneurs. All these men had only a puny amount of capital at their disposal; they were exposed to the fresh winds of competition, un- protected by guilds or other cooperative organizations; and were relegated at the same time to a state of political impotence. They received no benefits from the government, and whatever legislation they felt, appeared to be designed for the protection of large-scale property, the safeguarding of accumulated wealth, the maintenance of monopoly rights by the large trading companies, and the support of established economic and political privilege.

The more moderate elements among this group supported the trend towards parliamentary reform, the more radical ones followed Paine and later the Chartists, but a few of the most radical intellectuals held anarchist ideas. The distance between Godwin's anarchism and the liberalism of some of his contemporaries was not very wide. Basically the two doctrines grew out of the same stream of political traditions, and the main difference between them is that anarchism was the more logical and consistent deduction from the common premises of utilitarian psychology and the conception that the greatest happiness of all and mutually harmonious social relations can be achieved only if every person is left free to pursue his self-interest. To be sure, the liberals, following John Locke, regarded property as an outflow of natural right, and hence stipulated the maintenance of a political power monopoly in the hands of the government to safe- guard the security of property and life against internal and external attack. But to this the anarchists replied: The government protects the property of the rich; this property is theft; do away with the government and you'll do away with big landed and industrial property; in this way you'll create an egalitarian society of small, economically self-sufficient producers, a society, moreover, which will be free of privilege, of class distinctions, and in which government will be superfluous because the happiness, the economic security, and the personal freedom of each will be safeguarded without its intervention.

It is of the utmost importance to understand that the anarchist doc- trine as propounded by Godwin, Proudhon, and their contemporaries was the apotheosis of petty bourgeois existence; that its ultimate ideal was the same as that of Voltaire's Candide, to cultivate one's garden; and that it ignored or opposed large scale industrial or agricultural enterprises; and that it, therefore, never became a political theory which could find real sympathy and enthusiastic support among the masses of industrial workers. It was the radical extension of the liberalist doctrine which regarded the freedom of each as the highest political good and the responsible reliance on one's conscience as the highest political duty. It was thus based on a political philosophy which is closely associated with the rise of middle- class, liberal, anti-socialist, political movements. Yet Bakunin, as is well [12] known, regarded himself as a socialist, obtained admission as a leading member to the International Workingmen's Association, struggled for the control of this organization, and counted among his followers and adherents many genuine proletarians.

How and why did anarchism become associated so closely, around the middle of the nineteenth century, with socialism, a political philosophy which championed the aspirations of a different social stratum and which had appeal for so different a class of men? That the bedfellowship between anarchists and socialists was never very happy needs no reiteration. And yet, in spite of repeated conflicts, mutual incriminations, and bitter abuse, anarchists and socialists teamed up with one another again and again, so that by the end of the nineteenth century anarchism was quite commonly regarded as the most radical branch of socialism. The reason for the close association between socialists and anarchists can not be found in the similarity of their basic doctrines, but alone in the revolutionary strategy common to both of them.

The political philosophy of Godwin and Proudhon expressed, as already stated, the aspirations of a part of the petty bourgeoisie. With the consolidation of capitalism in western and central Europe during the nineteenth century, with the slow extension of the suffrage, and with the gradual retreat of unconditional laissez-faire and the adoption by the state of added responsibilities towards its citizens, increasingly larger portions of the middle class became staunch supporters of the existing political order, and anarchism became more and more a philosophy held only by a small marginal group of intellectuals. This development had the result that anarchist theory became more diffuse and at the same time more radical than it had been. Instead of writing fat tomes, as had been the practice of God- win and Proudhon, anarchists turned to writing tracts, pamphlets and news- paper or magazine articles, dealing with questions of the day, points of factional or personal controversy, and problems of revolutionary tactics. Bakunin's often fragmentary writings, the high proportion of manifestoes, proclamations, and open letters among his works, are typical not merely of his personal peculiarities but even more of the great bulk of anarchist publications of his day. What was needed in this situation to save anarchist theory from falling apart completely was the appearance either of a great theorist or of a dynamic, powerful personality who would by the sheer appeal of his own convictions draw together the scattering fragments the movement. This role was played by Bakunin. Although not a theorist of the stature of his great antagonist, Marx, in the fervor of his convictions and the elan with which he expressed them he was superior to the socialist leader.

