History of Anarchism in Russia
By Emelyan Yaroslavsky.
New York: International Publishers, 1937.
In the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics at the present time the anarchists no longer enjoy any influence over the masses. They are met with only as isolated individualists. The reason for this is the victory of socialism in the U.S.S.R. The old Russia, landlord and petty-bourgeoispeasant Russia, which fostered anarchism and gave birth to the founders of anarchism, those repentant aristocrats--Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin and Leo Tolstoy--has passed away.
In place of this old tsarist Russia, a new state, a Soviet socialist state has been built during the last 20 years, the like of which history has never known. This state arose in the flames of civil war, as a result of the victorious socialist, proletarian revolution.
This revolution opened a new page in world history. In October, 1917, a big breach was made in the system of imperialist states. The young Soviet government of workers and peasants, guided by the Bolshevik Party, the Party of Lenin and Stalin, succeeded in vanquishing the forces of all the enemies who rose against it. It abolished the capitalist and landlord classes. In the U.S.S.R. there is not a single capitalist or landlord. The Soviet state routed the armies of the whiteguards, the armies of the bourgeoisie, although they were commanded by the old tried tsarist generals and included nearly all the old officers. The Soviet state defeated the armed intervention and the economic blockade of the 14 capitalist states which joined in the struggle against it.
The Soviet state vanquished economic chaos and built up a splendid industry and agriculture equipped with the most up-to-date machinery. In place of the old, dilapidated, capitalist, landlord and small-proprietor system of economy, the Soviet state, in accordance with the plan drawn up by the Communist Party, has built up a new, powerful socialist system of economy, with a more developed technique and higher productivity of labor. It has raised the economic, political and cultural standard of life of the entire population. It has created a splendid Red Army, the only one of its kind, which stands guard over the banner of communism, over the life, labor and property of vast masses of the people on one-sixth of the globe. The Soviet state has secured the great amity of nations in the U.S.S.R., thanks to the correct national policy of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the vanguard of the Communist International.
This Party arose 40 years ago in the form of small secret workers' circles which were persecuted by the tsarist government. Its chief organizers were Lenin and Stalin, those brilliant theoreticians, strategists and leaders of the revolution. The workers and peasants of Russia achieved their splendid results primarily because from its very inception the mass revolutionary working class movement in Russia was headed by the Bolshevik Party. This Party organized the advanced workers, it organized the armed insurrection, it organized resistance to the whiteguards and foreign intervention, and it organized their defeat. The Bolshevik Party organized the new, Soviet, proletarian state; it organized the new system of economy. It ensured the great victories achieved by the working people.
But it succeeded in doing all this because it fought against all forms of opportunism in the working class movement, including anarchism. The anarchism of Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin was the theory of the Narodniks of the Land and Freedom society, who wanted to secure "land and freedom" under tsarism. During the 1905 Revolution anarchism in Russia took the form of terrorist groups which organized plots against the lives of tsarist officials and raids on banks and government institutions. During this period some of its adherents began to go over to the anarchosyndicalists. In their propaganda the Russian anarchists tried to create enmity between the revolutionary Socialist intellectuals and the working class.
After the Revolution of 1917 had triumphed, the anarchists in certain localities of Russia attempted to put their doctrine into practice, and thus came into sharp conflict with the whole course of the revolution. In the form of the so-called Workers' Opposition, anarcho-syndicalism attempted to establish itself in the working class movement, in the Communist Party, under the proletarian dictatorship.
At the most critical moment in the struggle of the proletariat against the united forces of the Russian and the international bourgeoisie, the anarchists engaged in dividing up the residences and property they had plundered from the rich, never realizing that in place of the old demolished system the proletariat must build its socialist system of economy.
In the south of the Ukraine, the anarchists-Makhno and his supporters-attempted to put into practice the ideal of anarchism. For the working people of the Ukraine and the whole of the Soviet Union the name of Makhno and his hordes is synonymous with the blackest crimes against the revolution, against the cause of the working class.
Thus the first proletarian revolution in the world tested not only the doctrine, program, strategy and tactics of the Communists, but also the doctrine, program, strategy and tactics of the anarchists. In their struggles the vast masses of the people throughout the world can benefit by the experience of the October Revolution. Of course, they must take into account the specific features of the struggle for emancipation in their own countries, but they would be making a great and irretrievable mistake if they simply disregarded this experience and failed to apply it. What could one say about people who obstinately refused to take a known and tried road leading to the goal but must at all costs take a different road, which leads them to defeat?
The workers in those countries where they now have to choose between the doctrine of the anarchists and that of the Communists should know both these roads.
PART I. BEFORE THE BOLSHEVIK PARTY
Mikhail Bakunin undoubtedly played a prominent part in developing and elaborating the theory of anarchism and in leading the anarchist movement. He left a deep imprint on the movement of the Russian "revolutionary commoners" of the 1870's. Bakunin was the theoretical leader of a large section of the Land and Freedom (Zemlya i Volya) organization, and later his theories and ideas were followed in the anarchist movement not only in Russia, but in other countries as well. Before becoming an anarchist, he was prominent in the nationalist Pan-Slav movement. These facts are enough for this figure to compel attention in the revolutionary movement.
