George Woodcock, Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements, 1962, Postscript 1975.
6 The Destructive Urge
Of all the anarchists, Michael Bakunin most consistently lived and looked the part. With Godwin and Stirner and Proudhon there always seems a division between the logical or passionate extremes of thought and the realities of daily life. These men of terror, as their contemporaries saw them, would emerge from their studies and become transformed into the pedantic ex-clergyman, the brow-beaten teacher of young ladies, the former artisan -- proud of his fine printing -- who turns out to be a model family father. This does not mean that any of them was fundamentally inconsistent; both Godwin and Proudhon showed exemplary courage in defying authority when their consciences called them to do so, but their urge to rebellion seemed almost completely fulfilled by their literary activity, and in action their unconventionality rarely exceeded the milder degrees of eccentricity.
Bakunin, on the other hand, was monumentally eccentric, a rebel who in almost every act seemed to express the most forceful aspects of anarchy. He was the first of a long line of aristocrats to join the anarchist cause, and he never lost an inherited grace of manner which he combined with an expansive Russian bonhomie and an instinctive defiance of every bourgeois convention. Physically, he was gigantic, and the massive unkemptness of his appearance would impress an audience even before he began to win its sympathies with his persuasive oratory. All his appetites -- with the sole exception of the sexual -- were enormous; he talked the nights through, he read omnivorously, he drank brandy like wine, he smoked 1,600 cigars in a single month of imprisonment in Saxony, and he ate so voraciously that a sympathetic Austrian jail commandant felt moved to allot him double rations. He had virtually no sense of property or material security; for a whole generation he lived on the gifts and loans of friends and admirers, gave as generously as he received, and took literally no thought for the morrow. He was intelligent, learned, yet naive; spontaneous,
kind, yet cunning; loyal to the last degree, yet so imprudent that he constantly led his friends into unnecessary danger. Insurrectionary and conspirator, organizer and propagandist, he was an energumen of revolutionary enthusiasm. He could inspire other men freely with his ideals and lead them willingly to action on the barricades or in the conference hall.
Yet there were times when all this vast and restless activity took on the appearance of a great game of prolonged childhood, and times also when Bakunin's extremities of act and speech produced passages of pure comedy that make him seem the caricature rather than the example of an anarchist. One catches glimpses of him parading the streets of a Swiss city unconvincingly disguised as an Anglican clergyman; naively posting ciphered letters with the code enclosed in the same envelope; genially bluffing chance acquaintances with tales of enormous and totally imaginary secret armies at his command. It is hard always to deny the justice of the portrait that E. H. Carr traced so ironically in the only English biography of Bakunin.
But Bakunin remains too solid a figure to be dismissed as a mere eccentric. If he was a fool, he was one of Blake's fools who attain wisdom by persisting in folly, and there was enough greatness in him -- and also enough appropriateness to his time -- to make him one of the most influential men in the general revolutionary tradition as well as in the particular history of anarchism. He became so by his failures as much as by his triumphs, and his failures were many.
He failed, to begin, where most of the great anarchists have succeeded -- as a writer. Though he scribbled copiously, he did not leave a single completed book to transmit his ideas to posterity. He had, as he once admitted to Herzen, no sense of literary architecture, and also little staying power, so that whatever he wrote soon lost its original direction and was usually abandoned. His best essays are short pieces produced for special occasions, with all the weaknesses of topical literature. Nor are the ideas one can cull from his writings very original, except when he talks of the organization of revolutions; otherwise he says little that is not derived in some way from Hegel or Marx, from Comte or Proudhon.
His admirers, admitting the thinness of his literary and theoretical claims, have usually countered with the contention that Bakunin was really significant as a man of action. Yet even his actions, dramatic as they were, often seem singularly ineffectual. He was involved in more pointless plots and more forlorn hopes than most other revolutionaries in an age peculiarly given to such ventures. He arrived too late for the active phase of the only successful uprising of his life, the February Revolution of 1848 in Paris; the five other insurrections, spread over the map of Europe, in which he took a leading part, were all either heroic disasters or comic fiascos. The secret societies he loved to invent were stillborn or expired early from internal dissensions. And at the end of it all he died a lonely man, out of the struggle to which he had devoted his life and deserted by his own anarchist followers.
But in compensation for his weaknesses, Bakunin had the virtues of dedication and insight, and these led to his important achievements. He saw, more clearly than even Proudhon, that by the 1860s the time had come when anarchist theories could be used as the means for activating the discontent of working men and peasants in the Latin countries. This realization led him into the First International, and there he clearly perceived the authoritarian implications of Marxist socialism. It was in the conflict between Bakunin and Marx within the International that the irreconcilable differences between the libertarian and the authoritarian conceptions of socialism were first developed, and in this struggle the faction that Bakunin led gradually shaped itself into the nucleus of the historic anarchist movement. The years of his connexion with the International are those to which Bakunin owes his lasting significance; without them he would have been merely the most colourful of a host of eccentric revolutionaries who filled the exile centres of Switzerland and England during the middle decades of the nineteenth century.
Like so many of the anarchists, Bakunin was by birth and upbringing a man of the country. He was born in 1814 on the estate of Premukhino in the Russian province of Tver, where his father, Alexander Bakunin, was a cautious liberal of the eighteenth-century school, a man of scholarship, and an
amateur poet; he had been in Paris during the French Revolution, and had taken his Doctorate of Philosophy at Padua. His wife, Varvara, was a member of the influential Muraviev family; three of her cousins, whom Michael Bakunin knew as
boy, were involved in the earliest of Russian revolutions, the Decembrist mutiny of the constitutionalists in 1825. The family was large; the ten children formed a closely knit and affectionate group, so that in his years of exile Bakunin would look back on the happiness of his childhood with the kind of romantic nostalgia which one finds so often in the memoirs of Russian aristocrats born in the early nineteenth century.
Life at Premukhino was almost Spartanly simple, but, since Alexander Bakunin was a disciple of Rousseau, the education of his children was well cared for, and in those early years Michael learned the languages -- French and German, English and Italian -- which were later so useful in his career as an international revolutionary. At that time it was almost obligatory for a Russian gentleman to spend at least part of his life either in the army or the bureaucracy, and Michael, as the eldest son, was sent to the Artillery School in St Petersburg. He was a reluctant student, but he finally received his commission and was sent to serve on garrison duty in the remote Lithuanian countryside. Boredom, resentment of discipline, and a suddenly awakened love of books made him discontented with military life, and the next year he went home, malingered convincingly, and managed to get himself discharged. A couple of months later he was in Moscow, where he met Nicholas Stankevich, the first of the men who were to help him on his path to revolution.
It was the period when the young intellectuals of Russia were beginning to respond to the influences that percolated through the barriers of censorship from western Europe. Literary romanticism, German metaphysics, French social thought -- all found their converts in the circles of Moscow and St Petersburg literati. Around Stankevich gathered the disciples of Hegel; around Herzen those who were fascinated by the socialistic doctrines of Fourier, Saint-Simon, and Proudhon. Bakunin followed Stankevich, and when the latter left Russia he became by sheer force of personality the leader of the Moscow Hegelians. In Russia his Hegelianism remained orthodox
and authoritarian, and, in spite of his recurrent rebellion against family authority, he remained surprisingly loyal to the Tsarist regime. He was already on friendly, borrowing terms with Herzen, but there is no evidence that at this time he was in any way influenced by the socialistic ideas of the future editor of The Bell.
It is this indifference to radical ideas during his Moscow years that gives Bakunin's change of attitude after he left Russia in 1840 the dramatic quality of an emotional conversion. Already he had experienced an intense romantic malaise, a sense of spiritual claustrophobia that afflicted many Russians in his time, and by 1839 he felt that his very existence as a thinking being depended on gaining access to sources of knowledge cut off from, him by the circumstances of Tsarist society, 'I cannot remain a moment longer,' he cried out in frustration to his sisters, and in his imagination Berlin became a philosophical Mecca. In the first of many such letters, he asked Herzen for a substantial loan to pay for his escape. 'I expect from this journey a rebirth and a spiritual baptism,' he told him. 'I sense so many deep and great possibilities within myself and up to now I have realized so little.' Herzen provided the loan and accompanied the borrower to the wharf on the Neva from which he sailed.
