Bakunin on Liberty, Equality and Democracy (1866)

Recently I have been posting material on anarchy and democracy, and liberty and equality (or “equaliberty,” as Tomás Ibáñez (and others) would put it). Seeing as it was just Bakunin’s birthday (May 30th – happy 203rd birthday Mikhail!), I thought it appropriate to post these excerpts, translated by the inestimable Shawn Wilbur, from Bakunin’s 1866 “Revolutionary Catechism.” The “Catechism” is noteworthy on a number of grounds. While Bakunin did not yet identify himself as an anarchist when this was written, he advocates a form of what I have described elsewhere as federative, associational direct democracy, a form of democracy without the state, having as its basis “the completely autonomous commune.” Bakunin expressly calls for the abolition of classes and the state. He draws the connection between religious belief in a (patriarchal) personal god and the “principle of authority,” rejecting both, while at the same time defending the right to one’s personal beliefs and freedom of association. He advocates complete equality between men and women, and the abolition of the patriarchal “legal” family. While he was later to develop a more sophisticated critique of political organization, moving towards a more fluid conception of voluntary federation as associations of productive, communal and functional groups transcending national boundaries, without any coercive authority within or above the associated groups, the Catechism (only a small portion of which I have included here  – for the complete version click here) sets forth the basic principles of what was to become Bakunin’s anarchism.

The Bakunin Library

Revolutionary Catechism

  1. Denial of the existence of a real, otherworldly, personal God, and consequently also of all revelation and all divine intervention in the affairs of the world and humanity. Abolition of the service and cult of the Divinity.
  2. Replacing the worship of God with respect and love for humanity, we affirm human reason as the sole criterion of truth; human conscience, as the basis of justice; and individual and collective liberty, as the sole creator of order for humanity.
  3. Liberty is the absolute right of every man or woman, having reached majority, to seek no other sanction for their actions than their own conscience and their own reason, to determine them only by their own will, and consequently to be responsible for them first only with regard to themselves, and then with regard to the society of which they are a part, but only in so far as they freely consent to be a part of it.
  4. It is not true that the liberty of one individual is limited by that of all the others. Man is only really free to the extent that his liberty, freely recognized and represented as in a mirror by the free consent of those others, finds confirmation and boundless expansion in their liberty. Man is truly free only among equally free men; and as he is free only by virtue of being human, the slavery of one single human being on earth, being an offense against the very principle of humanity, is a negation of the liberty of all.
  5. The liberty of each is thus realizable only in the equality of all. The realization of liberty through equality, by right and in fact, is justice.
  6. There exists only one single dogma, one single law, one single moral basis for me: it is liberty. To respect the liberty of one’s fellows, that is duty; to love, aid, and serve them, that is virtue.
  7. Absolute exclusion of every principle of authority and of the Reason of State.—Human society, having been originally a fact of nature, prior to liberty and to the awakening of human thought, later became a religious fact, organized according to the principle of divine and human authority, must today reconstruct itself on the basis of liberty, which must from now on become the sole constitutive principle of political and economic organization. Order in society must be the result of the greatest possible development of all the local, collective and individual liberties.
  8. Consequently, the political and economic organization of social life must begin—no longer as today from high to low, and from the center to the circumference, according to the principle of unity and forced centralization—but from low to high, and from the circumference to the center, according to the principle of free association and free federation.
  9. Political organization. It is impossible to determine a concrete, universal, and obligatory norm for the internal development and political organization of the nations; the existence of each nation being subordinated to a mass of different historical, geographical, and economic conditions, which will never allow us to establish a model of organization equally good and acceptable for all. Furthermore, any such enterprise, absolute devoid of practical utility, would detract from the richness and spontaneity of life which flourishes only in infinite diversity and, what is more, would be contrary to the very principle of liberty. There are, however, some absolute, essential conditions, in the absence of which the practical realization and organization of liberty will be forever impossible.

These conditions are:

A. The radical abolition of all official religions and of every Church privileged, or simply protected, funded and maintained by the State. Absolute liberty of conscience and propaganda for each, with the unlimited ability to raise as many temples as they please to whatever Gods they have, and to pay and support the priests of their religion.

B. The churches, considered as religious corporations, should never enjoy any of the political rights granted to the productive associations; nor could they inherit, nor possess goods in common, except for their houses or places of worship, and could never concern themselves with the education of children;—the only object of their existence being the systematic negation of morality and liberty, and the practice of a lucrative form of witchcraft.

C. Abolition of monarchyRepublic.

D. Abolition of classes, ranks, privileges, and all sorts of distinction.—Absolute equality of political rights for all men and women; universal suffrage.

E. Abolition, dissolution, and social, political, judiciary, bureaucratic and financial bankruptcy of the tutelary, transcendental, and centralist State, the double and alter ego of the Church, and as such, a permanent cause of impoverishment, brutalization, and enslavement for the people. As a natural consequence, Abolition of all state universities,—the task of public instruction must belong exclusively to the communes and free associations. Abolition of the State magistracy—all judges must be elected by the people. Abolition of all criminal and civil codes which are presently in force in Europe—because all of them, being equally inspired by the worship of God, of the State, of the religiously or politically sanctioned family, and of property, are contrary to human rights, and because the code of liberty can be created only by liberty itself. Abolition of the banks and all the other state institutions of credit. Abolition of all central administration, of the bureaucracy, of the permanent armies and the state police.

F. Immediate and direct election of all public functionaries, judicial and civil, as well as all the national, provincial, and communal representatives or counselors by the people, that is by universal suffrage of all adult individuals, male and female.

G. Internal reorganization of each country, taking for its point of departure and basis the absolute liberty of individuals, productive associations, and communes.

Michael Bakunin (1814 – 1876)