Mikhail Bakunin

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No theory, no ready-made system, no book that has ever been written will save the world. I cleave to no system. I am a true seeker.

Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin (Russian: Михаил Александрович Бакунин) (May 30, 1814July 1, 1876) was a Russian political philosopher, anarchist, and noted atheist.

Quotes[edit]

All people and all men are filled with a kind of premonition, and everyone whose vital organs are not paralyzed faces with shuddering expectation the approaching future which will utter the redeeming word.
Unity is the great goal toward which humanity moves irresistibly. But it becomes fatal, destructive of the intelligence, the dignity, the well-being of individuals and peoples whenever it is formed without regard to liberty, either by violent means or under the authority of any theological, metaphysical, political, or even economic idea.
What all other men are is of the greatest importance to me. However independent I may imagine myself to be, however far removed I may appear from mundane considerations by my social status, I am enslaved to the misery of the meanest member of society.
I am a fanatic lover of liberty, considering it as the unique condition under which intelligence, dignity and human happiness can develop and grow...
By striving to do the impossible, man has always achieved what is possible.
  • FREEDOM, the realization of freedom: who can deny that this is what today heads the agenda of history? ... Revolutionary propaganda is in its deepest sense the negation of the existing conditions of the State, for, with respect to its innermost nature, it has no other program than the destruction of whatever order prevails at the time.... We must not only act politically, but in our politics act religiously, religiously in the sense of freedom, of which the one true expression is justice and love. Indeed, for us alone, who are called the enemies of the Christian religion, for us alone it is reserved, and even made the highest duty ... really to exercise love, this highest commandment of Christ and this only way to true Christianity.
    • "The Reaction in Germany" (1842), Bakunin's first political writings, signed "Jules Elysard." It was not until 1860 that he publicly adopted his famous stance of firm atheism, and vigorous rejection of traditional religious institutions.
  • Everywhere, especially in France and England, social and religious societies are being formed which are wholly alien to the world of present-day politics, societies that derive their life from new sources quite unknown to us and that grow and diffuse themselves without fanfare. The people, the poor class, which without doubt constitutes the greatest part of humanity; the class whose rights have already been recognized in theory but which is nevertheless still despised for its birth, for its ties with poverty and ignorance, as well as indeed with actual slavery – this class, which constitutes the true people, is everywhere assuming a threatening attitude and is beginning to count the ranks of its enemy, far weaker in numbers than itself, and to demand the actualization of the right already conceded to it by everyone. All people and all men are filled with a kind of premonition, and everyone whose vital organs are not paralyzed faces with shuddering expectation the approaching future which will utter the redeeming word. Even in Russia, the boundless snow-covered kingdom so little known, and which perhaps also has a great future in store, even in Russia dark clouds are gathering, heralding storm. Oh, the air is sultry and pregnant with lightning.
    And therefore we call to our deluded brothers: Repent, repent, the Kingdom of the Lord is at hand!
    • "The Reaction in Germany" (1842)
  • We exhort the compromisers to open their hearts to truth, to free themselves of their wretched and blind circumspection, of their intellectual arrogance, and of the servile fear which dries up their souls and paralyzes their movements.
    Let us therefore trust the eternal Spirit which destroys and annihilates only because it is the unfathomable and eternal source of all life. The passion for destruction is a creative passion, too!
    • "The Reaction in Germany" (1842)
  • I eagerly await tomorrow's mail to have news of Russia and Poland. For now, I have to content myself with a few vague rumors which float around. I have heard about new, bloody skirmishes in Poland between the people and troops; I was told that, even in Russia, there was a conspiracy against the czar and the whole royal family.
    I am equally passionate about the struggle between the North and the Southern American states. Of course, my heart goes out to the North. But alas! It is the South who acted with the most force, wisdom, and solidarity, which makes them worthy of the triumph they have received in every encounter so far. It is true that the South has been preparing for war for three years now, while the North has been forced to improvise. The surprising success of the ventures of the American people, for the most part happy; the banality of the material well being, where the heart is absent; and the national vanity, altogether infantile and sustained with very little cost; all seem to have helped deprave these people, and perhaps this stubborn struggle will be beneficial to them in so much as it helps the nation regain its lost soul. This is my first impression; but it could very well be that I will change my mind upon seeing things up close. The only thing is, I will not have enough time to examine really closely.
    • Letter to Aleksandr Ivanovich Herzen and Ogareff from San Francisco (3 October 1861); published in Correspondance de Michel Bakounine (1896) edited by Michel Dragmanov
  • Unity is the great goal toward which humanity moves irresistibly. But it becomes fatal, destructive of the intelligence, the dignity, the well-being of individuals and peoples whenever it is formed without regard to liberty, either by violent means or under the authority of any theological, metaphysical, political, or even economic idea. That patriotism which tends toward unity without regard to liberty is an evil patriotism, always disastrous to the popular and real interests of the country it claims to exalt and serve. Often, without wishing to be so, it is a friend of reaction – an enemy of the revolution, i.e., the emancipation of nations and men.
