Mikhail Bakunin
Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin

(1814-05-30)30 May 1814 (N.S.)
Died1 July 1876(1876-07-01) (aged 62)
Era19th century philosophy

Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin[a] (/bəˈknɪn/ bə-KOO-nin;[5] 30 May 1814 – 1 July 1876) was a Russian revolutionary anarchist. He is among the most influential figures of anarchism and a major figure in the revolutionary socialist, social anarchist,[6] and collectivist anarchist traditions. Bakunin's prestige as a revolutionary also made him one of the most famous ideologues in Europe, gaining substantial influence among radicals throughout Russia and Europe.

Bakunin grew up in Pryamukhino, a family estate in Tver Governorate. From 1840, he studied in Moscow, then in Berlin hoping to enter academia. Later in Paris, he met Karl Marx and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who deeply influenced him. Bakunin's increasing radicalism ended hopes of a professorial career. He was expelled from France for opposing the Russian Empire's occupation of Poland. After participating in the 1848 Prague and 1849 Dresden uprisings, Bakunin was imprisoned, tried, sentenced to death, and extradited multiple times. Finally exiled to Siberia in 1857, he escaped via Japan to the United States and then to London, where he worked with Alexander Herzen on the journal Kolokol (The Bell). In 1863, Bakunin left to join the insurrection in Poland, but he failed to reach it and instead spent time in Switzerland and Italy.

In 1868, Bakunin joined the International Workingmen's Association, leading the anarchist faction to rapidly grow in influence. The 1872 Hague Congress was dominated by a struggle between Bakunin and Marx, who was a key figure in the General Council of the International and argued for the use of the state to bring about socialism. In contrast, Bakunin and the anarchist faction argued for the replacement of the state by federations of self-governing workplaces and communes. Bakunin could not reach the Netherlands, and the anarchist faction lost the debate in his absence. Bakunin was expelled from the International for maintaining, in Marx's view, a secret organisation within the International, and founded the Anti-Authoritarian International in 1872. From 1870 until his death in 1876, Bakunin wrote his longer works such as Statism and Anarchy and God and the State, but he continued to directly participate in European worker and peasant movements. In 1870, he was involved in an insurrection in Lyon, France. Bakunin sought to take part in an anarchist insurrection in Bologna, Italy, but his declining health forced him to return to Switzerland in disguise.

Bakunin is remembered as a major figure in the history of anarchism, an opponent of Marxism, especially of the dictatorship of the proletariat; and for his predictions that Marxist regimes would be one-party dictatorships ruling over the proletariat, not rule by the proletariat. His book God and the State has been widely translated and remains in print. Bakunin has had a significant influence on thinkers such as Peter Kropotkin, Errico Malatesta, Herbert Marcuse, E. P. Thompson, Neil Postman and A. S. Neill as well as syndicalist organizations such as the IWW, the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War and contemporary anarchists involved in the modern-day anti-globalization movement.[7]


Early life

On 30 May [O.S. 18 May] 1814, Mikhail Aleksandrovich Bakunin was born into Russian nobility.[8] His family's Priamukhino estate, in the Tver region northwest of Moscow, had over 500 serfs.[9] His father, Alexander Mikhailovich Bakunin, was a Russian diplomat who had served in Italy. Upon returning to Priamukhino and marrying the much younger Varvara Aleksandrovna Murav'eva, the elder Bakunin raised his ten children in the Rousseauan pedagogic model.[8] Mikhail Bakunin, their third child and oldest son,[10] read the languages, literature, and philosophy of the period and described his youth as idyllic and sheltered from the realities of Russian life. As an early teenager, he began training for a military career at the St. Petersburg Artillery School, which he rejected.[8] Becoming an officer in 1833, he availed himself of the freedom to participate in the city's social life, but was unfulfilled. Derelict in his studies, he was sent to Belarus and Lithuania as punishment in early 1834, where he read academic theory and philosophy. He deserted the school in 1835 and only escaped arrest through his familial influence.[10] He was discharged at the end of the year and, despite his father's protests, left for Moscow to pursue a career as a mathematics teacher.[11]