For almost two years in Germany Bakunin remained the enthusiastically searching student, exploring the intellectual circles and the bohemian society of Berlin; his closest companion was Ivan Turgenev, who later enshrined him in literature as the model for Rudin, the hero of his first novel. Bakunin still had academic ambitions and he saw himself as a future professor of philosophy at Moscow University.
But the change that heralded his expected rebirth was already taking place within him. He moved uneasily from philosopher to philosopher. He thought with increasing repugnance of leaving the mental freedom of Europe for the intellectual darkness of Russia. He began to find even Berlin irksome, and toward the end of 1841 he made a trip to Dresden which unexpectedly became a turning-point in his life, for there he met the unlikely man who began his conversion.
Arnold Ruge has already appeared as a rather pompous
minor actor in the lives of Proudhon and Stirner. He was one of the leading Young Hegelians, who had turned Hegel's doctrine against the Master by their claims that the dialectical method could be used to prove that everything is in flux and that therefore revolution is more real than reaction. Bakunin immediately immersed himself in the writings of these unorthodox philosophers, and completed his conversion to the social revolutionary ideal by reading Lorenz von Stein's Socialism and Communism in Contemporary France, which appeared in 1841. The doctrines of Fourier and Proudhon, which Bakunin had ignored when Herzen was propagating them in Moscow, now seemed to offer, as he recollected in later years, 'a new world into which I plunged with all the ardour of a delirious thirst'.
He celebrated his conversion by writing and publishing in Ruge's Deutsche Jahrbücher, under the nom de plume Jules Elysard, his first and one of his most important essays, Reaction in Germany. For the most part it is a typical Young Hegelian attempt to present Hegel's doctrine as basically one of revolution, but there is a true Bakuninist feeling in the apocalyptic tone and the emphasis on destruction as the necessary prelude to creation. Revolution in the present is negative, Bakunin asserts, but when it triumphs it will automatically become positive; a tone of religious exaltation comes into his voice as he describes this desired end to the revolutionary process. 'There will be a qualitative transformation, a new living, life-giving revelation, a new heaven and a new earth, a young and mighty world in which all our present dissonances will be resolved into a harmonious whole.' He ends with the peroration that has become the most familiar of Bakunin quotations:
Let us put our trust in the eternal spirit which destroys and annihilates only because it is the unsearchable and eternally creative source of all life. The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.
Bakunin does not yet appear as an anarchist, for he has no developed social vision to support his instinctive rebellion against whatever is established and seems permanent. Yet in Reaction in Germany he makes his first statement of perpetual revolt, and places an emphasis on the destructive element in
the revolutionary process that will colour all his changing viewpoints until it becomes one of the leading elements in his own version of anarchism.
This was a time of successive influences. In Zurich a year later Bakunin met the German communist Wilhelm Weitling. Weitling, like Proudhon, was a self-taught working man, a tailor who had been involved in one of Blanqui's Parisian uprisings during the 1830s, and was now forming secret societies among Swiss working men who would listen to his preaching of a revolution carried out with merciless violence and leading paradoxically to an idyllic Utopian world. Weitling was the first militant revolutionary Bakunin had encountered, and it was his example that turned the young Russian from a theoretical into a practical rebel. More than that, Weitling had one phrase which seemed to answer the social problem so simply that it lodged in Bakunin's mind like a potent seed. 'The perfect society had no government, but only an administration, no laws, but only obligations, no punishments, but means of correction.' Weitling was in his own way a primitive anarchist, inconsistently mingling Proudhonism with a taste for conspiratorial organization which he had acquired from Blanqui. It was a combination Bakunin himself was to repeat on a far more dramatic scale than Weitling ever attained.
To some extent Bakunin seems to have become involved in Weitling's secret activities, and this initiation into practical revolutionism became also an initiation into exile. When Weitling was arrested and expelled from Switzerland Bakunin's name appeared compromisingly in his papers; it was mentioned publicly in a report on communist activities issued by the Zurich cantonal authorities. The Russian embassy notified St Petersburg, and Bakunin was summoned home to explain his conduct. He refused, and was condemned in absentia to indefinite exile with hard labour in Siberia.
His road now led almost inevitably to Paris, which was still, despite the Orleans regime, the Rome of revolutionary idealists. There he met many celebrated rebels; Marx and Lelewel, George Sand and Pierre Leroux, Cabet and Lamennais, and most important and congenial, Proudhon. With Proudhon, who differed from other French socialists in his Jurassic bluntness
and his openness of mind, Bakunin talked the nights away, unravelling Hegelian intricacies over endless glasses of tea; and in these discussions which lasted till the dawn his amorphous revolutionism received its first shaping. 'Proudhon is the master of us all,' he was to declare long afterward when the mantle of leading anarchist had fallen on his own shoulders, and, despite the fact that he disagreed with Proudhon on vital points of revolutionary action and rejected both his defence of individual possession and his ideas of mutual banking, he never ceased to regard him as an authentic revolutionary and the best of all socialist philosophers.
Yet in the years that followed immediately it was not the Proudhonian doctrine, or even socialism in a general sense that dominated Bakunin's activities. Rather it was a concern for the fate of his fellow Slavs, still subjected to the autocrats of Russia, Austria, and Turkey. His attention turned first toward the Poles, who in the mid nineteenth century peculiarly symbolized for the democrats of western Europe the plight of subjected nationalities -- and this in spite of the fact that the adherence of the Polish nationalists to democratic principles was, to say the least, suspect. In 1846 there were small risings in the parts of Poland occupied by Prussia and Austria; their suppression caused a wave of sympathy that carried Bakunin on its crest. In November 1847 he made his first public speech at a Paris banquet attended by 1,500 Polish refugees. He chose as his theme the alliance of Poland and the 'real' Russia, as distinct from 'official Russia', and for the first time he enunciated the key theme of the middle period of his life -- the union in rebellion of the Slav peoples and the consequent regeneration of Europe.
The reconciliation of Russia and Poland is a great cause [he declared]. It means the liberation of sixty million souls, the liberation of all the Slav peoples who groan under a foreign yoke. It means, in a word, the fall, the irretrievable fall, of despotism in Europe.
A few days later, on the complaint of the Russian ambassador, Bakunin was deported to Belgium. But little more than two months afterward he returned, as the Citizen King fled in the opposite direction from the February Revolution. Bakunin
walked over the border and reached Paris as soon as the disrupted railway system would allow him. He lodged among the working-class National Guard who occupied the barracks in the rue Tournon, and spent his days and a large part of his nights in a fever of excitement and activity.
I breathed through all my senses and through all my pores the intoxication of the revolutionary atmosphere [he recollected later in the forced tranquillity of a prison cell]. It was a holiday without beginning and without end. I saw everyone and I saw no one, for each individual was lost in the same innumerable and wandering crowd. I spoke to all I met without remembering either my own words or those of others, for my attention was absorbed at every step by new events and objects and by unexpected news.
But Bakunin's was an exaltation that fed on action -- and there was no action. In Paris the revolutionary wave was already beginning to ebb. Yet hope was in the general European air. One kingdom had fallen; the rest were threatened. Only the Russian Empire still reigned untroubled, and it was natural that Bakunin should think of carrying the sacred fire to his own country. Russia's weak spot was Poland, and it was here that Bakunin decided to start his activities. He borrowed 2,000 francs from the French Provisional Government, and set off on what was to become a sensational odyssey.
His first destination was the Grand Duchy of Posen, in the Prussian-dominated sector of Poland. The Prussian police intercepted him in Berlin, and pointedly suggested he might do better in Breslau, where the Polish refugees were gathering in the hope of provoking risings in Austrian and Russian Poland. But Breslau was a disappointment. The Poles were disorganized and divided; the only feeling that seemed to unite them was a distrust of Bakunin, about whom the Tsarist agents were spreading a rumour that he was one of their own spies. Then the news reached him that the Czech National Committee was assembling a Slav Congress. As he set off for Prague, his hopes of a revolutionary union of the oppressed Slav peoples rose again, only to be submerged in the intrigues of the actual assembly. The southern Slavs looked to Tsarist Russia as their saviour from the Turks; many of the Czechs and Croats nursed the hope of replacing the Germans as the master race of the
Hapsburg Empire. Only a tiny group of delegates showed any sympathy for Bakunin's pan-Slavist revolutionism; imitating Weitling, he tried to form them into a secret society.