    • "Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism", presented originally as a Reasoned Proposal to the Central Committee of the League for Peace and Freedom, at the League's first congress held in Geneva (September 1867)
    • "Reasoned Proposal to the Central Committee of the League for Peace and Freedom" also known as "Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism" (September 1867)
  • Liberty is so great a magician, endowed with so marvelous a power of productivity, that under the inspiration of this spirit alone, North America was able within less than a century to equal, and even surpass, the civilization of Europe.
    • "Reasoned Proposal to the Central Committee of the League for Peace and Freedom" also known as "Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism" (September 1867)
  • We are convinced that liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; and that socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.
    • "Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism", presented by Bakunin as a Reasoned Proposal to the Central Committee of the League for Peace and Freedom, at the League's first congress held in Geneva (September 1867).
    • Variant translation: We are convinced that freedom without Socialism is privilege and injustice, and that Socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.
      • As quoted in The Political Philosophy of Bakunin : Scientific Anarchism (1953) edited by Grigoriĭ Petrovich Maksimov, p. 269
  • What all other men are is of the greatest importance to me. However independent I may imagine myself to be, however far removed I may appear from mundane considerations by my social status, I am enslaved to the misery of the meanest member of society. The outcast is my daily menace. Whether I am Pope, Czar, Emperor, or even Prime Minister, I am always the creature of their circumstance, the conscious product of their ignorance, want and clamoring. They are in slavery, and I, the superior one, am enslaved in consequence.
    • Solidarity in Liberty: The Workers' Path to Freedom (1867)
  • Political Freedom without economic equality is a pretense, a fraud, a lie; and the workers want no lying.
    • The Red Association (1870)
When the people are being beaten with a stick, they are not much happier if it is called "the People's Stick."
  • I am a fanatic lover of liberty, considering it as the unique condition under which intelligence, dignity and human happiness can develop and grow; not the purely formal liberty conceded, measured out and regulated by the State, an eternal lie which in reality represents nothing more than the privilege of some founded on the slavery of the rest; not the individualistic, egoistic, shabby, and fictitious liberty extolled by the School of J.-J. Rousseau and other schools of bourgeois liberalism, which considers the would-be rights of all men, represented by the State which limits the rights of each — an idea that leads inevitably to the reduction of the rights of each to zero. No, I mean the only kind of liberty that is worthy of the name, liberty that consists in the full development of all the material, intellectual and moral powers that are latent in each person; liberty that recognizes no restrictions other than those determined by the laws of our own individual nature, which cannot properly be regarded as restrictions since these laws are not imposed by any outside legislator beside or above us, but are immanent and inherent, forming the very basis of our material, intellectual and moral being — they do not limit us but are the real and immediate conditions of our freedom.
  • Revolution requires extensive and widespread destruction, a fecund and renovating destruction, since in this way and only this way are new worlds born
    • "Statism and Anarchy" (1873)
  • If there is a State, there must be domination of one class by another and, as a result, slavery; the State without slavery is unthinkable – and this is why we are the enemies of the State.
    • "Statism and Anarchy" (1873)
  • When the people are being beaten with a stick, they are not much happier if it is called "the People's Stick."
    • Statism and Anarchy (1873)
  • The modern State is by its very nature a military State; and every military State must of necessity become a conquering, invasive State; to survive it must conquer or be conquered, for the simple reason that accumulated military power will suffocate if it does not find an outlet. Therefore the modern State must strive to be a huge and powerful State: this is the indispensable precondition for its survival.
    • Statism and Anarchy (1873)
  • Even the most wretched individual of our present society could not exist and develop without the cumulative social efforts of countless generations. Thus the individual, his freedom and reason, are the products of society, and not vice versa: society is not the product of individuals comprising it; and the higher, the more fully the individual is developed, the greater his freedom — and the more he is the product of society, the more does he receive from society and the greater his debt to it.
    • The Philosophy of Bakunin (1953) edited by G. P. Maximoff (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press), p. 158.
  • No theory, no ready-made system, no book that has ever been written will save the world. I cleave to no system. I am a true seeker.
    • As quoted in Michael Bakunin (1961) by E. H. Carr, p. 175
  • We wish, in a word, equality - equality in fact as a corollary, or rather, as primordial condition of liberty. From each according to his faculties, to each according to his needs; that is what we wish sincerely and energetically.
    • As quoted in The Old Order and the New (1890) by J. Morris Davidson,
  • By striving to do the impossible, man has always achieved what is possible. Those who have cautiously done no more than they believed possible have never taken a single step forward.