Bakunin was born in 1814 into a rich and noble family of Russian landowners, and was brought up on money gained by the most brutal exploitation of the peasant serfs. In an autobiographical fragment Bakunin himself wrote:
- I was born on May 30, 18151, on my father's estate of Premukhino, in the Novy-Torzhok county of Tver Province, between Moscow and St. Petersburg, on the banks of a little stream called the Osura. My father was of old and noble family. At the age of eight or nine, his uncle, who was Foreign Minister under Catherine II, appointed him attache of the Embassy to Florence; there his education was taken over by another relative, a minister. He was nearly thirty-five before he returned to Russia. Thus he spent all of his youth abroad and received his education in foreign countries....Between 1817 and 1825 he belonged to the secret Northern Society, which made the famous attempt at a military insurrection in St. Petersburg in December, 1825.2
After the insurrection was suppressed by Nicholas I, Bakunin's father turned his back on the revolution. Bakunin wrote: "He became a respectable property-owner like many of his neighbors, reconciling himself to the slavery of the hundreds whose labor he lived."
Bakunin was one of six brothers and five sisters.
At first-Bakunin relates-our upbringing was very liberal, but after the tragic denouement of the December conspiracy (1825), my father, scared by this defeat, changed his system. From that time on he did his best to make us loyal subjects of the tsar, and with this end in view I was sent to an artillery school at the age of fourteen.3
Thus Bakunin's childhood and youth were spent in an atmosphere which suited him for the position of an aristocrat. The military environment in which he was brought up was intellectually stifled by the regime of Nicholas I. Before he left the country in 1840, Bakunin, far from sympathizing with revolutionary or opposition sentiments, even condemned the Decembrists. Recalling these years, Bakunin wrote in 1870 in a pamphlet, Science and the Urgent Cause of Revolution:
- After the time of the Decembrists, the heroic liberalism of the educated nobility degenerated into pedantic liberalism, into doctrinairism....All revolutionary ideas, all attempts at fearless protest, came to be regarded from the height of metaphysical self-satisfaction as childish boasts. I know what I am talking about, for in the thirties, under the influence of Hegelianism, I too was guilty of this sin.
Abroad Bakunin plunged into political life and associated with people of radical and democratic views. This may be seen from the very first article he wrote, printed in Germany in October, 1842, under the pseudonym of Jules Elizard. In this article he wrote:
- All nations and classes are filled with foreboding; even in Russia, that infinite snow-covered empire, which we know so little and which perhaps will have so great a future-even in Russia the heavy storm clouds are gathering. The atmosphere is stifling, it is heavy with storm.
As is generally known, Bakunin took an active part in the revolutionary movement of 1848-49 in France (Paris), in Germany and in Austria. But it would be wrong to assume that Bakunin was a revolutionary from his youth. All Bakunin's biographers, including anarchist, point out that until 1866, when he was in his fifty-second year, Bakunin was a revolutionary democrat greatly infected with Pan-Slav nationalism.
Although as far back as 1842 Bakunin gave utterance to the idea which became the motto of the anarchists-"the passion to destroy is at the same time a passion to create"-in 1852 he was rather tolerant towards his landlord brother, Nikolai Bakunin, who subjected his serfs to corporal punishment. He only advised him, when doing so, to punish them "in such a way as to convince them that the punishment is just."
It will be of interest to compare this period in the life of Bakunin with the same period in the life of Karl Marx, the founder of the Communist movement. In 1847 Marx, together with Engels, drew up the Communist Manifesto, that first and most remarkable program of the revolutionary proletariat, which Bakunin later also admired, even to the extent of translating it into Russian. It was published in Russian by his disciple, Sergei Nechayev. As a fighting slogan for the Communist ManifestoMarx and Engels took the motto of the French workers: "Workers of the World, unite!" It is enough to compare this constructive, organizing, rallying, fighting slogan with Bakunin's bald appeal for destruction in order to appreciate the enormous significance that the appeal of the Communist Manifesto had for the whole working class movement.
Bakunin was subjected to the most brutal persecution on the part of the tsarist government. He was arrested by the Prussian authorities in connection with the Dresden uprising, and imprisoned in a fortress. Later he was extradited to Russia and on the order of Nicholas I was confined to the fortress of Peter and Paul, which few left alive. Buried alive in this fortress, Bakunin wrote his "confession" as a repentant sinner, begging the tsar for pardon. Of course, this "confession" was deliberately written in repentant terms with a view to obtaining release from the fortress, and Bakunin hoped to be able to atone for this action by his later revolutionary conduct. But genuine revolutionaries in Russia regarded it as the depth of infamy to plead with the tsar for pardon even when sentenced to death.
The writer of these lines spent 12 years in prison and in penal servitude in the depths of Siberia, and knows that those who addressed repentant confessions and petitions for pardon to the tsar were held traitors by the Russian revolutionaries and were boycotted by them. If the Russian revolutionaries of the 1870's and of later years had known of Bakunin's confession, many of them would have repudiated him. But Bakunin's adherents and he himself took great pains to conceal this fact.
