Guy A. Aldred Archive


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

Until I commenced to publish translations of Bakunin’s writings, and accounts of incidents in his career, in the Herald of Revolt (1910–14), The Spur (1914–21), The Commune (1923–29), and The Council (1923–33), little of the great Russian Nihilist’s life or thought was to be found in English except his “God and the State” — itself but an indigestible fragment. I published an abridged edition of his work in August, 1920, and issued, shortly afterwards, my “life” of Bakunin. In the present book, that life has been revised and re-written completely. All the essays from Bakunin’s pen published by me have been collected and will be published as a separate and complete work.

From the foreword to the 1920 biography, dated from “Bakunin House, Glasgow, N.W., November, 1920,” I select the following passage, explanatory of my reason for publishing a study of Bakunin : —

“How far persons may be deemed the embodiment of epochs is a debatable question. It is, at least, certain that history gains in fascination from being treated as a constant succession of biographies. Assuredly, more than Luther and his circle were necessary to effect the Reformation. But who will deny that to glean the characters of Luther, Melanethon, and Zwingi gives charm to our knowledge of the period? And do not the boldness of men and certain notable sayings remain with us as matters of consequence to be remembered in song and story, whilst the abstract principles for which they stood bore us not a little? Who of us will care to follow all the technical work accomplished by Wieklif when he pioneered the public reading of the Bible in English or turned aside from his scholarly Latin to bold writings in our native tongue? We remember only that he did these things. Forgetting his errors, in so far as he inclined towards orthodoxy, we linger with admiration over his brave declaration when he stood alone against interest and prejudice: ‘I believe that the Truth will prevail.’ And so, when we speak of Free Press, we think of one man, Richard Carlile, as typifying and embodying the struggle though assuredly his work was made possible only by the devoted band of men and women who rallied round in historic battle for the free press.

“In like fashion, when we speak of the Russian Revolution and Communism our thoughts turn to Michel Bakunin and Alexander Herzen. The latter was the father of revolutionary Nihilism. But he repented of his offspring. Bakunin never repented.

“I have endeavored to give a true portrait of Bakunin in relation to the revolution and his epoch. My aim has been to picture the man as he was — a mighty elemental force, often at fault, always in earnest, strenuous and inspiring.”

This revised biography is a record of Bakunin’s life and struggle, and the evolution of his thought; the story of the working-class movement from 1814 to 1876; and of the thought and attitude of Bakunin’s parents and their influence on his mental growth and reaction to oppression. The story merits telling well: but it is so interesting in itself, that it will survive being told badly, until an abler pen relates it with the power equal to its thrilling importance.

GLASGOW, September, 1933.

A few chapters of this revised MS. were printed by a French comrade in 1934, who published also a French edition. There were innumerable errors and the comrade invented his own chapter headings, which sometimes made amazing reading. Thus: Bakunin Has The Time Of His Life.” This was one heading which struck me as being both funny and startling in a sober biography.

Since this MS. was prepared, the Spanish struggle against Fascism, and the World War, has made the study of Bakunin’s life a matter of urgent importance. He is the great world pioneer of resistance to Fascism.

GLASGOW, August 2, 1940.