|Born ||May 30, 1814 |
|Died ||June 13, 1876 |
Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin (Russian — Михаил Александрович Бакунин, Michel Bakunin — on the grave in Bern), (May 18 (30 N.S.), 1814–June 19 (July 1 N.S.), 1876) was a well-known Russian revolutionary, and often considered one of the “fathers of modern anarchism".
In the spring of 1814, Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin was born to an aristocratic family in the village of Pryamukhino (Прямухино) between Torzhok (Торжок) and Kuvshinovo (Кувшиново), in Tver guberniya, northwest of Moscow. At the age of 14 he left for St. Petersburg, receiving military training at the Artillery University. He completed his studies in 1832, and in 1834 was commissioned a junior officer in the Russian Imperial Guard and sent to Minsk and Gardinas in Lithuania (now Belarus). That summer, Bakunin became embroiled in a family row, taking his sister’s side in rebellion to an unhappy marriage. Though his father wished him to continue in either the military or the civil service, Bakunin abandoned both in 1835, and made his way to Moscow, hoping to study philosophy.
Interest in philosophy
In Moscow, Bakunin soon became friend with a group of former university students, and engaged in the systematic study of Idealist philosophy, grouped around the poet Nikolay Stankevich, “the bold pioneer who opened to Russian thought the vast and fertile continent of German metaphysics” (E. H. Carr). The philosophy of Kant initially was central to their study, but then progressed to Schelling, Fichte, and Hegel. By autumn of 1835, Bakunin had conceived of forming a philosphical circle in his home town of Pryamukhino; a passionate environment for the young people involved. For example, Vissarion Belinsky fell in love with one of Bakunin’s sisters. Moreover, by early 1836, Bakunin was back in Moscow, where he published translations of Fichte’s Lectures on the Destiny of the Scholar and The Way to a Blessed Life, which became his favorite book. With Stankevich he also read Goethe, Schiller, Jean Paul, and E.T.A. Hoffmann.
At this time he embraced a religious but extra-ecclesiastical immanentism:
| ||Let religion become the basis and reality of your life and your actions, but let it be the pure and single-minded religion of divine reason and divine love, and not … that religion which strove to disassociate itself from everything that makes up the substance and life of truly moral existence. … Look at Christ, my dear friend; … His life was divine through and through, full of self-denial, and He did everything for mankind, finding His satisfaction and His delight in the dissolution of His material being. |
… Because we have baptized in this world and are in communion with this heavenly love, we feel that we are divine creatures, that we are free, and that we have been ordained for the emancipation of humanity, which has remained a victim of the instinctive laws of unconscious existence. … Absolute freedom and absolute love—that is our aim; the freeing of humanity and the whole world–that is our purpose.
He became increasingly influenced by Hegel and provided the first Russian translation of his work. During this period he met the socialists Alexander Herzen and Nikolay Ogarev, and the slavophiles Konstantin Aksakov and Piotr Tschaadaev. In this period he began to develop his panslavic views.
Study in Germany
After long wrangles with his father, Bakunin went to Berlin in 1840. His stated plan at the time was still to become a university professor (a “priest of truth,” as he and his friends imagined it), but he soon encountered and joined radical students of the so-called “Hegelian Left,” and joined the socialist movement in Berlin. In his 1842 essay The Reaction in Germany, he argued in favor of the revolutionary role of negation, summed up in the phrase
| ||the passion for destruction is a creative passion. || |
After three semesters in Berlin Bakunin went to Dresden where he became friends with Arnold Ruge. Here he also read Lorenz von Stein's Der Sozialismus und Kommunismus des heutigen Frankreich and developed a passion for socialism. He abandoned his interest in an academic career, devoting more and more of his time to promoting revolution.The Russian government, becoming aware of his radicalism, ordered him to return to Russia. On his refusal his property was confiscated. Instead he went with Georg Herwegh to Zurich, Switzerland.
Switzerland, Brussels and Paris
During his six month stay in Zurich, he became closely associated with German communist Wilhelm Weitling. Until 1848 he remained on friendly terms with the German communists, occasionally calling himself a communist and writing articles on communism in the Schweitzerische Republikaner. He moved to Geneva in western Switzerland shortly before Weitling's arrest. His name had appeared frequently in Weitling's correspondence seized by the police. This led to reports being circulated to the tzarist police. The Russian ambassador in Berne ordered Bakunin to return to Russia, but instead he went to Brussels, where he met many leading Polish nationalists, such as Joachim Lelewel. However he clashed with them over their demand for a historic Poland based on the borders of 1776 as he defended the right of autonomy for the non-Polish peoples in these territories. He also did not support their clericalism and they did not support his calls for the emancipation of the peasantry.