Program and Object of the Secret Revolutionary Organisation of the International Brotherhood (1868)[edit]

  • In order to touch the heart and gain the confidence, the assent, the adhesion, and the co-operation of the illiterate legions of the proletariat — and the vast majority of proletarians unfortunately still belong in this category — it is necessary to begin to speak to those workers not of the general sufferings of the international proletariat as a whole but of their particular, daily, altogether private misfortunes. It is necessary to speak to them of their own trade and the conditions of their work in the specific locality where they live; of the harsh conditions and long hours of their daily work, of the small pay, the meanness of their employer, the high cost of living, and how impossible it is for them properly to support and bring up a family.
  • Not official revolutionary commissars in any sort of sashes, but rather revolutionary propagandists are to be dispatched into all the provinces and communes and particularly among the peasants who cannot be revolutionised by principles, nor by the decrees of any dictatorship, but only by the act of revolution itself, that is to say, by the consequences that will inevitably ensure in every commune from complete cessation of the legal and official existence of the state.
  • The peoples' revolution .... will arrange its revolutionary organisation from the bottom up and from the periphery to the centre, in keeping with the principle of liberty.

Man, Society, and Freedom (1871)[edit]

I am truly free only when all human beings, men and women, are equally free. The freedom of other men, far from negating or limiting my freedom, is, on the contrary, its necessary premise and confirmation.
As translated by Sam Dolgoff in Bakunin on Anarchy (1971)
  • The materialistic, realistic, and collectivist conception of freedom, as opposed to the idealistic, is this: Man becomes conscious of himself and his humanity only in society and only by the collective action of the whole society. He frees himself from the yoke of external nature only by collective and social labor, which alone can transform the earth into an abode favorable to the development of humanity. Without such material emancipation the intellectual and moral emancipation of the individual is impossible. He can emancipate himself from the yoke of his own nature, i.e. subordinate his instincts and the movements of his body to the conscious direction of his mind, the development of which is fostered only by education and training. But education and training are preeminently and exclusively social ... hence the isolated individual cannot possibly become conscious of his freedom.
    To be free ... means to be acknowledged and treated as such by all his fellowmen. The liberty of every individual is only the reflection of his own humanity, or his human right through the conscience of all free men, his brothers and his equals.
    I can feel free only in the presence of and in relationship with other men.
    In the presence of an inferior species of animal I am neither free nor a man, because this animal is incapable of conceiving and consequently recognizing my humanity. I am not myself free or human until or unless I recognize the freedom and humanity of all my fellowmen.
    Only in respecting their human character do I respect my own. ...
    I am truly free only when all human beings, men and women, are equally free. The freedom of other men, far from negating or limiting my freedom, is, on the contrary, its necessary premise and confirmation.
    • Variant translations: Man does not become man, nor does he achieve awareness or realization of his humanity, other than in society and in the collective movement of the whole society; he only shakes off the yoke of internal nature through collective or social labor... and without his material emancipation there can be no intellectual or moral emancipation for anyone... man in isolation can have no awareness of his liberty. Being free for man means being acknowledged, considered and treated as such by another man, and by all the men around him. Liberty is therefore a feature not of isolation but of interaction, not of exclusion but rather of connection... I myself am human and free only to the extent that I acknowledge the humanity and liberty of all my fellows... I am properly free when all the men and women about me are equally free. Far from being a limitation or a denial of my liberty, the liberty of another is its necessary condition and confirmation.
    • The freedom of all is essential to my freedom.
  • My dignity as a man, my human right which consists of refusing to obey any other man, and to determine my own acts in conformity with my convictions is reflected by the equally free conscience of all and confirmed by the consent of all humanity. My personal freedom, confirmed by the liberty of all, extends to infinity.
    The materialistic conception of freedom is therefore a very positive, very complex thing, and above all, eminently social, because it can be realized only in society and by the strictest equality and solidarity among all men.
  • The first revolt is against the supreme tyranny of theology, of the phantom of God. As long as we have a master in heaven, we will be slaves on earth.
  • We must make a very precise distinction between the official and consequently dictatorial prerogatives of society organized as a state, and of the natural influence and action of the members of a non-official, non-artificial society.

