Guy A. Aldred Archive

Chapter 13
Bakunin's Communism

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

In 1869, Bakunin delivered his famous speech to the League of Peace and Liberty Congress at Berne. Plechanoff has described this organization as an entirely bourgeoisie body. The history of social democratic movement that George Plechanoff defended so laboriously, has proven to be so completely counter-revolutionary that his censures of Bakunin may pass as mere words of abuse. Bakunin’s speech impeached modern civilization as having been “founded from time immemorial on the forced labor of the enormous majority, condemned to lead the lives of brutes and slaves, in order that a small minority might be enabled to live as human creatures. This monstrous inequality,” he discovered, rested “upon the absolute separation between head-work and hand-labor. But this abomination cannot last: for in the future the working-classes are resolved to make their own politics. They insist that instead of two classes, there shall be in future only one, which shall offer to all men alike, without grade or distinction, the same starting point, the same maintenance, the same opportunities of education and culture, the same means of industry: not, indeed, by virtue of laws, but by the nature of the organization of this class which shall oblige everyone to work with his head as with his hands.”

Bakunin concluded his speech by a declaration in favor of “the economical and social equalization of classes and of individuals.” A delegate named Chaudey reproached him with advocating Communism. Bakunin repudiated the charge in a passage that has often been misinterpreted by the alleged followers of Marx, headed by Plechanoff whom these petty parliamentarians have discipled faithfully in this matter of slander. Bakunin urged that he was an upholder of collectivism as opposed to communism. As his magnificent comments on the Paris Commune show, he was never opposed to communism but only to the authoritarian conception of communism for which the ultra-Marxians stood. He used the word collectivism in a sense that after became obsolete. Indeed, collectivism came to mean exactly the same as the communism Bakunin repudiated. Bakunin did not oppose the idea of equity or economic equality for which communism stands. He opposed the idea of a central statism with which the Marxians had identified the idea of communism. It is typical of the unfair attacks made on Bakunin that Eleanor Marx Aveling complained that Bakunin’s use of the word “statism” was an invented barbarism for which she had to make a special apology. The word has passed since into regular use and even the pedants of the universities employ it to define the invasions of individual liberty by the agents of bureaucracy. Chaudey was a testamentary executor of Proudhon. His attack annoyed Bakunin, who declared:

“Because I demand the economic and social equalization of classes and individuals, because, with the Workers’ Congress of Brussels, I have declared myself in favor of collective property, I have been reproached with being a Communist. What difference, I have been asked, is there between Communism and Collectivism... Communism I abhor, because it s the negation of liberty, and without liberty I cannot imagine anything truly human. I detest Communism because it concentrates all the strength of Society in the State, and squanders that strength in its service: because it places all property in the hands of the State, whereas my principle is the abolition of the State itself, the radical extirpation of the principle of authority and tutelage, which has enslaved, oppressed, exploited, and depraved mankind under the pretexts of moralizing and civilizing men. I want the organization of society and the distribution of property to proceed from below, by the free voice of society itself: not downward from above, by the dictate of authority. I desire the abolition of personal hereditary property, which is merely and institution of the State, and a consequence of State principles. In this sense I am a Collectivist not a Communist.”

It may be that Bakunin seems to propound the fallacy that the State creates property, instead of espousing the sound doctrine that property necessitates and decides the State. He may mistake the shadow for the substance. But his error is one of theory and not of fact. It has always seemed strange to me that the Marxists, whose economic explanation of politics or the State is correct, should have become, in practice, parliamentarians and pretend to believe that parliament controls industry. Proudhon, Bakunin, and Most, being Anarchists, might be forgiven did they deduce from their hatred of authority, some idea of warring against the State instead of economic conditions. In practice they adopt the correct attitude of wanting to liquidate the State in economic society, of substituting use-value for property conditions. Hence they conclude their propaganda as sound Marxians. This is especially true of Most, who reconciled the teaching of Bakunin and Marx in his classic robust proletarian propaganda. Bakunin’s aspiration as to social organization all Communists share. When he repudiates Communism for Collectivism, it is clear, without the explanation already given, that he is giving a different meaning to these terms from that which we give to them. He is expressing his fear of dictatorship. He believes in the upsurge of violence but wants it the end in a free society. That is the revolution triumphant. He does not want violence to conserve itself into a dictatorship. To his mind this is the negation of the revolution and the triumph of reaction. The men who would exercise a dictatorship, once the revolutionary upheaval has seemed to succeed, would most likely be the very persons who has opposed the struggle. Dictatorship, in Bakunin’s eyes meant that the class struggle still continued; that bourgeois society had not been liquidated; that a conflict of interests still prevailed. Dictatorship would no end that conflict. It would sacrifice the revolutionary toilers to the interests of counter-revolutionary bureaucracy and nepmen, as we term these creatures since the time of Lenin. Bakunin did not accept the theory that a revolutionary state could be created, only that it might wither away. To him, there was no withering-away state. The state meant a permanent authoritarian society.

Bakunin did not deny that there must be a transitional period between Capitalism-destroyed and Communism-achieved. During this period the workers must defend and develop the revolution and crush the counter-revolutions. Every action of the working-class would have to be class-power-action, in order to liquidate the operations of the beast of property, to destroy power the workers must build and express power. But it must be the living power of action of life in revolt; not the dead power of decrees and a new state authority. Bakunin did not object to the dictatorship of action. He objected to the power of action being lost to the workers in their industrial solidarity and a dictatorship established on the basis of their surrender to an external central bureaucracy, Stalinism is said to express the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia. It has abolished the factory Soviet, established wage differences and variations of status among the workers, and introduced economic differences that properly belong to the world of capitalist political economy. It has sneered at freedom of speech and of thought as bourgeoise superstitions and has exiled Trotsky and Rakovsky as enemies of the revolution. Considering these facts I ask; was Bakunin right or wrong in his opposition to the state and political dictatorship?

His speech turned to the question of religion. It was very happy, because Bakunin always wrote and spoke well on God and the idealists. His hatred of the shadow-world was his one great consistency. There is no need to cite his reflections since they are repeated in his immortal work “God and the State.”

It has been said that Bakunin was a double Utopian. He added to Proudhon’s Utopia of Liberty, his own Utopia of Equality. He was Proudhon adulterated by Marx and Marx expounded by Proudhon. Some folks may consider this a justifiable complaint. To my mind, it means that Bakunin is and excellent guide, philosopher and friend to the cause of Communism.