But if Bakunin found few comrades in the Congress, he found many in the uprising that broke out on its last day, when some Prague students and workers raised the barricades in the name of Czech freedom. The Bakunin legend credits him -- doubtless apocryphally -- with having started the rising by firing at Austrian troops from the windows of the Blue Star Hotel; he was certainly in his element when the fighting actually began, giving military advice to the insurgents and fighting in the ranks at the barricades. The rebels held out for five days; at the end Bakunin slipped through the Austrian ranks and found his way to the Duchy of Anhalt, an island of liberalism in a Germany fast retreating into reaction after the first enthusiasm of 1848.
In Anhalt Bakunin wrote his Appeal to the Slavs, the major document of his nationalistic period. He called for the destruction of the Austrian Empire, for a great federation of all Slavs. He prophesied a messianic role for the Russian people, and saw his fatherland as the key to the worldwide destruction of oppression. Now, indeed, one sees a bitter irony in his half-fulfilled prophecy that 'the star of revolution will rise high and independent above Moscow from a sea of blood and fire, and will turn into the lodestar to lead a liberated humanity'.
Already for Bakunin nationalist revolutions had internationalist implications, and he went further on the path toward anarchism by declaring that such movements could only succeed if they incorporated the social revolution. In the most significant passage of the Appeal we find a strong influence of Proudhon, but it is a Proudhonianism impregnated with Bakunin's personal mystique of destruction.
The great questions were posed from the first days of the spring ; the social question and that of the independence of all nations, the emancipation of peoples internally and externally at once. It was not a few individuals, nor was it a party, but the admirable instinct of the masses which raised these two questions above all others and demanded their prompt solution. The whole world understood that liberty was only a lie where the great majority
of the population is condemned to lead a poverty-stricken existent and where, deprived of education, of leisure and of bread, it is destined to serve as a stepping stone for the powerful and the rich. Thus the social revolution presented itself as a natural and necessary consequence of the political revolution. At the same time, it was felt that while there is a single persecuted nation in Europe the complete and decisive triumph of democracy will be possible nowhere.... We must first of all purify our atmosphere and transform completely the surroundings in which we live, for they corrupt our instincts and our wills, they constrict our hearts and our intelligences. Therefore the social question appears first of all as the overthrow of society.
Such ideas of the primacy of the social revolution, the indivisibility of liberty (with its implied rejection of Stirner's individualism), the need for a complete breakdown of society in order to start anew, were to be incorporated into Bakunin's later anarchist doctrine of the 1860s, as were certain other aspects of the Appeal to the Slavs, such as the emphasis on the revolutionary role of the peasants and the rejection of parliamentary democracy. Here, however, we reach dubious ground, since in 1848 Bakunin had not developed his later conceptions of libertarian organization; his rejection of the bourgeois state at this time was not incompatible with the vision of a revolutionary dictatorship which haunts the whole of his pan-Slavic period. As he afterward confessed, he thought during 1848 of a secret organization of conspirators which would continue after the revolution and would constitute 'the revolutionary hierarchy'; as late as 1860 he was still talking to Herzen of 'an iron dictatorship aiming at the emancipation of the Slavs'.
However, it was not the liberation of the Slavs that provoked the most epic passage of Bakunin's early manhood; it was, ironically, the defence of the Germans, whom he regarded as conservators of the spirit of reaction. In March 1849 the people of Dresden rose in support of the Frankfurt constitution for a federated democratic Germany, which had been rejected by the King of Saxony. Bakunin happened to be in the city, engaged in attempts to foment unrest in Bohemia. He had no sympathy for the bourgeois democratic aims of the Saxon insurgents; they were neither Slavs nor social revolutionaries. But their enemies, the kings of Saxony and Prussia, were his
enemies too, and when Richard Wagner persuaded him to visit the rebel headquarters he could not resist the impulse to take part in the struggle, just because it was a struggle. He fought and organized with disinterested enthusiasm, and he was captured after the defeat of the revolution when he was retreating with a few other survivors to Chemnitz, where he had hoped to carry on the rebellion.
Now began a long pilgrimage of agony. The Saxons kept him in prison for a year and condemned him to death. After a tardy reprieve, they handed him over to the Austrians, who kept him another eleven months, chained most of the time to a dungeon wall in the fortress of Olmütz; again he was condemned to death, reprieved, and handed over, this time to the Russians. In his own country there was not even the pretence of a trial; he had been sentenced years ago, and he disappeared without formality into the Peter-and-Paul fortress.
For six years Bakunin remained in prison. His teeth fell out from scurvy; he became bloated and unkempt. His only contact with the outside world happened on the rare occasions when members of his family were allowed to visit him; solitude and inaction ate deeply into the spirit of this active and gregarious man, but they neither broke his will nor destroyed his mind.
Prison has been good for me [he said in one note which he passed secretly to his sister Tatiana]. It has given me leisure and the habit of reflection, it has, so to speak, consolidated my spirit. But it has changed none of my old sentiments; on the contrary, it has made them more ardent, more absolute than ever, and henceforward all that remains to me of life can be summed up in one word: liberty.
It is the sentiment of this secret letter, clearly springing from Bakunin's heart, that we must remember in considering the one piece of writing he was allowed to produce during his imprisonment, the celebrated Confession which he wrote at the request of the Tsar and which was found in the archives of the political police after the Russian Revolution. A confession from Bakunin to the Tsar, humbly begging forgiveness for his sins against the autocracy! It became the delight of Bakunin's enemies, and aroused consternation among his admirers.
Yet a glance at the circumstances and at the Confession itself
goes very far to excuse Bakunin. It must be remembered that, unlike the Russian revolutionaries of later generations who performed acts of heroic resistance in the prisons and fortresses of Russia, Bakunin had no sense of belonging to a movement he must not betray. So far as he knew, he stood alone, the only revolutionary existing in Russia -- and existing, moreover, unknown to anyone but his jailers and their masters. As for the Confession, it is by no means the abject document which the Tsar doubtless expected and which Bakunin perhaps intended to write as a cunning deception aimed at securing the transfer to Siberia which he desired. Much of it is a vivid description of his activities, impressions, and plans during the revolutionary years of 1848 and 1849. He asks to be pardoned for these, but he negates his apologies by passages in which he maintains that Russia is a land of greater oppression than any other in Europe and in which he defiantly refuses to name his accomplices in revolutionary activity. Nicholas read the Confession with great interest and sent it on to the Tsarevitch with the remark that it was worth reading and 'very curious and instructive'. But he understood, more clearly than those who have self-righteously condemned Bakunin, the defiant passages which revealed that the sinner had not repented in his heart. He decided to leave Bakunin rotting in his cell, and it was not until 1857, after extraordinary efforts on the part of the prisoner's highly placed relatives, that Alexander II finally agreed to offer him the alternative of exile.
The four years in Siberia were almost happy in comparison with those in prison. Bakunin was readily accepted in the societies of Tomsk and Irkutsk, where political exiles formed an unofficial intellectual aristocracy. He married a pretty, empty-headed Polish girl; he tried to persuade the Governor, his cousin Muraviev-Amurski, to become the dictator of a revolutionary Russia; and he never for a day allowed the idea of escape to pass out of his mind. To this end he gained employment as a merchant's agent; this allowed him to travel, and at last, in 1861, when the Governor who replaced Muraviev turned out to be another family connexion, he got permission to make a journey down the Amur. A series of lucky coincidences and clever deceptions enabled him to board an Amercan
ship off Nikolayevsk; from that point he was free, returning via Japan, San Francisco, and New York to London, and bursting in on Herzen's Paddington home full of enthusiasm for the revolutionary cause. While his body had aged appallingly, prison and exile had preserved his spirit as the Siberian frost preserves the flesh of the mammoth; he had lived in a mental state of suspended animation, immune from the disillusionments that free men had suffered in the intervening years.
The European reaction [said Herzen], did not exist for Bakunin; the bitter years from 1848 to 1858 did not exist for him either; of them he had but a brief, far-away, faint knowledge. ... The events of 1848, on the contrary, were all about him, near to his heart... they were all still ringing in his ears and hovering before his eyes.
