Bakunin

Sam Pawlett wrote: Bakunin was a Blanquist. He was fond of secret societies and conspiracies. The mode of social change is spontaneous. The people all of a sudden come together, overthrow the state, and establish heaven on earth. Bakunin criticised Marx and his wing in the first international for adhering to a model that would, in his view, lead to a new red bureacracy and tyranny of intellectuals.

Paul Flewers: What I'd like to know is how Bakunin and those like him with their secretive conspiratorial societies could relate these bodies to their call for the masses to liberate themselves. If we are spontaneously to liberate ourselves, why do we need any such leadership? If leadership is necessary, then how are the masses going to exert control over a secret conspiratorial society?

I suspect that the roots of his paradox lie in the fact that Bakunin as a materialist was a determinist. His views on the issue of free will versus determinism are expressed in the following passages from his book _God and the State_ where he discussed idealism and materialism. He wrote of idealism:

"In deifying human things the idealists always end in the triumph of a brutal materialism. And this for a very simple reason: the divine evaporates and rises to its own country, heaven, while the brutal alone remains actually on earth."

He also wrote: "...materialism starts from animality to establish humanity; idealism starts from divinity to establish slavery and condemn the masses to an endless animality. Materialism denies free will and ends in the establishment of liberty; idealism, in the name of human dignity, proclaims free will, and on the ruins of every liberty founds authority. Materialism rejects the principle of authority, because it rightly considers it as the corollary of animality, the object and chief significance of history, can be realized only through liberty. In a word, you will always find the idealists in the very act of practical materialism, while you see the materialists pursuing and realizing the most grandly ideal aspirations and thoughts."

The contradiction in Bakunin's political thought between his celebration as an anarchist of spontaneity and his following of a praxis centering around conspiracies and secret societies whose function was direct the masses along preordained lines can be seen as illustrating the point that Marx made in his _Theses on Feuerbach_ in thesis III. There Marx wrote: "The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that , therefore, changed men are products of other circumstances and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. Hence, this doctrine necessarily arrives at dividing society into two parts, one of which is superior to society." It seems evident to me that Bakunin was unable to escape this paradox which Marx believed could only be resolved through "revolutionising practice."

Jim Farmelant


some random thoughts on B...

in the latter years of his life, he described himself as a 'collectivist' to differentiate himself from Proudhon's followers...some anarchists have always been uncomfortable with Bakunin because 'collectivist' isn't necessarily ant-statist...despite B's split with Marx, he generally agreed with the latter's criticisms of Proudhon in _Poverty of Philosophy_...

in _Statism and Anarchy_, he expressed interest in US federalism...and Daniel Guerin, in his book _Anarchism_, argues that Bakunin's collectivism and his espousal of a revolutionary dictatorship is closer to marxism than anarchism...

B said that 'the destructive urge is a creative urge' (or some such thing)...but while he claimed that history (and nature) is largely irrational and unsystematic and is marked by sudden unexpected instinctual activity, this image of him - which he fostered - may be exaggerated...

anybody who would say that 'if God did exist, it would be necessary to abolish him' can't be all bad...

Michael Hoover