Bakunin's confession to Tsar Nicholas was published only after the proletariat, under the leadership of the Bolsheviks, came into power and opened the archives of the tsarist government. It is useless for Bakunin's biographer, the anarchist Nettlau, to shower contempt on those who censure this confession of Bakunin's. It is useless for Nettlau to attempt to explain away this petition by saying that Bakunin was writing to the tsar as his jailer, that there was no one else to whom he could write. This explanation is not true. The anarchists must acknowledge that Bakunin in this case did not display the endurance of a genuine revolutionary. The Russian revolutionaries did not write such petitions to their jailers as Bakunin wrote to the tsar when he had already learned from Count Orlov that he was not threatened with sentence of death.
Bakunin wrote to the tsar:
- Grant me two greatest favors, Your Majesty, and I shall bless Providence for having rescued me from the Germans in order to place me in the fatherly hands of Your Imperial Majesty. Having forfeited the right to call myself a loyal subject of Your Majesty, I can only sign myself sincerely: repentant sinner, Mikhail Bakunin.
Such was Bakunin's letter to the tsar begging for two favors: to be spared solitary confinement and to be allowed visits from his relatives.
Every worker is entitled to censure such behavior on the part of Bakunin, who claimed to be a flawless revolutionary. It is worth while comparing this behavior with that of another Russian revolutionary, N.G. Chernyshevsky. For over twenty years he was confined in a fortress and put to penal servitude in Siberia, but he did not sink so low as to plead for pardon from his mortal enemy, the tsar, although his position was much worse than that of Bakunin, and although he had no rich and prominent relatives to intercede for him as was the case with Bakunin.
Bakunin was a nationalist during and after the 1848 revolution. To this must be added another very unpleasant fact, which was true even after Bakunin had become an anarchist-he had a touch of the anti-Semite about him. While Marx was urging the revolutionary movement of the workers of the world to unite into a single revolutionary league, Bakunin played with the idea of a union of Slavs irrespective of class. In the very midst of the revolutionary events in Europe in 1848 he wrote a pamphlet entitled, "The Appeal to the Slavs, by the Russian Patriot Mikhail Bakunin, Member of the Pan-Slav Congress at Prague." That was why Marx and Engels engaged in such heated controversy with Bakunin at that time-they realized the danger of substituting for the international class slogans of the struggle the liberal-bourgeois nationalist slogans advocated by Bakunin.
Let us see what Nettlau says in this connection. Nettlau points out that beginning with April, 1848,
- ...narrow-minded Pan-Slav nationalism carried the day with him. He personally thought that he was acting in the right way. He wanted to be active among his own people. He had to sow hatred and discord, wars and new military autocracies which would organize and centralize the forces of the various nations for mutual conflict....He forgot the West, discovered, as he said, his "Slavonic heart," and came out in April-not for the liberation of Europe and all humanity, but for the liberation of a certain group of nationalities. Three months later, as he himself relates, he was ready to throw himself into the arms of Nicholas I.
Nettlau relates that already at that time (and not later, when he was in the tsar's power in the fortress), Bakunin thought of petitioning the tsar for pardon:
- It was at this time (between June and July, 1848), that he conceived the plan of writing to Nicholas I to plead for pardon, to ask him to raise the standard of Pan-Slavism, to be the "savior," the "father" and tsar of all the Slavs. ("To be their savior and father, and, proclaiming yourself Tsar of all the Slavs, at last to plant the standard of Pan-Slavism in Eastern Europe to the terror of the Germans and all other oppressors of the Slav people.")
On February 19, 1857, Bakunin was exiled to Siberia. In June, 1861, he escaped on an American ship to America, and later traveled to Europe. At this time he was still a nationalist. In a letter to Hertzen, dated August 1, 1863, he wrote:
- I took an active part in the Pan-Slav movement, and even now I still think that a Slavonic federation is the only thing possible for us, for it alone can in a new and perfectly free form satisfy the feeling of grandeur which undoubtedly lives in our people, a feeling which has mistakenly taken or will take the treacherous road of empire.
A short time before, on May 28, 1863, in a speech he made at a banquet in Sweden, he said:
- What then is our position, the position of those who are fighting against the St. Petersburg government? We are conservatives, we are opposed to bloodshed....We who are called revolutionaries are not republicans at any price. If Emperor Alexander II desired honestly to head the political and social regeneration of Russia, if he desired to restore liberty to Poland and to those parts of the country which do not want to belong to the empire, if instead of the land of Peter, Catherine, and Nicholas, which was founded on violence, he were to found a free, democratic, popular Russia, with local government for the provinces, and if, to crown this, he were to raise the standard of a Slavonic federation-then, instead of fighting him, we would be his most loyal and devoted servants.
Bakunin said this a year before Marx and Engels founded the International Workingmen's Association- the First International. Whereas Marx and Engels had for nearly two decades been engaged in organization, propaganda, and political work to unite the proletariat into an independent class force, Bakunin pursued nationalist strivings and expressed readiness to become the servant and loyal subject of the tsar if the latter were to raise the standard of a Slavonic federation.
