Mikhail Bakunin

Mikhail Bakunin

Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin (1814–1876) was a Russian revolutionary anarchist and founder of collectivist anarchism. He is considered among the most influential figures of anarchism and one of the principal founders of the social anarchist tradition. Bakunin's enormous prestige as an activist made him one of the most famous ideologues in Europe, and he gained substantial influence among radicals throughout Russia and Europe.

Bakunin grew up in Pryamukhino, a family estate in Tver Governorate, where he moved to study philosophy and began to read the French encyclopédistes, leading to enthusiasm for the philosophy of Fichte. From Fichte, Bakunin went on to immerse himself in the works of Hegel, the most influential thinker among German intellectuals at the time. That led to his embrace of Hegelianism, bedazzled by Hegel's famous maxim: "Everything that exists is rational". In 1840, Bakunin traveled to Saint Petersburg and Berlin with the intention of preparing himself for a professorship in philosophy or history at the University of Moscow. In 1842, Bakunin moved from Berlin to Dresden. Eventually, he arrived in Paris, where he met Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Karl Marx.

Bakunin's increasing radicalism—including staunch opposition to imperialism in east and central Europe by Russia and other powers—changed his life, putting an end to hopes of a professorial career. He was eventually deported from France for speaking against Russia's oppression of Poland. In 1849, Bakunin was apprehended in Dresden for his participation in the Czech rebellion of 1848 and turned over to Russia where he was imprisoned in the Peter-Paul Fortress in Saint Petersburg. He remained there until 1857 when he was exiled to a work camp in Siberia. Escaping to Japan, the United States and finally ending up in London for a short time, he worked with Alexander Herzen on the journal Kolokol (The Bell). In 1863, he left to join the insurrection in Poland, but he failed to reach his destination and instead spent some time in Switzerland and Italy.

In 1868, Bakunin joined the socialist International Working Men's Association, a federation of trade unions and workers' organizations, which had sections in many European countries as well as in Latin America and (after 1872) in North Africa and the Middle East. The Bakuninist or anarchist trend rapidly expanded in influence, especially in Spain, which constituted the largest section of the International at the time. A showdown loomed with Marx, who was a key figure in the General Council of the International. The 1872 Hague Congress was dominated by a struggle between Marx and his followers, who argued for the use of the state to bring about socialism; and the Bakunin/anarchist faction, which argued instead for the replacement of the state by federations of self-governing workplaces and communes. Bakunin could not attend the Congress as he could not reach the Netherlands. Bakunin's faction present at the conference lost and Bakunin was (in Marx's view) expelled for supposedly maintaining a secret organization within the international.

However, the anarchists insisted the congress was unrepresentative and exceeded its powers; and they held a rival conference of the International at Saint-Imier in Switzerland in 1872. This repudiated the Hague meeting, including Bakunin's supposed expulsion. The great majority of sections of the International affiliated to the St. Imier body, making Marx's victory rather more illusory than pro-Marxist accounts suggest. The far larger Bakuninist international outlasted its small Marxist rival which was isolated in New York, and it also greatly facilitated the global spread of anarcho-socialism. In the International as well as in his writings, Bakunin articulated the basic ideas of syndicalism and of anarchism as he developed the basic anarchist analysis and strategy. He had by this stage abandoned the anti-imperialist nationalism of his youth.

From 1870 to 1876, Bakunin wrote some of his longer works, such as Statism and Anarchy and God and the State. However, Bakunin remained a direct participant in struggles. In 1870, he was involved in an insurrection in Lyon, France, which foreshadowed the Paris Commune. The Paris Commune closely corresponded to many elements of Bakunin's anarchist programme—self-management, mandates delegates, a militia system with elected officers and decentralization. Anarchists like Élisée Reclus and those in the tradition of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon—who had greatly influenced Bakunin—were key figures in the Commune. Despite declining health, much a result of his years of imprisonment, Bakunin also sought to take part in a communal insurrection involving anarchists in Bologna, Italy but was forced to return to Switzerland in disguise, where he settled in Lugano. He remained active in the workers' and peasants' movements of Europe and was also a major influence on movements in Egypt and Latin America.

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