Rousseau's Theory of the State (1873)[edit]

The State … is the most flagrant, the most cynical, and the most complete negation of humanity. It shatters the universal solidarity of all men on the earth, and brings some of them into association only for the purpose of destroying, conquering, and enslaving all the rest.
Online Text
We are firmly convinced that the most imperfect republic is a thousand times better than the most enlightened monarchy.
  • We … have humanity divided into an indefinite number of foreign states, all hostile and threatened by each other. There is no common right, no social contract of any kind between them; otherwise they would cease to be independent states and become the federated members of one great state. But unless this great state were to embrace all of humanity, it would be confronted with other great states, each federated within, each maintaining the same posture of inevitable hostility. War would still remain the supreme law, an unavoidable condition of human survival.
    Every state, federated or not, would therefore seek to become the most powerful. It must devour lest it be devoured, conquer lest it be conquered, enslave lest it be enslaved, since two powers, similar and yet alien to each other, could not coexist without mutual destruction.
    The State, therefore, is the most flagrant, the most cynical, and the most complete negation of humanity. It shatters the universal solidarity of all men on the earth, and brings some of them into association only for the purpose of destroying, conquering, and enslaving all the rest. It protects its own citizens only; it recognises human rights, humanity, civilisation within its own confines alone. Since it recognises no rights outside itself, it logically arrogates to itself the right to exercise the most ferocious inhumanity toward all foreign populations, which it can plunder, exterminate, or enslave at will. If it does show itself generous and humane toward them, it is never through a sense of duty, for it has no duties except to itself in the first place, and then to those of its members who have freely formed it, who freely continue to constitute it or even, as always happens in the long run, those who have become its subjects. As there is no international law in existence, and as it could never exist in a meaningful and realistic way without undermining to its foundations the very principle of the absolute sovereignty of the State, the State can have no duties toward foreign populations. Hence, if it treats a conquered people in a humane fashion, if it plunders or exterminates it halfway only, if it does not reduce it to the lowest degree of slavery, this may be a political act inspired by prudence, or even by pure magnanimity, but it is never done from a sense of duty, for the State has an absolute right to dispose of a conquered people at will.
    This flagrant negation of humanity which constitutes the very essence of the State is, from the standpoint of the State, its supreme duty and its greatest virtue. It bears the name patriotism, and it constitutes the entire transcendent morality of the State. We call it transcendent morality because it usually goes beyond the level of human morality and justice, either of the community or of the private individual, and by that same token often finds itself in contradiction with these. Thus, to offend, to oppress, to despoil, to plunder, to assassinate or enslave one's fellowman is ordinarily regarded as a crime. In public life, on the other hand, from the standpoint of patriotism, when these things are done for the greater glory of the State, for the preservation or the extension of its power, it is all transformed into duty and virtue. And this virtue, this duty, are obligatory for each patriotic citizen; everyone is supposed to exercise them not against foreigners only but against one's own fellow citizens, members or subjects of the State like himself, whenever the welfare of the State demands it.
    This explains why, since the birth of the State, the world of politics has always been and continues to be the stage for unlimited rascality and brigandage, brigandage and rascality which, by the way, are held in high esteem, since they are sanctified by patriotism, by the transcendent morality and the supreme interest of the State. This explains why the entire history of ancient and modern states is merely a series of revolting crimes; why kings and ministers, past and present, of all times and all countries — statesmen, diplomats, bureaucrats, and warriors — if judged from the standpoint of simple morality and human justice, have a hundred, a thousand times over earned their sentence to hard labour or to the gallows. There is no horror, no cruelty, sacrilege, or perjury, no imposture, no infamous transaction, no cynical robbery, no bold plunder or shabby betrayal that has not been or is not daily being perpetrated by the representatives of the states, under no other pretext than those elastic words, so convenient and yet so terrible: "for reasons of state."
  • We are firmly convinced that the most imperfect republic is a thousand times better than the most enlightened monarchy. In a republic, there are at least brief periods when the people, while continually exploited, is not oppressed; in the monarchies, oppression is constant. The democratic regime also lifts the masses up gradually to participation in public life--something the monarchy never does. Nevertheless, while we prefer the republic, we must recognise and proclaim that whatever the form of government may be, so long as human society continues to be divided into different classes as a result of the hereditary inequality of occupations, of wealth, of education, and of rights, there will always be a class-restricted government and the inevitable exploitation of the majorities by the minorities.
    The State is nothing but this domination and this exploitation, well regulated and systematised.

