Prelude to the Russian Revolution: Alexander Ge – Against the War


The most popular posts on my blog remain the ones on the Russian Revolution. As the 100th anniversary of the 1917 February Revolution is fast approaching, I thought I would again add some more background material that I was unable to include in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, which has an entire chapter on the Russian Revolution, including material by Voline, the Makhnovists and the Russian Anarcho-Syndicalists. Today I present an open letter to Kropotkin from the Russian anarchist, Alexander Ge, written during the height of the First World War. Kropotkin’s pro-war stance had been widely denounced by other anarchists, many of whom issued their own manifesto against the war. Ge’s letter ranks with Errico Malatesta’s criticisms of Kropotkin’s position as one of the most eloquent rebuttals of Kropotkin’s stance, and helped mend the deep divisions within the Russian anarchist movement engendered by Kropotkin’s support for the war against Germany. Noteworthy is Ge’s reference to Bakunin’s approach during the Franco-Prussian war, which was to refuse support for any state during the conflict, but rather to incite uprisings across France against both the Prussian invaders and the French ruling class.

Russian Civil War battle scene

Russian Civil War battle scene

At the time, Ge (sometimes spelt ‘Ghé’) was a radical anarchist communist living in exile in Switzerland. After the February 1917 Revolution, he returned to Russia, where he threw himself into the revolutionary struggle. He became a delegate to the revolutionary Soviets, where he defended the anarchists against Bolshevik attacks. He denounced the Bolshevik’s 1918 ‘Brest-Litovsk’ peace treaty with Germany, arguing that it ‘is better to die for the worldwide social revolution than to live as a result of an agreement with German imperialism.’  However, after the Russian Civil War began in earnest, Ge supported the Bolsheviks in their fight against the “Whites” (the Czarists), becoming (according to another erstwhile anarchist, Victor Serge),  an official with the notorious Cheka, the Bolshevik secret police. He was killed in action in the Caucasus. This translation of Ge’s letter is by Shawn Wilbur.


Open Letter to Peter Kropotkin

After an entire series of public declarations in favor of the Triple and Quadruple Entente, which have produced consternation in the anarchist and internationalist milieus, there has recently appeared a new Manifesto, which the bourgeois press has hastened to describe as an “Anarchist Manifesto.”

In that Manifesto, also signed by you, you follow the line of conduct that you have mapped out since the beginning of the war, inviting us to support the belligerent Entente.

I will not dwell, for the moment, specifically on the Manifesto, because its detailed critique would lead us too far afield. But, as the social character of your public assessments with regard to the facts of the European war give each of us the right to demand explanations of you, because these assessments touch directly on the very principles of Anarchy, I will allow myself to submit these lines to you.

For us, everything in your recent public declarations is an enigma. We differ with you, one of the greatest theorists of Anarchy, not only in the individual evaluation of the events, but on the principled relations that the anarchists must have with these facts. And, above all, it poses for us the question: what is the cause of our divergence? Is it that we are bad anarchists and you are good, or, on the contrary, have we remained anarchists while you have ceased to be one? There are not two different anarchisms in existence and this is why I think I have the right to formulate my question in precisely this way.

Additionally, — and this second question is also of great importance, — I would ask you to clarify from what moment our disagreement dates. Did a community of ideas exist between us before the war? Was the divergence only produced by the fact of the hostilities?

Finally, — a third and last question, — does your present conduct follow logically from all that you taught and maintained before the war or is it in contradiction with your previous writings?

In order to facilitate your responses to the questions posed, I will clarify the points on which we have held common ideas and on which we are today in opposition.

Formerly, you would find, that, without exception, all the forms of the State are in the same measure instruments of oppression of the working classes, and that is why you were anti-democrat. In 1883, before the Criminal Court of Lyon, you declared: “We want liberty and we think that it is incompatible with the existence of any statist power, no matter its origin and form. What does it matter if it is imposed or elected, monarchist or republican, resting on divine right or the right of the people, of the coronation or universal suffrage? History teaches us that all governments are the same and that one is as good as the other. Some are more cynical, and others are more hypocritical; the best often appear the worst: all have the same language, everywhere the same intolerance. Even the most liberal keep deep down in the dust some old codes, some convenient little laws against the International, in order to apply them in the favorable cases against their troublesome adversaries. In other words, the anarchists do see the evil not in one form of government or another, but in the idea of government and in the very principle of power.”

Later, you proclaimed the same ideas in several works. Notably, in Anarchie you said: “The State has been produced, created by the centuries, in order to maintain the domination of the privileged classes over the peasants and workers. Consequently, neither the Church, nor the State can become the force that would serve for the annihilation of those privileges.” And then: “The weapon of oppression and of enslavement cannot become a weapon of liberation.”

You did not protest when, in the columns of the newspaper Pain et Liberté, of which you were one of the originators, the article of Elisée Reclus was printed, in which the author said: “We have tolerated enough the kings anointed by the Lord or seated by the will of the people; all these ministers plenipotentiaries, responsible or irresponsible; these legislators who manage to obtain a bit of power from an emperor or from a flock of voters; these judges who sell what they call Justice to those who pay the most; these priest who represent God on earth and who promise a place in paradise to those who become their slaves here below.” And in the same place: “We anarchists do not want to reconstruct anew the State that we have always disavowed.”

Ten years ago, you said, with regard to the Russo-Japanese War, responding to a Frenchman in an article that I have before me: “Each war is an evil, whether it ends in victory or defeat. It is an evil for the belligerent powers, an evil for the neutral powers. I do not believe in beneficial wars. The Japanese, Russian or English capitalists, yellow or white, are equally odious to me. I prefer to put myself on the side of the young Japanese socialist party; however small in number, it expresses the will of the Japanese people when it declares itself against war. In short, in the present war I see a danger for progress in all of Europe in general. Can the triumph of the lowest instincts of contemporary capitalism aid in the triumph of progress?”

So you have adopted the anti-statist way of seeing, proper to anarchists, not only as regards the future society, but also the present society. And we have always believed, in agreement with you, that true liberty is not compatible with the existence of any statist power, whatever its form and origin. From your point of view, and ours, the evil (and, consequently, the good) is not only in one or the other form of government, but in the very principle of power.

Like you, we have also accepted that the instrument of oppression cannot be the instrument of deliverance. On the foundation of that truth, which has always been for us an axiom, we have refused the collaboration of classes, practiced by the socialists, and we have attempted to wrest the proletariat from the struggle based on statist legislation. We have pushed that formula to the maximum, as far as the absolute exclusion of all mitigating circumstances. In an article “Pour la caractéristique de notice tactique,” in the fourth number of the newspaper Pain et Liberté, we have underlined this point: “There can be no alliance, no coalition, even temporary, with the bourgeoisie. Between it and us there exists no other field of activity than the field of battle, where each wants to bury the other in the tomb. We are fully convinced that there exists no moment in history that will demand of the proletariat a collaboration with the bourgeois parties, for the proletariat cannot, even temporarily, ally itself with them without interrupting its struggle against the bourgeoisie.”

To think like our common master, Bakunin, detested by all the bourgeoisie and by all the state socialists: still in the era of the First International, he foresaw what would happen to the working class, by participating in bourgeois politics, and that is why he withdrew from the International, which had become Marxist, as soon as it had begun to march openly down the path of political struggle. In his remarkable article: “The Policy of the International,” which is, in places, prophetic, he said:

“The people have always been misled. Even the great French Revolution betrayed them. It killed the aristocratic nobility and put the bourgeoisie in its place. The people are no longer called slaves or serfs, they are proclaimed freeborn by law, but in fact their slavery and poverty remain the same.

“And they will always remain the same as long as the popular masses continue to serve as an instrument for bourgeois politics, whether that politics is called conservative, liberal, progressive, or radical, and even when it is given the most revolutionary appearances in the world. For all bourgeois politics, whatever its colour and name, can at base only have one aim: the maintenance of bourgeois domination; and bourgeois domination is the slavery of the proletariat.

“What then was the International to do? It first had to detach the working masses from all bourgeois politics, it had to eliminate from its own program all the political programs of the bourgeois.”

Thus you had, before the war, maintained without reservations an equally negative conception for all the forms of bourgeois statism, and thus you accepted the formulas of Bakunin. Before the war you declared that the existence of liberty is incompatible with the existence of the statist power, whatever its form and origin. Then, you had found that all the governments are alike and that one is as good as another; that not one of those existing can become an instrument of liberation.

As for war, you have always reckoned without reservations that it was an evil and that, being the lowest consequence of capitalism, it could never serve the triumph of progress.

And now you say: “At the present moment, each man who wants to do something useful for the rescue of European civilization and for the prolongation of the struggle in favour of the workers’ International, can and must do only one thing: to aid in the defeat of the enemy of our dearest aspirations — Prussian militarism.”

That phrase alone already contains a full denial of all that you have said before, for if, for the rescue of European civilization, you should go to war against the Germans, it is probably because liberal England or republican France, with their militarisms, represent greater values than Germany. So why did you maintain before that all the governments are equal?

Then if France and England contain more elements of communist progress than Germany, and if the victory of the allies should open the gate wider for the continuation of the struggle in favour of the workers’ International than a victory for Germany, we must admit, consequently, that France and England, representing a more elevated culture, are an instrument of liberation to a greater extent than Caesarian Germany. And why then have you taught before that none of the present governments cannot become an instrument of liberation?

Now you advise us to go to war as volunteers to fire on the German workers with 50 cm. guns, in order to save civilization and European culture. Where then is the superiority of Anglo-French culture over German culture? Does it guarantee the workers the “equality in fact” that the French Revolution had wanted to attain? You have said that “only in an egalitarian society will we find justice.” Well, is there a gram more justice and economic equality in Anglo-French culture than in German culture? “The full development of the personality is only permitted to those who are not dangerous to the existence of bourgeois society,” you have also said. But does the French republic or the English democracy allow any more attacks on their integrities, in the bourgeois and capitalist sense of that word, than German Caesarism? Finally, it seems to me that the watchword: “we must defend the highest culture,” — if we admit that such a taxonomy of cultures exists, which is not anarchist, but properly bourgeois, — such a watchword would lead us to practical conclusions that are statist and nationalist.

Then we would often be obliged, in future wars, to take the side of some State whose culture appears to us more elevated. In that case, in the interest of the defense of the preferred culture, we would never have the right to be antimilitarists, but we would be obliged to vote for the military credits on the demand of the respective State that defends that high culture, and we would always be obliged to support militarism, which fulfills the sacred mission of its defence. Then we should also admit that if our participation in war is necessary for the continuation of the war in favour of the workers’ international, then that militarism that, in this case, helps us to clear the road toward our communist ideal, must be inscribed as a categorical imperative in our anarchist tactics.

Finally, one more point, of secondary importance. In inviting us to actively support the Entente, you say: “After the defeat of Napoleon III, the old Garibaldi rose up suddenly for the defence of France.” Certainly, it was a very generous impulse on the part of the great Italian idealist, but I do not understand what that could have to do with our tactics. Was Garibaldi an anarchist? On the contrary, I remember that article 7 of his “Propositions” at the First Congress of the League of Peace and Freedom, in 1867, was conceived as follows: “The religion of God is adopted by the Congress.” Should that also serve as an example to us, because it was Garibaldi who said it? And wouldn’t it be better and more justified in such circumstances, if one should have already invoked the authority of Garibaldi, to recall article 12 of his “Propositions,” which says explicitly that “only the slave has a right to make war against tyrants” and that “this is the only case where war is permitted”?

There, dear Master, are the questions that I have to pose to you and to which, I am persuaded, I will not have to wait long for your response.

Alexandre Ghé

Lausanne, Switzerland 1916

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

February Revolution 1917

February Revolution 1917

Beware Bakunin: Anarchist!

Bakunin: Beware Anarchist!

Beware Bakunin: Anarchist!

This is my more detailed reply to René Berthier’s defence of his claim that the anarchist movements that emerged in the 1870s from the struggles and debates within the International Workingmen’s Association constituted some kind of break with Bakunin’s revolutionary socialism. My title is a play on Augustin Souchy’s autobiography, Beware Anarchist! A Life of Freedom. Souchy was a German anarcho-syndicalist and anti-militarist. His best known book in English is probably With the Peasants of Aragon, in which he describes the revolutionary collectives in the Aragon region of Spain during the Spanish Civil War.


Recently, René Berthier, or a friend of his, posted on my blog and other anarchist websites some comments directed against two of my recent posts: first, a selection of quotations from Bakunin in which he clearly identifies himself as an anarchist who advocated some form (or forms) of anarchy; and second, Max Nettlau’s 1935 biographical sketch of James Guillaume, in which Nettlau criticizes Guillaume’s claim that the true inheritors of Bakunin’s legacy were the revolutionary syndicalists. One of Nettlau’s main points was that Bakunin never limited himself to advocating syndicalist methods; he also advocated insurrection and the revolutionary commune. To Nettlau, Bakunin’s anarchism was broader than Guillaume’s revolutionary syndicalism, and cannot be reduced to it; although Bakunin’s anarchism contained syndicalist elements, it also contained much more than that.

It is neither “conventional, conservative” nor being “deprived of critical spirit” to criticize Berthier’s revisionist view of Bakunin, and his claim that there is some kind of break, conceptual, tactical or otherwise, between Bakunin and the anarchists who came after him. In fact, it is not even possible to argue that many of these anarchists came after Bakunin — they came with him during the conflicts within the International over the proper direction of European working class movements for self-emancipation. Malatesta clearly comes to mind, as do Reclus, Cafiero, and the Spanish anarchists who fought with Bakunin within the International against the Marxists and Blanquists and, outside of the International, against the bourgeois republicans, the Mazzinians, the neo-Jacobins, the reformists and the state socialists.

Now let’s deal with the Bakunin quotations that Berthier tries to discount in order to support his claim that there was a break between Bakunin’s “revolutionary socialism” and the self-proclaimed anarchist groups and movements of the 1870s (and beyond).

First, he corrects the Maximoff translation of a letter in Italian where Bakunin in fact referred to “anarchy” instead of “anarchism.” Fair enough. Then he emphasizes the use by Bakunin of the word “anarchy” in a negative sense, meaning disorder or chaos. This doesn’t have much bearing on whether Bakunin can be described as an anarchist, or whether the self-proclaimed anarchists of the 1870s advocated something so distinctive from what Bakunin advocated that Berthier can show that there was a “break” between them and Bakunin. Even if Bakunin only advocated “anarchy” in a negative sense, without giving it any positive content, that would still make him some kind of anarchist.

The first problem with the argument regarding Bakunin’s use of the word “anarchy” in a negative sense is that Bakunin regarded anarchy or disorder as something that was inevitable during revolutionary upheavals. Consequently, rather than seeking to suppress anarchy in this sense, as revolutionary governments inevitably sought to do, Bakunin invoked this kind of anarchy as a destructive force that revolutionaries could use to sweep away the existing social order. Anarchy, as destructive force, actually played, or should play, a positive role in the revolutionary process. It is both a destructive and a creative force. One cannot dismiss this aspect of Bakunin’s thought simply by referring to it as “questionable” Hegelian dialectics.

