Bakunin, Mikhail Aleksandrovich

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Bakunin, Mikhail Aleksandrovich


Born May 18 (30), 1814, in Novotorg District, Tver Province; died June 19 (July 1), 1876. Russian revolutionary; one of the founders and theoreticians of anarchism and the revolutionary populist movement. Born into the family of a landowner. Studied at the Artillery School in St. Petersburg; served briefly as an officer, resigning in 1835.

During the second half of the 1830’s, Bakunin lived in Moscow, where he played a prominent role in the circle of N. V. Stankevich. He was intimate with V. G. Belinskii and later with A. I. Herzen and N. P. Ogarev. During these years he was a disciple of the philosophy of J. Fichte; later he followed the philosophy of G. Hegel. In 1840 he went abroad, to Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and France. At the University of Berlin he attended lectures on logic by K. Werder and on the “philosophy of revelation” by F. Schelling (1840). Joining the left Hegelians, he expressed his radical views in the article “Reaction in Germany” (1842), which was hailed in Russia by Herzen and Belinskii. In Zürich he made the acquaintance of W. Weitling and became interested in the communist movement. In Paris (1844), Bakunin established a friendship with P. Proudhon and at this time became acquainted with K. Marx and F. Engels.

Bakunin’s activity abroad attracted the attention of the tsarist authorities; they demanded that he return home, but he did not comply. In 1844 he was sentenced in absentia by the Senate to deprivation of rights and banishment to Siberia for penal servitude in the event he returned to Russia. On Nov.

17 (29), 1847, at a meeting in Paris in commemoration of the Polish uprising of 1830–31, Bakunin delivered a speech denouncing tsarism, predicting the inevitability of revolution, and, in the name of progressive Russia, summoning Poles to enter an alliance for the liberation al all Slavs. On the insistence of the Russian government, Bakunin was deported from France.

Bakunin took an active part in the Revolution of 1848–49. He was particularly interested in the movement among Slavic peoples: he participated in the Slav congress in Prague (1848) and became one of the leaders of the uprising that erupted during the congress (June 12–17, 1848). In two proclamations to the Slavic people, he called on them to establish closer relations with the German and Hungarian peoples and to create a Slavic federation; he protested the Hungarian intervention (1849) of Nicholas I. In May 1849 he was one of the leaders of the uprising in Dresden (Saxony). After it was suppressed, he was arrested in Chemnitz. In April 1850 a Saxon court sentenced him to death, which was commuted to life imprisonment. He was turned over to the Austrian government, and in May 1851 a court-martial in Olmütz again delivered a death sentence, which was also commuted to life imprisonment. Following this, the Austrian authorities gave him up to Nicholas I. He was imprisoned in Aleksei Ravelin of Peter and Paul Fortress, where, on the suggestion of the tsar, he wrote his Confession: in it he recounted the revolutionary events in Europe and his own participation in them, without compromising anyone else. In places, the document appears to be an expression of repentance. This can be explained as a tactic of Bakunin’s, who was striving to break through to freedom at any price. In 1857 he was sent off for settlement in Siberia. In 1861 he escaped, reaching London by way of Japan and the USA. During 1862–63 he collaborated with Herzen and Ogarev and was involved with the secret revolutionary organization Land and Liberty. From 1864 to 1867 he lived in Italy and then in Switzerland. During the Franco-Prussian War, he participated in the Lyon uprising (September 1870), and in 1874 he took part in the anarchist actions in Bologna (Italy). He died in Bern (Switzerland) and was buried there.

Bakunin’s anarchist views took final shape during his life in Italy, partly on the basis of his study of Proudhon. His views were disseminated in a number of Western countries and in Russia.

According to Bakunin, history is an evolutionary process, the procession of mankind from the “realm of animal existence” to the “realm of freedom.” Religion and the state are the attributes of a lower stage. Man is distinguished from the animals only by thought; this fact brings religion into existence. The state, which embodies tyranny and exploitation, relies on the fiction of a god. The society of the future will be an order in which there are no limitations on freedom, man will be independent of all authority, and all his capacities will develop fully.

Bakunin’s anarchist theory, shot through with individualism, has many points of contact with the teachings of M. Stirner. Mistakenly regarding the state as the basic source of the oppression of the masses, of all social evils, Bakunin opposed state organization in any form. He also sharply opposed any use of the state by the working class and rejected the Marxist doctrine of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Defending the slogan of a “free federation” of agricultural and factory-craft associations, Bakunin and his followers rejected participation in political struggle within the limits of existing states, the use of electoral agitation, parliaments, and so on. Bakunin dreamed of social revolution without understanding its real content, its economic and political conditions, or the true historical mission of the working class. He placed his main hopes on the peasantry and the semiproletarian craft strata of the cities, on the lumpen proletariat. Objectively, Bakuninist anarchism and spontaneous revolutionism were reflections of the discontent and protest of petit bourgeois masses ruined by capitalism. Although Bakunin counted himself a materialist and an atheist in the 1860’s and 1870’s, in his notion of the role and tasks of philosophy he approached the positivism of A. Comte (see “Federalism, Socialism, and Anti-Theologism” in Izbr. soch., vol. 1, London, 1915, pp. 125–27). Calling himself a proponent of the materialist conception of history, Bakunin treated Marxism in the spirit of “economic materialism.” At the end of 1864, he joined the International Workingmen’s Association. However, in fact he worked against the International, establishing the International Brotherhood, which was anarchist in nature. In 1868 he founded the anarchist organization International Alliance of Socialist Democracy (L’Alliance Internationale de la Démocratic Socialiste) in Switzerland, seeking its admission to the International as an independent international organization. Rebuffed, Bakunin and his followers announced the dissolution of the alliance; in fact, they maintained their secret union and through it attempted in every way possible to take over leadership in the International. The systematic divisive campaign waged by Bakunin against the International’s General Council, led by K. Marx, inflicted serious damage on the international workers’ movement and threatened the very existence of the International. At the Hague congress (1872), Bakunin was expelled from the International.