God and the State (1871; publ. 1882)[edit]

Online text
The liberty of man consists solely in this: that he obeys natural laws because he has himself recognized them as such, and not because they have been externally imposed upon him by any extrinsic will whatever, divine or human, collective or individual.
I receive and I give — such is human life. Each directs and is directed in his turn. Therefore there is no fixed and constant authority, but a continual exchange of mutual, temporary, and, above all, voluntary authority and subordination.
A person is strong only when he stands upon his own truth, when he speaks and acts from his deepest convictions.
  • The liberty of man consists solely in this: that he obeys natural laws because he has himself recognized them as such, and not because they have been externally imposed upon him by any extrinsic will whatever, divine or human, collective or individual.
  • 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 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 the 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 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 an individual, I have no absolute faith in any person. Such a faith would be fatal to my reason, to my liberty, and even to the success of my undertakings; it would immediately transform me into a stupid slave, an instrument of the will and interests of others.
  • I bow before the authority of special men because it is imposed upon me by my own reason. I am conscious of my inability to grasp, in all its details and positive developments, any very large portion of human knowledge. The greatest intelligence would not be equal to a comprehension of the whole. Thence results, for science as well as for industry, the necessity of the division and association of labor. I receive and I give — such is human life. Each directs and is directed in his turn. Therefore there is no fixed and constant authority, but a continual exchange of mutual, temporary, and, above all, voluntary authority and subordination.
  • This contradiction lies here: they wish God, and they wish humanity. They persist in connecting two terms which, once separated, can come together again only to destroy each other. They say in a single breath: "God and the liberty of man," "God and the dignity, justice, equality, fraternity, prosperity of men" — regardless of the fatal logic by virtue of which, if God exists, all these things are condemned to non-existence. For, if God is, he is necessarily the eternal, supreme, absolute master, and, if such a master exists, man is a slave; now, if he is a slave, neither justice, nor equality, nor fraternity, nor prosperity are possible for him. In vain, flying in the face of good sense and all the teachings of history, do they represent their God as animated by the tenderest love of human liberty: a master, whoever he may be and however liberal he may desire to show himself, remains none the less always a master. His existence necessarily implies the slavery of all that is beneath him. Therefore, if God existed, only in one way could he serve human liberty — by ceasing to exist.
  • Amoureux et jaloux de la liberté humaine, et la considérant comme la condition absolue de tout ce que nous adorons et respectons dans l'humanité, je retourne la phrase de Voltaire, et je dis : Si Dieu existait réellement, il faudrait le faire disparaître.
    • A jealous lover of human liberty, deeming it the absolute condition of all that we admire and respect in humanity, I reverse the phrase of Voltaire, and say that, if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.
    • Ch. II; Variants or variant translations of this statement have also been attributed to Bakunin:
      The first revolt is against the supreme tyranny of theology, of the phantom of God. As long as we have a master in heaven, we will be slaves on earth.
      A boss in Heaven is the best excuse for a boss on earth, therefore If God did exist, he would have to be abolished.
  • Of escape there are but three methods — two chimerical and a third real. The first two are the dram-shop and the church, debauchery of the body or debauchery of the mind; the third is social revolution.
  • Nothing, in fact, is as universal or as ancient as the iniquitous and absurd; truth and justice, on the contrary, are the least universal, the youngest features in the development of human society.
  • All religions, with their gods, their demigods, and their prophets, their messiahs and their saints, were created by the credulous fancy of men who had not attained the full development and full possession of their faculties. Consequently, the religious heaven is nothing but a mirage in which man, exalted by ignorance and faith, discovers his own image, but enlarged and reversed — that is, divinized. The history of religion, of the birth, grandeur, and decline of the gods who have succeeded one another in human belief, is nothing, therefore, but the development of the collective intelligence and conscience of mankind.
  • All religions are cruel, all founded on blood; for all rest principally on the idea of sacrifice — that is, on the perpetual immolation of humanity to the insatiable vengeance of divinity.
  • A person is strong only when he stands upon his own truth, when he speaks and acts from his deepest convictions. Then, whatever the situation he may be in, he always knows what he must say and do. He may fall, but he cannot bring shame upon himself or his causes.
  • In a word, we reject all legislation, all authority, and all privileged, licensed, official, and legal influence, even though arising from universal suffrage, convinced that it can turn only to the advantage of a dominant minority of exploiters against the interest of the immense majority in subjection to them. This is the sense in which we are really Anarchists.