Looking at some of the quotations I relied on, one can see, sometimes in the same passage, how Bakunin refers to anarchy in both a negative and a positive sense, as a destructive and creative force, and as the end result of the revolutionary process. Let’s begin by focusing on three passages that Berthier singles out to show how mistaken I was to rely on them in order to show that Bakunin was an anarchist.

The first is the passage regarding “anarchy,” in the sense of disorder, leading either to enslavement or to the full emancipation of the people (Berthier simply ignores the latter part of the quotation, which I have italicized):

“The lack of a government begets anarchy, and anarchy leads to the destruction of the State, that is, to the enslavement of the country by another State, as was the case with the unfortunate Poland, or the full emancipation of the toiling people and the abolition of classes, which, we hope, will soon take place all over Europe.

Thus, anarchy as a destructive force can destroy a particular state, but that destruction can lead to two diametrically opposed things: it may ultimately result in another state enslaving the country in which the state has been destroyed, as in Poland, or it may lead to something altogether different, the complete emancipation of the people. Because Bakunin sought to avoid the replacement of one state by another, foreign or otherwise, his argument was that revolutionaries should harness the destructive power of anarchy not only to destroy the state but to ensure that the end result was not the reconstitution of the state, but its permanent abolition, the full emancipation of the people and the abolition of classes, a positive form of anarchy.

This is made clear by the second passage Berthier focuses on, the passage that I used as part of the title to my book on the First International and the origins of the anarchist movement:

“We do not fear anarchy, we invoke it. For we are convinced that anarchy, meaning the unrestricted manifestation of the liberated life of the people, must spring from liberty, equality, the new social order, and the force of the revolution itself against the reaction. There is no doubt that this new life—the popular revolution—will in good time organize itself, but it will create its revolutionary organization from the bottom up, from the circumference to the center, in accordance with the principle of liberty, and not from the top down or from the center to the circumference in the manner of all authority.”

Berthier suggests that this quotation constituted a poor choice for the title to my book about the International because in it, Bakunin is supposedly using the word “anarchy” in a purely negative sense, as nothing more than “the chaos following the collapse of a social system.” But if one reads the passage carefully, Bakunin defines “anarchy” as the positive result of the revolutionary upheaval, “the unrestricted manifestation of the liberated life of the people,” not simply the means to create that “liberated life.” “Anarchy,” conceived as the realization of the liberated life of the people, springs from (i.e. is the result of) liberty, equality, the new social order and the force of the revolution itself. Besides lending itself as a catchy title to a book, this passage shows that Bakunin used anarchy in a positive sense to describe the result of a successful revolution, not simply in a more negative sense of either chaos or destructive force.

The third passage is the one where I relied on Maximoff’s translation of “anarchy” into “anarchism.” However, even after making that correction, the passage still constitutes a use by Bakunin of “anarchy” in a more positive sense, not in the sense of “chaos,” as Berthier claims:

“Outside of the Mazzinian system, which is the system of the republic in the form of a State, there is no other system but that of the republic as a commune, the republic as a federation, a Socialist and a genuine people’s republic — the system of Anarchy. It is the politics of the Social Revolution, which aims at the abolition of the State, and the economic, altogether free organization of the people, an organization from below upward, by means of a federation.”

What is the “system of Anarchy” of which Bakunin writes? It is the republic as a socialist commune and federation, the “free organization of the people… from below upward, by means of a federation.” This is a positive form of anarchy. But “anarchy” is also “the abolition of the State,” which is only a negative form of “anarchy” in the sense that destruction is the negation of something existing (the state), but the result is not something negative, either “anarchy” in the sense of chaos or a reconstituted state, but something positive, the federation of socialist communes.

Thus, a close examination of these passages shows that it is Berthier, not me, who “most of the time (not always, though) misinterprets what Bakunin really says.”

Consider also the very title to Bakunin’s last published work, Statism and Anarchy. Surely Bakunin was not arguing that the alternative to Statism was anarchy conceived as disorder, chaos and destruction.

Berthier also claims that “Bakunin felt really uneasy” in using the word “anarchist.” However, at another point he says instead that when Bakunin used the words “anarchy” or “anarchist,” he felt it “necessary to add an explanation, as if the concept was not immediately understandable by the reader.” This latter explanation makes more sense, and does not imply any kind of “uneasiness” on Bakunin’s part. At the time Bakunin wrote these various passages, largely between 1868 and 1873, the only “anarchist” with whom anyone would likely have been familiar would have been Proudhon, who distanced himself from his anarchist stance of the 1840s in his later works, for a variety of reasons (police censorship, pessimism regarding the prospect for positive social change, and so forth).

There were no anarchist movements, nor very many people who identified themselves as anarchists. Anarchist ideas were in the process of development by Bakunin and others. As most people would be unfamiliar with anarchist ideas, and would naturally assume that “anarchy” only meant chaos and disorder, it became necessary for the early revolutionary anarchists, including Bakunin, to explain what they meant when they described themselves as such.

Bakunin first described himself as an anarchist in the Italian paper, Libertà e Giustizia, in September 1867, when he distinguished himself from Pan-Slavists, describing them as “unitarians at all costs, always preferring public order to freedom”; whereas, Bakunin wrote, “I am an anarchist and prefer freedom to public order” (W. Eckhardt, The First Socialist Schism, p. 453, n. 47). And we see in the passages that I cited in my earlier post that Bakunin continued to identify himself as an anarchist in order to distinguish his views from those of his political opponents, whether Pan-Slavists, Blanquists, Marxists, Mazzini or other supporters of some kind of state power.

Since Bakunin’s death, other anarchists have continued to use the label to distinguish themselves from other revolutionaries, citing many of the same grounds cited by Bakunin: preferring freedom to “public order” (see for example Kropotkin’s essay, “Order,” in Words of a Rebel); advocating “anarchy” as both a method and as a goal (Malatesta, in his pamphlet, Anarchy, among many other writings); rejecting any participation in bourgeois politics; rejecting the state, even as a transitional power; rejecting a privileged role for the urban or industrial proletariat; and rejecting government by legislation and the so-called “rule of law.” This is what made these anarchists either Bakunin’s comrades in arms, for those who were his contemporaries, or his ideological successors.

I would like to conclude with some remarks regarding Berthier’s argument that the anarchists of the 1870s broke with Bakunin’s advocacy of a “pluralist” International. While Bakunin certainly opposed the International adopting a compulsory political program, he also lobbied incessantly for his own anarchist program, not to impose it on others, but to convince them to adopt it. His position is illustrated by this quotation from a fragment from the Knouto-Germanic Empire (Oeuvres, Vol. 6, p. 430):

“A political program has value only when, coming out of vague generalities, it determines precisely the institutions it proposes in place of those which it wants to overthrow or reform. Such is the program of Mr. Marx. It is a complete scaffolding of highly centralized and authoritarian economic and political institutions, no doubt sanctioned, like all despotic institutions in modern society, by universal suffrage, but nevertheless subjected to a very strong government, to use the expressions of Mr. Engels, the alter ego of Mr. Marx, the confidant of the legislator.

“But why is it precisely this program that is supposed to be officially introduced, necessarily, in the statutes of the International? Why not the Blanquists? Why not ours? Could it be because Mr. Marx invented it? That is not a reason. Or because the workers of Germany seem to accept it? But the anarchic program is accepted, with very few exceptions, by all the Latin Federations; the Slavs will never accept any other.”

It was around this time that Bakunin wrote the program for the Slav Section of the International in Zurich, which expressly accepted “the Anarchist revolutionary programme,” and called for the “abolition of all States.” There can be no question regarding Bakunin’s role in convincing many Spanish, Italian, Swiss, French and Russian members of the International to adopt an anarchist stance.

Furthermore, it was Bakunin himself who wrote the St. Imier Congress resolutions in September 1872 that:

“the aspirations of the proletariat can have no purpose other than the establishment of an absolutely free economic organization and federation, founded upon the labour and equality of all and absolutely independent of all political government… ”

Therefore, “the destruction of all political power is the first duty of the proletariat,” and “any organization whatsoever of a self-styled provisional and revolutionary political authority for the purpose of ensuring such destruction can be nothing but another fraud, and would be as dangerous to the proletariat as any government now in existence” (reprinted in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas).

From the outset, the anti-authoritarian International adopted an anti-statist position, making it difficult for any sections allied with Marx to participate, and it was Bakunin who authored the resolutions that helped to create that difficulty (of course, Marx and Engels put pressure on the social democratic Internationalists to boycott the anti-authoritarian International in any event). The resolutions at the 1877 Verviers Congress of the anti-authoritarian International were not really any different in substance from the resolutions Bakunin wrote for the St. Imier Congress five years earlier. The Verviers delegates simply made it clear that in addition to rejecting the state and so-called “revolutionary” government, they also rejected, as had Bakunin himself, the socialist political parties that hoped to achieve political power.

The Belgians who had already moved toward a social democratic position, such as Caesar De Paepe, did not even attend the Verviers Congress, instead choosing to attend the Socialist congress in Ghent. However, in the Verviers region itself, many of the Internationalists continued to support an anarchist approach. The rejection of socialist political parties at the Verviers Congress simply confirmed what was already happening–the Internationalists who had decided to follow the electoral path no longer saw a need for an international association of workers, instead choosing to focus their energies on political activities within their own countries; whereas many of the anarchists who remained in the anti-authoritarian International, such as Malatesta and Kropotkin, continued to see a useful role for the International.

The anarchists did not drive De Paepe and other Belgians out of the International — rather De Paepe and many of the other Belgian Internationalists no longer believed that the International and working class organizations to which its members belonged, from resistance and mutual aid societies to cooperatives and trade unions, formed the “embryo” of the future socialist society. Rather, as De Paepe himself said at the 1874 Brussels Congress of the anti-authoritarian International, “the reconstitution of society upon the foundation of the industrial group, the organization of the state from below upwards, instead of being the starting point and the signal of the revolution, might not prove to be its more or less remote result.”

Consequently, De Paepe argued that “the proletariat of the large towns” would be compelled “to establish a collective dictatorship over the rest of the population… for a sufficiently long period to sweep away whatever obstacles there may be to the emancipation of the working class” (‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’, page 211). De Paepe and other Internationalists had adopted a view virtually indistinguishable from that of Marx, a view to which Bakunin was completely opposed (‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’, page 130).

Who remained in the International who agreed with Bakunin’s anti-statism, his rejection of participation in bourgeois politics, the creation of autonomous working class organizations that would provide the basis for workers’ self-management, and the use of insurrectionary means, as well as general strikes, to abolish the state and capitalism in order to create a socialist society based on equality and freedom for all? The anarchists. And it is simply untrue that the anarchists in the anti-authoritarian International were all anti-organizationalists who rejected anything other than affinity group forms of organization.

Even Paul Brousse, who argued against having any kind of coordinating centre for the anti-authoritarian International, was still an advocate of the revolutionary commune (incidentally, Bakunin agreed with the view that the anti-authoritarian International should not have a central coordinating agency, because “[s]ooner or later it would be without fail transformed into a sort of government” — ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’, page 205). The majority of the Spanish anarchists continued to advocate a trade union based working class movement committed to achieving “anarchy” in a positive sense, as did many of the Italian anarchists, such as Malatesta, and some of the French anarchists (see Chapters 9 through 11 of ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’).

Robert Graham


André Leo: Against Hierarchy – From the First Socialist Schism


Wolfgang Eckhardt’s comprehensive account of the split in the International Workingmen’s Association (the “First International” – IWMA) between the advocates of working class political parties (Marx and his followers) and the anti-authoritarian revolutionary socialists (anarchists), entitled The First Socialist Schism: Bakunin vs. Marx in the International Working Men’s Association, has finally been published by PM Press. Although more narrowly focused than my book, ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement, Eckhardt’s book meticulously documents how Marx and his relatively small coterie of supporters tried to turn the International from a pluralist association of workers’ organizations with differing views regarding social change into a monolithic organization committed to the formation of national “working class” political parties whose ultimate object was the conquest of state power. Instead, Marx only succeeded in splitting the International, with the majority of its members and sections re-establishing the International along anti-authoritarian lines, and the Marxist rump soon expiring, with its seat of power being nominally transferred to New York. In this excerpt from Chapter 8 of The First Socialist Schism, Eckhardt describes the attempts by the Marxist controlled General Council to disenfranchise the French Communard refugees in Switzerland who were regrouping after narrowly escaping France with their lives. Particularly noteworthy are the passages by André Leo (1824-1900), the French feminist socialist, denouncing the attempts by Marx, the “pontiff” of the IWMA, to turn the International into a hierarchical organization imposing ideological uniformity on its members.

André Leo

André Leo

Marx vs. the Communards

After the Paris Commune was crushed, thousands of Communards narrowly escaped abroad. A few hundred of them fled to Switzerland with the help of the Jura sections, among others. On 3 July 1871, Schwitzguébel smuggled a number of Swiss passports and documents of Swiss citizenship into Paris in a knapsack with a secret compartment. Several members of the Commune who had gone into hiding were able to flee abroad thanks to these papers: for example, the author Léodile Champseix (1824–1900) – famous under the pseudonym André Léo – arrived in Switzerland a half month later. Some Communards settled in Lausanne, Berne or Jura but most in Geneva.

There they were soon confronted with the simmering conflict surrounding the split in the Romande Federation and the underlying debate about political-parliamentary or social-revolutionary socialism, which they were unable to keep out of for long. It is not surprising that very few Communards – with the memories of the greatest revolution of the century still fresh – would be sympathetic to the tame line of the Geneva fabrique, which was integrated in local politics. Just as Bakunin and his friends in the Alliance had two years before, the Commune refugees soon came to realise that the spokesmen of the fabrique – who set the agenda of the Geneva International – were primarily following their political ambitions (electoral alliance with the bourgeois parti radical, Grand Council elections of 12 November 1871, etc.).

The work of organising the sections was left by the wayside. Even the Geneva central section was much too involved in local politics to organise educational initiatives or the exchange of ideas between workers in the different trades as was its duty. The Communards thus began toying with the idea in July 1871 of forming their own section in order to create propaganda for France. It took until 6 September 1871 for the Geneva Communards to form the Propaganda and Socialist Revolutionary Action Section (Section de propagande et d’action révolutionnaire-socialiste) –section of propaganda in short. On 8 September, their Administrative Committee (Comité d’Administration) sent an application for membership along with their programme and section rules to the General Council.

The spokesmen of the Geneva fabrique quickly saw the section of propaganda as unwelcome political competition and thwarted their admission in the International: two weeks after the membership application was sent, Perret –secretary of Committee of the Romande Federation in Geneva – proposed a resolution at the London Conference ‘in order to avoid new conflicts’: it called to mind art. 5 of the Basel administrative resolutions which stated that the General Council must consult with the corresponding Federal Council before it decides on the membership application of a section. The message was received – the minutes state: ‘The General Council takes note of this recommendation.’ And so the section of propaganda didn’t even receive a reply even though it applied to the General Council a second time on 4 October and third time of 20 October 1871.