His very theories had stood still in those twelve years of detachment, and he came back as fervent as on the day of his arrest for the Polish cause, and the federation of all Slavs, and the social revolution which would be the condition and the crown of both. It seemed natural at first that he should take his place beside Herzen in directing the propaganda for a liberal Russia which was being conducted through The Bell. But differences of personality and opinion soon divided them. Herzen in his own way was near to the anarchism which Bakunin was now approaching; he detested the state, despised Western democracies, and saw the salvation of Europe in the Russian peasant and his communal way of living. But he had not Bakunin's burning faith in violence and destruction, and temperamentally he was too pessimistic to expect anything more revolutionary in Russia than a constitutional government. He also distrusted the Poles and their particular brand of expansive nationalism. Consequently the partnership lasted uneasily for a few months, and then Bakunin withdrew to concentrate on his own grandiose plans.
'I am busy solely with the Polish, Russian, and pan-Slav cause,' he told one of his correspondents. He became aware that in the 1860s, unlike the 1840s, there were actually revolutionaries in Russia itself. The most active had formed secret societies like Land and Liberty, and with their representatives he established rather loose contacts. But his efforts to unite all
the elements of Slav rebellion into a single pan-Slavist movement were unsuccessful, and were broken off by the Polish insurrection of 1863.
As an old hero of the barricades, Bakunin felt that he could not absent himself from the scene of action, and he doubtless had Garibaldi's successful invasion of Sicily in mind when he decided to join an expedition of two hundred Poles which had chartered a British ship to take them from Stockholm to Lithuania, where they hoped to raise the people and form a rebel force to attack the Russian army on the flank. The plan was quixotic enough in any case; given the personalities and the monstrous indiscretions of Bakunin and his Polish associates it became a ludicrous fiasco which ended when the British captain, fearful of Russian cruisers, landed the mutually accusatory legion back in Sweden. It brought an end to Bakunin's illusions about the Polish nationalists and a rapid fading of his pan-Slavist enthusiasms. At the end of 1863 he left London for Italy and the last phase of his career.
In Italy Bakunin found his second home. The easy-going mercurial Italian temperament appealed to him, and he moved into a society where regional loyalties and a love of conspiracy congenially flourished. The waters in which he prepared to fish were troubled by growing discontent, not merely with the Savoy monarchy, but also with the republican nationalist movement that centred around Mazzini. The discontent was demonstrative among the intellectuals, but it reflected the abiding, inarticulate resentment of the Italian poor, to whom political liberation had brought very little relief. The time had come when a social revolutionary appeal might draw a wide response from almost every class in Italy, and over the remaining years of the 1860s Bakunin was to exploit these opportunities, and to found in Italy the early organizations out of which the anarchist movement evolved.
He settled first in Florence, where letters of recommendation from Garibaldi gave him entry into republican circles. His house quickly became a gathering place for revolutionaries of all countries, from among whom he founded his first secret Brotherhood, which has remained a historically nebulous organization. Bakunin apparently conceived it as an order of
disciplined militants devoted to propagating the social revolution; an Italian teacher named Gubernatis, who belonged to it for a short period, estimated the membership at thirty. Even at this time Bakunin seems to have had ambitions to create an international movement, for the great French geographer Elisee Reclus attended one of the Florentine meetings and later claimed that as early as the autumn of 1864 he and Bakunin were making plans for an International Brotherhood.
What happened to the Florentine Brotherhood is not clearly known, though Gubernatis claimed that it was dissolved before Bakunin left the city for Naples in the early summer of 1865. In the south he found a more responsive environment, and several of the Italians whose acquaintance he made at this time -- Giuseppe Fanelli, Saverio Friscia, and Alberto Tucci -- were eventually to become devoted Bakuninist propagandists. Here his International Brotherhood was founded; by the summer of 1866 it had recruited a following and achieved a certain complexity of organization, at least on paper. Its various documents, particularly the Revolutionary Catechism which Bakunin wrote for its members, suggest that he and his followers were taking the finals steps toward an anarchist viewpoint. The Brotherhood opposed authority, the state, and religion; it stood for federalism and communal autonomy; it accepted socialism on the grounds that labour 'must be the unique base of human right and the economic organization of the state'; it declared that the social revolution could not be achieved by peaceful means.
In its organization, however, the International Brotherhood planned a hierarchical structure and laid a most unlibertarian emphasis on internal discipline. At the summit of the hierarchy would stand the International Family, an aristocracy of tried militants from all countries who would make plans for revolution. The rank and file of the Brotherhood would belong to the National Families, whose members would owe unconditional obedience to the national juntas.
To assess the actual scope of the Brotherhood one has to balance Bakunin's optimism and love of mystification with the external evidence. Writing to Herzen in July 1866, Bakunin boasted:
At present we have adherents in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, England, Belgium, France, Spain, and Italy. We also have some Polish friends and we even count some Russians among us. The majority of the Mazzinian organizations of southern Italy, of the Falanga Sacra, have come over to us. In southern Italy, especially, the lower classes are coming to us en masse, and it is not the raw material we lack so much as the educated and intelligent men who act honestly and who are capable of giving a form to this material.
In fact, most of the support Bakunin claimed appears to have been imaginary. One finds no evidence elsewhere of mass desertions from the Mazzinian ranks, and the only active sections of the International Brotherhood that can be identified are two small Sicilian groups and the Central Committee of Bakunin and his friends in Naples. As for the non-Italian adherents, apart from a few Russians and Polish refugees in Naples, Elisee Reclus remains the only one who can be identified with any certainty in 1866, though Emil Vogt and Caesar de Paepe were recruited in 1867.
Later on I intend to discuss how these scanty beginnings of the International Brotherhood led to the vigorous Italian anarchist movement of the 1870s. Here I am concerned with Bakunin's own career and in that connexion the International Brotherhood is important because it prompted him, through the writing of such documents as the Revolutionary Catechism to clarify the final stages of his progress toward genuine anarchism; it also gave him practical experience in building an organization, and brought him into contact with some of the men who became his active associates in the great struggle within the International.
It was not, however, the International that next attracted Bakunin's attention, but a Congress to be held in Geneva during September 1867 under the auspices of an international committee of liberals, to discuss 'the maintenance of liberty, justice and peace' in a Europe menaced by conflict between Prussia and Imperial France. The non-revolutionary character of| the enterprise was suggested by the very names of its sponsors, who included John Bright and John Stuart Mill, but to Bakunin it seemed to provide an excellent chance to bring his campaign
out of the underground darkness of conspiratorial groups and into the open arena of public discussion.
Bakunin's exploits in 1848, his imprisonment, his escape from Siberia, had made him a legendary figure in western Europe, and his appearance at the Congress for Peace and Freedom -- his first public appearance since the Prague conference eighteen years before -- aroused the most active interest. He was elected to the executive committee, and as he walked up to take his place on the platform -- a shambling, prematurely aged man, dressed carelessly and none too cleanly -- Garibaldi strode forward to embrace him, and the six thousand delegates, shouting his name from row to row, rose spontaneously to applaud this seasoned hero of the cause of freedom.
The warmth of this welcome was soon tempered, since Bakunin's views on almost every subject were too extreme for the liberal majority of the Congress. He developed the federalist viewpoint in an almost orthodoxly Proudhonian manner, but aroused considerable opposition because he could not resist a destructionist tone.
Universal peace will be impossible [he declared], so long as the present centralized states exist We must desire their destruction in order that, on the ruins of these forced unions organized from above by right of authority and conquest, there may arise free unions organized from below by the free federations of communes into provinces, of provinces into nations, and of nations into the United States of Europe.
However, enough of the first-day glamour remained in the minds of the delegates to elect Bakunin to the central committee of the League which the Congress founded, and he dominated this smaller body as it prepared its reports for the second Congress in 1868. For the benefit of his colleagues he composed a vast thesis, which was later published under the title of Federalism, Socialism and Anti-Theologism. The section dealing with federalism was again based on Proudhon's ideas, and Proudhon also partly dominated the section on socialism, which emphasized the class structure of contemporary society and the irreconcilability of the interests of capitalists and workers. Bakunin defined his socialist attitude in the following terms:
What we demand is the proclamation anew of this great principle of the French Revolution: that every man must have the material and moral means to develop all his humanity, a principle which, according to us, is to be translated into the following problem: To organize society in such a fashion that every individual, man or woman, coming into life, shall find as nearly as possible equal means for the development of his or her different faculties and for their utilization by his or her labour; to organize a society which, rendering for every individual, whoever he may be, the exploitation of anybody else impossible, permits each to participate in social wealth
-- which, in reality, is never produced otherwise than by labour --
only in so far as he has contributed to produce it by his own labour.