The importance of Bakunin for modern students of political philosophy thus lies in the crucial position which his works occupy in anarchist and libertarian literature in general. In spite of his frequently unconcealed [13] confusion, in spite of the internal contradictions in his writings, in spite of the fragmentary character of almost his entire literary output, Bakunin must be regarded as the most important anarchist political philosopher . By accident of birth -- both as to time and place -- in consequence of manifold early influences which embrace contact with Slavophilism, Hegelianism, Marxism, and Proudhonism, and last but not least because of his restless, romantic temperament, Bakunin is a man who stands at the crossroads of several intellectual currents, who occupies a position in the history of anarchism at the end of an old and the beginning of a new era. There is none of the ponderous common sense of Godwin, of the ponderous dialectics of Proudhon, of the ponderous thoroughness of Max Stirner in Bakunin's works. Anarchism as a theory of political speculation is gone, and has been reborn as a theory of political action. Bakunin is not satisfied to outline the evils of the existing system, and to describe the general frame- work of a libertarian society, he preaches revolution, he participates in revolutionary activity, he conspires, harangues, propagandizes, forms political action groups, and supports every social upheaval, large or small, promising, or doomed to failure, from its very beginning. And the type of revolt which Bakunin principally considers is the wild Pugachevchina, the unleashing of century-long suppressed peasant masses, who had plundered and destroyed the countryside, but had proven themselves essentially incapable of building up a new and better society. And although Bakunin was not a member of any of the nihilist action groups in Russia or elsewhere, his unconditional partisanship of the revolutionary overthrow of the existing order, provided inspiration for the young men and women who believed in the efficacy of "propaganda by deeds."

With Bakunin there appeared, therefore, two new tendencies in anarchist theory. The doctrine shifted from abstract speculation on the use and abuse of political power to a theory of practical political action. At the same time anarchism ceased to be the political philosophy of the most radical wing of the petty bourgeoisie and became a political doctrine which looked for the mass of its adherents among the workers, and even the lumpenproletariat, although its central cadres continued to be recruited from among the intelligentsia. Without Bakunin anarchist syndicalism, such as existed for a long time notably in Spain, is unthinkable. Without Bakunin, Europe probably never would have witnessed an organized anarchist political movement, such as made itself felt in Italy, France, and Switzerland in the thirty years preceding the first world war. And it was Bakunin's talent for and imagination in "establishing a school of insurrectionary activity which . . . contributed an important influence to the policies of Lenin."3

Bakunin's role in the anarchist tradition may thus be regarded as having consisted in founding a new political party with the program to end all [14] parties and to end all politics, and in having written that new party's pro- gram and its philosophical and general political underpinnings. This is no mean feat in itself, but in view of the peculiar constellation of intellectual and practical political movements which affected Bakunin, his contribution to political theory should be of special interest to students of the history of political and social ideas. In the center of Bakunin's political thought stand two problems which have provided the subject matter for a veritable host of arguments and debates: liberty and violence. The first has been the main concern of philosophical anarchism ever since it originated in human thought, the second was added by Bakunin. The originality of his contribution lies in the weaving together of both themes into a consistent whole.

Unfortunately Bakunin's thought has received very little attention up to the very recent past in the United States. For example the well-known text on the History of Political Theory by George H. Sabine mentions Bakunin only once and even in this place makes no comment on any views professed by him, but merely lists him as an intellectual ancestor of syndicalism. Only a very minute fraction of the original works by Bakunin have so far been available in English translation, and hence his own opinions expressed in his own words are scarcely known to those who do not read foreign languages. But also the Russian, French, German, and Spanish editions of Bakunin's works are not easily available, and there are quite a number of even large libraries in the United States which have only very poor and incomplete collections of Bakuniniana.

The reason for this neglect to make available the works of a doubtless important political thinker in an American edition seems to be threefold. In part, the bad repute anarchism has had in the United States must be made accountable for it. Since it was regarded as a set of beliefs cherished by "criminals" or, at best, lunatics it was not felt necessary to place before American readers the works of a man who was commonly regarded as one of the most important intellectual forebears of this "political lunacy." But we have seen that anarchism did not originate with Bakunin, that it has a long and distinguished history, and that some of its roots -- the quest for human freedom, the postulate of moral self-reliance on one's conscience, the license to use violence against tyranny -- are in the Christian and the Anglo-Saxon radicalist tradition, both of which have had a deep influence on political thought in the United States.