Bakunin lived a bohemian, intellectual life in Moscow, where German Romantic literature and idealist philosophy were influential in the 1830s.[8] In the intellectual circle of Nikolai Stankevich, Bakunin read German philosophy, from Kant to Fichte to Hegel,[10] and published Russian translations of their works.[12] Bakunin's made the first Russian translation of Hegel and was the foremost Russian expert on Hegel by 1837.[13] Bakunin befriended Russian intellectuals including the literary critic Vissarion Belinsky, the poet Nikolay Ogarev, the novelist Ivan Turgenev, and the writer Alexander Herzen as youth prior to their careers.[12] Herzen funded Bakunin to study at the University of Berlin in 1840. Bakunin's plans to return to Moscow as a professor were soon abandoned.[14]

In Berlin, Bakunin gravitated towards the Young Hegelians, an intellectual group with radical interpretations of Hegel's philosophy,[12] and who drew Bakunin to political topics.[14] He left Berlin in early 1842 for Dresden and met the Hegelian Arnold Ruge,[14] who published Bakunin's first original publication. German: Die Reaktion in Deutschland ("The Reaction in Germany") proposes a continuation of the French Revolution to the rest of Europe and Russia.[12] Though steeped in Hegelian jargon and published under a pseudonym, it marked Bakunin's transition from philosophy to revolutionary rhetoric.[14]

Revolutionary activity and imprisonment

Bakunin, 1843

Throughout the 1840s, Bakunin grew into revolutionary agitation.[12] When his cadre aroused interest from Russian secret agents, Bakunin left for Zürich in early 1843. He met the proto-communist Wilhelm Weitling whose arrest led Bern's Russian embassy to distrust Bakunin.[14] Defying Russian orders to return, the Russian Senate stripped him of his rights as a nobleman and sentenced him in absentia to penal labor in Siberia.[15] Without steady financial support, Bakunin became an itinerant, traveling Europe meeting the people who had influenced him.[12] He visited Brussels and Paris, where he joined international emigrants and socialists, befriended the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and met the philosopher Karl Marx, with whom he would later tussle.[14] Bakunin only became personally active in political agitation in 1847, as Polish emigrants in Paris invited him to commemorate the 1830 Polish uprising with a speech.[14] His call for Poles to overthrow czarism in alliance with Russian democrats made Bakunin known throughout Europe and led the Russian ambassador to successfully request Bakunin's deportation.[16]

When the French King Louis Philippe I abdicated during the February 1848 Revolution, Bakunin returned to Paris and basked in the revolutionary milieu.[12] With the French government's support, he headed to Prussian Poland to agitate for revolt against Russia but never arrived.[17] He attended the 1848 Prague Slavic Congress to defend Slavic rights against German and Hungarian nationalism, and participated in its impromptu insurrection against the Austrian Habsburgs. Uncaptured, he wrote Aufruf an die Slaven ("Appeal to the Slavs") at the end of the year, advocating for a Slavic federation and revolt against the Austrian, Prussian, Turkish, and Russia governments. It was widely read and translated.[18]

After participating in both the Prague uprising and the 1849 Dresden uprising, Bakunin was imprisoned, tried, sentenced to death, extradited multiple times, and ultimately placed in solitary confinement in the Peter and Paul Fortress of St. Petersberg, Russia, in 1851. Three years later, he transferred to Shlisselburg Fortress near St. Petersberg for another three years. Prison weathered but did not break Bakunin, who retained his revolutionary zeal through his release. He did, however, write an autobiographical, genuflecting Confession to the Russian emperor, which proved to be a controversial document upon its public discovery some 70 years later. The letter did not improve his prison conditions. In 1857, Bakunin was permitted to transfer to permanent exile in Siberia. He married Antonia Kwiatkowska there[18] before escaping in 1861, first to Japan, then to San Francisco, across the country to New York, and arrived in London by the end of the year.[19] Bakunin set foot in America just as the Civil War was breaking out. Speaking with supporters of both sides, Bakunin stated that his sympathies were with the North, although he claimed hypocrisy in their stated goal of slave liberation while also forcing the South to remain in the Union.[20]

