Many comrades have found it hard to understand the difference between Marx and Bakunin. The story is very simple and can be told clearly.
During his imprisonment and exile, Bakunin was attacked by Marx and the latter’s friends. Bakunin summarized the attack: —
“While I was having a far from amusing time in German and Russian fortresses, and in Siberia, Marx and Co. were peddling, clamoring from the housetops, publishing in English and German newspapers, the most abominable rumors about me. They said that it was untrue to declare that I had been imprisoned in a fortress, that, on the contrary, Czar Nicholas had received me with open arms, had provided me with all possible conveniences and enjoyments, that I was able to amuse myself with light women, and had a abundance of champagne to drink. This was infamous, but it was also stupid.”
After Bakunin arrived in London, in 1861, and settled down to his work on Herzen’s Kolokol , an English newspaper published a statement by a man named Urquhart, declaring that Bakunin challenged his calumniator and heard no more of the matter. In November, 1864, Bakunin had an interview with Marx in London. Bakunin described the interview in the following terms: —
“At that time I had a little note from Marx, in which he asked me whether he could come to see me the next day. I answered in the affirmative, and he came. We had an explanation. He said that he had never said or done anything against me; that, on the contrary, he had always been my true friend, and had retained great respect for me. I knew that he was lying, but I really no longer bore any grudge against him. The renewal of the acquaintanceship interested me moreover, in another connection. I knew that he had taken a great part in the foundation of the International. I had read the manifesto written by him in the name of the provisional General Council, a manifesto which was weighty, earnest, and profound, like everything that came from his pen when he was not engaged in personal polemic. In a word, we parted, outwardly, on the best of terms, although I did not return his visit.”
Writing to Engels, under date, November 4, 1864, Marx says: —
“Bakunin wishes to be remembered to you. He has left for Italy to-day. I saw him yesterday evening once more, for the first time after sixteen years. He said that after the failure in Poland he should in future, confine himself to participation in the Socialist Movement. On the whole he is one of the few persons whom I find not to have retrogressed after sixteen years, but to have developed further. I had a talk with him also about Urquhart’s denunciations.”
Bakunin wanted to be on good terms with Marx, for the sake of building up the International. He desired to devote himself henceforward exclusively to the Socialist Movement. This was difficult because of Marx’s injustice. Bakunin tells the story thus: —
“In the year 1848, Marx and I had a difference of opinion, and I must say that he was far more in the right of it than I. In Paris and Brussels had had founded a section of German Communists, and had, in alliance with the French and a few English Communists, supported by his friend and inseparable comrade, Engels, founded in London the first international association of Communists of various lands... I , myself, the fumes of the revolutionary movement in Europe having gone to my head, had been much more interested in the negative than in the positive side of this revolution, had been, that is to say, much more concerned with the overthrow of the extant than with the question of the upbuilding and organization of what was to follow. But there was one point in which I was right and he was wrong. As a Slav, I wanted the liberation of the Slav race from the German yoke. I wanted this liberation to be brought about by the revolution, that is to say by the destruction of the regime of Russia, Austria, Prussia, and Turkey, and by the re-organization of the peoples from below upwards through their own freedom, upon the foundation of complete economic and social equality, and not through the power of any authority, however revolutionary it might call itself, and however intelligent it might in fact be.
“Already, at this date, the difference between our respective systems (a difference which now severs us in a way that, on my side, has been very carefully thought out) was well marked. My ideals and aspirations could not fail to be very displeasing to Marx. First of all, because they were not his own; secondly, because they ran counter to the convictions of the authoritarian Communists; and finally, because, being a German patriot, he would not admit then, any more than he does to-day, the right of the Slavs to free themselves from the German yoke- for still, as of old, he thinks that the Germans have a mission to civilize the Slavs, this meaning to Germanize them whether by kindness or force.
“To punish me for being so bold as to aim a realizing an idea different from and indeed actually opposed to his, Marx then revenged himself after his own fashion. He was editor of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung published in Cologne. In one of the issues of that paper I read in the Paris correspondence that Madame George Sand, with whom I had formerly been acquainted, was said to have told some one it was necessary to be cautious in dealing with Bakunin, for it was quite possible that he was some sort of Russian agent.”
