Bakunin similarly rejected the notion of any privileged position or class, since the social and economic inequality implied by class systems (as well as systems of national and gender oppression) were incompatible with individual freedom. Whereas liberalism insisted that free markets and constitutional governments enabled individual freedom, Bakunin insisted that both capitalism and the state, in any form, were incompatible with the individual freedom of the working class and peasantry.
"It is the peculiarity of privilege and of every privileged position to kill the intellect and heart of man. The privileged man, whether he be privileged politically or economically, is a man depraved in intellect and heart."
Bakunin's political beliefs were based on several interrelated concepts: (1) liberty; (2) socialism; (3) federalism; (4) anti-theism; and (5) materialism. He also developed a (resultantly prescient) critique of Marxism, predicting that if the Marxists were successful in seizing power, they would create a party dictatorship "all the more dangerous because it appears as a sham expression of the people's will."
Authority and free-thought
Bakunin thought that "Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or the engineer. For such or such special knowledge I apply to such or such a savant. But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect nor savant to impose his authority upon me. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism and censure. I do not content myself with consulting a single authority in any special branch; I consult several; I compare their opinions, and choose that which seems to me the soundest. But I recognize no infallible authority, even in special questions; consequently, whatever respect I may have for the honesty and the sincerity of such or such individual, I have no absolute faith in any person."
He saw that....
"Therefore there is no fixed and constant authority, but a continual exchange of mutual, temporary, and, above all, voluntary authority and subordination. This same reason forbids me, then, to recognize a fixed, constant and universal authority, because there is no universal man, no man capable of grasping in all that wealth of detail, without which the application of science to life is impossible, all the sciences, all the branches of social life."
According to political philosopher Carl Schmitt, "in comparison with later anarchists, Proudhon was a moralistic petit bourgeois who continued to subscribe to the authority of the father and the principle of the monogamous family. Bakunin was the first to give the struggle against theology the complete consistency of an absolute naturalism. For him, therefore, there was nothing negative and evil except the theological doctrine of God and sin, which stamps man as a villain in order to provide a pretext for domination and the hunger for power."
Bakunin thought that religion originated from the human ability for abstract thinking and fantasizing. According to Bakunin, religion is sustained by indoctrination and conformism. Another factor in the survival of religion is the existence of poverty, suffering and exploitation in real life, from which religion promises the salvation in the afterlife. Oppressors take advantage from religion, according to Bakunin, because many religious people reconcile themselves with injustice on earth by the promise of happiness in heaven.
Bakunin argues that oppressors receive authority from religion. Religious people are in many cases obedient to the priests, because many religious people believe that the statements of priests are based on direct divine revelation or scripture. The obedience to divine revelation or scripture is considered as the ethical criteria by many religious people, because God is considered as the omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent being. Therefore, each statement which is considered derived from an infallible God cannot be criticized by humans. According to this religious way of thinking, humans cannot know by themselves what is just, but that only God decides what is good or wrong. People who disobey the “messengers of God” are threatened with punishment in hell.
According to Bakunin, the alternative for a religious power monopoly is the acknowledgement that all humans are equally inspired by God, but that means that multiple contradictory teachings are assigned to an infallible God, which is logically impossible. Therefore, Bakunin considers religion as necessarily authoritarian.
Bakunin argued in his book God and the State that "the idea of God implies the abdication of human reason and justice; it is the most decisive negation of human liberty, and necessarily ends in the enslavement of mankind, in theory and practice." Consequently, Bakunin reversed Voltaire's famous aphorism that if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him, writing instead that "if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish Him."
Bakunin was an early proponent of the term "political theology" in his 1871 text "The Political Theology of Mazzini and the International" to which Schmitt's book was a response. Political theology is a branch of both political philosophy and theology that investigates the ways in which theological concepts or ways of thinking underlie political, social, economic and cultural discourses.