Perret was perhaps also responsible for the General Council’s continued silence: he sent a perturbing letter to Marx on 8 October 1871 saying that the members of the then dissolved Alliance section were supposedly behind this new section; according to Perret, the section of propaganda was ‘the rebirth of this sect under another name’. In reality there were only two or three former members of the Alliance among the 62 members of the section of propaganda.

So the situation was already quite tense when Égalité published an authorised advanced copy of various resolutions of the London Conference on 21October 1871. The Communards finally found out that effective immediately it was ‘no longer allowed […] to form separatist bodies under the names of sections of propaganda, Alliance de la Démocratie socialiste, etc.’ in the International according to resolution no. 16. By being lumped together with the dissolved Alliance and defamed as a separatist body, the section of propaganda was confronted with resentment that they had never before thought possible. It became immediately apparent that the General Council had been purposely delaying accepting the Communards’ section because of political reservation. For the Communard André Léo, these reservations flew in the face of the established mores of the International. On 2 November 1871, she wrote the following in the Révolution Sociale, the newspaper of the Commune refugees in Geneva:

“And I, who have until now believed that the International Association was the most democratic, the broadest, the most fraternal association one could dream of; the great mother, with immense breasts, of whom every worker of good will is the son. […] may the goddess Liberty help us! For we have violated the last papal bull in divulging these things to the Gentiles24 and in debating the infallibility of the supreme council. Now, we too are threatened with excommunication, and we have no other course than to yield our soul to the demon of Anarchy for what remains for us to say.”

In the week after the advanced copy of the conference resolution appeared in Égalité, the section of propaganda held a meeting where the decision was made to publicly protest against the resolutions of the London Conference and to invite other sections and federations to join this protest. Zhukovsky was given the mandate to go to Jura to inform the sections there of this initiative. The meeting in Neuchâtel held upon his arrival on 29 October 1871 called for a joint letter of protest to be adopted at the next congress of the Jura sections and circulated internationally. A circular on 31 October announced that a federal congress would be held on 12 November 1871 in Sonvillier.

The need for public protest became more apparent after all of the resolutions of the London Conference were released the week before the federal congress. In a further article for the Révolution Sociale, André Léo wrote:

“From the beginning of the International Association to this day, when we heard the good bourgeois refer to it as a secret society, constructed after their manner, i.e. hierarchically, with a watchword, a secret council, the old pyramid, finally, with God the Father, an Old Man of the Mountain or a Council of Ten at its summit, we shrugged our shoulders and told them, not without pride: – all of this is a bunch of old tales! You know nothing of the new spirit; your worn molds cannot contain it. We who want to destroy your hierarchies are not about to establish another. Each section is sovereign, as are the individuals who compose it, and what binds them all is the profound belief in equality, the desire to establish it, and the practice of our Rules: the emancipation of the workers by the workers themselves; no rights without duties, no duties without rights. Everything is done in the broad daylight of freedom, which alone is honest and fruitful; we have no leaders, for we do not recognise any, only an administrative council. But now, alas! – now we bow our heads before the accusations of Mr Prudhomme, or rather, we deserve his admiration; we suffer this supreme insult, because the resolutions published here construct the old pyramid in the International as elsewhere: ‘It is forbidden,’ ‘it will not be allowed,’ ‘the General Council has the right to admit or to refuse the affiliation of any new section or group’, ‘the General Council has the right of suspending, till the meeting of next Congress, any section of the International’. I beg your pardon; are we mistaken, here, as to the code? This is an article of the law on the general councils of France, made by the Assembly of Versailles: ‘The executive power shall be entitled to suspend the council that …’ – No, that’s right, but the article is the same in both laws, – ‘henceforth the General Council will be bound to publicly denounce and disavow all newspapers …’ – By our holy father the Pope, where are we? Bismarck has turned the heads of everyone from the Rhine to the Oder, and at the same time that Wilhelm I made himself emperor, Karl Marx consecrated himself Pontiff of the International Association.”

The strong words shocked Guillaume and his friends, however, the manner in which Léo concluded her article was irreproachable:

“We have just begun to understand that true unity does not consist in the absorption of all into one, that strange equation, that fatal delusion which has mystified humanity for so many centuries! And if asked how else to establish unity, most of us would hesitate to answer, because it is not only a matter of finding new means but of changing the ideal itself. – The new unity is not uniformity, but its opposite, which consists in expanding all initiatives, all freedoms, all conceptions, bound only by the fact of a common nature that gives them a common interest, upon which – on their own, and by different routes, however winding they may be – free forces converge. This is natural and universal harmony in place of the narrowness, the vicious unfairness of the personal plan. It is this autonomy of the citizen, achieved through the autonomy of the primary social group, the commune, that France has just tentatively sketched out with a hand wounded by the sword of despotic unity. This is the second act of the great Revolution that is beginning, the realisation after the revelation, the performance after the promise. And the International Association, a natural agent for this task, would, following these mad and narrow minds, repeat the experiments that were made, and made so badly, between 1802 and 1871! This cannot be. Let all the old world’s politics go that way; socialism has nothing to do with it, for it must take the opposite path, that of the freedom of all in equality.”

Wolfgang Eckhardt, The First Socialist Schism (Oakland: PM Press, 2016), pp. 103-106


César de Paepe: Anarchy (1863)

Cesar De Paepe

Cesar De Paepe

In “We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It”: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement, I discussed the role played by the Belgian socialist and member of the International, Cesar De Paepe, in the debates within the International that led to the development of what would now be described as revolutionary syndicalism and anarcho-syndicalism. Relying on the anarchist historian, Max Nettlau, I mentioned De Paepe’s earlier endorsement of anarchy as the ultimate ideal. Now an old translation of his speech from 1863 has been posted by Shawn Wilbur on his excellent website, Anarchist Beginnings. Unfortunately, after the split in the International in 1872, when Karl Marx had the anarchist, Michael Bakunin, and his comrade, James Guillaume, expelled from the Marxist controlled wing of the International on trumped up charges, De Paepe adopted a more and more conservative stance, ultimately becoming an advocate of state socialism, despite initially aligning himself with the anti-authoritarian wing of the International after the split. If a second edition of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas ever gets published, I will definitely try to find room for this speech in Volume One.



THE ideal of the democracy can only be Anarchy; not Anarchy in the sense of disorder, confusion, but Anarchy in the sense, which the derivation of the word plainly tells (An—not, Archy—command, authority, power, government). Anarchy then is the absence of all government, of all power. Yes, Anarchy thither must be finally led by his aspirations, always towards more liberty, towards a more and more rigorous equality. Yes, Anarchy, that is where we must end some day, led by the power — of the democratic principle, by logic, by the fatality of history,

Humanity, once ruled by absolute monarchy, the primitive and most expressive form of government, advances, passing through limited monarchy, through a republic where the president has power, through government by parliament, through direct legislation, towards Anarchy, the most elevated and highest ideal of liberty. Such are the revolutionary tendencies inherent in man. In fact what is Revolution, if it is not the lessening of authority to the benefit of liberty, the progressive destruction of power to the benefit of the freedom of the individual? Are not limited monarchy, republic, parliamentarism, universal suffrage, if not the symbols of revolution, part of this eternal journey towards freedom? And finally what is direct legislation (as in Switzerland), if it is not a bridge thrown between governmentalism and Anarchy, between the old governmental and political society and the new economic and industrial world?

It is an indisputable historic fact that liberty increases as governmental power decreases, and vice versa, that power grows in inverse ratio to liberty. So then to take liberty to its zenith (and this is the tendency of democracy) we must reduce government to zero.

The final aim of Revolution is the annihilation of all power: it is—after a transformation of society—the replacing of politics by social economy, of governmental organisation by industrial organisation; it is Anarchy.

Anarchy, dream of lovers of absolute liberty, idol of all true revolutionists! For long men have calumniated you and put you to most indignant outrages: in their blindness, they have confounded you with disorder and chaos, while on the other hand, government your sworn enemy is only a result of social disorder, or economic chaos, as you will be, Anarchy, the result of order, of harmony, of stability, of justice. But already prophets have seen you under the veil which covers the future and have proclaimed you the ideal of democracy, the hope of liberty, and the final aim of the Revolution, the sovereign of future days, the promised land of regenerated humanity!

It was for you that the Hebertists fell in 1793: they never dreamt that your day had not come! And in this century, how many thinkers have had warning of your advent and have descended into the grave, saluting you just as the patriarchs when dying the redeemer. May your reign soon commence, Anarchy!

César de Pæpe

This translation was originally published under the title, “Anarchy,” in The Commonweal,  no. 287 (October 31, 1891): 137-139. The text is an excerpt from the speech published in French in 1898 as “Discours du citoyen César de Paepe prononcé á Patignies (Namur) en 1863.”

From Anarchism to Syndicalism: The Journey of James Guillaume

James Guillaume (1866)

James Guillaume (1866)

James Guillaume (1844-1916) was one of the leading militants of the Swiss Jura Federation in the International Workingmen’s Association. I have discussed his role in the struggles within the International over the proper direction of working class and socialist movements in We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement. After he was expelled, along with Bakunin, from the Marxist faction of the International at the Hague Congress in 1872, Guillaume was instrumental in reconstituting the International along anti-authoritarian lines, playing an important role in producing the Sonvillier Circular in 1871, which denounced Marx’s attempts to centralize control of the International in the hands of the General Council in London, and to impose as official policy a commitment to the creation of national political parties whose object was to be the conquest of political power on behalf of the working class. After the Hague Congress, Guillaume and Bakunin, together with Internationalists from Spain, France, Italy and Switzerland, organized the St. Imier Congress, which resulted in a bold declaration of their revolutionary aims and a denunciation of Marxist policies and methods (both documents are in Volume One of  Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas). Guillaume is very much the hero in René Berthier’s recent book, Social Democracy and Anarchism, which as I noted previously tries to show that the anarchist movements that emerged from the International somehow constituted a “break” with Bakunin’s “revolutionary socialism,” rather than a continuation of it. I disagree, and so would have the anarchist historian and Bakunin biographer, Max Nettlau (1865-1944). Below, I reproduce excerpts from a biographical sketch of Guillaume that Nettlau wrote in 1935, in which he sets forth some respectful criticisms of Guillaume’s claim that revolutionary syndicalism constituted the true heir to Bakunin’s revolutionary legacy.

Max Nettlau

Max Nettlau

Max Nettlau: James Guillaume – A Biographical Sketch

This relatively little remembered man was on the side of Bakunin and, of course, many other comrades, the most efficient actor of those in the old International who resisted the will of Marx, [which leads] to social democracy, reformism and bolshevism, and affirmed complete libertarian socialism, expressed by anarchist thought and, to a certain degree, by revolutionary syndicalism…

[In Locle, Switzerland, during the early 1860s, Guillaume,] in looking round, in observing the local working population, by reading socialist and advanced philosophical books, by frequenting an old local revolutionist of strong social feelings, Constant Meuron, found consolation in devoting himself to educational work for the people… He read Feuerbach, Darwin, Fourier, Louis Blanc, Proudhon; he emancipated himself entirely from metaphysics, felt interested in what he heard of the French cooperators (an effort then supported in a broad spirit by Elie and Elisée Reclus, etc.), and of the International, of which in the larger township nearby, at La Chaux-de-Fonds, a section had already been founded.

In August 1866, Guillaume, old Meuron and a small handfull of others founded another section [in] Locle and in September, Guillaume represented it at the first Congress of the International, held in Geneva. There he met French, Belgian, British and other delegates and had his first direct glimpse at several of the social and labour currents of that times.

The activities of Guillaume, beginning in this small and new section [of the International], yet show him gradually coming to the front in the then small Jurassian milieu as a man who had a solid basis of general socialist information, who was penetrated by the wish to establish fraternal relations all over the awakening world of labour, but who could not imagine that such relations could be based upon any other basis than that of mutual fraternity and solidarity, of equality and of autonomy, non-interference with local life.

He had no idea that a Karl Marx resided in London who had the ambition to impress his own ideas upon the association, nor that a Central or General Council could be under the impression [that it could] be some organ of authority in the association, nor that parties, cliques, coteries could be formed and that locally useful and efficient men would try to extend their influence over districts, provinces and regions. All this was, in his opinion, exactly what the International did not wish to be; it was found[ed on] solidarity, respecting autonomy, and had no call to be a doctrinaire or an administrative unifying authority.

Guillaume was far from being an anarchist then and, in the real sense he was this always as we shall see. He had not broken with politics, [but] he had not made an effort to enter a political career. He had lived in politics all his life, seeing his father, a professional politician and office holder, and this gave him some inside experience and created the strong wish not to have to court the favour of the electors year by year, as his father had to do.

He had watched closely, French and Italian popular and insurrectional movements – the continuous struggles against Napoleon III, the usurper, and against the Bourbons, the Pope and the Austrians in Italy, and he was observing with curiosity the English trade unionists, the German Lassalleans, the Russians of Tchernychevski’s time. All interested him and he loved and admired many things but he never wished to introduce artificially outside ideas and tactics into the Jurassian milieu. In this respect already Geneva and Lausanne, much more Berne and Zürich, were already, one might say, foreign continents to him. He did not dream of recommending Jurassian methods anywhere outside the mountain district, nor did he wish or tolerate that outsiders should interfere with the Jura.

By and by he concluded that the Internationalists of Belgium were least of all disposed to impose their ideas either by propaganda or by authority (majorities, administrative power) upon others, and he was on the best possible terms with them, notably with Caesar de Paepe. Later, as Paris always attracted him as the mother of Revolutions, he conceived great admiration for [Eugene] Varlin, who was equally disposed to feel fullest international solidarity, but to maintain the autonomy of Parisian tactics.

As for Bakunin, his idea of a… sweeping, all-[embracing] revolution was always strange and unnecessary and seemed to be improbable to Guillaume, who reserved the Jurassian autonomy before everything. Bakunin was of ripe experience and fully understood Guillaume and abstained with tact and care from all that might mean to be an infringement upon that autonomy. This brought about and safeguarded their close cooperation of several years, mainly from 1869 to 1872.

Marx was incapable [of] conceiv[ing] the notion of autonomy, just as Lenin later scorned the bourgeois notion of freedom and so, with all respect for his economic learnedness – Bakunin and Guillaume were the two only men in Switzerland who had read Das Kapital of 1867 in the years following, about 1869-1870 – it was impossible for them to cooperate with him (Marx) in the International as he (Marx) scorned and flouted Bakunin’s highest ideal – Freedom – [and] Guillaume’s ethical basis – Autonomy.