The Morning Advertizer, for September 1, 1853, published the statement by Marx that, on July 5, 1848, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung received two letters from Paris, declaring that George Sand possessed letters compromising Bakunin, “showing that he had recently been in communication with the Russian government.” One was from Havas Bureau, and the other from Dr. Ewerbeck, sometime leader of the Federation of the Just.
Bakunin described the effect of this accusation and his reaction to it:-
“The accusation was like a tile falling from a roof upon my head, at the very time when I was fully immersed in revolutionary organization, and it completely paralyzed my activities for several weeks. All my German and Slav friends fought shy of me. I was the first Russian to concern himself actively with revolutionary work, and it is needless for me to tell you what feelings of traditional mistrust were accustomed to arise in western minds when the words Russian revolutionist were mentioned. In the first instance, therefore, I wrote to Madame Sand.”
Bakunin’s life as an agitator, his insecurity of existence, his entire manner of living rendered it easy to undermind his prestige by sowing suspicion. This was also the policy of the Russian Embassy. In order to reply to Marx and the Czarist traducers, Bakunin wrote to George Sand. The text of George Sand’s letter to the Zeitung, dated August 3, 1948, is reproduced in my Pioneers of Anti-Parliamentarism (”Word” Library, 1st Series, No.7). Her declaration rehabilitated Bakunin as a revolutionary and a victim of slanderous conspiracy.
Slander never dies. In 1863, when he was about to enter Switzerland, a Basle paper declared that he has involved Polish refugees in disaster whilst remaining immune. German Socialist (sic) periodicals constantly slandered him. Marx never missed a chance of speaking against him.
Otto Ruhle has described how Marx wrote to a young Russian seeking information regarding Bakunin. For reasons of conspiracy, Marx referred to Bakunin as “my old friend, Bakunin-I don’t know if he is still my friend .” Marx persuaded too well: for his correspondent forwarded the letter to Bakunin. Marx complained of the result: “Bakunin availed himself of the circumstances to excuse a sentimental entree.”
“This sentimental entree not only redounded to Bakunin’s credit, not only showed his good feeling and his insight, but deserved a better reception from Marx than the biting cynicism and the derogatory insolence which it was encountered (cynicism and insolence which were only masks for embarrassment).”
“you ask whether I am still your friend. Yes, more than ever, my dear Marx, for I understand better than ever how right you were to walk along the broad road of the economic revolution, to invite us all to follow you, and to denounce all those who wandered off into the byways of nationalist or exclusively political enterprise. I am now doing what you began to do more than twenty years ago. Since I formally and publicly said good-bye to the bourgeois of the Berne congress, I know no other society, no other milieu than the world of the workers. My fatherland is now the International, whose chief founder you have been. You see, then, dear friend, that I am your pupil— and I am proud to be this. I think I have said enough to make my personal position and feelings clear to you.”
Bakunin met Marx with simplicity and friendship.
Ruhle points out that Bakunin endeavored honestly to be on good terms with Marx and to avoid friction. He adds that Bakunin loved the peasants and detested intellectualism and abstract systems, with their dogmatism and intolerance. He hated the modern State, industrialism, and centralization. He had the most intense dislike for Judaism, which he considered loquacious, intriguing, and exploitative. All that authority and theorizing for which he had an instinctive abhorrence were, for him, incorporated in Marx. He found Marx’s self-esteem intolerable. Yet he mastered his spiritual repugnance and antagonism for the sake of building the movement of struggle towards Freedom, from loyalty to the workers, and from a sense of justice to Marx’s worth as a master in the struggle. Bakunin’s loyalty and aspiration after friendship were magnificent. It lent him a stature that dwarfs the envious and contemptible Marx into a mere pygmy. With justice, Bakunin says of Marx and his political circle:-
“Marx loved his own person much more than he loved his friends and apostles, and no friendship could hold water against the slightest wound to his vanity. He would far more readily forgive infidelity to his philosophical and socialist system...Marx will never forgive a slight to his person. You must worship him, make an idol of him, if he is to love you in return; you must at least fear him, if he is to tolerate you. He likes to surround himself with pygmies, with lackeys and flatterers. All the same, there are some remarkable men around his intimates.