Thus it is not surprising that in the confession he wrote in the fortress of Peter and Paul, Bakunin addressed the tsar as follows:
- If at that time Your Majesty had chosen to raise the Slavonic standard, they-and not only they, but all those who speak the Slavonic tongue, on Austrian and Prussian territory-would without terms, without negotiations, trusting themselves implicitly to your will, joyfully, with fanatical enthusiasm, have sheltered under the broad wings of the Russian eagle and hurled themselves proudly not only on the loathed Germans, but on all Western Europe.
We are quoting these passages from Bakunin's confession not in order to degrade his memory, but in order to show that this was not merely a pretended confession, that when Bakunin was no longer in prison, when he was again at liberty abroad, he still expressed the same ideas.
One other point must be added to what we have already said about Bakunin's political views during this period. In 1862 he wrote a pamphlet, The Popular Cause - Romanov, Pugachev or Pestel?4
Bakunin at that time was convinced that a peasant rebellion throughout Russia was inevitable, and declared that it was desirable for the tsar himself to stand at the head of this popular movement. How confused Bakunin's views on the revolution were at that time may be seen from what he wrote in this pamphlet about popular self-government; "Whether with the tsar or without him is a matter of indifference; that is as the people wish; but there must be no officials in Russia." Self-government headed by the tsar but without officials! Can anyone imagine a more muddled and confused theory? Bakunin clung for a very long time to the absurd idea that the tsar could be the liberator of the people. At the age of 47 he wrote:
- Our attitude towards Romanov is clear. We are neither his enemies nor his friends, we are the friends of the cause of the Russian, Slavonic people. If the tsar leads this cause, we will stand for him, but when he opposes it we shall be his enemies.
Bakunin wrote this in 1862, when Russia was still in the midst of peasant rebellions provoked by the vile deception practised on the people by Alexander II, who by his manifesto of February 19, 1861, robbed the peasants for the benefit of the landowners.5 While Chernyshevsky, Dobrolubov and other advanced revolutionaries of the time called for a popular peasant revolution, Bakunin misled the Russian revolutionaries by the very assumption that the tsar could lead the movement of the people for their liberation. But we shall see that somewhat later his followers in Russia-the members of the Zemlya i Volya Party-attempted to create a peasant organization and call forth a movement in the name of the tsar, who, they alleged, stood for the peasants and against the landlords.
We repeat, while Marx was already a fully mature political leader of the Communist working class movement, and had established the Communist League in 1847 and begun to organize the First International in 1864, Bakunin still advocated his nationalist Pan-Slav plans and ideas, which he finally abandoned only after Alexander II suppressed the revolutionary uprising in Poland.
Later Bakunin regarded himself as an internationalist, and, in fact, set up an international anarchist organization. In the First International (International Workingmen's Association) he called for the destruction of all states and the fraternal union of all nations. But at the same time, even when he was already an anarchist, he preached the union of all Slavs (without class distinction) and called for a struggle of all the Slav nations, not against the German bourgeoisie, but against the German nation, glossing over the existence of a Slav bourgeoisie, and forgetting the fact that the German workers were brothers just like the workers of Italy, Spain, France, and every other country. In his principal work on anarchism, The State and Anarchy, Bakunin not only defended totally unscientific, nationalist, chauvinist views, but defended them as the leading ideas for anarchists. In this work he contrasted the Germans to the Slavs. "The Germans," he wrote, "seek life and liberty within the state, while for the Slavs the state spells destruction." This work was written in 1873, two years after the Paris Commune, and in it Bakunin still preached the creation of a Pan-Slav federation.
Bakunin's works contain absolutely open attacks on the Jews; and he attacked, not the Jewish bourgeoisie, but the Jews in general, all Jews. He regarded all Jews as parasites and exploiters and treated them with unconcealed contempt. When Bakunin within the First International was fighting Utin, the organizer of the Russian section of the International in Geneva and a supporter of Marx, he wrote about him in his "Report on the Alliance" as follows:
- Utin-need it be said?-is a Jew by birth, and, what is worse, a Russian Jew. His features, temperament, character, manners, his nervous nature, are simultaneously insolent and cowardly, vain and huckstering.
In speaking of Utin, Bakunin often refers to him as "that little Jew." We are not defending Utin as a revolutionary, for later he became a renegade and petitioned the tsar for pardon. But why did Bakunin regard a Russian Jew as being "worse" than any other? The reason was that the tsarist government in Russia, while showing tolerance towards the rich Jews, and sometimes even encouraging them and granting them privileges and honors, had created a special ghetto-the Pale of Settlement-for the poorer Jews, forbade them to engage in agriculture and to work in government employ, kept them out of the big factories, and deprived the masses of the Jewish people of all rights. For centuries it had imbued Russia with contempt for this nationality. And Bakunin, the former aristocrat, landlord and officer in the tsarist army, had imbibed this contempt for the Jews, this Great-Russian, Slavonic chauvinism and anti-Semitism with his mother's milk. When Bakunin found himself in Europe, where anti-Semitism was fostered among the petty bourgeoisie by their competition with the Jewish petty bourgeoisie-shopkeepers, artisans, etc.-Bakunin assimilated these feelings the more easily because all his education in tsarist Russia had provided a fertile soil for them.