Class struggle strategy for social revolution
Bakunin’s methods of realizing his revolutionary program were consistent with his principles. The working class and peasantry were to organize from below, through local structures interlinked on a federalist basis, "creating not only the ideas, but also the facts of the future itself." Their movements would prefigure the future, in their ideas and practices, creating the building blocks of the new society.
This approach was exemplified by syndicalism, an anarchist strategy championed by Bakunin, according to which trade unions would provide both the means to defend and improve workers' conditions, rights and incomes in the present, and the basis for a social revolution based upon workplace occupations. The syndicalist unions would organize the occupations, as well as provide the radically democratic structures through which workplaces would be self-managed, and the larger economy coordinated. Thus, for Bakunin, the workers' unions would "take possession of all the tools of production as well as buildings and capital."
Bakunin did not reduce the revolution to syndicalist unions, however, stressing the need to organize working-class neighborhoods, as well as the unemployed. Meanwhile, the peasants were to "take the land and throw out those landlords who live by the labor of others." Bakunin did not dismiss the skilled workers, as is sometimes claimed; indeed, the watchmakers of the Jura region were central to the St. Imier International's creation and operations. However, at a time when unions largely ignored the unskilled, Bakunin placed great emphasis on the need to organize as well amongst "the rabble," "the great masses of the poor and exploited, the so-called "lumpen proletariat," to "inaugurate and bring to triumph the Social Revolution."
Bakunin's socialism was known as "collectivist anarchism", where "socially: it seeks the confirmation of political equality by economic equality. This is not the removal of natural individual differences, but equality in the social rights of every individual from birth; in particular, equal means of subsistence, support, education, and opportunity for every child, boy or girl, until maturity, and equal resources and facilities in adulthood to create his own well-being by his own labor"
Collectivist anarchism advocates the abolition of both the state and private ownership of the means of production. It instead envisions the means of production being owned collectively and controlled and managed by the producers themselves. For the collectivization of the means of production, it was originally envisaged that workers will revolt and forcibly collectivize the means of production. Once collectivization takes place, money would be abolished to be replaced with labor notes and workers' salaries would be determined in democratic organizations based on job difficulty and the amount of time they contributed to production. These salaries would be used to purchase goods in a communal market.
Critique of Marxism
The dispute between Mikhail Bakunin and Karl Marx highlighted the differences between anarchism and Marxism. He strongly rejected Marx's concept of the "dictatorship of the proletariat", a concept that vanguardist socialism including Marxist–Leninism would use to justify one-party rule from above by a party 'representing' the proletariat. Bakunin insisted that revolutions must be led by the people directly while any "enlightened elite" must only exert influence by remaining "invisible...not imposed on anyone...[and] deprived of all official rights and significance". He held that the state should be immediately abolished because all forms of government eventually lead to oppression. Libertarian Marxists argue Marx used the phrase to mean the worker control at the point of production, not a party, would still be a state until society is reorganized according to socialist principles.
"They [the Marxists] maintain that only a dictatorship—their dictatorship, of course—can create the will of the people, while our answer to this is: No dictatorship can have any other aim but that of self-perpetuation, and it can beget only slavery in the people tolerating it; freedom can be created only by freedom, that is, by a universal rebellion on the part of the people and free organization of the toiling masses from the bottom up."
— Mikhail Bakunin, Statism and Anarchism
While both social anarchists and Marxists share the same final goal, the creation of a free, egalitarian society without social classes and government, they strongly disagree on how to achieve this goal. Anarchists believe that the classless, stateless society should be established by the direct action of the masses, culminating in social revolution, and refuse any intermediate stage such as the dictatorship of the proletariat, on the basis that such a dictatorship will become a self-perpetuating fundament. For Bakunin, the fundamental contradiction is that for the Marxists, "anarchism or freedom is the aim, while the state and dictatorship is the means, and so, in order to free the masses, they have first to be enslaved."