“In general, however, one may say that in the circle of Marx’s intimates there is very little brotherly frankness, but a great deal of machination and diplomacy. There is a sort of tacit struggle, and a compromise between the self-loves of the various persons concerned; and where vanity is at work, there is no longer place for brotherly feeling. Every one is on his guard, is afraid of being sacrificed, of being annihilated. Marx’s circle is a sort of mutual admiration society. Marx is the chief distributor of honors, but is also invariably perfidious and malicious, the never frank and open, inciter to the persecution of those whom he suspects, or who gave had the misfortune of falling to show all the veneration he expects.
“As soon as he has ordered a persecution, there is no limit to the baseness and infamy of the method. Himself a Jew, he has round him in London and in France, and above all in Germany, a number of petty, more of less able, intriguing, mobile, speculative Jews (the sort of Jews you can find all over the place), commercial employes, bank clerks, men of letters, politicians, the correspondents of newspapers of the most various shades of opinion. In a word, literary go-betweens, just as they are financial go-betweens, one foot in the bank, the other in the Socialist Movement, while their rump is in German periodical literature... These Jewish men of letters are adepts in the art of cowardly, odious, and perfidious insinuations. They seldom make open accusation, but they insinuate, saying they ‘have heard- it is said- it may not be true, but,’ and then they hurl the most abominable calumnies in your face.”
Bakunin had a profound respect for Marx’s intellectual abilities and scientific efficiency. When he read Marx’s Capital he was amazed, and promptly set to work upon translating it into Russian. He translated The Communist Manifest into Russian in 1862.
Writing to Herzen, Bakunin said:—
“For five and twenty years Marx has served the cause of Socialism ably, energetically, and loyally, taking the lead of every one in this matter. I should never forgive myself if, out of personal motives, I were to destroy or diminish Marx’s beneficial influence. Still I may be involved in a struggle against him, not because he has wounded me personally, but because of the State Socialism he advocates.”
Bakunin describes how simple and personal was the cause of the struggle being renewed. He writes:-
“At the peace Congress in Geneva, the veteran Communist, Becker, gave me the first, and as of yet only, volume of the extremely important, learned, profound, although very abstract work, Capital. Then I made a terrible mistake: I forgot to write Marx in order to thank you...I did not hasten to thank him and to pay him a compliment upon his really outstanding book. Old Phillip Becker, who had known Marx for a very long time, said to me, when he heard of this forgetfulness: ‘What, you haven’t written to him yet? Marx will never forgive you!’”
Bakunin thought that his forgetfulness could be ranked as a personal slight and an unpardonable discourtesy. But he did not believe that it could lead to a resumption of hostilities. It did. Frau Marx wrote to Becker as follows:-
“Have you seen or heard anything of Bakunin? My husband sent him, as an old Hegelian, his book- not a word or a sign. There must be something underneath this? One cannot trust any of these Russians; if they are not in the service of the Little Father in Russia, then they are in Herzen’s service here, which amounts to much the same thing.”
Bakunin was unable to persuade the Berne Congress of the League of Peace and Freedom to adopt a revolutionary program and to affiliate to the International. He resigned an in conjunction with Becker, founded the International Alliance of Social Revolutionaries. His aim was to affiliate the Alliance to the International. At this time, Bakunin’s program was somewhere between that of Marx and Proudhon.
Mehring describes Bakunin’s place in relation to Marx as follows:-
“Bakunin had advanced far beyond Proudhon, having absorbed a larger measure of European culture; and he understood Marx much better than Proudhon had done. But he was not so intimately acquainted with German philosophy as Marx, nor had he made so thorough a study of the class struggles of Western European nations. Above all, his ignorance of political economy was much more disastrous to him than ignorance of natural science had been to Proudhon. Yet he was revolutionary through and through; and, like Marx and Lassalle, he had the gift of making people listen to him.
“Marx favored centralism, as manifested in the contemporary organization of economic life and of the State; Bakunin favored federalism, which had been the organizational principle of the precapitalist era. That was why Bakunin found most of this adherents in Italy, Spain, and Russia, in countries where capitalist development was backward. Marx’s supporters, on the other hand, were recruited from lands of advanced capitalist development, those with an industrial proletariat. The two men represented two successive phases of social revolution. Furthermore, Bakunin looked upon man rather as the subject of history who, ‘having the devil in his body,” spontaneously ripens for the revolution, and merely needs to have his chains broken; but Marx regarded man rather as the object, who much slowly be trained for action, in order that, marshaled for class activity, he may play his part as a factor of history. The two outlooks might have been combined, for in combination they supply the actual picture of man in history. But in the case of both of these champions, the necessary compromise was rendered impossible by the orthodox rigidity of intellectual dogmatism, by deficient elasticity of the will, and by the narrow circumstances of space and time, so that in actual fact they became adversaries. Then, owing to their respective temperaments, owing to the divergences in mental structure which found expression in behavior, their opposition in concrete matters developed into personal enmity.”