That was why in his controversies with Marx and Lassalle, in which he denied that their views on the revolution were different simply because he did not understand the essential difference between them, Bakunin used to attribute their doctrines either to their German sentiments or to their Jewish descent. "I am convinced," he wrote, "that the Rothschilds value Marx's services, and that Marx instinctively feels attracted towards and entertains profound respect for the Rothschilds." August Bebel, the well-known leader of the German working class, used to call anti-Semitism "the socialism of fools." But Bakunin's anti-Semitism was more deep-seated. Its roots went down into that aristocratic, landowning, exploiting environment from which he had come, and with whose sentiments he never succeeded in breaking completely.
It is to be wondered at then that at the end of the 1870's certain Narodnik followers of Bakunin approved of the Jewish pogroms in the south of Russia and issued a leaflet in which they argued that Jewish pogroms were the expression of popular protest against the exploiters? Is it to be wondered at that Makhno and his followers, who called themselves anarchists, permitted and even themselves organized Jewish pogroms?
Bakunin belonged to the group of "repentant aristocrats" who believed that they must atone for the sins of their exploiting fathers. He devoted himself to the cause of the revolution. But such repentant aristocrats very often retained their aristocratic attitude to many phenomena of social life. We have already seen that Bakunin could not get rid of the nationalism of his class-anti-Semitism and Great-Russian chauvinism. On the other hand, these "repentant aristocrats" often idealized what they had despised before. Becoming anarchists, they regarded every highway robber as a mature revolutionary. Bakunin and his adherents regarded the religious sects in Russia, which had nothing in common with either Communism or anarchism, as a revolutionary force. As we shall see later, the facts of reality proved a bitter, cruel disappointment for the supporters of Bakunin.
Beginning with the second half of the 1860's, Bakunin became an anarchist. He took part in organizing the First International. But at the same time he set up an organization of his own within the First International for the purpose of fighting Marx. Bakunin proclaimed his struggle against Marx to be a struggle against dictatorship, a struggle against centralization. It is well known, however, that Bakunin, while officially opposing centralization, established an organization based on the strictest centralism. Before he formed the Alliance, Bakunin organized the International Brotherhood Society, the rules of which contained the following clause on discipline, formulated by Bakunin himself:
- Within the Council it is the right and even the duty of every brother to advocate his own views; but once the majority in the council or the Directorate has by its supreme authority adopted a decision conflicting with his opinion, he has no right by any means whatsoever to influence public opinion against this supreme decision.
The powers with which Bakunin invested this anarchist directorate may be seen from the following statement he made on the rights of members of the International Brotherhood Society.
- He has no right to accept any post, whether judicial, church, government, military or civil, nor to join any secret society without the formal consent of the directorate of the International Council.
Thus, while opposing the centralized form of organization of the International Workingmen's Association, Bakunin introduced this form in his own organization and demanded dictatorial powers for its leading body. In 1870 Bakunin wrote to Richard, one of his closest adherents:
- There will no longer be public order or the public interest. What must take their place if revolutionary anarchy is not to lead to reaction? The collective action of an invisible organization spread throughout the country. If we do not establish such an organization we shall never emerge from our state of impotence.
While fighting against the hegemony of the Marxists in the First International, Bakunin wanted to establish the hegemony and dictatorship of the anarchists. In one of his letters to Richard, dated April, 1870, Bakunin wrote:
- The revolutionary politicians, who advocate dictatorship, want passions to calm down after the first victories, they want order, the confidence of the masses, subordination to the authorities which will be set up in the course of the revolution. Thus a new state is proclaimed. We, on the contrary, shall foster, support, free the passions, call forth anarchy, invisibly guiding the popular storm, not by means of tangible, visible power, but by the collective dictatorship of our allies....That is the only dictatorship I accept. But in order that it may be effective, it must exist, and for this purpose it must be prepared for and organized beforehand....For it will not come into being of itself, out of discussion, out of difference of opinion, arguments about principles or popular assemblies. There is only one power, one dictatorship, the organization of which is possible and beneficial-the collective, invisible dictatorship of allies in the name of our common principle.
Thus within the First International Bakunin established a secret alliance which carried out his anarchist theory within the revolutionary movement. The disagreements between Bakunin and Marx were based on their totally different understanding of the aim and objects of the proletarian revolution and the forms and methods of struggle. The passionate struggle Marx and Engels waged against Bakunin was prompted primarily by the fact that Marx and Engels saw how greatly the working class movement would be endangered if it adopted the ideas and principles of anarchism. When Engels wrote his critical review of the activities of the anarchists during the Spanish revolution of 1873, entitled "The Bakuninists at Work," he had already had the opportunity to judge the results of anarchist doctrine not from Bakunin's writings, but from the actual experience of the movement. The deplorable results of the anarchist "abstention from politics" were already plain.
