Michael Bakunin

(excerpted from Bakunin On Anarchism edited by Samuel Dolgoff, published by Black Rose Books)

(Mikhail Bakunin and Karl Marx clashed ideologically on the basis of state socialism versus what later became anarchism--a dispute which culminated in Bakunin (and his followers) getting ousted from the International Workingmen's Association, at the time the largest proletarian organization in existence, having millions of members. Below are excerpts from Bakunin's attack on Marx's notions of how to arrive at socialism.)

When it comes to exploitation the bourgeoisie practice solidarity. In combatting them, the exploited must do likewise; and the organization of this solidarity is the sole aim of the International. This aim, so simple and so clearly expressed in our original statutes, is the only legitimate obligation that all the members, sections, and federations of the International must accept....

...Mr. Marx and company, it seems, having never taken into account the nature and source of this prodigious power of the International, imagine that they can make it a stepping-stone or an instrument for the realization of their own political pretensions. Mr. Marx...should have understood better than anyone two things which are self-evident and which only those blinded by vanity and ambition could ignore: 1) that the marvelous growth of the International is due to the elimination from its official program and rules of all political and philosophical questions, and 2) that basing itself on the principle of the autonomy and freedom of all its sections and federations the International has happily been spared the ministrations of a centralizer or director who would naturally impede and paralyze its growth. Before 1870, precisely in the period of the International's greatest expansion, the General Council of the International did not interfere with the freedom and autonomy of the sections and federations--not because it lacked the will to dominate, but only because it did not have the power to do so and no one would have obeyed it....

Take the trouble to read the magnificent "Considerations" which are the Preamble to our general statutes and you will see that the political question is dealt with in these words:

Considering that the emancipation of the workers must be the task of the workers themselves; that the efforts of the workers to achieve their emancipation must not be to reconstitute new privileges, but to establish, once for all, equal duties and equal rights; that the enslavement of the workers to capital is the source of all servitude--political, moral, and material; that for this reason the the economic emancipation of the workers is the great aim to which must be subordinated every political movement, etc. [All emphases are Bakunin's]

...The Alliance, true to the program of the International, disdainfully rejected all collaboration with bourgeois politics, in however radical and socialist a disguise. They advised the proletariat that the only real emancipation, the only policy truly beneficial for them, is the exclusively negative policy of demolishing political institutions, political power, government in general, and the State, and that to do this it is necessary to unify the scattered forces of the proletariat into an International organization, a revolutionary power directed against the entrenched power of the bourgeoisie.

These facts are real and they are a natural effect of the triumph of Marxian propaganda. And it is for this reason that we fight the Marxian theories to the death, convinced that if it should triumph throughout the International, they would at least kill its spirit....

The International permits no censor and no official truth in whose name this censorship can be imposed. So far, the International has refused to grant this privilege either to the Church or to the State, and it is precisely because of this fact that the unbelievably rapid growth of the International has surprised the world.

The effective power of our association, the International, was based on eliminating from its program all political and philosophical planks, not as subjects for discussion and study but as obligatory principles which all members must accept.

...For it is evident that politics, that is, the institutions of and relations between states, has no other object than to assure to the governing classes the legal exploitation of the proletariat. Consequently, from the moment that the proletariat becomes aware that it must emancipate itself, it must of necessity concern itself with the game of politics in order to fight and defeat it....

...Marx, in spite of all his misdeeds, has unconsciously rendered a great service to the International by demonstrating in the most dramatic and evident manner that if anything can kill the International, it is the introduction of politics into its program.

The International Workingmen's Association, as I have said, would not have grown so phenomenally if it had not eliminated from its statutes and program all political and philosophical questions. This is clear and it is truly surprising that it must again be demonstrated.

I do not think that I need show that for the International to be a real power, it must be able to organize within its ranks the immense majority of the proletariat of Europe, of America, of all lands. But what political or philosophic program can rally to its banner all these millions? Only a program which is very general, hence vague and indefinite, for every theoretical definition necessarily involves elimination and in practice exclusion from membership.