In 1844 Bakunin went to Paris, then a centre for European radicalism. He established contacts with Karl Marx and the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who greatly impressed him and with whom he formed a personal bond.
In December 1844, Tsar Nikolai I issued a decree stripping Bakunin of his privileges as a noble, denying him civil rights, confiscating his land in Russia, and condemning him to life long exile in Siberia should the Russian authorities ever get their hands on him. He responded with a long letter to La Réforme, denouncing the Tsar as a despot and calling for democracy in Russia and Poland (Carr, p.139). In March 1846 in another letter to the Constitutionel he defended Poland, following the repression of Catholics there. Some Polish refugees from Kraków, following the defeat of the uprising there, invited him to speak  at the meeting in November 1847 commemorating the Polish November Uprising of 1830. In his speech, Bakunin called for an alliance between the Polish and Russian peoples against the Tsar, and looked forward to "the definitive collapse of despotism in Russia." As a result, he was expelled from France and went to Brussels.
Pan-Slavism and revolution
- “Since 1846 the Slavo-Polish cause has become my idée fixe.” Bakunin's Letter to Herzen and Ogarev
Bakunin's attempt to draw Alexander Herzen and Vissarion Belinsky into conspiratorial action for revolution in Russia fell on deaf ears. In Brussels, Bakunin renewed his contacts with revolutionary Poles and Karl Marx. He spoke at a meeting organised by Lelewel in February 1848 about a great future for the slavs, whose destiny was to rejuvenate the Western world. Around this time the Russian embassy circulated rumours that Bakunin was a Russian agent who had exceeded his orders. As the revolutionary movement of 1848 broke out, Bakunin was ecstatic, despite disappointment that little was happening in Russia. Bakunin obtained funding from some socialists in the Provisional Government, Ferdinand Flocon, Louis Blanc, Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin and Albert L'Ouvrier, for a project for a Slav federation liberating those under the rule of Prussia, Austro-Hungary and Turkey. He left for Germany travelling through Baden to Frankfurt and Köln. He supported the German Democratic Legion led by Herwegh in an abortive attempt to join Friedrich Hecker's insurrection in Baden. He broke with Marx over the latter's criticism of Herwegh. Much later in 1871 – Bakunin was to write: “I must openly admit that in this controversy Marx and Engels were in the right. With characteristic insolence, they attacked Herwegh personally when he was not there to defend himself. In a face-to-face confrontation with them, I heatedly defended Herwegh, and our mutual dislike began then.” He went on to Berlin, but was stopped from going to Posen by the police, which was part of Prussian occupied Poland where a nationalist insurrection was taking place. Instead Bakunin went to Leipzig and Breslau, then to Prague where he participated in the First Pan Slav Congress. The Congress was followed by an abortive insurrection that Bakunin had sought to promote and intensify but which was violently suppressed. He returned to Breslau, where Marx republished the allegation that Bakunin was a Tsarist agent, claiming that George Sand had proof. Marx retracted the statement after George Sand came to Bakunin's defense.
Bakunin published his Appeal to the Slavs  in the fall of 1848, in which he proposed that Slav revolutionaries unite with Hungarian, Italian and German revolutionaries to overthrow the three major European autocracies, the Russian Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Kingdom of Prussia.
Bakunin played a leading role in the May Uprising in Dresden in 1849, helping to organize the defense of the barricades against Prussian troops with Richard Wagner and Wilhelm Heine. He was captured in Chemnitz and held for thirteen months before being condemned to death by the government of Saxony. As the governments of Russia and Austria were also after him, his sentence was commuted to life. In June 1850, he was handed over to the Austrian authorities. Eleven months later he received a further death sentence, but this too was commuted to life imprisonment. Finally, in May 1851, Bakunin was handed over to the Russian authorities.
Imprisonment, Confession and exile
Bakunin was taken to the notorious Peter and Paul Fortress. At the beginning of his captivity, Count Orlov, an emissary of the Tsar, visited Bakunin and told him that the Tsar requested a written confession  hoping that the confession would place Bakunin spiritually as well as physically in the power of the Russian state. Since all his acts were known, he had no secrets to reveal, and so he decided to write to the Tsar:
| ||You want my confession; but you must know that a penitent sinner is not obliged to implicate or reveal the misdeeds of others. I have only the honor and the conscience that I have never betrayed anyone who has confided in me, and this is why I will not give you any names. || |
On reading the letter, Tsar, Nicholas I, remarked, “He is a good lad, full of spirit, but he is a dangerous man and we must never cease watching him.” This Confession, which was only published following its discovery in the tsarist archives, has proved to be quite controversial, and is sometimes analysed within the context of a specifically Russian literary form.