The final clause, which I have italicized, indicates that here too Bakunin stands with Proudhon. Unlike the anarchist communists of the 1880s, he believed not in the maxim, 'From each according to his means, to each according to his needs', but in the radically different formula, 'From each according to his means, to each according to his deeds.' The ancient curse of Adam -- 'In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread' -- still lay upon the world of Bakunin's vision; the saintly optimism of the Kropotkins and the Malatestas was needed to remove it
Yet, while Bakunin was not in Kropotkinian terms a communist, he differed from Proudhon in taking association, which Proudhon had accepted unwillingly as a means of dealing with large-scale industry, and turning it into a central principle of economic organization. The group of workers, the collectivity, takes the place of the individual worker as the basic unit of social organization. With Bakunin the main stream of anarchism parts from individualism, even in its mitigated Proudhonian form; later, during the sessions of the International, the collectivist followers of Bakunin were to oppose the mutualist followers of Proudhon -- the other heirs of anarchy -- over the question of property and possession.
Bakunin did not convert the League's central committee to his full programme, but he did persuade them to accept a remarkably radical recommendation to the Berne Congress of September 1868, demanding economic equality and implicitly attacking authority in both Church and State. But the Congress itself rejected the recommendation by a majority which made
it clear that Bakunin could achieve little through the League in the direction of promoting social revolution. At the end of the Congress he and seventeen of his associates formally withdrew from the organization; as well as his three close Italian supporters, Fanelli, Tucci, and Friscia, they included several other men who later played important parts in anarchist history, notably Elisee Reclus, the Russian Zhukovsky, and the Lyons weaver Albert Richard. They were a substantial proportion of the hundred delegates who represented the already moribund League, and from among them Bakunin recruited the nucleus of his next organization.
This was the celebrated International Alliance of Social Democracy. The Alliance did not at once supersede the International Brotherhood, which survived as a kind of shadow organization of Bakunin's intimates until its dissolution in 1869, but it did take over on an international scale the function of an open propaganda organization allotted to the National Families in the original plan of the Brotherhood. A loosening of the hierarchical principle appeared in the plan of organization; like later anarchist federations, the Alliance was to consist of more or less autonomous groups united in each country by National Bureaux. The programme also was more explicitly anarchistic than that of the International Brotherhood, and in some respects it showed the influence of the International Workingmen's Association, of which Bakunin had become an individual member two months before he left the League for Peace and Freedom. Federalism was stressed more strongly than before -- the programme called for the complete breakdown of national states and their replacement by a worldwide 'union of free associations, agricultural and industrial' -- and the economic and social aims of the Alliance are summed up concisely in the following paragraph:
It [the Alliance] desires above all the definitive and entire abolition of classes and the political, economic, and social equalization of the two sexes, and, to arrive at this end, it demands first of all the abolition of the right of inheritance, so that in the future each man's enjoyment shall be equal to his production, and so that, in conformity with the decision taken by the most recent congress of workers in Brussels, the land and the instruments of work, like all
other capital, may be utilized only by agricultural and industrial
Until the advent of the anarchist communists this was
remain, broadly speaking, the programme of the anarchist
How far Bakunin thought the Social-Democratic Alliance| might have a life of its own, and how far he planned it as the Trojan horse that would allow him to lead an army of anarchists into the heart of the International, it is now difficult to determine. However, in view of the efforts that were made to establish organs of the Alliance in various countries, and its| success in comparison with Bakunin's earlier organizations, it seems very unlikely that he regarded it merely as a temporary front organization. Fanelli went off to Spain in November 1868 and founded branches in Barcelona and Madrid. Other sections were formed in Lyons, Marseilles, Naples and Sicily. The principal section, however, was in Geneva, where the Central Bureau also functioned, under the personal leadership of Bakunin. Thus the Alliance was spread extremely thinly over the Latin countries, but unlike the Brotherhoods, it did have a real life beyond Bakunin's immediate personal circle. All the evidence suggests that its formation was taken very seriously by Bakunin and his most important associates, and that they hoped for its continued existence as an anarchistic body enjoying a certain autonomy within the First International, and acting as a kind of radical ginger group, a dedicated legion of 'propagandists, apostles, and, finally, organizers', as Bakunin called them.
It was with this in mind that the Alliance formally sought admission as a body into the International. John Becker, a German socialist who had been a Garibaldian colonel, was chosen to transmit the request, perhaps because Marx, who had by now established control over the General Council of the International in London, was known to respect him. In the rather naive hope of helping matters by personal contact, Bakunin -- who had discussed the prospects of the International with Marx in London as early as 1864 -- now sent him a curious letter in which an evident devotion to the cause of the working class was combined with rather clumsy flattery.
Since bidding a solemn and public farewell to the bourgeois at the Berne Congress [he said], I have known no other company, no other world, than that of the workers. My country is now the International, of which you are one of the principal founders. You see then, dear friend, that I am your disciple and proud to be one.
Marx was neither impressed nor convinced. As a former pan-Slavist, as an admirer of Proudhon, and as the propounder of a theory of spontaneous revolution based largely on the peasants and the declasse elements in urban society, Bakunin was triply suspect to him, even though the central Marxist-Bakuninist conflicts over political action and the state had not yet defined themselves. And a man less intent on personal power than Marx might have been alarmed by the kind of organizational palatinate within the International demanded by the Alliance. Local branches of the Alliance were to become branches of the International, but also to retain their links with Bakunin's Central Bureau in Geneva, and the Alliance's delegates to the International were to hold their own separate gatherings at the same time and place as the larger body.
Before such a prospect the German Marxists, the French Blanquists, and the English trade-unionists on the General Council closed ranks, and the application of the Alliance was rejected on the grounds that a second international organization, either within or outside the International Workingmen's Association, could only encourage faction and intrigue. The decision was reasonable enough; the only irony was that it should be inspired by the one man in the international socialist movement who was Bakunin's superior in the fomenting of faction and intrigue.
Bakunin bowed to the decision of the General Council. The Alliance was publicly dissolved (though how far it continued to exist in secret is still an unsettled question), and the absorption of its branches, transformed into sections of the International, followed in the spring of 1869. Only the Geneva section retained the title of the Social-Democratic Alliance, which it changed later to that of Section for Propaganda; it entered the International with one hundred and four members, and. remained separate from the existing Geneva section of the International.
The dissolution of the Alliance made little real difference to the influence Bakunin was able to wield once he had established
a foothold within the larger organization. The Spanish and Italian sections did not change their attitudes with their titles; within the International they remained devoted to Bakunin and his antipolitical, collectivist anarchism. Bakunin's influence was also strong in southern France and Belgium, and in 1869 he gained a considerable following in the Federation Romande, the group of thirty sections which made French-speaking Switzerland one of the most fruitful regions of Internationalist activity.
In the Federation Romande his most faithful adherents were the watchmakers of the Jura villages, who combined their craft work with farming and came from the same mountain peasant stock as Proudhon. They were largely inspired by a young schoolmaster, James Guillaume, whom Bakunin had met at the first Congress of the League for Peace and Freedom in 1867. Within the Federation Romande a split quickly developed between the Geneva working men, who had been into the Marxist camp by a Russian refugee, Nicholas Utin, and the men of the Jura. The Bakuninist mountaineers eventually broke away and formed a separate Federation Jurasienne, which throughout the 1870s became a centre of libertarian thought and the real heart of the anarchist movement during its early years.
Even before the foundation of the Jura Federation the first battle had been fought between Bakunin and the Marxists at the Basel Congress of the International in September 1869. This Congress marked a change in the power balance within the International. For the first four years of the organization's life the central conflict had been between the Proudhonian mutualists on the one hand and the heterogeneous body of their opponents -- communists, Blanquists, English trade-unionists -- over whom Marx had consolidated his influence through the General Council. The mutualists were anarchists of a kind, opposed to political revolutionism, and they combined a desire to keep all bourgeois elements out of the International with an insistent propaganda for mutual banking and cooperative societies as the basis for social reorganization; it was Proudhonism
without Proudhon, for none of the mutualist leaders --Tolain, Fribourg, Limousin -- had inherited the revolutionary vision or the personal dynamism of their master. Already, at the Brussels Congress of 1868, the mutualists had been defeated when they opposed collectivization, and at the Basel Congress they were in a clear minority, since even some of the French delegates were now opposed to their idea of individual 'possession'. Marx's struggle against the mutualists was virtually ended by 1869, but he rejoiced only to face immediately one of the more formidable of the Protean forms of anarchism.