Quotes about Bakunin[edit]

As a romantic rebel and an active force in history, Bakunin exerted a personal attraction that Marx could never rival. ~ Paul Avrich
  • As a romantic rebel and an active force in history, Bakunin exerted a personal attraction that Marx could never rival. … His broad magnanimity and childlike enthusiasm, his burning passion for liberty and equality, his volcanic onslaughts against privilege and injustice — all gave him enormous appeal in the libertarian circles of his day.
    But Bakunin, as his critics never tired of pointing out, was not a systematic thinker. Nor did he ever claim to be. … He refused to recognize the existence of any preconceived or preordained laws of history. … He believed, on the contrary, that men shaped their own destinies, that their lives cannot be squeezed into a Procrustean bed of abstract social formulas. … And yet, however erratic and unmethodical, his writings abound in flashes of insight that illuminate some of the most important social questions of his time — and of ours.
    • Paul Avrich, Introduction to God and the State (1970 Dover edition)
  • On the first day of a revolution, he is a perfect treasure; on the second, he ought to be shot.
    • Marc Caussidière, Préfecture de Police, in early 1848, as quoted in Michael Bakunin (1961) by E. H. Carr, p. 150.
  • Bakunin's social theory began, and almost ended, with liberty. Against the claims of liberty nothing else in his view was worth consideration at all. He attacked, remorselessly and without qualification, every institution that seemed to him to be inconsistent with liberty.
    • G. D. H. Cole, as quoted in Bakunin : The Philosophy of Freedom (1993) by Brian Morris, p. 92
  • This man was born not under an ordinary star but under a comet.
    • Alexander Herzen, as quoted in The Doctrine of Anarchism of Michael A. Bakunin (1968) by Eugène Pyziur, p. 1
  • Everything about him was colossal, and he was full of exuberance and strength.
    • Richard Wagner, as quoted in the Introduction to God and the State (1979 Dover edition)

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