Mehring defends Marx too eloquently. When we gaze at the world to-day, and the condition of the Labor Movement, we must feel that there was much more to be said for Bakunin’s approach than for that of Marx.
Inspired by Marx, the General Council of the International refused to accept the affiliation of the Alliance. The affiliation was proposed by the Genevese section which was led by Bakunin.
Marx now denounced the Bakuninst program as: “an olla podrida of worn-out commonplaces, thoughtless chatter; a rose-garland of empty motions, and insipid improvization.”
Marx feared the influence of Bakunin among the homeworkers in the watchmaking industry of the Neuchatel and Bernese Jura. In 1865, Dr. Coullery had founded, in La Chaux des Fonds, a section of the International. Its principal leader was James Guillaume, a teacher at the Industrial School in Le Locle. The Jura section was federalistically inclined and soon became ardent supports of Bakunin. He amalgamated their groups into a federal council; founded a weekly, Egalite, and started a vigorous revolutionary movement. In London this aroused the impression that Bakunin was trying to capture the International. At the Basle Congress of the International, on September 5 and 6, 1869, Bakunin was no longer, as he had been in Brussels, alone against the Marxian front, but was backed up by a resolute phalanx of supporters. It was obvious that Bakunin’s influence was on the increase. This became especially plain during the discussion on the question of direct legislation by the people (initiative and referendum).
At this Congress, Bakunin once more brought to a head the slanders that the Marxists had circulated concerning him. His opponents had tried to check his influence by a flood of suspicions and invectives.
In 1865, the Demokratisches Wokhenblatt, published in Leipzig, under Wilhelm Liebknecht’s editorship, attacked Bakunin’s personal honor severely. At the same time, Bebel wrote to Becker that Bakunin was “probably an agent of the Russian Government.” Liebknecht declared that Bakunin was in the Czar’s pay.
Bakunin secured the appointment of a court of arbitration to investigate the charges. Liebknecht had no proofs to adduce, and declared that his words had been misunderstood. The jury unanimously agreed that Liebknecht had behaved with “criminal levity,” and made him give Bakunin a written apology. The adversaries shook hands before the Congress. Bakunin made a spill out of the apology, and lighted a cigarette with it.
Bakunin never tried to pay back Marx in the same coin. Mehring says of Bakunin’s writings, that “we shall look in them in vain for any trace of venom towards the General Council of towards Marx.” Bakunin preserved so keen a sense of justice and so splendid a magnanimity, that on January 28, 1872, writing to the internationalists of the Romagna about Marx and the Marxists, he said: —
“Fortunately for the International, there existed in London a group of men who were extremely devoted to the great association, and who were, in the true sense of the words, the real founders and initiators of that body. I speak of the small group of Germans whose leader is Karl Marx. These estimable persons regard as an enemy, and maltreat me as such whenever and wherever they can. They are greatly mistaken. I am in no respect their enemy, and it gives me, on the contrary, lively satisfaction when I am able to do them justice. I often have an opportunity of doing so, for I regard them as genuinely important and worthy persons, in respect both of intelligence and knowledge, and also in respect of their passionate devotion to the cause of the proletariat and of a loyalty to the cause which has withstood every possible test — a devotion and a loyalty which have been proved by the achievements of twenty years. Marx is the supreme economic and socialist genius of our day. In the course of my life, I have come into contact with a great many learned men, but I know no one else who is so profoundly learned as he. Engels, who is now secretary for Italy and Spain, Marx’s friend and pupil, is also a man of outstanding intelligence. As long ago as 1846 and 1848, working together, they founded the Party of the German Communists, and their activities in this direction have continued every since. Marx edited the profound and admirable Preamble to the Provisional Rules of the International, and gave a body to the instinctively unanimous aspirations of the proletariat of nearly all countries of Europe, in that, during the years 1863–1864, he conceived the idea of the International and effected its establishment. These are great and splendid services, and it would be very ungrateful of us if we were reluctant to acknowledge their importance.”
