After reading this article you will learn about the bio, life and political ideas of Michael Bakunin.
Life of Michael Bakunin:
Michael Bakunin was born in 1814, 150 miles away from Moscow in the province of Tver. He was the son of a diplomat and studied in the universities of St. Petersberg and Moscow. From his very childhood he was violently rebellious. He received this violent and rebellious character from his mother who was despotic by nature and she always wanted to impose restrictions upon him.
Michael Bakunin spent twelve years in prison and was twice sentenced to death. He was mainly an organizer and political agitator. He believed in movement because he thought that without movement people could not be aroused to action. After an eventful career Michael Bakunin died in 1876.
It has been said by many critics about Bakunin that he was a monumentally eccentric rebel. His every act or gesture was the symbol of anarchy. He was the first aristocrat to be an anarchist, but he never lost interest in aristocracy. All his appetites were really enormous. He was a voracious eater and non-stop talker.
He could drink profusely. In one month he smoked 1,600 cigars in jail. Bakunin had no sense of propriety and proportion. He had no regular source of income. He lived on the gifts, helps and loans from his friends, well-wishers.
Michael Bakunin never hesitated to borrow money without thinking of repayment. He also gave generously what he received. He was intelligent and learned; naive and cunning; loyal to the last degree but sometimes appeared to be imprudent.
He possessed an unbound enthusiasm for revolution. He could easily inspire other people with his ideas and could lead them to his public meeting.
Some people say that Bakunin gave a systematic shape to the body of anarchism and he analysed it from various aspects most of which were quite practical. Many however, doubt the practicality of his suggestions. Here lies his greatest contribution.
He was an anarchist from top to bottom. His activities, attitude, ideas and lifestyle all were in fine tune with anarchist philosophy.
Political Ideas of Michael Bakunin:
1. State and Private Property:
Like other anarchists Michael Bakunin believed that the human society was the outcome of a long evolutionary process and the present state of affairs is the penultimate stage. In his opinion this is purely scientific because state or society is not created in a day or two. At the very initial stages of evolution men led a life of beast and to control his bestiality external authority, checks and restrictions were created.
The purpose of all these was to put man in a framework of rationality In the primitive stage of society, therefore, there were state, private property, religion and other artificial institutions.
Michael Bakunin also believed that, in the lower stages, man’s intelligence was not enough to make him self-dependent and self-sufficient in all respects. Men were always subject to impulses, physical desires and fears.
As a safeguard against all these there was a strong necessity of external control and private property. But at higher and upper stages of development or evolution all these are redundant.
It is here evident that Bakunin was a great believer of the theory of evolution. He somehow arrived at the conclusion that the present stage of society has reached maturity and people’s intelligence is also mature. Naturally external guidance and help are redundant.
Michael Bakunin thus holds the view that while the society is the product of evolution the state is a human creation to serve particular purposes. Any artificial institution embodies external control and it is always exercised against the will of man.
The state is the biggest and most powerful artificial institution and, therefore, its control is all-pervasive. In his generalization and oversimplification of the nature and purpose of the state Bakunin is uncompromising and explicit.
This view of Bakunin regarding state is not above criticism because if the whole society which he analysed was the product of evolution how cans the organisations or institutions of such a state are fully artificial? The organisations are also the products of evolution. Certain amount of artificiality may be in their body but ultimately they are the parts of evolution.
Explaining the nature of the state Michael Bakunin further observes that all the states- democratic, autocratic and theocratic are same so far as their control is concerned. Every type of state is desirous of intensifying its control over the inexperienced and innocent but not unintelligent citizens and, when obstructed, resorts to repressive measures.
It is argued that the state based on universal suffrage accommodates the desires of people. But according to Bakunin the universal suffrage is nothing but a hoax.
It is beyond the capacity of universal suffrage to change the character of state and because of it even after the introduction of this system the character of state has remained as before.
He has said:
“Despotism lies not in the form of state but in its essence and the most democratic devices are of no avail whatever in modifying this essential character of the state.” In no form of state a men are allowed to share power. Naturally, few will control many.
Michael Bakunin has said that economically powerful class controls the economy for its own benefit. But it does not stop at that stage. To ensure its control over the economy it controls the state machinery through its pervasive control over the political affairs of the whole state.
This is the general nature of all capitalist states. The raison d’etre of political authority is to confirm and organize the exploitation of workers by property owners.
The state perpetuates an oppressive economic condition. The state always avoids the path of persuasion and enlightenment and eager to adopt repressive measures. The activities of the state only ensure the moral debasement.
The state is, therefore, the most condemnable political institution; hence it must be destroyed and not be seized.
In all types of state the decision of the few is forcibly imposed upon the many and this is the normal process. There are, in many states, innumerable avenues of ventilating the grievances. But very little action comes out.
The very existence of the state dwarfs the morality and intelligence of individuals. It is due to the fact that man performs work under the sole guidance of the state. People’s personal judgment, rationality and reason are not given due importance. So these do not get any scope to flourish.