The convinced Bakuninists were only a relatively small group among the seventy-five delegates who attended the Basel Congress. Bakunin himself represented Naples; he was supported by seven Swiss, two Lyonnais, two Spaniards, and one Italian, while the Paris bookbinder Eugene Varlin, the Belgian de Paepe, and a few other delegates were sympathetic toward him without being his actual disciples. It was by the force of his personality and the power of his oratory, rather than by numbers, that Bakunin dominated the conference, and succeeded in defeating the plans of the Marxists. As so often happens, the particular issue on which the defeat took place had little real bearing on the fundamental differences between the libertarian and the authoritarian socialists. It was a question of the abolition of the right of inheritance, which Bakunin demanded as a first step to social and economic equalization; the attitude of Marx, who did not attend the conference, seemed more revolutionary, but was in fact more reformist than Bakunin's, since he wished nothing less than the complete socialization of the means of production -- but was willing to accept higher death duties as a transitional measure. Bakunin won an apparent victory, since his proposal gained thirty-two votes against twenty-three, while Marx's gained only sixteen against thirty-seven, but in practice the result was a draw, since abstentions counted as negative votes and thus Bakunin's Proposal, on which thirteen delegates abstained, failed to receive the absolute majority necessary for inclusion in the Programme of the International.
From this point the struggle between Bakunin and Marx Readily and inevitably deepened. In part it was a struggle for
organizational control, in which Bakunin marshalled the Internationalists of the Latin countries against Marx and the General Council and sought to break their power. But it was also a conflict of personalities and principles.
In some respects Marx and Bakunin were alike. Both had drunk deep of the heady spring of Hegelianism, and their intoxications were lifelong. Both were autocratic by nature, and lovers of intrigue. Both, despite their faults, were sincerely devoted to the liberation of the oppressed and the poor. But in other ways they differed widely. Bakunin had an expansive generosity of spirit and an openness of mind which were both lacking in Marx, who was vain, vindictive, and insufferably pedantic. In his daily life Bakunin was a mixture of the bohemian and the aristocrat, whose ease of manner enabled him to cross all the barriers of class, while Marx remained the unregenerate bourgeois, incapable of establishing genuine personal contact with actual examples of the proletariat he hoped to convert. Undoubtedly, as a human being, Bakunin was the more admirable; the attractiveness of his personality and his power of intuitive insight often gave him the advantage over Marx, despite the fact that in terms of learning and intellectual ability the latter was his superior.
The differences in personality projected themselves in differences of principle. Marx was an authoritarian, Bakunin a libertarian; Marx was a centralist, Bakunin a federalist; Marx advocated political action for the workers and planned to conquer the state; Bakunin opposed political action and sought to destroy the state. Marx stood for what we now call nationalization of the means of production; Bakunin stood for workers' control. The conflict really centred, as it has done ever since between anarchists and Marxists, on the question of the transitional period between existing and future social orders. The Marxists paid tribute to the anarchist ideal by agreeing that the ultimate end of socialism and communism must be the withering away of the state, but they contended that during that period of transition the state must remain in the form of a dictatorship of the proletariat. Bakunin, who had now abandoned his ideas of revolutionary dictatorship, demanded the abolition of the state at the earliest possible moment, even at
the risk of temporary chaos, which he regarded as less dangerous than the evils from which no form of government could
Where such divergences of aims and principles are united with such differences of personality, conflicts are inevitable, and it was not long before the rivalry within the International developed into an organizational war without quarter. But before we come to its final battles we must turn aside to consider two significant episodes in Bakunin's life shortly after his moral triumph at the Basel Congress. Each in its way was a moral defeat.
The first began with the arrival in Geneva during the early spring of 1869 of Sergei Nechayev, a student from Moscow University who had formed a revolutionary circle, talked blood and fire, and fled when he heard the police were on his track. Later Nechayev was to enter world literature as the original of Peter Verkhovensky in The Possessed, and, though Dostoyevsky's portrait is a caricature which does insufficient justice to Nechayev's genuine courage, it does catch fairly accurately the young revolutionary's most evident characteristics -- his nihilistic fanaticism, his lack of any personal warmth or compassion, his calculated amoralism, and his tendency to look at all men and women as tools to be used in the cause of the revolution, magically identified, of course, with himself. Nechayev was no anarchist; rather he was a believer in revolutionary dictatorship who carried nihilism to that repulsive extreme where the end justifies every means, where the individual is negated along with everything else in society, and where the authoritarian will of the terrorist becomes the only justification for his actions. This, moreover, was no mere theoretical position; Nechayev actually used his theories to justify the murder, theft, and blackmail which he himself practised. He appears in the history of anarchism only by virtue of his malign influence on Bakunin.
The fascination that Nechayev wielded over Bakunin reminds one of other disastrous relationships between men of widely differing ages: Rimbaud and Verlaine, or Lord Alfred Douglas and Oscar Wilde. There certainly seems to have been a touch of submerged homosexuality; indeed, it is hard to find
any other explanation for the temporary submissiveness of the usually autocratic Bakunin to this sinister youth. Overtly, however, the friendship was between two very self-conscious revolutionaries, each of whom tried to enhance his importance by extravagant bluffing. Nechayev told Bakunin -- and seems to have convinced this veteran of Russian prisons -- that he had escaped from the Peter-and-Paul fortress and was the delegate of a revolutionary committee which controlled a network of conspiracy extending throughout Russia. Bakunin in turn accepted Nechayev into the World Revolutionary Alliance (a phantasmic organization to which no other reference exists) as Agent No. 2771 of the Russian section. Having formed a tacit alliance of two vast but spurious apparats, Bakunin and Nechayev went into partnership in the preparation of literature for distribution in Russia. Nechayev was probably the more active of the two, but at least one of the seven pamphlets printed bore Bakunin's signature; it was entitled Some Words to Our Young Brothers in Russia. The more sensational pamphlets, How the Revolutionary Question Presents Itself and Principles of Revolution, were not signed at all; both extolled indiscriminate destruction in the name of the revolution and preached the sanctification of the means by the end. 'We recognize no other activity but the work of extermination,' says Principles of Revolution, 'but we admit that the forms in which this activity will show itself will be extremely varied -- poison, the knife, the rope, etc'
Even more extreme was a manuscript in cipher, entitled Revolutionary Catechism, found in Nechayev's possession when he was finally arrested by the Swiss authorities in 1870. It set out the duties of the ideal revolutionary, who must lose his individuality and become a kind of monk of righteous extermination, a nineteenth-century descendant of the Hashishim
The revolutionary is a man under vow [says the Catechism]. He ought to occupy himself entirely with one exclusive interest, with one thought and one passion: the Revolution. ... He has only one aim, one science: destruction. ... Between him and society there is war to the death, incessant, irreconcilable. ... He must make a list of those who are condemned to death, and expedite their sentence according to the order of their relative iniquities.
The Revolutionary Catechism and its related pamphlets occupy as controversial a position in Bakunin's later life as the Confession in his earlier manhood. The Marxists have done their best to father on him all these bloodthirsty documents; the anarchists have done their best to shift the blame on to Nechayev. And the lack of direct evidence makes it impossible even now to solve the problem. Bakunin probably helped to write at least some of the unsigned pamphlets, which contain eulogies of bandits like Stenka Razin that read remarkably like passages in his earlier writings. On the other hand, the references to 'poison, the knife, the rope' in Principles of Revolution suggest a pettier mind than his, which rejoiced in contemplating destruction in its more cataclysmic forms. The Revolutionary Catechism falls into a quite a different category, since it was never printed and may well have been composed by Nechayev himself when he returned to Russia in August 1869 to set up his new revolutionary organization, the People's Justice. The title is the same as that of the document which Bakunin wrote for the International Brotherhood in 1865, but this is no evidence of his authorship.
