Legends of Anarchism
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Mikhail (Michael) Bakunin
May 30, 1814 - July 1, 1876
Mikhail Bakunin was a Russian Revolutionary anarchist, and the founder of collectivist anarchism. He is considered among the most influential figures of anarchism, and one of the primary founders of social anarchism.
Bakunin grew up in Pryamukhino, a family estate in Tver Governorate, where he moved to study philosophy and began to read French encyclopedias, leading to his enthusiasm for the philosophy of Fichte. From Fichte, Bakunin went on to immerse himself in the works of Hegel.
That led to his embrace of Hegelianism, bedazzled by Hegel's famous maxim, "Everything that exists is rational." In 1840, Bakunin traveled to St. Petersburg and Berlin with the intention of preparing himself for a professorship in philosophy or history at the University of Moscow. In 1842, Bakunin moved from Berlin to Dresden. Eventually he arrived in Paris, where he met Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Karl Marx.
Bakunin's increasing radicalism - including his staunch opposition to imperialism in the east and central Europe by Russia and other powers - changed his life, putting an end to his hopes of a professorial career. He was eventually deported from France for speaking against Russia's oppression of Poland. In 1849, Bakunin was apprehended in Dresden for his participation in the Czech rebellion of 1848, and turned over to Russia where he was imprisoned in the Peter-Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. He remained there until 1857, when he was exiled to a work camp in Siberia. He escaped to Japan, the U.S. and then finally to London for a short time. In 1863, he left to join the insurrection in Poland, but he failed to reach his destination and instead spent time in Switzerland and Italy.
In 1868, Bakunin joined the socialist International Working Men's Association. The "Bakuninist" or anarcho-socialist trend rapidly expanded in influence, especially in Spain. A showdown loomed with Marx, who was a key figure in the General Council of the International. The 1872 Hague Congress was dominated by a struggle between Marx and his followers, who argued for the use of the state to bring about socialism, and the Bakunin/anarchist faction, which argued for the replacement of the state by federations of self-governing workplaces and communes. Bakunin was not at the congress due to being unable to reach the Netherlands. Bakunin's faction present at the conference lost, and Bakunin was (in Marx's view) expelled for supposedly maintaining a secret organization within the international.
However, the anarchists insisted the congress was unrepresentative and exceeded its powers, and held a rival conference of the International in Switzerland in 1872. This repudiated the Hague meeting, including Bakunin's supposed expulsion. The great majority of sections of the International affiliated to the body in Switzerland, making Marx's victory rather more illusory than pro-Marxist accounts suggest. The far larger Bakuninist international outlasted its small Marxist rival, which was isolated in New York; it also greatly facilitated the global spread of anarcho-socialism. In the International, as well as in his writings, Bakunin articulated the basic ideas of syndicalism and of anarchism, and developed the basic anarchist analysis and strategy.
From 1870 - 1876, Bakunin wrote some of his longer works, such as Satanism and Anarchy and God and the State. Bakunin remained, however, a direct participant in struggles. In 1870, he was involved in an insurrection in Lyon, France, which foreshadowed the Paris Commune. The Paris Commune closely corresponded to the elements of Bakunin's anarchist program -- self-management, mandates delegates, a militia system with elected officers, and decentralization.
Despite declining health, much a result of his years of imprisonment, Bakunin also sought to take part in a communal insurrection involving anarchists in Bologna, Italy, but was forced to return to Switzerland in disguise, where he settled in Lugano. He remained active in the worker's and peasant's movements of Europe and was also a major influence on movements in Egypt and and Latin America.