This article will help you to make comparison between Karl Marx and Michael Bakunin.
In order to get a full picture of the revolutionary movement of the nineteenth century it is necessary to draw a brief comparison between Karl Marx and Michael Bakunin since both were great revolutionaries. Both of them had unfathomed sympathy for the toiling masses of several European countries. All their efforts and energies were channelled to the emancipation of the working class.
Karl Marx and Michael Bakunin held that the capitalist system of production was solely responsible for glaring inequality and of all evils. Revolution, to both of them, was the only way of emancipation.
Michael Bakunin differed from Proudhon and agreed with, Karl Marx by announcing that revolutionary organization would be set up to provide leadership to people. But these apparent similarities are not enough. The two great revolutionaries differed on several vital issues which require elaboration.
Karl Marx was convinced that revolution could only take place in industrial societies and by means of class-conscious industrial proletariat. On the contrary, Bakunin completely disagreed with Marxian conception of revolution and he said that revolution could take place even in non-industrial societies such as Italy and his native Russia.
Coming to Italy he saw that there was no privileged class of workers. So a revolution could be spear-headed by a well-organized working class.
There was an international organization called League of Peace and Freedom and in September 1867 Michael Bakunin came in contact with it. For several reasons he was not satisfied with its activities and he formed an alternative organization—International Social Democratic Alliance.
There was another organization International Association of Working Men. Karl Marx and Engels from the very beginning were connected with it. Bakunin also joined this Working Men’s Association and a distant relationship with Marx was formed. He admired Marx’s profound learning and intelligence. He also believed that Marx’s leadership could emancipate the workers. But Marx had no high regards about Bakunin. In his estimate Bakunin was a man devoid of all theoretical knowledge.
Towards the end of 1868 Bakunin heavily depended upon International Social Democratic Alliance, because he believed that it would inspire the revolutionary fervour of workers. Several branches were set up. But Marx and Engels did not take it lightly. They suspected that Bakunin had been hatching a conspiracy. Karl Marx also expressed his hostile attitude to him and this surprised Bakunin.
To speak the truth Bakunin never thought himself as a rival of Marx nor did he want to have any antagonistic relations with him. He had high regards for Marx. It is observed by interpreters of the history of socialist thought that Marx always suspected Michael Bakunin and the he showed intransigent attitude towards him.
Despite this hostile attitude of Marx, in December 1868 he wrote an apologetic letter to Marx.
In this letter he wrote:
“I now understand better than ever how right you have been in following and inviting us all to tread the high road of economic revolution…I am now doing what you started to do more than twenty years ago…My fatherland is now International, of which you are one of the main founders.”
The relationship between Karl Marx and Michael Bakunin got soured on an issue which was very minor, Bakunin decided to wind-up his Alliance and to participate wholeheartedly in the International. But there arose a controversy and the nature and control of the organization. Both these were rated by Marx as very significant while by Bakunin Unimportant. Again, Marx began to suspect that Bakunin was out to challenge his authority and leadership in the International which was not true. Marx then was determined to destroy the influence of Bakunin.
The difference between Karl Marx and Michael Bakunin surfaced at the Congress of the International at Basle in September 1869. Bakunin wanted to know the exact position of the General Council on matters of policy and doctrine.
A controversy also cropped up on the issue of the abolition of the right of inheritance. He had strong feeling about this. “For him the hereditary property, far from being one of the many comparatively unimportant evils that would vanish with the transformation of society, was the basis on which the whole of existing society rested”.
Michael Bakunin was determined to give priority to this issue. The abolition of hereditary property was most important to him. Bakunin, we know, was a great worshipper of equality. It was not desirable that hereditary property would be a source of inequality.
The Marxists, on the other hand, argued that it was a minor issue and would be settled after revolution. The controversy became intense.
Michael Bakunin and his supporters defeated the International’s General Council proposal sponsored by Marx’s followers. Marx and Engels took this defeat somewhat lightly but the rift with Bakunin widened.
Michael Bakunin had a number of enemies and they secretly collaborated with Marx and Engels on the issues of the nature of organization utilizing people’s revolutionary mentality and aims of movement.
Marx’s insistence upon centralized organization was rejected by Michael Bakunin. He believed that it would frustrate people’s revolutionary zeal and spontaneity.
The hearts of both Marx and Bakunin profusely wept for the miseries of the working class and both worked hard to emancipate them from the in miseries. The problem, however, remained elsewhere.
Michael Bakunin was convinced that anarchist way was the best for the purpose of emancipation. Anarchism shall be the chief aim of any revolutionary movement. Marx and Engels, on the other hand, differed from Bakunin.
They thought of a proletarian revolution which would abolish the bourgeois state and in that place at first stage the proletarians would set up a socialist society and after the final stage there shall be communist society.
In both cases there was no scope of anarchism. Bakunin’s anarchism and Marx’s communism are quite different. Bakunin thought that emancipation would come through anarchism and to Marx it would come through communism. Moreover, Michael Bakunin could not tolerate communism.
He made the following caustic remark about communism:
I detest communism, because it is the negation of liberty and because I can conceive nothing human without liberty. I am not a communist because communism concentrates and’ absorbs all the powers of society into state, because it necessarily ends the centralization of property in the hand of the state, while I want the abolition of state.
Criticizing Marx’s concept of liberty Michael Bakunin said that he had no clear conception of liberty. Rather, Proudhon understood it more clearly. Marx was an authoritarian from head to foot. In authoritarian system, liberty can never thrive properly. There are only two systems—the anarchist system of Proudhon envisaging people’s freedom and initiative and Marx’s system of authoritarian communism.
James Joll in The Anarchists contends “The difference of temperament between Karl Marx and Michael Bakunin also led to the fundamental difference in the methods by which they believed the revolution could be achieved. For Marx the revolution would come through the ineluctable processes of history and through the gradual realization of the proletariat of their place in the inevitable class struggle. For Bakunin, on the other hand, the revolution could be provoked by a handful of devoted and fanatical leaders who would exploit the potentialities for revolution already existing.”
“Few hundred young men,” wrote Michael Bakunin, “of goodwill are certainly not enough to create a revolutionary power without the people but they will be enough to reorganize the revolutionary power of the people.”
The preference for loosely organized secret societies over the mass political parties which Marx’s followers were organizing led to a radical difference in the tactics and organization of the revolution.
In what exact way a true revolution would come is a very controversial and unpredictable issue. There was a revolution in Russia under the leadership of Lenin. But the pertinent question that peeps in our mind is did Lenin strictly follow Marx and Engels? On the other hand, Michael Bakunin’s anarchist way could not get any scope.
His anarchism remained confined within the four walls of analysis, lecture and theory today the situation has dramatically changed and people show no sign of interest about revolution. The attack of both Karl Marx and Michael Bakunin was against nineteenth century capitalism. But after Second World War this capitalism began to show signs of change and today’s capitalism have radically changed.