Guillaume, then, had a life [of] purpose before himself, at twenty two, to cooperate internationally and locally in the reconstitution of socialism which had so languished in the nearly twenty years of reaction and apathy intervening since 1848. He was in what he considered an independent local position of not elementary but almost high school teaching, and further educational and political advancement (by elections) was within his grasp. But he did nothing to promote such a career; when he understood that taking part in elections was of no social value to the workers, he and his friends proclaimed abstention from politics, and when his militant socialism and local independence were considered by the authorities incompatible with his employment as a public school-professor, he did nothing to bow before the storm and was in due form [made destitute] in 1869, aged twenty five, walking out of office as a well read young man, soon to be married, but with no earthly goods and prospects, locally a marked man. So he remained throughout a long life, always having to shift for himself.

He had no precarious resource at hand [but only] another dim light in the sky… his old plan to live in Paris and this had been nourished by his close contact with Ferdinand Buisson, lecturing in 1869 in Switzerland on the subject of a renewed liberal Christianity, left-wing Protestant Rationalism. Both he and Guillaume were deeply interested in tearing elementary education in France from the hands of the Catholic clergy, of laïcising and improving it, and as Buisson was a staunch republican, his counsel would be listened to when that party would triumph over Napoleon III, and then he and Guillaume would cooperate as educational Robespierres, so to speak. This, they planned about 1869, and some of this they were able to realize between ten and twenty years later, indeed.

But meanwhile, to get a living, he came to a business arrangement with his unsentimental father, who was furious to see him lose his professional position. [His] father had a little printing office, badly managed at the time, and this James took over, investing money of his wife, and thus from August 1869 to the end of 1872, he kept this small business going, managing, reading proofs, setting up type himself sometimes, employing confidential compositors, keeping up punctual business relations with his father, while many less punctual relations where on his own shoulders. For here papers and pamphlets for the movement, international books, some Italian printing, all in the interest of the Swiss, French, Italian movements, were printed and sometimes work requiring caution and meeting with difficulties in distribution.

At other times, unskilled, helpless refugees would learn composing there. This little office at Neuchâtel was a real oasis of international printing for some time, one of the very few places at that time where work was efficiently done which defied equally Napoleon III, Bismarck, the Tsar and the Pope – and Karl Marx, Liebknecht and all the capitalists, and where Bakunin, the refugees of the Commune, Kropotkin (a visitor in 1872), the Italian and Spanish internationalists anarchists and the Jura Swiss workers felt at home. It required intense work and care on Guillaume’s side to keep this place going with real efficiency and evading absolute financial disaster. He was finally unable to continue his own overlarge mixture of intellectual, business, routine and often manual occupations and felt relieved when his father sold the printing office (end of 1872) and from then to the spring of 1878 he had to make a living in Neuchâtel by private lessons, many small paid translations and [by] beginning literary work for encyclopedic publications in Paris and London.

The situation [facing] him in 1877-1878, however, was so little hopeful, locally, that then, finally, in may 1878 he carried out his plan to go to live in Paris. He had been preparing to do this in the beginning of 1871, already, on the invitation of Buisson, but the Commune had intervened and the years of full reaction in France had made it quite impossible…

The watchmakers in Geneva and in the small Jurassian townships and large villages were up to the second half of the 1870s, when American machine-made watches and similar factories established also in Switzerland, ruined them and made them slaves to machinery – they were until then a very independent home-industry, very skilled work was done by men in their own rooms of small houses ; the demand for their output was universal and constant, they were used to combining against the large firms, they were citizens interested in local politics, some of them in social questions, they were not proletarianized at all and many of them welcomed the International and formed sections which were meant at first to be local educational units, forming local electoral power [distinct] from the bourgeois, agricultural, conservative and other interests.

In Geneva, the electoral power of these skilled workers was so great that the International sections – except the one inaugurated [in] 1868 by Bakunin (the Section of the Alliance) – never emancipated themselves from the politicians. In the Jura (the cantons of Bern and Neuchâtel mainly), the other electoral powers were stronger, and those of the International sections who had expected to further socialist aims by electoral methods, by local politics, saw that they were powerless after all at the elections. The same experience was [had] by a number of militant workers and citizens in Geneva who had tried to form a more advanced workers’ party and had failed at the elections of the autumn of 1868. Thus about that time these two milieus of socialists abandoning electoral politics had been formed – that of Guillaume in the Jura and that of [Charles] Perron in Geneva – and that very summer, about July, Bakunin had entered the International at Geneva – and he made the acquaintance of Perron in August and that of Guillaume at the end of the year; from then, for some time, these three men cooperated intimately.

Before this, Guillaume had assisted at the international Congresses of Geneva (1866) and Lausanne (1867), [being] most interest[ed] in the company of some Belgians, notably De Paepe, of some London and Paris delegates, informing himself on trade unionism, Parisian Proudhonism, meeting Dr. Ludwig Büchner, the author of “Kraft und Stoff”, the old German socialist Johann Philipp Becker; he corresponded with Hermann Jung, the Swiss secretary of the General Council, talked with Eccarius, a German tailor of London who was to some degree in the confidence of Karl Marx, etc.

All that interested him, just as he had met before old Fourierists in the Jura, old Pierre Leroux himself and others. And he was [one] of the delegates sent by the Lausanne Congress to the Peace Congress of Geneva (September 1867), where he saw Garibaldi and first saw and heard Bakunin, though not making his personal acquaintance. [That] took place at the congress held at the end of 1868 in Geneva, for the purpose of federating the French-speaking sections of Switzerland, to form the Fédération Romande.

He was standing out by his earnest activity and his skill as a clear debater and writer, and this may have contributed to making Bakunin wish to see more of him. In any case, as the outside delegates lodged with comrades in Geneva, it may not have been quite an accident that the young professor from the Jura was invited to lodge with Bakunin and in this way they became friends, and Guillaume was eager to invite Bakunin to come to the Jura, and Bakunin was quite satisfied to extend his sphere of activity to this new ground, thus taking up his position both in Geneva and in the milieu of the [Jura] Mountains.

Bakunin’s visits in the Jura (February and May 1869), short as they were, were time well spent in local manifestations affirming the independence of the sections from powerful politicians who propagated an adulterated socialism which was just some petty reformism, with more intimate, cordial discussions with many workers, with very intimate revolutionary discussions with a number of militants who shaped the activities of their whole lives, in not a few cases, upon these early impressions – and in conversations of the fullest confidence with Guillaume and but a very few others.

Bakunin (as we know) always had in view this: to inspire a small number of men of real value and efficiency with the whole of the anarchist ideas and the desire for action and these would each operate upon the best men of their acquaintance and confidence – and these upon a wider milieu of [the] less advanced, and so on. The most intimate would consult among themselves and consult with Bakunin, who was in a similar way in touch with efficient men of a number of other countries – and thus, by personal contact, correspondence, some travelers, the meeting of these intimates during congresses, etc., all these men could co-operate upon similar lines, albeit locally modified, and such private mutual understanding would harmonize the propaganda, create local milieus disposed to act upon similar lines and, someday, when action was possible and imminent, would facilitate it efficiently.

“Action” was not an idle dream in those years (1864-1870), of Bakunin’s impulse in this direction, as in at least three countries (France, Italy, Spain) rotten powers were doomed to fall – Napoleon III, the Pope as sovereign of the Roman State [Kirchenstaat], and Queen Isabella of Spain – and indeed Isabella fell in September 1868, and both Napoleon III and the Pope’s power over Rome fell in September 1870.

In Spain followed a revolutionary period lasting up to the end of 1874, including a Republic and the great insurrection of the federalist republicans of 1874. In France the accumulated [discontent] led to the two months of the Commune of Paris, March to May 1871, and in Italy, Garibaldi, straight from the Geneva congress of 1867, went to fight the Popish army in open battle and, after his failure, three years later the Italian army fought Rome and reduced the Pope to living from that time onward – until Mussolini’s surrender – in the Vatican, nominally declaring himself to be a prisoner.

Here we have all elements of revolutionary warfare – the Commune defying the French State and the French bourgeoisie, the insurgent Spanish cities proclaiming their autonomy, the Church of Rome bombarded by the Italian army and many other events – and if in all these the popular forces, the workers, did not succeed and were even terribly defeated and massacred (Paris), surely it was neither a chimerical and idle or absurd, nor a useless, unpractical thought and effort of Bakunin to try to prepare and to coordinate forces which should be ready to act on such occasions. His activities were strongest just in these countries and, if he failed, if he and his comrades could not overcome all the enormous obstacles, the blame may be laid on them for this or that mistake, but it lays much more upon all those who did not help them and it lays heaviest upon those who did all they could to combat, to discredit, to destroy them: here lays one of the various culpabilities which Marx accumulated during his career.

Marx, in those years, wielding the power which, he imagined, his participation in the General Council of the International had legitimately given to him, was haunted by the idea of war against Russia in favour of Poland and a secondary thought of Irish rebellion in England, while he also, after the easy victory of Prussia over Austria in 1866, was [impressed] by Bismarck’s prestige and had but contempt for France, Italy and Spain. None of his then expectations were realized while Bakunin, as to the West and South of Europe, had seen clearly. When Bakunin tried to rally the revolutionists in preparation [for the] very struggles which did come, Marx insisted [on starting] electoral labour parties, as Lassalle had done, and urged upon the States to begin the world war against Russia. So his fraction of the International became emasculated and he used the very nominal powers confided to the General Council to make regular war by chicanery and other means against the autonomous sections and federations [of the International].

This was keenly felt by an autonomist like Guillaume and welded him and Bakunin together until autonomy had triumphed in 1872-1873. But Guillaume was not [amenable] to Bakunin’s favorite attempt, to give to his relations with the intimate comrades a formal name, the Fraternité internationale, Alliance secrète or so, to write or even print statements of principles and rules, to correspond in cypher, etc. He practised the real thing, but rejected the form, and in this respect he was wiser then Bakunin who lost time in drawing up documents of such apparently conspiratorial character which, when misused, seized [and] published, gave an extraordinary aspect to very harmless things.

Bakunin knew that as well, but all the secret societies had such documents and some of the members seemed to like and to require it, while, in practice, very few or hardly any one conformed to such documents. Anyhow, Guillaume obtained from Bakunin in 1869 a general indulgence not to have anything to do with written rules himself, nor should Bakunin introduce them in the Jura. For the rest he did not care and he did exactly what Bakunin did (and had done before, locally) – he had incessant private relations with the militants in the Jura and he corresponded with all the intimates of Bakunin abroad, whenever necessary, without using the terms of any secret body (Fraternité, Alliance). He was most eager to attract militants in France within this inner sphere and came to some understanding with Varlin during the Congress of Basel (1869), etc. He was at times most painstaking to arrive at agreements by discussion, while when he considered that the occasion required immediate or modified action, he took it on as his sole responsibility.

Two examples of this are the manifesto of September, 5, 1870 in Neuchâtel, when upon the first news of the collapse of the Empire in Paris (September 4), he was misled to consider this political change a social revolution and called [on] all to take up arms to defend the Revolution in France. The Swiss government had this Manifesto seized and suppressed the paper, Solidarité, and Guillaume’s father felt anxiety about the printing plant which belonged to him. Bakunin wrote a most generous letter on that occasion to the Committee of the Fédération Romande, in defence of Guillaume’s over rash act on his personal account which deprived the organization [the Romande Federation] of its paper.

The other case happened at the Hague Congress, where an artificial majority, fabricated by Marx, Engels and others, expelled Bakunin and Guillaume from the International (September 1872). It had been agreed upon that the revolutionary federations should leave the congress, when the Marxist intrigue should unfold itself openly. Guillaume preferred to pass much time during the congress week to explain the situation to quite a number of non-revolutionists, but who were not friends of Marx either and who simply ignored the facts. In this way he formed a minority of revolutionists and general friends of fair play, and Marx turned yellow, when he saw to his surprise, that the revolutionists  [did not] just leave, as he had expected, but that a declaration of solidarity by a strong minority was read, to which he had no reply to make.

Guillaume preferred an International composed of autonomous bodies of revolutionary or reformist, anarchist or social democratic, opinion, to a body composed exclusively of revolutionists. He did not object to such a body as the latter described, but he valued the principle of solidarity and autonomy expressed by the former composition – and so became the antiauthoritarian International of the St. Imier, Geneva, Brussels, Bern and Verviers congresses of the years 1872 (September) to 1877 (September). Bakunin formed intimate ties with the revolutionists at Zürich (September 1872), the Alliance of the Revolutionary Socialists (secret), but, after discussion with Guillaume, agreed with his tactics at the public Congress of St. Imier. A year later, in Geneva, Guillaume mainly shaped the new forms of the organization during a week of arduous discussion; Bakunin watched this from a distance, at Bern.

There is no question that the fall of the Commune in 1871 made Guillaume understand that socialism in France would not be revived in the spirit of his friend Varlin (who had been shot) for a long time to come, nor that the Hague congress, 1872, displaying all the malignity of Marx and Engels, made him see that socialism had that deleterious dry rot inside of it, Marxism – an emasculating disease which from then [on] has produced some fifty years of social democracy and [then] communist despotism in Russia. Both hard facts made Guillaume concentrate on Swiss local socialist autonomy and he had no real faith in revolutionary attempts as these were [being] prepared in Spain and in Italy by the fervent young Internationalists, and by Bakunin who, hopeful or hopeless, was active up to 1874.

Otherwise expressed – Guillaume considered his association with Bakunin more or less [had] come to an end, as the fight in common against Marx was over, as there was nothing to do in France, for some time, and as the Russian, Italian [and] Spanish activities of Bakunin did not concern him, while Bakunin was less interested than he in Belgian, British, Swiss, German and other movements. It came to this, sorry to tell, that while Bakunin continued to value what Guillaume did, the latter, who saw and heard little of Bakunin in 1873-74, came to imagine that Bakunin’s career was coming to an end. I cannot enter into this delicate subject [but] let it be sufficient to say here that at a moment in the autumn of 1874, when Bakunin would most have needed a clear thinking and fair-minded friend as Guillaume might have been to him, Guillaume proved utterly prejudiced, hard and cruel, and there was an absolute separation between Guillaume and several others and Bakunin (September 1874), and this remained so up to Bakunin’s death [in] 1876…

In this way Guillaume’s relations with Bakunin had a bitter end; [once again] a Robespierrist mind was unable to understand a Dantonesque character and felt obliged to try to destroy it.

That same autumn Guillaume wrote, at the invitation of Cafiero, an exposé of the social arrangements in a free society, a text published in 1876 as Idées sur l’Organisation sociale (Ideas on social organization), Chaux-de-Fonds, 1876, 56 p. – a clear statement of the collectivist anarchist conception with its eventual evolution toward communist anarchism; there were Italian and Spanish translations…

He had analysed Proudhon’s Confession of a Revolutionary, adding a description of mutualism and of collectivist anarchism, a book of which only a Russian translation (Anarchy according to Proudhon) exists in print, set up and printed by M.P. Sazin, in London, 1874 : the French manuscript is lost. He lectured on the French Revolution and printed sketches of great historical days in the Bulletin [of the Jura Federation]. He wrote also a study of the conspiracy of Babeuf. The Bulletin is very exact in foreign notes which he translated often from letters or took from secretly printed Spanish and other publications. The more one is able to inspect documentary relics of those years, the more there are traces of Guillaume’s constant care, resourcefulness and husbanding of very small means.

