Guy A. Aldred Archive

Chapter 15
Marx and Bakunin: An Estimate

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

Bakunin closed his stormy career at Berne, on the 1st July 1876. He had founded the social democratic alliance and been expelled from the Marxist International. It was decided at his funeral to reconcile the social democrats and the anarchists in one association. Fraternal greetings were exchanged between the Jura federation, assembled at Chaux-de Fonds, and the German social democratic congress at Gotha. At the eighth international congress, at Berne, in October, the social democrats and the anarchists met and expressed the desire that all socialists should treat each other with mutual consideration and complete common understanding. A banquets conclude this congress. Caferio, the disciple of Bakunin, drank to Marxism and the German socialists. De Paepe, the Marxist, toasted the memory of Bakunin. All Bakunin’s fiery words against the State, his talk of the revolution, his hurrying across Europe to boost first one then another insurrection had ended seemingly in vapor, smoke! All Marx”s insurrectional politics, his opposition to the parliamentary joint stock republic, his faith in the Commune and not the empire, seemed vanities. Marx was not reconciled with Bakunin at these conferences. The fundamental revolutionary inspiration of both were made subsidiary to the parliamentary ideas of Lassalle, from whom the social democrats drew the fatal inspiration. Since the days of the Commune the slogan of Lassalle, “Through universal suffrage to victory,” has been substituted for Marx’s magnificent: “Workers of all lands, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains! You have a world to gain!”

“To set about to make a revolution,” said Lassalle, “is the folly of immature minds, which have no notion of the laws of history.” Thus he interpreted the events of 1848 as an argument for direct universal suffrage. Thus his disciples interpreted the events of 1871. Believing that it understood the laws of history the European social democracy buried socialism and attempted to

murder outright the European proletariat in the world was of 1914 to 1918. The war ended, it had given birth to Fascism. With this hopeless movement of middle-class suffrage, the anarchists seriously thought of identifying themselves. They imagined such as alliance to be an honor to Bakunin, just as the Marxists thought they were honoring Marx by repudiating his revolutionary principles.

“And so you think that Marx and Bakunin were at one,” said my friend.

“Yes,” I replied, “I think that they were at one. I believe that they were one in purpose and in aspiration. But they accomplished distinct tasks and served different functions. It would not do for us all to act the same part. Fitted by temperament to enact a peculiar role, each man felt his work to be a special call, the one aim of life. This developed strong personality. And when the two strong personalities came into conflict through the nature of their respective tasks, the natural antagonisms of their temperament displayed themselves. Then came fools, who called themselves disciples of the wise men, and magnified their accidental collisions into vital discords of purpose. Do we not know the friend who persuades us to quarrel? And do we not know the ‘disciples’ who are actually street brawlers of a refined order? Marx and Bakunin have suffered at the hands of these mental numskulls.

“But how would you define the difference between the two men,” pursued my friend.

“Very easily,” I answered, “Marx DEFINED the Social Revolution, whilst Bakunin EXPRESSED it. The first stood for the invincible logic of the cause. The second concentrated in his own person its unquenchable spirit. Marx was an impregnable rock of first principles, remorselessly composed of facts. He dwarfed the intelligence of Capitalist society and witnessed to the indestructability of Socialism. He incarnated the proletarian upheaval. He was the immovable mountain of the revolution. Bakunin, on the other hand, was the tempest. He symbolized the coming flood. Both were great brave men; and together they gave completeness to the certitude of revolution. They promised success by land and by water. They symbolized inexhaustible patience, unwearying stability, inevitable growth, and tireless, resistless attack. Who can conceive of a world not made up of land and water? Who can conceive of the Social Revolution without the work of Mars and Bakunin?

But my friend was not convinced, so we turned to other subjects.