Yet Bakunin allowed Principles of Revolution to be printed without any protest, which suggests at least his tacit approval. We have already observed his predilection for the more Gothic aspects of conspiracy. While all we know of his life suggests that in action he was the kindest of men, his imagination -- shaped by the romanticism of the Russian 1840s -- was always ready to be stirred by melodramatic dreams of blood and fire, and he was beset -- like most professional revolutionaries -- by the temptation to see his mission as a holy war in which evil must be destroyed to purify the world and make way for the heavenly kingdom. That he was not totally converted to Nechayev's tactics is shown by the disgust he displayed when Nechayev began to put them into action. Bakunin may have been as devoid of middle-class morality as Alfred Doolittle, but he retained an aristocratic concern for good manners; he would rebuke the young men of the Jura villages for using bad language in front of women, and there seems no doubt that, while in theory he may have found Nechayev's proposals delightfully horrific, in practice he saw them as merely caddish.
Nechayev, however, had all the single-mindedness of the earnest fanatic, and for him there was no division between idea and consequence. Having returned to Russia and set up his secret society, he proceeded cold-bloodedly to murder a student named Ivanov, whom he suspected of informing on him, and as callously left his associates to face the consequences of the crime. Back in Switzerland, he further compromised Bakunin by an act of stupid blackmail. In order to relieve his poverty, Bakunin had taken one of his rare decisions to earn money by actual work, but he chose a singularly unsympathetic task, the translation of Das Kapital for a Russian publisher. He received an advance of three hundred roubles, but found Marx's turgid prose heavier going than he had anticipated, and unthinkingly agreed that Nechayev should arrange to release him from his contract. Nechayev -- apparently without Bakunin's knowledge -- wrote a letter to Lyubavin, the publisher's agent in Switzerland, threatening him with the vengeance of the People's Justice if he troubled Bakunin any further. The letter found its way into the hands of Marx, who used it eventually for his own purposes. Meanwhile, having milked the Russians in Switzerland of every franc he could extract, Nechayev fled to London with a suitcase of confidential documents stolen from Bakunin. Disillusioned at last, Bakunin repudiated him and spent days writing letters of warning to his friends.
Throughout Bakunin's career runs the idea of action -- particularly revolutionary action -- as a purifying and regenerative force. It is so for society and for the individual; in many variations Bakunin echoes Proudhon's cry: 'Morbleu, let us revolutionize! It is the only good thing, the only reality it life!' The revolutions in which he took part inspired him with an almost mystical exaltation, as is evident from his remarks in the Confession on his mood during 1848; the interludes of action that punctuated his later life seem to have been sought not only as means to ends, but also as experiences in themselves, capable of raising him from the everyday life, which 'corrupts our instinct and our will, and constricts our heart and our intelligence'. Revolutionary action, in other words, was a personal liberation, and even a kind of catharsis, a moral purging. It is in this light that we must observe the last
revolutionary acts of his life. His own statements at the time of his
participation in the Bologna rising of 1873 leave no doubt that he regarded this as a means of atonement for errors he had committed, and -- though here we have no direct evidence -- it seems likely that he welcomed the Lyons rising of September 1870 as a means of shedding the sense of humiliation he retained after his encounter with Nechayev. He had made a mistake. Now he would redeem it in action.
The Franco-Prussian War had already stirred his feelings deeply. His satisfaction at the defeats inflicted on Napoleon III was balanced by his fear of an Imperial Germany, but he also saw another possibility -- that the national war might be transformed into a revolutionary war of the French people against both the invading Prussians and their own discredited rulers. It might even begin the world revolution. To clarify his ideas, he wrote a letter of 30,000 words to an unknown Frenchman (said to be Gaspard Blanc, one of his followers in Lyons); James Guillaume printed it under the title Letters to a Frenchman after he had broken it into six sections and edited it so efficiently that it became the clearest and most consistent of Bakunin's works.
France as a state is finished [Bakunin declared]. She can no longer save herself by regular administrative means. Now the natural France, the France of the people, must enter on the scene of history, must save its own freedom and that of all Europe by an immense, spontaneous, and entirely popular uprising, outside all official organization, all governmental centralization. In sweeping from its own territories the armies of the King of Prussia, France will at the same time set free all the peoples of Europe and accomplish the social revolution.
But Bakunin was not content merely to call upon the French people in a general way to unloose what he called 'an elemental, mighty, passionately energetic, anarchistic, destructive, unrestrained uprising'. He decided to do his best to foment it to the cities of the Rhone Valley, the region still unthreatened by the Prussian armies, and he wrote to his adherents in Lyons, calling upon them to act for the salvation of European socialism. When they invited him to join them he immediately accepted. 'I have made up my mind to shift my old bones
thither, to play what will probably be my last game,' he told a
friend of whom he asked a loan for the journey.
In Lyons the republic had been proclaimed immediately after the defeat of Sedan. A Committee of Public Safety was set up, and a number of the factories were turned into national workshops, in imitation of the disastrous precedent of 1848. It was a parody recapitulation of French revolutionary history and it carried so little conviction that by the time Bakunin arrived on 15 September the Committee of Public Safety had already handed over its power to an elected municipal council.
Bakunin and his adherents set out to give a more genuinely revolutionary turn to the situation. They began by creating a Committee for the Salvation of France; apart from Bakunin, and Ozerof and Lankiewicz, who had accompanied him, it included a strong local anarchist contingent (Richard, Blanc, and Pallix from Lyons, and Bastelica from Marseilles), but the majority of its members were moderates who recoiled before Bakunin's talk of violent insurrection.
However, the Bakuninists received unexpected support owing to the shortsightedness of the municipal councillors, who decided to reduce from three to two and a half francs a day the wages of the employees in the national workshops. At a great indignation meeting on 24 September, presided over by a plasterer named Eugene Saignes, resolutions were passed calling for a forced levy on the rich and for the democratization of the army by the election of officers. Bakunin and his Committee immediately wished themselves into power and followed up the meeting by a proclamation that declared the abolition of the state and its replacement by a federation of communes, the establishment of 'the justice of the people' in place of existing courts, and the suspension of taxes and mortgages. It ended by calling on other French towns to send their delegates to Lyons for an immediate Revolutionary Convention for the Saving of France.
It is a measure of the actual support Bakunin enjoyed in Lyons that the authorities did not consider such an obviously seditious proclamation worthy of action. When violence did break out, it was because the councillors, over-confident of their security, actually carried through their plan to reduce
wages. The workers demonstrated on 28 September, and the members of the Committee for the Salvation of France, whom Bakunin had in vain tried to talk into armed action, took part in the manifestation. The municipal council was discreetly absent, and the Committee broke into the Hotel de Ville with the assistance of the crowd and formed itself into a provisional administration. At last Lyons seemed to be in the power of Bakunin and his followers, and they settled down with some embarrassment to decide what they should do with the city.
Before they had reached any decision, the National Guard from the bourgeois quarters converged on the Hotel de Ville, drove the crowd from its vicinity, and recaptured the building. The Committee fled, with the exception of Bakunin, who was imprisoned in the cellars of the Hotel de Ville, and eventually rescued by the local anarchists. He escaped to Marseilles, where he spent three weeks hiding with Bastelica until a friendly Italian ship's captain smuggled him to Genoa.
The venture that had begun with so much hope ended for Bakunin in disgust and despair. On 19 September he had written from Lyons to say that he expected 'an early triumph' for the revolution. At the end of it all, as he hid in Marseilles, he decided that France was lost and that the alliance of Prussia and Russia would reign in Europe for decades. 'Good-bye to all our dreams of approaching liberation.'
But two other struggles awaited Bakunin before he was finally to lay down his arms in the exhaustion of premature old age. One was his polemic with Mazzini, which played a great part in the sudden growth of the Italian anarchist movement after 1870. The other was the last fight within the International, which had become inevitable as a result of his moral victory at the Basel Congress.
The annual Congress of the International had not taken place in 1870 owing to the outbreak of the Paris Commune, and in 1871 the General Council called only a special conference in London. One delegate was able to attend from Spain and none from Italy, while a technical excuse -- that they had split away from the Federation Romande -- was used to avoid inviting Bakunin's Swiss supporters. Thus only a tiny minority of anarchists was present, and the General Council's resolutions
passed almost unanimously. Most of them were clearly directed against Bakunin and his followers. The need for the workers to form political parties was provocatively affirmed. An ominous resolution warned sections or branches against 'designating themselves by separatist names ... or forming separatist bodies'. And, as an oblique thrust at Bakunin, the conference publicly disavowed the activities of Nechayev.