He was really masterful in exposing the Marxist protagonists, Engels, Lafargue, Greulich, etc. ; but he always tried to be on terms of polite correction with those who showed respect for autonomy toward the Jurassians, like some of the German Lassalleans and some less narrow socialists in Switzerland, in England, etc. But he kept out such as would adulterate and mix up the ideas like Benoît Malon and others of his ilk.

Kropotkin was greatly impressed by Guillaume on his first visit to him in the spring of 1872 and visited him again, [at the] end of 1876 (after [Kropotkin’s] escape from Russia), and saw him frequently in 1877 when [Kropotkin] had settled himself in the Jura. At that time, Paul Brousse, a French Southerner from Montpellier, was doing advanced and lively popular anarchist agitation in Bern and in the Jura, was best liked by the young people, while the elder generation preferred the sedate Guillaume. Kropotkin stood nearer to Brousse, but had a very great respect for Guillaume.

Brousse inspired the Red Flag procession in Bern, assaulted by the Gendarmes, when all the Jurassian and French militants and a number of Russians, Kropotkin as well as Plechanov, were in a hand-to-hand fight, with or without all sorts of weapons, implements and fists; and letters, recollections and the report of the ensuing trial still record who smashed up with gendarmes or was himself almost battered to pieces or was rescued by the intervention of the other comrades. There was a big trial in the autumn and 20 or 30 had to pass weeks or months that winter in the Jura prisons. They entered there in procession with the red flag (permitted there) and music and had their watchmakers’ table and tools brought into prison…  Guillaume arrived with cases of books and papers and did his literacy work as before.

He had last seen the Internationalists at their private meeting at La Chaux-de-Fonds where also a large Jurassian congress was held; also a small and private French congress. Then he assisted at the Verviers congress [of the reconstituted International] in Belgium, with Viñas and Morago from Spain, Costa, Brousse, Kropotkin, Emil Werner, the Belgians; and at the so-called “World Socialist Congress,” held at Gent: here Liebknecht and Guillaume confronted [each other] and all the efforts of Guillaume to bring about a state of mutual toleration between the authoritarians and the libertarians – he had acted in that spirit at the International’s Bern Congress of 1876 – were frustrated by Liebknecht.

Thus, he was active to the last, but his material situation was locally hopeless, while a more efficient collaboration in Buisson’s large Dictionnaire de Pédagogie (Paris, Hachette) was possible only if he were settled in Paris. The Bulletin was succumbing –  [at the] end of March 1878 – as the great crisis in the Jura (American competition by machinery) was approaching. In May, Guillaume went to Paris, having before resigned membership in the International, as this was a society prohibited in France.

The French liberal revival had begun by the elections early in 1876, but clerical governments still held power and James Guillaume imposed [on] himself the strictest incognito and abstained from participation in propaganda. Just then, Costa, who took no precautions, was arrested and heavily sentenced, and Kropotkin in connection with this had had to leave Paris and France. Later, [in] 1879, when Caferio and Malatesta, released from Italian prisons, came to see Guillaume, he was not exactly glad to receive the two romantic figures in his quiet home and so, by and by, he hinted to all visitors that they had better not come again and years of voluntary solitude followed…

[In the early 1900s], when he had discovered French Syndicalism, [Guillaume’s] purpose became to inform the syndicalists of the real work and spirit of the International as, unknown to most of them, they were in Guillaume’s opinion, its direct continuators…

Guillaume identified the ideas and aims of the collectivist International with those of Revolutionary Syndicalism – and he considered Communist Anarchism, the work of Reclus, Kropotkin, Malatesta etc., as an aberration, a period of time lost (1878-94) – and since 1895, more so since 1900 and 1904, the C.G.T. [the French revolutionary syndicalist organization, the General Confederation of Labour] had resumed in his opinion the old work of the International…

We are often told that the anarchist period in France, let us say the years 1880 to 1894 were a period of illusions: but if that were the case, the 1895 to 1906 and 1914 period of syndicalist illusions was infinitely more deceptive. With the workers by millions abandoning socialism for politics (social democracy), it was inevitable and logical on their part to abandon revolutionary syndicalism for reformist labourism (ouvrièrisme) and so they did, and the syndicalist leaders could not stay that current [stem that tide], but continued to proclaim the syndicalist ideology. They all knew that they were painting red the white cheeks of a corpse.

Only old James Guillaume did not wish to see things in their real light, and in the midst of reformism chose to believe to march ahead with an invincible revolutionary current impelling them all. It was pathetic to see the wish and the will of the old man not to see things as they were. To him, the syndicalists were the men of 1792 who when roused, as the events of 1914 – the war – might have done, would once more conquer Europe for freedom as the sansculottes of 1792 had meant to do – and when nothing of the kind happened, when the truth confronted him that summer [of 1914], within six months he had become a wreck and his life was nearly over, as we shall learn soon.

Meanwhile, from 1903-4 onward, he was “an Internationalist” by himself, entering into contact with the most suitable elements which he could find, trying to make them work together and like a spider, whose webs are almost constantly destroyed in part, he was undismayed by failure, always patched up the webs, but it told upon his nerves, he became bitter and in 1914 the open struggle by him against anarchism, as expressed by men like Bertoni and Malatesta, was only averted by [the] great efforts of Kropotkin…

Two factors stood in the way of any real success of his ceaseless activity. One was his absolute separation from the movements [for the preceding] 25 years. This meant that even those whom he knew intimately up until 1878, had changed, sometimes greatly developed, sometimes the contrary. He attributed to his old friends qualities which they had long since lost and – it was touching to see this – he imagined to see such qualities even in their grown up children who were quite unable to come up to his expectations…

…[F]from those of Kropotkin’s letters to [Guillaume] which have survived, one sees their entire separation: for the one, anarchism (implying Communism), for the other the Syndicalist Society, were the next ideal aims and coming realities. Kropotkin never wished to work for a Syndicalist Totalism, and Guillaume saw but this and considered Anarchism as the dream of the workers of Lyons (notorious dreamers), of Kropotkin (with all the vagueness of wide Russia-Siberia in him), of Malatesta (a romantic Italian insurrectionist), of Elisée Reclus (of old Christian mysticism), etc. So Guillaume had, in France, only the syndicalist leaders as comrades in the domain of ideas and these – some of whom like Pouget and Griffuelhes before all he really admired – these men had their hard daily struggle before them and not a moment’s rest and not time to listen to his advice, nor any wish to take him into their counsels in a really solidary way.

For these anti-parliamentarians and anti-politicians had themselves as much or more of “politics” in hand as ministers or political leaders. They had to control their committees and the members of these, the delegates of the Syndicates, had to secure the support of the majority of members; all were confronted by a strong reformist opposition, by governmental manoeuvres, and they required all the science or the tricks of regular “bosses” to do this. Besides, in the years after 1908, the syndicalist leaders themselves ceased to believe in the direct action-methods and became reformists at heart – Léon Jouhaux, once an anarchist, from 1909 to the present the secretary of the C.G.T., is typical for these transformations – while before the main body of members, at the Congresses, in the papers, they still affirmed until the war of 1914 to be revolutionist. Now a man like Guillaume, could not [prevent], nor hinder all this and it was best for all sides that he should keep out of it…

He was in touch mainly with some comrades in the Jura, in Lausanne, Bern and Zürich, with [Anselmo] Lorenzo in Barcelona, with Alceste de Ambris in Lugano or in Italy; but, as I hinted at before, this influence was not lasting, as all these correspondents had more or less made up their minds and had their own irons in the fire. He dreamed of coordinating them, as his friends had been internationally in Bakunin’s time. But all this was ephemeral or barely begun, and he had great disappointments.

These arose also, inevitably, out of the second factor which I now shall mention. As those who know the history of the International are aware of, at some time, in 1869, it was suggested that that organization was already the framework or the embryo of the coming free society and others, in 1870, accepted this as an organizational dogma and, logically – if any totalitarian reasoning could be logical at all – it was concluded and resolved upon, that in each locality, district, region, only one such organizational unit can and must exist. If by differences of opinion, etc., two units were forming, one was considered and decreed to be wrong and was expelled or expelled the other unit.

Endless and useless quarrels ensued in several places, but the dogma of the one unit in one place was maintained. Consequently also the French syndicalists recognized one territorial C.G.T. which, on its side, internationally, would enter into friendly relations, “be on speaking terms,” only with one similar territorial association for each country. Now in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, the Scandinavian countries, etc., such territorial organizations were all controlled by social democrats and were utterly reformist. Nonetheless, the only international contact which the C.G.T. cared to have, was that meeting every two years of the general secretaries of these great bodies – meetings where the French were faced by a compact body of social democratic adversaries… and which consisted only of mutual bickering and useless travelling expenses.

When the real syndicalist movements were founded in several countries, they looked to the C.G.T. to encourage and help them. But the C.G.T., linked up with the social democratic trade unions of other countries, did nothing to help these struggling new movements and, for instance, ignored their international Congress held in London in September 1913 – where the foundations were laid for what after the long war was founded as the present I.W.A – A.I.T. Guillaume could not alter this state of things, which made it so difficult for the new syndicalists of other countries to sympathize with the French C.G.T. when they saw it linked up with their most bitter local enemies, the social democratic unions. At the same time, Guillaume was opposed to the anarchist spirit in the syndicates and, both in Switzerland and in Italy, he was with those who were the adversaries of the most recognized anarchist promoters of syndicalism – of Bertoni, Borghi, etc. All this made his task always more hopeless.

This embittered him and made him on the one hand take sides with men who introduced national partiality in socialist discussion – I refer to the notorious French professor[Charles] Andler [1866-1933 – author of  Le Socialisme impérialiste dans l’Allemagne contemporaine, dossier d’une polémique avec Jean Jaurès 1912-1913, and  Le Pangermanisme, ses plans d’expansion allemande dans le monde, 1915]. On the other hand, he was at the bottom of the new dogma of syndicalist “automatism” (1913-14) which misused certain writings of Bakunin (mainly of 1869-1870). By this dogma, by merely becoming an organized worker, a worker is expected to become automatically a revolutionary syndicalist, a social revolutionist.

Bakunin, urging workers to enter into the International, had described in elementary writings, for publication, how a milieu of solidarity promotes social feelings and leads to social action, and may lead to final revolutionary activities. But, as Guillaume of all men knew best, Bakunin considered as essential efficient secret activities of militants of real mark, of the Alliance, and thus only revolutionary action, in his opinion, could be initiated, spread, coordinated, rousing the less developed members and reaching masses of men.

Guillaume was free to proclaim “automatism”, but he had no right to say that Bakunin had advocated it; nor had he ever himself practiced it in the Jura, where he and his nearest friends always had been the initiators of everything, the men who on certain days met in a little known locality and arranged everything among themselves. Malatesta in Volontà pointed out the real facts and said that Guillaume better than anybody knew that Bakunin and his near comrades practiced the Alliance-method. So did Kropotkin who, when he was really militant, was the secretary of the intimate circle and who believed in this method, while, of course, he would not discourage spontaneity in public utterances.

The revolutionary activities of the workers are so slow in unfolding, that beginnings must be made by the very best developed – and if these beginnings can be reasoned out intelligently and co-ordinated as much as possible, so much the better – this is what Bakunin, Guillaume in his early days (and in practice to the last), Malatesta, and Kropotkin meant and tried to do. Automatism in this domain would mean revolutionary parthenogenesis or self-combustion (as in wet haystacks): that may happen, but when other initiating methods exist, why deny, reject, belittle, ignore them? That controversy of the first months of 1914, when Guillaume was especially hard on Bertoni, who was combating that other weak side of syndicalist organizations, the inevitable reformism and conservativism of paid functionaries, was brought to an end by private letters of Kropotkin conjuring [imploring] Guillaume and Bertoni to give up public polemics. As to the question at issue, Kropotkin considered Guillaume to be in the wrong…

He was so absorbed by the inner life of the C.G.T. and his own writings and polemics, that the war took him by surprise, like many others; but then, from the first moment, it was to him the year 1792 come again; the regiments which he saw marching being to him like the old sansculottes, now the founders of Socialism and Syndicalism on the ruins of Marxism. He immediately wrote in this spirit in the Bataille syndicaliste almost every day for a few weeks. Then his eyes opened to the fact that it was all militarism and that the workers introduced nothing of their own, nothing socialist nor revolutionary, into what was being done and that they were quite powerless or inactive, the C.G.T. and all.

This was a terrible blow to him – he had believed that a working class power and will did exist in France and he now saw that this was not so. This did not in the least diminish his solidarity with the French cause in the war, but it broke his hopes and his spirit, if not his body. He went to Neuchâtel once more, in September, when many left Paris, and passed an uncomfortable time in Switzerland, returning to Paris in November. He still wrote in the Bataille until about January 1915, but a serious illness, badly defined, had struck him, and after a short recovery his state seems to have required in February or March 1915 that he should leave Paris for the last time, and he was then in a deplorable state of physical [depredation] and mental despair… he expired in the late autumn of 1916 in his native canton of Neuchâtel.

I do not regret to have spoken for this length of the life of this remarkable man, an intellectual worker of an intense painstaking working effort, as the most hardworking manual worker might claim for himself. With his qualities and the tenth part of his effort he might have acquired power and wealth in any other cause than the most advanced causes, those which he helped with absolute abnegation. Intellectual efficiency and personal self-effacement, patient co-ordination of forces for collective action, rejoicing in friends, free thought, study, a firm will were some of his qualities. Of his deficiencies I have said more than enough for the sake of historic truth, as far as I can see it. His long story ought to stimulate us to work and to study, without which we are less than nothing.