Back in Europe

In London, Bakunin reunited with Herzen and Ogarev. Bakunin collaborated with them on their Russian-language newspaper but his revolutionary fervor exceeded their moderate reform agenda. Bakunin's 1862 pamphlet The People's Cause: Romanov, Pugachev, or Pestel? criticized the Russian tsar for not using his position to facilitate a bloodless revolution and forgo another Pugachev's Rebellion. In early August 1862, he briefly travelled to Paris.[21] In Paris at this time, famous photographer Nadar took three famous photographs of him on August 7, 1862. After being photographed, he also signed Nadar's Livre d'Or (autograph albume), wrote that (leaf 161): "Watch out that liberty doesn't come to you from the north."[22][23] In 1863, Bakunin joined in an unsuccessful effort to supply armed men for the Polish January Uprising against Russia. Bakunin, reunited with his wife, moved to Italy the next year, where they stayed for three years.[19]

Bakunin, in his early 50s, developed his core anarchist thoughts in Italy. He continued to refine these ideas in his remaining 12 years. Among this ideology was the first of many conspiratorial revolutionary societies, though none of these participated in revolutionary actions, chiefly the revolutionary toppling of the state, to be replaced by free federation between voluntarily associated economic producers.[19]

He moved to Switzerland in 1867, a more permissive environment for revolutionary literature. Bakunin's anarchist writings were fragmentary and prolific.[19] With France's collapse in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, Bakunin traveled to Lyon and participated in the fruitless Lyon Commune in which the citizens briefly occupied the city hall. Bakunin retreated to Switzerland.[24]

In Switzerland, the Russian revolutionary Sergey Nechayev sought out Bakunin for a collaboration. Not knowing Nechayev's past betrayals, Bakunin warmed to Nechayev's revolutionary zeal and they together produced the 1869 Catechism of the Revolutionary, a tract that endorsed an ascetic life for revolutionaries without societal or moral bonds. Bakunin's connection with Nechayev hurt the former's reputation. More recent scholarship, however, challenges the catechism's authorship, crediting Nechayev as the primary or sole author. Bakunin ultimately disavowed their connection.[25]

First International

Video of Bakunin's grave

While Bakunin encountered Karl Marx in Paris (1844) and London (1864), he came to know him through the First International (International Working Men's Association), which Marx and Friedrich Engels formed in the 1860s. Bakunin's relationship with Marx became strained in the early 1870s for both interpersonal and ideological differences. Bakunin respected Marx's erudition and passion for socialism but found his personality to be authoritarian and arrogant. In turn, Marx was skeptical towards Russian reactionism and Bakunin's unruliness.[25] As Bakunin developed his anarchist ideas in this period, he came to see federative social organization, led by the peasantry and poorest workers, as the primary post-revolution goal, whereas Marx believed in a dictatorship of the proletariat, led by organized workers in industrially advanced countries, in which the workers use state infrastructure until the state withers away. Bakunists abhorred the political organization for which Marx advocated.[26]

Marx had Bakunin and Bakunist anarchists ejected from the First International's 1872 Hague Congress. This breaking point split the Marxist socialist movement from the anarchist movement and led to the undoing of the International. Bakunin's ideas continued to spread nevertheless to the labor movement in Spain and the watchmakers of the Swiss Jura Federation.[27]

Bakunin wrote his last major work, Statism and Anarchy (1873), anonymously in Russian to stir underground revolution in Russia. It restates his anarchist position, establishes the German Empire as the foremost centralized state in opposition to European anarchism, likens Marx to German authoritarianism, and warns of Marx's dictatorship of the proletariat being led by autocrats for their own gain in the name of the proletariat. This premonition furthered the gulf between the Marxists and Bakunist anarchists.[27]

In one final revolutionary act, Bakunin planned the unsuccessful 1874 Bologna insurrection with his Italian followers. Its failure was a major setback to the Italian anarchist movement. Bakunin retreated to Switzerland,[28] where he retired, dying in Bern on 1 July 1876.[29]


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"The passion for destruction is also a creative passion."[12]

Much of Bakunin's writings on anarchism centres on antipathy for the state and "political organization itself as the source of oppression and exploitation". His revolutionary solutions focus on undoing the state and hierarchical religious, social, and economic institutions, to be replaced by a system of freely federated communes organized "from below upward" with voluntary associations of economic producers, starting locally but ostensibly organizing internationally. These thoughts were first published in his unfinished 1871 The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution, expanded by a second part published in his 1908 Oeuvres, and again elaborated a fragment found and published posthumously as God and the State (1882). The latter was his most famous work, translated widely. It appeals to cast off both the state and religion to realize man's inborn freedom.[19]