After three years in the underground dungeons of the notorious Fortress of St Peter and St Paul, he spent another four years in the castle of Shlisselburg. It was here that he suffered from scurvy and all his teeth fell out as a result of the appalling diet. He later recounted that he found some relief in mentally re-enacting the legend of Prometheus. His continuing imprisonment in these awful conditions led him to entreat his brother to supply him with poison. Following the death of Nikolai I, the new tsar Alexander II personally struck his name off the amnesty list. However in February 1857, his mother's pleas to the Tsar were finally heeded and he was allowed to go into permanent exile in the western Siberian city of Tomsk.
Life in Siberia
Bakunin and Antonia, 1861
Within a year of arriving in Tomsk, Bakunin married Antonia Kwiatkowska, the daughter of a Polish merchant. He had been teaching her French. In August of 1858 Bakunin received a visit from his second cousin, General Count Nikolay Muravyov-Amursky, who had been Governor of Eastern Siberia for ten years. Muravyov was a liberal and Bakunin, as his relative, became a particular favourite. In the spring of 1859, Muravyov helped Bakunin with a job for Amur Development Agency which enabled him to move with his wife to Irkutsk, the capital of Eastern Siberia.
This enabled Bakunin to be part of the circle involved in political discussions centred on Muravyov's colonial headquarters. Resenting the treatment of the colony by the St Petersburg bureaucracy, including its use as a dumping ground for malcontents, a proposal for a United States of Siberia emerged, independent of Russia and federated into a new United States of Siberia and America, following the example of the United States of America. The circle included Muravyov's young Chief of Staff, Kukel—who Kropotkin related had the complete works of Alexander Herzen—the civil governor Izvolsky, who allowed Bakunin to use his address for correspondence, and Muravyov's deputy and eventual successor, General Alexander Dondukov-Korsakov. When Herzen criticsed Muravyov in The Bell, Bakunin wrote vigoursly in his patron's defence .
Bakunin tired of his job as a commercial traveller, but thanks to Muravyov's influence, was able to keep his sinecure (worth 2,000 roubles a year) without having to perform any duties. However Muravyov was forced to retire from his post as governor general, partly because of his liberal views and partly due to fears he might take Siberia towards independence. He was replaced by Korsakov, who perhaps was even more sympathetic to the plight of the Siberian exiles. Korsakov was also related to Bakunin, Bakunin's brother Paul having married his cousin. Taking Bakunin's word, Korsakov issued him with a letter giving him passage on all ships on the river Amur and its tributaries as long as he was back in Irkutsk when the ice came.
Escape from exile and return to Europe through Japan and America
On June 5, 1861, Bakunin left Irkutsk under cover of company business, ostensibly employed by a Siberian merchant to make a trip to Nikolaevsk. By July 17 he was on board the Russian warship Strelok bound for Kastri. However, in the port of Olga, Bakunin managed to persuade the American captain of the SS Vickery to take him on board. Despite bumping into the Russian Consul on board, Bakunin was able to sail away under the nose of the Russian Imperial Navy. By August 6 he had reached Hakodate in the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaido and was soon in Yokohama. In Japan Bakunin met by chance Wilhelm Heine, one of his comrades-in arms from Dresden. The German botanist Philipp Franz von Siebold wrote some 40 years later:
| ||In that Yokohama boarding-house we encountered an outlaw from the Wild West Heine, presumably as well as many other interesting guests. The presence of the Russian revolutionist Michael Bakunin, in flight from Siberia, was as far as one could see being winked at by the authorities. He was well-endowed with money, and none who came to know him could fail to pay their respects. || |
He left Japan from Kanagawa on the SS Carrington, one of nineteen passengers including Heine, Rev. P. F. Koe and Joseph Heco. Heco was a Japanese American, who eight years later played a significant role giving political advice to Kido Takayoshi and Itō Hirobumi during the revolutionary overthrow of the feudal Tokugawa shogunate.
They arrived in San Francisco on October 15. In the period before the trans-continental railroads had been completed, the quickest way to new York was via the Panama Canal. Bakunin boarded the Orizaba for Panama, where after waiting for two weeks he boarded the Champion for New York. In Boston, he visited Karol Forster, a partisan of Ludwik Mieroslawski during the 1848 Revolution in Paris, and caught up with other "Forty-Eighters", veterans of the 1848 revolutions in Europe, such as Friedrich Kapp.  He then sailed for Liverpool arriving on December 27. He immediately went to London to see Herzen. That evening he burst into the drawing-room where the family was having supper. "What! Are you sitting down eating oysters! Well! Tell me the news. What is happening, and where?!"