Max Nettlau, December 9, 1935

Guillaume's documentary history of the International

Guillaume’s documentary history of the International

We Still Do Not Fear Anarchy

we do not fear the book cover

This month marks several noteworthy anniversaries: the suppression of the Paris Commune, the Haymarket affair, and Bakunin’s birthday (May 18 on the old Russian calendar; May 3o on the modern calendar), among others. It has also been about a year since the publication of ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement (AK Press). I discussed the roles of both Bakunin and the Paris Commune in the emergence of self-proclaimed anarchist movements in Europe and the Americas in that book. The quote in the title is taken from Bakunin himself, who first publicly identified himself as an anarchist in 1868, around the time that he joined the International. It is surprising then that in another book along similar lines, Social Democracy & Anarchism in the International Workers’ Association 1864 – 1877, René Berthier argues that the anarchist movements that emerged from the struggles within the International regarding the proper direction of working class and socialist movements constituted a break with rather than a continuation of “Bakuninism,” and that Bakunin is better described as a revolutionary socialist or syndicalist than as an anarchist. I think my book provides a good counter-argument to that position. I also included several selections from Bakunin’s anarchist writings in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas But this is a blog, not a book, so today I thought I would just present some quotations from Bakunin in which he identifies himself as an anarchist and describes what he is advocating as a form of anarchism, in terms of tactics, methods, means and ends.

bakunin on anarchism

Bakunin’s Anarchism

“We do not fear anarchy, we invoke it. For we are convinced that anarchy, meaning the unrestricted manifestation of the liberated life of the people, must spring from liberty, equality, the new social order, and the force of the revolution itself against the reaction. There is no doubt that this new life—the popular revolution—will in good time organize itself, but it will create its revolutionary organization from the bottom up, from the circumference to the center, in accordance with the principle of liberty, and not from the top down or from the center to the circumference in the manner of all authority.” [Program of the International Brotherhood]

“Outside of the Mazzinian system, which is the system of the republic in the form of a State, there is no other system but that of the republic as a commune, the republic as a federation, a Socialist and a genuine people’s republic — the system of Anarchy. It is the politics of the Social Revolution, which aims at the abolition of the State, and the economic, altogether free organization of the people, an organization from below upward, by means of a federation.” [Circular Letter to My Friends in Italy]

“I am the absolute enemy of a revolution by decrees, which is the application of the idea of a revolutionary State and a sequel of it; that is, a reaction disguised by revolutionary appearances. As against the system of revolutionary decrees I oppose the system of revolutionary action, the only effective, consistent, and true system. The authoritarian system of decrees, in seeking to impose freedom and equality, destroys them. The Anarchist system of action evokes and creates them in an infallible manner, without the intervention of any official or authoritarian violence whatever. The first leads inevitably to the ultimate triumph of an outspoken reaction. The second system establishes the Revolution on a natural and unshakable foundation.” [Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis]

“Let us turn now to the Socialists, who divide into three essentially different parties. First of all, we shall divide them into two categories: the party of peaceful or bourgeois Socialists, and the party of Social Revolutionists. The latter is in turn subdivided into revolutionary State Socialists and revolutionary Anarchist-Socialists, the enemies of every State and every State principle.” [World Revolutionary Alliance of Social Democracy (Berlin: Verlag, 1904)]

“To the Communists, or Social Democrats, of Germany, the peasantry, any peasantry, stands for reaction; and the State, any State, even the Bismarckian State, stands for revolution… Altogether, the Marxists cannot even think otherwise: protagonists of the State as they are, they have to damn any revolution of a truly popular sweep and character especially a peasant revolution, which is anarchistic by nature and which marches straightforward toward the destruction of the State. And in this hatred for the peasant rebellion, the Marxists join in touching unanimity all the layers and parties of the bourgeois society of Germany.” [Statism and Anarchy]

“Since revolution cannot be imposed upon the villages, it must be generated right there, by promoting a revolutionary movement among the peasants themselves, leading them on to destroy through their own efforts the public order, all the political and civil institutions, and to establish and organize anarchy in the villages.”

“When the peasants have felt and perceived the advantages of the Revolution, they will give more money and people for its defense than it would be possible to obtain from them by ordinary State policies or even by extraor­dinary State measures. The peasants will do against the Prussians what they did in 1792. For that they must become obsessed with the fury of resistance, and only an Anarchist revolution can imbue them with that spirit.”

“But in letting them divide among themselves the land seized from the bourgeois owners, will this not lead to the establishment of private property upon a new and more solid foundation? Not at all, for that property will lack the juridical and political sanction of the State, inasmuch as the State and the whole juridical insti­tution, the defense of property by the State, and family right, including the law of inheritance, necessarily will have to disappear in the terrific whirl­wind of revolutionary anarchy. There will be no more political or juridi­cal rights—there will be only revolutionary facts.”

“Once the wealth of the rich people is not guaranteed by laws, it ceases to be a power. Rich peasants are now powerful because they are specially protected and courted by the functionaries of the State and became they are backed up by the State. With the disappearance of the State, this backing and power also will disappear. As to the more cun­ning and economically stronger peasants, they will have to give way before the collective power of the peasant mass, of the great number of poor and very poor peasants, as well as the rural proletarians—a mass which is now enslaved and reduced to silent suffering, but which revolutionary anarchy will bring back to life and will arm with an irresistible power.” [Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis]

“We revolutionary anarchists who sincerely want full popular emancipation view with repugnance another expression in this [Social Democratic] program – it is the designation of the proletariat, the workers, as a class and not a mass. Do you know what this signifies? It is no more nor less than the aristocratic rule of the factory workers and of the cities over the millions who constitute the rural proletariat, who, in the anticipations of the German Social Democrats, will in effect become the subjects of their so-called People’s State.” [Letter to La Liberté]

“The road leading from concrete fact to theory and vice versa is the method of science and is the true road. In the practical world, it is the movement of society toward forms of organization that will to the greatest possible extent reflect life itself in all its aspects and complexity.

Such is the people’s way to complete emancipation, accessible to all—the way of the anarchist social revolution, which will come from the people themselves, an elemental force sweeping away all obstacles. Later, from the depths of the popular soul, there will spontaneously emerge the new creative forms of social life.”

“We, the revolutionary anarchists, are the advocates of education for all the people, of the emancipation and the widest possible expansion of social life. Therefore we are the enemies of the State and all forms of the statist principle. In opposition to the metaphysicians, the positivists, and all the worshippers of science, we declare that natural and social life always comes before theory, which is only one of its manifestations but never its creator.”

“Such are our ideas as social revolutionaries, and we are therefore called anarchists. We do not protest this name, for we are indeed the enemies of any governmental power, since we know that such a power depraves those who wear its mantle equally with those who are forced to submit to it. Under its pernicious influence the former become ambitious and greedy despots, exploiters of society in favor of their personal or class interests, while the latter become slaves.”

“Our polemic had the effect of making them [the Marxist Social Democrats] realize that freedom or Anarchy, that is, the free organization of workers from below upward, is the ultimate aim of social development, and that every State, their own people’s State included, is a yoke, which means that it begets despotism on one hand and slavery on the other.”

“They say that this State yoke—the dictatorship—is a necessary transi­tional means in order to attain the emancipation of the people: Anarchy or freedom is the goal, the State or dictatorship is the means. Thus to free the working masses, it is first necessary to enslave them.”

“While the political and social theory of the anti-State Socialists or Anarchists leads them steadily toward a full break with all governments, and with all varieties of bourgeois policy, leaving no other way out but a social revolution, the opposite theory of the State Communists and scientific authority also inevitably draws and enmeshes its partisans, under the pretext of political tactics, into ceaseless compromises with governments and political parties; that is, it pushes them toward downright reaction.” [Statism and Anarchy]

“Between the Marxists and ourselves there is an abyss. They are the governmentalists; we are the anarchists, in spite of it all.” [Letter to La Liberté]

“In accepting the Anarchist rev­olutionary program, which alone, in our opinion, offers conditions for a real and complete emancipation of the common people, and convinced that the existence of the State in any form whatever is incompatible with the freedom of the proletariat, and that it does not permit the international fraternal union of nations, we therefore put forth the demand for the abolition of all States.” [Program of the Slav Section (Zurich) of the International]

“The lack of a government begets anarchy, and anarchy leads to the destruction of the State, that is, to the enslavement of the country by another State, as was the case with the unfortunate Poland, or the full emancipation of the toiling people and the abolition of classes, which, we hope, will soon take place all over Europe.” [Science and the Urgent Revolutionary Task]

“In a word, we reject all legislation- privileged, licensed, official, and legal — and all authority, and influence, even though they may emanate from universal suffrage, for we are convinced that it can turn only to the advantage of a dominant minority of exploiters against the interests of the vast majority in subjection to them. It is in this sense that we are really Anarchists.” [God and the State]

bakunin on freedom

The Poverty of Historicism

daring future

Continuing with the installments from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in which I survey the historical development and evolution of anarchist ideas, here I summarize the anarchist critique of theories of history, such as Marx’s theory of historical materialism, which posit stages of historical development culminating in the achievement of socialism, with the working class being the agent of this historical process of revolutionary transformation.

poverty of statism

The Poverty of Historicism

The Impulso group remained committed to an essentially Marxist view of progressive historical development, the kind of view that Dwight Macdonald argued had literally been exploded by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Volume Two, Selection 13). One can no longer claim that from “out of present evil will come future good,” wrote Macdonald, when “for the first time in history, humanity faces the possibility that its own activity may result in the destruction not of some people or some part of the world, but of all people and the whole world for all time” (Volume Two, Selection 13).

The Impulso group clung to the view that as the result of an objective historical process, the working class developed “unitary, ongoing interests,” impelling it to fulfill its “historical role” of abolishing capitalism (Volume Two, Selection 38). That the working class has unitary interests is a concept that has been criticized by other anarchists since at least the time of Bakunin, who argued against Marx that city workers “who earn more and live more comfortably than all the other workers,” by virtue of their “relative well-being and semibourgeois position” form a kind of “aristocracy of labour… unfortunately only too deeply saturated with all the political and social prejudices and all the narrow aspirations and pretensions of the bourgeoisie” (1872: 294).

Macdonald pointed to the post-War “failure of the European masses to get excited about socialist slogans and programs,” suggesting that the “man in the street” feels “as powerless and manipulated vis-à-vis his socialist mass-organization as… towards his capitalistic employers and their social and legal institutions” (Volume Two, Selection 13). For Louis Mercier Vega (1914-1977), social stratification within the “working class” makes it necessary “to speak of several working classes,” each with conflicting interests. “Wage differentials,” for example, “make class consciousness that much harder to achieve… encouraging collusion between (private or state) management and privileged brackets of wage-earners. They accentuate rather than curtail the tendency to retain a sub-proletariat reduced to low wages and readily disposed of in the event of a crisis or economic slow-down, alongside groups of workers, employees and officials locked into complex [regulatory] arrangements wherein their docility and diligence are reflected in their wage levels” (Volume Two, Selection 45).

Marx's theory of history

Marx’s theory of history

The Impulso group implicitly accepted the Marxist view of historical stages of development which other anarchists, from Bakunin onward, have also challenged. Even before Bakunin’s conflict with Marx in the First International, one of the points of disagreement between Marx and Proudhon was whether an anarchist form of socialism could be achieved before capitalism created the technology that would produce an abundance of goods allegedly necessary to sustain a socialist society (Marx, 1847). Anarchists promoted peasant revolutions in a variety of circumstances, rather than waiting for the development of an urban proletariat as suggested by the Marxist view of history.

Gustav Landauer rejected that “artifice of historical development, by which—as a matter of historical necessity—the working class, to one extent or another, is called by Providence to take for itself the role of the present day ruling class” (Volume One, Selection 40). For Landauer, “the miracle that materialism and mechanism assume—that… fully-grown socialism grows not out of the childhood beginnings of socialism, but out of the colossal deformed body of capitalism—this miracle will not come, and soon people will no longer believe in it” (Volume One, Selection 49). Huang Lingshuang and Rudolf Rocker later put forward similar critiques of the Marxist theory of history.

popper poverty of historicism

In the 1950s, some anarchists were influenced by the contemporaneous critique of Marxist “historicism” that was being developed by philosophers such as Karl Popper (1957). Writing in the early 1960s, the Chilean anarchist Lain Diez urged anarchists to reject all “historicist systems” based on “the supremacy (in terms of decision making in men’s affairs) of History… which, unknown to men, supposedly foists its law upon them,” for this “new and jealous divinity has its intermediaries who, like the priests of the ancient religions, interpret its intentions, prophesying as they did and issuing thunderous anathemas against miscreants refusing to be awed by their revelations” (Volume Two, Selection 47). More recently, Alan Carter has presented a thoroughgoing anarchist critique of Marxist “technological determinism” (1988), emphasizing the role of the state in creating and enforcing “the relations of production that lead to the creation of the surplus that the state requires” to finance the “forces of coercion” necessary to maintain state power, turning Marx’s theory of history on its head (Volume Three, Selection 19).

Robert Graham

Alan Carter's anarchist critique of Marxism

Alan Carter’s anarchist critique of Marxism

We Do Not Fear Anarchy: A Summary

we do not fear the book cover

I prepared an article for the Anarcho-Syndicalist Review summarizing the main points from my latest book, We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It: The First International and the Emergence of the Anarchist Movement, which was published in ASR #63 (Winter 2015). It’s a bit long for my blog, but here it is. The full book can be ordered from AK Press or your local bookseller.

The Spirit of Anarchy

The Spirit of Anarchy

We Do Not Fear Anarchy: A Summary of My Book on the First International and the Emergence of the Anarchist Movement

September 2014 marked the 150th anniversary of the founding of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWMA – in the Romance languages, the AIT – now commonly referred to as the First International). While much is often made of the dispute between Marx and Bakunin within the International, resulting in Bakunin’s expulsion in 1872, more important from an anarchist perspective is how anarchism as a distinct revolutionary movement emerged from the debates and conflicts within the International, not as the result of a personal conflict between Marx and Bakunin, but because of conflicting ideas regarding working class liberation.

Many members of the International, particularly in Italy, Spain and French speaking Switzerland, but also in Belgium and France, took to heart the statement in the International’s Preamble that the emancipation of the working class is the task of the workers themselves. They envisioned the International as a fighting organization for the daily struggle of the workers against the capitalists for better working conditions, but also looked to the International as a federation of workers across national borders that would provide the impetus for revolutionary change and the creation of a post-revolutionary socialist society based on workers’ self-management and voluntary federation. It was from out of these elements in the International that the first European anarchist movements arose.

When the International was founded in September 1864 by French and British trade unionists, any anarchist tendencies were then very weak. The French delegates at the founding of the First International regarded themselves as “mutualists,” moderate followers of Proudhon, not anarchist revolutionaries. They supported free credit, workers’ control, small property holdings and equivalent exchange of products by the producers themselves. They wanted the International to become a mutualist organization that would pool the financial resources of European workers to provide free credit for the creation of a system of producer and consumer cooperatives that would ultimately displace the capitalist economic system.

Founding Congress of the International, September 28, 1864

Founding Congress of the International, September 28, 1864

The first full congress of the International was not held until September 1866, in Geneva, Switzerland, with delegates from England, France, Germany and Switzerland. Although the French delegates did not call for the immediate abolition of the state, partly because such radical talk would only result in the International being banned in France, then under the dictatorship of Napoleon III, they did express their rejection of the state as a “superior authority” that would think, direct and act in the name of all, stifling initiative. They shared Proudhon’s view that social, economic and political relations should be based on contracts providing reciprocal benefits, thereby preserving the independence and equality of the contracting parties. The French delegates distinguished this “mutualist federalism” from a communist government that would rule over society, regulating all social and economic functions.