As a writer, Bakunin was prolific yet fragmented. He was prone to large digressions and rarely completed what he set out to address. As a result, much of his writings on anarchism do not cohere and were published only posthumously. He wrote mainly in French.[19]

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 God and the State that "[t]he 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".[30]

Bakunin similarly rejected the notion of any privileged position or class, since the social and economic inequality implied by class systems 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, stating that "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 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", adding that "[w]hen the people are being beaten with a stick, they are not much happier if it is called 'the People's Stick'".[31]

Authority and freethought

In his 1870 essay What is Authority?, Bakunin wrote:

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 recognise 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.[32]

According to Bakunin:

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 recognise 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".[32]


According to political philosopher Carl Schmitt, a prominent member of the Nazi Party, "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."[33]

Bakunin believed that religion originated from the human ability for abstract thought and fantasy.[34][35] According to Bakunin, religion is sustained by indoctrination and conformism. Other factors in the survival of religion are poverty, suffering and exploitation, from which religion promises salvation in the afterlife. Oppressors take advantage of religion because many religious people reconcile themselves with injustice on earth by the promise of happiness in heaven.[30]

Bakunin argued that oppressors receive authority from religion. Religious people are in many cases obedient to the priests, because they believe that the statements of priests are based on direct divine revelation or scripture. Obedience to divine revelation or scripture is considered the ethical criterion by many religious people because God is considered as the omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent being. Therefore, each statement 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 evil. People who disobey the "messengers of God" are threatened with punishment in hell.[30] 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.[30]

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".[30] 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. Bakunin was an early proponent of the term political theology in his 1871 text "The Political Theology of Mazzini and the International",[36] to which Schmitt's eponymous book responded.[37][38]

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 federated with each other, "creating not only the ideas, but also the facts of the future itself."[39] 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."[40]

Nevertheless, Bakunin did not reduce the revolution to syndicalist unions, stressing the need to organize working-class neighbourhoods 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".[41] Bakunin did not dismiss the skilled workers as is sometimes claimed[by whom?] and 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 among "the rabble" and "the great masses of the poor and exploited, the so-called "lumpenproletariat"" to "inaugurate and bring to triumph the Social Revolution."[42]

Collectivist anarchism

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."[43]

Collectivist anarchism advocates the abolition of both the state and private ownership of the means of production. Instead, it 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 would revolt and forcibly collectivize the means of production.[44] Once collectivization takes place, money would be abolished to be replaced with labour 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 buy goods in a communal market.[45]

Critique of Marxism

The dispute between Bakunin and Karl Marx highlighted the differences between anarchism and Marxism. He strongly rejected Marx's concept of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" in which the new state would be unopposed and would, theoretically, represent the workers.[46] He argued that the state should be immediately abolished because all forms of government eventually lead to oppression.[46] He also vehemently opposed vanguardism, in which a political elite of revolutionaries guide the workers. Bakunin insisted that revolutions must be led by the people directly while any "enlightened elite" must exert influence only by remaining "invisible [...] not imposed on anyone [...] [and] deprived of all official rights and significance".[47] Bakunin claimed that 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".[48] Bakunin further stated that "we are convinced that liberty without socialism is privilege and injustice; and that socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality".[49]

While both anarchists and Marxists share the same final goal, the creation of a free, egalitarian society without social classes and repressive/bureaucratic 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."[47] However, Bakunin also wrote of meeting Marx in 1844: "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".[50] 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 "they found a capable and cool headed leader" in the "Russian refugee Michael Bakunin."[51] Marx wrote to Engels of meeting Bakunin in 1864 after his escape to Siberia, stating: "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."[52]

Bakunin has sometimes been called the first theorist of the "new class", meaning 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 "[t]he 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."[42]


By federalism, Bakunin meant the organization of society "from the base to the summit—from the circumference to the centre—according to the principles of free association and federation".[43] 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".[43]


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."[53]


Bakunin denied the supernatural and advocated a materialist explanation of natural phenomena, for "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." For Bakunin, 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."[53]

Proletariat, lumpenproletariat and the peasantry

Bakunin differed from Marx's on the revolutionary potential of the lumpenproletariat and the proletariat, for "[b]oth 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."[54] According to Nicholas Thoburn, "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."[55]

