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Submitted by martin on Sun, 05/06/2011 - 12:01

Bakunin: "Marx speaks disdainfully, but quite unjustly, of this lumpenproletariat. For in them, and only in them, and not in the bourgeois strata of workers, are there crystallised the entire intelligence and power of the coming Social Revolution". (From Statism and Anarchy).

The points below are also in the comments section on part three of this series, "Anarchism and the Commune"

To say "Bakunin supported France in the 1870 Franco-Prussian war" is a "quite disgraceful misrepresentation"?

The fact that Bakunin hoped to latch onto French peasants' hostility to the Prussian invaders so as simultaneously to unleash revolution does not undo his siding with France. (Also, his scenario for this revolution-unleashing is highly manipulative. He does not claim that the peasants want to make a social revolution: in fact, he reckons that in their majority they back Louis Bonaparte. But he thinks that their patriotic fervour can be manoeuvred into "unconsciously but effectively destroying the state institutions").

Bakunin proved right on electoral activity?

You might as well say that the utopian socialists who opposed all workers' trade unions and strikes have been proved right by the growth of the trade union bureaucracy, or the submergence of hundreds of thousands of people who were revolutionaries when young into petty trade-union routine as lay activists. Or that pacifists have been proved right by the large role of after-effects of the Russian civil war in the growth of Stalinism. Or that those who argue that socialists should not bother with books and study, but instead rely solely on instinct, have been proved right by the follies of academic Marxism.

Bakunin foreshadowed revolutionary syndicalism?

Bakunin often wrote pictures of the future like this: "an organization formed by the people themselves, apart from all governments and parliaments, a free union of associations of agricultural and factory workers, of communes, regions, and nations, and finally, in the more remote future; the universal human brotherhood..."

With hindsight you can read Bakunin's ideas about workers' associations as a premonition either of revolutionary syndicalism or of soviet (workers'-council) democracy. The fact that both readings are possible indicates that both are anachronistic.

In the 1860s and 1870s there were no trade unions anywhere near powerful enough that anyone could envisage them becoming, even after a huge leap forward, strong enough to administer the whole economy. The first workers' councils (soviets) were over 30 years in the future (1905).

A more common-sense reading: Bakunin, Kropotkin, and their comrades saw the future society as a spontaneous federation of small units, those small units in turn being formed by voluntary association of individuals. The small units would by definition be workers' associations.

The basic units of their future society were as much (or, as we've seen more) a reference-back to medieval villages (visualised as free associations of working people) as forward to the French CGT or the Russian workers' councils of 1905.

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