The intentions of the Marxists were so obvious that the Swiss Bakuninists immediately called a special conference in the small town of Sonvillier in the Jura. The only delegates who did not belong to the Jura Federation were two foreign refugees from Geneva, the Russian Nicholas Zhukovsky and the Frenchman Jules Guesde, later to become one of the leaders of French socialism, but at this time an ardent anarchist. Bakunin was not present. The main outcome of this conference was the famous Sonvillier Circular, which demanded an end to centralization within the International and its reconstitution as a 'free federation of autonomous groups'. Thus the central conflict between authoritarians and libertarians within the International was clearly defined on an organizational level, and the Circular gained support not only in Italy and Spain, but also in Belgium among the libertarian socialist followers of Caesar de Paepe.
One of the demands of the Sonvillier meeting was that a plenary congress of the International should be held without delay. The General Council found it impossible to deny this, but, by choosing another northern city, The Hague, as the place of meeting, it again created difficulties for the Latin representatives and prevented Bakunin from attending, since he did not dare cross either German or French territory.
The Hague Congress took place in September 1872. Marx not only attended in person, but also did his best to pack the gathering with his followers; as G. D. H. Cole has observed, at least five of the delegates forming the Marxist majority 'represented non-existent movements or nearly so'. Yet he was still faced by a formidable opposition, not merely from the Swiss and Spanish Bakuninists and the Dutch and Belgian libertarian socialists, but also from the British trade-unionists who, while they supported Bakunin in nothing else, were disturbed by the
excessive tendency to centralization within the International and agreed that the powers of the General Council should be curbed. Indeed, Marx's victory would have been most doubtful if the Italian sections of the International, meeting in Rimini shortly beforehand, had not decided to boycott the Congress and break off relations immediately with the General Council. This left Marx with some forty supporters, including the French Blanquist refugees, against less than thirty opponents of various kinds.
The Congress began with what had now become a routine vote in favour of political action by the workers, and defeated a Bakuninist proposal to convert the General Council into a correspondence bureau. It then appointed a committee to investigate Marx's allegations that the Bakuninist Alliance was still clandestinely active. It was at this point that Marx astonished even his own followers by bringing forward a sensational proposal that the General Council should be moved from London to New York, where it would be safe from the Bakuninists and the Blanquists, whom he regarded as at best dangerous allies. The motion passed -- mainly because the Bakuninists, no longer interested in the General Council, abstained; Marx, as it turned out, had killed the International in order to keep it out of other hands, for in New York the General Council languished and quickly died from sheer inaction.
The most scandalous proceedings of the Hague Congress were left until the end. Marx had submitted to the investigating committee not only evidence collected by his son-in-law Paul Lafargue on the continued functioning of the Alliance in Spain under Bakunin's instructions, but also Nechayev's letter to Lyubavin on the translation of Das Kapital. The committee submitted a vague report on the question of the Alliance, which it could not prove to be still in existence, but found that 'Bakunin has used fraudulent means for the purpose of appropriating all or part of another man's wealth -- which constitutes fraud -- and further, in order to avoid fulfilling his engagements, has by himself or through his agents had recourse to menaces'. Finally, it recommended the expulsion not only of Bakunin, but also of his Swiss followers, James Guillaume and Adhemar Schwitzguebel, the last two on the grounds that they
still belonged to the Alliance, whose continued existence it had already declared itself unable to prove. The confusions in the report did not trouble the Marxist majority. They voted heavily for the expulsion of Bakunin and Guillaume; Schwitzguebel escaped by a narrow margin. On this undignified note the Congress ended; the International as a whole never met again.
How far the Alliance had in fact continued is just as hard to establish now as it was for the investigating committee of the Hague Congress. As we shall see, a Spanish Alliance of Social Democracy seems to have been formed in 1869 or 1870, while as late as 1877 a meeting of members of the Alliance, attended by Kropotkin, Malatesta, and Paul Brousse, took place in the Jura. Since the organization would hardly have been abandoned and then restarted, it does seem likely that Bakunin in fact maintained a secret organization of close followers after the open Alliance had been dissolved. Nevertheless, the existence of such a body was not proved at the Hague Congress, and the expulsion of Bakunin was based on conjecture. As for the question of Das Kapital, the Congress's decision on this point represents an extraordinary intrusion of bourgeois morality into an organization avowedly opposed to property in all its forms; furthermore, since the committee did not even attempt to establish that Bakunin was aware of Nechayev's letter, they really condemned him for that frequent peccadillo of writers -- taking advances for works they do not complete.
At the time of the Hague Congress Bakunin was in Zurich, attempting to gain support among the Russian refugees in rivalry to the populist leader, Peter Lavrov. The Spanish delegates from The Hague and a group of Italians from Rimini joined him there, and, after a few days of discussion, they all went on to Saint-Imier in the Jura, where, in conjunction with Swiss and French delegates, they held a Congress of the anarchist rump of the International. The decisions reached at the Hague Congress were repudiated, and a free union of federations of the International was proclaimed.
With the anti-authoritarian International that stemmed from this meeting Bakunin had no direct connexion. Indeed, from 1872 onward his activity narrowed with the rapid decline
health. He maintained some interest in the activities of the Russian revolutionaries in exile, and, after settling in the Ticino in 1873, he re-established his links with the Italian movement and particularly with Carlo Cafiero, a wealthy young aristocrat who had recently abandoned his riches for the cause of the revolution. There were times, indeed, when Bakunin's old fire flickered in resentment or enthusiasm, but in general his outlook on his own life and on the world was pessimistic. He saw immense difficulties ahead for the revolutionary movement as a result of the defeat of the Commune and the rise of Prussia, and he felt too old and too sick to face them. Besides, Marx's calumnies had hurt him deeply, and there is no doubt of the sincerity with which he wrote to the Journal de Geneve on 26 September 1873, protesting against the 'Marxist falsifications', and announcing his own retirement from revolutionary life.
Let other and younger men take up the work. For myself, I feel neither the strength nor, perhaps, the confidence which are required to go on rolling Sisyphus's stone against the triumphant forces of reaction. ... Henceforth I shall trouble no man's repose; and I ask, in my turn, to be left in peace.
But in the myth Sisyphus could not leave his stone, and in life Bakunin could not leave his past. The revolutionary cause still clung to him, but without glory -- with, indeed, only added shame and bitterness. While the young anarchist movement began to grow strong away from his tutelage, he himself became involved in bitter financial wrangles over his irresponsible mismanagement of the fortune which Carlo Cafiero entrusted to him for the revolutionary cause. The quarrel over the villa in Ticino which he bought with this money to serve as a shelter for his old age and as a centre for Italian conspirators caused an almost complete breach with his Swiss and Italian followers. It also led him, in the hope of salving his uneasy conscience, to join the Bologna anarchist insurrection of August 1874. On his way into Italy he wrote a letter of farewell from the Pass of Splügen to his censorious friends, explaining his acts, condemning himself for his weakness. 'And now, my friends,' he ended, 'it only remains for me to die.'
But even the glory of dying quixotically was denied him. The Bologna rising did not fail; it never even began. The elaborate plans for storming the city gates and barricading the streets miscarried, the few rebels who reached the gathering, points outside the city dispersed for fear of the alerted police, and within the city Bakunin waited in vain to take part in the assault on the arsenal. His friends dissuaded him from suicide, and, having shaved his abundant beard, disguised him as an aged priest and sent him off with a basket of eggs on his arm to Verona, whence he eventually reached Switzerland.
It was the last and most futile adventure of that veteran of the barricades. After two further years of physical decline and failing friendships, Bakunin died on 1 July 1876, in the hospital of Berne. The men who gathered around his grave, Reclus and Guillaume, Schwitzguebel and Zhukovsky, were already turning the anarchist movement -- his last and only successful creation -- into a network that within a decade would have spread over the world and would bring a terror into the minds of rulers that might have delighted the generous and Gothic mind of Michael Bakunin, the most dramatic and perhaps the greatest of those vanished aurochs of the political past, the romantic revolutionaries.