Bakunin explains the break between Marx and himself:
“Marx is an authoritarian and centralizing communist. He wants what we want, the complete triumph of economic and social equality, but he wants it in the State and through the State power, through the dictatorship of a very strong and, so to say, despotic provisional government, that is, by the negation of liberty. His economic ideal is the State as sole owner of the land and of all kinds of capital, cultivating the land through well-paid agricultural associations under the management of State engineers, and controlling all industrial and commercial associations with State capital.
“We want the same triumph of economic and social equality through the abolition of the State, and of all that pass by the name of our law (which, in our view, is the permanent negation of human rights). We want the reconstruction of society, and the unification of mankind, to be achieved, not from above downward, by any sort of authority, or by socialist officials, engineers, and other accredited men of learning — but from below upwards, by the free federation of all kinds of workers’ associations liberated from the yoke of the State.
“You see that two theories could hardly be more sharply opposed to one another than are ours. But there is another difference between us, a purely personal one.
“Marx has two odious faults: he is vain and jealous. He detested Proudhon, simply because Proudhon’s great name and well-deserved reputation were prejudicial to him. There is no term of abuse that Marx has failed to apply to Proudhon. Marx is egotistical to the pitch of insanity. He talks of ‘my ideas,’ and cannot understand that ideas belong to no one in particular, but that, if we look carefully, we shall always find that the best and greatest ideas are the product of the instinctive labor of all...Marx, who was already constitutionally inclined towards self-glorification, was definitely corrupted by the idolization of his disciples, who have made a sort of doctrinaire pope out of him. Nothing can be more disastrous to the mental and moral health of a man, even though he be extremely intelligent, than to be idolized and regarded as infallible. All this has made Marx even more egotistical, so that he is beginning to loathe every one who will not bow the neck before him.”
Ruhle had dealt very exhaustively with the steps taken by Marx to get rid of his hated adversary. Marx organized irregular conferences at London and the Hague. Bakunin, Guillaume, and Schuizgulbed were expelled by methods since employed by the Third International to expel Trotskyists and other opponents of present-day Stalinism. The Purge was always a characteristic of Marxism. A victory was won that secured no fruit. Marx had to admit that the last Congress of the International, held at Geneva, in September, 1873, was a complete fiasco. Becker wrote a letter to Serge describing Marx’s hopeless intrigues in connection with this Congress.
Marx decided to throw a last handful of mud at Bakunin. With Engels and Lafargue, he undertook to publish a report of the charges made against Bakunin, under the title “Die Allianz Der Sozialistisch en Demokratie Und Die International Arbeitassoziation” (The Alliance of the Socialist Democracy and the International Working Men’s Association). Every line of this report is a distortion, every allegation an injustice, every argument a falsification and every word an untruth. As Ruble says, even Mehring although so indulgent to Marx, places this work “at the lowest rank” among all those published by Marx and Engels.
Bakunin met the attack with resignation. He described the pamphlet as a “gendarme denunciation.” He declared that Marx, urged onwards by furious hatred, had undertaken to expose himself before the public in the role of a sneaking and calumniatory police agent.
Bakunin added: —
“That is his own affair; and, since he likes the job, let him have it... This has given me an intense loathing of public life. I have had enough of it. I therefore withdraw from the arena, and ask only one thing from my dear contemporaries — oblivion.”
When Bakunin died, on July 1, 1878, no trace of the Marxian International remained.
Marxism degenerated into the 2nd International, parliamentary opportunism and careerism, and the Nationalistic support of the First Great War. After that war, it gave us the machinations of the 3rd International, the assassination of Socialists and Socialism, in Soviet Russia; the debacle in Germany, the betrayal in Spain leading to the triumph of Fascism; and, finally, the dictatorship diplomacy which released the Second Great War by signing a pact with Germany; the great Stalin-Hitler alliance, the Soviet-Nazi pact. Marxism is dead; and the world of libertarian struggle recalls the wisdom and the defiance of Bakunin. Marx is dead and Bakunin strides on, leading the workers of the world on to the conquest of break and freedom — and roses too. Today, the name of Bakunin is linked historically and traditionally with the emancipation of the human race. In death, he is symbol of anti-Fascism. He is legend, power, and reality.