Guy A. Aldred Archive

Chapter 12
Bakunin's Influence

Written: 1940.
Transcription/Markup: Andy Carloff
Online Source:; 2021

Kropotkin has asserted that we must measure Bakunin’s influence not by his literary legacy, which was small contrasted against that of Marx, but by the thought and action he inspired in his immediate disciples. The influence has descended through them to our time. It is legendary and oral rather than written and direct. It is purely spiritual but none the less real. Blanqui used to assert that one should never measure the influence of events by their seeming direct results. These were always unreal and unimportant. The accurate measurement was to judge the indirect consequences. This is how Bakunin must be judged. From his life and work has flown a steady stream of revolutionary thought, passion, and work throughout the world. It has not merely contributed towards the triumph of the Russian Revolution but it will pass on to destroy utterly the present Stalinist counter-revolution and the menacing Fascism now triumphant in Europe. His three books and his many pamphlets all originated in the same way. They were written to answer questions of the day. They were addressed as letters to friends, but reached the length of pamphlets owing to their author’s discursive style of writing.

In Paris, in 1847, and in Germany, in 1848, his influence on all men of thought was tremendous. He exerted a great power over Wagner, who was his personal friend; George Sand, Ogaroff, and the comrades who composed the socialist circles, the Young Germany, Italy and Sweden movements. All were infected by his revolutionary spirit.

Bakunin’s real literary career began after his break with Herzen. To this period belongs the essays “The Paris Commune and the State Idea,” “The Historical Development of the International Workers’ Association,” God and the State,” “The Knouto-German Empire,” “Report of a Frenchman on the Present Crisis,” “The Political Theology of Mazzini and the International,” and “The Bears of Berne.”

Bakunin’s speeches at the Congress of the Peace and Liberty League were so many challenges to the radicals of Europe. They declared that the Radicalism of 1848 had had its day, that the new era, the epoch of Socialism and Labor, had dawned. The question of economic independence had raised its head and would become the dominating factor in European history. This idea inspires his pamphlet to Mazzini. Here he announces the end of the conspiracy for the purpose of waging wars of national independence.

In “The Bears of Berne” he says good-bye to the Phillistine Swiss democratism. His “Letters to a Frenchman” were a litany to Gambetta’s Radicalism. They anticipated and proclaimed the epoch of the Paris Commune.

His “Knouto-German Empire and the Social Revolution” was the prophetic vision of an old revolutionist. Bakunin foresaw Fascism. He prophesied that, resulting from the triumph of Bismarck’s military state, a fifty years’ reaction would descend on Europe. Bakunin declares that the rise of German State Socialism, to which Bismarck stood sponsor, was the prelude to this counter-revolution. This summary shows that in spite of their fighting tendency, attributed to the fact that they were written on the spur of the moment, Bakunin’s writings are replete with profound political thought and a clear philosophic conception of history. Inspired by Proudhon’s revolutionary idea, they trace more accurately than Marx’s writings, the political developments of the class struggle to out time.

Bakunin’s works include no ready-made recipe for a political cook-shop. He has no creed to order. Those who expect to find an answer to all their questions in his books, without having to use their own thinking-caps will get no satisfaction. The writer defines and expressed life as one would do in conversation. He invites you to reflect for yourself. His brilliant generalizations awaken your intellect. His ideas pour forth unarranged, in a spontaneous flow. It may be said that his works have done more for the revolutionary education of the proletariat than all the heavy scholastic treatises of the doctrinaire socialists put together. The man lived. He continues to live in his writings. He makes his readers live. Through life the revolution will come.