Before passing on to the Narodnik movement in Russia, which adhered to Bakunin's views, we will deal with Sergey Nechayev, a prominent figure in the revolutionary movement, a man of great will-power, of iron endurance and undoubted organizational ability, and the first advocate of Bakunin's anarchist views in Russia.
Why deal with Nechayev?
Nechayev carried on his activities in the late sixties and the early seventies, when the First International had already been established and the profound difference between the views of Marx and Bakunin had taken definite shape. Nechayev acted on behalf of Bakunin.
We shall not dwell on the struggle over Nechayev that took place between Marx and Bakunin. Abroad Nechayev behaved in such an adventurist manner that not only did Marx suspect him of being a provocateur, but Bakunin himself repudiated his plans (for example, Nechayev proposed that the anarchists raid banks and similar institutions in Switzerland).
In Russia, Nechayev established an organization called the Popular Retribution. This organization was centralistic from top to bottom. All authority was vested in its Central Committee and unquestioning discipline was enforced. It was the most authoritarian organization ever established by revolutionaries. And yet Bakunin, as every anarchist knows, was an enemy of authority. The anarchists still call themselves libertarians, as distinct from the Communist parties. The Communist parties are based on the principle of democratic centralism, i.e., the election of all the leading bodies from the bottom up and the subordination of all members of a lower Party organization (circle, group or nucleus) to the decisions of the superior elected Party organization. The anarchists have always disagreed with this feature of Communist organization. One of the questions on which Bakunin waged a bitter struggle against Marx in the First International was that of how the working class was to be organized.
How, then, could Sergey Nechayev, a disciple of Bakunin, establish a strictly centralized organization and provide it with rules which were utterly in conflict with the official pronounced anarchist views of Bakunin on organization? For decades Bakunin and all his supporters, including his private secretary, Armand Rosse (Mikhail Sazhin), concealed the fact that Nechayev's "catechism" was written by Bakunin himself.
After the October Revolution Sazhin related that this "catechism," written in Bakunin's own hand, had been found among Nechayev's papers after the latter's arrest and had been burnt by Sazhin himself. This fact proves that to serve their ends, Bakunin and his supporters were prepared to create organizations so authoritarian and centralized as to crush the will and opinions of their individual members. Such was Nechayev's Popular Retribution, which was broken up by the tsarist government before it had time to achieve anything of importance.
The attempts of certain historians to represent Nechayev as a "pretender" whom Bakunin never empowered to act on his behalf are futile. When searching the apartment of a student named Uspensky, who belonged to Nechayev's organization, the tsarist secret police found a certificate signed by Bakunin and given to Nechayev by Bakunin, which read as follows:
- The bearer is a trusted representative of the Russian section of the International Revolutionary Alliance. Mikhail Bakunin.
It would be wrong, of course, to identify Nechayev with Bakunin. Nechayev has views of his own with which Bakunin did not agree. For example, in Bakunin's opinion the main revolutionary force in Russia were the peasantry and the lumpen-proletariat. Nechayev, however, regarded the working class as the main revolutionary force. In a pamphlet, The Problem of Revolution, Bakunin wrote:
- In Russia the highway robber is the genuine and sole revolutionary - a revolutionary without fine phrases, without learned rhetoric, a revolutionary irreconcilable, indefatigable and indomitable, a popular and social revolutionary, non-political and independent of any estate.
Nechayev, however, after having lived abroad, and especially after the Paris Commune, became convinced that:
- In the West there are new fresh people to whom the future belongs. They are the workers, divided neither by state frontiers nor by difference of tribe. They are the people who still understand us, for our cause, the cause of the people, is their cause too.
Nechayev was a consistent internationalist. His good points conflicted with the views of Bakunin.6But he copied Bakunin's mistaken anarchist views, which prevented him and his young contemporaries from evolving a correct view of the revolution and drove them into narrow conspiratorial activities.
During the 1870's a fairly strong organization called Land and Freedom came into being in Russia. This organization served to unite all the revolutionary forces of Russia at that time and included people with the most varied views, generally known as Narodniks, or populists. The majority of its members were Bakuninist anarchists, who were of the opinion that the people were ready for revolution, that there was no need to teach them anything, that it was only necessary to rouse them to rebellion. The organization also included the adherents of Peter Lavrov, who advocated the idea that history is not made by the popular masses, but by "critically thinking individuals," who can turn the people in any direction they choose. Finally, it included the supporters of Peter Tkachev, a Blanquist, who advocated the seizure of political power by means of a revolutionary conspiracy.
But the views which predominated in the Land and Freedom organization were the anarchist views of Bakunin. For this reason we shall dwell in some detail on the activities of this organization.