Return to revolutionary activism
After returning to Europe, Bakunin immediately immersed himself in the revolutionary movement. In 1863 he joined a revolutionary expedition that was to aid a Polish insurrection against the Czar, but the insurrection was defeated and Bakunin ended up in Sweden. In 1864 he traveled to Italy, where he first began to develop his anarchist ideas. He conceived the plan of forming a secret organization of revolutionaries to carry on propaganda work and prepare for direct action. He recruited Italians, Frenchmen, Scandinavians, and Slavs into the International Brotherhood, also called the Alliance of Revolutionary Socialists. By July 1866 he was informing Herzen and Ogarev about the fruits of his work over the previous two years: His secret society then had members in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, England, France, Spain, and Italy, as well as Polish and Russian members In his Revolutionary Catechism of 1866, he opposed religion and the state, advocating the
| ||absolute rejection of every authority including that which sacrifices freedom for the convenience of the state. || |
League of Peace and Freedom
Bakunin's membership card of the League of Peace and Freedom
During the 1867–1868 period, Bakunin responded to Emile Acollas's call and became involved in the League of Peace and Freedom (LPF), for which he wrote a lengthy essay Federalism, Socialism, and Anti-Theologism Here he advocated a federalist socialism, drawing on the work of Proudhon. He supported freedom of association and the right of secession for each unit of the federation, but emphasized that this freedom must be joined with socialism for: "Liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality."
Bakunin played a prominent role in the Geneva Conference (September 1867), and joined the Central Committee. The founding confrence was attended by 6,000 people. As Bakunin rose to speak:
- "the cry passed from mouth to mouth: 'Bakunin!' Garibaldi, who was in the chair, stood up, advanced a few steps and embraced him. This solemn meeting of two old and tried warriors of the revolution produced an astonishing impression .... Everyone rose and there was a prolonged and enthusiastic clapping of hands".
At the Berne Congress of the League (1868) he and other socialists (Élisée Reclus, Aristide Rey, Jaclard, Giuseppe Fanelli, N. Joukovsky, V. Mratchkovsky and others) found themselves in a minority. They seceded from the League establishing their own International Alliance of Socialist Democracy which adopted a revolutionary socialist program.
The First International and the rise of the Anarchist movement
In 1868, Bakunin joined the Geneva section of the First International, in which he remained very active until he was expelled from the International by Karl Marx and his followers at the Hague Congress in 1872. Bakunin was instrumental in establishing branches of the International in Italy and Spain.
In 1869, the Social Democratic Alliance was refused entry to the First International, on the grounds that it was an international organisation in itself, and only national organisations were permitted membership in the International. The Alliance dissolved and the various groups which it comprised joined the International separately.
Between 1869 and 1870, Bakunin became involved with the Russian revolutionary Sergey Nechayev in a number of clandestine projects. However, Bakunin broke with Nechaev over what he described as the latter’s “Jesuit” methods, by which all means were justified to achieve revolutionary ends. 
In 1870 Bakunin led a failed uprising in Lyon on the principles later exemplified by the Paris Commune, calling for a general uprising in response to the collapse of the French government during the Franco-Prussian War, seeking to transform an imperialist conflict into social revolution. In his Letters to A Frenchman on the Present Crisis, he argued for a revolutionary alliance between the working class and the peasantry and set forth his formulation of what was later to become known as propaganda of the deed:
| ||we must spread our principles, not with words but with deeds, for this is the most popular, the most potent, and the most irresistible form of propaganda.  || |
Bakunin was a strong supporter of the Paris Commune of 1871, which was brutally suppressed by the French government. He saw the Commune as above all a “rebellion against the State,” and commended the Communards for rejecting not only the State but also revolutionary dictatorship.  In a series of powerful pamphlets, he defended the Commune and the First International against the Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini, thereby winning over many Italian republicans to the International and the cause of revolutionary socialism.
Bakunin’s disagreements with Marx, which led to Bakunin’s expulsion from the International in 1872 after being outvoted by the Marx party at the Hague Congress, illustrated the growing divergence between the "anti-authoritarian" sections of the International, which advocated the direct revolutionary action and organization of the workers in order to abolish the state and capitalism, and the social democratic sections allied with Marx, which advocated the conquest of political power by the working class. The anti-authoritarian sections created their own International at the St. Imier Congress and adopted a revolutionary anarchist program. 
Although Bakunin accepted Marx’s class analysis and economic theories regarding capitalism, acknowledging “Marx’s genius,” he thought Marx was arrogant, and that his methods would compromise the social revolution. More importantly, Bakunin criticized “authoritarian socialism” (Marxism) and the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat