Bakunin: A great thinker or a man of action? How did Bakunin shaped anarchism in the 19th century?
Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin 30 May (1814 – 1876) may have been more known as a revolutionary and an activist but that is not to say that he is not a great thinker. …
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Undeniably, Mikhail Bakunin was also a great thinker given the insights of the books (God and the State), journals (Appeal to the Slavs), pamphlets and extensive correspondents he wrote but he was more known to be a man of action. Bakunin may have the intellectual acumen to write and assert great concepts such as anarchism of which he was credited to be the father of the nihilistic variety, but he did not wrote for the intellectuals but rather for the workers and peasants (Dolgoff 1971). He sacrificed theory in favour of empirical practice that he thought to be more expedient in the pursuit and realization of the practical goals of emancipating the masses from the slavery of institutions. Despite of Bakunin’s capacity as an intellectual, he was known to be contemptuous of the theoretical revolution of Marx and prefers the direct action of the “evil instincts” of the mass that is impatient with the abstraction of ideas (Dolgoff 1971). He view intellectuals as the auxiliary arm of the bureaucracy as a privileged class in its own right and was contemptuous of scientist despite his respect for science” (Hodges 1960:269). Rather than indulging in theoretical abstractions, Bakunin puts his faith more on the revolutionary instinct of the oppressed. He himself prides himself to be unsophisticated and claims none of the mystification of the system builders, philosophers of history and social scientists which he believes are part of the structural oppression as purported by the system of the government, religion and intellectuals and therefore should be abolished for the true liberty and freedom to be realized as prescribed by the masses. To validate further that Bakunin is more of a man of action than a thinker, Karl Marx himself, Bakunin’s staunch opponent in the First International who had him expelled, had a low regard for Bakunin’s theoretical abilities (Smith 2012). Marx dismissed Bakunin’s theoretical assertion of anarcho-nihilism to be nothing but a mere derivative of Proudhon’s ideas and Utopian socialist St. Simon (Smith 2012). This is of course a partial assessment of a political rival because Bakunin himself was an intellectual who wrote several treatises about anarchy although they were not as towering as Marx’s Communist Manifesto or as extensive as Das Capital. Despite of this, Marx and Bakunin shared the same goal of emancipating the masses from the throes of oppression and injustice although they have different methods to achieve the same and were a rabid critic of each other to the point of Marx’s expulsion of Bakunin in the First International after outvoting him. Marx believes in the seizure of the political power of the state so that his proletariat would assume power to become a real government of the masses while Bakunin sees this as a reactionary means of establishing another set of oppressors. Bakunin argues that any form of government that exercises authority will invariably become oppressors and therefore will eventually become as an enemy of the people and revolution. He believes that for the “real and direct revolution” to happen, all institutions and instruments of oppression must be destroyed for real liberty and freedom to be achieved (McClellan 1979). One of the most glaring evidence of Bakunin as a man of action is his preference for Propaganda in Deed to push for his political agenda. This was evident in Bakunin’s Letters to A Frenchman (Bakunin 1870) during the Franco Prussian War where he called on for the propaganda of the deed where Bakunin mentioned “we must spread our principles, not with words but with deeds, for this is the most popular, the most potent,
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