At the next Congress of the International in Laussane, Switzerland, in September 1867, César De Paepe, one of the most influential Belgian delegates, debated the more conservative French mutualists on the collectivization of land, which he supported, arguing that if large industrial and commercial enterprises, such as railways, canals, mines and public services, should be considered collective property to be managed by companies of workers, as the mutualists agreed, then so should the land. The peasant and farmer, as much as the worker, should be entitled to the fruits of their labour, without part of that product being appropriated by either the capitalists or the landowners. De Paepe argued that this “collectivism” was consistent with Proudhon’s “mutualist program,” which demanded “that the whole product of labour shall belong to the producer.” However, it was not until the next congress in Brussels in September 1868 that a majority of delegates adopted a collectivist position which included land as well as industry.

At the Brussels Congress, De Paepe also argued that the workers’ “societies of resistance” and trade unions, through which they organized and coordinated their strike and other activities, constituted the “embryo” of those “great companies of workers” that would replace the “companies of the capitalists” by eventually taking control of collective enterprises. For, according to De Paepe, the purpose of trade unions and strike activity was not merely to improve existing working conditions but to abolish wage labour. This could not be accomplished in one country alone, but required a federation of workers in all countries, who would replace the capitalist system with the “universal organization of work and exchange.” Here we have the first public expression within the International of the basic tenets of revolutionary and anarchist syndicalism: that through their own trade union organizations, by which the workers waged their daily struggles against the capitalists, the workers were creating the very organizations through which they would bring about the social revolution and reconstitute society, replacing capitalist exploitation with workers’ self-management.

The First International

The First International

After the Brussels Congress, Bakunin and his associates applied for their group, the Alliance of Socialist Democracy, to be admitted into the International. The Alliance stood for “atheism, the abolition of cults and the replacement of faith by science, and divine by human justice.” The Alliance supported the collectivist position adopted at the Brussels Congress, seeking to transform “the land, the instruments of work and all other capital” into “the collective property of the whole of society,” to be “utilized only by the workers,” through their own “agricultural and industrial associations.”

In Bakunin’s contemporaneous program for an “International Brotherhood” of revolutionaries, he denounced the Blanquists and other like-minded revolutionaries who dreamt of “a powerfully centralized revolutionary State,” for such “would inevitably result in military dictatorship and a new master,” condemning the masses “to slavery and exploitation by a new pseudo-revolutionary aristocracy.” In contrast, Bakunin and his associates did “not fear anarchy, we invoke it.” Bakunin envisaged the “popular revolution” being organized “from the bottom up, from the circumference to the center, in accordance with the principle of liberty, and not from the top down or from the center to the circumference in the manner of all authority.”

In the lead up to the Basle Congress of the International in September 1869, Bakunin put forward the notion of the general strike as a means of revolutionary social transformation, observing that when “strikes spread out from one place to another, they come very close to turning into a general strike,” which could “result only in a great cataclysm which forces society to shed its old skin.” He also supported, as did the French Internationalists, the creation of “as many cooperatives for consumption, mutual credit, and production as we can, everywhere, for though they may be unable to emancipate us in earnest under present economic conditions, they prepare the precious seeds for the organization of the future, and through them the workers become accustomed to handling their own affairs.”

Bakunin argued that the program of the International must “inevitably result in the abolition of classes (and hence of the bourgeoisie, which is the dominant class today), the abolition of all territorial States and political fatherlands, and the foundation, upon their ruins, of the great international federation of all national and local productive groups.” Bakunin was giving a more explicitly anarchist slant to the idea, first broached by De Paepe at the Brussels Congress, and then endorsed at the Basle Congress in September 1869, that it was through the International, conceived as a federation of trade unions and workers’ cooperatives, that capitalism would be abolished and replaced by a free federation of productive associations.

Jean-Louis Pindy, a delegate from the carpenters’ Chambre syndicale in Paris, expressed the views of many of the Internationalists at the Basle Congress when he argued that the means adopted by the trade unions must be shaped by the ends which they hoped to achieve. He saw the goal of the International as being the replacement of capitalism and the state with “councils of the trades bodies, and by a committee of their respective delegates, overseeing the labor relations which are to take the place of politics,” so that “wage slavery may be replaced by the free federation of free producers.” The Belgian Internationalists, such as De Paepe and Eugène Hins, put forward much the same position, with Hins looking to the International to create “the organization of free exchange, operating through a vast section of labour from one end of the world to another,” that would replace “the old political systems” with industrial organization, an idea which can be traced back to Proudhon, but which was now being given a more revolutionary emphasis.

The Basle Congress therefore declared that “all workers should strive to establish associations for resistance in their various trades,” forming an international alliance so that “the present wage system may be replaced by the federation of free producers.” This was the highwater mark of the federalist, anti-authoritarian currents in the First International, and it was achieved at its most representative congress, with delegates from England, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Spain.

Bakunin speaking at the Basel Congress 1869

Bakunin speaking at the Basel Congress 1869

Bakunin attended the Congress, drawing out the anarchist implications of this position. He argued that because the State provided “the sanction and guarantee of the means by which a small number of men appropriate to themselves the product of the work of all the others,” the political, juridical, national and territorial State must be abolished. Bakunin emphasized the role of the state in creating and perpetuating class privilege and exploitation, arguing that “if some individuals in present-day society do acquire… great sums, it is not by their labor that they do so but by their privilege, that is, by a juridically legalized injustice.”

Bakunin expressed his antipathy, shared by other members of the International, to revolution from above through a coercive state apparatus. With respect to peasant small holders, he argued that “if we tried to expropriate these millions of small farmers by decree after proclaiming the social liquidation, we would inevitably cast them into reaction, and we would have to use force against them to submit to the revolution.” Better to “carry out the social liquidation at the same time that you proclaim the political and juridical liquidation of the State,” such that the peasants will be left only with “possession de facto” of their land. Once “deprived of all legal sanction,” no longer being “shielded under the State’s powerful protection,” these small holdings “will be transformed easily under the pressure of revolutionary events and forces” into collective property.

The Basle Congress was the last truly representative congress of the International. The Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and the Paris Commune in 1871 made it difficult to hold a congress, while the Hague Congress of 1872 was stacked by Marx and Engels with delegates with dubious credentials. One must therefore look at the activities of the various International sections themselves between 1869 and 1872 to see how the anti-authoritarian, revolutionary collectivist currents in the International eventually coalesced into a European anarchist movement.

In France, Eugène Varlin, one of the International’s outstanding militants, described the position adopted “almost unanimously” by the delegates at the Basle Congress as “collectivism, or non-authoritarian communism.” Varlin expressed the views of many of the French Internationalists when he wrote that the workers’ own organizations, the trade unions and societies of resistance and solidarity, “form the natural elements of the social structure of the future.” By March 1870, he was writing that short “of placing everything in the hands of a highly centralized, authoritarian state which would set up a hierarchic structure from top to bottom of the labour process… we must admit that the only alternative is for the workers themselves to have the free disposition and possession of the tools of production… through co-operative associations in various forms.”

Bakunin & Fanelli with other Internationalists

Bakunin & Fanelli with other Internationalists

The revolutionary syndicalist ideas of the Belgians and Bakunin’s more explicitly anarchist views were also being spread in Spain. Echoing De Paepe’s comments from the Brussels Congress, the Spanish Internationalists described the International as containing “within itself the seeds of social regeneration… it holds the embryo of all future institutions.” They founded the Federación Regional Española (FRE – Spanish Regional Federation) in June 1870, which took an anarchist position. One of its militants, Rafael Farga Pellicer, declared that: “We want the end to the domination of capital, the state, and the church. Upon their ruins we will construct anarchy, and the free federation of free associations of workers.” In addition, the FRE adopted a form of organization based on anarchist principles, “from the bottom upward,” with no paid officers or trade union bureaucracy.

In French speaking Switzerland, as a result of a split between the reformist minority, supported by Marx, and the anti-authoritarian collectivist majority, allied with Bakunin, the Jura Federation was created in 1870. The Jura Federation adopted an anarchist stance, declaring that “all participation of the working class in the politics of bourgeois governments can result only in the consolidation and perpetuation of the existing order.”

On the eve of the Franco-Prussian War during the summer of 1870, the French Internationalists took an anti-war stance, arguing that the war could only be a “fratricidal war” that would divide the working class, leading to “the complete triumph of despotism.” The Belgian Internationalists issued similar declarations, denouncing the war as a war of “the despots against the people,” and calling on them to respond with a “war of the people against the despots.”

This was a theme that Bakunin was soon to expand upon in his Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis, published in September 1870. Although many of the French Internationalists abandoned their anti-war stance, Bakunin argued that revolutionaries should seek to transform the war into a country wide insurrection that would then spread the social revolution across Europe. With the French state in virtual collapse, it was time for the “people armed” to seize the means of production and overthrow their oppressors, whether the French bourgeoisie or the German invaders.

bakunin letters to a frenchman

For the social revolution to succeed, Bakunin argued that it was essential that the peasants and workers band together, despite the mutual distrust between them. The peasants should be encouraged to “take the land and throw out those landlords who live by the labour of others,” and “to destroy, by direct action, every political, juridical, civil, and military institution,” establishing “anarchy through the whole countryside.” A social revolution in France, rejecting “all official organization” and “government centralization,” would lead to “the social emancipation of the proletariat” throughout Europe.

Shortly after completing his Letters, Bakunin tried to put his ideas into practice, travelling to Lyon, where he met up with some other Internationalists and revolutionaries. Bakunin and his associates issued a proclamation announcing the abolition of the “administrative and governmental machine of the State,” the replacement of the judicial apparatus by “the justice of the people,” the suspension of taxes and mortgages, with “the federated communes” to be funded by a levy on “the rich classes,” and ending with a call to arms. Bakunin and his confederates briefly took over City Hall, but eventually the National Guard recaptured it and Bakunin was arrested. He was freed by a small group of his associates and then made his way to Marseilles, eventually returning to Switzerland. A week after Bakunin left Marseilles, there was an attempt to establish a revolutionary commune there and, at the end of October, in Paris.

In Paris, the more radical Internationalists did not take an explicitly anarchist position, calling instead for the creation of a “Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic.” But this “republic” was to be none other than a “federation of socialist communes,” with “the land to go to the peasant who cultivates it, the mine to go to the miner who exploits it, the factory to go to the worker who makes it prosper,” a position very close to that of Bakunin and his associates.


After the proclamation of the Paris Commune on March 18, 1871, the Parisian Internationalists played a prominent role. On March 23, 1871, they issued a wall poster declaring the “principle of authority” as “incapable of re-establishing order in the streets or of getting factory work going again.” For them, “this incapacity constitutes [authority’s] negation.” They were confident that the people of Paris would “remember that the principle that governs groups and associations is the same as that which should govern society,” namely the principle of free federation.

The Communes’ program, mostly written by Pierre Denis, a Proudhonist member of the International, called for the “permanent intervention of citizens in communal affairs” and elections with “permanent right of control and revocation,” as well as the “total autonomy of the Commune extended to every township in France,” with the “Commune’s autonomy to be restricted only by the right to an equal autonomy for all the other communes.” The Communards assured the people of France that the “political unity which Paris strives for is the voluntary union of all local initiative, the free and spontaneous cooperation of all individual energies towards a common goal: the well-being, freedom and security of all.” The Commune was to mark “the end of the old governmental and clerical world; of militarism, bureaucracy, exploitation, speculation, monopolies and privilege that have kept the proletariat in servitude and led the nation to disaster.”

For the federalist Internationalists, this did not mean state ownership of the economy, but collective or social ownership of the means of production, with the associated workers themselves running their own enterprises. As the Typographical Workers put it, the workers shall “abolish monopolies and employers through adoption of a system of workers’ co-operative associations. There will be no more exploiters and no more exploited.”

The social revolution was pushed forward by female Internationalists and radicals, such as Nathalie Lemel and Louise Michel. They belonged to the Association of Women for the Defence of Paris and Aid to the Wounded, which issued a declaration demanding “No more bosses. Work and security for all — The People to govern themselves — We want the Commune; we want to live in freedom or to die fighting for it!” They argued that the Commune should “consider all legitimate grievances of any section of the population without discrimination of sex, such discrimination having been made and enforced as a means of maintaining the privileges of the ruling classes.”

Nevertheless, the Internationalists were a minority within the Commune, and not even all of the Parisian Internationalists supported the socialist federalism espoused in varying degrees by Varlin, Pindy and the more militant Proudhonists. The federalist and anti-authoritarian Internationalists felt that the Commune represented “above all a social revolution,” not merely a change of rulers. They agreed with the Proudhonist journalist, A. Vermorel, that “there must not be a simple substitution of workers in the places occupied previously by bourgeois… The entire governmental structure must be overthrown.”

The Commune was savagely repressed by French state forces, with the connivance of the Prussians, leading to wholesale massacres that claimed the lives of some 30,000 Parisians, including leading Internationalists like Varlin, and the imprisonment and deportation of many others, such as Nathalie Lemel and Louise Michel. A handful of Internationalists, including Pindy, went into hiding and eventually escaped to Switzerland.

Executed Communards

Executed Communards

For Bakunin, what made the Commune important was “not really the weak experiments which it had the power and time to make,” but “the ideas it has set in motion, the living light it has cast on the true nature and goal of revolution, the hopes it has raised, and the powerful stir it has produced among the popular masses everywhere, and especially in Italy, where the popular awakening dates from that insurrection, whose main feature was the revolt of the Commune and the workers’ associations against the State.” Bakunin’s defence of the Commune against the attacks of the veteran Italian revolutionary patriot, Guiseppe Mazzini, played an important role in the “popular awakening” in Italy, and the rapid spread of the International there, from which the Italian anarchist movement sprang.

The defeat of the Paris Commune led Marx and Engels to draw much different conclusions. For them, what the defeat demonstrated was the necessity for working class political parties whose purpose would be the “conquest of political power.” They rammed through the adoption of their position at the September 1871 London Conference of the International, and took further steps to force out of the International any groups with anarchist leanings, which by this time included almost all of the Italians and Spaniards, the Jura Federation, many of the Belgians and a significant proportion of the surviving French members of the International.

In response, the Jura Federation organized a congress in Sonvillier, Switzerland, in November 1871. Prominent Communards and other French refugees also attended. They issued a Circular to the other members of the International denouncing the General Council’s actions, taking the position that the International, “as the embryo of the human society of the future, is required in the here and now to faithfully mirror our principles of freedom and federation and shun any principle leaning towards authority and dictatorship,” which was much the same position as had been endorsed by a majority of the delegates to the 1869 Basel Congress.