It would be wrong to assume that Bakunin created this organization. The Narodnik movement had been preceded and formed by the activities of the Enlighteners-Hertzen, Belinsky, Dobrolubov and Chernyshevsky. Chernyshevsky in particular left a deep impress on the minds of the progressive section of Russian society. He was of the opinion that the awful conditions of the Russian people could be abolished only by a peasant revolution, by an armed rising against the tsar and the landlords. It was this road that he called upon young revolutionaries to follow. In a letter to Hertzen, Chernyshevsky wrote: "Our position is terrible, unbearable. Only the axe can save us, and nothing but the axe can help." But Chernyshevsky and his followers were not anarchists. In a leaflet entitled "Young Russia," written by a revolutionary named Zaichnevsky (who was under Chernyshevsky's influence), and distributed in Russia, the slogan of a socialist and democratic republic is put forth.
- Soon, soon the day will come-the leaflet said-when we shall unfurl the great banner of the future, the red banner, and loudly crying "Long live the Russian Socialist and Democratic Republic" shall march on the Winter Palace to destroy those who inhabit it.
But neither Zaichnevsky's circle nore Chernyshevsky were equal to this task....It was not until 55 years later that the working class, following the banner of the Bolshevik, Communist Party, could accomplish this great, historic task.
Unfortunately, when Chernyshevsky was arrested and confined a fortress the members of the Land and Freedom were carried away by anarchist views on revolution, and this caused great injury to the movement. This was a result of the backwardness of the movement, a result of the weakness of the proletariat in Russia at that time.
We already know that Bakunin mistakenly thought that the peasants were born rebels and communists. His supporters followed his idea of "not teaching the people, but rousing them to rebellion." For instance, they thought that the peasants and Cossacks who had risen in rebellion under the peasant leader Stenka Rasin were nearer to communism than the leaders of the utopian Socialists-Fourier, Saint-Simon, Cabet and others. We have seen that Bakunin regarded highway robbers and bandits as the most consistent revolutionaries. He maintained that the peasant community, notwithstanding all its defects, must serve as the unit of the anarcho-communist system: "Rebellion-Stenka Rasin, Pugachev, the religious sectarians-such is the sphere from which alone we can expect the moralization and salvation of the Russian people."
Bakunin maintained that the peasants were revolutionaries, even when they marched "calling upon the name of the tsar." He held that in their rebellion the peasants must destroy every form of state, for he was convinced that the peasant community was absolutely opposed to every form of state. All that had to be done was to organize this peasant rebellion throughout the country, for which purpose it was necessary "to go among the people."
Actually, however, the Russian peasants of the seventies, far from being born communists or socialists, did not even dream of communism. They wanted land, they were small proprietors who hated the landlords and believed in the tsar. In their attempts to rouse a nationwide rebellion and in their propaganda for socialism, the Narodniks, as a rule, met with no sympathy in the rural districts. Certain propagandists complained that their Bakuninist propaganda among the peasants "went in at one ear and came out at the other." M. Popov, a prominent figure in this movement, relates:
- The hope that our propaganda would rouse the rural population to active struggle, or, at least, would inspire the peasants with confidence that such a struggle would be fruitful, was not realized. The peasant would listen to the revolutionary just as he listened to the parson preaching about the Kingdom of Heaven, and after listening to the sermon and leaving the church he went on living just as he had done before.
Vera Figner, a member of the Executive Committee of the People's Will (Narodnaya Volya) party, who spent over 20 years in solitary confinement in the Schluesselburg fortress, writes in her memoirs7:
- I spent ten months in the Petrovsky county, and my comrades a somewhat longer time in the Volsky county, and not a single person joined us in all that time. Our revolutionary isolation was enough to drive on to despair.
Plekhanov, at that time a supporter of Bakunin, wrote:
- The peasants listened willingly and attentively to what the propagandists had to say about the land hunger, the brutality of the landlords, the greed of the priests and the grasping avidity of the merchants, but the majority of them remained deaf to the advocacy of socialism. The socialist ideals not only failed to attract them, but absolutely failed to penetrate their minds, for the ideals prompted by their production relations largely bore the character of bourgeois individualism.
Another Bakuninist, Aptekman, says the same thing. He recalls how a peasant to whom he had been speaking about the need for rising and seizing the large estates exclaimed: "Won't it be fine when we divide the land! Why, then I'll hire two men and live like a lord!"
Of course, the tsarist government was not idle, and in 1874 alone over a thousand revolutionaries were arrested.
What did this attempt to "go among the people" show? It showed that Bakunin's idea that the peasants were the main revolutionary element in Russia, born socialists and rebels, was groundless; that Bakunin's theory that the peasants were opposed to every form of state was wrong. The strenuous efforts of the revolutionaries were wasted without benefitting the revolution. Bakunin's theories not only failed to direct the Narodniks along the right road, but actually diverted them from the more correct road which Chernyshevsky had previously called upon them to follow.
Besides, Bakunin preached that a struggle for political liberty was superfluous, for such a struggle would only distract attention from the socialist ("social") revolution. He thought that Russia would go straight towards the socialist revolution, without going through the stage of the bourgeois-democratic revolution; that every form of state would be at once destroyed and anarchist society ushered in. This doctrine misled those who took part in the movement and was undoubtedly harmful.
Unfortunately, this doctrine still survives among the anarchies in Spain, France and certain other countries, where their failure to understand the line of development of the revolution and the nature of the revolutionary process leads to very grave errors which can be rectified only with difficulty.
