History is written by the victors. The victory of Stalinism in
the USSR was certainly one of the reasons why the works of
Marx were classified, published, translated and sold into the
millions. The opposite is true for Mikhail Bakunin's
Bakunin led an adventurous life travelling throughout
Europe. When it was once remarked to him that his
manuscripts were in disarray he replied "my life itself is a
fragment." (see introduction).
This has meant that many of his major works remain
untranslated and published. There are many well paid
academics who call themselves Marxists but only a handful,
like Noam Chomsky, with the courage to call themselves
anarchists. So the work of translating and printing
Bakunin's ideas remains the work of a handful of dedicated
and unpaid activists. This book is a useful addition to that
It is a collection of writings spanning what Cutler describes
as "a phase of his activity which is central to his anarchism,
which is generally agreed to be one of his most significant
projects and which marks the height of his influence in his
They were originally written as articles for the Swiss
newspapers 'L'Egalite' and 'Le Progress' in 1869. As_articles
they are well written and readable, not boring economic or
Cutler divides the writings into five parts. Parts 2, 3 and 4
would be of greatest interest to present day anarchists or
activists with an interest in anarchism. These deal with the
differences between bourgeois and revolutionary socialism
(his terms!), and the programme and tactics which
revolutionaries need to succeed.
Much of his time was spent trying to differentiate his ideas
from those of Marx. Bakunin's position in this battle of
ideas is clearly outlined in chapters like that on the policy of
the International Workingmen's (sic) Association. Bakunin
emphasised the point that ideas are not handed down ready
made by intellectuals hot out of the library. Ideas are learned
through living and through struggling. As he says of "the
"On the other hand, through practice and collective
experience, which is naturally always more broadening and
instructive then any isolated experience, the progressive
expansion and development of the economic struggle will
bring him more and more to recognise his true enemies: the
privileged classes, including the clergy, the bourgeoisie and
the nobility; and the state."
Socialism was not bought in from "without" but was carried
instinctively by the great majority.(p.140) "People have
always longed for their emancipation from every yoke that
has enslaved them."
This instinct was not enough though, organisation was
necessary. Bakunin pointed to the International Working
Men's Association of which he was then a member as an
example of how to organise. He shows how it was acting as
a leadership of ideas. (p.140) "The International's influence
has never been anything but one of opinion".
This he compares to the state which never calls on workers
for anything other then their "submission".
Besides these basic anarchist arguments there are other
articles on a range of issues like nationalism, social
democracy, education, land and inheritance, and the general
Overall this book is readable, inspirational and still relevant.
Unlike the adoration of Marx by some Marxists, we don't
claim Bakunin as a deity with all the answers. But he did
point us in the right direction. As a basic introduction to
anarchist ideas you could do worse than start here.
Available from the WSM bookservice PO Box 1528, Dublin 8
for #8.00 inc. p+p.
The Basic Bakunin, writings 1869-1871
Translated and edited by Robert M Cutler
Prometheus Books, New York, #6.95
Workers Solidarity 48 is now on the web alongside other
anarchist publications like Red && Black Revolution.
See it at