However, Bakunin also wrote of meeting Marx in 1844 that:
"As far as learning was concerned, Marx was, and still is, incomparably more advanced than I. I knew nothing at that time of political economy, I had not yet rid myself of my metaphysical observations. He called me a sentimental idealist and he was right; I called him a vain man, perfidious and crafty, and I also was right."
Bakunin found Marx's economic analysis very useful and began the job of translating Das Kapital into Russian. In turn Marx wrote of the rebels in the Dresden insurrection of 1848 that "In the Russian refugee Michael Bakunin they found a capable and cool headed leader." Marx wrote to Engels of meeting Bakunin in 1864 after his escape to Siberia saying "On the whole he is one of the few people whom I find not to have retrogressed after 16 years, but to have developed further."
Bakunin has sometimes been called the first theorist of the "new class", meaning that a 'class' of intellectuals and bureaucrats running the state in the name of the people or the proletariat – but in reality in their own interests alone. Bakunin argued that the "State has always been the patrimony of some privileged class: a priestly class, an aristocratic class, a bourgeois class. And finally, when all the other classes have exhausted themselves, the State then becomes the patrimony of the bureaucratic class and then falls—or, if you will, rises—to the position of a machine."
By federalism, Bakunin meant the organization of society "from the base to the summit—from the circumference to the center—according to the principles of free association and federation." Consequently, society would be organized "on the basis of the absolute freedom of individuals, of the productive associations, and of the communes," with "every individual, every association, every commune, every region, every nation" having "the absolute right to self-determination, to associate or not to associate, to ally themselves with whomever they wish."
By "liberty", Bakunin did not mean an abstract ideal but a concrete reality based on the equal liberty of others. In a positive sense, liberty consists of "the fullest development of all the faculties and powers of every human being, by education, by scientific training, and by material prosperity." Such a conception of liberty is "eminently social, because it can only be realized in society," not in isolation. In a negative sense, liberty is "the revolt of the individual against all divine, collective, and individual authority."
Bakunin denied religious concepts of a supernatural sphere, and advocated a 'materialist' explanation of natural phenomena: "the manifestations of organic life, chemical properties and reactions, electricity, light, warmth and the natural attraction of physical bodies, constitute in our view so many different but no less closely interdependent variants of that totality of real beings which we call matter". The "mission of science is, by observation of the general relations of passing and real facts, to establish the general laws inherent in the development of the phenomena of the physical and social world."
However, his materialism was different to that of Marx, in that it stressed the importance of non-economic factors in human affairs, including ideas and cultures.
The revolutionary potential of the proletariat vs the lumpenproletariat and the peasantry
Bakunin had a different view as compared to Marx's on the revolutionary potential of the lumpenproletariat and the proletariat. As such "Both agreed that the proletariat would play a key role, but for Marx the proletariat was the exclusive, leading revolutionary agent while Bakunin entertained the possibility that the peasants and even the lumpenproletariat (the unemployed, common criminals, etc.) could rise to the occasion. Bakunin "considers workers' integration in capital as destructive of more primary revolutionary forces. For Bakunin, the revolutionary archetype is found in a peasant milieu (which is presented as having longstanding insurrectionary traditions, as well as a communist archetype in its current social form—the peasant commune) and amongst educated unemployed youth, assorted marginals from all classes, brigands, robbers, the impoverished masses, and those on the margins of society who have escaped, been excluded from, or not yet subsumed in the discipline of emerging industrial work...in short, all those whom Marx sought to include in the category of the lumpenproletariat."
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / galdzer
Legends of Anarchism
Bakunin's political beliefs rejected statist and hierarchical systems of power in every name and shape, from the idea of God downwards, and every form of hierarchical authority, whether emanating from the will of a sovereign or even from a state that allowed universal suffrage. He wrote in Dieu et l'État (God and the State):
"The liberty of man consists solely in this, that he obeys the laws of nature because he has himself recognized them as such, and not because they have been imposed upon him externally by any foreign will whatsoever, human or divine, collective or individual."
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Share Alike 4.0 International License.