Interpreting Bakunin’s view Coker writes “private property which is both the ground of existence and the consequence of state, creates physical and moral evils of all kinds. To the millions of workers, it brings economic dependence, laborious toil, ignorance, and social and spiritual immobility, for the few wealthy, in provides superfluous luxury and special opportunities for physical pleasure and artistic and intellectual enjoyment.” We are of the opinion that Bakunin correctly diagnoses the ills of the capitalist system. Right of the few over the means of production is the source of all evils.
It creates gross economic inequality, debases morality, restricts intelligence, curtails freedom, blocks the road to enjoyment and retards the growth of artistic genius. Immobility is the only tangible result of state activity.
In order to smash this immobility the state is to be destroyed. Many cannot be exhorted to sacrifice their interest and welfare for the comfort of few.
There is always a tendency on the part of many to capture political power for the harvest of more and more benefits and this is abundantly found among the capitalists because they know that without full or intensive control over the state authority the full control of economy is not possible.
The tendency to grab more and more power does not always follow scrupulous means or ways. Honesty, morality, reason and scruples ultimately are sacrificed.
Michael Bakunin was aware that the capitalists were exploiting the whole society, specifically the poor people. But they use the state as an instrument of exploitation. This character of state is so much prominent that general people know the state as an instrument of exploitation. Marx and Engels exposed this character of state and Bakunin supported it.
The state was not only an exploiter but also an evil. So it must be destroyed. Here lie the seeds of anarchism. The capitalists and the capitalist state both aim at depriving individuals of their freedom in all its manifestation—that is economic, political, social etc.
Michael Bakunin led a Bohemian life. He visited almost all the countries of Europe and wherever he went he was always surrounded by friends, anarchists and revolutionaries. He was the centre of discussion, conspiracy, plan, projects and programmes.
He was the inspiration of anarchist movement. His firm conviction was that without a revolution the emancipation of masses was not possible. All his efforts and plans were, therefore, on materializing a revolution. Few people could not make a revolution. Participation of masses, he concluded, was essential.
Two great questions were posed from the first days of the spring (1848) – the social question and that of the independence of all nations, the emancipation of all people internally and externally at once. It was not a few individuals, nor was it a party, but the admirable instinct of the masses which raised these two questions above all others and demanded their prompt solution.
The whole world understood that liberty was only a lie where the great majority of the population is condemned to lead a poverty-stricken existence and where deprived of education, of leisure and of bread, it is destined to serve as a stepping stone for the powerful and the rich.
The emancipation, in the opinion of Bakunin, is possible even through evolutionary process. But evolution does not assure us a quick result. The movement of evolution is so slow that lot of time is required to reach the destination. But the exigency of social condition cannot wait for that.
Hence, common people cannot be advised to wait for an indefinite period of time. It is of no use waiting for the slow processes of evolution to make the people aware of their own interests.
“We must not’ teach the people but lead them to revolt” announced Bakunin. The act of revolution would be sufficient educational itself. Many bourgeois socialists preached “Let us instruct the people first and then emancipate them.”
Michael Bakunin contradicting this said, “Let them emancipate themselves at first and they will instruct themselves of their own accord.”
Evolution may come to the assistance of revolutionary process. But the ultimate goal will be achieved through launching a revolution. An anarchist revolution means the destruction of all that is commonly understood in the expression of public order.
The possibility of violence cannot be ruled out from revolution. But peaceful or reformation methods are ineffective. Parliamentary tactics are of no help. Personally Bakunin disliked violence and revenge. But in large scale destruction violence is unavoidable.
Michael Bakunin proposed the formation of voluntary organization of faithful anarchists in every capital or key city. These associations would be organized by “barricades” (grouped by streets or quarters of the city). The task of the revolutionary organization will be to execute thoroughly the programme of destruction.
What will be destroyed? All the political institutions which perpetrated repression on people. The revolutionary organisation will then distribute all the productive properties among the workers’ societies.
The revolutionary organisation will not make any attempt to set up authoritative institutions. The organisation then will send representatives and agents to the countryside to awaken the masses. Intensive propaganda will be launched throughout the country to secure the participation of people.
Michael Bakunin thought of building up a new society. But without destroying the old one a new society cannot be built up. The entire scheme has been viewed by him in the light of morality.
In his opinion to destroy the old society which deprives men of their freedom is a moral duty of individuals. Again it is also their moral duty to build up a new one. All these are to be performed by revolution.
It is the moral duty of people to participate in revolution and lead it to success. According to Bakunin morality is not an imaginary idea and never resides in vacuum or world of imagination. It is closely associated with practical world. To start a revolutionary movement is not all.
It is the primary responsibility of revolutionaries to lead it to success. It is to be mentioned here that in this particular issue Bakunin shared his views with many renowned revolutionaries.
He also thought that victory in revolution shall be the ultimate goal of all revolutionaries, but the participation with all sincerity is also very important. Again, he held the view that revolution means the absence of all compromise.
It is said that this view made Bakunin a true revolutionary. Bakunin could not tolerate the prevailing bourgeois system of economy and capitalist state structure. So revolution is needed.