When the Bakuninist Narodniks became convinced that their anarcho-communist propaganda was meeting with no response among the peasantry, a section of them recalled Bakunin's statement that the peasants could be roused to rebellion in the name of the tsar, as had once been done by the rebel peasant leader Emelyan Pugachev.
A group of Bakuninist rebels, including Stefanovich, Bukhanovsky and Deutsch (subsequently a prominent Menshevik Social-Democrat) therefore made their way to Chigirinsky county, in the Ukraine, where the land hunger among the poor peasants was particularly severe. The peasants were agitated and resolved to send a petitioner to the tsar to ask for land. Some of the peasants were arrested. Disguised as a peasant, under the name of Dimitry Naida, Stefanovich undertook to take the petition to the tsar. Stefanovich explained his actions as follows:
- All my observations had confirmed the idea that the organization I had planned would be certain of adoption only on a basis of some authority, which in this case could only be the name of Tsar Alexander II.
Stefanovich pretended to set out on a journey to St. Petersburg to present the petition to the tsar, and on his return showed the peasants a forged manifesto alleged to have been signed by the tsar, calling upon the peasants to organize a secret society under the name of the Secret Squad in order to combat the landowners, the officials and the priests, who, so the document said, prevented the tsar from carrying out his desire of giving all the land to the peasants. The manifesto promised that in the event of victory:
- All the land with its forests and meadows shall become your free property, like water, the sunlight and every other gift of God to man; the nobility you detest, which knows no sympathy for you, will be abolished, and freedom and happiness will reign in the land of Russia.
To this forged manifesto Stefanovich added the rules for the Secret Squad peasant society, which were also supposed to have been approved by the tsar. In order to convince the peasants that it was all genuine, Stefanovich arranged the ceremony of taking the oath on the Bible. An ikon was placed on a table between lighted candles, a cross was formed of two knives, and at this "altar" the peasants solemnly took the oath. This secret society was soon discovered by the tsarist secret police; its members were arrested and exiled to Siberia.
Why did the Bakuninists need this masquerade, which was harmful to the revolution and most unworthy of revolutionaries? Because their whole doctrine of anarchism was fallacious. Because all their anarchist ideas about the peasantry and the revolution were groundless and worthless.
Thus the Bakuninist doctrine retarded the development of the revolution in Russia. It gave the revolution not a single idea of value. It was therefore impossible to build up a victorious working-class organization in Russia without combating all the Narodniks, and particularly the Bakuninist variety of Narodism.
It may be asked: but did not the Bakuninists in Russia conduct any propaganda among the workers? They did. They established connections with the workers and set up workers' propaganda circles. Prince Peter Kropotkin, a prominent anarchist, was one such propagandist. Another was Chaikovsky, the same who in 1918, during the proletarian revolution in Russia, headed the whiteguard interventionist government in North Russia in company with General Miller. Of course, if these propagandist leaders had not themselves been on a false track, their work among the workers would have been useful, for by this time the first volume of Marx's Capital, the Communist Manifesto and other of Marx's works had already been translated into Russian. But the Bakuninists who carried on the propaganda among the workers had no clear ideas themselves about the aims and objects of the revolution and about the methods of struggle. Kropotkin was instructed to draw up a "catechism" for the use of study circles. To the question: "Should we study the ideal future society?" he gave as the answer: "The main thing is to destroy the state; when this is achieved the people themselves will determine the principles on which the new society is to be based."
Of course, not all the workers who attended these circles blindly followed the Bakuninists. Among the workers of the seventies and the eighties there were some who had views of their own and organizational talent-progressive workers who realized the tremendous role that fell to the proletariat as the vanguard class. These people-Victor Obnorsky, Stepan Khalturin, Peter Moisseyenko, Peter Alexeyev, Semyon Agapov, and others-showed that they were head and shoulders above their teachers (the Kropotkins, Bakunins and Chaikovskys) in understanding the aims and objects of the struggle.
That is why we think that the ideas of Bakunin, Kropotkin and the rest were wrong and harmful to the development of the revolution; they hindered the formation of that larger group of class conscious workers who later, when the work of organization was undertaken by the Marxists, founded and formed that victorious, powerful organization-the Bolshevik Party-under whose leadership tsarism was overthrown, the capitalist, landlord and kulak classes destroyed and socialist society built up in the U.S.S.R.
1 1814 is meant.-E.Y.
2 From the biographical sketch of Bakunin by the anarchist Nettlau.
4 The meaning of this heading was as follows: Who is to be preferred as the leader of the revolution-Nicholas Romanov, the tsar, Pugachev, the leader of a peasant rebellion, or Pestel, the chief of the Decembrist military conspiracy?
5The much-heralded "emancipation" of the Russian serfs in 1861, while providing factory owners and landlords with cheap labor, left the peasants on the land as much to the mercy of the landlords as they had been before.
6Incidentally, in 1870 Nechayev published Bakunin's Russian translation of the Communist Manifesto.
7Vera Figner, Memoirs of a Revolutionist, New York, 1927-Ed.