Guy A. Aldred Archive

Chapter 14
Slav Against Teuton

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

Herzen, as has been stated, was that the natural son of a rich nobleman named Iakovlev and a Stuttgardt lady, Louise Haaag. Herzen’s name was a fancy one and signified a love token. “Herzen’s kind” means “child of the heart.” His father spared no expense in the matter of his education. The result was that Herzen not merely spoke correctly but brilliantly in Russian, French, English, and German. Despite these advantages he appealed to a Russian audience only. In 1865 he met Garibaldi in London. The effect of this meeting was to convince Herzen that, as Garibaldi was the Italian patriot, he must prove himself a Russian one. Unlike Herzen, Bakunin demanded the European stage. He remained the Slav at heart and before the audience of International Labor paraded his hatred of the Teuton. The Germans, he declared, were authoritarians. Their socialism was a menace. Despite phrases of equality and justice, they would bring the workers of the world to disaster. At heart the Teuton was a counter-revolutionist. He would change; but it would require half-a-century of falsehood and illusion ending in debacle before he would be converted to real communism and realize the need of revolutionary struggle.

Bakunin’s pan-Slavism was the fatal contradiction that paralyzes his revolutionary endeavor. This will be seen from his pamphlet, “Romanoff, Pugatscheff, or Pestal,” published in 1862. In this, he announced his willingness to make peace with absolutism provided that the son of the Emperor Nicholas would consent to be “a good and loyal Czar,” a democratic ruler, and would put himself

at the head of a popular assembly in order to constitute a new Russian, and play the part of the savior of the Slav people.

“Does this Romanoff mean to be the Czar of the peasants, or the Petersburgian emperor of the house of Holstein-Gottorp? This question will have to be decided soon, and then we shall know what we are and what we have to do.”

Perhaps Alexander II. objected to being classified with Pugatscheff, the Cossack who had pretended to be Peter III. and had placed himself at the head of the peasant rising of 1773; and Pestal, the republican conspirator, who was hanged in 1826 by Nicholas. Perhaps the Czar merely scorned a revolutionary suggestion. Rulers usually treat revolutionists with contempt until it is too late to treat with them. Deposed, they have to plead for mercy at the feet of the men the formerly kicked. However the Czar’s silence be explained, the fact of it angered Bakunin. He repented his temporary notion of compromise and returned again to Nihilism. His Pan-Slavism might have remained in abeyance but for the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war and the German invasion of France. His Russian enmity on the Germanic race revived. Like his disciple, Kropotkin in 1914. Bakunin declared the Germans to be the enemies of mankind. He addressed an appeal to the peasantry of all countries, “to come to drive out the Prussians.” The cause of France, he said, was the cause of humanity. The official Muscovite Press agreed with him. Bakunin was at one with ruling class Russia. He was acting as became a Russian and a patriot. The company in which he found himself was neither anarchist nor internationalist. It is true that he uttered some thought they did not appreciate. Fundamentally, he allied himself with their cause.

Bakunin outlined the case against Germany, and enunciated his theory of the historic mission of the French, in his “Letters to a Frenchman About the Present Crisis” and his pamphlet on “The Knouto-Germanic Empire.” He disowned nationalist and declared that patriotism was a very mean, narrow, and interested passion. It was fundamentally inhuman and conserved exploitations and privileges. It was fostered by the Napoleons, Bismarks, and Czars in order to destroy the freedom of nations. By a strange turn of thought and twist of the pen Bakunin proceeded from this reasoning to deduce an argument for French patriotism as opposed to German. He said: —

“When the masses become patriotic they are stupid, as are to-day a part of the masses of Germany, who let themselves be slaughtered in tens of thousands, with a silly enthusiasm, for the triumph of that great unity, and for the organization of that German Empire, which, if founded on the ruins of usurped France, will become the tomb of all hopes of the future.”

It may be that Bakunin was visioning the future correctly. Much of his prophecy about the period of reaction that must follow

in the wake of parliamentary socialism has been justified. The subjection of the French proletariat to demands of Napoleon III. was not the correct revolutionary answer to Prussian militarism. It was the continuation of militarism and the surrender of socialism to reaction. The problem may have been difficult. It was Bakunin’s business to find a correct revolutionary answer or else to keep silent. Instead, he shaved history shamefully so as to oppose the France of 1793 to the Germany of Bismarck. The France of Napoleon, of Bourbon royalism and of bourgeoisie republicanism was dismissed from view. He pictured the world as waiting on the initiation of France for its advance towards liberty, equality and fraternity. France was to drive back Germany, exile her traitor officials and inaugurate socialism. Said Bakunin: —

“What I would consider a great misfortune for the whole of humanity would be the defeat and death of France as a great national manifestation: the death of its great national character, the French spirit; of the courageous, heroic instincts, of the revolutionary daring, which took with storm, in order to destroy, all authorities that had been made holy by history, all power of heaven and earth. If that great historical nature called France should be missed at this hour, if it should disappear from the world scene; or—what would be much worse—if the spirited and developed nature should fall suddenly from the honored height which she has attained, thanks to the work of heroic genius of past generations — into the abyss, and continue her existence as Bismarck’s slave: a terrible emptiness will engulf the whole world. It would be more than a national catastrophe. It would be a world- wide misfortune, a universal defeat.”

It is only necessary to add that Bakunin had to attack the great “French spirit” that murdered in cold blood the Communards in the May-June days of 1871. On the other side, Marx, who also eulogized the Communards, had declared for the German spirit of order and saw in the French disaster not so much the defeat of Napoleon III. or the triumph of the Prussian Kaiser but the defeat on the international field of thought of Proudhon and the triumph of Marx. These Gods! How they nod!

Bakunin believed in the Russian nationalism, bound on the east by the Tartars, and on the west by the Germans. This meant believing in the German nation, bounded on the west by France, and on the east by Russia. It meant the status quo. He was upholding the States of Europe. Yet he wrote: —

“Usurpation is not only the outcome, but the highest aim of all states, large or small, powerful or weak, despotic or liberal, monarchic, aristocratic, or democratic... It follows that the war of one State upon another is a necessity and common fact, and every pence is only a provisional truce.”

This idea was not worked out at some other time, under different circumstances, but in these “Letters to a Frenchman” eulogizing the national spirit. He asserted that all States were bad, and there could be no virtuous State: —

“Who says State, says power, oppression, exploitation, injustice — all these established as the prevailing system and as the fundamental conditions of the existing society. The State never had a morality, and can never have one. Its only morality and justice is its own advantage, its own existence, and its own omnipotence at any price. Before these interest, all interests of mankind must disappear. The State is the negation of mankind.”

“So long as there is a State, war will never cease. Each State must overcome or be overcome. Each State must found its power on the weakness, and, if it can, without danger to itself, on the abrogation of other States. To strive for an International justice and freedom and lasting peace, and therewith seek the maintenance of the State, is a ridiculous naivete.”

Bakunin had to escape this very charge of ridiculous naivete.