Revolutionary societies

Beginning in Italy with the International Brotherhood, Bakunin attempted to create secret revolutionary societies towards the end of his life, a concept at odds with his professed caution against the autocratic tendencies of the revolutionary elite. These organizations did not participate in revolutionary action.[19]

The idea of the "invisible dictatorship" was central to Bakunin's politics. In combination with Bakunin's opposition to parliamentary politics, historian Peter Marshall wrote that such a secret party, its existence unknown and its policies beholden to none, had the potential for greater tyranny than a Blanquist or Marxist party and was hard to envision as presaging an open, democratic society.[56]

Personal life

Antonia and Mikhail Bakunin, c. 1861

Bakunin married Antonia Kwiatkowska, originally from Poland, during his exile in Siberia. Kwiatkowska was much younger than Bakunin (a difference of 26 years; she was 18) and had little interest in politics. Their differences and Bakunin's meagre attention to romance have left biographers speculating about possible psychosexual rationales for Bakunin's personal life and the extent of his dedication to revolutionary action. Though she remained married to Bakunin until his death in 1876, Kwiatkowska had three children with another man while Bakunin was still alive – an Italian disciple of his, who married her after Bakunin's death.[57]


Bakunin was the leading anarchist revolutionary of the 19th century, active from the 1840s through the 1870s.[8] His foundational anarchist writings helped the movement stand in contrast to capitalism and Marxism and became more popular after his death, with some of his highest regarded works published posthumously and in new editions. His Statism and Anarchy influenced the growing Russian Narodnik movement of peasant socialism, and his anarchism influenced ideology in both the Russian Revolution and the Spanish Civil War. The 1960s New Left revived interest in his works and ideas of voluntary association and opposition to authoritarian socialism, with new editions and translations published.[29]

Bakunin's legacy reflects the paradox and ambivalence by which he lived. As historian Paul Avrich put it, Bakunin was "a nobleman who yearned for a peasant revolt, a libertarian with an urge to dominate others, an intellectual with a powerful anti-intellectual streak", who professed support for unfettered liberty while demanding unconditional obedience from his followers. Many of his actions put him closer to later authoritarian movements, even if his words were anti-authoritarian.[58]

In particular, the antisemitic passages in Bakunin's writing have been the subject of extended interest, such that Bakunin biographer Mark Leier has said the question is raised every time he speaks on Bakunin. Both Leier and scholar of antisemitism Eirik Eiglad have commented that antisemitism was not essential to Bakunin's thought, nor was his thought valued for his antisemitism.[59] Sociologist Marcel Stoetzler argued the opposite, saying that the antisemitic trope of Jewish world domination was at the centre of Bakunin's political thought.[60] Bakunin's anti-Jewish and anti-German resentment are most visible in the context of his attacks on Marx, but his antisemitism predated these passages.[61][62] Scholar Marshall Shatz noted that there is a gap between Bakunin's egalitarian principles and his ethnic prejudices, even if this antisemitism and stereotyping was common among French radicals of the era[61] and shared by Marx himself.[63]

Noam Chomsky called Bakunin's prediction that Marxist regimes would become dictatorships "one of the few predictions in the social sciences that actually came true".[64]

Bakunin archives are held in several places: the Pushkin House, the State Archive of the Russian Federation, the Russian State Library, the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, the National Library of Russia, and the International Institute of Social History.[29]






See also


  1. ^ Russian: Михаил Александрович Бакунин, IPA: [mʲɪxɐˈil ɐlʲɪkˈsandrəvʲɪdʑ bɐˈkunʲɪn].



  1. ^ Petrov, Kristian (2019). "'Strike out, right and left!': a conceptual-historical analysis of 1860s Russian nihilism and its notion of negation". Stud East Eur Thought. 71 (2): 73–97. doi:10.1007/s11212-019-09319-4. S2CID 150893870.
  2. ^ Scanlan, James P. (1998). "Russian Materialism: 'the 1860s'". Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Taylor and Francis. doi:10.4324/9780415249126-E050-1. ISBN 978-0415250696.
  3. ^ Edie, James M.; Scanlan, James; Zeldin, Mary-Barbara (1994). Russian Philosophy Volume II: the Nihilists, The Populists, Critics of Religion and Culture. University of Tennessee Press. p. 3. Bakunin himself was a Westernizer
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Further reading