The Belgian, Italian and Spanish Internationalists supported the Jura Federation’s position, with the Italian and Spanish Internationalists adopting explicitly anarchist positions. Even before the London Conference, the Spanish Internationalists had declared themselves in favour of “collective property, anarchy and economic federation,” by which they meant “the free universal federation of free agricultural and industrial workers’ associations.” The Italian Internationalists rejected participation in existing political systems and in August 1872 called on the federalist and anti-authoritarian sections of the International to boycott the upcoming Hague Congress and to hold a congress of their own. Marx and Engels manipulated the composition of the Hague Congress to ensure a majority that would affirm the London Conference resolution on political action, expel Bakunin and his associate, James Guillaume of the Jura Federation, from the International, and transfer the General Council to New York to prevent the anti-authoritarians from challenging their control.

hague congress

Barely a week after the Hague Congress in September 1872, the anti-authoritarians held their own congress in St. Imier where they reconstituted the International along federalist lines. The St. Imier Congress was attended by delegates from Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland and Russia. For them, “the aspirations of the proletariat [could] have no purpose other than the establishment of an absolutely free economic organization and federation, founded upon the labour and equality of all and absolutely independent of all political government.” Consequently, turning the London Conference’s resolution on its head, they declared that “the destruction of all political power is the first duty of the proletariat.”

They regarded “the strike as a precious weapon in the struggle” for the liberation of the workers, preparing them “for the great and final revolutionary contest which, destroying all privilege and all class difference, will bestow upon the worker a right to the enjoyment of the gross product of his labours.” Here we have the subsequent program of anarcho-syndicalism: the organization of workers into trade unions and similar bodies, based on class struggle, through which the workers will become conscious of their class power, ultimately resulting in the destruction of capitalism and the state, to be replaced by the free federation of the workers based on the organizations they created themselves during their struggle for liberation.

The resolutions from the St. Imier Congress were ratified by the Italian, Spanish, Jura, Belgian and, ironically, the American federations of the International, with most of the French sections also approving them. The St. Imier Congress marks the true emergence of a European anarchist movement, with the Italian, Spanish and Jura Federations of the International following anarchist programs. While there were anarchist elements within the Belgian Federation, by 1874, under the influence of De Paepe, the Belgians had come out in favour of a “public administrative state” that the anarchist federations in the anti-authoritarian International opposed. The French Internationalists contained a prominent anarchist contingent, but it was not until 1881 that a distinctively anarchist movement arose there.

In his memoirs, Kropotkin wrote that if the Europe of the late 1870s “did not experience an incomparably more bitter reaction than it did” after the Franco-Prussian War and the fall of the Paris Commune, “Europe owes it… to the fact that the insurrectionary spirit of the International maintained itself fully intact in Spain, in Italy, in Belgium, in the Jura, and even in France itself.” One can say, with equal justification, that anarchism itself, as a revolutionary movement, owes its existence to that same revolutionary spirit of the International from which it was born in the working class struggles in Europe during the 1860s and early 1870s. It was from those struggles, and the struggles within the International itself regarding how best to conduct them, that a self-proclaimed anarchist movement emerged.

Robert Graham

Malatesta quote 2


The 1917 Russian Revolution and the Factory Committees

The 1917 Russian Revolution

The 1917 Russian Revolution

Every February, I get renewed interest in my posts and pages regarding the 1917 February Revolution in Russia. I imagine interest will continue as we approach the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution in 2017. I included a Chapter on the Russian Revolution in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. Here, I reproduce excerpts from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of my Anarchism anthology, dealing with the February Revolution and the rise of factory committees during the revolutionary upheavals in Europe that began in Russia in February 1917.

russian revolution soldiers on street

The Russian Revolution

In 1916, echoing Bakunin’s position during the Franco-Prussian War, Russian anarchists who rejected Kropotkin’s pro-war stance called for the “imperialist war” in Europe to be transformed into an all embracing social revolution (Geneva Group of Anarchist-Communists, 1916: 44-47). In February 1917, the long sought after Russian Revolution began with relatively spontaneous uprisings for which, much like the 1905 Russian Revolution, no particular group could claim credit.

For the anarchists, the “February Revolution” was another vindication of their view of social revolution. “All revolutions necessarily begin in a more or less spontaneous manner,” wrote the Russian anarchist Voline. The task for revolutionary anarchists is to work with the insurgent people to enable them to take control of their own affairs, without any intermediaries, and to prevent the reconstitution of state power. For Voline and the anarchists, effective “emancipation can be achieved only by the direct, widespread, and independent action of those concerned, of the workers themselves, grouped, not under the banner of a political party or of an ideological formation, but in their own class organizations (productive workers’ unions, factory committees, co-operatives, etc.) on the basis of concrete action and self-government, helped, but not governed, by revolutionaries working in the very midst of, and not above the mass” (Volume One, Selection 87).

The anarchists therefore opposed the Provisional Government which replaced the Czarist regime and pressed for the expropriation by the workers and peasants themselves of the means of production and distribution, a process the workers and peasants had already begun, with workers taking over their factories and peasants seizing the land that they had worked for generations. Anarchist communists expropriated the homes of the rich and called for the creation of revolutionary communes (Avrich, 1978: 125-126 & 130).

Many anarchists supported and participated in the peasant and worker “soviets” that sprang up across Russia, following a pattern similar to the 1905 Russian Revolution. The anarcho-syndicalist, Gregory Maksimov, described the soviets as having “been brought into being by the proletariat spontaneously, by revolutionary means, and with that element of improvisation which springs from the needs of each locality and which entails (a) the revolutionizing of the masses, (b) the development of their activity and self-reliance, and (c) the strengthening of their faith in their own creative powers” (Volume One, Selection 83).

When Lenin rejected the orthodox Marxist view that Russia had to proceed through a “bourgeois” revolution and the development of a capitalist economy before socialism could be implemented, calling for a proletarian revolution that would replace the Russian state with worker and peasant soviets modeled after the Paris Commune, he was not only recognizing what was already happening, but adopting a position so close to the anarchists that both orthodox Marxists and many anarchists regarded the Bolsheviks as the anarchists’ allies (Avrich, 1978: 127-130). Many anarchists worked with the Bolsheviks to overthrow the Provisional Government in October 1917, and to dissolve the newly elected Constituent Assembly in January 1918.

Either Death to Capitalism or Death Under Capitalism

Either Death to Capitalism or Death Under Capitalism

Factory Committees

Soon after the October Revolution, some anarchists began to realize that rather than pushing the social revolution forward, the Bolsheviks were seeking to establish their own dictatorship, subordinating the soviets to their party organization. Maksimov therefore proclaimed in December 1917 that the anarchists “will go with the Bolsheviks no longer, for their ‘constructive’ work has begun, directed towards what we have always fought… the strengthening of the state. It is not our cause to strengthen what we have resolved to destroy. We must go to the lower classes to organize the work of the third—and perhaps the last—revolution” (Volume One, Selection 83).

Because the soviets, as “presently constituted,” were being transformed by the Bolsheviks into organs of state power, Maksimov argued that the anarchists “must work for their conversion from centres of authority and decrees into non-authoritarian centres,” linking the “autonomous organizations” of the workers together (Volume One, Selection 83). But as the Bolsheviks continued to consolidate their power, subordinating not only the soviets but also the trade unions to their “revolutionary” government, the anarcho-syndicalists began to emphasize the role of the factory committees in furthering the cause of the anarchist social revolution and in combatting both capitalism and the nascent Bolshevik dictatorship.

At their August 1918 congress, the Russian anarcho-syndicalists described the factory committee as “a fighting organizational form of the entire workers’ movement, more perfect than the soviet of workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ deputies in that it is a basic self-governing producers’ organization under the continuous and alert control of the workers… With the aid of the factory committees and their industry-wide federations, the working class will destroy both the existing economic slavery and its new form of state capitalism which is falsely labelled ‘socialism’,” which the Bolsheviks were in the process of establishing (Volume One, Selection 84).

A similar approach was put forward by anarchists in Italy during the factory occupations in 1919-1920, and by anarchists in Germany. Malatesta, returning to Italy in late 1919, argued, as he had before in his debates with the syndicalists (Volume One, Selection 60), that general strikes were not sufficient to bring about a revolution. The anarchists therefore “put forward an idea: the take-over of factories,” which would constitute “an exercise preparing one for the ultimate general act of expropriation” (Malatesta, 1920: 134). The Italian factory occupation movement peaked in September 1920, with armed workers running their own factories using a factory committee form of organization, but ended that same month when reformist trade union and socialist leaders negotiated an agreement with the government that returned control of the factories to their capitalist owners.

In Germany, anarchists fought to establish a system of workers’ councils, most notably in Bavaria, where Gustav Landauer and Erich Muhsam were directly involved in the short lived Council Republic of 1919. However, the Bavarian Revolution was crushed by troops sent in by the more conservative Social Democrats, whom Landauer had been denouncing as the scourge of the socialist movement for years (Volume One, Selections 79 & 111). Landauer was brutally murdered, and Muhsam was imprisoned for several years (Kuhn, 2011: 8-10).

Both the soviet and factory committee models of revolutionary organization were very influential in anarchist circles. At the founding congress of the reconstituted anarcho-syndicalist International Workers’ Association in early 1922, the delegates declared themselves in favour of “a system of free councils without subordination to any authority or political party” (Volume One, Selection 114). Nevertheless, some anarchists voiced concerns regarding the limitations of soviet and factory council modes of organization.

Maksimov pointed to the danger of the soviets being transformed into representative bodies instead of direct organs of libertarian self-management (Volume One, Selection 83). More recently, Murray Bookchin has argued that “council modes of organization are not immune to centralization, manipulation and perversion. These councils are still particularistic, one-sided and mediated forms of social management,” being limited to the workers’ self-management of production, “the preconditions of life, not the conditions of life” (Volume Two, Selection 62). Following the May-June 1968 events in France, Maurice Joyeux pointed out that factory committees need to coordinate their actions during the revolutionary process in order to spread and succeed, and then, after the revolution, to coordinate production and distribution, leading him to suggest that broader trade union federations would be better able to undertake this coordinating role (Volume Two, Selection 61).

Robert Graham

Workers' Control

Workers’ Control

Science and Technology: Anarchist Perspectives

Yoked to the Machine

Yoked to the Machine

Continuing with my installments from “The Anarchist Current,” the afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I discuss anarchist perspectives on science and technology. Although some anarchists, such as Carlo Cafiero, took a somewhat uncritical view of technology, other anarchists developed a sophisticated critique of the role of science and technology in modern capitalist societies, a critique that was sharpened by later anarchists and their fellow travellers, such as Paul Goodman and Ivan Illich. As Gustav Landauer argued, this more critical perspective on science and technology helped to distinguish the views of the anarchists from other revolutionary currents, particularly Marxism, which saw technological development as the key to social emancipation.

science and tech

Science and Technology

The anarchist critique of science and technology goes back at least to Proudhon, who denounced machinery which, “after having degraded the worker by giving him a master, completes his degeneracy by reducing him from the rank of artisan to that of common labourer” (Volume One, Selection 9). Carlo Pisacane argued that technological innovation under capitalism simply concentrates economic power and wealth “in a small number of hands,” while leaving the masses in poverty (Volume One, Selection 16).

Other anarchists have argued that once the people take control of technology, it can be redesigned to eliminate onerous toil, much like Oscar Wilde suggested, to make workplaces safer and to increase production for the benefit of all. Carlo Cafiero recognized that in capitalist economies, the worker has reason to oppose the machinery “which comes to drive him from the factory, to starve him, degrade him, torture him, crush him. Yet what a great interest he will have, on the contrary, in increasing their number when he will no longer be at the service of the machines and when… the machines will themselves be at his service, helping him and working for his benefit” (Volume One, Selection 32).

Gustav Landauer took a more critical position, arguing in 1911 that “the capitalist system, modern technology and state centralism go hand in hand… Technology, allied with capitalism, makes [the worker] a cog in the wheels of the machine.” Consequently, the technology developed under capitalism cannot provide the basis for a free society. Rather, workers must “step out of capitalism mentally and physically,” and begin creating alternative communities and technologies designed to meet their needs in conditions which they themselves find agreeable (Volume One, Selection 79). In the early 1960s, Paul Goodman (1911-1972) suggested some criteria “for the humane selection of technology: utility, efficiency, comprehensibility, repairability, ease and flexibility of use, amenity and modesty” (Volume Two, Selection 70), the use of which would result in something which Goodman’s friend, Ivan Illich (1926-2002), described as “convivial tools,” enabling “autonomous and creative intercourse among persons and… with their environment” (Volume Two, Selection 73).

Goodman the-black-flag-of-anarchism

Nineteenth century anarchists often extolled the virtues of modern science, particularly in contrast to religious belief, as part of their critique of the role of organized religion in supporting the status quo. In What is Property, Proudhon looked forward to the day when “the sovereignty of the will yields to the sovereignty of reason, and must at last be lost in scientific socialism” (Volume One, Selection 8). José Llunas Pujols wrote in 1882 that in an anarchist society, “the political State and theology would… be supplanted by Administration and Science” (Volume One, Selection 36), echoing Saint Simon’s comment that in an enlightened society, the government of man will be replaced by the “administration of things”. In the conclusion to his 1920 anarchist program, Malatesta summed up what anarchists want as “bread, freedom, love, and science for everybody” (Volume One, Selection 112).

However, this did not mean that anarchists were uncritical supporters of science. One of the most widely published and translated anarchist pamphlets in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was Bakunin’s essay, God and the State, in which he discussed the limitations of scientific theory and research, and warned against the danger of entrusting our affairs to scientists and intellectuals. Bakunin argued that science “cannot go outside the sphere of abstractions,” being “as incapable of grasping the individuality of a man as that of a rabbit.” Because science cannot grasp or appreciate the existential reality of individual human beings, “it must never be permitted, nor must anyone be permitted in its name, to govern” individuals. Those claiming to govern in the name of science would yield “to the pernicious influence which privilege inevitably exercises upon men,” fleecing “other men in the name of science, just as they have been fleeced hitherto by priests, politicians of all shades, and lawyers, in the name of God, of the State, of judicial Right” (Volume One, Selection 24).

Even Kropotkin, who argued in Modern Science and Anarchism (1912) that anarchism “is a conception of the Universe based on the mechanical [kinetic] interpretation of phenomena” that “recognizes no method of research except the scientific one,” never suggested that scientists should have a privileged role in society, nor that scientific hypotheses should be regarded as akin to human laws that need to be enforced by some authority. He decried the introduction of “artificial modes of expression, borrowed from theology and arbitrary power, into [scientific] knowledge which is purely the result of observation” (Volume One, Selection 52), and argued that all theories and conclusions, including those of the anarchists, are subject to criticism and must be verified by experiment and observation.

Kropotkin no more endorsed “the government of science” than Bakunin did (Volume One, Selection 24). Instead, he looked forward to:

“A society in which all the mutual relations of its members are regulated, not by laws, not by authorities, whether self-imposed or elected, but by   mutual agreement… and by a sum of social customs and habits—not petrified by law, routine, or superstition, but continually developing and continually readjusted, in accordance with the ever-growing requirements of a free life, stimulated by the progress of science, invention, and the steady growth of higher ideals” (Modern Science and Anarchism: 59).

Robert Graham

modern science and anarchism mother earth