Mikhail Bakunin

By: Mark Kingwell
May 30, 2014


By his own admission, the favourite book of anarchist thinker MIKHAIL ALEXANDROVICH BAKUNIN (1814–76) was J.G. Fichte’s 1806 popular mystical tract, The Way Towards the Blessed Life, which Bakunin translated into Russian during an juvenile academic sojourn in Germany. This is perhaps not as odd as it seems. This dedicated revolutionary, early friend of Marx and Proudhon, taker to the barricades, political prisoner and exile was, above all, a philosopher. His youthful interest in Kantian transcendentalism led, perhaps inevitably, to the thought of Hegel, Schelling, and Fichte. He would break with Marx over the role of the state, but the two are rooted in the same political reaction to German Idealist thought: it must be made concrete in direct action! Bakunin just barely survived the crackdowns that followed the various attempted insurrections of 1848, enduring exile and brutal incarceration. He joined the First International in 1868, but was combative and divisive in a manner that will be familiar to every left-wing organizer since. Fichtean mysticism aside, he remained a dedicated critic of organized religion: in his much-translated book God and the State (written 1871; published 1882), Bakunin wrote that “the idea of God implies the abdication of human reason and justice; it is the most decisive negation of human liberty, and necessarily ends in the enslavement of mankind, in theory and practice.” His anarcho-syndicalist ideas have been revived by generations of later thinkers and political actors, from Emma Goldman and the Wobblies to Noam Chomsky and the on-the-street activists of Seattle and Occupy. “The passion for destruction is a creative passion,” Bakunin had written in an early pamphlet, when he still dreamed of being a university professor. His own unevenly blessed life was the acting out of that urgent wisdom.


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