Bakunin’s active ties with the Russian revolutionary movement revived in 1868–70. In 1868 the first issue of the journal Narodnoe Delo (The People’s Cause), edited by Bakunin, was published in Geneva. In 1869 Bakunin became closely involved with S. G. Nechaev, through whom Bakunin planned to spread the influence of the secret international anarchist organization to Russia. A number of Bakunin’s printed addresses to the democratic youth of Russia date to 1869–70. His book Statism and Anarchy appeared in 1873; it had an important ideological influence on the revolutionary populist movement.

Bakunin called the Russian peasant an innate socialist and demonstrated the existence of a “Russian popular ideal,” the main features of which he saw as communal landholding and as the idea itself of the “right to the land,” which was characteristic of the Russian peasant. He impressed upon young people the faith in the deep, inexhaustible revolutionary character of the peasant masses. Asserting that “it is nothing at all to raise any village in rebellion,” Bakunin emphasized that “individual outbreaks” were not enough (although he considered them unquestionably useful); to the revolutionary intelligentsia he pointed out the task of establishing “by every means possible . . .a living insurrectionary tie between the unconnected communes.” The Bakuninist rebellious orientation in the populist movement of the 1870’s took shape under his direct influence; over the years, it became dominant in the movement.

In Russian conditions of this time, Bakuninism, was essentially one of the manifestations of a revolutionary democratic mood, reflecting the hopes and dreams of the oppressed peasant masses. The Bakuninist tendency in the populist movement had different shades, and in the course of the 1870’s it underwent a perceptible evolution. In addition to purely Bakuninist groups (such as that of S. F. Kovalik), there were other groups whose activities reflected the influence of Bakuninism: the Dolgushin group, to some extent the Chaikovskii group, and the All-Russian Social-Revolutionary Organization (the “Moskvich” group). Bakunin’s views influenced the program and tactics of Land and Liberty of the 1870’s. The appearance of Russian social democracy brought the point-by-point, comprehensive overthrow of Bakuninism.

K. Marx and F. Engels struggled persistently against the anarchist views of Bakunin and his disruptive activity in the European workers’ movement. G. V. Plekhanov criticized the main principles of Bakunin’s world view and demonstrated the Utopian nature of his views of Russia’s socioeconomic structure. V. I. Lenin struggled against anarchism in all its forms, considering it—and Bakuninism in particular—the product of despair, the world view of a petit bourgeois. Exposing the theoretical flimsiness of Bakuninism and its harmful influence on the international workers’ movement, Lenin nonetheless fully acknowledged the contribution of the Bakuninist populists of the 1870’s to the revolutionary struggle in Russia.


Izbr. soch., vols. 1–5. Petrograd-Moscow, 1919–21.
Sobr. soch. i pisem, vols. 1–4. Moscow, 1934—35.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. “Mnimye raskoly v Internatsionale.” K. Marx, and F. Engels. Soch.,2nd ed., vol. 18.
Marx, K., and F. Engels. “Al’ians sotsialisticheskoi demokratii i Mezhdunarodnoe tovarishchestvo rabochikh.” Ibid.
Engels, F. “Bakuninisty za rabotoi.” Ibid.
Engels, F. “Emigrantskaia literatura.” Ibid.
Marx, K. “Konspekt knigi Bakunina Oosudarstvennost’ i anarkhiia.’” Ibid.
Marx, K. F. Engel’s i revoliutsionnaia Rossiia. Moscow, 1967.
Lenin, V. I. “Chto takoe ’druz’ia naroda’ i kak oni voiuiut protiv sotsial-demokratov?” Poln. sobr. soch.,5th ed., vol. 1.
Lenin, V. I. “Anarkhizm i sotsializm.” Ibid., vol. 5.
Lenin, V. I. “Pamiati Gertsena.” Ibid., vol. 21.
Lenin, V. I. “Gosudarstvo i revoliutsiia.” Ibid., vol. 33.
Plekhanov. G. V. “Nashi raznoglasiia.” Soch., vol. 2.
Moscow [n.d.]. Plekhanov, G. V. “Anarkhizm i sotsializm.” Soch., vol. 4. Moscow [n.d.].
Steklov, Iu. M. A. Bakunin: Ego zhizn’ i deiatel’nost’, vols. 1–4.
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Istoriia Kommunisticheskoi partii Sovetskogo Soiuza, vol. 1. Moscow, 1964.
Revoliutsionnoe narodnichestvo 70-kh godov 19 v., vols. 1–2.
Moscow-Leningrad, 1964–65.
Levin, Sh. M. Obshchestvennoe dvizhenie v Rossii v 60–70-e gody XIX v. Moscow, 1958.
Kolpinskii, N. Iu., and V. A. Tvardovskaia. “Bakunin v russkom i mezhdunarodnom osvoboditel’nom dvizhenii.” Voprosy istorii, 1964, no. 10.
Itenberg, B. S. Dvizhenie revoliutsionnogo narodnichestva. Moscow, 1965.
Pervyi Internatsional, parts 1–2. Moscow, 1964–65.
Pirumova, N. Bakunin.[Moscow, 1970.]
Venturi, F. Il populismo russo, vols. 1–2. [Turin] 1952.
Lequien, E. “Bakounine et le marxisme.” Revue d’histoire économique et sociale,1954, vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 389–412.
Lampert, E. “M. Bakunin (1814–1876).” In Studies in Rebellion. London, 1957.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.