A second reason for the almost complete unavailability of Bakunin's works in English has been the persistence of a one-sided historical account of his conflict with Marx which was built almost into a legend by later followers and disciples of Marx. This incident, the struggle for control of the International Workingmen's Association, is probably the best known episode of Bakunin's life. Unfortunately there exists hardly a single truly objective study of that conflict. The followers of Marx have imputed sometimes the most sinister motives to Bakunin, and the followers of Bakunin, [15] notably James Guillaume, have been inspired by such apparent hatred of Marx that their descriptions of the conflict must be ruled out because of their very obvious bias. The best and most detached history of Bakunin's relations with Marx, that has come to my attention, is the account given by E. H. Carr in his biography of Bakunin. It is not necessary to repeat this account here, even very briefly. In essence the struggle between Bakunin and Marx was one for the control of an organization which had international ramifications and which both believed to be able to attain great influence among large masses of the workers. Since the organization had to have a clear and consistent political program, the struggle was fought with bitterness and use of all the ideological weapons at the disposal of each side. There were denunciations and counter-denunciations, there were castigations of the opponent's character and purity of motives, and since both Marx and Bakunin could be irate, sarcastic, and violent in their use of words, the conflict was hurtful to each side and left a large amount of hatred, suspicion, and bad feeling. Bakunin lost out, but, as is well known, Marx's victory was a Pyrrhic victory. The conflict between the giants had destroyed the International. The posthumous revenge of the Marxist movement, which was infinitely better organized and provided with considerably larger funds than the followers of Bakunin, was the attempt to condemn Bakunin to oblivion. But in doing this it did a disservice even to Karl Marx himself, for he had continued to read Bakunin's writings even after the break, and on the basis of some marginal notes which he made in his copy of Gosudarstvennost i Anarkhiia (Statism and Anarchism) and which were published by Ryazanoff in the second volume (1926) of Letopisi Marksisma, we must conclude that many of Bakunin's ideas exerted a deep and lasting influence on Marx. And although Bakunin's influence on Russian socialism has so far only been partially investigated, there can be no doubt that he must be counted among the intellectual forebears of Lenin's party.

The third reason for the past neglect of bringing out Bakunin's works in the United States must be laid at the very door of Bakunin himself. As already pointed out most of his works are either fragmentary, or deal with political problems of the day or factional disputes. The reader of these works thus is either presented with an incomplete piece and/or has to familiarize himself with a mass of historical detail of the history of radical parties and movements of the nineteenth century to appreciate them fully. Some aid to potential readers of Bakunin has been available since 1937 in the bulky biography, Michael Bakunin, by Edward H. Carr. But the usefulness of Carr's work is strictly limited, since it deals almost exclusively with the factual incidents of Bakunin's life rather than with his ideas. The obvious intention of Carr not to write an intellectual biography of Bakunin is exhibited clearly by the fact that he does not even mention Statism and Anarchism, a book that by some is judged to be Bakunin's greatest and most mature work.

[16] For all these reasons, it appears eminently desirable to let Bakunin speak for himself. But a publication in English of a comprehensive selection of his works in full would have presented insurmountable difficulties. Nothing less than a set of several volumes would have done justice to the voluminous output of Bakunin. Such a procedure would have been clearly impracticable -- however desirable from a purely scholarly standpoint it might have been -- and would probably have delayed for decades, if not forever, the appearance of Bakunin's works in English. Fortunately these difficulties are avoided by the able compilation and systematic presentation of excerpts from Bakunin's works by G. P. Maximoff, which is contained in this volume. Although Bakunin's ideas appear in a much more systematic and logically consistent form than he ever presented them, the advantage of this arrangement is obvious, since much space is saved and yet not merely the gist but the exhaustive grounding of Bakunin's thought is presented. It is believed that this work, therefore, presents at least, in a convenient fashion, the thought of an important political thinker of the nineteenth century, and certainly one of the three or four leading figures in the history of philosophical anarchism.

But there is still another reason why a publication of Bakunin's writings today may be considered timely. The bureaucratic, centralized state is everywhere on the increase. In the Soviet orbit, all personal freedoms, which even in the most democratic periods of those countries had led a very tenuous existence, are suppressed more thoroughly than ever before. In the western world, political freedoms are under attack from many quarters, and the masses, instead of loudly voicing their concern over this trend, appear to become daily more and more inert, with standardized tastes, standardized views, and, one would fear, standardized emotions. The field is wide open for demagogues and charlatans, and although it may still be true that not all the people can be fooled all the rime, very many people apparently have been fooled a very long time. The garrison state of Stalin, on the one hand, and the increasing political apathy of large sections of the popular masses, on the other, have given a new impetus to some men of vision to reflect anew upon some of the principles which had been taken for granted as the foundation of western political thought. The meaning of liberty and the forms and limits of political violence are problems which agitate a good many minds today, just as they did in the days of La Boetie, Diderot, Junius, and Bakunin. In such a situation men like to turn for inspiration or confirmation of their own thought to the work of authors who have struggled with the same or similar problems. The startling and often brilliant insights of Bakunin presented in this volume should be a fruitful source of new ideas for the clarification of the great issues surrounding the problems of freedom and power.

Bert F. Hoselitz


1 Georg Adler, Geschichte des Sozialismus und Kommunismus von Plato bis zur Gegenwart, Leipzig, 1899, pp. 46-51.

2 Mix Nettlau, Der Vorfrühling der Anarchie, Berlin, 192;, pp. 34-66.

3 John Maynard, Russia in Flux, London, 1941, p. 187.