For example: there is today no serious philosophy which does not take as its point of departure not positive but negative atheism....But do you believe that if this simple word "atheism" had been inscribed on the banner of the International this association would have been able to attract more than a few hundred thousand members? Of course not--not because the people are truly religious, but because they believe in a Superior Being; and they will continue to believe in a Superior Being until a social revolution provides the means to achieve all their aspirations here below. It is certain that if the International had demanded that all its members must be atheists, it would have excluded from its ranks the flower of the proletariat.

To me the flower of the proletariat is not, as it is to the Marxists, the upper layer, the aristocracy of labor, those who are the most cultured, who earn more and live more comfortably than all other workers. Precisely this semibourgeois layer of workers would, if Marxists had their way, constitute their fourth governing class. This could indeed happen if the great mass of the proletariat does not guard against it....

By the flower of the proletariat, I mean above all that great mass, those millions of the uncultivated, the disinherited, the miserable, the illiterates, whom Messrs. Engel and Marx would subject to their paternal rule by a strong government--naturally for the people's own salvation! All governments are supposedly established only to look after the welfare of the masses! By flower of the proletariat, I mean precisely that eternal "meat" (on which governments thrive), that great rabble of the people (underdogs, "dregs of society") ordinarily designated by Marx and Engels in the picturesque and contemptuous phrase Lumpenproletariat....

...No matter how hard Messrs. Marx and Engels may try, they will not change what is now plainly and universally apparent: there does not exist any political principle capable of inspiring and stirring the masses to action. What the masses want above all else is their immediate economic emancipation; this emancipation is for them the equivalent to freedom and human dignity, a matter of life or death. If there is an ideal that that masses are today capable of embracing passion, it is economic equality. And the masses are a thousand times right, for as long as the present condition is not replaced by economic equality, all the rest, all that consititutes the value and dignity of human existence--liberty, science, love, intelligence, and fraternal solidarity--will remain for them a horrible and cruel deception.

The instinctive passion of the masses for economic equality is so great that if they had hopes of receiving it from a despotic regime, they would indubitably and without much reflection, as they have often done before, deliver themselves to despotism. Happily, historical experience has been of service even to the masses. Today they are everywhere beginning to understand that no despotism has or had or can have either the will or the power to give them economic equality. The progam of the International is very happily explicit on the question: the emancipation of the workers can be achieved only by the workers themselves.

...the organization and the rule of the new society by socialist savants--is the worst of all despotic governments!

...the proletariat in all countries is today animated by a deep distrust against everything political, and against all politicians--whatever their party color. All of them, from the "reddest" republicans to the most abolutist monarchists, have equally deceived, oppressed, and exploited the people.

Taking into consideration these feelings of the masses, how can anyone hope to attract them to any political program? And supposing that the masses allow themselves to be drawn into the International even so, as they do, how can anyone hope that the proletariat of all lands, who differ so greatly in temperament, in culture, in economic development, would shoulder the yoke of a uniform political program? Only the demented could imagine such a possibility.

...To sum up: By introducing the political question in the official and obligatory programs and statutes of the International, the Marxists have put our association into a terrible dilemma. Here are the two alternatives: Either political unity with slavery or liberty with division and dissolution. What is the way out? Quite simply: we must return to our original principles and omit the specific political issue, thus leaving the sections and federations free to develop their own policies. But then would not each section and each federation follow whatever political policy it wants?

The foundation for the unity of the International, so vainly looked for in the current political and philosophical dogmas, has already been laid by the common sufferings, interests, needs, and real aspirations of the workers of the whole world. This solidarity does not have to be artificially created. It is a fact, it is life itself, a daily experience in the world of the worker. And all that remains to be done is to make him understand this fact and help him to organize it consciously. This fact is solidarity for economic demands. This slogan is in my opinion the only, yet at the same time a truly great, achievement of the first founders of our association....

The masses, regardless of their degree of culture, religious beliefs, country, or native tongue, understood the language of the International when it spoke to them of their poverty, their sufferings, and their slavery under the yoke of capitalism....

