Bakunin: Who Am I

Michael Bakunin

This is the introductory part of Bakunin’s famous essay, The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State. Earlier, I posted the second part, in which Bakunin presents his anarchist analysis of the Paris Commune. In the first part, Bakunin answers the question “Who am I” by indicating that he is a fanatical lover of freedom seeking equal liberty and well-being for all. Bakunin acknowledges that the social revolutionary anarchism he advocates  is an extension of the anarchism of Proudhon, whom Bakunin described as “the master of us all.” He rejects bourgeois liberalism and Marxist state socialism, arguing for the immediate abolition of both capitalism and the state.

Michael Bakunin: Fanatical Lover of Freedom

I am neither a scholar nor a philosopher, nor even a writer by profession. I have written very little during my life and I have never done so, as it were, except in self-defence, and only when a passionate conviction compelled me to overcome the repugnance which I feel instinctively for parading my private self in public.

Who am I then, and what is it that compels me to publish this work at the present time? I am a passionate seeker of the truth, and none the less persistent an enemy to the harmful untruths which the law and order party (that official representative, privileged and self-seeking, of all the religious, metaphysical, political, legal, economic and social villainies, past and present) still has the arrogance to make use of today so as to brutalize and enslave the world.

J.-J. Rousseau

I am a fanatical lover of freedom, considering it as the unique environment within which the intelligence, dignity and happiness of mankind may develop and increase. I am not speaking of that freedom which is purely formal, doled out, measured and regulated by the State, an everlasting lie which in reality never represents anything but the privilege of a few based on the enslavement of everyone else. Nor do I mean that individualistic, egotistical, malicious and illusory freedom, extolled by the school of J.-J. Rousseau, as by all the other schools of bourgeois liberalism, which considers the so-called rights of everyone, represented by the State as the limit of the rights of each individual, and which in fact leads of necessity and without exception to the reduction of the rights of the individual to zero.

No, I mean the only freedom which is truly worthy of that name, the freedom which consists in the full development of all the material, intellectual and moral powers which are found in the form of latent capabilities in every individual. I mean that freedom which recognizes only those restrictions which are laid down for us by the laws of our own nature; so, properly speaking, there are no restrictions, since these laws are not imposed by some outside legislator situated maybe beside us or maybe above us, they are immanent in us and inherent in us and constitute the very basis of all our being, as much material as intellectual and moral. Thus, instead of trying to find a limit for them, we should consider them as the real conditions of and the real reason for our freedom.

I mean that freedom of the individual which, far from stopping as if before a boundary in the face of the freedom of others, on the contrary finds in that freedom its own confirmation and extension to infinity; the unlimited freedom of each in the freedom of all, freedom in solidarity, freedom in equality; triumphant freedom, victorious over brute force and the principle of authority which was never anything but the idealized expression of brute force; freedom which, after overthrowing all the heavenly and earthly idols, will establish and organize a new world, that of humanity in solidarity, built on the ruin of all Churches and all States.

I am a convinced supporter of economic and social equality, because I know that, outside that equality, freedom, justice, human dignity, morality, and the well-being of individuals, just as much as the prosperity of nations, will never be anything but lies. But, supporter though I may be of freedom, this first condition of humanity, I think that equality must be established in the world by the spontaneous organization of work and of the collective ownership of producers’ associations, freely organized and federated in the communes, and by the equally spontaneous federation of these communes, but not by the overriding and enslaving activity of the State.

This is the point which mainly divides the revolutionary socialists or collectivists from the authoritarian communists who are supporters of the absolute power of the State. Their goal is the same: both the one and the other faction equally desire the creation of a new social order based solely on the organization of collective work, inevitably imposed on one and all by the very nature of things, in economic conditions which are equal for all, and upon the collective appropriation of the instruments of labour.

Only the communists imagine they will be able to attain this by the development and the organization of the political power of the working classes, principally of the urban proletariat, with the help of bourgeois radicalism, while the revolutionary socialists, enemies of every tie and every alliance of an equivocal nature, think on the contrary that they will not be able to attain this goal except by the development and organization, not of the political but of the social (and, by consequence, anti-political) power of the working masses as much in the towns as in the countryside, including all the men of good will who, breaking with their past in the upper classes, might sincerely wish to join with them and wholly accept their programme.

From this two different methods are derived. The communists believe they should organize the workers’ strength to take over the political power of the States. The revolutionary socialists organize with a view to the destruction, or, if one wants a more polite word, the liquidation, of the States. The communists are supporters of the principle and practice of authority; the revolutionary socialists have no faith except in freedom. Both the one and the other, equally supporters of science which is to destroy superstition and replace belief, differ in the former wishing to impose it, and the latter striving to propagate it; so that human groups, convinced of its truth, may organize and federate spontaneously, freely, from the bottom up, by their own momentum according to their real interests, but never according to any plan laid down in advance and imposed upon the ignorant masses by some superior intellects.

The revolutionary socialists think that there is much more practical and intellectual common sense in the instinctive aspirations and in the real needs of the mass of the people than in the profound intelligence of all these doctors and teachers of mankind who, after so many fruitless attempts to make humanity happy, still aspire to add their own efforts. The revolutionary socialists think the opposite: that mankind has allowed itself to be governed long enough, too long, and that the origin of its unhappiness does not reside in this or that form of government but in the very principle and fact of government, whatever kind it may be.

Finally this is the same, already historic, contradiction which exists between the scientific communism developed by the German school and accepted in part by the American and English socialists on the one hand, and the Proudhonism widely developed and pushed right to these, its final consequences, on the other, accepted by the proletariat of the Latin countries. (It is equally accepted and will be accepted yet more by the essentially non-political instinct of the Slav peoples.) Revolutionary socialism has just attempted its first demonstration, both splendid and practical, in the Paris Commune.

Freedom v. the State

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