A political program has no value if it deals only with vague generalities. It must specify precisely what institutions are to replace those that are to be overthrown or reformed....

We hasten to say that it is absolutely impossible to ignore political and philosophical questions. An exclusive preoccupation with economic questions would be fatal for the proletariat. Doubtless the defense and organization of its economic interests--a matter of life and death--must be the principal task of the proletariat. But it is impossible for the workers to stop there without renouncing their humanity and depriving themselves of the intellectual and moral power which is so necessary for the conquest of their economic rights. In the miserable circumstances in which the worker now finds himself, the main problem he faces is most likely bread for himself and his family. But much more than any of the privileged classes today, he is a human being in the fullest sense of the word; he thirsts for dignity, for justice, for equality, for liberty, for humanity, and for knowledge, and he passionately strives to attain all these things together with the full enjoyment of the fruits of his own labor....

No political or philosophical theory should be considered a fundamental principle, or introduced into the official program of the International. Nor should acceptance of any political or philosophical theory be obligatory as a condition for membership, since as we have seen, to impose any such theory upon the federations composing the International would be slavery, or it would result in division and dissolution, which is no less disastrous. But it does not follow from this that free discussion of all political and philosophical theories cannot occur in the International. On the contrary, it is precisely the existence of an official theory that will kill such discussion by rendering it absolutely useless instead of living and vital, and by inhibiting the expression and development of the worker's own feelings and ideas. As soon as an official truth is pronounced--having been scientifically discovered by this great brainy head laboring all alone--a truth proclaimed and imposed on the whole world from the summit of the Marxist Sinai, why discuss anything?

All that remains to be done is to learn by heart the commandments of the new decalogue.

The workers, as I have said, originally join the International for one very practical purpose: solidarity in the struggle for full economic rights against the oppressive exploitation by the bourgeoisie of all lands. Note that by this single act, though at first without realizing it, the proletariat takes a decisively negative position on politics. And this is in two ways. First of all, it undermines the concept of political frontiers and international politics of states, the existence of which depends upon the sympathies, the voluntary cooperation, and the fanatical patriotism of the enslaved maths. Secondly, it digs a chasm between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and places the proletariat outside the activity and political conniving of all the parties within the State; but in placing itself outside all bourgeois politics, the proletariat necessarily turns against it.

The proletariat, by its adherence to the International, has unconsciously taken up a very definite political position. However, this is an absolutely negative political position....

The true program, I will repeat it a thousand times, is quite simple and moderate: the organization of solidarity in the economic struggle of labor against capitalism. On this foundation, at first exclusively material, will rise the intellectual and moral pillars of the new society.

...[A]nd this process is now taking place...sometimes at a quickened, sometimes at a slower pace, and always in three different, but firmly connected ways: first, by the establishment and coordination of strike funds and the international solidarity of strikes; second, by the organization and the international (federative) coordination of trade and professional unions; third, by the spontaneous and direct development of philosophical and sociological ideas in the International, ideas which inevitably develop side by side with and are produced by the first two movements.

Let us now consider these three ways, different but inseperable, and begin with the organization of strike funds and strikes.

Strike funds aim only at collecting resources which make it possible to organize and maintain strikes, always a costly undertaking. The strike is the beginning of the social war of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, a tactic that remains within the limits of legality. Strikes are a valuable tactic in two ways. First they electrify the masses, reinforcing their moral energy and awakening in them the sense of profound antagonism between their interests and those of the bourgeoisie. Thus strikes reveal to them the abyss which from this time on irrevocably separates the workers from the bourgeoisie. Consequently they contribute immensely by arousing and manifesting between the workers of all trades, of all localities, and of all countries the consciousness and the fact itself of solidarity. Thus a double action, the one negative, the other positive, tending to create directly the new world of the proletariat by opposing it in an almost absolute manner to the bourgeois world.

Excerpts from Bakunin on Anarchism, pp. 286-307.

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